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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Wurzburg to Fussen

5th February.
The brown Romantische Strasse direction signs by the Wurzburg Royal Palace led us a merry dance and we ended up going round in circles. In fact we needed to cross the river. Down on the waterfront road in front of a very low 3.1 metre arched-bridge we broke out in a little cold sweat (we are 2.9 metre) as we stopped the on-coming traffic hogging the middle of the road in the hope of getting through without shaving some GRP from our roof!

The intended route of the Romantic Road out of Wurzburg is the B8. Sadly, neither the hand-out map from the tourist office with its big-bold-blue route marker that cleverly obliterates the road numbers nor the website, are a great deal of help when trying to program your sat-nav; you really do have to read between the lines and keep your eyes peeled for those little brown signs – and they have a habit of doing strange things at times, as well as disappearing tricks. I suppose that’s part of the fun!!! 


We ticked off the towns of Tauberbischofsheim, Lauda-Königshofen and Bad Mergentheim and called it a day at Röttingen, which seemed a nice, quiet place to stop. The large stellplatz (which doubles as a festival ground) is by the river Tauber and equipped with a drive-over waste water dump, electric supply and even a small shower cabin. 
Parking is free, Electricity €2 for 24 hrs, Water €1 for 70 litres.

GPS: 49.5074 N, 09.9699 E 

It was now well dark, but the village centre is a few minutes walk away over the river and, sure enough, they were busy rebuilding it! Most of the square and surrounding roads were dug up for new drains, or awaiting their new covering of impeccable cobblestones. The street lights were few and far between, and we were beginning to wish we had brought a torch as we picked our way over the road works. Despite numerous tourist signs indicating houses of refreshment, it was all as dead as a doornail – a ghost town!

Then we heard the sound of laughter around the corner and hey presto: there was Ali Saskara's Kebab and Pizza house! In the front window a dozen or so men were boisterously slapping the table as they played cards: Schafkopf (literally, Sheep-head) is a 32 card-pack game for 3-4 players.

The only place in town - Ali Saskara's Kebab and Pizza house!
As it turned out, Ali was from Kurdistan: escaping 15 years ago with his family, and after a spell in Switzerland and elsewhere, finally settling in Röttingen to open up his kebab house; and it would seem, providing a huge asset for the local community in the process.
Our two pizzas and four bottles of a very smooth pilsner came to €21.30. Great value; including a temporary transport to another, warmer, culture!

Röttingen's distinctive town hall in the morning light 

6th February 
The engine of the heavy truck that had joined us late at night roused us again at 0600. A little light snow had fallen during the night and we surfaced to a much whiter landscape and frozen puddles.

One of  Röttingen's tourist pieces is a two-kilometre long trail of 25 different sundials. I only only followed a few on the way into town, but they are certainly inventive and beautifully made – shame the sun wasn't shining so I could check my watch! Rottingen would also seem to be a mecca for model plane enthusiasts as it has its own designated airfield; a little synergy there I think, when it comes to precision model engineering skills.

One of 25 different sundials around the town 

We returned to the Romantishe Strasse with a plan to visit Rothenburg, one of the most famous walled medieval towns in Europe.

Passing through Creglingen we soon became aware of preparations for a festival or carnival: every forecourt seemed to be backed up with new agricultural tractors; a herd of horses was being reluctantly led onto the old town; food stalls were being set up. We hesitated tempted to stay and get involved in the fun, but traffic marshals were already on the street and we soon realised finding somewhere safe to park would be difficult, and once ensconced we would probably have to commit the whole day to the fair. Reluctantly, we carried on through frosted countryside, and very pretty it looked too!

A little dusting of snow makes all the difference... 

The first stellplatz we checked out in Rothenburg was by the fire-station. It was lightly covered in snow and more or less deserted, but a fair walk from the old town. There was waste and water services, but no electric supply.

We moved on to the next park, this is literally across the road from the southern entrance to the old town. Just one Dutch van was in the motorhome area – a sheltered section hidden by trees from the road. There is waste and water service, electric supply and a heated toilet block. €10 for 24 hrs, otherwise €2 per hour. Electricity €0.5 per kW hr.

GPS: 3701 N, 10.1834 E

By now the snow was falling quite heavily and was wonderfully squeaky underfoot – very romantische! With our full winter kit on, we entered the town by a stone bridge over the moat and through the thick outer wall.

The southern gate to Rothenburg 

If it is possible to find complaint with these fantastically preserved old towns, it is that the inevitable cars and vans destroy any "16th Century vision" you might have as you feast your eyes on the ancient buildings – especially when it comes to taking photos! To be fair though, Rothernburg ob der Tauber, or Red Fort on the Tauber, must be one of the most beautiful and complete examples we have come across.

Rothenburg's mostly narrow and beautifully preserved streets 

The streets undulate, rising and falling due to their foundation on the rocky crag overlooking the river. The Market Square itself slopes gently upwards to the mechanical clock, which has moving figures either side of the face. This is where one of oldest Christmas markets in Germany is held, established 500 years ago.

The shops around the town really represent a perennial Christmas market: several still with full “festive” window displays; in fact there is a “Christmas Museum” tracing the history of Xmas traditions. There is more than one shop selling nothing but Teddy Bears, and shop windows full of toys, models and decorative objects abound.

Never mind, Teddy, the snow'll stop soon! 

To our amusement there was even a shop selling Scottish wares: clothing and foodstuffs, Walkers Shortbread, Dundee marmalade, etc. and – even funnier – Yorkshire Tea! Good as it is, I suppose there might be a few visiting Scotsmen aggrieved to discover that Yorkshire has moved to Scotland!

There is a walkway on the West side, down below the walls, where you can get a good view of the town without the clutter of modern life, and perhaps a glimpse of what it looked like centuries ago.

Rothenburg from outside its walls

The North gate 

We had lunch in the Reichs Kuechenmeister Hotel, just above St Jakob’s Church. The more interesting items on the menu seemed a bit pricey, so we settled on the good old pork schnitzel, chips and salad – hard to beat when you want to stoke up to keep out the cold. With two 1/2 litre beers, the bill came to €39, the salads jacking the main course up to €15.60. A bit steep perhaps in comparison to elsewhere, but par for the course for such a tourist town – and each schnitzel was big enough to feed two people!

The Reichs Kuechenmeister Hotel


After lunch we paid our €2 to see the famous alterpiece and carvings by Tilman Riemen-Schneider in St Jakobs. Later in the day, the falling snow began to melt away, so we consoled ourselves with a hot chocolate in the Baumeisterhaus café, a very atmospheric place with cracked old beams on stone pillars, and guns and antlers on the walls – some Korean business people next to us were very impressed, snapping away with phones the size of postcards! 
It snowed gently during the night  – that hushed silence giving the game away before we opened the blinds to reveal a smooth even layer. We watched a few bullfinches flitting from branch to branch, their bright peach coloured breasts marking them out from the black and white tree branches even from 50 metres away.

It soon began to thaw, and by the time we turned onto the main road the tarmac had all but reclaimed its surface. Nevertheless, the countryside was still white over and made for pleasant scenic driving.

Passing through Schillingsfürst and Feuchtwangen, our next stop was Dinkelsbül, a medieval town dating back 400 years. We parked on P2, a free bus, car and motorhome park next to the fire station and just yards from the old town gate. The snow-come-slush started to fall with a vengeance: if you will go sightseeing in the winter..!

The P2 carpark close to Dinkelsbül's old town gate 

GPS: 49.0646 N, 10.3250 E 

Dinkelsbül is a different kettle of fish to Rothernburg: not perched on a hill, it lacks the rise and fall of Rothernburg’s narrow streets, and a lot of its buildings – mostly fully rendered and immaculately presented – could have been built yesterday. The gothic church of St George, with its high vaulted roof, is impressive; but even snow covered, the town just didn’t have anything like the same charm.

The "is it old, is it reconstructed?" look of Dinkelsbül

Giving Wallerstein a miss, we moved on to Nördlingen, an almost complete medieval town situated in the flat centre of a huge meteorite crater some 15 million years old. There is a kostenloss (free) stellplatz at the back of a large car park, sandwiched between a railway line and the northwest gate of the old town, but with electricity supplies and a working water and waste point. Electricity €2 per 2kWhr. Water €1 for 100 litre.

GPS: 48.8553 N,10.4841 E

The free stellplatz near the gates of old Nördlingen 

8th February 
There was another dump of snow during the night – this time, around 15 cm; the snowploughs were out and motorhomers sweeping off their roofs and bonnets. By mid-morning the sun had come out and we walked into the old town. You have to get up bright and early to get nice “snowy” pictures though – in the middle of the night preferably – the roads were already turned to slush and the streets littered with cars. 

The new snow soon turns to slush on the streets 

On arrival at St George’s Church, we gave each other a long hard look; then decision made, moved inside to climb the endless stairs, 90 metres up, to the top of the tower they call “Daniel”. After the spiral stone staircase comes a rickety wooden one that wraps itself around the inner walls of the tower, finally a small set of stairs with a barrier, that as you lift it, rings an old brass bell by means of piece of string! Then an old guy appears, takes your €2.50 and escorts you up the last stone stairs to the narrow balcony that surrounds the tower. Squeezing room only, but the views are pretty good!

 Old "Daniel" towers above us...

 ...and the sun breaks out in a view! 


We pressed on, through a lovely white landscape and Harburg, Donauwörth, Rain (town of), and down to the city of Augsburg. Here we stopped on what we thought was the better of two Stellplatz: the one by a sports stadium and restaurant, and on the bus route into town. The bays are backed up against a wall on part of a larger car park, electricity is provided and a working water supply.
€5 per night, Water: €1 for 80 litre, Electricity: €1 per 2kWhr. Showers available in the sports facilities: € 2.50

GPS: 48.3894 N, 10.9035 E

The restaurant was booked to a private party for the evening and our slumbers were slightly disturbed by the thumping bass of a live band entertaining a huge crowd until 3 in the morning –  60's and 70's music hits I seem to remember! 

9th February 
Augsburg is the third largest city in Bavaria, and the third oldest in Germany. It is a university town and an industrial centre: one of the world’s largest manufacturers of marine and commercial diesel engines, MAN, has its headquarters there.

Part of Augsburg's "imperial mile", the dome of St Ulrich's Basilica in the distance

It also has a wealth of historical interest: it was home to two dynasties, the patrician Fugger and Welser families that ousted the Medicis as Europe’s leading bankers. They have left their mark on the city: the Fugger City Palace and the “Fuggeri” – the world’s oldest social housing project, are just two. 


The No 22 bus from the stellplatz into Augsburg runs every 20 mins or so, and with the usual German efficiency we were able to buy a day-ticket from the driver, which was also valid on any of the city’s trams. Augsburg is an easy city to get your head around; the “imperial mile” with its three large fountains is the centrepiece, and most of the main sites are within easy walking distance, though we did resort to using the frequent trams to save time and give us respite from the bitter cold.

The trams run almost continuously 

At another time of year, there is a vast botanical garden to visit, but for the winter months, the planetarium – as well as all the usual star and planet stuff – was advertising 3D tribute shows of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon and The Wall, with “bombastic sound” and “360 degree multimedia choreography”! 


10th February 
It dawned a beautifully crisp, clear day for the drive down the last of the Romantische Strasse. Sunday is the day for winter festivals and we passed a few in preparation; again the temptation to stop and get involved was countered by the desire to get south to warmer weather.

The remaining towns: Freidberg, Landsberg am Lech, Hohenfurch, Schongau, Peiting, Rottenbuch and Wildstieg all slipped by (or nearby) our window but it was such lovely winter scenery, we didn’t care. Steingaden (the unsurpassable Wieskirche), Halblech and Schwangau (Ludwig’s Bavarian castles) we had already visited  on our 2009 Deutsche Alpenstrasse run, so it wasn’t such a cop out.

Pretty snow-covered villages... 

Stunning landscapes...

We got to the stellplatz at Fussen just as the last of the daylight disappeared. This is a very useful spot: within walking distance of the town, but on a commercial estate, sandwiched between Lidls and Aldi and a huge hardware store whose name escapes me. The wi-fi is free and there is a washing machine and tumble dryer, also a small bar/restaurant.
€12 a night, electricity is on a coin meter, showers and water on 50 cent coin boxes.

GPS: 47.5814 N, 10.7010 E

There was a bit more snow than last time we visited and our new tyres got another successful workout. We settled ourselves in for a couple of days to plan our trip (not a word we take too seriously) into Italy.

Next: Over the Austrian alps to Italy

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Bad Harzburg to Wurzburg

28th January. 
Bad Harzburg to Goslar is an easy 30km drive; parking was more of a problem and eventually we parked our motorhome in the car park below the Kaiserpfalz or Imperial Palace – which is also handy for a walk into town: €1/hour.

GPS: 51.9029 N, 10.4282 E

Goslar was founded in 922 AD and became one of the most important seats of power in the Roman Empire. Mining played a significant part in the development of the town and the nearby vast Rammelsberg ore mine has been turned into a complex of museums and underground tours. The mine and the Old Town were placed on the UNESCO heritage list in 1992. 


The Goslar Kaiserpfalz 

The Kaiserpfalz has an impressive façade and setting and is well worth a look. It was built for King Heinrich III in 1050, but when the emperors had had their day it gradually fell into disrepair. By the mid 19th Century it was being used as a store for grain and ore from the mines, even the chapel had been used as a prison, and it was on the verge of collapse. Restoration by the government of Hannover began in the late 19th Century and the huge grand hall was eventually decorated with historical paintings that took Hermann Wisilcenus 18 years (yes, eighteen) to complete. 


Lunch was now in order and a short walk away we found the Paulaner Wirsthaus, looking every inch a traditional eating house and away from the tourist restaurants on the main square. The menu covered the full range of popular Barvarian cuisine: Gulasch soup, salads, fish, and the usual sausage, pork and veal dishes. Two main courses, with a well-dressed salad and two 1/2 litre mugs of beer came to €33.20. Good, well presented food in a “traditional” atmosphere.

The Paulaner Wirsthaus is in a great setting 


The early sun had now disappeared and a walk around the rest of the town was a chilly affair. We saw and heard the bell chimes on the Kaiserringhaus building in the market square, but unfortunately the Rathaus was closed for repairs, so its spectacular wall and ceiling paintings went unseen. There is a lot to see in Goslar and you would need more than a day to do it justice; the market square is a classic example of medieval German architecture and obviously the perfect setting for a Christmas Market.

Look down to the Kaiserringhaus in the market square 

The skies were looking broody as we headed for Hahnenklee; we had left it a bit late and as the dim evening light disappeared the rain turned to snow, increasingly heavy. Visibility started to become a problem – let alone the potential for mishaps in the snow, thus we thought better of running up a minor mountain road in a snowstorm and headed down to Clausthal-Zellerfield, for a free night by the bus station instead.

GPS: 51.813 N, 10.3360 E 

29th January 
Hahnenklee is another health resort and hiking centre, and feeling sorry to have missed it we headed back, to find a relatively easy drive up to the village and the car park already cleared of snow. There is Sani-station and several bays set aside for motorhomes.

GPS: 51.8572 N, 10.3429 E

There is an impressive wooden church, the Gustav Adolf Stabkirche, but Hahnenklee’s latest claim to fame is the Liebesbankweg or Lovers walk: a level 7km circular trail set up in 2007 and featuring 25 wooden benches representing different phases of love and marriage – from first meeting to 75th anniversary; it was bit too damp and cold for us!

The Gustav Adolf Stabkirche

The start of the Lover's Walk!

We moved on down to Göttingen and headed for the Badeparadies Eiswiese or “Penguin’s Paradise” spa and wellness centre – about a 20 minute walk from the city centre – which has a large stellplatz as part of its extensive parking area.
€9 per day, €0.5/kWh electricity, €1 water. Wi-fi is €1 for 15 hours, but we found it dropped out repeatedly, even though we were close to a transmitter.

GPS: 51.5213 N, 09.9307 E  

30th January – 1st February 
We awoke to an air temperature of 8.5° – quite a welcome revelation after so many days in freezing conditions. After a lazy morning we packed up our kit and went for a swim. As in Nordhausen and Bad Harzburg the set up is very high-tech but this was the slickest yet: you pay by the hour, either from the desk or from a vending machine; slip your plastic card into an entry barrier and your time starts now – however if you forget your towel and miss the deadline you won’t get out! Helpfully, there is another vending machine within the enclosure, into which you can pump a few more coins to secure your escape. 

Göttingen has its origins as a medieval market town; became a university town in 1734 and is now a university city with high-tech centres of research, including the Max-Planck institutes. Carl Friedrich Gauss – whose name was given to the unit of magnetic flux – was one of Göttingen’s sons, along with, apparently, forty other Nobel Prize winning scientists. 


In the front of the Rathaus is the charming Gänseliesel bronze of a young girl taking her geese and ducks to market; apparently, the local university students have a tradition of kissing her on the cheek when they graduate!

The Gänseliesel taking her geese to market 

The interior of the Rathaus is also worth a look for its ceiling and wall paintings. Entry is free: up the steps and through some imposing iron gates. St Jacob’s church was another interesting viewing: the geometric designs painted on the columns; a mix of traditional and modern avant-garde stained glass; and the very unusual altar set it apart.

The grand interior of the Town Hall 

Leaving Göttingen, we headed for Hann. Munden – a pleasant rural drive through National Park land. Here we found an overnight stop in a large multi-use car park; actually on an island in the river, a short walk over a bridge takes you into the town centre.
€6 per night. Electricity: 1€ per kWhr, Sani-station: €1.

GPS: 51.4201 N, 09.6487 E 

2nd February 
Hann. Munden is a delightful small town sited at the confluence of 2 rivers, the ridges of their valleys surrounding it on 3 sides. Full of beautifully preserved half-timbered houses, it has a small central square of which the intricately painted Rathaus is its centrepiece. It must be one of the most homogenous half-timbered towns we have seen, almost every building was, or appeared to be, an original; none of the usual gaps for a modern pastiche or sixties eyesore.

The original half-timbered splendour of Hann. Munden 

We didn’t stay long, just picking up a few vegetables at the Saturday morning market, but it had a lovely feel; small, intimate and unspoilt - a real gem.

Heading southwards, we passed through or by Witzhausen, Bad Sooden, Eschwege, Bad Hersfeld and Fulda. It was a very pleasant drive on sweeping, almost empty, well-metaled roads, though rich green countryside. The sun even made an appearance for the first time for as long as we could remember – the joy of the open road… almost.

The sting in the tail came in Rotherman, when the driving suddenly became urban and I found myself staring at a strange, grey round column by the roadside, several dark red curved windows set flush into its surface. Just as we passed it blinked at me – a red blink – and I realised I’d been had by a speed camera! Despite doing my best to follow the endless variations in limits I’d obviously gone over the top on this occasion. Now we’ll have to wait and see what follow up there is. Grrr…

We eventually settled at the spa town of Bad Brückeneau There are two stellplatz here; we chose the one just over the road from the swimming pool and by a disused railway line, with room for about six vans.
€3, including pump and dump. Electricity €1 for 8hrs.

GPS: 50.3118 N, 09.7973 E

The newly cobbled streets of Bad  Brückeneau 

The town itself has fairly recently had a comprehensive makeover in the cobbled street department – and a very fine job they made of it too. There is a fair sprinkling of restaurants, including Greek, Italian, Thai and of course Doner Kebab and pizza. Considering it was Saturday night it seemed very quiet and we weren’t tempted to eat out – got to save for my speeding ticket! Grrr… 

3rd February 
We allowed ourselves a Sunday lie-in and then eased our way back onto the B27: more comfortable driving through sweeping green countryside down to Würzburg – home to what is claimed to be the largest and finest baroque palace in Germany, and also the head of the Romantische Strasse, or “Romantic Road” down to the Southern German border at Fussen.

Würzburg is not blessed with a surfeit of stellplatz and we couldn’t find either of the ones listed in our 2013 Bordatlas; the one by the ARAL filling station seemed to have disappeared under a building site, and the GPS co-ordinates for the one by the Canoe Club took us to a general car park without any designated motorhome spaces or a canoe in sight!

We settled on the Winzerhof restaurant and guest house in Randersacker, a 15 minute bus ride out of the city centre. In a yard backing onto the main road, but screened by a high fence, the stellplatz was quiet enough – though I had to ring the intercom on the restaurant door to get the proprietor to come out and switch the power on. Although only €6 a night, the electricity is on a meter and charged separately. Also, irritatingly the toilet dump was shut off for the winter and there was nowhere to leave any garbage unless you rang the intercom.

GPS: 49.7600 N, 09.9782 E 

4th February 
It rained heavily again during the night and waiting for the bus down by the river we noticed that the flood waters had already claimed the bench seats on the bankside and that drivers were arriving to remove their vehicles from a nearby car park; how high was it going to rise?

Time for a “grand day out” in Wurzburg: day tickets from the “Frankenbus” driver cost €5.45 each and allowed us to use the city centre trams as well. We alighted directly in front of the Palace and found that the large car park in front is barrier-ed and off limits to motorhomes…grr!

The Wurzburg Royal Palace 

The Wurzburg Residence and Court Gardens – unlike most royal residences that have evolved over centuries and incorporate styles from different periods – was conceived, designed and built almost within a single generation. Architects, artists and artisans from the principal artistic regions of Europe collaborated and the principal court architect, 32 year old Balthasar Neuman had his work cut out to draw together and reconcile all the differing ideas, styles and egos. Construction of the basic shell actually took only 24 years, the poor Neuman being dismissed and then reinstated by different princes before its completion.

On 16th March 1945, incendiary bombs destroyed most of the city – and the palace, leaving only the shell of the building intact, except for the vestibule, staircase and imperial hall; which by the genius of Balthasar had been constructed with stone ceilings. The staircase, with its stupendous frescos by Giovanni Battista, and the great hall are indeed fantastic, and unique in our experience.

The view from the vestibule windows 

We have seen a few mirrored chambers in our travels, but the “Mirrored Cabinet” is stunning, almost overwhelming in its intricacy and artistry – all the more so because after the bombing it ceased to exist, but was, incredibly, reconstructed between 1979 and 1987 from no more that a salvaged fragment of mirror, a few photos and a watercolour painting of the original.

The Court Chapel was also amazing, not only for its original design of oval walls within the exterior rectangular building, the fabulously ornate stucco and gilding, incredible marbling and ceiling painting, but again for the magnificent restoration after fire and water had done their worst.

Amazing over-the-top decoration of the Court Chapel 


Looking for a quick lunch we paid our first visit to Nordsee: a fish and seafood fast-food restaurant chain that appears all over Germany (and other countries). The twist on the standard fish and chip model is that it sells raw and smoked seafood as well as hot meals. We couldn’t fault the quality, price or speed of service, just the fact that we had to go upstairs to find a seat! 


After lunch we visited a few heavily restored churches and took a walk on the medieval bridge over the river – now surging in great waves through the arches. Happily, the waters were still well below our wheels when we returned!

Next: the Romantische Strasse