Friday, 24 May 2013
Black Sea or Bust - Day 8 - Vilshofen to Obermuhl (70.7 Km)
On the principle that what goes up must go down, there was a high speed, poultry scattering, free-wheel down the hill back to the Danube straight after breakfast. Then an attractive run along the right bank to Passau the last city before Austria. I am there by 12.00 so have time to dump the bags at the station and have a stroll. Passau sits on a narrow spit of land between the rivers Danube and Inn and it's an attractive town, not as cute as most that I've been through. It looks as if real people might live there. No it's better than that, it's a proper German town where, if you were an escaping WW2 British POW, you might change trains on your way to the Swiss Border. There are decent antique shops, I buy a few postcards just to keep my hand in and then take in Museum of Modern Art housed in a superb 18th century building. Some of the content is OK but not worthy of the gallery itself.
The hills close in on the Danube after Passau, the scenery improves and the river moves faster. Ten kilometres downstream we pass into Austria, the border is virtually unmarked apart from a rusty sign nailed to an oak tree. This is the new Europe, I have only shown my passport once on this trip and that was at St Pancras. A big bonus however becomes immediately apparent. The Danube Path signage is now in the hands of the Austrians, probably the Upper Austrians, but their signs, while not much bigger than the hated Bavarian variety, are a model of bold and functional design. Do I detect a Secessionist influence or perhaps a touch of Bauhaus. No, I'm talking bollocks, they're just signs for God's sake but at least you can read these. The scenery gets better and better while the weather gets worse.
A bit further on we get to one of those points where there is no more path, the side of the valley becomes cliff and you have to cross the river. There are no bridges here in the middle of nowhere but there are lots of tiny ferries which can carry a maximum of twelve passengers with bikes. I have consulted my map and know that the ferry at which I have arrived goes either straight across depositing me on the opposite side to my hotel or a couple of kilometres further downstream on the same side as my hotel. There are two men aboard, the driver and a younger man, a trainee perhaps. Knowing that these ferries hate going virtually empty I enter negotiations.
"Can you take me down the river please?"
"Is it just you?" they ask. Perhaps they think that I am an outrider, a trail blazer,
for the Buenos Aires Ladies Cycling Club. They hope that at any moment fifty or sixty stout Argentinian matrons will come strenuously pedalling round the corner.
"Yes it's just me"
"Oh" they say "perhaps someone else will come".
"No I don't think so" I haven't seen a single other cyclist on the Path since I left Passau. "I am alone on the road".
They sigh. "We can take you across"
"No. I have to go downstream" I point. They look more disappointed.
"Where are you staying?" They ask. I tell them.
"Oh right." After some shrugging I am invited on board.
We chug out into mid stream for what turns out to be a glorious twenty minute trip. Once we are around the first curve all signs of human existence vanish, the forest comes right down to the water and for a minute or two I am Fitzcarraldo (younger readers should refer to Wikipedia at this point) on his tramp steamer on the Amazon. Birds circle above the trees, did something move in the undergrowth? In the film the tension mounts as the boat rounds curve after curve without any sign of life until finally Fitzcarraldo and the crew are confronted by a barricade of canoes packed with menacing local Indians. For a moment the image flashes into my head, just around the next corner will be a mass of locals in canoes, wearing lederhosen, Tyrollean hats and little red waistcoats, all will be brandishing asparagus spears.
The younger man speaks goodish English and we chat.
"Two Englishmen passed this way two days ago" he tells me. "They cycled all the way from London and are going to the Black Sea.". I feel inadequate so we go on to the weather and how bad business is. They drop me four kilometres from my Hotel.