This week we have a guest post from the adventurous Mike, who is currently based in South East Asia and has been cycling around Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Here he shares his story of spending a summer cycling and camping across the Austrian Alps. I feel tired even writing about it! So, over to Mike…
Hi, I’m Mike from a tiny town in England, pretty close to Bristol! Although right now I’m cycling my bicycle through Vietnam! Today I’m going to tell you about my bike ride in through Austria. I hope you like it!
Before entering my final year at university, I decided to set myself an altogether different challenge. I had three months to kill and wanted to make the most of my time instead of working in my hometown all summer – and literally having nothing to say when people asked how I’d spent it.
Travelling around Europe – somewhere I lived but hadn’t actually explored much – seemed like a much better alternative.
Thing is, as a typical student, I didn’t have much money. So whatever adventures I decided upon, they’d have to be done on the cheap.
A couple of WorkAway opportunities and a few countries later saw me embarking on my biggest adventure that summer – cycling over the Alps and through Austria into Slovakia. As you do.
The bike was a 1967 Legnano Sport Condorino (so quite old) and saved from a rusty death as part of a bike repair/recycling community project that I’d joined in Italy (so quite unreliable).
It seemed like a mad undertaking. And it was. Still, what followed was an experience I’ll never, ever forget. Here’s how I did it…
Innsbruck and its surrounds
I started my bike journey from Bologna. After quick scamper up and over the Alps I arrived in the west Austrian city of Innsbruck – a massively picturesque place that’s smack bang in the middle of the mountains.
It’s a clever mix of the old and the new – the imperial city is still very much evident in the Grand Palace and the Wilten Basilica; while modern trams make getting around these sites both simple and cheap.
But for me, it was all about exploring the surrounding landscape on my bike. After all, this country wasn’t going to cross itself.
So the next day, once I’d fuelled up on a great value (and ginormous) breakfast at this aptly-named delight, I was ready to head back into the hills. Or mountains, rather.
As I began my ascent, the usual voice in my head spoke up: Can I really do this?
But it shut right up as soon as reached the top and paused to take in the views. With cotton wool clouds floating lazily across snow-capped mountains, all set off magnificently against the piercing blue sky, there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Especially not back in England!
Over the next few days I biked along the Inn river, passing through little historical cities like Wattens, Hall and Schwarz – each with arresting visions and stories to tell of their own.
As I delved further into the Zillertal valley, I would see a number of farmhouses along the way. These ended up serving me very well as during my initial 20-mile downhill sprint into Innsbruck, I failed to notice my load had lightened. Meaning I’d lost my sleeping bag. Whoops.
The farmhouses became a source of refuge for me. As I neared the baroque splendour of Salzburg, I stayed in the garden of one of them, the owner of which kindly brought me some speck for dinner.
Farmhouse gardens soon became my home on the road
After cycling to the brink of exhaustion, I’d knock on a door and lo and behold, someone would let me camp in their garden for the night. How did you do it, without a sleeping bag or tent, I hear you ask?
Easy. With one of these bad boys. And I always slept like a bug in a very cosy rug.
This opened my eyes up to a whole new way of travelling – away from reservations and reviews and rowdy hostel roommates. Instead, I got to experience the bliss of sleeping in nature and, if not doing like the locals did (because they weren’t sleeping in their own garden), at least getting a bit closer to their way of life.
Plus, an old woman brought me tea and homemade biscuits in my hammock one evening. That was a definite highlight.
Let them eat cake
What can I say, the biscuits fuelled my appetite… Upon reaching Linz a week or so later, I chowed down on some Linzer torte, apparently the oldest cake in the world – although it tasted pretty fresh to me!
With my new sugar rush I found the energy to track down that sparkling Blue Danube and cycled a good whack of its majestic length – as far as Vienna, in fact!
This leg of the journey was incredible. The cycling part, by that stage, had become fairly easy and my bike was (surprisingly) in decent enough shape. Leaving me to fully enjoy some truly spectacular scenery. Plus, I met a really nice German couple along the way who offered up their auntie’s place to stay in when I got to Vienna. I have to admit, it did make a nice change from camping in a garden. Two weeks after setting off from Innsbruck, I arrived in achingly beautiful Vienna, where I celebrated with all the strudel I could find.
It had been quite an adventure and it wasn’t over yet, for next on my list was Slovakia, then Berlin.
But that’s another story. 😉
In any case, I did have a response ready when people asked me how I’d spent my months of freedom. I’d cycled and camped my way through the Austrian Alps. So not a bad summer, really, huh?