We are now in the beautiful city of Heidelberg and we have been very lucky( through my father’s friend) we were introduced to Malaysian student Rais Andersen(coincidentally he was my brother’s senior in school) and since his apartment has some empty rooms he let us crash at his place. Rais took us on a wonderful tour of the old city(longest pedestrian shopping street in Germany) and to Heidelberg Castle. We also took a hike up Heiligenberg hill (there is an open-air theatre built by the Nazi regime in 1934 to host propaganda events) even though it was quite a long hike up we really enjoyed it. Rais is also a good cook so we have been able to enjoy a few Malaysian dishes such as Chicken Curry, Beef Rendang and also Nasi Goreng. We were really spoilt during our stay here :)
Wow! It has been quite some time since I have updated anything. Here it is really hard to find free connection these days. Even some pension houses don’t offer free internet as one has to subscribe to an hourly hotspot plan, which can be quite a hassle for me since I am so used to being on the need to be connected to the net :p
We are now back in Gersthofen,(after a short visit to Munich) an industrial town 8km from Augsburg. Since my father is sponsored by UFL(Universal Fitness & Leisure) the sole distributor of Deuter in Malaysia, we thought that we would pay Deuter a courtesy visit. Moreover it is also on the way towards the direction of Stuttgart which is our next destination. So we didn’t have to detour that far. They were already expecting us as the folks at UFL had already informed them of our pending arrival.Anna from World of MTB also called in to put in a good word for us as she had dealt with them(reviewing their bike bags for the magazine). Upon reaching Deuter we were warmly greeted by Mr Rainer Wenninger & Mr Melvyn Jones It was another wonderful experience as we were one of the very few Malaysians(we are the first Malaysian travelers) that have visited the headquarters. As some of you probably know Deuter is a outdoor bag manufacturer. They have a long history.The company was started by Hans Deuter in Augsburg in the year 1898. The company has been through a lot in history(in times of war) and are still going strong(No.1 bag manufacturer in Germany). They manufacture all sorts of backpacks for daily use to their mountain and cycling backpacks.
We have been using Deuter backpacks for about 12 years now, even before there was an official distributor in Malaysia. To me Deuter backpacks is the best outdoor backpack that I have ever used. I am not saying this just because they gave me free stuff. I have done a lot of mountain trekking and camping when I was a lot younger and have used all sorts of bags and packs from a lot of manufacturers(some of the popular ones during the 90’s were Karrimor, Lafuma) but once my father brought back a Deuter Air Comfort 40( the first Deuter model in the house) I was sold! You could immediately feel the difference with their ‘Air Comfort’ technology. It was of course the most comfortable pack that I have ever used and have been using it ever since. Since then, we have had a few other Deuter models added to the collection :) Ok, now back to our visit, Mr Rainer and Mr Melvyn took us on a small tour of the company. They showed us their repairing workshop(if there any damages to the straps/zippers/buckles you can send it in for repairs) and their showroom where all their models are on display(Bags,Sleeping bags and other accessories.They had a chat with my father and was really impressed with what we were doing, and asked us what we needed for our journey onwards. We gave them a list and they happily obliged to our requests. Thank you Rainner and Melvyn for the short but wonderful tour of Deuter. I am proud to declare that I am Deuter fan for life! :)
While we didnt plan on visiting Munich as it was a bit out of the way towards Stuttgart. We were introduced to Dr Winfried, a friend of Sajjad (manager of Lahore backpackers in Pakistan) so we just took the chance to visit Munich and stayed at the Doc’s house. Munich is a wonderful city, but as with all popular cities there will be a lot of tourists and in a big city it is quite hard and tiring to navigate through the traffic and pedestrians with a bike and 30kgs of luggage.
With Ado, boss of Radlhaus in Kissing. He changed my chain, replaced my father’s rear rack, gave us each spare tubes & spare brake pads at no charge. We insisted on paying but he refused. Germans are truly generous people. They are very happy to help out and understand what we have to go through. They are generally surprised when they hear we have travelled this far and the time it took to get here. I don’t think shops in KL would be this generous unless you ask or beg for sponsorship.
I am quite sad that after more than a month riding along the Danube we have parted ways and I have started to miss cycling along the river. But it’s now onwards towards Stuttgart and the River Rhine :)
We are now in Germany(Bavaria) land of BMW’s and Bayern Munich :) We crossed in to Passau on a hot sunny day. It was probably about 30 degrees. We were quite lost so we stopped at a cafe to ask for directions for cheap accommodation, we were advised by some local students where to go for the cheapest accommodation and after scouting around for the cheapest we could find, was a Zimmer that was 16 euros each. As we were quite tired we took it to just have a shower and get the necessary supplies that we needed to stock up on. Passau is a University town so it was buzzing with a lot of activities with students and tourists walking and cycling around town. It was a mix of both modern and beautiful traditional buildings. As it was too expensive to stay on we decided to cycle out the next day and try to camp. About 25km out of Passau we managed to find a nice quiet spot along the Donau to camp, there were a few camp-fire places around so we assumed it was quite safe.
The following day we cycled in the direction of Regensburg. It was a really hot and dry day and it must have been about 33 degrees cycling along the Donau. After about 40km we were approaching the town of Deggendorf and While cycling along the Donau we were greeted by a young lady cyclist by the name of Anna Weiss. It is normal for people on the bike trails to greet each other. So we exchanged ‘hellos’ and to her surprise our ‘hellos’ didn’t sound like the typical German hello, so she stopped to find out where we were from. Anna was really surprised that we had come all the way by bike from Malaysia. She told us that she works for a mountain-bike magazine(World of Mountain Biking) and it would be cool if we could visit her office. When we got to the office, my jaw literally dropped, when I saw all the bikes that were there for testing. Most of them were top of the line full suspension Downhill bikes(I was in MTB heaven :D ) after meeting the rest of the team, they took really good care of us. They showered us with plenty of drinks and PowerBars as we hadn’t taken our lunch. They also presented us with a pair of pants each, T-shirts and also socks bearing their World of MTB logo :) You have my sincere gratitude WOMB crew. While we were relaxing and trying to recuperate, Johannes the editor in chief was about to head out to the local trail to do a test review of a new bike and he cordially asked me if I would like to tag along.I immediately jumped out of my seat and told him I would love to!(I was dead tired but I was literally jumping up and down and no way I am going to turn down an opportunity like this – hehehe). When I came back from the test ride, Dieter(head honcho of WOMB) invited us to stay at his place and they were having a BBQ with the WOMB crew(Awesome!) Anna’s Mom, Dad and sister also came as they were really excited to hear about our travels and stories.
After spending 2 wonderful nights with Dieter and Anna we had to move on and head towards Regensburg. Saying goodbye was really hard as they had been so nice and really took good care of us, They even presented a new helmet to my father as his helmet was really damaged and worn out. We really can’t thank them enough for what they have done for us, they truly are angels. With renewed strength we pedalled our way towards Straubing. As it was getting late and it would be a waste to check into a Zimmer, we thought that we would just camp for the night. We found a spot under a bridge 3km from Straubing. The following afternoon we got to Regensburg quite early and we were starving as we didn’t really have breakfast, only a few bars of Kit Kat :p we found a Doner Kebab shop and was waiting for our turn in line when my father was approached by a young man. As it turned out, he is a Malaysian student(Amin) who recognized my father from TV(when he left in September 2011). He then asked us if we would like to come back to his apartment and meet the rest of the Malaysian students who were in Regensburg. He also told us we could spend the night there. We were really grateful and overjoyed that we were in the company of fellow Malaysians(there are quite a number of Malaysian students in Germany but the chances of bumping into them are really quite slim) so it was a blessing that Amin approached us. After meeting the rest of the ‘Gang’ we just spent the whole evening chatting, exchanging stories and experiences about their lives in Germany. There are 7 people in the apartment and everyday they would take turns to cook dinner and last night it was Faiz’s(Joe’s) turn to cook, and he was going to cook Nasi Lemak for us! Joe’s Nasi Lemak was heavenly! It has been 5 months since I have had Nasi lemak with fried chicken, and to be having it in Germany is really unbelievable – hehehe! We even had second helpings and the boys didn’t mind at all as they understood our severe (craving) situation :p Thank you boys!
So that is the update for the week. It has been one happy week for us and I am just really glad that I decided to go on this trip with all the wonderful people that we have met and all the experiences that I have gained. It really is about the journey and not the destination :)
We woke up quite late the following day as our campsite was well hidden, that even the boats and barges that passed by didn’t notice us so we just took our own time breaking camp. We then proceeded to cycle without knowing which town we would be stopping at as we would try to camp again. All we know we would have to stay along the Danube (EuroVelo Cycling route 6) and head towards Austria’s third largest city, Linz. So after covering about 55 km we were passing by a small town by called Presenbeug. We scouted for a place to camp. We spotted a clear field just at the entrance of the town but we thought that it was too open and we would be in full view of cars passing by, people jogging and cycling along the road. We were approached by a gentleman on a bike by the name of Hans. He was wondering if we were looking for a place to stay and we told him we were looking for a place to pitch our tent. We proceeded to chit- chat for a while and told him what were doing and what our mission was. He then told us we could pitch our tent at the open field that we had seen earlier and it would be no problem. He later told us that he was a journalist for a local newspaper and would like to interview my father and take a few pictures for his publication. He also told us we should come to his house for breakfast the next morning :)
So after breakfast at Hans’s place, we pedalled our way to Linz and we decided that we would look for a spot to camp a few km from Linz as staying in the city would be too costly :P Along the Danube there are lots of forested areas but some are just too dense to set up camp. So to free camp you really need to keep your eyes peeled for the right spot. After about half an hour of searching we found a small trail that was actually for cars but looked like it has not been used for quite a while which was located behind the main cycling trail and it was quite flat, so we sneaked in quietly and while we still had about 2 hours of day light we decided to cook an early dinner and wait it out (sometimes we have to wait before it gets dark before we can set up camp just to make sure nobody comes along)
We woke up to a chilly morning it must have been about 8-9 celcius and all I wanted to do was stay in my comfy sleeping bag, but we just had to force ourselves to wake up and break camp. The only downside about free camping is we cannot linger around waiting to be caught, hehe! Linz was 5 km away and when we got there we proceeded to look for a bicycle shop to get my father’s rim fixed. A spoke broke the day before so the wheel was a bit wobbly. We found a shop after asking some locals for directions. Fixing the broken spoke costs us 10 euro which is quite expensive. 10 euro can buy us food provisions that can last us for 2 days :( So after looking around we saw that there was nothing much to see in Linz (it is quite a modern city and would be quite hard to look for affordable accommodation) we decided to move forward.
So we are now in the quaint and serene town of Aschach an der Donau. We managed to find an affordable ‘privat zimmer’ (private pension house) that is run by a nice lady and her son. So after 3 nights of camping it feels really good to be sleeping in a comfy bed again, to have warm showers and also update our blogs and keep in contact with loved ones. So tomorrow we will head towards Passau in Germany and will be out camping again. These are the necessary sacrifices that we have to go through in order to survive Europe and get closer to our destination.
The journey into Bratislava was an easy ride. It was less then 30 kilometers into Bratislava and Slovakia was the first country that we were using the Euro, so everything just got more expensive :( In Bratislava we stayed at a Hostel called Downtown Hostel and it costs 15 Euro per person, but we had our Hosteling International cards so we got a little bit of reduction to 13.50 Euros :) which is not much, but now that we are in Europe every cent counts :P and at the Hostel we were surprised that another Malaysian, Jia, had also checked into the same hostel. He is a young man doing his masters at a University in France and he has about 2-3 weeks left before he heads back to Penang. It was really good to meet up with a fellow Malaysian after so many months and be able to converse in BM. Speaking in BM was good but it was also a little odd after so many months of only conversing in English with other people whom we meet while on our journey- haha! We had quite a good time together and chatted a bit about things back home, like politics and also how much we missed the food back home. Jia also warned us that Paris is a very expensive city so maybe we will skip Paris altogether.
Bratislava is a quite a small city with some very nice old buildings and beautiful sculptures but it is not as vibrant as Budapest maybe because the people there are more laid-back and it is not a big city. I didn’t fully enjoy being in Bratislava and Vienna mainly because I was just very, very tired and lethargic. I guess my body is starting to feel the effects of not getting the right food and nutrition and also now that is is very hot and dry we get dehydrated very fast. This leg of the journey is getting a little harder due to the rising costs. As we can no longer afford the luxuries of sleeping in pension houses or hostels as often as before, we will have to depend on wild camping so that also means that we wont be able to blog or keep in touch with family and friends as often.
When we left Bratislava it was a hot and sunny day and after cycling about 12km out via the cycling lane, we stopped by a small abandoned complex, which looked like an immigration checkpoint so we asked a fellow cyclist if we had already crossed into Austria, and he told us that we were already in Austria and there is no more border checks :( looks like I won’t be able to collect anymore country stamps for my passport from now on. We also asked him if the bike lane leads all the way to Vienna.When he told us that it leads all the way into Vienna, I was really overjoyed to hear that. The trail that leads all the way to Vienna goes through “Donauauen” national park,which is a forest reserve, that is well maintained and also very clean. It was a really great experience to be in such a beautiful park . While enjoying the natural surrounding of the park, I even spotted a deer running around. There were also hundreds of cyclists using the trail going on their day trips to Vienna or Bratislava. Somewhere along the trail we bumped into another cycling – tourist, Daniel Jessen (from Germany), who was taking a breather by the trail, and decided to join him. He was also heading towards Vienna so we chatted for a while and told him about our plan for the day (that is to find a spot for wild/free camping). Daniel told us that he was also having the same idea and it will be his first time trying it out. So we decided to join forces and camp together. We found a hidden spot by the side of a road a few km. out of the main trail at a small village. While it wasn’t the best spot (as it was next to a road) we thought we would just try it out. It turned out to be a wonderful spot and it was a good experience camping out in the wild. We felt so relaxed just chatting and cooking while waiting for dusk to set up our tents. After we finished our dinner, we decided to call it an early night. With my tummy filled, I fell into a deep slumber :D
The following day we broke camp and proceeded to cycle into Vienna. Once we were in Vienna we managed to find a nice hostel with the help of Daniel (Wombat’s Hostel) and so we had to part ways,which was quite sad, after Daniel received confirmation that he could couch- surf at his friend’s place (the plan was to try and wild – camp for another day in Vienna)
While in Vienna, we didn’t go out at all as we arrived quite late and we were quite drained plus it was a Sunday and all the shops were closed. We decided to move out of Vienna the following morning as staying on would be costly. So we headed out towards Klosterneuberg about 25 km out of Vienna, to try out a paid camp- site that Daniel recommended. We arrived at Donaupark Camping and after enquiring we decided to try it out. The cost was 20 euro for 2 people with the fee for the tent included. At the campsite there were about 50-60 camper -vans parked. Camper-vans are very common in Europe, so most of the camp- sites cater for these campers. Most of the campers at the camp-site were elderly folks just enjoying the spring weather. These campsites provide the basic facilities such as toilets and a basic kitchen for you to cook your meals. Some also do offer Wi-Fi but you have to purchase a ticket to use it and it will cost about 10-15 euros for 10 hours of usage :(
The following morning we headed towards Krems and we are now cycling alongside the Danube for most of the way and there are many small villages and towns by the Danube with beautiful summer houses along the river. People were also doing water- sports activities like jet- skiing and also kayaking. So the plan for that day was to cycle as far as we could and before dark we would find a place to wild- camp. So about 2-3 km out of Krems we managed to find a spot just by the side of the road. There was a path leading down to the river and there was a nice flat spot behind some small trees where we could pitch our tent. I guess it is quite safe to say we could be the first Malaysian to ever wild-camp by the Danube :)
Here is a little insight of our daily routine before I get on my bike and go through the rest of the day. Our day would start with a shower followed by breakfast, packing up all our gear and cooking utensils and proceed to load our bikes before leaving the hotel/apartment room and start to cycle towards the next town. While the actual cycling is tiring, but on a good day the ride can be very pleasant with just the perfect weather and clear blue skies. Now that it is spring I can hear the birds chirping away and that helps get my mind off the cycling but sometimes when there is just miles and miles of open road with no villages or towns in sight, my mind begins to wander away as I pedal along, and some of the things that go through my mind would be things like how I wish I was back home hanging out at Misai SS2(local Mamak) with friends, or how good it would be to have a plate of yummy Nasi Kandar or Chicken Rice, and how I will be missing out on all the summer movies that are coming out :( to silly thoughts like why in the world did I choose to do this?!
On a day with bad weather you just wish your next destination would come quickly and you just look forward to a warm shower and of course food, and we had 2 bad days in a row. Yesterday and today was just pure pain and suffering. We were met with very heavy winds. There were weather reports on the news a few days back that Europe would be hit with strong winds (in France the winds were blowing at 110kph) but we didn’t think it would be that bad, but we were caught in it. While the winds weren’t blowing at 100kph it was probably about 50-60kph which is bad especially for us and with very heavy luggage and the drag that the panniers caused, that we were really struggling. Cycling through those winds is like virtually climbing uphill and cycling for 50 kilometers against the wind which can give you the cramps. To those planning on doing a long trip like this you really have to prepare yourself mentally. The physical part of it will develop over time as you go along :P so don’t worry too much about that.
We are now in Mosonmagyovar it is a border town bordering Austria and Slovakia. Today we managed to find a hotel where there is a huge Tesco Hypermarket nearby, which is 24 hours, and that really lifted my spirits, I know it is odd but nowadays going supermarkets or malls are the things that I look forward to and keeping me sane at the same time :P So, yes, life on the bike is very challenging. You need to be a bit crazy and be ready for all the challenges ahead, be positive and tell yourself that the best countries are yet to come! So tomorrow is a brand new day and a new country, We will pedal our way to Bratislava for a few days before heading to Vienna and praying that the weather will be fine.
With Zolt in Gyor. He is a classic motorcycle enthusiast and he advised us not to stay in Gyor as it was an expensive town as there were no cheap accommodation, so we headed out to a small village (Abda) where we found a cheap place to stay. He was also amazed that we had come all the way from Malaysia with our Bikes :)
So we are now in the beautiful City of Budapest, and I am loving every minute of it. The city is huge and is divided into 2 parts by the Danube river, Buda & Pest. The city is made up of old buildings with very old European architecture with many museums and art galleries. It is a great city to visit if you are an Arts & History buff. The other thing Budapest is also known for is their parties and nightlife. So there are many young tourists who come to Budapest to enjoy the night life, drinking and socializing in bars or pubs. As I found out from my friend Marton, pubs in Budapest close between 5-6am and re-open at 9.00! Crazy! :p no wonder people come here to party! and have fun. The other thing that I like about Europe is their cafe culture. There are many sidewalk cafes located around town or tucked away in some small street and now with the bicycle culture riding high, there are quite a number of bike cafes around catered to cyclists where they can just hang out and socialize or repair their bikes which is really a cool concept. Although there are a few such cafes back in KL there isn’t much of a bike culture, and many are not used to this concept so it really is a niche market. Budapest also has many bike rental stores and surprisingly many tourists come in to rent the bikes for the day or even for a whole month! So bike rental shops here are money- making outlets :) The cycling culture is quite healthy here. People commute around the city by bicycle and at every street there are bicycle parking facilities provided. In Budapest alone It is estimated that there are 60000-80000 cyclists.
In my previous post I wrote about how we were deprived of having decent meals and having missed all the food we had in Turkey. Lo and behold here in Budapest there are quite number of Turkish and Lebanese who operate fast food shops, and most of them claim to be halal :) so for these few days that we are here we can enjoy some decent meals which is such a blessing.
Chic lady cyclist, the ratio of ladies on bikes is roughly about 5 – 10