Monday, 20 May 2013
Black Sea or Bust - Day 4 Gunzburg to Marxheim (88 Km)
Gunzburg is probably the prettiest of the towns that we have passed through but then they are all very pretty and perhaps, like Cotswold villages, once you've seen one you've seen 'em all. But this morning is glorious, cloudless but with a cooling breeze. The very best possible cycling weather. The first part of the day is a long run along the northern bank of the Danube and if I have ever had a fantasy about this trip (and I have) then this is it completely realised. Early morning sunshine, birdsong all around, both banks heavily wooded and the Danube looking .... well blue. Absolutely blue.
There is a flat agricultural section away from the river but soon we are in Dillingen, another fairy-tale (spare no cliches) cobbled street town with steeply roofed timbered houses, an onion domed church and a Rathaus (town hall) with a stork's nest on its chimney. But let's just pause for a moment and discuss cobbles. What bastard invented these? They are probably one of the "things that the Romans did for us". If you are a cyclist they are torture, particularly if your bottom is showing signs of wear a mere four days into this trip. However I must tell you something that reflects the very masochistic essence of being a cyclist. Just before I set out on this trip I was browsing (I didn't buy) the cycling magazines in W H Smith's at Waterloo. In one of those magazines was an announcement of a forthcoming event in Belgium from Antwerp to Hoogveligning or somewhere and the whole route and indeed the whole point of the event was that it took place entirely on cobbles. You may think that I am daft cycling 50 miles a day for three weeks but that surely takes the biscuit.
The main interest for me today is at Hochstadt and in particular the Second Battle of Hochstadt. What a coincidence that they had two battles here, for all I know there were more. Perhaps it had a good reputation as a battle field and warring powers would book a fixture there. It is as flat as a pancake so neither side could complain of not getting a level playing field. However it comes nowhere near matching the River Isonzo in north eastern Italy. During World War One there were no less than twelve battles of the Isonzo, most of which involved the unfortunate Italian troops assaulting carefully prepared Austro-Hungarian positions along the Alpine watershed. The odds were so unequal that in the early days of the war merciful Austrian officers would order their troops to cease fire and shout down to the Italians below "For Gods sake stop! If you keep coming we will shoot you all". At which point the Italians would retreat back to their trenches. Such gallantry didn't last long. This front yielded the highest percentage of casualties per capita of troops involved of any front anywhere in WWI. Back to the Second Battle of Hochstadt which we British know as Blenheim which is an Anglicisation of 'Blindheim' a tiny village just to the east of Hochstadt. Here the Duke of Marlborough and his Austrian ally Prince Eugene of Savoy defeated a French and Bavarian army in 1704 changing the course of history. From this tiny village of Blindheim which consists of just a few houses and a church (which has a commemorative plaque) we have Blenheim Palace, umpteen Blenheim Roads, Terraces, Streets, I had a flat in Blenheim Gardens half way up Brixton Hill once. We have towns called Blenheim in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada. There are window cleaners, ranges of stationery and power boats, wineries, laundromats, aircraft, ships etc etc all named from this cluster of houses. While we are at it we might briefly discuss what this battle, part of the War of the Spanish Succession was about. The British with their European Allies (the Grand Alliance) were trying to prevent the French king Louis XIV from imposing his nomination on the vacant Spanish crown. How absurd! What on earth were all those British troops, most of whom had walked to Blindheim from Flanders, doing fighting this battle so far from home. Oh hang on a moment, don't we have British troops in Afghanistan fighting to prop up a distant foreign regime. It just shows that not much has changed in 300 years.
Onward from Blindheim to Donauworth where I stopped for coffee and ice cream served by a Brazilian waiter who, when he discovered that I was English, asked me if I knew the Charing Cross Road. He reminisced happily about his time working in a Brazilian cafe about 100 yards down from the Phoenix Theatre and almost next to Blackwells.
The sun was still shining and Doris was humming contentedly between my thighs (not a sentence that I will write very often I think) and bed was in another tiny village called Marxheim. Nothing to do with Karl as far as I know. A good supper in a pretty hotel/restaurant. Asparagus is in season here and the soup was sensational.