Monthly Archives: July 2012

Austria to Slovenia

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.

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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.

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One of the largest barrels in the cellar – almost 17,000 liters!

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Awesome guy, Rok, who works at Vinag, filling plastic water bottles with wine straight from the barrels!

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Our bikes waiting for us while we try and wait out the rain – with wine bottles in water bottle cages. Perf!

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Lunch

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Some random photos – I’m learning!

I am now attempting to take iPhone photos in addition to reg camera pics – Here are a few…

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Random candy machine in Fustenfeld, Austria

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Jordana riding through a brief patch of forest in the middle of Austrian wine country

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Austrian Tuscany!

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What to eat for dinner??!! Almost all stores are closed on Sundays. Then we happened upon a roadside tomato stand with honor system payment. Heirloom tomatoes at their finest – DELICIOUS DREAMY PERFECT TOMATOES!!!

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Buschenshank: cold cured meats straight from the farm served with the latest vintage of wine. Last night, enjoyed with 2011 riesling from less than 20km away, plum and cherry schnapps, the wonderful company of the locals that shared their table with us, a tour of the pig pens with the farmer/butcher/chef and great memories.

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Flooding! Only 3km from where we camped. We had no idea until ‘reading’ the local paper the next day.

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Hello Slovenia!!! LOVING it so far. We are currently at a campground outside of Maribor enjoying free wifi – one of the many little joys of life on the road!

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Praha = Prague

If Stockholm was “WOW” Prague is beyond words… but first, a little on this major gap in blog time.

I don’t even know where to begin…  As far as large cities go, I travelled south from my laundry room to Malmo, Sweden, to Copenhagen, Denmark to Lubeck, Germany to Stralsund, Germany to Berlin, Germany to Dresden, Germany to Prague, Czech Republic.

In Malmo I stayed with my friend Marcus, who I met five years ago while traveling in Nicaragua, ate kebab pizza and vegetarian Swedish meatballs with potatoes and cucumber-tomato-feta salad (my farewell meal made by Marcus!).  I took a train across the water to Copenhagen and when I arrived, was greeted outside the train station by hundreds of parked bicycles – yes!

I had a blast riding my bike in Copenhagen in the sea of hundreds of cyclists, eating smorrebrod – a traditional open-faced Scandanavian sandwich and cooking dinners with my CouchSurfing (CS) host Taryn and her roommates.  On the way from Copenhagen to Lubeck I met Jonatan from northern Sweden – a super fun cycling buddy who was riding an old school Puegeot touring bike with busted gears and no handlebar tape and kicking my butt on the flats!

In Lubeck my CS host, Lara, taught me how to make elderflower water (tiny bit of sugar, dash of lemon juice and elderflowers which were in full bloom all along the roads), I sampled marzipan sweets – marzipan originated in Lubeck – and Lara fed me and  Jonatan an amazing breakfast of rustic bread, honey from bees on her farm, artisan cheeses, jam and fresh strawberries.  On the way from Lubeck to Stralsund I got caught in an amazing thunder and lightning storm complete with sheets of rain, insanely strong winds and hail ranging in size from Lemonheads to gum balls pelting me while I hid behind my inside out rain jacket barely pulled from my pannier in time.

In Stralsund I had my first German bratwurst on a tiny roll with Sandra.  I was powered on the way to and from with healthy amounts of ice cream (eis in German) and delicious and cheap chocolate. On the way from Stralsund to Berlin we camped in a cornfield, in a shelter off a dirt path and out of the rain, and I got my first tick while camping along a lake near a grassy cow pasture.

In Berlin, our CS host, Fran, greeted us with currant juice made with boiled and strained currants from her garden.  We stayed in her lovely garden house during our time in Berlin and each morning picked a few fresh cherries, currants, cassis and raspberries to accompany our breakfast.  We feasted on goulash, crepes, fresh pomegranate juice and fresh yogurt at a flea market next to a heavily grafittied strip of the Berlin wall that still remains.  We ate currywurst and pommes frites on our way out of town and cleansed our palates with an unexpectedly delicious baklava in a bakery we happened upon just before leaving the buildings and humanity of Berlin for the tall trees and wheat fields I’ve come to know so well on this trip.

Dresden introduced us to heat as we hadn’t yet experienced on our trip.  Our first night in town we sat along the Elbe river on blankets with our CS host, Sarah and friends, we drank refreshing German beers purchased at a corner store, ate barbecued sausages, sauerkraut and baked potatoes from a riverside restaurant and watched the sun set.  Our second day we attempted to explore the old town and city center, but the heat got the better of us and we joined the multitudes of Dresden residents at the local reservoir to swim and sunbathe instead.  From Dresden to Prague we stopped for a night at Bad Schandau, and following  Sarah’s suggestion hiked up incredible sandstone formations along the Elba river and looked into neighboring Czech Republic where we arrived yesterday.

As soon as we crossed the border along the Elba river from Germany to Czech Republic, the common sight of touring cyclists gave way to rollerbladers.  The pavement became less reliable and the architecture became decidedly less “German.”  We realized after passing our first city that Euros aren’t used here and that the only numbers we had memorized, 1,2 and 3 weren’t super helpful when there are 20 Czech Korunas to a dollar.  We also found out that Sandra’s tent is a beast.  It survived a wild thunder and lightning storm our first night while camped on the lawn of a hotel (which offered great relief from the rain and really cheap beer and wine too!).

Now in Prague our bellies are full from yummy cheeseburgers and Duff beer from a cute little cafe a few blocks from our hostel.  We spent a tiring and fulfilling day walking through the incredible sights of Prague’s Old Town – impressive to say the least.  Breathtaking might be a little closer.  The number of tourists is nothing to discount either.  There are a lot.  Maybe more than a lot.  There are seas of tourists.  And for good reason.

Tomorrow we will explore more of the city and the next day we are heading further south towards Vienna where we will meet up with Jordana who just arrived in London today and is on two wheels as well!

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