You will recall, dear reader, that this bicycle trip down the Danube began inauspiciously with two days of Noah-like deluges, and I complained about that. The weather pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme and we are now slowly roasting under faultless blue skies.
I am going to complain about that as well.
I am a man of temperate tastes. I do not thrive in the extremes of heat and chill. A cold-soaking rain is vexing; egg-poaching heat under a scalding sun is just as miserable. Factor sweat into the equation, and hot weather can be just as damp as a rainy day.
For the first time on the Euro2008 Tour, it is feeling like August. The heat is increasing as we travel down the Danube. Today the temperature must have touched 90, and, when out of the shade, felt like the blast from an open pizza oven. I felt like an anchovy, my tiny fins blackening, broiling in a sea of oily parmesan.
Having said that, much of our course was along the river. The occasional groves of shady trees, and an intermittent breeze, offered moments of relief like angel kisses. So it was not as bad (although hotter) as yesterday, when we left the river to bake in the corn fields of St Florian. On the other hand, this leg's distance (about 43 km) is much longer than what we attempted yesterday.
We turned our rear wheels to Enns around 9:00, winding through farmland and trees, until we reached the south bank of the Danube. At water's edge we waited for the bike ferry with about forty other cyclists. This big group had arrived before us, and it seemed unlikely that we would all be able to squeeze aboard. In fact, with careful packing by the skipper, we all made it. Lines were cast off, the ferry swirled out into the current, and we putted across to Mauthausen.
Mauthausen is the site of one of the Austrian concentration camps from World War II. We had thought about taking the girls to see it, but, with many kilometers to ride, decided that it would be better to cover as much ground as we could while it was still cool.
We pedalled east, rolling past the McDonalds on the edge of Mauthausen. Why is it that you always know you are nearing a McDonalds by the sudden appearance of McD-branded litter cluttering the ditches and snagging in chain-link fences? We had been riding through a neat, pristine landscape for days, but as soon as the Danube bicycle trail passed a McDonalds, the roadside turned into a large rubbish dump. The same thing happened in our lovely British town of Portishead. One Monday a McDonalds opened, and by Tuesday, we were wading through Big Mac wrappers and empty milk shake containers. What's the connection? Is it that only litter-tossing louts eat at McDonalds? It seems to me that McDonalds should hire someone to walk around picking up all the trash that their customers spread about so freely. Now that would be a public service.
But I rant.
I was intrigued by the Aist river, which runs into the Danube just after Albern. This river is a deep Hershey brown, as if it was carrying confectionary waste from Austrian chocolate factories. We paralleled it for a half kilometer, and then it dumped into the Danube. Interestingly enough (I thought, trying to take my mind off the heat) the water took some time to mix with the Danube, and a good distance downstream I could still see brown patches floating in the Danube mud-green.
Lunchtime found us pulling into a one cafe town, Mitterkirchen. This place was a bit of a cheat for adventurous eaters since (even though the waitress spoke no English) she did have a pair of English menus. I tried another traditional Austrian dish, grammalknodel. This turned out to be three large dumplings stuffed with some kind of crispy pork. The knodels rested on a bed of crispy sauerkraut. Delicious.
Back on our bikes for the long slog to Grein. Once again we rode down lovely farm lanes, past trees weighted with ripening apples, and through miles of corn just on the point of harvest. Mary had packed the girls' swimsuits so they could have a dip at a lake east of Eizendorf (recommended by the guidebook), but when they saw the water, thick with bright green algae and awash in mosquitoes, they opted to keep riding.
Grein is built on a curve in the river. Evidently this is the most difficult part of the Danube to navigate and Grein once made a lot of money from its river pilots. We require no pilots to finish the last few kilometers into town. Stretchers would be nice, but no pilots. A large church bell tower served as a visible landmark, and the Davinci, a monstrous river cruiser flying Canadian colors was docked on the waterfront. For the first time in weeks, we heard English speaking voices in the shops around us.
Grein is pretty, but one quickly exhausts the opportunities for sightseeing. We occupied ourselves for a half hour with the Stadttheater, the oldest theater in Austria, built in 1791. I would label it a "matchbox theater;" it couldn't hold more than sixty people. During its heyday the patrons of the theater purchased a season ticket: a key. Each wooden seat has a lock on it and if you don't have the key, then you can't put the seat down to sit on. The little theater has other conveniences: a toilet was situated at the end of one of the rows of seats. The user is separated from the rest of the audience by a demure curtain. You could poke your head through the curtain and keep track of what was happening on-stage while you sought relief. A great blessing for travelers with diarrhea.
By sunset, we were exhausted. It had been a long day's ride, and no one really wanted to go out for dinner. We grabbed some provisions from the local grocery store and had a picnic in our rooms. Evening found us fast asleep, spent, trying pack in enough recuperative sleep for the next day's ride.