When we lived in Colorado, Pat biked – up and down mountain roads and around hair pin turns. Me? No way. So it was natural he bought a bike when we moved to Bratislava, and that I did not. Besides, I hadn’t ridden in 30 years. Every night at dinner, Pat would tell me a new biking story.
“Wow, today I found a World War I cemetery in Petrazalka.”
“The market was open in the main square in Hainburg.”
“Pat, you biked to Austria?”
“Sure. The border is only 20 minutes from our apartment.”
Eventually, I broke down and bought a bike, only to commission it as an overflow clothes-drying rack. Then, one day, Igor and Vlasta invited us to bike with them to Austria. We accepted, and I became frantic – but not enough to practice.
During that first ride, I grew more and more confident. After that ride, Pat and I took off every sunny weekend – both Saturday and Sunday, sometimes even Friday evening. When friends visited, we insisted they ride with us and arranged bike rentals.
In a straight shot from our apartment, we crossed the Danube from Old Town to the paved bicycle path which hugs the far river bank. Turn left and you venture further into Slovakia, pass beer huts which exclusively service the bike trails and cruise by the outskirts of small villages. Go far enough, and you end up at a damn where the Danube widens to more than twice its normal width. On an island in the center is the steel and glass Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum.
But more often than not, we headed right and shortly entered Austria. A row of massive, white, wind turbines turning soundlessly delineates the border, replacing the barbed-wire fence. We stop at a coffee shop, a chocolate factory and the World War I cemetery Pat discovered on his first ride.
Last fall, during our final bike ride, we wound through all those stops before heading up above the Austrian village of Berg and into the hills above town to a parcel of wine cellars tunneled into the hillside. Fall is here, the day just warm enough to be comfortable. The fields are plowed into a crisscross, corduroy pattern of light tans thru deep, chestnut brown. In the distance, grape vines cover the hillsides.
Bikes share the dirt roadways with an occasional car or truck accessing the fields. In the gully lining the road are bushes of thistle which somehow always reminds me of the Queen of England and a beautiful thistle patterned coat she wore to a parade in Scotland. We just happened to be vacation in Edinburgh at the time and my brain has formed this permanent association.
This region is known as Weinstrube Niederosterreich and ultimately runs down to a massive lake perhaps an hour south of Vienna near the Hungarian border. We enter onto a main road for a brief ride near Edelstal and then cut into a lane of weinstrubes – wine cellars. Here we stop and park our bikes at the Gratzer Sandreister winery. It’s a simple place with a restaurant dug into a dirt hill and a sign which traces its history to 1834. There, in a row, one cellar after the next is dug into the hills.
At first, we sit under a veranda of dangling, plump, purple grapes interspersed with basketball-sized pouches of walnuts marked 8 euro. A cluster of men gather around a table at the doorway, drinking and speaking in German. An older man walks up in Liederhosen, thick knit gray socks and brown ankle boots. Is he an actor, a townsman, a worker of some sorts? I have no idea. Closer to us, a family relaxes in Slovak biking jerseys. We are chilly in the shade and move to a spot out in the sun.
Our friend, Igor, orders for all of us – Pat, my childhood friend, Amy, and me. We each end up with a plate of head cheese, liver and other assorted brown meats, onions and peppers. One plate might have served all of us, but we each have our own to plow through. The waitress places a loaf of brown bread and a liter of new, white wine mixed with sparkling water in the center.
During our break, I have concocted a plan. Pat, Igor and Amy will take off for the hills onto Hundsheim, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg and home. Realizing I plan to write a blog about this ride, I will cut the short way home – back to Berg and onto Bratislava. (Plus I have no interest to bike the hills. I have ridden in Igor’s peleton before.)
On the way home, I sit by the side of the road in the middle of acre after acre of fields and just listen, look about, and scribble notes. Groups of bikers pass, very occasionally a farm truck, and almost never walkers given the area is remote from any village. Minus their sounds, I hear nothing, silence. A church tower peeks up over a distant village in the center of orange, tiled roof tops. Way below the paved road snakes past the Coca Cola factory, the only smudge on an otherwise perfect landscape.
Just before I pull up my bike to climb on board and start home, I think about this perfect day; to be reunited with one of my best friends; to see Igor and Vlasta again; to have lived in Bratislava; and to experience, once more, the thrill of simply riding my bike.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava