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Posts tagged ‘Austria’

 Overland to Zurich

So this is our situation: We need to cover 1,200km to reach Zürich, and six days to do it in. There are also four people we’d like to catch-up with en route.

The first night we stop in the small town of Nieburg, Germany. There is nothing outstanding to write home about, it was simply a suitable way-point to end our first day of travel southwards.

Dinner reminds us that we are back in Germany; the land of beer, schnitzel and sauerkraut. I make the mistake of ordering a salad, only to end up with an extra serve of cabbage!

Next stop is Dortmund. This town probably wouldn’t feature much in tourist guides, however the attraction for us was to catch-up with Inga, who we met on our Mexican adventures.

Inga has grown up in the area and also spent some time in Australia with her studies. She works in wind-turbine energy, which is huge in this part of Europe. She kindly offered us a bed, generously taking the couch and vacating her own comfy bed for us. It was a quick visit, as Inga was off early the next day, to holiday in Kenya.

We head out to dinner and see a snippet of Dortmund. As brief as it was, it was lovely to see Inga and get a locals perspective into what living in Germany is like. Inga, we hope you come and visit soon, so we can repay the hospitality.

Following the Rhine, our next stop is the town of Boppard. I wouldn’t rate the river as scenic as the Danube had been, though it could make a nice cycle trip one day.

Driving on a German autobahn is not for the faint-hearted. Impatient drivers weaving in and out of lanes at high-speed (there are no limits enforced), is a recipe for catastrophic accidents.

If you dare sit on the recommended 130km/hr, you are constantly watching your rear vision mirror for cars and trucks descending upon you at much greater speeds; blaring horns and flashing headlights at you to move right.

The right lane is full of heavily laden trucks and older cars struggling along. Without warning, one of these will also pull out in front of you, to overtake the slower vehicle in its lane. This is no place (or time) for being indecisive, it’s ‘pedal to the metal’, work the gears hard and keep-up!

After not seeing Sue Haviland for 15 years, this is the second rendezvous in a year! Sue and John, along with their dog Bailey, have moved to Oberursal, teaching at the Frankfurt International School.

We have two nights with them, taking the opportunity to wash, re-pack and get ourselves ready to change continents.

Our last night in Europe is at the Zurich Airport Radisson, practical and reasonably priced. We’re back in Switzerland, so ‘reasonably priced’ is a relative term.

Birgit is another traveling companion, this time from our South American adventures, who lives in Zürich. She makes the effort to trek out to our hotel in torrential rain and have dinner with us. The rain is so heavy, we don’t even venture outside the hotel to eat.

We really appreciate the effort to come and see us Birgit and it was great to have one last hurrah on our final night on your continent!

Our little Renault has served us well and we head to the airport with a whiff of petrol in the tank.

There is no obligation in a lease agreement to return your car with a full-tank, given the price for petrol in Switzerland is extortionate (or US$2 per/L) – Don can push the car if needed!

We drive up to departures, meet the agent and hand over the keys in a hurry to give him possession before it dies, we warn him that he won’t get far.

Next stop Beijing. Unfortunately there was no business upgrade on offer this time!

Cycling down the Danube

After about an hour of cycling I began to wonder why I decided to put myself in this situation.

Why did I think spending 14 days cycling was going to be fun?

From Zürich I took the train to Passau, where I collected my bike, so I’m ready to head off in the morning.

About an hour into the ride, my body starts reminding me that I haven’t been on a bike since December.

My neck is stiff, my knees creak and most of all, my bum is sore!

The Danube route is dead flat, so much so it makes for constant peddling, which is a bit exhausting when you don’t have any bike fitness. I’d like a little hill right now, so I can get a rest on the way down.

As I contemplate what I had committed myself to, the kilometers slipped by and a couple of hours later I arrived in Schlögen, my first stop.

Aside from it being stinking hot, it was a relatively easy ride. Schlögen is a tiny hamlet where the one and only hotel dominates the landscape.

The days quickly become routine; cycle, shower, eat and sleep.

I don’t think I had a day under 35 degrees, so I would be on my bike by 8am to avoid the heat.

This meant I usually arrived at my destination before the designated check-in time (2-3 pm). You would think given the number of people cycling, an activity most people do early, the hotels would be ready for this?

Hot, sweaty and tired I resorted to finding a comfy spot to have a cool drink and put my feet up.

Day three was the toughest day to get back on my bike. The day before had been a long, hot 68km and I was facing another 60. My muscles ached and my bum didn’t want to get back on that seat!

I actually looked up the train schedule from Linz to Grein…but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Climbing back on, I took it easy, stopping every 20km or so. From Linz onwards the route passes through towns and villages more frequently. I found this made the ride more interesting and the kilometers pass unnoticed.

Traveling solo, I often fell victim to hotels putting me in a tiny single-bed room, in an out-of-the-way corner of the hotel.

The hotel in Grein is 5km out of town, a lovely forest setting and promotes itself as a resort-style spa hotel.

Once again, I find my room is in an out-of-the-way corner of the building. I open my door to a small single bed (of course), overlooking the roof between two buildings, I didn’t even get a view of the car park!

The heat reflecting off the roof made the room temperature feel 40 degrees plus. After a brief discussion I was given another room.

The days passed quickly and everyday got a little easier.  It’s certainly a great way to get your fitness up and if I did it again I would add a few extra nights to enjoy towns like Linz and the Wachau wine region.

With a sense of triumph I arrived in Vienna early afternoon on my sixth day of cycling. The temperature was soaring towards 40 degrees and I was feeling hot and tired.

After a long cool shower I ventured out with intention of exploring Vienna.  The heat hit me like a brick wall, I walked about 100 meters down the street before I changed my mind.  I would be coming back to Vienna in about a weeks time; it could wait.

Stopping at a small supermarket I stocked up on snacks, headed back to my air-conditioned hotel, curled-up in bed and watched movies on Netflix.

Day 1: Passau to Schlögen 44km
Day 2: Schlögen to Linz 68km
Day 3: Linz to Grein 61km
Day 4: Grein to Emmersdorf 67km
Day 5: Emmersdorf to Traismauer 57km
Day 6: Traismauer to Vienna 75km

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Europe comes to an end

We’ve now been away a total of 201 days, 177 days have been spent in Europe,

We’ve been from London to Turkey
(not New York to Rio, like Peter Allen ☺).

We’ve covered 14 countries; some we just passed through, others we explored in detail.

England / France / Italy / Serbia / Croatia / Bulgaria / Turkey / Greece / Montenegro / Slovenia / Austria / Switzerland / Germany / Spain

A few of the highights:

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Driven over 20,000km, no parking tickets or speeding fines (we know of). No car accidents – just 1 flat tyre.

Nothing lost, nothing broken and the worst illness was a stomach bug for a few days.

Cheapest accommodation: €15 a night on Leros
Most expensive: €160 a night in Paris

CPI (Coffee Price Index): most expensive €4.50 in Venice, the cheapest €0.50 in Berane, Montenegro

WCP (Wine Consumption Price): most expensive was £9 for a glass of champagne in London, the Cheapest in France (of course), €4 a bottle.

Best meal:  Hard to say, we’ve had so many; from eating a home cooked meal with the family in Guzelyurt, to fine dining at Le Gabriel in Bordeaux, enjoying the local Fête’s in France or simply cooking with fresh ingredients from the markets. I don’t think we’ve had a bad meal.

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We’ve met some wonderful people along the way. The added pleasure and delight, has been those friends and family who joined us; whether it be for a dinner, a weekend or a few weeks: Ross and Kate, Katrina, Helen and Rod, Bruce, Penny, Dale, Leeanne, Elisa and Ian, our Niece Claire and my sister Jane.

As well as visiting and enjoying the generous hospitality of the Ryan’s in Switzerland, Andrea and Margit (her Mum) in Austria, and the Brown’s in London.

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So far, the Callander capers have been amazing.

Best of all, we are still talking to each other…..most of the time!!

We still like each other!

We still like each other!

Odl lay hee hoo

We have been promising to visit St Anton and go skiing with friends Vicky and Tony for sometime. They spend the entire season here each year.

Unfortunately, it’s summer here and Vicky and Tony are back in Australia enjoying the remarkable season down there. But, here we are in St Anton!

We are excited to be catching up with Andrea (also mutual friend of V&T). Andrea’s Mum comes over from the States to hike each year with her friend Diane.

Andrea has just been in Europe cycling and holidaying in Greece with Vicky, who has been celebrating a birthday (won’t say which). Our travel plans didn’t end up coinciding with Vicky’s, so we didn’t get to celebrate with her.

St Anton is a picture perfect alpine village. Designed for skiing, it’s also a popular hiking and cycling destination in summer. The night we arrive, the local summer fair is on and we have dinner in town enjoying more Austrian music. Not as good as the Fritzens, but entertaining all the same.

I could say we went on a hike, but perhaps ‘leisurely walk’ would be a better definition. The easier trail was opted for in favour of the lesser experienced Aussie tourists. Otherwise, our three hosts would have been scaling mountains!

The weather also proved a bit of a hinderance and threatening rain shortened our walk to 3 hours.  Just as the rain was coming in, we made it back for lunch in one of the huts up the mountain for some traditional Austrian fare.

We have a fun two nights, spending most of it chatting and laughing. We play Skip-Bo; a crazy card game Andrea and Magit have recently been introduced to. It was wonderful to catch-up on Andrea’s world (as we have not seen her in 18 months), meet Magit again (the last time was at least 5 years or so ago in Australia) and meet Diane for the first time.

We very much enjoyed the simple pleasure in just hanging and relaxing with friends, old and new. So a big thank you Andrea, Magit and Diane for welcoming us, sharing your wine and food, entertaining and educating us. It was a memorable few days.

Magit grew up in Austria and her knowledge of Europe is extensive. She gives us some great tips on where to go and also, where not to go – avoid Switzerland “it’s soooo expensive, it costs you money just being there”, these are her lingering words as we bid farewell.

The scenic Arlbergstraße takes us north through the Alps, the weather is however bleak and miserable, any plans to stop and see more of the Austrian mountainside quickly fade. What we did see through the drizzle and fog looked magnificent. Hopefully we will come back through this area and we certainly have itchy feet to come skiing in St Anton.

We stop for coffee and to strategize on where we are staying tonight. With the weather looking dodgy we decide that a larger town/city will have more on offer than staying in the alps. Against the advice of Magit, we head into Switzerland deciding to make Zurich our home for two nights.

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Swarovski Kristallwelten

Swarovski is synonymous with Austria, the crystal manufacturer dates back to 1895. The factory (yes, with a shop) is not far from the Fritznerhof, the lure of a shopping opportunity is too strong.

Actually, it’s not all shopping. Kristallwelten (Crystal World), which is no doubt a marketing ploy to ensure you do end up in the gift shop, is a stunning exhibition of crystal art. It starts at the entrance; a Giants head with sparkling crystal eyes. There are 13 dazzling chambers, each designed by world famous artists and designers. The list includes Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

Of course, the experience culminates in a shopping extravaganza of Swarovski crystal products. Yes, purchases were made and we may drop in again when we have my Sister join us.