Well it’s been a mixture of events this week riding through Austria from Passau in Germany to Vienna, the Austrian Capital. Some highs of great food and friends in Linz and then some lows regarding a Wild Boar near Tulln and a cold night on a bench, but lets start at the beginning…
My day off in Passau was nice, very pretty city with lots of cobble stone roads and the views down from the hostel on the hill were very impressive. I saw a cool postcard with a map of the river to send home and set out in hunt of maps for the next portion of the river. Only managed to find one in German for the leg to Vienna but I know all the legends as it’s the same brand as the english map I used on the river so far. Got some Schnitzel to replace the memory of the terrible one I had in a petrol station two days prior and also got some Brockwurst (cycling this much has the wonderful benefit of having to eat almost as much as you like!)
Left the hostel the next morning (after two breakfasts and pinching a sneakily created 4 large ham and cheese sandwiches from the hostel buffet) and immediately face the the challenge of descending the 25% gradient cobble stone street I had fun pushing my bike up the other day. I would rather have climbed it again as descending with such a heavy bike on wet leaves in the rain on time polished cobble stones is pretty hair rising. By the bottom I had been braking so hard the cables had stretched meaning I had to re-adjust them.
A quick ride through the city centre and then 1km down the road and I was already hunting for the Austrian border marker keeping an eye out for the same style sign I’d see entering Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany (A blue sign with the EU flag and the country name in the middle). After a while I noticed the road signs changed and that I’d managed to enter Austria without realising. Disappointed that I hadn’t gotten another cheesy border photo I turned back and eventually spotted what almost looked like a grave with the Austrian crest on it! Grabbed my picture and rolled on.
The signs for cycle paths in Austria label both distant locations as well as close, as opposed to Germany that wouldn’t detail anywhere over 40km a way. In the end I think I much preferred this as you can count down to your destination all day but seeing signs first thing in the morning reading 100km to your goal is a bit daunting!
There was beautiful scenery all the way down the river to Linz, at least as good as the upper Danube valley in Germany (if not better) despite it being rather overcast. Got to Linz a bit earlier than I’d planned so went into the centre to grab some coffee and saw a big sign offering “Cappucino + Linzertorte 4EUR” and had to give it a go guessing it was a local speciality. Lovely stuff but quite dry but great with Coffee.
A friend (Martin, An Austrian guy who I met on my trip to North Korea which you can read about here) had offered to host me in Linz but the timing didn’t work out so he introduced me to his friend Maria who was kind enough to let me stay at her place in Linz Universities student accommodation for a couple of nights.
I had a great time there, met lots of cool people, drank many cheep beers in the buildings tiny basement bar (The Bunker!) and Maria was kind enough to show me round the city centre despite being on crutches from a broken leg! A great benefit of visiting a city with someone who knows it is learning about a few things that you wouldn’t normally see on such a short visit. First of those is a very nice overlook on the city where I spent a couple of hours reading and the second being a popular local food called Leberkäse.
Leberkäse literally translates to “Liver Cheese” but don’t let that put you off it is delicious meat loaf type dish which is baked and then served several ways. So much so I had it three times in one day at Leberkas-Pepi which is apparently THE place to get it.
I followed this up by treating myself to an absolutely giant Wiener Schnitzel with Buttered potatoes and a large salad, I’d been craving fresh vegetables at this point! Later that day we spent a bit more time drinking in the Bunker (The Sambucas suggested by Marco and Floran did not bode well the next day but was great fun).
Up a bit late the next day for what is to be the longest day of the trip so far (115km ~71 miles) but after some breakfast and quick photos with Maria and I was on the road around 10am. I’d discovered that when my mobile phone is in Airplane Mode (turning off it’s function as a phone) its battery lasts as an mp3 player for about 3 days meaning I can start to listen to music when not cycling on the roads (Misery by the band Gallows is a great song to cycle to when you are getting a bit tired and cold!) Quite nice weather, bit of sun and not too hot and started to get near to Melk, my days destination, at around 4pm. There is a campsite in Melk but camping season ends in Austria at the end of October.
I decided I didn’t really want to spend 25 Euros or so on a hostel so started looking for locations to do my first nights stealth camping by the river on the way into the city. I spotted a few good ones but when I went to check the campsite to see if it was open I found it was closed but there was nothing locking their camping area. I filled up my water bottles from their taps and noticed a dark corner of the campsite that I reckoned I could get away with camping in. Not technically proper stealth camping but it was still a free nights accommodation. I cooked here and realised this isn’t the best idea as the steam might attract attention if you are somewhere you’re not supposed to be.
Up early (5:00 am) to leave before dawn just in case someone came along. Out the tent by 5:20 and on the road at 5:47. Cycling through Melk as the light started to rise was interesting, Stift Melk (Melk Abbey) looming over me quite dramatically. As I cycled through the woods towards the bridge over the Danube in the dark and fog my mind decided to play a lovely trick on me. I thought that this is exactly the type of thing people are doing on those low budget documentaries where people talk about being abducted by aliens or see a ghost. I’m a rational person, not believing in either ghosts or alien abduction, but this still creeped me out a bit and spoilt what could have been a nice ride.
Once the sun was up I stopped to make a large coffee and eat. Another day of very nice scenery through the Vineyards, punctuated by small picturesque towns and framed with steep hills and cliffs. In one small town (Dürnstein) I was suddenly blockaded by a huge crowd in the centre. They were all speaking in Spanish and had completely blocked the road and just stared at me, and other road users, like we were doing something wrong when it was them blocking the main road! As I reached the other-side of town I spotted a a big river cruise boat moored up, explaining the sudden influx of people to what had been a very quiet day.
Whilst cycling through the large town of Stein I noticed there was big Yoko Ono exhibit on. I though that might be interesting but then remembered the only piece of her work I’ve ever seen is a video of her screaming for a long time and decided I wasn’t interested (Here’s the video). I stopped in a bike shop to grab an extra inner tube and before long I’d reached Tulln where I was determined to stealth camp properly this time. I stopped in the city centre to wait for it to get closer to sunset and grabbed a lovely bit of cake and more coffee.
I checked my map and noticed a big forst on the north side of the river east of the town which the cycle path ran next to and had little paths branching off into the woods. There were only two small hamlets nearby and a bypass further north meaning there should be almost no through traffic. Perfect. I’d nip down one of the roads into the woods til I was clear of the cycle path and then go a few metres off the road and camp.
I stopped to cook dinner on the cycle path and then headed further along to find one of the roads going into the woods. I noticed some of these little roads would have a car parked at the end and just though it would be people going for a walk, I’d pick a road with no car and be fine.
I found a road, rolled my bike down the side of the Dyke, and then pushed my bike about 100m down it till I could not see the road. I went a bit further a saw a raised hunting platform nearby but assumed that people do not hunt at night in Autumn. I setup camp nearby and got into my tent feeling quite chuffed at my success (I’m concealed in a camouflage tent and also have a camouflage tarp which conceals the bicycle.)
About an hour later, whilst reading, it is now 6:30pm and dark outside. I then hear faint gunshots and dogs. Bugger, people do still hunt now. The knowledge that people were still in the area made the sounds of approaching cars put me on edge, this would raise my heartbeat and prevent me from sleeping. I found it quite strange how my mind was comfortable with where I was and felt safe but my body was still trying to keep itself alert. I tried various techniques to slow my heart (slow breathing and meditation techniques) but nothing helped and I lay awake until 8pm or so.
As I was almost drifting off I started to heart faint footsteps closer to my location. These footsteps started to gradually get louder and faster until I realised that it was my own damn heart heartbeat which was rustling my sleeping bag!
After managing to get to sleep I started to dream. During my dream I suddenly remembered where I was in real life and woke myself up. I was quite annoyed with myself at this point as it now being later in the night meant nocturnal animals were making much more noise sending my body into another cycle of staying on edge. As a small conciliation when I stuck my head out of my tent when I thought I heard a dirt bike coming close I saw a shooting star and wished that I would just fall asleep.
At this point deer all over the area started making the lovely noise they do in the night which sounds a bit like a Hollywood zombie groaning. On top of this a church bell nearby rang a bell once every 15 minutes despite it being midnight. Due to my body wanting to be so alert my hearing had become quite sensitive and every time either the deers or bell made a noise my heart rate wold jump in the fraction of second it took my brain to answer my bodies question of what that noise was.
Two hours of this passed with the odd bits of sleep until there was a noise I knew I couldn’t ignore. There was an extremely loud grunt/scream sounds from a hundred metres away or so. The only frame of reference I had for the noise was once hearing something similar in the woods behind the house I lived in with parents in High Wycombe and my Dad mentioning it sounded a bit like a Wild Boar but that was odd as there are almost none left in the UK. This combined with my only knowledge of Wild Boars being a scene in the film Hannibal where they eat someone alive made me begin to consider whether it was safe to stay or not.
Whilst thinking the screams started again but much louder and closer. I started to panic a little bit and then heard rustling in the bushes outside. Right. There is no way I can sleep now so there is no point in staying. I hopped out of my tent and grab the headlight of my bike shining it all around the area. I saw nothing but a bush rustle but the screaming stopped instantly.
I rushed everything back onto the bike, not packing the tent just tying it down. As I had the light on the bike I would hear motion in the bushes, I’d shine the light to where the noise was and it’d stop. Lovely. I start to roll my bike away into the darkness stopping to search the area I’d left paranoid I’d lost something in the dark.
I reached the dyke and rushed the bike up it with adrenalin fuelled strength. I stopped on the bike path to pack the bike up properly and heard the screams starting up again but now further away. I now had to decide what I was going to do at 2am. I checked my map and saw this forest ran for 20km, nearly all the way to Vienna. I could head on but I was starving now and getting really tried as the adrenalin stopped keeping me awake. I spotted a Hydroelectric dam about 6km down river and headed there as they are usually open for cyclists to cross and are illuminated.
I get to the first lights and stop to devour some yoghurt. Feeling better I carry on and spot a hut with a bunch with posters giving tourist info. to cyclists. I stop there and put on more clothes to fend off the cold. I was unable to sleep so decided to start reading. Of all the books on my Kindle I choose Ghandis autobiography, the perfect reading when I am in such a sorry state! I mange two pages before swapping to something more light hearted. Just to mess with me even more at this point I look up and notice the tree opposite has a shadow cast on it that looks like a carton monster face and little branches like arms. I get annoyed because I feel the tree is mocking me.
My map marks a town on the other side of the dam and decide to see if they have an all night petrol station I can get food at. No luck but I find the train station open with a vending machine and devour some UK branded Wine Gums I’ve never seen in the UK and start to feel better. I decide to wait out for sunrise and then find somewhere to nap.
After two hours pouring money into the vending machine and fuelling my exhausted self with sugar it starts to get a little light. I cycle back over the dam and onto the cycle path for another 10km of forest vowing to sleep at the first bench. I constantly see movement in the trees but I know it’s just sleep deprivation. I find a bench after 3km or so, lock up my bike using my bag of valuables as pillow and manage to sleep for two hours.
I wake up make a tonne of coffee and eat some yoghurt and muesli. Feeling good I cycle the rest of the way into Vienna. There is a massive long thin island in the middle of the city functioning as a park and I sit and relax there and fuel myself with more coffee before facing the cycle through the city to a friends I’d be staying at. I found free Wifi in the park and did some research into the noise the night before. This video is confirms that the screams I heard were a Boar. On top of that I read the male Boar are solitary and forrage for food at night. Normally they are scared of humans, however, during mating season (Mid autumn, so roughly now) they will attack humans. I had made the right choice, despite my lack of knowledge!
I got myself in the right frame of mine, reminding myself that Ronnie, my host, had just returned from his third trip to Chernobyl and got excited to see his photos (This will sound strange but me and Ronnie actually met in Chernobyl and then ended going on a second trip there together as well!)
After a few very nice km’s cycling on Viennas extremely good cycle network I reached what I hoped was the right building and was relieved that my journey to Vienna was finally over!
Vienna is the end of the first major leg of my trip, representing about 1/6th of the total journey. I’m going to write another blog in a couple of days summarising some statistics and what I’ve learnt on this first part of the trip as a little break from this main style of read along blog post. I’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone that has donated to Samuels Children’s Charity , so far we’ve reached £310! Hope you have enjoyed following so far!
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I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.