Monthly Archives: August 2014

Final thoughts on Part 1

This has been a warm up trip for the more challenging roads ahead. The trip was in some distinct parts. The first 4 days in England were great and it was sad to leave Kate and Chris. They were great relaxing company and I feel grateful that I have such a good family.


The trip through Holland and down the Rhine was flat, full of cobbles and had some really memorable scenes such as the windmills, and we visited cities such as Bonn, Koln and down to Strasbourg. However overall we felt that cycling large rivers has its limitations. The scenery is much the same and there are large industrial parts to be negotiated.


The end of the Rhine section came with our time with Philippe and Chantal; whose hospitality cannot be faulted. They are a great couple and seeing Strasbourg through their eyes was a privilege.


It was good to start climbing as we went through the Black Forest, with its sweeping hills, vistas over fields and woods and friendly approach. Seeing the renaissance style church at Sankt Peter in the early morning calm was very special.

Then we had a wet day (we had only a few wet days) around Lake Konstant/Bodensee. This is a wealthy area and there were some really expensive lakeside homes and towns. We cycled through this area feeling like we were looking in to a world of affluence. However even the opera festival in Breganz did not stop the friendliness of the locals.


After Breganz we faced the alps. We had one really tough but brilliant day with 3 passes that ended at St Anton. Climbing was steep and tough in places but the vistas were as memorable as anywhere in the Alps. This was the day we saw the man with the most impressive alpine moustache which went round and met itself coming back!

We had great hospitality from Nadine and her parents in St Anton. It was good to get information and advice from Hans, in part because he was so proud of his country, Austria. There is such a good side to Austria which came out so clearly from Hans, Rita and Nadine.


They persuaded us to take in Innsbruck which was astonishing. An architectural gem full of Hapsburg history.


Then the Brenner Pass, which was a disappointment with a shopping centre at the top, and into the magical world of the Dolomites. These were every bit as dramatic and stunning as the hype. The colours of the rock faces changed in the sun, but showed browns, greens, purples and a host of other colours.


Cycling the dolomite passes was a pleasure even when it was steep, and it somewhere we must return. Then we had the long descent from the high country to the towns of the Northern Italian plain. They are full of old, musty, celebrated and architecturally fascinating buildings from the last millennia.


Padua was perhaps the highlight of this cultural part of the tour, as we strolled amongst the buildings, sipped coffee in the market and watched the everyday business of greeting, shopping, arguing and reaching compromises taking place in ancient surroundings.


Then finally to Venice where we re-joined the crowds of tourists. This brought home to us that we were, after all, just tourists like everyone else. Even here however it was possible to forget the crowds when looking at the sheer majesty of St. Mark’s Cathedral.


We are fitter than 4 weeks ago, thinner and have done a route that we made up for ourselves. We have camped, sought out hotels, blogged and relaxed our way for the 2,200km from home to Venice. We are ready to come home because we have a life at home, relationships with family and friends that mean so much to us and work that is calling. But we are perhaps a little wiser about what the next stage of our overland trip will feel like. We still aim to get as far as Australia but there is no point in looking beyond our next hop to Istanbul. We will be better prepared for the next set of challenges because they will be greater than we have had to date.

Innsbruck to Brunico: Austria to Italy


Sunday 17th August: Innsbruck to Brunico: 104km

Total to date : 1858km


The cycle of waking, putting on a brew (essential) and packing up becomes semi-automatic after a while. Each of us has our “jobs” which have sort of worked themselves out as we went along. There is no logic to why it is Bernie’s job to make a brew and breakfast whilst I clear up the sleeping bags, deflate the camping mats and take down the tent, but it has sort of worked out that way. In our post sleep awakening the process of packing up just happens without either of us thinking about it too much. Continue reading Innsbruck to Brunico: Austria to Italy

St Anton to Innsbruck

St Anton to Innsbruck 104km : Total to date 1738km

I slept well but David didn’t. That sometimes happens after a really tough day. We had a lovely breakfast with the family and then we were off again. The first 25km were fairly steeply downhill to Landeck. How can legs and head and body feel sluggish with a long downhill? It didn’t seem fair! It was partly because it cold and we had had no warm up first but mostly the after effects to pushing bodies to the limit the day before


Continue reading St Anton to Innsbruck

Thursday 14th August : Breganz to St Anton

104km: 2100m of climbing (and yes that is metres and not feet).

Total to date:  1634km (i.e. more than 1000 miles!)

Every cycling trip has to have at least one “big day” and this was ours; or at least it was the biggest day we had so far. It started well with an early start from Breganz and a trip to a massive Spar to get provisions. Bernie found powdered milk, something that had eluded us throughout Germany. However Austria delivered on milk powder (although this country also delivered on far more significant things like mountains, culture and friendship).



We cycled south out of Bregenz leaving the lake behind. We had missed the Magic Flute performance on a stage in the lake which might have worked for a day off but was not a serious option after a day’s riding in the rain.

Before leaving we met some quintessential Brits who were touring the alps in kit cars – small self assembled vehicles that look like Morgans. They were late 50s, early 60s, enthusiasts and idiosyncratic. It was a delight to chat to one of them to compare travelling experiences. They drove their colourful “toy” cars up and down mountain passes for fun in a convoy of about 5 cars. No more mad than us I suppose.

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The first part of the day was gentle and then we faced a substantial climb to Alberswende. This was a quiet road and ambled up the mountainside. We were, at last, properly starting the alps. At the top we joined the main road which dropped down to Egg. Then we started the climb, because the road went up for the next 40km or so. At first fairly steep and then we ambled through a beautiful valley.

At times there was a bike path and at other times we were on the main road. We started the climb at about 500m and gently climbed through stunning scenery. At one point we came across a little tourist steam train that was gushing black coal smoke out into the air. The best sort of pollution! We took lots of photos as we thought how much Malcolm Garner would have enjoyed the combination of cycling and steam trains.

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The village of Bezau was our coffee stop. We have decided that bakeries are the best places to stop because the coffee is excellent and there is a superb selection of cakes. However this morning we were tempted by hot bacon rolls – and they were scrumptious. There were several things about this bakery that were notable. First, the infectious enthusiasm of the women serving was very different to Germany. Their whole disposition was much lighter in style and more fun. They wanted to know where we had come from, where we were going and wished us luck.


Then a farmer came into the shop to buy sausages – who was stunningly fat. Amongst the large number of overweight people we have seen he was the one to wonder how he ever inspected anything below his stomach as it would need and expeditionary force to work its way around that mass of flesh to explore his nether regions. But the other local (and most were locals) who was noteworthy was a man with the best moustache/beard set I have ever, ever seen. It was bright ginger and not only extended out in long pointy bits at the edges of his face but then rolled up and back on itself in a perfect loop. Much waxing in the morning must have been needed to establish such an appearance. The man was a walking work of art. If our non-existent German had been better we would have asked permission to photograph him but, as it was, we just had to glance (not stare) in wonderment. He was accompanied by his wife who seemed far more interested in sausages than in the fantastic growth upon her husband’s face, but I suppose she had lived with this creation for years and was used to it.


We pressed on up the valley taking the occasional wrong turn as we attempted to follow the bike path. What had started as a main road got quieter and quieter as each village was passed. By an interesting place called Au it was a minor road. I am not sure there is anywhere in England called En or Eng, but that is the equivalent of a place in Austria “Au” (or it would be if they did not call their country Osterrich I suppose). If England is Anglaterre then this would be “An”.

Anyway it was now lunchtime and we had now risen to only about 900m. I say “only” because the main pass of the day (or so we thought) was at 1691m. After a lunch by the river we started the tough climbing. The road went from 4% gradient to between 10% and 14% for 10km or so. Those who cycle will know how tough this is (hauling a trailer each) and for those who don’t I can only point to the fact that we saw the road above us at various points as we climbed a series of hairpins to get there. The plus side was that the scenery was even more fantastic but it was mega tough.

At one point we were stopped as workmen cut the tres above the road (to stop branches falling on the road and causing accidents). We had a stilted conversation with a workman who said in passing “three passes – tough” when he learned we were going to St Anton. Three we wondered. Surely just one but of course he was right!

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We got to the top of the first pass, Hochtannhbergpass, at about 4pm and then examined the map more carefully. Yes there were 2 more passes! Each was a bit higher than the one before and we still had 2 to go. What we did not know was how much the road descended between each one.

So we cycled down from the first one to the village of Warth with mixed feelings. Whizzing downhill was fun but there was a little voice at the back of our heads that reminded us of the pain to come as we needed to climb back up and more.

We had arranged a warmshowers stop in St Anton so could not bail out early as we might have done if we had the flexibility of camping, but pressed on through Lech to the second pass. The gradient was not too bad but by the time we got to the top it was about 6pm and we were very tired. We cycled down the steep descent to the valley that links St Anton with Feldkirch (and the main road avoiding the hills we had climbed).


Then we met the wonderful Nadine (a 27 year old bicycle messenger and environmental engineer) who dragged us up the last pass, St. Christophs. This was the highest point of the trip to date at 1791m and had great views. Then we just had a fast downhill to St Anton and the promise of a hot bath!


We spent a relaxing, interesting and stimulating evening with Nadine and her parents, Hans and Rita. They gave us loads of useful information and rightly persuaded us that Innsbruck was unmissable, and that the pass we intended to climb into Italy was only for masochistic 22 year olds with no luggage. They were wonderful hosts and I hope we get the chance to repay their hospitality. I fear we were slightly comatosed visitors after dragging our 50+ year old bodies over 3 passes. However the scenery was breathtaking and we would not have wanted to spend the day doing anything else (apart perhaps from the same but a bit less).

St Peter to Wahlweis, Lake Constance, Bodensee 106km

12th Cumulative total : 1436km

We woke with legs not too stiff from the previous day and free-wheeled from the campsite down to St Peter. This was a pretty town with a Benedictine Monastery and amazing baroque church. Luckily the caretaker (we presumed) had just opened the doors and we were able to see the interior – a plethora of gold, paintings, artistry. Completely different to what we had seen so far. A great start to the day.



Continue reading St Peter to Wahlweis, Lake Constance, Bodensee 106km

Strasbourg to Sankt Peter, Black Forest

Monday 12th August: 108 km : cumulative total: 1340km

Today was all about one decision we took at 3.15 pm, namely whether to begin a 1000m climb up a mountain called Kandal. We decided to do the climb even though we had covered 90km by then and could have avoided it by cycling around the mountain. Was it a good decision? There are some reading this who will shout “No” you blithering idiots of course it was not a good decision. And you are probably right, and half way up we would have agreed 100% with you, but by then the die was cast.


Continue reading Strasbourg to Sankt Peter, Black Forest

A day exploring Strasbourg

It was a treat to wake up leisurely and spend the morning pottering around and relaxing. We got out all the maps and spent an hour or 2 plotting out our next course. Our best guess at this stage was 10 days to Venice across the Black Forest to Lake Constance (Bodensee), along the lake to Austria and over the Alps into northern Italy. Of course we may not follow this but good to have a plan.

Continue reading A day exploring Strasbourg