Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 11 - Beauty and a reminder of darkness

Inzell - Melk (using bikeroutetoaster)
I woke early, at 5:30, probably disturbed by the sounds of the first barges going up the river. I peered out of the tent to find that there was a thick mist hanging over the tops of the hillsides and everything was damp.

But it was still and utterly beautiful, and I packed up my belongings and wet tent quietly , desperate not to disturb the peace. I set off down the river just after seven o'clock.
South of Inzell
It was so peaceful and beautiful cycling along the river, just me, some ducks, swans and the occasional polecat wandering across the road, oblivious to the silence of a bicycle. At one point a barge appeared around the corner and came up passing me, its low throbbing engine emphasising the silence elsewhere.

For miles I cycled on without seeing another soul, and then in the distance saw something that I could not initially figure out. As I drew closer I could see that it was a reclining tricycle with a cover over the rider, and trotting alongside this unusual vehicle was an alsatian dog. It was travelling somewhat more slowly than I was so I drew closer and closer, but as I pulled out to overtake it the dog suddenly crossed the road to the left, the tricycle stopped and the rider, a very portly long-haired middle-aged gentleman leapt out right in front of me. I guess he must have been more surprised than me, not expecting there to be another soul in the world but instead finding a heavily laden bicycle bearing down on top of him. I jammed on my brakes and pulled to a halt. He and the dog ran across the road and down to the river without a word of explanation. I carried on my way, somewhat mystified.

Eventually the hills pulled away from the river at Aschach, where I was able to find a Spar supermarket and buy a big bag of food for breakfast, which I ate sitting on a bench by the river.

With the hills behind me, the skies cleared and the sun came out again. For the next few hours the river flowed through fairly wide open countryside and the Radweg followed an embankment. It was all still very quiet, with very few people out. Even the river seemed to sense this quietude and flowed very gently along.

Eventually the path took me into Linz. This is Austria's industrial capital and is apparently a fine city to visit, but the Radweg follows a very clear straight line along the north side of the river and so there was no reason to detour into the city to explore, get lost and lose time. Instead I carried on along the embankment on the opposite side of the river to the city's enormous chemical factories.

Some miles downstream of Linz lies the town of Mauthausen.. It has a fine riverfront and beautiful buildings but has a dark history. A few miles out into the woods behind the town was one of the Nazi concentration camps, where apparently 140,000 people were worked to death in a granite quarry during World War 2. You can still visit the camp, but I merely sat on the riverfront next to an enormous block of granite against which an old rusting bicycle was fixed, a simple commemoration of one of the grimmest parts of human history.
Mauthausen riverfront
I stayed on the north bank of the river and pushed on at a good speed. The river is wide and slow at this point, and I settled into a good rhythm. The weight of the bicycle makes it slow to get going but once travelling at 14 or 15 mph it moves very easily. I thought that this was a definite advantage of the road wheels and tyres, as I found that I regularly sped past people using heavier bicycles and wider tyres.

My target for the day was the town of Grain, but I reached this by around 3 o'clock, so decided to carry on. I crossed the river bridge and continued along the south bank as the path here follows an almost unused road, whereas on the north bank the cycle path lies to the side of a busy main road. The cycling was good and I decided to make the most of the flat terrain and my energy, so stopped at the Ybbs information office. Within Austria there are regular information offices all along the Radweg, and these provide all sorts of information about local facilities and accommodation, and will also book places as necessary, which is really helpful. The woman working there fixed me up with a private room in Melk, some 20 km further down the track. As we were organising this a young British couple came in and we had a conversation about where we were going. They had been travelling through Europe on their bicycles since the beginning of May and were doing it at an altogether more sensible pace than me. They also had more time, and were planning to travel on to Bulgaria or Serbia, but were concerned about how secure these places were. I had no useful information to offer, other than pointing out that wherever you go people say the next country is very dangerous.

I carried on, with my cycle computer showing that I was heading towards another 100+ mile day. I reached Melk at about six o'clock, and cycled along the waterfront just as a stream of people walked back from the town towards one of the enormous floating hotels that travel up and down the river. I was interested to listen to them, and noticed the mixture of principally American and Australian voices. They had stopped at Melk because it has one of the most significant and largest Benedictine monasteries in Austria, sitting on top of the hillside overlooking the town. Again, I had no idea about this.

However, I discovered that the room that I had booked the day immediately underneath the monastery. My private room turned out to be more of a suite, albeit very simple and functional. It was also empty, but moments after I had dumped my stuff and had my moment of peace the place filled up with a dozen other cyclists, most of them Czech.

I unpacked my tent to take advantage of my enormous space and dry it out, and then walked the dozen yards into the main square and found a very pleasant restaurant offering vegetarian options of asparagus tart and other delights. I washed it down with a couple of glasses of 'most', the local cider, and then walked on home.

I had now cycled 908 miles and was three-quarters of the way to Budapest.

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