When my train arrived yesterday evening Tobi was, unexpectedly, on the platform to meet me.
I’ve found the guest/host relationship on CouchSurfing and Warm Showers – both web-based hospitality communities but the latter expressly for bicycle tourists – can quickly form and, even untended, be lasting.
Tobi and Sarah had stayed with me and my then-husband in 2012. They were medical students. Their Austrian university allowed/encouraged their students to do learning-rotations at hospitals overseas. They were in the midst of a year-long series of such placements interspersed with travel when they visited us in Sydney.
At the time, the idea of visiting them was a slim, but desirable, hope. But two and a half years on, down one husband but immersed in my own adventure, here I am in Bludenz and here is Tobi – warm and welcoming.
They are now proper doctors and working in the hospital in this small, beautifully situated city in the far west of Austria – which smells of chocolate (courtesy of the Milka factory). They have a great flat with a great view. Their company and conversation brought a day which had begun with my wishing to be elsewhere to an uplifting end.
They assured me that the woman I’d met on the train was right – a mostly-flat, mostly-off road cycleway runs from Bludenz to Lake Constance and beyond. So a new course was set.
I awake to this spectacular view and spend the morning plotting the details of the coming week. I map the route and send requests to Warm Showers and Couchsurfing hosts further up the track and get positive replies from hosts in Hard, Konstanz and Montbeliard.
In the afternoon I go for a wander around Bludenz running some errands as I go: getting a new smaller water bottle, finding a map and putting a couple of cards in the post. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and it all smelled of chocolate.
In the evening Tobi, Sarah, two of their friends and I pile into their brand new collective Kia electric car (they are starting their own car-sharing group). We drive across the valley where the city lies and up, up, up the hill on the far side – the one which can be seen from their place. Here, we go for an evening’s amble, visit a dairy to eat cheese and drink buttermilk as the cows are led back out to pasture after their milking. It was all so very Austrian and lovely.