Cycling Europe – Self Guided style

A few random thoughts. The cycle tracks are without doubt superb. Excellent signage. As well at the main tourist offices, free detailed cycle maps often in English are readily offered.

Moreover there are excellent books, again in English which can be purchased at book shops and often the major tourist offices, suitable for the map pouches that one can attach to the handle bars.

Given my navigational skills, or deficiency thereof, I did find that deviating off the beaten track, especially to wander aimlessly in the locals towns, was challenging. The more so if the village covered an area of more than a block.

Travelling solo and in September, presented no issues with finding accommodation. Using Trip Advisor or the web site Booking.com, made it straightforward and on the occasional time I cycled into a town, unlike Joseph (or Mary), I managed to easily find an inn. Some were basic, but given my nature, I gained a certain sense of sanctimonious deprivation.

For a group, especially the groupies I cycle with, the issue of finding adequate and acceptable bedding arrangements, may provoke a degree of grumpiness.

Clothing

For a predominately flat ride – which was not all that challenging, I don’t think I would miss not having cleats, unless there is a shoe, about which I am not aware, that permits one to cycle and then walk in noiseless, aimless comfort. Hence my packing one pair of cleat cycling shoes proved stupid! It’s just not done, to mimic Fred Astaire tap dancing a time-step around the cloisters of a gothic cathedral.
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I would wear cycle nics both for riding and as underwear. A couple of pairs is sufficient. The chamois is easily washed and mostly dry next morning. If still moist, it’s not an altogether unpleasant feeling and after an hour of two of hard peddling, bodily secretions take over. A pre ride dab or two of one’s duty free after-shave is suggested if the between wash interval exceeds three days. I am reliably informed by a colleague that this can be disconcerting for the sensitive female. Surprisingly this from a male, who claims to be more straight than Tony Abbott.

I wear cargo shorts over the nics for maximum pockets.

For the upper body. I would take nothing but merino tops as in Icebreaker. A mix of long and short sleeve.

There are occasional cheaper brands at the various outdoor shops but so long as they are pure wool that is perhaps better value. They wick better when sweating and are much cooler than a jersey. The best bit is that despite the blood, sweat and tears, they don’t smell or as far as I am concerned, I don’t smell. One can wear them for at least three days or more.

Of course one must pack at least minimum clothing on the assumption that at least three days will be wind and rain that portends the imminent onset of the ice age, forget global warming.

For a long holiday, pack worn out clothes on the verge of disintegration and discard on the last day in a plastic bag in the Emirates Club Lounge. I am returning substantially lighter!

I found the track along the Elbe overall slightly more challenging and variable in terms of the ride, the geography and the towns and villages. The numerous rides around the lakes of upper Austria were also memorable. The Danube was great, don’t get me wrong, but lacked the variety of the previous three weeks. The path itself a beautiful smooth tarmac.

Essential electronics

An iPhone – that’s it! Given the camera specs, it must be the iPhone 5S –

This is combined with

Google Maps

and the best travel diary

“Day One”.

Everything else is superfluous. A Garmin cycle computer as a fashion accessory is allowed.

Vital additional advice, purchase a SIM card in your European destination and ensure it has an adequate data allowance. This is mandatory if you are to use any real time GPS mapping on the road, secondly take sufficient back up battery to allow 2 full recharges in 24 hours. Suggest http://www.mophie.com

If I were to devise an itinerary in retrospect, (for Graham’s Grumpy Tour in 2014), I would fly to Salzburg, then bike around the Salzkammergut area for a week, then cycle across to Linz and then up to Prague and into Germany. Happy to negotiate.

A final word of warning – if I were to lead any sort of group cycle self guided holiday, I adhere firmly to the Armstrong principle, that it be absolutely drug free. This is not negotiable.

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A few shots on the last night in Vienna

Vienna – The Last Day – Saturday

As it was to be sunny, albeit cool and brisk, I set off to visit the Schonbrun Palace and then drop off the bike at a local bike shop for boxing and shipping to Aaron in Hannover.

I mapped out a ride that would take me on a path along the Danube and then do a wide circle back towards Vienna and the Schonbrun Palace. At times I was well and truely passing through the back roads of the industrial suburbs, so it was not all that enjoyable. In total I clicked up about 40 km a lot of it on a well maintained gravel path.

This route demonstrated an obvious error on my last blog about the Danube. I stand corrected. What I described as a canal, is in fact just that. The Danube River does not pass anywhere near the old centre of Vienna. Oops! I found the real river today. It’s still not “blue”!

The Schonbrun Palace is yet again another awesome monument to privilege, wealth and decadence. Each seems if possible grander than Versailles. This summer residence has almost 1500 rooms!

In these past two years and my cycle adventures, I realize that tourists to a man, including me, are drawn to architectural wonders, created in the name of either his majesty or the messiah!

Jesus apparently said you can either have me or mammon. Well all I can say is that The Benedict Monks seemed to combine both without too much catholic guilt.

As I meander through these awesome edifices, true socialist that I am, I have continuous images of hungry, diseased peasants and serfs outside the fortifications working the land and crapping in the woods.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, exclaimed Marie Antoinette.

“Up the Workers” said Alexander Downer (or was that Bill Shorten)?

“Off with her head” said the Queen,

And after my time in Europe, all these famous quotations have real meaning.

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The Schonbrun Palace and a minute part of the gardens

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All pictures of Schonbrun Palace and Gardens.

Vienna

I have enjoyed Vienna, possibly a little more so than Prague. It is very cycle friendly with well marked dedicated cycle paths. The two frightening aspects were negotiating which side of the road one should be on and secondly avoiding the tram tracks! I have ignominiously had my front wheel caught by the Glenelg tram track in Adelaide and hence gracefully and unavoidably in slow motion come a cropper. Once bitten….

There are two very wide ring roads that encompass the old centre and so I have cycled my way around all the sights in both directions – for variation!

So I don’t want to (and won’t) simply list all the “places to see” in Vienna, I saw the majority and mostly from the outside. Like Paris, one can become “museum-ed out”! The architecture was my focus and delight. Pictures will suffice. Great gardens everywhere as well.

There was one fascinating place that I would not have sought out, were it not for the specific recommendation of Peter Magerl – the Vienna Central Cemetery!

If and when you visit Vienna and have an interest in Classical Music, then cycle the 12 km or so and contemplate the final resting places of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, the list goes on. It’s in the real sense a huge Baroque garden, tombstones all works of art in an autumnal botanic park!

The one disappointment was the Danube. Having cycled 200 km along this unique raging river with thriving well maintained historical towns and villages and finally lush orchards and vineyards, the Danube in Vienna is neither Beautiful nor Blue. It is a canal. The water a muddy brown, the only blue is in the relentless graffiti that covers every inch of the old stone walls.

But I do feel the instinct, like a migrating snow goose, to move on. As I have explained before, 4 or 5 days is sufficient in any major city.

An observation on the older couple, travellers from Australia and USA specifically. There has been a fair number pass through the hotel during my week here.

Both wander or stumble in a rather stunned way into the hotel dinning room especially at breakfast.

The Americans present an obvious yet subliminal message “God this place is average , can’t wait to move on”.

The Australian couple on the other hand are overcome with apprehension and if anything, mild confusion. The male especially, gives the distinct impression, that he has no idea of how he woke up in what is obviously a foreign country. ThIs troubling thought overwhelms him when he surveys the breakfast spread and is confronted by food that he would normally eat at dinner and secondly there are no obvious Kellogs Corn Flakes.

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A few of the ornate tombstones! Has given me a couple of ideas for my own final resting place. The bust I mean, not the marble fairy.

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Presumably a large mausoleum in the cemetery.

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A few snaps from around the Hofburg district.

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Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert graves in the Central Cemetery.

Tristan und Isolde. VSO

Wagner and Verdi were born in the same year, that as far as I am concerned is the only fact common to both. Let’s get this off my chest at the outset, I prefer Verdi. It’s a bit like saying I prefer men! There is a vague sense of guilt and that I need to explain and justify this statement.

This opera in true Wagnerian fashion, is in 3 Acts over 5 hours. It is on my opinion, a cross between “The Elixir of Love” and “Romeo and Juliet”, interwoven with a prolonged session of Freudian self psycho-analysis . The latter aspect is manifestly inadequate as one is left with a profound sense that both protagonists still require veterinary doses of antidepressants. Inevitably the mental health system lets them down as they both in the end, commit suicide or die heart broken.

Whilst it is de rigueur to poke fun at an operatic heroine in severe respiratory distress as the consequence of poison induced paralysis or disseminated tuberculosis, coughing and wheezing through her final aria, in this epic, Tristan is mortally wounded at the end of Act 2, yet survives the second intermission and almost all of Act 3. No mean feat if one calculates each Act is an hour and a half to which I have added the 25 minute second intermission.

This opera, at least as I saw in Acts 1 and 2 in Vienna (I left before Act 3, call me a philistine) is in all senses “heavy going”.

Why “heavy” ?

Let’s start with the term “leitmotif” ˌa “short, constantly recurring musical phrase” associated with a particular person, place, or idea. One could be forgiven for translating it as a “light melody”! Wrong. The technique is notably associated with the operas of Richard Wagner, although he was not its originator and did not employ the word in connection with his work. The problem with a leitmotif is that Wagner is the archetype of a “tune tease”.

Secondly both Tristan und Isolde were also “heavy”. In the strict medical sense, they were to be blunt, “obese”. Let me clarify immediately that their singing was sublime. Both had costumes which were very loose black “sack dresses”. From the upper dress circle, I suspect the audience would have been hard pressed to tell them apart! My fashion guru tells me that both “black” and “sack” will make the wearer appear smaller. On the night, perhaps.

So before I enlarge upon the niggling irritations of the evening, let me set the record straight. The orchestra was outstanding, the singing sublime. In short, an ideal ensemble for a concert performance. Hence I spent most of the evening with my eyes closed or admiring the auditorium.

I am not in anyway biased and as an Australian openly admit that when I was privileged to see and hear Dame Joan Sutherland more so in the twilight of her career, I could close my eyes and instantly see Gilda, Violetta or Lucia, effortlessly negotiating stairs like a 21 year old, infatuated and love stricken. I do accept that this was not quite the picture with Violetta – as the Madame of a Parisian brothel, she had obviously seen a thing or two.

Anyway, for most of the night my mind was distracted by these contradictions.

The first hour involves Tristan und Isolde circling each other like a couple of suspicious dogs, growling and bristling! Think Rotweilers! They both drink what turns out to be love potion 99! Suddenly they pounce on each other and embrace. Unfortunately given the size and costumes of both, previously described, from my box seat, this gave the awesome appearance of a tent – the circus big top – with two heads. To carry on with the analogy, they remain locked in this apparent canine copulation for the next 15 minutes. I shall write and recommend that the conductor be provided with a bucket of water.

The whole set and costumes were in one word “dark”. I thought to myself how could the director get the message across that in the latter half of Act 1 Tristan und Isolde are head over heels in love? It was all rather incongruous. They were all at sea, literally and figuratively, on their way to, of all places Ireland! Isolde is a princess, she must have some sort of wardrobe? A quick dash below deck to slip into something more seductive! Even a bright simple sash!

Perhaps throw down a table cloth and have a lovers’ picnic on deck? I quickly crossed this option off the list of options, as I foresaw the distinct possibility that once down on deck, they could not get up again with any sort of grace or agility. Being at sea would of course add a lot of tossing and turning.

As to acting the part, it requires much skill to project youthful true love when the lovers are in years not Romeo and Juliet. Similarly with anguish. This emotion, especially in female singers is often shown by walking stage left with hands clenched into fists and pressed into the forehead. Unfortunately, as a neurologist, the only image this evokes is that the poor woman is experiencing the mother of all migraine attacks.

Finally in Act 2, and by now I have had a snack and a glass of champagne, things improve. That is until King Mark appears. He looks like that infamous long gone Australian actor Frank Thring in an episode of Game of Thrones. This is reinforced by the situation that Tristan, the nephew of King Mark is getting it off with Isolde, who King Mark is supposed to marry. In true Game of Thrones fashion, Mark is well on the way to decapitating Tristan. Thankfully, Isolde is not forced at sword point to disrobe and stand naked whilst her left nipple is sliced off.

By now it’s the end of Act 2, and I need more alcohol.

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The outside of the VSO

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The front of VSO house night!

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Part of the main vestibule and staircase

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A panorama of the interior

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Vienna Sunday

A beautiful sunny day and the locals were out in droves ! These were admixed with an equal number of tourists. Speaking of which, I know you won’t believe this, but within the space of half an hour, I bumped into the 2 Spaniards then the 4 Israelis!

To paraphrase, “There are eight million tourists in the naked city. This has been a story of 6 of them”! All of them heading back to their respective homes tomorrow.

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A strange quirk about shopping in Vienna. Conrad at reception told me “everything is shut on Sundays. “Everything”, he repeated with a flourish of his arms, for emphasis. I had run out of toothpaste. In the past, unintentionally in a poorly lit bathroom, I have squeezed shaving cream onto my toothbrush. Anyway it is true that except for tourist orientated food and ice-cream parlours, shops are indeed closed. However I found one of those ubiquitous small supermarket shops, indeed open. I entered, making a mental note to update Conrad on his local knowledge later.

Imagine my disbelief when faced with a well stocked supermarket, the health and hygiene shells were roped off! “Where do I find the toothpaste”? I enquired. The young assistant explained ” Sorry, Sir we are not allowed to sell toothpaste!” Not allowed? I was flabbergasted! He was eventually able to get it across to me that they stock toothpaste, but it is “verboten” to sell it on a Sunday’! I briefly toyed with asking him about flossing, but just as rapidly dismissed the idea as fraught with interpretative innuendo.

It is impossible to do justice to Vienna as a cultural city of charm and steeped in history either on words or pictures. To me it is a complex combination of Prague and Dresden. Chaotic traffic, hordes of tourists but with a old centre where the baroque buildings are hundreds of years old yet are so strong and stable that one knows they will still be standing and just as ageless in other 500 years.

The House of Music

This was a totally unexpected but so very rewarding and fascinating discovery. It is part museum and part interactive technology centre. A must visit place for the music lover.

The first floor is dedicated to the history of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. To give one example it has a display of all the batons preferred by the resident conductors over the years starting with Strauss of Tone Poem fame.

The second floor is an interactive “laboratory” in which one can learn about the complexity of sound via touch screens and headphones.

There are a couple of fun activities even for aging Recorder students.

The first involved throwing a furry dice onto a Perspex square plate about 1 meter square. I suspect it uses the detection of minute electrostatic changes to generate a pulse of charge. The pitch and beat of the tone generated is determined by the enthusiasm with which one throes the dice. It obviously bounces around the Perspex plate at variable rate and places! To add to the fun, you do it twice – once with a blue dice – which translates to the sound of a flute and a second cabinet with a red dice and it translates to the sound of a cello! The two are combined and played back to you as a sonata for cello and flute! I could have composed all day, it was delightful.

But the one that well and truly won me over was an interactive display which allowed one to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. There was a huge video screen, the “conductor” stood on a podium in front of the screen and held a baton which was a rod of clear Perspex. An infra red light detected the frequency at which this baton moved and this determined the speed at which the movie of the orchestra in front of you projected. I was ecstatic, especially as I was alone in the cubicle so could over act to my heart’s content!

The third floor was given over to famous composers who had a significant association with Vienna.

Hadyn, Mozart, Beethoven , Schubert, Mahler and Berg.

One fascinating titbit- Haydn acquired a pet parrot. It screeched his name and whistled the Austrian National anthem!

I have to start getting serious about my Conference from Monday.

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Beethoven

Sunday was a full day of musical magic and at times mayhem. Firstly the old part of Vienna city is literally over-run with handsome young men all dressed as Mozart look alikes! As in Prague, they are spruking tickets to an evening of classical music and opera – the programme inevitably has works by Mozart, Strauss and Haydn. Not much Beethoven.

What do they look like? Think the movie “Amadeus”! Wig, bright costume with waistcoat and tails! What set them apart from the genuine article is that to a man they were wearing Ray Ban sunglasses, Nike runners, had an iPhone in one hand, a glossy brochure in the other and a cigarette in the corner of the mouth.

I accidentally walked past a sign which stated there was a Beethoven museum close by. It was an apartment on the fourth floor and it was extremely difficult to fathom how to gain entry. Indeed one had to push the bell at the front door of the block whereupon the door was unlocked and one then entered what was obviously mostly private dwellings. One’s frustration was magnified by an aging, irritable middle aged man with bad hair coloring (jet black) on a comb over, watching a movie on a portable DVD player. He was completely out of character for my Immortal Beloved and I suspect he would have been not out of place at a gothic convention. I am not alluding to architecture. The least I expected was twin set and pearls – or if it was a woman ….

Beethoven did not get along very well with his landlords as he was continuously playing music. He was constantly finding landlords who were supportive. From 1804 to 1825 he stayed in Baden 15 times taking lodgings in at least 8 different houses as a consequence.

In my efforts at learning the Recorder, my routine is a daily practice in the hotel room and having to cope with the banging on the walls from the room next door, I can only emphasize with poor Beethoven. Some people have no appreciation of genius.

I now practice in the bathroom with the door closed.

The museum was a little underwhelming, the more so when in a state of supplication, I asked the Visigoth, breathlessly if Beethoven actually lived here? Without looking away from his DVD, he said “NO”! At first I thought he was trying to irritated and upset me! He was I can assure you most successful if this was his purpose. It turns out that Beethoven actually lived in apartment 4 directly opposite! Near enough is not good enough for me. I contemplated ringing the doorbell of Herr Helmut Wizzenburgermiedrer, the occupant of apartment 4.

I now realize that all manuscripts, furniture and paraphernalia in these small museums are reproductions, the originals usually in the National museum or archives. Similarly the piano was labeled “Beethoven piano” in large type but beneath it in minute lettering “a piano from the same era as Beethoven would have owned”.

I left mildly disappointed passing the front desk. Under my breath I muttered “fuck off” hoping that his English was poor and that he assumed I said “Fur Elise”.

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If I could not actually be in his apartment at least I was floating on air knowing that I was genuinely walking in Beethoven’s footsteps.

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The piano “of a type that Beethoven would have played”. Sigh.
It has FIVE foot peddles. People have pontificated on what medical condition Beerhoven had to cause his grumpy behaviour and early onset deafness! Whatever syndrome it was, includes 3 extra legs!

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Beethoven lived on this street.
I return home content!

Tulln to Vienna

It is a Saturday and despite the web site of the official Austrian weather bureau stating in upbeat language “good news, the persistent low pressure trough that has brought several days of cool rain and wind, is moving on”. Well not today Josephine! It was cool, tail wind and broken sun shine with rain for the last 8 km or so into Vienna. Trip distance today about 45 km.

No sign of any familiar cyclists, not even the Spaniards. However being a Saturday and 40 km from the city, for the first time I was passed, coming in the opposite direction, by a fair number of road bike cyclists. However never at any time was it as frantic at Norton Summit on a Spring Saturday.

Have booked into my “boutique” hotel- defined by minimalist futuristic furniture and art nouveau on the walls including of course, the lavatory. It has a wine theme. Each room is named after a wine variety. I am in the “cleanskin” room – obviously they have worked out I am on a budget! Michelle would naturally be in the Moët Room.

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A couple of pics of the town square of Tulln

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One side of St Stephen’s church Tulln

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At the beginning of the last day outskirts of Tulln.

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The final day cycle path into Vienna. One can see the first autumnal colours