Sunday 5/6

A thorough night's sleep, deadened somewhat by exhaustion and beer sees me waking around 7 while Jerry slumbers on. I dress and go for a walk round town. It's still raining, although only light drizzle.

The town is absolutely quiet as I tromp around. The grey light through the heavy, thick clouds feels like depression and does nothing to lift my mood after the previous day. When we went to Romania in 1999 we had day on day of rain and I really can't face that again. The silence of this place really starts to get on my wick, until I turn a corner and the town positively shouts at me!

I look into the square, remembering the metal sheeting as we came into town and expecting some re-cobbling or whatever work to prettify the place. Instead, there simply is no square! It has been dug up - removed - excavated. However you like to say it, there's a 20ft deep hole instead of a town square. Extraordinary. It's been quite a brutal excavation - there are cable and pipes dangling out the sides, the bottom is less than flat and the edges ragged. And have I my camera with me? Of course not! Am I going back to get it? No fear - it's wet out here, you know. I'm going back but then I'm staying in for breakfast.

There seem to be a lot of people at breakfast that we didn't see the previous night. Perhaps there's another dining room that we didn't know about and we gate-crashed a private 'do'. If so, no one appeared concerned at the time. I was going to say 'no one said anything' but then they wouldn't, would they? Not speaking any English, I mean. And our hostess certainly doesn't.

I have to almost insist that she takes a moment out of her bustle to pay and then we go to get changed and be off. I for one am dreading this. My boots have had repeated applications of hair-dryer and my kit has hung all night in the warmth of the suite but I doubt its actually dry: and its not.

My gloves are still soaked. My boots aren't soaked but feel damp. My jeans are soaked still, the kevlar lining holding onto the water, perhaps? Either that or it's the extra thick denim. Either way, I'm not putting them on. It's still raining, so the (dry) waterproof trousers come out of the panniers and the soggy jeans go into a bin bag to take their place in the pannier. This is fine except the inside of my jacket is still cold and damp. Ughh.

We set off on the comparatively brief trip to Berchtesgaden. I say brief, but its still 45 miles or so and takes the best part of two hours. Well over half of this is in the rain, which does nothing to lift my spirits.

Our route goes up above Berchtesgaden, close to Saltzburg but then around Niederalm down again to the town itself. At one very pleasant part, the road winds along a narrow valley between tall mountains for a short while. One of these is a sharply pyramid brute which has at some point suffered a rock-slide - a large chunk of the peak has just slid down a few hundred feet. Stunning. It looks relatively fresh but I certainly don't have the skills to tell for sure. The mountain is completely barren of vegetation, so I can't look for re-growth to suggest how long it had been since the event. And then we are into a tunnel and it is gone, out of sight.

Now there's a pretty route up over the top of the mountain between us and Berchtesgaden. We look at the low ceiling - much lower than the tops of the mountains and feel the rain still drizzling down and decide to wimp out. This essentially just means staying on the main road and going further North to come back down South to Berchtesgaden. I doubt it adds many miles but even if it did the memory of miles in the fog in France in '99 is a good reminder to stay out of the clouds.

Approaching Saltzburg the traffic grows quite heavy. We don't go into the city itself, just near the outskirts. I vaguely have my eyes open for a BMW dealer because I'm thinking about my waterproofs not being so and worrying that if the rest of the trip is in the rain, I'm not going to be happy at all. I don't see a bike shop at all on the journey. Great

The valley of the Berchtesgadener Ache is really attractive. The mountains step back slightly to allow a flat central plain that the river meanders through rather lazily. There are trees to either side of the road and the whole feel of the place is relaxed. We go past the now abandoned Austrian/German border post somewhere along here. Oddly there's what looks like a large coach park by the sizeable border building. I thought the Austrians and Germans were definite post-war friends (we all know how they got along before and during the war). Maybe the building actually dates from pre-WWII?

As we approach the town of Berchtesgaden itself I become fascinated by the river we are riding alongside. The fast moving water is spectacularly clear and has an almost luminously turquoise tint. We enter the town expecting to see a road that will lead us up to the buildings over-looking us - they appear to be the majority of the place. Somehow we don't see it and end up at the railway station. This is at a fork in the river - or rather a convergence of two rivers to form the one we have ridden by. There's work going on to build a river-side at this confluence and in fact we later find out that its going to be a large roundabout across both rivers. A long project being carried out incredibly carefully and skillfully by three JCBs and some men with crow-bars.

So this looks like a likely spot, especially when we see what looks a tourist information building (I think the sign was the main give-away here). We park outside and check out the groovy electronic "press a button and find the hotels" sign. It doesn't seem to work overly well and the very groovy and modern touch screen any-language-you like computer terminal is just plain awful. After a few minutes of prevarication, we go inside. A nice lady points us to the (vacant) desk of the chap doing tours of the Eagle's Nest and we look at his brochure. She gives us his number & points us to the free telephone in the hall. How cool is that? I call him and arrange that he'll try and get a larger minibus for tomorrow's already full tour and will add us in. Nice chap. We agree to meet him at 1:30 pm at this tourist information place for the tour.

We decide to do the sensible thing and walk 30 yards across the road to the rather creepy looking Hotel Bavaria opposite. After a few minutes lurking in the hall we are approached by a slight woman in her 30s with possibly the worst squint I've ever seen. She speaks truly dreadful English - which, to enter cliche-mode for a moment, is still much better than our German. A twin room is requested and a key handed over. The bike parking is, we learn, round the back and down. Oh, OK.

We jump on our bikes and go round the back. Down turns out to be a slightly tarmaced steep slope leading to a gravelled area by the river bank. I find a bit of wood to put the Capo's side stand on and we take our luggage in and up to the 2nd floor (no lift, of course) and into our, er, double room. Bugger. Or rather, no buggery at all, thanks very much!

A few minutes of explanation and she gets the idea that we're friends but not special friends, if you get my drift. A new key is issued for a room on the 3rd floor. Perhaps its punishment for bothering her, I don't know. We climb up 1,250 steps (er, approx) to the 3rd floor and dump our luggage in a pointy little attic room with a great view of the joining of the two rivers.

We change into warm and dry non-riding kit. Excellent! Next, we discuss the rest of the day's activities and then take a nap instead for half an hour. Most refreshing! What's not so refreshing is the contents of my panniers. Its time to do some washing. I bundle all the stuff that needs to be cleaned, including my Hood jeans, and we go downstairs to enquire about a launderette.

The lady with the squint pretty quickly gets what we're looking for and issues some instructions that, after 3 times of hearing, we are sure we've got. Yeah right.

We walk out the front and promptly turn the wrong way. Off we go, walking along the river and then up into the town centre, going to completely the wrong side of town for the launderette. Still, we get to see some people in leiderhosen and the remains of some sort of festival. And we see the town centre. Several times. We do pop into another tourist information point and that had a leaflet for the local salt mines. That's almost exciting.

My feet hurt.

No launderette as yet.

Eventually we wander back towards the hotel, completely fail to turn down towards the river and realise there's more town in this direction. We wander along rather listlessly, thinking about a large dinner and some beer when Jerry stops cursing me over this extended walk long enough to notice the launderette! Hurrah! Well, nearly hurrah. There's no one in there & no way to see how to work the machines. Finally we figure out some signs that tell us the person looking after the place is in reception of the hotel next door (running it, not a guest!) and I'm sorted! In go the clothes and we head off to look at the nearby shops. They prove to be more interesting than the shops we've seen elsewhere and we both buy bits and pieces at a craft place.

Back to check on the washing (not done) and we go just a little up the road to a restaurant with an exceptional view of the local mountains. The prices are a little high because of this - and it turns out the food is a bit crap too. Nice to see its not just England where they rip off people in this way :-/. Still, a late lunch went down well. I pop over to put my kit in the tumble dryer at half time and then we talk obllocks for an hour or so over coffee and puddings.

With my bag now full of warm and clean clothing we walk down a path to the railway station, cross the foot-bridge and put two and two together, matching the garbled directions with the route we've just taken. D'oh!

The next thing is the salt-mine. This is, according to our boz-eyed host, a short walk along the river. Is it 'eck. 15 minutes later we see the first sign for it but it takes another 10 minutes before we get there. Last tour of the day and we're booked. While we wait, they get us to change into salt miner stylee protective clothing. Jerry practices his special action man pose.

We're guided to a narrow single track railway that leads into the mountainside. When the carriage comes out of the tunnel we can see that essentially its a top-hat shaped bench like something off a see-saw. It sits over the rail, we sit on it and we go off into the tunnel.

After we've arrived there's a walk and some recorded talk. The guide rebuffs all attempts by our fellow visitors to talk to him in English.

Most excitingly, there's a slide to get down to the next level. No, seriously! I've got a picture but you can't see it because I look like a twit. And I've not scanned it in, but that's by the by. One of the ladies on the tour has a problem getting off the slide at the bottom. The guide mutters "what is her problem" as he points to indicate we have to wait. I mutter back "she is American" (which she is) and he reveals a pretty good understanding of English as he roars with laughter!

We see some of the salt sculptures, including a shrine. It doesn't look too exciting by flash but then they turn the lights down and its illuminated to serious effect.

More illuminations, this time round a pool. We take a little boat across and then leave the cavern. A few more exhibits and we're back on the little train and out. Very interesting, quite amusing and not too expensive.

We eat in the restaurant of the Hotel. Frankly, its slightly wierd. The sets of antlers looking down from the walls is a bit freaky and definitely very Teutonic.

Still, the beer is good, the food is nice and we're tired. Early to our beds tonight.

Image of route

Mapsource .gdb file of track

Next day