We are now in Austria and have seen some gorgeous sights but let me start at the beginning and talk about the mountains and the views shortly.
For those following our departure from Italy, you know that Mike was going to try and drive our 3.9 metre tall RV under a 3.8 metre bridge. We left the campground driving in two separate vehicles as planned. This was so that Mike could back up if it looked like we where going to lose our air conditioning units going under the bridge. It was very nerve racking, but Mike made it through by driving in the middle of the road where the bridge looked the highest. After the bridge we hooked the car up to the RV and continued on our way into Austria.
In Austria you have to buy a sticker for the car which allows you to drive on all the major highways. This is a common way in Europe of charging tolls for roads without having manual or electric toll booths. The sticker for the car was just over $40 Cdn for two months. We will need to buy another before we leave Austria. Because of its size and weight (< 3.5 tonnes) the RV is treated like a truck. You purchase a transponder and then you are charged for every kilometre that you are on a highway. Given the narrow width of many of the roads, we expect to do as much driving as possible with the RV on the highways. For some reason, probably a privacy concern, Google Street View doesn’t work in Austria which is really too bad. This means that we are restricted to highways even more than normal. The charge for the RV is .45 Cdn for every kilometre driven on a major highway (.72 / mile). It is very expensive. I am glad that we have the car and electric bikes to get around in. This charge is based on our gross weight and number of axles. We were told in Slovenia that that we had to add the car’s two axles to the RV when it was under tow. We haven’t done this in Austria. I figure that we have already paid for the sticker on the car and whether it is driven separately or is under tow that should cover us. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Austrian police would agree with me. Mike doesn’t think they would. We will just keep our fingers crossed for the entire time we are here. One further surprise was that, even though we have the toll stickers and the transponder for highway travel, we still have to pay additional charges for some of the larger tunnels and the panoramic roads. The tunnel near our campground costs $18 Cdn one way for the car to go through. We haven’t yet travelled through this tunnel with the RV so we have no idea what it will cost when we take the RV while towing thethe car through it.
When we got near the campground we were expecting to stay at, we unhooked the car and left the RV in the back of a small hotel. We asked for permission to park there for an hour and the hotel owner said that was fine and that we could leave it for an hour or even for a few weeks. I am not sure if he was serious but I wanted to find out and maybe take him up on it. Mike said no since Camping Ramsbach was very close. We went to look at a second campground a little further away, with just the car. The mountain road had slopes up and then down at a grade of over 15%. We could smell our brakes on the way down. We had just had replaced the pads and rotors on the front of the car so overheating them this early in the break in period wasn’t sitting well with Mike. We decided that we wouldn’t be bringing the RV to the campground on the other side of this mountain. This was the same route that I had expected to ride as we continued on the biking trail we started in Italy but that won’t be happening either. We will probably need to take the car over this road quite a few times while we explore in this area, which is too bad. Being in the mountains means that there aren’t many roads to choose from.
When we were in Austria three weeks ago with the car, we stopped at a mall and purchased a sim card with data for my tablet. It turns out that the Wi-Fi in this campground is useless (and expensive) so on our first night here we drove to the nearest mall (40 minutes away) and bought sim cards with data for both our phones and my tablet. After making the purchase Mike wandered into the store next door that was selling coffee. It turns out that they sold a variety of items, including sim card packages. We could have bought what we wanted for less than half the price we paid. I really wished Mike hadn’t wanted to buy the small bag of coffee pods.
This is our first time in Western Europe in the last two years. We didn’t appreciate the lower costs in the countries that we have been travelling through enough. Austria is a bit of a price shock and they tell us that it will get worse when we travel further north into other countries in Western Europe. We stopped on the highway for fuel the other day. Luckily, we were driving the car. As we drove into the gas station Mike commented on the fact that the fuel price was not advertised like it usually is. There was a good reason for that. The average price that we see for gas in this area is about $1.80 Cdn / litre. This gas station was charging $2.40. We complain at home about gas stations gouging on long weekends, but we are really complaining about the fuel prices increasing by .05 / litre NOT .60 /litre! I hope that this isn’t normal on the highways because those are the main roads that we drive the RV on. Can you imagine adding 33% to the cost of a fill up for the RV? That would be just awful.
We are about an hour’s drive from the top rated panoramic road in all of Austria. Of course, that had to be one of the first excursions we made. It is called the Grossglockner High Alpine road. This is one of those panoramic roads for which you must pay an extra toll. The cost to drive on this 48 km (30 mile) was $55. I was a little horrified at the beginning, but it was a really great trip. The road was paved and two lanes wide the entire way. It is the first panoramic road that we have been on that was built to bring tourism to the area from the beginning. I think I heard that it opened around 1935. All the previous panoramic roads we had seen were built to help various military armies. Along the road there are 12 major stopping areas. Many of them have food and drinks. There are walks with educational boards, some small museums, hiking areas, glaciers and fantastic lookout points. The road goes up to over 2,500 m (8,500 ft). You can see the road in the picture at the top. From the highest point we had 360⁰ views that encompassed 30 mountains that were all over 3,000 m (10,000 ft) high. The highest mountain is Grossglockner which is 3,800 m or 12,500 ft tall. There were snow showers in the mountains the day before we made this drive. We could see white topped mountains from our camper. On the panoramic drive you went from trees, to barren rocks, to snow. Much of the road is above the tree line and the views, without obstructions, are phenomenal. I absolutely love the cool, crisp, fresh air. It is so much nicer than the summer heat. Where the road had a sharp bend to the left large circles had been painted on the left side of our lane (near the middle of the road). Motorcyclists were supposed to make sure that they stayed to the right of these circles so that when they leaned into the curves, they weren’t leaning right into oncoming lane of traffic. I thought that was a good idea!
Remember that I am the person that can’t pass by an active cable car without wanting to ride on it. Well, after driving up the Grossglockner High Alpine Road I actually passed multiple cable cars, without riding on them, over the next few days. I figured that no matter how beautiful they were, they couldn’t compete with what we had just seen. For a bit of historical interest, it was supposedly the collision of the African and Eurasian continents that caused the rock on the ocean floor to pile up and eventually fold, forming the high mountains of the alps. Even the top of Grossglockner was under water at one time. One of the stops on the road had a fossil museum that was interesting.
Many of the roads in this mountainous area have lots of switchbacks and blind curves which the motorcyclists seem to love. Motorcyclists are made to feel very welcome here. You see signs welcoming them on restaurants, campground, cafés, just everywhere. You even see signs for “bike safes” occasionally. These are free lockers with keys, so that the motorcyclists can lock up their valuables when they are heading out on a hike or just stopping to admire the views and take a long break.
We are trying to bike a fair bit of the Alpe Adria bike trail that I have mentioned previously. It goes from Salzburg all the way through Austria, Slovenia and Italy ending up at the Adriatic Sea near Venice. It is too late for us to ride the southern part of the trail, but we are trying to ride up to Salzburg on it, about 40 km at a time. The last leg we rode started at the top of a mountain and for the first 8 km, we cycled down the mountain on the same switchback road that the cars used. We had to ride our brakes the entire way. When we got to the bottom we stopped and Mike had to adjust all our brakes. There was nothing left of the brake shoes by this point. It was an exhilarating ride. Although we are trying to do the full trail, we are not doing it in one specific direction. In some places we cycle the path in both directions, basically treating it as a loop, so that we can get back to the car. In other places we take the bikes on a train in whichever direction is uphill and ride downhill. There is not a chance that we would try and ride up some of the roads that we see “professional” cyclists doing. Still, even the paths that tend downwards have a lot of up hill sections. On one ride we saw a self-service kiosk for drinks and other items. We didn’t stop in which was too bad as we aren’t sure if self-service meant the honour system or vending machines. I am leaning towards thinking that they used the honour system.
I would like to ride the bike path along the Danube within Austria. The problem is that the Danube is a little far north of the main highway to Vienna. As I said earlier, we are not inclined to take the RV on roads that we haven’t driven on or that aren’t major highways. Our new bikes left Montreal yesterday, only one day late. At least I believe that the bikes left yesterday. The ship left and I can only assume that the bikes made it onto the ship. Thinking positively, they are now enroute to England, then Germany and finally to Austria. We are supposed to pick them up in Vienna. I will keep you up-to-date on the progress.
For a final bit of amusement, you do see interesting signs when you travel. Here is one that we have seen in multiple countries. Just so you know, this sign is designed mainly for travellers from the east, not us.