12-14 August: A little taster of south-western Germany and into Switzerland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wangan im Allgäu, and Lottstetten, Germany, The Rhine Falls, Switzerland

Monday morning brought stormy skies and cool temperatures – struggling to reach 14°C by lunchtime. We farewelled Ottobeuren and drove west through Germany, heading to a town called Wangan. We parked up on a stellplatz (the German version of a parking area dedicated for motor homes, with electricity and services provided for self-contained vehicles) beside the river leading into town.

By early afternoon the rain had stopped so we ventured out for an explore. Wangan is an old medieval town with several well preserved buildings and some remains of the wall and towers which marked the entry points.

The River Argen is very full after the heavy rain, In the background, St Martin’s church which rings out the hour…

Clearly English speaking guests are a rarity in these parts, as the information centre, packed with leaflets, maps and posters was able to hand me only one single booklet in English, detailing a historical walk through the town. I asked about cycling but the response was vague and a German language map book with rides was handed to me, and two routes pointed out as suitable as day rides.

Mark and I had a wander around town, finding a few of the old buildings before heading back to camp before the next storm arrived.

The streets of the old town are all cobbled
Part of a lovely sculpture – St Anthony’s Fountain – named after the patron saint of domestic animals, sitting on the site where the weekly pig market was held for hundreds of years
The town hall – or Rathaus (I find this quite comical that it directly translates as the rat house!) dates back to the 1500s and incorporates the first fortifications
History is everywhere if we could only read the signs!
Coats of arms outside old pubs date back to times when few could read and pictures communicated who the publican was
Claimed to be ‘one of the most scenically attractive streets in South Germany’ murals cover the front of many buildings, dating back to the 1700s
The Women’s Gate – dating back to before 1472
Everywhere a colourful array of flowers
Check shirts are mandatory apparently…
A music shop selling dodgy Australian road signs and didgeridoos…surprising!

Tuesday was overcast but dry, so I used Google to try and plot out a circuit route using the map I’d been given. Our route ended up being 60km, so by the time we got back to camp we were starving. Other than the medieval town of Isny, the ride was unremarkable, following mostly quiet roads through farmland and bike paths parallel to busy lorry routes. I think the grey skies helped to dull our enthusiasm for the gently rolling hills and fields of crops.

Isny im Allgäu, another pretty medieval town with a lot of history
Is this how you make warm water…?
Heading off on our ride

Wednesday: We were woken at 7am by the chiming of the local church bells, and packed up and on our way within a couple of hours, having enjoyed fresh bread delivered to the stellplatz by a local baker for breakfast. Before long we were passing through into Switzerland, completely unplanned, having failed to purchase a vignette for the motorways! We exited the motorway as fast as possible and quickly bought one at a local garage, hoping we wouldn’t be penalised for those few kilometres we had driven without paying.

This is the downside of being able to easily pass from country to country – each border crossing comes with its own rules, with Switzerland joining Austria and Slovenia in their requirement for all vehicles to travel with a prepaid vignette attached to their windscreen. Of course Switzerland was the most expensive, at 40 Swiss Francs, around AU$61 (£34). At that price we will have to ensure we make use of it!

Our destination for the day was actually in Germany again, about 40 minutes drive north of Zurich, just across the Rhine River.

Lottstetten is a quiet little village with a handily located stellplatz an easy cycle away from the magnificent waterfalls on the Rhine.

The River Rhine near our camp

We found a cycleway and followed signs to Neuhaisen am Rhinefall, the location of the falls, actually back in Switzerland, just across the border. We weaved our way through paths along fields and railways passing through quiet villages….

Peaceful country lanes, the village of Lottstetten in the background
A little ginger kitten calls us over to give him strokes on our cycle past

The falls were created after the last ice age, and have huge volumes of water thundering over them. Today we were advised there are 479,000 litres per second moving past…we wouldn’t fancy white water rafting over them right now!

479 thousand litres per second roar over this drop on the Rhine River
Look carefully and you will see tiny tourists on the rock in the middle of the falls, and to the left…and of course the boat beneath the falls.
Laufen Castle behind us on the Zurich side of the river, dates back to the year 878

It turns out we were not the only people there to see the spectacle!

For the first time since Krka National Park in Croatia we saw rows of coaches, full car parks and crowds of people lining up for toilets, ice creams and boat trips. It was not really our scene, so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the magnificent falls (and really, the photos do not do them justice), the castle overlooking them and wondered at the sheer power of the river before heading back.

And so to our final night in Germany this evening, as tomorrow we will head into Switzerland again, making it officially our tenth country this year.

9-11 August: Bavaria – we’re back for bread, beer and barbecues

Author: Mr A

Location: Ottobeuren, Bavaria, Germany

Three years ago we came to the small market town of Ottobeuren in southern Bavaria in response to an invite from a friend of Catherine’s to come and visit. On our way to Zurich from Austria we were again invited to come and hang out in this small town that epitomises all things good about this corner of the world. Fields of potatoes and corn dominate the rolling countryside, interspersed with the brightest green fields of lush grass for the grazing beef and dairy cattle.

A beautiful area to explore by bike – quiet lanes and endless cycle ways

We have spent a delightful few days here, eating and drinking and chatting with Catherine’s friend Stefanie and her family.

The gorgeous Stefanie and her youngest, Luna
Lovely Luna

We even got to meet all the neighbours at a BBQ, it was just embarrassing to not speak German! A few beers and conversation seemed to flow pretty well anyway. We love hearing about people’s lives in other countries, and picking out what’s the same globally, and what’s specific to their country or region.

Street party BBQ – helps neighbours and visitors get to know one another better
Manu and Stefanie’s daughter Luna decides Mrs A is ok after all
Ottobeuren Market Square – looking picturesque late at night as we cycle back to camp
Ottobeuren’s Basilica, founded in the year 764

Bavaria seems a very family based culture, and again like Austria, very keen to preserve its culture and traditions. The town has a real buzz about it, with a central town square full of cafes, and empty of cars at weekends and now evenings for a trial period. Families can let their children play in relative safety. Cyclists are everywhere, whole families out to meet friends over an ice cream.

Banana and raspberry sorbet for Mrs A
Mr A’s choice of ice cream includes chocolate, nuts and a dash of rum
One happy little boy post ice-cream
Mr Three, Tristan, demonstrates the real use for the stream running through the centre of town
Miss 15 months, Luna, decides her dry shoes and socks would make good boats….
A bustling town centre on a Sunday afternoon

There is a very strong community spirit….oh…and the locally brewed beers…fantastic! A Bavarian tradition is to sink a couple of wheat beers with white sausage, sweet mustard and pretzels over a breakfast they call “weißwurstfrühstück”. Any culture that has beers for breakfast gets my vote!

Welcomed into a family breakfast
You need to clink the bottom of the glass!

Ottobeuren is maybe not on everyone’s list of holiday destination, but there is more than just ice cream here. It is home to Ottobeuren Abbey which was founded in the year 764 with a spectacular Basilica (completed in 1766) which has been described as one of the best examples of Baroque architecture worldwide. The interior is breathtaking, with every inch covered in carvings, sculptures, beautiful marble pillars and frescoes. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area – Stefanie and Manu were married here, and each of their three children baptised.

Ottobeuren Abbey overlooks the whole town, its twin towers visible for miles around
Gorgeous artworks everywhere
Really need a guide to help interpret the stories shown here
Some of the artwork incorporates sculpture to help the characters literally step out of the paintings

Ottobeuren also has a museum of contemporary art, which Catherine and Stefanie went along to see. It’s housed in a purpose built modern building just off the market square and is somewhat controversial among local residents, some of whom see it as a waste of public money.

It was the final fifteen minutes of the final day of an exhibition of works by Markus Lüpertz, a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist and writer – one of Germany’s best known contemporary artists. Due to the lateness of the day they were allowed in free of charge. Sadly information about the exhibition was only in German and offered little insight into his work – a range of compositions in watercolour, acrylics and oil pastel alongside prints and sculptures, many seemingly themed around star signs.

Works by Markus Lüpertz
A lovely space for artwork but one wonders whether it could not be used for charity dinner parties and suchlike
The light in the building is as much art in itself

Manu and I solved the problems of the world over a couple of beers while we waited.

Catherine and Stefanie

It’s been a great insight into life in small town Bavaria, where you needn’t lock up your garage, you know your neighbours, and cyclists say hello to other riders. We’ve loved it. Ok so the fact that things are changing more slowly here means that’s there’s no nod to the thousands of foreign tourists who visit the local basilica, with menus and other signage exclusively in German. We struggled to find dairy free options for Catherine, cash transactions are the norm again and cigarette smoke hangs over every outdoor seating area like the death pall it is. The latter is the only real negative for us, and that has applied all over mainland Europe.

It’s made us appreciate how Australia is moving faster than Europe in some areas such as banning smoking in public areas and making transactions much easier with a strong and innovative digital payments infrastructure. But to us the big attraction here in Europe is not having to jump in a car to get everywhere, but instead having the ability to safely cycle through towns and countryside, stopping when we want, parking with ease, and having nothing but courtesy from other road users.

….even in the pouring rain!

Dramatic skies approaching us on Sunday night

8 August: Venturing into Germany

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pfronten, Bavaria, Germany

What we love about travelling in Europe is the the ability to amend our plans on the fly, make decisions at short notice and even change countries – all a great challenge in Australia, where at busy times of the year campgrounds must be booked well in advance (restricting any spontaneity) and as for changing countries…well, that takes both funds and planning, and it would be very hard to take a vehicle.

It was a message from our friend Stefanie pointing out we were only a couple of hours away from her in Bavaria that prompted us into pointing Truffy’s nose north upon leaving Innsbruck and head into Germany. It was a spectacular drive, through mountains and following rivers, through alpine tunnels and past countless castles and fortifications.

Yet another fine view out of our windscreen as we wind through the Zugspitze – part of the Northern Limestone Alps

The language, food and scenery sounded and looked very similar to Austria, but in just over an hour’s driving we arrived in the town of Pfronten.

I would love to say it was some secret knowledge that brought us to this village en route to see Stefanie, but it wasn’t, just a site written up on an app with good reviews – and we really hit the jackpot in terms of location. It turned out that a tavern had added motorhome parking to its car park – thereby increasing customer numbers and earning a side income. It was so much cheaper than we had experienced of late too, a total of €14 (AU$23/£13) for the night including drinking water and electricity.

I sat down with Google maps and plotted out what I hoped might be a good circuit cycle ride, taking in a few sights on the way. The region is literally riddled with cycle and hiking paths, and we had spotted a few castles and lakes on our drive through.

The paths started right at our campground, car-free tracks heading across the countryside, amazing views in all directions.

Five minutes ride from camp and we cannot see another human

Our first point of interest was the castle of Eisenberg, built in 1313. It has been owned by Germans and Austrians, attacked by peasants, built up, renovated and raised to the ground again in its 706 years lifespan.

Castle Eisenberg
A commanding position…ensuring peasants all around can be reminded who is in charge
Looking back towards the main castle
Enjoying the lookout from the tower

In the 1980s there was significant restoration of the buildings and interesting finds have been stored in a museum in the nearby village of Zell (open at weekends only).

Setting off on another typical pathway towards another amazing view…not too busy either!

We set off next towards Hopfensee, a large lake surrounded by villages and walking tracks, skirting the edge of the lake through the village of Füssen towards another lake, Weissensee. All tracks were off road, cutting through woodland, old farm tracks along fields, or purpose built alongside the busier roads, but felt really safe at all times. There were plenty of other cyclists around, big smiles on their faces, enjoying the sunshine, perfect temperature and stunning scenery after several days of rain and cooler temperatures.

Weissensee Lake – popular for swimming, paddle boarding and fishing
Looking over to the lakeside village of Oberried
Do these birds appreciate their view? Looking down Weissensee lake from Oberkirch

Our 40km circuit ride finished back at our local tavern for a refreshing beverage. Other than potatoes and vegetables there was nothing on the menu that was dairy-free, so we settled for a beer and glass of Riesling before heading back to Truffy for showers and to cook dinner. An awesome day.

6 – 7 August: Awestruck and dumbstruck in Innsbruck

Author: Mr A

Location: Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

Tuesday: Austria has been a really mixed bag of experiences, from the absolutely brilliant time we spent getting to know local friends, pushing our pedals around through scenery that was just so perfect, driving roads that made us go ooh and ah every few minutes. Yet every so often something happened that took the shine off Austria momentarily.

For instance, we had identified the campsite we wanted to stay at on the edge of Innsbruck and called them to be told “just turn up before 5pm you will have a place”. We turn up at 11am and are told “we are full”… I reiterated what we were told over the phone, so the story then changed to “well we might squeeze you in… it’ll be 35 euros per night (AU$57/£33)”. It was a muddy field with a reception/bar that smelled of unwashed toilets. I looked a little shocked at the price and said I will check with my wife… who just walked in the door at that moment… to hear the receptionist say ” you can just leave if you don’t like the price”… I said the price was high but we can pay it. She said “No! You can just just leave”.

Now this isn’t the first time we have come across this attitude where there is so much demand for camping and so few spaces. Australia has delivered its fair share of surly camp staff, but we’ve never seen such extreme arrogance. Travelling in popular places in high season certainly tests my patience with the way some people seem to relish displaying such rudeness from their position of power.

We left and drove down the road and booked on to a site that was 59 euros a night without flinching because the reception was polite and friendly and explained what we get for our money, which was a luxurious big site, free buses into Innsbruck, and 5 star facilities.

Who drives one of the world’s most expensive cars and parks it at the campground? We can only assume it is the owner!

So a bus into town and we are soon exploring Innsbruck, and what a lovely setting it’s in, nestled between soaring peaks.

A colourful city, feeling authentic
Tourists, business people and students fill the streets
The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)  – considered the symbol of Innsbruck – completed in 1500
We arrive just as the rain disappeared
Little lanes in the Innsbruck medieval old town
The sunshine bringing people outside

Catherine headed off to the imperial palace while I wandered the shops.

The imperial palace, completed in the year 1500
In 1765, the emperor died of a heart attack in this room, during the 14 day celebration of his son’s wedding. His wife turned it in to a chapel of mourning in his memory
A magnificent room ‘The Family Room’ decorated by artists using the family members as characters in the artworks… carefully restored in recent times….photography is forbidden apparently….
…as is seen by the man doing the YMCA movements in the background coming to tell Mrs A off…oops….
The Triumphal Arch – commissioned in 1765 to celebrate the wedding, was redesigned to have one side dedicated to mourning the death of the emperor
The bridge over the River Inn…a picturesque city
Such a treat! A delicious fish curry and lentils with BYO wine

We met back up to catch the bus home and I managed to fall down a step, scraping skin and denting pride. Then we got on the wrong bus back to our camp in the rush, and it was pouring of rain. When we realised our mistake we told the driver, and guess what, he dropped us off and called a taxi for us! Now how about that for service.

Bus drivers even wear ties in Austria

Mind you any positive thoughts about the bus company were then dissipated when we waited nearly two hours the next morning for a bus that never turned up, and the company said it had no idea where it was! I mean..really…

Wednesday: Eventually we made it back into town and headed up a series of cable cars that popped us out up in the mountains at over 2,300 metres.

At the first level – top of the funicular railway
At level three, the top of the mountains, 2,300 metres above sea level, the Karwendel Nature Park behind Mrs A
It’s rather fresh at 2,300 metres up and the air noticeably thinner
Admiring a bird’s eye view over Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains

A fabulous view, and a quick bit of lunch, in what was billed as a culinary masterpiece.

At Restaurant Seegrube, guests can enjoy traditional delicacies and culinary delights that leave nothing to be desired.

I know some of our followers will be physically shuddering at the sight of this culinary delight!

A frankfurter in a dry bun with some pickle didn’t really quality for that level of praise in my mind. We’ve had one lovely traditional dining experience in Austria here with our friend Maayke, but really that’s it. We did discover some wines though we really liked, and wished we could have found somewhere to try more.

Austria you have been a mixed bag…scenically amazing…cycling heaven…met some fabulous people, but not been the best experience as a customer in high season. We always knew August was going to be a challenge though and it likely would be the same in any country. I guess it could have been a lot worse. We’ve been enjoying cool weather and always found somewhere to camp…at eye watering prices compared to everywhere else in Europe, with the UK a close second!

5 August: Castles, rivers, mountains and views – quintessential Austria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Zillertal Valley, Tirol, Austria

After the quiet of the past few days it surprised us how busy the traffic was this morning in the Zillertal Valley, the sounds of lorries, motorbikes and cars echoing loudly from the early hours. After a cup of tea, we set up the bikes and headed off for the day.

We picked up things for a picnic from a nearby supermarket and followed the valley until we reached the Inn River. This is the river which gives Innsbruck its name (brücke means bridge in German). It may not look so in the photos, but the river is known as ‘the green river’ due to the particles of limestone which reflect the light from the sun.

Fields of sweet corn line the pathway, overlooked by mountains

Alongside the river is the Inn River Cycleway which runs 520km from the river’s source in Swizerland, through the Tirol region of Austria and finishing up in Germany. We were doing a short section of the river ride to make up a 65km return trip from camp.

The first castle of our morning, Schloss Matzen, looking like a fairytale palace

Our destination for the day was Austria’s smallest town, the medieval settlement of Rattenberg. The town has just 400 permanent residents but that is substantially bolstered by visitors – long distance cyclists, people on day rides like us and day trippers. It’s famous for its well preserved medieval buildings as well as the craft of glass blowing – there are several shops there.

The ride was just lovely – the river route is set up for ebikers and manual cyclists alike, with several break areas offering charging facilities, picnic tables, water, and inner-tube vending machines. The route is very gently undulating – we barely moved off the ‘eco’ setting on our bikes all day.

It’s an interesting route too, with little chapels, castles and villages dotting the landscape as we rode, giving the opportunity for a change of scenery or a break at any stage.

Rattenberg sits in the shadow of Rat Mountain and receives no sunlight for much of the winter
Mr A riding along an apple tree lined pathway
Crossing the fast moving waters of the Inn River

We rode through the cobbled streets of Rattenberg, evidence of its medieval history evident on every corner.

Colourful houses with coats of arms
Unknown story told in art on a street corner

We saw a steep lane way leading up to the castle and powered on up for a look.

The castle these days is used as an outdoor theatre

The views from the castle ruins are fabulous. This building dates back to the 10th century and only one tower remains today.

Looking out over the town towards the river and mountains
The one remaining building, the Bienerturm Tower – named after Chancellor Biener who was beheaded there
A couple of happy cyclists

We enjoyed a drink in a cafe in the town square, before heading back to camp. Well worth a look around if you’re in the area, especially if you’re on two wheels!

3 – 4 August: Into the Zillertal Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Saint Ulrich am Pillersee & Kaltenbach, Zillertal Valley, Tirol, Austria

Saturday: Our final day in the Kitzbühel region was very wet. We had been invited over to Maayke and her husband Simon’s house for lunch so we could get some cat-time and some ideas for places to visit during our next couple of weeks. We donned our waterproofs and hiked the 4.5km over to their house.

Raining cats and dogs on our walk over….

We arrived rather damp, but soon warmed up with a fabulous feast for lunch and shared a bottle of delicious wine while stroking their gorgeous Persian cats and getting some tips for further exploration in the Tirol area.

Adorable cats gave us our feline fix
Maayke, Mrs A, Simon and Mr A…the cats refused to pose

Sunday: It was time to pack up Truffy our motorhome and drive deeper into the mountainous Tirol region. We had been given a few suggestions about where to head and finally settled on the Zillertal Valley. It lies around 40km east of Innsbruck, and is well known for its network of cycling trails. But first we had to get there, and decided to take a bit of a detour on the way to see the Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in waterfalls in Europe – the fifth highest in the world. Their backdrop is the snow covered mountains of the Hohe Tauern National Park, containing their highest peaks.

We parked up and paid our fee, then we paid another fee to see the waterfalls. I must admit that’s a first for us, paying to see a natural landscape. Anyway it was quite spectacular, if you could look past the rows of cafes and streams of other visitors!

The force of the water is massive, sending a spray over everyone. Look to the right to see the scale – yes, those are people!
Getting a refreshing shower stood here
Mrs A trying not to slip into the raging torrent below
The view from the cafe where we stopped for refreshments

We moved on and followed a route that would take us over a high pass to the Zillertal Valley. Well that was quite an adventure, with the first part of the route being via a single track road with occasional passing places, sheer drops and largely no fencing! Of course we met two motorhomes coming the other way on the narrowest section. All breathe in! I’m so glad that we went for a left hand drive vehicle, as most of our challenging driving will be in Europe where I can see a little better what’s coming round the tight bends.

Sheer relief to be up safe and sound
How’s that for another fine view?

The view from the top of the pass was just breathtaking. We decided it would make a top lunch spot and settled down for a calming cuppa and a sandwich. Heart rate settled, it was time to tackle the route down, which thankfully was mostly on two lane roads. I just had to avert my eyes from the precipitous drop to my right. Catherine was as cool as a cucumber of course enjoying the views.

Another blind bend…this is a wide bit of road with white lines!
A bird’s-eye view over the valley as we come down the switchback roads

The bottom of the wide valley floor was reached and our campsite located. Nowhere near as nice as our previous one, crammed in next to a main road, but it will suffice as a base.

Off we headed next on the bikes down the valley, along with half of Austria it seems also cycling! It’s great to see so many different ages enjoying a ride on a glorious Sunday afternoon. Families towing trailers with nodding off children, mountain bikers wearing big grins and mud streaks, and of course the odd roadie with a serious game face on.

Not tired of the mountainous views yet
Mr A looking tiny

The valley is populated with a string of small villages nestled on the bright green slopes, the cycle path cutting through fields of corn, with jagged mountains piercing the sky in the distance. Not a bad ride at all!

Flowers line the banks of the Ziller River we cycle alongside for much of the ride

As all the shops are closed on Sundays, like most countries in Europe (frustrating) and supplies were low, we had an early dinner, and once again had to pay cash as no cards were accepted.

A glass of wine turned into dinner too
Is this the Austrian banks not supporting small business?

This was sixth time in as many days this has happened, and every time I have asked the merchant “Why no cards?”. The answers have ranged from “All our customers want to pay with cash” (when I was left wondering “Am I not a customer then, as I don’t?”) to “It’s too difficult as we are a small business” (I fight the urge to smile, remembering so many market stalls in other countries where I see traders using their phones or tablets to transact).

Austria appears to be a country that is very conservative in its culture, with its traditional food, dress and customs. Their approach to tourism it seems therefore is to offer what they always have, hearty food of meat and dairy dishes, chosen from a menu with no other language other than Austrian.

The incredible natural beauty of the country, and its seemingly endless options for outdoor activities, will keep bringing more and more tourists, with diverse expectations about what they want to eat and how they want to pay. Last year Chinese visitors to Austria were up by 25% for instance, and they. like me, will expect the convenience of paying by card, phone or watch, shopping when they want to, and seeing a variety of food options on a menu. They all seem to be sticking to the big cities though as we have only met a handful of non-Europeans since arriving here.

It will be interesting to watch how and if the Austrians adapt, hopefully without losing the traditional culture that is part of its charm and attraction. The government is certainly innovative in how it has invested in cycling though, even providing e-bike charging points along some of the paths!

The sun setting over the valley

We rode back to Truffy as the sun set, completing our 25km ride safe in the knowledge we were unlikely to meet a car on our path.

1 – 2 August: Tinkering around Tyrol

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kitzbühel area, Tirol, Austria

Thursday: Our journey out of Salzburg took us past lovely views of the castle, gleaming in the sunshine after yesterday’s torrential rain. Before long we were heading out of Austria and into Germany for about 20 kilometres, before returning to Austria, upping our 2019 country count to nine (if tiptoeing across a little corner counts!).

Farewell to Salzburg
View from our windscreen as we cross the country

Our destination was a little campground close to the village of Hochfilzen. The drive across was gorgeous, as rocky peaks revealed themselves, the land around us seemingly lifting up above our heads with incredible scenery. In the winter, this region is full of skiers with several resorts servicing the slopes, but as was evident as we drove in, summer is all about cycling. Our first impression as we drove the final few kilometres of our journey was that there are way more bicycles here than cars – fantastic!

We’re on a great campsite, surrounded by the mountains, hiking and biking paths starting right on our doorstep (and apparently in winter, the cross country skiing starts right here too). There are only about 20 sites on this family run campground, and it’s very friendly.

We had just finished lunch with my friend Maayke arrived. She’s another friend I have made through the support group I run for people with rare breathing disease idiopathic subglottic stenosis (iSGS). We had a brief catch up before all jumping on our ebikes for a tour of the area

Most of the routes we took are shared paths…
Having lived in relatively flat Australia the past 20 years we’re blown away by the majesty of these mountains
Really enjoying this!
Hard to stop smiling – Maayke tour guide extraordinaire and I at the start of our ride

And what a tour she gave us! Originally from the Netherlands, she has lived here in Austria for fifteen years and knows the cycling and hiking trails like the back of her hand. She and her husband are extremely active, as always making the curse of developing iSGS all the more painful. Thankfully Maayke found an excellent surgeon in Vienna who has hopefully removed the stenosis, and so far she’s doing really well and is back to a high level of fitness.

It was hard not to constantly stop our ride to take photographs, the scenery so stunning. After about 15km we reached the village of Waidring and Erika Schmid‘s cafe. It is famous among locals for its delicious and huge slices of cake and giant cups of tea. Everything in the cafe is home made, and upon hearing I was dairy free and hence unable to sample the cake, Erika whipped me up a fresh raspberry sorbet – delicious!

Takes some muscles to lift these cups of tea!
And as for that slice of cake!! (Maayke helped Mr A out a little)

After that feast, and given it was still such a beautiful evening, we decided to continue our cycle making it a just over 50km circuit.

Temperatures dropping a little as the day progresses
More photos as the sun starts to drop
The sun setting over the Lofer Range – 2,510 metres (8,238 ft) of rugged alpine mountains
The fields look unreal with the long afternoon shadows
Amazing skies as the sun sinks low

We toasted the end of our ride with a glass of Italian Rosata before retiring for the day.

Friday: It was a slightly disturbed night as a thunder storm roared over us in the early hours, echoing around the mountains and the rain sounding loud on Truffy’s roof just half a metre above our heads.

Maayke arrived just after 9am to take us on our next cycle tour, the scenery very different post-storm.

Mark and Maayke cycle off towards the mountains
Villages with views
An ever changing scene with the clouds hanging low

Friday morning is market day in the village of St Johann in Tirol, so we jumped on the bikes again to ride the 22km over there. We had purchased fresh bread from the baker delivering to our campground, so bought some additional ingredients at the market – an heirloom tomato, some freshly made dips, smoked fish, and added a cucumber from Maayke’s garden and we had ourselves a picnic. We enjoyed that in a nearby park, before continuing our exploration.

The endless search for sheep cheese
Smoked fish – a Mr A dream come true!
Mr A and I have honed our picnicking skills over the years – can prepare food on any surface!

Before long, the sky was darkening and our mountain views were rapidly disappearing. We decided it might not be wise to be cycling when the storm hit, and so rode to the nearby train station. As tourists, on arrival we were presented with personalised tickets allowing us (and our bikes) free travel on all buses and trains in the area – fabulous.

The train stopped a couple of kilometres from our campground, so it was a short ride back to camp for a cup of tea and showers.

Maayke was back again at 6pm, this time in her car, to take us to dinner. She took us to a local favourite, Gasthof Adolari in St Ulrich am Pillersee, beside a fifteenth century church and overlooking Lake Pillersee.

The 1404 St Adolari church is on a pilgrimage route
An ornate interior
Frescoes coat the walls and portraits of archbishops overlook the alter

We tried some delicious local dishes we probably wouldn’t have tried by ourselves, including a dessert – Kaiserschmarren, which was like a baked broken up pancake with apple sauce – made dairy-free especially so I could try it.

Delicious food and wine…as you can tell by our empty glasses!
Dessert unlike any we have tried before – Kaiserschmarren

A fabulous evening….we’re really enjoying getting to see Austria from a local perspective.

30 – 31 July: Salzburg…its not all about Mozart

Author: Mr A

Location: Salzburg, Austria

Neither of us had ever been to Salzburg, so with no expectations we caught the bus in to the city, via Mrs A getting a hair cut, and me getting passed Prosecco at regular intervals while waiting. A man can drink a lot of that stuff in nearly three hours.

A beautiful evening for a stroll along the Salzach River
Our first view of Fortress Hohensalzburg, the magnificent castle overlooking the city
The late afternoon sun shining through the water on the 16th century Residence Fountain in Residenzplatz Square

The city immediately dazzled us even with the low cloud hiding the tops of the mountains that surround the city. A wander round revealed a baroque lovers dream, so beautifully restored after being pretty much razed to the ground during World War 2.

Refreshing sprinkles from the fountain
Mr A is spat on by a horse
Meanwhile real horses wait for tourists to hire them to trot them on a tour of the streets
A grand entrance to Cathedral square
A fountain depicts Hercules fighting a dragon.
White buildings and green roofs dominate the city
A lovely atmosphere as we amble through the city’s many squares…this one boasting a statue of Mozart, complete with a string quartet busking…and doing quite well!
Strolling the cobbled streets to find some fine wine
Two glasses of Weingut Elizabeth Aurora 2015…very approachable…

We visited a wine bar where the waiters knew nothing about the wine they were recommending, and then ate a traditional Austrian dish from the menu of a random place I picked. Worst meal of the whole trip. In fact one of the worst meals I ever remember eating. Just a huge plate of pork, roast potatoes, a dumpling and some coleslaw. Not a single flavoursome part to it. Ah well…might be skipping meat for a while as it has put me right off!

Finishing off our evening with a stroll around the shopping streets, blissfully quiet as they are mostly pedestrianised (bikes allowed)

Today we had arranged to get our bikes serviced, so we rode over to the shop from our campsite, dropped them off and hit the sights again, this time going up to Fortress Hohensalzburg, the castle that sits perched overlooking the city.

A cool grey day, but the city still looks lovely from up at the fortress
The old fortified walls still remain in some parts of the city – visible in the wooded area opposite

We did the whole audio tour and are so glad we did. It revealed a fascinating tale of religious and secular power being so closely wed and of course exploiting the masses. Those masses rose up during the German Peasants’ War in 1525, when a group of miners, farmers and townspeople tried to oust Prince-Archbishop Matthäus Lang, fed up with their lot watching the rich getting richer and they barely fed.

Each archbishop had a coat of arms displayed on their specific amendments to the castle…this one had a turnip to reflect his family’s landowner status
Sitting at an altitude of 506 metres the cannons could shoot balls a substantial distance

History has a way of repeating itself and the current trend towards the concentration of money into ever fewer hands should be heeded. Australia for instance just had a near 10% rise in those living under the poverty line.

So the peasants were put down, and the archbishops continued to fortify against further threats, both domestic and international. They clearly commissioned well as there is no record of the castle having ever been breached. It was surrendered though on one occasion….to Napoleon. Well if you were going to surrender to anyone it probably should be him.

Now, that’s a pile of cannon balls….!
The benefit of getting to the castle early – avoiding the crowds
Stop us taking photos of the view, please!
The magnificent living quarters which house the museum
Glimmers of medieval history
Back down in the city, St Peter’s Monastery, cemetery and catacombs
The catacombs date back to 1178…fans of The Sound of Music may recognise this…
Bikes galore throughout the town

Our stomachs finally having recovered enough from our meal last night, it was off to my favourite food franchise…Nordsee!

Celebration!

They sell raw and smoked seafood, including my all time favourite thing in a bun – herrings and onions! Yum…Catherine joined as her Fear-Of-Missing-Out syndrome predictably kicked in. None too impressed, I was tasked with finding her a non-dairy hot chocolate. No easy task in this country let me tell you. In fact I failed, most cafe staff just looked at me horrified and I scuttled off. A pot of herbal tea had to suffice, although in my favour a vegan apple strudel was eventually located.

The rain threatened once again so we headed back to collect our bikes. A good job done by the shop. I think given the high level of cycling participation in the city it seems to breed a better standard of bike care. We now even have wing mirrors to stop having to crane round to see if the other is still in pursuit.

The rain thundered down and what is a couple supposed to do with time on their hands? Correct….Thank goodness for the BBC and its iPlayer providing the entertainment we needed to pass a wet afternoon in the 2 square metres of living space we are proud to call home.

28 – 29 July: Haunted castles and rainy days

Author: Mrs A

Location: Moosham Castle, Unternberg and Altenmarkt im Pongau, Austria

As we departed from Murau the cloud dropped, hiding all the views we had enjoyed over the past couple of days. Along with the cloud, the rain soon started, and instead of temperatures in the mid 20s, the day struggled to top out at 18°C. This is the coolest weather we have had since the east coast of Italy, back in May.

We drove east about 40 minutes, pulling up at a castle I had read about – Castle Moosham (Schloss Moosham).

Looking grand up on the hillside
Built in the 1100s, Castle Moosham sits high up on a hill
Truffy’s first visit to a castle

The castle had exchanged hands many times over its 900 year lifespan, and was purchased by Count Hans Nepomuk Wilczek in 1886. He was a great collector of antiques, and made it his life’s work to restore the building and to furnish it as a museum. He was an important figure in Austrian history, a researcher funding expeditions to the North Pole among other achievements. He built another castle near Vienna, Kreuzenstein Castle, in order to house his art collection in the 1800s.

His grandson Alexander was the tour guide for my visit (which I enjoyed while Mark chilled out with a cuppa soup and a good book!). His father (Count Hans Heinrich Wilczek) spent much of his childhood growing up in this castle, and now owns this and the castle near Vienna. Our guide lives in another castle nearby…hah we have our camper, who needs a castle?

I was not allowed to take photos inside, which was full of antiques, artwork and collectables from as far back as the 15th century. Alexander was particularly proud of portraits of famous Austrians such as Mozart, as well as extensive collections of suits of armour, weapons, prints and ancient texts in a library.

A fifty metre deep well is the centrepiece to the castle courtyard

This castle has featured in a number of documentaries, boasting to be one of the most haunted castles in all of Europe. It certainly has a gruesome history to go with it.

The history dates back to Roman settlement, where a fort was built at this location. There are a few relics left from Roman times – bits of pillar here and there, stones reused in walls, a tombstone encompassed into a wall.

During a period of 228 years ( between 1534 and 1762) , this castle was the location of 66 executions, of which 44 were attributed to persons accused of sorcery and witchcraft. The dungeons were cold and dark, and full of torture implements – collected from the world over as well as Austrian.

You can almost imagine having to await trial in these cages, terrified for your fate

Tour over, I rejoined Mr A and we continued to our next destination, Altenmarkt im Pongau. About 70km south of Salzburg, it was a random selection on the map, with somewhere to camp which had space! There are many places we have been recommended, but with overflowing campgrounds, bad reviews, and a minimum of three or four nights’ booking, we chose to avoid them this time. The issue with travelling in peak season, I guess.

The rain closed in, and we bunkered down for the afternoon, enjoying the cooler temperatures and an excuse to not do anything for once!

Monday morning dawned drizzling and grey, so we set about trying to find some storage for Truffy between November and March when we’ll be heading to Australia. It seems every single place in the south-east of England (we’re talking Brighton to Milton Keynes here, so quite a big chunk of country!) is fully booked out! One place said they had one space for us, but we would have to start paying the monthly fee immediately to secure it.

Feeling dejected, we put on our rain coats and decided to walk into town for some fresh air.

The cloud hanging low over the hills…it’s hard to believe this is a ski resort!

We got into town at midday, just as most of the shops were closing for a two plus hour break! The town was busy with people walking around, trying door handles, clearly with money burning a hole in their pockets, but unable to spend it.

The Roman Catholic Church, Maria Gebert can be seen for miles, particularly the golden cross on top of the spire
Cloisters opposite the church offer a peaceful respite from the rain

We enjoyed a hot chocolate in a local cafe, before having an amble around some of the shops which opened earlier than others. The early bird catches the worm as they say, and those shops which decided not to close, or opened sooner than others got our valuable euros.

The town predominantly lives for the winter season, servicing the Ski Amade ski area. Many of the shops sell hiking and skiing gear – Mr A’s favourite stores – he left with two tee-shirts and a pair of shorts. A successful visit!

26 – 27 July – Truffy heads west!

Author: Mr A

Location: Fisching and Murau, Austria

Our departure from Pirkdorf was quite a turning point in our trip… literally… as we started heading west. We have gone as far east into Europe on this trip as we will go. The next coastline we will see will be the English Channel in early September.

An atmospheric morning as we departed Pirkdorf

But we have a few more rides to pack in before then…. I know, I know… more days in the saddle! Well, given the incredible cycling infrastructure here, and the stunning scenic context it’s in…who could blame us?

The last two days we have based ourselves at a lovely campsite (Camping Olachgut) around 160km south of Salzburg, bang in the middle of over 30 marked cycling trails. We chose to ride along the River Mur Cycle Path, this being part of a 365km long route that runs from Austria’s mountainous west to Hungary in the east.

Cheerfully negotiating a forested pathway
Another picturesque view on the River Mur – there are several dams contributing to the electricity supply. This one near Fisching…
We lost count of how many magnificent bridges we cycled over
The River Mur rushes on past

Everything is catered for on this path, from the clear signage to the nearest beir garden or toilets, to water fountains and picnic tables. The crystal clear water of the Mur river cascades by our side, and our eyes are constantly drawn to the lush hills either side, peppered with chocolate box scenes. This is the Austria of our dreams, and we are really here, and loving it.

Amazing views everywhere we cycle
Lush meadows alongside the cycleway
A train every two hours – they allow bicycles so you can do a one way ride if desired
Riding through the grounds of an old monastery- being renovated while we were there
A stunning valley to ride through

After lunch we rode into the nearby medieval town of Murau….

The River Mau is a key feature of this little town
Colourful buildings abound with the presence of many church spires
The view from the church
Looking down at the clock tower
We take a diversion along the riverside…the history of the town’s brewery is detailed along this path
We head back to camp after hearing the first rumbles of thunder, signalling an impending storm and change in the weather

Last night we ate at the restaurant run by the campsite, a delicious traditional fare of liver soup for me and goulash for both of us, washed down with a glass of white for madam and a local wheat beer for me. I also had a desert of indeterminate origins, all I can say it was sweet (cream, raspberry coulis and ice cream perhaps). Chatting to our table neighbours from Hamburg, we also got tempted into a local drink – zirbenschnaps – distilled from the sap of pine cones!

Made from green pinecone sap in a bath of vodka for four days…it was strangely ‘ok’

The whole lot AU$62 (€38). We couldn’t get a takeaway from our local Indian for that in Australia!

We rode around 80km (50 miles) in two days…tomorrow we head onwards towards Salzburg…and give our behinds a bit of a break from the saddle!