St. Peter/Au, Austria to Predil Pass, Italy
The first few weeks on a bike have passed. Rolling from St. Peter/Au in Lower Austria along the Danube down to Vienna, where we said goodbye to our friends, we got to Graz and went to the beautiful lake region via Slovenia along the Drau river. We made some longer stops at the Klopeiner See and the Faaker See. The next stop is the famous Soča valley (pronounced Sotscha) in Slovenia, our first Slavic country on the route. The border is crossed over the Predil pass, a not so steep route we are taking. The other possibility would have been the Wurzenpass, which many people didn’t recommend to us, since it has parts with 23% of inclination. So, we thought: why not enjoy a nice Italian pizza on the way? It’s tastier and we conserve more calories!
At the end of the day, we stayed in a hotel in front of the eerie abandoned Predil mine, with a tunnel to Slovenia that was already used by the Romans around 300 BC.
Mom, I’m sick: our bodies don’t have a clue
The first two weeks we had some health issues: Verena had some stomach issues first, then Gabriel got a heavy toothache. Our bodies are not used to biking lots of kilometres every day with so much weight, and that has affected our immune systems. We should have trained more before starting. Because preparation is not only against muscle pain, but also for the body as a whole. Anyway, good in the bad: it’s better to still have these troubles in Austria, where we can solve all of that in German. Well, at least Verena can. 🙂
Now we feel with energy again and are slowly getting into the rhythm of pedalling!
We wanted to meet people. And we are doing it by the dozens.
So far, we’ve met many nice people on the way: A super-fit Iranian man in his mid-seventies who has cycled with us for one hour telling us about how beautiful Iran is. Then a Styrian guy told us about his stunning cycling experience down to Rome. A woman walking her dog reassured us that we young people are so right to explore the world, just like her daughter does. But everything starts when people see our fully packed bikes and get curious.
When we stop to go grocery shopping, there is usually at least one older person* inspecting our bikes and asking some questions. After answering the same question literally a hundred times, we have quite a routine now that we keep answering in turns. Here is how it goes:
Curious Stranger: Oh my! So heavy packing! Where are you going?
Verena or Gabriel, the one with a better mood in that moment: To Istanbul (with a smile, already knowing the reaction coming).
CS: Istanbul?! Bah! [Raising eyebrows, looking to the side and briefly shutting the eyes]
How long will it take?
V or G: We don’t know exactly, but about 3 months. We are going slowly. With so much weight, there is no other option! But we have to be prepared for such a long time away.
CS: That’s very cool! And you’re doing this without any, you know, help? [meaning e-bike]
V or G: No, it’s pure muscle power! We have 2 HP!
CS: [Looking around confused, trying to find the e-bike motor]
V or G: Heel power!
QUICK JOKE EXPLANATION: Actually, this joke was poorly translated to English XD. Even though one should never do it, let’s try to explain the joke.
First, the word legs are translated to Beine, in German. Second, horsepower is Pferdestärke. The joke is about the pronunciation of the letters B and P of the Austrians. In Austria B and P sound pretty much the same. So when we say BS (Beinestärke, or legspower), itreally sounds like PS, Pferdestärke. Got it, hum, hum?! Well, it was funny in the moment. XD
*Mainly 50+ year old people came to talk with us. Young people feel it’s not so cool to talk with us.
People have been very friendly and helpful along the way so far.
When we were relaxing at a square in Graz, two lovely women randomly talked to us and told us they also did some bike adventures. One of them did Graz-Istanbul in just one month with a speed bike. What a beast!
These encounters are definitely one of the reasons we are biking. It’s great to have this positive resonance. People support our idea, either by saying we are crazy-but-do-it or sharing their experience. From “Du bist narrisch!” to “Ah, I did this in 1 month!”, it’s always fun to watch the different reactions.
A very special couple
We already got invited for dinner once: at the Faaker See in Carinthia we met an Austrian-Italian couple. We were sitting outside at a big table, just us two, in a beautiful garden at a Buschenschank, a traditional Austrian type of restaurant, which serves Jause, self made cold meat, cheese and veggies on the table with bread. All the tables were full, and a couple in their forties and fifties asked if we would be fine sharing the table with them. Then we engaged in a long conversation, and we got to know Peter and Francesca better. He used to own an Italian restaurant in Rosegg, and we told them about our bike adventure and mentioned that we are taking a guitar with us. He shared that he used to sing in a choir and travelled the world with his group. The conversation had a very good dynamic, and later they invited us to meet the next day at their house, including an Italian Jause for us.
What awaited us the next day at their place was not just a delicious Italian meal with lots of Aperol and Prosecco. No, there was more: an awesome guitar made by his late best friend, who had built guitars for world class musicians like Al Di Meola, a master of the instrument. Gabriel was amazed and got sparkling eyes, just like a kid would have on Christmas eve. We played some songs together and enjoyed a nice evening, including an opera solo by the host!
Strawberry fields forever
We were trying to ask someone if we could pitch our tent in their garden. This is a common thing for bikers that are doing very long trips, but we were still shy about it. We call it wild camping with a permit. Then an opportunity came to us. We saw a strawberry field ahead of us with some people there and asked if they knew a place to camp around. Without hesitating, they invited us to their farm to put up our tent there. Not only did they bring us half a kilo of fresh and juicy strawberries from their field the same evening, but they were also so friendly and when we went to pluck our strawberry breakfast the next day, they wanted to know more about our adventure and asked for a picture to put on their website. Besides learning that there is a special type of strawberry for jams and another one for cakes, for example, Gabriel had an epiphany to know that strawberries are called this way because these fruits love to have straw around them.
Should you ever come by Bad Erlach in Styria, don’t miss the opportunity to get some delicious strawberries at the Piribauer’s, also known as Piripower.
First requested street concert
On the Alpe-Adria bike trail, Gabriel was riding a couple minutes behind Verena. Then a big group of about 30 elders with e-bikes started passing him, and absolutely all of them said either Hallo, Grüß Gott, or a comment about the many bags. One more friendly guy in particular, that later we got to know was called Willi, asked what this big vertical bag behind his bike was. Gabriel answered that it was a guitar, then he said that he would need to play for the group next time we meet!
The weight of the guitar was making the ride a bit heavier and slower for Gabriel, and he explained to the group that’s why his girlfriend would be waiting for him somewhere ahead. Imagine a few minutes later, when Verena saw a long line of fast old people and started hearing, “Oh, that’s his girlfriend!” 30 times. Somehow cute, no? And there they went in the distance, fast as vintage olympic bikers.
A few kilometres later we bumped into the group again by chance during their break and now we had to keep our word about playing a song! But we had a special song as our secret: “Über den Wolken” by Reinhard May was a hit and we were filmed by about 10 of them! The song was a perfect choice, it made them so happy that many started handing out shiny 5€ bills! We looked at each other and counted a total of 31 € in our hands! For a song that we played for less than 2 minutes, only to the end of the first chorus. That’s what happens when you play the right song for the right crowd.
The route decides everything
One thing we noticed for sure: we have to check the route very well. A nice bike path feels just so great compared to the federal highway. A few stretches we had to take on the 100km/h road though. We put on our flashy yellow safety vests and had to cope with the fear by saying to ourselves when a car passed so near: “if you got scared, it means you survived!” That’s what it felt like: noisy, intimidating and we were happy when it was over. We’ll try to stay far from these interstate roads in the future whenever possible. It might be faster, but we prefer to go slowly from village to village, acting cool to old people in front of the supermarkets.
Our routines have to get settled still
Deflating the pillow, deflating the sleeping mat, packing the sleeping bag, rolling the sleeping mat, dismounting the tent, making a fire with our multi-fuel stove, preparing coffee, cooking porridge, washing the dishes, packing up everything. Ahh, it’s already exhausting to describe it! The first days looking for something and opening up a pannier, the name of a bike bag, feels like gambling with only a 20% chance you are going to be in the right one. All of this takes ages still. It’s a totally different routine! But we’ll soon get better at this. We also asked ourselves: is a city routine any better than this? Waking up in the morning, putting clothes on and getting on a packed and noisy subway to be 30 minutes late at a confined workplace?
This slow life also has its good sides though: making a fire with our multi-fuel stove is a whole experience in itself. We are using Benzin (gasoline) right now to heat our stove and have to make a real fire before the stove is running.
We have a 10-litre water sack with a mini shower head that we can just hang on a tree branch to have a cleaning session. No, we can’t really call it a shower. The first time we used it, it was cold, muddy, on a slope, but in the forest, with a warm low sun on our faces. It was memorable!