May 31 – Donauwörth to Ulm
What makes travel so memorable? What are the moments that become highlights and memories of gold? Is it the famous places? Is it the iconic sites and scenes? Well, those things are all great and important but what makes travel so special…it’s the people. It’s the people.
We put foot to pedal and wheeled out of Donauwörth on our forward journey and found ourselves once again in open farmland. The scenery around us was flat fields and paddocks, not a forest or a river to be seen, just fields of leaves, stalks and grain. We didn’t have a designated path, but the country roads were quiet and virtually traffic free and we pedalled along at a fairly good clip, under a grey sky, but the sun was already beginning to burn off the cloud and a sunny, warm day beckoned.
We rolled into the pretty little town of Höchstädt an der Donau and sat in the sun, in a small central square for elevenses.
We had just begun to leave, walking the bikes back to the road, when a smiling lady walked up to me and asked where we were from and where we were travelling to. She pointed to an ice-cream shop and asked if we’d tried the ice cream because it was so good. Then she invited us to sit with her and her daughter and offered to buy us a drink and so began the absolute golden moment, highlight of the trip so far. Bärbel was sitting with her daughter Saskia, celebrating Saskia completing her final exams and she asked us to choose whatever we wanted from the menu, she was treating us. So we had a cold drink and sat with them and talked and talked, to these wonderful, friendly, generous, warm people. They answered our questions about Germany, talked to us about our trip and asked about Australia. Then, Bärbel said that her husband was a cyclist and knew a lot about the cycle routes and the best places to go, so Saskia hopped up and went to get her dad who worked in the pharmacy across the square. Christoph joined us, with a warm and beaming smile and gave us a box of sports electrolyte powders to add to our drink bottles and then sat and looked at our book and maps and began to explain routes and places to go. They told us of towns to see and those we could bypass, where to resume our ride so we were beside the river again and we continued to sit in the sun, sharing conversation with the loveliest of families. Bärbel offered us a place to stay and asked if we would like to do any laundry and I couldn’t have been smiling any more, inside and out. This is why we travel. This is what it’s all about. It’s the people. The wonderful, kind, generous people that cross our path and turn a trip into something special. That’s also why it’s so great to travel on the bikes, because that morning spent with Bärbel, Saskia and Christoph wouldn’t have happened if we’d just zipped through in a car. Before we left, Bärbel offered to show us where to get back to the Danube, so we could ride on the track right alongside, rather than on the road. She drove her car slowly in front of us, guiding the way and took us right to the path and then Saskia walked ahead of us from the car to show us where the path began and where it travelled by the river. Bärbel then gave me a lovely card with pressed flowers on it, on which she had written her phone number, telling us if we ever needed anything, or needed help, we now had a number to call. We couldn’t thank them enough. It was such a chance encounter that became a morning spent with the most wonderful people. We said we hoped Saskia would find herself travelling to Australia and we would be waiting to welcome her to Tasmania. We farewelled with hugs, thanks and waves, as we took to the path they had shown us and pedalled on our way.
“That was so special,” I said to Steve as we rode on, “that was a moment! That’s the highlight right there!”
The path ran right beside the Danube, which we’d been missing for so long and we finally had the river to our left and forest to our right and we were amongst the peace of nature again. It was a lovely ride and the sun was shining and all was grand.
When the path took us away from the river, we were again on quiet roads and then into small towns, before arriving in the picturesque little town of Dillingen. We rode through an archway into the main street of cobbles, with the pretty coloured buildings and clock tower looking down over the people going about their business. We sat for a while and had a bite of lunch, deciding what to do about our onward journey. We thought we’d probably not rush and push onto our final destination and began looking at alternatives along the way. There were some other towns coming up, but none with campsites, unless we rode on to our original destination and other accommodation was thin on the ground, with the few options either booked or too expensive. The afternoon was getting away from us and the sky was looking quite dark on the horizon, so we just pedalled on and decided to see where we ended up and decide from there…no plans, just winging it.
We rode through Lauingen, another nice little town and then through some more farmland and beside some trees. Then we made a spur of the moment decision, something we can do because we have no prearranged plans and we are the grand masters of flying by the seat of our pants. The afternoon was getting away from us and we still had at least another couple of hours to ride to our destination, so we decided to do a little skip. We have been heading towards Ulm and thought we might stop about 20km short of it today, in Leipheim, and then ride on tomorrow to stay in Ulm and have a look around. Steve had read about Ulm in our little guide book and it sounded like an interesting place, so we’d decided we’d have some roaming time there. So this afternoon, on the spur of the moment, we decided not to rush to pedal madly for another two hours to beat the grey sky and day drawing in, instead we rode on another 10km to Offingen and hopped on a train for a quick 25 minute choof down the line to Ulm. That would give us a full day to see Ulm and would avoid a rushed pedal for another 20km or so to Leipheim.
As we rode on towards the station though, those experiences with people continued. We crossed roads and drivers stopped and gave way to us, even when they didn’t have to. They stopped before turning a corner, so we could get across the road, people waved and greeted us as they cycled or walked past us and when we rode past a paddock, there was a woman about to get back on her tractor and was stopped, putting her gloves on, about to get back up in her seat and she stopped, turned, gave us a big smile and “Hallo.”
“It’s the people!” I called to Steve, “it’s just the people! Look at that woman. She’s working an enormous farm, she’s got a bit to do at the moment! Still, she stopped to say hello to us with a big smile. The people trump the wet weather and the gravel roads and the hills and anything that seems hard because the people make everything better. It’s just the people! It’s just BRILLIANT!” I couldn’t stop smiling.
As we rode into Offingen, looking for the train station, we rode up a street with a sign that seemed to be taking us to the station. There was an older man and woman working in their front garden and saw us making our way up the road. The lady called to us and gestured that it wasn’t the way to go and pointed us up another street. She smiled and sent us on the right path and we pedalled on, with the assistance of yet another kind stranger. Then I noticed the sign on the street we had been riding up had the word ‘Bahnhof’ rubbed out, so there was obviously now a new way to get to the station and the kind lady had stopped us taking the wrong road. Then, just to make sure we were on the right track, we stopped in a park and Steve was just about to check the map on his phone, when a lady walking her dog stoped and asked if we needed help. “Bahnhof?” we asked. She pointed and gestured and explained the way to go and once again, the kindness of strangers had helped us out. It doesn’t matter that we don’t speak German and it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English, they help us anyway. They still speak to us in German and gesture and explain until we understand. That’s one of the things I find the most special. There is no sense of difficulty or anyone treating us as if we are too much hard work, to try and help or explain things to, because we don’t understand the language, they still do it, they still help, they still explain and even if we don’t understand all the words, we always understand the message, because of the trouble all these people take, to help us understand. It is just the best experience and we are so, so grateful.
We found the station, hopped on the train with no drama at all, just wheeled the bikes on fully loaded and 25 minutes later, wheeled them off again in Ulm. So here we are. We will have a day to roam and explore tomorrow and see what we can discover about this city we hadn’t heard of, but a city that seems to have some stories to tell.
It was another magic day. Some nice scenery by the river, but most of all, the wonderful people we met or came across. Y’know, we hear all the time, about the trouble and strife in the world and yes, there are terrible things happening all the time and we shouldn’t ignore that. But…we also shouldn’t forget that the word is full of kind, warm, helpful, friendly, generous, wonderful people and we met some more of them today. We need to be reminded that amongst the terrible things, there is the kindness of strangers and wonderful, warm hearted people. Let’s put them on the front page of our minds sometimes, to balance the news that isn’t so sunny. Today, we were greeted and welcomed and helped by people who didn’t know us, but they greeted, welcomed and helped us anyway. Today, we had golden moments, thanks to people. Today, we gathered special memories, thanks to people. It may not make CNN, but it sure made my day!
Distance ridden: 60.3 km
Time in the saddle: 3 hours 56 minutes
Time on the road: 7 hours 10 minutes
Weather: sunny, warm, 21C