Posted by Dan
Drums ring out, warmth radiates from the Donau festival vibe. The smell of food wafts in the air whilst people sit on the scorched grass and absorb the music, sun and energy. Hippy clothes are on sale, aswell as assorted handicrafts, such as carved wooden instruments from Hungary and fur hats from Slovakia.
The Donau (Danube) has just revealed itself to us through a crooked medieval tower. We step out onto the river towpath to find it full of people celebrating the great river Danube which flows through 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine) all the way to the Black Sea. People from the Danube countries have united here in Ulm, a city near to the river’s source, to share their culture – bringing crafts, food, music, dance, tradition clothes, wines and beers. We’re excited to be here, especially as we’ll be cycling through many of these Danube countries.
Amongst the tourists is a local man called Hamut and his wife. Hamut has lived in Ulm his entire life – 67 years – and has experienced its change and growth. The couple are warm and friendly, light and enthusiastic. Hamut has an innate knowledge of the local history and takes us on a tour of the old town, hidden and preserved behind the old city wall that stretches along the river. He points out the twisted and leaning buildings assuring us that they are secure structures. Many of them have symbols or paintings that depict their origin and history and Hamut explains what they all mean. We see the home of the boat builders who travelled from Ulm along the Danube all the way to Bulgaria and the Black Sea. Trout is a common catch on the Danube and the smell of it cooking comes from the fishermen’s house, which is now an upmarket restaurant. Hamut points us to a cobbled square just round the corner where a large statue of a farmer and sow stands. This was the marketplace where pigs were bought and sold.
After this historic tour, it’s late and we cycle out of the river valley to a Youth Hostel, promising ourselves a much needed rest day and the luxury of a bed. Unfortunately, since it is festival month here, it is fully booked along with every other guesthouse in Ulm! To top it off, there is no campsite in or near the city. It’s been a long day of 62 kms in headwind and now we are challenged to find a secret camp spot, which we are duly warned by an old man is forbidden. Our lack of accommodation is a stress as the sun begins to set and then we meet Jo… a kind and excited family man. He offers us a ‘camping platz’ at the end of his garden!
Their stunning home backs onto a large meadow-like field, which stretches up to a hill where there is fine view of the city. The tallest church steeple in the world (161 metres) peeks out above the trees that surround this field where we camp. In the morning a shepherd grazes his flock of sheep on the long grass and Jo’s wife, Angelika, shows us maps of possible routes and sights to see in and around Ulm.
We rest and, with a leisurely pace, perform some basic chores to organise and take care of our equipment. In the afternoon we freewheel back to Ulm for more festivities and a cool dip in one of Ulm’s many surrounding lakes.
What a perfect rest day and what a perfect family to spend it with!