We reached Austria through a tunnel built in the 1940’s by Nazi prisoners of war. It was rather sobering. The ruins of the buildings that housed the prisoners were still just visible not far away and we walked through the area grateful that Europe is now a very different place. The deserted border post between Slovenia and Austria was another sign about how the times have changed. I hope there is never a time when that border post needs to be used again.
From the forest we dropped into a river valley and then followed a bike path. At a lake we stopped for a swim and it seemed that everyone was out and about. At first we thought – wow Austrians must have a great work/life balance but later we found out it was a religious holiday. I didn’t know what to expect from Austrians but their super friendliness surprised me. Wherever we went people wanted to know our story, sometimes take our photo and invite us for ice cream or drinks. This interaction was enhanced by the fact that I could speak German and Austrians at least in theory also speak German. They often speak in a dialect, especially the area we were initially cycling through and this can be challenging for me to understand.
Our first day in Austria was full of good surprises. In the afternoon we accidentally crashed a church event, looking for food and somewhere to charge our phone. The ladies immediately rustled up some delicious left overs and a young guy bought us beers and then helped us navigated out of town. Oh and his mum made us sandwiches to take with us. In the evening after a beer at a very cute pub I asked if there was anywhere in the area we could put up our tent for the night. The owner offered up his pristine lawn and insisted we come for buffet breakfast in the morning. Austria you are rather amazing.
The next day we stumbled on the Heindrich Harrer museum – the guy who the film Seven Years in Tibet was based on. Turns out it was the village where he had lived (Huttenberg) and that the Dalai Lhama had visited many times. While eating lunch in the square the supermarket attendant was so excited by our story that he bought us an ice cream and then before too long the whole village knew our story and we were invited in for beer by a friendly guy and his wife. I think we spent about 4 hours in that one village.
Our route took us through valleys where we often stumbled on bike paths, up into the mountains where in the distance we could still see snow on the peaks and through beautiful villages. We drank refreshing radlers and I had many conversations with locals. At one point we realised that the climb ahead would be our last decent ascent of the trip. It was all river valleys from then on. We took a moment at the top to reflect on all the amazing passes we had climbed over the last 2 years. I am going to miss the big climbs.
After our last mountain we descended into another river valley and began to follow the Enns bike path. It’s an on and off road cycle way that follows the Enns river. It’s very beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when some Germans on bicycles invited us to join them for a side trip. This involved putting our bikes in a trailer and driving to the top of a hill and then following a disused rail way path down, through forest and tunnels. So much fun!
The weather had been quite humid and hot with the occasional thunderstorm that rumbled and crashed through the landscape. Usually we had the tent up before it rained but one night we got caught out in a town, chatting to some guys who had bought us beers once they learnt about our story. Usually, being in a town as night is falling is not where you want to be. It’s better to stop before or go through a town if you are looking to free camp. On this night we got caught in a town and a thunderstorm. Of course my phones battery went flat and we were struggling to navigate through the heavy rain and suburban landscape. It’s one of those moments you wonder if you are going to have to succumb to paying for somewhere to stay. Luckily we found a town park and in the almost darkness were able to pitch our tent easily, stuff down some pasta and climb into our shelter.
Our last days in Austria had us reach the Danube. This was the river we had originally been planning to take almost from the Black Sea across Europe. However, over time our plans had changed (I am so glad they did) and at one point we didn’t think we would make it to the Danube at all. Now they had changed again to incorporate a small section and we were quite excited to have reached it. We took a moment to take it in. Then, along with every European over 60 we cycled towards Linz. Seriously, the Danube river path is full of older groups on bikes. It’s great to see.
At Linz we had organised to stay with a host. We arrived early and hung around the city, before heading to Daniel and Vesela’s place. The apartment was lovely and huge and we met two Korean’s on a cycle tour of Europe and a Brit cyclist who were also staying there. We made food and enjoyed the long summer evening in the garden together.
The next day Astrid and I only left the house once to go shopping. We briefly thought about leaving to make the next day’s cycle easier but just couldn’t face it. Sometimes you just need total time out to reset.
We felt much better the next day – ready for Germany!