Riding Bikes in the Danube Valley

On Day 2 something happened that I didn’t think was possible: nothing went wrong. It turned out to be such an amazingly fun day, and it really set the tone for the rest of the trip. Let me explain:

When planning the trip, I knew I wanted to ride bikes in the Danube Valley, also known as the Wachau. The area is about an hour train ride from Vienna. Our guidebooks describes the stretch between Krems and Melk as “arguably the loveliest along the entire length of the might river. Both banks are dotted with ruined castles and medieval towns, and lined with terraced vineyards.” But, I also knew it would take a lot of planning and work to make it happen.

First of all, we’d have to catch a morning train to either Krems or Melk. Doing so meant waking up super early to get ready, eat, take the metro, get to the train station, buy the right train tickets and catch the right train. One setback — like barely missing the metro and having to wait 8 minutes for the next one — could really throw our day off, because trains weren’t frequent between Vienna and the two cities (maybe hourly or more).

Secondly, we needed to decide which city to start in. According to several tourist advice boards I read, Krems is a bigger city, easier to get to, easier to navigate and more likely to have more bike rentals. But the trek to Melk was slightly uphill and, depending on what side of the river you took, not as scenic. Starting in Melk on the other hand was the suggested, though less popular route. But, the town was smaller and less likely to have lots of amenities. This was problematic because not only did we need to rent bikes, but we needed one with a toddler seat attached.

And, to top it off, the bike path between the two cities was 22 miles. So no matter what happened, we had a long road ahead of us. See what I mean about being a bit harder to execute than it may seem?

Still, we planned the night before and woke up determined to do the best that we could. And we did! We caught every form of public transportation that we hoped to and arrived in Melk at about 9 a.m. We walked to the tourist information center to find bike rental information, but it was closed. Lance led us down the river a bit, though, and there stood a small shack with bikes outside of it — and one just so happened to have a toddler seat attached to it. ONE! We waited a bit for the shack to open, and then spoke with a young girl who used broken English to tell us that we indeed could leave the bike in Krems instead of returning it to Melk (which would require another 22 miles back by bike, train, bus or boat ride). Score!

The ride was long, but fairly easy. There were only a few hills to climb, and because I spin weekly and Lance mountain bikes regularly, we were both able to handle them fine. Lance’s bike had Lila on the back, and mine had a basket on the back for our backpack, water etc. We’d stop periodically to take pictures or eat snacks and sometimes to let Lila out to run and play. In Spitz, a small town located about halfway between the two cities, we stopped for an hour or more to eat lunch at a pizza place and let Lila play at the park. We ordered two pizzas thinking they were personal size — only to find the were indeed not! Oh well, we had lots of leftovers. Lila fell asleep strapped to Lance’s back in the baby carrier on the way home. Those last 8-10 miles or so were rough, because our giddiness had worn off, it was the hottest time of the day, and having downtime during lunch reminded us of how tired we were.

All in all, I think we were on the trail for 4-5 hours. Once in Krems, we found a train stop but no place selling tickets! So we wandered a bit, but eventually found our way when the train stopped and an employee came up to us and asked if we needed help. (Looking back, he was a tender mercy.) He told us there were two train stops in Krems, and we were at a small one, so we hopped on the train for 2 minutes before we arrived at the main station where we were able to buy return tickets to Vienna. On the way home, we marveled at how successful the day had been, despite minor hiccups.

Overall, it was one of my favorite days of the trip. But, I will say, it wasn’t as beautiful as I expected or as the different locations we visited later on. I imagined Austria to be sprawling bright green hills with trees and picturesque mountains etc. The Danube Valley was pretty in its own way, but it wasn’t any of those. It had more of a desert look to it, with yellows and browns more prominent than green. Also, the river itself wasn’t particularly beautiful. But, being an Arizona girl, I still find the beauty in those settings.

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