Life on the Danube
29th July 2015 | 1,399 km | Written by Emily
Germany is a country I knew very little about before leaving home, and it’s not heavily marketed to us Brits, so we don’t tend to visit much. I had visited Munich and a small place called Friedrichshafen on the Swiss border a few times for work, but other than that, if I am honest, it has never been a country on my “must-see” list. For this reason, I was both intrigued and excited about the prospect of spending 10 days cycling through the Black Forest and along the Danube River – to see some of Germany had I been missing.
We knew instantly we’d arrived in Germany when we bumped into a couple with bikes laden with VAUDE panniers heading to the bike paths within minutes of crossing the border. We were going to fit in here just fine. In fact, we’ve been the envy of many of our fellow cycle tourers when they see all of our great VAUDE kit – we’ve been stopped a few times now!
Our first few days in Germany were beautiful but hilly. I’m not sure Germany got the memo on mountain road switchbacks that we all dream about cycling up as roads have been straight with frequent 20-25% gradients, making it tough going when we’re carrying our worldly possessions with us. At times my heart was beating so fast I wondered if it might leap right out of my chest onto the road in front of me!
The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe. It originates in Donaueschingen in the Black Forest of Germany, and flows for 2,800km to the Black Sea in Hungary. Once a main frontier of the Roman Empire, the river is the lifeline to 10 countries from central to Eastern Europe. We have been tracking it for 10 days now, and it has not failed to impress.
The source of the Danube (Donauquelle) is an underground spring that is encased in a well outside a stately home in Donaueschingen. We went to take a look but, but it sadly was undergoing repair work. However, we took a moment to reflect beside the water that would be our route marker for around 2,500km. We were unsure what to expect ahead, but we were excited to get going.
From there, we left the concrete jungle, and the path took us offroad, on mainly well-managed gravel paths through a simply breathtaking gorge steeped in Geological history. Once upon a time, I would have been able to tell you more about the surroundings, but long-term memory fails me; my Geography teachers will be most unimpressed. We could not stop smiling as we made our way along the river alongside the other cycle tourers on their summer holidays.
A quick pit stop in Sigmaringen was our first taste of the beautiful towns that lay ahead; we celebrated with pizza and a beer before heading back to our campsite.
From there we headed to a town called Ulm where we were due to spend a day. Much to my excitement, it was also one of the only towns along the Danube in Germany that does not have a campsite, and so, by the time we realised we’d overshot the Youth Hostel by 5km, we were forced to stay in a hotel for a night. A mattress meant my first proper night’s sleep since Alsace, and it was pure bliss.
Ulm is a stunning 12th-century town on the riverbank full of hidden gems around every corner. Apparently, it has the tallest church spire in Europe. It was undoubtedly impressive; walking around the streets felt more like I was in an Italian town than a German one – why had I never heard of this place? More was to follow with the following few towns we passed – all should go onto a holiday visit list – Donauworth, Ingolstadt and the most impressive of them all, Regensburg.
We’ve slowed down a bit since France to allow us to enjoy the surroundings – we don’t want to miss anything – cycling for 4-6 hours a day instead of 8-10 hours has made a real difference. However, it does not take away some excellent moments that only tiredness can produce, such as James getting on his bike backwards and I lost my sunglasses for a good 10 minutes before finding them on my head.
Regensburg is the oldest town in Germany and the old capital of Bavaria. We checked into a campsite for a couple of nights to spend a day looking around the city. In Bavaria a can of beer costs 40p – around half the price of a can of coke. As my Grandpa would have said, “It would be dangerous not to”, so we enjoyed a few beers and cooked a feast at the campsite and enjoyed a rare a lie in the following morning before heading into town.
Naturally, being a rest day, it rained nearly all day, but that did not take anything away from how magnificent Regensburg is. The cathedral was a highlight, dating back to pre-1100; it is home to world-famous medieval stained glass windows dating to 1230.
We are currently around 60kms (and one puncture) further along the river in another charming town called Straubing, again home to a beautiful church and an idyllic walled town centre with cobbled streets lined with cafés.
Before you ask – no, sadly, we are not wining and dining in all these towns as budgets do not allow. But it’s been an absolute privilege to travel through them and experience their beauty with a packed lunch!
We have been camping on and off for nearly 3 weeks and are now into a routine. James has almost managed to work out how to pack his panniers in under two hours every morning whilst I have time to dismantle the tent, have a shower and do my nails :-). It was with much excitement that, 5 nights ago, we finally worked out how to put our tent up properly. We have been enjoying some good sleep and making the most of German campsites with hot showers and fresh water as we are fully aware that, before long, these luxuries will disappear.
So, naturally, being the man, James is in charge of fire and map reading (for those who know me well, you will all agree that both these things are good responsibilities for me not to have; otherwise, we’d have burnt down the tent and be cycling towards Norway). I am mainly responsible for the relatively safe kitchen duties; chopping vegetables and washing up. And no, I have not cut my fingers off with a knife yet!
It’s safe to say, we are having the time of our lives and loving every minute of this adventure so far. We’ve met some great people along the way already. I don’t think we will ever get tired of seeing people’s expressions when they ask how far along the Danube we are going, and we tell them we’re cycling it all and then continuing to Cape Town. It’s been especially great to meet so many families out here, all cycling together – some with kids as young as 2 years old.
Germany is as slick and efficient as you might imagine. We’d highly recommend it as a place for cyclists to visit – whether on touring or road bikes. The national bike paths are incredibly well signposted and take you to some unbelievably beautiful places, and nearly every major road has a cycle path alongside it. If you fancy cycling for a week or two without any cars, this is the place to come!
Tomorrow we head about 110km further along to our last stop in Germany, Passau, which is meant to be Germany’s answer to Venice. We shall mark our last day in Bavaria with a Stein, a few sausages and some Sauerkraut. After that, it’s on to Austria, and we hope to be in Vienna by next weekend.
Thank you, Germany; we can’t wait to come back again someday.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.