Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Danube River Valley Adventures - Vienna Trip (Part 2)

What do you think about cycling 40 kilometers in 3 hours, not in your country but in Austria, along the Danube River, through Vineyards, Apple Orchards, Pear Orchards and mountains all around you! 

You read it right! That is exactly what we did and that is exactly what this blog post is all about!

After our self-guided walking tour of Vienna the previous day, we decided to do something else. We had one full day to spend. Our options was either going to Bratislava, Slovakia or check out the country side near Vienna, a place called Melk. Rick Steves' "Vienna, Salzburg and Tirol" had information about both these places. It was either adding a tick to another country or a trip to another country side.

P.S: We were deciding all this in the morning after waking up at 9:00 am. We had the luxury to do this because of our East European Rail Pass which did not require us to make any reservation. All we had to do was find the appropriate train (either to Bratislava or to Melk) and get onto it.

So we decided to check out more about these 2 options over breakfast and a lot of the credit would go to my husband for making this happen. By the time I went to get ready, he had the complete train information checked out and duly noted on his blackberry. Every single detail, closest metro that would take us to the Central train station, time of the trains, platform details as well as the return train information, was noted. All we had to do over breakfast was to decide which way to go "EAST" (towards Bratislava) or "WEST" (towards Melk). We read more about Melk and reading Rick Steves description about the place was more than enough to convince us to go west! With breakfast done and our plan in place, our main target now was to get the metro to the central train station and get on the train to Melk. Getting the metro wasn't that difficult, but then pushing our way through the crowd and getting to the main station and finding the way to the platform was the crazy part. By the time we reached near the escalator to the platform, we had about 3 minutes to spare. With as much as 2 minutes to spare, we started running towards the train and the train wasn't in the position it was supposed to be. Online information said C-F on the platform was where the train would be but our train was in C alright but it ended in D itself and we weren't sure if it was the right one! Atleast I wasn't! After a panic exchange, (mostly me, asking more than once if it was the right train we were running towards), we decided to get in and go where ever it takes us. So with 1 minute to spare, we get into the train and ask our co-passengers if this was the train to Melk (just when the train started moving). Phew! It was!

After 50 minutes, we were in Melk. Melk as such, is a very beautiful place. Pretty much a quite and laid back place, people strolling or having a drink at the cafes. Its famous for its Abbey on rocky outcrop over looking the Danube River on one side and the town on the other. But we really didn't have much time to spend at Melk. Rick Steves had mentioned about Melk having places to rent bicycles and cycling along Danube River. We could either cycle all the way till Krems or cycle half way till Spitz and then take the ferry to Krems; and then take the train back to Vienna.

Our plan was a little more crunched since we decided about such a day at 11:00 am,  reached Melk at 12:30 pm and had an Opera to attend to at 7:00 pm back in Vienna. Which means we need to get back to Vienna atleast by 6:00 pm so that we can freshen up and change from our more informal wear (shorts and t-shirt) and into a little less informal wear (jeans and t-shirt). Anyways, coming back to our plan, it meant we need to take the 5:00 pm train back to Vienna. So that meant getting to Krems by 5:00 pm. If anything in this plan goes wrong, our EUR 70 goes down the drain.

We did walk around Melk though, finding the Tourist Information Center to get information about the cycle rental and other information about the ferry etc. Walked through the lazy streets of Melk and took photographs of the Abbey from the outside due to time constraints.
We then headed towards the cycle rental shop. I suggested that we stock up with some water/juice and food en route and some sun screen since it was a very clear bright and sunny day! Once we got some food, we got our cycles. With a small photocopy map of the route, well pretty much that was our GPS, we set out to cycle through the beautiful Danube River Valley region.

This is how the magic started. There are no words that will do justice to the feeling we had as we cycled on a nice, clear, blue-sky, sunny day along the river.

That day being a religious holiday, we had the chance to get a glimpse of what life was at the Danube River Valley. There were a lot more people outside, cycle, walking,  playing with kids on the river bed, fishing, or kayaking.

Most of these photographs were taken while I was cycling! I had to, initially, I stopped to click a photograph but then there were too many people behind me who got obstructed because of it and weren't too happy. Yeah I know I was dumb to have stopped in the first place, but I was never going to get a chance like this in my life again, for all that I know. So decided to take it on the go and hoped they would come okay :D.

We cycled for 3 hours, took small breaks in between for a sip of water or a bite of the chocolate/cake and in some places stopped to take photographs. Most of the time we were along the River, the best part of this cycle tour was we didn't have to worry about traffic, cars, highways (we did have to cross the highway a few times but it was all clearly marked and the vehicles always I mean ALWAYS waits for the cyclists to cross. Of course, we should be sensible too. I can't just dash across the highway, but the minute the cars sees cyclists waiting they slow down for us. Many people reading the blog might think what is the big deal about it, but I am not used to seeing this, EVER! *Disbelief* - One time, even a truck stopped for us!!!) but there is proper cycle lane (whether along the river or along the highway). It is always there. So its completely safe, we saw a number of families, starting from the grand-mom/grand-dad (who might be around 70+), dad, mom, kids (sometimes as young as 4-5 years) to infants (haha.. no they were riding :P but generally, cycles come with infant strollers or seats which is attached to the father's/mother's cycle).
After about 2 hours of cycling, our terrain started changing once we crossed Spitz. We started moving away from the river (but it still gets good... wait for it :D), we start cycling through vineyards, apple orchards, pear orchards and small towns. Cafes nestled deep within the farms and the only way to get to them was either walking or cycle. Families getting together for a picnic, couples sitting on benches in the apple orchards, some men working in the vineyards. It was brilliant!
People waiting for the ferry to get to Spitz

Finally, around 4:30 pm we crossed the bridge to get to Krems. Our final destination! The below photograph was taken on the bridge as I was cycling. I wasn't going to stop this time again!
We didn't have a local map of Krems and we had half an hour to find the local TI, find the railway station, find the place where we can give the cycles back and get on to the 5:04 pm train to Vienna. Now the frame rate of our story starts going up, we peddle twice as fast, trying to find the local Tourist Information center just to find it closed. We decide to call them up, there was a poster with a telephone number. Thankfully, someone picked up and luck was on our side. They mentioned we could lock our cycles at the railway station itself. So now it came down to 19 minutes, to get to the railway station, lock the cycles and catch the train. By the time we locked up the cycles, it was 4:55pm and then the running beings... after cycling 40 kilometers... my only thought at that point was once we catch the train I can sit without moving for 1 hour... please let me catch the train! Found the platform (5:01 pm)...  saw the train... increased pace and got in at 5:02pm... 2 minutes to spare we are in the train. PHEW!!!!

Taken from the train... back to Vienna

Running wasn't finished for the day. The train journey was just a stop gap, to catch our breath. We still had to get back to the hotel, freshen up, take the metro, walk to Schonbrunn, get into the Opera.
The beauty of this day was... NOTHING WENT WRONG. Other than we 2 being the last ones to enter the opera and few people giving us the why-can't-you-young-folks-keep-time stares. But we didn't read too much into it since it was really dark!  

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