Saturday, September 30: This morning, we leave our hotel early to get to our Pedal Power Wachau Winery Bike Tour. We take metro to the Vienna Opera, then walk 10 minutes to the Pedal Power office.
We arrive early, where we find the doors of Pedal Power closed. We return to a cafe near the metro stop, where we have an espresso and croissant and use the restroom. Because we stopped for this treat, we arrive exactly at 8:15, the appointed meeting time. One of the Pedal Power guys who is checking people in gives us some good-natured grief for not arriving early: “When you fly somewhere do you show up right on time? If you did that, the plane would leave without you!”
As a group, we take the metro to the U-Bahn stop, where we see an incinerator whose patchwork façade was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau. The waste incineration plant is one of three thermal waste treatment plants in Wien Energie. The plant represents the second largest producer in the district heating network of the city of Vienna.
Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau has almost as unusual a façade as the Hundertwasserhaus that we visited the first day we arrived in Vienna.
From the metro stop, we take a double-decker train for an hour and 10 minutes to Krems an der Donau.
Giovanni from Sicily, our fabulous tour leader, shows us a map of the area where we’ll be biking. We’ll start at Krems an der Donau, stop at a small private winery, stop for lunch in Dürnstein, and then ride to another small winery in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau. From there, we’ll take a ferry across the Danube and bicycle back along the south of the Danube to the bridge near Krems an der Donau, cross over, then take the train back to Vienna. It’s to be a 26km bike ride altogether.
When we arrive at Krems an der Donau, Giovanni unlocks a small storage room and equips us all with bicycles. We have sixteen in our group, ten friends who went to Loyola University Maryland together, four Brits, one of whom is a swim coach, and us.
We ride a while along the main road in Krems an der Donau, with Giovanni in the lead. We have to cross a number of intersections with traffic lights, and some people get held up by the lights. Mike has taken it upon himself to keep an eye our for stragglers. I’m up in front behind Giovanni. At some point, we make a right turn off the main road onto a cobbled street. I’m looking around for Mike and some of the others are looking for their friends, who have disappeared. We wait and wait, and still the rest of the group doesn’t catch up to us. Since we have turned off the main road, I’m worried that the rest of the group has gone straight on the main road and has no clue that we’ve turned. Giovanni goes back to search for the rest of the group while we wait.
I call Mike on his cell phone and luckily he answers. He says, “One of those guys doesn’t know how to ride a bike! I finally gave up trying to wait around for him.” I ask him where he is, and by his description, which doesn’t sound familiar, it seems he has overshot our turn. He eventually makes his way to where we’re waiting. He tells us when he arrives that one of the guys in the Loyola group doesn’t know how to ride a bike. “He rides a few feet, then puts his feet down on the ground and stops and then rides a few feet again. He’ll hold up our whole group. He can’t come along with us!”
Some of the Loyola friends start complaining. They imagine it’s their friend Kyle: “He’s been a freaking pain on this whole trip!”
How ridiculous! Why on earth would someone come on a bicycle tour if they don’t even know how to ride a bike? Not only is it common sense, but the website for Pedal Powers says specifically: “Although we bike at a leisurely pace, you should be able to ride a bike!”
We’re waiting for some time at this spot, while Giovanni figures out what to do. During this time, I walk up and down the street at Krems an der Donau and take some pictures.
I find a beautiful church with frescoes on its façade at Krems an der Donau, as well as a fancy statue.
Finally, Giovanni returns. He tells us he took Kyle back to the storage room and put his bike away. He then gave him instructions on how to catch a bus to meet up with the group for lunch in Dürnstein. I guess poor Kyle will have a lot of waiting around to do, as well as having to catch various buses to meet up with us at points along the way.
Our first stop is a small private winery in a rural area in the midst of vineyards. Giovanni has a key to the winery though the owners are nowhere in sight. It’s pleasant to be in a winery where there aren’t hordes of other people around.
Inside the first winery, Giovanni pops a cork and gives us our first tasting.
Inside the private winery, a cozy kitchen area occupies the main floor.
Giovanni grabs a couple of bottles and brings them out behind the winery, where we taste several other wines while admiring the garden and the views of the vineyards.
Outside at the winery are some pretty gardens and seating areas.
We leave the winery, and on the way to Dürnstein, pass through bucolic countryside with lines of vineyards flanked by low-lying mountains.
When we arrive in Dürnstein, we park our bicycles and head to a gasthaus for lunch.
I enjoy a dish of roasted vegetables in Dürnstein.
We have about an hour in Dürnstein to do whatever we want. Mike climbs to Burgruine Dürnstein, also known as Kuenringer castle, a ruined medieval castle perched on a rocky outcrop at 312 metres (1,024 ft) above sea level, while I wander around the town.
There are so many cute cottages and inviting shops in the town.
On one street, I can see clearly Burgruine Dürnstein above the town. The castle is known for being one of the places where King Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria. He was held there from December 1192 until his extradition in March 1193 to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein and Dürnstein).
In 1663, Conrad Balthasar of Starhembery purchased the castle, which is still owned by his heirs to this date. From 1679 on, however, the castle was no longer habitable and was abandoned. Today, the fortress is part of the “Wachau Cultural Landscape” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein).
I love the window boxes with cascading pink flowers and the metal wall creatures (which remind me of the south of Spain) throughout Dürnstein.
From the town, we can see the cruise boats plying the Danube.
When our appointed meeting time arrives, we hop on our bikes and leave Dürnstein, bicycling through the Wachau Valley on our way to Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.
Upon arriving in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, we park our bikes and climb a steep hill to the next private winery.
We have magnificent views of the valley, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, and the Danube.
What a pretty little town!
Again, Giovanni has the keys to the winery, where he gets out several bottles of wine. We sit on the terrace of this winery for quite a long time; the views are gorgeous, the weather is lovely, and the wines are fabulous.
Inside the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is a seating area and the typical cellar. Again, we have the place all to ourselves.
I take a short walk above the winery, where I find a charming house. A woman comes out and chats with us about our wine group, asking where we’re from and where else we’re going on our travels. She knows Giovanni from his many visits to this winery.
From above, I look down on the winery, with some of our touring group on the terrace, and vineyards, the town and the Danube below.
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is the last town we’ll visit on the north side of the Danube.
We make our way through the town of Weißenkirchen, where we just miss the ferry and have to wait a while for it to come back across the river.
The ferry between Weißenkirchen and Sankt Lorenz is powered not by motor or sail, but by rudder set against the river current, anchored to a cable above the river. The ferry carries passengers, bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.
As we approach Sankt Lorenz, we see a strange nostril sculpture, called the Wachauer Nase, on the shore.
On the south side of the Danube, we ride along several long stretches of roads and through a couple of small towns until we come to a little camping area where we have fabulous views of Dürnstein from across the Danube.
The ride back on the south side of the river is shady, cold and windy, and we all are pedaling fast and hard to get back to warmth. By this time, my behind is killing me!
On the train back to Vienna, Giovanni distributes Drunken Apricots to all of us, which we enjoy! Apparently, Krems is the primary producer of Marillenschnaps, an apricot brandy.
When we arrive back in Vienna at around 7:00 p.m., we stop at an Italian restaurant which is so crowded that the maître d‘ asks if we’d like to share a table with two British ladies, Jill and Liz. They are exuberant and chatty. They met each other 36 years ago when they worked as au pairs for Vienna families and came back here on holiday to take a trip down memory lane.
I enjoy a dinner of tagliatelle with tomato and mozzarella and Mike has lasagna with Bologne sauce, accompanied by wine.
What a fun but exhausting day! This has been one of our favorite days on our trip.
Tomorrow, we’re heading to Český Krumlov in Czech Republic.
Total steps today: 14,725 (6.24 miles) + ~ 26 kilometers (16 miles) by bicycle. 🙂