Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day 41: to Bratislava, Slovakia (85; 2621)

Last night Claudia took me to a heuriger in the town where she grew up, on a hillside outside Vienna. A heuriger is a very traditional Viennese occurrence where a family vineyard opens its doors for a couple of weeks and serves its newly-made wine along with some homemade food. Then when that batch of wine is gone it closes up again and a different vineyard has a heuriger instead. What a great system. The wine was good and the food absolutely amazing. Claudia made me try some of the dodgier realms of Austrian cuisine (pig lard anyone?) but it was all just delicious (possibly excluding the lard). Maybe I'm not ready to become vegetarian just yet.

A sad thing happened though - we saw an air ambulance flying low overhead and then a few minutes later the people with whom we were sharing a table got the phone call you always dread. They left as soon as they could, but it was quite a lot later before the helicopter took off again, presumably meaning that there was no longer any urgency for the patient. 

Claudia has been a brilliant host and is very entertaining company. I see lots of similarities with Uschi - I bet they fought like mad when they were kids! It was really great to see some of how the Viennese live, as well as the lovely city itself.

Today is yet another public holiday, and she was off early to the stables. She used to race her own horse when younger and now has a youngster in training whose second race is next weekend. I had been warned to get going early too as Turkey's president is in Vienna today and large demos are planned to shut the centre. The holiday did make the cycle back in a fair bit easier (as did knowing where I was going). I eventually made it out over all the multitude of bridges via the nudist section of Vienna. Those guys have impressive tans already!

The majority of the ride to Bratislava was along a long straight dyke. Luckily the cycling conditions weren't bad and I was very content bowling along in a straight line for 16k. This ended with a fantastic bridge crossing, taking me right up into the treetops for a couple of km across a wetland nature reserve and then the Danube itself.

I lunched on the river at Hainburg, a Roman town and technically still Austria, though you wouldn't think so from the language the waiter and I were speaking.

Then goodbye to Austria which I have really loved (despite the lack of smoking ban). The Austrians seem to me to enjoy a general lack of 'German-like' rules, eg dogs are allowed in almost all restaurants (Claudia told me in a very posh one near her if you tell them when you book that you're bringing your dog they prepare a special meal for it!)

So who else didn't know that Vienna and Bratislava were a short day's cycle apart? As we drove on the motorway last night there was a set of exit signs showing Slovenia and Italy this way, Slovakia and Hungary that way, Vienna straight on. Lovely. I also didn't know that Slovakia is now Schengen (and Euro) so no formalities at all at the border.

Bratislava is like a European capital in miniature. The old town is cute and heaving with the river-cruise masses, and there is a definite air of a town on the way up. I am staying in a nice hostel where a very kind young man insisted on carrying a loaded Horace up an enormous flight of stairs so he could sleep safely on the balcony (and so the young man could look manly in front of his girlfriend, I suspect!).

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