Wednesday, 31 July 2013

It's All Good at Bad Hinderlang

Craig Writes;
31/07/13 ;
I think I could write a book on train travel. We had one change this time in Munich then on to the small city of Ulm where we picked up a nice Skoda and hit the road for a 90 minute drive to our next stop, Bad Hinderlang. Imagine everything you have every seen about small Bavarian towns with rolling hills, big doe eyed heifers with cow bells and enormous udders chewing cud and lolling about. Imagine tall church spires, window boxes spilling over with the most brilliant and colourful displays of petunias and geraniums. All the gardens exploding with the most brilliant pinks, reds, blues and whites.  It's like they are over compensating for the fact that for six months of the year the predominate colour surrounding them is white.

This was our back yard
Oh so very pretty
I wonder where all the bees go for the long winter
We are  the only guests staying in a farmhouse which is a mere five minutes walk from the town centre. There is an 18 hole mini golf course at the end of the driveway and an obstacle course/ playground next to that.
That's not a putter, this is a putter
We have the towering Alps as our backdrop with a cable car snaking up the centre valley only a few hundred metres from our back door. We get our milk delivered to our door at 7am each morning. It's still a little warm  as it was still in the cow at 6.30am. Freshly baked rolls are also left on the doorstep. We have eaten out here the last two nights and the food is unbelievable. And just as unbelievable is the fact that only 5% of the tourist population here is English speaking so practically none of the menus are in English.  Thankfully the German country side folk speak a little English and are happy to translate. The first couple of days we just settled in but today we drove to Oberstdorf and then took a  2224 metre high cable car ride to the top of the famous Nebelhorn from which you can look out over 400 mountain tops and all the way into Austria and Switzerland.
On our way to the top of Nebelhorn
On his way to the bottom of Nebelhorn
Contemplating the long drop off the top of Nebelhorn
Us at the top of the Nebelhorn
4/07/13. Blessed Are The Cheesemakers, apparently. Today we decided to find out for ourselves just how blessed they are so we took off to the mountains of Hinterstein to find some of Bavaria's finest cheesemakers. The walk up the mountain side though steep is made more pleasant by the lungfuls of pure Alpine air we're all sucking in and the shade offered by the towering pines.

Yes, it was as stunning as it looks
It's a popular trek with walkers and bikes going up and down. One guy had a baby carriage on the back with his border collie in it. You could hear the melody of the cow bells way before you see them.  The herds are all quite small here.  I don't think I've seen anything over a dozen or so. The first farm we came across was charming but we thought we'd best see another before we decided on where to spend our cheese dollar. Fifteen minutes down the road we hit the jackpot. Much nicer looking place, high on a hillside, some umbrellas to keep the sun off and someone who spoke good english. Minutes later we were all tucking into meat and cheese platters, beer and softies for the boys. It was another magic moment.  
They say this is a really gouda cheese farm. 
One happy cow
One happy camper
It was a slow amble down the mountain side and a casual drive through this stunning country side. Home for a nap, I've started running again in the mornings you see, and out to another of the brilliant restaurants for a tasty pasta feed.

5/07/13 Today we were off to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Made more famous due to being the inspiration for the central Walt Disney Castle in all of his theme parks. Good King Ludwig, who some say was mad while others say he was just misunderstood, was the architect of the castle. While majestic and inspiring he only lived in his fairy tale castle for about six months. He preferred the smaller and more private Linderhof Palace that he had built a few miles down the road. Our good friends at Trip Advisor explained that the wait to buy an entry ticket into Neuschwanstein Castle could be up to three hours and once there you are herded through four rooms in fifteen minutes. The better option seemed to be to take the bus up the hill and go to Mary's Bridge where you get a magnificent view from the outside. And no waiting.  

The famous Neuschwanstein Castle
Living the fairytale
King Ludwigs folks place on the right and their pool in the top left corner
Us, poolside
We opted for the bus ride up the mountain and the stunning views across from Mary's Bridge, we were not disappointed. From here we followed our noses back down the mountain track to the village before heading to Linderhof Palace. It is small by palace standards and the very happy, some would say gay, King Ludwig had the whole place to himself.  Apart from some government business he very rarely had company with the exception of his physician who, at the young age of forty, he was found floating dead next too in his lake.  He was an odd fella who shunned the company of others, even his servants. He had a white marble dining table that was lowered from his eating chamber on the first floor to the kitchens on the ground floor so he didn't have to have contact with servants at meal times.

The not really mad just misunderstood King Ludwigs weekender
Not bad hey
He would put on private concerts in his little grotto and get rowed around by naked cabana boys
6/07/13 A lazy day around the farm. Some mini golf, some reading, some writing and then a huge downpour that turned the bubbling brook that ran past the farmhouse into a raging torrent. A packing day, not my favourite kind of day, as we bid farewell to milk straight from the cow and warm freshly baked rolls delivered to our doorstep and drive to Ulm for a train to Strasbourg


Craig Writes;
28/07/13 I am really starting to develop a liking for train travel. Not the crammed in cattle class with five changes in five hours, but the spacious seating and descent foot space of first class train travel. The reality is, that it is not that much more expensive to travel at the pointy end of the train than it is to travel with the baggage. I love the gentle swaying, the click clack click clack, the huge picture windows to look out and feast on the often beautiful passing countryside. It could be sloping velvety green hills with meandering rivers flowing by, cute cottages puffing out thin wisps of smoke from their tiny brick chimneys. Cows grazing in fields or distant snow capped mountains. People riding bikes or tall blocks of city apartments. If they had trains across the oceans I don't think I would ever fly again.

When we arrived in Vienna it was very hot and very sticky. With no obvious taxi rank we joined a young couple of Brazilian girls we had met on the train and proceeded to try and hail a cab. If first impressions count for anything, Vienna's not ringing our bells yet. I'm only judging this by the train station and the cab ride to our apartment and I'm hot, bothered and tired, so no real judgements yet.

Vienna is the capital of Austria and with a population of 1.8 million people, it's quite a reasonable size city. It is commonly know for the naughty Mr Freud and the place where the likes of Mozart and Beethoven used to bump around but we found it to be so much more. Beethoven was such an annoying bastard with his continuous banging on the piano, beating on a drum or clashing of a symbol that his pissed off neighbours made him move 36 times. Now there are 36 nice shiny brass plagues scattered around Vienna saying, Beethoven Lived Here, and they're all true.  

One of Beethoven's last homes
See, it's official
The Celts were the first settlers to get to Vienna about 500BC and a succession of people from one persuasion or another have called it home ever since. In 2001 UNESCO designated the city a World Heritage Site. 

It is a beautiful city
We're looking forward to meeting our friends Nora and Anastas who we had the pleasure of meeting in Krabi Thailand. That seems ooh so long ago now. We're catching up tomorrow and getting to see a bit more of why this the city was deemed to be the 2nd most liveable place in the world, behind Melbourne thank you very much, in 2012. I'm not sure how much credence you can put in some of these surveys, everyone seems to do one, but still. 

29/07/13 We went hunting around this morning for bread, milk, fruit and the main prize, a good coffee.  Mission accomplished. 
We're meeting our new Bulgarian friends today, Nora at 2pm and a later catch up with her fella, Anastas. We had no idea what she had planned for us. We ended up clothes shopping of all things, eating amazing ice cream, drinking more coffee, grabbing a few train rides and a tram ride and ending back at her place in the Grinzing area of Vienna. 
I had to put this in. This is a poster promoting the new Kick  Ass 2 movie hung up in a shopping mall. Can't help but think this might lead to some awkward moments.
Hey mummy, what's a ....?
It was so nice to be shuffled around from one train to another not having to stress with furrowed brow that we were hopping on the right train and hopping off at the right station. We all just followed Nora, taking in the surroundings.    A few tasty local bevvies at their place then, yes you regular readers will have guessed it, lock the kids in with fruit, chocolate, peanut butter sandwiches and a PlayStation and off we headed for a short walk into the little village they call home.

WOW, this is what we were looking for.  That little magical moment that will always remind you of a place. Beautiful narrow streets with houses and restaurants dating back to the early 1600's.

There were so many little alley ways just like this
For centuries now the locals have been allocated small allotments of land where they have been studiously planting vineyards. Most of which now have a restaurant or a guest house attached to them. 
There is an old tradition that when a restaurant/wine house has a vintage ready to drink they hang a small branch out the front with a light above it.

We walked past one restaurant with a framed photo of a grinning Bill Clinton standing next to a wide smiling proprietor. The picture gallery of other guests included Presidents Carter and Kruschev , Telly Savallas, and a host of famous Austrian glitterati.

A tourist trap we are warned so we keep walking down the road to one of Nora and Anastas favorites  where they brew a good local beer, make a mean schnitzel and cook up a local dish of  sirloin steak in a rich gravy with fried onions on top. Very nice.

Beer, meat , good friends and a beautiful girl, could I be any happier!

Len Evans would tear up at the thought of how many bottles these would have opened over the centuries
A couple of beers and a walk past one of the last places that Beethoven stayed in and then back to tear the boys of the Play station. Nora thankfully drove us back home.

30/7/13 What a great day. Started off about 12pm got home about 12am. We met our wonderful new friend Nora and off we went. Firstly up to the heights of Kohlenberg to get the most magnificent view of the Danube and the city proper. 
The magnificent Danube from the heights of Kohlenberg
This is quite a famous hillside, it is where the march of the Turkish Ottoman Empire on Austria was stopped in it's tracks by a coalition of Hungarians, Russians and Austrians. Then we headed back into town for a late lunch then on the road to Kreuzenstein Castle. It's like a mini Hogwarts. 
Just need Hagrid to pop his head in
The outside was a patch work of architectural forms. It's not that new having been rebuilt in the 19th century on top of the ruins of an old medieval castle. Unfortunately the castle is often used as a film location and unfortunately there was a production of a US reality show called The Quest in the process of being filmed so we didn't get to go inside. In fact we almost didn't make it because Nora our Unexplorer took a wrong turn. She's so cute. After the castle it was the boys turn, although they did enjoy catching a glimpse of the castle and having a chat to the carpenters making the set for The Quest. We headed to the Weiner Prater Amusement Park. Fantastic. Open 365 days a year, it has some terrific rides and some great restaurants. 
A very funky slide, the boys loved it
Strapped in and ready to fly

Up up and away
Now that's a good zoom lense
Let the race begin
We could have stayed later, and spent a heap more Euros, but by this time it was approaching about 7.30pm and time to head to the exit and pick up an enormous hunk of roast pork with crispy crackling, coz that's what you do here, and head back to Nora and Anastas place for beers, pizza, salad, archery and of course, hunks of juicy pork and lashings of crispy crackling. 

Have you ever seen a more beautiful picture in all your life?
What we have here is a perfect example of what happens when you take the time to be friendly to strangers. It started on a street in Krabi Thailand with a simple, "gidday" and ended up months later, a blossoming friendship in Austria with two fabulous people, and their daughter Anna, being chauffeured around the magnificent city of Vienna.  

31/07/13. Our last day before leaving and we headed to the Naschmarket to Noras Aunty's Palenchenken restaurant.  We ordered the Topfenpalatschinken.  What's that you ask? It's the best damn crepe you'll ever have, filled with quark cheese topped with vanilla custard and fresh blueberries.  Oh yeh!

Topfenpalatschinkenn, trying saying that after a few beers
After indulging in the best Topfenpalatschinkenn ever we continued walking into the centre of Vienna to see St Stephens church, the most amazing Swarovski store, not that I'm so much into it but they had this stunning crystal block worth about 100k euros, it was quite stunning. 
No change out of a $100,000
Then onto St Nicholas church, compact but very very impressive.

Small but so stunning in it's detail 
We detoured through some rose gardens looking for a taxi and looking across the park saw more stunning gothic towers and spires. We never did get to find out what they were.

The Grand Spires of ...
Finally, we made it home, sushi for dinner and an early night.

Bavaria here we come. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Prague? Czech!

Craig Writes;
24/07/13 We arrived in Prague after a very relaxing five hours in our first class train carriage. The main station at Prague was quiet and almost quaint. A welcome relief after the chaotic vastness and the manicness of Berlin and Paris. We were met at the station by a very helpful older fella holding up a paper sign with what looked like our name scrawled across it. Our czech is non existent but fortunately his english was serviceable. So, after making sure we all had the right people we were all bundled, somehow, into his small Skoda and were powering down the back streets of Prague as he told us his story of how he had been living here for the last 18 years after escaping from Serbia during the brutality of the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990's.  A harrowing tale.

He dropped us at the end of a 14th century cobbled road where we met Dragan, the owner of our Prague apartment and a very nice young fella. "Ten metres down there" he says pointing in the direction of the cobbled streets. Just as well I thought, I'm not sure the battered wheels of these cases could take more than ten metres of cobbled road. Ten metres turned into close to 150 and half way I gave up being worried and just thought, "stuff it, if they go they go". We made it intact and so did the cases. The apartment, like the cobblestones that ran past the front door, was 14th century. The first giveaway was the height of the door. It was like a trip back to Hobbiton in NZ. 

Gandalf hugs Bilbo after presenting him with a new hat

Hormones in the chicken have a lot to answer for.

One of the walls downstairs was left in original condition, unrendered and unpainted.  A nice little nod to the original inhabitants way back in the 1300's. The rooms weren't big, but hey, neither were they, but there was a really clever feature between the second and third floors. A 20mm glass ceiling between the second and third floor gave the illusion of space and let more light flow both ways. It also allowed for some interesting views.

Gives another meaning to looking up someones address
25/07/13 Prague is a hauntingly beautiful city. There are approx 1.3 million Pragueans and as you would expect of a city approaching it's 1100 and something birthday, it's got quite a colourful history. It was home to two Holy Roman Emperors and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, it has the oldest functioning Astronomy Clock in Europe, the magnificent Charles bridge from the 1350's and of course the outstanding Prague castle. We went for a walk today to take some off these amazing sights.

Steep steps, made going into the city very easy, coming back is something else.
Some interesting street statues, we bought one of each

The city gets nearly four million tourist a year and it's not hard to see why.  While there was some damage sustained during the horrific bombing that shook Central Europe in the closing stages of WWII, thankfully the damage was minimal and the overwhelming number of churches, palaces and monuments are still in their full glory. 

Like Amsterdam the city is very easy to get around and difficult to get lost in. You can see the towering steeples of the various churches for miles. Our first objective was to walk to and cross the Charles Bridge built by King Charles the IV in 1357. We walked, or more likely dodged, weaved and shimmied, our way through the throng of tourists till we spilled out the other end and into the old city.

Trying to cross The Charles Bridge was a nightmare
It looks much better from this angle
We stopped to have lunch on the way which was fantastic. I'm trying to go as local as I can with everything, the beer, the meat platters and the strudel. It's hell. 
With the tanks refuelled we headed to the Old Astronomy clock near the main square and got there just in time to hear it strike three oclock.  On the hour, the twelve apostles make an appearance. Below and to one side you have Vanity, looking at himself in a mirror and standing next to The Miser holding a bag of gold, representing greed and usery.  On the other side is death, a golden skeleton who pulls a chain that rings the bell and a Turk who boasts of pleasure and entertainment.  They all jiggle or move as the clock strikes. It would have been most impressive back in 1410.
Quite amazing, the video looks better
From there we moved around into the main square. More stunning buildings, soaring Gothic towers, Romanesque rotundas and 16th century Renaissance buildings. A troupe of Czech musicians in original costume are playing up a storm as people stand around small round tables eating slabs of ham just carved from one of the numerous spits lining one side of the square. 
It is too my eternal shame that I did not force some of this fabulous pig into me
Generous thick slices of rye bread, mustards and large steins of cold beer all crammed onto the tiny table.  We were too full to contemplate the challenge and settled for a small cone of homemade Smurf ice cream before slowly winding our way back home.  
It looks like Smurf

It tastes like Smurf

26/07/13. Prague is a beautiful old place with a fairy tale kind of charm about it. There are many stunning churches and cathedrals to view but really, for us, we didn't need to see them all.  It was enough to be amongst it, to soak it up and bask in it without having to observe every last detail of it. 

So pretty
So pretty I'll say it twice
Sigh, words fail me
There's about six different architectural styles just in the one photo
The days had also become quite hot. In the mid 30's today and the high 30's for the next few days, so walking narrow cobblestoned streets in between tall stone buildings was not going to be all that comfortable. We stayed around the house and read, journaled and wrote. Apart from a short lunch run by me to a very nice little patisserie a few hundred metres down the road. We did venture out to the one other place we wanted to visit before we left, Prague Castle. We were told previously by Dragan, our host, that later in the day is better, cooler and less crowded. He was right on both counts. Prague Castle, at 70,000 square metres, is the largest ancient castle in the world. It dates back to 870AD. It has been the home to many Kings and Emperors including a couple of Holy Roman Emperors.  Like many ancient castles it has seen it's fair share of additions, fires burning bits down then being rebuilt, one King not liking anothers handy work so pulling a tower down here and building another one there.

Prague Castles front driveway

Nothing says WELCOME like a couple of murderous statues at your front gate
Prague Castle,s Cathedral

In 1918 the Castle became the seat of the President of the new Czechoslovakia. During WWII when the nazi's occupied Czechoslovakia the castle became the headquarters of Rienhard Heydrich. One of the architect of the extermination of the Jews.  There is an old legend that said that any usurper who dared to place the Bohemian Crown on his head would die within one year. Good old Heydrich did just that and less than one year later he was attacked by Czech fighters on his way to the castle and was mortally wounded.  Nice one Rienhard, you loser. 

27/07/13. With Prague Castle under our belt and the kids long ago had their fill of "old stuff". We once again had the proverbial lazy day and started a slow pack for our journey to Vienna.  

Goodbye Prague, you little beauty