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Bicycling Austria


“Did they show you the devil’s hole?” the young man across the picnic table asked me.
It was the third day of our ride.
It was a bicycling trip we made in August. Sabra’s sister, Lisa, and her husband Allen proposed it and we gladly joined. Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of weeks visiting Austria and cycling along the Danube River to Vienna? Two friends of Lisa’s, Karen and Julie, also joined to make our group six.
Allen and Julie are from Austrailia, and sister Lisa moved there years ago. Karen is from New Zealand. All of them have accents to our Midwest-American ear, and they use a slightly different vocabulary. For example, a passenger on a motorcycle, Julie told me, is called a pillion. Julie, the Kiwi, pronounced her “e’s” like “i’s.” This came to humorous play one night after we checked into our hotel. When we met later, Karen was pleased to report her room came with a big “dick” and she wanted us all to come sit on it.
We started out in Passau, Germany, and averaged about 35 scenic miles a day over the next week, on the way to Vienna.
We used Saddleskedaddle, a company specializing in arranging such trips, to put our itinerary together and to supply the bikes.
I liked The Skedaddle staff. Based in London, the English have a certain civility to their words I find endearing. Every one of my many queries got answered with a little extra graciousness. More than once, I was told that my question was “brilliant” and even “genius.” I may have asked extras just to get the ego boost. Eventually, I had to stop: Sabra was getting suspicious.
We did a self-guided tour. Each day you have to get from point A to B, but how and when you go is entirely up to you. While you’re out cycling, a company representative picks up your luggage and takes it to the next stop. We like the flexibility of this arrangement. You can go at your own pace and pick your side trips.
The biggest advantage to using an outfitter, like Skedaddle, is they find and book spectacular boutique hotels you’d have trouble finding yourself. On one end of the spectrum, there was the ultra-modern Diamond City Hotel in Tulln, On the other end was the historic Goldenen Shiff, where we overlooked the town square of Enns, Austria’s oldest city.
And, that gets me to my favorite and the devil’s hole mentioned earlier: the Faustschlossl, high on the bluff overlooking the Danube and the city of Aschach.
Before going on, you have to understand one of the things I most love about traveling is striking up conversations with strangers. And, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it. As a result, we’ve met the most amazing people who offered us extraordinary opportunities. In this case, the young man at the picnic table started the conversation. He saw me walking with Sabra, Karen, Julie and Lisa, and wanted to know what my secret was with women. He seemed satisfied with my answer, I was “just born with it,” and he offered to by our entire crew a drink.
While sipping on a wine spritzer, he noticed my hotel room key fob from the Faustschlossl.
From my limited German, I knew the name translates to Faust’s Castle. From my also limited knowledge of European history, I knew the name refers to Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480 -1540), the man who, legend says, sold his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.
As the stories go, Faust battled with the devil one night and banished him to a hole in the baseboard in one of the rooms of the palace, now a hotel. Over the centuries the hole has been filled in many times, only to reopen decades or even a century later.
I asked Birgit, the manager on duty, about the legend mentioned by the young man, and she took time out to crawl under a table in a dark corner of the castle with a lighter in hand to show me the spot. We were both happy it was currently covered.