Biking in the pouring rain – along the Danube in the Wachau Valley of Austria

Our Backroads biking group waiting to ferry across the Danube at Durnstein Austria
Our Backroads biking group waiting to ferry across the Danube at Durnstein Austria

By Eileen Ogintz

MELK, Austria (Day 5 of Backroads/AMAWaterways biking/cruise) — It is pouring, raining so hard that we’re getting soaked despite good rain gear.

Did I mention we are on bikes? “This is the first time I’ve seen people actually choose to bike in the rain,” my daughter Reggie Foldes observed.

All of our Backroads group of 30 opted to bike this afternoon, despite the downpour.  We are in the beautiful Wachau Valley of Austria, famous for its vineyards and apricots. In fact, we biked through orchards with just-ripening apricots, apples and pears this morning. “It was gorgeous,” said Ariana Fabian, 26, traveling with her mom from Atlanta. “The rain didn’t bug me unless we stopped and then I got cold.”

The cool, soaking rain was a marked contrast to the nearly 100-degree temperatures and scorching sun we encountered on the first two days of the trip.

“It seemed kind of mystical,” added Jacqueline Clemons, celebrating her 18th birthday on this rainy day. “It was really pretty and added to the adventure.”

Our intrepid Backgroads guide Evan Thompson rding with a smile in the rain (photo by Virginia Meyer)
Our intrepid Backgroads guide Evan Thompson rding with a smile in the rain (photo by Virginia Meyer)

I’m impressed that not a single person—not a kid, not an adult is complaining.  I’m also impressed that those on this trip who aren’t with their kids are enjoying the family atmosphere.

Gail and Jonathan Soderstrom chose this trip, they explained, because it worked with their schedule and to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Their grown kids are busy with their own lives and children. “It’s nice to see families who enjoy being around their kids. We enjoy being with our kids; this trip we’re enjoying being around everyone else’s kids,” Jonathan Soderstrom said.

We started this morning’s ride in Durnstein, where our AMAWaterways riverboat AmaStella had docked on the Danube River after leaving Vienna. We are less than an hour by car from Vienna. It is a picture-perfect town with narrow cobbled streets and a famous history. It is here Richard the Lionhearted was held captive in 1192 during the third Crusade.

The ruins of the castle can still be seen at the top of the hill; the town is also famous for its blue steeple.  We dodge the crowds of tourists browsing the shops—everything with apricots!—and find the bike trail. Last year, we had come here to hike on the famous Wachau World Heritage Trail through 13 towns. We got rained out and didn’t hike—we visited wineries instead. This region is famous for its wine.

Our bike group passed our ship The AMAStella on our rainy ride in the Wachau Valley
Our bike group passed our ship The AMAStella on our rainy ride in the Wachau Valley (photo by Virginia Meyer)

But this time the rain didn’t stop us from riding nearly 40 miles, with a stop in Melk  for a look at the famous Melk Abbey above the town and overlooking the Wachau Valley. Founded in 1089, the abbey quickly became famous for its extensive library and was a major site for the production of manuscripts. The spectacular abbey we visit was rebuilt in the early 18th Century. We gape at the floor to ceiling books in the library, some manuscripts dating from the medieval times.  The ceiling frescoes are amazing, as are the views down into the town and the  across the valley. It’s so green!

Rather than returning to the boat for lunch as are the rest of the passengers, our Backroads group feasts on local specialties (cold apricot soup, assorted salads,  grilled chicken and vegetarian goulash) at the Fur Post restaurant in a brightly painted yellow building. We opt for the region’s famous desert the Marillenknoedl, apricot dumplings made with whole fruit wrapped in dough and poached before being breaded, browned and then sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Now it’s decision time—are we going to bike again in the rain? Yes!! The entire group says. And it’s pretty biking along the Danube on bike trails so we don’t have to worry about traffic. We each have a programmed Garmin on our bikes that help us keep on course. We dodge frogs and slugs crossing the path in the rain—even a snake!

“It’s refreshing to bike in the rain,” said Jenna Froland, 21, here with her parents and twin brother Henry. “I love seeing the clouds over the hills. It’s magical.”

Soaked but happy at the end of our nearly 40-mile ride in the rain along the Danube
Soaked but happy at the end of our nearly 40-mile ride in the rain along the Danube

We end our ride soaked, cold but smiling. As we wait for the bus to shuttle us back to the boat, our Backroads team has laid out region-appropriate snacks—apricot brandy and  juice, chocolate covered apricots, apricot gummies,   salted apricot kernels.

We got back to the boat with plenty of bragging rights—and headed straight for a hot shower.

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