…with the sound of a squeaky derailleur and a skinny Englishman cursing the weight of his bike. That’s right, the last week I’ve been cycling through Austria – land of Apple Strudel, many a Doe (that is to say a deer, a female deer) and of course The Alps, which I have firmly decided are best viewed from afar whilst cycle touring.
The derailleur noise was courtesy of my friend Robbie, whose bike had gone through EasyJet baggage handler roulette as he flew to Munich to meet me and cycle the 5 days to Vienna. Fortunately a slightly bent hanger was the worst of the damage – lucky when considering other stories I’ve heard of cyclists discovering cracked frames and wheels shaped like pringles the other end of a flight! Therefore we were able to get going on Sunday straight away, for a pleasant week of Austrian cycle touring.
Munich to Mondsee
I’d left Robbie to do the route planning for our time together and he had duly come up with a varied itinery, taking us out of Munich to Apline foothills and to Salzburg, around some pleasant lakes, one brutish climb, then cutting up to the Danube to follow all the way to Vienna. The first part, south east to Salzburg, was pleasant with a mix of Radwegs and quieter roads with lovely views, allowing us to make steady progress. We camped the first night on a site next to the lake “Siemsee”
Following another lovely back road bike path, the next day we sauntered into Salzburg via the grand Sigmundstor tunnel to a blazing sun shining down on the impressive berg, the cathedral and the Mozart statue – another city to come back to and see properly, as we only spent an hour there.
I wanted to show Robbie at least one wild camping experience, so that evening we found a spot behind a golf course – pitching the tent whilst ominous black clouds amassed over Salzburg. The ensuing thunderstorm was biblical, with the biggest hail stones I’d ever seen pelting the tarp that we were cooking under. We retreated into the two man tent, which was rather cosy now with both of us and all our gear and got an early night.
Alles gut zum Geburtstag
Last Tuesday was my birthday (25) and as a birthday “treat” the day would be our biggest yet, taking in a mini Alpine pass along the way. The morning consisted of steady riding around the lakes of Mondsee and Attersee with the heavy gold decoration and the kitsch cherub statues at the church at Mondsee prompting a spirited debate about all things christian between Robbie (a keen christian himself) and me. However after passing through Steinbach to the chimes of Midday, the road then turned upwards. 7km at 6% was enough to get the beads of sweat forming and the lunch at the top by (another) lake was well deserved.
The next 80km was a steady downhill blast, north all the way out of the Alps and along the Traun river to meet the Danube. Fun, except for the persistent and heavy rain all the way. We finally stopped at a campsite near Linz, tired after a big 150km day.
The site itself was more akin to a ghosttown with no one to be seen, until a friendly lady and her husband showed us the camping area and washrooms, inviting us for food after we had sorted ourselves out. Peter (not Pietre!!) and Ernnie were great company as we shared a birthday meal of bread, mustard and Wurst, accompanied by (in Peter’s own words) “The Best beer in all Austria!”. Neither spoke much English (apart from Peter’s commendation of beer choice), so Robbie held court with his German – learned from a ski season in Austria 8 years ago.
We had a great time, with Robbie translating my explanation of my trip and disussions of Austria, Germany, Brexit (of course) and family. After more beers, both Peter and Ernni laughed at the fact I still had a girflriend for this trip (they kept referring to her as my “former” freunde), Peter tried to set Robbie up with his daughter and they even found a spare candle and some cake for me – all the while with Peter interjecting choice English phrases (in a thick Austrian accent):
“I think you are Crazy!” … [chuckle, chuckle] … “The Best bike in alllll Austria” (his KTM motorbike)… [chuckle] … and of course, repeatedly, “The best beer in alllll Austria”…
We stumbled back to the tent at about 1 a.m. having had an unexpected and joyful birthday celebration.
The Danube and a history lesson
From Linz, the final two days were easy riding, along the bike path adjacent to the Danube river – the course of which I will follow through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria. There was time to visit Mauthausen concentration camp on the way, where an excellent museum and restoration of the camp described the atrocities carried out there, doing so sensitively but honestly. It was a humbling and emotionally heavy going experience and one that I can recommend to anyone passing that way.
After a riverside camping spot at Melk, we ate up the final kms and followed the Donau Radweg all the way into the centre of Vienna, where Miralem – our friendly warm showers host – awaited. Robbie had the contented look all cyclists have at the end of a tour – proud of the accomplishment and starting to think about daily showers, a roof over the head and a warm bed. I gave him a wry smile as I thought how this is the end of the beginning, the last country where I know some of the language and have planned company, and the move beyond the old iron curtain into Eastern Europe.
The three B’s – Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade – now await. Here are some more pics from Austria.