Click here for the Introduction.
|Set of maps that helped us navigate the route from Vienna to Budapest.|
As we set off, pedaling the bike path along the Danube river in the cooler morning (days had been rather warm), I noticed how smoothly and quietly my bike felt beneath my feet. Finally. We were 100.00 poorer, yet the peace of mind from a repaired and updated bike (all 36 rear spokes were replaced plus the installation of a new bottom bracket) had been worth every penny.
We’ve picked up a wonderful map of the Donauradweg (Danube bike path). Though it is in German, it covers a route across the entire width of Austria, and had we known, we would’ve headed directly there and been able to follow more than our intended route from Vienna to Budapest. A group of folks my parent's age had just completed the stretch from Passau to Vienna. They highly recommended that itinerary and stayed in hotels. Because of frequent accommodation, including gasthouses, youth hostels, etc. you do as little or as much as you want. And because it follows the river, it is flat. It seemed like heaven on wheels. In fact, as we searched the map it was clear that traveling eastward past Vienna, our first day, was bereft of frequent campsites. Later, it looked more promising.
|Vienna (Wien) and eastward on Donauradweg, marked in green.|
As we neared Vienna we crossed the Donau to cycle the main path through a park. And it seemed we had a choice of upper and lower levels. For several miles there was a single lane by the water, a level of picnic tables, then an upper more main trail that had "Rad weg" signs (bicycle way).
We tooled along, pumping against an increasingly hot headwind, thinking nothing of a few topless women sunbathing. Indeed, we'd gotten used to campers walking to restrooms in only a t-shirt and underwear. But as the sun worshippers increased, the clothing decreased until everyone except us was nude. Andy and I were uncomfortable, clearly in the middle of a nudist park, and yet there was nothing to do but continue on. We rode the lower level until bronze bodies were, literally, littering the pathway.
After a while the nudists became a road hazard and we found ourselves weaving, avoiding them like potholes on a New England road. We retreated to the upper level where we were able to observe. All ages and all sizes reclined on a towel or chair, picnicking. Some, we thought, were better off leaving their clothes on. By 2 p.m. it seemed a quarter of Vienna’s population were basking on the grassy banks or swimming in the Danube River. And, as it was only Thursday, and with the proximity to downtown Vienna, we wondered if some folks bathed on their lunch hour.
It’s a startling contrast to prim and proper Americans. The Austrians were obviously at ease, scratching body parts Andy and I wouldn’t touch clothed in a public place. And, they climbed to the upper level to the restaurants, lining up to buy drinks. The inhibition startled me, and yet was refreshing too. Not that I was ready to stop and undress, but I found it curious. We passed several cafes where the patrons were brown from head to toe, relaxing on white lawn furniture. I jerked my handlebars to avoid a man who quickly turned to a restaurant. All I could think of was I didn't want to flatten him. I know my German would have failed me, not to mention my embarrassment!
In a less congested area we stopped for a quick snack. Then we left and soon after I realized I’d left my bike gloves behind. A few minutes later, I returned to Andy where he gave me that “you did it on purpose smile.”
|Bratislava, capitol of Slovakia.|
Then we crossed the Slovakia border, aiming for a campground. I exchanged $20 of Austrian currency, enough for camping. But then the sky was turning dark; car headlights illuminating city streets. With the campsite 4-5 miles further, fortune smiled upon us in the guise of a youth hostel in downtown Bratislava, Slovakia's capitol city.
And they had a private room left! Our bicycles are locked away. We're in an old student housing dorm room, complete with two bunks, toilet, shower, sink, and desk.
As we ate peanut butter curry on rice (a favorite meal) washed down with a small bottle of Austrian red wine, we're gazing upon the city from the 7th floor. Street noise is a dull murmur. We spy part of the castle on a hill, a fortress cradling the city below. Now it’s all lit up in golden glory. And overhead, a crescent moon cups a shower of stars. We are tired from a long day in the saddle, the wine numbing our tourist legs, ready for nothing more than a good night's sleep.