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Monday, 6 April 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Bad Tolz to Katschberg

12th March.
After the previous night’s snow storm we left Bad Tölz in overcast, drizzly weather. The B13 took us past the ski resort of Lenggries, and then on to the Achenpass - a route along the Sylvenstein Stausee reservoir, still deeply frozen with a virgin blanket of snow.
Next, the spa resort of Bad Wiessee on the shores of the Tegernsee.

At Hausham, just before Schliersee, and in search of some celebratory cake, we spotted a Rewe supermarket with a Ratschiller's bakers attached, the cakes and pastries looked more seductive than we had seen elsewhere. Sue settled on some Sachertorte and some more Apfelstrudel . The Sachertorte is a three layer chocolate cake with apricot jam filling oozing out and covered in chocolate icing - sublime!

Schliersee came and went, and with the conditions worsening, we had to decide between a night in the ski-lift park at Wendelstein (not officially allowed), or driving over the pass to Oberaudorf, which was the nearest stellplatz in the Bord Atlas.

We passed several suitable car parks on the mountain pass but declined to spend the night there, the snow was very wet, forming ice under the wiper blades and lifting them off the screen. Hard to say what it might have been like up there in the morning – we either would have had to wait for the snow plough to dig us out or the rain would have been washing it away. Wet/frozen snow is a much bigger pain to clear off the van than the dry, powdery stuff you get when it’s well below zero.

We soon confirmed we had made the right decision when we found the Gasthof Ochsenwirt at Oberaudorf. Overnight parking is free to guests - including diners from motorhomes, even the hookup was free. (GPS: 47.6477 N, 12.1690 E).
(http://www.ochsenwirt.com/ )

Gasthof Ochsenwirt at Oberaudorf

We had a very memorable meal, some perfectly cooked loin of lamb, served up with gratin potatoes and a lovely selection of vegetables, again superbly cooked and seasoned and served up in a big tureen on a hotplate in their cosy dining room. A great atmosphere and service. Highly recommended.

13th March
A hundred metres from the Gasthof is the Hocheck Express, a four seat chair lift serving the ski area. There is a mixture of reds, blues and blacks, and a 3km dedicated toboggan run - most of it through the forest.
The area is virtually all floodlit at night to take advantage of the colder temperatures and well supplied with snow canon. The rain was washing the snow off the run out as we left, but in the right conditions - what a great spot. The rest of the town seemed pleasant too.

We dipped into Austria for a few miles, passing through Niederndorf and picking up the 175 to Frasdorf, then a minor road to Stock on the edge of Lake Chiemsee.
The larger of this lake’s two islands is home to another of the Bavarian King Ludwig II's palaces. The Herren-Chiemsee Palace is said to have cost more than Neuschwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace together, but was never completed before Ludwig was deposed.
The freezing rain was now constant and in the absence of an open campsite or any height-barrier-less parking we decided to forgo anymore of Ludwig's baroque fantasies. (http://www.schloesser.bayern.de/ )

At Bernau we picked up the Alpenstrasse again on the B305. The weather took the edge off the mountain scenery but it was nonetheless impressive.

We turned off for Ruhpolding to find Campingplatz Ortnerhof, a newish platz just outside a large winter campsite attached to the guesthouse. The ticket machine kept spitting out all my coins so after several attempts I gave up. Later a guy showed up and demanded to see our ticket. I couldn't explain to him that I couldn't get the machine to work but he took his €9 away. Electricity was available but you have to go to the reception in office hours.
(GPS: 47.7433 N, 12.6632 E)

14th March
The morning brought some brighter weather and we enjoyed more spectacular scenery on our way to Berchtesgaden.

Of the two open campsites that Sue had found, Camping Winkl-landthal was by far the better. With mountain ranges on both sides and backing onto a forest it has a great setting and is only two minutes walk from the bus stop. It is an ACSI site and was only charging €13, plus of course the Kurtaxe at €2.10 each, bringing it up to €17.20. (GPS: 47.6765 N, 12.9359 E)
(http://www.camping-winkl.de/ )

15th March
The rain started during the night and did not stop all day. We appeared to be the only guests on the site and had placed ourselves on the only pitch cleared of snow. Unfortunately we were sited under a power cable and the lowest part of its parabola was immediately over our roof. The resultant intermittent drip from the cable was like Chinese water torture but we had nowhere else to go.

The campsite offers wi-fi and the signal was booming in. After so many sites with free wi-fi, I got a shock when I enquired the price - €5 an hour (€10 for 2, €50 for 24!!), steep by recent standards we had come across. I tried to explain that our little Vodafone modem would give us 24 hours for roughly the same price as she was asking for 2, but I don't think she really understood.
(Vodafone have recently extended the “Connect Abroad” list of countries in the same price band to include most of Eastern Europe, so anywhere we are likely to go costs only £9.98 per 24 hours, provided you have a signal.) As it turned out there was a good GPRS EDGE signal, which was fast enough for updating the blog and all the rest.

16th March
A beautiful morning at last, the sun burned through the mist on the peaks and the air smelt like spring.

Königssee lake sounded good, so with our free bus passes and timetables from the campsite we caught the 10.30 bus with seconds to spare. It's a 20 minute ride and the bus drops you off near a pedestrianised street that leads down to the waterfront.

Lake Königssee resembles a Norwegian fjord - 8km long and 600 metres above sea level.

Lake Königssee without the crowds

It is also the cleanest lake in Germany, thanks in part to the decision taken in 1909 by Prince Regent Luitpold to allow only battery powered boats on the lake. Today the considerable fleet of cruisers (I counted 20 in their sheds) are all electric. (www.seenschifffahrt.de/en

The remnants of the ice delaying the launch trips

Unfortunately we were a week too early to enjoy a trip on this magnificent lake as the ice had not yet fully retreated, but we enjoyed the walk (and the views) alongside the lake and up over to the Jenner mountain cable car.

A walk by the lake....

...and a walk in the forest!

Königssee is also the base for a purpose built bobsleigh run - they are apparently bidding for the Winter Olympics - and we took a quick look. It was still in use, thanks to a massive refrigeration plant, but you would have to be insane go down that!

In wintertime on the Jenner mountain, there is the cable car, two chair lifts and several drag lifts - up to 1800 metres. All red’s and off-piste, apart from a blue run down to the base station.

In the summer the cable car still operates and gives access to fabulous viewpoints, many walks and the Berchtesgaden National Park.
Definitely a place for a second visit.

We got off the bus back in town and had a look around. Old Berchtesgaden is undergoing a bit of an upheaval at the moment with the construction of a massive underground car park, but it’s still possible to appreciate its many ancient and highly decorated buildings.

Old Berchtesgaden

The must see is the Königliches Schloss, a former monastery turned Berchtesgaden's seat of government, turned residential palace for the Bavarian royal dynasty.

We messed up again as the only tours are guided, and in the winter only twice a day, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

17th March
This was the day for our pilgrimmage to Salzburg, birthplace and family home of Mozart.
Our bus passes only took us as far as Berchtesgaden, but a €3 supplement each got us a return ticket to Salzburg.

Entering the outskirts after so long amongst Alpine "chalet" architecture, it was a jolt to the eyeballs to see bleak blocks of apartments out of the bus's windows.
We rode all the way to the Bahnhof, but it would have been quicker and better to get off at the Mirabellplatz, opposite the Schloss Mirabell.

Never mind, there was a tourist office at the Bahnhof and we bought a €22 Salzburg Card each. This gives entry to most of the attractions and free public transport for a 24hr period. After your third or fourth attraction you will be saving money, and it also means you can have a look at the Gallery of Modern Art, for instance, and not feel you're wasting money if you leave quickly.

The Mönchsberg Lift was included in the entry to the art gallery but we went primarily for the panoramic view from the terrace over Salzburg.

The Hohensalzburg fortress on the skyline

We have never been fans of modern art, but one exhibit was a video of a person encased from the waist up in a cardboard box. They were bent double and repeatedly banging the box against a plain wall as if to find a way through it! It seemed to sum up the rest of the exhibits for us.

The building is as bleak and bare inside as it is outside, I wonder what the average Salzburger really thinks of it, plonked on the skyline like a wartime pillbox, right next to an old castle turret.(http://www.museumdermoderne.at/en/home/)

Mozart's birthplace is a rabbit warren of a building and somehow we did the rooms in the wrong order. Not that it really matters, there are some interesting historical texts painted on the walls which cover his life and times, but the rest of it is superficial apart from a single piano of his, which you are assiduously prevented from photographing.

The Mozart family home over the bridge is much more worthwhile – properly dedicated to the man and his music.
One display case contains all 125 published volumes of his work, 23,000 pages in all, a staggering output over a 30 year musical career (which started as a boy) and 10 years of which he spent "on the road", travelling the cultural centres of Europe.

The Hohensalzburg fortress dominates the skyline, and is Europe’s largest completely preserved fortress dating from the 11th Century. Interesting as it was, there was little to impress that we hadn’t seen similar before, and with Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein still fresh in our memories, grandiose décor of any description was simply eclipsed. (http://www.salzburg-burgen.at/)

The cars pass each other halfway up/down - yes, he 's quite safe!

The cable railway up to the fortress was fun, and was originally the track used to get supplies and building materials up to the fortress. (http://www.festungsbahn.at/).

The marionette museum was good, if you are into that kind of thing (http://www.mozartfestival.at/ ), but what probably impressed me most was an exhibition on the 1915-1918 Tyrol campaign against the Italians.

Some of the recovered artefacts and pictures were quite affecting, and it was a comprehensive collection of history boards, uniforms and weapons. Fighting on that terrain in those conditions must have been beyond most men’s endurance.

After some refreshment, we thought to look at the Residenz Gallery, with its collections of 16th -19th Century European paintings and fine décor. However it was closed for exhibition preparations and crawling with carpenters, florists and electricians.

There is heaps more to go at in Salzburg, including several more museums and a zoo. However, our day was complete and we got the last bus back from the Bahnhof – a lot easier from the Mirabellplatz.

18th March
The motorhome service point at the campsite was still iced over and out of use. Backing towards the toilet block to connect up I put a nick in the van roof on a piece of guttering. Agh!
You really have to watch the long, low overhanging roofs in these parts.

Obersalzberg is a few kilometres from Berchtesgaden, and was a mountain village, popular with tourists since the second half of the 19th Century.

The Obersalzberg Documentation Centre

In 1923 Adolf Hitler started to take his holidays there and in 1933, after he was appointed Reich Chancellor, he purchased a house that he had been renting. By 1936 he had rebuilt it into a huge residence, the infamous Berghof.

Private photos at the Berghof, above with Eva Braun

Later, the previous residents of the former health resort were driven out and Obersalzberg became an off-limits area, a second seat of power alongside Berlin. A huge complex was built up, with houses for his chiefs of staff, a barracks for the SS and a labyrinthine system of bunkers.

Part of the Bunkers made accessible to the public

In April 1945 British and American bombers destroyed most of the buildings and in 1952 the ruins of the Berghof, the houses of Borman and Goering and the barracks were raised to the ground by the Americans, who had used parts of the complex as a recreation area for the US Army since 1947.
Only the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagles Nest (built on the orders of Martin Borman for Hitler’s 50th birthday), a few other buildings and the bunkers remained.

In 1996 the area was returned to the Bavarians when the US forces finally withdrew.
Commissioned by the Free State of Bavaria, The Obersalzberg Documentation – a permanent exhibition covering all aspects of the Nazi period – was opened in October 1999. (GPS: 47.6306 N, 13.0420 E)

Around half past one, we arrived in hot sunshine – a happy motorhomer was sunning himself in his chair in the car park as melt-water from the snow drifts streamed across the tarmac.

Entry was €5 each, including the audio guide, and we were well engrossed in a video when the announcement came that they were closing – at three o’clock. Oops! However, when we explained that we hadn’t begun to see it all, the reception issued us with free tickets for the next day, and said yes, it would be Ok if we stayed in the car park (despite a sign saying “No overnight stops for motorhomes”)

19th MarchThe clear weather had deserted us again and in the falling snow the exhibition had a totally different ambience.

A propaganda poster, flanked by searing images of Hitler's Legacy

Unsurprisingly, virtually all the documentation – photos, documents, posters, film and sound recordings are in German – but as we found, if we worked our way through every item on the Audio guides (80 or more tracks) it was going to take the best part of the five hours we had available.

It was worth the effort however, as it filled in the gaps in our understanding and broadened our knowledge enormously. Sobering, and at times, stomach churning stuff.

Some items stuck immediately into our memory: Voting papers with only one choice! Banknotes with Jewish race hatred officially printed on them; cigarette packets with cosy pictures of a benign Führer inside; a monopoly of cheap radios that would only pickup local or government transmissions.

The "Volksempfanger" or People's receiver

The National Socialist Party built up by Hitler used many subversive tricks that these days would be spotted and highlighted by a free press very swiftly, but back then they were new and unknown amongst the masses, new technology was used to excite – and misinform, and data on individuals was collected on a previously unknown scale.

A conspicuous pose in the forest

At the same time, unions, trade and political organisations were outlawed and crushed, with many murders. There were public hangings. Dissenters or undesirables were removed to concentration camps or labelled anti-social!!

The all pervading efforts to usurp a nation are mesmerising: some, on the surface, generous, beneficial and benign; some clandestine; some murderous; but all insidiously designed to gain overwhelming control over the German people.

The fact that the economy was seriously hampered by the peace conditions of the last war, and the people were unhappy with government by the struggling democratic Weimar Republic, only helped Hitler and his party in the brainwashing, hoodwinking and cowing of a entire nation.

Churchill's "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" speech, The Times May 14th 1940

Finally, the scale and scope of the disruption to the whole world, unleashed by Hitler’s colossal war machine is still startling.

Chillingly, there are many echoes in the world today – so the museum’s aims, to counter new extremism, is well founded.

20th March
Oh boy, a cold night and heavy snow. A snow plough effectively cleared the car park but the battery (probably discharged by using the CD player too much) wouldn’t start the engine in sub-zero temperatures. Out came the generator and Cetek charger again, and an hour later we were on our way.

The Rossfeld Panoramastrasse is a private circular road which promises some of the most spectacular mountain scenery you can see, for a toll of €6. The skies had cleared a lot and as it was only a short distance away we thought we’d give it a go. Not bad, but this kind of viewing is so weather dependent, we’ve probably been more excited elsewhere.

We were well impressed however with all that we saw in the whole Berchtesgaden area, there is certainly a lot to see and do, in a particularly beautiful landscape.

About to enter Austria with the van, we only had a small list of Autogas stations there, so we decided to go back the few kilometres to Berchtesgaden to top up.

Also, we had to decide what to do about the dreaded GO-Box!
As our van has been uprated to 3850kg (a paper exercise as it is based on the Ducato Maxi chassis) we are above the 3.5t limit for a toll sticker and are required to purchase the electronic GO-Box used by truck drivers. The toll roads include major trunk roads as well as motorways - basically all “A” roads and “S” roads.

Some tolls are vehicle-time dependent and some are vehicle-distance dependent, but the bottom line is that if you mess up in any way (including malfunctioning GO-Boxes), there is a catchall phrase… “Failure to comply with this provision constitutes a toll evasion offence”. This opens you up to anything from a €400 to €4000 fine administered by the ASFINAG Maut Service GmbH, a private company charged with the powers to administer the toll charge schemes.

The enforcing officers have silver vehicles with an orange stripe, blue flashing lights and the logo: ASFiNAG. They have the powers to stop moving vehicles, inspect vehicles and documents, and demand substitute tolls. They can also operate automatic traffic diversion equipment to direct traffic to toll inspection areas.

We have a 120 page pdf file of Austrian Toll regulations and you can spend an hour or three reading them if you want, but the nub of it on GO-Boxes is this:
You can pre-pay or post-pay, but if you have other than an Austrian credit or petrol card (or an American Express or Diners Club card!) you can only pre-pay, though if you pre-pay, the minimum amount you can register on the GO-Box is €75, but you can pay for this with any credit card – simple!

You will need your registration document for the issuer to enter your country, name and address and registration number.

The GO-Box will be set up by the issuer for 2, 3 or 4 axles, though it is possible to change this setting by pressing and holding the button on the box for 2 seconds. To test the setting, just press the button quickly.

What you have to ensure is that the box is placed in the middle of the windscreen and well above the parked windscreen wipers. Once fixed it is on velcro pads and you can remove it if you wish to put up screen covers.

When you go past a toll point you must check that the box emits a single beep. If it doesn't, or it gives 4 beeps, it is faulty and you must return it immediately. If it gives 2 beeps, your credit is down to €30 worth and you need to top up.

If you know you have not registered a toll you have 5 hours or 100 km to pay up, or you will have committed a “toll evasion offence”!

A search function for finding outlets issuing GO-Boxes is available at www.go-maut.at, but basically look out for the GO logo at garages near the entrance to major roads in border areas. There are also GO outlets in surrounding country’s border areas.

We bought ours at an Agip garage on the B159, just off the A10/E55 (GPS: 47.7324N, 13.0650 E). The exasperated attendant was trying to keep a bar full of customers topped up with beer and cigars (in a petrol station?) and serve all the other customers in between wrestling with my registration document and his GO computer terminal, so it took some time. The total fee of €80 included the purchase of the GO-Box and €75 pre-pay tolls, refundable when we leave the country.

As it turns out we appear to be at an advantage being over 3.5t – if we don’t use the toll roads, we get a refund on unused toll charges when we return the box, whereas under 3.5t we would have to buy at least a ten day sticker or a two month toll sticker, which is non refundable.

The Gasthaus Torrenerhof

Our stop for the night was the Gasthaus Torrenerhof, a 70’s built large guesthouse off the B159, a few minutes walk from the Gollinger Wasserfall, €20.50 a night.

Seeing as there were no pump and dump facilities available to service the van in the winter, nor a reduction if we ate in the restaurant, €20.50 seemed a bit steep, but beggars can’t be choosers. We declined the noisy buffet for package holiday guests and had the dish of the day in the restaurant, which was very acceptable. (GPS: 47.6016 N, 13.1428 E)
(http://www.torrenerhof.com/ )

21st MarchAn early morning walk to the Golling Wasserfal found the route barred off and a need for walking poles, but after a chat with the Finnish (yes, Finnish) chef having a breather outside the kitchen, we returned with our poles, ducked under the rail and in five minutes were viewing the waterfall, and very nice it was too.

Gollinger Wasserfall

For probably no other reason than it was one of my ex-seafaring colleagues favourite haunts, Sue decided that she would like to see Schladming, a small detour.
After a stop for lunch in Radstat we arrived in fine weather only to find the only campsite closed. Closer inspection revealed that Camping Zirngast was in fact full, but the main field was waterlogged, though we could if we wished park in the car park over the road next to the railway line. A 10% discount with no electricity brought the price down to €24.50 - again no other choice, so we paid up and looked big.
A nice attractive guesthouse though, (run by a Swedish couple) and good facilities for those that had a booking. (GPS: 47.3987 N, 13.6923 E)

A walk around the town eventually brought us to the Post Hotel for a beer. If we were travelling by car and could afford it, this is a place I’d like to stay, very comfortable and atmospheric with charming staff.

For skiing, Schladming has much to offer with four linked mountains, 47 lifts and 115 km of piste. It is about to host the 2013 World Alpine Ski Championships and is building up its facilities towards this. (http://www.schladming.at/ ).
It is also part of the vast ski amadé region (http://www.skiamade.com/ ).

The Planai lift comes directly down into town and the Tenne Hohenhaus will provide all the après-ski you ever need (if you are young enough), and is right at the base of the piste - it is Europe’s largest ski lodge and year round event centre (http://www.tenne.com/ ) (http://www.planai.at/ ).

22nd March
Leaving the spectacle of the Schladming–Dachstein area behind, we took a minor road back to Radstat and discovered another small ski area at Forstau, roadside car parks suitable for an overnight stay.
Next up on the B99 was Obertauern, a large and high (1740m) ski resort. The hardy could probably find a few overnights here, masses of car parks. The snow was still fine and dry, blowing in powdery gusts across the road. (http://www.obertauern.com/)

The snow still picked up by the wind at Obertauern

The sun was high and bright and we drove through some fabulous countryside. Out of the blue we would come across another ski area, both Nordic and Alpine.
The Grosseck-Speiereck area serves the towns of Mauterndorf and St Michael, there is a large winter campsite right at the base of the Mautendorf lift.
The peaks of Grosseck and Speiereck go to 2,411 and 2,066 respectively, with chair lifts to the top, and offer a range of blues, reds and blacks from the summit. If you want to camp and ski late into the season this area must be worth some consideration. (http://www.mauterndorf.com/)
Remote control web-cam at http://www.bergbahnen-lungau.at/ !

There is another resort at Katschberg, at 1640 metres – there is so much to go at if you are coming this way. Katschberg is one steep mountain pass to climb, I definitely warmed up the brakes on the way down!

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