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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

The Danube

UNITED KINGDOM | Wednesday, 23 September 2015 | Views [181]

My second day (in Austria) was beginning of a 7 day tradition of waking up around 7 am, having breakfast around 8 am, and making sure my bag was packed and left in the lobby for transport to my next hotel before 9 am. For several mornings I had to keep reminding myself that I would be going down to breakfast and saying "morgen" not "morning".
Once I had my bike my first task was to buy a bicycle helmet, which was not supplied for "health and safety reasons". With a few words in German, a few words in English and many gestures we managed to communicate at the bicycle shop. I now have a very nice European helmet which is certainly valuable enough to come home with me.
My first day of biking was really an introduction to almost everything I would see and do for the rest of the week. Returning to Passau with my bike I decided to make the extremely steep climb up to the castle and museum above the town. Not for the last time on my journey I found myself with not enough time to make a visit to the museum worth while (about 30 minutes). Hence the whole journey was rather pointless since the castle and museum were one building. The same thing happened in Linz, though I did get some wonderful views from outside the museum, and Melk Abbey, which I missed altogether because of their closing time. What was most frustrating was seeing people walking around Melk Abbey, and yet knowing that the last admissions were done for the day. The castle, which I had unfortunately detoured to see instead of Melk Abbey, was another combination of castle and museum, not historically decorated as I had hoped. I can say that I learned a bit about the Austrian royal family, since the house had belonged to Franz Ferdinand, and that my German vocabulary improved slightly with the editions of Archduke, daughter, son, top, and bottom from the captions on the numerous photos. Let's just say though that the day was not one of my most enjoyable ones.
On the upside I did visit 3 incredible castles on different days. They were all detours off the bike path, and always involved a climb since they stood above the river. They were worth it though! The first one was called Burg Clam, "burg" being German for Castle. Like many places the first section was built in the Middle Ages, and over the years several additions were added to expand and connect different pieces. The original castle was built in stone and the editions mostly in wood. Perhaps because it was a rainy day and not located near any big town, but I was the only person there for the scheduled tour. The lady unlocked each door as we made our way through a proportionally small selection of the total rooms, some of which are still used by the family. The most unique room in this castle was the pharmacy from the Middle Ages, one of the first in Europe I believe. The pharmacist had a small door through which he would hand out the herbs and tinctures to the sick. Surprisingly he also had a small sink beneath a metal water jug and spigot to wash his hands. Like most castles there was no photography allowed inside, so all you get to see is the outside, without the maze of passageways and doors.
The second castle stood on a hill over the Danube in the Wachau region, which is know for its vineyards. On a quiet morning I wandered between the ruined walls, down to the dungeon with its small windows, and up to the tower for an amazing view of river and vineyards. I kept expecting to find a rope baring off the tower, but instead I found wooden ladders leading all the way up, except for a section of an extremely narrow stone stairway all of about 2 feet wide.
I visited the third castle on my last day of biking, just outside of Vienna. Since our small group was about half German speaking and half English speaking we received the guided tour in both German and English, though some things needed no translation. Kreuzenstien, unlike any other castle I've visited was actually not built until the 19th Century when it was assembled with pieces from all over Europe and decked out in original furnishings collected by the wealthy Count. It had such an authentic feeling though! In the kitchen there was a wooden table probably 30 ft long and 8 inches thick that was one piece of wood. It turns out it was put in first and then the walls were built around it. Throughout our tour we also learned where several German expressions came from such as "It's below the dog". Their old money chests had a dog (man's best friend) carved into the bottom so when you were close to the dog you were reaching the end of your money. When you were below the dog it meant you were down to the last secret stash beneath the carving of the dog. Today the expression implies very cheap, low quality, such as in a restaurant. As I sat outside with a snack after the tour the young woman, who gave the tour came over to speak with me a bit more in English.

Now apart from visiting castles I did actually bike along the Danube. Mostly in the earlier stages of the bike path the Danube wound it's way between forested hills, and small fields of corn. Between the crisp mornings and brown leaves on the ground fall was definitely in the air. Though the vast majority of trees were deciduous the leaves seemed simply to turn from green to brown and fall from the tree without a spectacular display of color.
Later on the bike trail between the small towns there were long stretches of straight path that simply followed the slow progress of the river down stream. Now and then there was a river barge making it's leisurely journey along the river, or a biker, or two, or three, or ten passing, or up ahead. I certainly wasn't about to outstrip the bikers out for their daily ride on their 2 lb. bike. I don't think I ever managed more than 23 km/hr unless I was going down hill, even in the highest gear. Boy am I glad though that I went for the 21 speed bike, and not the 7 speed version!

I was very pleased when later on the first day of biking I realized that I could easily figure out how long I would need to bike for by simply looking at the odometer on my bike and the number of km I still had to do. Much easier than calculating walking speed with no odometer!

Nonetheless I still spent 2 evenings biking well into the dark before reaching my hotels, and I never managed an earlier arrival than 7 pm. So what happened? It's very hard to spread your time out with so many possible stops along the path, escpecially when they're all in the earlier part of the ride. What really uses up time though is getting lost, or simply just not finding where you want to go right away.

The vast majority of my stops along the bike path were at the numerous churches and cathedrals. Even so I only saw a very small portion of them. By the end I could hardly keep straight what was what. Grand alter pieces, larger than life paintings, great vaulted ceilings, and carved columns and statues adorned each one I visited, except for the small church from Linz. I was not able to go in, however I did have a view of the interior of this simple, unchanged church from 700 AD. Among the famous churches I visited was Maria Taferl after a steep climb, during which time I also took a wrong turn. That was one of the places I spent too long at as I first took a walk around their museum: a collection of gifts from pilgrims and royalty over the ages. The view over the Danube valley was also amazing. I gave up reading the full history and description booklet in the church and decided just to spend my time looking around. Very early on I realized that Austria is mostly Catholic unlike Britain, and I assume a large part of Germany as well. In the many churches I visited I found a fair few with the remains and relicts of what I assumed were saints. It was rather a surprise to see these in person.

I also made a stop at a recreation of an ancient celtic village. After excavating the area they decided to reconsturct the village based on what they found. It was very primative in some ways, and yet there were some amazing wood carvings as well. They also showed the loons and dies they used for weaving clothes. I don't eveny the dark houses though! 

About halfway through my trip I passed Mauthausen. I knew this was coming, and I had decided not to visit it. I could comprehend the horror and sadness of what happended there without needing to stand there in person. Right beside the bike path there was also a memorial marked in my map booklet. From the description it sounded as though it was simply a documentation about what happend in the concentration camps, not something I thought I would learn much in the way of new information from. However I stopped and looked across at it from the bike path for a few minutes and the decided to go in. The small museum was separate from the memorial itself, which turned out to be a fragment of the Mauthausen-Gusen complex. A plain grey wall surrounded the piece that had been left in its original location: the crematorium. It brought tears to my eyes to stand there and know what had happened. To my surprise this memorial was in the middle of a neighborhood, which had obviously been built after the war. I personally can't image living here where such awful things happened.

Planning my day of biking in the morning involved flipping through the booklet and trying to decide on which 2-4 places I would visit among the 2 dozen or so listed. By doing so I was also choosing which side of the river I would be bicycling on. There are long stretches without any crossing points. Near the larger towns there are usually bridges, otherwise you could cross with one of the small bicycle ferries that transport people and bikes the few minutes across the river. They are not much bigger than an average motor boat. These little wooden ferries run back and forth across the river at certain places for most of the day. However they stop running around 6 pm. Where they aren't any ferries there is usually a dam within an hour or two's bike.

It's a rather ominous feeling to ride past the closed gates and cameras until you come to the gate that opens to the single lane road across the dam. Up until the end I still found it unbelievable that the government actually allowed people to cross the river this way. Once up on the dam though I surprisingly really came to admire them. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was usually crossing over to my hotel in the evening with a beautiful sunset. They were incredibly useful and provided a great view over the river. All of these dams I believe were built for the main purpose of generating electricity, as they were all hydro-electric generating stations. The dams also had 2 lochs to allow boats to pass up and down. They were probably only 50 feet tall, altogether very different from the dams in our country.

I have posted some of the photos from this week of biking, but only about half. Since my internet here is very slow you'll have to wait for the rest until later. Hopefully though I'll have time to write more before then. I know I don't usually respond to your comments, but know that I do actually read them!

 

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