Day 14 - 5th June - Grenoble to Monetier les Bains - 69 miles
A very welcome, but hectic, break in Montbonnot, where I stayed for nine days with three grandchildren under the age of six to liven things up (later to be joined by daughter Jacqueline with her two children under the age of three) Never a dull moment! As recompense I was treated like a hero, being wined and dined and partied whenever the occasion permitted.
As "D" day arrived I was itching to get on my way, so about 10am on a warm and sunny day I said my farewells and headed south, skirting Grenoble on the eastern side. The first 10 miles were fairly up and down, but as I joined the N91 at Vizille and turned East I began the serious, if gradual, climb of the Col du Lauteret. (Vizille has a splendid chateau, which is one of the many homes of the French president)
The early stages of the Lauteret are so gradual that, at times it appeared flat, but as I passed through Bourg-DOisans it began to steepen and the final 20 miles to the summit were quite hard. All in all it was a total climb of about 40 miles.
En route to the top I recalled Mike Workmans words that "the Lauteret" was not a "real" col and I could only wonder at how he got that impression. (The following day, as I dropped down the other side, I came to the conclusion that he had only tackled it from East to West as, in that direction, one is already at a fair height in Briancon and so the climb is not so severe)
The scenery over the final few miles of the col was quite spectacular, as one would expect at over 6000 ft in the Alps, but the summit itself was nothing to speak about. Just pausing to take a picture of the junction with the Galibier, I hurried down to find a room in a pleasant small hotel in Monetier les Bains, a village about half-way down the descent and part of the Serre Chevalier ski area.
Total miles to date 926
Day 15 - 6th June - Monetier les Bains to Pinerolo - 66 miles
I left in warm sunshine, looking forward to the all downhill run to Briancon. This turned out to be a disappointing 12 km (only 28 km 17.5 miles from the top of the Lauteret compared with the 40 mile slog up from Grenoble. I am more than ever convinced that Mike Workman climbed the Briancon side!)
I last visited Briancon in 1954, when Joan and I stayed overnight in what I thought was a picturesque old walled town. What a change in 46 years! I found an overgrown and traffic riddled town with appalling road surfaces and confusing road signs.
Completely disillusioned, I beat a retreat and was soon heading due east for Italy via the cols de Montgenevre and Sestriere, two well known ski resorts. Moderately hard cols, but well surfaced and engineered with surprisingly little traffic, considering it was one of the few routes into Italy, bearing in mind that the Mont Blanc tunnel has been closed for some time since the disastrous fire.
Ski resorts are not at their best in high Summer ,and Montgenevre and Sestriere were no exception,with all the hotels and shops shut up. Not even a bank or cash machine for me to acquire some necessary Lira.
Sestriere was particularly uninviting as I was feeling hungry and the weather had deteriorated, threatening a storm.
After a search round this near deserted village I eventually spied a small bar which appeared to be serving food.
I was made welcome in a mixture of French and Italian and was served a super meal of pasta (of course!) with lots of nice bread and wine, followed by ice cream, then cheese and a coffee. The proprietor was happy to take my French Francs and the whole meal cost about a fiver!
Whilst noshing, the threatened storm arrived and it was a very hostile environment that met me as I left, with near freezing temperatures, sleet and a howling wind. Despite my piling on all my available clothing, for the first time on my trip I did not enjoy a mountain descent, as controlling the bike was extremely difficult, since I was chilled to the bone and struggled to see through the driving sleet.
However, as is often the case in high mountains, after descending about 2000 ft the storm eased and, as I warmed up, my spirits returned to normal. How one can run the whole gamut of emotions on a bike ride!
Continuing to drop a long, long way in the direction of Turin and the Po valley, the Sun began to peep out and, stopping at a "Hole in the wall" at a small village bank I was able to stock up with "millions" of Lira and, at the same time peel off my warm clothing. What an absolute boon these cash dispensers are. No longer is it necessary to carry piles of currency for each country or mess about with travellers cheques. It really has made travelling so much easier.
Dropping lower and lower off the mountains it was becoming apparent that I had entered "non-tourist" territory, as there was not a hotel to be seen. In this situation the best policy is to head for what appears (on the map) to be a reasonable sized town. My target was Pinerolo which lies about 25 miles south-west of Turin.
Arriving about 5 pm (rush hour!), several circuits were required before, with luck on my side , I spotted the tourist information office, where the young lady spoke reasonable English. Much to my surprise, I discovered that such a busy town only boasted two hotels, one fairly central and one on the outskirts. The latter was further, and in the wrong direction so I decided to make for (with the aid of a street map) the "Hotel Residence". This lay behind a huge church standing atop a hill with a very steep, narrow and cobbled road as access.
By this time the temperature had risen considerably and, being very sweaty and thirsty, I was relieved to ride through the large hotel entrance gates to the door of a very imposing building. The interior, however, belied it`s impressive exterior, being quite Spartan , with not a soul in sight. A few tinkles on a small hand bell in a tiny cubicle of an office eventually brought a middle-aged lady. This was my first encounter with a non-English speaking Italian and with my lack of the language it took some time to get my message across. Eventually, however, a room with a shower and the prospect of an evening meal and breakfast were negotiated at some low figure of about £18 all in.
My bike was accommodated in a large laundry room and I was led along a narrow corridor to a small and rather rickety old lift to be shown a basic, but quite adequate, room with a balcony (essential for drying one`s daily laundry). En route to my room, in the corridor, we passed an elderly couple sitting about ten feet apart on sparse wooden chairs, both staring into space. The old mother and father, I thought, as it is common on the continent for hotels to be passed on from generation to generation of the same family.
Just about 7 pm ( the appointed hour), having showered and laundered, I made my way down the two flights of stairs to rendezvous with my evening meal. This time, another encounter with a very old man, walking shakily with the aid of a stick, set me wondering what sort of establishment I had chosen for the night!
Back at ground level I proceeded gingerly round several corners until, hearing the sound of cutlery being wielded, I spotted an open door which obviously led to a dining room. To my consternation, on entering, I found the room was full of very old and infirm people equipped with feeding bibs and being fed by helpers.
Help! I looked in vain for a table set for one and, being unable to speak the lingo, the early stages of panic were starting to grip me. Fortunately, after several minutes (seemed like hours!) a young waitress entered the room, and spotting me, she beckoned me to follow her to another small room further down the corridor. This turned out to be a small dining room for about 6 or 8 people, where I was served an excellent meal with local wine and all was well that ended well!
Later, I took a stroll on a beautiful warm evening around the floodlit church and then retired to sleep the sleep of the innocent (or the aged!)
Morning brought an adequate breakfast (with tea!), whereupon, on settling my bill, I learnt that I had spent the night in an old persons rest home which, when it had spare rooms, would take a few extra guests. One more mini adventure to make my trip so memorable.
Total miles to date 992
Day 16 - 7th June - Pinerolo to Casale Monferrato - 79 miles
Leaving Pinerolo at about 8.30 it was already very hot, 30° C.
I was heading east towards Turin but hoping to avoid the major built up areas by passing to the South. Unfortunately, what appeared on the map to be a very minor road across the river Po and then under a motorway, turned out to be a dead end. Despite my map reading efforts I finally ended up in the southern suburbs of Turin which was quite hectic with crazy traffic. To add to my discomfort everyone I asked could not speak a word of English (why should they?), but, less excusable, none of them appeared capable of reading a map!
Self help came into play. Head down, get stuck in along a murderously busy road and navigate by a combination of map, sun and intuition. It worked! I was soon crossing another bridge across the Po on the south-east corner of the city and heading for some pleasant undulating terrain (up to about 1200ft) which lay south of the Po between Turin and Asti (of Spumante fame?).
It was a superb picnic type day so a stop to provision in a tiny shop, which appeared to sell everything, was followed by a leisurely alfresco lunch on a bench under some shady trees by a village fountain (heaven!).
A scorching hot afternoon followed as I wandered through a succession of small villages each seemingly deserted (mad dogs and Englishmen?)
I dropped off the elevated land and then had a nice flat run into what appeared to be a likely overnight stopping place-a small town on the Po called Casale Monferrato which turned out to be a delight. Not too big. A superb collection of medieval buildings round a large cobbled and traffic free square with an outstanding church and town hall.
The attractions of a journey like this are the surprises which lie in wait in areas considered non-touristy and yet yield some real gems.
No great problem finding a hotel. Typical Italian through a narrow door and up a few stairs, but cheap and adequate. It was still scorching at 8pm when I strolled round the town. It caused the cool beer to taste all the better.
The greatest mileage so far. I must be getting run in!
Total miles to date 1071
Day 17 - 8th June - Casale Monferrato to Lodi - 67 miles
I was met by another scorcher as I left Casale at about 8.30. A couple of miles on a busy road brought me to a junction where I turned east again, on the main route from Turin to Milan. I expected that this road would carry a lot of traffic, but, to my surprise, it was just the reverse, with hardly anything on the road. I was finding it impossible to predict, from scanning the map, how much traffic a road would carry.
Another surprise for the next 20 miles or so were the paddy fields of the Po valley rice growing area, which I found quite interesting. The many flat and flooded fields were at different stages of cultivation with some of them prepared but bare of a crop whilst others would be a vivid green with well advanced growth. I wondered if rice was a crop that can be grown all year round.
The other interesting facet of this area was the fauna. Bird life was in abundance with lots of herons standing in the waters in their usual patient fashion. There were three different types of herons (egrets?), all appearing smaller than our native grey. The Marsh Harrier was also in evidence.
The irrigation ditches on both sides of the road gave a chorus of croaking toads and there was the occasional plop of some water creature diving for cover. All in all, an interesting experience..
When I eventually climbed away from the paddy fields and travelled a short distance to the north of the Po, the predominant rice crops gave way to mile after mile of maize. What an amazing crop is maize. It has the ability to span all climatic zones, as I have seen it grown in Africa and right across Europe as far north as Germany and Holland and, of course, Britain in recent years.
Journeying east, I passed through a series of small towns/villages with typical Italian sounding names Candia Lomellina, Valle Lomellina, Semiana, Lomello, Sanmazzano and finally into the larger town of Pavia. Pavia lies at the confluence of the rivers Po and Ticino, the latter flowing South from Lake Maggiore. Pavia was a bustling town where I lunched in a rather high class restaurant but where the clientele never turned a hair at the sight of a sweaty, sunburnt old man in bike gear!
Since Pavia lay due south of Milan it was time for me to turn in a north-easterly direction to head for Lake Garda and the Dolomites.
By afternoon it was getting unbearably hot ( I saw a thermometer reading 38 deg C!) and my main concern was the avoidance of sunburn and dehydration. With this in mind I headed for the next town of any size, which was Lodi, about 25 miles away.
Lodi turned out to be another unexpected delight of old buildings and a huge traffic free area, which, by 7 pm was full of the townsfolk strolling in the warm evening. A good proportion of these people, including complete families, were riding bikes and it was a joy to behold, having come from Britain where urban cycling was practically non existent.
Total miles to date 1138
Day 18 - 9th June - Lodi to Rivoltella di Garda - 79 miles
A super three star hotel last night. An exception to the usual Italian hotel as it served a wonderful buffet style breakfast, more akin to what one would expect in Holland or Germany.
Another scorcher of a day (38degC) and still flattish terrain as I crossed three rivers, all flowing from north to south into the Po.
Road surfaces were excellent, except for the short stretch of road through each village, where they were in an appalling condition a bit like Stockport. Perhaps this is deliberate so as to slow the traffic down as it passes through the village. On the other hand, perhaps the local village council is responsible for that bit of road and they dont like shelling out!
By early afternoon I began to catch a welcome glimpse of the foothills of the Dolomites ahead of me. The flat riding was just beginning to pall a little, especially having an effect on my backside.
A slight late hiccup occurred as I discovered that my chosen route to the southern shore of Lake Garda had been turned into a motorway, with bikes prohibited, and no indication of where the latter were supposed to go. A number of false moves lead me to either a dead-end or a route which was obviously going in the wrong direction. Spirits sank a bit as, hot,sticky and tired, I had to detour over a climb of about 500 ft to approach the lake from a slightly different direction.
Lake Garda is quite attractive and my spirits were soon revived with the aid of an ice cream and a picture taking stroll amongst the many boats in the small harbour. I was in Desenzano del Garda, which was very touristy and busy, even in early June, so I decided to head out of town along the lake in the direction of the Sirmione peninsular, which I recalled from a very brief motorised visit many years ago.
A small hotel on the side of the lake had a room which was, at £36 , the most expensive of my trip as, on average, I had been paying £18 to £20. But on the shores of Lake Garda I was obviously ripe for rip-off.
However, to compensate, I had a very good meal of assorted fish, freshly caught from the lake. After a splendid meal, washed down by local wine I was ready to attack the Dolomites the next day.
Total miles to date 1217
Day 19 - 10th June - Rivoltella di Garda to Trento - 75 miles
A study of the map (I used Kummerley & Frey 1:200,000 four required to cross Italy- and the same scale as the usual Michelin ones to cross France) prompted me to choose the eastern side of the lake. The route was coloured yellow, whereas the western side was red. I was not sure what this meant as the yellow (minor?) road carried a lower classification (249) than the red (Major?) one which was 572.
The deciding factor was that the route along the eastern side appeared to have fewer of the "dreaded" tunnels. Ever since a very close encounter in an unlit tunnel in France about three years earlier I had developed a loathing of them. The fact that, on this trip, I was equipped with lights did very little to boost my confidence and I was always relieved to reach that pool of light at the far end.
As one would expect along Lake Garda on a Saturday the road was very busy. I later learned that it was extra busy as it was a holiday week-end all over Europe. Some stunning views as the road clung to the edge of the lake for the whole of the 45 mile trip ( a big lake!) right up to its Northern tip at Riva di Garda.
Taking lunch on the outskirts of Riva my peace was broken when a coach load of Brits. arrived. They were en route for home via Verona airport after a week of walking in the Dolomites. "Walking" was. I think, a figure of speech, as all I got out of them was that it had been too damned hot all week to do any walking. Some people are never satisfied.
After lunch the heat was such that I decided that the 25 miles or so to reach Trento for an overnight would be enough for me. What I forgot was that at the lakeside I was at a very low altitude and that the minor route I had chosen rose to over 2000 metres. A climb equal to four "Cat and Fiddles" over a distance of about seven miles!
However, the effort was well worthwhile as my subsequent descent took me through some fantastic scenery in the "Reserva Naturale Monte Bondone". As I dropped into Trento I entered an extensive fruit growing area with the flanks of the valley terraced and lined with orchards.
A great days ride, capped off with a night in a small friendly hotel in a bustling, historic town, all "en fete" for the holiday week-end.
It was my first ever visit to one of the southern Dolomite towns and I was surprised how prosperous it appeared. This was to be even more noticeable in Merano the following day.
Total miles to date 1292
Day 20 - 11th June - Trento to Merano - 58 miles
A beautiful warm morning as I left Trento about 8.15. I discovered on appearing for breakfast that my overnight resting spot was a "room only" hotel and did not serve breakfast in any shape or form, hence the early start. The emergency plan was to make headway for an hour or so and then call in a bar en route for a bite to eat.
Heading due north, direction Bolzano, I used a major road out of town but it was extremely quiet as it was quite early on a holiday and a motorway running parallel took what little traffic there was. On the downside, however, within 30 minutes the sky clouded over and what I thought was a spot of drizzle set in. Always the optimist! The drizzle got heavier and heavier and, by the time I had left the main road and commenced climbing in the direction of Madonna di Campiglio ( a Dolomite ski resort), it was bucketing down.
The route was picturesque, despite the rain, but also isolated and it was around 10 am before a breakfast spot appeared. A coffee and two croissant type buns was my ration and whilst sitting under cover I realised how wet I was and cold! The temperature had dropped considerably with the onset of the heavy rain and I had to pile on all my spare clothing before setting off again.
My chosen route took me up a minor road over the Passo di Palade (Gampen Joch in German.- I was now well into the German speaking Sud Tirol). At 1512 metres (4900 ft) I did not consider it a major obstacle, but , due to the extreme cold and wet it is fair to say that I have enjoyed many climbs a lot more than this particular one.
About 1 pm, with spirits fairly low, and some 10 km to go to the summit I spotted a restaurant on the edge of a small village and, unlike the other closed ones I had seen, it appeared to be open. It was a smart place but, despite my sodden state and the fact that I was leaving pools of water everywhere, I was made welcome.
A hearty three course lunch with a liberal amount of red wine brought some feeling back into my frozen limbs and worked wonders for my mental state! It also did the trick with the weather. A few minutes after leaving my lunch spot the rain eased and the clouds lifted. I was even able to take a photograph of the small chapel at the top of the pass. My optimism was restored!
A 15 mile swoop off the top of the pass brought me rapidly to Merano, which turned out to be quite a large, busy and touristy town with some huge and splendid mansions and hotels. Obviously a place of considerable wealth..
I tried to follow the several signs to the tourist information office, but it eluded me, so I did a tour of an area occupied by large old houses, some of which were now small hotels. At the third attempt (it was still a holiday week-end) I found a vacancy in a two star place, with an old friendly proprietor The latter assured mw that it was only a ten minute walk into the centre of town to find an eating place, so, after a quick laundry session (both garments and body) I set off through a maze of residential side streets in search of food.
Making a mental note of the road on which the hotel lay, I headed for what I thought would be the town centre, eventually following a couple of people who appeared to know where they were going. Funny, how, when unsure of ones way, it is a big temptation to follow other people! It worked! I found myself in parkland beside a river with the bright lights of a busy square and thoroughfare on the other side.
At this point it started raining but, fortunately, I found a restaurant and tucked into an excellent pasta, followed by cheese and washed down by plenty of wine. Perhaps the wine was my downfall or the heavy rain softened my brain (needless to say, I had no rainwear with me), but, in retracing my steps to the hotel I got hopelessly lost. I spent a ridiculous hour, in the dark, and getting wetter and wetter as I walked round and round in circles!
I could only remember the name of the road on which the hotel lay. The name of the hotel eluded me "never mind, it will be on the key ring" A fumble in a pocket revealed a blank key ring! Minor panic began to set in as the few people I found around failed to speak English or to make sense of my pronunciation of the road name. "What do I do? Where can I find a policeman?" Growing wetter and more leg-weary by the minute and with every road I tried looking the same as any other I espied a smart looking woman walking her dog. She looked educated enough to speak some English! How right I was . She quickly grasped the situation and pointed me in the right direction . What a relief! My multi-kilometred legs were dropping off as I climbed into bed at turned 11 pm. Another lesson learnt!
Total miles to date1350
Day 21 - 12th June - Merano to Vipiteno (Sterzing) - 38 miles
Still part of the holiday week-end (the European equivalent of Bank Holiday Monday) as I sat down to breakfast with about a dozen leather-clad German motorcyclists.
My route lay north-east towards the Austrian border at the Brenner Pass, with on overnight in Vipiteno, the last town on the Italian side. I had the prospect of a major climb over the Passo di Monte Giovo (the Jaufenpass) at 2099 meteres (6900 ft) and I was quite looking forward to this as the scenery was really stunning.
The moment I left the town, the road reared upwards and it turned out to be the steepest col of my whole trip so far. I climbed continuously for 25.1 miles and, including a one hour stop for lunch it took me five hours to reach the summit. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the least enjoyable climb of my trip, not because it was the hardest, but because I copped for the chosen route home for hundreds of German motorcyclists who were travelling (hunting?) in packs of 10 or 12. It put the Cat and Fiddle on a sunny Sunday in the shade as they came screaming up, throwing themselves round the hairpins. Although climbing hard I managed to find enough breath to swear aloud at them and wish them all in hell!
Fortunately, I did not have to suffer the "Hunnish Hordes" all the way to Vipiteno as, about 10 miles from the summit, the great majority turned off in a north-westerly direction to head over lots of foreign currency these days.
With a long steady drop due northwards towards Innsbruck I made good progress and decided to make up for the previous days record low mileage by piling them in whilst the going was good. I was aiming to avoid the centre of Innsbruck so took a detour round the south-eastern edge through the small ski village of Igls. This involved a fair climb but, as I dropped down to join the Inn valley, I had a long flat stetch until late afternoon.
This west/east route is one of the major Austrian conduits and was fairly busy but the alternative would have been to venture into the mountains either side, with the subsequent hard terrain having an adverse effect on my mileage. By mid-afternoon, in very hot weather, I was able to leave the main road, which followed the river Inn to the north-east, and I headed due east in the direction of the Kitzbuheler Alps.
I was, once again, in an area well known to me through my past perusals of annual ski brochures and I was aiming to spend the night in St, Johan in Tirol which lies about 20 miles north of Kitzbuhel itself. Inevitably, heading for a ski area led to some long hard climbs and I was somewhat hot and weary, with 90 miles under my wheels, as I arrived in the very typically picturesque town of St. Johan.
No problems finding a bed. St. Johan is a very popular Summer resort and there were lots of hotels. I discovered that a music festival was in progress and prayed (successfully) that the umpah umpah music would cease well before midnight, for me to get some sleep!
A superb outdoor evening meal in the company of a group of Brits, who were on a coach tour, rounded off a long day. It seemed amazing that I had started off the day in the Italian Dolmites.
Total miles to date 1479
Day 23 - 14th June - St. Johan to Lungotz - 65 miles
A quick ride round St. Johan revealed a bike shop, where I purchased a small container of oil for my chain. Magic stuff. A very thin oil with a small amount of silicon added. The latter separated as a white deposit until the mixture was shaken and it certainly helped to sweeten my gear changes. The chain treatment carried out two weeks earlier, using the olive oil from a tin of sardines had become rather sticky!
Soon under way on yet another warm and sunny day (how boring, all this good weather!) and heading due east in the direction of Saalfelden which lies on the main road from Saltzburg to Kaprun (where the ski train tunnel disaster occurred earlier that year).
A number of moderate climbs saw me passing through the hamlet of Hutten, which brought back memories, as I had spent three "en famille" ski holidays there in the past. Minimal traffic and the thirty or so miles to Saalfelden were through some very pretty scenery. This small town was rather busy so I quickly circumnavigated it to head East and over the hardest climb of the day, the Filtzen Sattel. Only about 4000 ft., but a gradient of 15%, which is exceptionally steep for a European climb.
A short descent brought me to a delightful small village called Dienten. This had several large and splendid hotels, all except one looking closed up. The one provided me with a first class lunch in a cavern of a restaurant occupied by a total of three diners. The beer was also excellent and this did not help my climbing as I encountered another steep, but not too long , climb immediately after lunch.
My afternoon route lay eastwards again until reaching Bischofshofen, where I turned north-easterly onto the "Saltzburger Dolomitenstrasse", which would take me round (and avoiding) Saltzburg. From its name I expected this route to be busy, but it was not, and I enjoyed a late afternoon ride in what was now more gentle terrain after five days of mountains. Although I was now leaving the high mountains I had a spectacular view of the Dachstein range away to my right, with its 10,000 ft. peaks and its two glaciers.
About 6 pm I came across a small roadside inn in the tiny hamlet of Lungotz and I spent a pleasant night as the only guest (out of the main tourist area and also only mid June obviously out of season).
Total miles to date 1633
Day 24 - 15th June - Lungotz to Wels - 89 miles
A big change in the weather today after a violent overnight storm. Quite cool in comparison to recent days and very overcast with some wet and puddly roads.
My route lay down the Lammertal, a nice steady drop but, with a chill in the air I could have done with a climb and not a descent. However some 9 miles of dropping brought me to the valley bottom and by this time the sun was starting to peep through and I was warming up.
I was now approaching the lake district region which lies east and south-east of Saltzburg and is a popular holiday area for Austrians. I chose a very small road over the Postalm, the final col of my long journey. It turned out to be a superbly quiet and picturesque road which climbed to about 3500 ft. and then a steep descent brought me into the area known as the Saltzkammergut and to the town of Bad Ischl yet another spa town one of dozens I must have passed through since leaving home.
Still heading north-easterly in the direction of the Danube, I noted that, on my map, the next 17 km. Were called the "Osterreich Romantikstrasse". Whilst it was scenically quite pretty, I would not say that I felt very romantic. With 60 miles covered and only a light lunch consumed, perhaps hungry and thirsty would best describe my mood!
However, the "Austrian Romantic Street" brought me to the small and bustling lakeside town of Ebensee, where a beer and a sandwich restored my romanticism.
I had been following the river Traun, which flows into the Danube at Linz, so I was beginning to sense the approaching end of my long journey with a creeping feeling of anti-climax. At Ebensee the river widens into a lake, the Traunsee, some 17 km. in length and on this beautiful Summers day everywhere looked as if out of a picture book in that "very pretty" Austrian manner.
The ride along the lake was particularly enjoyable as, for a good deal of its length the old lakeside road had been by-passed by a new motorway tunnel, leaving the old road traffic free and a joy to cycle on.
At the Northern end of the Traunsee, in the town old of Gmunden, I studied my map and chose a back road in the direction of Linz. Within a few miles the sky had become black and a heavy storm engulfed me on a stretch of road without shelter. How it brought back memories as I crouched under my new Carradice cape at the side of the road. In heavy rain there is really no substitiute for a cape.
After about 20 minutes the rain eased and I sploshed my way along, dodging the deep puddles. Pausing to study my map in a village a few miles further on, an old local spoke to me and in semi-German, semi-English asked me where I was from and where I was bound. On being told, he expressed amazement and also added the usual bit about being a cyclist himself when younger. We bade each other farewell, but shortly afterwards he retraced his steps to ask me my age. On being told, he looked more amazed than ever and shuffled away shaking his head!
My route had quickly brought me from a quite touristy area to one completely devoid of likely accommodation, leaving no alternative but to push on to the nearest town, a further 20 miles up the road. On arrival in Wels, feeling a bit weary, I pulled into the first hotel that appeared. This turned out to be a splendid four star job so I revelled in well earned luxury! The breakfast was a real banquet, but it lacked one vital thing tea! On requesting same, I was presented with a box containing about 20 different varieties of herbal and fruit teas, but no "tea" tea. It took me some time before I got my message over to the waitress!
Total miles to date 1633
Day 25 - 16th June - Wels to Melk - 83 miles
During my after-dinner stroll in Wels I noticed what appeared to be cycle routes leading down to the river Taun and this morning I headed straight for these. On joining the river I discovered that this stretch of the Taun also had the traffic free paths alongside, similar to the Danube.
I bowled along (down stream of course) on a route which varied from broad, smooth tarmac to narrow shale or grit, but whatever the surface it was an enjoyable ride. After about 20 miles I reached the Danube. What a river! The Taun was wide but where it met the Danube the combined effect was the widest river I had ever seen. The confluence, fortunately, was down stream of Linz, so I was spared the journey through, what is probably a very busy city.
At this point I joined the well know "Donau Radweg" (Danube Cycleway) which follows the river the 200 or so miles from Passau in Germany to Vienna. All was in my favour. I was travelling down-stream and I also had a tail wind. I bowled along at around evens as I passed lots of cyclists along the route. Many were on organised holidays and were mostly American, Dutch or German on heavy , probably hired, bikes. Others were family groups with couples and children of all ages, obviously just out for a days ride.
In all , that day, I passed about 60 or 70 cyclists. Many more than I had encountered on my whole trip.
The flat terrain was a change from some of the mountains I had encountered. The route did not stick rigidly to the river, but, at times, would deviate through small villages with the odd short stretch of main road. Another feature was the abundance of catering places and B & Bs along the route, many of them providing solely for cyclists as they were situated away from any motor roads.
After several hours the flatness began to pall, especially as the inevitable pressure on the saddle began to tell. After all, I am a mountain man at heart!
I was aiming to stop about midway between Wels and Vienna, and the monastery town of Melk looked a likely place. I spied Melk from over the fields a few miles away. The monastery stood on a hill above the town and was a fantastic gold and white affair, just crying out to be photographed.
On arrival in the town I found it to be quite busy with tourists but I had no problem finding a hotel room as it would appear that most of the tourists were day trippers from either Linz or Vienna. The monastery was magnificent. I could not help but wonder at the cost, not only of construction, but also of maintenance as practically the whole building was gilded.
Total miles to date 1716
Day 26 - 17th June - Wels to Vienna - 79 miles
The final day of my long journey! Whilst looking forward to meeting my sister and brother-in-law in Vienna I again got that feeling of anticlimax. Who was it that said "Better to travel hopefully than to arrive"?
My first priority was to buy a map as my current one did not cover my final days route into Vienna. I knew that in order to reach my destination on the west side of the city I would have to leave the river route, as the Danube flows north and east of the city the wrong direction for me. The search for a map in Melk proved fruitless, but was not urgent as I had a good few miles of river to follow during the morning.
The first 25 miles took me through the "Wachau", the well known (to Viennese) wine producing area, with its "fairy tale" castles perched high on the hill sides. This was a pleasant stretch, especially as my route often lay through fields of vines and fruit orchards. Towards the end of the Wachau I reached Krems, a bustling university town whose main thoroughfares were jam packed with people attending some annual festival along with the usual "umpah" bands and frankfurter stalls. Pushing my way through this lot was not easy, but eventually I found a shop with a suitable map to help me navigate the final miles.
On leaving Krems the terrain on each side of the river became quite flat and I was glad to say goodbye to the Danube at a small place called Tulnn. Here I telephoned my Viennese relatives who kindly offered to meet me on the outskirts of the city to guide me in over the last few kilometres. Ahead of me were the Vienna Hills which lie to the north-west of the city and rise to about 1500 ft. It was great to do some real climbing after more than three days of flattish terrain.
Near the top of my ascent I spied a sign to the "Tulbinger Kogel", at 494 metres and obviously a local tourist attraction. Some madness prompted me turn up this road to conquer one final challenge before climbing off. Unfortunately, after 3 or 4 kilometres the tarmac gave way to a rocky track and after a further 3 or 4 kilometres I came across an unsigned fork. This prompted sanity to return and I retraced and sped down the hill to rendezvous with Jean and Walter and to be given a fantastic heros welcome!
Journeys end. A nice feeling of achievement, but what next?
Total miles for the whole journey 1895
Chapter 4 - Footnotes