the opening scene from stanley kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey ends with a rather manic chimpanzee throwing a bone into the air and as it descends, the scene almost seamlessly switches to a satellite of similar shape orbiting the earth. and in the process of that orbit we are introduced to an incomplete space station, rotating as it too orbits the planet. the space station of which i speak, has the facility to allow spacecraft to dock, underlining its position as a stopping off point for forays into deeper space.
as the spacecraft makes ready its docking procedure with the still rotating, double-wheel station, the accompanying music is that of johan strauss. to be more specific, the blue danube, a walz composed in 1866 and first performed in february 1867. though initially accompanied by words written by joseph weyl, the instrumental version has proved the more popular and lasting.
the river danube has its beginnings in the black forest near the german/swiss border and passes through ten countries on its way to the black sea. it's the second longest river in europe at 2,888 kilometres. joseph weyl's words paid tribute to a river 'so bright and blue' wending its way 'through vale and field', while observing that there were 'Old castles looking down from high'. if weyl's lyrics are to be believed, it sounds like a rather idyllic backdrop for a bike ride.
riding over 2,800km at one sitting might be a tad exotic for most, particularly if you compare it to the 1407km involved in riding land's end to john o'groats. thus, well-known cicerone author, mike wells has split the parcours into volume one and volume two (the latter yet to be published), the first of which is under consideration here. wells begins his epic ride at the source in german schwarzwald, riding through middle germany into austria, incorporating the home city of johann strauss, vienna, before heading onto bratislava situated on the slovakian border before entering hungary and finishing stage one in budapest.
budapest must surely be one of the finest and most beautiful cities in central europe. the hungarian parliament building demonstrates the sort of architecture that likely influenced the castles we imagine in the fairlytales of yore. the national theatre features a strong art deco element, while the matthias church has gothic written all over it (not literally, you understand). if ever your pedalling starts to weaken en route to budapest, the thought of the treasures that await ought to provide the impetus to continue.
mike wells, in keeping with his companion cicerone guides, provides not only exemplary pedal by pedal instructions on how you too might enjoy the danube cycleway, but impeccable advice on how to prepare prior to commencing your journey. this includes detailed geography and topography of the countries through which part one passes as well as the wildlife the more observant might reasonably expect to see. the route itself has been split into 29 stages of approximately 44 kilometres each. a leisurely perambulation along the riverside would thus take around a month, but the more intrepid may find such relatively short daily distances easy enough to double, spending less time sightseeing and concomitantly more time in the saddle.
i'd imagine it would depend on just how much time you've managed to blag off work.
naturally enough, you'll want to know about accommodation along the way, and though some may be happy to leave the finding of eateries to chance, wells has offered his own thoughts on more scheduled matters. he has included how to get there by road or by air as well as noting that the route best cycled would suit not a racing bike, but not a mountain bike either. perhaps mike wells has found the ideal niche for the latest in gravel bikes, even though gravel does not feature greatly across the 1100 kilometres of riding. add panniers and a bar bag, allied to the smoother genre of cyclocross tyres and it would seem you're good to go.
the detailing and directions accompanying each stage of riding, along with remarkably informative maps do not make for a book that you'd read in the bath, but this may be an intrinsic part of its strategy. these giudes are for those who actively participate, rather than the armchair cyclo-tourist, and is all the better for it. there may be still time to take a month off work later this year.
cicerone appear to have modernised the appearance of their excellent guidebooks, the covers now looking less like forgotten items from the late 19th century and now sporting a more impressive contemporary look. in keeping with this mood of updating, they have also published an updated version of mike wells' the rhine cycle route, a book i first reviewed in march 2013. as few countries remain static for too long, cicerone are to be congratulated in encouraging this revisiting of previously published material to ensure they remain as relevant and accurate as possible. the rhine cycle route also retails at £14.95.
sunday 22 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................