Auf Wiedersehen Austria, Ahoj Slovakia

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My experience in Austria, I guess like everywhere I have been so far, was very different to the other countries that I have visited thus far on this trip. Although Austria is a very big country and a large chunk of the trip we got through it at a record pace, spending a total of only 6 days riding through it. Part of the reason for this was the cost, we always knew Austria would be one of the most expensive countries we would visit, and part of it was the quality of the route, it is 95% flat (if not downhill) and generally on very good paved roads. For this reason during our travels through Austria we beat our fastest speeds by nearly 2 miles an hour! I should clarify however that I don’t think everyone should necessarily speed through Austria; if you have the money, take your time because this was some of the most beautiful riding which we encountered throughout the trip. So much so, unfortunately unlike the other countries we visited, I probably won’t remember Austria for the people or the beautiful towns but I will always remember riding on the forest path beside the Danube.

We entered Austria after Passau and quickly realised we were on the cycle tourers tourist super highway. The ride between Passau and Linz is particularly famous, for good reason, it is beautiful, but all the cafes, restaurants and even campsites feel like they have been set up along the route to attract cycle tourists and take their money. And when I say cycle tourists, that is what they are, many groups are on the route with rented cycles or e-bikes and for the first time on our trip we were surrounded by cycle traffic.

Another hurdle that was affecting our journey was the very sudden change in weather. Every day started reaching 30 degrees C or higher (around 90F) and this really made the riding hard for us. We realised we needed to get up earlier and we needed to carry a lot more water on the bikes. One of our new rules became, stop at every cafe you see for a coffee, ice cream and water refill. We also started looking for public swimming pools wherever we could along the route. You can swim in the Danube, and apparently, just outside of Vienna every one does naked. But we kept worrying that this would make us more sticky during our journey. Looking back I do wish we were a bit more YOLO about this. It also becomes frustrating when you realise you are carrying a lot of extra weight with your warm weather clothes and in reality you are only wearing your one, lightest, tank top every day.

We had gotten so used to only being able to get around on the bike or by foot that when we realised that on this part of the Danube route you often had to take ferries back and forth over the river we were pleasantly surprised and sometimes frustrated by this. Because the Danube is so wide in this part of the world and there isn’t always a river path on both sides, the route leads you to ferry stops that take you and your bike across the river. The ferries are a bit of fun at first but when you are trying to make good time and save as much money as possible they can be frustrating. We seemed to keep getting ourselves into situations where we would try to avoid the ferry to get to a bridge but then we would take the wrong bridge and inevitably need to take another ferry.

After Passau, our next destination for a rest day was Linz. I obviously mainly wanted to visit this town to taste the famous tart. We arrived to the town on another sweltering day and unfortunately we again felt like we were taken advantage of. We didn’t realise that often in restaurants and bars in Austria they round-up the bill to add on a tip for themselves, and because I guess this cafe didn’t serve Linzer tart, they gave me a linzer cake and told me that was what I wanted. The cake was good, so I am not complaining, but this did force me to have to order a tart again later in the evening. Linzer is a very pretty small town and you can ride the old tram up the mountain for views of the whole city and the river which is really nice.

We had been planning for my partner’s mother to join us in Vienna since the beginning of the trip so we hurried on to meet her there a few days after Linz. It definitely felt out of our comfort zone to have a visitor from home after this long on the road. At first we couldn’t stop chatting, but soon it felt a little frustrating that this was getting in the way of our routine. I guess it shows how insular this experience can be and how good it is to have others to open up your head space again. Plus, a dinner out on her felt like a massive treat!

I have travelled to most large European cities but Vienna has remained on my list for many years. As with most of these trips I had a set plan of all the tourist sites I wanted to see, and when; and I wanted to have it all booked ahead of time. This usual plan of action didn’t fit as well into cycle touring tourism as I had hoped. First of all I hadn’t bargained for how tired I would be and the miles and miles of hoofing it around the city weren’t as welcome as they usually are. Tourist attractions also seemed a lot more expensive and not as worth it as they usually do. This is probably because we had already been visiting tourist attractions for the last two months and visiting another cathedral for twice the usual cost just didn’t seem worth it.

Saying all this Vienna did have some unmissable attractions for me. I have waited a lifetime to see Klimt’s Kiss and, for me, it was worth every day’s wait, as was the rest of the Klimt collection in The Belvedere castle. I was determined to see a symphony performance when I was there and the knowledge that you are watching a performance in the luxurious Musikverein where both Motzart and Beethoven played was probably my favourite thing we did in Vienna. We also meandered around the palaces and walked through the beautifully clean old streets staring at the beautiful architecture of Vienna with the knowledge that the greatest composers of all time walked these streets too.

Too soon it was time for us to leave Vienna and we were excited to move onto our next city and crossing another border into Slovakia.

On the Eurovelo 6 you only enter Slovakia for less than a day’s ride, but you do have the pleasure of entering the fabulous city of Bratislava. It’s surprising to cross from Austria to Slovakia because you immediately notice that pretty much everything you buy is at least half the price and I have to admit there was an immediate change in the quality of the roads on the route.

Again on our own we were pleasantly surprised by the vibrant city of Bratislava. It is beautiful and youthful feeling, filled with history and culture much like Vienna. We spent our time there meandering up to the castle and fortress that surrounds the city, relaxing in the cafes and eating food that reminded me of home (peirogis). I really wish we had planned to spend more time in that wonderful city.

Travelling on we quickly became aware that now we had entered eastern Europe and the comfort and easiness of western Europe no longer existed. We were incredibly excited to start discovering new cultures and again riding on.

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