AUSTRIA: Pristine Alpine splendor

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Started out in the quite upscale Traube Hotel [link], in tourist-charming-Austrian-perfect Disneyesque town of Lienz yesterday [map]. Everything else was sold out, we were wearing wet rain gear, it was cold – so we spent €120 on a room, which is reasonable by North American standards for a fine hotel; very high marks if some luxury is in your budget. Otherwise book ahead, it's a justifiably popular town and a launching pad to great mountain riding/skiing.

Rode the famed Hohe Tauern, 'most scenic highway in the world' it claims. It is only open May-September due to snow. Most scenic in the world is a big claim, but it's awfully darned nice, and any car/bus can do it while having fun driving. Google Maps stubbornly refuses to chart it, but look at the [map link] up close and see for yourself: Lienz to Winklern, Heilgenblot (that part mapped OK) but then straight north on the lovely twisty Fusch an der Grossglocknerstrasse to Vorfusch and Zell am See.

An awesome ride!

Amazingly maintained, twisty switchback roads are navigable in a motor home of which there were many, no biking nervousness this time. Plenty of other vacationers, but not overbearing at all. Camping is not available in the park, but there are a few hotels.

This area is Europe’s biggest national park, and could easily become a few days of riding, exploring if so inclined. Here's a video of a fun car ride video with a free polka thrown in [link.] So what's not to love? It's not a really challenging ride after, say Stelvio Pass, but that scenery ... damn!

It takes you near the top of Austria’s highest peak at 3,800 meters – there's physical mountain climbing on foot involved if you want to reach the peak. The road only hits 2,500 meters but that feels plenty high – ears need to be cleared en route.

It gets high enough for summer snow: We layered clothes at 7˚C, Thao actually threw a snowball at me and filled our water cups with genuine Alpine glacier run-off water, riding surrounded by snow, walking on it – in August!

'Spectacular' doesn’t do it justice; a non-stop wow-after-wow panorama that makes all the post cards seem pale. And fun twisties to boot. If one has to be critical, perhaps Austria is almost too perfect, too groomed, the roads are not hair-rising. But that is being way pickier than most readers will be.

Here's the profound question: Who has the best Alpine driving/scenery? Switzerland, Italy or Austria? Or is it France? To us, all of them offer different experiences. Here's a terrain map of the whole mountain range [map]. My guess is it's worth a week or a month of superb riding and staying/eating in the most charming places in four countries. We still owe the French Alps a visit ...

You do not really need a guide book, although Lonely Planet and blogs like this one may give you some pointers. Just go and play it day-by day as you and the weather feel; way more fun to go serendipity.

Biking it is simply the best in our bigoted view, but a small good-handling car is second best – a convertible would be our choice.

Nonetheless, the Alps leg of this world trip was drawing to a close, time to move on.

In Zell am See we had a fine outdoor lakeside weinerschnitzel, goulash soup and studied the map.

Meanwhile, back home the stock market was in a horrid melt-down, my theoretical net worth pillaged, this was now clearly beyond a mere correction. Major ouch. While riding and lost in fiscal thoughts, decided to do absolutely nothing, sell nothing – just wait it out. The beauty of this trip was/is my better-than-money consolation. Besides, the theoretical money will be back, it just takes time.


By now, we'd had enough mouth-agape Austrian/Swiss/Italian natural wonders; one almost over-doses in it, so we'd better quit before becoming jaded.

Plus my native Czech Republic beckoned. So Vienna by Autobahn, it was [map.]

Neither of us was overwhelmed by Vienna on Thao’s first visit, nor my second. I was excited to come back, having lifetime memories of touring there with former clients, the great Orford String Quartet
my right arm resting on Beethoven’s very last piano, in his last house, while the Quartet played a movement from Op 131 in his living room, everyone in tears ...
but that was 25 years ago. No huge cultural experiences this time, even though we sought them out.

Methinks Vienna has fallen into taking itself for granted, with city fathers that are perhaps tight-fisted. The huge Belvedere Museum [link] is a memorable example of failure snatched from the jaws of greatness: It was once a great palace, has among others, a big Klimt collection, which is in the worst taste milked ad nauseum with dozens of badly made ashtrays, ties, posters and other over-priced tourist junk of the famous “The Kiss.” Ya, we know it’s a famous work, but pu-leeze stop with the overkill; find at least two other pictures to badly trivialize. (Mona Lisa never had it so bad.)

Admission price was ridiculous; the entire palace needs major paint, plaster, cleaning; staff & directions are pathetic; walking in-out is exhausting, several kilometers of mapless confusion; the gardeners of the huge grounds are either lazy or totally absent. A badly-run mess, in the worst shape. Oh, and there was plenty Klimt, but no Van Gogh as misleadingly advertised – that's what we went there, to see one of my fav's, in the first place. Staff just shrugged in disinterest, and we never did find the Van Goghs. (BTW in Amsterdam the Van Gogh Reich Museum has the best collection beautifully displayed.)

We stayed in Resonanz Hotel that we suggest you miss. Walked and drove the entire city for a couple days, looking for great things, and were underwhelmed. They make fine waltzes, operas (closed) and schlaag (whipped cream) there, but if you want a great old city and culture, there are many better in Europe to spend time in. Sorry, but that was our impression.

But they sure do have motorcycle shops, many of them, in a big strip heading outside of town towards Slovakia, with better selection than I have seen anywhere else in the world. On this trip it was worth the visit as we were heading into unknown territory bike-wise. I got a new $550 HJC SY-Max II helmet I still love wearing daily months later, fine $120 Gortex waterproof riding gloves, we fixed Thao’s HJC SY-MAX helmet – and the huge excellent Honda dealer downtown 2Rad-Boerse Honda link here did a full combined 18,000 + 25,000 km service on the bike. ($1200, about Toronto prices.) They kindly squeezed us in which I appreciated, did a superior job, big mission accomplished.

Slovakia here we come. Bratislava is a short drive away.


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