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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Gruntensee to Bad Tolz

3rd March.
Gruntensee took some beating but it was time to move on, next up we had a look at Nessellwang, a larger ski resort with a huge winter stellplatz just across the road from the main lift. About 20 vans were parked up, looking like they had been there some time, but room for maybe 50 more.
As well as the main gondola/chairlift, there are two other chairlifts and 4 draglifts - mostly blues but a red and a black from the top chairlift.
One of the “TopPlatz” chain of stellplatzes
(http://www.top-platz.de/ ) (€6 a night, electricity €1 per kWh, GPS: 47.6200 N, 10.4972 E)

Still overcast and trying to snow, we moved onto Pfronten, another resort with a gondola going from the roadside station. Most of the runs are 1500m up from this station, including a fun park.
A very large car/coach park, but no sign of any motorhome facilities, though there are some further along the valley.
The cloud cover was almost down to the base station as we arrived and the gondola not moving.
(GPS: 47.5655 N, 10.5760 E) (http://www.skizentrum-pfronten.de/ )

Finally onto Füssen, an ancient town with its own castle, but also a good stopping off point for the great Bavarian castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein - the latter built by the “Fairy tale” King, Ludwig II.

Ludwig's family home, Hohenschwangau

Füssen Camper Stop is another TopPlatz, a well set up site on a commercial estate with free Wi-fi and a small restaurant. Aldi, Lidl and the garden/hardware outlet Obi are just yards away.
(€12 a night, plus €1 per 1.6 kWh, GPS: 47.5815 N, 10.7009 E).

4th March.
King Ludwig II, it’s safe to say, more than did his bit to lay a few foundation stones for the Bavarian tourist industry - though he did bankrupt the royal coffers in the process!

Born in the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich in 1845, he was brought up in Hohenschwangen Castle (built by his father Maximilian II), and went on to build Neuschwanstein Castle close by, as well as the Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee Palaces.

Only the Linderhof Palace was ever completed, and when the bankers pulled the plug on his overdrafts he was deposed and interned, though some accounts say he was certified insane by the government. He obviously wasn’t too happy about that and was found dead in Lake Starnberg (along with his doctor) a few days later. He was not yet 41 years old.

With the defeat and domination of his country by Prussia in 1866 (only two years after he became king), he had been forced to accept the role of constitutional monarch and retreated into his own world, indulging all his passions, and leaving a fantastical legacy of architecture and décor that almost defies belief.

Ludwig's unfinished fantasy castle (not our photo)

To give you a flavour of Ludwig’s approach to castle building: for the ideal design of Neuschwanstein he employed a scene painter from the Munich court opera house! He also sent his architects to copy all the bits he liked off other castles.

He was a big fan of all things medieval and oriental, Louis XIV of hall of mirrors fame, and best mates with Richard Wagner, composer of Germanic and Nordic operas.

At the same time he was an early adopter of new technology and had the first ever Royal Sleigh with a battery powered electric headlight (under a crown of course). He also went in for state-of-the-art central heating systems, electric call systems for servants and all mod cons in the kitchens.

If you are going to visit both castles we recommend seeing the smaller Hohenschwangau first - Ludwig’s childhood home. It’s pretty impressive anyhow, but sets the scene for the gloriously over the top and amazing Neuschwanstein.

The one thing that really sets Neuschwanstein apart from other baroque and medieval palaces we have seen, is that, inside and out and even down to the kitchen, it all appears brand new – which in fact it really is, as Ludwig only lived in the castle for 170 days before he was deposed. The castle was opened to the public a month and a half later! (http://www.neuschwanstein.de/ )

We would also suggest visiting off season, the purpose built ticket centre in Hohenschwangau is obviously set up to accommodate vast hordes of people and even the Green guide recommends allowing up to three hours queuing time in the summer. There are three lane electronic queuing systems at both castles, with timed ticket entry, which provided you can get the tickets make visiting both castles in one day a possibility. (http://www.ticket-center-hohenschwangau.de/ )

We were fortunate to visit on a clear sunny day, and we walked to both castles, but the buses to Neuschwanstein weren’t operating, supposedly because of the snow, and it’s a good stiff hike the kilometre or more up the hill - unless you want to indulge in a horse drawn carriage!

5th March
Woke up to sleet and rain, which didn’t give us the urge to go anywhere, but we needed to top up our gas if we were going to stay put. The girl from the restaurant told us there was Autogas just out of Schwangau at the Aral garage.
Just as we were preparing to leave we heard an air horn beeping at us and there was Vicky & Tony, fresh from a quick visit to Austria.

Attached to the Aral garage was a Rewe supermarket - at last a supermarket that didn’t follow the Aldi, Lidl, Netto model of inclusive flea market, and you could actually buy things like sweet chilli sauce, small tins of sweet corn and our regular toothpaste.

Later we talked all things motorhoming over a jar with Vicky and Tony.

6th March
We left Fussen Camper Stop in light snow, our next visit was to be the Wieskirche, a UNESCO listed, ornately decorated Pilgrimage Church at Wies.
By the time we arrived the wind had picked up and was drifting the snow across the road – we didn’t plan to be long!

When it comes to gold encrusted stucco and ceiling frescoes we have developed slightly jaundiced eyes after our long sojourn in Italy, but to someone seeing something on this scale for the first time it must be utterly gobsmacking. A coachload of Japanese school children who followed us in certainly seemed in awe of the interior.

Inside the Wieskirche

The gates to paradise are closed!

After lunch, it was only a few more kilometres to Oberammergau, the Bavarian village overshadowed by mountain peaks and world famous for its Christ Passion Play held every ten years.

According to our Bord Atlas, the Camping Park had a wohnmobileplatz where we could stay for €7. However when we arrived we were told that the platz was unavailable because it was covered in snow!! We would therefore have to stay on the pukka campsite and pay full price – or go to Garmish-Partenkirchen.

Under-whelmed by our reception, but mindful of the darkening skies and thickening snow fall we felt a fait-accompli upon us and parked up.

A walk into Oberammergau revealed a picturesque alpine village replete with shops selling wood carvings of very high quality and of every description, though most, unsurprisingly, were of religious images, so much so that we were reminded of other pilgrimage sites, like Fatima in Portugal.

After a look at its ornately decorated church that was almost a rival to Wieskirche, we soon found the Passion Play theatre. Guided tours of the theatre are held every day except Mondays, and combined tickets are available to give entrance also to the town museum (with a 500 year history of wood carving), and art exhibitions in the Pilatus House.
(http://www.passionstheater.de/) (http://www.oberammergaumuseum.de/ )

7th March
A fresh 10 inch carpet of snow greeted us in the morning and it was still chucking it down. Sue had decided she’d like to do the tour of the Passion Play theatre so we kitted up and walked into town.

There are no English speaking tours in the winter except by special arrangement so we joined a large German coach tour, but as we weren’t listening to the commentary the crowd didn’t matter so much.

The tradition of the Passion play began with a vow, made by the village elders during the Thirty Years War when a devastating plague swept Bavaria and killed 80 inhabitants of the village.
The epidemic miraculously came to a swift end and the village fulfilled its vow for the first time in 1634. In 1680 the play was moved to the start of each decade, hence the next one will be from May to October in 2010. (http://www.passionsspiele2010.de/ )

The play is performed exclusively by amateur actors who were either born in Oberammergau or have lived there for 20 years. Last time some 2200 of the village’s 5300 population were involved, 550 of them children.

The Passion Play Theatre

The current theatre site has been in use since 1830 and the theatre since 1930. Much modified and improved, the monumental appearance of the outside is, surprisingly, revealed inside to be based on a steel frame with timber walls. The actual stage is open to the elements at the rear and snow had drifted across the stage entrances. An atmospheric set, even without the actors.

The set for the Passion Play

Backstage, we were shown separate dressing rooms filled with costumes and many of the props. Inevitably, the more interesting ones were central to the performance - the hollow but totally convincing wooden crosses, the retracting blade spear used to pierce Jesus’s heart and the little canvas “Bosuns chair” harness used to secretly suspend him from the cross.

A crown of thorns and some large nails, not your average dressing room.

Seeking refreshment we ordered apple strudel and hot chocolate in the café opposite, later we saw the skies were clearing and made our way back to the campsite.
The receptionist was adamantly not ready to play ball when we asked for a reduction on our first nights stay because the stellplatz was not available. Her excuse was that it had snowed too much and they had nowhere to put the snow!
Seemed that it should be their problem rather than ours – if you ask for an advertised basic hotel room and they can’t provide it, you’d expect to be upgraded for the same price – not told you can pay up or go elsewhere!

Camping Park Oberammergau occupies a prime site and is probably already fully booked for the summer, so I guess they can afford to adopt a “If you don’t like it…..” attitude.
Still it jarred with the friendly, helpful and accommodating welcome we had received almost everywhere else.

8th March
Ludwig II’s Linderhof Palace was not far away, so we headed off in that direction. Linderhof is the only building that Ludwig entirely completed, and was his favourite residence. Beautifully set in a wooded valley, with sculptured terraces, gardens and pavilions, it is a sumptuous monument to his obsession with the Baroque and all things Louis XIV.

Linderhof Palace

His mirror walled living room gives infinite reflections if you stand in the right place - with a hundred and sixty candles on his priceless Meissen porcelain chandelier the effects must have been stupendous.

The piece de resistance however has to be his “Dumb Waiter” - in fact his entire dining table - which sank through the floor to the kitchen below, closing the hole in carpet as it did so, and later reappeared fully laid with his lonely meal for one.

The entire servant’s quarters are on the ground floor and the heat from their rooms was channelled up through vents in the Italian marble fireplaces to keep his rooms warm, without the need to have servants coming in to tend the fires.
I wonder how hot they had to get before he was cosy? Still, an intriguing early use of ducted heating.

Unfortunately the gardens and other buildings are not open in the winter, so I think it would be worth seeing this mansion in the spring, before the crowds get too dense. (Guided tours only of the palace, €6 each).

The car park was €3 and there is designated motorhome parking. Sue noticed that the ticket was actually valid for 24 hours and as we had the place to ourselves, amongst the trees, it seemed a shame not to enjoy it - thank you, Ludwig.
(GPS: 47.5691 N, 10.9539 E)

A tranquil overnight spot in Ludwig's grounds

9th March
We had a perfectly peaceful night and awoke to a sunlit winter wonderland again, courtesy of some overnight snow. I saw some palace staff around but nobody even came near to us.

Ettal Monastery was on route, so we stopped off to take a look. Founded in 1330 by the Duke of Bavaria (who was at the same time Roman Emperor of the German Nation) the legendary inspiration of its foundation is a marble Madonna brought back from a trip to Rome (though there were essentially more pragmatic reasons - particularly as he had fallen out with the Pope).

The existing domed church was built in the 18th Century in baroque style and the ceiling of the dome is decorated with a vast fresco of amazing scope and detail.

The Dome of Ettal Monastery

They also have their own monastery liqueur.

From Ettal it is just a short hop to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, situated at the foot of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. It is the base for Germany’s largest winter sports centre and was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games. (http://www.garmisch-partenkirchen.de/ )

We stayed at the Alpencamp am Wank, next to the Wankbahn lift (this lift only operates in the summer). For €14 a night, 2 visitors tickets are included, which give free bus rides around town, free entry to the swimming pool, plus discounts on cable cars, the ice stadium and museums. (Electricity 50c per kWh, GPS: 47.5047 N, 11.1070 E). (http://www.alpencamp-gap.de/ )

It is a 20 minute walk into town and in the early evening we wandered in. Admittedly it was Monday night but the town was conspicuously quiet.
Eventually we found the “Peaches” bar/pizzeria, which did have some life in it as it was half-price pizza night. Surprisingly it was full of Americans, but this turned out to be because there is an American forces base not far away.

10th March
Another grey, overcast day following an early snowstorm - not a day for admiring the view from the Zugspitze. So we moved on, Mittenwald was the next place we thought we'd have a look at.

Mittenwald is the quintessential Alpine village, with many beautifully decorated old buildings, a stunning church tower and a water pump in the street, all framed by the mountain backdrop of the Karwendel massif. (http://www.mittenwald.de/ )

Downtown Mittenwald

We found the well sign-posted stellplatz by the railway line, 5 minutes walk out of town.
A sophisticated new system is being installed here whereby you interact with a touch screen in the side of a hut by the entrance barrier and charge up your "visitor’s card" with credits to allow you to stay - or rather leave, via the barrier, and access water and electricity.
Despite all this high tech installation they still didn't manage to get the waste water drain anywhere you could drive close to it, and the price is going up from €5 to €12.50 - that's progress!
(GPS: 47.4377 N, 11.2640 E)

Mittenwald’s main reputation is as a centre for violin making and it still has a 140 year old school for violin makers. The Geigenbau or violin making museum (http://www.geigenbaumuseum-mittenwald.de/ ) covers the history of this craft going back to 1685, and the setting up of a violin workshop by master craftsman Matthias Klotz, whose statue resides outside the church.
We paid a visit and certainly learnt a lot we didn't know about making violins - one interesting fact was that the wood for the best violins has to be cut and seasoned indoors for 20 years.

11th March
Another snowstorm in the morning and for a while we thought we'd have to stay put. By midday, however it had eased a lot and I dug the van out yet again.

Our route was modified however when we got Wallgau, as the 307 to the Achenpass was closed, we suspect it only opens in the summer, there is a 4 ton limit as well.
Heading north past the Walchensee the rain instantly turned to snow again as we climbed, and we hesitated momentarily as the road in front turned white and the wheels began to slip. Another kilometre or so and the road was clear again.

It sounds obvious, but this delicate balancing act between thaw and freezing can produce some fascinating effects – whilst the icicles on the north side of the van are as hard as steel, on the south facing side, even on an overcast day, they can be just loose enough to remove, but turn your back and a little wind chill will weld them solid again in seconds.
Clean the windscreen with warm water on a sunny day and before you can wipe it dry it’s turned to ice.

It’s almost impossible to stop ice forming over the van during the night, and if the skies clear during the night the temperature will plummet, leaving wet snow run-off as ice over your doors and windows. The cab steps on our Rapido are a particular nuisance as they collect the snow, which accrues into a solid block of ice, preventing the cab doors from opening. If it’s three or more degrees below, no amount of de-icer or hot water will shift it.

You have to choose your moments and go with the flow of nature.

From then on it was an easy run to Bad Tölz, which offered us a deserted but muddy pitch by the river.
(€1 per 3 hours, water €1, no electricity, GPS: 47.7630 N, 11.5502 E)

A riverside stroll into town took us over the bridge and we spied an unusual lone Mandarin duck in amongst the Mallards.

The town is pedestrianised over its main street and has a good selection of shops including Intersport, six specialist bakers and even an Italian ice cream parlour.
On the way back after a drink in a dreary and deserted bar (the only one we could find) it chucked it down again and we returned to the van looking like mobile snowmen.
Two more vans had now come to join us, both German.
Vicky and Tony are the only other British van we have seen on the whole of this Alpentrasse route.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Scheidegg to Gruntensee

16th Feb.
After the excesses and highlights of our weekend in Scheidegg, the return to grey, sleety weather dampened our mood a bit.

Lindberg was our next stop, to replenish our supplies. The ubiquitous Lidls' was easy to find, but the Autogas outlet took some time, despite directions from the Kurhaus.

Our only outstanding chore was emptying the waste tank. Despite using our electric tank heater at Scheidegg to stop the water inside from freezing, it failed to keep the dump valve unfrozen, so we left with the tank half full and consequently took on only the minimum of fresh water.

Back on the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, the road was clear but the snow was still falling and the view restricted by the cloud, but you could see its potential beauty on a sunny day.

Oberstaufen is the centre for a batch of ski lifts accessible directly from the road – another time perhaps. We headed on past the giant frozen Grosser Alpsee lake towards Immenstadt, another ski base.

Coming through Immenstatdt, attached to a V-Markt, we spotted a drive in car wash with high open bays (high enough for a motorhome) and drove in. A few euros worth of hot pressure spray unfroze the dump valve and cleared the last of the icicles off the sides. Yes! We could now metaphorically uncross our legs and heave a sigh of relief.

In the car park a rugged looking gent got out of his 4x4 and came across to tell us about his new stellplatz at Blaichach, a couple of kilometres away.
We decided to take a look, but though the town looked inviting the park was down a slippery looking side street, so we pressed on to Oberstdorf, which was sort of on our itinerary anyhow.

The stellplatz at Oberstdorf is vast, with room for over a hundred vans. Virtually on the edge of the town centre and a hundred yards from the Nebelhornbarn ski station, it has modern showers and a washing machine.

It doesn’t come cheap though, €19.70 a night for two people, showers an extra €2. The office is only open 2 hours a day (9-10 am, 5-6 pm) and you have to queue up outside the manager’s door before being allowed access to the inner sanctum. Friendliness was not a word that sprung to mind when we did meet him.
(http://www.wohnmobilstellplatz-oberstdorf.de/ ) (GPS: 47.4074 N, 10.2855 E)
There is another nice campsite (Rubi Camping) in the town with attached restaurant, but that was €28.90 and you would need a bus to get to the ski station.

And then it snowed some more!

17th Feb.
It just snowed all day, the snow ploughs were out clearing snow non-stop. We had a giggle at the guy opposite who had laboured long to make a path by the side of his van only to see the snow plough heave a mountain of snow back exactly where he had just cleared it. His face was a picture.

18th Feb.
The temperature dropped with a vengeance (-12 C) as the sky cleared during the night but it dawned a beautiful sunny day, with some fantastical snow shapes on vans and lamp posts.
Many people were digging out their vans and clearing roofs, but despite the sunshine the thermometer stayed well below freezing.

Dig your way out of that lot!

There used to be a path here somewhere

A walk into town was called for - very picturesque with narrow pedestrianised streets and a fine church spire. The posh tourist office in a large modern public building had a big urn of gluwein free to help yourself. Wooden huts were going up in the square in preparation for a festival.


We checked out the ski station and were a bit stunned at the prices, at least for wanderwegging. A day “walking” lift pass was €28! (A day ski pass was €36 - steep reds and blacks).

So we browsed the shops, stopping for chocolate cake and coffee.

19th Feb.
Another crackling cold night and it was two in the afternoon before things thawed enough to make a move, getting the screen and bonnet covers off took some time because of ice from melt-water off the roof.

At the service point our dump valve wouldn’t open and my usual trick with the water hose didn’t work. A German couple who had been watching me on my knees came over and offered us a hair dryer to unfreeze it. Fortunately we carry a couple of continental plug adaptors and a small extension lead, so a few minutes later the van was having a pee!
One of the nice things about motorhoming is the people who are so keen to help each other out.

We replenished our Autogas in town and then drove past the roadside ski resorts of Hinelang and Oberjoch. Both had motorhome parking but Sue had sussed out there was something better at Gruntensee.
This turned out to be a very cool spot – a lakeside campsite and stellplatz with a ski lift across the road and a restaurant, also free wi-fi, but unfortunately not on the motorhome parking (you can sit in the TV room and use it).

The motorhome park was almost empty and we got a great pitch with a view over the valley towards the ski lift. (http://www.camping-gruentensee.de/ ) (GPS: 47.6106N, 10.4466 E).

20th Feb.
Surprise, it was snowing again.
Amongst the ladies in the launderette however, Sue did find out that the weekend was Carnival time and that there was a party on Saturday night – oh no, not again!

21st Feb.
A slightly better day, weather-wise, and we strolled into Wertach, a lovely forest walk by the lake.
Everything was shut until 1400 but we found a café opening early and had a beer and a piece of excellent pizza each. The groceries had to be carried home in the rucksacks, you needed both hands on the ski-poles as the trail was very slippery in places.

The Party was flagged up as starting at 1700, but thinking it would start with time for the kids, we rolled up at 1830.
The place was packed - with formal reserved dinner places, totally unlike the free-rolling, anarchic atmosphere at Scheidegg. Everyone was in serious fancy dress though, Elvis, Braveheart, Bob the builder, et al.

We had a couple of beers at the bar and later the friendly waitress (dressed as the Devil, complete with flexible red tail coming out of her pants) found us a table for two.

The Devil gets her tail tweaked by a nipper

When the disco DJ flashed up at around eight, he even got a round of applause for his flashing lights and smoke machine – he must have thought he had it made!

What is it about Boney M’s Rivers of Babylon, Village People’s YMCA, etc, that they always get played at middle aged, middle class do’s like this, they are truly international disco anthems.
There was a lot of German stuff in a similar vein as well, and these people began to party.

We were dragged from our table a couple of times to join in congas, which included a circuit of the kitchen! Soon the choice was clear - keep downing the free ouzo, or do an early runner?
We did an early runner. (I did have a dance with the Devil though.)
According to the lady who invited us they kept it up until two in the morning. You have to admire their stamina.

22nd Feb.
It was a bitterly cold, grey, wet morning and more clear-headed than for the last carnival we walked in to Wertach to see the procession.
On the outskirts of the town we were relieved of 2 euro each, with a smile, and given a pink wrist strap.

Who's steering the ship?

There must have a couple of dozen floats, mostly built on agricultural machinery - many of them ingenious, and fully manned with young people determined to keep out the cold with copious supplies of beer and other alcoholic concoctions.

Deutsche Bank being picked over by the birds

Political comment seemed popular, with allusions to ships steered by others and banks being got at by vultures. At least five floats had American references - from the Wild West, to Gospel, a Weisse "Schwarze" Haus and even one with pictures of Obama on the front and “Yes we can” emblazoned across the back.

Oh happy day, brother

The British “elf n’safety” crew would have had a fit, what with youngsters perched high up on their constructions, swinging from ropes, open fires and even a boiling cauldron - on wooden floats! The sheer amount of alcohol being openly consumed would have had the procession stopped stone dead in most British towns and villages.

There's always one!

Strangely, whilst the parade crawled around and around the perimeter of the town, we didn’t see a single police officer or traffic warden – just an off duty fireman controlling the traffic.
More than that the toilets at the Town Hall had been left open so everyone could have a pee when they needed one. When I used them they were still clean, even soap and paper towels were available.

Got the whole Jungle here

Virtually all the participants on the floats were in their mid teens to early twenties, everyone was laughing, smiling, acting up to their mates on the pavement and having a good time, deservedly, after having put in a huge amount of work into their floats and costumes – and despite the bitter cold.

The girls get to put out the fire

It makes me wonder, as someone who has seen the Cornish Summer Carnivals wither to a shadow - where the real problem is. Will these German villages kill off this kind of entertainment as we have, down the line - or have they sustained something Britain has lost, never to recover?

23rd Feb.
Heavy snow fell all day.
Seeing as there was yet much more to see and do and the weather had tied us down, we decided to stay on until a new pair of prescription glasses could be sent out from the UK. I had posted them back from Cologne and they had taken nine days to get home, but we could think of much worse places to be holed up if they took that long to come back.

24th Feb.
Snow, snow, snow, it was getting me fit – shovelling barrow loads of the stuff to keep the van from disappearing. Beautiful stuff though, sheer powder, like shovelling buckets of air.

25th Feb.
It was a fiercely cold night (-9 C) but the morning brought fabulous conditions, the snow was thick and hanging in the trees, absolutely beautiful - ephemeral sights that only last a few hours.

The Gasthaus at Camping Gruntensee

The dilemma was whether to ski or do the walk around the lake. The lake won out - we wouldn’t see conditions like this again for a while.

We had a stunning, magical walk through the lakeside forest, almost deserted of other walkers earlier on. We headed NE, towards a village at the top of the lake, before continuing the circuit down the northern shore back to Wertach.

The frozen Gruntensee

The hamlet of Haslach has a railtrack running though it and we stopped for lunch at German equivalent of the railway tavern - when a train passed the whistle made us jump and the glasses shook on the table.

There was a huge wood burner going, and the table next to it was obviously where the family spent their day (I didn’t notice the dog and basket till later). We had more schnitzel and fries I’m afraid, this time the Allgäu version, smothered in melted cheese.

The walk back turned out to be heavier going, the snow was soft and our feet kept sinking. Some girls on horseback decided to go through the virgin stuff but soon thought better of it.

By the time we had picked up a few groceries and got back to the campsite it was nudging six and getting dark, but it had been a beautiful day.

26th Feb.
Overcast again.
Doing the daily fetching and carrying of water and waste I heard the sound of English voices and lo and behold met a couple, Tony and Vicky, from, you’ve guessed it - Cornwall. We soon found we had common interests and promised to meet up later.

On a tip from Tony that reception was holding a parcel from England I checked and found my glasses had arrived. Amazing - €12.50 and 9 days to get from Germany to Cornwall, £5.85 and 3 days to get from Cornwall to Germany. Can anyone work that one out?

27th Feb.
Wind and more snow, no better than yesterday, but we walked into Wertach, more beer and pizza, more groceries – surprising how quickly we can eat and drink our way through a rucksack full.

In the evening we had dinner with Vicky and Tony and chatted about Cornwall and mutual acquaintances - small, small world.

28th Feb.
After a cloudy start it turned into a fine day, it really was time to get the skis out.
We bought a Puntekarten ticket, which is a sort of sampler ticket – you get so many lift runs for so many points, at a reduced price, and you can share the ticket too, to bring the price down even more.

Buron ski-lift has two T- bars, a very long one that takes you two thirds up the mountain for 3 moderate blue/red runs and a very steep one that goes to the top for a moguled black run.

The conditions were excellent, but oh that drag lift - it went on and on. After two runs we were knackered and laid on a bench in the sunshine by the top restaurant. It was a bit disappointing to find how unfit we felt, especially after all the walking.

1st March.
Another beautiful day, but warmer still, a thaw was well underway. We sought out a new wanderweg from the map and saw a herd of deer and a fine antlered stag.

The Nordic style of walking with poles is catching on and we find much to recommend it – once you get into the rhythm, using your arms for direction control and driving forward, leaving your legs just transferring weight, you find that you can sustain a much stronger pace for longer (or a slower pace with less fatigue), it really does make a difference.

We have looked jealously at people Nordic or Langlauf skiing on their special cross country pistes and thought of giving it a go – the skis and boots are much lighter, there are many specially groomed trails through the most beautiful countryside, it does appeal.

Well, somebody's got to mess it up!

At the same time, with a good pair of mountain boots, waterproof trousers, gaiters and poles, you have the ultimate flexibility – you can go almost anywhere and still pop into a village and the local hostelry with no bother at all.

Sue, into her stride

After lunch on a church bench the sun suddenly disappeared, the wind picked up and we swapped from perspiration and light fleece shirts to chill and full cold weather gear for the descent.

2nd March.
Wash day again, to find good machines on a campsite that are cheap to use is a rarity, though it seems that more and more stellplatz are providing them too.

3rd March.
Time to make a move, the temperature was up around 5 degrees but more snow was forecast for the weekend.

The Gruntensee campsite is a member of the ACSI scheme which guarantees users a fixed fee of €15 a night including 5 kWh of electricity a day. However, when government taxes and environmental charges were added it came to €17.80 a day.
On top of that, as we had been trying to conserve our gas by using a fan heater, we had well exceeded our electricity allowance and had a hefty bill on top to pay.
Still, it had been a lovely sojourn and it still worked out cheaper than paying full rate for a top campsite, which is what Gruntensee is.

So, we rejoined the Alpenstrasse to see what more it and Bavaria had to show us.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Karlsruhe to Scheidegg

3rd Feb.
From 1st January 2008 many major German cities require vehicles to display an “Environmental badge” on the windscreen - these are either green, yellow, red or no badge issued (emissions category 1) depending on the pollution characteristics of your vehicle.

The legislation also applies to foreign registered cars. From 2010 only green and yellow badges will be allowed to enter city centres - not displaying a badge currently warrants a 40 euro fine! Once registered though, the badges will last the lifetime of the vehicle.

Feeling that we were now overdue to apply for ours we stopped at a TUV or MOT garage at Malsch, not far from the Gast Caravanning franchise where we had enjoyed another free stop over (GPS: 48.8908 N, 8.3069 E).

I wandered into the workshop with my registration certificate and it didn’t take long for the TUV mechanic to grasp what I was after, though he did need to make a phone call to check which category we came into. Ten minutes later and six euros poorer we left with a Yellow No 3 windscreen sticker and certificate.

Next stop was Baden Baden. There is a free stellplatz here on the bus route into town (GPS: 48.7728 N, 8.2187 E).

4th Feb.
It was a cold damp start to the day and we abandoned a planned visit to Baden Baden, tramping the streets in the rain just did not appeal.

Leaving Baden Baden

So, off on the B500 scenic route through the Black Forest, stopping off at the Berghotel Mummelsee (an obvious coach tour destination) for a look at the frozen lake.

For the winter period, all the tourist shops are accessed from the same entrance, so we walked through the cured meat store first, then the Cuckoo clock shop and so on until we arrived at the delightful Hexenkeller or witches cellar, which was literally stuffed with thousands of dolls, each trying to outdo its neighbour in grotesqueness. I particularly liked the ones waving a stick – grab the stick and it lets out a maniacal cackle and its green eyes flash alternately. Not to be missed for lovers of Witch dolls (we do actually know one!)

Then on through Freudenstadt, picking up the B294 to Hausach, then the B33 though Gutach turning right onto an even more picturesque minor road down to Schonach.

Here we found a Stellplatz adjacent to the town’s single ski lift. There is a bar and restaurant in the sports centre by the road, sign up here and also get your €1 jetons for the electricity and sani-station (1 jeton gives 8 hours electricity).

The sports centre and motorhome parking at Schonach

With the €5 stellplatz ticket comes free skiing (yes, a free lift ticket!), free swimming, buses and more, an amazing deal, (GPS: 48.1458 N, 8.1884 E).

Only two other vans were on the park (which could probably take 20), and because of the mild conditions the lift was not running during the day, but opened at night onto a floodlit piste, which certainly was popular.

The town is laid out on both sides of the valley, with a small park at the bottom through which a small river runs. The town was eerily quiet at five in the evening but we found our way to the Rebstock Landhotel, a 3 star traditional hotel with pool and sauna. (http://www.landhotel-rebstock.com/ )

Just the chef and two waitresses in traditional costume awaited us in the restaurant but they were more than happy for us to sit and have a beer. The girls chatted, smiled and laughed so much we tarried for another and only left when the evening diners filtered in.

5th Feb.
Triberg is just down the road from Schonach, a delightful hillside town in the Black forest tradition, with lots of attractive shops, murals on the walls and bunting all down the main street. Two Stellplatz were signed in the town but we didn’t investigate.

Traditional Triberg

Picking up the B500 we passed some more wonderfully scenic landscapes including a detour on a very minor road to Hexenloch. Not a route you would take if the conditions were not good, but we enjoyed an almost magical trip through a tiny snow covered river valley. There was even an old water mill, frozen in motion with the icicles hanging out of the buckets.

Finally we found our way through St Margen, St Peter and Glottertal and down into the ancient city of Freiburg. The Stellplatz here is a short walk from the centre of town. The free wi-fi here was so good we spent ages watching videos of the snow in England off the BBC website.
(€7 a night - electricity is on a meter though. GPS: 47.9990N, 7.8258 E).

6th Feb.
Freiburg was founded in 1091, and work on the cathedral was commenced in 1200. Now a university city and centre of the wine trade it boasts a member of the Green party as its mayor, the first to be elected so of a large German city.

An unusual "green" scuplture on the walk into town

It’s only a 20 minute walk into town, though you can take a tram if you wish. Our first stop was a visit to the Munster, very atmospheric inside with some stunning stained glass. There are some lovely decorated buildings around, despite the wartime carnage.

Feeling peckish we tried our first Grillwurst from a popular stall, unfortunately Sue broke a tooth on god knows what, so it was off to an Apotheke to buy a tooth mirror to inspect the damage.

Some immaculate restoration

After a browse through the big apartment stores we stopped for cups of hot chocolate and raspberry flan from a coffee shop, now they were good, and only €7 all in.

Finally we bought some Womo guides, the excellent German produced motorhome travel guides, from the huge Buchandlung Rombach bookshop.

7th Feb.
Rainy day, settled down with the laptops and made good use of the wi fi.

8th Feb.
Left the Stellplatz at Freiburg late in the day - the owner seemed a bit gobsmacked we had only used €2 worth of electricity in 3 nights, but all we had on were the battery charger and laptops.

Heading south and up into the hills a bit, we passed several small ski resorts which might have been worth a visit in better conditions, but in this dull wet and sleety weather we pressed on.

Rising above the small resort of Münstertal we found a free off the road car park with a view down the valley. Seeing as the snow was starting to fall more heavily it seemed like a good spot for the night (GPS: 47.8532 N, 7.8605 E).

9th Feb.
The temperature dropped to around -5 C during the night and the gritting snowploughs were out at about 4 am, back and forth, they certainly weren’t leaving anything to chance. As ever in these conditions the heater was left ticking over to stop any pipes from freezing.

Off on our woodland walk

After breakfast the boots went on and complete with ski poles we crossed the road to an uncleared track and entered the winter wonderland we had come to enjoy. It’s chocolate box stuff but the peace and beauty of tramping along a winter wooded trail in the snow takes some beating.

Back on the main road (317) we passed the larger ski resort of Feldberg then headed down to look at Schluchsee, a large frozen lake with more little family ski resorts. Plenty of potential here in the right conditions and there is a large, modern winter campsite right on the water’s (ice) edge.

The sleet was still trying to decide whether it was snow or rain so we drove past the large town/resort of Titisee-Neustadt into Hüffingen, another pleasant small town with a large Stellplatz - deserted apart from a single German van.
The electric hook-up so common on the German Stellplatz was jeton only, which had to be purchased from the Rathaus or Town Hall during office hours. However the other motorhomer had a ready supply and we purchased one from him. (GPS: 47.9230 N, 8.4861 E)
It was now raining steadily and bitterly cold, so we stayed put and ate “a la maison”.

10th Feb.
In the morning there was a two inch white carpet outside but the rain had virtually washed it away by the time we left.

Our destination now was Konstanz on what we call Lake Constance, but is also known as Bodensee. At 46 miles long it is the largest of the alpine lakes after Geneva. The Rhine enters from the south and leaves from the western tip.

There is a Stellplatz within a few minutes walk of the town centre - a bit noisy for an overnight though, what with the road traffic and the bus station (GPS: 47.6579 N, 9.1693 E).

Constance is an elegant looking lakeside town with many architecturally interesting buildings, pedestrian areas and shopping arcades. There is also the terminal for the ferry across to Meersburg.

After a drive round to the other side of the lake, the attractive Spa town of Uberlingen provided us with a refuge for the night. (Stellplatz €6, 50c for electricity, GPS: 47.7760 N, 9.1505 E).

11th Feb.
It’s a 10-15 minute walk downhill into town - another elegant munster and many well preserved half timbered buildings, gardens and promenades on the waterfront, plus an intriguing fountain of mermaids and a man on horseback wearing skates!
An open air market was underway and we picked up some local cheeses.

Our next stop was Lindau, the island resort on the eastern extreme of Lake Constance. The surrounding area is pretty industrial, with the likes of the engine/vehicle giant MTU and the crane/machinery manufacturer Liebherr.

The lakeside campsite was closed and our second choice from the Bord Atlas was a busy public car park, with the police seemingly making regular visits. It was probably Ok for the night but it didn’t feel right to leave the van for a sightseeing trip to the island, so we commenced our tour of the great Deutsche Alpenstrasse, the scenic route from Lake Constance to Salzburg.

A quick transit through Austria and in the fading light and freezing conditions we found a wohnmobilplatz attached to the Kurhaus restaurant in Scheidegg.
A large modern bar/restaurant sits beside a stream in the valley (complete with mini-golf and kiddies play area in the summer).

In the winter it is a great spot with access to many Nordic skiing pistes, a Nordic skischule and wanderwegs. (€9.60 a night, €2 for electricity, GPS: 47.5720 N, 9.8452 E,) (http://www.kurhausgastro-scheidegg.de/ )

The Kurhaus at Scheidegg

The motorhome parking area had been freshly snowploughed and we were able to park up without resorting to chains. Then it was time for a beer.

The restaurant is under new management by Frau Kirchberger from Munich and Frau Rullo, her Italian business partner. Apart from a few local tradesmen using it as their watering hole it was quiet, but the chef kept popping his head out so we called for the menu.
The PostBier (brewed locally in Weiller) came in ½ litre steins and slipped down a treat with sizzling hot schnitzel and fries.

Later we got into interesting conversation with Frau Kirchberger who told us amongst other things that there was a major carnival in the town on Sunday and a party Saturday night, to which we were invited.

12th Feb.
It snowed heavily during the night with temperatures down to -5 C. The snow plough was out again early clearing the park and just when we thought he was finished he came back and started to clear immediately beside our van.
Sue was just washing and saw him pick up our electricity cable through the bathroom window. Disappearing out of the door with rather less clothing on than usual she managed to stop him ripping it to bits. Fortunately there were only a few nicks in the outer insulation. A lesson though to make sure the cable is well off the parking area.

The afternoon brought a brief respite from overcast skies and snow and we stretched our legs in the forest.

13th Feb.
The morning brought more snow, sometimes heavy, sometimes almost letting the sun break through. A good day to sit around with the laptops.
We had a short evening walk in the thick falling snow before retiring to the restaurant again, this time for pasta with melted cheese, garnished with crisp fried onions. The little side salads were great, with a mixture of pickled vegetables underneath the usual lettuce and a mouthwatering dressing.

14th Feb.
More snow, but the warm days and chill nights (-7 C) meant that freeze-thaw was becoming a problem. Despite some ice clearances, on the “sunny” side of the van we now had a sheet of icicles running from the roof over the windows to the ground, and the rear locker door was completely covered in ice.
I got up on the roof and cleared the remaining snow but it was too late really. The potential snag we had was that if we couldn’t get the cab doors open we couldn’t remove our “Silver Screen” insulation to drive away – oops!

We took a walk into town and what a pretty little place it is.


At 2000 hrs in the Kurhaus was the curtain raiser party night for the Fasnacht or Carnival on Sunday. Inaugurated in 1932, this would be the 77th carnival, with groups from the Allgaü, Bodensee, Oberschwaben and Scheidegg regions. The basic theme appeared to be die Hexe or witches again, the idea (so we were told) being that the witches would sweep winter away and bring on the spring!

On ordering a beer our host presented us with a shot of the local hooch – down the hatch in one!

One of the Carnival marching bands had been booked to liven up proceedings for the evening, and what a band, all manner of brass instruments and drums including some of the largest (and loudest) that a human being can possibly carry and play at the same time!

What they lacked in coordination they more than made up with sheer energy and exuberance, they couldn't not lift your spirits – it’s not often you see managers and staff dancing along with the guests!

A lot of the revellers were in witches costume, but there seemed to be an abundance of gorillas as well as many others that defy description. After another shot of a smooth cocktail from our host (and the beer) we were well on our way and enjoyed the bands musical effervescence from a cocktail bar above the main hall.

Later we discovered there was a basement disco as well and whilst Sue was in the loo I found myself in conversation with a trio of leopard-skinned kittens. By this time we were getting rather legless and suddenly it seemed like time to guide each other home through the snowflakes.

15th Feb.
It dawned a perfect day, more heavy falls during the night, but the skies cleared to bless the carnival with brilliant sunshine.
More than a bit muzzy headed we walked separately into town to see the start.

Don't mess with these guys or you'll get wet - very!

What an event – marching musicianship, masks, costumes in fantastic colours, weird props, (squirting fish heads, a working motorbike made out of a 12 foot log) acrobatics, pyrotechnics, they didn’t miss much out.

And they can really play as well!

The sheer scale of it was impressive. The first marching band was reaching the Kurhaus when I dragged myself to my feet and by the time I had walked a mile or two to the sports centre, the last groups were only just leaving. I admired the sheer stamina of the bands who could march so far in the cold and still play with such verve and energy.

I'll put a spell on you!

The witches were in the majority (one even handed me her broken broomstick) and the masks were endlessly artistic and inventive. Every witch's threat or menace inflicted on a bystander was eased by a sweet from a huge pouch carried by the broomstick bearers - the kids loved it, grabbing the strewn sweets from the snow to put in goody bags for later.

Passing my brushless broomstick onto a masked marcher who seemed to think he needed it, I finally met up with Sue.

Some people are just glad to see you

16th Feb.
Reluctantly we made our leave from Scheidegg, it’s a nice little town and everybody we met had been so friendly, we certainly felt we had made some new friends at the Kurhaus. We’d come back, just to relax and do all the wanderwegs, especially the Kneipprundwanderweg or Round-Pub-Wanderweg!