Posts tagged nature

Monti Sibillini

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After the hustle and bustle of touristy towns, we escaped to Monti Sibillini and its eerie National Park, which straddles the Le Marche and Umbrian region of Italy. We stayed in a grassy (and free) area di sosta close to the town of Castleluccio, surrounded by mountains.

Handgliders and paragliders make good use of the flat basin, perfect for easy landings. Some of the more adventurous ones could even be seen disappearing in and out of clouds that tumble down the sides of the mountains.

The area is perfect for hiking and mountain biking; we did both whilst we were there. Apparently, there are numerous wild animals and plants to be spotted, but the wildest thing we saw was a bleary eyed shepherd and five sheepdogs who thought that Odie looked like a good appetiser.

The Iceman

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Today we stopped at Bolzano to see its most famous archeological discovery – the Iceman or, as he is locally known, “Otzi”. He was mummified 5300 years ago and is now kept in a freezer and visible through a small window. The find in 1991 has given archeologists a clearer idea of how man lived in those times. They have Otzi’s clothes on show; it is incredible how much has survived, and quite amazing to see how advanced man was, even back then. There are some English translations on the displays but if you want to get the most out of the museum your best bet is to rent an audio guide for €2.

After leaving Bolzano we had a very scenic drive to the Val di Non – apple country! We had timed it perfectly as the apple season has just started and huge bags of delicious fresh apples were available for bargain basement prices. Many food items had to vacate the fridge so that a massive carton of apple juice could be shoved unceremoniously into its depths 🙂

Grossglockner Road

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The highlight of Austria (for us at any rate) was the High Alpine Road of Grossglockner. This toll road is expensive by toll road standards at €28 for the day, but as it kept us gasping in awe for hours it was well worth the price. At one point there are 30 mountains over 3000m in view; perfect scenes for postcards and chocolate boxes.

We got up at the crack of dawn and enjoyed a quiet road to start with. The northern ascent (from Salzburg) was dramatic with impressive peaks at every turn. The road quickly racks up many metres above sea level via some very sharp hairpin bends. We stopped frequently for photo opportunities (or sniff-and-pee breaks in Odie’s opinion)

The day was clear and bright (a welcome change after weeks of annoying rain), and consequently the road started to get very busy. By the time we reached the peak there was a constant stream of traffic behind us. We had a very quick look at the glacier at the top, but decided to pass on the visitor centre and surrounding tourist hubub, dragging an frantic Odie away from the marmots he was eager to devour. A quick descent down the other side of the mountain range led us to a beautiful stop for lunch at a restaurant featuring an alpine waterfall as a backdrop. Next stop, Italy!

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.

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.

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.

Anon to Annency

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Annency is famed for its crystal clear blue lake.  We weren’t disappointed!  Even in the pouring rain the lake still retains its magical colour.  We dared to brave the downpour by walking in search of some local wine, but ended up rather sodden and had to resort to driving to a nearby supermarket. The next day the sun made an appearance and we could truly appreciate the beautiful landscapes.

The camping ground we stayed in was a municipal site (only 1 star) with extremely basic facilities. Incredibly they had so many wash basins that there was almost one per motorhome, but there was only one toilet for the entire site!

Although Annency is gorgeous it is also heaving with tourists in August. We found it difficult to navigate the hoards of cars, bikes and pedestrians after the relative quiet countryside we have experienced up to now. We decided to head up to the hills, and found an incredible free camping spot close to the border of Switzerland with spectacular views of Mt Blanc. Cows in the field next to us made an absolute racket as their bells clonked at different pitches, but quietened down after sunset when they went to sleep. Well, most of them anyway. One greedy critter stayed up until almost midnight munching and clonking her bell. Perhaps she had a secret stash of grass hidden away …

The BIG 30!

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I was spoiled as my closest friends made the trek to France for a week of fun in the (well mostly anyway) sun in the Lot valley.  The venue was a fantastic, a modern house conversion with a pool and a huge ice maker for all those bottles of champagne.  The nearest town was Cazals, a sleepy place packed with UK emigrants.  It had a charming restaurant, the Auberge with fabulous steak frites for only €8.  The nearest large town was Cahors, famous for deep, robust red wines and its medieval bridge.

One of the highlights of the week was canoeing along the Dordogne.  The river (or at least the stretch we visited) flows slowly in high summer, and magnificent chateaux are visible from every bend .  However, it is clearly a popular holiday outing as we dodged and weaved with masses of canoes as if fighting the M25 rush hour.  It was smooth sailing (or paddling to be exact) until I decided a water fight would be a good idea. David and I lent over to one side of the canoe, trying desperately to shower each other with our paddles. The next thing we knew there was a big splosh as we toppled into the river, our canoe overturning and dispersing all our stuff into the murky water. I then discovered that the river was flowing a lot faster and was a lot deeper than I thought.  I tried to put on a life jacket, but was told by David that they were needed to help keep our now almost submerged canoe afloat.  So much for river safety!

At the house we made a makeshift water volleyball court across the swimming pool using a badminton net, and a table tennis table from various household bits.  This provided hours of endless fun and much competitive posturing between us all.  The sparkling wine and other lubricants helped too!

My birthday dinner arrived and we decided to walk to the restaurant 2km up the road and, also up a rather steep hill.  Armed with some wine for the walk it was easy going.  I wasn’t quite so easy going when we arrived, only to find that they were closed. So much for my reservation made in ‘French’.  We made a plan (true Zimbo style), and went for dinner in the town down the road which was fabulous.  Thanks to everyone for coming, I had an amazing time!!!

Morphing

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We have been camping in a municipal camp site, surrounded by thousands of cicadas serenading at full volume. The noise reached a crescendo last night and then stopped abruptly. This morning Chris went to unlock our bikes and let out an unholy shriek. “There’s a creature on my bike, it’s like a praying mantis crossed with a spider!” Close inspection of said beastie showed no more than the empty shell of a cicada. Last night they all morphed into their adult forms, leaving behind a littering of empty skins on the trees, like discarded beer cans after a heavy drinking session. It must have been quite a party!

Once again we cycled into the old town (swerving carefully to avoid the slightly more swollen form of Mr Cane Rat) and attempted to get into the amphitheater. No such luck, another celebrity (this time a name we didn’t recognise) had monopolised the place.

Jeudis (Thursdays) in Nimes is market day and every square is fully kitted out with stall holders and musicians of varying abilities. We watched a few minutes of a crazy saxophone player who seemed more like a man wrestling a python (and failing miserably) than an artist. We tried Vietnamese food for the first time – an unusual choice perhaps given the setting, but  an excellent one.  Luckily the food was a lot better than our attempt to understand a Vietnamese-French accent.

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