This morning we awake to find ourselves alongside the town of Passau. As we suspected the Viking ship we saw not far from the low bridge are back, not able to make it. They will now have to pack up and swap via bus to a boat on the other side.
Balazs announces our tours are ready but calls himself Joe Cocker, losing his voice steadily over last few days.
Our guide is Martina and we have really hit the jackpot. She is fabulous. You can tell how much she loves her town. She has a magical way of making you feel you have been transported back in time.
The town was founded by the Roman Empire in the 4th century and became in 739, the seat of the Bishop. In 1217 it became the capital of the area. It was not part of Austria or Bavaria but an independent area with its own seat of a Prince Bishop. This lasted into 1803 when once again state power was removed and the Prince Bishop was just a Bishop.
The worst day in the town’s life however was April 27th 1662. On that day a candle started a fire in the hospital on the edge of town. In less than 2 hours the entire town was destroyed. Even with 3 rivers surrounding Passau the homes of almost 30,000 people did not survive. Fortunately only 200 lives were lost.
As we head up Steinberg or Stone way we turn the corner and arrive to the front of St Stephens Cathedral. The cathedral had up to this point been only open one day a year to the average citizens called St Christopher’s Day. Just a few days after the fire and as the Cathedral had survived the town’s people joyously marched, by the 1000’s, toward the church. The rumble causes 4/5 of the church to collapse, obviously more damaged than anyone thought.
In front of the Cathedral the statue of King Maximilian stands facing backward to the church. Though the town was not thrilled at the snub it is considered one of the best places in town. They never speak of his name but with his hand sticking out the town folk call him the ‘Rain tester’.
The Cathedral dates back to 1674-5 for the new towers built after the fire with completion of the entire Cathedral in 1690. Again the church is such that they have no stain glass to allow for maximum light. As well it is all white and very simplistic to bring heaven in.
Then as the church rises up toward the ceiling it becomes more elaborate. The walls seem to be held up by the God Atlas and are filled with colourful frescos. Painted piece by piece using fresh paint on fresh plaster. While they seem tiny the faces are in fact 3 meters across.
Finally Martina asks us to turn around and we see the magnificent pipe organ, the largest in any cathedral in the world. Built in 1978 it has 5 sections with 17,974 pipes. An electrical system with 130 km of cable. It can all be played by one organist. There is the main section, one of either side of it at the back of the church, one in the old alter at the front and one hidden in the ceiling fresco. All in all giving the impression of surround sound.
Once again out in the interior courtyard we can now see the 1/5 of the original Gothic church that survived the fire. There also is the statue of St Stephen who faces Vienna that has been in place since 1407. He waves to his daughter, the cathedral also called St Stephen, but no one ever waves back. So Martina asks us to wave back to Passau when we visit the Cathedral in Vienna.
As we stroll down the narrow streets to Hell Alley we pass a Plague door. Here only a small window was used, the door sealed from the outside. It allowed food or medicine to be passed through to those suffering inside.
Hell Alley or Hollgasse is a colourful street full of artisans. It derives its name from the narrowness. Once a year a theme is chosen to decorate the street and each artist makes a wooden ring to hang above their shop. This year’s theme is ‘games’. Along the street we also learn that red and white striped shutters mean a hotel and that black and yellow a hostel. This way the youth know where they might be able to afford to stay.
We wander the waterfront till we get to where the Danube and the Inn rivers converge. The water is still so high that much of the park at the tip is flooded and we are unable to walk all the way around. No big deal as it is time to head back as we sail for Linz to pick up those that have been on excursions.
Within a few kilometers we pass into Austria. It is another beautiful day. We still have low bridges to contend with and while the upper deck is once again open we do come to a very low one. We are allowed to stay up top as we approach but must remain seated. The first beam seems very close but the second TOO close and I feel the need to duck.
We are in Linz for only a short time meaning time for a quick walk into the main plaza and a small beer with Sharon while Gail checks out the Cathedral. It is a pretty town but not overly memorable however I am glad we didn’t just stay onboard and miss it.