In which I take a positive Karmic step, examine the pacifica..." /> EUROPEAN VACATION – PART THE FOURTH - BIKE ME!

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Published on January 25th, 2017 | by Boris

EUROPEAN VACATION – PART THE FOURTH

In which I take a positive Karmic step, examine the pacification of Magyar barbarians and making deals with the devil, rejoice in the sheer lack of signage, consider getting me to a nunnery, call my wife, and stand in the rain sipping beer.

 

I’m not certain where exactly I exited the Autobahn on my way to Salzburg. I do know I took the first Ausgang after an abortive attempt to get petrol and an earphone/iPhone catastrophe that needed immediate resolution.

In my eagerness to get on the road, I had somehow managed to put the ear-phone cable under my chin-strap, and when the speaker-plugs had fallen out of my ears almost immediately after I rode off, two things happened – feral panic gripped me because I could no longer hear the Google Maps Lady and I had no idea where I was; and the little plastic speaker-plugs started flapping madly in the wind and beat me savagely in the face as I rode along.

I could not resolve either of these things doing 180km/h on an Autobahn while being buzzed by holidaying Germans in supersonic cars. According to the signs I was reading as I zoomed along, I would be in Berlin in about five hours, which is really not where I needed to be. I needed to be going east and Berlin was north.

The petrol thing was also pressing. I had left the Road Eagles’ clubhouse with maybe half-a-tank. At the speeds I was being forced to travel, this would see me stranded by the side of the road in about 100km.

You’ve really got this Touring Europe shit under control, old man, I thought to myself.

One of the few resolutions I’d made when I was planning (and I do use that word loosely) this trip was that I would always have lots of petrol in my tank. So if I got lost (good chance), or was involved in some kind of unpleasantness (fair chance) and had to get out of town, I would have the fuel-range to make good my escape.

The white Victory Magnum I was riding carried 22 litres in its tank, which prior experience had shown me offered a range of slightly more than 300km. Prior experience had also shown me speeds of over 160km/h reduced this range to under 200km. It was a big bike, and fully loaded with me aboard, it tipped the scales at more than 500kg. Belting around at 160-plus on more than half-a-tonne of less-than-perfectly-aerodynamic majesty was a thirsty business.

So not long after I left the Road Eagles’ hospitality, I pulled into an Autobahn servo, much like the one I had visited with Ray when I first arrived in Munich.

I wanted to re-fuel, have a cold beer, maybe another one of those delicious herring baguettes, consult my maps, address my earphone/iPhone catastrophe and basically compile my scattered shit into one neat mound, take stock of it, and proceed.

It was very hot, I was very confused, my foot was throbbing like a dying bullock’s heart and I really just needed to sit down somewhere and collect myself.

But that was not going to be in this petrol station.

We have big petrol stations in Australia. The Germans have much bigger ones. And they have more people wanting to use them, too. As I rode in, the massive forecourt leading to the pumps was a sea of cars all lined up waiting to get petrol.

I pulled over on the side of the access road, stopped behind a little red car and stared despairingly at the sea of vehicles filling the forecourt.

Yeah…nah, this is not where I needed to be.

It was just as bad on the other side.

A middle-aged lady got out of the little car and walked over to me.

“Can you help me?” she asked in German.

I was a little nonplussed. I have never looked very approachable to middle-aged ladies. Strippers, sure. Junkies, absolutely. But middle-aged ladies?

If anything, I looked like the last thing a middle-aged German hausfrau would approach seeking help. But then I figured maybe not. Europeans just don’t have the same fearful misgivings about motorcyclists Australians do.

“Sure,” I said in broken German. “But I’m sorry, my German is not that good. Do you speak English?”

“Yes, a little,” she smiled.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“I need you to push my car,” she said, waving her arm at the red hatchback in front of my bike.

“Push it where?”

“It will not start. Maybe if you push it will start.”

And maybe my smashed foot will crumble if I try and I shall fall screaming onto the hot bitumen and hope that someone will stop laughing long enough to call an efficient German ambulance.

“Meine Fuß ist a bit sheisse und kaput,” I said to her. “But I will try.”

So I tried, and succeeded after a fashion. She managed to clutch-start the car after only a few metres and drove off while I fell flat on my face, much to the amusement of people who were watching the procedure. But I did not scream, which I thought was pretty brave.

I picked myself up and limped painfully back to the bike. That small exertion had caused an ocean of sweat to pour out of me. My foot was pounding pain, and my sweat-wet all-black bike gear was stuck to me like dank misery, but I did now have a Karmic tick against my name.

I fired up the bike, and thundered out of the servo holding the earphone cable in my mouth and took the first Ausgang I found.

Suddenly, I was back in the Germany of postcards. A largely traffic-free road wound gently through ranks of trees, beyond which I could see those stupidly green rolling fields.

It’s good of them to hide their signs behind trees so the beauty of the landscape is no affronted.

The sweat dried quickly. When I’d left the clubhouse, I did have the presence of mind to open all the vents on my jacket and the warm air was moving through it quite well. Air-conditioning was taking place. My sweat evaporated and I hoped that maybe the next town had a petrol station. I was down to about a quarter of a tank according the fuel gauge, but I was not going back to the Autobahn.

Of course, I had no idea where I actually was going, or even if I was heading in the right direction. It was just after three in the afternoon, so I still had at least six hours of daylight. And I was in Germany, not Libya, and judging by the sun I was moving vaguely east, so I didn’t feel particularly doomed.

The first town I came to greeted me with a sad face. Literally. The speed limit in German towns is 50km/h. I had been rolling along at about 130. No-one was passing me and I was not passing anyone, so it seemed to be the pace everyone was happy with. And it certainly beat the hell of the high-speed death-race I had been engaged in on the Autobahn.

“Groskarolinenfeld” the sign said as I sailed past it, and saw a sad face on an illuminated sign ahead of me. The illuminated frowny face sat under a speed limit sign with “50” written on it.

I geared down and braked and as I approached 50km/h, the sign changed to a smiley face.

I smiled back.

How utterly well-mannered, I thought, as I idled along through Groskarolinenfeld. None of that big, officious speed signage Australia has decorated every corner of itself with; simultaneously threatening, demanding and hideous. Just a small speed limit sign with an electric emoji under it that either approves or disapproves of your speed.

The first petrol. Much tiger. Many growlings.

Clearly, Germans aren’t big lovers of signage. There aren’t vast billboards advertising the nearest fast-food shithole or tourist trap. There are no huge police-state placards warning you about breaking speed limits, not wearing seatbelts, or falling asleep.

There’s just the name of the town you’ve entered. The presumption is that you, as a grown and sentient adult, will behave and drive appropriately. They do not make demands upon their citizens, merely polite requests.

I rode appropriately into a small petrol station, topped up my tank and went to see if my Aussie Eftpos card would co-operate with the German banking system.
It did, so I bought some water, exchanged pleasantries with the lady behind the counter who told me my “Motorad was sehr shon” (She thought the bike was pretty), then went and sat in the shade outside to address my earphone catastrophe.

Because I’m digitally-dumb and old-fashioned, I had planned to use old-fashioned maps to find my way. I hadn’t even considered Google Maps. Good old paper maps, I figured. No batteries to worry about, just haul it out, look at it, ride on. Like Sir Francis Drake but with less sail.

In real terms, that is a total pain in the arse and just not practical. I couldn’t memorise the multi-consonant names of the next seven towns, cross-reference them in my head with possible detours, and reconcile them with my ultimate destination. It’s impossible to stop on an Autobahn, and while it’s different on the back roads, stopping and unfolding a flapping map every 20km is maddening. And it slows you down. I didn’t have six months. I had just three weeks.

I don’t need no stinking Google…except I do.

Also, Germany, and indeed Europe, is just not Australia. Nothing is familiar and signage is kept to a minimum on the backroads. Everything is foreign and in a language I am not fluent in. This would maybe change when I got to Serbia, but it was hard work in Germany and it ended up being a nightmare in Hungary. Without the Google Maps Lady, filthy Magyar buzzards would even now be dropping my sub-bleached bones from vast heights and pecking at the marrow that splashed out.

How can you ever get enough of this?

I first discovered how wonderful the Google Maps app was when Ray and I were trying to find the Tyrol and he was yelling at his Garmin. You’ll recall he had not uploaded Austria into his device and it was asking itself to find an Austrian town in Germany. This was making it and Ray extravagantly crazy. So I opened up the Google Map app on my phone, typed in the destination and was astounded to hear a lady’s voice calmly giving me directions. I felt very technologically progressive, and figured this wizardry would serve me well on my motorcycle journey.

But it’s one thing to sit in a car and listen to the Google Maps Lady. It’s entirely another thing if you want to hear her on a bike.

The problem was that I did not have the proper earphones. Yes, it’s because I am an idiot.

You can get custom-made earphones that plug into your iPhone. These earphones also double as noise-cancelling devices.

What new-fangled rubbish, I used to think.

I had been to a lot of bike shows and had seen riders having gloop poured into their ears during the moulding process by the people who make these earphones. I had shuddered in revulsion and never even considered having it done to myself. It was akin to the horror I feel when I consider laser eye-surgery. I am stoically traditional in that regard.

Besides, I pretty much know where I’m going most of the time in Australia, and ask people for directions if I’m ever unsure. To mitigate the wind-noise I would just use foam-rubber ear-plugs because I’m as archaic as the Latin Mass.

But in hindsight and in Germany, my dumbness was evident. Had I elected to have some ear-plugs made, or even bought ones that fitted more snugly into my ears, my journey would have been a lot easier.

As it was, I just had the normal Apple earphones that came with my phone. And they are not designed to be worn under crash helmets. I would push them brutally deep into my aching ears, and each time I put the helmet on, the process would drag them out of my ears, which would then ache even more.

So I had to devise a new way of putting my helmet on. And I had to devise that in the Groskarolinenfeld petrol station. After a few attempts, I worked out that if I spread the bottom of my open-face lid as wide as I could (they are bit flexible in that area), and eased it carefully onto my head, only the left ear-phone would fall out. I could then push my hand under the lip of my helmet and wriggle it into place so that it sat loosely on the outside of my ear and then fell out a few seconds later. But the right one stayed put.

“That’ll fucken do,” I muttered to myself. The lady in the petrol station was probably going to call the Polizei if that foreign bastard sitting outside her door just kept putting his helmet on over and over like some deranged chimp.

I still had a way to go before I got to Obertraun according to Google maps. I had told the app I wished to avoid motorways and tolls, and it told me my destination was three hours away. It was now four o’clock in the afternoon.

Salzburg. Built by salt and kings.

“So much for snuffling beers in the baroque majesty of Salzburg,” I sighed to myself, looking at my watch.

Still, I had seen Salzburg at length and in detail 30 years ago when I first and last came to Europe as a 25-year-old with a backpack. My late aunt had insisted I visit it. She had lived there as a young woman and knew it was an unmissable place. Its name means ‘Salt Fortress’ and people have lived there since Neolithic times. Salt was big business in the Middle Ages and barges hauling salt up the Salzach River in the 8th century paid their tolls at Salzburg.

Its Sound of Music beauty was still vivid in my memory. It’s where I first discovered Weiss bier (wheat beer) and tried to punch a rude Austrian in the face for elbowing me out of the way in 500-year-old pub in the Aldstadt (Old Town). It’s where I also discovered the motherly hospitality of Frau Schmidt at whose pension I’d stayed, and where I’d walked the streets in the footsteps of Mozart in a kind of dumbfounded awe for a week.

Surely not that much had changed? It had made the UNESCO World Heritage list the year after I visited, so I was convinced property developers hadn’t turned the Hohensalzburg Fortress that dominates the city into an Aldi. Frau Schmidt was probably dead, and the rude Austrian had probably been punched by someone else, so it wasn’t like I had unfinished business there.

I still would have liked to have gone, but I was just running out of time. Sipping beer in medieval towns is a time-consuming business, and rightly so. I wanted to get to my accommodation in Obertraun before night fell and since I was coming back this way, I figured I could maybe re-Salzburg myself then.

I was now running along the northern shores of Chiemsee, a big lake (so big it’s known by locals as the Bavarian Sea) where lots of Germans were taking their summer ease. The traffic got heavier, but it was still moving smoothly and with impeccable manners, so I had time to flick my eyes off the road, and marvel at what 80-square-km of fresh Bavarian water looks like in the summer sun. It was flecked with sailing boats and swimming Germans, but it was big enough not to look at all crowded.

This is where the nuns be at. Fraueninsel.

And this is Herreninsel, and King Ludwig’s tribute to Versailles.

Remember King Ludwig? The bloke whose hunting lodge I visited a few days earlier and whose spending habits where probably the death of him?

Well, one of his palaces, the unfinished one meant to be a replica of Versailles, is on one of the two big islands in Chiemsee.

Herreninsel (Gentlemens’ Island) is a 238ha jewel of manicured parkland and uncompleted kingly architecture. There is a smaller island in Chiemsee, appropriately called Fraueninsel (Ladies’ Island) which boasts a Benedictine nunnery built in 782AD. Nuns still live there, sustained by the Klosterlikör they brew and the marzipan they make.

I certainly couldn’t see either of the islands from where I was, but that didn’t stop me making mental notes about a future visit, especially to island with the nuns. I was thinking a man would never regret a day or two lurching about 1200-year-old cloisters, drunk on virgin-made booze, while producing poo that smelled alluringly of marzipan. That’s surely the stuff dreams are made of.

I blazed through Traunstein, Surberg and Teisendorf, leaving the relative flat landscape around Chiemsee behind me and was starting to see the alps rearing again on my right.

Freilassing was just ahead, as was the German-Austrian border and I had to take care not actually turn into the centre of Salzburg or onto an Autobahn. This meant counter-intuitively ignoring the signs pointing me to Salzburg.

The Google Maps lady was invaluable here. My instructions to her were clear. No motorways, no tolls and my destination was Obertraun.

I do admit wanting to take the turn-off for Berchtesgaden to see where Adolf Hitler spent so many happy, foaming hours being injected with methyl amphetamine, but was again conscious of the time that would take. As it turned out, I did get to Berchtesgaden on the way back from the east – so I’ll get to my visit there in good time.

I skirted Salzburg, passing the Hohensalzburg Fortress on the right and then gained altitude on a fantastically winding stretch of four-lane road where I could once again sail along at a comfortable 130-140km/h with everyone else.

The approach to Wolfgangsee.

A bit of cruise control, hands-free photo-action? Why not.

I whirled past the turn-off to the Salzburgring racetrack and found myself riding along the southern shores of Fuchlsee, just east of Baderluck. Ahead was another much bigger lake called Wolfgangsee where I had originally planned to stop for the night.

What attracted me was the name of the town on the lake’s northern shore, St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut (literally ‘St Wolfgang in the Estate of the Salt Chamber’). How could a place with a name so magnificent not be magnificent in and of itself?

A statue of St Wolfgang sits beside the road as you descend onto the southern shore of Wolfgangsee. You can’t miss it. It’s not big, but it is prominent. After all, he is, along with St Ulrich and St Conrad of Constance, considered one of the three great German saints.

Top place to put a lake, Wolfgang.

There was some axe-throwing over there on the other side.

He was half-heartedly setting up a radar gun. It was the only cop I saw doing this in 3000km.

Wolfgang’s greatness lies in two inspirational occurrences, one of which involved a building deal with Satan.

Wolfgang erected the first church on the shores of the lake, establishing its location by hurling an axe off the Schafberg (1783m). He then persuaded Satan himself to assist him in the task of church-building. For his efforts, Wolfgang promised tradie-Satan he could have the first living being to walk into the new church, but Satan was doomed to disappointment when that being turned out to be a wolf. And we all know wolves, like redheads, have no souls and so are useless to the fallen angel. This was around 976AD, so some of the details may be a little sketchy.

But 20 years before he’d started throwing axes off mountains and double-crossing tradie-Satan, Wolfgang had already made a name for himself by de-heathenising the Hungarians. The Magyars had just had the crap kicked out of them by Wolfgang’s mate, Otto I The Great, King of East Francia, and were licking their wounds on the Pannonian Plain.

“I’m gonna need double-brick there and you’re gonna have to work the weekends.”

Which meant an awful lot of angry Magyars far too close to western Europe for Western Europe’s liking. So Otto sent Wolfgang east to Christianise the wild Magyar hordes, reasoning that if they came to love Jesus, they’d stop murdering people.

He met with some success, certainly in terms of Christianising the Hungarians, but less so with the whole murder business – which carried on for centuries.

Since I was riding east in Wolfgang’s footsteps, I was full of hope his accomplishment extended far enough to stop some Jesus-loving Magyar from stabbing me in the giblets and taking my wallet as soon as I crossed the border.

And that wallet would have been a good deal emptier had I chosen to abide the evening in St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut. It’s what is known in the brochures as a ‘spa’ town (and doubles as a high-end skiing resort in winter), so it’s full of rich Austrians and Germans getting their spa on. This means they get naked a lot, get massaged a lot, and spend the rest of their time idling their pimped-out AMGs through the narrow, picturesque streets like it was Anschluss all over again.

St Wolfgang – when I’m rich I’m gonna come back here. Because it’s nothing like Lithgow.

I had actually planned to go there out of sheer cussedness, and to see Wolfgang’s axe which I had heard was still on display somewhere in the town.

But all the hotels were out of my price-range, so I looked further east.

Google Maps showed several lakes in this general area of Austria. North and east of Wolfgangsee were Attersee and Traunsee. South of them were Altausseersee and Grundlesee. And the southernmost of all, butted dead against the alps was Hallstätter See.

So I picked it on a whim, checked the nearby hotel prices online, and decided to overnight in the lakeside village of Obertraun rather than the lakeside town of Hallstatt, which turned out to be a good call.

I turned right at Bad Ischel and the Google Maps Lady led me unerringly off the main highway and onto a beautifully surfaced winding road where I rounded up some slow-moving adventure-bike riders.

“Bitches!” I yelled diplomatically as I thundered by them on half-a-tonne of Great White Cruiser.

And almost rode off a cliff. The road had very suddenly narrowed and tightened, and now clung vertiginously to the side of a mountain, where 130km/h was not the speed to be doing. To my left I could see the vast lake and to my right a rock wall which disappeared into the sky. There were lots of cars coming the other way and a few short kilometres later when I rolled through a long, narrow and brutally hot tunnel into Hallstatt I could see why.

Hallstatt – no idea why anyone would want to go there.

Hallstatt was simply bursting with people. Some were obviously leaving, but not so’s it made much difference to the massive traffic jam in the centre of town. I had planned to stop and see the town, but this didn’t look to be an easy thing to do. It was about seven o’clock, I was tired and hungry, it was still hot and trying to find a place to dock in this sea of people and cars was a problem I didn’t want to have just then.

I rode on and straight into another long, narrow and brutally hot one-lane tunnel. Suddenly I was alone on the road. It seemed I had left the cars behind me, or made a wrong turn and was now cheerily riding into an abandoned Austrian salt-mine, which this region is famous for. The Google Maps Lady was silent. The last time she spoke she told me I would arrive at my destination in 15 minutes, but now we were both underground and she was silent.

But I trusted her, and of course the tunnel ended. I went past a small cluster of houses where the road hugged the lake in a gentle arc. Lake on the left, immense bare-rock mountains everywhere else. It was imposing and splendid in every sense – Austria light-switched from grandeur to grandeur in fast-ticking seconds.

Obertraun. It was going off.

I saw a sign for Winkl, rolled over the Traun river and into the village of Obertraun. I was the only moving vehicle. A few kilometres back, it was tourist Armageddon, and here on the same lake, with the same mountains hemming me in, there was just me.

It wasn’t just me, of course. The village wasn’t deserted by any means. It was just peaceful.

The Seehotel was the only hotel in town and I found it easily enough, even though the only signage was just above the front door. Once again, the lack of glaring advertising was jarring coming from a place like Australia, where giant garish Motel signs assault you immediately you enter a town.
I’d found and booked my accomodation through the Internet. They wanted 70 Euro (about $Aus90) for a room with a balcony and a view of the lake.

I’m taking this picture with no pants on.

The view from the room. That wooden building is where the beer is.

It’s not the first cupboard I have shat and showered in and it will not be the last.

I’d felt that was fair; St Wolfgang was charging three times that.

It was certainly no Hilton, but I was certainly no Rothschild either. If it was clean, the door could be locked, and the bed free of vermin, it would do.

I unpacked the Magnum and limping heavily, lugged my stuff down a narrow carpeted hallway through what looked more like a big house than a hotel.

Reception was a small wooden desk in what appeared to be a lounge-room and the receptionist was a delightful Russian girl called Katja.

I knew this because she was chatting on the phone in rapid-fire Russian. She saw me, immediately hung up and greeted me in German.

“Sprechen sie Englisch?” I asked.

“Of course,” she smiled, her Russian accent unmistakeable.

“What about Russian?” I asked in Russian.

Her face lit up like a sunrise.

“Are you Russian?” she beamed.

“No, I’m Australian. But I speak Russian thanks to my mum.”

Not much on signage if it interferes with growing things. The Seehotel.

It turned out she was from Moscow, but came to Austria each summer for work. She spoke five languages and told me I should eat in the pizza joint next door if I was after dinner.
“Is it good?” I asked.
“It’s the only restaurant in town,” she shrugged. “But it has a bowling alley.”

Of course it does, I thought. Why wouldn’t it?

“I reckon I’ll go swimming in the lake first,” I told her, grabbed my key and gimped off up the stairs to my room.

That’s not sand under that water. It’s rocks. And it’s cold.

At the top of the stairs was a large family of Bulgarians having a noisy picnic.
“Zdrasti!” one of the beefy wife-beater-wearing men said, his mouth and hands full of salami and vodka. It sounded a lot like the Russian for hello, so I said hello in Russian.
“Rooski?” he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.

I shook my head. “Australian.”

I then left him to work all that out and limped down the hall to my room.

I guess the best way to describe the room is ‘cosy’. It was about a third the size of normal Aussie motel room, with a tiny shower-toilet in a step-up cupboard set in the wall next to the bed. But there was a balcony with a table and two chairs, it did look westwards out over the lake, and it was scrupulously clean. The bed was soft, the sheets were fresh and the pillow, as usual, was the size of a television. Uniquely, it also had tea and coffee-making facilities, which is not the norm in the other places I stayed.

It was right on dusk – a rich, warm evening with what looked to be storm clouds coming in from the west. I was sweat-greased and weary, and the lake looked pretty enticing from the balcony. Hell, it had looked pretty enticing since Hallstatt.

Shorts on, towel on shoulders, I was out the door and limping down to the shore on my bloated purple foot in less than a minute.

Once again, I was captivated with the sheer convenience and civilisation of a European holiday spot. There was a pier, a pontoon, green grass ran to the water’s edge and just to my right was a low wooden building that sold snacks and beer on a balcony devoted to the view.

See that misty shit? It turned into a thunderstorm.

It wasn’t crowded, but there was maybe 100 people spread out along the shore, and some of them were Austrian fitness nuts doing some stretching before sprinting off to run up one of the massive granite mountains surrounding the town.

I stood on the edge of the lake and looked across the water. I could see the town of Hallstatt in the distance, the mountains beyond it and the darkening sky above it.

I’d gotten through my first day alone on the road.

It hadn’t gone the way I’d planned, but I’m old enough to know plans rarely go to plan. I felt I’d done well.

I’d successfully navigated my way to my hotel, crossed an international border, bought petrol, remembered to keep to the right, and I still knew where my passport and money were.

Boat garages.

I hadn’t ridden all that far in Australian terms, but I had come to understand that unless you’re on an Autobahn, you’re simply not able to bang out the miles here like you would in Australia. This was Europe and there was something to see around every corner, and villages and towns were rarely separated by more than a few minutes of riding.

And crucially, the sense of history was all-encompassing for me. I wanted to see as much as I could, and you don’t see much when you’re going fast.

I was like a starving man being fed the most delicious and nourishing food after a long time in the wilderness eating bark and gravel.

Europe’s incredible story is the story of western civilisation still constantly being written. History is real and immediate here. It defines everything and everybody all the time. You can’t ignore it, you can’t look past it. You might not quite understand it and the impact it has coming from a historically young country like Australia, but you cannot avoid it.

Despite being geologically ancient, when it came to sheer human triumph and achievement, anguish and sorrow, Australia might just as well have been on another planet by comparison.

Upon these lands western civilisation had created itself in blood and defined itself in hope. It had hammered out its redemption in architectural splendour and artistic brilliance. It had birthed distinct societies, proud of their rich heritage and resolute about their place in the world.

Coupled with the majesty of the landscape, this was a heady cocktail to sip on the shores of Hallstattersee.

And then the rain came down.

So clearly beer was needed, but not before I’d worked out a way of getting into the wretched lake without further crippling myself.

The problem was that immediately where the grass ended, the rocks began. Good, fist-sized lumps of smooth, foot-breaking disaster, interspersed by mud. I aimed for the mud and gingerly wallowed my way into waist-deep water which was so numbingly cold, I could feel my testicles crawling into my pelvis. I submerged, and resurfaced, and submerged again.

I was swimming in an alpine lake in Austria. It had been made by a glacier a long time ago. It was a lake I had ridden to by myself (well, the Google Maps Lady did help), at a time and place in my life when I didn’t imagine something like this was even possible for me.

Back home, I had lost my job. My wife was battling cancer. My mum was in the end game. My son was making his way through university and working nights in a bar – and our future was, if anything, entirely uncertain.

When the opportunity for this trip arose, my wife was insistent that I go.

“You have to go,” she said. “You need to do this. You may never have another chance. You need to see where your father is buried.”

I wasn’t convinced. “My father is not going be disinterred any time soon. Last I looked, the Albanians were only digging up dead Serbs in Kosovo, not Sabac. And I’m not happy leaving you alone for so long. This is not just down the road. This is Europe. It’s like a million miles away. I’ll be on a bike, on my own and on the road. If something goes wrong…”

My wife smiled at me. “Something could go wrong every time you ride out of the driveway. You think I don’t know that?”

“But this is different,” I said.

“Why?” she asked. “Are you gonna do different stupid shit to the stupid shit you do here?”

She had me there.

“No,” I said. “It’s just…so far away.”

I had a million reasons for not going.
She had a million and one reasons why I should go.

And as usual, she won. Her clincher was that I had to go precisely because the future was uncertain.

It’s the nature of ‘future’, and an iron-sound argument.

Right then, with my terrified frozen balls hibernating in my belly, my immediate future had beer in it.

And provided I could make my way out of the lake without breaking even more stuff in my foot on its rock-rich bottom, Austria, like Germany, would provide.

A few minutes later I was sitting on a chair, eating a crazy Austrian hot-dog that tasted like peppery bacon, sipping an ice-cold locally brewed pilsener, and uploading tomorrow’s journey-maps onto my phone via the free WiFi being beamed to me from some benevolent satellite in space.
I called my wife.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“In Obertraun.”

“That’s supposed to mean something to me?”
“I’m in that village by that lake where I booked my first hotel. Remember I showed you?”

“So that’s Austria?”

“Yes, Austria.”

“Hungary tomorrow then?”

“Yep.”

“Watch yourself,” she said.

I went back to my room, put some clothes on and went next door to the pizza joint/bowling alley.

Interesting place. Two small bowling lanes on the right as you walk in and a normal-looking restaurant on the left, with a balcony overlooking the lake. A few kids were bowling and the place was pretty full, but the waitress found me a table.

The pizza was great, the dessert even greater and I had progressed to my fifth beer when the thunderstorm hit. I had never seen a thunderstorm over a lake surrounded by mountains, which is probably why I thought it was one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring displays of nature I had ever beheld. And maybe because I was a little drunk. But when that thunder cracked, it echoed off the naked stone of the mountains and was amplified a hundredfold. I had never heard louder thunder. The lightning would flash, throwing the lake and the vast granite massifs surrounding it into stark, neon relief. Then the thunder would first rumble then crack, exploding, the sound so intense, I found myself squinting.

I ordered another beer, paid my bill and went and stood by the lake in the teeming rain. I sipped my beer and gazed open-mouthed at the sound-and-light show.

As a finale to the day, I could not have asked for better.

See the red road marked 156 coming out of Salzburg? I went that way, turned right at Bad Ischel on 145, and then skirted to the left (west) of the lake. You can see where Hallstatt is and then Obertraun.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED THUS FAR

Being a multi-lingual wog was always a handicap growing up in Australia. But going to Europe and not knowing more than one language makes you a freak. Still, you’ll be right with just English. Most Europeans are polite enough to speak English as well as their mother tongue. You’ll still be a mono-lingual freak, though.

Get proper ear-phones if you’re going to use them on a bike. My trip would have been a lot easier if I had done this one simple thing.

Do not expect signs warning you about tight corners. The corners will just happen. Best you keep your wits about you. There are no advisory speed signs for corners either.

Don’t think that because Town A is only 50km from Town B that you’re going to get there in 20 minutes. If you’re not on the Autobahn, you’re not going to make the time you think you’re going to make.

Part One of this story is HERE.

Part Two of this story is HERE.

Part Three of this story is HERE

MY GEAR – All Held. You may view the products HERE. A more detailed rundown of each item is on this website if you search for it. If you want to know more about Held, you can read about my time with them HERE.

MY BIKE – A 2016 Victory Magnum in glorious white. It was absolutely the perfect bike for the trip, as you shall see. Rock-solid, reliable and just the kind of thing to distract the natives in Hungary while I made my getaway.

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About the Author

is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.



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