Performance enhancing drugs

I have a confession to make. I have had to resort to taking performance enhancing drugs – specifically Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. I realise that this will now disqualify me from being able to take part in the (yet to be ratified) Olympic sport of bike touring, and I want to apologise to my fans and sponsors.

In the interests of helping rid global sport of this terrible phenomenon, I am prepared to name my suppliers (Boots the Chemist), and I will also say that none of my team-mates are involved. It was entirely my own decision, and not one forced by the team manager.

In Vienna now, with over 2,000kms on the clock. Had a cold for the last few days, that has made the ride from Passau much harder than it really needed to be. Not really sure why I didn’t just stop for a few days in Passau actually. Having a couple of days off here, getting some minor repairs done, picking up some more spare parts and new tyres – man those Marathon XRs are big and heavy.

I’ve been getting better the last couple of days, hopefully I’ll be more or less OK by Sunday, when I plan on setting out for Bratislava, and on to Budapest before my next rest.

Have just heard that the Iranian New Year’s period shut down goes longer than I thought, so it’s going to be cutting it fine for getting my visa without having to wait around, or backtrack. Looks like I should be able to pick it up in Erzurum though, which would be perfect, as that is not far from the border. Fingers crossed.

Don’t eat the yellow snow

… and there was a lot of it. After not travelling much at the start of December, since I was studying for my CISSP certification, I’ve had a nice week in Austria, snowboarding. I guess we just got lucky, but right now Austria is probably the best country for snow. Other places are just starting to get decent falls, Austria has had snow for weeks. There was over 75cm in town, and probably 100cm on the slopes. We stayed in Kirchberg, which is very close to Kitzbuhel, and they share the same slopes, with free buses between the various lifts and cable cars.

There are over 160km of groomed slopes available, with something like 6 cable cars, and countless chairlifts. Some very long lifts up (e.g. Fleckalmbahn rises from 800m to 1800m), meaning some very, very long runs down. It tended to be suited more to skiing than snowboarding (e.g. narrow runs), with even some “blue” slopes pretty steep, and could be busy, but there was that much available that you could pretty easily find some more or less empty slopes. On the last day, we got up early, and were the first ones up Hornbahn, so we had a huge expanse in front of us with just no-one there.

The first couple of days I wasn’t too flash, but by the end of the week I was getting the hang of it, and was doing OK, hardly falling at all. Not sure that I’ll become a committed snowboarder, but it was good to give it a go for a few days. It was pretty damn cold though – as low as minus 18°C on our last day.

Austria was great – the food was perfectly suited to the cold, and they have fabulous weissbier (made with wheat). We had about 7 different varieties, all of them good. My German, while needing a lot more work, seems to be improving. I was feeling much more comfortable about asking for things, and usually understanding the response. It was a good thing too, since Kirchberg is not a large town, and English is not understood by everyone. Still, with my bits of German, and their bits of English, we could usually understand each other.

If you ever pass through Kirchberg, call in at Schaki bar, and have a weißbier. There is a nice Turkish guy there, who makes you feel right at home. Wear a Che Guavera T-shirt for bonus marks, it’ll go down a treat.

Happy New Year to everyone, hope you don’t have to go back to work as soon as I do.

PS Dragoman has cancelled the trip I was booked in for from Cairo to the UK, so it looks like my travel through the Middle East is going to be independent the whole way – probably a good thing for me anyway.

Kultur, Kaffee, Kuchen und Scheiße auf die Straße

…is one way of summing up my weekend in Vienna. Vienna was different to what I remember – I had thought of it as somewhat sterile, but I got a different feel for the place this time. Eindankfest was on, the weather was good, people were out and about enjoying themselves, it was a really good place to be.

I headed over on Friday, going via Edinburgh and Birmingham. Thanks to Scott for letting me stop with him on Thursday night. I can’t say that my hour at Birmingham airport was the highlight of my life, but it could have been worse. When I got to Vienna, I thought I should try and make my way from the CAT train station to the hotel without the aid of a map. Turned out to be slightly more difficult than I planned, but it was a good walk around the town, and I had a lot of fun with the Germanic tourists who were also lost, trying to work out where we were. Everyone seemed to think I spoke German – I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like I belonged, but maybe I did.

Later I was speaking to some Austrians, and they were just effortlessly switching between English and German – it always makes me feel so inadequate, when people do that. I will be doing some work on refreshing my German. I think I need to spend a few months there. Perhaps get a contract, but I don’t know how it would work out visas-wise.

Nic and Dave arrived early Saturday, and came and woke me at 7. I think they were just happy to be able to use my shower at that point though. We then had two great days touring the city. I didn’t bother carrying my camera much, since Dave had his with him, so I don’t have any photos to upload yet – will get some when they get back.

The crypt under St Stephens was a bit different to many other church crypts – there is an old part out under the square, where thousands of ordinary people were buried during the plague – rooms with thousands of bones, all neatly stacked. Not exactly a fun job that. The Imperial crypt was also pretty interesting to visit later that morning – you can get so close to the sarcophagi. The medieval use of skulls and cross-bones on coffins is something I find quite interesting – people had a quite different attitude to death then. I don’t think it would go down all that well in a modern graveyard if you said you wanted a skull wearing a crown mounted on top of your headstone.

Went to the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) and Naturhistorisches (Natural History) museums on the Sunday – the buildings by themselves are just stunning works, even before you start to look at the assorted treasures within. Just a huge collection. You do wonder about the historical provenance of many of the items within though – how many were basically stolen?

Also visited MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) – can’t say that I was all that impressed with ‘Realism’, but the modern/pop art was pretty cool – particularly the paintings that were trying to outdo photography.

Throughout the weekend, more people were assuming I was Germanic – particularly since I wasn’t wearing a bag, I didn’t look so touristy. I guess it’s a good thing – it forces me to try and understand more German.

All up, a very nice weekend, great to catch up with Nic and Dave. The only thing missing was I didn’t find a place where old men were playing chess in the park. Oh well, it’ll have to wait for another trip to a classic European city.