Heading to the border: Passau

Staying on the Donau, beautiful baroque Passau was our last port of call in Germany.

Our aire was alongside the river in a winter floodplain and just a short cycle ride along the Donauerradweg into the world heritage site.  After making our usual mistake of trying to stock up supplies on a German public holiday when the shops are shut, we had arrived and pitched up by noon.

Spot Bertha at Passau aire

Spot Bertha at Passau aire

Passau is a bustling centre where the many Danube river tours of enormous three storey hotel boats start and end, with accompanying packs of Americans, as well as the final destination for three major cycle routes across Europe. All of which makes for a colourful crowd of lycra-sporting or baseball cap and bum-bag wearing tourists, keen to jostle for the major sights and the best seats at the central cafes and bars.

Passau is also the meeting place of three major rivers, the Donau, Inn and Ilz and their confluence causes the waters to change colour from dark to light to green. A walk along the river banks with an ice cream in hand gave us a view of the meeting rivers, the gigantic Oberhaus Fortress and the onion domed skyline of the old town.

‘Italian masters’ built the cathedral and major religious buildings after devastating fires in 1662 and 1680 reduced the original Gothic churches and clustered medieval  timbered houses to rubble. The inspired redesign of the town introduced large central squares, wide promenades and bridges along the riverside and grand and colourful public buildings and churches.

We agreed that the colourful baroque exteriors of the city’s principle churches were more enjoyable than their oppressive and heavily-decorated interiors. For example, Dom St Stephan’s alone has 1,000 sculptured figures and the world’s largest organ with nearly 18,000 pipes. This elicited loud whistles of awe and comments of ‘hell it’s too much, my head hurts’ from the visiting American riverboat tourists.

We meandered around winding streets where chic boutiques were closed for the day but presented window displays of highly desirable and highly priced clothing, jewellery and artwork. The old town has an elegant feel to it and the cobblestones mean a slow pace up and around the many episcopal palaces, courtyards and fountains.

Passau from the River Inn

Passau from the River Inn

It was too hot to do much more than amble about and after a couple of hours of wandering we treated ourselves to a cold beer in a busy courtyard corner bar and watched everyone go by. The late afternoon had a happy feel to it as friends and families and tour groups met for aperitifs or a final ice cream before heading off to find dinner. A mix of church music and live music from bars mingled together in the air promising a lively summer Saturday night in this cosmopolitan river city.

We cycled back along the riverside and checked out the menu at a grumpy Croatian café near to the aire. Plates were emerging from the kitchen in the hands of a cigarette-smoking and fed up-looking host, piled high with cevapi, pickled cabbage and paprika-smothered coleslaw. Deciding we could wait a few weeks more for those culinary delights we instead went to the biergarten next door at ‘Harrypub’ and watched the endless stream of cyclists making their tired but delighted way to their final stop…