Welcome to Austria

by Paul
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I just got off the train from Munich to Melk, Austria. The train was full except for one seat – the seat next to me. There are many theories about how to keep the seat next you empty on trains and buses: Avoid eye contact, be fat, drool on yourself etc. But growing a dirty beard and having a book about Syria in your hands evidently works pretty well.

I was in Munich for a few days to see some friends and to experience Octoberfest. My brother and his wife picked me up on on Thursday on their way through Austria, then we headed straight for our hostel and got prepared. Wanting to get the authentic experience, I’d bought myself a full outfit from a nice lady in Passau a few days beforehand. I say nice because she’s the first person who’s ever told me I had ‘big arms’ or ‘big feet’, but in hindsight she may have been just trying to get a sale. Then again, she did try to set me up with her daughter when I said ‘now all I need is a Bavarian woman’.

Octoberfest is just immense. Try to imagine 6-8 million people coming together from around the world over the course of two weeks to celebrate beer and you’d probably come up with an accurate mental image. Word of warning to anyone planning on going: pace yourself… not only is the beer only served one litre at a time, it’s also brewed with a higher alcohol content especially for the event, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Of course food is also an important part of the event, and nowhere in the world will you see more meat. The germans, for all their prowess in engineering and beer brewing, could hardly claim to have the most refined culinary taste in the world, but, when it comes to festivals like this, meat and bread prove to be an effective way of feeding the drunken masses. Another example of German efficiency I suppose.

Because of my shopping experience I got away from Passau quite late on Tuesday, but the ride from there across the Austrian border and on to Linz was the easiest yet, and possibly the first day I haven’t been even slightly lost at any point. The route was what I had been expecting the whole Eurovelo 6 to be like: flat, well paved, accurately signposted, and entirely alongside the river. I spent half the day easily cruising at 25kph, which is significantly higher than my overall average. Along the way there were a couple of mandatory ferry crossings which also added to the experience, and gave me the opportunity to relax and take in the surroundings for a few minutes. The second day of riding in Austria took me from Linz, which holds the dubious honour of being Hitler’s proclaimed hometown, to a place called Melk, the town I’m back in now. It’s a beautiful little place with an amazing Monastery that appears to have more windows than this town has residents. It is absolutely massive. The cycling was easy again, but a lot of it was along a busy, narrow road, which is surprising given that this is supposedly the most popular cycle route on the continent.

I didn’t notice anything dramatically different on crossing borders between Germany and Austria, except that you can still smoke inside here(!), and maybe the spelling is a little different. That’s based on no fact at all, but place names seem to me to be missing a few vowels and are a little harder to sound out as an english speaker. I will say, though, that people here did not initially come across quite as friendly. Perhaps they’re a little more reserved. My first interaction with another human in Linz was being very sternly told off by a policewoman for cycling on the footpath (which I’ve done everywhere). I tried to explain to her that there was nobody else on the footpath, and that the roads were made out of jagged, uneven bricks from 700 years ago, but she wasn’t having a bar of it. My second interaction was later on in that night when I tried to make some small talk with the waitress in a pizzeria; she stood there and stared me down like I’d just soiled my pants and was asking her to change me. This is in contrast to a very unusual, even slightly surreal, experience I had last night in Munich. I was attempting to dance in a night club, which is unusual enough in itself, but the German people there were so kind that for the very first time in my life I did so without a single person going out of their way to come over and point out that my horrible dancing was ruining their night.

This morning, after dancing the night away, I woke up on the floor of a strangers’ apartment. It’s not exactly what I had planned, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Because of the outrageous prices in Munich at the moment (I saw one bed in a 16 bed dorm going for 300 euro per night) I only booked two nights in my hostel, thinking I had a place to stay with a friend for the third night. Only that friend got a little too carried away early on her first Octoberfest day and was obviously incapable of using a phone by the time I was supposed to meet her. I can confirm that being alone, and the only sober person at Octoberfest while you wait two hours for a message isn’t a crazy amount of fun. Thankfully another German girl I know – Julius’ housemate from Konstanz – was there. She and her friends were brilliant fun. They allowed themselves to be seen in public with me, gave me a roof to sleep under, and even helped me add to an ever-growing, but wildly unsuccessful, repertoire of German pick-up lines.

Tonight I’m treating myself to a bed ahead of a big ride to Vienna tomorrow. It’s roughly 120km, but the terrain is going to be flat again and the forecast is good. I’ve heard a lot about Vienna so I’m excited to check it out, but I think I’m more excited about the next day when I’ll cross over into Eastern Europe and arrive at the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. I don’t really know what to expect from Bratislava, or Eastern Europe at all, but I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. It’ll be a lot less comfortable, but more of a true adventure. More Importantly, especially after my last few days, it’ll be a whole lot cheaper!

-The cover photo is the sunset as i crossed the bridge just before arriving in Melk the first time. Best sunset of the trip so far.

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