This time we are in Germany. Up early in the morning on Wednesday, April 21, for a quick breakfast and a taxi back to Paddington Station for the train to Heathrow. While the station is directly under Terminal 1, it’s still a long walk of 3-400 metres to the departures hall. After checking in we had a little while to wait so I made good use of the British Airlines lounge to check my email and catch up on the news on the ABC’s website.
We arrived in Frankfurt 15 minutes early and caught a taxi to our hotel which was very close to the station. This is the second largest airport in Europe although a criss-cross pattern of jet trails in the sky suggests that there are also a lot of planes that don’t stop here.
After unpacking, I left Jill to have a snooze while I started off on a walk downtown. Our end of town appears to be a diverse ethnic area. Lots of Middle Eastern & Vietnamese shops – all with delicious smells and interesting foods. At one place, a crowd had gathered to watch a group of about four police take away a Middle Eastern looking man that they had handcuffed and were holding on the ground. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that this wasn’t a time for photos so just kept walking.
I don’t really know just what to think of Frankfurt. Its a very new city and clearly a business center. It was largely demolished during the war and then rebuilt. Therefore everything is new. There is however, one charming old area built around a square called Romerberg but according to the travel bible (Lonely Planet) it just looks old – it was only completed a couple of decades ago.
It was nice to have a modern hotel with a nice restaurant after the rather shabby hotel at which we stayed in London. The hotel here had a very interesting format in its restaurant where you could pick your fish from a market type of display (dead & on ice obviously) and then have the chef cook it. They charged by weight. All types of fish – Halibut, Monk Fish, Perch, Crab, Lobster etc.
On Thursday morning (April 22) we walked across the street to the office of the local tour company to go on a day tour to Heidelberg & the Rhine. It was a glorious day, warm & sunny and we enjoyed the bus trip of about 80 km past acres of asparagus farms, villages and the occasional castle on a hill top.
I didn’t know much about Heidelberg other than it had a castle and a company that made printing machines. It turned out to be an old medieval town with a university renowned for its arts. It was also significant for being the one time home of Steffi Graff (before Anton married her and whisked her away to Las Vegas).
The castle on the hill (can you imagine one anywhere else) is in ruins after a number of attacks by the French in the 30 year war of the early1600’s and a vast fire caused by a lightning strike in the late 1700’s.
The city is on the Neckar River which looks to carry some barge traffic. It has a weir and lock and three town squares which have served as market places since the days of the Romans. There are some good views looking up to the castle from these squares. One has an underground car park, complete with public toilet, which is always a place to know about when you are travelling!
Unless you are in a traffic jam, travelling on the Autobahns looks to be very fast. Buses are limited to 100 km and trucks to 80 km but it is quite normal to have cars travelling at 160 – 180 km or more. (Add motorcycles to the list – one just passed us now as we are heading back to Frankfurt). There are lots of nice cars on the road but I have only seen a couple of my X5’s (trucks in Jill’s terms). Someone said that there are no unmade roads in Germany so perhaps they are less popular than those at home?!?!
In the afternoon we went on another tour to a stretch of the Rhine River and a ride on a river cruise boat upstream for about 10 kilometres. This was an extremely short taste of the Rhine and I am certainly putting a longer cruise on that list of things that I must do one day.
The river was very scenic – about 200 metres wide and busy with long narrow barges. This area was obviously a wine growing area with vines on every slope. Every ridge seemed to have a castle. Many were in ruins but some were still used as hotels or even private residences. I can’t imagine the amount of money that you would have to throw at one of these very scenic piles of rock to maintain them.
We had dinner and a wine tasting in a restaurant in a little town the name of which I cannot remember. We are really blessed with good wine at cheap prices in Australia. One of the reds (French)was smooth enough but very light in colour and flavour and came at a price of â‚¬22 ($36). I imagine that I could have bought a similar quality wine at home for $7 – 9. However we have had some reasonable wines in the hotel restaurant for less inflated prices. Perhaps we were just experiencing a tourist location.
Anyway, we had an interesting day and are now packed ready for an early morning start on a three day tour of the romantic road through to Bavaria.
On FridÃ¤y (April 23) we began an interesting tour of the Romantic Road which extends generally the 350 km from Wurzburg (just south of Frankfurt ) to Fussen (near Munich). We have an interesting way to travel – our tour was built around catching the inter-city bus run by the German Railways, but instead of doing the whole route in one day, we stop off in two interesting towns and pick up the bus on the next days. The bus driver provides a commentary and refreshments. We stop for 15 – 20 minutes in many of the scenic towns along the way for a quick look around or a photo .
The countryside around here is very pretty. We passed through a lot of farmland interspersed with small villages and towns. In this northern part of the route there is lots of canola – no fences and very little live stock. I have a great deal of respect for our driver’s ability to maneuver our bus through narrow streets and very tight gates and archways.
On our first night (Friday) we spent the afternoon and night in Rotherburg – one of the few remaining intact medieval towns in Germany. It is a walled town wlth narrow cobble stone streets. Our hotel was located near one of the inner gates and was first established as a customs house in 1262. Our room is quite modem and has far more sanitation than would have existed in the original days of this building.
Rotherburg is one of those places where it was extremely hard to stop taking photographs. Everything was so old and the streetscapes so attractive. We had a walking tour of the town in the afternoon and learned something of medieval history and lifestyle. After dinner cooked by the owner of the hotel, we went on a tour with the night watchman. He was an interesting man with a great sense of humor. He explained that in the 1300’s the job of the night watchman was not only one of providing security but mostly for fire prevention – the biggest fear in a medieval city. His description of sanitary conditions of the time made it quite clear that the good old days were not really the good old days.
We had a bit of of a luxury of a sleep in because we didn’t have to meet the bus on the following day until 2.00 pm. We spent the morning looking around some more, walking the ramparts of the city wall and looking at some classic cars which had stopped in the square outside the town hall during a rally. Back on the bus after lunch to continue.
The bus went along many of the normal country roads rather than the autobahns and this gave us a good opportunity to see the scenery which was very pretty. Mostly farmland interspersed with little villages. No fences, just open fields across the rolling landscape. Each village had a church spire – some steepled (Catholic) and others were bulbous – a bit like a Greek or Russian Orthodox style (Lutheran / Protestant). Some of these churches in the larger towns like Dinklesbuhl were more like cathedrals – ornate pulpits, long naves and ceilings over 100 feet high. I’ll never be able to remember which photo is which.
I think that this is a good beef production area but the cattle appear to be still in their barns after winter. We did see a couple of flocks of sheep in the fields with a shepherd and hls dogs. Of course we again kept popping into each town that we passed for a quick stop and a look at either the market square or the church.
As we got closer to our overnight stop at Fussen, the country was becoming noticeably Bavarian (at least according to the pictures that I’ve seen). White houses raised off the ground with wooden shutters and a barn out the back. Fussen is at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps so the town has a backdrop of snowy mountains. It is fairly cool here.
The Neuschwanstein Castle here is just like one from a fairy tale and it is our main attraction for Sunday – Anzac Day at home . (I wonder how the boys are doing with the march and lunch together). The castle is in the mountains and has high narrow turrets. You can almost imagine Hansel & Gretel in the tower. It was built in the 1880’s by Prince Ludwick who was insane. He wanted to replicate a medieval castle but didn’t get to finish it before he died at the age of 40. (I think that I read somewhere that the castle formed a model of the Disneyland castle).
The prince was a passionate fan of Wagner so most of the walls are decorated with murals depicting scenes from his operas. Together with the wood carvings in the rooms these create a good sense of ‘castle kitch’.
We caught a horse cart up to the castle for â‚¬5. I had time before our tour to walk up a very steep hill to a lookout for a photo and then met Jill again to go inside. The tour covered the finished part of the castle and the King’s apartments and took about 45 minutes. It was raining when we left to go back to the town in the valley below so we took the horse carriage again. I would have paid another â‚¬5 to keep dry but the man only charged us â‚¬2.50 (perhaps its only half as hard on the horse on the downhill trip. We were entertained by a couple of elderly Italian women who being full of the joy of life called out and greeted everyone we passed. I don’t know what they had been eating, but I will certainly have to look out for some of it in Italy.
Being such a wet day, we retired to the hotel where we had left our bags for a coffee and to catch up with some post cards.
All we have to do now is wait for our bus at 4.00 pm to Munich so that we can catch the train to Rome tomorrow and meet the others with whom we will be spending our time together in Italy.