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Travels in Austria September 2013 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

TRAVELS IN AUSTRIA IN SEPTEMBER 2013

Travelling with a Sprinter Van, Lunar Caravan and Paul Hewitt Bicycles

Margaret and Barry Williamson
September 2013

(Continued from: Summer in Germany 2013

Introduction

After a winter in Spain and Portugal, May in England and June in Ireland, we took the Stena Line ferry in early July 2013 from Harwich to the Hook of Holland to begin our journey through northern Europe. The initial focus was on cycling the Fietspads of the Netherlands and the Radwege of Germany; later we moved further east into Austria, following the line of the Danube to Vienna before turning south into Slovenia.  

Drei-Fluesse Campingplatz, Irring, nr Passau, Bavaria, Germany - 158 miles, elevation 1,087 ft

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.dreifluessecamping.privat.t-online.de  €27 inc 16 amp elec. Free showers. Free WiFi near Reception only. Entry to indoor pool €2 pp. N 48.60605 E 13.34583

From exit 115 of the A3 motorway (Passau Nord), follow the sign for 2 miles to Irring and Passau's nearest campsite, over 6 miles west of the centre, and prepare to be disappointed. It was too late in the day to seek an alternative but this was the worst camp we'd ever seen in Germany!

The site was scruffy, the unmarked pitches all sloped, the rough and ready owner running Reception reminded us of Ralph C Nesbitt (the beer-bellied string-vested hero of a Glaswegian TV comedy series) and the whole place was roamed by two goats trying to graze the gravel! The facilities were antiquated, the toilets devoid of seats, the rubbish skips overflowing … and all for €30 per night! (We got a 10% discount after protesting!) No-one fancied using the pool. In fact the only attraction was the proximity to Passau – city of three rivers - and the Donauradweg cycle path. Nearly forgot, there's also a curiously tacky mock 'Lourdes Grotto' chapel, built to fulfil the owner's promise to his dying mother.

But one good thing was the bar/restaurant, where we actually enjoyed delicious 'Hungarian Beef Goulash' made with meat from the local farm. In the mornings the camp shop sold pieces of home-made cakes left over from the previous night's menu, the price varying widely depending on who was serving!

A Day Trip into Austria

We took the Sprinter on a 113-mile circuit in search of a better campsite further along the Danube valley – and didn't find one! Driving through Passau was a congested Baroque nightmare that involved crossing all three rivers (Danube, Inn and Ilz) and we were relieved we'd left the caravan behind. The only sensible way to leave will be south on the A3.

We followed the south bank of the Danube into Austria, not forgetting to buy a vignette, sold at petrol stations and needed for motorways. For any vehicle up to 3.5 tons, the current price is €7.90 for 10 days, or €24.20 for 2 months. No extra charge for a caravan, unless the total weight of vehicle + trailer exceeds 7.5 tons. Good news for us! Motorhomes over 3.5 tons, however, need to get a prepaid Go-Box (see The Use of the Go-Box in Austria).

Our first stop was to check out the little municipal campsite at Engelhartszell, right by the river and the cycle way. Sadly, the café and pool were closed and the site barely open, all badly damaged by high water in the serious floods of June 2013. Doors were missing from some of the toilets and showers and restoration work had scarcely begun. We ate our picnic here by the swirling river and banks of mud and were glad we'd abandoned a plan to cycle the Danube last spring!

On to the next site listed in the Caravan Club guide (2012/13 edition) at Wesenufer. This is now permanently closed to tourers, with long-term residents only! The third site we looked at was lovely (though lacking WiFi), next to a marina and hotel on a scenic S-bend in the Danube known as the Schlogener Schlinge to the west of Linz. One problem – the narrow access road was tortuous, made worse by road works in both directions repairing flood damage.

Not wishing to retrace this route, we continued south to Wels, then took the Austrian A8 and German A3 back to Passau Nord. This was twice the distance of our outward journey but much kinder to our van!

A Cycle Ride into Passau and back (26 km)

Before leaving we rode the Donauradweg into Passau and through the centre to Three-River-Corner: the confluence of the blue Danube, the darker Ilz joining from the north, and the greenish Inn flowing from the south.

This section of the Danube Cycle Path was shameful. After following a dirt track and some fairly quiet roads, the signs led us through a factory to a footbridge over the Danube on top of a lock. This bridge was closed and sealed off, without any warning or diversion sign, leaving cyclists to find their own way across the next busy road bridge and into the centre. Riding through we saw no cafes, plenty of tourists and little of charm.

We duly photographed the famous confluence and headed back. On the way, the 10-week summer drought broke in a sudden downpour, soaking us through. Not very good memories of Passau!

AUSTRIA

Irring (Passau) to Campingplatz Grein, Grein an der Donau, Oberosterreich - 110 miles, elevation 824 ft

Open 1 March-31 Oct. www.camping-grein.at/ ACSI Card rate €20 inc taxes and 6 amp elec. Free showers. WiFi €3 per 24 hrs and very good. N 48.22476 E 14.85428

It was 2 miles back to the A3 and south over the Danube. At 18 miles we crossed the River Inn into Austria and paused at the first services on the A8 for lunch. Vignettes and Go-Boxes for Austrian motorways were on sale here but we already had our 2-month sticker (see above 'A Day Trip into Austria'). The choice was 10 days, 2 months or one year.

At 56 miles we joined A25 near Wels, continuing east past Linz and onto A1 towards Wien (Vienna). The motorways became busier, with plenty of international traffic and East European trucks. 

At 101 miles we took exit 123 (Amstetten), up at 1,200 ft. Turning north for Grein, road B3 ran downhill for 8 miles to the Danube. Cross the bridge to the north bank, then turn right for a mile along the river to Grein, which lies halfway between Passau and Vienna. The Donauradweg runs directly past the campsite and this section is very popular with organised groups of cycle tourists, as well as individual riders. The campsite and café/bar, run by a Romanian family, are also ideally placed to walk into the village or take a little ferry across the river (pedestrians and cyclists only).

The site had been badly flooded last May (photographs showed water half way up to the shower block roof), had lost some of its grass, trees and bushes and was still a little muddy, but at least it was fully open. We did try the campsite bar (eat in or take-away) but were not impressed by a very long wait for lukewarm burgers and chips.

At Grein a/d Donau

In the centre of Grein, overlooked by a 15th century castle (http://www.schloss-greinburg.at/), there is a bank, a range of cafes and restaurants, a helpful Tourist Office with free local cycling maps and other information (http://www.grein.info/), accommodation recommended for cyclists by Bett & Bike, and an excellent cycle shop where we bought rainproof covers for our helmets, ensuring it didn't rain again.

In the main square stands a lovely town hall dating from 1563. The adjacent grain store was converted into a theatre in 1791 and from May to the end of October you can visit the museum in what is now Austria's oldest surviving theatre (www.stadttheater-grein.at). The historic village is protected by flood defences along the waterfront, unfortunately ending just by the campsite entrance.

For supplies we used 'Hofer' (as 'Aldi' is called in Austria), just west of Grein before the bridge and accessible from the bike path. Larger shops, such as 'Baumax' where we found a battery charger, meant driving 9 miles back to Amstetten.

Caravan Tyre Replacement

A very slow puncture had developed on one of the caravan's tyres. Barry did a magnificent and difficult job, swapping the wheel for the spare – not something to try whilst on the road. The operation involved the use of two jacks and a struggle with over-tight wheel nuts.

Our options for tyre service in Grein were a small VW car garage or a larger tractor dealer/repairer, which looked a better bet. We took the wheel round, hoping the puncture could be mended, but the mechanic found that a small nail had worked its way between the tread, causing a hole that was beyond repair. A new tyre was ordered and arrived for collection the following afternoon – very efficient. Barry refitted it to the caravan before we left Grein.

Kunst  und Handwerksmarkt (Arts and Crafts Market)

This large annual Fest took place in the centre of Grein over the weekend of 14/15 September. There were over 80 colourful stalls, the sellers wearing national costume, to the strains of a live band. See www.fussfrei.at. It was fun to walk round in the sunshine viewing the high class (and high price) crafts being made, though all we bought was two hot pork rolls.  

Danube Rising!

A sudden change in the weather brought torrential rain for several days, turning the campsite into a quagmire of puddles and mud. This began on the day a French convoy arrived for a one-night stand, churning up the grass, and we moved pitch in search of peace and dry land. The Danube, just over the hedge, was rising alarmingly, though staff assured us that it was not about to burst its banks again and, in any case, they would get 2 days' warning from upstream.

Barely convinced, we drove east along the river to check out the next camp, another ACSI Card site by the yacht harbour at Marbach. It was less waterlogged but lay right beside noisy road works. We decided to sit out the rain at Grein, keeping a wary eye on the river, as we intended to ride the Danube Cycle Path in each direction. We spent the wet days writing, reading and planning, still undecided whether to aim for Greece or Sicily for the coming winter.

Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/mauthausen-concentration-camp.html

On an appropriately miserable grey afternoon we drove about 25 miles west along the Danube to the riverside town of Mauthausen, then followed signs to the substantial remains of The Concentration Camp. It stands high above the town at 1,000 ft, next to the granite quarry worked by forced slave labour. The small entry fee of €2 (€1 for Seniors) included the loan of an audio-guide each, though the evidence and information boards spoke for themselves.

We entered the gates of a fortress, enclosed by high stone walls rather than pylons and barbed wire. Inside, the grim grid-plan of barracks, gas chamber and crematorium contained more exhibitions on the history of the camp than we could stomach. A walk outside took us past the memorials erected by the various occupied nations to around 100,000 victims who died here: Jewish, Roma, Homosexuals, Political Detainees … even French and British PoWs.

And beyond the ash pits we came to the quarry, where able-bodied prisoners were literally worked to death by the SS, with scant food, clothing or medical treatment. Those who arrived, or became, too sick for work were condemned to die in the 'infirmary', given ice cold baths and left to freeze without blankets or sent to the gas chamber. The surviving inmates were finally found by incredulous American troops in May 1945, a month after they liberated Buchenwald.

Cycling the Donauradweg from Grein

Grein to Mauthausen and return (80 km) – The autumn equinox dawned on a Sunday morning as the sun broke through the thick mist that lay over the Danube. Fine at last! With relief, we saddled up and rode west for a happier experience of Mauthausen. The well signed route along the north side of the river was a mix of quiet roads and dedicated cycle path, all tarmac. There were a few long-distance cyclists on this Austrian section of the Donauradweg (Passau-Vienna), along with local day-riders. After about 19 km we had a break at a cyclists' café for coffee and cake. There was evidence of the flooding along the banks in May/June 2013, with one section of the cycle route still closed where we followed a diversion through the forest and the village of Strass.

Reaching the waterfront at Mauthausen we surveyed the chic cafes, then ate at McDonalds, watching as a Czech coach (with bike trailer) unloaded a group of cyclists to ride the next stretch. We overtook them all as we cycled east, back to Grein with a good tail wind, and were pleased to finish the ride in 4 hours, averaging 20 km per hr.

Grein to Ybbs and return (41 km) – Cycling east from Grein to Ybbs, it's better to cross the river and ride the south bank on a very quiet riverside road. On the north side of the Danube there is only a busy main road with no separate cycle path. We duly crossed on the little passenger ferry based by our campsite that runs from 9 am-6 pm from May through September: fare €2.40 single or €3 return for a cyclist + bike (www.schwallenburg.at). Until 1965 the ferry was a rowing boat and there were interesting old photos in the cabin. Alternatively, there is now a road bridge a mile west of the campsite (the next bridge east being at Ybbs).

It was an easy ride to Ybbs (18 km from the ferry) with a back wind. We cycled as far as the Tourist Office (open) next to a café (closed), then turned for a more strenuous ride into the wind to Grein. The ferry was moored on the north bank so, rather than summon it on the intercom, we continued to the road bridge and crossed there.

Grein to Donaupark Camping, Klosterneuburg, nr Vienna, Niederosterreich - 110 miles, elevation 580 ft

Open 15 March-4 Nov. www.campingklosterneuburg.at   ACSI Card rate €19.08 inc taxes and 6 amp elec. Free showers. Good WiFi at various charges, eg €19 for 7 days or €29 for 14 days. N 48.31097 E 16.32810

It was 9 miles back to Amstetten to join the A1 for Vienna. We stopped in the first rest area (offering coffee machine, toilets, free WiFi) to check the newly replaced tyre and all was well. At 35 miles we passed the exit for Melk, a town on the Danube dominated by its vast Benedictine Abbey visible from the motorway. The town was very recently in the news when a local deer-poacher shot dead 3 policemen (2 of them Inspectors) who tried to arrest him, as well as killing an ambulance man called to the scene. The murderer then retreated to his isolated farmhouse and set fire to it, killing himself. And it all looks so quaint and  peaceful!

At 46 miles we had lunch on the windy St Polten services up at 1,000 ft, then exited northwards 4 miles later on S33 – an expressway (dual carriageway) which, like a motorway, requires a Vignette or Go-Box. We turned east again on S5 at 68 miles, joining A22 towards Vienna at 90 miles. At 104 miles we took exit 7, over the Danube to the busy road B14. Turn north for Klosterneuburg, pass the huge Augustinian monastery (Kloster), then turn sharp right under the railway bridge to the campsite. It lies directly on the Danube Cycle Path, about 7 miles north of Vienna. The capital can also be visited by train from the nearby station.

It's a well organised campsite, with heated shower room and no mud, but the WiFi is expensive for a short stay (€7 for 2 hrs or €12 for 10 hrs). Though the site was busy, the café had all but closed, serving only snacks. Reception staff were very helpful, with bus/train timetables and free maps of Vienna. There is a leisure centre, including indoor and outdoor pools, next to the campsite (Seniors €3.20 for 2 hrs).

At Klosterneuburg

A short walk away, the massive Baroque monastery, which still produces wine, stands on the site of a Roman fort built in the 1st century AD when the Danube marked the Limes, the frontier of the Roman Empire. You can pay for a guided tour – we didn't! But we did walk round the small town and found a 'Spar Gourmet' supermarket selling Cheddar cheese (albeit the mild red variety).

Cycling the Donauradweg from Klosterneuburg

Klosterneuburg to Zwentendorf an der Donau and return (80 km) – The next morning was cloudy but fine with a light wind, perfect for riding the Danube Cycle Path upstream (west) to Tulln and beyond. After 10 km along the south bank we crossed a foot/cycle bridge over a dam to the north side, then continued on lanes and bike paths to Tulln. Here we recrossed the Danube on a busy road bridge (with separate cycle lane) to find a bite of lunch at a sausage & chips kiosk, next to the minigolf/trampoline opposite the swimming baths (30 km). Further long the waterfront is an impressive modern sculpture/fountain, illustrating a scene from the Niebelunglied that took place in the Tulln. It was another 11 km west (the first 5 km on a busy road, then a riverside cycle path) to the village of Zwentendorf, where the Rosencafe/hotel looked inviting for an indulgent Schokomoussetorte and Sachertorte before turning back.

On the return ride we didn't cross the bridge in Tulln, staying on the south side of the river all the way back to Klosterneuburg. It was an easy route, along either bank, apart from the 5 km of road, completed in 4 hours plus breaks. And very warm for the last week of September – in fact, we saw two long thin snakes on the path and a tick on Barry's arm!

Klosterneuburg to Vienna and return (31 km) – A Saturday afternoon ride into and around the capital began on signed back roads until we met the river. Staying on our side of the water, we followed the bike path and canal into the city centre. (The main Donauradweg route crosses the Danube shortly before Vienna, to continue on the north side into Slovakia for Bratislava.) Our riverside path was an obstacle course as we overtook joggers, pedestrians, rollerbladers, dog walkers and push chairs, while being overtaken by athletes on racing cycles.

Finally reaching the Rad-Route-Ring (cycle route round the centre), we followed it beneath the massive stone facades of statue-topped buildings: the post office, theatres, city hall, university and various ministries and embassies etc. Vienna is rightly famed for its coffee, cakes and Strudel, with an excellent selection in the McCafe we tried before returning along the canal and river.

Mautern to Zwentendorf a/d Donau and return (67 km) – To ride the Danube Cycle Path to the west of Zwentendorf , we carried the cycles in the Sprinter van past Krems to a starting point at Mautern. Here was easy free parking outside the Roman Museum right by the Donauradweg, with a backdrop of vineyards. Staying on the south bank of the river, we cycled 34 km to Zwentendorf with a dedicated tarmac cycle path the whole way. It was mostly straight along the river into a head wind, occasionally diverting through woods to avoid Krems yacht club or a barrage.

After another treat of coffee and cakes in the Rosencafe, we returned to the van at a faster pace with a good tail wind – the reason for starting from Mautern rather than Zwentendorf! Never a good idea to ride back into a strong wind if it can be avoided.

'Falle: Camping, Outdoor & Leisure' in Gerasdorf bei Wien

Needing an accessory shop, we drove round via the Nordbrucke bridge to 'Falle' in Gerasdorf, a northern suburb of Vienna (www.campingwelt.at). The workshop does campervan repairs and there is a well stocked 2-floor camping equipment shop where we bought a few items, including a tick remover and a mosquito zapper, now we know both are prevalent in woodlands in this part of Europe!

Rather than retracing our route back to Vienna's North Bridge through the rush hour traffic, we drove on to Korneuburg where a small cable-ferry crosses the Danube, landing a couple of miles north of the Klosterneuburg campsite. This little ferry (www.donaurollfaehre.at) only takes 4 cars, along with foot passengers and cyclists – no motorhomes or caravans! Our Sprinter van just fitted on alongside one car and we glided silently across the river, carried by the current. It has run since 1935, operating 7 days a week from 7 am (8 am at weekend) to 6.30 pm.

OCTOBER 2013

TO SLOVENIA


Klosterneuburg nr Vienna, to Camping Center Kekec, Maribor, Slovenia - 175 miles, elevation 985 ft


Open all year. www.cck.si ACSI Card rate €17 inc tax and 16 amp elec. Free showers. Free WiFi. N 46.5355 E 15.60508


The first day of October was warm and sunny, following a dull cloudy weekend – a new month and a new country lay ahead. Escaping Vienna was busy and complicated: along B14 towards the city for 5 miles, then over the Danube North Bridge to join A22 southwards, recross the river on A23 and finally joinA2 at 15 miles, heading past the airport and Wiener Neustadt towards Graz.  Paused at Guntramsdorf service station at 24 miles to check tyres and drink coffee, then on to Loipersdorf services for a lunch stop. The restaurant, packed with an American tour group, only offered an expensive a la carte menu with waiter service, so we made a sandwich. At Graz, after 131 miles, exited onto A9 and continued south into Slovenia.


Gralla, the last Austrian services before the border, sold the Slovenian motorway Vignette - €15 for a week, €30 for one month or €95 for a year – pay with Euros or credit card. This applies to vehicles up to 3.5 tons (no extra payment for a caravan, nor is the caravan's weight taken into account). Vehicles over 3.5 tons do not buy a Vignette but have to pay individual tolls along the motorways as they pass checkpoints!


Armed with a one-month Vignette, we crossed the frontier at 157 miles, elevation1,000 ft, after a lovely drive through Austria (up to 2,500 ft). After 13 Slovenian miles, we took exit 5 (Maribor Centre), turned left and followed the SatNav (and brown signs for a ski lift - but not a campsite) through the busy streets of Slovenia's second largest city. We noticed that fuel was considerably cheaper than Austria.


The newly created little campsite, to the west of the city near the foot of a ski run, came as a pleasant surprise, with tidy level pitches, excellent facilities and a very friendly owner. 


(Continued at: Travels in Slovenia in October 2013)