June 25 - 28: Preparation/Innsbruck - Kramsach
Preparing to bike through Austria
It's been on my bucket list for a long time—taking a long distance bike ride. I love biking, and particularly love biking on safe, scenic trails, away from cars.
My parents are from Austria, and I visited relatives there many times when I was younger. I remember one trip I took in the Danube area, with my aunt and uncle. While we were there, I saw the Danube bike trail—one of the oldest bike trails around—and was immedietely enthralled by the idea of doing a long distance ride on that trail.
Fast forward to today. My younger son Peter loves the idea of a long distance bike trip, my older son Kenny has a job as a summer counselor, and my husband Eric is staying home with him.
So, Peter and I are taking a month to bike through Austria! We're planning on doing the Innradweg (the bike trail along the river Inn), starting in Innsbruck, Austria. We'll be on that until we hit the Braunau/Passau area, at which point we'll switch to the Römerradweg (the Roman bike trail, which goes through the province of Upper Austria, where my parents are from). We'll be on the Römerradweg until we arrive in the Linz area, at which point we'll head to Vienna along the Donauradweg (Danube bike trail).
This much is planned, but almost everything else is not planned. The Römerradweg is actually optional—if we run short on time, we'll skip it. Aside from the first few nights in Innsbruck, I don't have hotels planned. From what I've gathered from reading trip accounts online, we should be okay finding accomodations on the day of our stay. I my try to plan a day or two in advance, though—we'll see how it goes. I'll have my phone, with local service (I plan on buying a sim card) so I should be able to to the research along the way.
And the actual bikes are still in question. I've been communicating with a few bike shops about the possibility of renting a bike, but the main difficulty is returning the bike to them, since we'll be in Vienna at the end. So I'm leaning towards just buying some used bikes.
I was talking to a friend recently, who did a 2 month bike ride from Canada to Alaska last summer. My first reaction, when she told me about this, was, "What an incredible trip!" But she told me it was actually very, very difficult. They were carrying all their food, had no support vehicles, and were tenting every night. It was physically very tough.
Well, our trip will be nothing like that. We'll be in hotels or guest rooms every night. Nothing fancy, but we won't be camping. And if we get tired of biking, we'll take a day off. Austria is very tourist centered, and there's services everywhere.
So—let the journey begin!
The planned route
I've loaded a set of GPS coordinates for the bike trails we plan to do (Innradweg, Römerradweg, and Donauradweg) to Google maps, from which you can get an idea of where we'll be going. But we're still quite flexible - we may skip the Römerradweg, depending on how long it takes us to get to that area. Also, the map below is the entire route of the three bike trails we plan to do. For instance, the starting point of the Innradweg is in Switzerland. But we will start it in Innsbruck - luckily skipping the section that has hilly segments!
I've also been communicating with some people I found online, regarding where to look for bikes (preferably used) in Innsbruck. That's plan A, but if I don't find anything quickly, I'll switch to plan B, and just buy some hopefully relatively inexpensive new bikes.
Mission Accomplished - bought sim card and bikes!
We arrived in Innsbruck late last night after an uneventful flight, though we had a really long layover in Frankfurt, more than 7 hours. There were benches there without armrests between them, and both Peter and I managed to take little naps on them.
Today, in Innsbruck, has been a really packed day. The first order of business was getting a sim card, so that I have connectivity. I had a few ideas of places to go, based on research I did online, but the lady at the front desk told me to go to the top floor of the Kaufhaus Tirol, where there's a Saturn store, which is a little like Best Buy. That was pretty close, so we walked there - Peter navigated using the little map they gave out at the hotel. The Saturn store sold me a sim card for 10 Euros, the big catch is that it's ONLY for Austria. So when we get to Germany, we'll have to either do without internet, or buy another sim card. Contrary to what I found online, he said you DO need to have separate sim cards per country.
Once we got internet connectivity taken care of (at least, till we get to Germany), we went on the hunt for bikes. My plan was to look at a few places where they have used bikes, and the backup was to buy some cheaper new bikes. First we went to a place called Conrads (it was close to where we bought the sim cards), where the guy told me to come back at 2, because he was the only one there, and couldn't show me around back, where the used bikes are. He also said they didn't have very many. Then I went to a Rad und Tat bike store, out in Hall (we took the bus, as it would have been a very long walk). They had almost no used bikes, and suggested that I go to their other branch, back in Innsbruck, on Defreggerstrasse. It turns out that we should have gone there first, since that's where we got the bikes - one used one for me, and a new bike for Peter.
They seem pretty comfortable and in decent shape - I hope so, since I'm not very familiar with bike repairs! Not to mention I have no tools with, except for a patch kit. Which I sincerely hope I never have to use, because the last time I fixed a bike tire was...well, let's just say is was a LONG time ago.
Did I mention that it's hot? It's VERY hot. Everyone is staying in the shade. The forecast is for a little bit cooler tomorrow, our first day of biking.
Now that I don't need to worry about getting a sim card and buying bikes, I can start worrying about finding places to stay along the way. When we got to this hotel (Ibis Innbruck), there was another lady trying to get a room, but without a reservation. And they were all booked! The lady at the front desk gave her a suggestion on where to go, but still - it was about 10.30 at night, and she was searching for a hotel room (she missed a connecting train). I've been resisting planning in advance, because I don't know how far we're going to get every day. But I should probably try to book at least a day or two ahead. Maybe I'll make reservations that I can cancel.
What are my first impressions of Innsbruck? Number one - it's hot. But I said that already. Number 2 - wow, there's a lot of immigrants! Tons of ladies with head scarves, etc. I guess that was the big migration that came in a few years back - I don't think it's quite so easy anymore.
Today in the room I'll try to figure out where things should go on the bikes. We're traveling very light, just some changes of clothing, no camping gear or anything since we'll be staying in hotels. So, we don't need paniers, but I will need to figure out how to attach the drybags we have to the back of the bikes. Luckily both of them have racks on the back wheel, and I have some cords, so I should be able to just attach them.
Tomorrow (Peter's birthday), the bike ride begins!
First day on our bikes
Our first day on our bikes! We started out from the hotel Ibis - got off to a good start when I asked the man repairing the elevator if he had a hex screwdriver that would fit Peter bike (to add the water bottle holder), and he very kindly went and got the correct screwdriver, and installed the water bottle holder on Peter's bike. I had bought two water bottle holders, but unfortunately it turns out that my bike doesn't have a place to screw it on. But I brought some zip ties - maybe I could attach it with them.
This is how I've attached our dry bags, which is where we have our spare clothes. I thought I would need something more complicated, but the regular clip on the rack, combined with the dry bag attachment, seems to work.
I was a little worried because I wanted our first stretch to be much shorter than it ended up being (about 50 kilometers). But I wasn't able to find a hotel where I wanted to end up, so our daily distance was longer.
The first part of the ride was through the outskirts of Innsbruck. It was a beautiful section of the trail, very green and cooled by the river, and it seemed like there were playgrounds every minute or so. The playgrounds here are so much more interesting for older kids than in the US. Probably because of the issues with lawsuits in the US.
We ended up being a LOT slower than the app we're using (OMSAnd) thinks that bike riders should be. Early on, it was estimating that we'd arrive by noon (we started around 10), then gradually it got later and later, as we took breaks, and biked slower. Then around 2 PM, we were in Schwaz, it was really hot, and we were exhausted. Plus there were headwinds - especially in the big open fields. There were about 20 kilometers left till we got to our hotel. We stopped at a cafe for some Almdudler (kind of like a herbal cola), and to get out of the sun, rest, and use the restroom. I looked on Google maps, to see what options there were for train or bus, and it turned out there was a train going very close to where we needed to go (Hotel Landgasthof Gappen in Kramsach). Went to the train station, and the person at the info desk locked his office up, and walked us through buying the tickets at the ticket machine. We got 2 tickets for Brixlegg for 10 Euros, and were there in about 15 minutes, saving us probably one and a half HOT hours of biking. We still had to bike a ways from the station to the hotel, but it was much better than it could have been.
There have been lots of other bikers on the trail - nobody seems to be very chatty, though. Many people have ebikes, they zip along quickly and effortlessly.
For lunch we bought some semmel (rolls), a sandwich, and a yogurt from a small grocery. But we didn't eat until around 3 - I think the heat took away our appetites. And the yogurt was a bad idea - it would have been great had I eaten it immediately, but after a few hours in the heat, it was not appetizing.
The river Inn, that we're riding along is extremely high. The water looks fast and dangerous, and there's many half-submerged trees along the river bank.
Peter's favorite part of the day was not the bike ride, but the post-ride walk up a nearby hill with a great view, kind of like the Sound of Music intro scene.