Trans Europe Trip: Week 8 (Mauthausen, Austria to Gyor, Hungary)

Riding in Austria

Mauthausen (May 23, 2015)

The familiar sound of rain woke us up in the morning. This time, not as bad as the last time. It was pretty much sprinkling through-out the night and morning before it stopped long enough for us to pack up and move forward on our ride.

We found our way back on the EuroVelo 6 real quick and kept our pedal strokes steady along the left bank of the Donau. We quickly passed Ottershiem and was on our way into the capital of Austria: Linz.

The heavy traffic and the steady rain drops discouraged us from riding into the heart of the city. We admired it from the left bank of the Donau and didn’t look back. We stayed on track to Mauthausen where we wanted to see the former location site of a large concentration camp during World War II.

The rain was relentless. We were drenched the entire 30 miles and when we got into town, we tried to seek refuge somewhere warm. The temperature dropped down to 52 degrees after lunch and that’s when we decided to call it a day and find a place to stay. We located one in the center of town which doubled as a restaurant called “Gasthof zur Traube”. The price was a bit high but we couldn’t move forward without freezing and setting up camp in the rain didn’t seem all that fun so we checked into our room.

After we took our panniers and parked our bikes in the “bike garage”, we had the owner of the place called a taxi to take us to the concentration camp about 4KM away. It was a good call to take a cab up to the memorial as we would have been looking at a 14% climb to the top. The ride was quick and efficient as our cab driver was very comfortable speeding through the rain.

We got dropped off at the entrance of the camp and walked up to the gate. We bought 2 audio tours and was given a device to listen to while we walked the site. It was a somber experience to listen to the atrocities that was happening at the 2nd largest concentration camp during WWII. This was the site where 100,000 people was murdered. Stories of how people were killed by the Nazis was very disturbing and sad. Harry and I walked through this camp quietly as we are trying to wrap our minds around what the audio device was telling us.

The camp didn’t just imprison Jewish people but all types of prisoners. As we toured the barracks and the infirmary the mood felt heavy. We got to see 2 ovens that was erected to burn the remains of the bodies. There was also a room thought to be where the gas chamber was as well as an execution room. I just can’t believe how cruel people can be during time of war. If you are ever in Austria, I highly recommend coming to this memorial if you’re near Linz. It is only 20KM away.

By the time we got back to our home for the night, it was about 3PM and we were drenched from the rain. We both relaxed with a couple of beers in the “gasthof” we were staying in. We also grabbed dinner at 7 and called it a night and enjoyed the rest of our evening in our warm dry room. The forecast calls for the same weather conditions but we’re optimistic that we’ll get some good riding in.

Wild camping it under a restaurant in Hößgang.

Wild camping it under a restaurant in Hößgang.

Hößgang (May 24, 2015)

Harry and I got up at 6:20 to pack up once again. I had little to put away which included my clothes and electronics that was out for charging. We decided to go downstairs for breakfast at 7. The owner allowed us to indulge early as breakfast wasn’t official ready until 7:30. After breakfast we went back to the room to grab all our bags and moved it to the entrance hall way and pay for our stay there.

Once our bikes were retrieved from the bike garage, we loaded them up once again for the ride. The hope was to ride to Melk today. The weather was actually cooperating for the most part. It was wet but not raining which is a big improvement from yesterday. We stayed on the left bank all the way until the town of Mitterkirchen im Machland. There was a great bicycle sanctuary there. Unfortunately, it was closed but at least they had covered seatings. The air became misty by now.

After the break, we decided to cross over to the right bank into the town of Wallsee-Sindelburg except it was confusing on how to do so but we figured it out after riding in the wrong direction. When we got over to Wallsee-Sindelburg, we had to ride through 2 routes until we found the right one that lead us east out-of-town. A rather frustrating ordeal but nothing we haven’t been through before. We continued to follow the EuroVelo 6 signs through several small towns and lush fields of hay. The weather by this time started to intensify. It was drizzling and my glasses was dotted with rain drops and my face was soaked in a layer of mist. We continued on until we reached the town of Ardagger Markt where we decided to grab a cup of coffee at a bar.

The bar was bustling at 10 in the morning with the local men there socializing with a couple pints of beer. People were smoking incessantly while they socialized. Apparently it is ok to smoke in restaurants in Austria. Very hard for me to get used to it. Because of this, it feels like Las Vegas without the gambling and glitz. When Harry and I left the bar, the rain picked up steam and was coming down hard. So hard that we both pulled over to find cover under an old building awning. We then went to another restaurant that had a lobby area. We just plopped ourselves down and waited the rain out.

15 minutes later, the rain stopped but the temperature was still cold. We gritted our teeth and continued on. The route put us back next to the Donau as we snaked in and out of more farms. We eventually made it to the town of Hößgang which is a tiny little hilly community on the right bank opposite to Grein.

The first thing we saw was a restaurant on the side of the path. I saw an empty room to duck out of the rain so I got in. Harry then came up and we examined the room after my restroom break at the porta-potty near-by. We both jokingly said that this would make a really good place to camp for the night. Harry volunteered to go up and ask the restaurant to see if we could stay for the night. After consulting with a customer who spoke more English, the owner agreed to allow us stay there. I was shocked and in disbelief that she was so cool about it. Through out the afternoon I kept on thinking she didn’t understand and change her mind but when we grabbed lunch and dinner she confirmed that all was okay.

The lesson here is that you don’t get anything if you don’t ask and that setting up for camp at noon is way too early. We ended up napping and reading a lot for the day. Not bad but we both wished we could have ridden more miles but we’re thankful that we don’t have to spend money on camping outside in the wet conditions. For once we are dry (but cold) while the weather system continues to saturate everything outside. I am very thankful for this fortunate experience.

Schloss Schonburn

Krems an der Donau (May 25, 2015)

The room while perfect for the rainy conditions was not forgiving acoustically. Every shuffle of our sleeping bags or sleeping pad can be heard. Several times I was waken up by the slightest sound. On top of that, it was very dusty as you might expect a construction project to be. My tent was covered with dust as I put everything away in the morning. Harry and I made a quick breakfast on table and chairs under the restaurant’s umbrella before we continued on our journey.

It was going to be a big day. We were determined to make it up by riding to Krems an der Donau which was over 80KM away. We stayed at the right bank in morning all the way through past Ybbs an der Donau and Pöcharn. We stopped to have a quick snack at Pöcharn before crossing over to the left bank. Tailwinds then helped push us to the town of Emmersdorf an der Donau. We actually got there sooner than we thought. We ended up continuing our ride to Schallemmersdorf where we finally grabbed lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road. Luckily the wind was still blowing hard and still in our favor. We jumped on and continued north up the Donau and witness one of the most beautiful stretch as we ride through the Wachau Valley which is home to Austrian’s wine country.

We rolled through towns like Willendorf in der Wachau, Spitz, Joching, Dürnstein, and finally made it to Krems an der Donau. We were pleasantly surprised with the scenery we were treated to. Vineyards after vineyards on the left bank and the right bank housed a few castles like Benediktinerstift Göttweig and ruins like Aggstein for us to admire from afar. There were so many cyclists cruising through these towns. The most since we started biking through Austria.

We had to get in some wine tasting of some local wine so we stopped by a “vinotek” to sample a glass of their once famous wine in the 70s and 80s. It was crisp and refreshing after a long ride. It made riding more enjoyable (if you know what I mean). We found our campsite in Krems. It was rather expensive and crowded from people vacationing the Wachau Valley. We did some laundry and I made some dinner before we called it a night. Tomorrow we go to Vienna!

St. Stephan's Cathedral

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

Vienna (May 26-27, 2015)

We had some good and bad news. The good news, it didn’t rain. The bad, it was windy. The wind rattled our tents throughout the night and woke us up on several occasions. We got up early at around 6:30 and was ready to leave by 7:20. The sprinkles started to fall as we pedaled through Krems an der Donau. The forecast calls for a 90% chance of rain in Vienna. We were not looking forward to that.

As we crossed one street, I noticed a train station to our left and pointed it out to Harry. Harry immediately suggested that we take it into Vienna. Why should we endure an unpleasant ride when we can stay dry and enjoy a nice train ride into one of the most beautiful city in the world? It’s very hard to argue against that kind of logic. So I agreed to it and 20 minutes later, we were sitting on a one-way train into Vienna.

This trip has been several moments like this where we lived in the moment. We made split decisions that altered our entire trip outcome. Some out of necessity and some just because we can but at the end of it we are always glad we made the choices that we did. Many bicycle tourists might think that we’re cheating because we didn’t ride every mile of the way or we didn’t camp every night and that’s fine. You have your opinion but we don’t need to ride every single mile or stay in torrential downpour. It’s not all about being on a bicycle tour. It’s about living life. The bicycle is just our perfect way to get us through to enjoy ourselves for the most part.

When we got into Vienna, we quickly got direction from a taxi driver to the hostel that I looked up the night before. I had jotted down the address so we used that as a point of reference. Harry reminded me that his GPS has the European maps downloaded on it and so we tried to navigate to the hostel by the address I had written down. The turn-by-turn direction turned out (no pun intended) to be our saving grace as it brought us to the front door of the hostel.

We checked in and immediately took the tram (#2) into the city. We got off at the Schwedenplatz and walked into the heart of Vienna. The buildings were beautiful and St. Stephen’s Cathedral was spectacular even with the rain trying to dampen our day. The main street of Rotenturmstraße lead us into Stephansplatz where the streets was closed to car traffic and was covered with tourists wondering in all directions in and out of shops and restaurants. There were several Mozart themed gift shops selling all sorts of gifts unique to Austria.

Harry and I wandered around and had lunch at an Italian restaurant on the main strip. We then found the Information office and booked ourselves a concert that is held at a small church nearby at 8:30 in the evening. We walked around some more but when the rain intensified, we rushed back to our tram stop to take it back to our hostel. We dried ourselves off and waited until it was time for dinner. Our lives have been about riding, eating, and sleeping so when we get days like today where we are not riding, we run out of things to do. Luckily, I have a blog to keep up so I was parked in the hostel lobby doing what I do best while Harry is in the room reading and napping.

When 6PM rolled around, we both headed out back into the city center by tram to grab some food, some drinks, and enjoy a 4-string quartet performance at the St. Anna Kirchen (church). The performance was superb as they performed 4 pieces from Mozart and 4 from Beethoven for about an hour. We both went back to our hostel and room having enjoyed a great evening doing what a true tourist would do in Vienna: listening to classical music.

4-string quartet concert

4-string quartet concert

The next morning, we woke up and decided to check out the Schloss Schönbrunn palace. Under the advice of the staff in the hostel, we took the underground 6 and tram 58 to get there.

The place was spectacular and filled with so many tourists. There were all types of people including a group of monks taking photos with their smartphones. That was certainly an ironic thing to see. We walked around the front courtyard and then went to the back garden to discover an expansive landscape beautifully manicured by the gardeners there. The fountains were beautifully installed and functional and there was an uphill hike to see another monument which was worthwhile as you can peak to the North and see the entire city line with the palace in the forefront.

We then took the tram and underground back to the city center where St. Stephan’s cathedral was located to go check out Ammadeus Mozart’s apartment in Vienna. We paid for the €20 to go on a 3 story apartment tour which included an audio device, a museum explaining the history and life of Mozart, and his 1st floor apartment space. It wasn’t really worth the price but if you’re a Mozart fan, it might be good to check it out. Many of the information was more speculative than anything.

We then went to find lunch and settled on another Italian place. After lunch, Harry and I decided to go our separate way while he went back to the hostel and I continued sightseeing. I took the “D” tram line to the Belvedere Palace and saw another beautiful Vienna property. The garden was also immaculate but not as big as the Schloss Schönbrunn. It was worth a peruse if you have never been there before.

I then headed back into the middle of town and accidentally found myself at the Haus of Musik which was like a music museum. I decided against paying for another audio tour and just checked out their lobby display and listened to winners of EuroVision’s music contest. Harry and I was watching this a few nights ago when we were in Passau and in Mauthausen. Very entertaining show considering we didn’t have anything else to watch on television.

I decided to finally leave the heart of Vienna and headed back to the hostel. I caught up on some more Internet tasks and Harry and I walked over to this shopping center near the Donau. We went to another “Mexican” restaurant. Let’s just say they don’t make it like they do in California. We both returned back at the hostel and fell asleep reading our respective books.

Patrick's bike

Patrick’s bike

Bratislava, Slovakia (May 28, 2015)

We got up with the urge to be on our bike after not riding for 2 days. We crossed over the Donau which was conveniently located close to our hostel. We just followed bike paths that kept us riding East. The route today was incredibly simple and somewhat boring to follow.

This was where we met another cycle tourist named Patrick, a German who is planning to ride to Australia and perhaps around the world if he still have anything left over from savings. Patrick was a jovial chap and was curious about our bike and trip as we were curious about his. We wished each other good luck and left each other. Of course, he eventually caught up and pass us right before we stopped for lunch.

We continued over to the last big town in Austria named Hainburg an der Donau. We kept our heads down as we faced some small uphill riding out of the country. We eventually crossed the border over to Slovakia. You immediately feel the difference. Every country up until this point felt a little more polished in a way but Slovakia felt cold and busy. We found our way at the center of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

Harry and I went straight to the information office to find out where the local Hostelling International was located. Once the directions was procured, we rode over to the hostel only to be told that they were still checking people in. Luckily there was free wifi for me to check my email because we got a response for a Warmshowers host. He said he couldn’t host us but have someone at their bicycle kitchen who can host us and all we had to do was meet him at the fountain in the middle of town at 6:30PM.

We immediately left the hostel and went back into town for lunch while we waited for the meeting time. We eventually walked through the center of town and then found a pub that was selling €1 beers! Harry and I slowly dragged our time there and finally at 6PM, we decided to walk over to the fountain.

At the fountain, this one guy with a full beard, sunglasses, and longer than normal hair greeted us. His name was Thomas and he was the person who responded to us. Apparently the person I was talking through in Warmshowers was an alias for their Bike Kitchen. There was other people there, one being Cecille who was a French girl who was also staying along for the Warmshowers. We were then brought over to the same pub that was selling €1 beers and had another beer while we waited for our host for the night.

With our host in Bratislava

With our host in Bratislava

We spent another hour chatting with Cecille and other people from the Bike Kitchen. We were asked to join their Critical Mass ride the next day. Our host Katarina showed up and told us that she was going to have a couple of beers with her buddies at the bar. I bought her 1 round of beer while she bought 2 more for herself. By the time she was half way done with her 3rd beer, dusk began to fall and it was almost 9PM. So we decided that we would meet her at a bus stop near her house. She was going to take the bus home while we pedaled through town again and then finally cross the bridge to the south side of the Donau.

It was a harrowing experience as I lead Harry and Cecille to the meeting location. We braved the scary Bratislava drivers who seemed to be as bad as LA drivers in the city. The area lacked any bicycling infrastructure like the rest of the EuroVelo 6. We finally got to her bus stop and called Katarina. She was apparently already home and came down to fetch us. We followed her back to her apartment and we each took turn pushing our bikes into a room and removing our panniers. She offered us a shower (which the hot water is turned off at midnight) and cooked us a quick meal for dinner. It was about 10 something at night and we were starved. She made eggs and gave us bread to eat. It was delicious and we were tired.

What a crazy contrast to where we were a few hours prior. We got to meet local people who gave us the information about their town and culture. We were blown away by Katarina’s hospitality as we finally got to bed past midnight. We were told to leave before 8AM before she goes to work. We obliged and setup an alarm for 6AM the next day.

Riding with Cecile

Riding with Cecile

Gyor, Hungary (May 29, 2015)

At 6AM, the alarm finally woke us up. We were pleasantly surprised by the blue sky and sunshine. We started to put our stuff away and enjoyed some coffee and tea that Katarina had prepared for us. She needed to be at work to help take care of disabled people. She was also very active in the Bike Kitchen by cooking for the volunteers. I can tell that people are very tight knit in this thriving little community trying to improve the state of bicycling for themselves and for travelers like us to get around easily.

There was certainly a lot of things to do as we witnessed it first hand. All the roads are in desperate need of repair and the signage is very lackluster. Even the EuroVelo 6 signs seem to have disappeared. More on this later.

We finally got out of her house well before 8AM and said our good byes before we headed back towards the Donau. This time we were joined with a new companion, Cecille, the French girl who was also going to the Black Sea. She may stick around until we reach Budapest or maybe even Belgrade. Her friend was going to meet with her in Belgrade at June 12th so she just needed to stay in town to hang out with her before starting her journey in Romania and Bulgaria.

Unlike the night before, we were able to navigate out of the city easily and back onto some bicycle paths out of Bratislava. The route was essentially a 2-lane road which paralleled the busy highway. It had barricade that kept some cars out. I say some cars because we had 2 cars driving by us during the ride South. We passed the town of Rusovce and kept our pace towards Cunovo where we enjoyed a breakfast at a local restaurant who was able to make scrambled eggs and bread. First time we had eggs in consecutive meals! The place was pretty much empty with 2 other guys sitting at a close by table. One of the guys asked us a series of questions and proceeded to tell us that he has a cousin living in LA. He even taught us how to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Good-bye” in Slovak. Only thing I could remember was “Hello” which was an easy “A-hoy!” (like a pirate).

After our meal, we made a quick stop at a local market to get food for lunch. We bought bread, meat and cheese with some snacks. This all came out to only €4.10. Cheapest groceries on this trip for lunch. I think I’m going to like Eastern Europe for this reason alone.

Our route in Cunovo was not marked but they did have warning signs for motorists to watch out for cyclists. We basically followed the streets that had these signs out of Cunovo until we passed the Slovakia / Hungarian border. The border itself was in pretty bad shape as it looked abandoned with broken windows and weed grass growing between concrete parking spaces. This was at par to what I thought Eastern Europe would look like. From here, we just followed the signs that indicated it was a bike route. out of the town of Rajka. We followed the map across other small farm villages on a Southeast trajectory. We reached towns like Dunakiliti, Dunasziget, and finally Halaszi where we took refuge at a lawn outside of a church for a picnic lunch.

The weather was perfect. It was sunny the entire time so we soaked up the sun rays for the first time in a month. We ate our sandwiches and snacks before we got back on the road towards Darnozseli, Hedervar, and Asvanyraro when we took a much-needed ice cream break. A Hungarian cyclist also arrived at the same time as we did and ordered a beer. He attempted to chat up Harry in Hungarian but the effort was futile. The exchange became a show & tell session where he started showing us picture on his phone of random things like the Donau, cars, animals, etc. It was rather funny, creepy, and annoying. We made out the fact that his name was Stephan. He lived in Gyor which was the town we needed to get tonight.

Hanging out with Stephan

Hanging out with Stephan

He then invited himself to show us or join us on our ride into Gyor which was only 20KM when we left Asvanyraro. Throughout the ride he kept on pointing out things and saying them in Hungary. Since he was on his road bike and was fast, he talked to me the most. I repeated after him after he would point and say something in Hungarian. If I knew what it was, I would say it in English. It was actually really cool that we had no way of communicating to each other intelligently but we still had a great time trying and riding our bikes.

Stephan insisted that he would by us a beer when we got to town and maybe even go see his house. We all refused his home visit but was open to share a couple of cold ones with him.

We finally got into the town of Gyor and both Cecille and I spotted a sign that had camping and rooms free. We decided to keep an eye out for it as the official camping spot on our map had it further out-of-town. We spotted this home with the word, “CAMPING’ painted on a sign outside. It looked like any ordinary home but it had pictures of the campsite in their back yard as well as rooms that they offered. We decided to ring their door bell. A lady came out to answer. She had really raspy voice from smoking a pack of cigarettes every day since she was 10. Cecille stepped in to talk to her in German about the camping spot and price.

We went in to intimidating barking from 2 of their angry dogs who was luckily locked behind an area near the garage. Once we past the dogs, the backyard opened up to a quaint little backyard for us to set up our tents. It only costed €8 each and had a small kitchen and showers. We agreed to stay. We then just left our stuff there and joined Stephen for the beers we promised. We walked about 300 meters until we found a small little biergarten where older Hungarian men were socializing and throwing back a few liters of beer from Hungary and Slovakia.

Stephan ended up buying us 2 rounds because the bar didn’t take euros. Stephan offered to show us our way towards our next town tomorrow. We agreed and setup a meeting time of 8:30 in the morning. We then went our separate ways as the 3 of us setup our tent and showered up before we head into the center of town.

Gyor has a college in it so given that it was a Friday night, young men and women were socializing at the local eateries and bars. The town wasn’t so big but the center was dominated by 1 restaurant. We decided to eat there as well. After dinner, the three of us crawled back into our own respective tents happy that it was a dry and warm night. Let’s hope this wonderful weather continues.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He’s also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.