Archive for August, 2010

Wolfgangsee

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Austria (on purpose this time) was our destination on a day when the rain had finally let up, or for a couple of hours at any rate. We drifted through Salzburg intending to stop and see the sites. However, we saw signs saying that camping was ‘verboten’ so our idea of free parking went up in smoke. Unfortunately we did not find a suitable campsite so we continued on to one of Austria’s alpine lakes, Wolfgangsee. At least we got to see something related to Mozart!

The campsite itself was lovely, full of apple trees (to David’s scrumping delight) and situated right next to the lake shore. You could literally dive from your van into the water, if you felt crazy enough to brave the icy temperatures. Howling winds and beating rain kept us inside – what a shame 🙁

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Kehlstein

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Kehlstein sits at the top of a high mountain, built as a retreat for Hitler just before the outbreak of the second world war. We were very interested in the history of the place having recently watched the final episode of the TV series “Band of Brothers” in which the Allies capture Kehlstein, calling it “The final prize”.

The road to Kehlstein is restricted to official tour buses. The bus ride costs €15.50 return per person, including a ride in the elevator. We opted instead to walk to the summit, a climb of 850m over several kilometres of steep roads. As we walked we discussed how strange it felt to be on a road reserved exclusively for the top nazi leaders during the war.

The walk took us two and a half hours and was well worth the effort as beautiful forests slowly gave way to incredible views of the surrounding villages. It’s easy to see why Hitler favoured Kehlstein with its magnificent vistas.

Any sense of history we were feeling was quickly shattered when we finally reached the top. The building has been turned into a large restaurant and souvenir shop. A handful of photos on a wall, and a short documentary looping on a small TV are all that is depicted about Kehlstein’s past.

I was browsing through the postcards when a lady next to me picked out a specimen that highlighted perfectly just how disappointingly commercialised the trip has become. It was a picture of the bus going up the road with “bus of the year 2009” written across the bottom.

Konigsee

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Inside the ice cave

Konigsee is a gorgeous lake, hemmed in by alpine mountains, with stunning clear waters fed by mountain rivers. The Germans are very careful to keep it in pristine condition, so much so that even the boats that traverse the lake are electrically powered to prevent polluting the water. There are also no access roads into the park, making it a paradise for hikers.

We chose the round trip by boat which stops off at two places. At one point the boat halted in the middle of the lake so that our guide could demonstrate the incredible echos from the surrounding rock by playing a short tune on a bugle.

An ice cave sits an hour’s walk from the first stop and is well worth the effort. In summer entering the caves is discouraged as it can be dangerous, but we decided to risk it anyway. Inside the cave ice cold drops of water rain down causing a small river of water to form. It’s magnificent, albeit slightly scary when you see rocks and ice falling from above.

Germany’s tallest waterfall sits at the other end of the lake. Unfortunately we were short of time (having made a late start) so our visit to the falls was brief, but nevertheless enjoyable.

Feasting Festivals

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And step, and step, and scowl at partner ...

Our festival luck is improving! Hungry for lunch we were on the look out for somewhere to stop for a bite and noticed a sign advertising a ‘Sommerfest’. The local village square was closed to traffic as benches had been laid out for hearty lunches accompanied by the sound of Bavarian folk music. The band members were fully kitted out in Leiderhosen and many villagers had also donned traditional dress. The best bit was when the children from the village did a traditional bavarian folk dance with much leaping and twirling and pouting and picking of noses.

Away with the Faeries

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Fussen is most famous for its castles but there is a lot more to it than fairytale architecture. The town is full of quaint shops and has much to offer the visiting tourist. There is a beautiful alpine blue river running through the town, with its own beach if you dare brave the freezing water! A fabulous cycle network leads you to Lake Forgensee where there are various watersports on offer. You can also cycle to both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles.

We decided to scout out the parking situation for the castles. Arriving at 12pm we discovered hordes of tourists milling around and realised we needed to arrive as close to the opening time (8am) as possible, to avoid queuing for hours for a ticket. There is a beautiful lake near the castles which is virtually tourist free. Swimming is permitted at a designated spot where you can hire deck chairs and make the most of the crystal clear lake waters. Having no swimming costumes with us we opted to cycle up the mountain. What started off as a reasonable road soon turned into a perilous path with near vertical drops and numerous rockfalls. Our ride very quickly became a bicycle-carrying hike to the Mariebrucke. This bridge gives a great view of the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle.

The following day we booked ourselves on the castle tour. There are tours in German and English, or audio tours for the rest. We managed to get onto the first English tour which thankfully had substantially less than the standard 50 people per group. The tour lasts only 30 minutes and felt rather rushed but is nevertheless well worth taking. King Ludwig II was clearly away with the faeries. The castle is built more for artistic value than architectural sense, but is in some ways all the better for it.

Up to now we have missed out on many of the local festivals as we seem to leave the towns a few days before they take place. When we found out that there was a reggae festival happening in Fussen we jumped at the chance to attend, especially when we read that they were a South African band and we could get a little taste of home. However we are not convinced that they are actually from South Africa as the mike was passed to David at one point and he sung ‘Ishe Komborera Africa’ to a very puzzled looking lead singer.

Accidental Austrian Strudel

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Rain, rain, rain! We had hoped to make the most of Lake Constanz but the only constant has been a steady downpour. Luckily, while drifting through Friedrichshafen, we spotted signs for the Zepplin Museum and decided to check it out on a whim. As it was early, we were fortunate enough to find a parking space easily but they were few and far between when we returned to the van. Get there early if you don’t want parking headaches. The museum itself was fascinating. I can’t believe how huge the Zepplins were, especially considering how few passengers they could carry. What we did find rather odd was that the top floor was home to an art exhibition. The rather tenuous reason (or should that be excuse?) for its existence was a little sign with the words “Science is art and art is science”.

We found a Stellplatz adjoining a campsite near Lindau. At last a chance to do some washing! A brief break in the steady downpour allowed us to go for a cycle to explore the area. We stopped at a cafe for a warming cup of tea and a very delicious apple strudel. On the cycle home we noticed a sign showing the way to Deutscheland and realised that we had accidentally strayed across the border into Austria for our strudel!

Lindau bay lit up at night

When evening fell we cycled, away from Austria this time, into Lindau town. The bay is lit up at night and is very pretty, apart from a rather odd neon sign at the top of a statue which changes every few minutes from a smiley face to a sad face. The restaurants on the water front are very expensive but a short walk to the end of the row will take you to a funky little cafe which serves cake and beer, a combination I have come to love 😀 We suspect that although it has a lovely riviera feel at night it would be very different in the day, heaving with tourists.

Washing woes

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We usually try to avoid industrial towns as they don’t tend to have a lot of interesting sights to visit. Singen is no exception, but we stopped there as it was on our way to Lake Constanz. There is a fortified castle which looks over the town and it is worth trekking uphill for some good views over the surrounding countryside. Apple trees are abundant on the path up to the castle and we made the most of it by doing some serious scrumping. I had to be careful not to stab one of my eyes out as I teetered on David’s shoulders, desperately reaching for wormless specimens.

Previously we have done all of our washing at campsites, however in Germany we have only stayed in Stellplatz which are far cheaper but have limited services. We have struggled to find self-service laundromats in towns and consequently our washing is starting to take over the van. Soon we won’t be able to move for dirty t-shirts!

Like Clockwork

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The bizarre crucifixion clock

As if we hadn’t had enough of clocks already our trip today was to the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen. This was absolutely fascinating, starting with a cuckoo clock that morbidly depicts the crucifixion scene every hour on the hour. That’s a lot of stabbing and nailing! We learned a lot, especially about the history of time keeping.

Apparently it was common practise for neighbouring towns to have different time measurements (10 hours to a day here, 12 there etc), and some even changed the length of hours as the seasons changed. The museum provides a free booklet in English with all the information you need for a visit.

On our way to Blumberg we made a spontaneous stop at the Rothaus brewery. Unfortunately it was closed, being Sunday, apart from the shop where we bought our very first keg of German beer. 5 delicious litres of weissbier for the bargain price of €10! Be sure to read the instructions (or little pictures for us non-German speakers) before using it as you may end up, like us, spraying the inside of your van with a coating of white foam!

Cuckoomania

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Clocks for sale

Our morning adventure was a spontaneous trip to the Vogtsbauernhof (Black Forest Open Air Museum), a charming village of sorts containing local houses from different periods, some of them relocated many miles, brick by brick, to the site. Inside you learn how people lived in those days, and can also watch as craftsmen (and women) create products from the times. We almost bought a little whistle which had a dancing couple that spun when you blew it, until we realised that it would be pretty useless except for attracting randy ducks.

There are quite a number of houses on the site, and you have to have a good attention span to take everything in. I started to get bored after the eighth one, especially when so many of them are based on the same working model. There are only so many farming implements in the loft one can see before the novelty wears off!

The hotel Pfaff is beautiful

On our way towards Triberg we stopped to see a giant cuckoo clock, one of several in the area. This is cuckoo clock country. Every few miles you see signs for “the house of 1000 cuckoo clocks”, though I doubt anybody has bothered to count them. They range from cheap and tacky clocks for a few euros to several thousand for gorgeous hand carved versions. Triberg is famed for its waterfall, but was far too touristy for our liking hence we only stopped for a very short visit.

Schweet Schiltach

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Another day, another picturesque village in the Black Forest, this time Schiltach. An abundance of historical museums dot the town. The timber museum is free (for dogs too) and gives an interesting insight into how the area accumulated its wealth by bringing trees down the river from the surrounding hills. They have ample information in English available and a very friendly English-speaking guide on site ,who was ever so keen to tell me all about his 10 years of living in London in the 60’s. The apothecary museum costs €2 per person (but no dogs allowed). It has several rooms full of torturous looking devices and evil medicines. It is astonishing to think that DDT was once used as a human delousing hairspray! The museum is on the site of a pharmacy built in the 1800s and is neatly preserved in its original state. The sweet little old lady that takes your entrance fee directed me from one contraption filled room to another with much gusto, even when I was clearly yawning with disinterest after five rooms of objects had been closely scrutinized.

There are many culinary delights to try in the Black Forest. We picked up some lardons made from Black Forest pigs in the local metzgerei (butcher) and used them in a couple of dishes. Mmm, tasty! They also make delicious beersticks (smoked sausages) which David is always trying to buy in large quantities.  I have to watch him closely! We have found that meat is very cheap in Germany, especially pork products. They also have a huge range of interesting breads. At long last, after so many white baguettes, our digestive systems are enjoying the health benefits of unrefined foods. Sadly we weren’t so enamoured with Black Forest Gateau which proved to be very sugary and sadly lacking in cherries and chocolate. You can never have too many cherries and chocolate!

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