Saturday 4/6

After a good night's sleep we go downstairs for breakfast & talk about Bratislava and Slovakia in general. We both agreed in a previous conversation that whilst Poland had some very interesting places to see, there wasn't anything startlingly interesting about just mooching around the Country itself. On the other hand Slovakia, well the Tatra mountains anyhow, is a whole different thing. Its just so much more attractive and interesting. The plains are a bit dull but if you stay out of them and in the mountains then its beautiful, has a certain different-ness which help make it feel more foreign and the riding is pretty damn good too.

Neither of us are impressed with Bratislava (although to be fair we've hardly seen much of it). It seems very much the same as any European town and doesn't seem to have any real independent character of its own. This absolutely must be due to the fact that Vienna is so very close.

Jerry reminds me, in case I've forgotten, that yesterday's mushroom soup was the food of the Gods and so there is one thing at least to commend Bratislava for. Sigh.

Back to the room to get out the Gillette razor bought in the Levice Tesco's yesterday. Its got a battery & vibrates as it shaves – or it should. I can't tell if the battery is dead or the razor knackered. Anyway, I decide to give the beard a bit more time and just trim it. Of course my general cack-handedness and not having trimmed a beard in some years means this turns into one of those irritating situations where it goes a bit wonky. Right, so that's me mildly cross and with an unintentional goatee then. Bugger.

A bit like Krakow, getting out of the place is slightly difficult. It would be dead easy if we wanted to go to Vienna but we don't; we want to go below and round it. We have both been to Vienna before and neither of us were overly impressed and anyhow what's the point of riding through a city when you don't have to?

Jerry's leading today and he demonstrates no problem at all with a dodgy U-turn (usually my forte!) to get us out on what seems to be the right road. We cross the river and head off to the border, where we encounter a very buxom and very stern Border guard. Shortly after crossing, we ride by a huge wind farm with hundreds of generators. Curiously, only about 70% of them are pointing into the wind and not all of them are turning. Maybe the others are being serviced? It turns out we've used a very quiet border crossing that, rather helpfully, doesn't go to Vienna. This is what we wanted to do, of course, but it was entirely by accident.

In some strange competition with East Germany there are loads of road closures and we end up on dual carriageways until we get South of Wiener Neustadt where Jerry realises he might die of sheer boredom if we continue on these roads for much longer and heads onto the minor roads. Thank goodness for that!

We wind along Austrian main roads, coping with the usual level of Austrian traffic (lots) and feeling slightly sullied by picture perfect, neat and inhumanly tidy towns and villages.

For the first time in a long time the weather is slightly greying and a cooler. It started off damn hot but as we move out of the plains, there is some slight relief. This is very pleasant and helps make the rise into the Austrian mountains very much better than it could have been. With hindsight, it was rather ominous but of course...

As we go through Gutenstein (or close thereabouts) we pass a few other bikes. They're just setting off & we quickly leave them behind. Not long afterwards, one of them appears in my mirrors, there but some distance away. As the road twists and turns, he's out of sight again for some time. When I notice him next, he's a lot closer. Jerry picks up the pace, although I couldn't say if it was related to this chap catching up or not. I'm working hard now as we enjoy this twisty road. Round a corner, fortunately one we have to slow right down for, downhill and there's no road! They've taken up the road surface and left it as gravel & hardcore. Jerry ploughs on through but I have to slow down. I'm proud of the fact that I go through a lot faster than I once would have and can at least still see Jerry when I exit this ¼ mile stretch. The rider behind us has had to slow right down.

After this, he must have got a right wiggle on because he catches us up very quickly and when he passes us he absolutely disappears. As Jerry said later , I don't know if he needed to get in the groove or if we were just holding him up before, but I sure as hell wasn't going to try to follow!

We stop for lunch in Mariazell and park up outside a café at the top of a remarkably steep slope down to the rest of the town. We sit outside, order a light lunch & chat vaguely. As we sit, enjoying the peace & quiet, the waiter comes out with a remote speaker for the radio playing in the café. Bang goes the peace and quiet.

After we've eaten, Jerry decides that the repair to his lid isn't quite right & the visor mechanism needs adjusting so he disassembles things & generally fiddles until its right. As he does, I look at the distant clouds and we both decide it doesn't look like there's an issue.

A word on clothing. I'm wearing a BMW waterproof jacket, Hood armoured jeans and Altberg boots. In one of my panniers is the waterproof trousers to go with the jacket but they are very warm when on & so in the weather we've had, I've avoided wearing them. Haven't needed to, see. Jerry has a BMW jacket with waterproof lining, he always wears waterproof salopettes & is also using Altberg boots. I'm sure you can see where this is going, can't you?

So off we go, out of Mariazell and into the mountains. The clouds gather and within half an hour its raining. Very shortly after that its pouring down and very shortly after that it's a proper rain-storm. I get nervous as I realise that in places the water running in metres wide streams across the road is several centimetres deep and flowing pretty fast. Jerry keeps a higher speed up than me and gets quite a long way ahead.

Suddenly, I'm bogged down in the Fear. Anyone who rides will probably know this one now and then. It comes to me when I'm in unexpected or unprepared for circumstances. Its a total loss of confidence in one's own abilities and the bike's capabilities. I lose all vestiges of smoothness - which of course makes things worse - and slow down. Every corner will pitch me off, every stream of water on the road is where the tyres will let go. Visions of highsides, lowsides and every other way you can fall off a motorcycle flood my imagination. Its a real struggle to keep going and even harder to pick things up to my normal pace but I've got to do it or I'll just spend even longer in the rain. Ipush on, but it doesn't really go for some hours - not until we're near stopping for the day.

The water has soaked my trousers, which normally would keep water out for well over an hour. I can feel it running down the denim and into my boots. I want to stop and put my waterproof trousers on but there's absolutely nowhere sheltered to do it. As we go through various tunnels along the side of the mountains, I consider stopping there and changing, but it would be mad. There's other traffic on the road and there's no pavement in these unlit and often curved tunnels. This means they're still running with water. I give up on the idea - it'd be uncomfortable & quite possibly begging for an accident.

An hour later and I'm in despair. I'd give an awful lot to be at home on the sofa with meJulie. The rain has soaked my trousers and run inside my boots. My visor has fogged right up around my pinlock anti-fog insert and the water running into the visor from above has beaded on the back of the pinlock insert, making that hard to see through too. My gloves feel like huge carrier bags full of cold water and to top it all my jacket is starting to let water in as well. The only thing keeping me alive is my heated grips, which prevent my hands from freezing off.

Just before Reithtal, Jerry stops in the motorway underpass where there's enough shelter to quickly talk. His 'waterproof' gear has gone the same way as mine and opened itself up to the deluge. We're cold and miserable. There's no way we can sensibly make it to Berchtesgaden tonight, despite the rain having recently slackened down to merely heavy. Its only about three hours away but it might as well be on the moon, the condition we're in.

We talk about jumping on the Autobahn but it doesn't look like it'll make much difference to the trip's duration. Looking at the map, the next place we can get to that will probably have somewhere to stay is Radstadt. We take a few mins to wring out our gloves and despair at the sudden weather change and then head out of the shelter and off.

By the time we get to Radstadt, the rain has slackened to thick drizzle and the road expanded to dual carriageway. We take the appropriate exit and are immediately presented with a T-junction and no idea whether to go left or right. We go right. Its wrong. This way is mainly residential with the one large and rather expensive looking hotel at which the Austrian Jaguar Poseurs Club appear to be holding a convention. we go back to the junction and go the other way. Straight to another T-junction. Well, if right was wrong last time, we'll go left. Its wrong. The village peters out at what looks rather like a damp & slightly mouldy lumberyard. One more damn U-turn and we head into the village.

We go past the village square, only it is blocked off with metal fencing, so we can't actually see it. Too zombied to care, we ride past and pull up outside what looks to be a somewhat hotel-like building. If it is, its a closed hotel that it most resembles so we move on - all of 25 yards round the corner.

There's a guesthouse and while I slump on my bike, Jerry goes in to see if there's a room. He is away for an inordinate length of time and I'm seriously considering sleep by the time he returns. He is wearing a grin almost wider than his face!

It turns out they haven't got a room. They have got a sort of suite type thing though! We traipse in, past the enormous woman that runs the place, into a tiny lift for one two floors and down the corridor to the, er, suite. There's a hall with bathroom and toilet off it, a lounge complete with sofa, TV and single bed and a bedroom off that with a double bed in it. Jerry volunteers to take the single bed in the lounge and so I put my panniers in the bedroom.

I put my lid down in the hall and start to peel myself out of my bike gear. This is harder than it might seem as everything is sodden, as indeed am I. My hands have gone tender and crinkled as though I've been in the bath too long. I'm cold enough to be shivering to myself a little and my kit is all sticking to me slightly. I decide to unpeel the gloves and then take the boots off. The gloves are no problem but when I take my boot off I get a reminder of the rain. I turn the boot upside down and about 1/2 a pint of water spills out all over the hall carpet. I start to giggle insanely at this cartoon-like image! The next boot is emptied into the bath...

We take turns to shower (thank the Gods for the invention of showers) and change into something less damp and decorate the lounge with wet clothing. We then spend an hour in the bathroom. Why? There's a hair dryer attached to the wall and we take it in turns to blast hot air into our boots, hoping that this will encourage them to dry out. Its a slightly forlorn hope, but the only one we've got.

And so the time comes to go downstairs for our evening meal. We sit right in the corner of the main room and watch the goings on. To our left are three young Austrian lads and a pretty girl, all in national costume and accompanied by musical instruments (mainly accordions. Woe). As we order our first beer, they start tuning up. On the other side of the room is a large table surrounded by guests, many of whom are also in some amount of national dress. We realise we may have strayed into something weird but as we don't get asked to move, we order food. And beer, of course.

As they tune up, one of the lads gets an acoustic guitar out and strums a few bars of this and that before thumping out half a dozen bars of 'Smoke on the Water' which makes us both crease up!

A grin from the 'band' and then they're off into traditional stylee Local Music for Local People with gusto. The massed accordions (well, two and sometimes three) mean that they don't actually qualify as an oompah band as such, but the music they're playing is in that vein, so we consider them such. Great. We're sitting in the corner of the restaurant within 10 ft of an oompah band whilst what looks suspiciously like a birthday celebration for a village Elder takes place. There's only one thing to do: get pissed, so we (just slightly) do.

Steaks and beer. That's a nice combination, even though curiously the beer here isn't overly good. I mean, its acceptable but we must have been spoiled over the last week because this stuff just doesn't taste quite right. It has a vaguely bland flavour, a bit like Austria itself, really. Still, with good, warm food inside and watching drunken Austrian old folks dance to an oompah band, things aren't so bad. Mind you, it is still raining...

Image of route

Mapsource .gdb file of track

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