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|This was shown in an earlier post, but belongs here.|
Tuesday, September 6 - 60 miles
Pedaling through fog at 8:30 a.m. we passed a group of men sitting on the roadside, drinking beer. They waved for us to join them. We said “hello” but kept moving. The Czech people drink at odd hours or it’s often never ending. More than once as we pull into a campground, we are asked if we want beer. Last evening’s dingy campsite was no exception. The bartender/store owner/receptionist insisted we enter the bar, almost pouring two drafts before we managed to say “no.” Though a beer might be a tasty treat, it’s far from our minds until we’ve hydrated and eaten dinner. And then I’m usually too stuffed or too tired to join the party.
We rolled through wheat and corn country. A mushroom-shaped hay mound crept along the highway. As we got closer, we heard the clip-clop of horse feet. An overloaded wagon inched forward. It was like a scene from an old postcard. Andy photographed me as I passed, for scale. At older couple sat at the reigns, the woman shut-eyed to the morning sun. I longed to take her picture, but our lack of communication makes it impossible to ask permission.
|Typical Czech couple with a hand cart. Photo credit: Flickr|
In another town people line up at a delivery truck full of propane gas tanks. Each person carted one in a big-wheeled hand cart or ingeniously attached to the pedal and top tube of a bike. We suspect they cook on gas stoves.
|Roadside Catholic shrine. Photo credit: Flickr|
The Czech people never smile. We try “Dobry Den”, meaning “good day”, but only the shop keepers grin. They light up when we thank them, “Dekuji.” Maybe we are bastardizing the language – I guess we’ll never know.
As we headed toward the Austrian border I reflected on this five year old country. By the archaic methods of harvesting: scything crops, picking by hand, and many farmers plowing with horses, the country seems, to westerners, stuck in the 1930’s. But because of this it is an affordable country for tourists. According to two Dutch couples, wages are low. A music teacher earns $300.00 per month. The Czech people cannot afford to travel compared with most other European countries.
We still see Catholic shrines on the corner of every field, in town, as frequent as every half mile. Metal crosses are erected with fresh flowers. They adorn front lawns or attached to public shelters, even at the intersection with newly plowed fields.
Smaller granite monuments with etched name are perched along the roadside, decorated with a vase of fresh flowers, even stuck in a tree. It’s a culture that pays tribute to ancestors, celebrating with weekly bouquets. Seeing the markets filled with a floral abundance makes all the sense in the world. I feel like an intruder to these personal displays and quickly pedal by.
|Photo credit: Wine of Czech Republic|
With 1,300 Korun left we crossed into Austria, exchanging it for 500 Schilling. The exchange rate is 11 Schilling to 1 U.S. dollar. Andy and I look forward to cleaner campgrounds standards that Austria is known for.
The border crossing was interesting. We left the Czech Republic, showed our passports, then pedaled through 1 km of “no man’s land” until entering Austrian customs.
We flew, a tailwind nipping our heels, passed a series of vineyards, their greenery like scalloped fabric across undulating hills. The dark purple grapes were nearing harvest. It reminded me of Oregon’s Willamette Valley during September. Later in the year, we taste a friend’s special vintage at their winery’s open house.
|Crossing the Donau at Tulln. Photo credit: Bob Lucky|
We cycled on a major highway until a white polezi (police) vehicle flashed its lights and pulled over at the next turn off. We moved on, slowly ascending. Andy and I discussed the possibility that the police car was waiting for us – there’d been times in Germany when the signs were confusing and only allowed autos. Then the blue shirted Czech policemen got out of the vehicle and sauntered to the rear, placing white caps on their heads. As travelers, we don’t fear the law. They’re often a good source for directions. We halted, smiling at the two approaching officers.
As we suspected, bicycles weren’t granted access on the thoroughfare. We apologized and they directed us to use an alternate route. They were helpful in locating a campsite, though not recommending the most direct route as there was road construction. When they sped away, we decided to take the quickest way. In our experience a closed road meant new asphalt or resurfacing a bridge. We took a chance.
Several kilometers later a small town’s main road was being repaved. The road crew happily waved us on. We maneuvered over the dirt road, around machinery then cruised, arriving at the Donau (Danube) River by 6 p.m.
We crossed the wide waterway side by side on a bike path. I grabbed Andy’s hand and squeezed. The Donau had been a distant carrot, a dream finally realized. We planned to bicycle a 250 mile stretch, from Vienna to Budapest, a purportedly scenic and lovely ride. I hoped - once my bike was straightened out - we’d be doing just that.
On the other side of the bridge we were surprised by a sign indicating a campground – much sooner than expected. Smiling, we looped back to the water’s edge where a bike path followed the Donau in both directions. Within minutes we rolled into the site.
Boing! Another spoke went. I got off my bike at the reception building, thoroughly disgusted. I took a deep breath. I was glad we’d made it. The person behind the counter gave us directions to a shop in Tulln, a few minutes away. We’d deal with the problem wheel in the morning.