Central Europe - From Munich to Prague; Episode 2


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Europe
July 4th 2010
Published: July 9th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Pretty 'wild'flowersPretty 'wild'flowersPretty 'wild'flowers

Everywhere we went, there were wildflowers, and flower perfumes.

This is the 2nd ‘episode’ of another of 'our' travels.



The collective ‘episodes’ describe our journey from our arrival in Munich (known locally as München), Germany (3rd week of June) through to our departure from Central Europe at Prague (in late July) 2010. This ‘episode’ describes our little sojourn from Germany; through a little of Austria, into northern Italy and over the passes to Switzerland and Liechtenstein before heading back into Germany.


As always, if you want to 'see' more detail in an accompanying picture, click it to enlarge.

We've attached a few pics that give you a flavour of our journey, and some 'flow over' past the dialogue. Just ‘click’ on page 2, scroll down past the text to view.



A brief overview of our journey so far.





Episode 1 had us landing in Munich (München) where we'd booked a hotel for 6 nights. After acclimatising to the cold (10C), German culture and language, we did the tourist bit of taking in the sights of the city. Once comfortable, we visited Dachau, Regensberg and Nürmberg before picking up a hire car and heading eastwards. We also described our
Cabbage ImpactCabbage ImpactCabbage Impact

We saw this sign, and both of us just said CABBAGE! In Germany, you can have any vegetable you like, as long as its cabbage or potato!! The variety is in the way it's cooked/pickled &/or presented.
good fortune in getting tickets to the Passion Play at Omerammegau. And that concluded Episode 1.








It´s all a bit surreal.






We used this heading on the first episode to describe jetting across the globe and landing for overnight stays in far flung places. We use it again to describe our visiting several countries over the course of a week. As Australians, a 500km journey is no longer ‘big deal, but we don’t leave the nation (it's more to kiwiland). But depending on one’s route, 500k in Europe can have one visit several countries. Without planning it, we just ventured into Austria, took the wrong (long) tunnel and landed in Italy. What the heck we said, We’re here now so lets have a look. And after a quick sojourn, we returned over the passes to Germany via Switzerland Liechtenstein and Austria.

So, for us it was Guten Morgan one day ('hello' in German) , Servus the next (Austria), followed by Bonjiorno after that and Grüezi (Switzerland/Liechtenstein). We can assure you that trying to use our extremely limited language skills to get accommodation and order food was
Bavarian painted houseBavarian painted houseBavarian painted house

Many houses are built without much 'design'; just a box with a gable roof! A way to embellish is to paint pictures on the external walls.
a nightmare. But, we survived.



From Bad Kohlgrub to wherever.





As indicated in Episode 1, we'd described our journey to our 2 night stay at Bad Kohlgrub. Bad Kohlgrub is in Southern Upper Bavaria which means in the southern section of the Bavarian Alps region.

Near Bad Kohlgrub is a castle used by King Ludwig II, called Linderhof. In the literature, Ludwig II is referred to in varying terms, but basically he was a nut case with a penchant for building fairytale styled castles. He succeeded in building several before making Bavaria broke and being 'replaced'. So, on the Monday am, we ventured along a beautiful drive through wonderful scenery to Linderhof and paid 8Euro to enter. Only after parking the car did we learn that that was merely a parking fee. The real entry fee was 12Euro AND we HAD to join an organised tour, the next departing some 45 minutes hence. As buses were rolling in and disgorging their full loads, we decided "up yours Hanz".

The road to Linderhof is off the main drag (or at least local main drag). Rather than return to the main drag, we
Mountain lakeMountain lakeMountain lake

This lake is called 'Plansee'.
continued onwards (from the direction we'd come). The road signs indicated several towns, so we assumed we'd get back onto the main drag in due course; and the scenery was delightful. We often just 'head for the hills' as we not only get off the 'tourist trail', but often discover some great scenery/places/etc.. After a little while, we saw this sign say You are now entering Austria or it would have if it was in English, but you get the picture.

The road passed a magical coloured (large) lake, called Plansee, and we drove along a narrow road hugging the coastline for many miles. With calcium enriched water, the lake presented as a translucent deep aqua. This road parallel's any 'coast-hugging' road we have in Oz, and this one is not on the tourist trail. What a find!!!

We eventually found ourselves in Ruette, a delightful little town near the border. After pottering around a bit, we decided to go back to Germany via the regional road (more scenic than the autobahn), but got lost. We ended in a dirt storage/carpark beside a hydro-electric outstation. There was a signpost to a walking trail with several routes shown. Deciding we needed exercise, we parked and literally 'headed for the hills' up the river basin. A little way up we crossed over on a wooden bridge to find a stunning brook cascading down a series of waterfalls. Following the track and over several bridges, we rested beside the stream in a grassy patch, ate some food (gathered at the guesthouse that morning) and blissed out in the warm sunshine. We ventured a little further up through the pine forest before heading back.

We eventually got ourselves on the right road and headed for Füssen - which was another 'item' on the list of great places. With the place full of tourists, we just drove through to another of Ludwig II's castles - Neuschwanstein - located nearby. We arrived at about 3pm to find last entry at 3:30pm.

For Bavaria, Füssen is the easterly end of a Roman era road that wound its way from Würzburg in the west (then known as via Claudia), of which the tourist marketing people still promote as Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road). We decided to follow it to Schongau (some 30k) as we wanted to both see a couple of 'places of interest' and find a bed that was away from the 'tourist trail'.

The first place of interest was Wieskirche, said to be the finest Rococo church in the world. Set on a hill in the middlke of nowhere, the site originally held a small chapel in which the figure of Jesus was seen to shed tears. You know the rest... The 'replacement' is a huge, tallish building with little decoration on the exterior. But, inside, WOW, OMG, HOLY MOSES, and more!!! Built in an oval plan, and supported by 8 pairs of marble pillar columns is the most awesome fusion of gold, brilliant woodcarving, amazing wall & ceiling painting and from the stained glass windows a most fascinating play of light and colour the which neither of had ever seen before. Apparently, the church is locally known as Lord God's Ballroom and we can understand why.

On we headed, to Schongau, to both explore the town and find a bed. Our navigation skills were awry this day as we found ourselves quite often lost. Along the path, we found the second 'attraction', Michaelskirche; a Romanesque basilica. Quite different to Wieskirche, this church was no less decorated inside, but on a
MichaelkircheMichaelkircheMichaelkirche

The simple interior of the Romanesque style contrasts so much with the highly decorated Rococo, etc.
scale much less grand. It is a gothic shaped building, with Romanesque decoration. Once entering the inside, one was immediately struck by the quietude, and the feeling of age. It wasn't anything we could put our finger on to explain the feeling, but we both felt the sense of agedness in the building and also a sense of continuous dutiful prayer (ie. centuries of 'just being a church for the people).

As we are learning, walled cities are not uncommon. Over recent centuries, many towns in Germany had not bothered to remove the medieval walls. Now, these walls are appealing as tourist attractions. Schongau is one such town, and even has a little brochure describing past events occurring in the city and at or near parts of the wall. For example, a little square (platz) beside one section of wall was where womenfolk accused of being witches were chained to the wall before being burned to death. Another section was where felons were tortured to show townsfolk the consequences of erroneous ways. These history snippets tell us so much about how ideological religion can usurp rational thinking.

We continued getting lost, but eventually found a bed at Peiting, a village on the outskirts of Schongau. The village had a homely feel, and the gasthaus (in this case, read pub) was on the town square. The room allocated us faced the square and the local church. Harking back to her youth, Judy especially liked the oft chiming churchbells (but, to this writer, one peel would have been enough, not the several every hour!!).



Tuesday.





As we'd wanted to see Ludwig II's castle - Neuschwanstein - we headed there the next am (Tuesday). Neuschwanstein Castle is the highlight fairytale castle of his building program. In fact, we learned, the plans of which were bought be Walt Disney for his Cinderalla movie (and nearly all other of his movies with a castle). The castle sits high on a hill overlooking the plain (and is one big feat to climb up, as we can attest). Like Linderhof, we were compelled to pay a large entrance fee and go on a tour. We also had no choice of time - we were just given one. While the Germans are very efficient, they also excel in what is known as 'bureaupathology' (the ills of bureaucracy for bureaucracy's
Fussen area Fussen area Fussen area

Note Ludwig's 3rd castle (of 5) rising above canopy
sake).

Ludwigg II was depressively mental, and he directed the interior of the castle to be painted in quite dark colours. Also, the murals & room themes revolve around Wagner's music (again depressive stuff). Fairytale it ain't - unless you're into Grimm's fairytales!

We headed into Füssen to do some chores, then drove westwards along the border with the idea of heading towards Bodansee (known as Lake Constance to we English speaking folk). One section of the ’Alpine highway’ descended markedly into a valley (at Hindelang), giving us a glimpse of those chocolate box pictures of quaint villages surrounded by verdant green and nestled in between rugged hills. As you can imagine when heading towards a large lake, the topography flattened out markedly. But after the Hindelang ’experience’, the mountain ranges towards Austria looked ever so appealing. We looked at each other with similar expressions - let’s head for the hills!

We eventually stayed the night at the Austrian alpine resort town of Hittisau. Being an alpine town, most food options were closed for summer. We found a Chinese place and had an amazing experience. The Chinese staff knew Austrian (basically German) and a little Chinese. The menu had ‘fried vegetable, which we ordered only to find the vegetables were battered and deep fried (as the regular customers like). Trying to explain that we wanted bog standard stir fried vege’s became a farce as our ‘Chinglish’ met their ‘Chaustrian’. A Dutch patron came to our aid, and translated. Oddly, the staff claimed the cook couldn’t produce stir fried vege’s. Fortunately, the Dutch man took our view, and eventually we got some bog standard - but wonderful - stir fried vege’s with oyster sauce. They were wonderful as the vege’s in German food are limited to spuds and cabbage (as per pic above!).



Wednesday.





Next day (Wednesday) we toyed with going westwards to Bodensee at Bregenz, but settled on going south to Egg (yes, it’s a real town and very pretty) with more mountains before looping back to Bregenz via FeldKirch. By the time we got past Egg, we’d run out of detailed maps and were using the very crude maps of Lonely Planet. We knew we wanted to go to over the range (read high pass) to Warth, deviate to Stuben and turn back westwards to Bludenz and onto Feldkirch. We got the first part right, but when some 20k down the road we had to enter a tunnel, somehow we took the wrong entry and headed east instead of west. We came out of the tunnel to names that weren’t on the Lonely Planet map. The first we knew we were going the wrong way was when we sped past an opening in the tunnel for Landeck (on the way to Innsbruck). At the next opening of the tunnel, we tried to navigate our way back to where we’d started (and then onwards to Bodensee). Again, we entered a tunnel with high hopes, only to find ourselves somewhere completely unexpected. This time, we landed in Italy!!!

As we passed the ‘You are now entering Italy sign - oddly, written only in German and Italian - Judy was asked ”How’s your Italian?”. “Why?” Coz, for some strange reason, you’re in Italy at the moment” Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, let’s go on”. So we did.

The Lonely Planet book didn’t cover Italy, so other than an ‘overflow’ bit in it, we had no map at all. We stopped at an ‘information’ shop and managed to get a freebie map of the immediate area. Talking to the attendant, we learned that we could return to Germany via Switzerland with relative ease, or travel further afield in Italy. With still much time left in the day, we visited a Benadictine monastry perched high on the side of the mountain. There we got given a brochure describing all the monastry's (and basilicas) of historical interest in the (larger) region, that are open to the public. We were flabbergasted at the number. This monastry originally began in an old castle aside the town of Burgeis some 700 years ago. However, a wealthy noble donated his (more elevated and larger) castle to the order. The ‘lower’ castle is used as an agricultural school.

We stayed the night at Partschins in a guesthouse perched high above the town overlooking the valley floor and through the late afternoon haze, southwards down past Merano. That night we ate Italian at a trattoria and enjoyed the sounds of romantic Italian (beats the gutteral German!!!).

After Germany and Austria, Italy is laid back, relaxed, and at times just plain slack. The streets are so narrow, the buildings rustic, and ’order’ is not a dominating aesthetic. While the area we’d entered uses both German and Italian, and the peoples are what we call ‘mountain’ people (ie. have an affinity with the Austrians and Bavarians) so appear to have much in common, there is a relaxedness here that is absent over the border.



Thursday.





The next morning (Thursday) we decided we’d like to spend another night in Italy, and so bought a decent map and headed for Verona. Where the German & Austrian autobahns are wide and smoothly bitumenised, we found the Italian autostrad’s in northern Italy to be narrow and often in need of resurfacing. Despite this, the Italians drive even faster that the Germans!!! At one point, we were doing 150k, and got passed by a pair of Ferrari’s at a speed that made us look stationary.

Along the way we stopped at Mezzocorona for a break. Here, no one spoke English. In the market in the centre we were given the most flavoursome and juicy peaches. The day was getting hot, so we each had a gelato (Ahh, so powerfully full flavoured. Here, the mountains rose almost vertically from the quite flat valley floor; almost bath like. But, on a grand scale. Our camera just couldn’t capture the sheer scale of the landscape.

As we drove on, the autostrada began to parallel the German 'design'. Possibly because of more traffic on the road, the vehicle speed travelled more at the nominated limit (perhaps also because of the abundant number of semi's).

We eventually arrived in Verona and found a park station. In so many ways, Verona is the antithesis of München. München is aged, but due to WW2, largely reconstructed and made to look clean. Verona is original but duplicitous; at the same time it is clean and grubby, chic and shabby, aged and modern. And, unbeknowns to us, it has an intact coliseum! The Cathedral was another WOW, OMG!!! But this time for the age, the sheer magnitude of carved marble and gold inlay, and the size of the building.

As we’d descended from the Alps to the plains of Verona, the temperature climbed. Verona at early afternoon was near 40C. And, retailers close for ‘siesta’ between 12:30 & 3:30! Over a beer and Gingerino (a popular Italian non-alcoholic drink with a sort of Vermouth & bitters flavour), we considered our options; The valley floor was quite flat, and Venice was an hour to the east, while Milan an hour to the west. But, we decided not to venture further - though it was a hard decision - as we’d really want more time than we had to ’do’ the area properly. We’ll ’save’ the joy for another time. Instead, we decided to return to Germany through the mountain passes and via Switzerland.

Getting off the autostrada near Brescia, we thought it would be a cinch to find an information shop in the Lago d’Iseo area (Lake of Iseo). We soon learned that the lake’s shores cater for the well heeled, and ordinary tourists like us don’t need help!!! After a very frustrating drive - why don’t the Italians pay attention to their lack of relevant road signs??? - we eventually found a good hotel at Boario.

Boario presents as a post WW2 industrial town, so we thought Oh, well, it’ll just be a bed along the way! Not so! That no English appeared to be spoken added to the charm (for us). A fantastic pescatori (fish) restaurant with staff willing to ‘engage’ with us made for a great end to an amazing (but also at times, challenging day).



Friday.





The next day - Friday - saw us leave Boario quite late to head for the hills. We’d decided we should head back to Germany across the alpine passes (and Switzerland). We were no longer in autostrada territory, and travel was slow; the highway meandered through the various towns/villages along the route (as against by-passing) and in each case the buildings encroached onto the roadspace such that the traffic ground to crawling speed. But, for us, as the sun was shining and it was no longer ‘hot’, this added a certain “character”. While waiting for a train to cross at Tirano, we just backed into a parking bay and went to look at the local basilica. This was another WOW, OMG!!!. Here in a tiny town in the far flung reaches of northern Italy was this rococo structure of carved marble, finely worked blackwood, and gold inlay to match the best of them. We continued along to Bormio through a wonderful forest (and steep topography). Bormio is a winter playground town, so is utterly commercialised. But it also marks the beginning of an alpine pass road.

From Bormio, the road itself is at times only one lane wide. And the road rises some 2000m to the top of the pass. In the direction we were going, there are 36 switchbacks (hair pin bends) on the way up, and 48 on the other side. It is not only a motorbikers ’heaven’ (with 100’s travelling the pass road), we were amazed to find so many push-bike riders going for it. At the top of the pass, we had a snow fight - not only because there was heaps of snow and we could, but to also contrast the heat of the previous day where the temp was close to 40C. The road down the other side of the pass was also scenically amazing. We were stunned to see a church built on the snowline on the other side of the valley. We later learnt that it is a 600m walk to the ravine, and a 1000m climb up to the church. As it was brightly painted, obviously it is well maintained. We didn’t get to know why it was built there, nor why people maintain it. At the conclusion of another great day, we bedded down in a guest house (with a great view of the valley) at Prad. And, after the autostrada ‘run’ the day before, we were happy to have spent more time out of the car than in.



Saturday.





Saturday heralded another lovely sunny day. A little way past Prad we came to Glorenza - a walled town like no other we’d seen. Here, few buildings had spewed beyond the walls, so the town structure is exceedingly tight. The four entrance gates/arches were one vehicle wide, as were most of the streets. The higgledy-piggledy streetscape coupled to buildings just ’there’ (ie. with no relationship to the street) meant that it is possible to only look about the length of about 4 or 5 house fronts in a street. While it was not possible for street trees, this was more than compensated for by the lovely old Oak trees in the largish town ‘square’. We felt we’d gone back in time at Glorenza; the village buildings are exceedingly old, the streetscape looked ’ancient’, we saw a farmer loading hay in a loft and another was leading a cow from a house, and old men sat chatting in the square while old ladies could be seen cleaning or chatting in doorways.

The ‘pass’ road quickly entered Switzerland, and after the border formalities (Switzerland is not in the EU) ‘opened’ up into a neater, wider and better signed road (than we’d just left in Italy). Soon we were back in high country. We stopped off at a little valley to have a snack and walk along the mountain stream. We were surprised that with only one National Park (here in the mountains), graziers are allowed to pasture cattle. Even so, the walking was good, the scenery fantastic, and the cool temps enjoyable.

We stopped along the way to view a concrete 'box girder' bridge built some 90 years ago (a world first). Then it was innovatory, and ground breaking. But, the interesting issue for us is that the bridge wasn't built as some major iconic bridge in a city. Rather, it was the (then) cheapest option to span a deep ravine in a country backwater. Marvels occur everywhere.

Scenically, Switzerland is very beautiful; picture postcards scenes abound with all-too-clean and neat villages surrounded by green, green pastures and set in wooded valley’s.
SalginatoblebrucheSalginatoblebrucheSalginatoblebruche

1st box girder bridge to be built, 90 years ago
Whether by coincidence or not, we were unimpressed with the Swiss ’community’. We struck rudeness from the people, arrogant drivers, and gained a feeling that tourists were welcomed for their money and little else. It also didn’t help that the area we were visiting (eg. St Moritz, Davos, Klosters, etc.) catered for 5star tourism. Nevertheless, around the corner we found Liechtenstein - a principality some 25k long and 8k wide, where the king lives in a castle overlooking the main city (Vaduz), and from the buildings/cars there appears no evidence of a middle or lower class! We enjoyed our lunch in one of the lovely grassed parks under a large shady tree.

The road from Vaduz led to Feldkirch (Austria). Here we were, eventually arriving at the place we’d intended to reach 3 days earlier! What a wonderful circuitous route we took to eventually reach such a lovely place”, we commented. There are many grand old buildings in Feldkirch, and these are complimented by large trees both in the grounds and the street. As Switzerland and Liechtenstien use Franc, not Euro, and we’d avoided (where possible) shopping for items needing small change, we stopped for a cuppa in Austria before heading on.

At Bodensee (Lake Constance), we stopped off at Lindau for a while. Lindau is actually an island, and is a major tourist drawcard. But, for us, it was a glorious peaceful afternoon and we were really enjoying walking through parks at the waters edge looking out through the summer haze towards the far hills of Austria and Switzerland. We ducked back into the cobbled pedestrianised streetscape for a gelato when all of a sudden the town erupted into a cacophony of noise; Germany beat Argentina in the World Cup. Gee, they take football seriously here.

Given the affluence in/around Bodansee, and our budget being stretched, we headed away from the area for the evening. We’d forgotten that weekends are ‘quiet’ in Germany, and all the Tourist Information centres were closed. Nevertheless, we found a room in Ravensburg - a modern industrial town set on the site of an old (originally roman) city.

Over dinner we reflected that we’d had breakfast in Italy, morning tea in Switzerland, lunch in Liechtenstien, afternoon tea in Austria, and dinner in Germany - and all this within a 200km drive!



Sunday.





After the glorious Saturday weather, Sunday opened somewhat gloomy. We’d planned to head towards the ‘Black Forest’ as it has a reputation as being scenically delightful. An hour down the road we came across Sigmaringen. Not having heard anything about the place, we were stunned to find a huge castle sitting on a massive rock peak aside the Donau River. And, it is still occupied by members of the ’royal’ family (despite losing their monarchic powers in 1919). The adjacent (pedestrianised) city is also charming. A tour through the castle revealed an amazing array of medieval and reformationist armoury.

After lunch, the rain began in earnest. In contrast to the heat of the Italian plain, and the now hazy countryside, we welcomed the change. And, it washed a now quite dirty car.

We meandered along, through rolling countryside, past places with unbelievably obscure names, and eventually ‘lobbed’ at Freudenstadt. Freudenstadt is in the area known as ‘Black Forest’. The town has a big marketplace, and it was in full swing with a ‘fair’. As a consequence, most roads leading towards the Information place were blocked off. After much frustration, we got close enough to park and walk to the centre. We found the Tourist Information office and while it was closed (Sunday), they had the courtesy to have a pinboard with Pensions/Gasthaus’s of the area. A drive up a heavily treed road to Zwieselberg (a tiny tiny little village) had us bedded down for the night. We were to later learn that we were in the ‘centre’ of the best ‘Black Forest’ vegetation area. Anyway, it was wonderfully peaceful and we loved every minute.

It’s time to end this, ‘post it’ and start another blog.

Before 'signing off', we wanted to reiterate that we are finding travel so different here in Central Europe to Oz. In Oz, one travels for long distances and sees little other than 'landscape'. Like our experience in Britain last year, here, we've traveled relatively short distances (except for the Italy 'excursion') and seen heaps (aside from 'landscape); castles, monastries, villages, towns & cities, as well as monuments, lakes, rivers, bridges and more. That we enjoyed 5 countries in 200km exemplifies the point.

See ya all & cheers


- - - -




ps




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9th July 2010

Great pics
Looks like you are having a great time. Judy looks like a native standing in the photo of Switzerland.

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