July 21 - 25: A few days in Vienna

Arrived in Vienna - the biking part of the trip is over

It's with some regret that I'm settled in now, to our hotel in Vienna (Ibis Syles Messe Prater). It's nice to be in Vienna - though we have 4 whole days, which may get a little long - but I've enjoyed the biking so much, and seeing so many new things every day. I will miss that tremendously.

We got a relatively early start from Tulln, skipping the breakfast buffet, which was extra (18 Euros!). We stopped at a Spar grocery store for some rolls, and yogurt, and that was fine. The bike trails in Tulln are very nice and well marked. And there were a tremendous number of people on them, and also the whole way to Vienna as well. Most were weekend bikers on racing bikes, zipping past us.

There was a long section of interesting houses on the right (we were on the right hand side of the river, going downstream). They were smaller houses, often built on stilts, and BELOW the level of the Danube. We were biking on a large levee above them.

Here's a few pictures from the trip.

The riverfront area in Tulln
Breakfast on a bench
Some of the interesting little houses, often on stilts, that we saw after Tulln
At a park near Klosterneuberg, there was an old miniature sit-on train track - huge, going around a large swath of the park - that was not open anymore. There was a sign - the current owner, now older, want to pass it on to new owners, but are having a hard time finding someone.
The first time in a while we've seen huge underpasses like this
We had some sausages and a roll here
This is one of those bike tour boats - if you look carefully, you can see the bikes on the top deck

The bike trail, and the signage for it, has been great for a long time now. Going into Vienna it's got more complicated - I had to figure out which specific bike trail to take. For most of our biking I've used the app OMSAnd, because it has great offline map service. But in cities, I've used Google Maps - they seem to have very up-to-date information.

After resting at the hotel, we went to the Haus Der Music - kind of a music museum. Some of it was well done, but there were also some very, very wordy descriptions of every single conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, since around 1800.

Here's a few pictures from our walk to the museum (it was HOT! should have taken the bikes) and then walking back, along the famous Kaertnerstrasse.

Phone booths! Really. I didn't check to see whether they were functional
At the "House of Music" museum Peter practiced his piano. There were weird acoustics there - it was like being at the bottom of a well
Conducting the Vienna Philharmonic
The famous street Kaerntnergasse
St Stephans Cathedral - the most famous and largest in all of Vienna

In Vienna - Kunsthistorisches Museum and the amusement park

It turns out that our bike trip is not quite over - we're still in the same hotel every night, but everywhere Peter and I go, we go on bikes. The bike system here in the city is very well developed. You still have to really keep your eyes open, of course, because there's cars and pedestrians all over the place, but there are some major roads that have marked, painted bike lanes, even with bike traffic lights.

The museum area looked a little shabby. The grounds were very unkempt. Peter wasn't that interested in the exhibits (an extensive Egyptian collection, and lots of paintings from the 1500s that I really enjoyed - lots of Bruegels).

Looking towards the Naturhistorisches Museum
Inside the very ornate Kunsthistorisches Museum
Enjoying an Almdudler (herbal soda) inside the cafe. Double the price it is normally, but worth it for the setting. Very hot in the building, though.
Peter mostly read while I looked at the exhibits

We hung out at the hotel for a bit, then went to the swimming pool Stadionbad. That was an experience. It looks like it was built many years ago, but then not maintained. There were absolutely HUGE grounds - it took a long time to walk from the entrance to the actual pool. Everything was weird and desolate looking. The supposed wave pool was not operational, the slides were barely functional. Weeds were everywhere, and there were 2 security guys walking around in camo shorts and gray t-shirts with walkie-talkies. I'll bet they've had some crime issues there.

View from our hotel room
View from hotel room - other side
Biking down the extremely wide main alley in the Prater area
At the Stadionbad

Then we went to the amusement park area - around the Prater. We ate there (I had what I thought would be a little slice of bread with cheese - it ended up being HUGE, Peter had a kids Wiener Schnitzel), then Peter convinced me to go up on a ride. I'm not big on amusement park rides anymore, but this one was actually really nice - it got up really high, with a nice view of the city. Too short, though!

Then of course we stopped at the playground. Good thing I always bring my Kindle with, because we spend lots of time there. Peter, as usual, got material for the standard "there was this really annoying kid" story.

The ride we went on
Peter went on another ride, with money he found in grocery carts
This piece of playground equipment was interesting - like a merry-go-round that you wind up

In Vienna - World War II towers, and the Kaernterstrasse pedestrian zone again

This mornings destination was the Augarten park, where there are 2 well-preserved World War II anti-aircraft towers. Very interesting there were no signs or anything, I had to look up details online. Seeing WWII historical artifacts (as opposed to earlier ones, like from the 1700's, etc., also very abundant here) feels much more real and immediate - partly, of course, because it's so recent, and partly because my mother lived here during the war.

Here's a few pictures of the towers.

Later on, we biked around the Prater area again. I just love that huge "Hauptallee", which is the main "street" in that park (only maintenance vehicles are allowed on it). It's really wide, tree-lined, and incredibly long, with all kinds of sporting facilities on it (the swimming pool we went to is along the Hauptallee). It seems like it could be boring if you're just walking on it - it's VERY straight - but biking is just the right speed for that kind of road.

The giant ferris wheel0
Doing baby stroller exercises (squat/walking) in the park. The leader was speaking American English
This lady ended up cleaning trash right underneath these passed out drunks

After lunch (sandwiches at the hotel, with the good rye bread) and a rest, we went to the Stephansdom area again. Last time we were there, a church service was going on, and we couldn't go in very much. Well, this time there was no church service, but the church is still very much closed off - you can go in certain areas, but for much of it, you have to buy a ticket.

A better shot of the Stephansdom
The "Stock in eisen" - an old tree trunk into which people drove nails, for luck

I have to say - I'm not so fond of Google maps, after trying to navigate around downtown Vienna. I was going in circles, and the street names were nowhere to be found on Google maps, so I had no way of really knowing where I was (I didn't trust their location marker). But then luckily I switched to the OMSAnd app, and figured out exactly where I needed to go immediately. OMSAnd has it's flaws, but it does the basics well.

In Vienna - the Donauinsel, seeing my second cousin Tina, and bye-bye bikes

A packed day! We did a bit of a longer bike ride today, because I was thinking we may not have the bikes for that much longer. Good thing we did!

This morning we biked along the Donaucanal - not the actual Donau river, but the canal, most of the way to the western end, to the bridge Steinitzsteg. It's very wide, must have originally been a car bridge. Then we were on the Donauinsel - the Danube Island. It's a very long, skinny island that is almost entirely bike paths. Very pleasant, although it was a very warm day. There were little docks along the water, along much of the way. We just biked north, then south on the other side of the island. After an ice cream for Peter, we stopped off at the water park - like playground, but with some outstanding water features. The pictures say it all.

After a rest and lunch in our room, we met my second cousin Tina. She's exactly my age, and I have a vague childhood memory of her - I believe I met her during my stay with Tante Steffi. And I know there's a photo somewhere, of me and her, next to a swing.

Anyway, we arranged over email to meet at a Ubahn station, and met up there, then went to a very nice cafe and chatted for a while. It was great to meet her.

And then (yes, it was a very packed day), I went to the Fahrrad Keller - and sold both bikes for 160 Euros! I bought them both (mine was used) for 520 Euros, so a net cost of 360 Euros. Not terrible, considering we used them for a month. I could, theoretically, have sold it for much more on the local equivalent of Craigslist (Willhaben.at), and I actually did put an ad up on that site. But it would have been a lot more trouble, and I didn't mind accepting 160 for them, to avoid hassle.

Here's a few more photos, from the rest of the day.

After selling the bikes we rented a Lime scooter - what fun!

In Vienna - our last day

Another hot day, and we spent most of it walking around the streets of Vienna. I was debating taking an excursion boat to Bratislava, but I figured that there were a few more things we could see here, so we skipped the boat trip.

Morning - went to the Hunderwasser House (don't really see what the fuss was about, so much), then we made our way, visiting all the playgrounds along the way, to the National Library. I had read a description of it that indicated it was a tourist attraction, but when we got there (hot, hot, hot!) it seemed like it was more for researchers. So we went to the McDonalds (familiarity and convenience is sometimes so comforting), had a coffee for me and a shake for Peter, then took a Lime scooter to the hotel. I was a little worried that police would stop us, because of having 2 people on the scooter, but we had no problem.

After a rest at the hotel, we went out to the Prater area - the amusement park. It's very close by. I told Peter he could spend 10 Euros on rides, so he went on one roller coaster type ride, then after LOT of ride evaluation in the hot sun, he went on the "Black Mambo". It was very scary looking, and 12 (Peter's age) was the minimum age. Peter enjoyed it, though. Then we went on the ride we'd done previously - the ride where you go up on the tower, spinning around on seats attached to the tower with chains. The ride was MUCH longer than it was the first time we did it - at least twice as long. We had time to really relax and look around up there.

Here's a few photos from our day.

Crossing the Donaucanal. It feels funny to walk places now, after biking so much. So slow!
At the Stadtpark
We stopped at the Haus der Music again for Peter to play piano. People filmed and took photos of him
The National Library - a bust
Peter on the Black Mambo ride

The end of the trip

Well, Peter and I have been back home now for 3 days. The flight was fine (though if possible I'll try to avoid the Frankfurt airport in the future, it was pretty awful), and jet lag is almost over. Now we're back to everyday life at home. There's not much of a routine, because we're still in summer vacation, and Eric and Kenny are gone on a trip.

The trip was a bucket list experience for me, something I've wanted to do for a long time. I'm glad I was able to do it with my 12 year old son Peter - he was an ideal travel companion, always good-natured and up for anything. As long as we stopped at all playgrounds and got ice cream at least once a day, he was fine!

The first few days were stressful - I didn't now how everything would work out, I didn't know if we'd be able to find suitable bikes, whether we'd have mechanical problems, if we'd be able to find hotels, etc. But once I got past those first days, I really enjoyed myself. I didn't put a lot of effort into seeing the "sights", rather I really enjoyed the things that we ran across while we were biking. Things like cherry tree with ripe fruit, a metal recyling plant, a nice view of the river, crossing the Danube on a water ferry. We took it very easy, and didn't try to do too many kilometers in a day. Every day was like a little treasure chest, with new and interesting things to see.

Keeping this blog was a great idea, both for logging what happened, and for having a bit of a routine. I wrote up the days blog post every evening. The folding keyboard was sometimes annoying (a few letters just did NOT work well, like b and h), but overall it was critical to being able to write reasonably quickly.

I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. Not along the Inn and the Danube, but along some of the other European rivers. Many rivers in Europe have bike paths on them, and while the Danube is the best known, many others are supposed to be really nice as well. So - this is not the last trip of this sort!

What would I would do differently? Buying the bikes, used, when we got to Innsbruck and then selling them in Vianna worked out fine in the end. However, it was stressful. I'm thinking of some other options for next time. Probably I'll bring bikes with. That way I'd have some experience with it, and it won't all be new. I'll need to get a different bike - mine is a road bike which wouldn't be suitable for all the gravel roads. And I'd need to learn a few things about assembling and disassembling the bikes. I may also consider a folding bike.

Another thing I'd do differently is - different clothes! What I ended up bringing was good in that it was quick-drying (great, since I did laundry by hand in the hotel sink almost every night). But that's all my wardrobe had going for it. I didn't really like what I had to wear, and felt frumpy much of the time. Not a huge deal, but I will be more selective next time.

I would try harder to not use sites like Booking.com. The worst hotel nights we had were when I restricted myself to the hotels that were easily available (just a few tempting clicks!) on Booking.com. An easy alternative is just to look on Google maps, see the hotels that are available, maybe check out their reviews, and call them! Speaking to people in German on the phone was stressful for me, that's why I avoided it.

I thought it would be hard to move from one hotel to the next every night. But it wasn't as hard as I expected. Once you set a few rules for yourself, moving is not that hard. One rule was - there's a place for everything, and everything goes in it's place. That way, you don't need to worry so much about losing things. Also, we traveled REALLY light. Many people remarked on that. People asked me if we were using some kind of service, that moved our bags from one hotel to another (this service actually exists). The less you bring with, the less you have to worry about losing or moving.

I think living like this is good for a month or so - which is what we did. Living like this for longer than that would probably get old, though.

Here's a few photos from the flight back to Seattle (over the North Pole).