Cycling 400 kilometers doesn’t hurt in the way you might expect. It’s not my thighs which are in agony. The ache and winces are found in my back, my ankles, wrists and arms. My knees, of course. The sharp smack of insects flying into my face and upper body.
The Donauradweg, or Danube Cycling Path, runs from Germany all the way down into Romania. I followed it from the Austrian border to Bratislava, Slovakia, in about eight days. It gave me a better understanding of distance and space; how long a kilometer actually feels, how long it will take. Some sort of upper limit to the amount it is possible for me to cycle (and still have fun).
There were several minor frustrations along the way – for some reason I am intent on doing things the hard way, such as refusing to book accommodation ahead – and I’d conveniently forgotten that aspect of travelling, but very few happened when I was actually riding.
It’s true that you see more by bicycle. I could stare into local gardens and homes, parks and power plants, my curiosity unchecked. The landscape changed, not in the snapshots I am used to, but gradually: from forest to vineyard to farm.
Trees and water and (mostly) sunshine, odd-looking Austrian houses and even odder Slovakian ones. For the views alone, it is worth a trip. The ease of the route makes it an ideal starting point for cyclists looking to tour in Europe. I think doing a similar path, but cycling, would also be a lot of fun.
I slept in tiny villages with a single road running through them, and in two capital cities. I did not fall into the Danube, although the idea that I might never left me.
I said hello to animals in German, and, occasionally, other people.
A man tried to enlist me in harvesting hay with him. I laughed and refused.
Following a map, even as simple a route as that alongside a major river, slowly improved my sense of direction. Then I promptly got lost cycling out of Vienna.
The appeal of eating nothing but flattened, breaded meat and potatoes wore off, and by the time I got to a city large enough to offer an alternative I ate so much Chinese, so quickly, I had indigestion all night. But I did try some sensational pastries, which deserve their own post.
I would unreservedly recommend the route, or even going on further to Budapest. If anyone is considering it and has any questions, please let me know. This book and this website are great sources of information.
There’s more posts in the pipeline too; on Vienna and Bratislava, thoughts about language learning on the ground, and my favourite obscure things to see when travelling. Watch this space!