By Eilene Lyon
After a lovely breakfast in the castle at Bad Kruezen, we breezed downhill on the bikes back to Grein where we visited the Stadttheater before heading out again along the Danube. Established in 1791, this is the oldest original theater in all the Germanic countries.
All of our short rides were behind us and the last two days were both more than 70 km of riding, though we would finish up with a train ride into Vienna. Tuesday, we followed the Danube, admiring castles along the way, riding into the Wachau Valley.
We had nice view of the large monastery at Melk, but heading into town would have had us backtracking two miles into a headwind and then dealing with cruise ship crowds. (The Danube is a favorite with the river-cruising set – a little staid for our taste.)
Our hotel for the night near Mitterarnsdorf featured the only indoor pool along the route and we enjoyed a nice swim after the long ride. Mitterarnsdorf is a tiny village tucked amongst vineyards. But even little towns have to call out the fire department once in a while, we observed. Whatever it was that had caught fire, it didn’t appear any major damage was done.
The final ride took us through several scenic towns in the wine district. In Weißenkirchen, we spent a little time wandering and asking directions to find a particular wine shop. Our vouchers included one for a bottle of wine – which apparently meant one for each of us, because when we handed in the voucher we received two bottles of white wine (and yes it was good stuff).
The narrow, scenic main street through Dürnstein was another bottleneck with cruise ship passengers, so we didn’t tarry there long. Our lunch stop was a pizza, burger and beer joint along the bike path strangely situated near the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant. No danger here: this is the only nuclear power plant to be completely built and never put into service due to a citizen referendum. It just sits there.
From there, we rode into Tulln where we caught the train into Vienna. We went one stop further than instructed so we wouldn’t have too much riding in the city – it had already been a long day and we needed to find our hotel. Once again, we relied primarily on the phone map app to get us where we needed to go. It felt good to turn in the bikes.
The hotel clerk directed us to an outdoor restaurant in walking distance, next to a small oxbow off the Danube. We were astonished to receive our food order in about five minutes. We shared a rack of ribs with several side dishes.
We had one full day to explore Vienna. The subway system was easy to navigate and we headed for the old city first thing, aiming for Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). As we emerged from the underground, a large billboard commanded our attention. Oddly juxtaposed with the cathedral, it took me a few moments of staring to comprehend what I was looking at.
Rather than tour the interior of the cathedral, we opted to buy tickets for the catacombs tour. Before that began, we climbed the 343-step bell tower to take in the city views. It was a perfectly clear day and we could see forever, it seemed.
Thankfully, the guide giving the catacombs tour was fluent in both German and English. In fact, he switched so rapidly from one to the other it kept us on our toes. They didn’t permit photos, so I have none to share. It was fascinating, if a bit ghoulish.
Then we headed to the outskirts of the city to see the Habsburg’s palace, Schloss Schönbrun. Apparently this the THE tourist attraction, absolutely mobbed by tour buses. The grounds cover several square miles it seems and are mostly open to anyone for strolling. We opted to take a tour of the palace and paid entry for a couple of the specialty gardens, including the ones with mazes. You must allow yourself several hours if you plan to tour the gardens and palace both.
We headed back into the old city to explore, not really having time to visit the clock museum or the Museum of Contraception and Abortion. I thought a visit to the baroque National Library would be interesting, but you couldn’t just go in. They required a substantial entry fee.
I balked at paying to enter a library, but realized that entrance fees are probably the sanest method for the Viennese to control the hordes of tourists. It’s a shame, because it must put certain attractions off limits to some people. We opted to stroll around the Presidential district admiring the architecture and statuary instead.
Back in the plaza by the cathedral, the streets were more for pedestrians and open-air dining than for vehicles, so we got cocktails and enjoyed people-watching for an hour or so. Any fiction writer would have a heyday here, just observing clothing, hairstyles, and attitudes.
The next morning we followed the hotel clerk’s suggestion to take a taxi to the airport, though in retrospect we would have been fine taking the subway. It’s usually interesting to have a chat with a local taxi driver. In this case, The Putterer and the driver spent most of the drive talking about cars. Ho hum.
From Vienna, we had an uneventful flight to Dubrovnik, Croatia, for the second part of our trip.
Feature image: “Gate” feature with restaurant on the grounds of Schloss Schönbrun.