Isar Good – a natural high

Get on your bike and ride up the Isar on a warm summers weekend day, preferable on the East bank, and scenes of pure leisure and gaiety await you non-stop for a pure five kilometres till your right out of town. Isar life is as close to beach life as I have ever seen in an inland city and indeed the flood plains where it all takes place do have a sort of beach, with grey dusty stones. Along these chips of rock, as well as in the lush meadows that adjoin them, sprawl acres of sunbathing Bavarians, drinking beer having barbeques, showing off their private parts – the older ones anyway. Its starts right in the centre of town (all of it) and you can easily be forgiven for forgetting where you are, all buildings are quickly out of sight and leisure park is all around.

I love the cycle path that gently twists through it all, a bustling little cycle highway through the bathers. I like peddling along it as fast as I can go, weaving in and out of the traffic, always alert for an oncoming cyclist who might pop out from behind one of the groups of pedestrians that litter the way (at their peril!) as I try to overtake. In its narrow places it is, like most of the cycle paths in Munich, pretty hairy for anyone who’s looking to get anywhere quickly, or for the people on foot who stray into their path. This all adds to the fun of course as I pant away, swerving round families, small children and dogs, only occasionally able to take in glimpsed scenes from the life around me, the odd laughing face or wrinkly tit flashes past.

In the more open stretches you can see more and take in the vistas with long curving grassy banks full of idlers, the massed smoke from their barbeques drifting across the water. The biggest hazard of all here is not the nudists, who are all to a man and woman ugly and old, but the younger, at least semi clothed, women many of whom are happy to sit alone with a book and their own little piece of privacy in the long grass for whole afternoons, looking incredibly alluring. The next thing you know and you’re being shouted at and pushed off the tarmac bumping uncontrollably along the muddy rivets, just hanging on. There’s no room for day dreaming. Every accident I have had on a bicycle I was daydreaming.

Eventually the distractions do start to thin out, the metalled road turns to gravel, the traffic thins to mainly mountain bikers out to throw themselves around the many river bank trails and I put my head down and try to remember how far it is to my first exercise waypoint – Grünwald Castle. The Isar runs a very pleasant meandering course with long wide curves tempting you ever forward. Along this stretch it is if anything nicer on the West bank where there is less foliage to obscure the view. The West side certainly affords the best sight of the dramatic Grosshesseloher bridge that crosses high above the river, about 2 km before the castle to come. As stark and uncluttered a structure as your likely to find it consists of long concrete and iron gurder perched on three slender concrete pillars. It is a elegant and surreal sight with bicycles silhouetted against the sky as they travel through the iron works that make up the main structure and trains looking precarious as they slide over on top. It’s worth including a trip across the bridge in your route as it is a visual pleasure inside too, both with the line of sight through the inside of the gurders and with the views over the river valley below.

The standard Grünwald run involves cycling up by the river and back along one the high banks either side. Here, if it’s getting on, you are more likely to keep some warmth from the sun and if you are so inclined there are several beer gardens with views across the valley below.  As you wiz back to town there is plenty of architectural interest as well with some of Munich’s more interesting domestic buildings lining the high bank. Town houses of all different styles from French Chateaus to English mock Tudor suburban homes and a lot of classy and unusual modern homes.

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