Going cuckoo!

96 nights :  3,635 miles travelled: Countries visited : 7

“I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others”  Ludwig II

Arriving in the Bavarian Alps is like stepping through the back of a wardrobe. One minute we were playing who can spot the mountains first (Graham) and then you are in the middle of a landscape seen in so many picture books. Red topped chalet villages and needle sharp church spires bathing in yellowy green pasture. We spent a minute still believing the mountains were clouds, then they are spectres behind the forested foothills and closer still, the gigantic characters reveal themselves.

We had travelled south on what was labelled on the map as the Romantische Strasse. It was one of the least attractive we had seen in Germany and anyway, we don’t do romance. The problem is there are three people in this marriage. And Graham insisted on bringing the other woman along. He listens to every word she says and on the rare occasion he goes his own way she doesn’t shout, but sternly tells him to turn around when possible. He gazes into her illuminated face every evening and if he pushes the right buttons she patiently answers all his questions. Now do I sound like a jealous wife?

Our view
Our view
Oberammergau Church
Oberammergau Church

We expected to stay in Oberammergau one night but found it hard to leave after a week. The village welcomes many tourists but still retains a local community at core. It is this community that puts on an elaborate Passion Play every 10 years in gratitude for escaping the plague in the 17th century. Oberammergau is renowned for it’s Luftmalerei, painted houses which give the illusion of ornate facades like window frames and columns and others telling stories, like those from the Brothers Grimm or religious scenes. It is also a centre for intricate woodcarving and  we spent too long looking at lovely things that we couldn’t carry with us for the rest of the year.

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The icy river provided a safe place to exercise Kips during another heatwave. Graham lost his footing a couple of times and sank into the clay that lined the banks. We speculated that it was the same mud they charge hundreds of euros to coat you in at the spa up the road. Graham’s knees look 20 years younger than the rest of him!

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We took a long hot walk to the nearby village of Ettal to see the monastery. The views along the way were accompanied by the sound of bells from the sheep and cows and took me back to my childhood love of Heidi…I was smiling from the inside out.

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The heart of the monastery is the Baroque church. It was open to visitors and most surprisingly, so was the slick gift shop, selling their own brewed beer….on a Sunday. I could hear my strict Methodist Grandmother whispering “heathens”!

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Nearby was Linderhof Palace, one of several built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century, but the only one he completed and lived in. As with The Wartburg, the gardens and parkland are open and free to all visitors, with entrance tickets needed only for guided tours. The Rococo architecture was enhanced, if not outdone by the dramatic but gentle landscape.

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Go on dare me!

 

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The formal garden created views down on to the palace…
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…from higher and higher positions..
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…setting it into it’s stunning natural backdrop.

 

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Ludwig died in 1886 aged just 40, in mysterious circumstances, a day after he had been declared insane. He led what appears to be an eccentric and isolated life but he left Bavaria with some amazing monuments to an age that was past even when he was alive.

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Treat of the week: The only clock we had in Brian is a useful little device that also indicates the temperature and predicts the weather. However it is difficult to read because it is digital so we cannot read it without our glasses and we often confuse the functions even if we do. The answer? There is only one in the Alps. We found a battery powered cuckoo clock that is both lightweight (for Graham) and incredibly kitsch (for Mandy) AND it tells us the time…no glasses required…just count the cuckoos! Every hour it still makes me smile….and Graham wince.20150819_090015[1]

Berg or Burg?

89 nights: 3,357 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5

“It is the devil in us that makes us want more”  Martin Luther

So far, Germany is the country that most reminds us of England and it certainly shares our strong sense of history. The most visible evidence is in the striking buildings including many castles set high looking over the surrounding landscape. The big daddy of these is Wartburg in Central Germany.

Wartburg is 1,000 years old
Wartburg is 1,000 years old
It's easy to believe almost a third of Germany's land is covered with forest
It’s easy to believe almost a third of Germany’s land is covered with forest

Originating in 1067, it was greatly restored in the 19th century and is now a major tourist attraction. In the 12th century, it was the venue for a medieval singing competition (the first Germany’s got talent?) that later inspired Richard Wagner to write the opera Tannhauser. Martin Luther translated the New Testament whilst sheltering in the Wartburg in 1521 and the great fortress was one of the inspirations for Ludwig II who built iconic palaces in Bavaria.

SAM_5349 SAM_5329 SAM_5336 SAM_5316We were lucky to be able to stay right behind the castle for a couple of nights and enjoy the woods and surrounding views after the visitors had gone home.

SAM_5381       SAM_5378     The Wartburg stands majestically over the town of Eisenach, the birthplace of J. S. Bach. Bachhaus is the largest museum dedicated to his life and works. It is an innovative mixture of traditional displays and opportunities to listen to his music.

There were many instruments, some still played at recitals
There were many instruments, some still played at recitals
It would have been lovely to have listened for an hour or two
It would have been lovely to have listened for an hour or two
An accurate representation of Bach's face has been created using his skull
An accurate representation of Bach’s face has been created using his skull

It was only when I reached the third room that it became clear that the 17th century house we were in probably had nothing to do with Johann. His father had rented somewhere overlooking the garden before he was born. A tenuous link at best!!

However, Eisenach was certainly the birthplace of the Wartburg car and Graham had great fun spotting vintage treasures visiting the town. We later regretted not making time to visit the factory which is now  a motor museum. The other major museum in the town celebrates the links with Martin Luther and was due to reopen following refurbishment soon after we left. Another good reason to return.

We had spent a lot of time in what had been East Germany and there are still ghosts of the past like grey lego brick apartment blocks thrown up wherever needed, whether in a town or a scenic rural village. There is also much evidence of the vast investment in the East after reunification. The road we took south to Bamberg was breathtaking with long flyovers and viaducts that left you soaring above gorgeous Thuringian forests.

We visited Bamberg because a wax plaque depicting the town hung on my mother’s kitchen wall for years. My brother had run there competitively and I always wondered what the rooftops and spires really looked like. They look amazing! Bamberg is by far the best town or city we have visited so far.

At the heart lies the ‘Island City’ and ‘Little Venice’ with magnificent merchants houses and halls, half timbered former fishermen’s houses and small boats edging a river and a canal, with a variety of bridges linking them all.

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SAM_5541Bamberg is often described as the city built on seven hills and Cathedral hill was historically the centre of power. There are many imposing buildings in this part of town but we enjoyed the relative peace and tranquility in the Prince Bishop’s rose garden which was also a great place to look out over the red rooftops.

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Graham in the seconds before he decided he did indeed like Bamberg's famous smoked beer!
Graham in the seconds before he decided he did indeed like Bamberg’s famous smoked beer. This was…treat of the week!
We drank so much he spent 30 euros on a new hat!!
We drank so much that he spent 30 euros on a new hat but not so much that he bought the lederhosen!!

Unbelievably, the temperatures were too hot to do the walking tour of the city’s breweries!! So Martin Luther may be correct in believing it is the devil that makes us want more, but there is definitely more that we want to come back to in Central Germany.

So is it Berg or Burg? We often debate which suffix to use for the many towns that end this way. Having checked, a fortified town was a burg and a mountain (hill?) is a berg. However, many fortresses were built on a hill so I guess we’ll still have to check!

Sweet Harz

82 nights : 3,335 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5

“Tonight the mountain’s mad with magic” – Faust, Goethe

The Harz mountains rise unimpressively out of a long stretch of plains. As you approach the region it is hard to believe that it boasts the tallest mountain in Northern Germany, or that it harbours the witches and goblins that are celebrated throughout the area. The Brocken is the setting for the scene in Goethe’s Faust when the Devil tempts Faust on a night of revelry with witches and other mythical creatures on the mountain.

Right on the edge of the region lies Quedlinburg. Depending on which you read, the guide books tell you that this little town has between 1400 and 2000 half timbered houses. But that doesn’t prepare you for the pleasure of walking through streets that look like a film set. There was a “wow” as we turned every corner.

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It was a lovely afternoon and we found the shade of some parasols and ordered a couple of beers.SAM_5093 As we sat reflecting on the sights, we noticed that everyone else was eating large slabs of cheesecake. We had found Quedlinburg’s speciality kase-kuchen shop serving 145 varieties… and we were drinking beer!  Luckily they did a take-away service.

I hoped the scales meant 'eat your own weight in cheesecake'
I hoped the scales meant ‘eat your weight in cheesecake…5 euros’

Quedlinburg is on one of the largest networks of narrow gauge railways in the world, the Harzer Schmalspur Bahnen, but we moved on to Wernigerode, on the same network, to enjoy the journey up to the summit of the Brocken on a steam train.SAM_5164 When we enquired at tourist information about taking a dog on the train we were informed that those over 20cms would have to wear a muzzle. Now even if Kipper had been the Jack Russell he was supposed to be he would be taller than that! After half a day of disbelief and disappointment, we decided to turn up at the station and see what would happen. We ensured that the assistant saw our 60cm mutt and she happily sold us a ticket for him at 18 euros, 50% of the cost of an adult! However this did mean we didn’t have to resort to our cunning plan of lying Kips on his side to be measured.(He’s only 18cm tall that way!) The lovely ticket inspectors on the train were very welcoming to him and he enjoyed most of the journey watching the forest go by through the window.

Getting ready to be measured if challenged!
Getting ready to be measured if challenged!
A nervous start to the journey...
A nervous start to the journey…
...but fascinated within minutes
…but fascinated within minutes

Up close to the dark density of the trees, you could see how the Harz inspired many German fairy tales. Thousands of acres of inaccessible forestation leaves much to the imagination.

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There is something about steam trains that brings a boyish smile to most men’s faces but I have to admit after an hour and a half of climbing higher and higher, with the engine appearing ahead on the many bends, leaving a sulphuric whiff with the whistle, even I was enjoying myself.

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Can't wait to go down again!
       Can’t wait to go down again!

The expansive views from the summit were also worthwhile and deserved a celebratory beer and bratwurst….yes yes we are cutting down soon!

Wernigerode is a wonderful town with many wide open half timbered streets, an impressive castle looming over the town and the cutest Rathaus in the ancient market place.

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However we had been a bit spoiled by Quedlinburg and we were soon ready to move on.

The primary reason we visited the Harz region was to catch The Norfolk Youth Orchestra performing in the area and to meet up with our lovely friend Jessica.SAM_5285 We did this in Bad Lauterberg where Graham and Kipper enjoyed the afternoon rehearsal and I was lucky enough to attend a brilliant concert including a virtuoso performance of Elgar’s cello concerto by a 19 year old from Slovenia. I had Leonard Bernstein’s Candide buzzing in my head for days. The age range of musicians is 12 to 21 and rehearsals are in the young people’s free time, led by some committed coaches and leaders. The quality of performance was outstanding and very much appreciated by the German audience.SAM_5287

SAM_5288We camped a couple of kilometres from Bad Lauterberg to make use of the most expensive WIFI and washing machines to date. However the setting almost made up for it and on a hike from our pitch we saw a sweeter side of the Harz Mountains with wildflower clearings graced with clouds of butterflies and wild strawberries and raspberries in abundance.

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A nicer walk than Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood had!

M x

Treat of the week: Graham is mostly happy to go with the flow (the secret of this happy marriage!).  However he was very downbeat at the thought of not riding up a mountain on a steam train but he didn’t see much fun in going alone. His reaction at getting a seat and Kipper being allowed one too will always be one of my highlights.

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Water water everywhere….

75 nights : 3,032 miles travelled :Countries visited: 5

“I would rather have WIFI than water”  G.W. Stratton

The holiday is over. The supply of Sainsbury’s red label teabags is almost exhausted. We are well into our trip and our expectations are evolving as we become travellers rather than tourists. Our routine revolves around the procurement and disposal of water and our dreams are fulfilled by the ability to tune into a strong WIFI signal and a washing machine.

To make our budget go further we mostly opt to stay on a wohnmobil platz which are in many European towns and villages. This may simply be a designated space in a car park or resemble a campsite with electricity and water. Prices are usually considerably cheaper than a campsite or, joy of joys…sometimes free! In the past weeks we have stayed in a meadow behind a beach, a railway station car park, outside a national park information office, on a harbour front, a field behind a restaurant and a car park next to a ring road. Variety is a mixed spice!

Water has also featured in many of the stops we have made recently. Unlike the town musicians in Grimm’s fairy tale we actually made it to Bremen and loved what we found.       Our walk from the stellplatz took us along the river Weser to an amazing city centre.SAM_4762

 

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The Market square is gilded with a very ornate Rathaus (town hall) alongside a 13th century twin towered Dom. The Rathaus is guarded by a medieval knight Roland, which protects and symbolises the city’s freedom.

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Bremen’s Roland is 13m tall

The Bottcherstrasse was formerly the lane where coopers lived and worked but was redesigned in the 1920s with amazing art deco facades and links the market square with the river with shops museums and cafe-bars.

Trying out the Kolsch from Cologne. A bit light for me!
Trying out the Kolsch from Cologne.             A bit light for me!

 

The 16th C Hanse buildings were incorporated into the design
The 16th C Hanse buildings were incorporated into the design
The glockenspiel plays 3 times a day
The glockenspiel plays three times a day

SAM_4722Then there is the Schnoor quarter, 15th & 16th century narrow lanes which used to be the fishermans quarter but is now a maze of arts and crafts shops.

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And of course the town musicians are celebrated everywhere, most famously with Gehart Marcks sculpture, with the rooster, cat, dog and donkey scaring the robbers who attacked their house.

 

 

We wandered across the North of Germany, to Lubeck which was at the heart of the Hanseatic League, a medieval confederation of trades guilds. They dominated the Baltic sea and had links all over Europe, including our home town of King’s Lynn.  SAM_4822

 

The merchants adopted a distinctive style of architecture which links many German towns like Bremen that were members of the League.

The towers lean towards each other across the stepped gable
The impressive towers lean towards each other across the stepped gable

 

The Holstentor is a dramatic city gate that, together with many spired churches, forms a ‘crown’ around the centre of the old town.

 

 

The Salzpecher used to store the salt that was pivotal to the Hanseatic trade
The Salzpecher used to store the salt that was pivotal to the Hanseatic trade
Lubeck in Marzipan
Lubeck in Marzipan

Marzipan has been made in  Lubeck for hundreds of years.  Whenever we mention to  Germans that we visited Lubeck,  they ask did we try the  marzipan.                                  Happily we can say  yes! Graham says    it is the best marzipan he has ever  disliked….. so there was more for me.

 

Some of the lanes were reminiscent of Kings Lynn
Some of the courtyards are reminiscent of those in Kings Lynn

Graham was keen to see the Baltic sea so we spent a weekend in Boiensdorf on the North East coast, in a gorgeous little field with a  sea view.SAM_4835

 

 

 

 

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It is a beautiful coastline, with the countryside sweeping down to the waters edge with few interruptions.

 

 

 

We were lucky to be there at a time when many crops were ready for harvest and the light cast a sharp contrast between field yellow, Baltic blue and the fresh green of the lollipop trees that drew a dotted line across the landscape.

This area is very popular with windsurfers and Kipper took some convincing that they were chasing the wind and not him! He did however, have fun demonstrating the principles of the bouncing bomb!

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Our watery theme continued in Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg West-Pomerania (just love saying that name!) The city seems to rise out of water with lakes in every direction.SAM_4954 SAM_4899

 

 

Schwerin Palace is now the State Parliament and the peaceful gardens are open to all.SAM_4935

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There are many impressive buildings but the whole city had a shabby chic style about it. This is in what was East Germany and some streets certainly had a different feel.SAM_4918

 

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Public art was very diverse.SAM_4924

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However there was a laid            back atmosphere which we       really enjoyed.

 

 

 

We also enjoyed some good local beer and yet another bratwurst lunch at Zum Stadtkrug, a microbrewery/pub just up the road from the railway station where we were pitched.

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The Germans are masters at making beer,  bratwurst and bread. We know…. we have sampled a lot. The Snail Trail is fast becoming galloping gluttony. Yes the holiday needs to be over before Brian exceeds his 3.5 tonne limit!

The Mecklenburg lake district has over 1,000 lakes and whilst there are no real hills, rarely do you turn a corner without seeing water. We had planned to base ourselves at the top of the largest lake, The Muritz. Happily the campsite we had intended to use was full – full of running children and grumpy parents. So we spent the night in blissful solitude outside the National Park information centre. Alone that is apart from hundreds of cows on the dairy farm behind us.

The night revealed that our fridge was not working on gas, an essential as we are spending so much time off grid. We located a dealer about 25 kilometres away in Neustrelitz; the silver lining to our cloud. Luckily the repair would take a couple of days so we stayed at the harbour of this great little town in the centre of the lake district.

An old railway line passes through the harbour but motorhomes stand where trains once did
An old railway line passes through the harbour but motorhomes stand where trains once did

                                             There were elegant Schloss gardens, a Tiergarten for Kips to log some running time and a unique star shaped market place with delightful streets running off in all directions.SAM_5006SAM_5003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grand entrance to the Tiergarten
The grand entrance to the Tiergarten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One man and his dog...a familiar sight!
One man and his dog…a familiar sight!

But most wonderful were the sunsets over the Zierker See.

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No shortage of water but WIFI has been surprisingly hard to come by, especially a strong connection needed long enough for blog posts. So we are a few weeks behind in updating you but as all snails know, we’ll get there eventually.

Treat of the week: There are more than 300 varieties of bread in Germany and we have especially enjoyed those with wheat and rye flour mixed. However the winner so far is Sonnenblumenkernbrot. Not with rye but with loads of sunflower seeds and the most delicious texture and flavour.

Makes Kingsmill 50:50 seem like a bad dream
Makes Kingsmill 50:50 seem like a bad dream

This could well turn out to be treat of the trip.