September 2015

Linz to Ulm

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Leaving Inzell for LinzBob and Patty got a fancy hotel on the north side of the river. They have decided to take a train to Budapest to get on a Viking Cruise back to Nurenburg. (Here's hoping all went well with the immigrant situation at the train station in Budapest!)

Back "Home" in Munich

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Ein Prosit at the Chinesischer TurmWe rented a lovely ground floor apartment in Munich in a nice area just across the EnglisherGarten and the Isar River from our old apartment in Schwabing where we lived from 1979 – 1981. The apartment wasn’t ready for us until 3, so we parked near Marienplatz and had a good lunch Augustiner Brau Pub – one of our old favorites. We picked up some groceries and spent a quiet evening enjoying the spacious apartment – complete with southern patio.

On Friday we spent a leisurely morning enjoying the quiet of the apartment. It is so pleasant and relaxing we decided to stay and extra day. Later we took a delightful long ride down the Isar River and around the beautiful Englisher Garten. It was cloudy in the morning and the garden was nearly deserted – but the sun came out just in time for lunch and like the touch of a magic wand the beer garden sprang to life! Within an hour the beer garden was packed with noisy crowds, just like old times. Good to know some things never change. We had a traditional beer garden lunch at the Chinesischer Turm – complete with masses of beer, brat hanchen, schweinehaxen and pretzels, and Oompah Band up in the tower. 

The Disappearing Danube

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The Donau VersickerungAfter all the time spent on the massive immense waters of the Daunbe, the upper Danube was quite a switch!  Near the headwaters it's just a small creek and in fact at one point it dives underground and disappears!.  

We drove from Munich to Sigmaringen near the source of the Danube. On the way we stopped at Riedingen, hoping for a nice lunch but although there were a few restaurants open, no one was serving anything resembling food. A pretty town but not especially friendly. We stopped at the famous “hanging gardens” which had a nice view but the gardens had pretty much gone to seed. Our hotel in Sigmaringen was the Pfefferle, where we got a nice little ferienwonung (apartment).

From Sigmaringen we took a train to Geissingen to start our journey down the Upper Donau. We left most of our stuff in the car at the train station. After the standard “second breakfast” in Geissingen, we set off. We are really glad we didn’t miss this part of the Danube. Although the river itself isn’t much and actually completely dives underground at some points, the scenery, towns and castles are truly spectacular.

Leaving Geissingen the trail was well marked and maintained, but after only a few km we encountered our first Umleitung, which then took off straight up a mountain… we decided to take an obvious shortcut closer to the river valley, which soon deteriorated so we found ourselves in yet another cow pasture… we should count up the mileage we’re forged on through muddy cow pastures on this trip!

Just past Immendingen we encountered the Versickerung,

Spectacular Danube Gorge

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Burg Wildenstein towers above the DonauToday was one of our most gorgeous days of cycling EVER! Perfect weather, crisp and clear and just right to showcase the beautiful white cliffs and crags. From Findingen we entered the impressive Danube gorge where somehow the small meandering stream has managed to cut a half-mile deep gash in the limestone, resulting in towering vertical crags.

The trail was a bit rough but amazingly scenic. We were forced to stop every km for photos. It seemed like hours before we finally came to the Jagerhaus (one of the gasthauses I had considered - only accessible by trail). If we ever come through here again it is a definite stopover.

The trail follows right along the stream nearly all the way, with fantastic views nearly straight up to the vertical cliffs and crags, many crowned with castles, towers, mansions or ruins. Near Beuron we could see the famous and fabulous Burg Wildenstein, now a hostel where we have a reservation for tomorrow.

Burg Wildenstein - Reality, myth, legend and imagination

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Burg Wildenstein Today was really a highlight of the whole adventure and reminded us of the reason we embark on these crazy adventures on our own. You would never have a day like this on a tour.  The fortress castle of Burg Wildenstein is a world class adventure all its own. 

We can say "We took our bikes up to Burg Wildenstein" - and it's true - we did take our bikes

The Picturesque Burgundy Canal - #1 of 4 we explored.

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Dinner on the porch at Lac Du Panthier ... cold but sunnyThe thing that drew us to the Burgundy region of France was not the wines but the canals! The wine was just a nice lagniappe. Burgundy is notable as the region where the watersheds for the three great rivers of France - the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone - all come within digging range of each other. Since these three rivers link the great open waters (the Atlantic, the Med, the North Sea), connecting them was a no-brainer and the French responded to this rare situation by building an incredible system of interlinked canals that tied all the rivers together so that cargo could get from virtually anywhere in France to virtually anywhere else by water. And where there are canals, there are trails - hence the emergence of Burgundy as one of the premier cycling regions of France.  

The namesake and still the most picturesque of the canals is the Burgundy Canal (Canal de Bourgogne) that links the Nivernais (which connects to the Seine) with the Saone (which connects to the Rhone which leads to the Med and to north-bound canals that connect to the Rhine) by means of a spectacular 2 mile long tunnel at Pouilly en Auxois.   There is a lovely cycle train running the entire length of the canal, so this was our first destination.  We drove to the town of Vandenesse - a charming village near the great turn where the canal makes a sharp turn to follow the Ouche River which runs North to  Dijon.  We were lucky to get a very comfortable camping cabin at Lac Du Panthier - one of the great reservoirs that feed the canals.  These cabins are always fully booked until mid-september when the Europeans go back to work,  so this is a great time to explore this area. We were also lucky to be in a comfy cabin because the sunny weather that had blessed the first 6 weeks of our tour, had finally deserted us, testing our optimism with nearly a week of dreary rain.

We were camped right on the edge of the vast Lac du Panthier, one of the massive reservoirs constructed in the mid-1800s to feed the canals.  Standing on the edge feels like looking down into the pyramids turned inside out.  All the great reservoirs are down about 40 feet or more... we don't know if this is due to chronic water shortage or just a seasonal phenomenonl. 

Lock on the Burgundy CanalBut even so, the sun usually showed its face for a few hours each day and since we were almost right on the trail, we were able to dash out and take full advantage of the break in weather.  This is by far the prettiest, most charming and most interesting of the Burgundy canals.  The locks are about one per km, very narrow and deep and lovingly maintained.  Although now the lock tenders cover several locks and run between them on motorcycles, many of the lockhouses are still is use as homes, restaurants or gites (holiday rentals).  If you can only do one segment of the Canals of France, the section between Pouilly en Auxois (we called it PweeNoekswah which is as close as we can get to the French Pronunciation) and Dijon is the one to visit.

Further adventures of the Sissy Pants Riders on the Burgundy Canal

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Tunnel Entrance of Canal du BourgogneOur iron-butt mountainbiker friends think people who prefer improved trails are "Sissy Pants Riders".... maybe we should change our domain name to! We loved the beautiful, flat, interesting Burgundy Canal trail so much we spent 6 days here - dodging the rain, stopping for photos every 5 minutes, talking to folks on the canal boats (they were the only English speakers around), and happily making our way from one restaurant or wine stop to the next. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic place for us Sissy Pants types.

A highlight of the visit and high point of the Burgundy canal (literally) is Pouilly en Auxois (pwee nokes to us English speaker barbarians) where the canal was forced underground into a tunnel for over 2 miles! The trail runs right along the top of the tunnel, with "wells" for air circulation the only indication of what's going on below. The tunnel is the exact size of the canal boats, so those crazy enough to brave the tunnel are surrounded by mossy black walls the entire slow way through. Many of the tour boats start on the East (Dijon) end of the tunnel because the passage not everyone's idea of a good time.

More Adventures on the Burgundy Canal and Chateau Neuf

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Chateau Neuf dominates the landscapeOne of the features that makes this section of the Burgundy Canal so special is the towering image of Chateau Neuf - a fairy-tale castle and town on a spectacular rising crag that dominates the landscape. (Actually the real 1000-year history reads more like a horror story than a fairy tale, with murder, burning at stake, torture and betrayal, but we are sticking with the fairy-tale.) We had planned to spend a night up there but the hotel canceled our reservation at the last minute... but we did manage to make the climb up there several times (NOT by bike!) and got some good photos and a nice lunch (not as good at R. de L'Auxois though). The town and the castle are truly one of the historic treasures of France, and if we do return to the area we will try again to spend a night up there if only to feel the 1000 year-old ghostly echos that only come out at night.

Canal du Centre (#2 of 4) and Voie de Vignes

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Cote D'Or Voie de VignesAs I said, we had 4 canals to explore in the Burgundy region: The Burgundy, the Centre, the Nivernais and the Loire. In the Burgundy region we got the full benefit of having a vehicle - we would never have been able to explore so much of this vast incredible area with only bikes and trains. 

So after Vandenesse, we headed south to get a good look at the Canal du Centre and do some more wine tasting. The weather finally broke and we are back to sunshine and warm-enough days.  We got a great camping cabin at Camping des Sources in Santenay and this formed a perfect base for exploration of the area.  Santanay is one of the prettiest towns anywhere - with flower-lined stone bridges and a huge square with a fountain and right on the interesction of the Voie de Vigne (Vineyard bike bourte) and the Canal du Centre.  

From our base in Santenay we could ride out in every direction - first southeast past Chagny, then the next day North on the Cote D' Cote D'Or Voie de Vignes Trail to Beune where we enjoyed a great lunch and another wine tasting, then south west past xxxx until the trail petered out, then west on an old railtrail up through the vineyards to Nolay.  

Especially on the trail to Changy, again the incredible engineering comes in focus.  Here the canal is high up on the mountain top, passing over deep valleys, rivers, the railroad tracks on its way southeast to meet the Saone and eventually to fulfill the great feat of  connecting the Loire to the Rhone.  The photos can't adequately show how high it really is, because you can't get far enough back to get both the canal and features far below in the same photo.  

Cote D'Or Voie de VignesThe day riding up the Cote D'Or Voie de Vignes trail into Beaune for lunch and another wine tasting was another of our favorites.