Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day 221 - Linz - Austria

I had thought for a long time - back even in France and Spain - that reaching Austria, marking my return to 'Western' Europe, would be a huge relief. The 'Scary East' would have been done. All the fears I had of travelling through those countries I knew so little about either dispelled or proven but, hopefully, lived through.

They were, they have been, but back on the road, after four days of partying in Vienna, I was left with a very different feeling to relief - sadness. I found myself reflecting on all that has been - remembering the nervousness of the first few weeks on the road, looking at maps of Spain and just thinking 'How?', entering the foothills of the Pyrenees, looking up at the peaks thinking 'Oh shit', worrying in Italy about what Greece and beyond would hold for me; the heat, the hills, the dogs, all of the bad talk people had of Bulgaria and Romania - and I wasn't feeling relieved that it was behind me, I was sad that it was over. I was, in a sense, mourning, if not the ending of the whole trip then certainly a very large part of it.

Austria provided me with a very intense reminder that things move on, experiences last for only a moment and all too soon memories are all that is left of them. I will (hopefully) always hold those memories, of course with the aid of my journals and photographs, but perhaps never again will I be in that situation, experiencing what I did. Once I'd realised that was the cause of my rather down-mood, I was a lot happier about it and able to get on with 'experiencing' the here and now.

Talking of which, Austria is very much the return to Western Europe I thought it would be - there's stuff in the shops! And it is, of course, ever so neat and organised. Perhaps too much so - their cycle paths, which they seem so very proud of, are wonderful things. They really are. I've spent four days cruising along a flat piece of tarmac next to the Danube, far from any motorised vehicles. It's great, 95% of the time. But that other 5% is the problem. On two occassions now the path has just ended on me. Miles and miles of perfect track with an abundance of reassuring sign posts then...a field. No sign, no explanation. That's when the distance from a road becomes a problem, because I don't have a get out clause. Either head into the field and risk getting bogged down or turn around and retrace the last 3 miles back to the last junction. Great.

I have to also mention this bloody place - Linz - dubbed, by me, at approximately 11.30am today, in driving wind and freezing rain, 'The Worst Town in the World'. My task today was simple - an easy 15 mile jaunt from last night's stop into the town centre. I'd come off the cycle track last night to get to a town that wasn't on it (god forbid), but the one small road connecting that town to Linz seemed like an easy prospect - it went straight to the centre. And easy it was for about 10 miles, then there was a big dangerous-looking tunnel with 'no cycling' signs at the entrance. I have been known to ignore such signs (I would never have got through Hungary if I hadn't) but I had to agree with them here - I wasn't going into that tunnel. So what options? I turn off, there's a cycle lane. No signs. I ride it in the general direction the tunnel was going in and end up heading the opposite way. I ask some people and they point me in the right direction (after lifting my bike up to see how heavy it is and marvelling at my *ahem* amazing cycling adventures). I come to a cross roads - straight on 'Zentrum' - no bikes. Left (cycle track sign) - 'Weiner Strasse', right 'Siemens Depot'. Ok, so, Sausage Road or Siemens bloody head office. I go straight on and after 2 miles of motorway and a lot of faffing about, find my way. It turned out, however, that the track going to 'Siemens Depot' ended up leading to the centre. Why can't they just put 'Zentrum' on the cycle signs too? And why would I want to know where bloody 'Weiner Strasse' was? Pfft...give me a Greek motorway any day. At least they go where they say they're going, and in a straight line too!


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