Aldi is called Hoffer in Austria and before leaving Bludenz I get an Austrian SIM card here for less that EUR 2. Sarah and Tobi had helped me research my options – to keep using my Italian SIM is too pricey – and the Hoffer card looks a good deal. Now if I can just make it work. I’ll need help from tonight’s host with the German, I think.
I won’t say that more of my German has returned but I am feeling more confident about using the little I have. My ear seems to be tuning more to the sounds of the language and picking out the few familiar words as they flash by. My Italian – poor as it is – is much much better than my German.
As promised the day’s ride is almost entirely flat or downhill. The sun shines, the big mountains retreat behind me and are replaced by low green hills on either side of the River Ill. With school holidays nearly upon us it looks like Austrian schools, like their Australian counterparts, fill the final days with outings. The cycleway teams with school groups.
Near a vibrantly greeny-blue lake – allowing one such train of 12-year-olds to pass, I meet a Dutch couple I judge to be in their 70s. It’s taken them 13 days to ride here from home. They are riding into Northern Italy, retracing my path, more or less, as far as Verona, then to Venice, Florence, and Cinque Terre with a return to the Netherlands via Basel. They will ride for about six weeks.
So many of the cycle tourists I’ve passed along the way have been, let’s say, mature aged – which is fantastic. Most are on regular pushies but many are on electric-assist bicycles. I think it’s such a pity that more of their age-peers in Australia can’t enjoy such trips for a lack of safe and welcoming infrastructure.
The river and the cycleway join the mighty Rhine – wide, swift and icy blue-green.
I stop and make a coffee gazing at Switzerland on the far side and thinking land borders are magnificent (if your neighbours aren’t inclined to invade).
After the coffee I begin missing Australia. Well, Australia’s devotion to public toilets. Along the Via Claudia Augusta there were at least signs letting me know what services could be found in nearby towns, and the path traversed villages – nearly all of whom had a bar – so for a EUR 1 espresso a visit to a toilet was purchased. But this route, now – while lovely – skirted towns, had no informative signs and provided no amenities of its own.
Late in the afternoon I come to a Radler Bar – or cyclists bar – attached to a swimming pool and water park. I have a low-alcohol citrusy beer-thing Tobi had introduced me to called, as well, a Radler – basically a very refreshing light beer drunk by cyclists and other sporty types mid or after sport. Top marks to you Austria.
My day’s destination is Hard – a town near Lake Constance – where I am being hosted by Berni from CouchSurfing. Because my phone isn’t working I had cleverly looked up where to find WiFi in Hard and soon find myself having an Austrian McDonald’s cheeseburger and using their WiFi to connect with Berni.
We meet at one of the farms where she helps out – as in Burgeis – cows live in town, beneath their owners homes, and there are paddocks here too. Berni has moved to Hard from Vienna with dreams of farming. For now she still has a day job in a bank but is learning the ropes from a couple of different farmers in the area. She shares this with me as we sit in the sun drinking beers at the farm – cows lowing in the background and neighbours enjoying drinks in the garden on this warm summer’s evening.
Back at her flat we share a meal and good conversation. She helps with the phone – which proves slightly more challenging than hoped, but comes right in the end.
Given the uncertainly I felt arriving into Bludenz – I’ve had a really nice days riding, a sociable evening and I fall asleep knowing what the next few days, at least, will bring – it’s a nice feeling.