“How long are you staying in Europe?” the immigration official at Munich Airport inquired.
“Three weeks, a day in Munich then take the train to Passau and bicycle along the Danube River to Vienna, then take the train to Budapest and finally to Prague,” Marilyn replied.
“All of Europe in three weeks?” he sniffed, stamped the passports and waved us along with a smile.
Some days later, we are well launched on the bicycle adventure. The spin down the Danube Cycleway is spectacular. We embarked on a tailored itinerary from Top Bicycle (Greenways Travel), who performed a top-notch job planning, organizing and supplying us for the trip. Despite the immigration official’s irony, we are traveling quite slowly by cyclist standards.
The tour company’s representative, Tomáš Leskovjan, met us at the (perfectly placed) Hotel Residenz in Passau on Friday morning (September 10), the day after John’s 70th birthday. Tomáš walked us through a well-organized collection of documents for the trip: the Danube Bike Trail map book, with our destinations flagged, separate city maps with our hotels flagged, a GPS with the route programmed as waypoints, a cell phone with emergency numbers programmed, and vouchers for the hotels. The first day is laid out in detail for us.
“Ride over the bridge to the north side of the river and follow it to Schlögen,” Tomáš instructed. “Here is the voucher for the ferry to take you to the south side of river to the hotel. After today, you decide which side of the river you wish to follow,” he concluded.
The bicycles are quite similar to our home bikes, with a similar propensity to fall over due to the weight of the bike bag on the handlebars. We have panniers to carry the day’s necessities: rain gear, maps, water, and snacks, tire repair kits and locks.
“Are the tire patch kits new?” John asked.
“Now I know you are cyclists,” Tomáš exclaimed. “Nobody else knows to ask that question!” and he exchanged the kits for us.
The mornings are cool and foggy, so we layer up, and as the morning warms up we remove layers and stow them in the panniers. Our luggage is left in the hotel for pickup and delivery to the next hotel sometime during the day. By the time we arrive, the luggage is in the room waiting for us.
It was late morning by the time we got away from Passau and began spinning down the river. The landscapes: wooded hills, sunlight, the fast-moving river, and YES, gently downhill. We can easily spin 12 mph (do I hear my hard-body bicycle buddies giggling?). We stop often for photographs and to drink water and also to reorganize the blood supply in the forearms and hands, which suffer a bit from being leaned on. Lunch is sandwiches from a shop where one young lady had enough English to fill the gaps left by John’s German-English phrase book. We ride on till we find a trailside bench overlooking the river, with the bikes parked carefully so as to not topple over into the water. We are joined by a pair of swans who make a show of grooming just before us: no duck-like asking for a handout.
The late-afternoon arrival at the cute little wooden ferry boat across to Schlögen Hotel/Spa, the fast check-in at the resort, shower, beer, dinner, all according to plan, and we exult in our journey.
So many people plan this trip to travel too far each day. We tailored the standard itinerary to slow the pace down. The benefits are a willingness to stop and take pictures, to sightsee along the way, and to enjoy the moment and worry less about whether you’ll have the energy to finish today's stage. We highly recommend the tour company:
Danube Cycleway, Austria