August 22nd, 2007


Austria: Where the bicycle trail is important

The Danube bicycle trail is an event.  It is something that thousands of cyclists per day pour over.  The stretch from Passau to Wien (Vienna) is covered with cycle tours.  It is well marked, paved, in beautiful condition and goes through many beautiful places.

My favourite part is actually near the German border.  When you hit the border you see the difference between "rural" and "country".  The Austrian side is country, the pavement is not as crisp, the hills not as mowed, the weeds are flowering.  This may be in general a metaphor for Austria compared to Germany.  Germany has defined itself in the last 100 years or so as the Industrial empire.  "German Engineering"  Austria is Tourism and Farming are a far more prominant face of Austria.

This was the heart of our trip and we settled into a rythum, it varied but here is sort of an average schedule.

08:30 Breakfast
10:00 Start Riding
11:00 Break
13:30 Have lunch/break for 1-2 hours seeing the lunch city
15:30 Ride again
17:30 Start looking for a place to stay
19:30 Dinner

A standard day was 5.5hrs of riding, 85km (52miles) averaging around 15kph (10mph) on pretty flat terrain carrying about 30kg (65lbs) of load.

This is a pretty decent clip, the weather remained quite warm for us, the only place we really had rain was Wien (Vienna) during our rest day.  End of every day we were drenched in sweat and when we stopped and the wind couldn't dry my face I would have the sting of salt in my eyes.  In the end this kind of physical activity is incredibly relaxing.  After months of sitting in front of computer screens, telephone meetings, studdying pages of books, working into the wee hours of the morning, exercising and sleeping soundly every night is peace.

Our first lunch in Austria was somewhat enlightening to how we had become an important part of the local economy.  1) it was a big house/hotel/restaurant facing the bicycle path.  Cars could come, but they had to use the side entrance.  They had multiple bicycle racks, and they had been advertising shade for bicycles to drink under.  It was not only cyclists but we were the bread and butter crowd for this establishment.  When I went in to use the bathroom the hallway was being filled with luggage.  The people had not arrived yet, this was being delivered by a tour company for bicyclists that was sending the luggage ahead of the cyclists, who has small light panniers for their day gear and large suitcases for their week worth of supplies.

We road through the town we nick-named the ghost town because almost as many building were bricked up and lacking windows as ones that appeared inhabitted.  The strange thing was the buildings that were still inhabitited were in very nice condition.  I love these holes in the trees that we would ride into.


We left from Vilshofen and ended our day in Aschach.  It is a little town right by the water, we stayed in a Hotel on the main street and were given a 5€ discount for asking for a front room (it was noisier than the inner rooms), but that is what Taska wanted.

Not all of the Danube path in Austria is so nice countryside.  Linz gives the feel of a good Industrial city, but the path does give a very pretty countryside view of the country.  I enjoyed riding over the damns and power stations listening to the turbines hum as your ride over them.  I do not however like riding next to busy roads, which fortunatly you only occasionally need to do.

As you ride you see the Danube, which is still an economically important river, in addition to the tourism, and the power (there are many many dams) there are also many barges.  The river is signed red signs on the downstream starboard side and green on the downstream port side.

The plans was to increas the distance by about about 20km per day.  40km, 60km, 80km, 95km and then slow down to about 75km.  I never worked quite that way and we kept finding reasons to do an extra 10km on short days, but we did keep climbing distances early on which helped break the legs in.  We were tired on our way into Grein so we decided to skip it (2km out of our way) and stayed at the Hotel on the other side of the bridge.

Tiefenbach bei Grein: breaking in the legs

I can actually recommend this Hotel, Gasthof zum Tiefenbach Brücke or some such unmemorable thing.  It is right on the other-side of the bridge near Grein.  Bicyclists: Private bath, with breakfast, 2 people 52€.  Excellent condiditon, recently renovated in the same family for a couple generations.  You do have to walk up 4 flights of stairs....  And the owner speaks with strong local dialect making him almost unintelligible even if you do speak German, but he is very friendly.

At this point we are in the Mostviertel.  Most is effectively a Pear wein.  The stuff at this hotel was fantastic!  I which I had known what it was before I ordered my drink.  I twas sweet, pear flavored, with a little bit of bubbles and low alcohol.  While riding you will notice in this region, up until you get closer to Wien (Vienna) that Pear trees are very common.  They are a bit hard, but have a good taste when you get them fresh.

Proper Most is only available in the summer and is not bottled.  You don't find it in larger cities or fancier restaurants.  It comes from farmers who make it themselves and do not store it.  A standard serving size is 0.5L  I found it later in the trip, but their batch was both stronger in alcohol and more sour (I suspect it was beginning to go off) nowhere near as good.

This morning was our first tired morning.  We did a little over 92km the day before and had been out for 4 days now and multi-day effects of tiredness were beginning to kick in.  We humans are very good at putting out lots of effort for short bursts like 1 day even when we are out of shape, but keep it up for days and it begins to take a bit of a toll.  Bottoms get sore, the real muscles begin to get sore.  First it is something around the knee or in the foot or some other silly muscle that is stiff from never being used, but eventually that gets  worked out and the thighs and calves begin to notify you that they are doing far more work than they normally do and need special attention.


I also encountered two fo my least favourite cities on the trip:  Melk and Dürstein both are over-run with American and Asian tourists.  Perhaps I am spoiled, they are both cities that have become self parodies of themselves to please tourists.  Even the banks need to have the old-thyme hanging signs.  Expensive food (6€ for a Döner-kebap)  I understand why these cities do this.  It is what the market demands.  I am not part of that market, I enjoy a good old fashioned square as much as the next person, but I like to see how it has integrated into a functioning city, not put on display like a pavilion at Disney's Epcot center.  History is made by living people, not by people trying to re-create something that never was.  Personal preference, I just wich I had not tried to find lunch there.

Dürnstein is a bit of climb, the path takes you away from the river and they city tells you to walk you bike but lets cars use the road!

After that comes one of the premier wine growing regions of Austria, a bit of rolling hills, and chic little Chalets, in addition to the grapes, are orchards, Pears, Plums, and Marillen.  Marillen are a type of apricot very popular in the local cuisine in this part of Austria.  The path at this point is shared with cars, but not that many show up, they use the highway a bit closer to the river.  Very pretty and I always enjoy the light ups and downs as a way to stretch out my legs and butt on long rides.

Stein bei Krems: end of the first half

We chose not to go all the way into Krems that night, but to stop at Stein just outside.  While staring at places to stay and feeling exhausted we eventually went to the Gasthof across from the train station, because Oma (the grandmother) was filing water and encouraged us to go there while we were studying our maps.  She loved seeing Duco on the back of the bike with his little sun cover.  34€ for the two of us at this Privatzimmer.  From the looks of it someone had illusions of grandeur of becoming a Wirt (Innkeeper) in the 1960s.  3 rooms facing a courtyard, not redecorated since the 60's, nice upstairs deck over-looking the river, with 3 tables and lounge chairs (somone must of updated the table-cloth.  And the shared bath at the end of the hall.  We had to put our bikes out of the way so the tractor would have room to park.  The main occupation of the house seem to by wine-making.  The downstairs of the guest wing was 6 tables with full benches to sit at least 6 people each, for our little breakfast.

We had come up with a routine.  2 sets of riding cloths, wash them in the shower with you every day and dry them every night.  For my nylon cycling cloths two rounds of drying was perfect and they were ready to wear by day 2, though they were a bit damp the next day in the bag.  This works for about a week, after which you notice hand cleaning in the shower is not really quite as effective as your laundry machine.

The ride & the lunch were uneventfull, the scenerey was slowly becoming more urban as we closed in on Wien (Vienna) and the throngs of cyclists grew thicker.  Including a what looked like school outing 12 of 11year old Slovakian kids being led by two ladies.

Wien (Vienna): rest day

As we entered the City my shifting become completely unacceptable and randomly changing, and changing the cable tightners didn't help!  Eventually I looked at my wheel and notice a problem.  It wasn't attached.  The bolts had come lose and the wheel was sliding.  Sliding them back to the beginning of the slide marks (angled drop-outs steel frame) and clamping them down made the bike work just fine again (or so I thought, the wheel was a little loose on the axle).

We were tired coming into Vienna and had no idea where we were trying to head!  After being too tired and arguing under  a bridge we finally came up with "go to the old city center."

Wien (Vienna) is a much written about and artistic city.  It has a very international flair from the tourists and restaurants, and a very monumental feel from its imperial history.  The streets are alive with music, street performers, outdoor Opera festivals playing at 11:00 PM at night.  It is interesting to compare to Munich where I live.  They are similarly sized in population, but Wien (Vienna) is just grand.  It is a capital it is swarming with tourists, it has its baroque and Art Deco everywhere.  Munich wishes it was Wien (Vienna) but Wien (Vienna) some-how wishes it was more grounded and businesses that made things for people to work at (like BMW or Siemens in Munich).  I enjoyed my stay, though I must say that the service at the Cafe's in downtown is dreadfull.  Once could die of thirst or write a novel in the time it take to get a drink.

All Saturday was rest.  Walking around on flat surfaces and going to Amalianbad a beatiful art-deco swimming pool at the end of one the subway lines, where we could get off our feet and have all the sweat swept away by a couple hours of chlorinated water.  It was fantastic.

We stayed at Pension Nossec direct on Stephansplatz.  Large comfortable room cash only at downtown big city prices.  But they did laundry wash, dry, fold (no ironing) for 8€ done in less than 2hrs and I had truly clean cycling shorts once again!

We realized on Sunday morning that I had actually scheduled us for 2 days in Wien (Vienna) according to my section guide!  But we were already packed up and while we had enjoyed our day of rest it was time to move on.  I had put the two days in the middle in case we needed them and we thought perhaps we could use the spare day in Budapest instead!

It was clear that this week we were in better shape.  I still had a short day for us 70km or so.  Getting out of the city was a bit complicated, but it worked.  Head for the giant ferris wheel, then take the bridge out of town is the short of it.  This was clearly a less beaten path.  Not as many cyclist tour-groups, still good paths to ride, not too difficult, though there was a confusing bridge right before the previous picture, everything was not as built up.  Our 6.5€ ($8) cycle computers did not like the rain, we had brought the computers up with us but left the mount on the bike of course, and they were drenched.  Taska's stopped working and mine told my I was bouncing between 99.5-2.3kph while standing still...

Hainburg: begin of second phase

We arrived in Hainburg that night, which is actually quite impressive from the bike path, you can see the fortress that was once the town.  As you go into town you can see Blood Alley (Blutgasse) with a plac commemorating the butchering of the invading Turks (Niedermetzger).  In this small town, that seemed empty, run down, lots of cars on the street through the center of town trying to go somewhere else.  It just had that decrepit kind of feel to it.  The first place we considering staying was vetoed by Taska for its NO-EU sticker.  We stayed in the fanciest Hotel in town, though in the "Old Room" with the strange toilet (it had a garbage disposal since there was no proper piping to the room, but it was a large room with very nice light.

The next day we left and started out and my shifting was deteriorating again, but the wheel was on tight this time.  It is not a long ride to the border, and the bike path takes you around the border station and then you are in Slovakia.

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