Monday, April 30, 2007


So I may have mentioned that I bought myself a bike a few weeks ago. The Spouse is a pretty avid cyclist, and often goes for rides of around three hours and as much as 75 km. He’s got the shorts and the cool shirts and looks at home on the bike paths. A few years ago I rented a bike locally, and we did a round trip ride of about 70 km which left me in pain, weeping at a final upwards incline (I cannot in fairness now call that a hill), and muttering about divorce. We determined that my rental bike just wasn’t very good, but I wasn’t in a hurry to try it again.

A few weeks ago we split a ride. He rode to a point (part of the way with Baboo), and then I got on his bike and rode home while he drove the kids back. I think this was about 20-30 km.

His bike is a hair too big for me, so I got my own. I just wanted something simple and I didn’t feel I would need something better than his bike, but as it worked out, mine was cheaper (in crowns . . . although with the current rate of exchange they were almost the same price) and has some technological advances that make it slightly better than his (I have an additional gear and a cool front suspension that he doesn’t have). His is slightly more of a road racing bike (a little slimmer), while mine is clearly a hybrid or cross bike.

So I rode it once back from Hainburg, Austria (about an hour ride or maybe 20 km to our front door). That was pleasant. Then I rode it on the Slovak bike path that runs along the Danube. I made it about 40 km when I had to call him to come bail me out with the car. The problem: what I was wearing.

I didn’t yet own bike shorts, and I was trying to find something to cover my knees so I wouldn’t get Bike Short Sunburn. I wore a pair of what I can only describe as “fitness pants” with have a sort of mesh lining to help wick sweat away from your body. They are capri length. And after an hour or so, the mesh is extremely irritating . . . it rubs the skin off your behind, in fact.

So I bought some proper bike shorts.

Last week, at a Girls’ Night Out dinner, I met a delightful woman who works at the British Embassy here. Her husband is also a bike nut, and she mentioned that this weekend he and some other friends were planning to ride to Purbach, a village in Austria on Lake Neusiedl. It’s about a 60 km trip. I wrangled an invitation for the Spouse and myself, and yesterday we did it.

Scheduling changes meant it was only the three of us: the Spouse, her spouse, and me. I was really worried at first because I learned he has a veritable stable of excellent bikes and has taken cycling holidays with other friends. The Spouse tends to go at a pretty good clip, too, generally faster than is comfortable for me. He has a GPS and it will tell you the speed, and I can't comfortably do more than 23 kph (I think it's in kilometers). He can cruise at 26. Other Spouse said the fellows on his bike trips usually averaged 18 kph, so I was very relieved.

We plotted a route through Burgunland (the part of Austria closest to Slovakia) to Purbach. There was one SERIOUS hill and a couple other smaller hills, but I was able to get up them all (albeit last, but I didn't care). The ride itself was really nice as the weather was perfect. Most of the route was either on designated bike paths or tiny country lanes with little or no traffic. You can peek into peoples' gardens . . . the lilacs are still blooming, the wild poppies are just starting. Once we got into Austria and tackled The Hill, there were many lanes that wandered downhill, through fields, and past rows of heurigers set into the hillside like caves.

The word heuringer has two meanings: it refers to the youngest available vintage of the local wine, and it also refers to places that sell these wines, made in the owner’s vineyard, usually by the glass. Wine is considered heuringer until St. Martin's Day, November 11, of the year after harvest. Sometimes there is food available. Sometimes the food is buffet (hams, breads, and cheeses typically made by the owner), and sometimes it is a bit more complex.

Heuringen advertise themselves by hanging a pine branch outside the door. You are welcome to stop and knock on the door (if it isn’t already open). We have always been too shy to knock, but our companion says he has done it many times and has always been greeted warmly. The ones we passed along the road are a bit unique (for us, anyhow) because there are so many small, family wine cellars in a row. I’ve seen similar set ups in the Loire Valley, but they were bigger. These resemble Cold War bomb shelters or maybe two-car garages, but more charming, if that makes sense. I will have to find photos. It’s a fabulous concept.

The wind became a bit of a problem, or a least a topic of discussion once we came along the lake. The area is full of windmills and the lake is known for windsurfing and other related sports. You just never know if the wind will be in your favor or not. There was one moment when we were riding downhill, but into the wind, and I had to pedal. But most of the time we were extremely lucky and were not affected by the wind at all.

The whole ride took us three hours. In Purbach we ate at this great heuriger/restaurant: another one of these charming Austrian restaurants with an enclosed courtyard full of tables, a wine cellar full of tables, in a building dating to the 1600s. My new girlfriend drove there to meet us, and we had a really nice sauvignon blanc that sells for about 5 euros a bottle (I ended up with 12 bottles, four different wines)

Our companions have a serious bike rack (which I will probably buy from them), and she drove us all home. Note to self: “girl” model bikes don’t have the cross bar which makes mounting a bike on some bike racks easier. Who’d a thunk it?

I had my sunblock cocktail just right, so no sunburn or even color at all, which was good, and I feel fine today. I was really tired yesterday, but just sleepy . . . like I had wine at lunch . . . and today I am not at all achy. Mostly I was very pleased with myself. I’m glad now that we will be here for more of the summer because I want to do that again. Our riding companion recently completed a three-day, two-night bike tour of that lake. Now we are trying to figure out what to do with the children so we can do that too.


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