We leave Seefeld under dark skies on the 8:47 train, which was delayed until 8:55. You always hear about the vaunted efficiency and on-time performance of the German railway system, but, in our experience, this is a myth (unless of course that efficiency does not extend across the border into Austria). Punctuality is particularly critical today for we must take three trains to reach the start of the great cycle tour, and the exigencies of scheduling have only left eight minute gaps between the arrival and departures at our two connections. Missing the train will mean long waits for the next one (two hours at Innsbruck, one at Wels), so we have a small amount of anxiety on this score. The journey begins inauspiciously when the Seefeld train, the first link in the chain consumes our safety margin before our journey is even underway.
The train is near-empty and we are able to claim places on the right-hand side of the carriage, the seats that offer the dramatic vistas of peaks and valleys. Midway to Innsbruck the sun breaks through the clouds, and stays with us the rest of the day.
Our train makes up no time and we don't reach Innsbruck until 9:30. Fortunately, our next train is also late, so we manage to pile aboard. Unfortunately, the train is packed with hormone-stoked teenagers, and after clambering over them two or three times to get to our seats we have the all-too-common privilege of listening to them braying like rabid donkeys all the way to Salzburg. I don't know if there are more teens traveling these days, or whether, as I become a grumpier and older git, I am just becoming less patient with pubescent caterwauling. In either event I am certainly beginning to understand the charms of first class.
The mountains roll away and soon we are passing through open farmland. The principal crops appear to be hay and corn. I am struck, as we pass through all of these small towns, by how many things we are forced to overlook while traveling. The other day, while hiking, I was thinking about how many plants and animals exist in an acre of forest. How long, for instance, would it take to learn the shape and position of every tree? Of every plant? Entire worlds pass before our unseeing eyes when we hike down a mountain trail. To forestall mental overload, our brains compress all the details into a passing blur: trees, bushes, trail, rocks, magic mushrooms.
We do the same while traveling. Towns, houses, churches whip past our train windows in an undifferentiated blur. We only have time for the highlights, the big sights. But surely there is much to see in the smaller places as well. I comfort myself with the belief that at a certain fundamental level, one town is much like another; people do much the same things every day: have breakfast, tidy up the dishes, go to work or school. Unfortunately this is a generalization from my limited experience; maybe something truly exceptional is going on in the otherwise unremarked Jenbach, with its elegant church spire set on a hill. I feel a pull to get off and find out, but settle more firmly in my seat.
Railroad philosophizing complete, we pull into Salzburg. Now since I am traveling with certified “Sing Along Sound of Music” fans, I am surprised by two things: 1) that Mary has not arranged to stay overnight here; 2) that there isn't more excited clucking when we reach this holy land; there isn't even a bar of “My Favorite Things.” At the very least I expected the girls to leap off the train, kneel, and kiss the concrete of the platform. All very disappointing. From what I can see, Salzburg looks a bit like Bristol: gritty and industrial. Maybe the Sound of Music was shot in front of a blue screen and the scenery was all generated by computers afterward (heresy).
Forty-five minutes later we reach our next train change in Wels. Unfortunately the Salzburg express has made up none of its lateness en-route and we arrive just in time to see a line of red carriages pulling out of the station. We spend the next hour exploring the various delights of the Wels train station, which, to overstate the matter, could probably have been covered in three to five minutes. Finally, the next railway option rolls into the station, and we clamber aboard.
At Scharding, we prudently take a taxi to our hotel, and then head to the Tourist Office to meet the bicycles that will be our steeds for the next several days. These bikes do not represent cutting edge cycling technology; they are heavy and somewhat antiquated in design. Sturdy. Built to last, and to support the bicycling novices who think they can cycle the 258 kilometers between Scharding and Vienna. I suppose that an accomplished cyclist could ride our route in a day, or perhaps two. We will take a week, and I am already envisioning my future saddle sores.
We have a brief walk through Scharding before dinner. The main attraction is the cathedral and the Silberzeile, a central district of brightly painted houses. These homes grew vertically rather than horizontally, and some of them are only one room wide, squeezed between two older structures. This was once the exclusive neighborhood of wealthy merchants – its name, Silberzeile, refers to pockets lined with silver.
The girls have been developing an affection for Chinese food, and so they are delighted to find a Chinese restaurant in town. We decide to give it a try. The less said the better: the best microwaved Chinese meal I've had in a long time. The prices were authentic, however. I suppose a basic rule of restaurant selection can be derived from this desolate joint: if they charge money for the fortune cookies, then turn and run.
After dinner the girls return to our hotel while I photograph the Silberzeile in the evening light. There is a music festival running in the next street and someone is singing all of the Johnny Cash standards. He only lacks June Carter to make his act complete.
I'd said something optimistic yesterday about the family drawing closer, but the next couple of weeks will cement us at the hips. Beginning tonight, we will be sharing a hotel room each night on our cycling trip. Close quarters and lights out at 9:00. Zounds.