Our brief stay in Austria was one of many contrasts. The elections dominate the news: right wing got into power, yet we see a lot of grafiti welcoming refugees and we talk to kind and intelligent hosts who share this welcoming view. People overall were really nice and sometimes come up to us for a chat.
We visited the Melk monastery and the Mauthausen concentration camp. Both are places of contemplation; Stift Melk overwhelms the senses with Catholic baroque opulence. We find a beautiful quote from Corinthians that speaks to us:
Since we are both atheists we don’t pay too much attention to the god bit. It is mostly older Americans and Asian people who visit Stift Melk when they are doing a river cruise along the Donau so we are the odd ones out with our heavy loaded bikes and tight lycra.
The solemn Camp Mauthausen is unexpectedly beautiful as it is located on top of a steep granite outcrop overlooking the Donau and the flood plains. The sunlight and noisy visiting school kids make the memory of the violence that happened here all the more incomprehensible. We never looked at the peaceful countryside and lovely people quite the same way again.
Linz and Krems were nice stopovers along the Donau; pretty old towns, well respected modern cultural institutions which create a nice vibe, great ice cream and beer (very important).
Vienna is also a city of contrasts. It is huge compared to the size of the country and the other cities: as it was once the capital of the much larger Austro-Hungarian empire it holds 1,7 million inhabitants. This makes it by far the largetst city of Austria which only has 8,5 million inhabitants. By comparison Graz, the second largest city, has only 270.000 inhabitants. The Austrians sometimes call their capital ‘wasserkopf’ because of this. It is a relaxed place, safe and clean and easy to get around. We visited the Schonbrunn palace gardens (home of Sissi) but were touched by the Rotes Wien legacy of social housing, especially the Karl Marx Hof by Karl Ehn. I visited this hof before as part of an architectural history excursion during my studies and am happy to see a social housing project working out really well and still going strong almost a hundred years after it was built. My socialist heart skips a beat when I think of Rotes Wien and I hope our hypercapitalist days will be behind us soon.
Questions about Brutalist architecture I find en route arise, and today I will visit Wotruba church. How does the sober concrete architecture compute with Catholicism?
Austria: the skinny
8 days. Sunday 8 May 2016 to Sunday 15 May.
Weather: sunny but strong headwinds all the way. Warm and sunny until we ran into clouds and rain from Krems until Vienna. Nowhere near as torrential as was predicted though.
Route: The Donau in Austria is equally well signposted and largely traffic free. The Donau narrows to a beautiful winding gorge around Schlössing (the ´Schlösinger Schlinge´ but then flattens out to a bit more boring and very windy landscape until Linz. Linz and Krems are lovely towns and we took some time to visit Stift Melk, a beautiful Baroque monastery.
We met some more great people through warmshowers when we stayed with Daniel and Vesela in Linz, and caught up with our own last warmshowers guest. Mehmet managed to show up twice just as we were about to make our ´second breakfast´ espresso by the roadside, impeccable timing! It was great to see him again but this time on the road, with more experience, confidence and joy. We might run into him again as he is also on his way to Turkey.
Passau – Linz 92km. WS with Daniel and Velena
Linz – Teuch 77km. Wild camp between road and Donau.
Teuch – Krems 73km. Cyclists hostel: heavy rain predicted.
Krems – Vienna 82km. Friend Marianne´s house for 4 nights.
Vienna – Bratislava 70km.
Total distance cycled in Austria: 400km
Budget, acommodation and food
1 warmshowers, 1 hostel, 1 wild camp, 4 nights in the house of a friend.
Total cost accomodation; 37 euro. Average per night per person: 2,50 euro.
Total cost food: to be updated, but quite a bit more than Germany. Austria is quite expensive and we enjoyed some of the big city offerings while we were repacking and waiting for the rain to pass: a Wiener melange, a lunch in lovely bicycle cafe Velobis. We still did some of our own cooking by the tent and in Marianne´s appartment. Average per day per person: about 10 euro?
We spent about 30 euro on visits to cultural sites: Stift Melk and concentration camp Mauthausen. We can highly recommended both.