This trip was more of an adventure than a holiday. After a fairly long trip last year we felt we could do an even longer one this year. It turned out to be a hard bike ride, with little in the way of relaxation or even tourist time. The map below shows where we went. We started in Venice and went up through the Dolomites stopping at Cortina d'Ampezzo and Misurina; then over the Brenner Pass into Austria to Innsbruck. In Austria we went through the Tyrol to Salzburg, and from there to the Danube; and we just followed the Danube downriver to Vienna.
Map of Europe covering our trip.
We are finding that, while we have always gone to Europe in September because the tourist season used to be over by then, it no longer seems to be. Europe is getting crowded even after the tourist season is finished -- there are probably a lot of reasons for this. But it means that hotel rooms tend to be booked up by the time we get to a town (a lot of this is thanks to websites like booking.com). This means that to be sure of a room, we felt we needed to book our trip ahead. I don't think we would do this again, certainly not on a trip like this, as it removes all spontaneity.
This is our bungalow at Camping Venezia. They were small but comfortable, we could assemble the bikes on the "porch", and they had a restaurant on the property for coffee. Venice was a short bus ride away.
These are our bikes as we start to unbox and assemble them.
Over the years we have tried a variety of methods of getting our bikes to Europe. The one we currently use is to travel on these small folding bikes (Dahons with 20" wheels and 24 gears). The boxes that we transport them in are corrugated plastic that folds down and allows us to carry them on the back of the bike when we are travelling. This means that we don't have to return to our starting place to retrieve our boxes. The boxes with the bikes in them are the size of a maximum sized suitcase, and weigh just exactly the maximum weight.
We arrived and had to get rid of jet lag. The best way we have found is just to carry on as if it were a normal day. So we went into Venice to get a new sim card for my phone and look around again. It is much cheaper to get a new sim card in Europe -- indeed in each country -- than to roam using Canadian phone sims. The big use of the European sim is data, we don't carry city maps any more, we use the map app with GPS on our phone.
In about 293 AD the Roman emperor Diocletion established the "Tetrarchy" to govern the Roman Empire. This was two Emperors, one for the East and one for the West, and two corresponding "Ceasars" to aid them, and also to be the next in line for the Imperial title. This is a statue that was set up in Constatinople to celebrate this event, although it is not obvious when, as Constantinople was still Byzantium and not yet the capital of the empire. During the Fourth Crusade when Venice sacked Constantinople and effectively destroyed the Byzantine Empire, these statues were part of the loot and set up as trophies in Piazza San Marco, where they are today.
Piazza San Marco
Naturally we went to the Piazza San Marco again. It is still one of the best squares in Europe.
Here is Kate trying to feed the pigeons in Piazza San Marco. Last time we were here there were hordes of pigeons and people feeding them. There were even vendors selling people pigeon feed. Now it seems it is illegal to feed the pigeons, so there are fewer pigeons, and people (like Kate) that try to feed them, must be surreptitious.
We wanted to go to the church known as Il Gesuiti, the Jesuit church in Venice. When we went last time I was admiring the wallpaper (which I never do) and when I went to look at it (it was blue fleur-de-lis on a white background), I saw that it was not wallpaper, but marble tiling. We wanted to see it again, but every time we went it was closed.
So we ended up going to Murano to buy some glass for Kate, and while there felt we might as well carry on to Burano, a very picturesque village farther North.
Murano celebrates its' glass making and this is a sculpture they have put up to show it.
Burano is like Venice in a small way, it has canals that go through the town but they are not used for traffic so much as mooring. It is a very colourful town though. That campanile in the background is indeed tilted. They were saying it was tilted as much as the campanile in Pisa, but it sure didn't look like it.
Well, off we go. The bikes were assembled, I had a new Italian SIM card for my phone, and we had our reservation in a small town called Crochetta del Montello.
The bikes all ready to go.
The first day is as we've found, long, flat and hot through the valley of the Po. No special problems, and the scenery is pretty uninteresting. We found our B&B through some effort because it was on a road that was not organized like every other road in the world, with the odd numbers on one side and the even numbers on the other. This is Italy, they had decided that on this road they would assign linear sequences (going in different directions) to each side of the road independently.
The next day we started to get into the foothills. These were the foothills of the Dolomites. It was pleasant valley riding, but as we both observed, this area of Europe is very much like BC. Almost all the riding we did could have been in BC, but where we would have logging roads in BC, they had paved roads in Northern Italy and Austria. The scenery was identical, and more than once we wondered why we had come all this way to bike BC bush.
This was just some church or some building that had been build into a rock overhang on a cliff face we passed.
We stayed the second night at an inn outside Mezzano, and the next day we started up our first pass, the Passo Cereda. This was grim work, with up to 15% grades that went for several kilometres.
This is Kate (and Rabbit and her 'Hawkins' Cheezies, being held up as a lure) The sign points down, I don't remember seeing any signs giving the grade on the way up. I think they were only worried about braking, not climbing.
This is Kate at the top. Despite the fact that the passes in the Dolomites were pretty low, they seemed harder because they are steeper than French or Spanish passes.
This is a fairly common Tyrolean building practice. One half of the building is the owner's house, the other half is the barn. This would save on heating.
We stayed in a B&B in the town of Aleghe just before the Passo di Falzarego. Then we hauled ourselves up Falzarego, which only barely broke into the Alpine.
This is a typical scene on the way up to a Dolomite or Tyrolean Pass. We seemed to be always looking up at the neat farmhouses perched above you that you knew you would have to climb up to.
These are the final switchbacks to Falzarego, with a mountain called Tofane in the background.
This is the scenery at the top of the Falzarego pass with typical Dolomite mountains. They are made of a compact limestone that gives distinctive steep faces.
This is at the top of Falzarego. The snow is from the roofs of the building, showing that it was snowing here last night.
This is Kate thinking about buying a fetching biking dirndl. She didn't.
The descent from the pass to Cortina was a pretty good descent in the sense that it was not too steep and so we could keep our speed down without overheating our wheels. This is always a consideration of these small bikes.
Then we were in Cortina. This is a very popular ski area (featuring in James Bond films), but is showing its' age and lack of investment. We had a rest day in Cortina and saw the sights, such as they were. The best sight is undoubtedly the scenery around it.
This is Kate in front of our hotel as we were leaving.
The trip from Cortina to Misurina, where we planned to spend two nights so that we could bike up to the Auronso Refuge and see the Tre Cima di Lavaredo was a short hop. However it gained significant altitude and in typical Italian style, it did it suddenly.
This is Greg pretending to rest while studying a sign on the way up to the Passo Tre Croci between Cortina and Misurina.
This is us at the Passo Tre Croci. The road from here to Misurina is relatively flat.
This is Greg's bike parked with the motorcycles at the Grand Hotel de Misurina.
Kate thought the hotel was creepy, but Greg had no problem with it. It was a strange hotel that catered to busloads of tourists at once. If you were not with a tour group, you were relegated to the back dining room. We met some interesting people there.
The next day was the day we wanted to go up to the Auronso Hut and see the Tre Cima. This ride is used in the Gyro d'Italia, the Italian equivalent of the Tour De France, and it is about the equivalent of the Alpe de Huez. It is shorter, but it is steeper. If you are not a cyclist this means that it is a very hard climb.
Well the day started grim. It was raining all night and still in the morning, but started to clear around noon. So, somewhat apprehensively, we started up.
This is the view of the Tre Cima from the road in. It is severely fore-shortened because we are relatively close to the base.
This is looking back down the road we came up. It is steeper than it looks. There were continuous sections of 15%, which is tiring for old, derelict bikers like me.
This is how the mountains looked from the hut itself. Very foreshortened.
This is looking out from Refugio at the Tre Cime. We arrived and parked just as it started to pour. We took refuge inside, Kate had grappa and Greg had tea to prepare for the descent. It quit raining for us to leave.
After spending the next night at Misurina, we headed off for Bruneck or Brunico in Italian. We were now into the Tyrol area of Northern Italy. This is German speaking country as it used to belong to Austria, and Italian started to disappear as the native tongue and was replaced by German. So the towns all had two names now, Italian on the maps and signs, and German in reality.
This is a bench where we had lunch on the way to Bruneck.
We liked Bruneck. It was a pleasant little town with pleasant hills around. We spent most of our time there trying to get a new tire for my bike. Once again it was in the process of failing. We had to go to this sports store with these "climbers" up the face showing incredibly bad rope technique.
This was the view from our hotel room's balcony showing the town, the surrounding scenery and the grey skies that were to plague us for almost the whole trip.
From Bruneck we biked to Sterzing/Vipiteno at the foot of the Brenner Pass. And from Sterzing we headed over the Brenner. We had a significant tailwind heading up to the Pass and this had the effect of blowing Kate (who is much lighter than Greg) over it. She thought it was the easiest pass she has ever pedalled. Greg on the other hand felt no discernable lift and had to peddle over the Brenner like every other pass.
Brenner Pass is not just a pass, but an actual town with railway yards and a significant main street. This is the view as we left.
After going over the Brenner of course it was easy going down to Innsbruck, although long, and then through Innsbruck to our hotel. We stayed in a university dorm that is converted into a hotel when school is not in session. What school was doing not being in session in late September was a different question.
At any rate, we were now in Austria. Kate could speak to the people using her German, mine was pretty rudimentary.
The Hofkirche was a church purpose-built to house the coffin of Emperor Maximillian I. In the end he didn't get buried there, but the bronzes around the coffin, along the sides are exceptional. Some of the artwork for them was done by Albrecht Durer.
There wasn't a lot to see in Innsbruck, but we stayed there for 2 nights to rest up. The next day we started down the Inn (the river that goes through Innsbruck) to Wörgl, and then up a valley a bit to the town of Itter. We generally stuck to the "radwegs" (bike paths) although they were a bit longer. Austrian roads have poor shoulders and so the drivers prefer you not to be on them. This was acceptable until you come to dirt roads. We needed to get our kilometres in, and didn't appreciate them sending us off on cart tracks and worse.
These are some cows with ceremonial headgear. They are lead in parades and decorated for it.
We made it to Itter just as it was starting to rain. We were staying at a ski lodge (one down low) and it was pretty much shut down for the season. They managed to make us some goulash soup for supper which was appreciated. Then we headed for Unken just near the border with Germany.
This indicates the choice you have in biking in most of Austria. You can either go on the well-paved highway with no shoulders and heavy traffic or the unpaved bike path that rarely goes directly where you want and often gets less bikable.
After Unken we took the bike path through Germany back to Austria and Salzburg. The only way we knew we were in Germany was my smartphone telling me I was now roaming. By the time you are in Salzburg you are out of the Tirol and biking on much flatter lands.
These street performers are entertaining. You do a double-take the first time you see them.
We stayed for 3 nights in Salzburg. It was a nice medium-sized town that relied heavily on Mozart for its' tourism. It did have an impressive castle, the Hohenschloss, that we spent most of a day wandering around. The following day we took the train to Hallein to visit a salt mine. Unsurprising, given its' name, Salzburg gained its' reputation and prosperity from the salt mines in the area.
It was when we were at the train station that we encountered the migrant problem that Northern Europe is having. The place was full of soldiers, and I was told that all papers were being checked as you crossed the Austrian-German border now -- despite both countries being in the Schengen area.
This is a view of Salzburg from the Hohenschloss.
Leaving Salzburg we were heading for the Danube (Donau). This was going to take several days. The first day took us through the Salzkammergut, a pretty area of lakes and hills East of Salzburg to the town of Steinbach; where we had to climb several hundred metres from the lake to our B&B. This was one of those places with a fantastic view that I always say I will stay away from, but for some reason we had no choice. In any case the woman who greeted us was bright and chatty and showed us her farm animals (the goats were a hit with Kate). And we had a very nice room. We had bought stuff to make supper with in the town, so we had a comfortable night. This area would have been a lot more welcoming if the sun had been shining, as it was it was gloomy all day, and continuously threatening to rain.
This is the view from our balcony. You can see the clouds and the altitude.
The next day we started in earnest for the Danube. We went over the last pass of the trip right out of Steinbach, through Gmunden and found our hotel (more of a European motel) in Vorchdorf. Now we were in the general Valley of the Danube.
Okay, this is your gross interlude! We encountered these toilets in several places in the valley of the Danube. Yes, that is a "feces admiration platform" in the bowl. I don't know why they do this, Freud came from Austria, I think they have a lot to answer for.
Our hotel in St. Valentin.
The next day took us past the outskirts of Linz to the town of St. Valentin where we stayed in this interesting art nouveau hotel for the night.
We finally made the Danube the next day. From here on to Vienna we would be biking along the Donauradweg, the bike path along the Danube. This was almost always paved, and was a good bike path to get in our kilometres.
This is a typical view of the Danube from the bike path.
By the time we were biking down the Danube, we were getting pretty tired of the trip. We had booked our hotels in advance and so we had to get our seventy or eighty kilometres in each day. It meant that we arrived at our hotels late in the day, and fairly tired. We didn't have either the time or the inclination to see the sights, we just rested, ate and slept. The next day we did it again. It turns out we only did this for three days to get to Vienna, but it seemed like a forced march to make it there.
Here is a place we didn't see. I had wanted to visit the monastery at Melk during this trip, but by the time we got to Melk, it was too late, and we had to leave early the next morning to make Tulln.
Occasionally we encountered these flood height sign boards. The Danube clearly floods despite the damming that has been done, and we did encounter flood gates that could be installed across the bike path. We also saw some communities on the low side of the dikes that had all the houses raised on stilts.
The Danube bike path, or in Austrian "Donauradweg" is also European Bike Path 6. We saw these signs a lot.
This is a flood gate on the dike. When the waters get to threatening levels, they truck in the gates themselves and install them in these slots.
These are the houses on stilts. If the dike overflows, they will still keep the owners dry -- to a certain extent.
We biked along the Danube for three days. Biking along dikes is generally boring biking because it is flat. There are no winding roads, no surprises, generally just fields around, and no hills to go up or down. There is river traffic, and the scenery alongside the river. Not enough to keep one entranced for three solid days. Finally, however, we got to Vienna.
We didn't have long to stay in Vienna, but sort of caught the highlights. We stayed in a comfortable pensione just outside the Ring road. It was about a half hour walk to the centre of town and the Hofborg Palace
The Arms and Armour museum at the Hofborg seemed like it was frozen in time in the 16th century, just before the introduction of gunpowder. Much plate armour, but not a chainmail coat to be seen. All the weapons had that appearance as well.
There were no available tickets for the Vienna Staatsoper when we were there, so we had to do with a potted concert of Mozart, Strauss and Lehar. Quite nice, but not serious.
Next day we went out to the Schonbrunn Palace and took a crowded audio tour. Interesting look at a vanished past.
Kate wanted to see this building: the "Hunterwasser House", a building modified by an artist pretending to be an architect. He liked bright colours, hated straight lines, and thought floors should undulate. A children's artist.
Finally we flew out of Vienna and spent a night at an airport hotel in Schipol before getting on the long flight back to Vancouver. Joanie was there to drive us home. Thank you Joanie.