Browsed by
Tag: Austria

A short ride around an inland sea

A short ride around an inland sea

Our original plan had been to ride all the way around the Bodensee (or Loch Constance as we took to calling it). However, time and circumstances conspired against us and we end up with half a day for our ride, so inevitably we weren’t going to get all the way around. For me this made no difference, as it was a ride to be enjoyed, it wasn’t a training ride, it wasn’t about the distance, it was about enjoying riding through three countries in a day.

Riding a bicycle on the mainland of Europe is different to riding in the UK, it is not that you are on the wrong side of the road. No, the difference is that you are doing something completely normal, there is space provided for people to ride bicycles as a normal form of transport. We set off from Lochau along the loch shore, which is a popular place to promenade, but instead of there being one mixed use path the way there would be in Britain (on which cyclists are barely tolerated), here there are separate cycling and walking paths.

Cycle path in Lochau

In some places there were footways on either side of the path, with zebra crossings to show that pedestrians have the right to cross. People of all types use bicycles as a way of getting about, it is completely normal and it shows. This means that you have plenty of time to look around and see, you know, the every day sort of things, like oh look there is a floating opera stage, or is that a Zeppelin flying past. Well these are everyday sights when you are living next to the Obersee (the upper loch) or even if you are just a visitor.

Looking across to the opera stage in Bregenz

Zeppelin flying

The sight of the distant opera stage intrigued me, so we once we had ridden round to Bregenz, we turned off the path and made a detour of all of 200m to go and take a closer look. The Seebühne (or floating stage) is there for the Bregenzer Festspiele (Bregenz Festival), an arts festival held every July and August. The stage sets changes every couple of years, currently it is set up for Mozart’s Magic Flute. Back in 2008 when they were staging Puccini’s Tosca, scenes for the Bond movie Quantum of Solace where filmed there. As there are no performances at this time of year, people are free to wander in and look about as they please.

The opera stage in Bregenz

Photos taken, it was time to get back to Bodensee-Radweg, which gave me the opportunity to observe how they do things differently here. As this is a particularly busy section of the route, cycles and pedestrians are clearly separated, only where traffic is light are they mixed. This takes away the sort of conflict that occurs in the UK, where pedestrians resent there being people riding bicycles in motor traffic free areas. In Switzerland there were additional signs for inline skaters, mixing them with cyclists or pedestrians according to surface. However, there were no such instructions for users of skateboards or kick scooters, presumably they are free to decide which group to move with. It is notable that, on the Continent, inline skates, skateboards and kick scooters are all regarded as legitimate means of active transport rather than merely toys, but then the Continentals are more grown up about these things that the infantilised British.

Traffic separation

Beyond Bregenz we approached the Rhine delta, the amount of sediment carried into the loch by the river Rhine is remarkable and can clearly be seen from above (i.e. from view points on the surrounding hills and mountains). However, when you come to cross the river it rather disappointing, as it is heavily canalised and looks just like a wide ditch. Much of the farm land around is reclaimed from the loch and therefore below the level of the loch.

As we rode along we were not alone, even though it was a weekday outwith the main holiday period there were plenty of other people about, some just going from A to B, some taking leisure trips. This gave me the opportunity to observe Continental cyclists on their home ground, most were wearing just ordinary cloths, there were a few in Lycra out for training rides. I only saw two riders with Hi-viz jackets, but they were speaking with strong English accents and not locals. Helmets were few, mostly worn by the serious cyclists out on training rides, or tourists who had rented all the gear (easy to spot by the identical sets of bikes and helmets). Also notable was that children weren’t wearing helmets when riding bikes, here cycling is normal and not something to be feared.

Which way now?

Way finding was easy with plenty of signage to show you where the paths go to, also local businesses adding their own to attract passing trade. Stopping for lunch, it was clear that cycling has quite an impact on the local economy, with generous cycle parking available. Following lunch we headed for the Swiss border. This was rather fun, instead of going through the customs post with the motor traffic, the cycle path crosses the road in front of the customs post then crosses the Alter Rhein (the Old Rhine) and therefore the Swiss/Austrian border on a small wooden bridge.

Customs post on the Swiss border

The first thing that tells you that you have just crossed an international border is that the direction signs change colours. Not far beyond the border, the cycle route skirts round a small airfield, whose main purpose seems to be to provide air taxi services to Vienna and the Swiss cities, for the opera fans going to the Bregenzer Festspiele.

At Rohrschach we came across the MV Sonnenkönigin (Sun Queen), estimated to have cost some €13m to build, she is the largest and most expensive vessel on the Bodensee. The Sonnenkönigin is an extraordinary looking vessel and with a daily charter rate of around €12,000 (just of the vessel and four man crew) she is the ultimate gin palace. Conservative opponents of the project don’t like the modern design, complaining that it looks like a gigantic shiny iron. We hadn’t expected to see her along side in Rohrschach, as her home port is Bregenz.

The MV Sonnenkönigin

It was in Rohrschach that I almost landed a SF150 fine for cycling in a pedestrianised area, the Swiss are very keen on minor rules and equally keen on enforcing fines if you breach them. It was also in Rohrschach that we started to ride on the road with traffic for the first time. The interesting thing about this was that the speed limit was 30 Km/h (18 mph) and the riding was very much more relaxed that on an equally busy road in the UK. Before long we were directed to an offroad route once again, and the Bodensee-Radweg carried on as a mix of offroad paths and quiet roads. It was notable that on the few occasions where the Radweg was on a busier road, that the speed limit was not above 30 Km/h.

We arrived at the outskirts of Romanshorn just in time to see the ferry setting off for Friedrichshafen. We had decided in advance that this was a sightseeing ride and we weren’t going to have time to go all the way around Bodensee, this was the ferry route we were going to use. Seeing the ferry heading off, we knew that we had an hour for a bit of sightseeing. During the 45 minute ferry crossing of the third largest freshwater body in Europe, we had a chance to do a wee bit of yacht spotting. When the Swiss first entered the America’s Cup to challenge for the Auld Mug, there were a lot of voices asking what do the Swiss know about sailing. The Swiss’ answered this by winning said Auld Mug. Looking at these yachts drifting along in light airs, you start to realise what skilled sailors they are, after all anyone can go fast in a fresh breeze, but to make the most of light airs requires real skills.

Yachts in international waters in Central Europe (Bodensee)

Yachts in international waters in Central Europe (Bodensee)

Arriving on the German side of the pond, we rolled off the ferry in Friedrichshafen and left the motorists to go through the customs post, while pedestrians and cyclists dispersed into the town. I had hoped to meet a twitter friend here, but as it was a week day she was busy elsewhere. We drifted into town looking for coffee and cake, and found a café just across from the Zeppelin Museum. We decided to give the museum a miss as we had agreed to be back in time to go out for dinner in Bregenz.

Finding our way back onto the Bodensee Radwag was easy, just go back to the port and look for the signs. Of course we were now in the third country of the day, so the colour and style of the signs was a wee bit different but that wasn’t really a problem. Riding through Germany we came across more unmetalled off road paths than we had experienced earlier in the day, however, they had a smoother surface than some roads back home in Edinburgh, and way better than most similar Sustrans paths I have come across, so this wasn’t a problem on a road bike.

Cycle way in Germany

Another thing which was notable in residential areas were the 20 Km/h speed limits. Coming from somewhere where 20 mph speed limits, that is 12 mph, are still a controversial idea, this was a real eye opener. It was great riding down these roads, absolutely no hassle. Why can’t Scotland have roads like these? As we were keen to get back to Bregenz, we didn’t have a lot of time to stop and take photos or to visit the island of Lindau (but we did visit Lindau a couple of days later by bicycle).

May tree in Langenargen


Route 2,348,070 – powered by

Notes on a short tour on the mainland of Europe

Notes on a short tour on the mainland of Europe

This September Ulli and I took a well deserved holiday on the mainland of Europe. We took up the invitation to visit France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Here are a few things I noticed on my travels. First off, arriving at EuroAirport (Basel Mulhouse Freiburg), you clear passport control to enter the Schengen area, collect you bags and then have a choice of two exits through customs, you can either clear Swiss customs or EU customs to enter France/Germany. The airport consists of two separate parts, a French part and a Swiss part, and you can pass between the two parts without a ticket (but you must carry a passport or ID card, in case you are asked to show it). This caused us some confusion as we weren’t sure which side our host was waiting for us, also we didn’t know at that time you could just walk across the border within the airport.

Having exited into the Eurozone, we wandered out into the late summer heat of the Alsace, looking at views across the Black Forest to the northeast (more of which later). We were staying in a small French village with views (on a clear day) to the high mountains of the Bernese Alps halfway across Switzerland, ~140 Km away.

On a clear day you can see the high mountains of the Bernese Alps

Driving though small French towns to get there, I noticed there were zebra crossings everywhere, they seemed to be every 100m. Also where there were cycle lanes, they were separated from motor traffic with just solid lines, nowhere did I see a car parked on a cycle lane, or for that matter on the pavement (Footway).

Although we were staying in France, we spent most of our days out in Germany, visiting Staufen im Breisgau whose most famous resident was one Dr Faust who died there in 1539, having allegedly sold his soul to the Devil. The other thing the town is famous for is geothermal drilling controversy. Back in 2007 there was a plan to utilise geothermal energy from the depth of the Rhine valley for heating and cooling purposes. However, things didn’t work out as planned, in 2008 it was noticed that the centre of the town had sunk by about 8mm. This is thought to have been caused by disruption of the water table, as a result drilling was stopped. But this wasn’t the end of the story. In 2009 it was noticed that parts of the town had started to rise and by September 2010 some parts of the town had risen by up to 30cm. This uplift has been caused by water seeping into a layer of anhydrite, so causing it to convert into gypsum which swells when wetted. All the geological activities have caused massive cracks to appear in many of the buildings, some of which now have stickers which read “Staufen must not break”.

“Staufen must not break”

There is also a ruined castle on hill above Staufen which was burned down by the Swedish army in 1632 during the 30 years war. These days it is a pleasant to walk up to the castle though the vineyards.

Castle Staufen

The following day we went for a walk in a range of hills called the Kaiserstuhl (literally: “Emperor’s Chair”) in Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, but I think that deserves another blog post. After our walk we visited Freiburg, which gave me more opportunities to observe the urban environment and particularly the cycling infrastructure. Freiburg is a cycling city. That said, the first thing that caught my eye after we left the underground car park next to the station was the display of air pollution data.

Air pollution monitoring station in Freiburg

Coming from a country where the powers that be prefer to ignore the issue of air pollution rather than facing up to it and taking real action to tackle the problem, this openness is surprising. But then maybe there is a reason, back in the 1980’s people started to notice that large numbers of trees in the Black Forest were dying. People started to put a visit to the Black Forest on their bucket list, to see the Black Forest before it died. The Black Forest wasn’t the only forest to suffer such damage but it was the most iconic, seeing so many trees in so much trouble caused waves of protest across Europe which resulted in EU directives to reduce air pollution. As a result the levels of long range pollutants were massively reduced and the Black Forest recovered. . Of course it isn’t just trees that are damaged by exposure to air pollution, people are, too, and local air pollution in cities can be very damaging. Maybe it was the experience of seeing the Black Forest dying that has made the people of Freiburg more aware of the issue of air pollution. Certainly they have chosen to do something about it, there is an extensive tram network in the city (powered by renewable energy) and active travel is encouraged, this is, as I have already said, a cycling city.

In the UK we are told that our roads are too narrow to accommodate separate space for cycling, here they just take the space away from the more polluting means of transport. It works!

Who says bicycles and trams don't mix?

Cycle lane in Freiburg

Who says bicycles and trams don't mix?

Streets of Freiburg

It’s not just in the city that you see lots of people on bicycles, you see them up in the mountains of the Black Forest, too, although the older folk sometimes need some extra assistance.

E-bikes are getting more popular with older cyclists
E-bikes are getting more popular with older cyclists

Following our trips to the Black Forest, we set off on the next stage of our tour, moving to the Austrian end of The Bodensee (or Loch Constance as we took to calling it). We were based in Lochau for a few days, the original plan had been to head off and cycle all the way around Bodensee. However we found we didn’t have the time to go all the way round (as we had been warned not to try it on a weekend because the paths get very busy), so we just went part way and took a ferry as a short cut. I think to do this ride justice, it needs to have a blog post of its own. Needless to say, cycling through three countries in one day (or rather half a day) was easy, as the infrastructure was seamless and the signage easy to follow.

On an Austrian cycle path, turn left for Germany, turn right for Switzerland.
On an Austrian cycle path, turn left for Germany, turn right for Switzerland.

A trip across the Arlberg (a famous pass) showed that going up hill was considered no barrier to cycling either, no matter what your age. Ten years ago, Vorarlberg was the federal state (Land) which had the highest cycling modal share in Austria. Since then, it has been overtaken by the states of Tirol and Salzburg, partly as these states have latched on to the economic benefits of getting people to ride bicycles for transport and/or leisure.

The next stop on our multi centre holiday (I mean tour) was the Tirol (or Tyrol if you insist). To get there we took the scenic route over the Arlberg pass rather than taking the tunnel. After all, once you have seen the inside of one alpine tunnel, you have seen them all, and the Arlberg tunnel is 14 Km (9 miles) long which is rather dull. You miss out on the views from the top and the chance to look for blaeberries (Vaccinium myrtilis) which are also called Arlenbushes, and there is a theory that the pass thought the mountains is named after them.

Of course, those who chose to travel by bicycle, have either to cycle over the pass or take the train, as they are not allowed to use the Arlberg tunnel (not that you’d want to). We passed a dozen or so cyclists on the way up the 1,793 m pass, even though it was mid September, outwith the main tourist season.

Having arrived in the Tirol, the weather then proceeded to change which rather limited our opportunities for more cycle trips (lack of mudguards). However, we did manage to get a couple in, including one from Ötztal to Absam along part of the Inn Radwag (the Inn cycle route), but I think that is also best covered in a blog post of its own, as this one is getting rather long.

A few final observations, in all four of the countries we visited, the bicycle was used by all sections of society as a way of getting about. Cycling on the mainland of Europe is normal, most people don’t wear helmets, I don’t think I saw a single child wearing a helmet. Most of those who were wearing helmets were adults engaged in serious sports, also the Austrian mountain bikers only wear their helmets for going down hill, when riding up hill or along the roads their helmet is mounted on the handle bars.

During the three weeks we were away, we crossed international borders over 20 times, although we carried our passports with us, we were only required to show them when entering the Schengen area at EuroAirport, and when leaving it again from Munich Airport and to get back into Scotland at Edinburgh Airport.

Alpine Cycle Chic part 1: Innsbruck

Alpine Cycle Chic part 1: Innsbruck

It is often said that a cycling culture, with riding a bicycle as transport, is only common in flat places. However, on my regular trips to the Alps I am always struck by just how many cyclists you see on the streets. So on my most recent trip I tried to take a few photos to show a wee bit of Alpine Cycle Chic. My first opportunity came on a couple of trips into Innsbruck, but I wasn’t allowed to go on a full-on cycle chic photo safari, just grab the odd photo.

So to start with, a few ordinary Innsbruck cyclists:

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

As you can see, Innsbruck has a healthy cycling culture, sadly I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of the Christiania cargo trike in Maria Theresien Strasse. Interestingly, there was a recent attempt by the city council to ban bicycle parking in the pedestrianised part of Maria Theresien Straße, but this was rejected after complaints from the owners of shops and cafès along the street who worried that this would have a negative impact of trade. Spend a while sitting at a pavement cafè and you will soon see why, getting about by bicycle is very popular.

Given the levels of congestion of motor traffic in Innsbruck, it is no surprise that cycling is so popular. This is despite Innsbruck having other forms of traffic which UK based cycle campaigners would tell you are bad for cycling, such as trams, bendy buses and heavy lorries (there is a large amount of building work at the present time), etc. It helps that there are wide cycle paths along either side of the Inn which give access to the centre of the city. There is also an extensive network of cycle lanes, here are some pictures:

Innsbruck cycle infrastructure

Innsbruck cycle chic

Note the the bus stop (Haltestelle) marked with a H, and that the buses stop to the left (outside) of the cycle lane. In the UK this would be seen as potential conflict point, but here the cyclists either stop or ride slowly around passengers getting on and off the buses.

Innsbruck cycle chic

While on the subject of cycle lanes, at traffic light controlled junctions there are not only advanced stop lines for cyclists, but separate lights as well, which allow the cyclists to move off 30 seconds before the motor traffic.

Innsbruck cycle infrastructure

As you will have seen from the photos above, cycle parking along the streets is plentiful, as is residential cycle parking, with apartment blocks all having some form of covered cycle parking. The newer ones often have secure cycle parking built in. Cycle parking is also provided at transport interchanges, such as this bus/tram interchange.

Innsbruck cycle parking

Innsbruck cycle parking

You can of course take your bike on the tram if you want to,

Bikes on an Innsbruck tram

and you can take your bicycle on the bus as well. Unfortunately my pictures of the bike space on the bus didn’t come out too well, but there is space for a up to four bikes, if it isn’t in use for prams or wheelchairs as these passengers have priority for the secured spots. On routes where bike carriage is popular, the buses also carry bikes on the outside. These racks can also, rather conveniently, be modified for carrying skis in the winter.

Bikes by bus in Innsbruck

Sorry if you feel I have veered away from cycle chic and onto infrastructure, but it takes good infrastructure to develop a healthy bicycling culture.

Addendum: the modal share of cycling in Innsbruck is 14% and rising.

Tales of the Tirol, part 2: Into the Karwendel

Tales of the Tirol, part 2: Into the Karwendel

Sunday, Scharnitz, the crack of dawn.

OK so it was more like the crack of 09:30, but that is early enough for a Sunday morning to be dragging a couple of mountain bikes out of the back of a car. With Ulli laid up for the week following her wee accident (see Tales of the Tirol, part 1), Bernie had driven us round to Scharnitz, the self-styled gateway to the Karwendel Alpine Park. This is one of the largest areas of wild land in the Alps, and a great place to go mountain bike touring. Having parked up at he old skiing car park (the chair lift has now gone and the piste is steadily being invaded by trees), we cycled into the village (950 m a.s.l.) and out the other side, past the big car park where the Germans pay to park. As it was still early, the car park was only half full. The road up the first hill out of the village is tarmac and no great challenge, just use the granny ring and keep pedalling. For those who do decide to stop, there a is a field on the right (980 m a.s.l.) usually occupied by some Tyrolean Haflinger horses which are very photogenic, so you can always make out that it is a photo stop rather than a rest stop.

Not far beyond this the tarmac gives out and the road divides, you can go north along the Karwendeltal or east along the Hinterautal, above a gorge with spectacular views down to the River Isar. At this stage it is hard to believe that this is the same river that flows through Munich. Before long the road forks (1069 m a.s.l.), and you have the choice of continuing east along the Hinterautal and following the Isar to its headwaters, or you can drop down and cross over the Isar (1022 m a.s.l.) and follow the Gleirschbach up Gleirschtal into Samertal. For those yet to make their mind up this is a great place to stop and take a few photos.

Whilst we were stopped to take in the views and a few photos, Bernhard sadly remarked that the bike I was riding no longer turned heads the way it once had. He had built it some years ago for his father, who wanted to be able to cycle into remote areas for spring ski mountaineering trips. His father had been rather generous with the budget and Bernhard took the opportunity to build a very high spec bike. I remember how, when I first rode it about five years ago, it really used to turn heads. For those who are interested, it was based around a Rocky Mountain Elements full suspension frame, there are various pictures of it in the ubiquitous blog photo archive. It is still a great bike to ride, but nowadays people seldom give it a second look, not that that bothers me, I just like riding it…

After crossing the Isar (1022m a.s.l.) the way climbs steadily upward, gently at first but after a while it gets increasingly steep. So at first I was having no problems in keeping up with the riders ahead, which was a good feeling, but progressively I started to loose ground. Then I saw that I was slowly gaining on one rider ahead, good I thought, here is my chance to overtake someone going uphill. However, as I got closer I realised the rider I was trying to overtake was no more than 10 years old, so I was still the slowest adult on the hill. Time for a new strategy. I picked an object in the not too far distance, a tree or a rock at the side of the path, told myself that I just had to get there and I could think of having a rest. Of course having reached said object, I would tell myself “not yet, just a wee bit further, try and get to the next corner”.

Rounding the corner, the road got even steeper and seemed to disappear into the trees. I got half way to where it seemed to disappear and stopped for a drink, much to the bemusement of a six year old who blithely cycle past (aided by the odd push from dad who was cycling alongside). Mounting up again, I cycled on to that point where the road seemed to disappear to find that a) it was only about 100m away from where I had stopped and b) the road levelled off (1137m a.s.l.) and the cycling was really easy again. The road was climbing more gently now along a long straight, the Gleirschbach was gurgling away, the sun was shining and all was right with the world.

After a while (and after another short climb) the glen widened and the forest gave way to open meadows. Here alpine cows grazed contentedly (fenced in by electric fences), their bells clonking melodically, well as melodically as a cow bell can clonk. This signalled that we were nearing Mösl Alm (1262m a.s.l.). For those not familiar with the Alps, an Alm is (or was) a small farm only occupied in summer, where cattle are taken to graze the high pastures. Nowadays these Alms often have small (or not so small) restaurants attached to them and maybe basic rooms to let. Some of them have given up the livestock farming element altogether and just stick to servicing the needs of weary travellers (or fleecing tourists depending on your point of view). Personally I find the prospect of a decent meal and a beer, while surrounded by fantastic mountain scenery, after long walk or a cycle, rather an appealing one (especially as the prices usually put the cost of a pub lunch in the UK to shame). In addition, the working Alms also help to maintain the floristically rich alpine pastures which would otherwise disappear under rank vegetation and eventually trees. This leads to a loss of biodiversity which is currently occurring across the Alps. So it was that we decided to stop for an early lunch. The place was busy, mostly with cyclists, as the walkers were still on the trail making their way there.

Sunday lunch time at Mösl AlmSunday lunch time at Mösl Alm.

Lunch finished, we set off again, aiming to get to Pfeis Hütte (1922m a.s.l.) at the head of Samertal. About 500m (1320m a.s.l.) after we left Mösl Alm, we came across a sign telling us that there was 300m of bad road ahead, but after that it was a motorway all the way to Pfeis Hütte.
The notice
Sure enough, the track became very rough, and it continued to be rough until the turn off to Hafelekar Spitze. For any of you who ken Innsbruck, that’s the big mountain the cable car from the centre of town goes up. Obviously we were on the far side of the mountain from Innsbruck. Shortly after the turnoff, we meet a couple coming the other way with a small child in a bike trailer (something like this), heading in the opposite direction. There is no way they could have come up the rough section of path (and they couldn’t have come over Hafelekar Spitze either), so we guessed there must be another way back to Mösl Alm, but couldn’t find it on the map.

Into the Karwendel 3
Riding up the “Autobahn” towards Pfeis. © B. Dragosits.

We continued on to where, at about 1600m a.s.l., the track goes up a large hairpin bend. At the bottom, to one side, there was a bike parking area with about a dozen bikes in it. The track going up looked rough and steep, Bernhard didn’t think he could make it up on his non-suspension bike (he had struggled on the rough section earlier). So he borrowed the full suspension bike which I was riding, to go scout it out, while I wandered off to take a few more photos. After about a quarter of an hour he reported back that the track was really rough and that he wouldn’t be able to make the last 1 km or so to Pfeis Hütte on his bike. So we decided to leave a visit to the hut for another day. The ride back to Scharnitz was a real blast…

For a kml file of the route see here, please note my GPS is a wee bit old and doesn’t get a very good signal where there are trees.

Tales of the Tirol, part 1: a short ride to Fallbach

Tales of the Tirol, part 1: a short ride to Fallbach

The more observant readers among you will have noticed that there is a now a weather report for Innsbruck in the sidebar of this blog, this is because Ulli and I are on holiday in the Austrian Tirol.

So day one, as always we were keen to get out and about doing things in the mountains, so as a warm up we decided to go out for a quick ride. Fortunately we were able to borrow a couple of mountain bikes and Ulli’s cousin Bernhard was keen to come along as a guide. Digging the bikes out of the basement where they live, I was pleased to see that the Rocky Mountain Elements bike which I was borrowing had been recently upgraded with disk brakes. The benefit increased control when braking far out weighs the cost of extra weight, in my opinion.

Bikes out, adjustments made, and we were off across the Absam fields, down the new path to cross the Weissenbach (good first test for the disk brakes) and up into Mils on the far side. From Mils we took a path around the edge of Milserwald. This forest area sits on a terrace left behind by the last ice age, and is a great recreation resource for the local area (possibly why Absam and Mils are now among the most expensive places to buy a house in Austria). Coming down the track towards Milser Eiche, on the SW corner of Milserwald, Bernhard and I were racing ahead (as usual) when we came across a Nordic walker coming the other way, who was (as is often the way with Nordic walkers) taking up as much of the track as possible, another good test for the disk brakes.

Having stopped by the big oak (known locally as Milser Eiche) to look at the view across the Inn to Volders and Glungezer (and waited for Ulli to catch up), we skirted round the southern edge of Milserwald to the pretty village of Baumkirchen. From here we picked up the cycle route, along a quiet stretch of road, to Fritzens. After Fritzens, Bernhard decided that rather than follow the cycle route along the road to Terfens, we should go cross county using a series of unpaved tracks. This proved to be much more entertaining, in particular the way Bernhard would cycle round in big circle each time we came to a fork in the track. He claimed he was changing down gear in order to be able to tackle the climb (if we were to turn that way), but I suspect that he was just lost and trying to remember the way.

At Terfens we stopped to have drink from the drinking fountain, of the type with a hollowed out log for a trough which are so common in Tirol, the water is always fresh and cold. This also meant that we neatly avoided being run over by a Dutch motorcycle club, which came noisily through the village. Drink stop finished, we turned north and headed up hill out of the village. This hill gets increasingly steep as you travel north. On a previous ride, I had had to get off and walk the last part, but not this time. We then turned off to Maria Larch (Mary of the Larches, a small church), this time instead of turning off the road to go cross county (on a track which is in winter a x-country ski trail) we continued up the road to Eggen.

Cycling through Eggen

From Eggen we cycled on along quiet roads through fields full of horses to Gnadenwald, joining the main road again at St. Michael. As road riding on mountain bikes isn’t as much fun as trail riding, we turned off the road again, after about 1 km, at St. Martin.

Following the off road trail, Bernhard and I raced off ahead again as usual, after we crossed the dry riverbed of the Fallbach I stopped to wait for Ulli. I heard a loud skidding noise and thought that sounds impressive, then silence. After a minute or so, Ulli still hadn’t appeared so I went back to have a look, and found Ulli standing by her bike with grazes on her arm and knee. Ulli said she was fine and so we cycled on to where Bernhard was waiting. Then Bernhard and I decided that it would be best for Ulli if she were to go to hospital to get her wounds cleaned up, so he went off to get his car and Ulli and I made our way to the nearest car park, a few minutes away.

Taking Ulli in to hospital, I expected them to just clean her up put on a dressing and send her home. So when she came out of the treatment room with a bandage on her arm and knee, I thought that’s it over, lets go home. But she said she had to wait and see someone else as they wanted to put her leg in plaster for ten days, as she had hole in her knee close to the Bursa synovialis (or in German: Schleimbeutel, which translates literally as slime bag) and they felt it would heal faster if the knee was immobilised. Poor Ulli…

Frustrated skier

Frustrated skier

If you go to the Austrian Tyrol in the middle of January for a spot of skiing, you kind of expect (or at least hope for) some snow, but not this year. As we flew in over the Alps on a clear sunny day, the view from the aircraft window was alarming, where was all the snow? It looked more like March than January, the north sides of the mountains only had patchy snow cover and the south faces were largely clear of snow.

In January snow is not always guaranteed in the Tyrol (especially early January), as it can often be quite dry around the new year. However, the low temperatures mean that any snow on the upper slopes stays, so some limited skiing is usually available, but not this year. Not only has the weather been very dry but also very mild, so the lower pistes were clear of snow. On the upper pistes, where there was some snow, the surface of the snow had melted and then frozen. The first few days there were an unusually large number of yellow helicopters flying along the Inn valley, which is not a good sign. The local news told us that the hospitals were reporting a larger than normal number of upper leg fractures, shoulder and back injuries. For an intermediate skier like me, the opportunity of skiing on the ice of the upper pistes was not an appealing prospect.

My normal fallback position in this situation is to take the train to Seefeld and go x-country skiing. Seefeld is on a high plateau (above 1000 m). Unfortunately for me, there was little snow in Seefeld due to the dry conditions, and what little snow there was, was in use for the Nordic Combined Championships. Now while I am a competent x-country skier, I am not anywhere near that good and I can’t ski jump. So Seefeld was out.

Then came the storm. Before the storm there were warnings of high winds of up to 100 km/h all across western Europe. Coming from Scotland, where wind of 60 mph are normal in winter, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and in the Tyrol the general attitude was that it would be no worse than the Föhn, but just to be on the safe side many ski uplifts were closed and everything lashed down. When the wind did arrive, it seemed a bit of an anticlimax, as it was relatively light in Tyrol. The TV news on the other hand showed a trail of damage across Europe including other parts of Austria. Turning to BBC World it was briefly mentioned that there were 13 dead in the UK before moving on to more World news. To find out more, I tried Sky News, only to be told at length about the goings-on in the Big Brother House.

Unlike the Föhn which is usually followed by heavy snow, during this storm the temperature rose reaching a record 20°C in Innsbruck (remember this was in mid January in a place where -20°c is not unusual). So it was that I found myself out mountain biking in a tee shirt up a x-country ski track which a year previously I had taken great delight in skiing down (and back up).

ski track leading to Maria Larch

For those whose German is not so good, the sign says:
The ski track leading to Maria Larch [Mary of the Larches, a small church] 2.6Km, the middle part is difficult, stay in the right hand track, you use this track at your own risk.

Now addiction is a terrible thing, especially when it is one which can only be satisfied for a few months each year (and no, skiing on artificial snow in a big shed is not the same thing, especially if it is in Dubai). Walking through the woods looking at the spring flowers is all very well but is something I would much rather do in April or May.

Fortunately two days before we left there was a just enough snow at Gschnitztal (shown below) and then locally, at Gnadenwald, to get some skiing in.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
%d bloggers like this: