On the Bike - Vienna, Austria to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

September 28-October 4, 2008


If this is your first time to visit my site, you'll notice that the vehicle we ride is not your ordinary bicycle. Our touring ride of choice is a tandem recumbent tricycle built by the Australian manufacturer Greenspeed. The trike was built to measure for us and is designed to disassemble to allow air transport. For more information about the trike, click here. For more about our touring philosophy click here.

Bike Touring, Practicalities, and This Trip...

There are a number of ways to approach cycle touring, from the fully-catered, scheduled, guided group tours, to the totally unstructured "just ride around and take your chances" trip. Our system is somewhere in between. The key is having a skilled planner like Jayne. Give her an area, a stack of guidebooks, and the internet, and in no time she will have an itinerary that not only gives us excellent focus on the area, but has flexibility to accommodate contingencies such as mechanical failure or illness. We know when and where the tour starts and ends (Vienna), we know what direction(s) we want to go (west, then north), and have a general idea of where we'll stay each night, usually based on guidebook listings/recommendations.

When we're telling someone about our cycling trips, common questions are: "How far do you ride?" and "How can you ride so far each day?" The answer is pretty simple: we plan to ride about 40-50 miles per day, but we're not fanatics about it. For a touring trip, we plan to average around 10 miles per hour, so we're looking at 4-5 hours on the bike per day, but in reality, each day is a series of relatively short rides.

A typical day goes something like this: breakfast at the hotel/b&b, on the road by 9 am or so. Ride an hour. Stop - see some local attraction, or have second breakfast. (10 miles gone). Ride an hour or so (15 more miles). Stop for lunch. Ride an hour (10 miles more). Stop to see sights, have a snack, check map and guide book for next town with accommodations. (If it's hilly, or there are interesting sights to see or wine to taste, we'll stop more frequently.) Ride an hour (total 45 miles) to destination town, locate information office or signboard (look for the blue sign with a white i on it), find hotel or b&b, check in, see sights, eat dinner, sleep, repeat.

Our route takes us approximately 200 miles along the Danube river, one of the most popular long-distance cycle routes in Europe, then we go north another 70 miles or so into the Czech Republic. The primary claim to popularity of the Danube route is that it is essentially flat, making it an easy ride for inexperienced cyclists. Even though our trip was scheduled to avoid the worst of the tourist season, there were still a number of touring cyclists on the route, though, as we discovered, some of the amenities (such as ferries) are seasonal, and we missed the season.

Though the towns and villages in Austria are not as close together as in France, the long history of human habitation along the Danube does mean that you're generally not more than 5 - 6 miles from some type of settlement, but much of the route does follow the woodlands and farm fields, so for us, it was not uncommon to ride for some time without seeing other cyclists. We did however, see our share of wildlife, including pheasants and the fire salamander pictured below.

As always, Jayne was well-prepared with guidebooks, though some of the guides we needed were only available in German, we were able to make do, though our lack of fluency did result in some problems.

On the Bike...

We departed Vienna after breakfast on Sept 28 with clear skies. Despite a couple of stops to make minor mechanical adjustments, the ride was uneventful, though it seemed to me that the distances on the bike computer were off. The first leg, to Krems, was supposed to be about 45 miles. After covering 77 miles, we discovered that distances cited in the guides presume the rider will stay on one side of the river - crossing the river to see interesting towns can add substantially to one's travel distance. We won't make that mistake again.

In Krems, we stay at a hotel in the center of town, the Alte Post. This is likely one of the creepiest hotels we've stayed in. The place was packed full of dolls - everywhere you look, there's a doll, staring at you. Otherwise, it was a nice place.

Day 2 was a repeat of Day 1 - clear skies, moderate temperatures, and easy cycling along the river. Every few kilometers brings a new village with either a castle, an interesting church, or both. Today's route takes us past a number of vineyards and the Mauthausen concentration camp. The vineyards were stilll pretty, with some grapes still on the vine. We missed the turn to the camp, and were almost to Grein before we realized our mistake. Just as well, it was a steep climb and I was starting to have some discomfort in my right Achilles tendon. Strangely enough, I didn't make a note of where we stayed or ate in Grein, but I can only assume we had an uneventful stay.

Our plan for Day 3 was to do a shorter ride to Linz, which is slated to host a major cultural festival next year. Despite the season, the town is full of tourists that alight from the large river cruisers that run regularly up and down the Danube. Unfortunately, to prepare for the festival, the good citizens of Linz are busily sprucing up the city, which in this case means tearing up most of the streets in the central city. Combine the construction with a lack of hotels that could provide secure storage for our bike, and we decided that Linz was not for us, and we would push on to the west. According to the guidebook, there were accommodations in the next village, Puchenau, so after a lite lunch at a kabob stand, we push on to Puchenau.

We know there's a b&b here, finding it is the challenge. We make a stop at the local grocery store to pick up snacks, and a local lady directs us to the b&b: "Just up that hill" - is almost a mile of hard climbing (for us, though not for the 85 year old lady who passed us - walking). At the crest of the hill we find a large farm house, and when we inquire of the woman working in the yard, she says this is the place. Our b&b turns out to be not only a b&b, but a farm stay - the Kepplinger family (Oskar, Ernestine, and their daughter Conny operate a full farm, with cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, and geese. Of course, animal lover Jayne was in heaven - particularly when it came to the baby goats! Since we didn't have a reservation, it took a little while for our hosts to get our room ready (and stoke up the wood-fired boiler so we would have hot water), but we were entertained by the animals and refreshed with a couple of beers. Dinner was included in the package (and saved us another trip up the hill), and featured all local ingredients: butter and cheeses from the farm's cows, sausages from the pigs they raise each year (the pigs don't stay in the house/barn and don't get named - they're for meat only), fresh baked bread, and a local wine. This stay was one of the highlights of our trip. We got to meet nice people and see how incredibly hard farmers work, from milking the cows twice a day to mucking the stalls and working the fields. How they are able to do so much, plus accommodate visitors, is amazing. On top of everything, our entire stay, including meals and drinks, was only 76 Euro.

Overnight, the weather turned cool and drizzly - one of the disadvantages of cycling in the fall - so, in answer to the question "What do you do when it rains?", see the photo at the top of this page. You put on your rain gear and ride. Though the rain would be intermittant today, the cold was a constant, so it was a typical raw day.

Today's plan was to follow the riverside bike path for a while, catch a ferry that would take us past an area with no bike path, then turn north, heading for the Czech Republic. The combination of weather and rural location gave us our first sightings of wild pheasants as well as the unusual fire salamander pictured. Just after passing the salamander, we discovered the major flaw in today's plan: It's October 1. The ferry we were counting on stops running on September 30. We backtrack to the last town, hoping to catch one of the scheduled river cruisers, but discover that none was scheduled anytime soon, and our bike was too big anyway. A local bike shop suggested that we hire a guy with a truck to haul us to our planned stop (for 110 Euro), but another local suggested an alternate route, though it would require some climbing. We decided to ride, and made a quick stop at the local grocery to stock up on sandwiches, wine, and snacks. After about 35 total miles ridden, we ended up in Oberlandshaag and stayed in a very simple B&B. As there was no restuarant in the village, our food came in quite handy, but for < 50 Euros, the room was excellent.

October 2, another cold day, but we're warmed by the climbing - and climbing - and climbing. The good thing about riding a tricycle is that you can ride very slowly and not have to worry about falling over. The bad thing is that you climb very slowly: on steep hills, it's not uncommon to grind along at 2 - 3 mph, only to crest the hill and have a 40 mph downhill run. The stress imposed by the climbing has not been kind to my Achilles tendon: it's sore, swollen, and "crunches" when I press on it, but I can still ride and walk, so we continue on to Aigen for our last night in Austria. Today we have our only significant mechanical problem, a flat (bummer is, as you can see, the flat occurred on a downhill run).

Aigen is an interesting town - there are major hiking routes throughout the area, and the town seems to cater to the outdoor and health enthusiast. In addition to hiking and running route maps posted everywhere, several hotels and businesses offer various spa and medical services to weary travelers. We stop at a pharmacy and pick up some antihistamines for Jayne's runny nose and I get an elastic ankle brace.

When we were looking at potential routes from Aigen to Czesky Krumlov, we were perplexed that the route shown took a long detour (20 km or so), rather than following another road that went directly to the border. The explanation was simple - one of the first parts of the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union was to open their borders, so the small, more direct crossing was now available to us. Of course, when we discussed the potential route with the hotel staff and other people at dinner, they all said "you can't take that road, it's too steep". We assured them that we could. Little did we know.

There's a little surprise as we depart the next morning. The first kilometer is downhill, giving us a false sense of comfort as we roll out of town. Suddenly, the bike slows precipitously and pedaling effort increases. At first, I think we've had a major mechanical failure, then realize that the problem is not the bike, it's the road. Suddenly, it's gotten steep. Really steep (the picture at left doesn't do it justice - belive me, this was the flatter part). We finally reach a point that we realize it's more efficient for me to ride the bike and Jayne to walk. She's faster. After an hour or so of continuous climbing, we reach the crest of the mountain and take a break. There's a traveler's inn at the top (closed) and deer farms dot the landscape. The Czech Republic is close!

The closer we get to the border, the more rural the area becomes, until the road becomes a paved track through the forest, which is somewhat exciting as the road is mostly downhill, and rough. Somewhere in the border region we lose our "Life is Good" flag. And then, finally, the border.

The actual checkpoint was closed, and the buildings are slowly deteriorating.