Munich

The biggest story this morning was the weather. After many days in the high 80′s to low 90′s, today’s high was expected to be 70. I’m sure we are not getting any sympathy from our friends and relatives in Iowa, but this caught us off guard and underdressed.

We walked down to the center of town in time for the 11:00 a.m. ringing of the town’s glockenspiel (see photos). Then we visited the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), where we saw the famous “devil’s footprint.” (see photos)

We had lunch and walked around town part of the afternoon, then went back to the hotel to rest and start packing. Caught a cab to a local hofbrauhaus (beer hall) for another excellent dinner, then back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow morning we will walk back to the train station and head to the airport to come home.

We talked about all of the food dishes we want to try at home, so if you get an invite from us, you have been forewarned. We also talked about how good it will be to get back to our own shower, laundry, mattress, and most of all, family.

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Venice, day 3

This day was relaxing and we spent our time doing some shopping and just meandering around. We agreed before this trip that are focus was to be, not to do. I have had too many vacations where I had to come home to rest up afterwards. So we are not here to see Venice, or to do Venice, but more to be in Venice together and relate to each other on that level.

We did visit the Venice Opera House which is appropriately named the Phoenix. It’s appropriate because it has burned down a number of times, and just like the legendary bird, has risen from the ashes. We also learned that Venice was once their own kingdom, then part of the Napoleanic empire, then part of Austria, then back to independent, and finally part of Italy.

I don’t have interior photos of the opera house because they don’t allow that, but do have to say it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I do have photos of the two entrances, one by land and one by water (see photos).

We went out to dinner at a restaurant recommended by Julie, and had an outstanding meal, with great wine, and wonderful ambience. It made our last night in Venice very special, and I want to thank Julie for sharing this place with us.

There is one thing that Venice has that is more than the canals, bridges, gondolas and vaporettas, and that is, they got tourists. At the right time of the day, the streets and waterways are literally filled with tourists of all nationalities, some it organized groups, and others traveling solo. It was really too much at times.

Tomorrow we head up to Munich for the final leg of our little adventure. In the meantime, here are some photos of Venice.

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Venice to Munich

For my last morning in Venice, I got up early and hit the streets at 5:40 this morning. The early morning sun makes for some interesting photos and you get a whole different perspective when a city is just waking up (see photos).

We spent most of the civilized part of the morning finishing some shopping and getting packed up, then hopped on a vaporetta for the trip back to the train station. We are booked for a day-trip to Munich, which should be quite a contrast to our overnight trip from Vienna.

The first-class seats are wide and comfortable, with large windows. We got two seats that faced a pair of empty seats with a small table in between, so space was not an issue.

I plotted our course on a map and found we were to pass over the italian Alps into Austria, passing through Innsbruck, and then on to Germany and Munich. Not long into the trip, there was an announcement that part of the track was being worked on, and that we would have to get off the train at Brennaro, Italy and take a bus into Innsbruck, where we would get on a different train.

We didn’t relish getting off the train, but had no choice. At Brennaro, there was a mad dash for the buses, with people pushing and shoving. Guys, this is where marrying someone smarter than you are comes in handy. Deb saw a bus towards the end of the row that very few people had seen and we walked right on board with our luggage. The thirty minute bus ride into Innsbruck was on the Autobahn and covered some great mountain scenery that we would have never seen had we stayed of the train the entire time (see photos).

When we got to Innsbruck train station (we could see the ski jump from the Winter Olympics from there), we found our train, and to our surprise, found that they had upgraded our rail car from first-class to business-class. Deb and I have a drawing room all to ourselves and had a smooth, quiet, stress-free ride into Munich. The glasses of Gruner Veltliner (an Austrian white wine) didn’t hurt.

We were so relaxed, we almost got off a stop to soon. But it all worked out well and we got to our hotel with no problems, had a nice dinner, and am resting for our day in Munich.

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Venice, day 2

I love Venice! Every corner reveals a new sight, a different campo (plaza), another ancient church. There are a lot of churches, one every couple of blocks. the streets twist and turn, widen and narrow, and either deadended or end at a canal with no place to go.

The food so far has been excellent and enlightening. The wonderful tastes come from not doing too much to a dish; they don’t cook the spaghetti too long, they don’t add too much sauce, they let the food speak for itself. Simple dishes, excellently prepared.

The wine is equally great. Those who advised us to just ask for the house red or white were right on the money. And of course, the gelato! We will stop for a small scoop of gelato at the slightest provocation. We walked around San Marco area and over the bridge into Dorsoduro. Took a lot of photos, some of which are shown below.

This evening after dinner we went to a concert where a seven-piece ensemble played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. What a great performance! I have never been so close (4th row) to gifted violinists and other strings players. Some of the music was familiar, but never sounded so good.

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Venice, day 1

The thought of riding an overnight train congers up scenes from old movies, and seems so romantic, with the deep, rich wood walls and upholstered seats. The reality is that the walls were grey-painted steel and the furnishings were utilitarian, efficient but still somewhat comfortable. It was nice having a private compartment though.

The train had multiple stops along the way, and all that starting and stopping made it difficult to get long periods of sleep, but we did manage to get some.

When we arrived at the Venice train station, we off-loaded our bags and made straight for the exit. As we approached, the large walkway framed a picture of the Grand Canal, with many boats of various description passing in front of us.

I have never been so enamored with a city this quickly. It was noisy, crowded, and utterly wonderful. We quickly got tickets for a vaporetta, which is a water-borne bus. That’s when we found out that the maximum capacity of these things seem to be the number that you can cram into them. As we traversed the Grand Canal, I saw boats being used for hauling construction material, reefer units for food transport, and a boat ambulance. I quickly lost count of the different boats.

We got to our stop and started rolling our bags down a small corridor (actually a street), and just as I wondered if I needed to pull out a map, saw our hotel. We are just blocks from the Piazza San Marco, probably the main tourist attraction in town. We dropped off our bags and went exploring. Venice is a photographer’s dream (see photos).

We went back to the hotel at noon, and got settled in, then went out again later for more exploring and dinner. Had good food, great wine, and marvelous company.

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Day 8, Vienna

This is the last day that all the members of the group will be in the same location, as John and Ellen will be heading to Florence, and Deb and I to Venice. I don’t know what to call this collection of people, other than just, “the group.”. We were not a team, club, or fraternity, for we weren’t connected by common goals. Instead, we were an informal collection of relationships that ended up spending a week together cycling across Austria. And it worked. I got to reunite with friends I knew and meet new ones.

Just some facts about this group. We came from Iowa, San Diego, Philadelphia, and North Carolina. The ten of us brought, collectively, eight iPads, and in the early evenings you could see an iPad party in the hotel hotspot area. After the first day, we never rode as one group, and each day the subgroups would change, giving us the variety of company as well as terrain.

This day, Deb and I met John, Ellen, Bob P and MJ for a tour of the Vienna opera house, which is awesome! Then Bob A and Angeli showed up and teamed up with Bob P and MJ to do a bus tour, while the other four of us had lunch. Then John and Ellen left to rejoin the first group, while Deb and I visited the Philharmonic and other huge impressive buildings. We then met Julie and Jenny for drinks and goodbyes.

We took a cab to the train station to catch our overnight train to Venice. For those that are keeping track, we had so far travelled by car, plane, train, bike, ferry, bus and cab. In Venice, will probably add vaporetto and maybe even gondola. Who knows?

Here are some photos of Vienna.

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Day 7, Vienna

We slept in this morning so got a late start to our day. But did some shopping, went to St Stephens (see photos), and other imposing buildings. There are so many there, I think a got overloaded.

For dinner, Deb, Julie, Jenny and I went to the outer suburbs of the city and away from the touristy places to the town of Grinzing. We found an amazing local restaurant that came complete with an accordion player. Another special meal with some really special people.

Happy birthday wishes for my son, Joe.

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Day 6, Tulln to Vienna

We had decided last night, because of the short ride today, that we would meet for breakfast at 9:00 a.m. and get riding about 10:00, or even later for some. As it ended up, we were all pretty much shoed up at breakfast by 8:00. I don’t know if it was excitement to be finishing the ride today, or worry about facing a large city such as Vienna, but we all were ready to go by about 9:00.

We really had no planned stops to make, and saw some interesting castles and churches on top of hills (see photos), but nothing really slowed us down for long. In our group, once we got into Vienna, we stopped frequently and established our location before moving on to the next step in the directions. No matter how good the instructions, there is uncertainty when you are in a new place. But working together, with everyone contributing, we found our hotel. We even got there before our bags.

There were some other sights that I took pictures of (see photos).

Some went exploring after lunch while others just relaxed and rested.

We started off in a German border town, and in six days crossed some of the most beautiful, historical and relaxing terrain on bicycles. No major mishaps, some minor challenges, and many awesome memories. None of us spoke the language, but due to a lot of patient Austrians, we were well taken care of. Some of us had never met before, but we all got along. Speaking only for myself, I have a greater appreciation of other cultures and countries.

Tomorrow we return to more traditional vacationing. I’ve heard of plans for shopping, massages and sightseeing.

Starting tomorrow, member of the group will be leaving us to either head home or find new adventure elsewhere. Deb and i will be taking an overnight train to Venice for a few days. I will be continuing to blog about our adventure for those that are interested. For those that are just interested in the bike riding part, I plan to write what in the Marine Corps we called ” after action reports”, where I will discuss different aspects of our trip.

Thanks for all the kind replies and comments.

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Day 5, Krems to Tulln

We started off today by not going anywhere, but stayed in Krems to do some shopping and see some sights. Krems was once a walled city, and a portion of the wall and the gate that was built in 1480 still remain (see photos). The old wall serves as part of a modern mall, which shows you how the whole concept of old is different than in the US.

Getting out of town was a little confusing, but we made it without mishap. Bob A and Angeli stayed behind to get his bike fixed. We crossed over to the right side of the river and started downstream. There was a side excursion on the map that took us into wine county, but we were making such good time and enjoying the ride that we missed the turnoff.

The weather was a little iffy, and we actually had a time when we were getting sprinkled upon while in direction sunlight. There was another time when we were dry, but could see it raining just about 50 meters to our right. We had a discussion about whether it was best to try to outrun the rain, or seek shelter and let it blow over, and we finally decided to stop at Zwentendorf for lunch. By the time we finished lunch, the weather had pretty much broken up and wasn’t a factor the rest of the ride. I was told later that Bob and Angeli weren’t so lucky. They got pretty soaked. (see weather photo)

After lunch, we took off for Tulln and only stopped for an occasional water break or photo op. Although the day wasn’t filled with castles and cathedrals, it was a very enjoyable. The trail wasn’t crowded and was pretty wide so we could ride side-by-side and talk. Every few minutes we would shift positions and start another conversation. Good weather, flat bike trails, and wonderful traveling companions all made for a great day.

There were smiles all around when we got into Tulln (see photos). When we got to the edge of town, we saw a majestic bridge that looked like two converging arches. When we got to the side of it, we found it was completely different (see photo). First impressions, are …. You know the rest (see photos).

Oh yeah, and we saw some sunflowers (see photo).

Tomorrow we ride into Vienna. It’s only about 25 miles so we plan on a late start.

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Day 4, Maria Taferl to Krems

I just spent an hour and a half writing about today’s ride, but when I came down to the lobby to post it, deleted it by mistake. Am too tired to recreate, will try to do it tomorrow. For now, here are some photos of the day.

UPDATE 7/9/12: We woke up to a wonderful sunrise over the Danube valley. It seemed as if we were above the clouds. As I kept watching, the scene would change every few minutes, with the rising sun and the cloud cover competing for control. This is a morning view I will long remember. (see photos).

Leaving Maria Taferl consisted of a lot of braking and very little peddling. In other words, my kind of ride. Once down to river level we had an uneventful ride along the left side of the Danube, until we hit our first snag. It seems that the bridge at the hydroelectric power stations was closed. So we had to travel a little bit longer distance and climb a lot more hills. We had to cross because we were heading to the Abbey at Melk. For some reason, when they decide to built an Abbey over here, they put it on the highest ground they can find. But the climb was well worth the experience (see photos).

After the Abbey, we went back across the Danube and spent the rest of the day on the left side of the river. I do regret leaving town without the t-shirt that I wanted, but it seems no one thought to make a shirt that reads, “Got Melk?”

On a side note, my parents asked why we keep crossing the river. It’s a very good question. Sometimes it is to see something special, like the Melk Abbey. Other times it is for safety reasons, like described on day 2. And then there are times when one side is considered. Ore beautiful than the other.

To me, the two most interesting parts of the ride was that we passed through many small towns, and we got into Austrian wine county. In the towns it wasn’t unusual to see houses that were first built in the 14th through 18th century. When I would see one of these, I thought to myself that if this was in the United States, we would put a wall around it and charge admission, like at colonial Williamsburg. Then I realized that although these building seemed very special to me, every little town had some. I guess it’s not that uncommon in Austria to live in a 600 year old house. Of course, they have added modern conveniences such as solar panels and satellite dishes (see photos).

We saw miles and miles of grapes and many were terraced up the side of the hills(see photo). They also had a lot of apricot groves, which they use to turn out apricot-flavored schnapps and brandies, among other uses.

Bob A suffered the second mishap of the day when he broke his bike pedal and had to travel the last 20 kilometers with only one pedal. Other members would assist him up some of the hills.

All this beauty was not without cost, as we climbed the most hills of the ride on this day. By the times we got into Enns, many of us were beat and just wanted dinner and bed. That’s when we found out that most businesses, even restaurants, are not open on Sundays. Four of us ended up getting dinner at a Shell station convenience store.

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