Saturday 28 July 2012

A Viennese Waltz

Current Location: Graz, Austria
Total Distance: 3,060 km
Next challenge: 1,000 m climb through the Alps to Italy
Bottom’s Status (0=agony, 10 = heaven on earth) Judy = 7.0 Mike = 8.0


Vienna must be one of the most bike friendly cities in Europe, but that doesn’t make it easy dashing to the train station on a fully loaded tandem during the morning commuter rush.

Bicycle lanes suddenly end, or switch from one side of the road to the other, they often have their own traffic lights and sometimes they go the wrong way up one way streets – leaving riders feeling exposed to oncoming traffic.

Add the pressure of getting 15 kilometres across town from our campsite to Vienna Meidling station in time for an 8.02 am departure, and there’s plenty of scope for things to go wrong.

Judy outside Vienna Meidling train station with time to spare.
To minimise the difficulties we had a practice run the previous day. In the pouring rain, our GPS led us on a clumsy waltz through the streets of Vienna taking us to two other rail stations before delivering us to the right one. In the process, it led us to an elevator in one station and coaxed us inside – the tandem squeezed diagonally across the lift. We went up one floor to be deposited on a cycle path that saved us no distance at all, but avoided a busy road for perhaps 150 metres. When we finally arrived at Vienna Meidling station it had taken us one hour 50 minutes and we were hot, sweaty and frustrated. 

Outside the station and not a bike
lane to be seen.
Along the way, we’d been growled at by a waiter for cycling on the footpath amongst his tables (we’d failed to notice the cycle lane on the other side of the road), and by a fellow cyclist alarmed to see us cycling against the traffic flow on a busy road (yes, sometimes you are allowed to do it but other times you are not).

On the way back from our practice run, we devised our own route, making it as direct as possible. It was quicker, but we encountered tramlines which in the wet looked lethal.
St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

The real test came the next morning. We were up at 4.40 am and had the tent packed and were on our way by 5.30. Dawn was breaking and the first rays of sunshine were lighting up St Stephen’s Cathedral. 

All was looking good until we became tangled up in the narrow back streets near the cathedral and began a slow circular dance around the Viennese landmark.  A stranger came to our aid as we waved a map at him, and before long we were underway again – this time defying the rules that said we couldn’t cycle through one of the city’s big pedestrian precincts.

With one final spurt along the footpath for the last half kilometre we were there – in time for our train and feeling relieved that even if we didn’t fully understand Vienna’s cycle rules we had at least survived them.

Sightseeing time - we join the rest of the tourists to take in the sights. Judy was particularly taken with the horses and  carriages.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Waltzing Down the Danube

We prepared ourselves for France as best we could over a busy year, listening to French language CDs and reading travel guide books and all went well, despite the small “lost in translation” moment during Mike’s visit to the doctor.

First foray into Germany - this is the main square at
Stein am Rhine.

Blue dome day in Tuttlingen.

Rhinefalls in flood.
Opps… I forgot to prepare myself for Germany. Some words came back to me that my father had taught me, but I was ill-prepared in many ways. Out came the Kindle e-reader and a study of Lonely Planet Germany, Frommer’s Guide to Germany, a basic language guide but in the end, the German people sorted us out. Mostly they were only too happy to speak English and to help, and they wanted to know about our cycle travels.
Ulm Munster - the highest spire
in Germany and a Gothic marvel.

What do cyclists do when darkness approaches, water's running low and there's
no campground? In desperation we asked this farming family for somewhere to
pitch our tent. They agreed and even gave us mineral water and hot showers.
The next morning we added berries from their orchard to our cereal. They were a
lovely family and we were extremely grateful for their help.
The old towns on the river Rhine and some truly lovely scenery along the Danube between Tuttlingen and Sigmaringen, Wettenburg to Regensburg, the towns of Ulm, Regensburg and Passau have been the highlights of Germany for me. Along with the most wonderful camping weekend in Regensburg with Maria and Jan (who met each other in NZ and are now engaged) and met Mike on his cycle travels in 2009/10. Maria and Jan live in Selb (150 km north) and we all explored Regensburg together.

The upper reaches of the Danube at Tuttlingen.
Our last town in Germany was Passau – a real blockbuster. It’s a beautiful old city where we took the opportunity to hear the world’s largest church organ in a short concert in the over-the-top baroque cathedral of Dom St Stephens. It was moving, especially given the surroundings and we were able to sit and listen and enjoy the grandeur around us.
Campsite at Riedheim (near Leipheim). It had a small "lake"-
in NZ we would call it a farmer's dam, stick up a maimai and
shoot any of the ducks silly enough to come within range. Judy
swam in it with her head above water.

Boarding a ferry from Weltenburg to
Kelheim, through a gorge of the Danube.
It was one of several stretches where
cycle tourers take to the water.

Part of the organ in Dom St Stephens Catherdral
in Passau. The organ is said to be the largest church
organ in the world.

Of Frogs and Birds of Prey

Lizards dart away from our wheels, a fox studies us from across a field,  birds of prey hover overhead and frogs croak and gargle in the still waters of the canals. At dusk we watch fearful as two rats swim silently towards five ducklings. Mother duck shepherds her young onto the river bank and the next morning we’re relieved to do a headcount and discover all are safe.

They’re not perhaps the most immediate images that spring to mind when people think of France, but for me they are just as evocative as the culture, the history and the food and wine. We’ve been pleased by the amount of wildlife we’ve seen – even if it’s not lions or tigers – but disappointed not to see a single deer despite the frequent signs warning drivers to take care.
Judy's pastime - spottng wonderful
vegetable gardens. This one is in

The morning routine includes the hunt for coffee. 
Our France over the six weeks has been a gentle affair – The Eurovelo 6 has led us from West to East on purpose made bike paths, quiet roads and back streets with just a few kilometres of handlebar-clenching highways where the traffic has hurtled by and we’ve been intimidated by roundabouts. On the whole the Eurovelo 6 signage has been pretty good although we can’t count the number of wrong turns we’ve taken, usually in towns where finding our way back onto the route has not always been easy.

From our campsite in Seurre, where we
met a fun Swiss couple Simon & Sabine.
And we’ve been adjusting to life on the road. After years of deskbound jobs, the sudden change to living in a tent, the regular exercise, and the constant exposure to the weather have not always been easy.

It’s Judy’s first experience of cycle touring – we’ve now clocked up nearly 2,000 km on the tandem – and she’s been surprised at how much time is taken up finding somewhere to sleep each day and buying our food. Often supermarkets are some distance from our campsites and once we have erected our tent we have to make a separate journey – it’s time consuming but necessary.

And like me, Judy has found the vagaries of the weather challenging. We seem to lurch from days of blazing sunshine and sunblock to lightning and thunderstorms that rage around us. Sometimes, the latter is just too much and like today, we retreat to the shelter of the tent and give up on the idea of cycling.

The result is that our daily distances are sometimes very short – I think our record shortest ride is 25 km. In good weather, 80 km is no problem. In heavy rain there’s not much fun in it.
"You know, it's pretty near idyllic this
 spot," Judy discussing a canalside vista. 
View at L'Isle-sur-le-Doubs

Judy says the drawbacks are outweighed by the ever-changing landscape and the encounters with people along the way – those who want to help and those who want to pass the time of day.
Sailing downwind

Judy also says she’s delighted how quickly things can turn around – just as the heat or the rain is becoming too much, we’ll pedal into a town square and there’s a cafĂ© beckoning. And just down the road will be a campsite with hot showers.

Stork on final approach.
And who knows, there may be time to catch a spectacle at dusk. For example, two rats swimming against the current in an unsuccessful bid to turn ducklings into dinner.       
Meriton and Timon acted as guides,
riding ahead of us through the streets
of Basel (Switzerland) soon after we
crosed the border with France.

Saturday 21 July 2012

The Big C

It was the sort of email no traveller wants to get. Its stark simplicity told me something was seriously wrong.

Howard on board the Tern (1973). The yacht was jointly owned by us -
21 feet of rotting plywood and tired sails. We sailed her around the
Hauraki Gulf and to Great Barrier Island. It was on the Barrier trip
this photo was taken. The return passage took us 39 hours to cover the 
50 miles as we lay becalmed and then struggled with head winds.
“Hi, Need to catch up with you on the phone, what is the best time to call.” It was signed Howard, who is my oldest and best mate.

When he rang the next day it was to deliver terrible news – he has cancer of the pancreas and has only months to live. There is no hope.
My first reaction – as I struggled not to burst into tears - was to tell him I would leap on the first flight back to New Zealand. I instantly imagined sharing some of his last  days with him – maybe sailing peacefully in the Hauraki Gulf, a quiet anchorage, a beer (or something stronger) in one hand and Howard with a cigarette in the other. But he read my mind and said don’t come back. He really wasn’t up to doing much these days. He was on morphine to help ease the pain and needed a “Nana nap” every afternoon. He would rather we kept travelling, and on our return visit his wife and two adult sons.

Howard (left) plotting in the flat we shared in
Stoke Newington, London, in 1975.
It was a heart breaking conversation – but for me, it was nothing compared to the anguish Howard and his family are going through. He has been a tower of strength to them - always there, always caring and always striving to do his best for them.
But this is not an obituary. Howard’s not dead yet and as they say, where there’s life there’s hope.
His email coincided with one from my daughter, Merran, announcing to her family and friends that she was taking part in something called “Dry July” – giving up booze for a month to help raise funds for adults living with cancer. It seems like an excellent idea, and it didn’t take me long to contribute.
Howard is not the only one with cancer, most of us know someone who has fought this dreadful disease and won or lost. Another member of our wider family is battling it right now, but fortunately his prospects are looking good. And since we left New Zealand a partner at Judy’s old law firm, Mike Cormack, has died of cancer.
So “Dry July” might be a small way in which we can help those suffering. The website to make a contribution is  My daughter has her own fundraising page on the website
One of the reasons Judy and I embarked on this cycling trip was to do it while we still could – before infirmity or illness overwhelmed one or both of us. We’re lucky, unbelievably fortunate.
As for Howard,  like us in his early 60s, he and his wife should be looking forward to many more years together and the opportunity to relax a little and perhaps pursue some of their own dreams. That’s looking unlikely.

Howard helming his yacht Tender Foot on a passage
to Great Barrier in 2005.
If the worst happens, I’m going to miss him more than I care to admit. We grew up together – at boarding school, drinking, flatting, partying, sailing, travelling and socialising with our families. For a time we drifted apart as our lives became busy with the pressure of careers, but then we picked up the old friendship and nothing had changed. My only wish is that this old friendship could last forever. 


Doled up on the Back Streets

Dole is one of those places that even Wikipedia finds hard to say much about. Lying on the Doubs River, in the Jura region of eastern France, it has a quaint centra ville with lovely old buildings, canals, places for coffee and not much else – except cars.

They were assembled in a parking lot on the edge of town, scores of them driven by cool young dudes who watched their rivals as they competed for noisiest sound system, flashest air brush paint job and possibly – lowest ground clearance in a street legal car. The young men in turn were watched by young women, attracted by the noise and the excitement. Suddenly, Dole was a cool place to be. 
Dole - population 25,000
Dole - Car Heaven

Canal side snapshot
Lowest Ground Clearance
Flower Child
Scene Stealer

For the family who has everything
and needs somewhere to put it.

Dole - Sunday Quietude

Something for Everyone

Give us a Break

And the winner is - this reworked Toyota Celica 1.8 1995 with 109,00 km on the clock had to be a contender. For sale: E15,000.

Monday 16 July 2012

Communication Breakdown

“Kia Ora, good morning, this is your captain speaking. On behalf of myself and the crew I’d like to welcome you on this flight – destination uncertain. As you may be aware, communications with the ground have been limited recently. This was due to a lack of convenient wifi hotspots in German airspace. Our engineers believe they have rectified the problem and we hope to be able to inform readers of our whereabouts on a more regular basis from here on.”
The Captain on behalf of himself and the stoker.
Current Location: Regensburg, Bavaria, Southern Germany
Distance travelled from Bridgwater, Somerset, United Kingdom: 2,510 km
Longest Day: 93.7 km
Flat Tyres: 8 (none since tyres replaced)
Bottoms’ Status: (Agony = 0, Bliss = 10) Judy 7.5, Mike 8.5
Gothic Splendour
Black Wedding Dress at Cathedral

Gothic Splendour
Regensburg Cathedral
Friends Maria and Jan with whom we
spent a terrific weekend in Regensburg
Jan and Maria take the
Beast of Bridgwater for a test run