Cycling down the Danube with the Girls

30th April - 8th May 2018

If you take four women who have carried out virtually zero training for their upcoming 340 km cycle ride across Austria and combine that sense of impending doom with a 4 am start, where do you expect to find them the evening before they fly to Munich. Naturally, in the hotel bar with a G & T!

With customary German efficiency, our trip went to schedule and by lunchtime we found ourselves in Passau in the heart of Bavaria, after the smoothest train ride ever experienced. The hotel had other ideas and we couldn't check in until three, so dropped off the luggage and went to explore.

Photo courtesy of Jane Bradbury

We strolled the banks of some of Passau's collection of three rivers and spotted the supposedly rare lizards living in the stonework, before succumbing to the lure of lunch. Breakfast was a long time ago already. Lunch included our first German beer, which worked rather quickly in the void caused by the early start.

There was a long pause when the waitress was asked about Gluten Free options. A pause of several minutes provided little inspiration. "Salad," she eventually replied. One of us would be going for the healthy option then. Maggs ordered the local Spätzle before Christine was able to truly realise the horror of this act and have flashbacks to her time in the Black Forest where she existed day after day on a diet of these stodgy noodles. Maggs gamely plodded her way through the meal, which probably soaked up beer rather better than the salad option. Next stop ice cream. We had to start as we meant to continue.

The Danube at Passau, or maybe it was one of the other two rivers.

Jane feeling the warmth of the sun.

Famous lizard.

The World's largest organ?

Our quest in Passau was to view the World's largest organ and we achieved this, although possibly not with the reverence such an impressive object deserved. Passau's extreme Pansy-fest proved just too much and we headed back to the hotel for a nap.

In the early start- and beer-induced fog, Christine and Angie managed to oversleep from their nap and almost missed meeting the travel company's representative to receive their assigned touring bikes. Maggs and Jane had the foresight to set an alarm, so all was not lost!

The bikes were all identical, equally heavy but surprisingly comfortable. Our wobbly test run consisted of a spin around a large indoor room and we were pronounced 'good to go'. Just time before bed for a plate of chips and some more beer to stop us thinking of the thirty-plus miles to be cycled the next day.


Finding our way to the spot where we would join the Danube Cycle Way was a challenge in the morning rush-hour traffic. We ended up pushing our mounts most of the way, which was not an auspicious start to our cycling holiday. We peddled frantically over a Danube bridge to reach the steep steps (!) which led to the bike path. Finally off, we still had thirty-some miles to go!

An hour in and we were surrounded by beautiful countryside. It was time for a break by now, after all we were about half way to our planned lunch stop. Right before us, in the scenic setting of a petrol station, was a cafe we just couldn't pass by and the tradition of the mid morning hot chocolate break was born. We would make it our mission to rate the hot chocolate establishments along our route.

Time to mount up!

Bye Passau!

On the slippery hot chocolate slope.

Refuelled, we were in Engelzell in time for lunch and a visit to the Stift Engelzell, an intriguing religious edifice of some kind, which contained the skeletons of several local deceased on display in glass coffins. Creepy but not enough to deter us from lunch. Were they buried first and then dug back up we wondered, or just left on display to decompose? After checking out their shiny organ offering, we made a purchase of a selection box of the liquors made by the monks, which throughout the trip became known as the 'mad monk juice'.

It wasn't sampling the 'juice' that caused the mishap when Jane landed on top of Christine, merely a case of not being used to the heavy bikes and reaching a speed slow enough while chatting that Jane's bike could no longer fight gravity. At this point we discovered that the bikes were so weighty that if they were falling there was little to do except go with them

We still had two ferries and a considerable number of miles to go to reach our destination for the night. After disembarking from the first vessel, we peddled in search of a source of ice cream in the unspoilt rural setting and were successful in a small and reasonably priced 'Imbiss' in Freizell.

After a few more miles of peddling, the second ferry took us almost directly to our lodgings at Freizeitzentrum Schlögen, which was a blessing as the legs were getting weary. The hotel lay right on an impressively scenic, sharp bend in the Danube. The beer and schnitzel went down well as we watched the massive river cruise boats negotiating the sharp turn and also a team of strapping youngsters erecting a huge marquee in the car park, ready for some exciting event we were obviously just missing.

When my time comes this is not for me!

Angie on our first ferry across the Danube

Ferry number two - we can smell the cold beers from here!

Minutes into day two there was an emergency stop and not even for refreshments. Angie's handlebars and front wheel were headed in different directions. It was time to dig out the tool kit we'd been given and effect repairs. Naturally to reach it, everything which had just been loaded into the pannier had to come out and get scattered on the floor.

The ride along the river bank to Aschach was glorious, mostly traffic free and tranquil with the exception of some very noisy frogs which could be heard but not seen. Aschach's cafe was given a high rating both for its hot chocolate and the bizarre selection of items for sale in their bathroom vending machine!

Aschach's hot chocolate and amusement centre.

On the way to Aschach.

The route then took us inland through pretty agricultural land, before heading back to the river for a somewhat tedious ride along the flood defence dam. This day's ice cream break was provided courtesy of the local supermarket in Ottensheim before we found ourselves entering the outskirts of the city of Linz. Although the ride didn't involve mixing with the city traffic, it wasn't particularly pleasant riding alongside the main road with traffic coming the other way right beside you.

We were glad to reach Linz and instead of following our instincts and taking the ramp up to the bridge crossing the river into the city, we followed the instructions in the guidebook. There must be a reason for the longer detour we reasoned. Things got more complicated when the detour took us through a chaotic temporary fairground and then the wrong way down a one-way street, leaving us even more confused. We couldn't really understand why the selected hotel lay so far from the riverbank and the last half mile was covered on foot, pushing the bikes through city traffic.

Whilst in the city we naturally had to check out what the cathedral had to offer in the way of organs. There was now a theme to our touring. The consensus about dinner was 'definitely not Austrian', perhaps a case of Schnitzel overload the night before. We discovered a lovely Thai restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal in the garden, followed by Maggs' fish-whispering performance.

Fish Whisperer Extraordinaire

Linz Cathedral

On the way out of Linz the next morning we stuck to the unauthorised route to the cycle way, taking the short-cut down the ramp.

This was to be the day of the 'great Mauthausen fiasco'. On arrival in the town there was some disagreement about which route to take to find the best hot-chocolate shop in town. We opted, after much debate, for the inland route through the town centre. Unfortunately this involved a slog up a very steep hill, where we were at least able to amuse a local van driver. On reaching the town centre there was one cafe and it was unclear whether it was open or closed. Weary after the burn up the hill, we decided we were going there anyway, and a waitress appeared, to provide overpriced and mediocre beverages in what turned out to be a sleazy bar lacking in toilet paper.

Naturally, at the bottom of the hill, just past the castle on the shores of the Danube, lay a row of lovely cafes with fabulous river views. We couldn't even be comforted by having paid a lower price! After snapping a photo of the castle, we left Mauthausen and its rows of happy cyclists enjoying the cafe life behind us and headed east.

The next leg was along more tedious flood defences but we did spot one of the extremely loud local frogs and get to spend some time inside a massive aluminium fish.


Frogus Noisyus.

The fish whisperer strikes again!

The next leg of our journey involved a decision about which side of the river to ride. This was quickly reached with one question; which is shorter? We headed along the north bank through Mitterkirchen. Our destination of Grein made the long slog worthwhile and instead of heading straight for our hotel, we peddled on into the town for our first experience of the Austrian 'Konditorei', roughly translated as cake heaven.

After a brief recuperative nap at the hotel we were ready for dinner, opting this time to walk back into the town and give our sore bits a break. Sticking with the 'definitely not Austrian' dinner theme, we went for Greek.

Cake Heaven

Bring it on!


Back on the south riverbank the next morning, the landscape was wooded, shady and peaceful, with the exception of a procession of chanting locals making their way along the road in some kind of religious celebration or perhaps sufferance judging by their faces.

Shortly after crossing back to the north bank, we tracked down two likely hot-chocolate sources. Which one to chose? Both had bike racks, looked pleasant and they lay opposite one another. Being Welsh (mostly) we opted for the one with a picture of a sheep on its sign. It turned out to be a good choice as the beverages were rated highly and the decor in the ladies' toilets proved to be much to our liking. The Austrian women seemed to like to decorate their facilities with artwork of scantily-clad, handsome men.

Almost as soon as we left the establishment we came across an unmissable cake shop. Well, what's a girl to do? Time for a second break.

Second mid-morning break.

Crossing the dam to Melk.

After crossing the Danube at the dam of the Melk power station, we arrived in the town to visit the famous abbey atop a steep hill. A bicycle friendly route to the abbey proved tricky to find amongst the flights of steps but several friendly passers-by set us straight and the ascent helped work off the cakes.

We were invited to cycle in company on the way by joining a 'Tweed' bike rally to the abbey. It was perhaps our accents which got us the invitation and definitely not our attire.

The religious folks at the abbey had thought of everything and a bike rack and lockers were kindly provided, allowing us to tour unencumbered (even if the locker swallowed our first Euro).

Are you with these crazy girls?

Melk Abbey

Tweed Rally

Strike a pose ladies.

We enjoyed the spectacle of an Austrian wedding, accompanied by a whole football team bearing roses while we toured the grounds of the abbey, before peddling on to our hotel in Emmersdorf.

Our hotel had good and bad points. Truly wonderful were the massaging electric beds in our rooms and the inviting warm bath - bits were aching after four days of hard cycling. Less popular were the 'bike garage' which involved lugging the heavy beasts up steep steps and also the unpleasantly brusque manner of the hostess. We showed her by dining at a rival establishment from which we could enjoy the local choir practice across the street.

Melk Abbey

Ludwig's neighbour for the night in the bike garage.

Nice spot for dinner.

On Sunday we were obviously in wine country and the scenery had changed dramatically. Our route now took us on detours through the centre of every little village along the way, which made a nice change.

In Willendorf Angie and Christine climbed the steps to view the location where the ancient artefact named 'Venus of Willendorf' was discovered. Jane and Maggs decided that viewing photos of the oversized statue version was enough for them.

We did opt out of the 11 am wine tasting, with forty more kilometres to pedal. Instead we stopped for the stingiest and worst value-for-money hot chocolate of the trip.

Source of teeny-weeny expensive hot chocolate and a snooty attitude.

Venus of Willendorf statue

Next came the tourist Mecca of Dürnstein where we enjoyed a free art exhibition in the abbey before pushing on into the metropolis of Krems. By now ice-cream fever had set in and we found a cafe right outside the station which met our needs. We still had a long way to go after surviving the city streets before reaching our hotel at Traismauer.

Wachau Wine Country


Hotel zum Schwan

The Hotel Zum Schwan in Traismauer was a welcome sight and the cold beers we enjoyed in the beautiful garden just perfect. The historic building and the lovely lady who ran the hotel were both gems. Unfortunately no dinner was available on Sundays and the only option in the town was the local Chinese restaurant, but it was 'definitely not Austrian' and the food delicious.

Our longest pedal of all, totalling 70 kms, would bring us to Vienna the next day and we were nervous about crossing the city by bicycle at the end of a long day. The oblivious disembarking passengers of the Cruise boats on the outskirts proved to be a far greater hazard to negotiate than the city itself, which was well signed and provided with cycle lanes, mostly off-road.

As we approached our hotel, we were competent enough with the bikes to try our hand at a spot of stunt riding, when Jane inadvertently took a route down the steps, followed quickly by Christine. Angie and Maggs had more sense and watched in amazement as the others made it safely to the bottom, despite a barrage of flying objects being launched from the bike's front panniers.

It was time to say goodbye to our trusty mounts and leave them safely in the hotel garage and head into the city on public transport instead. Ludwig van Bikehoven had done a sterling job helping Christine's totally unprepared body make it across Austria.

We met up with old friend Daisy for a trip to the Cafe Central (Viennese Cake Heaven) and on the way we were treated to the benefit of Daisy's knowledge from working as a tour guide in the area.

Bye Ludders.

Old meets new in Vienna

Winter Palace

Cafe Central

What to choose?

Our flight didn't leave until the evening the following day so we had the morning to explore. We headed to Belvedere Palace to see their famous art collection.

Our final meal stuck with the theme of eating our way around the world in Austria, when we tracked down a Pakistani restaurant where you could eat what you wanted and pay what you thought fair.

We boarded the airport bus directly opposite our hotel and everything seemed to be going well. Someone even recklessly passed a comment to that effect.

After enjoying our last Austrian beer at the airport we boarded our plane on time, only to be delayed once aboard. First an air traffic delay in Brussels, where we were to change planes, then a thunderstorm kept us on the ground. Things weren't looking good for our connection.

Just as we were about to abandon hope and resign ourselves to a night in Brussels, we took off and made it into Brussels with just enough time to sprint half way across the airport, clear passport control (for some inexplicable reason), pick up the boarding passes we were missing and catch our flight. Unlike the Brussels Airlines experience of the first leg, where upon asking for a glass of water we were told it would be three Euros, on BMI regional the beer was free and much needed

Too much riding into the wind?

Too much beer?

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