The fantastic cycling we experienced in Switzerland has continued on into Austria. Once again we've come across the little bike route signs that lead us around the country on all of the back roads so we can cycle without having to think much about where we're going. We've seen more bicycle tourists in our first 24 hours in Austria than we've seen in almost an entire year on the road and there are more and more every day. It's amazing; there are loads of cyclists here and about 1 in 4 is loaded down with panniers. It seems as though there are tons of organized tours here as there are often big groups traveling together with the same amounts of matching gear. It really should be that surprising, I guess, given the excellent bike paths and the opportunity to see big mountains while staying in relatively flat trails in the valleys. There's always the option to go over the big passes, but it's nice that the various routes can offer something for all levels.
Cari on the bike path.
The downside to Austria's bike routes is that the signs are green and small and blend in easily with the lush landscape making it much easier to get off track if you're not paying attention. Fortunately for us, we have two sets of eyes so if one misses a turn the other usually spots it and therefore we've only gotten slightly lost a few times. The only other downfall to this network is that the cycling routes take you through literally every little village within a valley. There's not really the option to take the direct roads because they're busy and lack bike lanes so we're more or less forced to zig-zag back and forth across the valley on the path, ultimately riding nearly twice as far to get from point A to point B. We've commented several times that it's a good thing we're on absolutely no time schedule as the bike routes could be infuriating if we were.
Though we've only been in Austria for a few days there are a few observations that immediately struck us. First is that after 8 long months of riding through countries in South America and western Europe that literally shut down for the greater portion of every afternoon, we have finally and ecstatically entered a country without siestas! No longer lo we have to worry about making it to the next town by a certain time to buy our lunch only to realize upon our arrival that they closed 10 minutes prior, forcing us to wait 4 hours until they re-opened so we could get food. Siestas drove us crazy and we're so happy to have them behind us, for a while at least.
The second thing that was apparent was that the architecture, mostly that of churches, has begun to change. Though there are still many western European looking churches with standard straight and pointed steeples, there's now also the presence of churches with fancy, metallic, domed steeples that feel much more eastern to us. It's kind of nice to have a change of scenery.
Starting to see a change in the architecture.
Our third observation was that the Austrians pay very special attention to their wood piles. We've never seen such tightly stacked and perfectly organized wood piles on the sides of nearly every farm house and you must wonder how many hours it took someone to complete such a task. Some of the displays are truly amazing.
Fancy wood piles.
As for the landscape, it continues to be beautiful. Little red trains are constantly seen quietly whirring through the green countryside, the valleys are full of wildflowers and cows are grazing everywhere as Austria seems to be even more of a farming country than Switzerland was. The part we don't like about that is the smell of manure is frequently lingering in the air and we constantly have to dodge the land mines scattered on the streets since they seem to double as roadways for humans as well as routes for moving cattle from one pasture to another.
A valley of wildflowers.
Waiting for a herd of cows to get out of the street.
As we're made our way eastward through Austria, the mountains have begun to diminish into foothills and we've officially crossed our last big mountain pass for a while. I think we can say that we've sufficiently “toured” the Alps, but I'm a little sad that we won't have any more 2-4 hour climbs where we get our minds set on slow mode, stick the bike into Granny Gear and crank away until we've reached the top. We both enjoy the sense of accomplishment and of course the reward of a long and steep descent afterward, but there's also a part of us (primarily our knees) that are looking forward to some smaller hills and even some flats as we move away from the Alps.