4-8 March: This year‘s Europe adventure begins…in Vienna

Author: Mr A

Location: Vienna, Austria

We decided to go ahead with our Vienna trip even though the medical conference that Catherine had been invited to speak at had been postponed . Covid -19 cases are pretty much non existent in Austria so far, and life continues with a degree of normality that has been comforting. Toilet rolls and hand sanitiser are on the shelves of supermarkets, and there’s hardly a mask to be seen. The streets are still vibrant with locals catching up over coffee and those wonderful Viennese pastries. The tourist hordes are missing, and of course that’s fabulous.

An oat milk hot chocolate for Mrs A – stark contrast to the rest of dairy-Austria

On our walk round the city we started to see the beauty in the architecture here. Voted the world’s most liveable city ten years on the trot, we wandered past the Sigmund Freud museum, as the father of psychoanalysis lived and worked here for much of his life. Countless grand buildings house the concert halls, palaces and universities that dominate this classy, urbane and clearly prosperous city.

St Stephen’s Cathedral is a striking landmark
Is there a light on? No, the late afternoon sun catches the window as we pass
A magnificent interior

In three days we haven’t seen anyone begging on the streets, or people sleeping rough. The locals dress with style, chic scarves tossed over shoulders draped in smart winter jackets. Trams whiz along broad streets lined with an eclectic range of up market shops. This is a city with panache, and we love it.

Walking past the magnificent Hofburg – a baroque palace filled with museums

The first night we met three of the senior cardio thoracic surgeons who had driven the establishment of the conference. They had invited us out to meet and greet, very kind given their punishing workloads. As usual I had that swelling of admiration for Catherine as she has positioned herself to help so many women suffering from the same disease as her self through the Facebook support group she established. Now with over 4,000 members it is literally a lifeline of knowledge and emotional support for them, and recognised as such by the world leading medical practitioners who work in the field.

The next day (Mrs A’s birthday) dawned with blue skies and crisp temperatures. What a pleasure for walking around. First stop was to see if we could get tickets for the opera at the main state theatre on Saturday, and we did. Opera in Vienna, a bucket list item for us. A plethora of restaurants and cafes line the pavements. We chose one on the river Danube that dissects the city. A lovely lunch of chicken soup (Catherine is fighting a cold) and a glass of the local white wine for which Austria is famous, Gruner Vetliner. It has really become a favourite of ours with its smooth elegant bouquet. In fact Vienna is the only city in the world that grows significant quantities of grapes within its city boundaries, housing around 350 vineyards. This is our kind of town! Great food, quality wine, and a relaxed vibe. There always seems to be time for the locals to have a coffee!

Horses and carriages outside the Hofburg
A horse and carriage trots past us as we stroll through the streets
We have just purchased tickets to the opera!
Inside the Hofburg
Everyone dresses like they are out of an advertisement, with a backdrop of stunning architecture in every direction
Every open doorway reveals another magnificently decorated courtyard

Catherine’s birthday dinner had been venue had been recommended by her key contact here. Dr Tom’s a super busy in demand doctor, but he finds the time to even book it for us, and what a superb choice it was. Croatian seafood was the focus, and after a melt in the mouth octopus entree we had talbot and succulent veggies baked in a big casserole type dish swimming with juices that cried out for bread to mo it up. I obliged…several times. We are definitely leaning towards being pescatarians these days, with an ever decreasing amount of meat finding its way onto our plates in the eating choices we make.

Cheers! A nice bottle of Gruner Vetliner accompanies our fish perfectly
A delicious birthday feast at Konoba Restaurant

We were a little nervous about the bill, as the fish prices were by the kilo and we hadn’t worked it out, but pleasantly surprised with a total of just shy of €90 (150 AUD), and this included aperitifs and a bottle of wine. Good value indeed. Budget worries are likely to feature in our plans given we are watching our investment portfolio, the returns from which fund our travel, get wiped by the market drops due to the virus. Ah well let’s see. It’s out of our control.

Mrs A is tempted by an exhibition at the Albertina museum
Mrs A spends a couple of indulgent hours enjoying the art in the Albertina while I entertain myself in nearby coffee shops

We wandered these city streets for four days, clocking up according to our iPhones over 43 kilometres of walking. It’s been an absolute delight with no real agenda we just leave our hotel and wander where our fancy takes us.

Some early signs of spring as we walk about the city
The Danube looking swollen and fast moving….we had little rain, and a brief sprinkling of sleet, but generally it was dry, despite the foreboding skies
The Scottish winter gear is appreciated!

Then it‘s our last night here and time to enjoy the opera at the main state concert hall. The Wiener Staatsoper is a massively grandiose affair and we felt so privileged to be there, dwarfed by the 1,709 seat renaissance building. The opera was Manon, not one we had seen before or knew anything about, but that didn’t stop us immersing ourselves in the pageantry and incredible musical artistry.

Pre opera dinner at Glasweise Währingerstraße, another recommendation from Dr Tom
Another fine meal recommendation – and popular with the opera crowd
Built in 1869, the Wiener Staatsoper is steeped in history and looks magnificent at night
The exterior architecture pales in contrast to the opulent interior
The incredible entrance hall
Every surface is covered in frescoes, tapestries, carved wood, marble and tiles – it feels palatial
Getting settled in our box with a fabulous view of the stage – €65 a ticket, last minute
The final bow from the cast of Manon – incredible voices

We leave with unfinished business here, always a good sign, there was so much we still wanted to do. Cycle down the Danube, visit some wineries, listen to classical music on a summers evening in the square sipping an Aperol spritz. Let’s see…

25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

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!

24 – 25 July – Continuing our cycle exploration of southern Austria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pirkdorf, Austria

We headed east from Ferlach and drove just 45 minutes to the small settlement of Pirkdorf. We then spent two days and 55km exploring the R1D, a signposted cycle trail through some of the quieter lanes and roads through sleepy hamlets and villages.

Setting off down a quiet lane – heading for the hills!

One of the reasons we enjoy cycling so much is the ability to see and experience things at a slower pace to the car. Yes, we are on electric bikes, which essentially give us the option to smooth out the hills, but we also get some exercise too – after all our legs keep on moving and we choose how much the motors help us.

The cycle route took us past houses and gardens, through picturesque agricultural lands – the wind whispering through fields of corn, the sunshine gleaming off the smiling faces of sunflowers, the lush green of fields of carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, all ripening in the summer weather.

A typical village scene with the church taking centre stage
Always we are accompanied by breathtaking views of the alpine peaks
Sunflowers and corn add a splash of yellow to the countryside’s palette
And always wildflowers by the roadside

It was midweek in the middle of what is the European school summer holidays, but there were few people around. The occasional person gardening, but otherwise all seemed deserted. There was not even a pub open for us to have refreshments.

Mr A cycles though another picturesque village

Every village has at least one little chapel-shrine (small buildings by the side of the road), often in the centre of the village, but also often on long country lanes, far from houses, probably for the workers to tick off a prayer or two while they’re labouring.

The other thing we noticed was the Austrians’ love of colour. Very rarely would we see a bright red or blue house in the UK or Australia, or two toned colourful shades, but it is frequent here. And they are all newly painted – every village looks affluent and smart, with not a scrap of graffiti or rubbish to be seen.

Schloss Elberstein (Castle Elberstein) built by a local artist in the village of Globasnitz during the 1970s
Mr A checks whether anyone is home…they’re not…when it is open, the public can explore the ornate interior and artwork
Just a few of the colourful houses we encountered on our ride…a veritable rainbow…
Even the local fire station is beautifully painted with a mural on the wall

My bike ticked over to 1,000km since we first purchased it (1 April) meaning we’re averaging more than 250km per month. They have definitely been a great investment. Mr A’s ticked over to 1.000km a couple of weeks ago – he had my surgery time to tick up a few bonus kilometres.

A thousand kilometres in four months…

It’s been a great introduction to Austria. Our only challenge has been the lack of English spoken by anyone. It gets a little lonely only talking to each other, we’re dying for someone else to converse with!

Tomorrow we start heading north. We’re expecting it to get a little busier the closer to the cities we get, but we know there will be more adventures and great scenery ahead.

Our stay in Pirkdorf concluded with a fabulous dramatic thunderstorm, followed by a beautiful sunset. Just lovely.

Our view from our lakeside camp
Truffy under the sunset