As our long-distance cyclist reaches Germany, every day brings a new view or experience that takes her breath away
We were both speaking German but we weren’t communicating.
“Wohin? Is-tan-bul? Nicht zu glauben. Unbelievable.”
The cyclist sitting at the next table next to ours in the Donaublick café was on a 10-day cycling trip along the Danube. He’d complained about the ‘freshness’ of the weather and the winds. For me the weather was perfect with its partial sunshine and light cooling breezes.
“Yes, Istanbul. But we’ve got three months and we can take it slowly.”
“I just can’t imagine that,” He said, frowning. “To have to unpack and repack every day – and live like gypsies for months. That can’t be easy.”
I shrugged. “We don’t have much with us. It doesn’t take long to pack and I love the excitement of the unknown. Around every bend of the river, there’s a new view; a new experience.”
The cyclist shook his head in puzzlement. We were not speaking the same language.
I turned around again to talk to Jamie. From behind me I heard him muttering, “Istanbul – Wahnsinnig. Madness.”
After we cycled on from the Donaublick, I thought about the German’s words. Everything I’d said to him was true. When I’d set out on this trip a month earlier, I hadn’t known how I would feel after weeks on the road. Would it get to the stage when I’d never want to sit on a saddle again? Would I be yearning for home? But as we continued each day further south, before looping north to head east, the happier I felt.
In the Netherlands and in northern Germany, I’d worried about finding somewhere to sleep; whether we’d get a flat tyre or – worse still – something on one of the bikes would break (far from a cycle shop) – and tens of other might-bes. But as the days continued, I stopped worrying and started to live in the moment. There is something wonderfully liberating about cycling: you climb on the saddle, you turn the pedals – and wait for the world to unfurl before you. It was beautiful in its simplicity.
On the German Danube, we’d spun through buttercup and wildflower meadows of ox-eye, viper’s bugloss and yellow rattle, and on through poppy-splashed barley fields. We’d bumped along the cobbled streets of rainbow-painted towns and villages. Just outside Donauwörth we slipped into a beer tent to listen to the locals singing Bavarian folk songs with a belly full of Weissbier – and all before teatime. We’d seen more Lego-perfect castles and fortresses on cliff-tops and in the Danube valley then you could shake a stick at.
Once a grass snake slithered across our path – and a fawn ran out in front of our bikes. We’d seen an enormous carp rise from the water as we ate our Butterbrot on the edge of the Danube, sending rings across the broad width of the river. On the Danube’s backwaters, we’d passed by screeching frogs, sounding something between a chorus of demented Donald Ducks and a battery of gunfire. We’d passed by storks picking the riverside meadows and herons frozen on the shoreline.
In forests, the smell of wild garlic filled our nostrils and the gentle two-note of the cuckoo dipped in and out of our soundscape as we cycled along. As we continued deeper into Bavaria, the accents grew thicker, the landscape more rural.
Bavaria, along with Baden Württemberg, is Germany’s most affluent state. Everything was solid here: from the sturdy houses to the bulky farmers in their dungarees and brace-held trousers and the hausfrauen in their nylon housecoats plucking fruit in their gardens or preparing vegetables under shady trees.
And it was the connection with the local people along the way that meant the most to me: strangers who shared our table in cafés; snatched conversations in streets and shops; landlords in small pensions and Couchsurfing hosts who took us into their homes and told us their stories.The longer I cycled, the more I knew there was nothing wahnsinnig about our trip – indeed until now it felt like the sanest decision I’d ever made. But as I sat at the table on the terrace of the Donaublick with my morning cup of coffee, I couldn’t find the words to convince the German cyclist of that.