Cycling Europe 2011 – part 3: Austria, (Switzerland), France, Belgium and Holland

The original goal of our cycling trip was to made it to Vienna. We were hoping to make it all the way to Paris, but basically, whatever we would achieve after Vienna would be a bonus.

To be honest, when we got to Vienna, where we were lucky enough to stay with a friend, we really didn’t think it had been that hard at all. Obviously there were days when the kilometres seemed to go on endlessly, but all in all it had been very enjoyable and the days just rolled by.

So after a few days in Vienna (not one of my favourite cities to visit be honest, I find it a little bit dull and serious), we decided to continue cycling towards France. We had four weeks before we had to be in Holland to see my cousin and her other half and to fly out back to Asia, which meant we couldn’t afford to “waste” any days and would have to take the train a couple of times too. However as we had had so much fun cycling there was no reason why we wouldn’t just continue and do much as we could with the time we had.

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View of Vienna

Cycling from Budapest to Vienna along the Donau had not been that interesting to be frank, and the route from Vienna to Krems and der Donau was just boring. After that we decided we had had enough and didn’t follow the route any further. It is very easy and the river is nice, but to experience any of the action of the towns and cities you need to do side trips and loops, something we found a bit of a bother.

Anyway, we arrived in Krems completely soaked and as the rain continued the next morning we in fact decided to take the train to Linz. After all that cycling it was incredible how quick and easy it was!

From Linz to Salzburg (staying in Gmunden, Salzburg and Worgl) was the most beautiful part of the whole trip, especially the ride from Gmunden to Salzburg. Although we didn’t quite realise beforehand how much climbing we would be doing going up… then down to a lake, then up… and then down to another lake, and up…and so on, but it was all worth it. The area is called Salzkammergut (Lake District), definitely check it out if you are planning to visit Austria. Salzburg was also beautiful and we spent an extra day there enjoying a local festival.

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Salzburg

And the Alps. They are gorgeous. And except for the passes the riding was actually easy, as most of the time we were riding in a flat valley. I wish we could’ve experienced the mountains a bit more, but the weather was getting too cool for camping (last night we camped was in Gmunden), and otherwise it would’ve been a bit too expensive for our budget (especially as I wanted to go to the Swiss alps). Plus we didn’t really have time anyway.

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Scooter meet-up in Innsbruck!

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Innsbruck

Hence from Innsbruck we took a scenic train ride to Zurich 300 kilometres away (it would’ve taken us ages to get there by bike, as the western end of Austria has only few roads and big big uphills), and after a night with local hosts we quickly cycled to Basel and over to the much cheaper French side for the night (29 euros compared to 110 euros…).

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The next seven days or so we had a beautiful time cycling through the French countryside (staying in Belfort, Besancon, Dijon, Chatillon-sur-Seine, Troyes, Provins), stopping in pleasant Dijon for an extra day. And then we were in Paris! It was my first time there and I loved every minute of our four-day stay. And how handy was it to have the bikes to go around the city.

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From Paris we again took the train, this time to Saint-Quentin near the Northern border, after which we practically raced to Belgium, stopping in Thuin and Leuven (including some hours of sightseeing in chilly Brussels), before crossing over to Holland, where we spent a night in Breda before a day of fully flat riding on cycling paths only, arriving in Haag exactly on the “scheduled” day, and having ridden altogether 4,264 kilometres across Europe since leaving Tallinn. Not a poor effort if I may say so myself.

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The roads from Austria to Holland were in great condition, and except for Austrians, who were quick to tell us if we didn’t do something the “right” way, and who didn’t particularly like having us outside cycling paths, the drivers were courteous and obviously used to cyclists. In France they were almost overly courteous! Of Belgium and Holland I would recommend touring in Belgium, as Holland is just flat and almost like one big suburb with big centres. Not that exciting in other words. But then again, we didn’t see any of the Eastern side (we took the train from Haag to Amsterdam as one of our bikes found a new owner in Haag).

I did get tired, not so much physically as mentally, towards the end of the trip (after Paris, really), as making it to Paris would’ve been the perfect ending for me. But instead finishing there and relaxing maybe in Leuven and Antwerp/Bruges for a few days, and seeing a bit more of Belgium, my other half insisted we make a mad rush by bikes without me having any enthusiasm for it. But it wasn’t too bad, and we had plenty of time to relax in Sri Lanka after that.

And although I didn’t feel like cycling for a while after the trip, we are now planning another tour for next year. This time we are going to cycle from Athens to Madrid, via Swiss Alps of course! That is after we do a bit of a tour in Taiwan first that is… I can’t wait!

P.s. If you are not fussed about where you are staying, check out Hotel F1 (also known as Formule 1) in France: they are usually a few kilometres outside the cities but with a bike it’s not a problem. They are cheap!

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