Danube, Our First River Journey, 2012
Updated: Jun 1, 2018
DANUBE RIVER: Our Danube River ride was our first long distance, intentional river riding. Peter did extensive research on Eurovelo bicycling routes (www.eurovelo.com) which has 15 long distance cycling routes. Eurovelo involves 42 countries with a total path of 70,000 kms, the longest single route being 10,400 kms. Peter chose one of the bicycle paths beside a river, the Danube.
Danube has its own magic, starting from the Black Forest region of Germany, flowing to the Black Sea, where Serap’s father is from.
We took the train from Munich to Donaueschingen (means birthplace of the Danube), where the source of Danube River comes to the surface of the earth through a spring in a church garden. From that beautiful, clear source, there goes a little creek, that allows bicyclists to follow it with a similar speed. As we were going down together with water, we would come to a point where another creek would come and join to form a bigger creek. The creeks became wider forming a wider and wider creek, then those wide creeks formed a river that many people have settled by and lived for thousands of years.
Danube continuously moves and goes through a couple of countries, giving life to land, attracting many civilizations by its side. We felt the joy of water coming out at the source to the surface of earth, bringing minerals up from the rocks underneath, taking nutrients on its path and journeying with all that treasure towards the ocean. The more kilometers we cycled with the river, the more we became curious where it was heading towards, and the more we felt the need to journey with it every day. At times where part of the river could not flow in a bay or trapped in shallow water with no current, we observed that water got stopped and it almost told us that a river needs to flow and flow.
Danube showed us that a river may start in “a country” of today that did not exist thousands of years ago. Danube has been flowing on its path through various civilizations through the centuries. As ages got darkened, as wars happened, as times changed, Danube continued flowing without giving a name to its origin. It is programmed for going from a particular point to a certain destination, with a clear mission of being part of the water cycle for earth. Its mission seems to be to flow, to meander through lands, give life to its surroundings, be life, and also unite with other sources of water to further give life. As in the case of Danube River, it started in Germany, then traveled to Austria, then to Slovakia, and Hungary as much as we could follow. We had to say goodbye to Danube as it was flowing towards the Black Sea.
River, from its source to its destination, is quite occupied with its important mission. Water is the founding member of communities. Water is precious. It seems to have a mission beyond any boundaries and categories created by humans. It has a mission beyond our understanding or how we treat water in our modern world.
So, we follow rivers and try to go with the same speed with the river. We respect rivers and their missions.
Details of our trip by the Danube
July - August 2012
Starting point – Donaueschingen, Germany
Total Length – 2860 km
What we covered - 1200 km
Ending Point – Romania (Black Sea)
Countries – Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania
(We traveled with the river until Hungary)
OUR TRIP ( Peter's reflections...)
I think the Danube is a holy river, because it is officially born from the clean pure spring water that drips out of a well in a church garden in Donaueschingen in Germany, near the border with Switzerland.
We went to the birth place to start our cycling trip. A 4 hour train ride from where we had landed in Munich, on a train. You can’t dip your rear wheel in the source (like many people do when they start a long bike trip at an ocean or a lake) because it has a wall around the spring. Oh well.
It is a bit mystical to start cycling, with just the thinnest little thread of water snaking its way down a hillside. Soon to be joined by a few other trickles from other directions, thus forming a little stream. Then a few streams join together to form a creek. When a few creeks join together, then you start to have a river! At first, only small boats can go up and down this small river. Then the small river becomes a large river. And this large river is capable of floating the largest boats, and of generating power in the dams that constrain it. Come and join us on our journey down the Danube!
To see the birthplace of the Danube, we needed to first get us and our tandem bicycle to the right location.
We flew from where we were living in Ankara, Turkey to the closest large airport at Munich, Germany. The first step was to re-assemble the boxed bike after the flight.
Airlines don’t like tandems very much because they are so very long and take up so much space. Our bike includes couplers so that the frame splits into two pieces and we can pack our tandem into one ordinary bike box. Tandem becomes one bike!
However, packing the bike into one box means that it has to be highly disassembled, so it is about 2 hours work to reassemble it. Fortunately the people at Munich airport were very kind and let us use a nice area for assembling the bike, and even recycled all of our packing material after we finished!
I had never been on such a train as the one that took us from Munich to Donaueschingen with a big bike. After being tired arriving into Munich airport, and being on this train most of the day without any food, we were really glad to find a Turkish restaurant at the train station in Donaueschingen! Great way to start our trip!
BIRTH of DANUBE
We were not the only people looking at the well at Donaueschingen where the Danube is born. Several others were also staring into the pool and watching the drip, drip, dripping out of the artesian water. In the background, we could hear the noises of a town, car engines, people talking and laughing. But even though some of the people standing there had been laughing and talking as they walked towards the well a few moments ago, there was almost a reverential silence in the little group of people standing around the well. Perhaps the silence was a contemplation of birth, that the water dripping here was the birth of a river, starting its long journey to the ocean.
Of course most people were just visiting the source. Only a few people had bicycles. And we didn’t see anyone else that day with fully packed bags indicating a long trip down the river. So we felt like true explorers! Our relationship with the Danube was just beginning!
From a baby trickle of the clearest spring water, we watched the young Danube mature. We had the best possible view of the river since there is a spectacular bike path right beside the river. Taking our time, from the birth following along right beside the developing river, we had a very intimate relationship with this river.
To have the best view of the rolling water, due to the position of the sun in the mornings, sometimes we wanted to see the river from the other side. It was easy. The river was small at this stage, thus there were numerous short bridges across the river. Some of the bridges were even covered, perhaps so that drivers were not distracted by the lovely views up and down the river while they crossed.
Perhaps to celebrate the beauty of the young waters in the Danube river, many of the towns along the way had a fountain in the town center.
For some towns, just watching the river from the banks, or even having a splashing fountain was not good enough. They also had to build a viewing platform so that we could appreciate the greenery and the sinuous river like an eagle from above.
And more than just a beautiful view, the waters of the Danube bring forth abundant life, such as these strawberries from a farm stand beside the river.
Maybe in the hottest months, the cooling waters of the river could be used to have a nice picnic!
And the people who built the forts and castles on the overlooking hills had the most spectacular views of the young river!
By the beautiful fountain, Peter is sitting on Big Red nervously wondering if this bird has had his lunch yet!
Did we accidentally take a wrong turn and end up in Venice? Actually not! The waters of the young Danube are smooth enough to take a gondola ride.
A new trickle is added here, a few drops there. Thus every day, the waters of the Danube increase. It is not such a young river any more!
The bike paths alongside the Danube are truly excellent. At this location you can see how the river is very wide and quite shallow, and the water is flowing so slowly that grasses and flowers can grow in the middle of the river.
Often when we are biking, somebody will point to us, smile, and say something in a language that we don’t understand. We know right away what they are saying. “She’s not pedalling!” (I know that usually it is a joke, but look carefully and this photo proves that occasionally it is true!)
The small hotels that we stayed at beside the Danube, as well as the restaurants and bars along the river are so friendly to cyclists! I read somewhere that 10,000 people a year cycle down the length of the Danube. Like us, most people will do this trip in July or August. Despite this, it was never crowded on the cycle paths, and almost every hotel that we stayed in had one or two rooms that were still empty.
Even when the weather was a bit hot, there was usually a nice shady bike path to follow.
Depending on our mood, our budget, and sometimes depending on the temperature, lunch sometimes was in a nice restaurant, or sometimes it was a simple picnic under the shade of a tree on the riverbank. Notice how the Danube has grown even wider!
At the monastery at Melk, there is amazing food prepared by the monks. This was a piece of potato pie covered in fresh parsley and peppercorns. And the monks have been brewing excellent beer there for 800 years using the waters around the Danube.
Now the Danube is so powerful and wide that bridges are difficult to build. So we take a little ferry boat around the rock cliffs where there is no bicycle path beside the river!
Approaching Vienna, the Danube is huge. Even these large river cruise boats look tiny compared to the size of the river.
Even after a long day of riding, some people don’t want to leave the river. The sunset just added to the beauty of the water.
For one week in the middle of our trip, we stayed on a boat. After breakfast on the boat, we cycled by the Danube all day, then met the boat at a prearranged location to have dinner and sleep. The main benefits were that we didn’t need to carry our gear all day long, and that dinner and a place to sleep were already arranged for us. Would I do it again? Maybe. I found the food to be a bit heavy. I think I prefer the freedom of being on our own, even if I have to carry everything.
The Danube, besides its beauty, is carrying a lot on its shoulders for means of transportation. There are quite a few locks, dams and generating stations along the length of the river. We wondered what old Danube would have looked like before these additions changed the flow of the river.
What a beautiful way to offer people water, source of life! The people along the river know well that hot and tired cyclists really appreciate the drinking water fountains!
Beside the huge Danube are so many lovely small towns and castles on the hills. It would take years to visit all of them.
I had to wash my neck and ears carefully each day, because this was Serap’s view for most of the bike trip! Our friends who joined us for a week on the riverboat ride are just ahead of us on the path.
Vienna, amazing city with amazing architecture and of course, amazing fountains using the water from the Danube!
A few days after Vienna, we accomplished one of Peter’s goals. Our first 1000 km bike trip!
We felt very sporty on a tandem celebrating 1000 km completed. But did we stop? No, on with the ride!
Of course the occasional time out for repairs. Only our second flat of the trip. Not so bad.
The old gate at the border of the old Czechoslovakia. A huge barrier for some people many years ago. Not used any more. The cars just drive past without stopping now. This was a restricting boundary for many who could not leave their country. It is hard to believe now that there is no one at the moment. The river flows past such boundaries, so do we.
Peter working hard to push the bike over one of the final bridges.
Serap near the end of our trip looking quite satisfied with a cup of coffee she ordered. Also I think she is satisfied with the 1200 km that we rode along the river. Our final location was the hot spring at Patince in Slovakia. A well-deserved soak for tired muscles! Unfortunately no photos from the hotspring since the steam from the hot springs temporarily badly affected our camera!
Big Red at Vienna airport waiting with some trepidation for disassembly and the flight back to Ankara.
It looks like Big Red has been attacked by a giant spider and wrapped in a web of plastic film. Most airports require bikes to be in boxes. However, Vienna airport does not, and accepted our bike like that.
END OF THE JOURNEY
Our River Rider story for the Danube is a bit incomplete. We started at the birthplace of the Danube, and we followed it for 1200 km through 4 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary), but we did not continue all the way to the sea. To finish the story would require another 1600 km or so, through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania finally to the Black Sea. Maybe someone who reads our story will contribute their own ending to this story. Or maybe, just maybe, our story will continue down the river on another day.