Tracking the Tortes from Bernie's Door - Travels With Bernie - CycleBlaze

Tracking the Tortes from Bernie's Door

March 2019

Since the Paxman's had stashed the bikes with Bernie the previous year, Bernie's place was the natural and necessary starting point for our touring in 2019.  Starting in Austria is certainly a bonus. For one thing, I had always identified Austria with "tortes", and I was determined to revisit some of the best tortes I had found in previous visits.  So we planned to head first to Vienna, and then to Prague, and eastern Germany.  This would be very fertile torte hunting territory!

Unfortunately, I had picked up a cold - in Montreal, or on the plane, and I wanted to avoid spreading this to Bernie and Delia, as much as possible. So instead of going straight to their house, we booked a hotel in Bregenz. 

Bernie picked us up at the Bregenz hotel.  Bernie's place in  Hochst is just a short hop from Bregenz, but in fact we could have found a hotel closer still, in towns like St. Margrethen, or Fusbach.  But surprisingly, our grasp of the local geography was still a little shaky, and Bregenz sounded like a place that we knew.

In this blog you are bombarded with information about the geography around Hochst, as you follow us first discovering it with Bernie's help, then the Paxmans, and now us again.  It is rather unique, with the Rhine here, and split into two. A  broad branch, called the new Rhine, is canalized. And a smaller branch, the old Rhine, is the original water course. The old Rhine forms the border, so if you are between the old and the new, you are still in Austria. It is a little confusing.

See Hochst between the two Rhines?
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Bernie stopped the car at the new Rhine, to give us a look at the mountains and the three countries. Two dog walkers passed by and greeted us. Bernie could tell they were from the Swiss side, though they said but one word. "grüßdi", I think it was. Had they been from Austria, they surely would have said "grüß gott".  Both are a form of blessing, one that can be misunderstood to  mean "greet God" but which is really more like "god bless". All of it, I think, underlines the Catholic nature of southern Germany and Austria, something we would appreciate as we later went along looking at the interesting churches.

Bernie explains the geography to us. He was born in Lustenau, which a keen observer can spot on the map above. Naturally, his knowledge of this area is extensive.
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Mountains of three countries. The arch is over the "new Rhine".
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These walkers are "clearly" from Switzerland.
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Bernie and Dodie pore over a regional map - the Bregenzer Wald.
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Delia had breakfast waiting for us, and needless to say it had all the elements one looks for. Delia's English is a little weaker than Bernie's, it being her third language. So she wanted to know if we would like "Spiegeleier", which means "mirror eggs".  This was not actually a total mystery to us, because someone recently told us that "sunny side up" is called "mirroir" in Quebec. Anyway my Spiegeleier came out "easy overed", with bacon mixed in, which is just super.

After our emotional reunion with the people, it was time to greet our bikes. Actually Dodie went to do this, and to generally organize the equipment, while I had to be put to bed - still weak, but at least not generally sneezing or coughing.

One equipment bit that turned into a not yet resolved adventure in repair was the Ortlieb handlebar mount on my bike. The system by which Ortlieb affixes the mount to the handlebar usually works, but it is not simple. It uses a plastic coated steel cable that knits back and forth from the mount to the bar, in a very specific way.  The way is easy, particularly because Ortlieb has an online video illustrating the cable snaking this way and that. The problem is that once you have fixed everything in place, there is no second chance. The cable can not survive being loosened and repositioned. Even if you decide you want the mount just a little higher or lower, you are mostly out of luck. You can still achieve it, provided you have a new cable kit. Good luck finding that!

In this case, in a way still unknown, the mount seemed way too high, while parts of the cable were paradoxically way too loose. Our efforts to readjust predictably ended in disaster, and in fact even with Bernie's big wire cutter to help, it was not easy to even hack the cable away from the mount. Calls to local bike shops generally had them noting that the weather had just turned fine and that they were swamped. With the help of cutters, pliers, and even a drill, we did manage to free the mount from the cable. Now all we need is a replacement cable kit. Best would be someone, not us, to do the install - because one false move and it's tears.  

The mount and the dead cable (still hanging on).
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Ron SuchanekI had read about this issue with the Ortlieb bag, but I have somehow repositioned my bag 3 times since the initial installation. I wouldn't fully trust the cable on a long tour, but it's lasted over a year puttering around on day rides.
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1 year ago

The cable ate up Bernie and Delia's plan to take us to a high point for views of the lake and mountains. But we did get to chat in between asking for this tool or that. 

To spare Bernie and Delia from ferrying us back and forth to Bregenz, we cycled back, though the falling dark. This was really wonderful, because it was our actual first pedal of the trip. Though we took a more direct main road instead of the bikeway, there was a bike lane, and more views of mountains and river. A bonus was one beautiful Austrian style church.

First cycling, past our first unique church.
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Back over the Rhine, into Bregenz. This is a really cheesy way to rack up crossings of the Rhine!
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The next day we would cycle again - from bike shop to bike shop looking for a cable and install, before being taken for a traditional Austrian lunch at a guest house.

This was planned as an all fun day (though on a trip like this, maybe every day qualifies that way). First, we knew there was a market in the centre of Bregenz, a good place to find some breakfast. Then we had lined up a string of bike shops to visit, to see if one could solve our handlebar mount problem. Finally, it would be over to Bernie and Delia's by the scenic route, to be taken to a regional specialties restaurant. As it turned turned out, Delia threw in a torte tracking adventure, topping it with eis café. Yeah, clearly an all fun day!

The Bregenz market does not feature the wild abundance and flare of something like the one in Arles, but in typical Austrian/Germanic style it solidly covers all the bases - trucks with side opening displays of cheese, meat, and bakery, plus fruit,  vegetable, and flowers vendors. We were there just at set up, so maybe we missed a possible bustling scene, but we have the impression that Bregenz does not do "bustling".

The market might bustle up a bit more later.
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The mohn kuchen on top had way more nicely ground and flavoured poppy seed than a typical hamantasche. The kuchen is resting on an apple strudle-y thing that was higher quality than one might think.
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Buildings in central Bregenz are stylish in a conservative but nice way.
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The first bike shop on our list was Radsport Drissner on Rheinstrasse. Bernie likes this family run one, and it also has the distinction of being a dealer for Victoria, our brand of German bike.

Looking at our handlebar mount story from the previous day, Jonathan Hecht, Jacquie Gaudet, and Mike Ayling commented that the KlickFix brand of compatible mount mostly lacks the drawbacks of the Ortlieb original. We agree on that, so that when Drissner said that they only carry the KlickFix, we said wrap 'em up, and let's make that two. The second one was because Dodie's mount too was a bit at the wrong angle, and we assumed that adjusting it would kill it.

We have noticed that in really all cases, English has served perfectly well in communicating with people in Austria and Germany. In fact it's a little easier to communicate here than in France, where English is much less well known, so that we have to fall back on our imperfect French expression and understanding. In Drissner, the personable and knowledgeable young man seemed to speak perfect English, with Dodie detecting only one small glitch. Language skill, like musical, artistic, craft, mechanical, and other skills is inspiring to observe when you run into it.

The very helpful man at Drissner.
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Look Jonathan, Jacquie, and Mike, we took your advice !
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At this bike shop, as in most in Europe now, e-bikes take centre stage.
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Having solved our problem by throwing a wad of money at it (lots of problems seem susceptible to being whacked by a wad of money), we were free to dawdle out by the lake on the scenic way to Fussach and Hochst.

Paved bike paths and narrow, little used roads are everywhere in this region, and contribute mightily to cycling here.

Not only the Rhein but a couple of other rivers and branches enter the lake here. This is the Bregenzer Ache, which is the main river of the Bregenzer Wald, the forest behind the town,
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The mountains are always present to the South.
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Typical small road/bike path entry to Fussach.
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The Fussach church has one of those iconic Austrian steeples.
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This is a typical village house. It is plain but totally solid, and could probably stand for centuries.
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We found Bernie and Delia enjoying the sun out behind the house. Temperatures were higher at mid day today than they have been for a long time.  We wheeled our bikes around and also enjoyed the sun while doing our favourite activity, fooling with the bikes. 

Through these fun activities, and the forthcoming trip back into Bregenz, we had an underlying source of great worry.  Bernie was always so quiet and self effacing, that we had only casually learned that he had had a bout with prostate cancer years before.  He was trying a number of herbal remedies when we first met him. One of these was Canadian, and we had sourced some and mailed them on.  But now we learned that Bernie had a recurrence, in his lungs, and that he had been undergoing radiation therapy. At the moment he was in a pause in the treatment.

One effect was lymphedema, a dramatic swelling, in this case of one leg. It was actually twice normal size, and Bernie could only walk with great difficulty. But Bernie did not complain. He did gently let us know that he could not go running around to bike shops with us on the Ortlieb mount issue. But he did rummage in the workshop to come up with all the tools we so eagerly wanted to try.

In time we all got into the car and drove all the way back to the centre of Bregenz. That is the location of the "Goldener Hirsch", the guest house where Bernie and Delia wanted to take us for a traditional meal.

Delia dropped us in the centre of town, and went to look for a place to park.  But we were still a certain distance from the restaurant. Now we could see the true extent of Bernie's illness. He moved along, dragging the affected leg, much slower than Dodie ever was with the  arthritic knees.  This was Bernie that 6 months earlier, on his old push bike, the Paxmans on e-bikes had trouble keeping up with. Yet Bernie said nothing. The Goldener Hirsch was our objective, and we were going to get there.

"Goldener Hirsch"  (Golden Stag) is one of a set of names that you see on restaurants and hotels everywhere. It joins the Adlers, Leuvens, Wilder Mans, Traubes, Engels, and Mohrens, and Posts. (Eagles, lions, woodsmen, grape vines, angels, (controversially,  but not pejoratively) negroes or moors, and mail stage posts.). Dodie and I are suckers for places with these names. For example, other things being equal, a  Hotel Blau Traube  will always get our booking.

A goldener Hirsch
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The building housing the restaurant had a heritage status, and could not be changed, but we know nothing of its past history.

Historic Goldener Hirsch building
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Inside featured a lot of paneling and stained glass, making for a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Beamed ceiling and panelling
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Inside the Goldener Hirsch
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Bernie chose the most appropriate dish, deer stew, while the two ladies went with versions of spatzle, which is a kind of pasta. Driven as always by some kind of crazy self imposed rules, I figured my first restaurant meal in Austria must be schnitzel. It was good, but not as special as the others.

Deer stew at the Golden Stag.
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I also chose my goto drink - Alm Dudler, which is a very popular soft drink found only in Austria. It has a sort of herb-y flavour. Delia's drink was beer, a local brand called  Mohren Brau.

Choice local beverages. Mohen Brau insists no slur intended.
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Thanks, Delia and Bernie
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Delia had another stop up her sleeve, back in Hochst. This was the Cafe Konditorei Schallert, just this side of the Swiss border. Schallert has quality eis (ice cream concoctions) but I was immediately attracted to their pastry display case, which had some items that were very torte-like, but importantly- cakes actually labelled Sacher Torte. Somehow I struck up a conversation with the lady standing next to me, and we both reminisced about times in the Sacher hotels, in Salzburg and Vienna. We also both agreed that the torte there was small and overpriced. The lady pointed out some loaf like Sachers here, and suggested I could snap one up relatively cheaply. I also asked her what is now my pet question - as to whether the other cakes were properly tortes, or would they need to contain nut based flour? The lady quickly joined the masses certain that torte status was conferred by lots of layers and lots of cream between. This answer carried some weight, since this was a genuine Austrian granny type, but for me the jury is still out. I think I am waiting to talk to the people at Gerstner, in Vienna, assuming they do not throw me out of the bakery (unauthorized photos!), like last time.

Sacher Torte by the loaf?
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Other torte candidates.
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I went for a standard Sacher slice, quite large by all standards. Here is what it was like:

Back at Bernie's place we got to meet his sister Magdalene, who was thoroughly sweet and charming. She lives in this village too, and I think that Bernie's brothers also are nearby. It's not surprising that they would remain in their birth region, since this place essentially has everything. 

I was particularly impressed by Magdalene's shiny new T-6 VW van, and she had to listen to a lot of moaning about how these are not imported to Canada. She volunteered to buy one,  drive it to Canada to visit us, and leave it. But this would be a plan for after retirement. Unfortunately for us, she looked awfully young.

One last notable thing on our visit to Hochst was Bernie's woodpile. Elsewhere in Austria we have run into very artistic wood stacking. I remember one using different colours of firewood to install a deer on the pile. Bernie is not quite an artist in firewood, but you can see this national trait in his stack:

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Gregory GarceauHi Steve,
I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I can see that the remembrances of Bernie are bringing out a flood of other memories. I can relate to that. This is a very nice tribute.
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesThanks Gregory. You are right about Bernie and the memories. Of course on a lighter note, this has afforded a chance to recycle pieces of four otherwise forgotten historical blogs!
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1 year ago