“See you tomorrow,” I said to the dude whose name I didn’t catch. He had just pointed out the meeting spot for the Sunday beatdown ride, which goes off in Vienna at 9:30 at the Lion’s Bridge.
I promptly got lost the second I turned off the Donau Insel bike path, but didn’t care. The more lost I got, the better I’d find my away around the next time, and the next time was going to be tomorrow. I had left the A&O Hostel Hotel at 11:15, quite a bit later than the 8:00 start I’d planned.
They don’t call them youth hostels anymore because someone in the marketing department realized that youth weren’t the only people looking for clean sheets, a hot shower, and a roof that didn’t cost a fortune. My son Woodrow and I stayed at the A&O in Weimar and Berlin when we biked across Germany a few summers ago, and a third of the guests were way, way past youth.
Still, that means that two-thirds of the clientele are kids and the best thing about A&O, or the worst, is that it’s jam packed with kids, you know, people under thirty. If you’ve ever had breakfast in Europe you know the drill. Old people mumbling into their coffee, grumpily previewing the day’s disasters in the paper, and counting the hours until the weekend. If they’re tourists, they’re whining about the exchange rate.
At the A&O all-you-can-eat-for-six-euros breakfast, it’s a whole other deal. Young people, when they finally get up, are chattering, laughing, joking with massive hangovers, slamming food with the hollow leg of youth, guffawing about the condoms in the hallway, and noisily planning the day, which in Vienna means waltzing around town until beer-thirty, that is, anytime after lunch. Being around all those young people makes me feel old AF, but it makes me happy, too. I ate my third breakfast, stuffed my pockets with bananas and apples, and got ready for the ride.
It was a stunning fall day in Vienna and I headed west. I’d spent hours studying my m-app, and before long I was going uphill, destination Wiener Wald. Before I got far I decided I needed air and stopped at a bike shop. They aired me up and put some carbon grease on my seat post and chattered at me like crazy. I nodded a lot.
“Where do the group rides start from?” I asked.
“You don’t want to go on them,” said the mechanic, eyeing me.
“They ride very quickly, many racers, and they will drop you. They ride very fast until no one is left.”
“Well, I’ve taught the Austrians how to play Mozart and downhill ski, might as well teach them how to ride bikes.
The guy didn’t think that was very funny. “Don’t worry, you can find many sporty riders in the Wiener Wald, where you are going.”
I ended up ascending a beautiful cobbled climb called Hohenstrasse, it went on for a couple of kilometers and at the top there was a gorgeous overlook onto Vienna. A cyclist was coming the other way so I hailed him.
“Where does this road go?”
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
“I don’t care. This is my first day here.”
“You can go down the cobbles and turn left. Then there is some very good climbing.”
I followed his directions and made a wrong turn somewhere but didn’t care except that it was going south and eventually I needed to go east to get back to Vienna. I rode for a long time until, coming round a bend, I saw a pack of about seven guys drilling it. I did a u-turn and started sprinting because they were coming fast.
I latched on as they took turns smashing on the front. They were in their 30s and 40s and were flying. I was so happy, tucked in on the back, less than an hour and a half into my ride and already hooked up with a bunch of smashers. Given the time of day and the pace and the direction I figured they were wrapping it up, and I sat on the back as we motored. I was really impressed with the bike handling. They rode so tightly despite the crazy close quarters, the occasional passing car, the road furniture, and the constantly twisting road.
I don’t know what happiness is, but slamming the eleven on a gorgeous fall day in the hills outside Vienna with a bunch of motorheads just a few hours after touching down is pretty close.
We got back into Vienna and wound up on the Donau bike path. The river was so beautiful, and there were bikers everywhere. No one had said a word to me, so I rolled up to one of the guys. “Is this a daily ride?”
“No, only weekends. Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Teaching the Austrians how to play Mozart, ski, and ride bikes.”
“I think you will be the student.”
“Yeah, you guys were flying.”
“We were finishing the ride and going slow. If you come tomorrow you will see flying. It is a day for climbing. Perhaps you will find it more difficult than today.”
“Can I bring my hidden motor?”
“If you think it will help.”
“What about my EPO?”
“If you think it will help.”
“What about my humor pills? I can give them away before the ride.”
The dude never smiled. “We Austrians do not joke so much.”
I peeled off and lost my way back to the hostel youths. I figured it was time to start getting my excuses in order.
Below are some Wanky Travel Tips for Vienna as well as a Wanky Food and Lodging Review
- The best time to travel to Vienna is anytime. It is one of the most awesome places on earth.
- I boxed my bike and it arrived unharmed. Only the left shifter was pushed inside a tad.
- Viennese aren’t overly friendly but they are super curious, like cats. If you are walking around with a big box they will stare at it like crazy.
- A&O Hostel Hotel: Big chain. Very cheap, about 40 Euros/night. Rooms are crazy tiny, which is boss in winter because they are toasty. Don’t expect to fit a lot of stuff in your room. Breakfasts are a killer bargain, six Euros in a city where a cup of coffee easily costs two. Same menu every day but who cares if you’re a biker. Quantity, solid food and good coffee. Buffet has cereals, boiled eggs, coffee/juice, cheese, salami, several kinds of rolls, bread, yogurt, and butter. Gets boring after a few days but who cares? You’re here to ride, and ride long, and ride hard, not have your taste buds titillated.
- Andy & Mike’s: Restaurant on the corner of Hutteldorferstrasse and Lerchenfelder Gurtel. Ten percent discount if you can pronounce either street. Fantastic cappuccino. For dinner I had spaghetti with cream sauce and stuff, meatless, and a veggie soup with bread. Yasuko had spaghetti with cream sauce and ham and a fantastic caprese salad. Everything was fresh and gobsmacking good.
- Josef Brot: Yasuko and Hans lunched here; it’s at Wien Mitte station and was packed and “oshare,” which in Japanese means “fashionable” or “don’t let Seth in.” I can’t vouch for the food which she said was the best Eggs Benedict ever, but she brought me a loaf of bread for post-ride nutrition and it was black bread with nuts and whole grains and five minutes after eating the loaf I hit the toilet harder than a bunker buster. Unbelievable tasting bread and cleans your intestinal tract like a Roto-Rooter.
- Random Turkish Kebab Shop: This is just up the street from the hostel youths, and we both ordered the falafel plate with rice. It came with four honking spicy falafel, yogurt, some kind of thick hot paste, and a beet/tomato/lettuce salad that you also ate with yogurt. It was sooooo good and filling but still really light food; tasted great after all the beating around we’d been doing and only cost 16 Euros.
- Wien Travel Tip: Bring crazy comfy walking shoes. It’s the most walkable city on earth.
- Wien Travel Tip: Get a weekend public transport pass and you can use the streetcars, train, and subway super cheap.
- Wien Biking Tip: There are bike shops everywhere, throughout town and also along the Donau Insel bike path.
- Wien Travel and Biking Tip: Spend a few minutes each day studying a map. On today’s ride I came across three separate people who were completely lost, not including myself, the difference being that they were going to be just as lost tomorrow as they were today, whereas I’m going to be completely lost tomorrow, too, but in a different place.
- Wien Biking Tip: Devote part of your riding to just cruising around the city. There is so much to see. I was exclusively in the northwest part and only scratched the surface; never got anywhere near downtown or Prater or Lobau and didn’t explore the Donau Canal Insel. Monday we’re going to rent City Bikes; there are 120+ locations throughout the city.
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