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#13 Austria (available 7/22 )

From Motorrader to Fahrrader as the Honored Guest     6/20

   In the Dolomites, the motorbike riders make the summer season for the business people; here on the Drau River only a few miles away, it is the bicycle rider for whom the welcome signs are out. In the mountains, it is the swervy curves on the narrow roads that draw the 2-wheeled crowds; on the rivers it is the gently graded, dedicated bike paths that make the cyclists smile. In the Dolomites, motor bike riders trailer their bikes into the region so as to only ride the choicest roads; on the rivers, cyclists often arrive by train, boat or special buses to customize their riding experience.  In the mountains, we had to be on guard against motor bikers cutting us off on the inside curves; on the river bike paths, we are taking tight turns as we weave between farm buildings and are on alert for groups of cyclists dismounting in unison without warning on a grades that they will walk up. We love the drama and challenges of climbing the mountains but it is oh-so-sweet to be welcomed and be ‘with our own kind’ on the river routes.

Bill in 'road side mechanic' heaven.

   For a cyclist, crossing from Italy into Austria is like drifting from wakefulness into a scrumptious dream. In Italy cyclists are well-accommodated in traffic but that’s it--in Austria, the red carpet is rolled. Crisscrossing bike paths, route signs, welcome signs, route maps, and self-service tool stations suddenly appear.  And then there are those charming, rustic picnic tables made with irregular thick slabs of rock or timbers; the small, shaded fish pond with a tethered , 2’ long wooden sail boat bobbing with the winds and incoming cascade of stream water; path-side cafés and signs directing riders to banks and B&B’s. Somehow Austria has cajoled its neighboring Italian town on the Drau River to be pro-bike, so some of the changes begin in San Candido which is about 5 miles inside the border. San Candido has a signed bike path funneling cyclists to the 150 mile long Austrian river route.

   After riding most of the Drau River route this year, we now understand that the 25-30 mile segment from San Candido, Italy to Lienz, Austria is indeed the finest segment. Every inch of it is paved, almost all of it is dedicated bike path running along the river, and it is essentially a gentle downhill ride the entire way. This is such a pleasant ride special trains run between the 2 towns with 2 boxcars fitted just for bikes. So, the riders from Lienz board with their bikes and take the train slightly uphill to San Candido and almost coast back to Lienz and the San Candido riders can catch the train home at the end of their bike outing—is that cush or what! None of this silly riding ‘round trip like we usually do for a day ride. The bike train is wildly popular. We happened to be on the route on a sunny Friday afternoon and there were hundreds (thousands?) of people in all shapes and sizes, and all degrees of fitness or lack there of. The path is wide enough that serious athletes were able to ride as a fast as they wanted most of the time and the route easy enough for the whole family. Benches, picnic tables, drinking water, emergency call stations, traffic mirrors on some of the blind curves and shade are plentiful along this part of the Drau River route.  We also learned that there is also a daily bus from April through October that runs almost the entire length of the Austrian portion of the Drau that hauls cyclists and their gear to the starting point of the downhill route—they’ll even drop your luggage off at a designated hotel for you.

   When I am on European bike routes like this San Candido-Lienz one it makes my heart sink that most of our friends never have the opportunity to sample bike riding and touring like this. One can go bike tour on selected river routes here and in Germany without training or really equipping for it. People head out on one speed bikes with a small gym bag on the back rack for an overnighter or a week. They walk their bikes up short pitches and hop back on when the riding is again easy. B&B’s and restaurants are frequently sprinkled along some routes and biking touring here is a social event, not an athletic one. Even the more experienced and better equipped regional tourist’s make us look positively dreary with all of our sturdy, waterproof gear and sun-protective wear as these river paths are filled with easy-going, jovial riders that are reveling in this relaxed way to be outdoors and have the scenery move by at a pleasant pace.

   Being on Austrian bike paths is a dream world and much of semi-rural Austrian life looks dreamy too. It’s a story-book look of clean air; green pastures and forests; charming sloped roofed buildings with broad covered balconies; flower boxes; clean, contented looking cows; and sporty people in comfortable sporty-wear (and with more evidence of  knee surgeries because so many are in shorts). Suburban-rural Austrians, especially in the mountain regions, seem to be the happiest, most contented population we have experienced. People casually pedal into town, stop for coffee in an outdoor café on their way to work or the market--there always seems to be time to share a coffee, a cone or a beer with friends. Drawn faces and furrowed brows are few and far between and the societal energy seems to be one of deep contentment. Their homes are neat and cheery and their brightly colored flowers even show-up on many bus shelters.

   The Austrian’s love of sport and the outdoors can’t be missed. While we ride on dedicated bike paths through the woods we pass sports parks, model airplane flying grounds, go-kart tracks, skateboard parks, ski lifts, signed hiking and horse trails, roller blader’s, kayakers, and have even spotted a few hang gliders. Picnic tables, benches, and running water are easy to come by. (In Austria, it seems like they must grow benches from seed as they sprout up everywhere: under trees, in town, and at regular intervals along walking and biking paths. In Italy, we frequently struggled to even find a slice of shade where we could sit or stand in the dirt as all of the property is fenced.) The Austrians enjoy their outdoors with gusto and often and support a wide range of activities and abilities. Of course, Austria isn’t a fantasy-come-true for everyone living here but there are pockets here that make us believe that an unusually high percentage of people are living charmed lives.  

Wheel Woes

   Back in Portland, my bike was the test vehicle, the beta site. I put on quite a few more miles in a year than Bill and so a new product would show its true colors most quickly on my bike. Now that we ride exactly the same number of miles in a year, Bill has involuntarily become our team guinea pig because he, and usually his bike, weighs more. Bill weighs 30-35 pounds more than I do, which is enough of a difference to put more wear and tear on his bike than mine. Plus, he often carries heavier loads than I, compounding the difference. Even before we started doing loaded touring, we could see the difference our body weights made in tire wear and flat-tire frequency. Back in the old days when we got flat tires, he would get them at about twice the rate as I. His tires, especially his back tires showed tread wear more quickly too.

    Now that our life is loaded touring, Bill’s ‘test’ bike is educating us about wear and tear. Last year in Turkey, it was Bill’s back wheel that split open like someone took a can opener to it. This year, he broke the first spoke in our collective experience, again on his back wheel. The back wheel carries more of the weight of the rider and more gear weight, so his is “the canary in the mine” for both of us.

   Several weeks ago when we were descending our first of many alpine passes I noticed he had a little wobble or shimmy in his rear wheel. The fender and new mud flap made it a little hard to see, but I called his attention to it still not being sure it was significant. His quick roadside inspection revealed nothing and he proceeded down the hill with even greater caution. It didn’t get any worse and it faded into the background with all the pass climbing and then the visiting with friends from Portland and dealing with our camping gear. Then on a short day ride out of Lienz without panniers and his wobble again grabbed my attention. We swapped bikes for a couple of blocks (which is always traumatic and elicits all sorts of “this sure is a weird bike” kind of comments from both of us).  Where I had thought the wobble on Bill’s bike was slight compared to the big wobbling gyrations I have had with cargo-balancing problems, Bill found the sight of his rear wheel wobble to be a fright. At our next stop he systematically flicked each spoke to roughly compare the all-important relative tension on the spokes by sound and found 1 horribly out of key—so horribly that it moved several inches when he flicked it. The spoke had probably broken weeks ago but never became ajar—it remained in perfectly camouflaged alignment through all those steep ascents and descents.

    Bill’s angst (a word German’s commonly use) was immediate. Riding on a broken spoke can become catastrophic. Apparently what usually happens is that one breaks and then 2 or 3 more snap under the increased and unbalance tension on the wheel and then you really have a problem. At first we cursed these spokes we bought about this time last year in Italy (when we replaced the cracked rim) as being defective especially since they started visibly rusting soon after we bought them. But we reconsidered: perhaps the fact that none of the others broke meant that they really were very good spokes, with one defective one.

   Bill’s duress was not over yet, however. Back at the hotel that day he was considering replacing the spoke himself and went to retrieve the spare spokes stashed inside his bike frame, in the part of the frame that the seat post slides into. He then faced the ultimate shame for a bike mechanic: his seat post tube had become welded to the frame tube. He twisted, pushed, pulled, banged, greased and cursed it and himself, but it wouldn’t budge. We don’t know how hard the bike shop folks tried to release the seat post the next day, but they gave up and just made a new spoke (and some new spares) for him. The fit between the frames and seat posts was tight on both our bikes when we got them--mine was so tight that he had it reamed out a bit but not his. Even though he has dutifully wiggled the seat posts now and then to prevent this welding problem from occurring, his is probably now stuck forever. It isn’t in itself a crisis, but eliminates tweaking the seat height with changes in his body or when he buys a new seat.  So, after a half day delay, we hopped back on the Drau River route with 1 new spoke on Bill’s wheel, 2 new spokes strapped to the outside of his frame, new limitation of his seat post position as part of his identify, and me on heightened “wobble-watch” as Bill is concerned that other spokes will yet snap from the abuse. (It’s now mid-July and he hasn’t had any more spoke problems.)

Drau River

    We have been following a bike route along the Drau River which is roughly an east-west river in southern Austria, well south of the Danube (or Donau). The grade is more down than up, which has given me a chance to recover from the deep fatigue from spending weeks tracing the steep topography of the Alps. But like any physical therapy regime, it is a bit boring. It was delightful at the western end of the route where the paths were all paved and the hoard of jovial day-tripping pedaler’s created a lively commotion. But we have left the party behind and are largely alone on the hard-packed trail with a sprinkling of fine gravel. These paths get us completely out of traffic but the rougher surface demands that our attention stay focused on the roadbed and the noise of the squirming stones under our tires inhibits long conversations. Though we aren’t quite ready to tackle the mountains again, we realize that they no longer envelope us—we have traveled far enough eastwards that we only see peaks in our rear view mirrors.

A gem of a B&B on the Drau. The western end Drau River valley.

     We will follow the Drau as it cuts through a corner of Slovenia and spend a couple of nights in the country which will add a welcome layer of interest to the river route.  Slovenia must be in an odd geo-political position as it isn’t a country we ever traverse, though this will be the third time we have grazed it. After that brief stint out of the EU we’ll be back in Austria for a few days before entering Hungary for the first time.

Hungary Lies Ahead

   Even though we haven’t even entered Slovenia yet, we have already begun preparing for our adventure into Hungary with a little bit of nervousness. It is the least prosperous of the former eastern block countries we have visited and so we wonder how safe we will feel there, though the guide book is reassuring. Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania still seem a little too edgy for us as a biking twosome on country roads but Hungary is enough less hungry that it should be OK. But ever the cautious and prepared ones, Bill made back-up copies on CD’s of our laptop and hand-held computer files and sent them home—just in case. It is a small precaution, but it makes us feel more confident as we move into unknown territory. In addition to that electronic peace of mind we have also stocked up on our favorite sunscreen and a few other consumables as we never quite know what the availability of particular products will be when we cross borders (the oddest things become unavailable). Once we enter Hungary we’ll be in “transitional economies” for several months as we’ll next go to Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In those countries we can find most anything we need in the big cities but we’ll only be in a couple of them and navigating big cities for shopping purposes can be a real headache. 


First Impressions

   Dravograd was our first stop in Slovenia to pocket some local currency.  For some reason the ATM machine didn’t like our trusty bank card and Bill spent too much of an hour standing in line to convert Euro’s to Tolars. His transaction went well, it was all of the others before him that were the problem. We still don’t know what the issue was, but we have seen it before in Europe. The banks (and sometimes the banking windows at the post offices) must do some money-collection function for the government as each customer’s transaction took about 10 minutes and required piles of paper shuffling. We keep saying that there is something very wrong with these bureaucracies that this seemingly routine ritual in some countries requires so much time and paper.

   But my guard duty at the bikes gave me ample time to study the street scene. It didn’t take long to spot the familiar former-Soviet-sphere markers: the greater prevalence of later stage alcoholics in the population, more mature adults with untreated orthopedic problems (often congenital), a prominent Soviet WWII memorial and an overall less-healthy look in the middle-aged and older population. The many overweight Slovenians didn’t manage to retain the robust look of similarly sized Austrians. And the fixed expressions and limp bodies of a few made it look like the new world order came too late for them.

    The one-hotel town of Radlje was our first overnight stop in Slovenia. The hotel’s exterior was a familiar looking variant of a spruced up older European building with a touch of decorative plaster.  But that gloomy, sparse, institutional look of the interior instantly reminded us of our first “comrade hotel” in the Czech Republic.  The nearly-dead hallway palm with its few fronds languishing on the floor, the frayed bath towels and a dirty towel and garbage left over from the last guest only added to the heavy, sad feeling of the interior spaces. But those images were oddly juxtaposed to the purple indoor-outdoor carpet; the unstained, bare-bones pine furniture and the partially remodeled bathroom which all spoke to recent attempts to give the hotel a new life under a new regime. And little signs of the new way and old way of doing business kept showing up.  The curtain to hide the no longer operating elevator, the static piles of remodeling garbage ‘out back’ and in the basement areas, and the padlocked chains looped around door handles reflected a different time than the young, English speaking hostess and their western European-sized room prices.

   After partially assimilating the mixed messages of our Radlje hotel, I dropped my bags and headed out for some serious snooping at the local department store and food market—they offer a ready look into small town life.  The old yellow linoleum flooring, budget-basement store fixtures, and merchandise displays gave the town’s department store the look of a second-hand store and the low quality of the goods added to the sorry image. It looked like a store that was last remodeled on a tight budget in the 1960’s and not touched since then. The upholstery fabrics on the couches had a quirky, dated look that I suspect is left over from Eastern Block tastes. The clothes and shoes in the window look over-priced for the quality offered. I suspect the merchandise in this town is on a different distribution stream than what flows into the cities these days, as appeared to be the case in the small towns of Poland and the Czech Republic. It seems like that disparity in the access to goods for small town folk is something that slipped away in the US in the 1980’s (I sure remember the disparity the 3 years we lived in Iowa in the 1970’s).

   The most interesting ‘find’ in the grocery store was the liberal use of English to spice product labeling from cat food to floor products. Scent names like “Wild Berry” and “April Spring” boldly appeared in English, surrounded by Slovenian product descriptions. Sprinklings of Italian and German appeared on the labels too but English seems to be the ‘sexy’ marketing language, which is a huge help to us in shopping (it keeps us from eating gerbil food for breakfast). Though it was a pretty uninspiring food store I was surprised to find Rosarita Refried Beans from California there—and the can wasn’t even out dated. Clearly what is going on the shelves in small-town Slovenia is changing more quickly in the food stores than in the department stores.

Slovenian Style

   After a day inside their borders I still have no sense of what is typical Slovenian architecture. The newer homes or at least the newer looking facades are of the perky Austrian or Tyrolean tradition with dark stained exterior wood trim against white stucco, wooden shutters, balconies under broad eves and cheery flower boxes. A few older buildings speak of a proud past with their remnants of decorative plaster work above the windows and doors—from a time before the world wars, before communism dictated style. And then there is the Soviet-era dreary buildings that have a weighty sadness about them. I keep wanting to ask “Will the real Slovenian building please stand up?”

   After being in the second largest city of Maribor, it is clear that the Slovenians do have their own sense of style. Though I still couldn’t describe a typical Slovenian home like I could an Alpine home, the other fashion tastes are starting to stand out--some of which look a little quirky to our eyes. Several 30-ish women have unusual hair coloring, with the hair 1-2 inches from their hairline being dyed a very dark brown and the rest of their hair being quite blonde. It looks like a blonde wig that hasn’t quite been pulled down snug enough over dark hair. Bill wondered if the attention-grabbing hair-do was the mark of a hooker, but I don’t think so, I think it’s just what piques their sense of style.  The large, purplish-red bridge in town has streams of water fountaining up from the pilings—an interesting but unusual effect. And we fiddled a while with the plastic hangers with 5 pivot points in them and finally determined that squeezing them by the neck opened the jaws of what is usually a hook at the top—creative, but we wondered “why bother”.


   We have seen a deep seated need to lock things up in Slovenia. In Austria, keys are put in the outside door locks in the morning and left there until they close up for the night, without even the worry of mischief. In contrast, in Slovenia the urge to lock things seems disproportionate to the current, real risks. Even in our nicer hotel in Maribor the fire escapes are locked and the key is kept by the door in a lead-sealed glass box, both to enter the fire escape on our floor and to exit it at the street level. And Bill was corrected by one young hotel clerk when he left our as of yet unoccupied room in another hotel unlocked while he retrieved some luggage. We were the only guests at that point but she carefully took the key and locked the door. We are taking these gestures as a cue to be a little more careful with our security measures but I don’t think all of their habits are based on the current reality. We wonder if it isn’t a holdover from the general communist-era paranoia.

Slovenia, By Comparison

   Slovenia is a tiny country of about 2 million people and has an amazing literacy rate of only fractions shy of 100%. When they join the EU next year they will leap over 2 current EU members, Portugal and Greece, in the prosperity rankings. And I am sure they couldn’t be more pleased to leave their other former Yugoslavian brethren in the dust by being the first from the old federation to qualify for EU membership (as far as we know, the others aren’t even trying to join).

    Slovenia, and presumably the other of the former Yugoslavia republics, didn’t suffer from the severe infrastructure decay like their other eastern block neighbors did under communism. Their leader, Tito, distanced himself from the Soviets shortly after the end of WWII and he didn’t follow as many of the devastating economic policies as their neighbors. And today in Poland, the Czech Republic and eastern Germany the deferred maintenance of the buildings shouts at the casual observer whereas in Slovenia there it is just an average number of urban buildings needing a face-lift. And unlike the citizens of its former republic-mate, Croatia, Slovenes didn’t have their personal bank savings accounts robbed by the government in the 1990’s, giving them yet another upwards boost.

    In Slovenia, growing your own food doesn’t seem to be as important as it was in Croatia. In Croatian towns most households were intensely gardening with the focus on food production, not flowers. And in the more suburban and rural areas in Croatia the garden was frequently supplemented by raising a few chickens or turkeys and slaughtering your own pigs. We definitely had the feeling that the Croats were still maintaining their lifestyle and smoothing out ongoing uncertainty by providing some of their own food. I remember visiting the home of one Croatian family and being told about all the various food procuring activities they were involved in, including mushroom hunting in the woods and raising their own grapes to make wine. They were so traumatized from the economic disruptions of communism and Milosevic that they couldn’t comprehend how we could be living off of our savings as they had none. The Slovenes have benefited from being in the most prosperous republic of the former Yugoslavia, having only fought a 10 day war of independence from Serbia’s attempts to keep the old Yugoslavia together, the lack of destabilizing minority issues, and not suffering from as much governmental pillaging in the 1990’s as some of the other republics endured. 

A Slovenian 'investment' home.

    Like more southern countries, Slovenia sports a number of “investment” homes or occupied homes that are only partially completed. In Slovenia, moving day seems to quickly follow the 2-3 story home of red blocks getting its roof and usually all of its windows. Of course, we haven’t a clue about the extent of interior finishing, but the flower boxes go up even though the exteriors lack the stucco finishing layer. Some appear destined to never receive their finish judging from the aged look of the roof.

  “Investment” houses is a term we have applied to the large number of unfinished homes in Europe and we are guessing that they are pay-as-you-go construction projects.  Often only 1 of several stories is completed with rebar sticking several feet up from the top level in Turkey, Greece, and Croatia. Most of those homes are flat-roofed construction whereas in Slovenia the houses have pitched roofs with no intention to continue building up. Even in more prosperous Italy we saw a fair number of homes on a slow time-line for finishing. In contrast, in Austria, we saw very few partially completed and occupied homes. It looks like Austria is more like the States: you usually don’t start building until you have the money to also finish the project.

     Slovenia seems to be taking a lot of its cues from its spiffiest neighbor, Austria. The new homes and newly remodeled ones look much like those in Austria with their balconies, shutters, and window boxes. And like in Austria, we don’t see the roadside garbage dumping in Slovenia that we saw in its former fellow Yugoslav republic, Croatia or central and southern Italy. Nor do we see the backyard burning of Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy. Instead, they sport bike lanes and bike routes and litter-free roads. Slovenian dogs are clearly well-cared for family pets and we admire the many calm dogs that look like miniature German shepherds.  Unlike Italy, Slovenia doesn’t seem to tolerate as much belching pollution from vehicles on the road. Most of the roads are well-paved, though a bit narrow, and the drivers are very courteous. The rural homesteads look prosperous and neat. Out of service equipment isn’t just heaped but neatly stacked and contained. Old farm buildings may be patched together but with a sense of dignity instead of despair. It shows that Slovenia has never been a poor country.

    Unfortunately, Slovenia seems to be taking their lodging price cues from Austria as the few hotels we stayed in were expensive.  Eating out, however is cheap: our sit-down lunch entrees were under $3. Grocery store prices on EU goods were high, though I suspect will come down when the trade barriers drop away in May 2004 with their entry into the EU.

    Both the Austrian and the Slovenian border guards acted like Slovenia had already entered the EU as we could have passed both countries’ check points entering and exiting without any documents at all. Both guard stations waved us through without even establishing our nationality. That was especially shocking when we entered Austria from Slovenia as that crossing gives us access to the entire EU without even stamping our passports—seems like a major security glitch. But, once again we chalk it up to “not fitting the profile” of people that they are worried about at the border crossings.

   We have briefly visited 3 different areas of Slovenia and will return at least one more time to see the capital, Ljubljana. Though the Slovenian countryside is green and pleasant and the culture is interesting to look at from a post-communism perspective, there isn’t much beyond seeing Ljubljana that will bring us back. So far the museums have been non-descript, the language is a substantial barrier to experiencing the culture more deeply and there isn’t anything that has made us long to see more. For us, a given region in Slovenia is on the “glad to have been there but once is enough” list.


    After our brief visit into Slovenia our new river route along the Mur took north to us Graz, Austria. We headed to Graz to see one of the largest several-hundred-year old armory’s still intact which was closed for the season the last time we were through town.  We lingered a couple extra nights to visit several other museums in the area, one of which was an outdoor museum or ‘skansen’ of 80 traditional farm buildings from all the regions of Austria. There we snapped photos of photos that portrayed our worst fears about farming technics on the incredibly steep slopes of South Tyrol in the Dolomites. These guys are using their body weight to control a load of manure and logs down the hillside on sleds.

Bad Blumau, Austria

   Bad Blumau (‘bad’ being German for bath) was on our short list of “must see’s” this year as it is one of the biggest collections of Hundertwasser’s architecture around. We kept bumping into his delightfully crazy buildings elsewhere in Austria and so last year when we learned that an entire resort complex had been build according to his design we vowed to someday go see it. Hundertwasser (a chosen name meaning Hundred Water) was an avant-garde architect who drew inspiration from Gaudi and the white-washed, moundy buildings of the Greek islands. He was into making buildings take on more organic, less linear forms and creating more people-friendly spaces. The partially subterranean corridors between the various buildings in the hotel complex often follow a serpentine path with sloping surfaces where you expect right angles at the floor and wall junctions. Some of the floor tiles are pre-broken and set in place to give more visual variety in the floor texture. And the kinesthetic experience of the tile floor is interrupted with long stretches of irregularly shaped strips of low plush carpet or rubbery floor covering. And why bother with a square building when the roof can slope to the ground and the grass can grow up and over the roof?

Note the wavy floor and slope of the floor at the wall.

   In the pool/spa area, curves, arches, irregularly shaped columns and other round forms dominate the scene. We paddled around in the thermal springs-fed shallow pool eager to discover the varied and unlikely shaped spaces. The most interesting part of the pool area was indoor space which allowed us to happily avoid unneeded sun exposure. We only briefly paddled out to the uncovered area to check out “their” space and were quite content to spend the day undercover in the more visually interesting and skin-friendly shaded interior.

   We came to Bad Blumau to see the architecture but had decided before we got there to spend a day literally immersing ourselves in it, which meant treating ourselves to a spa day. We opted to save ourselves a $100 a night by staying at a B&B on the other side of the gate and be day-guests at the facilities. We paid the $2 extra each for the right to use the sauna, in addition to the $21 per person day fee. I was expecting a sauna in the sauna area—a toasty warm cedar lined room to lounge in. Indeed, they had a lovely menthol-scented sauna but it was a small part what they called the sauna facility. There are a half a dozen other rooms to linger in. One room is modeled after a Roman bath with terraced, heated stone benches; another is Turkish steam room; and the others are various combinations of infrared heat, water or bird sounds, and colored light. European baths are treatment centers and not sports centers and each of these rooms had different therapeutic intents. These therapy rooms formed a circle around a very large whirlpool with 3 different cycles of bubble-works. As we have learned before, Europeans don’t like their treatment waters too warm. Whereas we are accustomed to hot tub temperatures in the States well over normal body temperature, the Europeans favor waters a tad below body temperature.

   One other surprise for us in the sauna area was that it was a nudist area, a point that had escaped us when we entered and wasn’t mentioned when we ponied up our 2 bucks each. We were among the first ones there and as I was reading German signs without my glasses I missed the message that they meant “here”. Of course, as other people showed up, we figured it out (my eyes aren’t that bad). We had it all wrong: we came with swimsuits and no towels and we should have shed our suits at the door and been sitting on our towels in the treatment rooms. We decided to hang our suits up on the hooks like everyone else, linger a while in the towel-less areas like the whirlpool and vowed to return in the afternoon with the right gear.

The hotel's grassy roof merges with surrounding ground.

   It was a first experience for both of us in a nudist facility and Austria is a great place to get one’s introduction. One of the things I admire in Austrians is their lack of pretense and their focus on enjoying themselves. At this resort we didn’t feel at all out of place in our sportswear (clothes are required in all areas outside of the ‘sauna’.) Even though these are $160/night and up hotel rooms, nobody is in designer wear or flashy jewelry. They aren’t here to see and be seen, they are here to enjoy themselves. And whether we see Austrians walking with their ice cream cones, having a beer with the neighbors, or enjoying one of their free weekend concerts in their home town, their attention is on their experience, not on their look. So, whether at the clothed or unclothed poolside, the Austrians were at ease and enjoying themselves which made it easier for us to do the same. Modesty was expressed by a casually draped towel, not by tightly griping their robe or towel. People neither stared nor looked away from each other. It was an amazingly easy situation to slip into and just forget about it being anything different than we usually do. In fact, the formerly shy Bill was enjoying himself so much that he proposed staying a our B&B 2 more nights, with a day ride the next day and a second spa day the day after.

    The need to get on to Budapest won out over lingering longer in Bad Blumau so we buried our infrequently used swimsuits back into the dark recesses of our panniers and prepared to enter Hungary the next day. To the amazement of Austrians and Hungarians alike, we weren’t going to travel the obvious straight line east to Budapest, but drop south first to visit the largest lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton.


   Where does the time go? I’m still behind in my writing as we move forward in our travels. We haven’t needed to send off for those computer back-ups yet as so far Hungary is much more prosperous than we expected. For those of you who are following our circuitous route through Hungary on a map, we have been through Koszeg, Szombathely, Zalaegerszeg, Veszprem, Szekesfehervar and are now in Budapest. Our route also had us cruising along the northern shore of the warm and shallow Lake Balaton.


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