Gracefully hovering, glistening electric blue and turquoise, a single dragon fly, of what seemed thousands, landed on a lush green lily pad resplendent with bulging droplets of water, a single bright yellow flower protruding from its center. Just a sip and off it went. All this for a drink I thought, but then again; it sure was hot. That drop was evidently a remnant of an earlier downpour as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun beat down on us, and this lily pad equally, though the dragonfly seemed better suited to bear its rays. Our water bottle heated up in the bottom of the canoe, poorly positioned, sitting in the sun. It was a good thing a cold beer awaited us but we’d have to work for that.
let’s not cut to the chase, this is the end beer of the story
It had been quite a few years since my wife and I had done any real canoeing and when we happened upon this very canoe outing a couple winter’s prior, I must say I wasn’t entirely sure it would come to pass. That was a bleak December day and we’d braved some fairly awful weather to walk out to a small but noted brewery in Höfen, not far from Bamberg as the crow flies. Of course, we aren’t crows and don’t have a car so we had to take a train to Ebing and walk 4 kilometers. It was my birthday weekend and my wife more than indulges my love of beerwandering but this was kind of pushing it. Thankfully, it was a pretty walk despite the weather and the brewery turned out to be even better than expected, with amazing food and beer. We saw some birds along the route and a scenic old mill, which made for some atmospheric photos. While taking them, we noticed a sign for canoe rentals so I took a close-up of that and later investigated it online.
the Old Mill looked a lot more friendly than on that cold December day
It turned out that not only did they rent canoes but there was a nice little route that passed two breweries. These two were on my radar that cold December outing but it wasn’t the kind of day to walk that far so was saving them for a future trip anyway. Well, I’d now found out that there were at least two ways to get to them and doing it via canoe would be an easier sell to my wife, who loves getting out on the water.
Beerwanderer’s wife in action
Flash forward a couple years and seasons. It took a bit of maneuvering to secure a room on a long holiday weekend and we rented a car to make the trip easier. Then we prayed for good weather. I had even put the hike in my GPS in case we had to abort the canoe part of the weekend. I’d get to those other two breweries one way or another! The weekend came and so did the sun. The water part of our trip was on.
sometimes it all comes down to the weather: the canoe trip was on
We’d reserved a canoe and picking it up, it was obvious it was a good thing we had as the outfitter was seemingly sold out. We had also arranged an early pick-up and I was glad we had when we got his lightest canoe. This became even more of a factor when he explained how many times we’d have to portage the canoe. I was figuring on getting in and out of the canoe three times. I had also assumed we’d have to take the canoe out of the water when going to the breweries. It wasn’t like they were right on the lake with a patio bar. They were centuries old brewpubs in even older villages. As it turned out, we’d have to do all that plus portage the canoe across to the beginning of the route right off the bat. We’d also have to do an additional one mid-way through to bypass a dam. This wasn’t sounding as easy as it looked on the simplistic map on the website.
shallow water before first portage
We’d done much more elaborate canoe trips with long and involved portaging, carrying camping gear no less but that had been years ago. At any rate, I was particularly happy the outfitter had provided a waterproof bag for my camera with this new information creating just a tinge of insecurity regarding my current canoe prowess.
the rustic canoe outfitter at Obere Mühle
We were relieved to get into the canoe easily and perhaps even more so to get out after the brief paddle across the shallow part of the lake. After a less than graceful lifting of the canoe out of the water, we handled the portage like old pros. I managed to get it on my shoulders like the good old days and the outfitter figured we’d be okay, even though he probably had had some initial doubts.
back in the portage mode
Back on the water, the actual paddling came easy enough. We zigzagged a bit more than necessary but the J-stroke came back to me and we were soon gliding across the very calm river fairly effortlessly. The canopy of lush trees provided ample shade and the serenity was nearly overwhelming. Even though the river Itz has a road mirroring its winding path, we didn’t seem to hear the few cars that passed, fully focusing on the paddling and the ensuing sound of the water motioning around the paddle and back off it as it was lifted from the river.
the serene idyllic River Itz
I think my wife hadn’t really anticipated how beautiful it would be on the river and remembered how equally calming the synchronized motion of two paddlers is. For the first time in a long time, we were at peace. The dragonflies sure didn’t hurt, we were both entranced as they darted around us, offering quite a color contrast to the green hues overhead and before us. They were soon landing on the canoe, our paddles and before long, us. I finally took my camera out of the bag once we had gone a kilometer or so but I never did get a shot of the dragonflies. In fact, I didn’t even try. I mostly got a few shots of the canopy of trees, my wife paddling and some mirror images of quaint half-timbered houses, above and on the surface of the ever so calm river. Still, the image of the dragonflies is what stays with us most, even now.
half-timbered houses in mirror image on the River Itz
Before we knew it, we were passing Freudeneck, the first village with a brewery. The outfitter had explained that if we wanted to avoid the portage, we could just go to the brewery there but he obviously didn’t know me too well. We had all day and the weather was glorious. We bypassed the first stop and figured we’d save it for the trip back. It wasn’t long before we were at the portage and it went even more smoothly than the first one back at the dock. We were back on the water and paddling towards Mürsbach in no time. The trip would have been worthwhile even if Mürsbach had just been a simple village with a brewery but neither of us were prepared for how pretty it would be. Even from a distance, you could see it would be special and with billowing white clouds dotting the big blue sky, it was an especially scenic walk into town.
Mürsbach as seen from the trail to the River Itz
Half-timbered houses lined the streets and a plethora of flowers jutted out from nearly every windowsill. It was joyously colorful and the Sonnen-Bräu building was equally enthralling and tastefully decorated. It was empty inside but the woman running the place told us to sit outside, explaining it was around back. Of course, everyone else was doing the same but while bustling, there were plenty of seats so we grabbed a choice one under a shady tree, and went up to the self-service dispensary for some well-deserved grub and and a beer much colder than our now tea-like water.
solar-powered craft beer sensation Sonnen-Bräu
Their Kellerbier was surprisingly good and the food was perhaps even better. We’d both opted for Kalbsbraten (roast veal) in a creamy sauce with dumplings (Klöße in Franconia). The clincher was the side of Wirsing, a creamy cabbage surely laced with lots of butter. The portions were immense. It was hard to not order another Kellerbier but there was a Pale Ale (named Hopfenblümla) on tap and it sounded good from the description, and that it was. Rooms are available at the brewery and we both made a mental note to stay there next time, but the river was calling and after walking up to the hilltop church we’d seen from a distance, we headed back to man the canoe for the trip back.
not easy leaving Sonnen-Bräu and more canoes than earlier
When we got down to the river, our canoe was one of five so we weren’t alone on the river after all. We’d just started earlier. It was surprisingly even easier on the way back. I guess the pressure was off and we’d had a couple hours practice. At any rate, even with the portage, we were back in Freudeneck before even working up a thirst. It was a much shorter walk into the village but it wasn’t quite as scenic as our first stop. The Fischer-Bräu did, however, have a nice little Biergarten so we enjoyed their Helles but obviously passed on even a small snack due to our huge lunch. We were canoeing but it wasn’t exactly a strenuous paddle.
enjoying a beer halfway back
Back down at the river, we saw the canoe entourage first heading towards and then away from the small dock. They obviously weren’t headed to Fischer-Bräu, which was good for our getting back on the water but bad in the sense that we now had five canoes in front of us, after spending the morning in total solitude. Without even trying, we were soon right behind a family of four, who didn’t seem all that acquainted with the J-stroke so were zigging more than zagging. With a little maneuvering, we finally got by them, the two kids seeming more up for a race than their parents.
back at the canoe rental
The other group was nowhere to be seen so we settled into a steady but not speedy pace, figuring we wouldn’t see anyone else for the rest of the day. Unexpectedly, there they were: three canoes on our horizon. Odd how seeing something like that can bring out your competitiveness so without really saying anything, we just started paddling a little bit harder. Soon enough, we were right behind them and though a bit of a tight squeeze, we managed to get out in front and never relinquished our lead. We coasted into the last portage, hoisted the canoe up on my shoulders and were back at the rental office before anyone was in sight. I hate to admit it but it felt good to know we hadn’t entirely lost the bit of canoeing skills we’d had once upon a time, but there was no time to bask in our glory. If we were going to do that, we may as well do it in the adjacent Biergarten, enjoying a much deserved beer.
happy wife, happy life: enjoying a well-deserved meal and beer