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Posts tagged ‘Germany’

 Overland to Zurich

So this is our situation: We need to cover 1,200km to reach Zürich, and six days to do it in. There are also four people we’d like to catch-up with en route.

The first night we stop in the small town of Nieburg, Germany. There is nothing outstanding to write home about, it was simply a suitable way-point to end our first day of travel southwards.

Dinner reminds us that we are back in Germany; the land of beer, schnitzel and sauerkraut. I make the mistake of ordering a salad, only to end up with an extra serve of cabbage!

Next stop is Dortmund. This town probably wouldn’t feature much in tourist guides, however the attraction for us was to catch-up with Inga, who we met on our Mexican adventures.

Inga has grown up in the area and also spent some time in Australia with her studies. She works in wind-turbine energy, which is huge in this part of Europe. She kindly offered us a bed, generously taking the couch and vacating her own comfy bed for us. It was a quick visit, as Inga was off early the next day, to holiday in Kenya.

We head out to dinner and see a snippet of Dortmund. As brief as it was, it was lovely to see Inga and get a locals perspective into what living in Germany is like. Inga, we hope you come and visit soon, so we can repay the hospitality.

Following the Rhine, our next stop is the town of Boppard. I wouldn’t rate the river as scenic as the Danube had been, though it could make a nice cycle trip one day.

Driving on a German autobahn is not for the faint-hearted. Impatient drivers weaving in and out of lanes at high-speed (there are no limits enforced), is a recipe for catastrophic accidents.

If you dare sit on the recommended 130km/hr, you are constantly watching your rear vision mirror for cars and trucks descending upon you at much greater speeds; blaring horns and flashing headlights at you to move right.

The right lane is full of heavily laden trucks and older cars struggling along. Without warning, one of these will also pull out in front of you, to overtake the slower vehicle in its lane. This is no place (or time) for being indecisive, it’s ‘pedal to the metal’, work the gears hard and keep-up!

After not seeing Sue Haviland for 15 years, this is the second rendezvous in a year! Sue and John, along with their dog Bailey, have moved to Oberursal, teaching at the Frankfurt International School.

We have two nights with them, taking the opportunity to wash, re-pack and get ourselves ready to change continents.

Our last night in Europe is at the Zurich Airport Radisson, practical and reasonably priced. We’re back in Switzerland, so ‘reasonably priced’ is a relative term.

Birgit is another traveling companion, this time from our South American adventures, who lives in Zürich. She makes the effort to trek out to our hotel in torrential rain and have dinner with us. The rain is so heavy, we don’t even venture outside the hotel to eat.

We really appreciate the effort to come and see us Birgit and it was great to have one last hurrah on our final night on your continent!

Our little Renault has served us well and we head to the airport with a whiff of petrol in the tank.

There is no obligation in a lease agreement to return your car with a full-tank, given the price for petrol in Switzerland is extortionate (or US$2 per/L) – Don can push the car if needed!

We drive up to departures, meet the agent and hand over the keys in a hurry to give him possession before it dies, we warn him that he won’t get far.

Next stop Beijing. Unfortunately there was no business upgrade on offer this time!

Cycling down the Danube

After about an hour of cycling I began to wonder why I decided to put myself in this situation.

Why did I think spending 14 days cycling was going to be fun?

From Zürich I took the train to Passau, where I collected my bike, so I’m ready to head off in the morning.

About an hour into the ride, my body starts reminding me that I haven’t been on a bike since December.

My neck is stiff, my knees creak and most of all, my bum is sore!

The Danube route is dead flat, so much so it makes for constant peddling, which is a bit exhausting when you don’t have any bike fitness. I’d like a little hill right now, so I can get a rest on the way down.

As I contemplate what I had committed myself to, the kilometers slipped by and a couple of hours later I arrived in Schlögen, my first stop.

Aside from it being stinking hot, it was a relatively easy ride. Schlögen is a tiny hamlet where the one and only hotel dominates the landscape.

The days quickly become routine; cycle, shower, eat and sleep.

I don’t think I had a day under 35 degrees, so I would be on my bike by 8am to avoid the heat.

This meant I usually arrived at my destination before the designated check-in time (2-3 pm). You would think given the number of people cycling, an activity most people do early, the hotels would be ready for this?

Hot, sweaty and tired I resorted to finding a comfy spot to have a cool drink and put my feet up.

Day three was the toughest day to get back on my bike. The day before had been a long, hot 68km and I was facing another 60. My muscles ached and my bum didn’t want to get back on that seat!

I actually looked up the train schedule from Linz to Grein…but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Climbing back on, I took it easy, stopping every 20km or so. From Linz onwards the route passes through towns and villages more frequently. I found this made the ride more interesting and the kilometers pass unnoticed.

Traveling solo, I often fell victim to hotels putting me in a tiny single-bed room, in an out-of-the-way corner of the hotel.

The hotel in Grein is 5km out of town, a lovely forest setting and promotes itself as a resort-style spa hotel.

Once again, I find my room is in an out-of-the-way corner of the building. I open my door to a small single bed (of course), overlooking the roof between two buildings, I didn’t even get a view of the car park!

The heat reflecting off the roof made the room temperature feel 40 degrees plus. After a brief discussion I was given another room.

The days passed quickly and everyday got a little easier.  It’s certainly a great way to get your fitness up and if I did it again I would add a few extra nights to enjoy towns like Linz and the Wachau wine region.

With a sense of triumph I arrived in Vienna early afternoon on my sixth day of cycling. The temperature was soaring towards 40 degrees and I was feeling hot and tired.

After a long cool shower I ventured out with intention of exploring Vienna.  The heat hit me like a brick wall, I walked about 100 meters down the street before I changed my mind.  I would be coming back to Vienna in about a weeks time; it could wait.

Stopping at a small supermarket I stocked up on snacks, headed back to my air-conditioned hotel, curled-up in bed and watched movies on Netflix.

Day 1: Passau to Schlögen 44km
Day 2: Schlögen to Linz 68km
Day 3: Linz to Grein 61km
Day 4: Grein to Emmersdorf 67km
Day 5: Emmersdorf to Traismauer 57km
Day 6: Traismauer to Vienna 75km

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Europe comes to an end

We’ve now been away a total of 201 days, 177 days have been spent in Europe,

We’ve been from London to Turkey
(not New York to Rio, like Peter Allen ☺).

We’ve covered 14 countries; some we just passed through, others we explored in detail.

England / France / Italy / Serbia / Croatia / Bulgaria / Turkey / Greece / Montenegro / Slovenia / Austria / Switzerland / Germany / Spain

A few of the highights:

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Driven over 20,000km, no parking tickets or speeding fines (we know of). No car accidents – just 1 flat tyre.

Nothing lost, nothing broken and the worst illness was a stomach bug for a few days.

Cheapest accommodation: €15 a night on Leros
Most expensive: €160 a night in Paris

CPI (Coffee Price Index): most expensive €4.50 in Venice, the cheapest €0.50 in Berane, Montenegro

WCP (Wine Consumption Price): most expensive was £9 for a glass of champagne in London, the Cheapest in France (of course), €4 a bottle.

Best meal:  Hard to say, we’ve had so many; from eating a home cooked meal with the family in Guzelyurt, to fine dining at Le Gabriel in Bordeaux, enjoying the local Fête’s in France or simply cooking with fresh ingredients from the markets. I don’t think we’ve had a bad meal.

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We’ve met some wonderful people along the way. The added pleasure and delight, has been those friends and family who joined us; whether it be for a dinner, a weekend or a few weeks: Ross and Kate, Katrina, Helen and Rod, Bruce, Penny, Dale, Leeanne, Elisa and Ian, our Niece Claire and my sister Jane.

As well as visiting and enjoying the generous hospitality of the Ryan’s in Switzerland, Andrea and Margit (her Mum) in Austria, and the Brown’s in London.

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So far, the Callander capers have been amazing.

Best of all, we are still talking to each other…..most of the time!!

We still like each other!

We still like each other!

The Romantic Road – Germany

Nestled at the foot of the Bavarian alps is the quaint town of Füssen. The Gasthof Zum Hechten is a big improvement on our previous nights accommodation.

The thing that declines in quality is the food.  The Germans do not excel in gastronomy, they seem to prefer stodge!

Heavy black breads, sliced cold meats, cheese and a boiled egg are the usual breakfast options. Things like goulash, Spätzle, potatoes, schnitzels and sauerkraut feature for lunch and dinner.  It’s not really our thing.

Füssen marks the beginning/end of the ‘Romantic Road’ and is close to two of the most popular castles in Germany; Hohenswangau and Neuschwanstein. We have a ‘one castle a day’ tolerance and opt to visit the more infamous!

Neuschwanstein looks like it is straight out of a fairytale, which is not far from the truth – since it was inspiration for Disney when designing Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland and it’s the castle they fly over in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The castle is the legacy of Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, he had a passion for building picturesque castles. They are scattered across the Southern German countryside, the most famous is Neuschwanstein.

Ludwig was an eccentric King and probably preferred the company of men, more than females (if you get my drift). He spent lavishly and accrued considerable debt from his obsession for building castles.

In a coup orchestrated by his greedy relatives, Ludwig was declared unfit to rule. Three days after his dethroning he was found dead. Ludwig supposedly drowned in the lake, even though he was a good swimmer and no water was found in his lungs!!

The Mad King would probably now be a wealthy man – his castle is now one of the regions major tourist attractions, the destination for hundreds of tour coaches every day.

We arrive early hoping to avoid the crowds, however tours are scheduled in languages and the next English tour is 50 minutes away. Plenty of time to walk up the hill to the castle – at least we can tick off getting some exercise for the day!

I can’t bore you with many photos as they are not allowed inside. The tour is an interesting insight into the flamboyant fantasies of the King. He seemed to have a fetish for Swans and in one room they feature in everything, from wallpaper and fabric to furniture and figurines.

The floor of the grand throne room is a mosaic of over two million stones. A painting on one of the walls depicts another castle that Ludwig designed but never built. The castle was never finished as poor Ludwig spent only 170 days living in his dream home.

Our journey continues to Salzburg. Famous as the birthplace of Mozart, it’s a gorgeous old town. Today though it’s a bit too touristy for our liking. It may not have helped that we had timed our visit on the day of St Rupert’s fair. The town is bustling with people and plenty of activity; musicians, market stalls and rides for the kids fill the town square.

Many of the local men and women proudly wear the traditional dress: lederhosen and dirndl’s. I later discover that Salzburg is the traditional dress capital, which explains why there are so many dirndl shops.

We are not good at being tourists and after an hour or so taking in the sights and perusing the shops we are done. Over a coffee we quickly agree that we’ve seen enough of Salzburg and decide to explore further afield.

We stop at the tourist office to ask for some suggestions on a lunch location. Jane and I are flabbergasted by the lack of hospitality and assistance the girl in the tourist office provides. Clearly in the wrong job! Begrudgingly she did give us a map and directions to a lake within an hours drive.

We arrive at the small lakeside town of Fuschl am see. The girl in the tourist office had at least pointed us in the right direction. It’s a lovely sunny day and this is a perfect spot to enjoy a lazy lunch of ‘fresh from the lake’ trout. Now, this is how you discover Europe!

On our way back we stop off at the scenic town of Mondsee, unbeknown to us, the church of St Michael’s was used in the Sound Of Music wedding scene. My sister is ecstatic, the movie is a family favourite that her and the girls (not sure James is into it), have watched many-a-time.

Tonight we now need to make a decision on our next destination. The original plan was to head across to Passau, pick up some bikes and do some cycling along the Danube. This is something that’s been on my bucket list for a long time.

The plan is under threat for two reasons 1) the weather is looking dodgy in that part for the next week and 2) we are all a little over the food, do we really want to spend another 4/5 days eating stodge?

So what’s the option…..find some warmer weather?  Tuscany is looking good and the food has to be better.

And, so the Danube stays on the bucket list…….

 

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3 x 3

The three of us have three weeks to travel, we have a vague plan to cover three Countries; Germany, Austria and a bit of Italy.

‘Derek’ our Renault Captur, who had looked after us so well for 153 days and some 18,750KM, was left behind in Paris to begin a new life – probably one at a more casual pace.

We take the TGV to Strasbourg, a relaxing 2 hour journey across to the eastern border of France.  We are collecting new wheels tomorrow and overnighting in Strasbourg.

Finding the small town remarkably expensive, I took a gamble and booked another Airbnb. Greeted by the owner on arrival, Jane and I take a rattle lift up to the third floor whilst Don and our host take the stairs (they won’t fit in the lift).

The apartment is spacious with two bedrooms and a lounge room, all contain numerous beds – yes, including the lounge room.  I think the owner was surprised that there was only 3 of us and not 10!

Between pidgin English and pidgin French, the owner explains he needs to finish making the beds and cleaning-up. From the state of the kitchen – he’s got a bit of cleaning up to do!  Perhaps we set the benchmark too high at Pierrefonds. We leave our things and walk into the old town for lunch.

When we return, the place seems clean; sort-off, as long as we avoided eating in the kitchen we’ll be fine.  We could only find one coffee cup and took turns in the morning to share it around. Not trusting the cleaning effort, our showers are all very quick in the morning.

The positives are that it was well located – an easy walk from the train station and close to the historic parts of Strasbourg.  But, not somewhere I would recommend to anyone.

Jane asked us if this was the worst place we had stayed, without hesitation we both replied in unison “no-way, this is pretty good.”  I think we have her worried about what’s next.

Petite France is the heart of the old town, it’s straight out of a fairy tale; half-wooden houses line the canal, flower boxes adorn the buildings and explode with colour.  The area is bustling with Alsatian taverns, restaurants, boutique hotels and of course gift shops.

The cathedral is a striking feature of the town.  Construction started in 1015, though it was not completed until 1439. For over 200 years (until 1874) it was the world’s tallest building.

Strasbourg quickly became a prosperous merchant city, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.  It is a town that has played a significant role in French – German relations throughout history.

Today, Strasbourg is a blend of franco-german culture and the host of several European institutions; including the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.

In 1988 the entire city centre of Strasbourg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jane is happy to be a passenger on this holiday, she has designated us as her “Secretaries”; relying on us for decisions on the next destination, sourcing accommodation (which she might now be a little nervous about), doing the driving and paying for everything along the way – don’t worry, she gets a bill at the end!

We are heading east to Passau where we plan to pick-up some bikes and do some cycling along the Danube.  Taking a couple of days to get there and explore a bit of Germany and Austria.  We’ve picked Füssen as our next destination and find a hotel online – we will leave the AIRBnB’s alone for a while.

We purchased a GPS in France only to find that the car includes one.  It’s in French, but we manage to get it working and at least we know tourner à droite and tourner à gauche to get us on our way!

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