The Wolfgangsee is a long, thin lake. St Gilgen lies at its most northern end, the town of Strobl at the other. Nearby are the Fuschlsee, the Mondsee and the Attersee, as well as teensy lakes like the Krotensee (rumoured to have swallowed a whole busload of people who were never recovered), the Hintersee and the Schwarzensee. Halfway down the northern coast is St Wolfgang, probably the most famous town in the Salzkammergut and until the middle ages the fourth largest pilgrimage destination in Europe. You still see a lot of people in wheelchairs even today...
St Gilgen is a lovely little town, and well worth a stay if you are a tourist in Austria. It's a 45-minute bus ride from Salzburg City, is smack on the lake, and offers every possible water sport you could imagine. The bike paths around the lake are well-defined and well-marked, and not difficult at all. If you venture away from the lake on your bike the going does get tougher, as you have to climb out of the lake basin to go practically anywhere, but even then the lengths of the climbs aren't too bad.
For walkers it's Paradise - countless trails take you virtually anywhere and the views from some of the higher peaks such as the Zwölferhorn are just magnificent. There's a cable car for the faint of heart :-)
The town itself is a bit touristy, but is still charming. There are cultural events such as bands, orchestras and plays on almost every evening during summer. We went to see "My Fair Lady" - in German, no less! You can visit things like Mozart's mum's house, too :-)
There are lots of excellent restaurants - our favourite was the Haus Tirol. The waiter there, we discovered, regularly caters for the Crocodile Run, a bicycle rally from Darwin to Cairns! He reported that the food he served to the rally was not really restaurant standard - just calories to be quickly shoveled down by hungry cyclists before they press on to glory and/or heat exhaustion. The food he served us though, was wonderful. Lis had a fresh tomato and basil soup and a chicken salad with a Tirolean specialty, a dressing made from pumpkin seed oil. I had grilled goat cheese on potato slices followed by entrecote. Yum.
We stayed at the Seepension Wenglhof (Wenglstrasse 1, A-5340 St Gilgen, Austria, telephone +43-6227-2476) and can recommend it unreservedly. Make sure you book well ahead of time - if you'll be staying in summer, book at least four months in advance. The place is neat, clean, uncomplicated, and most rooms have a view over the lake. The Haas family runs it and we found them most friendly and helpful.
Finding space for bicycles at hotels in Europe is often a problem; most people expect you to just leave them in the street. Our hosts opened their roomy garage in the morning and locked it up at night; we could just wheel our bikes out in the mornings and wheel them in when we returned in the evenings. Most civilised.
We had first class tickets, but in spite of booking the trip months in advance, I had still been too late to secure bicycle reservations. TranzBag to the rescue! By some internal logic known only to the railways, if you wrap your bike up in a huge bag made especially for the purpose, it counts as luggage and you can take it in the train with you - so I bought two. Lis lugged the luggage to the station while I lugged the bikes. The TranzBags are no good for carrying a bike any significant distance, so the trip to the station was wearing. Once in the train, though, we could forget about them until Salzburg.
The trip was great - perfect clear, sunny weather, so we watched Switzerland and Austria slide by for six hours. The Vorarlberg district in particular is great for travelling through - great stone faces rise up around you, then drop as suddenly away. Gloriously deep mountain valleys suddenly offer a view into the distance, and it feels as if the world is turning around you as the train moves.
The most exciting thing to happen though, was that our train caught fire! Not seriously thank goodness, but we did come to an unscheduled stop in Ziegelbrücke while the train crew dealt with it. For a good half hour we'd been able to smell burning electrical insulation, then suddenly there was smoke pouring past the window and announcements to the crew were being made over the public address system. We laid over for about ten minutes, then the rest of the trip was uneventful.
Customs/immigration inspections have come a long way; the officers who boarded our train for the crossing into Austria were checking passports with portable OCR readers and laptops.
Once in Salzburg we had to figure out how to get to St Gilgen. We located the buses, the next question was, what to do with the bikes? When the bus appeared, it seemed we had two choices - hurl the bikes into the luggage lockers under the bus, or quickly unship the bikes and hang them on the back of the bus in special hooks for the purpose. As the lockers filled with other passengers' bags, the first method didn't look too useful; besides, I had my doubts whether the bikes would fit even if they had the whole locker area to themselves.
So we quickly ripped the bikes out of the TranzBags, reattaching the front wheels, and hooked them on the back of the bus. Then we discovered that the hooks weren't designed for modern aluminium bikes, with their fat tubes and chunky tyres. The front wheels didn't fit in the channels provided, and the special struts designed to stop the bikes from swinging around wouldn't go around the fat aluminium frame of my bike. Lis' bike, with slightly narrower tubes, fitted into the strut alright, but couldn't be screwed in. Hm.
We ended up using the ocky strap from Lis' rack to hold the bikes down and to hold mine to Lis', reckoning that should do. A friendly fellow passenger, also with a bike, helped us figure it all out, but we spent a nervous 45 minutes in the bus to St Gilgen, craning our necks back at every sharp turn to see if the bikes had fallen off yet.
Mercifully they didn't; we unshipped them in St Gilgen none the worse for wear and made our way to the Wenglhof. It was out the other side of the village, so we wheeled our luggage atop the bikes all the way through town, down to the lake and out along the Mondseerstrasse to the hotel. After a period of recovery (during which I killed my Palm Pilot, leaving me in an email-free zone for the remainder of the holiday!), we set off on a walk through town, looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up having a nice meal at the Fischer Wirt, at an outside table looking out over the lake. We walked back to the Wenglhof through the dusk, looked at some ducks and went to bed.
Breakfast was what in Australia would be called "continental" - choice of breakfast cereals, preserved fruits, a meat platter, sliced breads, cheeses, jams, eggs in their shells, tea and coffee. Scorning the cereals, I had sliced meat and cheese on really nice rye bread, washed down with fruit juice and coffee. I don't usually eat breakfast, so breakfasting is part of being on holidays for me.
After breakfast, we headed off down the southern shore of the lake, heading for Strobl. The path follows the lake very closely mostly, so one is pedaling along past perfect lake view after perfect view. It being a sunny day, sailboats were out in force, as were other cyclists.
St Gilgen proper ends at about Lueg, where the mountain to the south comes close into the water; there's the lake, the path, the road and then a steep slope, almost a cliff, up away from the lake. Less than a kilometer after Lueg is Gschwandt. If you turn left at this point you end up going into the flatland around Farchen, Stockach and Reith, but we kept going straight ahead, turning in a little later, crossing the Zinkenbach creek to rejoin the lake shore at Weidingergut. The flatlands form a neck in the lake; at their closest, the two shores would be less than 500 metres apart, with St Wolfgang close enough to touch (almost).
A ride of about two kilometres into Strobl goes through more flatlands, with tall reeds along one side of the path. There is a separate walking path; the sign on the walking path says "Sensible cyclists don't ride here - and others are forbidden to!" :-) There was some sort of local show on in Strobl when we got there - a few little fairground attractions for the kids and a huge tent full of tables, beer and people. It didn't look like something for us, so we had an icecream across the way while we decided what to do next.
We had plenty of time, so in the end we decided to press on to St Wolfgang, figuring that we could always take the ferry from there if we looked like running out of daylight or puff. As it turned out we needn't have worried on either score.
The ride out of Strobl - and Strobl's centre - was very nice. There is a very prominent little spur sticking into the lake just north of where the Ischl River runs out of the Wolfgangsee. The spur is called the Bürgl ("little castle") and seems to be a park. The bike path detours around it just after crossing the Ischl. A moment or two of confusion where the bike path doglegs across a main road, then we were back into the peace of the countryside. Just after Schwarzenbach we were once again tooling along beside the lake, heading into St Wolfgang.
St Wolfgang is even kitschier than St Gilgen. It's more stretched out along the lake, but probably about the same size in terms of population. We tied our steeds to a handy light pole and wandered into the centre of town. A small orchestra was playing music in a square; we went down one of the cobbled side streets to have lunch at a cafe. After a bit of a wander we decided to press on.
The highlight of our visit to St Wolfgang would have to have been the rock-fetching dog. We were sitting on a bench by the water when a man and a woman and their dog arrived, out for a walk. The man had the dog on a long lead. The dog proceeded to go into the water up to its shoulders and wander around, finding rocks with his front paws then ducking under the water and picking them up in his mouth, bringing them out to lay at the man's feet! An amazing performance - some of the stones were really big and must have weighed several kilos.
After St Wolfgang we pedalled off past Ried, looking for the last ferry stop, Ferienhort. Ferienhort is (and its name means) a holiday camp. Just after Ried we came across some people trying to get a goat out of a square-mesh fence. It had pushed its head through one of the squares, but couldn't get it back out again. Brought back memories of goats :-) The country there took on a very provincial, countrysidish feel, aided by a couple of holiday pension-type buildings laden to the gunwales with geraniums in boxes.
There is a large, imposing building on the hill above the ferry landing, protected by many emphatic signs saying private property, passage only for those going to the landing. We didn't quite have the courage of our convictions and didn't go far enough to find the landing. We gave up and turned back, making it back to the Ried-Falkenstein landing just in time to catch the ferry to St Gilgen. We had to catch the ferry at either Ferienhort or Ried, because the bike path disappears into some very steep country between there and St Gilgen and we didn't want to tackle it just yet :-)
The ferry stopped in at Fürberg, the last stop before St Gilgen, just after the Ochsenkreuz, a little shrine set on the teensiest island you ever saw. We could see people all along the shore as we glided along, with little campsites and fires going. They must have either walked in from Fürberg or Ferienhort, or got there by boat. Several were swimming, and a group of boys was making very daring dives from a bluff. Fürberg looked nice, as did the little path to it along the edge of the lake. We could have got out at Fürberg, but we decided to stay on the ferry.
We took the bikes back to the hotel and went for a swim in the little bight just near the hotel. The water was very cold compared to the heat of the day - it was probably the coldest water I have voluntarily entered since I leapt into a Finnish lake after a sauna! The first few minutes were traumatic, but then numbness set in and we had a very enjoyable splash about. We swam out to one of the many mooring buoys around and hung off it for a while before spending an hour lying on our towels and drying off in the sun.
After our swim we dressed up a bit and went back into town. The yearly Dorffest (village festival) was happening. There were stalls everywhere and a band, the Kapruner Buam ("the Kapruner Boys"), was belting out what seemed to be old favourites, interspersed with politically highly incorrect jokes. We had a drink or two, a sausage and a plate of speck on rye, Lis had a chocolate brezel! We wandered amongst the stalls and listened to the Kapruner Buam for a while, then went back to the hotel for a very restful night's sleep.
I sat for a while on the front porch of the hotel; big flat slate flagstones set under one corner of the building, with great arches on three sides. The day was perfect; sunny, with a gentle cooling breeze coming off the lake.
As I sat, enjoying the day and the geraniums in a pot on the table beside me, mine host wandered by, dressed in short lederhosen. I asked what he thought of them; whether he was wearing them for the tourists or whether he would normally wear something like that. He said he wore them often, though this was his first short pair. I learned that lederhosen, in common with much "folk" costume, are almost always acceptable as formal wear. We had a most enjoyable chat before he went about his hostly duties. He was amused at the holy war currently raging in (I think) Appenzell, over whether a straight or slant cut leg opening on lederhosen constitutes the "real", "original" and one true style for the official folk costume.
Later I went into town on my bike for something to eat. While I ate I inspected the map, looking for a likely ride to fill the afternoon. I wanted to try getting at least part of the way up the Zwölferhorn. Not all the way up, as there is a one kilometre altitude difference :-) A likely looking path called the Mozartsteig seemed to be a good candidate, climbing southwest out of St Gilgen and turning northwest towards the Fuschlsee. So I hopped on the wheels and headed off.
In hindsight, the fact that I couldn't even find the exit leading to this path off the main road should have been a pointer to the idea that maybe my map wasn't up to the task at hand. However, I pressed on. The roads at the edge of St Gilgen got really steep. I asked a lady I met at a crucial corner which of two paths she'd recommend, she said I should go back. Humph. I asked her what the Mozartsteig was like, she said that in places she had to carry Pooky, gesturing at her small dog (which wasn't called Pooky, but should have been). With the supreme arrogance of the still-fresh cyclist and a tourist to boot, I decided that since she didn't have my map, I was the better informed, and Proceeded.
Well, about half a kilometre later the road got really steep. I made it to where the asphalt gave way to dirt, looked at the left hand fork, which was even steeper, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour, taking the right fork. After about half a kilometre I was upgrading my opinion of the lady (though not of Pooky) and wondering if it had all been a good idea. The path became a track, then barely that, and started zigging and zagging more or less straight up the very steep slope. I pushed, carried and hauled my bike 200 metres vertically over about a kilometre of zigzags, depicted on the map as about 200 metres of track. At least I think it was depicted on the map - I am even now none too sure that the path I took was actually on the map, since the scale of the map was too small to see the zigs and zags.
Just in time - because I was nearing exhaustion! - I got over the spur and I was able to actually ride a few hundred metres off and on. The trail led through deep forest, a layer of deep brown humus under the wheels and that special deep brown summer smell that forests have. A sign proclaimed that I'd reached Mozartblick, which let me locate myself on the map at last. The view was pretty special - down and over St Gilgen towards Fürberg.
The rest of the path into Fuschl am See was uneventful, though a couple of places let me try out the downhilling skills I got in June, which was fun. Dropped the bike seat, hung my butt out over the back and bounced down the track far too fast for safety. Great!
The path led through the Ellmautal past Ellmau. The last few kilometres were tarred road and more or less downhill, so I spun through the sun feeling just dandy. The road joined the main road from Salzburg just outside Fuschl am See. Since I wanted to pick Lis up at five, I didn't go into Fuschl am See, but turned instead towards St Gilgen.
The main road into St Gilgen is a wide, wide main road. Even though it has only two lanes, there is plenty of room for cyclists on the shoulder. There is a long but gentle climb, then the road gets ever steeper as it heads down into the bowl of the Wolfgangsee. Zooming downhill on a wide, safe road is a truly excellent way to end an afternoon's ride, especially when it has begun so strenuously.
Lis and I went back to the hotel, showered, and wandered into St Gilgen. We had a bit of a walk around town and ate overlooking the town square at a hotel called (I think) "Hotel zur Post". The building used to be the post station in the times of the old Kaisers. Can't remember what we had, except I do remember my entree was a very nice Speckteller with creamed horseradish sauce.
Because I wanted to devote some time to the expected phone call I was looking for a nice place to stop, and I found a lovely knoll looking out over the "neck" of the lake, directly opposite the delightfully named Pichl am See. The phone call never came, but I spent a restful hour or so gazing out over the lake, hearing birds call and hearing the lake clop and splish contentedly among the stones on the shore. The weather, need I mention it, was perfect - bright sunlight and a gentle breeze along the shore.
To meet Lis at twelve I had to hurry back, so I turned around and cycled back past Scharfling, turning right to St Gilgen at the Egelsee. The road between the two lakes (the Mondsee and the Wolfgangsee) rises 80 metres or so coming from Scharfling, before dropping 40 into St Gilgen. The trip back to St Gilgen is thus a bit tougher than the trip out, not least because the climb from Scharfling is three times longer as well as twice as far vertically! The payoff coming from Scharfling is a lovely, if short, spin down into St Gilgen. The nearly three kilometres of downhill run down towards Scharfling is much nicer though, fast enough to be a bit hair-raising even.
After lunching with Lis, I decided to ride all the way around the Mondsee. Tackling the road to Scharfling was no problem, and this time I kept going rather than stopping at my knoll. I didn't stop to look at anything in particular, I just rode and rode. The weather stayed perfect, the scenery passing by was superb, the road was flat and it just felt wonderful to be thinking about nothing but the ride.
There are two particularly interesting bits of cycling on the Mondsee though - the first (for me) was the area around Pichl am See, where the path suddenly heads into a short but very hilly section. There was a farmhouse near the top, and a huge swirl of swallows, or perhaps even swifts, was circling and swooping around it. A lovely sight against the clear blue sky.
The other special bit came just after rounding the south-west end of the lake. The (main) road is cobbled there for about half a kilometre, and runs just above water level in a channel carved horizontally into the cliffs rising out of the lake - sort of a grotto for automobiles. It is very narrow - walking pace for cars, and certainly no passing. There are no signs telling motorists how to behave. It's all very polite and chivalrous, with cars ducking behind stone pylons and waiting for others to pass. The stone seeps, so where the road is in shadow the air is always moist and cool.
Made it back in plenty of time to pick Lis up from the sailing school, after which we went to a pizza restaurant for dinner. The pizzas were very good :-)
The first part of the ride was just getting to Strobl, a familiar stretch. After rounding the Bürgli again and doglegging across the main road, I continued on towards Russbach rather than taking the left turn and riding along the creek towards Schwarzenbach. The new path joined the road to the Schwarzensee at Russbach. The road then tilts up - there is a warning sign, even! - for nearly a kilometre. The road levels out for a few hundred metres, then dips down into a carpark and bifurcates around the lake, about 60 metres lower than the carpark. It was a beautiful sight, the lake glittering in its bed, pine covered sloped climbing up out of the lake basin on all sides.
The left hand side of the lake had a beergarden on it, so I headed down the left fork, which dropped me sharply down to the level of the lake. I stopped at the beergarden and had a "Brettljause" - speck, gherkins and rye bread served on a wooden board for a plate - and about five long cold drinks. While I was waiting for my second drink a couple arrived looking dusty and hot; they seemed to be trying to work out which path went where, so I offered them a look at my map. I asked how far they'd walked that day, and they said they'd just walked from the carpark! They looked like they'd been tramping for hours.
After a good rest, gazing out from under a tree over the lake and listening to the waitress doing all her business at the top of her voice ("A sausage and mustard? Coming right up. And you sir? A beer? No worries! Ah, leaving already? Goodo, that'll be 57 Schilling please. No change? Oh, thank you so much! Byeeee!") I headed further down the lake into new territory.
The next few kilometres, past Untere Hofalm along the Eisenauweg (through the Moosalm and following the Moosbach creek) went through country very reminiscent of that around Mt Kosciusco - dry, shaley ground, some trees and lots of stunted shrubby stuff. The road was very eroded, down to the rock in many places. It was quite cool, I guess because of the extra few hundred metres altitude, though very sunny. The going was relatively flat, though winding. As far as the route was concerned, there were no decisions to make until the end of the ridge, where the country drops down to the Attersee on the right or the Mondsee on the left. I missed a little hunters' hut and only realised I was on the wrong path when I saw a sign pointing down at about a 45 degree angle reading "Burggrabenklamm" - the definitely hikers-and-goats-only direct path to the shore of the Attersee. Mountain bike or no mountain bike, time to turn back. After I located the hunters' hut and turned left, heading for Burgau, the road started climbing a bit. At one point there was a boom across the road and a large sign saying "no passage, cyclists included". Hmm. It was a long way back. I decided to ignore the sign after I saw the third cyclist coming the other way :-)
I'd overtaken a lady on a bike just after the Schwarzensee. After missing the turn at the hunters' hut I passed her again just after the turnoff. As I pondered the boom gate, she passed me (not even pausing to consider stopping, apparently). And after I did likewise, I passed her yet again, this time on quite a steep grade. Each time I pass somebody I always say something in greeting - I hate those dreadfully "professional" cyclists, invariably clad to the nines in Lycra, who whizz past with an air of great seriousness. So this lady had been the recipient of three of my cheerful greetings. Anyway, at the top of the stretch, the ridge broke down and to the right, and through a long valley the western end of the Attersee was just visible, gleaming in the sun. It was a magical view, and somebody was already there enjoying it. After a minute he asked, in English and with an English accent, if the lake below was the Mondsee, so I hauled out my battered map and we located ourselves on it. Then who should arrive but hif wife, my multiply-overtaken lady friend, who thanked me for my encouragement, though she'd not understood a word of it :-)
The road went downhill for half a kilometer, up over the end of a spur, then dropped like a stone, curving off the mountains towards the Attersee. Drop like a stone is more or less what I did too - I think I went through about half my remaining brake pads getting down to the lake, but it was fun. The run was a good three kilometers, and very winding. I saw several very hot people pushing bikes the other way.
I got to the lake about a kilometre west of Burgau (going around a matching boom gate :-) and turned left to head along the shore. The obvious way home would have been along the Seeache river (which joins the south-west end of the Attersee with the east end of the Mondsee) and back home through Scharfling, but that would have taken only an hour, maybe two, and it was only midday or so. I decided instead to loop up the west shore of the Attersee for a bit and cross through Oberaschau, to come back to the Mondsee somewhere along its northern shore.
The ride along the Attersee was uneventful; the weather stayed very sunny. I bought some stamps in Unterach, but otherwise just enjoyed the ride through Ellend, Fasching, Zettelmuehle... At Stockwinkle, or a tad after, I turned left to head up and away from the lake, towards Reiserbauer.
Well! The map didn't show it, but the road was Cyclists Uphill Hell - it just seemed neverending, zigging and zagging and zigging and zagging, always up, and up, and up. My water bottle was empty after one and half kilometres, but the road wasn't finished by a long chalk. Along the way being overtaken as if standing still (which I practically was) by two disgustingly fit cyclists (silent, serious, no-greeting, Lycra-clad) I struggled my way past Ramsau, past Reiserbauer, through Upper and Lower Promberg (not in that order), before finally reaching what seemed to be The Top. There was a farmhouse there, a little chapel (I thought dark thoughts about the chapel) and a gentleman who had been watching my slow progress for the last few hundred metres. He offered to fill my waterbottle, which I promptly emptied, so he filled it again :-)
To my joy, however, the farmhouse and chapel really did mark The Top, and the road forward was a wonderful, long downhill run, nearly all the way to the Mondsee - probably ten or eleven kilometres in all. The weather was still fine as I spun through Oberaschau, Haslau, Diebrechtschwand, Tiefenschwand to Loibichl. The bikepath as marked on the map detoured through Langmann and Aichriedl, but the start of the detour went uphill - bugger that! Turned left at Loibichl and was once more rolling south with the Mondsee to my right.
The rest of the trip was a repeat of the last part of the Mondsee trip, although I met up with and chatted for a pleasant couple of kilometres with a chap who was headed the same way. I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got back to the turnoff to St Gilgen, so I rode on to Scharfling and had a drink and an icecream. After the climb to the Schwarzensee and the exertion of the climb to Aichereben, the last few kilometres over the ridge to St Gilgen seemed a doddle.
Met Lis about midday and we walked back to St Gilgen together to have lunch at the Dorfcafe, outside the Gasthof Ferstl. OK for drinks, but the Gasthof Ferstl can not be recommended for food, very disappointing. Lis went back to her sailing course, and I went back to reading.
That afternoon I rode to meet Lis at the sailing school and we decided to ride out to Fürberg for dinner. Disappointingly for bike riders the path is closed to cyclists. Not being stuck miles from anywhere we decided to heed this one. Besides, the path is quite narrow and there were pedestrians on it - hurtling along on bikes didn't seem very civilised, which didn't stop plenty of other people ignoring the signs.
The evening was still sunny, though the lowering sun was making the whole lake sparkle. The path was overhung with trees, and the stones at the lake's edge just a couple of metres below were making that now very familiar "glopping" noise. There were a few plaques and such along the path, but they were carved in such a way as to be very difficult to read - they did look nice though.
Looking over the lake from the path, St Gilgen was spread out in the evening light. Lis took lots of photographs. We ate in the open air outside the restaurant at the Gasthof Fürberg as the evening cooled, then Lis walked back along the way we came while I cycled up and out, returning via the teensy town of Winkl-Aich, which has a very strange statue/fountain in it.
The cable car station is right on the main road, since the mountain is a skiing area during winter. This meant a leisurely walk (after a sleep-in and brekky in town), up past the church and the post office to the main road. We debated briefly whether to get one-way tickets and walk down, but sanity won the day and we purchased return tickets. The cab up was shared with two Austrian paragliders, who discussed the air and the weather intensely all the way up. The cable car ride is a good three kilometres long, climbing about a kilometre straight up; the view down into the lake valley is fantastic all the way.
Reaching the end of the cable car ride we did what everyone else did - headed straight for the summit, another 50 metres or so of up. The summit is saddle-shaped, with its axis pointing roughly east-west. The pommel at the western end is the actual summit, but there is a second knoll at the eastern end which has a terrific view down the Wolfgangsee. In the middle there is a large wooden viewing platform with a signpost showing distances and directions to the surrounding peaks, towns and other landmarks.
On the St Gilgen side of the saddle on the way to the summit there were dozens of paragliders setting up and leaping off at regular intervals. They spend seemingly hours laying all the traces just so before the ground controller (a chap with a walky-talky, who brooks no nonsense) gives them the go-ahead. Then they turn down the hill, gather the traces in their hands at each side, and with giant steps charge down the mountain. The top edge of their paraglider curls off the ground, catches the air and leaps skyward; the pilot heaves down on the traces, lifts his or her legs from the ground, and is airborne. It is quite marvellous to watch.
Very quickly, the newly airborne become specks of black under their colourful canopies. The newcomers and the ones in a hurry shot off towards St Gilgen to land on the fields outside the town; the good ones found updrafts and thermals and did lazy spins, rising ever higher. We watched one such until he was so high even the colours of his canopy were gone; just a speck in the sky, apparently headed for Fuschl, or perhaps even more distant parts. "A clear sky, and safe landings", we thought...
After taking in the views from the summit - very impressive - and watching the paragliders take off and dwindle into the distance, we walked down to the other end of the saddle and drank in the clear day and the great wells of air in the valleys. Even from that height I couldn't see the Schwarzensee, tucked in its valley above Strobl.
Then we had lunch at the Berghof - Lis had a great hearty goulasch soup with sausage slices in it; I had a Wiener Schnitzel with lashings of potato salad. Then we headed back down in the cable car. We wandered back down into the town of St Gilgen, and found ourselves in a little park off the main road through town. A sculptor of rare fantasy had been at work, sculpting strange sacks from steel, populating the lawn like peaceful aliens. Among it all, a solitary steel sheep was grazing, with steel wool and an iron tail. We found a bench in the dapple to sit on, and read for a while. St Gilgen fills up on the weekends in summer, so people were walking about everywhere.
After a long read, it was time to head for Strobl, so we went back to the hotel, dropped off our reading material, got on our bikes and headed off. After an uneventful ride over what was becoming familiar territory, we got to a transformed Strobl, packed to the gunwales with people and stalls. We tied our bikes to a handy bike stand, miraculously still with empty spaces, and headed into the crowds to look around.
It had everything! Stalls selling knick knacks, a tombola, kids everywhere, a band, an orchestra, any number of stalls selling food, a dunking stool, musicians, some local cheese makers selling their cheese direct from the round, dressed in traditional costume...everything. There were two gestures to the nineties, an aerobics display (came just after the Schuhplattler!) and a skydiving display. The cheese sellers seemed to be in league with the MC, who seemed to be touting for them rather more than seemed necessary.
We dined on half a roast chicken each, with chips (traditional Austrian fare, no really!), partook of some of the excellent pastries on offer, had a coffee or two and watched the tombola with great interest as we both had tickets, but didn't win anything. The Schuhplattler was fun, but quite different to my faded memories of something similar in Melbourne when I was five or six. The one in Strobl seemed very slow and dignified in comparison.
We had determined before leaving St Gilgen that a special ferry would be landing at Strobl, moving out onto the lake for the duration of the fireworks, then landing again at Strobl before heading back to St Gilgen, last ferry of the evening. That was Plan A - to watch the fireworks from the ferry, then get back on the bikes to ride back to St Gilgen. At least, we thought the ferry would land at Strobl again, the guy in St Gilgen had not been very clear on that point. If it didn't, we would have to either watch the fireworks from the shore or take the bikes on board and not ride back.
When the ferry arrived, hasty words were had with the steward; yes, it did land at Strobl one last time before heading back to St Gilgen. At the last minute, though, we decided it was too far, too dark and too cold to ride to St Gilgen, we'd take the bikes on the ferry. We had three minutes to get the bikes from where we had left them and get back on the boat! So off we dashed through the lights and the people, making it back to the ferry, as it turned out, with oodles of time to spare. Leaving the bikes below, we went up to the top deck to watch the fireworks, which were somewhat delayed. I suddenly realised I'd only asked for tickets to St Wolfgang (no idea why) and went to pay the difference; the steward just smiled and said all was well, so that was nice.
The ferry pushed off, moved slowly to its vantage point and stopped; we waited for the fireworks, listened to the MC over the water, and watched the last of the water-skiing displays, eerie affairs with flare-lit skiers and silent searchlights over the water. The lake was covered with small craft, people who had rented motorboats, electroboats or paddleboats to get their own vantage point on the water. A great golden moon rose as we waited; moonlight reflected off the clouds and the water.
Finally the fireworks started, an hour late it seemed to me, but worth the wait. The explosions echoed mightily off the mountains all around, booming and rumbling. One firework, a kind of super Roman Candle with fireballs, toppled over and started firing across the water like a cartoon howitzer; it could have been very bad, but in the end noone was damaged and watching startled paddleboaters get the hell out of Dodge City was very amusing :-)
It stopped back in Strobl as promised and fairgoers streamed aboard, as it was the last ferry. Many seemed disappointed they couldn't stay longer, many were much the worse for wear. Finally the ferry turned its nose down the lake, and we headed off. There was a bar on the lower deck doing a roaring trade, and somebody had an accordion. At each stop, the door would open, the volume would rise ten notches, the ferry would belch a bunch of happy people and smoke, there would be a cheering welter of goodbyes and good lucks, the steward's hand would be shaken by one or more drunks, then the door would close, the engines would drum the hull and we'd slide off over the water again.
The night was cooling; what with the gentle breeze on the lake and the wind of our passage, it was getting downright nippy for people in shorts and T-shirts. The top deck was empty except for us, so we snuggled on a bench behind the cabin as the lake slid by :-)
As we coasted past Fürberg and the Ochsenkreuz, we saw camp fires on the shoreline, no doubt belonging to the people we'd seen on Sunday. We offloaded the bikes a few minutes later in St Gilgen and rode home to the Wenglhof for a sound, sound sleep.
Then we discovered that the bus we were taking had no bike rack, so some more rapid hand movements got the front wheels and mudguards off, and the bikes got stowed in the luggage lockers under the bus. Luckily these were much larger on this coach-style bus then they'd been on the yellow Post-bus that we'd taken the first time. And we didn't have to worry about the bikes falling off.
The day before we'd decided to take some more days holiday and go see Salzburg, so the first order of the day once we reached Salzburg was to get the reservations for the return trip fixed. Luckily we still managed to get places in the bike wagon for the bikes, so we wouldn't have to use the TranzBags.
We'd arranged a hotel through Salzburg Info, a service we will not use again since they directed us to the Hotel Adlerhof. This establishment is close to the railway station, on Elisabethstrasse. This is all it has to recommend it. Situated over the way from not one, not two but THREE shops purveying what in quainter days would have been called "marital aids", its rooms were threadbare and stuffy. There were cockroaches in the bathroom. The shower did not drain properly, leaving one standing in a pool of soapy water. The road noise was everpresent and loud. The locals conducted loud and often angry conversations outside at all hours of the night. The breakfast was rolls, jams, orange juice and coffee - the orange juice was the right colour, at least, but the coffee had not even that slim claim to authenticity. The staff (except, it must be said, for the guy at reception) were surly.
We lasted three nights, then moved around the corner to the more expensive but infinitely more comfortable Bayrischer Hof. Our three days in Salzburg are a story for another day; on Thursday 5th August we headed back to Zurich.