#CullsMadAdventure2017 – Cycling the Danube with Kids and a Tent

In June 2017 we cycled from Linz in Austria to Vienna along the Danube cycle route. It was an amazing holiday and this is a diary of our journey.

We were also raising money for charity – you can still sponsor us here

There is also a more detailed technical post here.

The idea

The main idea was to have a bit of an adventure and to show the kids that holidays like this are well within their grasp when they are 16/17.

The trip was to cycle about 250 km along the Danube camping as we went and then to spend 3 days in an AirBnB in Vienna with my mum. We started in Linz and cycled to a few miles outside Vienna.

The trip was self supported

The Organisation

Jane ( my wife ) researched the route, booked the campsites and spent what felt like several days and several hundred pounds on the phone booking the trains ( Bikes cannot be booked on line ) – Thank-you Jane !

Us

Me ( 48 ) , Jane ( younger ) , John ( 12 ) , Emma (10)
We have bikes but are are ( were ? ) not “cyclists” in the hobby sense.

Day 1 – The overnight DDFS ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden

We took the overnight ferry leaving @5 and getting in about @9. It was great to see so many pedal ( and motor ) bikes on the ferry and it really got the kids into the spirit of it all.

The kids loved the cabin with the bunks ( there would be much comparison on different bunk beds on this trip ) and the trip went pretty smoothly and was very civilised considering it was the “Hen and Stag” ferry on a Bank Holiday weekend.

Day 2 – Ijmuiden to Amsterdam and Hanover and a late Sleeper Train

From the ferry we cycled @30km into Amsterdam. There is a well marked cycle route although we may have gotten lost for a while 🙂

The weather was hot ( @30 c ) but the kids did really well.

The Dutch cycle ways were pretty scary at first. The Dutch take then quite seriously and stopping or, God forbid, doing a u turn generates howls of protest from other cyclists – it’s OK once you realise that you need to treat them like real roads but it took all of us a while to get into the habit.

In Amsterdam we looked at the Anne Frank House from the outside ( no tickets left ) and generally had a wander along the canals eating ice creams before cycling to the train station where we had some food and got the train to Hanover.

Parked up while we walked around Amsterdam

Parked up while we walked around Amsterdam

Getting on this train was our first experience of getting all of the bikes ( and the trailer ) onto a train – it was a bit shambolic with a bag of food ending up on the tracks. We got there in the end and our “loading routine” got better as the holiday progressed.

We met some lovely people on the train. One guy was handicapped and was in an electric assist recumbent – he had a really positive attitude and just took everything in his stride. He and his friend were off on a 4 day tour.

In Hanover the sleeper train was delayed by about 2 hours and we eventually got on board after midnight. We had to change platforms twice – there was a dedicated ramp and an access tunnel for each platform but it was for official traffic only. On the first change I got called back by other passengers and had to use the lift ( 5 times down and 5 times up ) .When the platform was changed again later all 4 of us quickly sped down the access ramp and up to the new platform  – the kids filled with a mixture of both fear and excitement at breaking the rules 🙂

Wide awake waiting for the train

Wide awake waiting for the train

We got onto the sleeper train just after midnight and stowed the bikes away. The kids loved the excitement of a sleeper train and yet another set of bunks to try.

Day 3 – Linz and the Danube Cycling Begins

Because the train was running late the attendant could not tell us when we were due into Linz. He promised to wake us an hour before hand with breakfast ….

He forgot ….

After spending the night fighting auto retracting blinds I woke up 15 minutes from the station with 2 soundly sleeping children and the 4 bikes 2 carriages further down the train.

It was all a bit stressful and chaos ensued – chaos being a large heap of bikes and bags on the platform and our breakfast in paper bags.

We had breakfast in the local park ( parks and swimming pools became a theme ) and set off across and along the Danube. It was another very hot day but the kids did really well, especially after two nights on the move and we made good progress.

We stopped at a local swimming pool at  Mauthausen about 5k from the campsite. Daily swimming pools became the motivation that kept Emma going through the day. They were very reasonable and £2 – 3 per person ( apart from Vienna ).

The campsite was beautiful and almost empty . We were surprised how empty most of the camp sites along the Danube were. Apparently the good weather was unseasonably good  and the tourist season had not quite started ( this was early June ).

 

Emma made dinner, John pitched their tent beautifully ( except the fly sheet is inside out ) and I scalded JaneCull’s foot with the trangia ( not badly ).

John had apparently picked up a large splinter in his bum on one of the slides but maintained he was fine and Emma decided to ride off the path and into the Danube stopping just in time. All in all a pretty average day on #cullsmadadventure 

Day 4 – No Food, The Snake & Mechanical Disaster

We had a very leisurely breakfast chatting to a very friendly Canadian who had worked all over the world in international schools and had previously done the trip with 30 kids ! We got going at about 11:00 after wasting some time trying to find a local shop ( there isn’t one)

@21 miles today ( 25.8 according to John). Very hot again at @30c. We were short of food with there being no shops so John and I blasted on ahead to find a shop and bring back food.

The most exciting bit was when a 1m snake jumped out of my path and into his, it was his first wild snake and a good sized one at that. We found a small cafe after 11Km just past the hydro dam at Hütting and Emma was very pleased when an ice cream was couriered to her.

John’s two biggest triumphs were that he mastered wheelies and that he beat Jane up a hill by 5 minutes on a scenic detour that they took to Burg Clam.

His competitive streak was really coming out. Whenever someone passes him on a racing cycle he accelerates off behind them and slip streams an inch off their back wheel on his mountain bike with huge panniers until they notice. Sometimes he gets away with it for 5 -10 minutes.

Apparently Jane has agreed to go halfs with him on a shared road bike.

Emma did really well too. Her main motivation again was finding a swimming pools. The one today was good and much warmer than yesterday’s somehow.

Emma and I had a lovely time cycling through the Poppy fields while Jane and John went on their detour.

Towards the end of the day we did have a major sinking feeling when Emma’s  dropout / hanger snapped leaving her gears dangling in mid air. Fortunately we were only 1km from the campsite and an excellent bike shop.

The part is unique to her British Islabike bike and when it happened in the UK on a previous occasion the bike shop couldn’t fix it without the exact part.

I towed her behind the trailer to the bike shop but I really thought she would be stuck in 1 gear for the next 120km . The Austrian bike shop had different ideas. They took a part from another brand and ground it down so that it fitted. It wasn’t cheap but I am glad we asked as I had resigned myself to removing the gears and leaving her with only one gear ratio.

He did ask her for a bribe to say it couldn’t be fixed 🙂

 

Day 5 – An idyllic lunch and the Wrong Bridge

Day 4 of #cullsmadadventure was the longest day yet at @ 50km. It went really well, no snakes, no breakages and only the small complication of the boys ending up on the wrong side of the Danube for 5km.

The day started with the obligatory visit to a play ground and then a small ferry across the Danube.

We had lunch in a beautiful town centre at Hofamt Priel. A very relaxed affair with lots of fresh food and ice creams. It was very nice to find some open shops after being caught short in the morning.

John’s wheelies continued to get longer or “wheelie good” as he likes to tell us at every opportunity. He was in great spirits and his co-share road bike idea with Jane now seems to have become a cyclo-cross bike.

John and I went on ahead of Jane and managed to end up on the wrong side of the river by taking the wrong bridge ( my fault ).

It was very hot and John was starting to feel the strain. I think that he had over done it the previous day beating his Mum up the climb to Burg Clam. This was us waiting for the girls on the “wrong” bridge.

So we phoned the girls and the conversation went along the lines of

“We are on the bridge, where are you ?”

“No, WE are on the bridge where are you ?” – you get the idea.

All sorted in the end but John and I were left wandering around Aldi in the beautiful town of Melk with 2.85 euro wondering how to buy supper – we ate out in the end.

Getting food on the trip was more difficult than you would have thought. We arrived on a Sunday and hadn’t realised that local shops are also closed on Wednesday.

Mind you even after the “fresh” milk has been bounced about in the trailer for 2 days it still tastes the same but warmer….and not really that nice. The route itself doesn’t pass through that many towns, at least not when you need them.

Emma was in great spirits too and is still on a mission to try every playground en route and with no swimming pool this evening took to swimming in the Danube.

She had really taken the whole sponsorship thing to heart and it really has spurred her on.

Jane was in good form too, probably even more so that I couldn’t afford any more pasta meals in Aldi and we had to eat out.

The light weights that we are we kept the half bottle of wine from last night so it will be interesting to see how that tastes after a day cooking in the trailer, probably similar to the milk I think 🙂

 

 

 

Day 6 – Cheap Spanish Wine amongst the Reisling Vines

A medium length day @25 miles with a good tailwind. We could have gone further but there were no campsites within range further along the river. We had our only puncture as we left the campsite int he morning.

The kids were still in good form and we’re flying along. John’s wheelies and hands off cycling continue to improve.

Emma was motoring too with her highlight of the day being a carefully choreographed red arrows display with her as “Red Leader” and the rest as reds 2,3 and 4T – “T” designating the trailer.

Moving from the “Diamond” to the “Arrow” formations and every other combination kept us going for miles, much to the confusion of the Austrian cyclists who disapprove of such things.

Jane and I managed to finish our 3 day old bottle of Aldi Spanish wine at lunch time sitting amongst the Austrian Reisling vines,I am not sure what the locals would have thought.

 

I think the kids might have mistaken it for Ribena as there was much photo bombing and general hilarity at about the same time.

Emma finished off the day visiting yet another outdoor swimming pool and after beating her dad down 5 slides made her first jump of a diving board in penance.

Jane was in good form too. We had great fun touring the centre of Krems with the kids on backies last thing. She also made me supplement our pasta rations with real vegetables.

Day 7 – Vienna

A long day @32 miles but with real beds at the end

John and Emma did really well. Emma’s most exciting incident was wiping out a small signpost while under tow, I have absolutely no idea how she recovered it but she did. She was absolutely on her limit distance wise and is chuffed with what she has achieved but quite pleased to be finished ( today was her only day under tow )

John’s essential cycle touring skills of wheelies and hands free cycle still continued to improve but his HUGE achievement today was at the train station later in the day.

We got on a fast intercity type train for one stop into Vienna. It was a bit stressful ( bikes and trains seem to be stressful ) as there were no bike spaces so we ended up standing with bikes and a trailer in the aisle.

At the next stop we literally threw all the gear off as has become customary but I stayed on to go to the airport to meet my mum. The plan was to leave one bike locked at the station for me to collect later.

As I jumped back on the train I said to John to be a “big man” and help mum and Emma as best he could.

As with all of the stations we have used the only way to get off the platform is steep stairs or a small lift . In this case the lift was literally always full and after 30 minutes only Emma had managed to get her bike up. So John insisted on carrying the 3 remaining bikes, the 6 panniers, 2 tents and, with his mum, the trailer up the stairs. 6 flights of stairs EACH time. A huge effort that would make his Rugby coaches proud.

Emma was brilliant too looking after the arriving gear for over an hour on her own. One of the locals came over and congratulated Jane and gave her a box of grapes and a huge bag of chocolates.

I ,meanwhile, was sitting in the air-conditioned airport but on the bright side did get to bring my mum back to stay with us.

Days 8 – 9 Vienna

Relaxing, Ice creams and Tourist Stuff

     
  

Day 10 – Vienna to Dusseldorf via sleeper train

We cycled in the central station in Vienna in the pouring rain ( the first time it had rained all holiday ) and took the sleeper to Dusseldorf. This time the attendant woke us up in good time. The Thai take away at Vienna Central Station was very good.

Day 11 – Train Dusseldorf – Amstersdam  and 30K cycle to Ijmuiden and Adopting “Donkey”

From Dusseldorf we took a train to Amsterdam. We were a bit anxious about the bicycles as we just had open tickets and the train supposedly had a limit of 10 bikes – and more and more bikes kept arriving. It was OK in the end but we were concerned enough to have a plan to split into 2 groups and meet back in Amsterdam or at the ferry.

Once in Amsterdam we cycled @30 KM back to Ijmuiden. It was the first time we had a head wind and it felt like a fair distance.

Along the way a dutch cyclist making a great effort came chasing up behind Emma thinking that she had dropped a toy Donkey and insisting on giving it to her. She was quite pleased that we were unable to find it’s owner.

 

The kids celebrated with a cold drink on the ferry.

The End

It was been a fantastic trip with all the elements of an adventure. We have sailed on ferries, travelled on sleeper trains, wrestled bikes and trailers on and off trains and cycled 225 + kms ( including Holland ) with full camping gear. The kids and Jane were amazing and we have raised some money for charity. It is also the longest I have been away from my laptop in many years 

If I had one overall hope before we started it would be that the kids could see that adventures like this are entirely within their grasp and that when they are 16 or 17 they could be doing them with friends. I am hopeful that we have achieved that.

A big thanks to everyone that sponsored us and lastly a big thank you to Jane who spent ages planning and booking everything and had the faith to go with it.

We have raised £545 so far. If you would like to sponsor us, and in particular the kids, see the link below. All of the money goes directly to the charities.

The Cull Family Danube Bike Ride Sponsor Page

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