Friday, October 26, 2007

Schnee



We left Munich with the Austrian weather forecast in our minds, snow (or schnee) was going to hound us over the next few days. Not that we minded too much, it is pretty exciting to be in a good snowfall, especially seeing as we never got a decent one in Scotland the whole time we were there.
We headed to Salzburg and spent two nights. The first night we learnt the important lesson of how crucial a weapon an umbrella can be against snow, (why had this never occured to us?), although nice and dry to begin with your body melts the snow leaving you cold and wet before long. We found some cosy Irish pubs to watch the rugby world cup final with every other Brit and Antipodean in Salzburg which was kind of nice. What was also nice was staying in a warm bed. We had decided that although the idea of camping in the snow was appealing in some ways it would probably lead to us digging our way out in the morning-something neither of us felt inclined to do.
The snow continued through our day of sightseeing but it was truly magical to look out over the rooftops of Salzburg from the fortress on the hill and see them coated in white. We did have to retreat several times during the day to warm cafes although everybody else seemed to have had that idea too!
For Eva's birthday we decided to head to Innsbruck via some really amazing sounding ice caves. We took the slight detour to the caves only to find they were closed due to (you guessed it) too much snow. We then stupidly relied on highway signage to take us the quickest route to Innsbruck (Eva having left her navigational duties behind due to birthday girl status) only to realize we had almost ended up back in Germany and had taken the looong way around. Perhaps the fact that we were forced to buy a ten day highway pass on the border made the transport authority want us to get our moneys worth?
Innsbruck itself was a nightmare to drive into, the first one that caused us to pull over and consider giving up! Once out of the car however the old town won us over with all the lovely, damp buildings, the alpine blue river and the misty distance promising us that on a clear day the view is amazing.
To celebrate Eva surviving 24 years as well as the drive that day we went out to an amazing five course Japanese meal that left us rolling out of the restaurant, very sumo-like.
We decided that as the weather did not look like improving for any view or hiking opportunities we would head south for Italy. Austria would not let us go quite so easily though. Driving out of Innsbruck took us through quite the snowstorm with the biggest flakes yet. Even as we drove we found the snow was gathering on the roads and making driving a bit of a task......the border was close though...

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Photos: View from the fortress in Salzburg, Eva in Innsbruck, Driving in a blizzard.

Bye Bye Germany









Our last week in Germany was pretty full. We managed to score some great weather in the Black Forest resulting in a hike up and down a big mountain (we always seem to manage hikes down mountains, we wanted to see if we could do the up part), and a great bike ride. We had based ourselves in Frieburg after our night of luxury in a hotel in a Schiltach, it was great to chat to Ryan for his birthday - free wifi rocks!
We didn't spend much time in Freiburg itself- we had reached our fill of towns for a while- and dedicated ourselves to more outdoor pursuits. The bike ride was particularly nice looping us along a valley floor and taking us through both forest and farmland reminiscent of Romania's Maramures area although with good roads and locals that don't hide from you.
Our next destination was Munich but we broke the drive at Lindau, a small town along the banks of Lake Constance which borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The lake was kind of spooky in that such a heavy mist hung over it- you could not pick where the water stopped and the air began- it also brought a kind of quietness over the campground near the shore. We could just pick out the silhouette of the alps through the mist.
We hit Munich- checking our Mad King Ludwigs castles on the way- armed with a Lonely Planet walking tour which makes the aimless wandering so much more interesting, if not for the facts involved but for the fun of trying to follow the authors directions! We stayed for three nights in Thalkirken campground where Adam stayed seven years previously during Oktoberfest. The difference was quite amazing, the campground was like a ghost town where Adam recalls avenues of Combi vans, mountains of broken glass and all sorts of bad behaviour. Some evidence remained of this years party, a couple of left behind vans covered in graffiti and dumped outside of the campsite.
We paid a visit to several Munich beer halls but the best fun was definitely to be had at the Hofbrauhaus, despite all the tourists the atmosphere was genuine and friendly. When we were told that 1/2 litre pints were no longer served after 7pm we were shocked but stoically continued. All of this led to our third day in Munich to being one of rest, besides which the weather had turned nasty.
And by nasty we mean snow! That's right we got snowed on in our little tent. How cool is that! Actually it wasn't too cool, we managed to rug up enough to enjoy the novelty of the snow. Only our numb hands were the casualties after packing up the tent on our final day in Germany.
Photos: Adam chatting to Ryan on Skype (you can just make out Ryan's face on the screen), The view from the mountains in the Black Forest- smoggy mist and all, Farmland in the Black Forest, Us by a lake near King Ludwig's castles, These beers make me feel like a little person

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Little Old German Towns






We have been spending a lot of time over the last week in small, old, very pretty German towns. We moved from the Moselle valley to the Rhine valley staying in a town called Bacharach and spending the next couple of days exploring the surrounding hills and villages both hiking and bike riding.
The striking thing about the Rhine was just how turbulent it was. We rode past the most treacherous part, the Loreley, a sharp bend in the river with rocks poking up at scary looking angles and were amazed by the boats they manage to guide through.
The other notable thing about the Rhine valley was the amount of castles and ruins. The landowners over the centuries would extract taxes on passing ships and built forts and castles at regular intervals. We rode past heaps, scrambled over a couple and spent several hours exploring the giant ruin at St Goar.
We then drove East to the town of Bamberg, stopping on the way in Wurzberg to buy a new camera- Yay! Bamberg has been recommended to us by a handful of people and we'd have to second the recommendations. It was really pretty -and that's after seeing a lot of these towns- it has a huge cathedral/palace district as well as little winding streets, a river and canal wind through the town and they have their own type of smoked beer!
We also had the good luck of a quiet campground next to a river where we could sit back with a couple of the above mentioned beers (it tastes like bacon so you don't need snacks to go with it). It is pretty rare to get a quiet campground with most being positioned next to motorways or railways so we really enjoyed the peace, watching the sun set and the bats fly over the water.
Winding our way back West (I think we'll have covered every road in this country by the time we are finished) we stopped in at the walled town of Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, a completely walled town where we tried the local speciality, a pastry called a Schneeball. When our guidebook dissuaded readers from trying the pastry with comments like 'Europe's worst local specialty' we were intrigued but were forced to agree within a bite. Rothenburg has a well fed sparrow and pigeon population we believe.
The town of Heidelberg was another stop, lovely old town, great big castle ruins on a hill overlooking the town, sound familiar yet? A highlight was the 'Great Vat' a giant old barrel in the castle which can hold 221 726 L. Impressive.
We are currently in the Black Forest hoping to break up the little old town route with a couple of days of hiking. It might help us shed some of what we are calling the 'schnitzel layer' which is mysteriously attaching itself to us. Although it very well may be replaced by the 'Black Forest cake layer' quite soon.
Photos: Our camp on the Rhine, An old town square in the Black Forest, The old town hall in Bamberg, Adam cooking up a feast in Bamberg

Friday, October 05, 2007

Poor geography






Ok so both of us, upon hearing the words Cologne and Moselle valley conjured up the idea of France but to our good luck both lay withing Germany. What's a little bad geography between friends?
We shifted to Cologne after visiting the Hilgedieks and spent a couple of nights in a nearby campground. It is still such a thrill to find such good campgrounds within a stone's throw of city centres. Cologne is home to the largest cathedral in Germany so we climbed the tower - we are puffing less and less these days. 500 and something steps and we still had energy to walk along the Rhine river through the town.
We have noticed quite a misty type fog hanging about making views and photos not quite the sensations they could be. We aren't too sure if this is just the weather (we seem to recall a similar mist in Romania this time last year) or that we are passing through the industrial heart of Germany, we may never know....
From Cologne (Koln in German) we headed to Cochem in the Moselle valley. We spent an afternoon sampling local wines in various weinstubes throughout the town, in particular the Federweisser (new or young wine). Federweisser is only available for a few weeks of the year during harvest when all of the wine festivals are on -what good luck we have- it tastes like grape juice but is apparently 10%, a case of who spiked my punch really. To our extreme excitement it is sold in 3 litre plastic bottles for anything between 8.50 to 15.00 euro.
We awoke the following day with nary a hangover (falling asleep at 8pm may be why) and hired a couple of bikes for the day.
The entire Moselle river is flanked by bike tracks so we rode as far as we could in one direction, stopping for a picnic and a glass of wine before turning at a town called Alf (a town called Alf!) and heading back down the other side of the river. The journey back involved a few more stops than the journey up for both resting our bones and tasting the Federweisser but we were back for early evening. Upon consulting our map we realised we had cycled about 58 km over the day. Our poor bottoms.
The weather was perfect by the way and we couldn't have asked for a more romantic and lovely day.
Photos and video: The looming Cologne cathedral by night, Eva riding in a straight line, A town along the Moselle, Adam enjoying one of many federweisser, Yep

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The Hilgedieks


Way back in the mists of time Sue and Steve and Chris Tyerman made their way to Germany. In that time they lived in the same apartment block as Reiner and Angela Hilgediek with their first son, Jens.

In the years since the Tyermans moved back to Australia and added Eva to the family and the Hilgedieks have had another 3 boys (that makes for a grand total of 4 boys!!).

Just before we headed overseas Jens visited us in Adelaide and we always intended on catching up when we were passing through Germany.

As we are very bad at planning things these days, catching up came in the form of going; 'We had better give them a ring otherwise we'll be in Italy before we get around to it' So although it was not intentional we ended up springing on the family with half a days notice. It is not all our fault though, we have never faced European hospitality so fully before, we mentioned we were within a few hours journey and before long we had a day trip to Munster, dinner and accommodation organised for us. We were helpless!!!

We briefly had the chance to catch up with Jens before he had to head to his new job right near-would you believe it- Goslar, and then spent the rest of the afternoon being shown around Munster by Reiner and Angela. We had a brilliant afternoon and night, completely relaxed and enjoyable. We couldn't stop apologising for the late notice but hopefully we weren't too much of a drag.

Hilgedieks, you must visit us in Australia so we can return your wonderful hospitality!!!!!!!
Photos: Angela, Reiner, Jens and Eva

The Tempest





After the hustle and bustle of Berlin we decided to head to the hills in the form of the Harz mountains, in the centre of Germany. We set up camp outside a little town called Goslar which was extremely pretty and spent the rest of the day hiding out from the rain and fantasizing about how the next day we would wake to chirping birds, sunshine and a hike in the mountains.
Needless to say we didn't quite realize our dreams the following day. After a drive to the head of a trail where we couldn't see for fog we decided to explore the town of Goslar in its fullness rather than be rescued from a hilltop, wet and disoriented.
So we returned to town, kicked about the town hall, palace, cafes and shoe shops (Eva says goodbye to the pair of Skechers she has had since leaving home only to replace them with another pair) and had a nice afternoon only to have to return to our rather damp tent. There followed a night of torrential rain where we could hear the river we were camped next to rise. In the morning packing up was a damp and muddy chore and when we ducked into the town we saw that the streams had almost reached their limits.
All this rain had dampened our spirits so to speak so we headed to the town of Paderborn halfway between the Harz mountain and Munster (more on Munster later) and checked into a hotel for the night. Luxury and dryness at last!
One cool thing about the Harz mountains, other than the very pretty towns was that they have a huge pagan festival every year and it is a major drawcard to the area. Every streetsign is adorned with witches on broomsticks and every souvenir store sells dozens of types of witch doll. Quite funky really.
Almost forgot to mention, all of you wonderful people keeping Adam in touch with the Grand final as we sat fearing the flood at 6:30 in the morning. What we (or at least Adam) would have given to be in Australia at that moment.


Photos: What to do, what to do? When the rain sets in Yahtzee is the only answer, All the view we were going to get in the mountains, A pretty Harz town square.

Berlin is the s**t!










Staying in the old East of Berlin, right next to the East side Gallery (the largest remaining section of the wall) and camping on a boat deck sounded like a good way to begin our Berlin experience and we weren't wrong. We spent four nights in Berlin and had a whale of a time.
Arriving on a Sunday afternoon we took it easy heading to a German restaurant for our first schnitzel in Germany, boy was it good. And big. Huge in fact. Food here is not measured on the normal scale.
The following day we hoofed it to a walking tour (10:30, who's ready at that hour?) and spent all day being guided around by the lovely Victoria. By the way if anybody is after a walking tour in Berlin - and there are a few on offer- we highly recommend Brewar's. We were on the road until six that evening with perfect sunny weather accompanying us all the way. We took in all the sights having the chilling Nazi era history (yuk) balanced with good suggestions for nightlife spots and East side/West side jokes and anecdotes. It is difficult to go into detail about the sights in Berlin as we figure half of it you already know and the bits and pieces are just too horrible, but to be there was amazing particularly the pieces of the wall left standing and that to look around the majority of the buildings are no older than 1950. We crashed after yet another HUGE meal that night swearing never to walk again.
We had a day of rest (and laundry and bad weather) where Adam had to communicate with a hairdresser in his best German, still doesn't look like a punk though!
That night we headed out to see some of the bars in our area near the hostel. The old East has gotten kinda trendy recently and we didn't get much further than a really cool little gay bar called Barbie (actually quite toned down despite the name) with a two for one happy hour (2 1/2 hour) including cocktails!!!! The best bit was you could lay down and get a massage - not as dodgy as it sounds- and pay what you thought it was worth at the end, and you got cake at the end of it! Eva committed herself to a €5 massage and Adam disappeared into the night in search of an ATM. When we met again we had both relaxed a bit, only because Adam met a bunch of Turkish kids firing fireworks at pedestrians and was invited to join in. BANG! Poor pizza delivery driver.
On our last day in Berlin we went for a wander and ended up at the zoo. This led to another massive day of walking (we are slowly getting fitter) around one of the best zoos we have seen. Some of the highlights being the Indian Rhinoceros, Knut the baby polar bear, the gorillas and orangutans, the porcupine and loads more. Adam was very disappointed in the panda.
That night we returned to Barbie for a quick cocktail before heading into town for some of the recommendations from our walking tour. This included a bar in an old WW2 bunker that had free live jazz, that whiled away a few hours and then an ex-squat come artists retreat/venue that is housed in a half bombed out shopping centre. It was a great night just scratching the surface of what Berlin nightlife has to offer.
The next day we headed out of town on a now or never sort of mission. It was the type of place that if we stayed much longer we might not leave, as seems to happen to a lot of the ex-pats hanging about.
Photos: Eva in our first night's cabin, Blue skies in Berlin, In the ghetto (squat cum bar), The east side gallery (longest part of the wall), Brandenburg gate, Cool jazz club, Our tent on deck with the wall in the background.



What a city.