Danube Detour: Eisenstadt to the Vienna Woods

IMG_20170520_185716On Saturday, the 20th, the forecast called for stiff headwinds and colder temperatures, so I was not sure how long the day’s ride would take. Only 67 km, but riding uphill 400 m into the wind had me worried. Rain was supposed to start after dark, so I was sure that I could have my campsite pitched and ready in time, regardless of how slowly I rode.

DSCN3653I changed from shorts to my Tangoworld® long pants and a winter cycling jersey, which proved a wise choice. The wind blew directly out of the west at 19-20 knots, gusting to 30 knots for the first 50 km, as I crossed the fertile fields on the eastern edge of Lower Austria. In the distance, I could see a snow-capped peak, telling me that my lazy days in the flat lands were over. Soon, I would be climbing into the Alps. By the time I reached the relative shelter of the Vienna Woods (meaning that the hills began blocking some of the wind), my body and my bicycle were covered with a thin layer of topsoil. DSCN3654Fortunately, the route was easy to follow, using the Thermen Radweg (R12) and Eurovelo 9. No challenge except the wind, until I turned onto the Triestingtal Radweg (R42), which was the bike path that would take me into the hills to the Paradise Garden Campground near the town of Kaumberg. Most of the 400-m climb was in those last 17 km. Following the Triesting River, I was treated to an isolated ride at a gentle grade except for two places, where the path left the river to climb a cliff that plunged into the stream. DSCN3657The first climb was a surprise, because it was around a curve and unmarked. I shifted into my lowest gear. In that gear, my progress was so slow that I was afraid of falling over as I forced myself up the path for 500 meters. At the top, I found a sign indicating that the downhill was a 15% grade! The next challenge had a 10% sign before it, so I dismounted and pushed the bike and its load up the two climbs on that cliff.

DSCN3656All along the Treistingtal Radweg, I heard birds and the rushing of the mountain river over countless rocks and falls. Rarely did I hear the traffic on Route 18 paralleling us, and then only when the bike route meandered into a town to run alongside the highway. The only smells came from trees, flowers, and occasionally, mulch and compost.

DSCN3658Paradise Garden was almost the ideal campground, and a rarity for Europe. “Camping” in Europe almost exclusively involves RV’s, motor homes, rented bungalows and cabins. Tents are allowed almost as an afterthought, and some campgrounds won’t even allow guests to pitch a tent. The key amenities are swimming pools, proximity to the Autobahn, shopping, and family entertainment (usually a big playground on the campground, or an amusement park nearby). Paradise Garden was nestled in the hills and woods at the end of a dead-end road, a full kilometer from the nearest restaurant and nowhere near shopping or entertainment. IMG_20170520_185739The only noise came from the flock of sheep that the owner’s granddaughter seemed to tend, along with what looked like an older brother or her father. With her blond pigtails flopping over her quilted jacket, she looked like a two-legged border collie as she chased the animals, some bigger than she, across the driveway from their fenced pasture to the barn for the night. Except for the lights illuminating the property, it was as close to nature as I have ever found in a European campground. I was glad that I had stopped for a big pizza before entering the valley, because there was no food to be had at night in the area. I worked on the enclosed porch of the main building until 2100, when it began to drizzle lightly. I fell asleep snug in my tent with the sound of the rain on the fabric, punctuated by an occasional bleat from the barn.

DSCN3655Sunday, I lazed in my sleeping bag until the rain stopped. The campground had no store, but the owner sold me a liter of milk for my muesli breakfast, and agreed to keep it in the refrigerator for me. That covered breakfast on Monday, too. I caught up some blog articles on the enclosed porch while the tent dried. I rode to the nearest town in the valley (Altenmarkt), where the Dornaustübe restaurant boasted bison burgers. I was intrigued, and in spite of a couple of wrong turns and the fact that the entrance was hidden away from the highway, I managed to find the place just about dinnertime, 1800. IMG_20170521_182649They did specialize in bison burgers, so I ordered the one with chili cheese. It was spicy and delicious, and went very well with a half-liter of Ottakringer beer. I added a plate of fries and a dessert that might be called a sundae: fruit salad topped with vanilla ice cream.

The front that was supposed to come over the Vienna Woods on Wednesday seemed to be coming early. With my camping kit dry, I decided not to camp again on the way to Vienna, lest I find myself in the hostel in Vienna for a week with a wet tent and ground cloth. Monday morning, everything finished drying nicely in the sun as I broke camp, packed and had breakfast. Instead of riding to the NaturCamp at Sulz-im-Wienerwald as I had planned (32 km), I decided to book a room for two nights in the Hostel Hütteldorf, 65 km away, but only 11 km from downtown Vienna. I knew that I could be safely indoors before the rain arrived.

This beautiful day started with a blistering downhill ride on Route 18 all the way to the valley. The highway took me flying through all the cute towns of the day before yesterday in less than an hour! A gentle wind from the northeast had replaced the westerly gale of Saturday, and the sun felt warm on my legs and arms as I rode north on the Eurovelo 9 toward Vienna. DSCN3659The bike path followed a very long irrigation canal through the heart of the farming country, crossing rivers, autobahns, and railways without a detour. Well, almost: I was stunned by one tunnel under a highway, which led to a blind right-angle turn into a stairway! Just so we would know it was not an oversight, the builders had provided ramps for pushing our bikes. This time, I almost lost my footing under the weight.

IMG_20170522_195712I was impressed to see how much dense agriculture thrived only 15 km from the big city. I left the bike path in Mödling, where my route went northwest, away from Vienna. From there, OsmAnd software led me zigzagging through backroads in quiet neighbourhoods to the town of Hütteldorf, which is the last stop on the metro west from the capital. The last 100 meters went straight up, but I rode all the way to the gates. The hostel turned out to be a modern, well-equipped and traditional youth hostel on a lovely park-like property. IMG_20170523_130456I locked my bike outside, because the front of the building had a long, broad portico that protected the bike racks from the weather. After settling in, I walked back down the hill to the Spar supermarket for breakfast staples and had supper at the Tirolea Alm, a traditional Austrian restaurant. Goulash and peppersteak with a half-liter mug of Gössner. I turned in early, resolving to do laundry and write on Tuesday. None of my roommates snored, happily. The rain came during the night.

IMG_20170523_130540In the morning, I slept in and read for a while, then delivered a job that had been requested the day before. The overcast cleared out by 1300, but I knew that the rain would be back that night. I did the laundry and took a walk into historic Hütteldorf. The people in these suburbs have not taken out all the woods in spreading out from the capital. The place still looks like a town in the Vienna Woods, which stretch from the Danube to the ridge next to where I spent the weekend. The window of our room looked out on a thick wood, with a neatly tended clearing containing platforms for sunbathing and a metal sculpture. I could hear traffic during the workday, but not see it or smell it.

Next, I will be riding to Vienna to spend a week sightseeing, hanging out with Daniel, and going to concerts: including one or two by the University of Illinois Chorus on tour.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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