Humor Travel Life
Guest Article by Jim Zwarensteyn
Ordinarily you might see a column by Jill about her frequent travels around the world, but today I am taking advantage of an invitation to write a column of my own. I happen to be her father; a member of an outdoor group who regularly get together for hiking, biking, kayaking, cross-country-country skiing, and cultural activities.
24 members of the group had an opportunity to take a trip to Austria for a bike and barge cruise. As long as we were there, many of the group took trips before or after. I did both! So, on August 24 I hopped a Delta flight from Grand Rapids to Vienna with stops in Detroit and Amsterdam. I arrived to meet four others from the group with a rented car and drove about 5 hours to Karnten (Carinthia) in the Austrian Alps to a “hutte” at about 5,000 feet. We stocked up on groceries and began our hiking adventures the next morning.
We spent three days hiking and exploring our mountain area; generally eating breakfast and hiking about 1.5 hours until running into a mountain hutte (they turn up often out of nowhere), where it was strudel and coffee time. We'd hike again until lunch (another hutte) and hike more until we arrived home for dinner. One day we rode a cable car to the bottom of the mountain to an alpine lake where we took a boat ride around the lake. Eventually, we visited a beautiful waterfall and later a schnitzel lunch and back to the cable car.
Day 5 took us to a remote area where Austria meets Italy and Slovenia. Then it was another ride up a mountain and hiking the area to another alpine lake, the “Weissensee”, where a couple of us took advantage of the beautiful weather to jump in. It was cold but bearable. The next day we paid a visit to a castle high on a bluff, and the following day was rain, so we drove through a national park that took hours and then back to Vienna.
Vienna is ground zero for culture. For me, this was Nirvana. I am a retired music teacher and still actively performing. This is not only the home of Mozart and the Strauss family, but also the seat of the Hapsburg Empire. What can you do in a 1.5 days? Turns out a lot. Pretty much alone here, but got to see palaces, a concert, the city, and even the end of summer festival with music and food. I met so many nice people there just sitting and striking up conversations with anyone who might speak English!
Saturday we embarked on our Danube cruise on the Merlijn, a tiny Dutch barge converted into a comfortable ship with only 24 berths. Our group had the boat. Each morning we would have breakfast and then get our lunch, travel bag, helmet and assigned bike, and then we'd ride along the Danube with our guide, Ilsa. We rode through small towns, vineyards, and forests each day, stopping for breaks, food, and a lot of sightseeing. There were more castles, palaces (the Hapsburgs were everywhere), and wineries than I imagined. We would meet the Merlijn later in the day when we could clean up and have dinner. Each day we rode anywhere from 25 to 40 miles. We debarked in Passau, Germany. Passau is a gem of a town. They have a gothic cathedral where there is a daily pipe organ recital. If you do nothing else, do this. Get there early, though, because the church fills up. I stayed in a hostel that was a converted fortress. $30.00 for a dorm room that had two of us and a breakfast that was more than adequate.
Then a fellow group member, Paul, and I took off for a week of traveling. We spent time in Salzburg, where we saw the birth house of Mozart, a mountain fortress, everything Sound of Music, and more beer and food. In Munich (Octoberfest time), more downtown sightseeing and of course, a liter of beer at the biergarten. In Bamberg, we visited another brauhaus (I know, it sounds like we had a lot of beer!) and joined a walking tour of the town from a river cruise group.
From there we made or way to Bad Durkheim where they claim to have the largest wine festival in the world and I believe it. It’s a tiny village, but they fill up with people. Every tent was packed. We sat at tables and met the friendliest people you can imagine. And did I mention wine? Lots of wine; white, rose, red and more white. With German brats and bread to soak it up.
From there it was off to Trier, which is a UNESCO world heritage site to behold. It was the seat of the western Roman Empire for a time and is chock full of Roman architecture and ruins, including an amphitheater. This place is jaw dropping beautiful. The next day we were off to Schiphol to catch a ride home, but not before meeting up with a cousin of mine from Rotterdam, Netherlands. She took us to an Indonesian buffet restaurant where we talked and laughed and made a promise to see each other again.
A few things about the trip. For our stay in the Carinthia, we bought a Karnten Card. It got us free unlimited rides on the cable cars as well as boat rides on the lakes and admission to castles, national parks and trails. For 50 euros, it is a deal. Also, hostels are clean and affordable in Europe. On our Germany portion, Paul and I stayed at Airbnbs. Each one turned out great, even though a couple looked a little dingy from the outside. Our hosts were all nice and had directions to get the property and ideas on what to do. Getting from town to town was by rail and really simple to navigate. We used the Deutchbahn site to get our tickets and it was very user-friendly. The Merlijn is part of a small ship group that does their own marketing. Small barges are so much more personal, and they specialize in biking and have their own web site. This was a 25 day adventure that I may never be able to do again, but the memory will stay with me forever. A special thanks to my daughter for watching her mom while I was out playing and to her mom, Cathy, for letting me do this. Auf Wiedersehen.
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About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com