Hi, I am a map of Austria. This is what I look like:
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Dave and Erika think they want to take some nice wind-y roads through my snowy peaks and rainy valleys, so off they go through the Tirol. Once again, the higher up they go the greyer the skies get and the snowier the roadsides become. It appears, in fact, that the entire country of Austria is one big ski resort. One in, say, six buildings looks like an actual residence, while the other 5 have "guesthouse" signs posted outside. The guesthouses vie for opulence with their carved balconies and fresco-painted exteriors, but few seem to have cars parked in front--it is probably too late in the season to do any real skiing. This does not stop Dave from proclaiming every ten minutes that he loves Austria and wants to come back to do some prolonged experimentation on the slopes.
Mist rolls in and Erika gets a little nervous on the icy roads. No need to worry, or at least not about the driving. The weather, on the other hand, is still a little tedious. More rain as we descend into slightly greener valleys, and more chill. We are hungry and tired and stop for a late lunch at one of the ubiquitous "M Preis" grocery stores with its attached cafe-bakery. Erika's mood skyrockets after she indulges in a hot latte and the most delicious almond custard pastry ever baked in Austria.
As we descend, the valley opens up into more small villages that appear to be 90% guesthouses. There are no shabby homes to be found; each one is substantial, attractive, and well-kept. Dave definitely wants to live here. Erika likes things a little scruffier around the edges. Green, green, green, surrounded by more snowy mountain peaks. We easily find the campground outside of Innsbruck as the rain buckets down. It is not so hard for the campground manager to persuade us to rent a "caravan" for two nights instead of pitching the tent. We peel off our soggy clothing which takes up most of the space inside our miniature orange-curtained trailer home, complete with non-functioning stove and toilet. We love our cozy home and sleep well as the rain echoes on the roof.
After indulging in sleeping in til 9:30, we hop on the bike for a quick ride into the stately, attractive, substantial and well-kept town of Innsbruck.
The buildings lining the river have been painted various pastel shades which make a scenic foreground to the snowy mountains which make a scenic background to the pastel buildings which make a perfect setting for us to take a scenic photo to slap onto the front of our webpage. (Erika has had enough of being introduced with a photo of the Transalp.)
We walk all over the elegant old town which is not yet swarming with tourists and buy thrilling things such as toothpaste and sunscreen. Innsbruck was two-time host of the Winter Olympics and still boasts a dramatic ski-run that looks like a giant green slide landing on the rooftops over town. We imagine it would have been a gorgeous place to stay if you'd been lucky enough to afford tickets and hotels.
We continue south through the alpine scenery the next day with better weather. We are riding now through Hohe Tauern National Park, a protected alpine area with more peaks and valleys and a large waterfall that we can't really see from the road. In tourist season the waterfall area is apparently open as some type of amusement park, with water slides and exhibits such as a "water yo-yo" and a high entrance price. The long tunnels also have high entrance prices. You gotta pay what you gotta pay.
The last stop in this quick jaunt through Austria is the town of Spittal, where we camp in a simple deserted campsite near the river. We buy "kebab" for dinner (like gyros at home), the cheapest option in a town filled with $25 restaurant entrees. The guy is very flustered by our order of two kebabs and has a hard time with our request to take the kebabs "to go"--even though everyone else is ordering "to go" and some Austrian teenagers translate our elaborate pantomime. It takes about half an hour to get our dinner which we eat on a pretty square with fountain and small castle next door.
Spittal is not so kind to Dave the next day when he tries to withdraw cash from the money machine. He tries about 4 times and is told by the machine that the amount requested is over the limit and that his card is not accepted internationally. He tries again in the next town and has the same response. The banker looks into it and says he needs to call his bank. Small fiasco ensues trying to get a calling card and figuring out how to use it. Bank says Dave withdrew 350 euros and is thus over the limit. Dave TRIED to withdraw euros but didn't get anything! Back to the first bank, which verifies that he didn't get anything. Later, in Slovenia, he finds out that his bank has charged him a bunch for each attempted withdrawal (about 9) as well. The kindness of Domen, a friendly Slovenian guy who runs a local tourist adventure company called 3Glav, is what ultimately gets Dave through the financial mess. Domen keeps his shop open late to let Dave use the computer and the phone, with no charge. Next time you are in Bled, Slovenia and want to do some river rafting or hiking, give Domen a call. Thanks Domen!
The roads in France, Switzerland and Austria to date have been a dream to ride on a motorcycle. The road surfaces are smooth, with no bumps, potholes, imperfections or anything. Much better road conditions than in the US. And twisty, twisty, twisty, with curves everywhere the eye can see, even on a fully loaded two-up motorcycle we could enjoy some serious lean angles.
The drivers so far have been very courteous and highly skilled. For the most part, other users of the road have also been very predictable, people seem to take their driving seriously here. And navigation has been easy, once you know a few towns in the general direction where you are headed, signs in the roundabouts and all through the towns & villages precisely guide you in the correct direction. The biggest riding challenge has been paying attention to the road when the scenery is so stunning!
In Switzerland and Austria we have seen many other motorcycles on the road, at least when the weather has been good, we seem to be the only riders out during adverse conditions. All kinds of bikes are represented, with a high concentration of sport bikes and BMWs. As in the US, most riders wave to each other when passing in opposite directions. Its a friendly riding atmosphere, similar to what we experience in California.
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