(Vienna, Austria – 16 May 2014) What were we thinking? Neither Jessica nor I are hard-core “cyclists.” We both enjoy riding our bikes around the neighborhood on a Sunday morning, but even then our butts wind up annoyed. So what got into our heads to bike for four straight days in Austria? Simple, in Austria biking is a thing. People travel here from all over the world to experience riding their bikes along side the curvaceous and beautiful Danube river. Typical cycling vacation packages are 7 days long and cover 355 km (210 miles) from Passau to Vienna. That is far more than we wanted. But it did sound good. Here’s what one of the brochures said about it-
An easy and relaxing bicycle tour along the meandering banks of the Danube River, from village to village on quiet bike paths – the ideal way to explore the rich art, history and architecture of the Austrian Empire.
This is an easy ride, downstream, predominately downhill, on level riverside pathways and quiet roads.
Our response to these pitches was to piece together our own do-it-yourself, shorter, and less expensive version of the same. Instead of biking from Passau to Vienna, like the 7 day tour said, we chose to begin in Linz, a small Austrian city located on the Danube about 150 miles east of Vienna. Still a long way, but assuming we ride at a reasonable pace, it would only take us four days to reach Vienna. Stops along the way would include three little villages between Linz and Vienna where our butts could rest up between rides- Persenbeug, Aggsbach Markt, and Tulln. (I know it looks like some vowels were lost in those names, but that is how they’re spelled.)
Laughing at the Rain
Our first day of riding would be the longest. According to the maps, we had 47 miles to cover that first day. Quite a lot for non-cycling people like us.
The best thing that happened to us on day one was our impeccable timing vis-a-vis the rain. We heard that riders can almost always expect to get catch rain at some point along the ride. There were indeed rain clouds in the area. We’d even felt a few light drops here and there between good stretches of sunshine.
Lunch in the town of Grein was our first meaningful goal that first day. We crossed the Danube from south to north and entered Grein on the north bank’s cycle path just as light raindrops began to fall. Suddenly those little drops thickened and multiplied. A restaurant popped into view and we raced our bikes up to the rack and locked ’em up in a flash. The skies opened up in full, but we dove into the restaurant just before getting soaked. Seated in an enclosed glass patio, we watched the rain fall about us and laughed while enjoying our delicious lunch… nice and dry.
The rains were heavy and didn’t quit easily. Maybe if we calmly share a dessert the rains will tire and decide to leave us alone. It worked! By the time we finished our beautiful cherry ice cream sundae, rays of sunlight were finding their way back.
The final piece of our first day’s journey was dry, but still very tough on our legs and asses. Rolling into Persenbeug and finding our room was a triumph of will. Jessica was as exhausted as she was relieved to be done for the day. Everyone knows I’m a tough guy, right? But I too was extremely thankful that long ride was o-v-a-h, OVAH!
47 miles? As if! I used my phone’s GPS to get a more accurate tracking our our day’s distance. Turns out we peddled a whopping 53!
Monks of Melk Be Crazy
Our second day of biking was far more reasonable, only 24 miles. Plus, the ride was split into two chunks because of a planned visit to the Benedictine Abbey in the town of Melk.
What a huge place! Monastery life was guided by three leading disciplines– Work. Read. Pray. (I’m wondering, where’s the Fun in that?) Clearly, these monks had been hard at work for centuries.
At least the Monks had a lovely view.
The reception room and a view of its skillfully painted ceiling:
The library: No photos, please. So, imagine a room where every wall is filled from bottom to top with identically bound manuscripts. Impressive, but is anyone reading them? Uh, I didn’t see it happening.
The chapel. (Where did the monks find so much gold?):
Day 2 was a shorter day of riding, but we still covered about 24 miles. Maybe we should have rented a pair of e-bikes instead. The e means the bikes are fitted with little electric motors; not to replace your peddling, but certainly to make it easier. On one part of our ride, an older couple cruised past us riding their e-bikes and filled us with envy to the point that we wanted to throw things at them.
Our room in the village of Aggsbach Markt was 300 years old, explained Elisabeth, our host. Thankfully, it had been renovated a few times over the years and did not look it’s age. The one structural aspect of the building that gave a good indication of its age was the thickness of the walls. Constructed of huge stones and a full three feet thick, this building was ready to stand for another 300 years. Looking out the window was like looking through a short tunnel.
Elisabeth not only had a great place, but she was especially friendly and nice. She even asked us if we’d like to join her and her husband (Herman) for dinner out. Not wanting to miss out on an authentic Austrian cultural experience, we eagerly accepted.
The place they took us for dinner was about two villages over. A small tree branch with a red ribbon on it hung above the door, an indicator that the restaurant was open for business. This particular restaurant was licensed only to serve cold food, homemade wine and juices, which we found curious. Then we learned the restaurant belonged to a vineyard and therefore had to follow stricter food service rules, (for whatever reason). There were numerous vineyards in the area and that’s how they did things.
We ate our cold lunch meats, veggies and cheeses like regular Austrian folk. Jessica enjoyed some of the vineyard’s excellent white wine while I had some of the freshest tasting grape juice I’ve ever had. Our hosts ordered a dessert on our behalf that was strange and wonderful. Three white scoops of what looked like ice cream sat on a plate smothered with apricot sauce. But it wasn’t ice cream at all. It was shockingly delicious cheese!
The dessert menu. Ours was the first one listed.
Half Bike, Half Train
We were beginning our third day of biking and rains were again in the neighborhood. Though none was falling when we said our good-byes to Elisabeth and Herman, light, off and on sprinkles soon caught up to us. The previous day’s forecast said significant and dangerous storms were a real possibility, but that’s not what we were experiencing. However, that forecast did prompt us to figure out where to catch a train, in case we had to bail out of our bike ride.
From Aggsbach Markt, we rode a good 1 1/2 hours through several more quiet villages and many more vineyards before cruising into the slightly larger town of Spitz. Light sprinkles no more. By this time it was flat out raining.
Having no interest in riding several more hours in the rain, Jessica was eager for a train ride. Not silly ol’ me. I wasn’t ready to let go of my Austrian biking adventure just yet. I would meet up with her in Tullln, our next stop on the path back to Vienna.
One thing about Jessica and I riding bikes together is that we both don’t go at the same pace. Now that we had diverged, I would get to have a different experience. I put it in high gear and peddled on through the rain.
It didn’t rain constantly between Spitz and Tulln, but close to it. It was cold, too. Conditions were miserable, yet… I was not. It was my time alone with the elements. Some parts of the route veered away from the Danube and through the little farming towns that dotted the entire area, but most of it ran immediately alongside the river, built on what used to be “tow paths” used by teams of horses for pulling barges up-river. Those must have been miserable times.
By the time I rolled into Tulln and found the hostel, Jessica was thoroughly settled in. I hung my soaked clothes on hangers for drying and fell into a nice hot shower. My legs were worn out from the 43 wet but satisfying miles I’d just completed.
Train, Train Go Away
Unfortunately, the rains continued into our fourth day of scheduled riding. I’d already had my rainy day ride experience and wasn’t eager for another. Jessica’s interest in biking for several hours in the cold rain was less than zero. This meant the only biking we would do on day four was the short ride from our hostel to the Tulln train station.
We shot about a 25 short videos throughout our journey. I have pieced them together here for your amusement.
In the end, I will say that our Austrian bike-riding adventure was a little bit of a bust. By no means a total bust, but the disagreeable weather really cut into our good times and the overall mood of the adventure. The best riding was through the many quaint little villages, sometimes spaced only a stone’s throw apart. Riding along the more secluded sections of the pathway were also enjoyable for all of the swallows that darted about. Those birds are unquestionably some of the best flyers in the winged kingdom. They would dart and swoop all around our bikes on their way to or from skimming over the river water.
Back in Vienna by train, we turned in our bikes to the rental place. Now that our ride was complete, our butts were ready to stop hurting. The next day we would make our first real unplanned detour and head to Prague in the Czech Republic. Everyone says Prague is fantastic so why not check it out for ourselves while we are a mere 6 hours away by train. Find out how that went on the next post.