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With a five day, 500 kilometre stretch through Germany and Austria behind them, the riders have enjoyed idyllic cycling weather and a well deserved rest day in the magnificent city of Vienna.
We knew we had left Deutschland and were in Osterreich when our cell phones simultaneously beeped the same -welcome-to-Austria-your-calls-will-cost-you-a-lot-more-now – message. No border post or passport check point marked the occasion of our crossing.
From a scenic point of view, things remain pretty much the same as in Germany… farm fields, woodlands and charming villages not more than 5 to 10 kms apart unfurled before the riders as they continued to follow the cycle path along the mighty Danube river. But as we journeyed through the larger towns of Linz, Melk and into the city of Vienna, the change in the architecture signalled the difference. Those Holy Roman Emperors sure knew how to put on a good show. While completely over-the-top and excessive, the grandiose palaces, spires, domes, abbeys and churches perched atop hills and alongside the Danube are breath taking and awe inspiring.
Vienna is art, music, palaces, statues, golden domes, fountains, pedestrian walkways, bicycles, magnificent gardens… and dogs. Coiffed and stylish, they trot alongside their human companions, ride on the subways and in bicycle baskets with a most regal air about them.
Soccer fever swept across the city this afternoon as Italian and Portuguese fans poured in by bus and subway to get things warmed up for the critical match at the stadium. Faces painted, wrapped up in flags and sporting medieval carnival hats in their national colours, the fans did their best to out sing each other in the shadow of St. Stephanâ€™s Cathedral. One particularly fervent fan was on his knees in the cathedral, clearly asking for divine intervention, in favour of Italy.
Tomorrow we leave Austria and cross into Slovakia and, cell phone messages aside, we WILL be aware we are doing so this time. Due to the large influx of foreign soccer fans into Austria this weekend, security has been stepped up and passports will be required, we are told. Hmmmâ€¦ Why am I not surprised? I did enjoy wearing my T-Shirt with the outline of the African continent stamped boldly on the front and the back, and watching the reactions of the ticket sellers at the over priced art galleries when I asked them if there were any special discounts for Africans!
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