Suddenly the road quality was great and there was a familiarity about the place, ah yes, we must have crossed into Austria! With that move we also feel that we have lost a certain amount of our adventurousness and made a bit of a backwards step from the unknowns of Poland and the Czech Republic. To be honest we are really only in Austria to go to Vienna, as neither of us have been there before, but before we get there we have a few days touring the countryside to see what rural life is about too.
Rough plan…tour for a bit, get on the well-trodden cycle path along the River Danube to Vienna, stay for a few days, follow the Danube cycle path to Bratislava, stay for a few days there and then into Slovakia and onwards…
Prior to crossing the border we had skirted the Narodni Park Podjyi west out of Znojmo and very pretty it was too. One unexpected thing that we came across was a preserved section of the Cold War fence between what was Czechoslovakia and Austria – there was a very interesting info board which mentioned that actually the border was cleared of villages either side of the fence out to between 2-6km and that, rather sadly, loads of people died trying to cross it.
Then the long descent into the valley of the River Thaya started, which is the border the Czech Republic and Austria. A beautiful ride – we saw a family of five here cycle touring and they included Mum, Dad, two older boys (about 10-14 in age) and a smaller boy (4 ish I’d guess) who was on a balance bike. They were all well loaded down with equipment – looked like they had the full kit, tent etc – pretty amazing. We crossed the river and at the same time the border into Austria – a beautiful area with the castle at Hardegg on the craggy cliffs overlooking the river. Took the obligatory photo, filled up with water at a municipal water pump, which pumps straight from a well (already found another one of these on the first day which is great and hope that there are plenty more) and started a fairly hard 2.5km climb out of the river valley.
At the top we drank most of the water we had just filled up on as by this time it was really hot (30 degrees), had a boiled hardegg (geddit?!) and stopped for a think about where we might want to go during the ‘touring’ bit before getting to Vienna. Decided to head south-west and to get on the Danube a bit further upstream – and so headed towards Horn. For some reason, and it might have been the heat and the hills, we were really slow this afternoon. We stopped before Horn at a large religious cross up on top of a hill – there are steps up to the top so we went up for a look – it is a long way down, but the view was very good from the top!
Stopped in Horn, a nice enough place and did a bit of google searching for pensions and other places to stay – and there were a few 5-10km to the south of us, so we reckoned there must be something worth seeing down there….and there was…the River Kamp valley! We cycled along the side of the river and ended up at Gars am Kamp, a lovely wee town. After a couple of false starts with accommodation we ended up at the Waldpension and were greeted by Barbara, the very chatty landlady, who was very keen to know all about what we were up to and very excited when we told her our tale!
After a wash and brush-up we headed out to the Wednesday festival in town – apparently every Wednesday during summer months they put chairs and tables in the square and have fun! So, we went and had a couple of beers, hummed along to some Schlager music (ie cheesy German music that Martina scarily knows the words to a lot of the songs!!) and did some people-watching. A very pleasant evening indeed.
Next morning we fuelled up on Barbara’s extensive breakfast and had a long cut with John, another resident who is part of an opera company that is putting on a production of Tosca at the nearby castle. He gave us loads of tips on what to do in Vienna (he lives there though is originally from Sweden) and in other places on our route, it’s a shame we didn’t have a bit more time to chat as he had to go to work and we had to get back on our bikes.
There is a rover Kamp cycle path along the river, which we followed for a while to Langenlois where we stocked up on food and then joined a wine region cycle route. This was a complete change as it took us through a load of vineyards and small villages. One of the nices parts was through an area north of Rohrendorf where there were loads of small buildings, which look much like houses, but are where different families produce and store their wine. It’s also a big tourist area and there was evidence of tours though, surprisingly, none of these businesses were open yet. It was really nice and very different cycling for us and we really enjoyed it.
We pushed on to Krems an der Donau (Krems on the Danube) for a lunch stop. We then hopped on to the Danube cycle path with a gazillion other cyclists! This is a well-cycled tourist destination for cyclists – mainly day-trippers, but there were also a few others that had more baggage, but none really that had as much as us and we certainly drew attention. Lovely cycling along the river – we’re not too sure why Strauss composed the “Blue” Danube as it is mainly a greeny grey colour, but beautiful nonetheless. We past through more vineyards and some very well preserved old (cutesie) villages where shops sold a bit of tourist tat etc. The river here gets squeezed between some hills on which there are castles overlooking the areas around them – all very nice and we can see why everyone goes there to see it. For us it was a little bit too pristine and perhaps it’s the tourist thing again (in a Kraków kind of way) but we did like it; just didn’t love it.
We ended the day near Melk – we randomly selected this town and then found out that it has historical significance with a UNISESCO monastery on the edge of a hill. We booked into what can only be described as a ‘basic’ campsite right on the banks of the river. It was really only one step up from wild-camping, but did have showers which is our main concern after a long day on the bikes in the hot sunshine – salt in our clothes and on our bodies is an issue which we need to deal with. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms, so as campers it meant it could get interesting! When we were getting ready for bed we watched a thunder storm to the north of us which was pretty active. It started getting windy so we batoned down the hatches and went to bed – actually of more concern was the forecast of heavy rain next morning, which would make packing up a nightmare. As it was, the thunderstorms must have missed us in the night and there was only a spits of rain in the morning. However, at about midnight a late arrival at the campsite with van towing a caravan decided to park next to us. Apart from the noise of his arrival it did feel like he was going to roll right over us as he was only a couple of feet away. To be honest he was being a [insert expeletive here] as there were loads of other places where he could have parked – and it took us ages to get back to sleep. Grrrrr.
We did clatter around bit next morning in the hope of waking him up, but we were aware that there were others around us, so it didn’t have the right effect! We managed to pack up without getting too wet and headed into Melk for a look around. The monastery overlooking the town actually looks like a palace….these monks know how to live! We, on the other hand, stopped in a cafe for coffee and cake (early even by our standards!) and were served by a right mardy woman and then were on our way.
To be honest we had no idea where we were going when we set out! The conversation went something like “a bit more upstream on the Danube, head north and then see where we are”, “okay, sounds good”. So off we went, this time on the north bank, then north up the banks of the River Erlauf. A really nice cycle along the banks of a small river, but always slightly uphill. It had been spitting with rain, but the further north we went into the foothills of the Alps the weather got worse and it properly started to rain and it’s was on with the sweat gear (85% humidity today) all the way to Scheibbs where we had lunch under a tree in the centre of town. Very atmospheric scenery with mist and clouds in amongst the hills, though we’re sure it looks stunning on a clear day. Another lovely place and it was nice to be off the tourist trail – we’ll be back on it tomorrow. Picture proves that it isn’t all blues skies and sunshine!
We then followed a different bike route along the River Melk back down to lover levels – the route out of Scheibbs did involve a humongous 15 min 14% gradient uphill climb which was reminiscent of Norway! By mountain bike or normal road bike standards 14% isn’t much, but when you’re carrying at least half your body weight in equipment it becomes a bit of a toughie!
Mainly downhill from there though the bike route did take us on an alternative path which did involve a few more unexpected hills! We ended up firstly in Mank, not much there and then finally in St Leonards am Forst, even less there! But, we did find a gasthaus for the night and a Thai meal which has, for once, left us properly stuffed!
There are (at least according to google) 3 gasthaus’ in the town, however, two have closed down and so we were left with the third. This gasthaus has come straight out of the 1970s as nothing has changed with the decor! The bathroom in particular is a thing of beauty! However interestingly, in a small town with one gasthaus I can at least get a table dance, and have a choice of two different venues, should I need the entertainment! Although the breakfast was rather basic, the staff were very attentive so it did have its merits!
We looked at the route for today and realised that our meanderings yesterday had actually left us a bit away from Tulln, where we were heading, as it’s about 55km from Vienna. This leaves us a nice distance on Sunday to get into town for mid-afternoon. Initially we’d intended to go via St Pollen back to the Danube, but that meant main roads, so we changed our minds to go back to Melk and join there. The morning ride was, once again, really nice, through a set of low hills back to the Danube cycle path. This time we decided to stick to the southern bank, which meant fewer tourist cyclists as there’s less to see with regards cute villages and towns. We made really good progress with the wind at our backs and the river close by on our left. The perspective was much different to that which we’d seen two days before and we were generally much nearer the river which was nice.
In the end we completed a 100km day, got to a campsite on the edge of Tulln and got booked in. There was camping available, albeit in a cramped camping area, but we’d called earlier to see if they had cabins and they had mobile home accommodation and so we booked one. To say it is a mobile home was a bit of an understatement as it has air-conditioning, three bedrooms, living area, shower, kitchen with a gas hob plus a deck area outside. We thought that we must have got the price wrong and didn’t want a surprise in the morning when we went to pay, so Martina went to check the all-time-good-deal price to find that cyclists get a special rate, hurrah! So, I’m sitting on said decking typing this having just watch the second half of the football that has seen England through to the semis of the World Cup! The perfect day just about!
Thought of the day. So, why when the car registration for a German car is a D for Deuchland is the letter for an Austrian car not an O for Oesterreich?