We have reached the end of our cycling odyssey. I can say that I am glad we did it, but also quite glad to be done with it. There were a number of highs and lows in this eight days of pedaling. The lows centered on inclement weather and aches and pains. On the other hand, we were able to see some beautiful country, experience a bit more of Austria, and have a very nice time as a family. I am sure that none of us will quickly forget the Danube cycle path.
Our mileage was supposed to be short today, about 20km to the train station at Krems, the train into Vienna, and then a ride of indeterminate length to our hotel. The girl who briefed us at the beginning of the tour was quite vague about this final leg of our trip. She circled two points on a city map – the train station and our hotel – and said, “You'll find it.”
We leave Spitz early and roll through the heart of the Wachau wine region. The surrounding hills are terraced in leafy grape vines. White grapes dominate the fields, with the occasional row of red grapes to add visual interest. The weather is sunny and growing rapidly hot as we pedal along.
As the morning progresses, the bike path narrows considerably, and we begin to encounter more cyclists than we have seen on the trip. One tour company in particular has flooded the path with a great crowd of people who don't look like they will be riding to Scharding. I suspect that they have signed up for a tour package that includes a day cycling the Wachau, but in the evening they will be back on their boat or tour bus. Cycling day trippers. We Danube veterans turn up our lips and sneer.
Just before we reach Krems, the trail passes through Durnstein, a lovely town that would have made a wonderful evening layover. It's church is picturesquely placed along the Danube, and a nearby hill is crowned by the ruins of Durnstein castle. This fortress once served as a prison for King Richard the Lionheart, when he was captured on his way back to France from the Third Crusade (1192). Richard's actions in the Holy Land had angered Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and when Richard tried to slip overland across Europe, he was apprehended outside Vienna. Ultimately, Richard would be ransomed back to England for the price of 80,000 pounds of silver.
The castle at Durnstein was later destroyed, and today stands in ruins. I would have liked to have climbed the peak for a close look, but we have a train to catch.
Our train awaits us in Krems. We climb aboard (after dragging our bicycles down and then back up flights of platform stairs) and recline in the air conditioned comfort of Austrian Rail. Now this is the way to see the country. The Danube Cycle trail does run all the way into Vienna, but the guidebooks recommend the train as the scenery becomes flat and industrial as you approach the big city.
The last cycling challenge: finding our hotel. As noted above, we had no clear directions about how to accomplish this, save a map and some vague instructions about “riding down an island.” How one might reach the island was not clear from the map, so with tears in my eyes, I set off at the front of our pack, seeking a route to the circled street where our hotel might be found.
What a shocking ordeal. After days along the quiet Danube, we were suddenly forced to ride on streets filled with city traffic. This is difficult under the best of circumstances, but our danger was heightened by the need to shepherd two young daughters as they also rode in traffic.
Much to my great delight, after sharing a couple of streets with cars, I stumbled upon a cycle path that paralleled the Danube canal. Our map seemed to suggest that this path would pass close to our hotel. It was not as direct as the mythical island route, but since I couldn't work out how to get onto the island, and an approach to the island might involve more wandering about on traffic-clogged streets, the bike path seemed self-evident.
So off we flew. We curved along the Danube canal until we came to a large theme park with filled Ferris wheels and other assorted rides. A few minutes later and we were standing on the circled street. Unfortunately, no hotel. Had they torn it down? We cross-checked map against our hotel reservation and discovered that our briefing agent had circled the wrong street. We were about a mile off course. Much cursing, gnashing of teeth, and hostile imprecations.
Eventually we found the place, another industrial hotel in a down market neighborhood. But let me extend credit where it is due: they gave us a suite with a separate bedroom. It's hard not to love them, even if they do charge for the wifi connection and the mini-bar.
We couldn't afford to rest for long as the the great clock in the sky was ticking away the scant hours we would enjoy in Vienna. We found the subway and took a short ride to Stephensplatz, the old center of the city. Would you believe it? All of our friends from Melk, Munich, and everywhere else in these Teutonic lands had arrived to share our visit. The square outside the cathedral was packed with people, as was the interior of the cathedral itself.
What I could see of the cathedral was beautiful, but they had roped off the center section between the columns, channeling the crowds into the side aisles. They charged admission to enter the roped-off area, which I thought was fairly cheeky.
I quickly left the cathedral and wandered the streets for a while, looking for some breathing room. The girls and I eventually reconnected for dinner at a pizzeria, followed by a stroll through the Hapsburg Palace, which was lovely in the golden light of the setting sun. We were tempted by a concert, but knew it would run too late for our exhausted girls. As a runner up, we listened to a cellist busking beneath the overhang of one of the marble buildings. He was a tall man and his long limbs jack-knifed around an instrument that looked decidedly small in his hands, but what beautiful playing. Just perfect for a warm August evening in Vienna. Mary and I have resolved that we must return for a longer stay.
Austria has been very good to us, and we have, I fancy, been good in Austria. Tomorrow, however, it is time to turn our attention to the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and the country of Turkey. I cannot wait.