Cycling the Wachau Valley

Biking up to Durnstein

When I think of these blissful three days in April 2012 I do not conjure up scenes of colourful villages, misty vineyards, and spring orchards… although they were all well and truly present. No, I see my mum’s beaming face, with a grin that could have touched the sun itself as she cycled alongside the Danube river. I picture her with her head thrown back, squealing with joy, exclaiming at all the “negative ions” in the misty air that were nourishing her very being. Now, my mum has many moments where she shines – but travelling she is in her absolute element. I think I must have inherited this contagious love of discovery and adventure. I truly couldn’t visit too many places, or have too many experiences to ever be fulfilled enough to call it a day on my wanderlust. We are the perfect travel companions through and through.

So in saying that, I think I may have to let the pictures do most of the talking.
For me, the shared joy, wonder, and the freedom of a bicycle characterised this beautiful time together. I will forever treasure it alongside the image of my mum so delighted and enthralled with life. Together we explored little villages, cycled through abandoned vineyards, climbed ancient castle ruins, listened to the gushing river, and discussed what is important in life. We browsed charming shops, met intrepid europeans who invited us for fresh fish by the river, swayed to clanging clock towers, explored sacred Abbeys, and admired the spring flowers. As we were ahead of the tourist season, we had this most scenic of paths to ourselves. Usually filled with hundreds of cyclists a day – we did not see a single soul and were free to roam the village streets with the locals. Continue reading “Cycling the Wachau Valley”

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Vienna

Side alley walking towards St Stephen's Cathedral and it's beautiful roof

We had one of those travel disasters trying to reach Vienna (well maybe not technically classified as a disaster, but I digress). Oh, by the way, this was April 2012, we are very behind on the blog!

Apparently the central station in Budapest hasn’t quite caught up with the times. There was one ticket office for the throngs of impatient crowds clamouring for their much needed train, and the most inefficient system to deal with the punters. Despite masterminding our car rental return outside the station with an hour and a half to spare, we were waiting with gritted teeth and white knuckles in the queue of all queues until there was just one person left in front of us. The problem was by then our train left in five ‘evil’ minutes. Of course the person in front of us seemed to occupy all the time between now and eternity, and we missed our train by a whisker.

I sulked in the corner and swore under my breath for a substantial amount of time before we lugged our suitcases on a two-hour grand tour back in to Budapest whilst we waited for the next train. In hindsight, perhaps that two-hour lugg-a-thon was not a complete waste of time, as during my pit of misery, my self esteem was low enough to make my first birkenstock purchase – a life-changing move. So maybe I should thank that dodgy ticket counter. Continue reading “Vienna”

Salzburg & Berchtesgaden

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Salzburg…. a changing of the guards! Salzburg marked the place where Joel was due to take off for London overnight for a job interview (which he was successful at obtaining against all odds – go Joel!). It was also the marked meeting point of my mum joining us on our onward travels. So it was for me, both sad and happy…and I was left to my own devices for two days to explore this Austrian city in full!

Blessed as we were with the weather during our Austrian National Park adventures, I was not so lucky in Salzburg! I soon discovered that my canvas shoes were a sponge, and my accommodation wanted to charge me to borrow a falling apart umbrella! Despite this, I took on the challenge of solo-explorer with gusto! It was certainly a different experience travelling by myself as I had two full days to do as I pleased.

So after dropping Joel off at the airport in Salzburg, I had to find our accommodation ‘solo’. I think my hands were shaking at the wheel as I drove the highway and navigated the exit by myself. When I arrived I said an audible “thank God!” and checked in, wondering how to travel alone. When I accepted Joel was actually gone I hired a bike and berated the receptionist for information (who didn’t seem to know much about her city at all!). Inspired by Maria & the Von Trap family singers, I thought I would follow in their footsteps! Continue reading “Salzburg & Berchtesgaden”

Innsbruck

Riverside mansions

So inspired by the mountains and in pursuit of more we set out for a town called Innsbruck. We knew that this place was surrounded from every corner with mountains however once we arrived we were quite in awe with the size and magnitude of these colossal towers that held guard over the city. They certainly cast an early shadow over the town and its people as we found out later that day.

The car ride there was quite magical as we both couldn’t stop imagining all the mountains at winter time strewn with snow. We imagined the locals skiing down through the trees and at one point even becoming locals here. So beautiful you would want to stay. It was with these sights and our imagination full that we vowed to return to Austria during the winter. However it was summer this time.

Upon arriving at Innsbruck the first thing we noticed was that down each alley way you could always catch a glimpse of the mountains that surrounded the city. It gave you both a feeling of security and feeling lost in some recluse town. Our first port of call was ‘the golden roof’ which is quite famous and equally impressive. It is a roof that is made entirely of gold. It had some massive historical story behind it but um, can’t remember. Something about a family fighting against another and then a victory to someone.. Continue reading “Innsbruck”

Hohe Tauern National Park

moooooo!!

Our arrival at Hohe Tauern National Park signalled the ‘pinnacle’ of our European travels so far (for us!). We absolutely milked every second from this beautiful place on planet Earth, and hit the pillow with an almighty thud at night! It would definitely not top the list of most travellers headed up through Austria, but it caught our eye on the map and we duly afforded it some research. What ensued was an enthusiastic professed passion from Joel to extend the itinerary in this region. As Joel is not the most vocal of travel planners (if you could call him a travel planner) I knew it must be important and booked 4 days in the area staying in a little chalet in the village of Kaprun.

Kaprun was beautiful, a small winter ski village with a towering mountain which had enough snow on the glacier to ski year round! What was truly the icing on the cake, was the free access to the Zell am See/Kaprun spa complex, which was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We actually spent most of the first visit with our mouths agape, wrapped in our lavish robes, soaking in the salt infused outdoor heated pool staring up at the mountains. After long days hiking in the alps, this was a sacred haven, and probably the first time in our lives that we have ever felt rich and expensive! Continue reading “Hohe Tauern National Park”

Oberdrauburg & the Drau Cycle Path

Drau cycle path

The next place that we stayed certainly can’t be rhymed with any English word that I am aware of; Oberdrauburg, Austria.

Yet again, it must be stated that our journey to this town was a highlight in itself. It is hard to count the amount of times that Lauren & I have been left speechless and crossing the border into Austria was no exception. The hills turned to mountains that then gave way to snow-capped giants that towered over the towns below. I could feel an Austrian mountain yodel rising up within me as I have longed to see the famous Dolomite mountain range in all its glory. Thousands of hectares of untouched, uninhabitable ranges that leave you in awe as to how they have spiked their way up through the earth trying to compete for the highest honours. Our eyes were treated to this magnificent beauty and it felt almost too much to absorb and take in at once.

Which such beautiful company at my right (Lauren) and left (mountains) it made the drive not only feel short but most enjoyable. Like many of the quaint towns that dotted our journey Oberdrauburg had its own church spire to make clear its town centre.  The Big O as we affectionately nicknamed it, is a town of very few residents and was chosen to act as our home-base to launch from for the next day’s cycling tour that would almost tip us over the border and into Italy! We had seen ads all about for the upcoming tour-de-france and thus we were feeling as though we could embrace the European cycling culture and knock over our 55km goal the next day on the Drau Cycle path.

We were staying at Gastof Post and they happened to have two brilliant bicycles that we borrowed for the day gratis. Thanks Gastof! We jumped on the train at Oberdrauburg (with a special cabin to transport bikes) and journeyed up to Sillian with the hundreds of others who would take up the challenge to travel back to their respective hostels to rest their weary bodies. Sillian is a small town that is only 5.5km from the Italian boarder, so we were a little tempted to skip the cycling back into the heart of Austria and go the other direction 20minutes into Italy for a lunch time pizza. That temptation was quickly put to bed when we saw the numerous others who were all out enjoying themselves and cycling their hearts out along the Drau cycle path. Were were passed along the path by big pelotons of serious cycling fanatics, European families who were obviously fitter than us and those who seemed to have one track mind to get to the end. We were a little more leisurely by taking in the views of the Dolomites that towered above us, watching locals pick fresh strawberries from their farms, frequent snack stops to enjoy a twix and also stopping at an unexpected car-show out the front of the Loacker chocolate factory. Although I would love to paint the picture of Lauren and I cycling 55km’s over enormous mountain ranges and finishing with complete six-packs from the fitness, this was not quite the case. The cycle was mostly flat with a few challenging hills and many adrenaline rushing moments flying downhill! So, with the many stops to gawk at the scenary factored in we still completed it in a respectable time of just over 6hours. As we arrived back to the Big O we felt very satisfied with our efforts and felt at one with the Austrian Alps. There was even a few moments where the yodel that I felt rise up in me the day before escaped and I expressed my satisfaction to the mountains for their beauty.

Something unique about traveling that you don’t usually get the opportunity to do in everyday life is change your plans at the last minute. We happened to be driving along (again on the way to Oberdrauburg) and we saw perched up on a mountain a formidable and impressive Castle. It simply needed to be checked out. We took a swift turn off the Auto-Bahn (which our TomTom did not agree with at all) and followed some signs to the Landskron Castle. What an impressive structure. We walked around it’s walls and learnt a little about the history of the castle that dated back to the 9th Century (I won’t bore you with those details here though). We enjoyed the view from the top of the castle and had our first Austrian culinary experience by ordering some soups which we weren’t entirely sure what it included. We are still not to sure, however all that needs to be said is that it was delicious! We said farewell to the falcons (yes, they have a massive caged area full of flesh-eating falcons) and the ancient walls and continued our journey to Oberdrauburg.

Many more highlights were had in our time around the Big O including a delicious dinner in Lienz (schnitzel of course) and seeing many Austrians at a local beer garden in their traditional clothing dancing and chinging big half-litre glasses of their finest Ale. It was so how you would expect the Austrians to act and for once the cliche was actually true. We were also entertained by the local Oberdrauburg orchestra that put on an open air performace in the square one night. The Austrians love a good tune and beer, that is for sure. Well done Oberdrauburg. Thank you for the memories, we must now move in to Kaprun, a small ski-village that is be our base for hikes through the Hohe Tauern National Park.

Castle views
Castle views
First Austian beer at the Castle
First Austian beer at the Castle
The mighty Landskron Castle
The mighty Landskron Castle
The beginning of the Drau cycle path
The beginning of the Drau cycle path
Local farms and their hay stacks
Local farms and their hay stacks
Car show out the front of the chocolate factory
Car show out the front of the chocolate factory
Mountain huts
Mountain huts
Riding along the Drau II
Riding along the Drau II
No hands. Very clever babe!
No hands. Very clever babe!
Passing through a small village
Passing through a small village
My beautiful wife!
My beautiful wife!
On of the many bridge crossings
On of the many bridge crossings
Riding through the streets of Lienz
Riding through the streets of Lienz
Riding along the Drau I
Riding along the Drau I
Taking a rest with the Dolomites behind
Taking a rest with the Dolomites behind
Sculpture celebrating the cycle path
Sculpture celebrating the cycle path
The might Gastof Post!
The might Gastof Post!
Open air orchestra performance
Open air orchestra performance
First Austrian Schnitzel. What a winner!
First Austrian Schnitzel. What a winner!