The ride to Eveline's is long but a good one. The sun is out, the birds are singing, the way is easy to find. There's still plenty of autumn colour in the trees. People greet us as we pass by. In the bakery they smile politely at our awful German. We eat up the pastries as we eat up the kilometres. We are glowing with the joys of life - the freedom of the road. As the sun begins to dip downwards we pass through vineyards, row after row pointing towards the mountains appearing in the west. Out in the meadows it seems even the cows are smiling. Gayle is grinning to herself as she listens to something on her iPod - but for me the hills are alive with the sound of music. Even after 100 kilometres of cycling when my chain snaps I only have to push for 100 metres more. A perfect day.
We are entering a new phase of our journey across Europe as we are now in parts of of the continent where we have friends - all of them fellow travellers we got to know on our last journey. Eveline we met in Kyrgyzstan in 2008, in a small village homestay. After a few days we went our separate days. Perhaps a week later we trekked into the mountains south of Bishkek where Eveline found us one morning having a lie-in in our tent. We trekked together back to the capital. And now here we are in Austria, knocking at her door.
In our four days stay with Eveline and her partner, Johann, we find ourselves engaged in all kinds of activities. On our first day, in foggy weather we go for a short walk and soon find ourselves clinging onto ladders - a beginner's via ferrata in a narrow limestone gorge. On one evening we visit a local Heurige, a temporary 'bistro' opened up by one of the nearby vineyards where we can sample the wines and some locally produced food. Each vineyard takes it in turn to open up for a week, so some insider knowledge is required to know which one is open (a laurel wreath is hung up outside to signify opening). If this all seems a bit of obscure publicity it apparently works. The place is full when we visit.
On the Saturday the sun comes out for our walk up the Rax-Semmering mountain. One mountain hut is open, serving food and beer and hot wine. There are lots of people out and about making the most of the good weather. The snow we had in Slovakia is also evident here - coating the mountain tops as far as the eye can see. It's glorious. Eveline comes here with her friends for ski-touring i.e. skiing away from the prepared slopes. As we walk up through the pine forest and up above the trees they point out vertiginous slopes that they will frequent when the real snow comes in winter. On our way home we detour to look at the elaborately engineered railway which climbs through the mountains to connect Vienna with Italy. The collection of tunnels and viaducts, some of them double, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the evening we gather at Rosie's with some other friends to wine and dine and see someone's slideshow of a trip to Costa Rica and Panama and then a film of Gerda's trekking in Uganda.
On another day we visit the school where Eveline teaches in Berndorf. Berndorf is known for its cutlery factory (during the war it produced munitions and the town was subsequently bombed). The local mayor and patron had houses, a church and a school built for the workers at the factory, around the start of the 20th century. It reminds us of Saltaire in West Yorkshire. The school buildings are quite special - each classroom has been designed in a style from a certain place and time in history. The detail is impressive, even down to the door handles.
We are eating well - typical hearty Austrian food - too well. Eveline feeds us great fresh food and as committed cyclists we do not know when to stop eating. I start to think that if I stay in Austria much longer I may have a heart attack. But after three busy days we must say farewell and set off northwards to Vienna.