From Prague, Sandra and I rode south to Linz, Austria to meet up with Jordana who had just arrived from D.C. On the way to Austria we encountered our first real hills and enjoyed the new scenery that came along with them. Upon entering Austria we climbed steadily then were greatly rewarded with a 15 km downhill that eventually led us to the Danube river.
The three of us then followed the super highway of bicycle tourists to Vienna. Grafittied walls and bridges greeted us as we rode into the lavish, bustling and diverse city. Baroque architecture, sculptures and gardens, lively ethnic neighborhoods and cheap eats – LOVE Vienna!!!
At the markets we slowly masticated, savored and made full-mouthed sounds of approval: Turkish treats of dates, lightly pickled tiny yellow squash, baby red bell peppers and figs all stuffed with a mild Danish cheese. We discovered diced dried coconut – moist and perfect for an energy snack. In Nasch Market we walked by a glass case showcasing a plate of pork shanks – perfectly cured and/or roasted – either way, prepared to perfection. On the wall was a photo of said pig part on a plate with mustard and cabbage. I pointed to the photo and did my best pronouncing the German words on the sign. What I received was not this simply prepared plate, but a pork leg in a bag. Maybe the sign said “serving suggestion” because when I inquired after the mustard and cabbage all I received was a curt shake of the head. Oh well! I stuck my hand in the bag and dug in – greasy, salty, crunchy and moist – pig at it’s finest! We all partook in the decadent swine then walked down the street to a Viennese coffee house. Famed for their rude service and excellent espresso, we had to experience it first hand – our server was actually very polite and the coffee was indeed delish! In Vienna we also met Michael – a filmmaker and traveller who offered us his living room and the pleasure of his company our second night in Vienna. A gem of a human – I hope our paths cross again soon – this winter in the Austrian Alps perhaps!
From Vienna we headed south and spent our first night in a harvested field of rapseed – used o make rap oil – do we have this in the US? Our second night while pedaling though a beautiful valley we stopped at what we thought was a gas station to inquire about camping in the area. It was actually not a gas station but an emission test center and the English speaker of the group of guys preparing to leave for the night shyly smiled at our inquiry, gestured, and said “come with me.” He walked us around to the back and offered us the grassy space behind the shop – perfect! We made veggie soup and had sponge cake given to us by our ‘host’ for dessert.
From here we rode south, up an 8.5km hill, then down down down to Pinggau where we ate lunch on the steps of a church and were befriended by a playful and purring kitty.
After lunch we headed back out to highway 54. Sandra was powering that day and was way ahead of Jordana and I. We saw a trail to the left and decided to get off of the highway for safety and sanity. Before we knew it the trail had veered to the left and the highway to the right. We lost Sandra. Haven’t I learned by now to never split up???!!! In these cell phone times a ‘just in case’ plan is rarely made and as cell phones weren’t an option we had to resort to the old school: we emailed. We eventually connected the next morning and found out that we had ended up about 40km away from each other the previous night. Sandra in the end decided to keep heading south towards Venice where she flies out in a little more than a week. We knew we would be saying good bye soon, but this was not in the original or the back up plan! It was a splendid journey while it lasted… bon voyage, Sandra!!!
Jordana and I actually ended up following nearly the same route as Sandra but we are a day or two behind. We wove our way up and down through Austrian wine country, found all the small family wineries to be closed but were rewarded with more and more gorgeous views with each switchback.
We had resigned ourselves to the views of wine country even if we didn’t get to experience traditional buschenshank http://www.wineandfoodtravel.com/travel/visits-to-styrian-buschenschanken/ that the state of Styria is known for. Then, around 5pm, while riding west along the mur river which borders Slovenia and Austria, we spotted an unassuming place across from what looked like a community garden in Misselsdorf. It had a couple tables outside and looked like a nice place to have a glass of wine or beer before finding a spot to camp for the night. We tried in vain to decipher the chalkboard outside and inside the hostess, a tough-looking woman in her 70’s wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a simple gingham apron around her waist explained to us the deal – we didn’t quite get it, but we did gather that a bottle of riesling made less than 20km away was 5.50€ mit wassen (with mineral water). We went for that and thought we had possibly ordered food as well, but weren’t sure. We sat ourselves at the end of a table outside occupied by two Austrian couples. We poured ourselves our spritzer (wine and mineral water – that’s how they drink it!) and settled in. It turned out that we hadn’t in fact ordered any food but we eventually got our buschenschank of house raised and cured meats served with sliced hard boiled egg, pickles, freshly grated horseradish and bread. We ate, drank and soon made friends with our non-English speaking table mates. They bought us shots of plum and cherry schnapps (local of course), we got a tour of the pig pens and beehives, shared wine with the chef/butcher/beekeeper/ farmer, Franz and eventually, sometime after midnight, stumbled back to the campingplatz that our new retiree friends call home every summer. A memorable last night in Austria.
Now in Maribor, home of the world’s oldest producing grape vine – more than 400 years old – we spent a relaxing morning lounging in the shade by our tents then ventured into town in the early afternoon. We toured a wine cellar larger than two soccer fields with more than 3km of corridors built from 1816 to 1840 under the city center. We tasted wine, ate a huge lunch, drank coffee while trying to wait out a rainstorm and eventually gave up and rode our bikes back to our campground in the rain at sunset.
Tasting wine at the Vinag tasting room above the cellars. Really, really great sauvignon blanc, riesling, muscat and cuvee. All the grapes come from the hillsides surrounding the city.
One of the largest barrels in the cellar – almost 17,000 liters!
Awesome guy, Rok, who works at Vinag, filling plastic water bottles with wine straight from the barrels!
Our bikes waiting for us while we try and wait out the rain – with wine bottles in water bottle cages. Perf!