Monday, June 11, 2012

Still in Europe, where Speedos and beer rule

It is hard to believe that 10 days have gone by since my last blog update, but here I am sitting in Berlin on a Monday morning and nothing but wonderful memories remain of the early part of June. My time with Sabine was nothing but perfect—we saw so much while enjoying each other's company. After our originally planned week in Keszthely had come to an end we decided to tack on an extra few days at the other end of Lake Balaton since the weather was so nice and the region so inviting. Last Saturday (June 3) we drove the few miles to Balatonfüred where we found an apartment for three nights. We had planned to ride on that Saturday, but we didn't get far with that plan: Our landlord, Lajos, insisted on intoxicating (and damn near blinding) us with home-brewed fire water and wine. So we sat with Lajos on his porch, making sure to stay away from open flames, and talking in passable German to a local about everything Hungarian. Quite the experience!
Flower-covered pastures and hilly terrain made for perfect cycling
The next day, we went on our longest ride of the trip, a metric century for Sabine who hadn't ridden that far in more than 30 years. It was a picture-perfect Sunday, and we rode through some of the loveliest countryside one can imagine. As a landscape architect who recently has been working on various rehab-projects for open spaces, Sabine was simply gushing over all the wildflowers and other vegetation features of the area. The roads were almost empty and in perfect shape—if only Texas had smooth pavement like that!
Scenic, scenic, scenic ...
The next day we took another ferry boat to the south side of the lake and rode in a rather prosperous area with old mansions and swank new villas. Again, hardly anybody in cars was around to disturb the peace and quiet. In one spot we found easy access to the water and stripped down to go for a nice skinny dip. Lake Balaton has an average depth of only 3 meters or so, and we couldn't really walk into the deeper water since our naked bums would have worked like lighthouses for at least half a mile. Foregoing the Speedo (which definitely rules in Hungary where old men can be seen mowing their lawns or riding their bikes in nothing but their leathery skin and their Speedo) felt quite nice, even though we were surprised by a local who walked up on us and thoroughly enjoyed the view of us (well, probably more of Sabine) drying ourselves off on a wooden deck in the afternoon sun. Oh well, no harm done—Europeans are a bit more relaxed about these kinds of things than most Americans.
Bikes, bras, and bare B&Bs on Balaton
A few days before our skinny dipping adventure Sabine and I had gone to the thermal lake at Heviz, a therapeutic spa where old and (a few) young take to the healing waters. The slightly sulfuric lake had a temperature of about 85 degrees, and we swam (I in my Speedo—no worries!) among those searching for a cure for their rheumatism or simply looking for a relaxing float among the lotus flowers. It was quite the cultural experience, once again.
The thermal lake/spa in Heviz
Eventually, we had to close the Hungarian chapter of our trip, and we did so with a beautiful drive from Balatonfüred to Millstatt in Austria, where we spent two nights before heading on for a few miles to the Gailtal, where we found another apartment for two nights. It was quite a change going from the gently rolling hills of Lake Balaton to the Alps with their wide valleys and high mountains. In Millstatt we had the most beautiful view of any of our accommodations on this trip, when we found a room right on the lake for about 75 euro for the night (also the most expensive of the entire trip). We had access to the lake, which we used to cool down a bottle of Hungarian Muscatel, only to see the bottle get stepped on my an inquisitive swan. We enjoyed some red in the late afternoon sun, and later we tested the waters, which were colder than Balaton—but that didn't keep us from going for a late-evening skinny dip nevertheless. Bare bums and breasts know no borders!
Enjoying the last of the afternoon on Millstätter See
The swan, three little ones, and a bottle of wine
Night falls on the mountains surrounding Millstätter See
Our 60 euro a night apartment in Kötschach-Mauthen in the Gailtal was the most comfortable of all. We had reign over a modern apartment with all amenities, including one of those beautiful Austrian balconies with the big overhanging roof line. On the way to this valley that stretches for more than 50 kilometers on the north-side of the Dolomites (and the border with Italy, where we went for dessert one evening) we stopped by the fixer-upper of one of Sabine's old friends, Rudi. Country living at its best—or worst. After that visit we enjoyed the sleepy roads and villages of the Gailtal for our final few rides.
No traffic, just nature and smooth roads

One of countless small water fountains that dot small villages
Had it not been for my lifting my bike the wrong way on the very last day and screwing up my back, everything would have been perfect. Bummer! Still, our last meal at the Ödenhütte overlooking the valley was the perfect way to finish our trip.
Deer goulash, home-made noodles, and cabbage salad
On Saturday the weather turned really nasty even in the Gailtal. (It had been rainy and cold north of us for several days, and by staying south of the Tauern we had managed to eke out two more days of sunshine. The drive back to Freising was punctuated by occasionally heavy rain and low clouds, which was a real bummer since we didn't see some of the great mountains of that part of the Alps. One other reason to come back one of these days.

On Sunday, after a befitting breakfast of Weisswurst and a few good beers, Sabine took me to the Munich airport and I boarded the short one-hour flight to Berlin to see my dad for a few days. My back is smarting enough that I walk like an old man and may not be able to get on my bike here the way I had hoped. A few minutes ago I scheduled a massage for tomorrow (upon the recommendation of my banker here who is an avid water polo player and who tells me that this Thai massage is the perfect way to get re-adjusted), so maybe help is on the way. I sure hope so, because before my flight back to the US exactly one week from today I am supposed to complete the bike portion of a relay triathlon back in Bavaria. We'll see.

As always, thanks for reading.


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