“I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I want to ride my Bike.” So sang Freddie Mercury and Queen in 1978. For us, cycling is a fairly recent pleasure and we have been keen to experience a point to point cycling holiday. Step forward a small cycling holiday company in Germany named Mercurio, recommended to us by friends who have cycled with them.
We recently found ourselves in Passau, Germany at the start of a week of cycling, from there, to Vienna in Austria. Before departing on our cycling trip we had an opportunity to explore the city on our own and as part of a guided walking tour.
Passau is a small city lying at the junction of three rivers, the Danube, Ils and the Inn. A university town it was first mentioned as a roman provincial settlement. In 739, an English monk called Boniface founded the diocese of Passau, which for many years was the largest diocese of the German Kingdom/Holy Roman Empire, covering territory in southern Bavaria and most of what is now Upper and Lower Austria. In the 13th century, bishops living in Passau became the rulers of the small principality and it slowly grew to become a Bavarian city by 1803.
Top Left and right: Passau and the sights. Bottom Left to Right: Lyn on a street “bench”; Passau Street
Sunday evening – Us testing the local produce………purely in the name of research you know!!
Following a devastating fire in 1662, much of the city was rebuilt in the Baroque style by Italian architects and master craftsmen of the age. The most impressive highlight is St Stephens Cathedral with intricate stonework and colour inside and out. It is home to the worlds largest Cathedral organ with 17,974 pipes and 233 stops. The organ is made up of five parts in different areas of the cathedral, which means they can all be played separately, or together from the master console.
Compilation of shots inside and outside St. Stephens Cathedral, Passau.
Atop a hill overlooking Passau is the Fortesss “Veste Oberhaus”, a huge castle complex, one of the largest in Europe. This gives magnificent panoramic views over the city. When we walked up it was thronged with tourists, many off the river cruises that sail the Danube, stopping at places of interest.
Clockwise from top left: Two Thinkers; Passau Panorama; A Passau Coffee shop; Us on the walking tour of Passau.
Lying on the junction of three rivers makes Passau somewhat prone to flooding. The Town Hall sits on the quayside and painted on the wall are the dates and water levels of the worst floods to hit the city. As can be seen from the photograph below, illustrated by our guide Anja the most recent flood was in 2013 when the water level reached over 4m.
Top Left: Where three rivers meet; The Ilz is just off to the left. Top Right: Photo of a photo showing the 2013 flood level in that street; Bottom: Our guide Anja points out the high water marks on the Town Hall wall.
Tours over, it was time to get cycling. Our guide Andre had helped match us to our bikes and make any adjustments needed. Panniers were provided for any personal kit we required for each day, and after a quick individual trial up and down the quiet streets of Passau, the group of 11 intrepid cyclists gathered together and set off behind our guide.
The distance was a short one today, only 26 miles to our first night stop in a village on the Danube named Schlogen. About 15 minutes after leaving Passau, we also left Germany and crossed in to Austria. No fanfares, no massive sign saying “Welcome to Austria, just a road sign and a petrol station as we rode along the cycle track adjacent to the road.
The cycle path followed road and riverside for many miles, yet there was no hurry, a leisurely pace to suit all as we adjusted to our bikes and got used to riding on the wrong side of the road/path.
The leaves on the trees are starting to lose their summer green and slipping into the autumnal gold which makes this season so spectacular. Soon the trees which cover the hillsides along the river will be a rich golden colour, adding a new dimension to already rich mountain scenery.
We eventually arrived at our destination, the village of Schlogen, and after a short ferry ride across the river to reach our hotel, we checked in. The hotel sits at the start of a double bend in the Danube and our room afforded us view both ways.
Top: Ferry ‘cross the Danube. Bikes on a ferry; Middle: Our hotel at Schlogen. Panorama view of the Danube from our room. Bottom: Ready to ride
The Danube originates in the town of Donaueschingen, in the Black Forest of Germany, at the confluence of the rivers Brigach and Breg. It flows southeast for 2,850 km (1,770 mi), passing through or touching the border of Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. A key trading route since Roman times, many large cargo barges transport goods and raw materials up and downstream and large river cruise boats offer holiday experiences sailing to towns and cities on the river.
The next morning dawned cool and foggy and after breakfast we collected our bikes from the secure store and embarked on a 35 mile stage to Linz, our first big city in Austria. Once again the cycling is relaxed and our guide orchestrates several “regroup” and rest stops en route. These often include riverside cafes where we sit and watch the craft on the river or the wild life.
Day 2 dawns and the fog eventually clears
Top Row: L – River Danube; R – Sculpture on the Danube. Middle Row L & R – Cafe on the River. Bottom: Childrens Memorial stone
Whilst on the trail today the landscape is undergoing a change. The steep sided hills are levelling out and giving way to wide open flat plains. We are entering agricultural and industrial Austria. Frequent enormous technical concrete barriers span the river, which at this point can be as wide as 300m. These provide flood control in times of heavy rain, hydro-electric generation, and at one end, a huge lock to enable the river borne shipping to travel up and down river. They are fascinating constructions and also provide a means of crossing the river for pedestrians and cyclists.
Close to one of these huge barriers, we came across a large memorial stone on a plinth. The plaque, written in German, stated that it was a memorial to over 30,000 handicapped and disabled children who were taken by the Nazi regime between 1940 and 1944 and murdered because of their disability. It was a simple and sombre reminder of past events and the cruelty of mankind.
One of the features of this trip is Andre’s picnic lunch. Each day his assistant, also Andre, prepares a comprehensive spread of fresh veg, fruit together with meat and cheese and a variety of breads. The picnic is usually located at a picturesque site en-route and is all ready for us when we arrive.
Picnic on the Danube. One of two tables of food.
A short distance from Linz the flow of the river has been “adapted” to create a large flat still water lake which has become the Austrian National Rowing Centre. So good are these facilities that this centre has been chosen to host the 2019 World Rowing Championships. It is a huge facility that we were able to look around briefly during a refreshment stop.
We eventually left the riverside path and cycled the short distance into Linz where we walked to our hotel.
On offer before dinner was a free guided tour of the centre of Linz (we only had one hour). This briefly covered some of the history, Linz today and some noteworthy former residents of the city. One in particular achieved world notoriety to say the least. As a four year old boy, Adolf Hitler was brought to live in Linz by his parents. They stayed for a few years before moving on. It is said that Hitler never forgot his time in Linz.
On the morning of 12 March, the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria. The troops were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes. That afternoon, Hitler, riding in a car, crossed the border at his birthplace, Braunau am Inn, and in the evening, he arrived at Linz and was given an enthusiastic welcome. From the balcony on this building he proclaimed the annexation of Austria into the 3rd Reich or “Anschluss” as it became known. Our guide said the population of Linz were more indifferent to the arrival of Hitler, with few turning up to salute the take over, his declaration speech being greeted with some apathy.
Top L – Linz’s Anschluss Building. R – The Balcony where Hitler made his proclamation Bottom: L – Monument in Linz Square. R – View of the square
Other more respected and notable residents of Linz include the mathematician Johannes Kepler, who spent several years of his life in the city teaching. In 1615 he discovered the distance-cubed-over-time-squared — or ‘third’ — law of planetary motion. The local public university, Kepler Johannes University Linz, is named after him.
Another famous citizen was Anton Bruckner, who spent the years between 1855 and 1868 working as a local composer and organist in the Old Cathedral, Linz. The Brucknerhaus is named after him.
Views of Linz
Our tour was through the original part of Linz from its founding as part of the old Holy Roman Empire. Modern Linz has spread across the Danube and the main commercial centre lies close to our hotel. Two modern buildings stood out as we walked back after dinner, the Music Theatre which lies close to the river about half a mile from the bridge and is dressed in bright blue light each evening. The Modern Arts Centre known as Ars Electronica is next to the river bridge. This building has an ever changing light show generated entirely randomly by computer projected on to its sides and is spectacular and mesmerising and could be a distraction for drivers crossing!
Left and centre: Linz Music Theatre. Right: Ars Electronica
Linz is Austria’s third largest city and outside of the main city area lies much heavy industry, chemical and industrial plants along the river. We would see much more of this as we embarked on the next leg the following morning. This would be our longest day in the saddle at 41 miles. The remaining part of the cycle ride will be covered in part 2 of the blog, to follow.