I’m sitting in a restaurant in the village of Kirchroth (population 3,600), eastern Bavaria, with a local wheat beer on the table and a schnitzel, which probably came from the farm next door, in my stomach. On the table beside me the kitchen staff are sitting down to their end-of-shift meal and chatting to all the locals as they leave. I don’t understand a lot of German at the best of times, but even I can tell that the Bavarian accent is thick here; It’s a bit more sing-song like than the German I’m used to hearing.
I arrived here about an hour ago. I’m roughly 20km short of today’s intended destination, but today happens to have been the wettest day of the trip so far and after stopping and starting of hours, waiting under trees and bus shelters as thunderstorms swept overhead, I’d had enough. So when I spotted a little hotel above the restaurant I’m now in, I didn’t think twice. I was greeted by a friendly, round woman in traditional dress who gave me a key, no questions asked and no forms filled in, and explained where my room was. She is also the only waitress in the restaurant, and her english is surprisingly good.
It seems the European weather I’d been promised by so many people has finally caught up with me, and, until this last hour, I was regretting my decision to even try to make some ground today – Yesterday I sat out the rain at a friends house in Regensburg, and I had the option to do the same today – But these experiences with genuine people in old fashioned villages are what I enjoy the most about what I’m doing and where I am right now. Having said that, my time in Regensburg was also brilliant. I arrived on Friday afternoon and met Verena, a friend and former workmate from Sydney. She took me to a Bavarian restaurant where I was lucky enough(?) to taste pig lung, then to some local bars and yesterday a local football game. It’s safe to say SSV Jahn Regensburg aren’t going to be challenging Bayern Munich for a title any time soon, in fact I think they’d even struggle to compete with the All Whites, but the currywurst was good, and the crowd was passionate and entertaining – even if at times I did feel like I was at Nazi party rally.
After leaving Ulm a few days ago I cycled a steady 110km to Donauworth, which is one of the most beautiful and lively towns yet – This is actually one of the big differences I’ve noticed between France and Germany: while French towns felt deserted, the German towns are all bustling with life and energy. You never have an issue finding somewhere to eat, the menus are varied, the food good, staff friendly (and English speaking), and prices reasonable. Granted I wasn’t in the most commonly visited parts of France, and I know my love of the Germans makes me see this country through rose-tinted glasses, but why so many people travel to France and never give Germany a second thought is completely beyond me. Anyway, I got to Donauworth late because the sunset was too epic to cycle through and I ended up getting out my camera and drone to capture it. Of course that meant cycling the last 20km into town with the dilemma of either not being able too see, or swallowing mouthfuls of bugs as they head towards the light on my head.
The next morning I got off to a late start which worked in my favour because, as I was going through my daily ritual of trying to find my way back to the Danube path, I ran in to the wind-shadow steeling German girl from a few days ago. But this time she was with Ian, a dude from Malta who happens to be following the same route as me to Romania. We got on well straight away and set off together. It was a challenging day, filled with hills and rough roads, but having someone to chat to and pick up tips from made a huge difference. At one point we stopped for a break under a tree and got chatting to a Croatian man who was cycling home (to Croatia) from Heidelberg. He had a beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, and explained to us that he was going home because he needed to relax to get over his ‘health issues’, being 60 and all. I suggested there were probably more relaxing ways of getting to Croatia, then we said our goodbye’s and carried on, only for him to overtake us up a hill half an hour later.
Ian and I arrived in Ingolstadt (the home of Audi) at around 6pm. I decided I was going to stay for a night, but Ian carried on because he likes to do 200km per day. (It goes without saying that Ian is a lot more experienced than I am. Plus he had less weight on his bike and a girlfriend waiting for him on his yacht in Malta. Pretty good incentive to get the trip over with, or pretty good reason to not go on a trip in the first place I would have thought). It would have been great to carry on with Ian, but 200km per day was just a bit beyond me and I knew I was stopping for a day in Regensburg anyway.
I checked in to another Youth Hostel in Ingolstadt and ,thankfully, this time there weren’t any kids to make me feel like a dirty old man. There was, however, an annoyingly thorough guy working at the reception. It was one of those occasions when I was reminded of a massive pet hate of mine: people who state the obvious, talk really slowly, or talk for the sake of talking. This guy ticked all the boxes. After explaining the check-in process and ‘house rules’ in excruciatingly painful detail, he went on to describe how to unlock a door with a key, and how the colours on the tap in the bathroom determine whether the water comes out hot or cold. I couldn’t help but wonder how this guy thought I’d even survived for 30 years, let alone cycled from France to his hostel, but the confused look on my face clearly caused him to go into even more detail and I was forced to go along with it. Those four hours of my life excluded, Ingolstadt and the hostel were both great.
Weather permitting, I’ll try to get an early start tomorrow and ride the 100km to Passau, my final stop in Germany and the start of the Passau to Vienna route. This is the most popular cycle route in Europe, and widely accepted to be the most beautiful part of the Eurovelo 6. I’m excited about Austria because its supposed to be stunning, but also it’ll be the first time on this trip that I’ll arrive in a country I’ve not been to before, and the Austrian border is roughly what I’ve worked out to be my half-way mark! Exciting stuff. But I’m not kidding myself; the roads after Austria are only going to get rougher, and the weather isn’t going to be getting any warmer. So Im going to make the most of the last of Western Europe.