Friday, September 23, 2016

Passau to Salzburg: Biking Up the Inn & Salzach Rivers

It was now time for the final leg of our European biking, and for our fifth "Bikeline" guidebook from  These wonderful guides cover pretty much any river in or near Germany that's got a good bike route, but only a handful are in English (the rest of course are in German).  Luckily, all of this year's have been in English, including this one for the route up the Inn and then Salzach Rivers.  Besides clear maps showing bikable roads and bike paths, the books also give lots of info on sights to see.   And Ortlieb, whose waterproof panniers we've been using for years, has a waterproof case the perfect size for Bikeline guides that snaps onto the top of our handlebar bag.

While there were once again lots of flat kilometers on this leg of our journey, there were more hills than we encountered on the Elbe or Danube.  Of course that also led to some good views.

There was plenty of scenery, from the man-made to the natural, including the abbey church in Vornbach that was founded in 1094, the St. Stefan Church in Braunau with an unusual side altar, and the meeting of the Salzach and Inn Rivers about halfway from Passau to Salzburg.  Though both rivers rise in the Austrian Alps, the Salzach on the bottom is the milkier one, at least the day we were there.

25 km up the Salzach we came to one of the great castles of Europe, Schloss Burghausen.  It has the distinction of being the longest castle in Europe, over 1 km from end to end, though it is quite narrow as it snakes along the top of a ridge overlooking the river.  We spent 15 minutes pushing the bike up that steep hill, then an hour exploring the castle and enjoying the views from its high walls.

We had ridden up a 100 m (300') hill on the way to Burghausen, plus walked up about the same to reach the castle.  Add in some other smaller climbs that day and it's roughly equal to our total climbing on the Elbe!  The next day started out level as we rode along the river with views of a pilgrimage church across the way.  But then we had our biggest single climb of the summer, 160 m (500 feet).  Most of it was gradual, so we mostly rode up with only two short steep pitches to walk.  On the far side, however, it pitched down in one grand swoosh.  We stopped to marvel at two cyclists who were almost as ancient as us, biking the whole way, full panniers and all.  Well done!

Another few km that were mostly along the river and we reached our lodgings, where our balcony looked out over the Salzach to the first mountain we have seen since crossing the Atlantic.  There is NOTHING like this in Holland or northern Germany!

One of the first things we did last Spring when we finalized where and when the trip would end was to book 4 nights in an apartment in Salzburg that we found through  We were 2 days early,  by design, and so we now spent one night on the outskirts of Salzburg in that scenic hotel, and one night 25 km away at the base of the Bavarian Alps, in Bad Reichenhall Germany.

Even from the edge of Salzburg we had a preview of the Bavarian Alps, but our main destination the first day was the Salzburger Freilichtmuseum, or Salzburg Open Air Museum.  Its mission is to preserve and display homes and other buildings from all the districts of Salzburg Province, almost all of which is high in the Austrian Alps. The two homes below date to 1771 and 1716, respectively.

These homes are strikingly attractive, but maybe not the coziest.  Not sure a pile of hay makes for a soft bed.  Keep in mind, too, that almost every house we saw, including the two above, has accommodations for cows and cow feed on the ground floor.

The next day started with a 30 minute walk through Bad Reichenhall from our hotel to the base station of the Predigstuhlbahn.  This is the oldest large-cabin cable car in the world, and in 8.5 minutes it lifted us over 1100 m (3,500 feet) up Predigstuhl Mt.  That's Bad Reichenhall below us, with Salzburg off to the far right.  Bad Reichenhall, by the way, was a resort town we plan to revisit now that we've been introduced to its charm.

There are several hiking trails at the top and we enjoyed a two hour hike, though large portions of it were spent gawking at the views and soaking up gallons of that fresh mountain air.

It was now time to head to our final "home" in Europe.  On the ride into Salzburg it was hard not to notice Festung Hohensalzburg, High Salzburg Fortress.  Here are just our first two views of it.

Right at the appointed time, owner Christine rode up on her bicycle and showed us the apartment.  It's built right into the cliff, so it has windows only on the front.  Since those windows look out at the nearby river, we thought they would enhance our stay.  What they mainly did however was bring in the sound of the drinkers at an Irish pub a few doors away that had tables set out on the street and no apparent closing time.   The earplugs got good use so that we could keep the windows open for fresh air.  Since the apartment gave us the chance to prepare our own breakfasts and dinners for four days it was an improvement over another four nights in hotels, but the margin of improvement was less than we had hoped for.

Salzburg is a beautiful city to visit, and quite a few other folks were doing just that, though not the hordes we saw in Prague.  We wandered down narrow lanes, poked into courtyards like that of the Franciscan Church, walked past famous places like Mozart's birthplace, marveled at a gurgling horse, and even did some window shopping.

We poked into the cathedral where Mozart was christened just as Mass was ending, and saw that a procession was headed outdoors.  Of course we followed.  Seems they had just blessed a new gold cross, and were about to place it atop the church.

With that excitement over, it was time to ascend to Festung Hohensalzburg.  It was built by the local rulers, the various prince-bishops of Salzburg, as a place of refuge.  It served them well during the Peasant War, when the fortress withstood a ferocious attack.  In the Thirty Years War no one dared attack it and Salzburg was spared the destruction that so many other cities in Europe suffered.  It is so formidable that when we finally climbed up the steep path and entered the gate into the fortress, we found that there was yet another fort within the fortress.

The views from the top were terrific, including a bird's eye view over to our apartment in the off-white building across from the twin steeples.

It was a quick descent when we were done, down the steep Festungsbahn.  It's been carrying folks up and down on a 62% gradient since 1892.

When we had first reached the apartment on our bike, we noted that we were about 35 km short of 3,000 km.  In part to reach that round number and in part to see a little more of the Salzach valley, we spent a day riding to the next city upstream, Hallein.  It was a good choice.

Along the way we encountered for the second time a sport we had never heard of before this summer, Kanupolo.  In both Dutch and German, Kanu can mean either a kayak or canoe, with kanadische Kanu used to specify a "Canadian" canoe.  Weeks earlier we actually saw a game of Kanupolo with the players using their kayak paddles to pass and to make shots with the ball.  No players this time, but quite the backdrop for their playing area!

The route was very flat and scenic.  The high meadow in the second photo brought back memories from the Open Air Museum a few days earlier, where we had seen several small cottages used by sheep- and goatherds during midsummer, when the animals are brought to the highest pastures.  The meadow here wasn't exactly in the remote mountains, but with all the Sound of Music associations in Salzburg, we thought of the song that begins, "High in the hills lived a lonely goatherd . . ." and silently yodeled to ourselves as we rode by.

We reached Hallein, which has a dramatic site along the Salzach, then headed back by a different route to visit a very special palace, Schloss Hellbrunn.  It was built as a getaway retreat in the early 1600s by one of the prince-bishops of Salzburg, Markus Sittikus, a fellow with a bit of a sadistic sense of humor.  For instance, there's the outdoor dining table.  Our tour guide found a number of children as excited as the prince-bishop's friends to sit at the table.  And with the flick of a switch, our tour guide gave them all a bidet.  The one seat with no water jet of course is the prince-bishop's, at the head of the table.

The prince-bishop loved moving water and had all sorts of interesting fountains.

But he was also on the cutting edge of water technology, and some of his devices were high tech indeed for his time,  even though they might seem hokey to us today.  Water power made one character make faces at us.  In another, a hero emerged and slew a dragon to save the fair (and buck-naked) damsel.  The piece de resistance was a stage 4 m (12 feet) across, filled with tin opera performers.  With the flip of a spigot, they came alive on the stage and a water-powered organ performed La ci darem la mano from Mozart's Don Giovanni, using an early predecessor to the piano roll.  High tech indeed!

Not as high tech but a real crowd pleaser was the Floating Gold Crown.

But Markus Sittikus knew how to have the last (sadistic) laugh, with a watery gauntlet one had to run after the crown descended back to its base.  Nobody gets out of this tour totally dry.

After the water play garden we had a nice dry tour of the palace.  Out one of the Windows we spied an attractive building on the hillside, which we learned was a mini-castle to getaway from the getaway castle.  Seems to us as if the prince-bishop might have missed church each year when the Sermon on the Mount was in the liturgy.  Oh, yes, there was one more sight to see, the gazebo where Liesl sings to Rolf "I am sixteen going on seventeen."  For reasons never precisely explained, it was moved here some years ago and is an obligatory stop on every Sound of Music tour in Salzburg.

We rode back to town beneath the walls of the Festung and disassembled Little Red for his trip home to Seattle.  And the final distance in Europe?  3,002 km!

For our final day in Salzburg we decided to explore the other side of the Salzach River.  After a walk through the gardens at Mirabell Palace, which just happen to line up with Festung Hohensalzburg, we climbed the Kapuzinerberg, or Capuchin Mountain, where we couldn't help but get yet more images of the Festung.  Gosh, that thing gets into almost as many pictures as Waldo.

And so we come to Day 90 of our European adventure.  The tandem is in the two large suitcases, the clothing in the carry-on suitcase and the small duffel, and miscellaneous other stuff is in the small rack trunk (which has a shoulder strap) and the two backpacks.  It's all so manageable that we easily walked the 1.5 km from our apartment to the train station.

It was a long but relatively easy trip back to the US.  Train from Salzburg at 9 am right to Munich airport, flight from 2 pm in Munich to 7 pm in Chicago, with a brief change of planes in Reykjavik. Of course there is a 7-hour time difference, so our brains thought it was 2 am when we landed, not 7 pm, and it was another 2 hours before we were in bed in our Chicago hotel.  "Relatively" is the key word here.

We have 2 nights to recover in Chicago, and kids and grandkids to see en route home to Seattle, so we will wrap up this year's travels with one more blog entry after this one.  Talk to you then.