Wow. Time has flown. I honestly cannot belive that we are saying “Auf Wiedersehn” to Germany as we cycle from Passau into Austria today. This will be our second border crossing, by bike, but the fifth country we will visit. As Phil has said we haven't really had a chance to record our impressions of the Germany we've experienced, as we've pedalled along the Danube, on the blog to date but here's a whistle stop tour of the  highlights. I'm a bit pressed for time so will only have a chance to touch on city/towns we've particularly enjoyed here but there's so much more to say especially re. the countryside but it'll have to be in another post. Watch this space....

Donaueschingen and the Danube source:
As we cycled through the streets of the very pretty town of Donaueschingen toward the source of the Danube, struck by the distinctive baroque architecture and the dominance of the Furstenberg brewery, there was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation amongst our little clan. Even, dare I say it, a litte bit of pride at having made it there. You see, as well as marking the beginning of a new adventure (within an adventure) that would navigate us through 10 countries, the beginning of this great river represented the culmination of months of initial pondering and chatting about and then planning and preparation for this trip. A trickle of an idea had grown, taken shape, ( mainly, I have to say, due to Phil's meticulous and thorough research) , and formed this cycling family we'd all, by then, become. As we cycled I recalled leafing through the pages of the cycling guide we had purchased in London on the plane coming home from the RGS Seminar in London in November 2009, reading about the Danube source and now we were actually going to see it for ourselves.

It didn't disappoint. As Phil's photo's show it was a really stunning spot marked by a water pool and plaques representing each of the countries the Danube traverses. There was a definite “place chemistry” for us not only because of the beauty of the place but for the reasons above. We've special memories of dropping coins into the water pool with Luca and making a wish. Now I made a wish for a safe journey allright, as Phil has mentioned, but also a little private wish. I can't share it though unless and until it comes through. Will keep you posted! :)

This is a really lovely town and very cycle friendly...well apart from when you cycle into the middle of the market on market day. We found ourselves, literally, trapped in the midst of the throng of intent market goers until some kind lady ushered us away and re-directed us back to the cycle track where, it seems, we belonged with our bikes and gear. There's an amazing public park there which hosts those German stalwarts of crazy golf and a Beer Garden aswell as one of the most impressive spielplatz/ playgrounds I've ever seen and Luca and, em, well, his Dad has ever experienced. There was an actual digger which you could, and Luca did, operate to mix sand and water, dig out a moat etc.... with a little help from a not unwilling Dad that is!

We also visited the Tuwass here which is a water extravaganza with indoor pools, slides and an outdoor heated thermal bath. It was like experiencng a much bigger and better child friendly version of Brook Lodge spa for 7 Euro! Sometimes one can feel a little hard done by stuck in the toddlers pool but I actually enjoyed the impressive “free play” toddlers pool there as much as Luca while someone (who shall remain nameless!) sampled the “terrifying” slide. When we all (reluctantly) left the Tuwass Luca actually thanked us for bringing him there and told us it was great fun so impressed was he. From the mouth of babes....

Castle Wildenstein:
We stayed the night in the castle itself or rather in the youth hostel which this famous old castle now houses. I'd phoned earlier that day to book and explained we were cyclists etc. and the lady on the phone was at pains to tell me that the castle was atop a very steep hill. We knew what we were letting ourselves in for as our guide book had a similar health warning but we thought that we'd have an adventure..a decision we regretted several times on the heartbreaking 6 kilometre ascent up hairpin bends but were thoroughly glad afterwards that we'd made. As a funny final word when we were checking in Phil, who minds our passports, was very reluctant to cede mine to my bewilderment. He later confessed that he thought that they'd tell me I was too old for a youth hostel!

A River runs through it ....Ulm:
This is a truly beautiful, old, walled German university town through which the Danube flows and the ducks enjoy trying to swim contra flow so strong is the current. This was one of our favourite German cities. We had very cold and wet weather en route there and while there so, to warm our bones, we eschewed the campsite in favour of a bike friendly pension which, as it turned out, was beautifully situated on the banks of the Danube nestled twixt the Main (cathedral) square and the old fishermans quarter. We braved the cold for some al fresco quaffing at the outdoor terrace of the Inn next door to our Pension on candlelit stone steps while below us, literally, as in at our feet, the Danube rushed and gushed by.

Now being a librarian's wife and having a librarian brother in law, with whom we've holidayed with lots of times, trust me when I say that I've seen my fair share of libraries both at home and abroad. But I have never, and nor has Phil, seen a library as impressive as the one in Ulm. As I said the weather was cold and wet so we initially went seeking shelter but ended up passing a very pleasant 3 hours or so there. We were allowed use the internet for up to 90 mins per day there and both took turns doing so while the other played in the AMAZING junior section with Luca. They had a selection of beautiful Haba wooden toys for kids as well as teddy bears and a fantastic selection of books in both German and English. Their original and english Paddington Bear, which it seems hadn't been taken out since 1999, got an airing while we were there by someone, who shall again remain nameless (while Luca loves Paddington he can't read yet if you get my drift). Luca and I were having so much fun playing with the Haba games that other children came over to watch and a woman approached me asking me if I gave English lessons....At least I know I've the prospect of a job in Ulm!

Another stunning old university walled town but very different from Ulm in character and appearance. We both thought that it was very similar to Lucca in Italy with it's narrow cobbled stone streets and, as with Lucca, it's a mecca for cyclists. Luca's chariot was in very good company here! The shops were fantastic and included some beautiful old fashioned hat boutiques. Viewed only by the outside by me though. Budget and gear carrying are serious considerations. There was a real buzz in the evenings in particular at the cafe's, bars and restaurants.  I vowed to return there some Christmas time for their famed Christmas markets as it's the kind of place that lends itself to Christmas and it's magic.


Auf Wiedersehen

We're in Passau, at the end of our German leg, about to hit Austria tomorrow. The few weeks we've spent cycling through Germany have been Wunderbar and memorable, but we haven't been able to give the experience its due on the blog as wifi has been hard to come by.

I've uploaded some photos from the last week or two, so click on the Photos tab above to have a look. Linda also promises to post soon..... so keep an hour or two free to read that!


Donau continued

Halfway down the German stretch of the Danube/ Deutsch Donau, 300km down the Danube and now over 1500km into the journey, we're still very much enjoying daily life on the bikes.

The weather took a turn for the worse over the last week and it made us realise how big a part good weather plays in this cycling life.... when the sun shines, it's glorious, when it's cold and raining it can be miserable! As September draws to a close, we'd better start getting used to the latter. But just as quickly as dark clouds loomed, they dispersed and it seems that we're in for another summery spell, at least for the next week or so.

Since its source, irrespective of rain or sunshine, the Danube has brought us through some stunning countryside and beautiful towns and villages.

We're currently in a lovely town called Donauworth, unfortunately missing Oktoberfest in not too distant Munich, but endeavouring to enjoy the local beer nonetheless! Despite the draw of local ale, we're pressing on, as we're meeting family in Vienna, 600km or so downstream, at the end of the month.



Having spent six weeks in France, we finally dragged ourselves away on Monday when we cycled across the German border. We enjoyed a chill out day in Freiburg on Tuesday, and then decided to get a train the few hours to Donaueshingen on Wednesday - keen to set eyes on the Danube, keen to avoid a day of miserable rain on the bikes and keen to nip Luca's developing sniffle in the bud.

We had been told that the source of Danube and its accompanying fanfare are disappointing and underwhelming, but we didn't find it so at all. We spent a very peaceful half hour or so there, read the plaques representing each of the ten countries the Danube passes through and dropped three coins into the beautifully clear blue water, wishing for a safe and enjoyable journey down its length. Well, Linda and I did, Luca wished for a bag of jellies!

We've only been in Germany for a few days, but we've been pleasantly surprised by the remarkable warmth and friendliness of the people.... from giving Luca lolllipops in shops, giving him toys to play with in restaurants, randomly offering us help and directions on the street, to helping us with our laden bikes and bags in towns. Perhaps it was a misplaced belief in a stereotype of a cold demeanour that had us expecting otherwise, but we have found the German people the friendliest and most welcoming we've met so far.

We've just finished our first day cycling along the Danube cycle path and it was glorious. Stunning scenery, chocolate-box Bavarian villages, fantastic wildlife and, above all, paved and flat cycle path. The Danube runs for almost 3000km to the Black Sea... or to be precise (we are in Germany after all!), 2840km.

Cycling along its entire length is an exciting but daunting prospect. It'll take us a few months, but despite the distinct autumn chill in the air, we're looking forward to every kilometre of it.


Ornans August 1990 – August 2010

I remember the time and place , exactly I what was doing and even what I was wearing at the time........
Paris, August 1990, The Pyramids at the Louvre , bathing my feet in their water fountains,
dressed in a pink dress inherited from my then (and still!) Supermodel sister. It was my first trip abroad. It was when I first fell, head over heels, in love with France. It was un coup de foudre. I was sixteen and filled with wonder and awe at the beauty and promise of the world – but especially at the magical quality of this country I'd arrived in. As well as being dressed in it, I guess, at sweet sixteen I saw la vie en rose.

That moment – the sun on my face, the water through my toes and the azure colour of the sky – all through the prism of those beautiful mini bastions of civilisation, will stay with me forever – the way some people remember their first kiss. I wrote postcards then and there in my then elaborate handwriting to firstly my Mum and Dad saying: “How will you keep me on the farm now?”. A bit tongue in cheek but meaning it a little so moved was I. I also wrote a postcard to my brother in law in Tokyo , husband of Supermodel sister, declaring my love of France and saying that I thought it was the beginning of a beautiful love affair....The innocence and joie de vivre of it all.

As it transpires it was just the beginning of such an affair. I've since studied French at university, been to Paris and indeed many other places in France many times since and even married my true love there.

The trip to Paris was part of a “Being Young in Europe” homestay prgramme I went on with my friend Liz. We were there with teen guys and girls from all over the EU. We spent the last 2 weeks of it, after Paris, in French homes in Ornans which is a town in the East of France through which the Doubs river runs and over which many of its houses hang. I stayed with an elderly French lady called Madame Benoit who had her son, daughter in law and 2 grandchildren from Paris staying at the same time. Liz stayed with a family who kept, what Dr Dolittle Liz thought to her delight, were pet rabbits until said rabbits ended up on the dinner table.

I have such fond memories of those few weeks – the natural beauty of the place, the sunshine, heat, kayaking, the discotheque and lots of laughter (remember how you could laugh so hard your tummy hurt?). Somehow something of the place had always stayed with me and I'd vowed to return some day. This trip afforded the opportunity so back I went, 20 years on, along with my gorgeous husband and son who weren't even a twinkle in my eye when last there all those years ago.

It was quite cold, wet and grey when we arrived and the village had grown busier in the past 20 years so it all felt a bit alien initially. I could sense that Phil was a little bit underwhelmed at this place I'd spoken so much of as we strolled through it upon arrival. I was wondering to myself if my memory and mind had romanticised Ornans and elevated it above it's station. Neither of us mentioned anything to the other about our thoughts. We decided to seek out our campsite just outside town and return later to try to find the house I'd stayed in.

We arrived back into Ornans as evening fell. Dusk brought out the sun and, in its crepuscular mantle, the village again revealed all of its charms and beauty. There was something of that old magic in the air maybe helped by that post rain stillness and rawness....the kind that makes spiders webs glitter. I knew that Phil saw the charm and beauty too and it was only then he admitted his earlier reticence. We all enjoyed a lovely amble for over an hour but I still couldn't find the house I had stayed in. I thought it would have been obvious to me where it was but I searched to no avail that evening. I mentioned to Phil that maybe I could ask in the local Notaire's office or the Town Hall to see if they had any record of a lady by the name of Benoit harving lived in Ornans , (I knew she had to have passed on), thinking he'd tell me I was crazy but he thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to present myself at the Town Hall the next morning. And so I did. I had intended to go alone. It was something of a personal quest and toddlers and French bureaucracy do not a happy pair make. Unknownst to me though, Phil and Luca had followed me in Pink Panther fashion, ducking behind pillars etc., and were there, to my delight in the end, to witness my “Who do you think you are?” moment. I got the address and information I'd sought from the very obliging Secretary who had to access old, manual files to retrieve it. Madame Aimee Benoit had indeed died – 10 years ago – in hospital and the house had not stayed in the family. The house was at 9 rue Jacques Gervais to which we got directions and set off to find. It was lovely retracing these old steps with my boys. Forming new memories of Ornans with them that we will all share and be a part of.

As soon as I turned into the street I knew it was the right one. We hadn't been to that part of the town on our searches. And then number 9 itself. Older and less colourful but still there. A lighthouse in the storm of change around it. A couple of banks and a postoffice now stood across from it and a hotel beside it. I stood outside looking up and could hear the voices from the past - a bit like the groundskeeper in the Heineken Cup ad. The sound of a white poodle yapping incessantly, kids rowing and their grandmother yelling. It was like regaining something of my 16 year old self just for an instant. And then – gone. Time doesn't stand still. The house had a new life now and, well, so did I.

I went for a coffee with Phil and Luca in the “new” hotel beside it and we planned out our route to leave France. As I ordered my grand crème with ease, almost thinking in French after five weeks there, a part of me bemoaned the fact that we'd be leaving this country behind where we'd all come to feel at home in our daily life. But to be honest a bigger part was happy to leave and have more “Paris, August 1990” moments in different towns, cities and countries along the Danube route. We had spent a wonderful five weeks in France but we were seduced by the charms of Italy when we went for Lynn and John's wedding. I'm dying to go back to Italy again but I've said to Phil I will have to go back gagged and blindfolded – the food and fashion posed serious threats to the waist and wallet. Were the Italians friendlier and kinder to children than the French – hmmm...? I think so. I feel guilty having these thoughts, as though I am betraying the one I adore, but we definitely found the French at times quite indifferent and even rude over the 5 weeks. Maybe your experiences of a place change when you travel with kids, two bikes and lots of gear as opposed to as a carefree 16 year old? Je sais pas.

The past has a way of colouring your impressions. But as I discovered in Ornans time doesn't stand still.........