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Three epic weekends in a row, that is. Or, at least, three adventuresome weekends in a row. When I left off last time, we had just finished a ride down to and around Tergensee lake (or more properly, that’s probably Tergen Lake, since see = lake) at the beginning of a 3-day weekend. We had train tickets booked for Salzburg for the next day, just over the Eastern border in Austria. We decided to try the whole “Europe by backpack” thing, so we packed up our backpacks so we could carry everything with us on our bike. Then we found a hostel online so we could see what communal-living hostel-style is like. After our 2 hour Sunday morning train ride, we arrived in a dreary Salzburg and made our way a couple miles through town to the hostel. From the outside, it was not really unlike a normal, smallish hotel. We checked in and went to our room, and that’s where the differences pick up. We were in an 8-bed dorm room with four bunk beds, shared with 3 British guys. The average hostel seems to be about $20/night/bed, so for one or two people it is a good deal. Once you start getting to 3, 4 or more people, it might be getting more expensive than a cheap hotel. But the services there were very nice. There were several large groups of student-aged people and a few big families, so there were always lots of people coming and going and congregating and whatnot.
So we immediately got our cycling gear on and set out with a map of the area in search of some mountains to climb (that was the easy part – finding them). It was perfect weather – sunny, low 70’s, not a could in sight, so I didn’t bother to bring anything besides by light wind vest. Alisha always carries her rain jacket, which turned out to be a very wise decision. We got to our first climb pretty quickly. Salzburg is in kind of a flat valley, so once you get out of town you can find any number of small roads that put you straight up into the Alps. Once again, I ran out of gears very quickly, and grinded (ground?) my way up for a couple kilometers while Alisha sped on ahead, still using her straight (racing) cassette (i.e. her gears don’t go as low as mine). But once we got up to the top of the first climb and were officially into the mountains, the roads was very pleasant; winding around and through the mountains, running along the edges of vast ravines, through rock tunnels and around valley lakes. Following our topo map, we found our way onto some dirt and gravel trails that were much more fit for mountain bikes, but we continued on anyway for maybe 8 miles on the dirt tracks. That’s when the ride turned into an adventure though, along the likes of The Odyssey or Shakelton’s expedition into the Antarctic.
Once we started heading back towards town, though, after about 3 hours on the road, we spotted dark clouds on the horizon ahead of us. They came in much more quickly than we had hoped, and one minute the wind picked up to gale force, and in the next minute the rain started coming at us sideways. Alisha got on her rain jacket quickly and we stowed the camera and map in a plastic bag. The rain started driving very hard in our faces – it’s tough to figure out how you’re supposed to see through rain like that because your glasses get fogged on the inside and of course rain and water on the outside, but if you take your glasses off you can’t keep your eyes open. I wore mine kind of on the end of my nose peering over the top of them, trying to block some rain coming up, and the water slung off of Alisha’s back tire. We found our way to a small town and pulled out the map again to see how to get back. We decided to ignore a sign that clearly marked “Salzburg 20km” and take a more direct route we found on the map. That, predictably, was a mistake – there was a reason the signs weren’t directing traffic down the roads we went on. After a couple km, the roads were getting smaller and smaller, and we ended up on a single lane dirt road/path with gullies of water running down the middle. We turned around, sure we took a wrong turn, but sure enough that was the right way. After going down the dirt road, downhill up to 20% in places (although thankfully no uphill), we found our way to the town we were looking for, and from there we followed the posted signs back to Salzburg, which was still 14km away, having ridden at least 12km since the last sign. They took us on some pretty big highways that we normally wouldn’t be riding on, but we needed to get back to town fast. It kept getting colder, and the rain wasn’t slowing up. I was doing ok (well, miserable, but bearable), but as we neared town Alisha’s hands and feet were getting too cold to handle. We entered in the north-east part of town, opposite of where we left and where the hostel was. By then our maps were too wet to read, so we found a bus station to figure out how to get into the south of town. Even then, we took a wrong turn somewhere but were fortunate enough to find an idling taxi driver to ask. But we got our way back to the hostel, ran up to the showers and gradually increased the water temperature until we got feeling back into our extremities.
So that ride took most of the day, and it was nearly dark already when we went out in search of food. We found a great small place to eat, then wondered around the town for a while. Salzburg is called the City of Music for a couple very good reasons. First, it is the birthplace and hometown of Wolfgang Mozart, where he wrote and first performed all his most famous symphonies. As such, there are Mozart hotels and Mozart galleries and Mozart trails and all that. Second, Salzburg was the setting for the film The Sound of Music. If you do a Google image search for the Sound of Music, you will find many many pictures of Julie Andrews and all the other Sound of Music people in and around places in Salzburg, most notably usually with the Salzburg Fortress in the background. There are several Sound of Music walking tours and screen and stage performances, and the hostel we were at even showed it movie every evening in the lounge. So anyway, the town is full of orchrestra halls, operas and theaters. We stumbled onto one outdoor showing of a film of some famous stage play in one of the main courtyards with the Salzburg Fortress lit up as a backdrop. The town was full of people walking and window-shopping, and large groups of tuxedo laden men and evening gown draped women in their way to or from the opera or ballet. We stopped into an espresso bar that we were not nearly cool enough to even set foot in, then made our way back to the hostel to jump in our lumpy bunk beds.
Monday morning was still pretty dreary, and I really wasn’t up for another ride in the rain, although Alisha, better prepared this time with all her rain gear, sure was. I opted to let her go on, and went out for a run instead. I went up through the hills and ran around the Fortress and several smaller castles that overlook the town. Then went back to the hostel and waited for Alisha to come back, after having ridden another 4 hours through the mountains. One nice thing about the hostel was that even though we were officially checked out of our room, we could still use the showers, then leave our bags in the storage area while we explored the town for the rest of the day, before catching an evening train back to Muenchen and once again riding in the rain from the central station back to our apartment.
The Monday we got back from Salzburg (which was a Bavaria public holiday) was the start of the Deutschland Tour, one of the smaller major bike races in Europe (after the Tour de France, Giro de Italia, Veuelta de Espana). It started up in Eastern Germany, and made an clockwise route along the edge of the country, going through the Bavarian Alps in Austria just south of Munich by late week. We looked at the train schedule, and found out that Alisha could get a Bayern (Bavaria) Ticket for a whole day for just 17 Euros. Seeing as Bayern is the largest state in Germany, that’s a pretty good deal. So we figured Thursday was the best chance for her to go check out the Tour, so we got a Bayern ticket and she headed down with her bike to Garmish-Partenkirchen Thursday morning. After a 40km ride south into the mountains, she was along the Tour course. We found the largest climb of the day where the riders would be coming through more slowly and spread out, so she got as far up that climb as she could before the caravan showed up. The riders were preceded by a long string of Tour and team cars that were making announcements, playing music and throwing out merchandise. She snagged a T-Mobile hat, then watched the peleton come though on their way up the hill. She got a few good pictures, but not good enough to pick out Ullrich or anybody, or Americans like Levi Leipheimer, who went on to win that day’s stage and the whole tour, beating local hero Ullrich by 32 seconds.
She liked what she saw so much in Garmish-Partenkirchen that we decided to make that the next weekend destination. We booked a couple more Bayern tickets for the weekend (check this out – a single person, single day Bayern ticket is 17 euros, but a group ticket for up to 5 people for a whole day, anywhere in Bayern, is only 24 euros!) and found what looked to be a cool Bed & Breakfast online. Once again, it was raining when we arrived in Garmish, so we made our way a couple miles to the foot of the mountain the B&B was on. At the foot of the mountain, we had to drop our bikes off in the garage, then take a small, 4 person gondola/cable-car up to the top of the hill! It was pretty cool, and proved to be the only time the whole weekend we were able to get some pictures being sheltered from the rain (pictures which were later inadvertently deleted from the camera without downloading to my computer. oh well). So once again, after an early check-in we headed out in the rain on our bikes, looking to do about a 50 mile route. We had a map of the area, but we wanted to go west into Austria which wasn’t on the map. We wrote down the roads and towns we wanted to go through that weren’t on the map (using a comprehensive European map on Alisha’s laptop), figuring we wouldn’t have any trouble finding our way. Once again, though, as you’ve probably guessed, that proved to be our downfall.
Once we went off the map, we started looking for the highway numbers we wanted, but they never came. The problem was that the roads over here are predominately marked by what town is next (e.g. Felising), not by number and cardinal direction (e.g. 321 North). So if we didn’t write down the right town, then we would miss the turn, which is exactly what happened of course. After we had merged with a couple highways, gone through a mile long tunnel and found ourselves on an Autobahn onramp that I didn’t recall seeing on our map, we figured we were totally lost. We found some kindly old men on their bikes who didn’t speak a lick of English, so all we were able to confirm was that yes, we were not on the map, and we needed to go “that way” to a town, and that we should not go through the tunnel (too late for that one). So once we got into down and found a store and a map, we figured we were at least 12 miles from where we wanted to be, with no short-cut back, so all in all it was about a 25 mile detour. Fortunately, it had stopped raining and was shaping up to be a decent afternoon, exactly opposite of the weather the previous weekend. We got back on track, took the right roads and, after passing through beautiful villages and some pristine Alpine lakes, had managed about 85 miles and 5.5 hours of ride time (6.5 overall time probably) by the time we made it back to Garmish. As we rolled close to town, it was getting dark and we saw two signs, one for Garmish and one for Partenkirchen. Having previously thought that Garmish-Partenkirchen was a single place, we were unsure exactly where to go, so we chose to go to Garmish. This was apparently the wrong choice, as it took another 1/2 hour to find our way to the train station, which was the only point of reference we had in the town, and it was fully dark by the time we were on the way back to the hotel. That was interesting, as the road leading up to the gondola station is an unlit single lane pockmarked road. Back at the hotel, finally, wet and hungry, we realized it was already 9:00 and the hotel restaurant was closing. They put together some cold meat, cheese and bread for us though and a couple big Radlers, as we listened to the guitar and accordion duo playing a couple tables away (Bavarian men, leder-hosen, calf socks, feather in hat, all that).
As luck would have it, we discovered the next day that we made the entirely wrong choice at the Garmish–>, Partenkirchen < — signs we saw the previous day. Our hotel was in the Partenkirchen part of town, which would have been only about 2km ride from that fork in the road, had we taken it. So after the full Saturday, Alisha decided it would best benefit her training for a “short” 50 mile ride on Sunday, so who am I to argue? We were sure to stay on the map this time, covering some of the same local roads we did on Saturday. Sunday saw constant, steady rain the entire time. We were fully bundled in rain pants, jackets, jerseys, arm warmers, wind vest, leg warmers, and gloves, so we stayed quite comfortable the whole day. After 2 weekends of chasing Alisha up and down hills in the rain, though, I believe I’ve eaten an entire year’s worth of the FDA allowance of road grime.
By this point, we were thinking how appropriate it is that the German word for weather is “Wetter”. On Monday, through, I gathered from glancing at the headlines and listening to my co-workers that much of Europe, and Bavaria especially, was experiencing some of the heaviest rains in years and flooding was starting in the mountains. By Tuesday, much of Garmish-Partenkirchen was under water and the trains we had taken just two days earlier had stopped running. The pictures on the news and in the papers were pretty bad – 30+ people killed in Romania, several killed in Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany, and the worst flooding they’ve seen in decades. All this while Portugal and Spain are experiencing severe drought and devastating wildfires. The situation reminds me, though, of what the US experiences quite often, with hurricanes and rains in the South and East, but drought and wildfire in the West.
Thankfully by mid-week the rain was letting up and the forecast looked much better for the foreseeable future. By Wednesday we were already planning our next “big adventure”, but we ruled out trips too deep into the Southern Alps to stay out of the way of the floods and relief efforts. Salzburg, which is in the Alps but nearly on latitude with Munich, seemed to have escaped the severe flooding, so we decided on the small town of Berchtesgaten near the lake Koerginsee in a German National Forest. Alisha says by now I should truncate this entry by summing up the Berchtesgaten weekend with – we came, we saw, we rode, we ran, we went home, which would describe it pretty well actually. We did decide, though, that if we were going to make it a habit of taking weekend trips by train and bike we’d better get some decent backpacks, so we made a trip to the local “Sport Sheck” last week and got a couple real hiking backpacks. We can now take long weekends without hanging shoes, jackets and plastic bags off of our bookbags. So with our brand new backpacks stuffed full we headed off to Berchtesgaten Saturday morning. My co-workers tell me that Berchtesgaten and Koerginsee are popular German tourist destinations, although not so much for International travelers. We found another very nice and quaint B&B just outside Berchtesgaten and settled in on Saturday morning. Then, what else, but a bike ride! We pulled out the maps and discovered that since we were so far into the countryside that it was actually rather difficult to find good road-biking routes. There are mountain-bike paths and trails galore, as most of the smaller roads are dirt, but most of the paved roads were the bigger highways going from town to town. These highways were pretty good to ride on with not a ton of traffic, but they weren’t quite the Alpine roads you always see the Tour de France guys ride up. We set off with our maps and did a nice 35-40 mile loop with some pretty good climbs to satisfy our mountain legs.
We woke up Sunday (today) to more rain, and although Alisha had a 6-hour ride on her training calendar, we both decided we didn’t much feel like spending any more hours in the rain on our bikes, so we opted for a long run instead. That turned out to be a pretty good idea because we were able to run into the Koerginsee National Park and explore the trails around the lake, which were mostly wide and smooth, not unlike the ones at Umstead Forest in Raleigh or Moses Cone Park in Blowing Rock. We made it back to the B&B in 1.5 hours, and of course Alisha kept going, but I was spent. It was still early afternoon, and since the towns seemed pretty dead, we decided to jump on the 3:00 train back to Munich, which is where I am now as I write this!
So back at the apartment now after a good dinner at a cafe across the street. Hopefully I won’t fall so far behind again so I don’t have to write any more marathon posts. I’ll try to keep to 1 post a week or so now, since we’re staying so busy with everything else – riding, travelling, work, language lessons, etc. I already have an adventure planned for next week – headed to Brussels, Belgium for a couple days with some co-workers! Alisha decided to stay here and ride in the mountains because it is not worth it to pack up the bike for a 2 day trip. She is getting ready for the Tour of Tuscany in Italy in mid-September, so she has to keep her training consistent. Check back on the trip to Belgium – I’ll see how good the waffles really are!