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!