On the road again...

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September 28th 2011
Published: September 28th 2011
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Well, after three relaxing weeks in the alps, we are now back on the trains and exploring longer distances across the continent. And we must admit that we are very happy to be on the move again.

But let me start with our three week adventure across the time share resorts of Italy, Austria and Germany. There was a quick introduction to Tscherms in the last blog where we had a beautiful view of the Italian alps and down through the valley covered in vineyards and apple orchards. We made the most of having a kitchen and were even quite excited to be able to go shopping in a supermarket and buy bread and milk and meat and pasta - don't worry, the novelty soon wore off after we realised that we also had to do the washing up 😞

Tscherms was lovely and we went exploring through the apple orchards, and may potentially have sampled a few pieces of produce... would you believe they had fallen off the trees??? They were the biggest apples we have ever seen, and growing on trees that had been cultivated almost into non-existence. There was barely a trunk maybe 8 feet high with tiny branches holding about 4-6 huge apples each. They all had to be tied to stakes to make sure they stayed standing.

After about 3 days of enjoying doing absolutely nothing we decided to head out and explore the region. A tip from GPJ led us to Bolzano where Otzi, the 5000 year old remains of a man are on display... extremely fascinating, but a little icky being able to see the "still juicy" remains... He had apparently been killed 5000 years ago and his body protected by ice and snow and dry frozen until he was discovered by accident by some hikers. They have him on display in a specially designed fridge with a glass window now - some reward for surviving that long huh?

After Tscherms, it was on to Bad Gastein, a little town in Austria an hour and a half south of Salzburg by train. While it eventually sort of grew on us, the town had a very odd feeling to it, as though it was not quite real. It had been established only for its access to thermal mountain waters and so was made up purely of hotels. But after we got over the eerily empty feeling of the place - since tourist season was just about to finish - we headed out to the spectacular water fall in the middle of the town, and found one of the best restaurants we could hope for. Having lived on simple pasta for a week, the idea of beautifully cooked steak and fish on the balcony, rugged up in warm blankets watching the moon rise over the mountains it perked our spirits up 😊

This week we had decided would be busy. So on our first day we headed off to the world's "largest accessible ice caves" or so we were told. When they say accessible, while this is technically true, accessing them does require a train to a tiny town called Werfen (remember the name), waiting in a quiet and almost empty car park for a special bus that drives you 20 minutes up almost sheer cliff faces, then a 20 minute walk again up very steep inclines to the cable car that actually takes you up a cliff face, to then walk another 20 minutes up to the very top of the mountain to enter the caves. And it was worth it, although I think we were more impressed with the view from the top of the mountain than inside the caves. It appeared that they built the “walking” paths about 50 years ago out of just wood (very slippery) and metal hand rails (too cold to touch!!). To top it off we were given tiny little gas lamps to light the way – very dark but very atmospheric 😊

With a sense of adventure, the next day we hoped on a train heading in the other direction to see what we could find. What else would you expect but a huge clear blue lake with boats waiting on the shore especially for us?? As we approached, considering if it would be difficult to hire one, the lady came out, suggested we take one, shuffled us into the boat and after agreeing the price just said "have fun, you pay when you get back". And that was it. We putted peacefully into the middle of the lake and unwrapped our packed lunch and sat and watched the lake (and its nudist swimmers and sunbathers - apparently when you are in the middle of the lake on a boat, anything goes!).

As we were going to Salzburg the next day, we spent the evening researching what to do... especially how to see all the Sound of Music places (very important). So reading through directions for a self-guided tour I found a blog that went through pretty much every scene in the movie (written by one very dedicated fan!). But a little sentence caught my eye "the opening scene of “do-re-mi” was not actually shot in Salzburg but on the hills above a small town called Werfen, an hour away from Salzburg". Go figure!! Although I can technically say I've seen it, I just don’t know which field it was.

Our trip to Salzburg though was a little washed out so we decided that we would be better off on a hop on hop off bus that would take us to the all-important Sound of Music places, as well as to the major brewery for lunch. After filling ourselves with schnitzel and beer, and visiting Mozart’s house, we conceded to the rain and got back on the train, of course to console ourselves with dinner at our new favourite restaurant.

Thursday was our specially planned excursion to go and see the Eagle's Nest. You didn’t think our WW2 tour had finished yet had you?? This was Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian alps, just on the border with Austria. While there is not much left on the mountain that wasn’t bombed or destroyed when the allies came through, there still remains part of the bunker system, as well as the Eagle's Nest house, now a restaurant, perched high on the mountain side. It was built as a birthday present to Hitler who actually hated it as it was very exposed on the top of a mountain and took forever to get to. While there are supposed to be spectacular views from the balcony, the weather had not yet cleared and so we could not see the valley. Fortunately though we were above the clouds and felt like we were floating on a mountain top in a sea of clouds.

And that was our time up in the Austrian alps... what next? We were off to our last week’s accommodation in Bavaria. In brief, we saw Neuschwanstein, the castle of mad King Ludwig the second - the pretty castle that Walt Disney modeled Sleeping Beauty's castle after, we also went for a day trip to Munich - but decided to give Oktobefest a miss, we are too old for that sort of thing 😊 and we also found Germany's longest mountain roller coaster/bobsled! 3km of wizzing down the mountain side definitely got the adrenalin pumping!

I wrote most of this on the train to Avignon. We left Germany on Saturday and headed to the Swiss alps on the Glacier Express, a specially designed train that took us up through the alps to 2033m above sea level and then back down again. Our stop in Switzerland extended from one night into two when we found out there was an accessible glacier just above the next town. So we rode up in the cable cars (watching all the crazy locals hiking up the mountain!) and walked to the spectacular viewing point of the glacier at about 2600m above sea level. Absolutely beautiful.

As much as we would have liked to stay longer, our budget doesn’t quite cover so much time in Switzerland. After paying $25 for 2 kebabs from a street vendor, we decided our time was up and so are now off to explore the south of France 😊

It is Wednesday now and we have just arrived in Nice. We loved Avignon and saw the Palace of the Popes when they were exiled from Rome for about 100 years and saw the ruins of the famous bridge. Our plans for the next two weeks are to see the glitz of the South of France, then to Arles to pay homage to Van Gogh, and head towards Barcelona, and then up close to Andora for anther weeks rest before finally leaving Europe for the US on the 18th October...

Love to all
Steph and Joel xxoo


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