Friday, September 29, 2006

Top Gun

Another fab week spent in Berndorf with the bestest* family in Austria. Thanks to Paul, Gerlinde, Felix and Japanese Clara for feeding me, keeping me entertained and basically making me feel like I'm at home. A few of the highlights of the week: Walking into a bar in Wiener Neustadt and hearing the theme tune to Top Gun; Cooking food for the family and having about 9 people visit, sit around the table and enjoy my cooking too; talking for 5 hours straight to 4 different classes at the local high school about travel and life in Australia; Meeting Anita's grandma and hearing stories about Anita's uncle who built a boat and sailed around the world, finding pirates and elephants on the way. It's so hard to pick from the many great little experiences I have whilst travelling. I guess I'm just building up deja vu points.

So I rode from Berndorf to Bratislava yesterday. A one hour journey by train from Vienna. But the night before I began the 8 hour ride by bike, I did the trip from Berndorf to Bratislava in about 5 minutes. Serious. I got an extra special ride in an F-18 and flew east from Berndorf across the plains of south eastern Austria. This allowed me to get an idea of what the terrain is like and see which way to go to avoid any nasty hills. A couple of times I blacked out due to G-forces, but eventually I got to the Danube and followed that down towards Bratislava, where I saw the moon rising and the towns I would go through. Once I crossed the border, the scenery below me became confused and the Danube river suddenly disappeared. I guess the graphics for Slovakia aren't as good as they are for Austria. Of course, I wasn't actually flying, I was using one of Paul's flight simulators. It's the first time I've used a computer game to get an idea of the area I'm about, and surprisingly it gave me a pretty good idea of what the followng day's ride would consist of. Even the moon was the same. If I ever visit the tracks featured in Gran Turismo (Nurburgring anyone?), I'll probably know them like the back of my hand.

As for getting to Bratislava, it may have helped if I had written a few directions on the back of my hand. On the way there I got stupidly lost. But it was a good lost, as I got to see a few cool things, including Austria's biggest concentration of wind turbines up close. I'm a sucker for these things. People go on about how it takes 20 years for the costs of setting up a wind farm to break even with conventional energy production, but that's 20 years of energy production with minimal pollution. And like Al Gore says, we have to do something now. Oh yeah.. did I mention I rode a bike?

Anyway, back to getting lost. I found someone's secret crop hidden in a corn field. I haven't touched the stuff in almost ten years, but to see if it was the real deal, I broke some off and ate it. This was the beginning of the end when it comes to being lost. After eating this stuff I forgot about reading the map and just headed in the vague direction of east (vague meaning anywhere but east), busying myself with getting a bit more creative with my camera. By the time my mind was clear, I found that I had followed my directions in circles and had to ride an extra 20km to get back on track.

Luke. Come to the dark side.

I lost my bike lights in Vienna, but as I had planned to be in Bratislava before dark, I held off buying some until I got to the cheaper side of the border. This was a mistake and by 6:30pm I found myself in complete darkness, with the only illumination coming from the occasional swerving truck and beeping car. This was one of the few times I've felt unsafe out on the road, so in an act of desperation, I stole borrowed a flashing roadworks light and tucked it into the back of my trailer. After a bit more riding I finally caught sight of Bratislava Castle lit up in the distance. According to a road sign (not the one in my trailer), the city was only 25km away. Cool, only another hour or so of riding. Or so I thought.

I went past what I first thought was the car only border crossing (correct), then doubled back across a freshly plowed field (mistake), thinking that I had missed the only border crossing (mistake). I got to the Austrian gates and nobody was there, so I continued to the Slovakian gates where i joined a cue of vehicles. When my turn came, the guards looked my bike up and down and just shook their heads. This was not my border crossing. I was instructed to turn around and head for the other crossing, about 15km away, through the town of Kittsee. I was told to hurry as this crossing station closed at 10pm. It was 8pm. Plenty of time. So I headed back up the way I came, took the turn to Kittsee, making my way through the town quickly. Then I hit no mans land. An unlit stretch of road which consisted of a long sweeping bend and then a bridge (also unlit), over the highway. From the bridge I could see the first border crossing I had attempted to use, the border crossing I was headed for and the 500 metre pathway between them. Mo Fos. And instead of a stamp in my passport indicating that I have left Schengen, I got a shrug from the border guards.

Today I bought lights and a helmet. I now feel a lot safer. I broke two lights in the shop just to demonstrate to the shop assistant what kind of quality I demand. Tomorrow I ride to Gyor Hungary. Hopefully the border crossing will be easier.

I also made a movie about cycling in Austria. I hope you enjoy it.

*not a real word

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

So you went the dam along the Danube!

Paul, one of the bestest!

Tom Gray said...

Great post, thanks.

But it was a good lost, as I got to see a few cool things, including Austria's biggest concentration of wind turbines up close. I'm a sucker for these things. People go on about how it takes 20 years for the costs of setting up a wind farm to break even with conventional energy production, but that's 20 years of energy production with minimal pollution.

Actually, the "energy payback" on wind turbines is quite rapid--takes just a few months for one to generate the equivalent in energy to what it took to make it. More info on energy payback here.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association
www.awea.org
www.ifnotwind.org

jo said...

GOLD

Loved the movie!!!

Luke T said...

Next - 'Numa Numa'!

You know you have to do it now :)