Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Danube Bike Trail: Riding into Austria

Continuing from last week's Danube Bike Trail post, when I'm not heading southeast on the Danube Bike Trail, I go west into Austria. Bratislava is, of course, spitting distance from the Austrian border, and the village of Hainburg an der Donau is about 11-12 miles away via the Danube Bike Trail, and is an obvious destination. The scenery along the bike path in Austria is a bit more interesting and varied - nice lush and rolling hills, smallish crops of corn and sunflowers, a few small picturesque vineyards, and of course, the ruins of Hainburg castle perched atop the hill overlooking the town. Between Bratislava and Hainburg very little of the Danube Bike Trail actually goes anywhere near the Danube, and much of it strays kind of far inland. This stretch of the path also has a few slight, gradual hills as opposed to the almost mind-numblingly level path going southeast in the other direction, making it a bit more interesting as well.

I had this goal of getting Terezia to ride with me to Hainburg so that we could stop at one of the cafes along the river and have a beer, and then complain about how expensive the beer is compared to Slovakia. And that's exactly what we did!

Terezia borrowed her mom's clunky single-speed cruiser and we took a leisurely ride out to Hainburg on an amazingly gorgeous early September Sunday afternoon. Terezia's brother Tony insisted that she wouldn't be able to make it to Hainburg on that bike, but c'mon - the thing may not be ideal, but it has two wheels, two pedals, and it's not broken, so of course Terezia and the bike handled the ~22 mile trip just fine. So take that, Tony!

From the Stare Mesto, you cross the Novy Most (now called SNP Bridge) and pick up the path in Petrzalka, which starts off straight as an arrow.

After a few miles you hit the Austrian border and the old border patrol check point, which thanks to the EU Schengen Area open borders agreement, is completely uneventful, save for a pub on the Slovak side.

After passing the check point, if you look off to your right you can see Bratislava's Karlova ves district in the distance, which is a dense cluster of panelaks nestled on a hill on the opposite side of the Danube (from Austria). It's like Petrzalka but with a view! I swear, when Karlova ves and Petrzalka were being built back in the days of communism, Austrians on the other side of the border must have been scratching their heads.

The panelak insanity that is Bratislava's Karlova ves borough, as seen from Austria.

The path continues on, running parallel to a highway that is moderately busy with cars, most of which seem to have Slovak plates. A good number of Slovaks work in Austria because the pay is generally better, and some of these people may be commuting to work depending on the time of day, while others are probably going shopping.

Eventually you hit the tiny village of Wolfsthal, which is pretty unremarkable, given that a two-lane highway runs through it. Unfortunately, the bike path temporarily fizzles out at the start of the village and you have to join the cars on the highway through the center of the village for about half a mile. But given that most of the traffic consists of Slovaks who are probably paranoid about the potential complications and penalties of clipping a cyclist in a foreign country, most cars give you a wide berth when passing you. Then the bike trail picks back up and all is tranquil again.

After Wolfsthal, the path becomes a bit more scenic, and at certain points you can see Bratislava's Devin castle ruins off in the distance.

Be sure to click this one to enlarge: off on the horizon, that light brown smudge at center-left is Devin castle
Signage along the bike path in Austria. 
Hainburg's hilltop castle ruins.

Once you reach Hainburg, you ride through the town and eventually (finally) reconnect with the Danube. The town is nice, quaint, and looks awfully similar to a lot of Slovak villages in terms of the architecture and layout. The center of town still has one of its medieval gates and its fun to see busses barely clear it when driving through. Walking through Hainburg for the first time, however, it dawned on me that the town was definitely compromised by having a fairly busy highway run through the center of it.

The shore along the Danube is pleasantly scenic and mellow. It's also kind of isolated from the village because it's cut off by a thick wall on top of which there are train tracks and a little station. The wall itself seems to be there to prevent the town from getting flooded, something that's happened numerous times throughout its history.

An old postcard of Hainburg, as seen from across the Danube.

At any rate, we got to the little outdoor cafe overlooking the Danube, and interestingly, all the people around us were speaking Slovak, and even the waitress was speaking limited, broken Slovak to the clientele. Hainburg is clearly a popular weekend destination for Bratislavans.

A nice cold beer to make us totally dehydrated for the ride back to Bratislava!
The Danube Bike Trail goes through Hainburg before crossing the white bridge in this photo across the Danube. 
Today a thick wall with train tracks on top separates Hainburg from its shore along the Danube, presumably because of a long history of flooding. 

I had a goal of, at some point, riding all the way to Vienna and taking the train back to Bratislava. It's totally doable, and it's an easy, flat ride. However, after passing through Hainburg and crossing the bridge over to the north side of the Danube, the path suddenly transforms from well paved to tightly packed gravel. Not ideal, but just barely ridable enough for a road bike. But after a little ways further down, the path devolves into dirt. I don't know how long it continues as a dirt trail, but needless to say, I really didn't want to take my road bike through it. I was kind of surprised, actually, because I have this stereotype of Austrians being really on top of things, and that the path would therefore be nicely paved all the way to Vienna. Not so, apparently. *Shakes fist at Austrians for not living up to stereotype.* But it's entirely possible that it only carries on as a dirt path for a 1/4 or 1/2 mile, so who knows?

At any rate, the ride back to Bratislava is kind of fun, as at various points you start catching glimpses of its funky and distinctive landmarks off in the distance.

Heading back to Bratislava. 
Sorry for this heinously blurry photo (my camera takes crappy photos when you zoom in beyond a certain point), but this is what you see of Bratislava from the Austrian border. 
The Bratislava castle and St. Martin's cathedral suddenly appear through the foliage along the path. 

Of course, once you're in Bratislava, the lovely UFO-shaped SNP Bridge is there to greet you and subdue you with laser beams.

Not a challenging ride by any means, but kind of fun, and good for those mornings when I don't have lots of time but want to get a ride in. Next will be getting to and riding up the bike path along the Morava River, and/or crossing the new "Chuck Norris" cycle/pedestrian bridge that crosses the Morava near Devin into Austria.

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