Slovakia, here we come!

In our last post we were still in Germany, but very close to the Austrian border.  Biking into the second of the seven countries that we will be biking through was exciting, though if you blinked at the wrong time you’d miss the border crossing.  On the one side of the trail a small rusty sign getting enveloped by the tree it was nailed to marked the location of the “landes grenze” – the country border.  There was no one there to check passports or anything – a perk, I suppose, of travelling within the European Union.

Austria proved to have some of the smoothest, flattest bike paths that we’ve been on yet.  Also, the path often stayed close to the Danube, unlike some of Germany where you catch periodic glimpses of the river as you navigate through scenery that consists of mostly fields, forests, and small towns.  Our first day in Austria was our longest biking distance so far – just shy of 100 km.  The distance seemed much shorter, however, as terrain is usually a bigger factor in biking fatigue than your actual distance.  That night we stayed in Linz, the third biggest city in Austria (though that actually doesn’t say too much – a quarter of the Austrian population lives in Vienna.  Most of the rest of Austria is rural).

Our next day of biking included an excursion to Mauthausen, one of the largest World War II concentration camps in Austria.  The sobering atmosphere of the camp was augmented by clouds and rumbling thunder that rolled in just as we arrived at the camp and that lingered as we toured the bleak grounds.  The storm clouds passed just after we left Mauthausen, however, and that evening we got to the small town of Grein after another day pleasant biking.

The biking after Grein was on smooth, flat terrain, but we noticed the flipside to being on these ideal bike paths – scads of other bikers.  The stretch between Passau and Vienna is by far the most famous section of the Danube bike path, and many groups rent bikes and panniers to do a three or four day trip.  We don’t count ourselves among their ranks, however, as we’re biking a much longer distance and our clip is about twice as fast as most of theirs.

The afternoon and evening of the day after Grein was, however, perhaps one of our favorite times here so far.  We entered the Wachau region – a beautiful area with ancient small towns surrounded by mostly vineyards and apricot orchards.  We explored a medieval tower with spiral staircase that led to the top of the tower.  Apparently this tower is always open for curious people like us to explore.  If there were anything this old in America, I’m sure it would be off limits for passersby to investigate.  From the top of the tower we had a great view of the Danube and the town until dusk set in and we had to end our enjoyable evening in the Wachau.

The next day we were scheduled to get to Stockerau (a city not far from Vienna), where we would meet a group from Lancaster to do a week of English day-camp at a church in Stockerau.  Around mid-afternoon we came to a large sign beside the path that said simply “2000.”  We checked our map and found that we were 2000 kilometers from our ultimate destination – the Black Sea (the entire river is 2840 kilometers long).  That day was one of the hottest days so far, but we knew we would be able to get a long shower after meeting up with our host family.  We met up with the group and with our host family, the beginning of our short-term mission section of the trip.  This section of the trip deserves its own blog post, which we will hopefully have up soon.

Today we are biking from Stockerau through Vienna, and tomorrow we hope to enter our third country – Slovakia.  This means we’ll be leaving some now familiar things – the German language, the Euro, and, in some cases, well-marked bike routes.  And we’ll be entering countries where the city names have more diacritic markings than actual letters.  But we are armed with a bike route book and a phrasebook with all of the eastern European languages that we plan to encounter – what more could you need?

Austrian Border

The border crossing into Austria

David touching the Danube

David touching the Danube

Riding through the countryside

Riding through the countryside

Vineyards in the Wachau region

Vineyards in the Wachau region

Riding through St. Michael

Riding through St. Michael

On top of the medieval tower in St. Michael

On top of the medieval tower in St. Michael

Only 2000 more kilometers to the Black Sea!

Only 2000 more kilometers to the Black Sea!

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2 Responses to “Slovakia, here we come!”

  1. Daryl Says:

    Thanks for the pics. That scenery is neat.

  2. Uncle Bill Says:

    2000 km? You are almost there. Remember, since you are following a river it is all downhill (on average).

    It sure sounds like a great trip. I can’t wait to see all the pictures and hear more details.

    Have fun.

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