Glorious mountains, empty forests and no bears – it was time to get back to basics as I cycled through what was probably my most expensive country so far. Austria would be the most expensive country The day I left Vienna I had exactly one month left on the bike. When planning this trip my original plan had been to continue west after visiting Vienna and cycle back to the UK through Germany and France.cc 

As with most plans on the trip so far they have had a habit of changing and this one was no different.  Instead, my final route for the end of my world cycle ride would be to cycle south through Austria and into Slovenia. After visiting beautiful Ljubljana I would continue riding south where I would finish my year on the bike in Venice, Italy.

After a fantastic 3 nights in Vienna ti was time to say goodbye to Pete and Cate, and find my way out of Vienna

As the city has a plethora of cycle paths this wasn’t too stressfulThe other thing that was slightly strange was that there were no cars on the roadsIt was Sunday morning, and in Austria it seems that Sunday’s are still ‘family time’, and 99% of businesses remain closed.  Where I had expected to be fighting for space I had the roads pretty much to myself.It was another beautiful day and the locals were making good use of the many beautiful lakes that I passed as I left the city

Even though I largely had the roads to myself I was still cycling on main roads, so after checking the map I changed route slightly and started to follow a canal which was roughly heading in the right direction.I followed these for a while but got itchy feet and it was time for a bit of ‘freestyle routing’ and once again as long the tracks were heading southish I took them.

As I was cycling towards the Alps the landscape was starting to get lumpy and I was soon in among the hills.It seemed that this part of the country was a wine growing region and for the rest of the morning I cycled from one vineyard to another

As it was Sunday though, every single one of them was closed.  I should have set off on Saturday!!!!

As the weather was glorious when I reached the village of Pfaffstatten I stopped for an icecream

As I was now not following my intended route I got the map out and it turned out that I was cycling in hte wrong direction – oops!!!

Never mind, it was a glorious day and all I had to do was head back towards the canal and if I stayed on this then it would take me in the general direction which I wanted to go, which was south.

Once I picked up the canal again it was a beautiful ride

There were many other cyclists enjoying the sunshine on the canal, and at lunchtime I stopped at a bike café next to the canal for a bite to eat

If I pushed it and cycled straight there I could have been in Venice Italy in about 4 days, but as this was the end of my cycle ride it was time for a bit of a holiday – there would be no more +100km rides and by the time I reached Italy my route there would probably look like a drunken sailor making port after 6 months at sea.

After lunch it was back to the canal for more ‘champagne’ cycling

The canal finally turned towards the border with Hungary and I was back to cycling through poppy fields, forests and across farm land

This was the life, and in the late afternoon I stopped by the side of a stream to put a brew on and have a bit of a chill while reading the paper

This final month on the bike was going to be perfect.

After another couple of hours cycling through the hills it was time to think about somewhere to camp for the night, and to do that I needed to find water.  I typed the word ‘spring’ into my mapping app and it showed me where clean water was available.

Again, a bit like when routing I never know what it will be like until I get there – sometimes the spring is a tap in a park while other times it is a well. 

When I cycled to the nearest one to me it turned out to be an actual spring where water was bubbling out of the groundI had my very own start of a river.

I now had water and all I had to do was find somewhere to sleep.  As the spring was next to an area of forest I didn’t have to venture too far before I found a great spot to camp for the night.

A stunning place to camp for the night and a great place to enjoy a lazy breakfast.The next day the sun was shining, and when I set off I had no real plan of where I was cycling as long as I continued roughly south.

I was still cycling through the forest and whenever I passed an open piece of land there was a ‘hunting’ hide.I’m not exactly sure how this can be termed ‘hunting’ though when locals bring their guns and sit inside the hide and then whenever a deer comes out of the forest the people in the hide take pot shots at it.

At least nobody was shooting at me so that was a bonus I suppose.

Like yesterday, the scenery was forests, hills and fields of poppiesTo my right I could see the snow-capped Alp MountainsRegrettably, it seemed like my route through Austria would not be taking me too far into the Alps, but once I cross into Slovenia I will get cross into the Italian Dolomites on my way to Venice

However, I was taking any bets on my final routing as each day now I didn’t really have any plan of my route.  All I knew was that as I wasn’t needing to cover huge distances it didn’t really matter where I went, and so if I saw something in the distance that looked good that is where I went.

I tried to stick to off road tracks as much as possible The environment here was definitely pristine with many of the rivers and streams teeming with fish

The flower meadows that I pedaled through were absolutely beautiful

Around lunch time I stopped at a supermarket to pick up a picnicAnd then went in search of somewhere nice to eat it.The picture perfect village that I ate lunch was Pitten.  I’m not sure I could have found anywhere more picturesqueOne of the ‘problems’, if you can call it that, is the need for electricity and so after enjoying my picnic I went in search of a café to charge my phone, torch, watch and laptop.I am still amazed when I go into a café or restaurant and ask if I can use the electricity to charge my equipment, and people just say yes without requiring me to buy anything.  I honestly think that they take one look at my smiley face and me in my cycling outfit and just can’t resist offering to help.

Once I had caught up on my emails/Facebook I left my stuff charging while I went for a cycle around the village.

The village seemed to have a thing about Roses as a few houses had ‘show’ gardens that I could go in and visit

If you look carefully at the last picture you will see that there are mirrors in each of the Rose beds.  I have no idea if these were there to see the roses better or to scare off birds.  I think by the size of the mirrors it was probably the latter as some of them were more than a meter high.

After cycling back to the café to collect my electronics it was time to continue my journey south. 

For the next couple of hours I followed a river upstream through the valley.Sometimes I was on tracks

And sometimes on roadsI eventually reached the end of the valley and it was once again time to climb.I wanted to try and avoid the main road and looking at the map I could follow a railway line part of the way up the mountain in front of me before it entered a tunnel through to the other side.The great thing about railways is that there is often an access track next to them for repairs or in case of accidents etc.  Sometimes they are very rough and other times sealed.  In this valley they were the latter and in perfect condition. 

It soon became apparent why the roads were so good

All along the side of the railway were lumber yards where the fallen trees would get loaded onto rail cars and transported out.

Once the railway entered the tunnels it was time for me to climb over the top

As I began the climb I could feel myself start to ‘bounce’ in the saddle.  This meant only one thing, my back tire was starting to deflate.  I  pulled over and yep, when I inched the tyre it was soft.  It wasn’t flat though and so must have been a slow puncture.

Looking at the map the climb to the top would take me about an hour which would mean that it would start to be going dark so I had two choices – to fix it on the side of the mountain and continue the climb or roll 3km back down to the village of Aspang Markt where I could camp for the night and cross the mountain the following day.

I decided on the latter and rolled back down and found the perfect spot to fix my punctureThis was a much better place to change the tube.

The owner of the bar, in picture above, gave me a bowl of water to use to find the puncture and it turned out that it wasn’t actually a puncture after all.  The glue on an old patch had given up and was now leaking.  I decided to change the tube instead of patching the patch so to speak.As I wasn’t going any further that night once the bike was fixed there was only one thing to do, and that was join the locals in the bar.Just about every bar in the world has some form of ‘entertainment’ for customers and this bar’s was hammer the nail.The only problem was that you had to use the thin end of the hammer to hit the nail with.

Each person took turns to try to hit their nail and the last person to hammer the 6 inch nail all the way into the wood bought the round.

It seemed though that there was a ‘pro’ playing, as opposite the pub was a police station and one of the guys playing, who never lost a round while I was there, was a policeman – apparently he had a steady hand and fantastic hand eye co-ordination.

As the sun was setting I had to say goodbye as I needed to find somewhere to sleep for the night.

Earlier, I had passed a forested area just before entering the village I was in and so after filling my water bladder at the pub I rolled another kilometer back down the hill to the forest to set up camp for the night.Another fantastic place to spend the night.

The next morning the sun was shining, but overnight it had rained quite heavily.

This meant that the outside of my tent was still damp, and so my first job was to get it dry before packing it away for the day.

I cycled out to the edge of the forest and found a fence that I could hang everything on to dry while I ate breakfast

By the time that I had finished breakfast and then popped back into the tree line for a shower the tent was fully dry and could be packed away.

I then set back off up the valley as it was time to tackle the mountainOnce I reached the town of Aspang Markt I refilled my water bottle from a tap in the parkIt was then time to climb

For the first 30 minutes I climbed through the woods but I didn’t have any view as all I could see were trees 

I decided to cut back to the main road that I knew was somewhere away to my left.  Once I found a track that would take me that way I headed there Although I was on the main road it as much better as I now had a beautiful view of the valley as I climbed

After about an hour of climbing I was reaching the top of the pass and was into the hairpin section

The road was never particularly steep but it just kept climbing

As I reached the village of Monichkirchen the road started to flatten out and I knew that I had reached the topThe village was a beautiful

As it had taken a lot of effort to get to the top I stopped at a bakery to get a coffee and a cake as a reward

It was then payback time and for the next hour I descended into the valley below.

The final part of the descent into the village of Pinggau was the steepest

As this section was on cobblestones it was not the smoothest of rides Still, the cows didn’t seem botheredOnce again I had arrived into a picture perfect village

It was now lunchtime so I found a supermarket and bought lunchWhich I ate in the local parkIn the afternoon I tried to avoid main roads as I rolled my way up and over a fair few more hills

For some reason the climbs were never graded, only the downhills

By early evening I had arrived at the village of Hartberg, another beautiful place

As I cycled around the centre looking for somewhere to eat I passed an Asian restaurant and had a sudden yearning for noodles so pulled over.I got talking with the Chinese/Austrian owner and he loved that I had started my journey in Asia so he gave me free beer.

As it was going dark by the time I left the restaurant I didn’t fancy cycling out to the forest so found a park area at the edge of town and tucked my tent in between a couple of big trees. The only problem with sleeping in public places is that the following morning you need to get up with the crack of dawn to get packed away before people start to use the park.

So the next morning I was up early and packed my tent away before finding a park bench to eat breakfastStill, it was a glorious day and when I checked the map it showed that after spending a lot of the previous day climbing that I would now spend at least the morning slowly descending.

As usual I tried to stay away from main roads, and was quite successful in my quest as I rolled through beautiful farming country.

As there were many farms along the way finding water was no issue as one thing that farms tend to have is outside tapsAt lunchtime I stopped at a café in the village of Oberbuch for a coffee and a sandwich

It was then time for more ‘champagne’ cycling

A couple of hours later I reached Bad Waldersdorf.  This was the biggest town that I had seen in the last 2 days

As I was in a town I took the opportunity to find a bike shop to replace the inner tube that I had changed in Aspang Markt as I now didn’t have a spare. I found a bike shop just off the main squareOnce I left the town I had my only real climb of the day – a short sharp grind uphill

On my map I couldn’t see any tracks going in the right direction over the top so had no option but to get back on the main road.Near the top of the climb I entered a forested area

When I came out on the other side of the hill I felt the first drops of rain, and in the distance I could see the rain heading towards meBy the time I reached the bottom of the descent the rain had caught up with me and as it was fairly heavy I stopped at the first place that I couldI have no idea what the name of the village was but once inside the cafe it was like stepping into a retro time warpThe best bit was the ceramic fireplaceThe owner, who also the bar man, said that the café had been in his family for 4 generations and that the fireplace dated from the 1930’s.  Although his grandparents used to light it in the winter his parents and he never had.

I waited for an hour for the rain to stop but it never did.  At least when I left it was only drizzling thoughI had now been cycling south through Austria for 4 days and I finally found the sign that I had been looking forI was only just over 30km from the border with Slovenia.

A quick check of the map showed that the quickest way there would be on the highway, but as it was now getting dark, and the rain was falling more heavily, I didn’t fancy that. 

Instead, as I was now cold and wet I decided that I would try to find a campsite for the night so that at least I could have a hot shower when I got there. 

My map showed that there was one about 10km away and so I headed there.  As I did so the heavens opened and I was once again cycling through a heavy downpour

Probably even worse though was that the road was once again starting to climbAs I passed through the village in the picture above I saw the best ‘sign’ showing that it was somebody’s 40th birthday – instead of the normal large hand painted sign you see in the UK, this one had been built out of beer cratesGenius !!!

I was glad that this sign had made me laugh as the next one certainly didn’tAt least the worst of the rain had stopped, and while I was stopped taking off my rain jacket an Austrian rider stopped to say hello.  He told me that the climb was only 4 or 5  kilometres long which wasn’t too bad.The steepest section was the first part and after that although it was pretty tough going, it wasn’t as insane as the first kilometer had been.By the time I reached the top of the climb the sun had already set but I was so happy to finally get to the top. Once I rolled down the other side of the hill and found the campsite it was dark and the reception had already closed.

It didn’t matter though as the normal routine at campsites is to pay the next morning if you arrive late. So I just found an empty spot, set my tent up in the dark, and then went and had a long hot shower to warm up.

The next morning when I woke up although it was very overcast at least it wasn’t raining

As I hadn’t had a day off since leaving Vienna, instead of packing the tent away after breakfast and cycling to Slovenia I decided to stay another night at the campsite.The campsite where I had pitched my tent was well maintained, and each ‘site’ was separated by a hedge.  When I went to pay it seemed that where I had camped the night before was in the section for long term residents, but as I was cycling nobody minded.

The ‘short termers’ were in a different part of the site and this seemed more compact with less privacyFirst job of the day was to get my washing doneOnce that was hung out on the campsite there was a small swimming pool and so I went for a swim and had a snooze for an hour or so.Lunch was pasta and soup cooked back at the tentIn the afternoon I didn’t really do much except catch up on my blog and sit reading the paper online.  It was a fantastic relaxed day off.

That night I ate dinner at the on-site caféAs there wasn’t exactly much to do once the sun set I got an early night.

The next morning would be my last in Austria as the campsite was only about 20km from the border with Slovenia. 

Cycling through the villages of Austria had been  beautiful and although I had missed the high Alps, primarily because Austria was probably the most expensive country that I would cycle through in Europe, then my time there was always going to be short.

My plan once I crossed into Slovenia was to spend the majority of my last 3 weeks on the bike cycling through its mountains before crossing into the Italian Dolomites and making a quick 100km dash to Venice in Italy where I would sadly have to end my year on the bike.

Cycling Austria
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