Low gray clouds, just a touch too high to be labeled fog, confront us in the morning. The good news is that the streets are dry; no rain overnight. I found Eferding a difficult sleep. About an hour after we'd tucked into bed someone started shooting off either fireworks or mortar rounds. I didn't get up to see which it was. After his ammunition ran out, he, or a friend, hopped on a whiny motor scooter and ran laps around our block. Once this noise had settled down, I heard the whine of a mosquito who made several passes during the night to see if I'd nodded off – I hadn't. In short, not the most restful night.
We cycle quietly out of town under downcast skies. Our route continues through Austria's truck garden and we are able to add several new vegetables to our sightings list, including turnips, beet root, and dill. A small whitewashed shrine stands alone amid this vegetable bounty, far from any village, built on the edge of a corn field. Do the farmers hold services out here? Pray for good crops?
As we near the Danube the sun brings the clouds to a low boil and by the time we pass the dam above Ottensheim there are shadows on the ground. We roll a kilometer past the Ottensheim ferry (to which we will return) to Wilhering. Situated at the center of this town is a Cistercian monastery. We see one of white-robed monks (the dyed black robes were considered too ostentatious and out of keeping with Benedict's rule by the founders of the order) as we are parking the bikes.
Unadorned, simple churches were another imperative of the Cistercian reformation. This rule was evidently given the wink and nod at Wilhering. The church is absolutely glorious, decorated in the rococo style, white marble statues and gold leaf plastered thickly on every surface. It is a feast for eye and camera, and I snap madly away. The monastery was founded in the twelfth century, but burned in the eighteenth. Today's opulence dates from the rebuild. I am favorably impressed and could have spent a great deal more time in the church.
But we must be off, lunch calls. We retrace our route to the Ottensheim ferry. What makes this ferry interesting is the fact that it has no engine. A thick steel cable spans the river, upstream from the ferry. A second cable links the ferry to a trolley car that runs back and forth over the high wire. The ferry is tethered to this overhead cable, like a balloon on the end of a string. The force of the river current allows the ferry to steer into the river, which generates a lateral force, and neatly carries the ferry, a couple of cars, and several bicycles between the two banks of the Danube. No engine required. It is an absolutely ingenious solution.
We have lunch in an open air cafe in Ottensheim. The girls share another Wiener Schnitzel which has become their standard German fare. Mary takes a chance on some soup. This proves a mistake; it may have been some sort of squash soup with a slick of sesame oil floating on top of it. I do my usual routine of pointing at something with an interesting name. Today's selection was called Hausgemachte Erdapfenockerl. A mouthful of a name and a good-sized plate of fried gnocchi (potato dumplings) liberally bathed in gorgonzola cheese sauce. Delicious.
After lunch we pedal another 8 km to Linz, which will be our overnight stay. Linz is the largest city we will visit on this Danube journey (save Vienna at the end). It is home to approximately 200,000 people and is the third largest city in Austria.
Our hotel proves disappointing: a six story Motel 6/Holiday Inn type of place. Businessman generic with two double beds staked out in a line before the mini-bar. The sterile plasticity is a considerable step down from the hotel in Sankt Aegidi, which has been my favorite so far of the entire trip. The entire edifice is devoted to adding profit to the bottom line. Even the wifi connection is available only if one pays a small additional surcharge. A gouge here, a slice there, each tiny extra adds to the corporate bottom line. Must maximize the profit on every customer.
After a short rest we went for a walk in Linz. I stepped into the Ignatiuskirche while Mary and the girls took a city tour that was included in our package. The Ignatiuskirche belongs to the Jesuit order, but I can't get thrilled with their choice of decorators. The statues are a beige-toned marble, and the entire church seems swamped in brown tones. Brown upon brown. Plus the angels all seem to be wearing Mozart wigs, which I find strangely disconcerting.
I stroll through the city streets for half an hour with no particular agenda, wandering and snapping photos of interesting architecture. Linz is very attractive, a pocket-sized city offering interesting features around every corner. Particularly noteworthy is the New Cathedral, which takes its name from the fact that construction did not begin until the nineteenth century. Compared to most European cathedrals, this one is still an infant.
Finished in 1924, the cathedral is the largest in Austria. On this afternoon it is dark, its altars cloaked in shadows. I must admit that despite its novelty and youth, I think it is a very beautiful church.
Evening arrives, and with it the urge for dinner. My wife has spotted a Mexican restaurant on her earlier peregrinations. I can't explain the sudden desire for Mexican food in mid-Austria, but I suspect that a craving for a cold Margarita might have influenced the decision. Another disappointment: our Chinese waitress had never heard of a Margarita (and speaking of cultural fusion, how often would you expect to meet a Chinese couple operating a Mexican restaurant in Austria?), and so Mary was forced to make do with a Pina Colada. The problem here was that Pina Colada's have coconut in them, a substance on Mary's banned substance list. A dutiful trooper, I stepped into the breach and consumed the despised nut brew on her behalf.
It has been a day of bad culinary choices for Mary. First the squash/sesame seed oil soup for lunch, followed by the Pina Colada, and topped by a chicken burrito which seemed mostly composed of mixed vegetables: corn, green beans, peas, carrots – it's Mexican food, but not as we know it. My cheese enchilada had mushrooms baked into the middle of it. Asiatic-German-Mexican food. A fascinating concoction. You never know what you are going to find on the Danube...