Sunday

Austria













Passau is a beautiful city with much to arrest the attention. It is comfortable, cosmopolitan and relaxed and I would like to return here when I have more time to enjoy it. I haven't spent a great deal of time looking at 'sights' partly due to time constraints and partly because it is no way to get to know a country since you spend your time mixing with other travellers. I'm pleased to say I made an exeption to this in the case of the Dom St' Stephen in Passau: what an extraordinary building. The outside grabs your attention from the off with it's onion domed towers but it is the inside that staggers - it is the hight of Baroque and then some. The sound of my jaw hitting the stunningly tiled floor was drowned out by the 'biggest organ in the world', the cocophony of sound and vision overwhelming. To try and describe the experience is way beyond my capabilities so I will just post the photos I took and hope they convey some of it's splendour.




We left Passau and Germany by crossing the river Inn which flows down at a great rate from the Alps.

Looking back to Germanyand forward to Austria And so, entered Austria.

videoSun 8th June. Outside the Pizzaria Casa Vecchia, Ottensheim.
We're staying just outside this little town in the wierdest campsite in all Austria (well I hope it is!). The pitches are dark and overhung with too many trees, and people seem to be living in semi-derelict caravans surrounded by small, obsesively trimmed box hedges and gardens full of gnomes. The roofs of the caravans clearly no longer waterproof, they have errected canopies over them in order to keep out the rain. Our fellow campers look like 1970's holidaying Russians - Speedos, almost completely hidden by beer bellies, tattoos and long, lank hair tied up in pony tails, and the men look bad too. They don't seem overly pleased to see us and I'm sure they're watching us through the net curtains. Trips to the spider infested hell-hole laughingly called the Shower Block will be kept to a bare minimum.



Glad to escape, we walk into the little town of Ottensheim and what a surprise: it couldn't be more different. A smart, pleasing town with a chic little market - expensive clothes, pottery, glass. There are bars and cafes dotted around the square so of course - we go for a beer and then end up in a Pizzaria with great food and really good service; we sit outside and have a lovely time. But all good things have to come to an end and as it begins to get dark we head back to Royston Vasey and the gardens full of 'precious things' We lock the doors securely!

Barking at the Moon (cloud formation on the way back to the campsite)

Mon 9th June
It was to be a short ride today since we are well ahead of schedule but I set off from our weird campsite at Ottensheim early, little knowing what a strange day it was to be. After long discussions and much thought I’d decided not to visit the site of the camp at Mauthausen as it would have put a cloud over the final part of the trip. Within the first few miles I got a puncture, which was easily mended at the roadside and I head towards Linz. I thought I might get some late breakfast in Linz but it turned out to be an unprepossessing place in a heavily industrialised area so I pushed on and got another puncture………in Mauthausen;


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I change the tube – again, buy a new one from a bike shop, just in case, and resume my journey, only to discover I’ve left my sunglasses behind. It’s just not my day! On the road again and the Danube accompanies me through some beautiful, wooded countryside and after 50 miles I reach our destination for the day: Grein.
A small, agreeable town, Grein sits on a bend in the Danube below steeply wooded hills and as I arrive the sun is beaming down. Phil, Jenny and I have a light lunch, pop into town to do a bit of shopping for dinner and have a cooling beer and then, as we walk home Bang! I didn’t know what it was at first – the bang was loud, and then the pain struck me. Though I’d been on the pavement, the wing mirror of a passing van had smashed into my arm; God knows what the driver was doing but he must have been almost on the footpath. The wing mirror bounces down the road as Phil sets off on foot after the van and with great presence of mind gets a photo of the number plate. At this, the van stops. The driver comes over and wants to take me to the doctor, I’m persuaded to go. Somehow, and my memory of events is a bit hazy, I end up in an ambulance being attended to by two cheerful young guys who turn out to be utterly brilliant;
they take me to a doctor and then on to the hospital 30kms away in Amstetten for Xray. The two lads – Markus and Dominik remain with me the whole time, doing the translations when necessary and going through the paperwork. We laugh and joke and learn a little about each other’s lives and we become friends for the day. After a short time I’m told by Ralf, the duty doctor, that nothing is broken and I’m bandaged up and allowed to go. Back in the ambulance we return to Grein; a short interview at the police station follows and then back to our camp site, still in the ambulance. Everyone involved treated me with great good humour and kindness and I hope they read this and accept my thanks; I wish you all good fortune.
So, here I am, the following morning, bandaged from wrist to armpit, looking like a trainee mummy. I took some mega pain killers last night which knocked me out cold and this morning I’m feeling rested and fit (if a little sore). I will give the bike a brief ride round the campsite later to see how it feels and all being well, will set off again tomorrow. In the meantime I’m going to sit in the sun, eat, drink and generally have a lazy day.

Wed 11th June 15.30

Klosterstuberl restaurant, Krems, Austria.

Something extraordinary has just happened: I’ve just had the worst meal of the trip so far. Yes. Even by Austrian standards it was utterly dismal. We are in Krems, or at least we think we are – we might be in Stien – the place seems to have two names. This is obviously a cunning ploy to confuse the hell out of any foreigners that might stumble in to the place so they can do unspeakable things to them with sausages.
We’ve already spent what feels like days walking round the place in a futile attempt to find the centre and it starts to rain so the water fills our shoes and creeps up our trouser legs as far as our pants. A smart woman comes out of an office,
“You’re obviously a lady that speaks good English,” I say, giving her my most winning smile, “We’re looking for a really good restaurant for lunch.”
“What sort of Restaurant?” She says, without troubling the smile muscles.
“Oh I don’t mind: German, Italian, Chinese, Indian, anything really.”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t know.” She says and walks off!
What the hell was that about?
Eventually we find a reasonable looking place and we’re taken through to a kind of covered courtyard, or shed, at the back. We are seated next to a table of four Austrians who spend the next half hour amusing themselves at our expense and our order is grudgingly taken by the supercilious owner. The food arrives. Mine is a lake of slurry masquerading as Goulash, with some strange and thankfully tasteless things that may be dumplings or they may be potato cakes or, well, who knows what they might be. Jenny has chicken that she thought was fish; and Phil plumps for the safety of indistinguishable cheese wrapped in plastic ham in a pool of ersatz mayonnaise. Service, and I use the term wrongly, is by an obese and surly girl of about twenty five with an I.Q. to match, who tells us they don’t have any beer, they don’t have any coke, and the only wine they have is some fizzy garbage – probably local – the advantage of which, being that at least we won’t have to drink it anywhere else. 5 minutes later she walks past us carrying a tray of beers for some locals in an adjacent shed. It is at this point we decide exactly how small her tip is going to be……..exactly nothing
Here’s a photo of the front of the place so that should you ever find yourself in Krems (and I strongly recommend that you don’t), you won’t be tempted to try it.

Austria's worst restaurant.........So far!




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Thurs' 12 th June 2008
We’re camped just 8 miles outside Vienna at a small town called Klosterneuburg – or Colostomy Bag as Phil likes to call it. My arrival here was a triumph of navigation; or it may have simply been that the campsite is right next to the Danube Cycle-path. I cycle through the gates and on my right, I’m delighted to discover, is a bar. The downside to this is that it appears to be full of English football supporters yawping at the telly. I find Myfanwy and Phil tells me I don’t know what I’m on about – England aren’t even in the European Cup. I return to the bar and sure enough; no-one’s been sick and no-one’s dead – they’re Polish – noisy, but jolly. We sit and have a beer to ‘celebrate’ my arrival but my only emotion is a vague feeling of confusion and certainly not one of elation or achievement. Ah well: the beer’s good!
I get a text from Chris and Lucy saying they’ll arrive today which they duly do and I’m very pleased to see them. Brilliant though Phil and Jenny have been, after 3 weeks together it’s really nice to have someone else to talk to.

Fri' 13th June

Well, today is the day. Phil, Jenny and I take the train out to Vienna airport to meet Becky, Neil, Jane, Nick & Jenny off the plane. I'm thrilled to see them all and Becky doesn't let go of me for about an hour. Back in the City we drop off the bags and decide what to do next. I decide I'd like to get the final 8 miles into Vienna over with so I head back out to Klosterneuburg with Chris to put on my kit and collect the bike.



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Heading out to the campsite with Chris for the final ride into Vienna
Having forgotten her contact lenses, Becky welcomes me into Vienna WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! WE MADE IT! Phil and Jenny - no doubt looking forward to some time on their own!Now this may not look much from the outside, but believe me: this is one of the world's great bars!We found it by accident; turning up at about one in the morning. Getting the drinks I noticed someone was eating pizza. Starving, we asked if we could buy some. The girl behind the counter said no, but she could do us a cold meat platter if that would be any good. Well of course it would! The meats are freshly sliced. There are cheeses, breads and olives all accompanied by a very palatable Rioja and do you know; I think we may even have had a second bottle. Ah yes I remember now: we did have a second bottle because I remember seeing it rolling about the table between the fourth and fifth bottles.
“What time do you close?” I ask.
“Four”.
Four! I think for a moment I’ve died and gone to heaven, but then realise I can’t have done – we have to pay for the drinks.
The girl behind the bar is chatty, the customers are chatty too, it all feels a long way removed from the grizzly food and the surly bird that served us in Krems.
We slurred our goodnights and headed back to the hotel. It will come as no surprise that we made a return visit the next night,


I can't believe it: after all these miles here I am, sitting with Becky opposite the university of Vienna where Hans Asperger worked. It's a beautiful day and we're forcing down coffe and cakes in the interests of research. it's hard work, but sadly we have to do it!

Here's Becky researching hard!Here are some more pics I'll write more soon and take a load more pictures but here's a few to be going on with:


Blogging at the cafe.
The palace of Emporor Franz Josef.A rare drinking picture.Another rare drinking picture 'The Strudel Eaters' by David 'Van' Stead.


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Team Vienna, on location
WE LOVE VIENNA!

Sunday 15th Jun

This morning Chris and Lucy climbed onto their motorbike and shot off in the direction of Salzburg, and this afternoon the rest of our party: Becky, Neil, Jane, Nick & Jenny, all left for the airport. It was hard, I think for all of us, to say goodbye, and now I’m feeling a little lonely and deflated. Phil, Jenny and I are back at the campsite in Klosternueburg, which is absolutely heaving with football supporters – mostly German – over for the European cup. I think it will be a noisy night! The city of Vienna is also alive with supporters chanting and shouting and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many police in one place, though it’s sometimes hard to tell which are the police since they have extraordinarily varied uniforms and very few of them seem to fit the wearers; often being bunched up at the waist so that they look like so many refuse bags on bin collection day. This, coupled with the fact that they carry guns, makes you feel as though you’ve somehow tipped up in South America.
I think the plan for tomorrow is to follow Chris and Lucy’s example and head out towards Salzburg, listen to a little Mozart, and perhaps, perhaps, get a flight home. I feel that now the job is done; there is little point in my staying on here. I think too that Jenny and Phil would probably like some time to themselves to wander and explore. I’ve often been asked – and indeed wondered myself – how I would feel, if and when I reached Vienna. Would I be happy or sad? Would I have a sense of achievement? I felt none of these things – I felt nothing, except perhaps, something of a fraud when people congratulated me. I don’t know why this should be since I have just cycled from Darlington to Vienna. Maybe it’s because each day was broken down into small chunks: ride to the roundabout, to the next corner, to the house in the distance. So that it never seemed like I was riding a long way; and in my head that’s the way it has remained.
I feel a fraud because I didn’t think about it properly.

Mon 16th June 09.30

We are, albeit in a round- about way, on our way home. We’ve just left Klosterneuburg bound for the main, A1 road to Salzburg on a warm and sunny morning. If there is one thing this trip has done for me, it’s taught me never to buy Satnav; the thing is a menace and my advice would be to get a good map. Whereas with a map, Phil and Jenny only have two way disagreements; with Satnav it becomes a three-way argument: the calm, modulated voice of electronic reason shoving in her twopenny-worth at every juncture:
“In two………hundred metres…turn………left”.
“In three……hundred metres leave the roundabout second……….exit”.
“At the junction keep……..quiet”.
“When leaving toilet wipe……..bottom”.
I may join in later and we can have four part disharmony.
As we drive, the landscape begins to change: after the flat, floodplain of the Danube valley we are now travelling through undulating countryside, possibly the foothills to the foothills of the Alps. The valleys are planted with wheat and corn, and the hillsides are thickly wooded. Dotted around are small villages of Alpine-style houses with steep, red tiled roofs, balconies and colourful window boxes full of Geraniums. Some of the hilltops are surmounted by castles, or ‘schloss’, well sited to keep an eye on the local peasantry and ensure they’re not overindulging in the local bier, or spending to much time at the mirror, snipping away at the bizarre facial hair that seems popular in these parts. Of course they’d have to keep an eye on the men too.
Travelling through Austria in Myfanwy is a very different experience to doing so by bike: the place seems normalised, less foreign; the hills and the character simultaneously ironed out. The emotions so keenly felt as I looked into the eyes of oddly wary villagers when I passed, are now completely absent as we hurtle along the autobahn. The heavily scented, wind rustled woodland I cycled through is now a still from a film or a photograph. We pass Tulln and Krems, we pass Amstetten, where I spent an evening in the hospital, Grein, Mauthausen, Linz, All places I’ve tasted, touched and experienced, now reduced to glimpsed names on roadside signs. The distance between me and home has been massively reduced by the familiarity of the motorway. White Van Man and the Doppler Effect exist here too!
My feeling is one of relief, mixed with regret – I’m at the beginning of understanding that something has been completed.
Now the skyline is saw-edged with distant, cloud touched mountains and we are in a place I don’t know.

Mon 13.50

Driving along the shores of Lakes Attersee & Wolfgangsee, the water is the most spectacular shade of green. The mountains, and bare, vertical rock faces rise to almost 6000ft from the shores and we must drive through a long and brightly lit tunnel in order to continue our journey. This is classic Alpine country as seen on tv.




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Tues 17th June Salzburg
My final full day in Austria – I’m getting a flight home at 20.00 tomorrow - Wed. I’ve spent the morning doing my washing and drying and I’m now in a smart café in Salzburg which is one of the few that has wireless internet connection. The young guy that is serving me is excellent and has very good English, the food is fresh and modern – Bruschetta with tomato & cheese, Smoked salmon, prosciutto, and I’ve had coffee and two small beers for 13 euros. What a change from the usual stuff. I’m going for a look around the Altstadt to see what I can see.

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Wed 18th June Salzburg

My final day in Austria. We breakfast early and head off in Myfanwy to look at Hellbrunn Palace, a strange and interesting place, it has water gardens which are designed to squirt the unwary.......we all got wet!
Leaving Phil and Jenny to continue their journey was very strange. We'd been together almost a month and in very close proximity. I could think of nothing to say to them that would adaquately convey how gratefull I am for the way they treated me; I still can't. So, once again: Thank you Phil, thank you Jenny. See you when you get back. X X

On the subject of Jenny: as well as thanking her I must also congratulate her on her selfless dedication to researching both German and Austrian cake. Few would have had the stamina and determination to keep going, but keep going she did and I'm sure when she gets round to writing up her findings it will be a learned tome indeed. Here she is outside a cake shop in southern Germany, about to put in a spot of work whilst Phil, ever concious of his figure, refuses to enter the cafe.


And here we see Jenny at her laboursHaving taken on the Austrian Strudel mountain, she was not found wantingThe Austrians have a strange sense of humour, but this was taking things too far: a cruel joke.
Wed 18th June 15.45

So, here I am at Salzburg airport It’s almost four ‘o’ clock and my plane leaves at eight. I’ve already been here for three quarters of an hour and it seems like a week. This is a very tiny airport – one coffee shop and people are smoking in there and no chance of missing the check-in desk. I sit surrounded by people, most of whom are English and who’s average age far exceeds my own, showing that Austria is not a destination sought out by the young – no surprise there!
After aeons of sitting around my flight is called and we all shuffle forward for the humiliation of having our bags emptied in public. I’m also told to remove my belt which is a worrying moment since I’ve lost so much weight my jeans don’t fit any more; I have a vision of myself standing in front of the table containing the detritus of a traveller’s life with my trousers round my ankles.
videoThe flight itself is great: the sky is clear and we skirt the northern edge of the magnificent snow capped Alps; a sight I first saw twenty five yeas ago and which has stayed with me ever since. We turn north, flying over France and the Channel and within no time we are fastening our seat belts for the descent into a cloud covered Gatwick, arriving at 20.50 local time. The journey from Salzburg takes 1hr 50mins. It now takes me 3hrs to cross London and I finally arrive at my friend’s flat at twenty past midnight. Bob bungs a pizza in the oven and we’re soon devouring it with salad and a couple of bottles of red.


Euston: a different pace of life.


Thurs 19th June 12.38

Feeling quite bright this morning considering the long day yesterday; I was up early-ish and I’m now on the train to Leeds – passing through Grantham to be precise. I texted Phil and Jenny this morning and they are enjoying fine weather in Innsbruck which sounds great but I’m glad to be back in England and very much looking forward to getting home.


On the final leg to Leeds