Austria

David, Marc, & Mark on the trail to San Candido

David, Marc, & Mark on the trail to San Candido

From Cortina d’Ampezzo we biked a little over 23 miles to San Candido, known to the Austrians as Innichen. One of the things we like about Zephyr Adventures is that each day there are options as to how hard you want to ride. There are typically short routes, medium routes, and long routes. In this case there were two options, medium and long, but the difference was primarily elevation, not distance. That is, the long route was only two miles longer than the short route. The long route, though, took you up over a mountain while the short route took you around the mountain.

David, taking a break with me, on the long steep climb on Day 2

David, taking a break with me, on the long steep climb on Day 2

And me, very happy to have reached the top of the climb

And me, very happy to have reached the top of the climb

Lake Misurina, one of the little treats to experience on Day 1's long route

Lake Misurina, one of the little treats to experience on Day 1’s long route

I chose the long route, since, well, that’s just who I am. And it was definitely challenging; the first five miles or so was just a steady climb, sometimes up a 12 percent incline. That’s intense. But it was also rewarding: there were great views of the mountains and a classic Alpine lake. And of course if you work like hell going up there’s also the thrill of the long descent. Great climb, great trails, nice lunch, then off to the hotel in San Candido.

The next day we biked into Austria. San Candido is only about five miles from the Austrian border and from there we continued another 22 to the city of Lienz before turning around and heading back. The ride there was about as perfect as any bike ride could be: mostly sunny, temperature in the low 60s, following a small river on a fantastically well-kept bike trail surrounded by Alpine mountains and brilliantly green hills. It was heaven, a biker’s fantasy. Of course, if you’re following a river, and going with the current, you’re also going downhill, which is part of what makes it so great.

We got to Lienz, rested for a bit in a cute little park, and then the four of us – me, Mark, Marc, and David – headed back. Apparently that modest slope down to Lienz had changed into a much steeper incline as we headed back. And the weather had turned so now it was overcast and occasionally raining on us. It probably took us 75 percent longer on the return than it did on the outbound and we were beat when we finished the 54-mile ride. But finish it we did and all-in-all it was a great ride. Just tiring.

Tomorrow we head southwest to Brixen, another 50-mile-plus ride if we do the long route, which we probably will. On balance, though, it’s downhill from here, so probably easier than today’s pretty challenging ride.

Mark, Marc, & David after our rewarding Day 2 ride

Mark, Marc, & David after our rewarding Day 2 ride

Tim & Pam, from Portland, along with me and Heather, from the Iron Range. We're in garden of our hotel, with those great mountains as backdrop.

Tim & Pam, from Portland, along with me and Heather, from the Iron Range. We’re in garden of our hotel, with those great mountains as backdrop.

Mark at Lago di Landro, pretty much a perfect Alpine lake

Mark at Lago di Landro, pretty much a perfect Alpine lake

Another view of Lago di Landro

Another view of Lago di Landro

This was our view from lunch. Not bad, really.

This was our view from lunch. Not bad, really.

Day 3 was a pretty much perfect ride along this river to the town of Lienz

Day 3 was a pretty much perfect ride along this river to the town of Lienz

Could the views be more perfect?

Could the views be more perfect?

Or better than this?

Or better than this?

Sometimes the trail led us through cute little forests

Sometimes the trail led us through cute little forests

Or past classic bucolic scenes

Or past classic bucolic scenes

Kerry, our vibrant Zephyr guide - and former staffer at one of our favorite Cambridge restaurants!

Kerry, our vibrant Zephyr guide – and former staffer at one of our favorite Cambridge restaurants!

And Giacomo, now leading us on our third Zephyr bike tour. We love his cute and quirky sense of humor and, of course, his Italian accent.

And Giacomo, now leading us on our third Zephyr bike tour. We love his cute and quirky sense of humor and, of course, his Italian accent.

Vienna is full of beautiful parks, beautiful flowers, and beautiful buildings

Vienna is full of beautiful parks, beautiful flowers, and beautiful buildings

With five days in Austria we continue our odd little city hopping before meeting our bike tour in Venice. If Kiev was all about churches and Ukranian food, Vienna was about museums and parks, especially the UNESCO-cited historic center. Consistent with our three-plus weeks in Europe now, it rained pretty much every day. I think it’s distinctly possible that we’ve gotten more rain – certainly more days of rain – since flying to Paris than we’d had in the first three years of travel combined. Even so we would get patches of beautiful weather and when it was rainy there were always half a dozen museums worth going to.

Our sitting room, complete with chandelier and fresh flowers

Our sitting room, complete with chandelier and fresh flowers

What were the highlights? One thing we loved was the CAT, a 16-minute nonstop train from the airport into the center of the city, one of the best airport commutes I can think of. And just to add to the greatness of it, we could check in for our flight at the train station so that was all done before we got to the airport and we didn’t even have to schlep our bags onto the train and into the airport.

And our hotel. Hotels in Vienna were pretty expensive, so we stayed at the Imperial, one of the grand old dames of the world. Why stay there if even normal hotels were expensive? A trick we learned in Madrid when hotels were too expensive. We used Starwood points to lower the cost to a pretty normal range. And then we could pretty much count on an upgrade to a lovely suite, which we got. So there we were right in the heart of everything with a space that practically begged us to have cocktails in our room before going out for the evening. Hell, we couldn’t afford not to stay there!

Parks. Vienna has a ton of really beautiful parks and they’re not afraid to let people use them, lie in them, enjoy them. Twice I got kicked out by the rain, but otherwise Vienna is a great city for whiling away hours in the park with a good book.

The sausage (hot dog, really) with mustard and horseradish was good but how many times can you make that your meal?

The sausage (hot dog, really) with mustard and horseradish was good but how many times can you make that your meal?

The Kunsthistorisches Museum was pretty spectacular. One section was old Roman stuff, including this room of busts. I had just finished reading a fun history of the first five Roman emperors and it was as though my book had come to life with these characters.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum was pretty spectacular. One section was old Roman stuff, including this room of busts. I had just finished reading a fun history of the first five Roman emperors and it was as though my book had come to life with these characters.

A bust of Aristotle

A bust of Aristotle

The Kunsthistorisches Museum had lots of great art, including this Caravaggio of David & Goliath

The Kunsthistorisches Museum had lots of great art, including this Caravaggio of David & Goliath

What didn’t we like about Vienna? The food, to be honest. This was our second relatively brief stop in a Germanic country (the other being last spring in Germany) and after about three meals we’d be pining for something more interesting. We love sausage and sauerkraut but you can’t eat that twice a day for very long. Otherwise everything was just too heavy and too breaded and had too many potatoes. We quickly found ourselves scouting out the best Indian and Italian restaurants available.

Oh, and high on the “hated it” list was T-Mobile. Even for just a few days in a country we try to get SIM cards for our phones so we can surf the web, make maps, and text while we’re out and about. The T-Mobile SIM card was kind of expensive for the five days we were going to use it, but it still made sense. Until Mark’s quit working after just three days. Couldn’t get online at all.

So he trudged back to the store where they explained that he’d texted a picture. Yes, that’s true; he took a screenshot of his Google map to show me where he was when I was going to join him in a park. They explained the while the package we’d bought included texts it didn’t include texting pictures; they cost something like €1.25. And since he didn’t have a €1.25 credit on his account they shut everything down until he paid it. Now, the normal thing to do in a situation like that is to just block the text from going out, but they let the text go out and then shut him down until he paid up.

All frustrating enough, but it gets worse. He’s willing to pay the money just to get his Internet back but the smallest “package” he can buy to cover the one picture he’d texted was €10. Right. T-Mobile lets the text go out and then is going to charge him €10 to recover the hostage. That was just too far and although he fussed a good deal, they weren’t budging. And he wasn’t paying. So T-Mobil sucks.

And Airbnb sucks too. We finally got notice about the broken bed in Paris that we didn’t break. They charged us $800 for it and, because they already have Bart & Ann’s credit card for the deposit there’s not much we can do about it.

Except for all that, though, life is good. We’re getting caught up on all the rain we’ve missed over the last three years, got lots of time in some great museums, and spend happy hour aghast over whatever it was that Donald Trump said today. We had a chance to explore a little bit of Austrian history. Did you know, for instance, that if Queen Elizabeth of England lives for five more years she still won’t have reigned as long as Emperor Franz Joseph, the guy running Austria at the outbreak of World War I? Or that his successor, Charles I, who ruled from 1916 until the empire was abolished in 1919, was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Not quite a saint yet, but well on the way. I’m not certain, but I would bet he’s the only near-saint who ever ordered the use of poison gas, as he did during the war. Mother Teresa he wasn’t, nor was he exactly the man of peace you might expect for a modern saint, but who am I to question the pope?

Vienna is parks

Vienna is parks

Vienna is great old palaces

Vienna is great old palaces

Vienna is great art. This was from a "Monet to Picasso" exhibit, not unlike the one we saw in Genoa. Having just been in Giverny, though, I enjoyed the lily pond that much more

Vienna is great art. This was from a “Monet to Picasso” exhibit, not unlike the one we saw in Genoa. Having just been in Giverny, though, I enjoyed the lily pond that much more

There's a museum dedicated to Ephesus, the ancient Roman city in modern-day Turkey that we visited last year. This athlete is the crowning glory, though it sort of begs the question of why it's in Vienna instead of Ephesus.

There’s a museum dedicated to Ephesus, the ancient Roman city in modern-day Turkey that we visited last year. This athlete is the crowning glory, though it sort of begs the question of why it’s in Vienna instead of Ephesus.

There was an exhibit of early 20th century Russian avant garde artists. This "Feast of Kings" by Patel Filinov, done in the run up to World War I, has a pretty grim sense of where the world was going.

There was an exhibit of early 20th century Russian avant garde artists. This “Feast of Kings” by Patel Filinov, done in the run up to World War I, has a pretty grim sense of where the world was going.

Mark outside the MUMOK, Vienna's modern art museum. Pretty impressive architecture, huh?

Mark outside the MUMOK, Vienna’s modern art museum. Pretty impressive architecture, huh?

The Treasury had lots of crowns and gems and all that stuff

The Treasury had lots of crowns and gems and all that stuff

We passed pretty quickly through a museum of weapons and armor, including this strange guy

We passed pretty quickly through a museum of weapons and armor, including this strange guy

And finally, some old Roman guy in a series of portraits

And finally, some old Roman guy in a series of portraits