Mike and I left Vienna fairly quickly as we are coming home earlier than originally planned this year. We travelled very quickly south through Austria and Slovenia to get to the area where we had arranged to leave the RV and car for the winter. Although we didn’t do much more sightseeing, I did want to just tell you about all sorts of little things that we saw or learned about while we were in Austria.
For example; dogs are allowed in most restaurants in Austria. In fact, this is the case in many other countries in Europe as well. We met a couple from the UK who were complaining that back home in England, some of the restaurants were starting to stop dogs from coming in. This is certainly different from Canada.
Things were more expensive in Austria than we have become used to. Prices are probably not a lot more than in Canada, but they are certainly higher than what we have recently seen in eastern European countries. One item in Austria that was less expensive than its neighbours was fuel. As long as you aren’t at a gas station on the highway, fuel in Austria is cheaper than fuel in Slovenia. Slovenian prices on most items are much lower than prices in Austria or Canada.
In Vienna we saw multiple McDonalds’ restaurants that charged 75 cents Cdn for each individual to get through the turnstile into the washrooms. Although charging for washroom access isn’t unusual, it was the first restaurant that I have ever seen that charged their own customers. I thought that was terrible. In cafés outside of major tourist areas, anyone can wander in and use the washrooms. They are very good about that. In areas with thousands of tourists they are a little more controlled.
All over Europe Mike and I see signs and advertisements where the large, bold title line is often in English and then the rest of the text is in the local language. Near one campground was a building with a huge sign that says “TWO4YOU”. You really need to understand English to appreciate the play on words. Everything written below that heading was in German. We passed this building several times and we still had no idea what the company was actually selling or advertising.
Given that Mike and I don’t speak any of the local languages of the countries that we have been visiting, we occasionally run into a few problems. Often you can look at a word and guess what it means in English, but sometimes there are subtle differences. When we first saw the word “frei” we assumed that it meant “free” in English, and it does – sort of. You often see this word outside guest houses and at the entrance to parking lots. I read a review on the internet where the person was really upset at being charged for parking after seeing this sign and thinking that parking was free. “Frei” really means “available” i.e. there are spaces available for parking. It isn’t the first mistake that we have made in our translations and it won’t be the last.
It isn’t just language that can cause confusion. There is a large home furnishing chain over here called XXX Lutz. We met a few campers who wouldn’t go anywhere near the store. They misunderstood what the XXX stood for ?.
A few years ago, we were told that a country’s population size had a lot to do with the amount of English that was understood and spoken. If a country is too small to either make their own movies or dub English ones, the locals often learn English just watching TV. Austria has less than 9 million people, but they speak German and Germany provides a lot of German language television and movies. This means that English isn’t all that prevalent, outside of tourist places here. It is interesting that English music in restaurants and cafés is very common.
Thanks to my Canadian knapsack we often get people in restaurants and cafés talking to us about Canada and telling us that they have visited or would like to. Once we got stopped by 3 young men on the street who were from Ontario and were in Europe as missionaries. Recently we were stopped by three teenage girls from Oshawa (near where we live) who were on a European tour. Yesterday we sat and had cappuccino with a couple from Winnipeg who were visiting Koper, Slovenia on a cruise ship. They saw my knapsack and started talking to us. Advertising “Canada” gets attention from both Canadians travelling and locals who would like to visit. We enjoy the unexpected conversations.
Mike and I were surprised at how few bridges there are over the Danube River. If you need to cross the river you have to drive a long way out of your way to get to a bridge. They do have some ferries, specifically for bike riders, but the one we wanted to use stopped running in September. Mike and I have been working on completing a circle around Austria on our bikes. It turns out that we have had to leave it in the middle as we won’t be in Austria long enough this year to complete it.
We did manage to bike the entire Alpe-Adria long distance bike trail from Italy’s Adriatic coast to Salzburg, Austria. We then headed east on our bikes and joined the Danube cycle trail into Vienna. This total route that we completed was 1,691 km (1,050 miles). Next year we will continue extending it. Overall, we biked about 2,500 km or 1,500 miles this year with most of this starting after we discovered the official bike routes in July.
To avoid doing legs on the route twice (biking from and to our car), we would often drive to a train station and take the train to a stop about 40 km away, along the bike path. We would then bike back to the car. We have recently bought a one-year senior’s pass for the train. It would have been nice if we had known about it a month or two earlier.
Mike and I rode the Danube cycle way between Linz and Vienna where much of the path is on a small levee beside the Danube River. The Danube is much higher than the land on the other side of the levee. If the levee wasn’t there the fields and woods would all be under water. This probably explains why there aren’t many towns right on the Danube. Mike has been very surprised at how little commercial traffic there is on the river. We see more river cruise boats than anything else. We often bike for long distances without seeing any boats on the river at all.
We have ridden on a few roads in Austria with an interesting layout. The roads used to be normal two-lane roads. They have reconfigured the road lines so that there are bike lanes on either side and a slightly wider than normal middle lane for cars. I assume that this is only done on roads where there isn’t much traffic. Although there is only one lane for cars, the roads have cars travelling in both directions. Normally, a car will drive down the centre of the road keeping the bike lanes clear. If another vehicle is approaching, the car will move towards the side, over top of the bike lane so that the two vehicles can pass. As soon as it can the car then moves back to the centre of the road. It isn’t perfect but it seems to work.
After we left Austria we headed into Slovenia. In Slovenia, and many other countries in Europe, you have to purchase a sticker for your car that is basically a road toll. With this sticker you are allowed to drive on the major highways, and yes they do check. The stickers are purchased for set periods of time and are not particularly expensive. This does not hold true for larger vehicles which are typically commercial vehicles. Our RV falls under the larger category and requires a transponder to travel on the highway. To travel from the border with Austria down to the Adriatic Sea is about a two-hour drive. The toll for the two-axle RV, i.e. without the car in tow, is $200 Cdn. It isn’t fuel costs that we need to worry about here, rather it is the tolls. Our problem is that we can avoid the highway when we are touring in the car, but we aren’t going to use back roads with the RV.
In Slovenia, we saw our first ever proper traffic roundabout, just for bicycles. I should say that Mike and I both really like the roundabouts instead of stoplights and stop signs everywhere. Roundabouts are particularly helpful in the RV when you need to change direction, either because you missed a turn or because you have to approach a tight turn from the opposite direction. Being able to just drive a little further and then continue around a circle and back to where you want to be is very handy.
Enroute to the campground in Slovenia, where we are storing the RV for the winter, we unexpectedly discovered that it was already closed for the season. We would be able to store the RV there, but we didn’t think we would be able to stay for the few days ahead of our departure. Luckily Mike remembered a place, not too far out of the way, where we had stayed last year. We changed direction and headed there. We will take the RV to the winter campground the day before we fly home. We are only being charged $300 Cdn for up to 5 months storage which is a great deal.
I hope to very quickly write a summary of 2019 including the highs, the lows, the surprises and the disappointments and all the things we love about this life. We will be back home October 30th. See many of you shortly thereafter.