Seeing Vienna by Bike

by Karen Rubin

Biking in Vienna on the Ringstrasse © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Vienna is a bustling capital city of Austria and one of Europe’s cultural capitals – in fact, we have a brief bout of culture shock as we ride into the city after a week riding the Danube Bike Trail through the countryside and small villages. And yet, for a big city, Vienna is remarkably  bike-friendly.

In fact, most of the city’s major attractions are along the Ringstrasse – originally the old city’s defensive fortifications, demolished in 1858 and replaced by a magnificent boulevard with its own bike lane. Along here is the Burg Theater (National Theater), Museum of Art History, Parliament, the Imperial Palace, gorgeous parks, and the best way to explore and see as much as you can in the few hours remaining of the afternoon, is by bike.

It is just as Justin, our BikeToursDirect representative, said when he oriented us at the start of our self-guided journey on the Danube Bike Trail, six days and 210 miles ago from Passau, Germany.

Here we are, in this bustling metropolis, and we ride along with the ease with which we had gone through tiny villages, feeling very comfortable and unintimidated by the city traffic.

We are utterly amazed at the bike lanes which are separated from the road – cars and trams – and even have their own traffic light system. It is heaven. You feel so free – able to get around independently, and yet at a slow-enough pace to enjoy everything, and able to just stop when you want.

There are even self-help bike rental stands. New York City could learn a thing or two.

Vienna is best seen by bike © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We ride into the downtown – stopping first at McDonald’s for lunch. The fellows opt to rest for awhile in a park where there is a gorgeous statue of Mozart that receives a steady stream of visitors, like pilgrims coming to a shrine. All around the city, we find, there are statues of significant people with connections to the city – Franz Schubert, Beethoven, Gutenberg, Goethe, Freud, even Theodor Herzl.

The monuments and statues remind me that Vienna is a city of music and opera, a cultural capital of Europe for centuries. You can visit Musicians Memorials as well as important sites: Beethoven (we set out to find what I think is a museum to Beethoven, but it is a memorial), Hayden, Brahms, Mozart (you can visit his grave, as well), Schubert’s birthplace, Strauss’ apartment and grave.

There are fabulous gardens throughout the city: a Maze and Labyrinth, the Crown Prince Garden, Palm House, Zoological Gardens.

But most impressive of all is the architecture – our ride takes us past a veritable museum of the best architecture since the Renaissance, magnificently displayed because of the wide boulevards.

The magnificent Imperial Palace, Vienna, Austria © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

We stop by the fabulous Imperial Palace, crammed with tourists, but opt not to take a tour (there are many to choose from, including a tour of the famous Spanish Riding School), and spend our limited time exploring the city and taking in the fabulous architecture.

JudenPlatz in the heart of Vienna in the Middle Ages was the Jewish quarter and today has become a Holocaust Memorial © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Leaving the Palace for a beautiful commercial square, I spot a sign for the JudenPlatz, and after much searching (no one knew where it was), we come to the plaza which in the Middle Ages was the Jewish quarter, and which today has become a Holocaust Memorial with an archeological museum on the site of the original synagogue (Museum Judenplatz, Misrachi-Haus, Judenplatz 8, A-1010 Vienna; admission is 4 Euro). (See story: Jewish Heritage Preserved in Vienna, Austria and slideshow).

In the evening, we return to the center of the city, actually to Gutenberg Square which I took special note of because it honors one of my heroes. The fellows have researched on Yelp the best, most typical restaurant in Vienna which the Hotel Wien concierge agrees is very popular: Figlmuller (www.figlmueller.at)

Figlmueller has been a popular restaurant since 1905 – so popular there are two locations on the same street and both are full. We go to the one that is inside a small alleyway. David manages to talk his way in – on the wall is a New York Times review with a photo of then-Senator Al D’Amato of New York on the page.

Figlmuller boasts Vienna’s best schnitzel, which comes as an enormous round, bigger-than-the-plate, breaded pork pancake pounded impossibly thin. It is delectable with a light, delicate, tender texture (13.50E)

The waiter tells us that four men do nothing but pound schnitzel all day long – 1,600 schnitzel a day.

The secret to the delectable taste, Figlmüller says, is using only the best light vegetable oil for frying. Only a few schnitzels are fried in the pan at a time. Then the vegetable oil is changed which means that each month several thousand liters of oil make their way in and out of the kitchen at Figlmüller; they are processed into biofuels.

“To ensure that each schnitzel turns out tender and crispy we do not take any chances with the frying temperature of the vegetable oil. It takes 3 different pans to make the perfect schnitzel. First the schnitzel is put in a pan with very hot fat to make the pores of the meat close quickly. And then two other pans are used to carefully fry them.”

It is a memorable dining experience in every way, and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a perfect trip.

St Stephans Cathedral at night © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We walk through the center, to St. Stephansplatz beside the St Stephans Cathedral, bathed in lights. Colored lights beam onto the cobblestone square in front of the church, making for a festive gathering spot.

We stop for gelati at a shop and walk back to the hotel.

We stroll back over the canal to The Hotel Wien (www.classic-hotelwien.at) is just across the bridge in a charming neighborhood, but still wonderfully easy to reach by bike and walking, though Vienna has marvelous public transportation.

The Hotel Wien is absolutely wonderful – classy, traditional, a small city-style hotel with 78 rooms. There is internet access throughout, a sauna and fitness center, a bar, cable TV with access to English programming, minibar.

We store our bikes in a garage that is designated for the bike operator, and have a key so we can access them.

St Stephans Cathedral

The next morning we enjoy a fabulous breakfast buffet – eggs, cheeses, meats, breads and pastries, yogurt and cereal, fresh fruits, even a cappuccino machine (served until 11 am).

We linger awhile, since the fellows will be leaving directly to catch a train to start the next part of their European adventure.

Vienna is the bustling capital city of Austria, one of Europe’s cultural capitals and remarkably biking-friendly. In fact, the city is best seen by bike © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

I still have four hours before I have to make my own train, so set out again on my bike, and tour around the city, stopping at the Parliament Building and taking in some other sights. But I can’t resist riding the ring yet again, to return to these stunning architectural jewels like the Imperial Palace and the Opera.

I return to St Stephansplatz and enter St. Stephans Cathedral. An organ is playing gloriously. Various guided tours are available: the treasure vault, the Cathedral, Catacombs, South tower, North tower (an all-inclusive ticket is 14.50E/adult). A Mozart concert series is presented during the summer in this Cathedral – it must be fabulous.

I try to find the famous ferris wheel, which I get just a tiny glimpse of,, before I lose the trail. But I find a beautiful path along the canal, much like the Hudson River greenway in Manhattan.

I ride around the city for hours, returning at 2:30 pm in time to get my bags and ride the subway. At the top of the stairs to the subway, strangers help me get down the stairs. It is relatively easy system to figure out – colors and numbers, but you need to know the name of the end point so you know what direction to take (you also need to know that you have to open the doors manually). People are very helpful. My destination is the main train terminal, to begin my next adventure, on the European Rail.

Vienna is probably one of the most vibrant and vital cities in Europe, and yet, so easy to get around. We really should have planned to stay three days here. We only touch the surface.

Do a better job than I did in pre-planning the stay in Vienna, www.vienna.info/en. (See a slideshow of Vienna by Bike)

BikeToursDirect serves as a central resource for bicycle tours around the world, representing nearly 60 tour companies that offer almost 300 tours in 40 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. BikeToursDirect offers a variety of resources to help travelers choose tours and handles the entire booking and payment process. For more information, visit www.biketoursdirect.com,  call 877-462-2423 or 423-756-8907, email: info@biketoursdirect.com.

See also:

Danube Bike Trail Ride is Trip of a Lifetime

Day 1 on the Danube Bike Trail: Passau-Eferding and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 2: Eferding-Linz-Au/Donau and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 3: Au/Donau-Mauthausen-Enns-Persenbeug and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 4: Persenbeug-Durnstein-Krems and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Days 5-6: Krems-Tulln-Vienna and slideshow

 

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© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, 
www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

 

On the Danube Bike Trail, Days 5-6: Krems-Tulln-Vienna

Self-Guided Trip from Passau-Vienna is Ideal for Family

by Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman and Dave E. Leiberman

The charming historic district of Krems, where we start out day © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The fellows – my two adult sons whom I am sharing this self-guided biking trip along the Danube Bike Trail – have decided to sleep in this morning, our fifth day on the trail since we left Passau, so I stroll over from the Parkhotel, into the historic district which has been converted to a pedestrian zone, and watch it come to life.

I walk through the city’s major landmark, the Steiner Tor, the ancient gate to the old city built in 1480 with four Gothic towers with Baroque embellishments added in 1754.

We enjoy another marvelous breakfast at the Parkhotel-Krems (www.parkhotel-krems.at), a delightful small city-hotel fronting the park, and after, stroll with the fellows through Old City, now bustling with people.

A street band plays American jazz and popular music – “My Way”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”

Riding through the picturesque historic city of Stein, Austria, on the Danube Bike Trail © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

It’s noonish when we start today’s ride (about 43 km to Tulln). At my insistence (and after we get lost getting out of Krems, which compared to the places we have traveled so far, is a big city), we backtrack to neighboring Stein, which was such a pretty old city. A church bell tolls as we cross the bridge from Stein, from the north to the south side of Danube.

The trail turns away from the river and I think about how wonderful the Danube Bike Trail has been throughout  – these surprising, picturesque and interesting scenes and settings, the variety of what we see.

A castle on a hill comes into view on the Danube Bike Trail © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Suddenly, we are riding through cornfields and farms again, a castle looming on a hilltop in the distance; another turn and we are in village, rambling along on cobblestones. A church comes into view, always the centerpoint and soon again, we ride on a berm beside the Danube River.

This isn’t what I expected from the Danube Bike Trail – and our 6-day ride between Passau Germany and Vienna Austria. I imagined it to be a path beside the river and parts are like that. But this is so much more – every moment the scene changes with such variety – now we pass ruins of a castle high on a hill, a monastery, now we veer off to visit a village or old city.

The trail is magnificent, and gives you the best experience of touring by bike (see slideshow).

We see things at the pace and perspective of being perched on a bicycle, putting you in the scene. The scene is always new and unfolding, like a movie, only it is we that are moving. It is exciting to see it, frame by frame, but fluid and flowing.

Each day, we put out our bags in the lobby, and at night, after a day’s adventure, we pull in to hotel or guesthouse  and see our bags  again – what a welcome sight.

The ride today from Krems to Tulln is anticlimatic compared to yesterday’s exciting attractions and dramatic scenes and compared to the adventure we had the day before.

Zwentendorf was built but never opened as a nuclear plant, now used to research photovoltaics © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

But one area of interest is when we come to the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant alongside the river. It was built, but never opened, Justin, our representative from BikeToursDirect, told us when he gave us our orientation at the start of our trip.

Apparently, the government built the reactor and only held the referendum to authorize opening it after it was already built. The referendum was narrowly defeated less because of opposition to nuclear power but because of the Governor had become unpopular. This was two years before Chernobyl. Today, the facility is used for research in photovoltaics. It is striking to see.

The plant has taken on new significance in light of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. As Joëlle Stolz of Le Monde, writes:

Cold and concrete, the building is a mausoleum of sorts, a monument to Austria’s thwarted nuclear ambitions, which died on the vine thanks to a 1978 referendum.

Nowadays this same area of lower Austria features an almost complete range of energy alternatives — projects that presumably would not have been needed had the Zwentendorf been allowed to operate. There is a hydroelectric plant, a bio-ethanol station operated by the multinational sugar company Agrana, and plenty of solar panels. There is also a waste incinerator built opposite the abandoned nuclear plant.

Back in 1978, the rest of the world commiserated with Austria – which had invested millions in the project and was suddenly obliged to give up its dreams of joining the nuclear elite. But since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, people are now looking at Austria as a pioneer. Austria’s chancellor, Werner Fayman, recently called for “a major public debate on nuclear energy not just in Europe, but in the world as a whole.”

Swimming in the Danube River © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

About 8 km outside of Tulln, our destination for the day, the boys find a pebble beach where people are swimming in the Danube River.  They join in

Even with our late start today, it is only 4:30 pm -a record for us) when we arrive at Tulln, a garden city, and as we ride the trail, we find ourselves alongside the city’s main botanical gardens. We are used to arriving when it is already dark, but today’s early arrival is a – we are used to arriving in the dark – a combination of not much sightseeing – except for a swim in the Danube – and only about 43 km of travel.

Nibelungenhof, our cozy guesthouse inTulln, is right beside the Danube Bike Trail. The inn was completely renovated in 2005 and has 18 rooms © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We arrive at the Nibelungenhof, a cozy guesthouse right beside the trail, that is utterly, scrumptiously charming . Literally, you can eat it up – a green stucco inn with Mediterranean style roof, lovely dining room and outdoor terrace.  The hotel was completely renovated in 2005 and has 18 rooms (www.nibelungenhof.info).

My room is green with pink-colored furnishings and Victorian style furniture. Very charming, but cramped, but it has a nice bathroom, remote-control TV. I am completely content.

I ride around the town while the fellows rest, then we all ride for hour – see where Tulln Gardens are – watching as the sun sets behind a modern bridge.

Biking beyond Tulln’s fountains © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We find a restaurant, Gastgarten, which is also along the trail and the river which boasts “Plain and natural cooking,” and “only meat from cattle that have been ranched by farmers following their principles of organic farming Nevertheless we are able to offer true high class dining at a reasonable price.”  It boasts spirits distilled by private supplier, Michael Neuberger from Donnerskirchen in the Burgenland. We take advantage of a coupon from the local tourist office for a free glass of wine – quite good, indeed.

The most intriguing items on the menu are a black pudding fried, and served with warm cabbage salad, 6.50, made with pork sausage and something to do with blood heated and congealed (I gather). Also, best neck of pork with cucumber, garlic cream and fried potatoes (8.60).

So much of the fun has been stopping at cafes, beer gardens and sampling local food and ambiance. Most of the time we don’t even know what the menu item is – the boys just ask what is the house specialty. They are invariably wonderful locations, where local people come.

Day 6 on the Danube Bike Trail: Tulln-Vienna

This is our last day riding on the Danube Bike Trail. We started out six days ago in Passau, Germany, and today, we will be riding into Vienna, a distance I estimate of about 210 miles. Each day has been glorious and different.

A woman from the DonauRadFreunde Travel Agency, the local operator that BikeToursDirect uses for this itinerary, calls us at the Nibelungenhof guesthouse to ask us how everything going. It is as if they have been keeping an eye out for us all along, even though we are on a self-guided bike tour, just my two 20-something sons and me.

All along, we have pretty much tried to follow the route laid out by Justin, the guide who oriented us to our trip when we started out in Passau, whose suggestions of when to ride on the north or the south sides of the Danube and what attractions and sights to see, have been spot-on. But I use this opportunity to ask whether to take the north or south side of the Danube Trail into Vienna, how many kilometers the ride is, what to do with bikes when we get to Vienna, and can we keep the bikes for the next day until we have to leave?

She says the south side (where we are) is a little shorter route but goes next to the street but the north side is more beautiful and you come over Danube Island, a preserve built to mitigate flooding in Vienna, which has no traffic. But she says we can stay south to Klosterneuburg, then cross a bridge to the north – 35 km.

Now we are conflicted because a lady at the Tulln hotel recommends to stay on the south side because the north is boring.

We set out at 10:15 am, deciding to start on the south side and take the shorter route.  I am anxious to get into Vienna as early as possible, since we will have less than a day to see the city.

Riding the Danube Bike Trail toward Klosterneuburg Abbey © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

he highlight of the ride is passing by the Klosterneuburg Abbey – the most scenic part of the trail, today. Klosterneuburg seems like a interesting city, but I press on to get to Vienna, which is very near.

We stay on the south side instead of crossing over to the north (probably a mistake in terms of scenery, just as the bike company representative said).

Soon the landscape changes completely from rural to urban. We find ourselves on a path that is reminiscent of the Hudson River Conservancy path in Manhattan. There is a canal on one side, and asphalt, buildings and bustle on the other.

We’ve arrived at Vienna! © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We have arrived.

BikeToursDirect serves as a central resource for bicycle tours around the world, representing nearly 60 tour companies that offer almost 300 tours in 40 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. BikeToursDirect offers a variety of resources to help travelers choose tours and handles the entire booking and payment process. For more information, visit www.biketoursdirect.com,  call 877-462-2423 or 423-756-8907, email: info@biketoursdirect.com.

See next:

On the Danube Bike Trail: Seeing Vienna by Bike

See also:

Danube Bike Trail Ride is Trip of a Lifetime

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 2: Eferding-Linz-Au/Donau

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 3: Au/Donau-Mauthausen-Enns-Persenbeug

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 4: Persenbeug-Durnstein-Krems

© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.