Wednesday, June 2, 2010


It rained for most of May, so we were particularly pleased that the Monday of the Pfingsten – Pentecost – holiday was sunny and warm. After a lazy morning, we decided about midday we packed a lunch of cold cuts and took our bikes out for a ride along the river.

We followed the River Salzach along its northward course away from the city. The bright holiday afternoon had brought many Salzburgers out. Spandex-suited cyclists on light racing bikes competed with middle-aged women walking with determination. Young couples pushed strollers. Light flashed bright, shade, bright, as we entered the shadows of the trees and emerged again. To our right, the wide pale green river flowed, the irregular facets of its surface catching the light from different angles so it glinted light and dark. Occasionally it frothed white as it tumbled over rapids.

About two kilometres along, the path turned inland slightly as we crossed a wooden bridge over a small tributary. Now woods lined both sides of the path, but we could hear the Salzach beyond, still on our right. A kilometre or less more, and the path opened out into the sun once more as we approached a spear-shaped spit of land, known locally as the Spitz. Here, two rivers join: The Salzach to our right and, to our left, the Saalach. Converging at the Spitz they flow together northwest, forming the border between Austria and Germany.

On the sunny spit, children played in the sand. A couple of teenagers sat talking, water lapping their feet, looking toward the opposite shore of the Salzach. We walked to the tip of the sand, the strand rapidly narrowing as we reached the slender point, the very tip of the arrow. There we found two pairs of black shoes, empty toes pointing northward, toward the water, as though two friends had simply walked out of them and kept going, away across the water.

‘Looks like the Rapture’, said himself, as the light sparkled on the water.

Sitting on a miniscule grass-covered promontory above the strand, we watched the rivers’ flow. The mingling of the waters of the Salzach met the water of the Saalach was marked by slow swirls, the underwater tension evident in a sinuous ruffled edge, one side pale blue-green, the other a deeper yellow-green. Moving side by side, the two waters began to dissolve one into the other. Gradually the distinction blurred, the curlicue edges dissipated, and the two waters were one.

We ate our sandwiches and drank our wine at a shaded picnic table at the V-shaped edge of the wood, where the path turned back on itself, running southwest along side the Saalach, away from the confluence of the waters. Walkers, joggers and cyclists passed us on one side, turned at the sharp bend and continued in the opposite direction on the others side of us. After a while, we put the remainder of our wine in the back of the bike and joined them, following our noses and, taking the path away from the Salzach, cycled on, with the Saalach – and Germany – to our right.

It was good to feel the warmth of the afternoon as we pedalled along, muscles working, under the overhanging greens between shadow and light, light and shadow, passing other cyclists and walkers. A young girl sat astride a tiny brown and white pony, which a man and woman led by its bridle; an older couple walked beside a young woman pushing an infant in a stroller. We felt relaxed and free, at home in the countryside of a new place that is becoming familiar.

On the opposite side of the river we could see the footpath on German side. At one point, water tumbled over the bank and into the river. In the stillness, shaded by trees and viewed from across the expanse of water, the foaming waterfall looked like a painting from the Barbizon School. The path, temporarily deserted at this point, seemed otherworldly, remote and isolated. Soon, though, we began to pass houses, and we could see ahead the bridge where the thoroughfare that links Salzburg and German crosses the river. We rode up the Radweg – the bike path – to the pedestrian bridge and discovered to one side of it an hydroelectric plant. There, arrested by concrete, the river swelled and surged, its surface opaque and taut with pressure, before slipping over the spillway and, freed, speeding northward.

We continued west along the road, heading for Freilassing, the town just over the border. I was curious to know whether I can bicycle there to shop, if necessary. And we discovered it can be done with relative ease.

At last we turned back, cycling back to the Spitz, where we sat in the late afternoon sun, drinking the last of the wine and watching children play on the strand. Beyond the children, beyond the arrowed-tipped stand, the waters of the two rivers mingled and poured away northward, where they will meet first the waters of the Inn, then the Danube and, eventually, flow into the Black Sea.

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