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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.

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