Friday, June 15, 2007

Day Fifteen – Thursday, June 14 – Bled, SLO to Salzburg, AT via Grossglockner Pass

As befits the style of the Grand Hotel Toplice, the breakfast buffet – a running theme of this vacation and this blog – was sumptuous. We ate on the terrace overlooking the lake and enjoyed watching crew teams practice on the still lake and observing the morning “training swim” of a mother duck and her ducklings that we had seen along the shore on last night’s lakeside walk.

There was a bit of time for morning journaling and posting to the blog, but we had a hard out at 11:00AM, since the hotel was full and they needed to turn the room. 11:00 is also when they started renting the row boats. The hotel has about a dozen boats available, and an hour rental is included for overnight guests, so Paul rowed out to the island while Annette “captained” from the stern. It was good morning exercise, and replaced the early morning running that Paul had thought about doing but was replaced with sitting at the computer and writing. Observations:
1) rowing a real boat (with two oars) is quite different from a gym rowing machine – especially since the seat doesn’t slide forward and back, so all the action happens in the arms and back instead of the powering from the legs – but it wasn’t particularly hard;
2) wedding rings cause blisters.

The island on Bled Lake (probably has a name, but we didn’t catch it) is certainly one of the primary photo ops at the resort. It is a small rocky mountain that juts out of the water and has just enough room for some trees and a quaint little church (and now a small restaurant/souvenir store, too). We didn’t stay long…just a quick walk around then back into the boat.

After our boating, we hit the road and headed for Austria and the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrass, an incredibly beautiful mountain road ( Grossglockner is the name of the 3,798 meter high mountain that tops the nearby range, which has a large glacier, the Pasterzengletscher, on its flank. There is a turn-off that takes you to a viewing complex with several restaurants, terraces and multi-story garage. We got there around 4:00PM, so not many people were eating lunch, but we found that we could still get a couple of sausages and a salad, but made the mistake of ordering before we asked if they took credit cards since we were very low on Euros. They did not. Fortunately, they were willing to take US dollars, so Annette dashed back to the car in the parking structure to grab some stashed $$.

The road itself is not inexpensive to drive (a 28 Euro toll road), but is an impressive feat of 1930’s engineering that is filled with jaw-dropping vistas and is a kick to drive in a new car that can handle the turns. It is a favorite with motorcycles, needless to say, but what surprised us was the number of intrepid bicyclist who were taking on the pass…not for the weak of thigh or lung! We also got to watch a helicopter move construction supplies from a steep hillside, where they had been building some avalanche abatement structures, down to the road below. The precision of the flight control was astounding, and traffic didn’t have to be stopped much more than 15 minutes for them to take about eight loads down.

After the Grossglockner road, we continued on to Salzburg, and passed through more spectacular Alpine scenery. The beauty of the mountains surrounding Salzburg is truly awesome. Our little friend the Nüvi, back in action now that we were again in Austria, guided us flawlessly to our hotel, fittingly named the Hotel Mozart. We arrived around 7:00PM, and since there was street parking right outside the hotel, we grabbed a spot that we were told by the hotel staff would be fine until 9:00AM the next day.

We didn’t waste too much time at the hotel, and headed off to explore a bit of evening Salzburg and check out the Augustiner Bräu beer garden. It was the perfect “picture taking” time of the day, with dramatic clouds and sunset over the cozy Salzburg valley, so we grabbed a few photos and did the reciprocal “I’ll take your picture if you take mine” routine with other tourists.

Travel writer Rick Steves describes the Augustiner Bräustübl this way: “on balmy evenings, it’s a Monet painting with beer breath under chestnut trees in the garden.” Couldn’t have said it better myself! The beer is served from wooden barrels that are tapped by slamming the spigot into the barrel with a huge wooden mallet (which we were lucky enough to see), and you pay for your beer and get a receipt, grab a mug and rinse it out, hand mug and receipt to the guy and he fills it up. We sat in the garden, enjoyed the beer, and pieced together a dinner from the multiple food vendors upstairs – potato salad from one shop, ribs and sausage from another, bread and pretzel from a third! Lots of fun.

Perhaps since the brewery is run by monks, they close at 11:00PM, which was just as well…so we walked back across the river to the Hotel Mozart and off to bed.

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