Tales of the unexpected

123 nights : 4,460 miles travelled : Countries visited: 9

“The soul of Poland is indestructible…she will rise again as a rock, which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock.”   Winston Churchill

Speaking to fellow travellers about visiting Poland, we were always warned about the poor condition of the roads. So as we set off on the journey across the border, we took extra care to ensure that everything in and on the cupboards was secured. Kipper tolerates but does not enjoy being rained on by tissue boxes and glasses cases. Walbrzych, the first major town we came to, confirmed our worst fears. There was a bypass but that was closed. The diversion took us into a dead end on a housing estate and our drive through the town centre was a nightmare of roadworks and delays. In between, the surfaces left us all feeling rattled. Luckily we had planned to camp not too far across the border. Bolcow is an attractive town within view and easy reach of the Sudeten mountains, the site was family run and the little field felt like a lovely garden. It also had WIFI which allowed us to pre-book tickets to visit Auschwitz. The memorial museum has received 700,000 visitors so far this year so this was the best way to ensure a day and times that suited us.

We had to wait for nearly a week so we decided to see Wroclaw. We found another site in a back garden but this couldn’t have felt more different. The gates were electronically controlled. There were video cameras and a very scary guard dog. The washing facilities were in a container and the most basic we had seen. We were at the gritty end of the city around 4 km from the centre. Many buildings were very run down and a lot of people in the area took security as seriously as our host. However walking around, we didn’t feel any less safe than in most places in the UK.

SAM_6945We did leave Brian in guarded parking in the city centre. This was right by the Panorama of Raclawicka, a massive 360 degree painting of a 1794 battle in which a Polish peasant army defeated Russian forces intent on partitioning Poland. The story of the battle is told as you walk around it but just as fascinating, is the story of the painting itself. It was commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle, rather poignantly, as Poland ceased to exist as a sovereign state shortly after the battle. The painting was originally displayed in Lwow until 1944 when it was damaged during an air raid by the Soviet Army. It was stored for safe keeping in Wroclaw and in 1967 an unusual building was built specifically to hang the 120 metre artwork. But the Communist state would not allow it to be displayed until 1985. This was the first time we realised how devastated the country has been by it’s neighbours and just how amazing it is that the Poles have never lost their sense of nationhood.

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Wroclow’s market square required a lot of restoration after WWII and this has been done mostly beautifully with only the occasional oddball building. The huge square is one of the largest in Europe and is a lively and attractive place to walk around.

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The Salt Square is adjacent to the market square
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The occasional modern carbuncle hints at the rebuilding needed after WWII
Most buildings needed to be restored
Most buildings have been restored

We drive between 1  and 2 hours on travel days so found a stellplatz on the way to Krakow. Gora Swietej Anny is a modest village on a solitary hill in the Silesian plains we had crossed. When we arrived, there were groups having picnics on the lower part of the pleasant field and Graham noted there seemed to be a large number of priests among them. We were told that there was a church on the hill and there would be visitors over the weekend. That didn’t affect us and Kipper had a fun game of ball on the empty field before bed.

We woke to the sound of cars arriving and excited voices greeting each other at 6.00am. The buzz and chatter continued to build for an hour and a half. At 6.30 a brass band started to warm up and somebody tested a microphone, then the liturgical singing  began.  At 7.00 the clock bells were joined by continuous ringing. We were giggling beyond control by now so Graham got up to put the kettle on. When he looked out we were completely surrounded by cars and coaches.

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It emerged we had parked right next to the Lourdes Grotto which meant that when the 2 hour service began at 7.30, we almost didn’t need the loudspeakers that relayed everything. And then at 9.30 the brass bands started and tens of thousands of people headed off down the road. Silence.

SAM_7085Slightly stunned we decided not to move on to Krakow but to stay on and see what was happening. Despite living fairly close to Walsingham, neither of us had ever experienced any kind of pilgrimage other than doing the Guinness tour in Dublin. It emerged that the pilgrims were walking a 6 km calvary circuit of 33 chapels. We explored the village whilst they were gone. It now made sense that there were 5 restaurants in a modest community. A statue of Pope John Paul II looks out over wide views over the plains.

You could see for miles
You could see for miles

Every inch of road space was lined with vehicles and 90% of gardens had been turned into parking places. Then most bizarrely, we came across a monument and a 30,000 seat amphitheatre on the site of a disused quarry. The monument stands on the site of a mausoleum built by the Third Reich to commemorate German soldiers lost during the 1921 Silesian uprising. It was destroyed at the end of WWII and the monument in turn, commemorates the rebels who had fought to return Silesia to Poland.

The monument seems out of place on the edge of the village
The monument seems out of place on the edge of the village
The architect of the monument was a survivor of Auschwitz
The architect of the monument was a survivor of Auschwitz
We later visited an excellent little museum to the Silesian Uprisings
We later visited an excellent little museum to the Silesian Uprisings

The amphitheatre was intended to counter the religious significance of the hill and to become a symbolic site for Silesia as part of Germany. It was not used after it’s inauguration in 1938. What the Nazis did not realise is that they had in fact built a brilliant doggy playground and Kipper had great fun while we sat scratching our heads at their bizarre thinking.

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The pilgrims did not return until late afternoon and many stayed on for a candle lit service in the grotto so it was after 10pm before they left for home. The next morning promised a bright early autumn day so we thought we would take a walk along the route the pilgrims had but in reverse. We hadn’t gone far when we saw altar boys sitting around with a line of wicker baskets placed across the pathway.

It seemed so unexpected but then a little further still and we heard singing voices approaching us. A smaller group of pilgrims were  following the trail with a short service at each chapel. We stood by, then continued on our way.

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The chapels varied in size
The chapels varied in size
Each chapel referenced a part of the Crucifixion story
Each chapel referenced a part of the Crucifixion story

The church back in the village was surrounded by stalls selling food and souvenirs. After a warm undulating walk we understood why most of the stalls sold confectionery and ice cream and we felt better qualified to enjoy the festival atmosphere.

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Lody is Graham's only word of Polish
Lody – ice cream – is Graham’s only word of Polish!

 

We didn’t want to visit Auschwitz but at the same time we did. The second world war was so crucial in shaping the Europe that we are now enjoying and I expected that this historical interest would create some level of detachment during our visit. It did not.  Graham expected that he would find it a shocking and horrific place. He did.

The iconic and ironic entrance to Auschwitz I
The iconic and ironic entrance to Auschwitz I
Remains of wooden barracks at Birkenau
Remains of wooden barracks at Birkenau
Gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed before German retreat
Gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed before German retreat
A cattle truck of the type used to transport millions of people to their dreadful fate
A cattle truck of the type used to transport millions of people to their dreadful fate

I joined a tour with an educator who explained the workings of both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau thoroughly but with great feeling. Whilst it was a humid day, I think the reality of what we were being shown had more to do with feeling hot and dizzy.  Graham walked around as an individual at his own pace. The sheer size and scale of the camps was what struck him. For me it was the unimaginable detail of individual lives trying to exist in such circumstances.

Eight people were expected to sleep on each of the three tiered 'bunks'
Eight people were expected to sleep on each of the three tiered ‘bunks’

We learned that Poles were one of the target populations and afterwards I read the memoirs of a Polish violinist who lost not only most of her family but her home town of Lwow (now Lviv in Ukraine) The era saw Poland partitioned by Germany and Russia as allies and fought over as enemies. It seems remarkable that the people and the nation survived at all.

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As our tours were finishing late in the day, we stayed on the car park at Auschwitz I along with two other motorhomes. This is possible with a 24 hour ticket and in a strange way it felt like a privilege to stay on and absorb what we had learnt rather than rush on to the next tourist destination. However we hadn’t realised that goods trains still run near to the site and they operate well into the night. The distinctive sound got mixed in with thoughts of what we had learned in the day.  I admit we kept the light on and read for most of the night. We have talked to each other probably more about this as a single element of the trip than any other and the whole visit will stay with us for a very long time.

 

 

 

Krakow is a beautiful city and there is so much to see. It dates back to the 7th century and thankfully largely escaped war damage. Once again we were fortunate with sunny skies but unfortunately the temperature were in excess 30 degrees which did slow us down. This is near the top of our list of cities to return to at a cooler date.

Rynek Glowny is the largest medieval town square in Europe
Rynek Glowny is the largest medieval town square in Europe
The Cloth Hall straddles the square
Souvenir stalls fill the ground floor of the cloth hall
Souvenir stalls fill the ground floor of the cloth hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 15th century Town Hall Tower
The 15th century Town Hall Tower
Every hour a bugle call is played from the tower of St Mary's church
Every hour a bugle call is played from the tower of St Mary’s church

 

Church of SS Peter & Paul and 11th C St Andrew's Church
Church of SS Peter & Paul and 11th C                               St Andrew’s Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wawel Hill is topped with both a castle and a cathedral. As with much of Krakow there are some very old buildings in incredibly good condition.

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In the fifteenth century Jews were driven out of Krakow and forced to resettle in a part of Kazimierz , at that time a town next to the city. This Jewish quarter attracted many escaping persecution from all over Europe. During the war the Nazis relocated Jews (at that time around 30% of Krakow’s population) to a walled ghetto the other side of the river before they were murdered, as portrayed in Schindler’s List. Today the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz is unlike any other part of the city, with narrower streets dotted with synagogues and cafe bars playing Klezmer music. There is a lively atmosphere with many of the faded exteriors hiding trendy shops and galleries, reminding us of parts of East London. We loved this end of the town; it is quite unlike anywhere else we’ve been on the trip so far.

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SAM_7247We had intended to spend two or three more days exploring Krakow but I’m afraid we ran away from the heat and headed to the mountains. After our first bumpy day in Poland, the roads we encountered were better than we expected, especially on this journey. Zakopane is a popular resort in the Tatra Mountains and we stayed in a village just outside town, close to a ski slope being used as a mountain bike venue.

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Texture like halloumi. Not like a crunchy pastry full of a sweet filling!
Texture like halloumi. Not like a crunchy pastry with a sweet filling!

 

The area has a unique style of architecture (which we forgot to photograph!) and smoked cheese sold from stalls everywhere. Unfortunately we thought they were some form of cake or bread (one track minds) and bought two. Luckily they are so salty I think they will keep for months!

 

Zakopane was very busy and helpfully it rained for two days, giving us the excuse to sit and absorb our experiences in Poland, those both expected and unexpected and reflect on our admiration for a nation that has survived so much.

M & G xx

Naked!
Naked!

Treat of the week: As seen above, we try to buy local sweet treats to have with coffee. I bought some biscuits unlike any before in Lidl thinking they were a Polish speciality. They are in fact, Jaffa Cakes without the jam and the chocolate. Even calling them Affas does not make them enjoyable. So no they are not TOFW. It has to be the memory of looking out of the kitchen window and seeing three nuns crouching in a row between cars having a pee against a wall in Gora Swietej Anny. It was such a casual act and I felt ashamed of watching but not so much that I looked away and I’m afraid I smile every time I remember.

Friends Reunited

118 nights : 4,358 miles travelled : Countries visited: 8

“Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation”  Tennessee Williams

We were very excited about going to the Czech Republic. It was our first drive into ‘Eastern Europe’ and we were meeting up with one of Graham’s best friends who has lived there for many years.

We left Austria and entered Czech Republic through the Sumava hills which spread across the border of both countries. Having grown up during the Cold War, the ‘Iron Curtain’ had seemed almost physical and yet here was a beautiful forest that gave nothing away of the desperate escape attempts past fences, watchtowers, and guard dogs in the years before 1989. The area is now a national park and looks perfect for hiking.

Brian was sad to leave Camping Panorama
Brian was sad to leave Camping Panorama

However we kept driving to Lipno nad Vlatavou, a resort on Lake Lipno which is actually a 30km long reservoir. With the temperatures still high there was a real buzz even though it was late Summer. Our campsite was in front of an elderly hotel, right next to the water’s edge. It appeared that Hotel Panorama was stuck in the 1970’s and with a lot of new redevelopment springing up all around, it looked rather out of place. However there was a really warm welcome, the showering facilities were spotlessly clean and amazingly…use of the washing machine was free! I admit you had to move the programme on to rinse and spin manually but after paying between 3 and 6 euros a load elsewhere, I was more than happy to to that.

Looking towards the marina at Lipno nad Vlatavou
Looking towards the marina at Lipno nad Vlatavou
Messing about in the water...again
Messing about in the water…again

With the laundry drying in the gorgeous sunshine, we were happy to swim in the lake, sit on the grassy ‘beach’ and soak up the holiday atmosphere. Despite being a centre for active recreation on land, water and snow in winter, we enjoyed doing not very much at all!

Silly selfies...the best time waster

Silly selfies…the best time waster

I wish they'd let me back in
I wish they’d let me back in

SAM_6424Only 40km away, the old centre of Cesky Krumlov is almost completely surrounded  by the Vlatava River and is impossibly pretty.

The castle, with it’s series of courtyards, still feels like an ancient town although the bears under the entrance bridge are a throwback we wish they would move on from.

Cesky Krumlov from the Cloak Bridge
Cesky Krumlov from the Cloak Bridge

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The Most na Plasti or ‘Cloak Bridge’ crosses the moat and leads on to the castle gardens. It has fantastic views and stands as Graham’s favourite structure on the trip so far.

Most na Plasti bridges the castle with it's gardens
Most na Plasti bridges the castle with it’s gardens
The sunlight showed the bridge off at it's best
The sunlight showed the bridge off at it’s best
Light accented the shapes
Light accented the shapes

The traditional way to cool down is on the river but this was one time we held Kipper back!

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The beauty of the town is a bit marred by the inevitable need to pander to all us tourists and we left it to the crowds after a few hours, promising ourselves a return visit out of season!

Lucie, David and Graham!
Lucie, David and Graham!

Graham and David were still at school when they met and they shared much of their teens and twenties travelling around together on motorbikes. It’s a cliche to say life that gets in the way but it seems remarkable that they went twenty five years without more than the odd email (from David!) So Prague was high on our list of must visits on the trip as David has lived there for many years. It was fun watching them piece together fragmented memories. Do you remember…..? No but I remember …..don’t you? No but…..!! It was great to catch up and surprisingly emotional to say goodbye again. They definitely can’t leave it another quarter of a century!

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We camped on an island on the Vlatava River that runs through Prague and in the searing heat ( sorry to go on about it but it was too hot) we spent a lot of time listening to river life, from coaches instructing rowers on megaphones, participants in dragon boat races, jazz brunches on pleasure cruises and dance beats sailing past on party boats until the wee small hours.

The 'ferry' was little more than a rowing boat and it was not only Kipper who needed reassurance!
The ‘ferry’ was little more than a rowing boat and it was not only Kipper who needed reassurance!

David’s wife Lucie advised us that we would need a muzzle to take Kipper on the trams into town. This is our first big hole in pre-trip research and whilst we have now bought him one and are taking the softly softly rewards based approach to introducing him to it,  Kipper is taking the assertive “get lost” approach to rejecting it. We will have to keep trying as it would seem this is a requirement on a lot of public transport throughout Europe.

The temperatures were too high to take a dog into the city centre anyway, so we took it in turns to go in very early to beat the heat and the crowds! Prague lives up to it’s reputation as a must see European city and we will return to see more at a later cooler date.

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
Prague Castle
Prague Castle
Old town hall and Tyn Church
Old town hall and Tyn Church
The astronomical clock
The astronomical clock
A rare quiet street!
A rare quiet street!

Brian has a way of keeping us on our toes and when we arrived at our next site he buzzed worryingly when he was connected to mains electric. After a tense hour which involved the wardrobe being disemboweled, multiple cables being uncoiled and a necessary amount of under-breath swearing, a diagnosis was arrived at. Graham is fantastic at working out how things work and (mostly) how to fix them when they don’t. This time, Brian’s buzz was cured by a new relay switch which cost £1.44 from an excellent motorists shop in Kutna Hora.

Kutna Hora had a lot else going for it, having once rivaled Prague in importance, but the good times ran out when the silver mines did in the 18th century. The most bizarre attraction is the Sedlec Ossary where the crypt of the monastery has been decorated with the bones of about 40,000 people.  The work was commissioned in 1870 by the Schwarzenberg family after they bought the monastery, although there seems to be evidence it was started before that. The bones have been used to create a chandelier and the Schwarzenburg coat of arms among other decorations. The idea is to remind us that we all end up the same way but I couldn’t help thinking Morticia Adams would be swooning.

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We walked past a circus on our way to the old town. Kipper had never seen elephants before and we don’t know what his thinking was…charm them with doggy yoga or try to be as small as possible?

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We enjoyed strolling around the streets of Kutna Hora. There are plenty of historic sights to see, the highlight being the Cathedral of St Barbara. But it is also fascinating to observe everyday life, noting similarities and differences to our own.

There is much evidence of historic wealth
There is much evidence of historic wealth
The 15th century stone fountain provided a public water supply
The 15th century stone fountain provided a public water supply
The terrace in front of the Jesuit College is fronted by statues of saints, inspired by Charles Bridge
The terrace in front of the Jesuit College is fronted by statues of saints, inspired by Charles Bridge
The Cathedral of St Barbara is as beautiful on the outside as on the inside
The Cathedral of St Barbara is as beautiful on the outside as on the inside
Frescoes and statues within reference the importance of silver mining
Frescoes and statues within reference the importance of silver mining

Our guide book in this part of the world is a ten year old Lonely Planet for Eastern Europe, a remnant of our son Rob’s travels during his gap year. It is still surprisingly relevant but it is always a pleasure to come across something ourselves and so it was with Kuks hospital. Travelling north, we were looking for somewhere to stop and have coffee when we caught a glimpse of a grand building from the road and then spotted a brown sign. Kuks is a complex of buildings built for Count Frantisek Sporck, reflecting his contradictory personality. There was a grand church and monastery hospital right next door to a grand chateau and luxury spa residence on the bank across the River Elbe. Sandstone sculptures representing virtues and vices decorate the terrace. The Count tried to turn the river valley into a centre for aristocratic society while all the time being ashamed about his humble beginnings. Much of the complex has now gone but European Union money has been used to beautifully restore what is left and to make it appealing to a new set of visitors. Well spent we felt!

Goliath (and David?) on the Spa side of the valley
Goliath (and David?) on the Spa side of the valley
The monumental entrance to the Church of the Holy Trinity
The monumental entrance to the Church of the Holy Trinity
Allegorical statues line the terrace
Allegorical statues line the terrace
An annual grape harvest blessing follows Sporck's tradition of pouring wine down the cascade staircase!
An annual grape harvest blessing follows Sporck’s tradition of pouring wine down the cascade staircase.
Not today Kipper!
….but not today Kipper!

Our final days in the Czech Republic were in the protected landscape of Ardspach and Teplice, clusters of rock formations formed by water and frost erosion. Loop walks of about 6km have been formed in each ‘rock town’ and many formations have been named to reflect what they resemble. The area has attracted visitors and climbers for many years and became a national park in 1933. We loved walking around the trails which felt quite different but equally fascinating.

The scale of the rocks at the entrance to Ardspach were impressive
The scale of the rocks at the entrance to Ardspach were impressive
The sugar cone is 13m in diameter at the top and only 3m at the bottom!
The Sugar Cone is 13m in diameter at the top and only 3m at the bottom
Luckily visitors add props to keep it up!
Luckily visitors add props to keep it up!
Tsunami
Tsunami
The Crown
The Crown
The Giant's Ball
The Giant’s Ball
The Lovers
The Lovers
The Horse's mouth
The Horse’s mouth
Graham spotted one himself. He wants to write to the National Park Authority to have it named after him!!
Graham spotted one himself. He wants to write to the Park Authority to have it named in his honour!! 

We walked the 3km to Ardspach from our campsite in Teplice along a path that followed the route of the train line. We had spent the whole weekend listening to cheery peeps from the little trains as they approached nearby request stops and we were more than happy to pay £1.13 for the return journey to escape the rain, but more importantly to say dobry den.

I was happy to walk but was out voted
I was happy to walk but was out voted
We had a Railway Children moment
We had a Railway Children moment
Not quite the kind old gentleman and Mr Perks, but they'll do!
Not the kind old gentleman and Mr Perks, but they’ll do!

Note: This post has two weeks for the price of one (as will the next) as we play catch up after poor access to WIFI in Germany. Interestingly it is much more available in Czech Republic and Poland.

M & G

Treat of the week: Necessity is the mother of invention. No girls, not a home made shewee but a carefully handcrafted funnel to add water to Brian’s water tank without moving him to the tap. I was only allowed to buy beer in bottles for several weeks. Finally one that works! The pride on Graham’s face says it all.

Mark 1 and Mark 44
Mark 1 and Mark 44

The Kindness of Strangers

110 nights : 4,083 miles travelled : Countries visited: 8

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”  Aesop

Throughout our five weeks in Germany, we saw very few other Brits so we were something of a novelty. Our GB plates were often pointed at in traffic and we were usually given a smile and a wave. It is strange that a few hours camped near to strangers soon creates a familiarity with ‘neighbours’. One of our favourite evenings was sitting on the stellplatz in Bamberg. The motorhomes were lined up pretty close to each other and our outside space was shared with the German couple next door. They seemed to be amused by our multicoloured pasta salad and we were fascinated at how they carefully laid the table with cutlery, cloths and mats, only to eat bratwurst and bread rolls….with mustard of course! Their English was as poor as our German but we had great fun trying to converse and as keen motorhomers, they enthusiastically shared their favourite places. Sign language was creatively used to tell us that they thought that Austrians were crazy so to avoid their roads.

We’d had a great time in the Alps but now we ignored their advice and bought a vignette to allow us to travel north through Austria. We had been concerned about the system of road tolls but when we realised that we didn’t have to register for the electronic charging system as Brian was under 3.5 tonnes, the decision was made.

We drove into the Salzkammergut region under grey skies that drain all colour and definition from the landscape. Strangely that made Traunstein and the mountains around it all the more beautiful. We stayed on a free stellplatz in Gmunden, one of three resort towns around the clear waters of Traunsee.

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Schloss Ort dates back to 1080 and sits majestically at the entrance to the town. But what Gmunden holds really dear is their heritage as a producer of ceramics and everywhere seems to reference the primitive patterns of green on white produced by Gmundner Keramik. Even the town hall was painted green and the glockenspiel featured green striped ceramic bells.

The town hall dominates the market square that sits right by the lake.
The town hall dominates the market square that sits right by the lake.
The ceramic bells were made in Meisen.
The ceramic bells made in Meisen.
Even under heavy skies Gmunden felt like a jolly town.
Under heavy skies Gmunden still felt jolly
15th century engravings were discovered during renovation of the church and left exposed
15th century engravings were discovered during renovation of the church and left exposed
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The images were so vibrant they looked much younger than they are
A ceramic fountain
A ceramic fountain referencing salt mining that was so important in the Salzkammergut region

As we walked around we kept exchanging smiles with a young family with a dog a similar to Kipper. We saw them again as we headed back to the stellplatz and realised they were staying in the same place. Jay is British and lives in Munich and they were returning from a trip to Croatia to visit Eva’s homeland. We swapped travelling tales (they have motorhomed all across Europe) and the chaps talked technical stuff. We encouraged their daughter Molly to name their motorhome and I think it will have a new name every week. We had forgotton how lovely it is just to ‘chat’.

Later that evening, Eva came across in the rain with some pancakes to mark my birthday earlier that week. It was such a lovely gift made more special as it was the only one I had received! I had enjoyed receiving wishes on t’internet but a surprise from somebody I didn’t know was wonderful.

We planned to spend one more night in Austria and drove to another free stellplatz further north. We use books from Germany and the Netherlands which show where camper stops should be. They are updated annually but inevitably there are occasions when things have changed and this was one of those. We could see the space in a little hamlet where we could park right next to the River Danube  but there was a sign that made it absolutely clear  that motorhomes were no longer welcome. Back to the books. However, we had seen the Danube and it was entrancing. We stood next to a stretch that seemed so wide and full and it pulled your attention around the distant bends. So we changed direction and headed east to find a pitch further along the river.

We found a quirky campsite near to the town of Ottensheim. We were bemused at the road signs on our walk to the market square and wondered whether we were entering a time wharp.

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We were lucky to catch the farmer’s market and Kipper carried out his regular inspection of European water features, but we were still attracted to the river. Graham was fascinated by the little ferry drawn across the river on a cable like a kite on the wind. More amusingly, the passing barges were accompanied by the local rescue service terrifying children on a speed boat as part of the fire service open day.

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We loved being near the river and decided to continue to follow it. We headed further east to a stretch of the Danube valley known as The Wachau. This area between the towns of Melk and Krems is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, recognising it’s agricultural and architectural heritage and we pitched right by the Danube on a stellplatz in Aggsbach Markt. It was a great stop, with motorhome facilities for filling up and draining water, refuse bins and toilets…luxury! You could even pay a bit extra for a shower at the cafe bar next door. Most importantly it was two minutes walk from a ‘beach’ from where Kipper could develop his swimming skills and we could sit and gaze at the beautiful ‘blue’ Danube.

Kips had only one thing on his mind!
Kips had only one thing on his mind!
I’m only racing if I’m allowed to win!
Even finding a friend wasn't as much fun as running against the current
Even finding a friend wasn’t as much fun as running against the current

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We spent each evening enjoying a really hoppy local beer (that we can’t remember the name of!) at Susi’s bar and watched the barges and pleasure boats go by.

The barges were too long to capture in one shot
The barges were too long to capture in one shot
Graham: Mandy quick snap that...quickly...oh gone!
Graham: Mandy quick snap that…quickly…oh gone!

We felt very envious of the guests on the enormous cruise boats sitting watching the scenery change before them. Then Graham spotted a small train occasionally passing behind us. We walked up to the village and found a deserted station only five minutes walk away.

A timetable indicated a train travelled between Krems and Melk four times a day but nothing else indicated a working railway.

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We decided to take a chance next morning and we’re so glad we did. The train arrived around the time indicated and stopped almost at the station, seemingly as an afterthought….we had to cross the tracks and climb up from ground level. We then enjoyed a wonderful view of the river valley lined with vineyards and punctuated with castle ruins and churches.

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Krems an der Donau is a pretty town so we were baffled as to why it was so deserted, even though it was a Sunday.  We enjoyed it pretty much to ourselves.

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We walked to the far end of the town along the ‘Art Mile’ with galleries and museums and then caught the train back from the station at the university.

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The train goes between the University and the prison!
The train goes between the University and the prison!
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What is it with boys and trains?

We toyed with the idea of following the Danube to Vienna but we had a very important meeting coming up in the Czech Republic so we retraced our steps east before heading north again towards the border. As we left the Wachau we stopped off at the enormous Melk Abbey that stands high above the old town and looks down onto the Danube. It is a Russian doll of a building with the church at the centre and the decoration is barmy baroque overpopulated with expressionless cherubs…what are they really thinking I ask myself.

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Nature often outshines man’s best efforts!

St Coloman is the patron saint of Melk. Legend has it that he was the son of an Irish king on his way to the Holy Lands when he was mistaken for a spy and captured in a town north of Vienna. After suffering agonising torture he was hanged from an Elder tree. The tree unexpectedly sprouted new growth and blossomed. He was venerated as a saint in the eleventh century and his remains lie in the abbey church. Coloman fell victim to prejudice and his sad story is used to warn against the fear of strangers.

M&G xx

 

SAM_6045Treat of the week:  Bizarrely I get the same pleasure buying mugs that many women get buying handbags or shoes. So we couldn’t leave Gmunden without visiting Gmundner Keramik’s factory shop.  I had the perfect excuse to buy a couple of coffee cups for our wedding anniversary! There were many designs and colours but it had to be the traditional green. The company blurb proudly states that 50% 0f Austrian households own a piece of Gmundner and that their tradition goes back to 1492. We love our mugs but wonder that after all that time they haven’t managed to get the lines to join up!

A Lidl Bit Further

102 nights : 3,897 miles travelled : Countries visited: 7

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks”     Tennessee Williams

Brian outside Lidl in Berchtesgaden, Germany
Brian outside Lidl in Berchtesgaden, Germany

One of the things we most looked forward to on our trip was lazily wandering local markets for fresh produce. Unfortunately we have come across surprisingly few, so most shopping has been at a supermarket. We weaned Kipper onto Lidl dog food before we left home as they have 10,000 branches across Europe and so far, we have used 15 branches in 7 countries for basic supplies. There is quite a bit of variation between all the Lidls so I am still walking the aisles open mouthed, head going side to side Wimbledon style, trying to work out what is what. There is no end to the unidentifiable things you can find in a jar.

After our wonderful week in Oberammergau, we moved a lidl bit further into the Alps via Chiemsee, a huge inland lake that has several resorts around it.

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It was our first experience of  arriving at a stellplatz that didn’t exist and we only just managed to bag the last tiny pitch on a very overpriced campsite right by the lake. The owners were making the most of the August demand and gorgeous weather so it was like camping at a music festival. Still, it was surprisingly easy to get away from the crowds and find a corner of the lake to ourselves. It was wonderful to swim in the endless still water with the mountains gathered around, making you feel very small indeed.

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It's not still water when Kipper's around
It’s not still water when Kipper’s around

King Ludwig II also loved Chiemsee but he was able to buy an island in the middle to escape the crowds. It was here that he built his tribute to the French King Louis XIV with a palace modelled on Versailles. SAM_5827 

We took a boat trip out to see Herrenchiemsee on the island Herreninsel

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The palace was fascinating (it helped that the tour guide looked and sounded like Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp…I would have found a tour of King’s Lynn bus station interesting with him!) and the finished state rooms were somehow more breathtaking than those in Versailles. (Annoyingly no photographs allowed.) However the extraordinary sections of the palace are the unfinished parts. Ludwig ran out of money but had the foresight to put a steel and glass roof over them and it was fascinating to see a stately building naked of the decorative finery. The whole project epitomised Ludwig’s autocratic ideas of monarchy which unfortunately for him were outdated. He was a king lost in his own time.

We then moved a lidl bit further to where the Alpine scenery was more intense and the focus was more on winter activities.

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No Alpen but the Alps
No Alpen but the Alps
Inzell
Inzell

Inzell is a place that seemed to be waiting for the winter season and we were fascinated by the strings of young people on inline skates, training for the speed skating season when the town’s futuristic ice arena would open.

We stayed in the garden of a farmhouse on the edge of town with a view of lower but closer mountains. There was plenty to do in the gorgeous weather and we did walk around Falkenstein, our closest mountain, but it was lovely just to sit and look, and listen and breathe in the scented Alpine air.

The next village was an easy walk
The next village was an easy walk

After more days of stifling heat, a dramatic electric storm encircled the village, spotlighting the peaks around us. It really cleared the atmosphere so the next morning, feeling revived, we drove a lidl further still, on to Allweglehen near Berchtesgaden. As it was August, we called ahead to ensure there would be space on the campsite and when we arrived the owner proudly told us he had reserved a ‘panoramic’ pitch for us. The campsite looks towards the Watzmann, the third highest peak in Germany. However the law of sod decreed that after two weeks of direct sunlight, we arrived on the day that cloud descended and the Watzmann along with the whole mountainscape was cut short. Occasional glimpses of rocky peaks only made the irony more torturous.

Our 'panoramic' view
Our ‘panoramic’ view

The area around Berchtesgaden  was where Adolf Hitler spent holidays from the 1920’s and during the Third Reich, other leading members of the National Socialist Party requisitioned properties in Obersalzberg, near Hitlers Berghof. The village became the southern headquarters of the regime during the war and a series of underground bunkers, connected by three to four kilometres of tunnels was developed to reflect the homes and offices above ground, to create a base for a ‘last stand’ if the war went against the Nazis.

SAM_5869     SAM_5870                                               This grim underground world only highlights how remote from reality the National Socialists were. Even though it was lit and furnished to the same lavish standards of the world directly above, the idea they could continue to rule from within a mountain was fanciful. Dokumentation Obersalzberg chronicles the story of this place. The museum displays the propaganda that portrayed Hitler as a nature and animal lover in the Alpine environment and describes how the village attracted followers from all over Germany, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Fuhrer. It was also the centre of high politics, drawing world leaders during the 1930s. The horrendous plans of destruction and mass murder that were formulated here are documented in uncomfortable detail. There is no shying away from the truth in this museum.

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Kelsteinhaus, or the ‘Eagles Nest’, is a tea house built to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday and it sits on the peak above Obersalzberg. Hitler rarely went there, but it has become synonymous with his absolute power. We waited a couple of days for the skies to clear enough to make the trip up a mountain worthwhile and eventually the cloud finally lifted. Graham was very excited to spot the distinctive outline of the Eagles Nest looking down on to our campsite. It had been beside us all the time.

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On our second drive back up to Obersalzberg, Graham took us on a different route to avoid the 24% climb around hairpins over seven kilometres. The alternative took us eight kilometres out of our way to a three kilometre climb of 15%…Brian felt it was a worthwhile diversion! From there, the only way to the top of Kehlstein is via a specially adapted bus which rises more than 700 metres over six kilometres, through five tunnels, with only one switchback bend. Graham’s palms were sweating and poor Kipper struggled to cope as he kept sliding towards the back of the bus. I got the window seat and enjoyed the fantastic views. The journey to the top only ends when a brass mirrored lift takes you the final 124 metres in 14 seconds.

The view when you gratefully climb out of the bus
The view when you gratefully climb out of the bus
Hitler was driven along the elevator tunnel. We walked.
Hitler was driven along the tunnel to the lift. We walked.  

Then you step outside into……thick cloud!

Yes in the time it had taken to reach the very top the views had vanished.

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However it made us look closer to our feet and I was amazed at the number of wild flowers growing in very inhospitable surroundings.

I didn’t know how I felt about visiting The Eagles Nest, especially as it was my birthday. Were we so very different from those admiring pilgrims who flocked to see Hitler in the 1930s? But as I looked around I saw that among the fellow ‘sightseers’ gazing into cloud, were people of many races, religions and abilities. The Nazis would have hated that. So I swallowed down my doubts with a celebratory apple cake and coffee.

I won!
…I won!
Last one to the bottom gets cream with their cake
Last one to the bottom gets cream with their cake…

The Alps put on a peep show with tantalising glimpses of the glacial lake Konigsee being the biggest flash.

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My favourite!
My favourite!

I was on the promise of some Mozart Kugeln (known as Mozart’s balls in our family) for my birthday and fortunately for Graham there were some discreetly available in the street running down to the lake at Konigsee.

So we were able to watch the tourist boats return and supervise Kipper having his most spectacular swim of the trip, whilst I chomped through the perfect blend of marzipan and chocolate. We weren’t going any further for some time.

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 M & G xx

Falkenstein
                       Falkenstein

Treat of the week: On our Sunday walk to the monastery in Ettal the week before, I bought a cushion filled with dried herbs and flowers from the area. We cynically speculated that it was stuffed with the contents of herbal teabags. But then we arrived in Inzell, with wild mint, rosemary and fir trees scenting the air…it was my cushion! We can now imagine the monks have really picked the contents from the mountainsides and I can relive our walks when I can’t sleep at night.