This is long overdue. Last September I indulged in my first proper European bike tour. I had spent 6 weeks working in Bratislava, SK and Brno, CZ and it didn’t take much googling to discover a wonderful network of paths and roads called the Prague-Vienna Greenways, that traverses pastoral countryside littered with UNESCO gems, castles, and Iron Curtain remnants. I was instantly sold, so Praha to Wien it would be. Or Wien to Praha. Logistics.
It turns out there are quite a few things to consider before pedaling off into the sunset on such an excursion. Pack light. Leave the SLR and laptop at home. Too easy nowadays for technology to outweigh essentials on trips and really slow you down. Hotel reservations? Not high season so hotel reservations wouldn’t be an issue. Yes, I am what they call credit car touring: I prefer a shower and a bed after 6-7 hours in the saddle! Call me high maintenance. Of course, a reliable bike. Plenty of rentals from local businesses that would suffice for short term tours, nothing to get exited about of course. The standard over here seems to be a mountain-ish bikes, even with front suspension! I guess folks be all into the PLUSH RIDE. In the end, Bike Bratislava set me up with a newish, quality aluminum bike, with panniers, extra tubes, patch kit, and pump. Frame almost looked like a dorkier derivative of something Salsa would put out. Yahoo. I headed out, knowing only two useful words in Czech, hranolky and pivo (french fries and beer.)
So without further adieu, I offer you The Official ManUnderStress Guide to International Bike Touring and Talking to Oneself Aloud in Remote Areas of the World.
Tip #1: Spend several months laboring to understand a cumbersome GPS unit with an 1980s interface. When finally convinced you can turn it on and off, leave it on the train. (This is known as Paying it Forward.)
In retrospect, losing the GPS turned out to be a good thing. It was one less device I would eventually get frustrated with and hurl at an unsuspecting cow. And it turns out the old smartphone worked fine coupled with an old fashioned paper map which I purchased from a specialty map store in Vienna on departure day. I will say that without question Google’s offline maps saved my ass, since I did not have cell service in Europe.
And so it begins in earnest, somewhere outside of Stammersdorf, a late start after spending a lot of time in Vienna and then trying to find the beginning of the path. The first leg of this adventure is also known as the Eurovelo 9 (EV9), and cruises through Weinviertel , which is famous for its, you guessed it…wines. Yeah, so Europe is filled with cross-continental bike paths that run (often parallel to rivers) for hundreds to thousands of miles, a system known as EuroVelo. Fucking paradise. Use OpenStreetMap data for downloadable routes and planning.
Once on the path, I am exhilarated instantly. Dream into action. The path rolls through fields far from the road and there isn’t a soul around. Apples and dead sunflowers and pumpkin patches. I’m tooling through the countryside alone, without a single life threatening distracted moron in a 4000lb vehicle near me. I don’t know where I’ll be staying or stopping or which detours intentional and unintentional I will take and that is the beauty of it all…
I stop for a beer and long overdue lunch in Wolkersdorf im Weinviertel, cute little storybook Austrian town. I am eating outside next to an entire old world marching band, uniforms, weird hats, and all. I am starving at this point and negotiate some sort of dumplings related feast with beers. I leave promptly realizing it is getting late in the afternoon and I need to get some miles behind me before finding a hotel. Leaving the city I get lost and almost get on the highway, until finally spotting the bike path across some fields. The path then veers far from any major road at this point, a few nebulous intersections further and I am riding down gravel and dirt paths, through farms and fields.
The sun is starting to creep low on the horizon so I decide to try and find a hotel in the next small town. Hit a pizza place and some nice ladies tell me there is no hotel, and gesture to go “that way” to the next town. Of course this direction diverges form the bike path so I opt to just keep on trekking the trusty EV9. I have 12 miles or so before Mistelbach where there will definitely be a hotel so time to book it. Gotterdamerung, baby. Knew I should have brought a good headlight. I will be riding in the dark.
Night descends softly, the path once again meanders far from the road. The magical glow of astronomical objects and atmosphere will provide a sustaining luminescence, so I’m not so worried. Towns are visible in the distance, all twinkles. Really, a wonderful time to ride. An hour or so later, I finally pull into Mistelbach, more small city than town with the most traffic I have seen so far. I find a hotel with the aid of a helpful English speaking waiter at a nice restaurant near the center. The hotel (believe it was Hotel Zur Linde) gives me the key to a storage room to lockup the bike. I have a super hot shower, then go for several beers and a big dinner. And thus concludes day one.