Back on the saddle, for to the Blue (actually muddy brown) Danube

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Europe » Austria
May 26th 2019
Published: May 26th 2019
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The Bohinj community captivated us. Seeking somewhere away from the crowds of popular Bled led us there, and it fulfilled in spades the chance to be outdoors, as Úrsula put it, “if the weather’s good!”

A generous offer to leave our gear there until the afternoon meant we’d be freely able to get to Bled. A decade or so before, I explored the area on the shoestring budget restrictions every twenty-something from NZ usually does. Those travellers still sat in the park, eating a picnic lunch from Mercator.

Bled was misty grey, much like Bohinj, which I’d done a muddy circuit on foot of that morning. The young campers were again spotted, Slovenian cubs and brownies, gathering for perhaps the next physical challenge at an outdoors camp. We say Dobra dan, and they say ‘helloo, I’m good!’

The signature castle and church on the island is what brings most here. Crowds a little more intense, we spent our hour wisely by the lakeside. Reliving a swim from May a decade before, it was more than a tad chilly.

Ljubljana served as a good stopover with our onwards plans. Rain
heavily set in that afternoon, rendering everything moody, so it’s no surprise Slovenia is green.

Arriving to an old tobacco factory restored as apartments, with ironically a no smoking policy, we had probably the swiftest service on this trip. The Gami team, functioning as individual apartment owners, welcomed us to a loft style unit in minutes. Naturally cosy with brick work inside, flannelette duvets roasted us that little bit more, come bedtime. Visions of the 1970s flooded back, when all was fire-risk flannel.

Once getting over P2s crashed iPhone stress, we set a plan for a full next day in Ljubljana. Preceded by an early trip to park Tivoli, where everyone rides bikes and a stellar aquatic centre is, I nursed my calf along for some more walking. P2 even spotted a Stand up paddle boarder on the river, moving fast!

Ljubljana Castle was first up, via some thoughtful sculptures, hanging bikes, and a street chandelier.

Ten euros each was well spent. This edifice began life in the 1100s and more significantly became the castle itself in the 1400s. Driven by the turmoil of the time and a powerful leader (Frederick III), construction, reconstruction, earthquakes and the Ottoman Empire all had their influences. A goblet from a drunken party that fell on soft ground, the replica kept at the castle, indicated times were good for some, whilst the plague afflicted others. Society unchanged.

Pushing on, we passed the famous dragon bridge, and wandered on to the heavily sculptured river front. Whilst my old picnic seat had vanished into the dust of street refurbishment, it was heartening to know the big pink cathedral remained!

We got to know more locals on the same rickety cabin wagon we had arrived on the previous week.

The Ljubljana to Salzburg route had the two departures daily and we chose the afternoon one, going directly north west into Austria.

The increasingly cloudy, and by now, heavily raining weather added that moody atmosphere to the mountains bordering Germany. Thoughts of a short snow shoe hike the next morning diminished, as every one of our weather sources said wet wet wet.

Salzburg least knowingly builds its name on salt, and more popularly, famous cultural reasons. As much as March and April were
devoid of rain, so we later learned from an 86 year old cyclist at an antique store, it was falling in buckets.

We wrote off the first morning with the late night prior and the unpleasant factor of rainy sightseeing. I got to test out the efficient and affordable trolley bus network, and my second Austrian steel swimming pool experience. Just like paddling in a kitchen sink, the stern bademeister at the ready for emergencies.

The public transport network has multiple lines with simple numbers, traversing the small city under 300,000 folks. Fully electrified, the Solaris trolley buses are big, bendy and even have ample room for bike carriage. So, there’s double decker or footpath bike racks, plenty of bike paths segregated from car or bus traffic, pedestrian only zones, and the whole city is prettily planted, making being outside and moving under your own steam a joy.

The Austrians have completely nailed their public transport, and a culture of high density living, that we can still only dream of in NZ.

Arriving in Passau was strangely quiet, the tail end of the working day. Folks made their
way home on foot through the old town, most shops shutting by 6pm. We had acquired an apartment by a quaint staircase next to Das Hornsteiner, and front courtyard that would soon brighten up, if the morning weather forecast was true.

And they came. Bus load, boat load, back to back, and intense. Several hundreds gathered in the plaza and streets, and whilst sipping a morning coffee, passing our now very public window.

Lingering until midday, the sun came out, casting a beautiful light on the cathedral and peninsula, from the Marienbrucke. I’d calculated a route from there with the usual unknown of adventure by bike. The sealed road gradually gave way on the Austrian side of the River Inn to a grassy gravelly path. It peaked at a promontory near Scharding, with a sign warning of a fearful 18% drop. For the reassurance of two oncoming cyclists, we continued. Flooding had exerted its pressure on the banks with silty run off near the trail. The worst rain in a few decades we later learned.

The undulating road and adjacent cycle path carried on through to Marienkirchen, Mayrof, Lambrechten, Taiskirchen Im
Inns, and eventually the start of the ‘Hausruks’, serial villages bearing this name in part. Wolfsegg am Hausruk was the 120m climb in 3km that we’d known long ago, and were almost over psyched up for too. Declaring he needed red meat with fading thigh power, I promised P2 that if I got to the only market in town by closing time, I’d buy some. The pressure. I had to climb fast, on a hybrid mama-san masquerading as a touring bike.

We made it, with the lack of a lunch break that leads only to a hot drink, chocolate and salty food consumption. Meat, pastry for him, wine for us, scroggin for tomorrow, I thought all was sorted.

The hosts at Kronlacher apartment were incredibly kind. Within a short time of check in, we were down in the garage, inadvertently enjoying a beverage after seeking out a bike foot pump. The old chestnut of under inflated tyres reared it’s head, so out came Fritz’s air compressor, with gauge. Noisy, but effective. With crossed fingers.

A sunny warm morning was such a remedy to the cold and wet that we’ve so far
had. Complacent about our late check out and fewer miles downhill, I headed off to Lucka, which turned out a mighty steep village with a naturally incredible view of the Salzkammergut mountains.

Saying a lengthy farewell to Hausruck, P2s forgotten medications were soon to be hand-delivered on the roadside by Claudia. She’d noted our direction and found us, part way to Lambach. So very lucky.

The quest to avoid main roads as much as we would in Spain led us over a few bigger hillocks than planned, until we found the cycle path into Lambach, which had a very hectic highway to the side. Roadside poppies made for a beautiful summer scene, with log cabins and small dwellings colourfully landscaped.

Lambach was buzzing implying we were ever nearer to a large city. Even the discourteous drivers were about in small quantities but nonetheless a feature, so we later learned, of a few European countries.

Wels was along the river another 15km or so. Briefly we pulled to the side of the path and found a little boat ramp linked to the River Traun. As as running very fast
and furious with all the rain, it was crystal clear that I had to dunk my legs in. P2 followed suit, soon complaining of the cold. We’d need to store that up for later

The sun beamed down all afternoon.

Coming into Wels after a straight run through the riverside forest of the Donau, my nagging to P2 that our tyres were under inflated meant we actually deviated to find a bike shop. Time was slipping by, and we too needed wifi to advise our accommodation too of our now delay. Unfortunately sent us to a closed shop that had relocated. Followed by meeting a very helpful lady whom personally directed us to their new premises, I waited my turn at the bike shop to beg for help.

The English speaker was summoned to us, and as it turned out, the tyres were a good 30-40psi under where they should be. The squeeze test, hand pump, and Fritz’s air compressor probably can’t be trusted, as my puncture history tells me, and we left properly inflated. Thankful and now on the move.

Leaving Wels, with some indecision I
took us north of the rail road, a major transport corridor for Austria that took a lengthy 8-10km to pass. And that included an airport on the other side of the bike path too, serving this busier area of the country. Usually we avoid them on these rides!

Commuting on a smooth path aside the highway into Linz lasted another dead straight ten kilometres, until we hit a round of offramps. Stopping to determine our next move, we heard ‘Ah, Camino Santiago!’. The shirts don’t lie.

Johannes is a retired psychology professor, that turned out to be an incredibly experienced cyclist from his wide travels in Europe and other continents. We hit it off immediately such that his offer of taking us into the city (and aid our navigation concerns!) was too good to refuse.

Quiet country paths, cycle roads, and the emerging Danube area scenery competed for our attention, as did the very occasional honking driver. Like any seasoned cyclist, we had to hold our own on the road a few times, Johannes leading very well by example. Big cities eh.

As lucky to meet Johannes as
we were, he then helped rouse the owner by phone, whom was not on site when we turned up. No bike parking, no washer, but in the style we’ve gotten used to, we hauled the bikes up four flights of stairs and hand washed. Travel is adaptation!

A late night developed with seeking out food from a supermarket (as did the nightlife seem to be more active in general); however, now on the flat and narrow of the Donau, we could anticipate the terrain ahead, and hopefully, time.

Stocking up the panniers for the ‘supermarkets closed’ Sunday, we got up early enough before our lengthy day to see a few Linz sights as well.

Martinskirche on the hill by the castle is the oldest church in Austria, and early in the morning looked beautiful with the backdrop of the hills, and peacefulness of everyone still resting after their nights out. Dropping down to the Aldstadt, the market was in full swing. P2 had sought out some sights of scientific interest, Johannes Keplers residences around four hundred years ago. Too much to see and so little time.

Packed up by late morning, we eventually set off over the northernmost bridge in an easterly direction, straight over the famous steel mill. Manufacturing was right beneath us, waterfront to the Donau, which didn’t even deter a rower on his morning exercise bout. Aged 75 to 80 I’d reckon; fantastic.

The journey carried on and on, through fluffy forests (the aspen trees are moulting), riverside waterways, and operations around water management. It was murky but swiftly moving, a remnant of the recent rain deluge no doubt.

Putting the pedals down, we ticked off 65km before a late lunch in Grein. The gathering of folks riverside meant it definitely was the weekend, and with the local Hofer open, one last chance to buy water, fruit and an emergency panadería.

Heading onwards, we had a brief interaction with an Austrian grandfather and his grandson learning English, out on a days cycle. With the limited language exchange, we soon bid Gute Fahrt before they whizzed off, at pace, into the lush green forest path.

“Where are they now?” I asked P2 at our lucky coffee stop, half an hour later. Probably Krems, 80km
more away.

A café in Persenbeug was five minutes off closing when we rolled into town, needing a little boosting. The kind owner took to these people from New Zealand with exuberance, explaining over our apple strudel what hill we could climb our bikes up, for a beautiful view of the area he was born in. Meanwhile, P2, and my thighs, groaned. To discuss later. This was almost a 110km day!

The last twenty kilometres melted away with a gentle tail wind and a pink sky slowly appearing over Melk monastery. The wheat heads, cottage garden flowers, wild grasses and poppies along the river bent ever so slightly to the east beside the path in the breeze. It’s our trajectory. To Vienna.

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