So We Hooked Up With Some Folks in Vienna Last Week.. (Actually 110 Weeks Ago, But Who’s Counting!)

(note: originally written 19 June 2007)

So for the last week of her full-time work with the research hospital (she has started her new position with the Academy of Sciences now, and still consults with the hospital) Verča had a conference in Vienna, Austria to go to. It was a Wednesday – Sunday deal (6-10 June) , so I tagged along so that we could hang out and do a bit of riding in Vienna if riding was to be found. Also, since I’m not really tied to an office these days, I just put my computer in a bag and was only off work for a day in transit, then telecommuted from our apartment in Vienna.

(Just to warm you this post is about to get long, as I realized I was going to tell a few little stories. You were warned.)

We actually planned to leave on Tuesday morning, but for a series of cascading events that included: me getting a registered letter from the immigration police on Thursday, the US embassy being closed after 11am on Fridays, Mr. President George W. visiting my new home on Monday and Tuesday, then me sneaking into the embassy on Monday morning while W was still in the air(and nobody was looking), getting the signature of the Consul General then getting his signature (and I’ll quote) “super-legalized”, driving to Rakovník and back to pick up Verča’s original birth certificate, registering our marriage in Prague and then driving to Brno (3 hours away) to “really” register it, when the proper office worker wasn’t off at her doctor’s office. Needless to say a more complicated story would need to ensue, before we could go to Vienna.

We ended leaving Prague on Tuesday anyway around lunchtime. We arrived in Lednice on the Czech-Austrian border about 4pm and found a cool little boarding house/pension were we rented a little cabin for something like 14 bucks for the night. It was a cool little one room with a little bathroom. It looked out onto a common lawn and up to the town’s Chateau/Castle.

We took a nice long stroll around the big lake/preserve of the Chateau. Verča had studied biology at her university and spent a couple weeks in this region studying in the field, so I quizzed her on some dendrology and she had forgotten most of it, but was able to spout some Latin names.

At one end of the lake was a minaret, on axis with the Chateau for no obvious function, other than for some rich guy in the big house to admire. (turns out he wanted to build some Christian chapel, but the church wouldn’t let him, so the old f-you instead!)

Anyway we walked around and saw some deer, birds, and lots of fish. The trees and shrubberies were blooming so it was nice. We followed a bunch of signs to try to find a demonstration of birds of prey (falconry, I presume.) But it was a Tuesday afternoon and a bit windy, so apparently no demo for us. We did make it back to the Chateau and wandered around the gardens a bit.

On the opposite side from the lake/preserve they had the full-on formal Baroque gardens with 25′ tall 15′ deep groomed hedgerows. It’s a bit difficult to understand how you can justify the maintenance of gardens like this. I mean, couldn’t the old Lord (or whatever) think of something more productive to do with his riches. (Like develop the bicycle a little earlier of something?)

Anyway we were hungry, so we wandered through town past a couple pubs stuffed to the gills with drunk locals, til we found a nice terrace to sit on and eat some steak. Then we took a short walk home and played a few games of pool on the outdoor table at our pension.

Verča beat me 2 out of 3 with some Czech rules. (Apparently you have to hit the 8 ball in the pocket opposite of whatever pocket you put your last ball into. It makes for an interesting twist and a definitely longer game for the novices like us.) We called it a night early and retired to our cabin. We then got up early the next morning and headed the half hour back north to Brno to be at the office at 8:30 to sort our marriage legalities out.

After jumping through a few more flaming hoops than we had hoped for (but expected) we were done and on our way to Vienna by noon, with the super legal Czech marriage certificate.

So a bit behind schedule we arrived in Vienna, and ran in circles to get things sorted out as we were meeting a local named David to go riding, at 4pm at our apartment.

The reception checking in to our place in Vienna wasn’t very fun as we argued a bit, sorted it all out, then ran to get Verča registered at the conference and back. We realized we needed food and to figure out how to and pay for parking. It was 3:55 and I was still standing at a park stand waiting for our food a few minutes away while Verča was off sorting out parking, trying to find a store to sell her the 2 hour parking tickets.

After not being able to find the place, she went up to some stranger who was taking his bike out of the car and getting ready to ride about 2 blocks from our apartment. She asked him (in German, the language in Austria) if he spoke English and knew where to buy the tickets. He laughed asked her if her name was Veronika (in perfect English of course.) He had recognized her from here on ridelugged.com.

See it was David, who we were to meet in about 5 minutes. He gave her a couple of tickets to put in our car, and started back to walk towards where I was. I was a bit amused to find they had already met as I arrived with lunch.

BTW, I had found David (and Sunil, keep reading) on mtbr.com. See you can search users by where they are from so I found a few in Vienna, and emailed them about a week before we were going to Vienna asking for some info on where to ride (kind of last minute, but worth a shot, right?). It turns out all three people who I emailed responded.

One was out of town and the other two offered to take Veronika and I for a ride and show us around. We took them both up on it and we were very glad we did. I also posted on the 29er discussion board on mtbr about Vienna, and ended up getting a reply from a guy that lives in my neighborhood here in Prague. I’ll give you the lowdown when we catch up and go riding, too.

So David and I chatted while Verča ran upstairs to change, then we switched places and were off riding away in about fifteen minutes. Wien (Vienna in German) is bisected by the Danube and the Danube canal which run parallel southeast through the city. We were staying on the island between the two, next to a big park and old-school amusement park called the Prater, along the canal.

We headed northwest up the canal on what David assured was the best bike path through town. It had been closed at the center of town for 4 years due to construction of a next subway station, and literally had reopened less than 2 weeks before we showed up. There was fresh smelling asphalt to prove it (and fresh smelling graffiti). David spoke of how Wien keeps talking about adding more bike paths, but the cyclist complain that they can’t maintain the ones they have.

It’s true that it was a little hard to follow the paths sometimes when the stripes were worn away or signs were missing, but it didn’t seem to matter. There a soo many bike paths in the city that when you wander from a path you are almost immediately on a new one.

I mean come on, on one way streets, there is a sign saying bikes can go both ways, and then there is a striped off bike path on one side. Verča and I joked that when we walked around town, that we kept taking bike paths everywhere. It was because there are so many. Come on they have three different type of traffic lights for bikes, just that I saw in 5 days.

And there is a BMX park in the public park open 24-7. Cars even stopped for me when they had the right of way. Wien is a VERY bike friendly city. The most friendly I have seen (at that time. most of Belgium seemed even better, now looking back.)

Anyway so we started to ride out of the city, while David gave me some opinions on the local architecture. I looked in a couple places before we left to see if there were any buildings of note. I got a bunch of old non-descript Otto Wagner houses and eastern-blok looking public housing, so I decided we would just wander around.

Near our apartment is the Hundertwasserhaus. On the bike path is a new Zaha Hadid project called the Spittelau Viaducts, that looked finished but not occupied (maybe they didn’t pass the Use and Occupancy inspection!)

There is a Coop Himmelblau law office project that I forgot to visit and kind of regret not seeing in person now, as Coop buildings in reality are quite few and far between. Plus a weird but cool gold sphere on top of a smokestack that is actually a trash incinerator also designed by Hundertwasser.

So past these and the bike path along the river actually runs underneath a highway out of town (which was nice on the way home, read on.) At the foot of the hills that border Vienna to the north at the start of the Vienna Woods, David gave us two options: either up the steepest road you can ride or the easier way.

We of course opted for the easier way having no idea where he would lead us. We wound up though a small neighborhood on the edge of the city and the road turned uphill. It was pretty much as steep as I would like. Then it turned up under some roman era viaduct and proceeded a bit steeper. It was then I realized that in my haste to get unpacked and underway, I had hooked my rear wheel up wrong and couldn’t get to my easiest 4 gears, which killed me.

I had to stop on the hill, detach my shifter (it is a quick release thing so it only took about 15 seconds) adjust it and reattach. Then I was on my way and had to sprint a bit to catch Verča and David. That killed me a bit more.

The hill gradually flattened a little, but it was too late and Verča and I were panting a bit. We were beginning to become somewhat frightened by David’s fitness level, unsure of what lay in store. So 30 minutes in and we were rolling in the foothills through vineyards that overlooked the river and city below. It was very pretty.

Then we dumped onto a nice shaded fireroad climb, where we could see that the trails would be kinda wet in spots. David led us mostly through wooded fireroads and dumped onto an occasional fast section of singletrack. I think all of the singletrack was either rolling or downhill which reassured me since i was able to creep away from David when it got more technical.

Strangely he kept catching me on the next climb, though. He took us down this little sluice way that was so muddy and slick you had no hopes of control for about 200m. Luckily we all made it though, but were all covered in mud now.

The next 10clicks or so was mostly sandy gravelly fireroad and logging road that weaved in and out of the gullys at a constant grade. We made our way around the ridge we came up to the west and spiraled back towards the top, on what apparently had been a nice section of singletrack a few weeks before.

The Vienna Woods is actually controlled by local logging and hunting interests, and the trail we had ended up on was being reclaimed for some selective logging. Logging is a powerful force in this part of the world, and here in Vienna is no exception. The trails were lined with stacked up firewood like a guardrail 2m high 1.5m deep and up to 100m long at a time. Apparently a large number of people buy the cheap (pine) firewood as fuel to heat their homes, much more cheaply than gas, oil, or even coal.

As we began to make our way towards the top, David told scary tales of a very difficult and slippery technical downhill from the peak. But as we neared the top (and passed 2 XC racer types on carbon Scott sub-1kg hardtails) a nasty thunderstorm began to rear it’s ugly head.

We opted to not go to the highest point within 50km and took a nice fast fireroad descent that eventually dropped us to the opening for the first bit of dirt we had ridden. From there in a light rain we began our road descent back to the river. And the road kept getting steeper down. This was the harder way up.

The road peaked out at 26% for a couple hundred meters or so, steeper than anything in the Tour or the Giro. We were happy to be going down not up. Until we hit the cobblestones at the bottom. It was raining hard now, and with the cobblestones came neighborhood traffic. We all navigated wet and well back to the river and bikepath. (the gloomy weather meant that no pictures of David made it out of the camera, maybe next trip.)

2km or so later and we were soaked but now riding under the expressway we had come up under, so we weren’t getting any wetter for the time being. Getting back into the city, David took a little detour and drug us out into the rain and onto the long skinny island that runs down the middle of the Danube. It’s only about 250m wide, but maybe 15km long.

It was made in the 1970’s from dredging the shipping channels in the river, and now is a series of parks, fields and stands of trees intertwined with tons of foot and bike paths. We began to revel in our wetness and even tried to clean the mud off our bikes a bit in the puddles.

We took a bridge crossing just south of where we were staying and zipped back through the Prater to our apartment just as the rain stopped and the skies cleared.

Back on the street by our car we chatted and scraped the mud from our legs and chainstays. As we talked an Austrian couple rode up on townies (nice ones. her’s was steel, with fenders, and XT/XTR.) She asked if we had a pump and I reinflated her back tire while we all chatted. He asked David if he worked on his own bike, and David ended up adjusting the guy’s V-brakes and maybe even tuned his rear mech.

We all laughed. Verča and I thanked David for the tour and he was on his way; home to dinner with the wife and kids. We snuck in the side door of the pension with our dirty bikes and selves and jumped into a warm shower.

The next morning while Veronika was at the conference, I tooled around Vienna to catch a few more sights. They have a pretty extensive bikeshare program, with access points all over the city and ATM access. I saw a few people using them, but most seemed to be locked up?

Maybe it was just a slow part of the day? Also there was a rad fitness center with outdoor pool floating in the river and anchored to the bike path embankment. It moves up and down with the wake from passing boats and changes in river flow.

So that afternoon, we met up with Sunil, another american expat in Vienna. He lugged us around in basically the same area as David, and although he has been in the city less time, I think he had devoted more time to exploring. We basically went first to the overlook, we had avoided the other day due to the pending storm. It had a big restaurant and terrace overlooking Vienna and the Danube.

Where David knew lots of double track and fireroads, Sunil knew all the little singletrack links from one place to the next. There were lots of steep rooty sections that dropped from on trail to the other, obviously pedestrian shortcuts, that made for some fun sketchy drop ins.

There was plenty of good smooth track too, and we even crossed and rode on some of the trails from the day before. Definitely a good ride with a very different flavor in essentially the same exact place. It was maybe 35km vs.

Davids 55km but took about the same amount of time. On our way down Sunil brought us to the Am Himmel tree circle, a very cool tree/zodiac circle again overlooking the city. We each found our corresponding astrological tree, relaxed a bit, then zipped back towards the city

As we were about to cross a bridge off the recreation island Sunil warned of a nice fall-away drop down the bridge embankment. I followed his wheel and zipped down and turned to look and saw Verča walking down the super steep embankment instead of riding it or riding around. oh well.

Sunil went on his way and we strolled back into the city center for dinner.

Again with the wife at her conference, I wandered the city by bike and occasionally got stuck in traffic.

It really was nothing to come upon groups of 10 or more cyclists of all ages coasting through the mostly flat city center. I even found a messenger in the car free central district rocking what appears to be an Alan lugged aluminium road bike.

With that I’ll leave you with Verča hitting some dirt jumps in the BMX park.

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