Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Day in Vienna

Our cycling tour included a pass on the giant Ferris wheel at the Prater which was near our hotel. The Prater is an amusement park that was opened by Emperor Joseph II in 1766. The Ferris wheel was opened to the public in 1897.

After our ride, we used U-Bahn and a bus to transfer to our new hotel. The public transit system here is just excellent. We bought a 24 hour ticket last night that is good for the subway, trams and buses. There is no ticket checking. You just get on the subway. Someone may or most likely may not ask for your ticket. However, if they ask you for a ticket, and you don't have one, you get a 100 Euro fine and a free trip to the police station.

After we checked in, we headed back down to the old city, this time by tram. I wanted the authentic Viennese coffee house experience, so we went to Cafe Central.

This ain't no Tim Hortons. The waiters are formally dressed and a bit pretentious. I decided not to ask for a Double Double.

Cathy had seen a dessert earlier that she just needed to try.

This was a day on our own in Vienna. Tomorrow morning we meet up with our Walking Adventures tour group. It will be a different sort of holiday from here on.

There will be no Internet access on the ship, so I'm not sure when I'll post again.

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Final Day on the Bike - Tulln to Vienna

We spent a good deal of time last night reviewing the trail to Vienna. The guide book provides directions to the Old City section of Vienna and to the train station. Our tour notes provides directions that veer off the main trail and directs us to our hotel. The main trail follows the Danube canal in to the old city. We had to find the correct point to veer off and then follow the bank of the river until we are all the way downtown.

The first part of the ride out of Tulln was quite nice. We had a sunny day with comfortable temperatures in the high teens. As we approached Vienna, we were all about navigating. The last thing we wanted, was to find ourselves lost in the middle of this big city in heavy traffic.

The directions in our tour notes were minimal but accurate. The most challenging part was the last section, when we had to leave the river edge and travel into the city. The street names didn't seem to always match our map, or maybe the street changes names randomly. Anyway we had to back track a couple of times before we finally found our hotel.

It was about 1:30 we arrived at the hotel. We turned in our bikes and officially ended that part of our holiday.

We really enjoyed the cycling holiday. We met people from all over Europe and we saw Austria and European society in a way you just don't when you are part of a 'tour' group. People were very friendly and helpful. Just stop and open up your map book and someone will stop and offer assistance.

Austria has amazing infrastructure to support bicycle tourism and cycling in general. For all we've talked about getting lost, the signage on the Danube Trail is very, very good especially considering it was mostly under water a few weeks ago.

In the cities and towns, on a typical road, there is the road for cars, there is a bike lane raised a couple of inches above the road level, and next to it, raised a couple more inches is the sidewalk. There are even separate traffic lights for bikes.

Along the Danube Trail there are also many signed bike trails that head off into the countryside. The whole trail is paved. Bikes seem to have priority. And everybody cycles. All shapes, sizes and ages on all styles and vintages of bicycles. We in Canada could learn a lot from these Europeans.

With most of the afternoon available, we decided to explore the old city. We caught the U-bahn (subway) from the hotel to Karlsplatz and started walking.

Here is St Stephan's cathedral.

The buildings in Vienna are grand.

I think this is one of the Hapsburg Palaces. We will get a city tour in a couple of days.

There are hundreds of out door cafes and restaurants we found one to have supper.

Tomorrow we will start our second stage of our trip by moving to a hotel booked by our other tour operator.
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Fourth Day of Cycling - Mitterarndorf to Tulln

The tour package included tickets for a boat ride from Spitz to Krems. We decided to skip the boat ride and cycle this section instead. We were really glad that we did. This section was by far the highlight of the trip. The Wachau valley is vineyards, wineries and one incredibly quaint village after another.

We started our day by taking a ferry across the Danube to Spitz.

Spitz has its own castle ruin up the hill.

The trail took us through twisty narrow cobble streets and across vineyards.

The castle ruin at Durnstein is famous as the place where King Richard the Lionhearted was captured and held for ransom while he was returning from the crusades in 1192.

Durnstein is considered to be one of the most quaint villages of the Wachau.

There are countless stores selling local wine from various local vintners. Here at one store Cathy found a cat on top of a barrel who apparently had too many wine samples and was sleeping it off.

People keep their properties so nice. There are window boxes filled with flowers everywhere.

We stopped for lunch at pub right on the trail in a village just beyond Durnstein. There was almost a continuous stream of cyclists passing by as we ate. This time for a change I had a schnitzel.

After lunch, we had a look at the map and we realized that the day was half over and we had a lot of riding left. We continued on to Krems, the city we had visited yesterday. We got lost trying to find our way out of Krems and had to retrace our path. Finally we got through Krems and got to a nice open section where we could make up some time. The traffic, noise and industrial parks we experienced going through Krems was such a contrast to the idyllic villages of our morning.

We crossed the river at a power dam to get to the south side where Tulln is located.

Here Cathy had our only real mishap of the trip. She caught her handle bar on the gate exiting the dam and crashed her bike. Fortunately, she escaped with a skinned knee.

We still had another 20 kms to get to our hotel. Off we went again.

The ride on the south shore to Tulln was a little tricky and we had to be careful not to get lost.

We rode through Tulln's waterfront on our way to our hotel. It seems nice and a bit newer than the other places we've visited.

It was a 65km day with some real highlights and some real challenges. We were glad to see our hotel.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Rest Day

We spend two nights in Mitterarndorf, so this was a day without cycling. The Gastof zur Wachau is another nice family owned inn.

We took the bus into the small city of Krems. What fantastic public transportation system. There is an efficient and convenient bus system that services the villages along the river from Melk to Krems. The old town in Krems is a maze of narrow streets lined by these beautiful old buildings. This street was one of many that juts of the main pedestrian street.

We are in the heart of the Wachau valley, famous for the vineyards on the hill slopes by the river.

It is very picturesque and the wine that is produced is excellent. The distinctive veltliner white has become our favourite. A glass costs less than a coke! (I think I could give up my diet coke habit if I lived here! But one only replaces one habit with another. Not sure which is better for me! Cathy)

When we got back from Krems, we took a walk around our village. The homes are so well maintained. It appears so affluent that it looks like a well-to-do bedroom community, but I think it is a working village with farming and wine growing the major industry.

Besides wine, apricots are a major crop.

Another comment on food. No schnitzel or strudel on tonight's menu. A nice change. Soup was different as well. All was delicious. Got a chance to try some of the famous Viennese speciality, sacher torte. This is a dense chocolate cake with a layer of something (maybe apricot jam) in the middle. It was quite good.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 3 of Cycling - Persenburg to Mitterarndorf

The rain was just steaming down as we lingered a little longer than usual over breakfast this morning. By the time we started out for our longest ride of the week, it had settled into a steady cold rain with the wind promised in last night's forecast.

One thing we noticed from our first day was the lack of traffic on the Danube. In two days we saw 1 kayak and two speed boats. We are concerned that the river cruise ships are not running. Maybe the river is still to high for the cruise ships. All the rain this week can't be helping the situation. Our cruise is scheduled to start on Sunday. Today we saw our first evidence of commercial traffic a barge and later a ferry.

The big touristy destination today was the Benedictine Abbey at Melk. By the time we arrived in Melk at noon the rain had slowed to a light drizzle with a heavy overcast. The Abbey was founded in 1089 when Leopold II gave a castle to Benedictine monks. The current magnificent Baroque structure was built between 1702 and 1736.

Melk was approximately at the halfway point of our ride. We decided to take the time to do tour of the abbey. It is huge. This picture from the town gives some indication of the size of the building. You can see how far the Abbey extends back.

Notice the frescos on the ceiling in this room.

This is a picture of the church inside the Abbey.

We saw more evidence of the flood as we travelled. Notice the water marks on these buildings in Melk.

I'd like to say a few words about Austrian food. Our tour includes a three course dinner in each hotel. Based on the evidence so far, Austrians feed their tourists just one kind of soup, one kind of salad, schnitzel and strudel. All four meals have been really good and different from the food back home. But tonight I realized that I had the same tasty beef broth with cut up spiced crepes four nights in a row and the same hearty salad for the last three nights. I've also consumed 3 schnitzels and 3 strudels. It's my own fault. It's what I order.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 2 of Cycling - Wallsee to Persenbeug

One thing that concerned us about our trip was the weather. We had checked the weather last year for this time period and found temperatures in the high 30's with humidex temperatures in the low 40's. How were we going to bike in such heat? Even the long term forecasts before we left indicated humidex values in the 40's.
We didn't anticipate the weather we got today. Rain and 13 degrees! Our entire ride today was in a steady cold rain. Last night we saw the forecast and planned our route. The guide book indicated that the distance to be 29 kms. That's less than 3 hours riding, so not too bad.
The book was wrong. We rode about 20 km and had lunch at a trail side cafe. After lunch we got back on the trail and started on the last 9 km. Then we came to an intersection and noticed that the sign indicated that our destination was still 23km away. The sign was right, the guide book was wrong.
Now I'd like to say a few words in praise of Goretex. Actually most of our rain gear is not Goretex, but a cheaper imitation. Nevertheless it worked. Except for our hands (wish we had waterproof gloves) and faces, we stayed mostly dry and mostly warm. That was not the case for everyone. Remarkably we met the English family from yesterday again on the street outside our hotel. They still had a few kms to travel to get to their hotel and they were drenched to the skin. All smiles though.
Because of the rain, we didn't take as many pictures today. These two show us kitted out in rain gear. Notice the mud beside the trail. The mud is from the flood. There are machines that plow the mud off the trail.

This picture is probably the most dramatic evidence of the flood levels we have seen. Notice the piece of a dock up the tree.

The next picture shows the scenery along the river has changed. We are entering area where the river narrows and speeds up as it flows through a more mountainous region. This picture was taken as we entered the area. The next few kms were quite beautiful, but I didn't take any more pictures since it was hard to keep the camera dry.

We have had great luck so far with our inns. The Gasthof Bolm in Persenbeug is no exception. It is a very nice privately run inn.

Tomorrow's forecast is for more rain, cold temperatures but with the addition of wind. I hope the forecaster has got it as wrong for tomorrow as the guide book writer did about today's distances.
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 1 of Cycling - Linz to Wallsee

The forecast had predicated showers, but we woke up to a perfect blue sky. We took another walk down the main street, Land Strabe, to get to shop to pick up our bikes. The street was worth another picture.

After some challenges trying to find the bike shop and then trying to find the trail, we got started.

There are paths on both sides of the river, so selecting the best side for each section requires some study of the guide book.

We started out on the north side, but crossed over a hydro dam to get to the south side because it looked like there would be fewer villages to travel through.

That turned out to be a mistake, sort of. It turned out that part of the trail was closed. We stopped at the key intersection and tried to listen to an Austria women explain the detour to an English family. She went off back the way we had come. We started off with the family. While we were all stopped at the next intersection trying to decide which way to turn, the same Austrian women came riding back and said "Come. I will show you". She proceeded to lead us over a maze of country roads and through back streets of a town for about 8 kms out of her way until she lead us back on the trail.

As she was saying good bye, she stopped another rider and spoke to him in german. Then she turned to us and said "he goes to Mauthausen, you follow him". This got us through another difficult (i.e. easy to get lost) section of the trail.

We had lunch with the English family who were by now our best friends. Shortly after lunch, they took a side trail to the village where they were staying and we travelled on alone. A few minutes later we encountered another detour. This one we managed to navigate on our own.

Generally the trail is in great shape considering the flooding that just happened. This picture taken several hundred meters from the river shows the mark of the floodwater.

After a long hot day, we arrived in the village where our inn is located. The guidebook said the inn is located in the village main square. The map indicates that the main square is on top of the big hill. We climbed the hill and found the inn. A cold beverage was called for.

The village square is quite nice and the village comes with its own castle which is still privately own by descendants of the Hapsburgs.

Tomorrow rain and temperatures in the mid teens are forecast. That may not be as much fun. We will see.

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