Vienna has proved to be a great place to take a break from cycling and catch up with the family. The flat has been excellent – despite its dodgy electrics (we keep losing circuits and having to reset them) and a tiny lift to the 4th floor that dates from about 1906 and scares us silly every time we use it!
We have had a couple of ‘big days out’ (at the Schonbrunn Palace and Zoo, and around the big, central sights) but mostly we have just flitted around town on the underground and the trams using our one week travel pass.
One highlight was the music museum – a good combination of some physics of sound, some biology of hearing, some history of Viennese composers and some hands-on compositional rooms – all presented in the modern interactive formats. And we even got to conduct the Vienna Philharmonia! A second highlight was Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ at the Belvedere and (not quite so high-brow but more photographable, if not photogenic) – swimming in the Alte Donau.
A third highlight was the famous fairground wheel at the Prater.
Tonight we are off out for a celebratory meal, before saying good bye to Pauline, Dan, Catherine and Luke tomorrow morning and heading off on our bikes towards Istanbul. We can’t really believe that we are lucky enough to be starting what is, effectively, a second 6-week cycling holiday – but we are both refereshed and looking forward to it. Neither of us has travelled any further east in Europe before, so this should be fun!
Dan, Luke and I arrived at this lovely flat last night after two flights and three airports (via Amsterdam). A small poddle into town to explore the area turned into a longer walk passing the University buildings, Opera house and National Library. A hightlight for me was walking through the stables of the Spanish Riding School. Pauline and I plan to see a Training Exercise in the week to see the stallions learning new movements for the famous performances that happen each month.
Today we started with a tram ride around the innerring as everyone had tired legs from last night. A stop at Cafe Schottenring was a lovely break where we sampled the recommended fizzy apple juice from the guide book! It was a very ornate building (with grand piano) and had been open for 131 years.
Our plan was to head for Stephansdom, via the tram but unfortunately we got on the tram at the end of the line, and it took us around a loop back into the same station! The U-Bahn was much more successful. We only had a short visit to the cathedral as it was full of tourists even though a service was happening.
On our way to the natural history museum we came across two very different features in the same street: one a very traditional monument, the other a very modern sculpture which I preferred even though it didn’t make much sense.
The natural history museum was interesting but there’s a lot of history so we may have sped through time quite quickly. We all preferred the living section, with tree frogs, leaf-cutter ants and fish, rather than the stuffed animals upstairs. The geologists/chemists among us enjoyed the gems and crystals in the geology rooms although there was noone else visiting this section apart from us!
This was a significant day’s cycling as it brings to a close the first half of our journey. So it seems only right and proper that it was one of those cycling days that really should have gone on for ever – sunshine, tail winds and lovely views of the river! As you can tell from that account, we have arrived in Vienna still wanting more cycling – which is just as well in view of the plan to get to Istanbul.
But first we should mention last night. Tulln turned out to be a lively little place, with a great arts scene. After dinner we fell across a free blues concert at a stage built on a barge on the river. Acoustic guitar and keyboard with backing singers and bongos. It was brilliant! We stayed until after dark and didn’t get back to the tent until 9.30 pm. (You have to understand that – in our new world – that’s late for bedtime). As it turned out, we were just in time because another almighty thunderstorm started up. But the noteworthy thing about this one was that it was in competition with a HUGE and extremely noisy firework display taking place next door. There were times when we couldn’t hear the one for the other – and vice versa. There’s nothing like a quiet night’s sleep!
The last 20 miles or so to Vienna went by all too quickly and soon we had our first views of the skyline.
We found cycle routes right into town – passing an amazing, decorated, rubbish incineration plant on the way. These Viennese do things in style!
We stopped briefly to admire the Parliament building, then pushed on to our flat in Brahmsplatz. This is going to be a lovely base for the week. We are looking forward to welcoming the others tomorrow. This blogger is now taking a break until next Saturday, when the cycling resumes, but – who knows – others may be inspired to share tales from Vienna.
Helen’s track of the day: Down by the riverside: trad. This was played at the concert last night – brilliantly – and we have sung it all day. It is a fitting track for the end of this section of the Danube bike trail.
Coming back from our evening meal last night we found the campsite in turmoil as dozens of locals were erecting marquees and putting in benches and trestle tables and setting up lighting, ready (we discovered) for a weekend party. Fortunately we hadn’t pitched our tent right in the way – but we went to bed with people working all around us! One group of 6 then stayed on until 2am, drinking and making a huge racket. This was our first very poor night’s sleep because of a noisy site.
The morning was overcast, with rain threatening. We set off down the valley in search of breakfast, feeling a bit groggy through lack of sleep. It took nearly 10 miles to find anywhere to buy a breakfast! But the scenery was good – we were in the wine growing section of the Donau valley, in the middle of the Wachau region.
But we were getting a bit frustrated by the hordes of guided-tour cyclists, on identical rented bikes, with someone stopping them on every corner for a lecture on how to ride a bike, where to buy coffee.. etc. Yes, we were tired and a bit cranky. At Durnstein (a lovely village with a famous ruined castle overlooking the Danube) we had planned to stop for coffee, but one look at the crowds of tourists making their way off the cruise ships and blocking the narrow alleyways was quite enough. We were off. We arrived in Krems – a much bigger town, and quite pleasant. Here the day began to turn around. First we found a VW Beetle in the park – used as a plant holder. My first car was a Beetle.
Then it started to rain as we left town. Curiously, this really cheered us up! The cycling hordes vanished, and we started to sing rain songs as we headed on down the Danube towpath, racing a large barge. Cycling in the rain is oddly therapeutic – but best when (as in this case) it seems likely to be a shower rather than the start of another 3 days of rain. We crossed the Danube for the umpteenth time on yet another hydro barrage and the rain stopped. On reaching our intended campsite we had a drink and a sudden late burst of energy, and here we are in Tulln, the last town of any size before Vienna. The sun is shining, the tent is pitched on the local campsite, beer is being drunk and all is right with the world! Vienna tomorrow!
Helen’s track of the day: The Beautiful South, Blackbird on the Wire, just because I had a dose of TBS on the playlist today and I particularly like singing along with Paul Heaton on this one. And it reminds me of home and the kids, as I used to play the album from which this comes a lot.
This was an excellent campsite, with a lovely view of the cruise ships from the deck outside reception, where we may have had a beer or two last night.
This morning, having packed the tent, the day started with breakfast at a very swanky cafe with a roof terrace and a wonderful view of the river. It turned into a long breakfast. Then there was a shopping trip to buy a picnic lunch, and then we had to queue for the ferry to the quiet side of the river. (It is now so big that bridges are all post war – big, expensive and well spaced out.) So by the time we reached the far side it was past 10 o’clock – a record slow start for a camping night!
One major target for the day was to outrun the 22 Italian camper vans masquerading as a cycling party. We were annoyed that they caught us up at our coffee stop – inundating the place – so we left, pronto, and got some speed going. We haven’t seen them again (so far).
Next stop, just after lunch, was the birthplace of Oskar Kokoshska. During our earlier visits to just about all the modern art galleries in Switzerland, we had kept coming across paintings by OK (as we now know to call him). I just thought the name was fabulous – never mind the art – though that was good too. So now was a chance to find out about the man, at his birthplace museum in Pochlarn. I won’t burden you with the details, but it just reinforced our earlier conclusion that Austria in 1938 was not a good place to be. Oskar escaped to Prague and then London and lived to a ripe old age.
From Pochlarn it was a short hop downriver to Melk. This is the site of a world famous, gigantic, salmon-pink monastery that dominates the town. Unfortunately the phrase ‘ridiculous baroque monstrosity’ came to mind rather early on and, rather than pay the entrance money for the tour, we sat and ate the most delicious ice creams in the tea shop below. We don’t regret the choice – but if you want to know more about Melk monastery you’ll have to visit the website!
The last stage has brought us to the tiny village of Aggsbach and a very basic campsite beside the river. This is the last section of gorge before Vienna.
Helen’s track of the day: The Eagles, Hotel California, played at the campsite cafe this evening, though sadly with guitar solo cut short.
Good weather has returned for our final leg before Vienna. We left Linz by the now familiar route from the splendid Hauptplatz, over the bridge to the Ars Centre on the north bank and the bike trail. Then we had to pedal the long way round the bend in the river, through parkland with the regular joggers, rollerbladers, etc before leaving the city altogether. Soon we crossed the river at another hydro barrage and soon after found ourselves trapped at a confluence with another large river, and no bridge in sight. But a patient queue of cyclists revealed the solution – a small ferry from Enns to the north bank and the village of Mauthausen.
We were the last in the queue (and the heaviest laden) and we only just managed to squeeze on. It was a bit like the ‘How many elephants can you get in a mini?’ joke, but with cycle tourists and a small boat.
Mauthausen was the site of the largest of all the Nazi concentration camp complexes from 1938 onwards, and the last to be liberated by the allies. It was reserved for the very harshest treatment, ‘death by labour’ in the stone quarry, for the intelligensitia – the Nazi regime’s political enemies. Somewhere between 125 and 320 thousand died. And I hadn’t heard of it before today.
But the sombre mood didn’t last long. On leaving the village we came across a lovely flower shop – with the signage (for some reason) in Yorkshire and in French.
Another section of riverbank led to a fabulous service station for bikes. This had toilets, water, cafe, shop, a motorway-style directions sign board, and free use of cycle tools. It had been purpose built in an entirely traffic free section of the trail. Truly a Leicester Forest East for cyclists! Needless to say, we used almost all of the facilities!
From there the valley has narrowed down again and we are back between high, wooded hills for the first time since Linz. Our campsite is at Grein, a lovely medieval village on a bend in the river and another lovely spot to stay. Even though the 22 Italian camper vans have turned up again and have given another bravura parking performance! Tomorrow we must start with a ferry crossing to reach the quieter, south bank.
Helen’s track of the day: D. Parton/K. Rogers, Islands in the Stream, sorry but it followed a chance remark by Andy about some islands which were placed close to an inlet from the Danube we passed beside. His fault entirely.
We spent today exploring Linz – what a lovely restful day in the sunshine. First a walking tour of the old town, admiring the mix of old buildings with the new. We found the 8th century church of St Martin on top of one hill, which was famed for a Roman oven still within it, which made us ponder a little. But it gave a significant contrast to the new build of the Schloss building, a museum built in very futuristic cubist form across the top of the hillside overlooking the city centre.
Then we headed down to the river crossing, saying good morning to the Danube and then entering the Ars electronic centre, a really excellent exhibition about the history and current developments in electronics. It was better than it sounds. It expanded on my understanding of WWW, the internet, Wikipedia, and reminded us of pioneers in communication over the last 100 years. There was a section about transport, so I put in a bid for my personal jet-pack, which I remember was described in the 60s as being the transport of choice by the year 2000. Not yet it ain’t, we’re still using bicycles round here mate. Then we entered a film theatre and donned 3D glasses to see a presentation on the universe. It was great, pitched well and done in German and English. A really good place to visit, with enthusiastic staff who kept our interest around the place, though the beer I had in the bar was probably my favourite bit, looking out over the city views.
In the afternoon we took a tram up to the top of the main hill overlooking Linz, the Postlingberg, and again admired the view from the cafe.
My first Sachertorte tasting, and the best cafe soundtrack so far on the trip, not that that says much. (It is something of a torment that I notice background music so much, as evidenced earlier in this blog, obviously. If I hear Blinded by the Light one more time I shall scream…etc.)
We have found Linz to be an interesting place, not afraid to portray difficult periods in its history, like the photos of Germans arriving in victory in the 1938 Anschluss, for example, and well geared up to English speaking visitors, rather more than southern Germany. So we have piled up the calories again and now plan to get the remaining 230 km done to Vienna in the next 4 days, during which we may not have wi-fi access.
Helen’s track of the day: Earth, Wind and Fire, After the Love because this was one of the tracks I heard in the funky cafe at the top of the Linz hill tram route.
This was a really lovely day’s cycling, mostly through the wooded Danube gorge and mostly on tarmac, but traffic free, roads. Ideal.
We just purred along, mostly in silence, drinking in the views and the calm atmosphere. Helen became positively pensive.
The river continued to weave a crazy course and we amused ourselves by ‘racing’ against cyclists on the opposite bank. At one stage we lost about half a mile through being on the outside of the bend, only to catch up and overtake on the next, and opposite, bend.
We have to admit that we were both getting tired towards lunchtime and we were glad to arrive at Linz.
This is a lively city that was European City of Culture in 2009 and is still basking in the glow. The main square was a lovely place for reviving tea and beer, after which we checked into a hotel. We have decided to give ourselves another of our ‘bonus’ days off tomorrow and we are looking forward to exploring the place more thoroughly.
Helen’s track of the day: Handel’s Water Music as whistled with wonderful skill by a cycling chap outside the food shop in Ashach today.
Hallelujah! It has stopped raining. In fact, as I write this on a fantastic campsite on the famous Danube bends, a mile or more from the nearest road, I am almost in need of a sunhat!
But overnight the floodwaters in Passau lived up to expectations. They peaked at 7.8 m above normal on the Danube and 5.2 m above normal on the Inn. What this meant in real money was that we couldn’t get out of the front door of our hotel!
Passau is a lovely town, very small and narrow. But it is a real tourist magnet, with bus loads and huge boat loads of tourists blocking pavements and hotel beds. Despite this we spent a lovely morning wandering round and drinking coffee. But then it was time to get back to the cycling. Both bikes needed a good clean and more oil after yesterday’s adventures in farmer’s fields and it was fun doing this right outside the posh hotel with throngs of tourists milling past! Then we set off across the bridge over the Inn and on down the Danube on the south bank. After a couple of miles this took us into Austria, our fourth country and, by coincidence, almost exactly 1000 miles of cycling.
We have spent the afternoon in sunshine, pedalling gently down the river. After 25 miles or so the river abruptly turns round and heads back in the opposite direction for about a mile, before doing exactly the same thing again. I don’t know why it does so, but I can see some sandstone cliffs poking through the trees, and some limestone ones, so I think it that a lump of harder sandstone may have something to do with it! You might also think that such perverse behaviour might frustrate the interpid cyclist intent on reaching Vienna but, actually, cycling back the way we came, in such dramatic and beautiful circumstances was great fun!
The Danube bends are a famous beauty spot – not least because the riverside roads don’t come through here. The river banks are about 200 feet tall and heavily wooded. Just after the second bend, and in the middle of the nature reserve, is our present campsite at Inzell.
This is a truly beautiful spot. I remember finding it about a year ago when researching the trip and deciding that it was a place we must camp for the night. It has exceeded expectations.
But there is a postscript! We were warned, when we arrived, that they were expecting ‘40 to 60 Italian campers’ that evening and we had seen them, earlier in the day, cycling on the opposite bank. We pitched our tent in what we hoped would be a quiet corner of the smallish field and waited. But when the cyclists arrived, no tents were erected. Some time went by – and then a couple of large white camper vans made there way up the tiny access lane and into the field, parking up tight together. And then two more. And so on, until we realised that for every cyclist there was a huge white camper van and driver. Why didn’t we think of that? It turned out that it is possible to get 22 camper vans into the field – though highly entertaining in the recently-flooded and still wet bits – but it did somewhat take the edge off our rural idyll!
Helen’s track of the day: Fat Boy Slim, Demons, as a marker that the stresses of the last 12 months are well and truly behind me.With thanks to Daniel again for putting this on my playlist for the trip!
Well, if yesterday was wet, today was soaking! It has now rained almost non stop for 72 hours, getting steadily more intense throughout. We are now holed up in a hotel in Passau, where the Danube and the Inn join, and the lobby is currently about 15 feet above the water level. Next door they are putting up the flood shutters, and they are about 10 feet above the water. I think there is every chance we may be wading out (if at all), in the morning. Good job it’s a nice hotel!
This morning our host at Plank’s guesthouse in Waltendorf (Helen calls him Frank Plank – my suggestion of Wank was overuled – firmly) made us an excellent breakfast and commiserated as we kitted up for another 48 miles in the wet.
The first sign of trouble was when we saw a camper van, parked overnight in a layby beside the river, where they had woken up to fnd themselves (in the immortal words of Pooh) entirely surrounded by water.
A few miles further on we heard the flood warning sirens. Then our cycle path decided to head into the swollen river. We ended up cycling across a grass field, then a stubble field to avoid a swim. Extreme off-road cycling with full kit, and I didn’t even put a foot down – Dan should be proud of me.
This was getting silly. So we sang a happy song or two and pressed on for Passau. Just short of the town the route crossed onto the south bank, via a flood control/hydroelectric barrage. I mention it because first it gave great views of the boat locks.
And second because the small, pedestrian walkway was suspended right over the series of huge weirs. On our right the water was roaring over the falls, level with our feet and only a few meters away, it then shot underneath us and on our left it was churning out under the footbridge in a rage of white water. It was quite scary and I turned round to find Helen doing at least 20 mph in a bid to get off the bridge fast!
Luckily we got into town about 2 pm because, as we stood dripping in the Tourist Office asking for a bed for the night we suddenly had that deja vue all over again, because (as in Lucerne) there is a jazz festival this weekend and all the hotels are almost full. We got the last room in the 4th hotel we tried. Walking around town later in the afternoon there are small groups of cyclists still trying to find somewhere to stay. If they find somewhere above the rising flood they may have the last laugh yet!
Helen’s track of the day: Thin Lizzy, Whiskey in the Jar, which kept my spirits up in the rain, with a bit of improvised handlebar guitar playing.