Autumn trees 5 – cycling in Austria, how come?

I’m presently cycling from Passau, the last town in Germany, through Austria, towards Vienna. Right now I’m in Melk, a town with an imposing striped abbey on a cliff above the town, where cruise boats pull in just like at Kotor, that I’d never heard of before.

This ride is the latest link in something I’ve been doing for a while. I’m going to explain about that; so today, there aren’t any trees. If it’s boring, skip it – the next blog will be about the ride itself.

One weekend in April 2008 I cycled out from our house, in Brussels, to Arlon at the other, south-easterly, end of Belgium. From there I have mostly walked (with a bit of cycling) to Eferding in Upper Austria. Fourteen trips and forty-seven days, via Schengen, Saarbrucken, Wissembourg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Ulm, Donauworth, Ingoldstadt and Passau.

There are a few gaps in my route. One hot day in Lorraine, the dog Biscuit couldn’t walk any further. We took a taxi 10 km to Bitche. At Karlsruhe, I took the funicular up the hill east of the city, for fun. And for train-timetable reasons I once restarted the walk not at Münchmunster in Bavaria, but at a another station nearby. Otherwise it is a continuous line.

When you do something as big as this, I suppose it’s normal to forget why you’re doing it.

I can think of three possible reasons:

  • I am glad that my work takes me all over Europe. But it is generally to capital cities. This is about the places in between.
  • I like Richard Long’s work. I like to imagine my route as a line, a cross-section of Europe. That line exists because I made it.
  • From the beginning, I wanted to take photographs of the route, and to write about it at the same time.

Just like my current efforts to learn Russian, there’s a fourth reason. Now I’ve started, I want to do it until it is done.

When will it be done?

I was inspired by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A time of gifts. Following him, I thought of walking to Istanbul. (He calls it Constantinople. Is this a generational term? I remember one of my grandmother’s jokes: Constantinople is a very long word. Spell it.  – the answer is i, t.)

So I’ve been aiming southeast. But I’ve modulated the route for reasons of linguistic incompetence. French is the only foreign language I really speak. After a discouraging couple of days in Germany, entering from Luxembourg at Schengen, I jumped back into France, finally crossing into Germany only when I had to, at France’s almost-most-easterly point, Wissembourg.

I then had to use German, of which I have some rudiments and am picking up some more. So now I’m in the German-speaking lands, I’m staying in them as far east as possible. For some time, therefore, I’ve been heading for Vienna, the most easterly German-speaking city.

These choices have put a bit more east into my route.

Now, I’m trying to learn Russian. This makes me inclined, after Vienna, to carry on through Slovakia (where a Slavic language is spoken) rather than Hungary (almost sui generis, linguistically, and supposed to be hard).

That means I seem to be heading east, towards Ukraine and Russia, not southeast.

Recently, therefore, when people have asked where I’m walking to, I’ve said Vladivostok.

But I can’t walk. I have a bad knee. My dashing doctor told that I can, at least, cycle. I prefer walking; but, if this is how it is to be from now on, my chances of reaching Vladivostok have increased.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

One thought on “Autumn trees 5 – cycling in Austria, how come?”

  1. Excellent to hear this rationale. Constantinople is a great destination; Vladivostok will, or possibly would, involve far more walking including, I believe, some very very dull bits. Once you have seen a billion pine trees you have seen them all. Look forward to future episodes.


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