“The Hills Are Alive….With The Sound of Cheapskates” (Or, “When is a Ferry not a Boat?”

May 6, 2022

As with many of our prior travels, my “frugalness” (okay, outright cheapness) contributed to making our first day on the bike in Europe likely our longest single day of the trip, both in mileage and time.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Schengen Visa Rule basically states that non-EU citizens cannot spend more than 90 days of a 180 day period in Schengen countries (which is most of the EU, plus a couple of other countries). This means that we have to be particular about when and where we spend our time in Europe, as there will come a point where we will have to leave for an extended period before we can legally re-enter. In an effort to save days on our Schengen Clock, we decided to quickly head south towards Croatia, which is not part of the Schengen system. This would allow us to enjoy Croatia a bit before high tourist season, as well as save days that we’ll need as we head all the way to the top of Norway.

I knew in advance that this first day would be a long day, because I intended to ride from Heidelberg, Germany to Bled, Slovenia, crossing through Austria, a distance of over 400 miles. Much of this would be on the Autobahn, so I felt fairly comfortable that at least it would be a good pace.

When I entered our campsite outside Bled into the GPS, I was informed that a Toll Pass was required to drive on the freeways in Austria.
“Nope, not gonna pay it.”
I hit the “Avoid Tolls” button on the GPS, which added another 30 or 40 miles to the route (and unknowingly at the time, causing another delay…more about that later).

Before leaving Heidelberg, we settled up with our host for the damage to my bike, and I have to say, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Stefan again for shipping. In fact, he is my go-to guy for shipping the bike between the US and Europe now. It was refreshing to have someone say “Just figure out what I owe and I’ll take care of it” — and mean it. The damage to my bike was a rare occurrence in his business, and he handled it like a pro. He even called the pannier manufacturer in Poland on his own to try to get me a replacement pannier before we left.

We headed out of Heidelberg, winding our way to the A5 motorway, then the A8 towards Munich, stopping only for fuel (yes, I know, we were missing some great German countryside, but we will be back when the Schengen clock is less troublesome for us). We spent most of the morning in the number two lane, at 130 kilometers per hour (about 80 mph), occasionally moving into the left lane to pass cars before ducking back to allow the frequent Mercedes to pass at 200+. The average price for 95 octane (“Super”), which is the standard fuel here, was €1.79 per liter, which works out to about $7.15 per gallon. At one convenient roadside station, we paid just over ten dollars per gallon. I was wishing I had one of those “I Did That” Joe Biden gas pump stickers, but for some odd reason, nobody here thinks the US President caused their fuel prices. Huh. Amazing what a little exposure to the real world can do.

South of Munich we turned off onto a small two-lane highway and headed into the Austrian Alps. It began to rain a bit, but only briefly. The small towns that we passed through had that distinctive Alpine look to them, and the jutting mountains and lush green grass and trees had me singing out “The hills are alive” in my headset, which Diana immediately put a stop to.

Nearing the top of one pass, I looked down at the GPS, which displayed a boat icon, informing me that we would be taking a ferry in a little over two miles. I was confused, to say the least. First of all, I didn’t know there was a lake way up here that would require a ferry to cross. And second, I had told the GPS to avoid tolls, so why was I now going to pay to board a ferry?

Minutes later, we pulled into a parking lot and up to a sign that said “Autoschleuse”. It turns out that this ferry was not a ship but a train. We bought a ticket and rode onto an open flatbed railcar for a ten minute train ride. I told Diana to get her camera ready, because the scenery must be spectacular if the pass was so narrow that they couldn’t build a road through.

Autoschleuse sign
The first tip-off that this ferry wasn’t a boat.

Waiting in line for the train ferry.
Waiting in line for the Autoschleuse.

Bikes first
Bikes load first.

Autoschleuse cabin
It’s a ten minute ride. Why bother taking off the helmet?

Okay, I’m an idiot. It’s a ten minute train ride through a tunnel. There is no scenery, just a rock tunnel through the mountain. The train ferry added another 30 minute delay to our day, but it was still fun. I’ve ridden the bike onto the EuroTunnel train under the English Channel, but I’d never put the bike on an open rail car before. Checked that square, as Tom would say.

Off the train and back on the road through the Alps, we had one more pass to cross. We turned up the Wurzenpasse, which was a fun, twisting road up and over, passing the Karnten Bunker Museum (Austria’s largest contiguous Cold War blockade), and into Slovenia.

It was getting dark as we finally pulled into Bled, Slovenia, and our campsite for the next two nights. We had demolished two of our “Golden Rules of Travel”: we had gone more than 250 miles in a day, and we had ridden after dark. I intend to make up for it by severely lowering our daily mileage average over the next couple of weeks by riding between 0 and 150 miles a day max. And none of it at night.

This morning as I type this, we are relaxing in the tent, while it rains outside. The forecast doesn’t look good for the coming week, so we’ll just take it a day at a time, and listen to the raindrops on the tent for the time being.

Camping Bled
Our campsite on Lake Bled, Slovenia.

2 thoughts on ““The Hills Are Alive….With The Sound of Cheapskates” (Or, “When is a Ferry not a Boat?”

  1. Ah, the joys of GPS Roulette.

    You answered a question I had about the panniers – I seemed to remember they came from a guy in Poland – so, perhaps there is a chance you can get a replacement…eventually. I am glad the shipper turned out to be above and beyond out usual expectations for what usually passes for service these days. That is a very good sign to start the trip with.

    Got photos of the damage to the bike?

    Looking at the campground photo, I don’t remember there being full sized American style campers (caravans) in Europe? But it has been a while since I have been there. Bet they don’t do a lot of mileage these days!

    • I’ve been in touch with Holan (the pannier manufacturer) through one of our friends in Poland. They’re working everything out to get me a new pannier. Either our friends will bring it to England in June when we meet them there, or we’ll just wait til we see them in Poland in August.
      The damage to the pannier doesn’t show up well in photos (leading me to think most people wouldn’t bother replacing it), but the leaky lid interface is my prime concern. Although the other damage is interfering with packing properly and the pannier-to-rack mount is damaged to the point that the pannier doesn’t attach snugly any more.
      There are quite a few motor homes here from all over Europe, including a large group from the UK. There were a few motorcycles here with tents when we rolled in late yesterday but they all left early this morning. I’m not sure that the price of petrol is any higher now than it has been here, and I’m guessing that the uncertainty of the war in Ukraine combined with it just still being early in the season accounts for smaller tourism crowds. Still, there are probably close to 100 motor homes and camper trailers here at this large campground.

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