102 km (63.4 mi)
Rain. We woke to rain again and this time we knew with dread in our hearts that we couldn’t avoid it. We had to ride. Memories of our Ireland travels flooded back (pun intended) and we prayed that the rain would subside. Please! We’d known from weeks of checking the weather forecast that the area was prone to rain – the mountains were lush and for good reason. We’d only hoped that it would hold off just for the couple of weeks we’d be riding through…
There was no way around it, so we donned our raincoats and started our pedal journey away from Koenigsee toward Kufstein, Austria amid sympathetic glances by passersby at our pathetic state. Ha! Just 20 minutes into our ride I turned back to Kovas and said, “Has the rain stopped?” Sure enough, our prayers were answered, so we ditched the rain gear and enjoyed a chilly, damp, but blissfully rain-free ride through the hills of Bavaria towards Kufstein, Kovas’ father’s hometown and the site of his grandparents’ graves. It was to be an ancestral history lesson, and we couldn’t wait to get there!
Make no mistake, this was a tough ride. Bavarian and the Austrian Alpen roads are up and down. A lot up and a lot down. We weren’t on the scale of major mountain passes (yet), but fully loaded panniers slow one down. That said, we were happy to be riding slowly enough to enjoy the beautiful views. Cycle touring is incredible in that it is slow enough that you can enjoy your surroundings, take in the views, smell the cow dung, and hear the sheep bleating while still being able to cover pretty good mileage. At one point our pace was interrupted by a Bavarian cow taking a stroll across the road. That just doesn’t happen in Denver.
We enjoyed passing traditional Bavarian and southern Austrian-styled homes. Their huge window boxes were overflowing with flowers bursting in brilliant colors. I wanted to capture every detail.
The day’s ride was mostly memorable for its views and delightfully picturesque towns. Our route took us through Ramsau (the same one), Hintersee (this was an accidental detour around the lake Hintersee, and while it added a dozen kilometers, the scenery was well worth it), over a pass that was just 868 meters (2,868 ft), past a lovely town called Inzell that Kovas and I decided we would someday return to, and through Reit i. Winkl, which is a picturesque ski town. It was difficult to assess the skiing, but the slopes were close to the village and we could imagine the place shrouded with snow and bustling with cherry-cheeked skiers. From there we headed West on a smaller road that led us right to a bike path into Kufstein along the River Inn (the same Inn that flows into Innsbruck).
Rolling into Kufstein along that bike path we found the small city to be brimming with families walking along the river and students enjoying beers on outdoor patios. Kufstein is a working Austrian city, not too big, but definitely pleasant and not overly touristy. Kovas really wanted to experience the town he had grown up hearing about and had visited when he was very young. His grandparents had gotten visas from the Austrian government when they were Lithuanian refugees, having fled the Soviet Occupation after World War II. They settled in Kufstein, where Kovas’ Dad grew up until meeting the love of his life (Kovas’ Mom) and moving to the United States. So, our main purpose was to find Kovas’ grandparents’ graves and pay our respects.
The city was small enough that it was much as my father-in-law remembered it, so we were able to navigate pretty well. We found a simple gasthaus for the night and went exploring for the cemetery, which was supposed to be attached to the old Catholic Church. After some wandering and a lot of photos, we finally stumbled upon the gates to the cemetery and began the search for the Lapsys site, which at last we found was marked by a beautiful iron Lithuanian cross. It was a moving experience, and a humbling one as well.
By this time we were beyond hungry, having skipped lunch yet again. Aside: we tend to skip lunches on the road so as to keep our pace, especially since our rides tend to be pretty long. That’s not to say we don’t eat, however. Snacking is fairly constant, and thanks to our B&Bs, we always came away with solid snacks for the road. Fearing that this might be our last night of heavenly goulash, and having heard stories about the superiority of Kufstein goulash, we just had to find that perfect bowl. But oh how difficult! Alas, it was a Sunday night, and you may not know this, but Europeans keep holy the Sabbath (i.e. Sunday). This means almost no one works on a Sunday, so almost no restaurants are open, almost no shops, almost no bars…except for the heathen ones I suppose, or the hotels that have no other choice. So we ended up in a simple, perhaps a bit 80s-esque hotel that had the real deal, knoedel and all. We devoured our delicious goulashes and enjoyed our local beers, but as we sopped up the last drop of goulash with the last bite of knoedel, we simultaneously said, “I’m still hungry.” And so we ordered one more goulash much to the surprise of our server, who, with raised eyebrows, nevertheless politely said, “One more? Of course.” Kovas votes this as his favorite goulash, though I am still pretty much in love with the one from Ramsau.
Post-goulash and pre-bedtime, we explored the city a little more and stumbled upon the city’s Altstadt (Old Town) off the main square. Its narrow streets are lined with decorated houses and shops, with traditional Austrian culture oozing from the walls, into the streets, onto the streetlights, and curling around the shoes of tourists. All in all, Kufstein is a sleepy little Austrian city with great cultural pride and beautiful surroundings. We were so glad we made the effort to visit.