Self-Guided Trip from Passau-Vienna is Ideal for Family
by Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman and Dave E. Leiberman
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”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 have arrived.
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