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Salzburg

Monday, August 17th, 2009

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I leave Salzburg very well, full of a weeks worth of fine meals, and putting up tired legs. Its been a fine thing to have company. Leo and I plot my return to London, to do some exciting work. I stayed longer than I expected, and longer than the small touristic town of Salzburg justifies, but more people turn up each day to our dinner table, so that “just one more night” is worthwhile and fun. The show that Leo and John are working on for Salzburgs festival is a spectacular choreography of actors, lights, cameras and orchestra, like cinema, but live and with all the tension of theatre. I fill my days with Bike rides through the foothills of the Alps, and a few drawings, when the overcast weather discourages swimming nude in cold mountain fed rivers. The highlight of Salzburg was definitely the day that we spent out of it, with a picnic prepared by John, on a nearby Alpen peak, Untersberg. Spectacular view, accompanied by improvised Gin and Tonics. and the evening was no less fun, as we all devoured possibly the best desserts of our lives in a cave dug catacomb restruant.
I ride out late from the city, along the river, sun and new music on a borrowed ipod.
My path turns to washed out beach, and the rain starts too, as I trudge along it, then forge a stream, bike lifted high over shoulder, several trips for panniers, held above the waist high water. The rain lessens to a gentle spit, and its in these bleak conditions that I pitch my tent, and think of the comforts I am doing without.

To Salzburg

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

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Its a beautiful fine day to wake up next to an alpine lake. Its some of the most incredible cycling, huge steep cliffs drop to pristine waters. I ride fast over the hills, to Salzburg, for a warm welcome by friends, Leo and John, who give me keys to their apartment. And there I put my weary feet up and begin to relax.

Into the alps

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I wake up feeling good. I leave early. the family need to drive to Munich, to see thier daughter to a plane that will take her to the states for five weeks. Everyone is excited.
I ride of, overnight rain, smoothes the road. I leave the Danube, cutting across its meander, to avoid passing through the city of Linz. I join the Taun river, and at Lambach stop for lunch and a rest. Saurkraut and bread. Nodding head sleep sat on a park bench, I wake just seconds before the first strike of thunderstorm rain. I wait it out, and before long the sun is shining again. I ride a forest path and see the damage of extreme weather everywhere. Flattened crops, and broken and split branches, trees uprooted. its been a headwind and subtle rise in the land all day, so that by evening I arrive at an incredible mountain lake, Attersee. The rain disapates, leaving  a rainbow in its stead. The hills are incredible. I eat a half cooked meal, my gas having run out, just as I put the beans on to fry. I speak to Caroline, and this leaves me content, despite cold food.
Pitch my tent in a crop of trees which come dawn, will look out over the lake to see the sun striking the alps.

Rose is saved, and our belief in human kindness restored

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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I have a headwind that slows me down. But the way along the river is still beautiful. There is a strange throbbing through the frame of my bike. After close inspection I see that after 6700km the rear tyre is almost worn through, and is bulging slightly, that is causing a bump with every rotation. I hobble to Marbech, where I buy a new tyre. I have another problem too, the bottom bracket is shot, but I can’t take off the crank arm to replace it because the internal thread for the removal tool is stripped. I show this to the mechanic, and ask him to remove the lock nuts in the hope that the action of pedaling will loosen the crank arm off. He tells me it won’t work, and that I won’t get more than 15km with the current bottom bracket. He sees my dismay and offers me his son’s bike to continue the journey. With his wife as interpreter I tell him I can’t leave Rose behind, that I would sooner stop cycling than continue without her. Perhaps moved by my passion Helmut tells me that he will try, to repair this bike, and show me that Austrians will succeed where others have failed.
Two hours later, after much banging, a blow torch, a dozen different tools, sweat and swearing, he removes the shredded bottom bracket, while keeping the bike, chainset and crank intact. Its a moment of triumph, he punchs the air, we shake hands, and I invite him for a beer. His wife and father and law, who have watched the ordeal join us. He tells me repairing the bike has been “a pleasure” and only charges me for the part. I buy them another round of drinks, but this isn’t enough to express my deepest gratitude. Rose has been saved.
Riding off, she feels new and silent and quick. All my effort is converted through the new smooth parts to the wheel. I am pleased.
Clouds settle in again. I am buying ingredients at the supermarket and a man asks me about my trip, we chat for a little, and then part. But twenty minutes later, as I am packing my purchases he comes back with his daughter, and  they invite me to dinner, and to sleep at their house. Remembering the darkening sky, I say yes, immediately. And its a great decision. We have a fun night in conversation.  Christen is a cyclist, and has rode the Caminho de Santiago from Au an der Danube in 18 days! Christens daughters are excellent at english, one having spent a year in Rotorua on exchange.  I am really overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity.
The bed is big and comfortable. There is a huge map of the world on the wall, and I go to sleep thinking of how much more of it there is to go but also really happy in this little part of it.

The grey Danube

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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I leave Florians house on the edge of the city, still tired and with a headache,. Immediately I am climbing hills that over look the river and Vienna. My head pounds with the effort. I rush along the Danube with the wind behind me, thoughst as muddy as its water, I swim in a lake and drink a lot of water, but its not until a nap, that I can think clearly.
From Krems the path runs paralell to rows of apricot trees. A sunshower and gusts of wind drop ripe fruit to the ground. I stuff my bags with them. Its a beautiful part of the world. I swim again in the Danube and come out grimy.
An old man offers me money to continue my trip, a group around a BBQ give me wine as well as the salt I asked for. The Austrians are suprisingly friendly.
Thundestorms erupt just as I finish my dinner. I throw down my tent, and dive inside, seconds before it is lashed by wind and rain. Tired, I take long blinks as I hold the tent down through the storm, its sides press in on me.

Vienna for another day

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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Early morning rise, sourrounded by slugs, in my central park hideaway. Empty streets at 7:00.
Florian sees me as I wait for the Leopold museum to open. He is a cyclist too, he has that glint in his eye, and invites me for a coffee at his cafe, and then to stay at his house.
He is exceptionally generous. He has to “give back” for the kindness shown to him on his last cycle tour through the states. He must have been treated very well, for I am fed, and given beer and cocktails when i return back to his cafe in the evening when he finishes. And its a fantastic evening, sat in the Museum Quartier, the square is full, we talk of tailwinds, dreams and freedom. I have met him for only a few short hours, but already call him a good friend, a like minded individual.
My day in Vienna had been good already, spent admiring the work of Egon Schiele, Klimnt, and the Jungenstil movement in the Leopold museum, and then passing the afternoon, next to the New Danube, which is actually blue, swimming, reading, and putting new handlebar ribbon on Rose.
Stagger Back to Florians flat happy.

Fun times in Slovakia

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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I have just put Caroline in a taxi to take her to the Airport, after a night beside the Danube in out tent, after she missed her flight.
Effortless kilometers along the River form Bratislava toward Vienna. Long straight path along the ridge of a levee.There is plenty of time to think about my time at Pohoda and in Bratislava with Caroline. We had so much fun at the festival, waltzing to a slovak orchestra, gorging on smokey cheese and bread, sweating in the heat with cool cheap beer, of spending the duration of a thunderstorm in our tiny tent. We were happy, both distracted that we didn’t think about the uncertainty of times ahead. It was great to see Andrew, Anna, and Andrew Barber too. Together we saw some great music, and all had stories to tell about our lives over the last 4 months. And when the whole festival was stopped by a freak gust of wind, that blew down a stage and turned the tent city into a refugee camp, we still had fun, playing cards, wrapped up warm, picnicing amongst the debris of the abandoned party. It was a really fun time. My camera was out of battery (typically) but Andrew took great pictures of all the fun.
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In Bratislava Caroline and I wandered from paza to plaza, and the next day, climbed the castle steps to admire the view together. and while we are happy and having fun, a future together seems assured, wherever in the world we may be.

I take a break in my ride to Vienna to swim naked in a lake. Fish watch as I was a shirt and underwear, and dance around slapping at mosquitos.
Vienna is impressive.  I have a drink at the Kunsthaus designed by Hundervasser. There isn’t a straight line in the entire builiding, Organic and playful black and white tiles, a tree leans out of a second floor window. The horizontal belonds to nature, the vertical to man.
Film festival crowds watching jazz on a big screen, infront of the gothic town hall. I have an icecream, before setting off into the night, towards the big park along the Vienna river, to lie amongst the trees, and hope that it doesn’t rain

Festival

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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I cycle hard over the hills to Trencin, and the Pohoda music festical. Rose’s bottom bracket begins to grind, what little lubricant it had, washed out by the rain.
At first I hate it here, at the festival, on this sprawling tent city, on an airport runway. The hoardes of people, the commercialism, the beer thats cheaper than water that bloats and fattens me. I yearn the to be lean and alone again with my bicycle, that I have had to leave, far away from my tent. But all my frustration dissolves as soon as I meet some friendly Slovaks, and tag along with them, from tent to tent, drink to drink, and have alot of fun. suddenly I am happy and grateful for being here, thanks to Jana who got me into the festival. I go to sleep late looking forward very much to the arrival of my own friends.

Back to Slovakia and toward Pohoda

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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Thunder storm approaches, I have my soap and towel ready to wash in the downpour. Its been a hot sweaty day, cycling through the heat to Slovakia where I can spend Euro again on beer and icecream.  I close my eye for a long time at the table. Bowls, buckets, boxes and crates filled with apricots along the street. I get mine from a tree. I finish cycling early, at 6:30 exhausted, and expose all my sweaty skin to the wind to dry. I sit on my hilltop and watch my shower roll in.

To Moravsky Krumlov and the Slavic Epic

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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The sun rises early here. It is high and warm by the time I have packed up and am cycling at 7:30. I make great time  and am in the Czech Republic quickly.
I pick not quite ripe apricots, tart but good, I cycle away with a dozen in my front pannier, within easy reach as I ride. I take a round about route to Moravsky Krumlov, and arrive at 3:30, and 100km later.
The trip is worthwhile. The paintings, the Slavic Epic, is a dedication to the key moments in history that have defined the Slav people, that took Alphonse Mucha half his life to complete. Twenty images, so huge they are painted on ships sails, are difficult to take in. They are some of the best paintings I have seen, full of myth and legend, and are truly epic in scale. The retain the organic, flowing lines, graphic qualities of Art Nouveau for which he is famous, but is filled with atmosphere that is almost impressionsistic. No photos could ever do their subtle detail justice. They are housed in the Chateau that was his studio. I leave it happy, and inspired.
I haven’t Czech Kroner for a beer, so bargain one for a few euro cents, and later, give them a drawing of the establishment in gratitude. Its a well earned drink and rest, after my  monumental ride.