Buses, trams, funicular and cable cars

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Just because….

The second half of this week has been all about Freiburg and transport. It’s a small city full of trams :), an eclectic mix of old and modern shuffling through all the small city centre streets and outwards to the suburbs.  A university town so plenty of young people, trendy shops, bars and restaurants mixed with a good sprinkling of things for the tourists.

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Freiburg Old Town

One of the things the city is known for are the Bächle, small water-filled runnels,  supplied with water by the River Dreisam. These run along the edges of most roads and streets in the old city, originally used for carrying drinking water around the city back in the 15th century, now popular with tourists and with children who sail boats along them.

When large parts of the city were destroyed by 300 bombers from the British RAF Bomber Command in 1944 most bächle were badly damaged.  Since being rebuilt two people have tried to sue the own when they have driven into or tripped on a bächle – in both cases the courts found against the claimants and made them pay costs as they felt it impossible not to visit the city and know they were there.

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Sailing your boat down a Bächle

On the cobble streets there are small brass plaques inset, called ‘stolperstein (stumbling blocks), each one commemorates a German who lived in there and was affected by Nazi persecution, concentration camps, death, emigration and even suicide.  As of last year 48,000 of these plaques had been placed throughout Europe – the sight of them is another stark reminder that war touches so many.

Stolperstein

For a small city its certainly noisy, every 100 yards there are accordion players belting out Bavarian music, many very good, some not so good but taking the chance on a few coins, add to them a mobile funky jazz band touring and it was anything but peaceful.

All the regular city attractions are in the old town within 15 minutes walk of each other, a massive Gothic Cathedral cathedral dominates and around it there is a cracking ‘Munster Market’ open five days a week. Plenty of “ye olde German wooden toys” etc but it has numerous flower, fruit and bakery stalls too. The city tours take a walk around many of the oldest buildings including several red stone 16th century Historisches Kaufhaus  – former merchants houses.

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Kaufhaus

We were already mightily impressed with the amount to see and do, then we came across the pièce de résistance – a “floating woman” illusion. Iain  wasn’t fussed and felt he could explain it all away – I on the other hand love it, I could have stood there for an hour. I adore people who get off their bums to make a fee euro rather than rob old ladies and if they do sitting on a platform pretending they are floating then they get my couple of Euro everytime.

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At the edge of the old town is a large town park, which in turn leads up to The Schlossberg, a 1500 ft tree covered hill.  There are several footpaths up to the hill from the town, or there is a funicular railway – we took the lazy option.  There have been fortfied structures on the hill for over 900 years and more are being uncovered to attract visitors.  For us the most attractive thing about it was the sheer peace and quiet, despite there being plenty of other walkers it is high enough that there is no traffic noise (and no accordions either!)

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Schlossberg funicular

For a small city we found so much to do, despite poor weather, for most of the four days we have been here. The one thing we hadn’t done was visit Schauinsland, for a few reasons : its over 4200 ft high and to get to the top you take the longest loop cable car in Germany for just over 2 1/2 miles – the ride in the cable car takes 20 minutes. 

This morning it was reasonably sunny and we had nothing better to do, so a bus and a tram later we were at the base station. No matter how brave I thought I was after a few chair lifts nothing had me ready for this.  It was horrendous, this little glass bubble trundling up into the sky on a bit of wire, however as there were another four people in our bubble, sorry car, then I had to put a brave face on.

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that is the “brave” face

Twenty minutes is a long, long time – 1200 seconds and every one of them felt like an age. On the plus side, as a loop cable car you don’t get the horrendous shake and judder as it passes over the pylons, also when its thick with cloud you can’t see too far which for me is a bonus! It was built in the 1930’s but closed down in 1987 when the a safety permit wasn’t granted – only to be re-opened again in 1989 after updating of the cable cars and cable stations.

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A long way in any direction

At the top there are several cafes, restaurants,play areas – oh and a massive car-park as there is a road all the way to the top, in my new found cocky braveness though roads are for wimps :). We were expecting amazing views but the low cloud looked set in on the mountain and we made do with a sit on the deckchairs looking at the grey mist.

We did plan to walk back down, but as it was cold and a bit damp at the top we came down on the cable car back into the sunshine. We spent the afternoon riding the trams around the city as we had an 24 hour pass and decided to get our money worth. Much quieter everywhere on a Sunday and a pleasant enough way to see the whole city, especially with a stop off for coffee and cake at Starbucks ending the week perfectly.

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The only views were of clouds

 

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Enough with the cuckoos now

The week started for Iain with the dentist, severe tooth pain for a week so he bit the bullet with an emergency appointment at the dentist in Mengen. At this stage we have to say that the German reputation for efficiency is so well deserved: ring for an appointment at 8.30, in the dentist chair by 1045, out and sorted by 1115. The best bit though – cost a big fat €0 – just show a passport and E11 and off we go. 🙂

Despite Iain having a frozen face we took a hop to Sigmaringen, a small town just 20 minutes up the road.  The whole town is dominated by the castle perched on a chalk cliff that towers over 120 ft above the Danube. The current castle was rebuilt after a fire in 1893 (the towers being the only original part of the medieval castle that remain). For a short while the castle was the seat of the French Vichy Government, moved there by the Gestapo after the Allies liberated France. Now its a museum as the family owners (claimants to the Romanian throne) live in other castles in the area.

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Sigmaringen castle

As we are becoming used to the town was immaculate, shops, streets, pavements cafes – everything neat and beautifully kept.  We were both very much loving the town, stopped for a drink in a pavement cafe and a bottle of fizzy water costs us €5 – we weren’t so impressed. That aside though we are finding Germany very welcoming and easy, every village has a dedicated area for motorhomes to park, the prices (except water) seem cheaper than most Western European countries and the dreaded height barrier doesn’t seem much in evidence.

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Town hall – Sigmaringen

Our belief that everyone can speak English is as wrong as ever – whilst the youngsters seem fluent the older generations speak very little English – not too worry my German is astounding them daily. The local greeting here translates to something akin to “God’s blessings” it seems I have been greeting people saying “Great big God” instead! what is brilliant is no-one seems to care, people just nod, smile and say “hallo”.

We do find the Germans to be slightly reserved, they are not rude just maybe a little formal. Usually we find if we speak first they are happy to chat in response, one German lady told us it is often that they don’t feel they know enough English to converse fluently so in those cases feel it better to stay quiet, as opposed to us who just say it a little louder and hope the translation comes across.

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Sigmaringen town square

The Black Forest is of course famous for cuckoo clocks and I love them. So much so we had to go see the biggest cuckoo clock in the world in Schontach. There was one each end of the building, the first one you put in a euro and the giant figurine came out as the music jingled, the other end was an authentic clock with all the workings. Inside it was cuckoo heaven – clocks everywhere ranging from €20 to €900 – could have stood there all day listening to them (and watching goggle eyed as a couple purchase one for €850!).

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One of several “largest cuckoo clocks in the world”

As we headed through Triberg it became apparent that you can have too much of a good thing, more and more cuckoo shops, and oddly enough another four of the “worlds biggest cuckoo clocks” within a 20 mile radius – so that’s five all awarded the title by Guinness Book of Records, no idea how that works?  Triberg itself held little of other interest, it does hold two of the only dedicated “men’s parking spaces” on earth but we made do with the main town car-park which was reasonably empty, enabling Iain to park without the need of a ‘special man space’ :).

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A chronomentrophobiac’s nightmare

We found Schiltach, a cosy little half timbered village, much more to our liking with a campsite right in the village; we squeezed down the entrance where various roof overhangs threatened to turn the van into a cabriolet. Down on the pitches we had a choice of three, after that there is a railway bridge right across the middle of the site – which is 5 cm lower than our roof – its a dangerous place for motorhomes for sure. There is one VW past the railway bridge – no idea how it got there and we are staying as long as it takes to see how the hell its getting back out :).

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Two bridges under 2.7 metres across the middle of the site

Schiltach is, for us, exactly what a Black Forest village should look like. The ‘German Half Timbered House Road’ (imaginatively named) runs through the village and the amount of car-parking available would seem to denote that its a busy tourist attraction. On a drizzly day though there were just a few hardy souls wandering around . There must be somewhere between 40-50 vernacular half timbered houses built anywhere between the 16th and 19th centuries. Tight cobble streets run up the hills between the houses with a medieval market place at the heart of town.

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Quintessential Black Forest

For us, quite simply stunning – we loved it so much we went in for a wander in the morning, stopped for coffee and cake then came back to the campsite. Late afternoon we went in a second time to walk the same route and make sure we had seen everything, we met up with an English couple who we first met last weekend at another town. They told us about a walk up a steep hill to the site of the former castle – we both agreed steeps hills to where something used to be were not for us.

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Beautiful Bavaria

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On leaving the Alps our aim was to cross into Italy,  as always things don’t pan out as we thought and instead we crossed in the opposite direction into Germany. Looking forward to no more vignettes, tolls and charges – second road we hit was a private road and had a toll. Not the end of the world at €8.50 and worth every cent as we drove along the side of the Sylvenstein river towards the dam and our first taste of Bavaria. As with many rivers in the area the water takes on a chalky white appearance from the rocks – it looks more like milk than water.

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Sylvenstein

First intended stop was to be the lake at Tefernsee, we drove round it in a couple of directions (minor driver / navigator scrap!) and in the end agreed there wasn’t really anywhere worth staying. Instead we went to Bad Tolz, a small spa town just a few miles to the West.  A typical Bavarian town, a wide river running though the centre and tall buildings all painted with ornate frescos. The main street was pedestrianised, pavement cafes  and various museums and gift shops all busy with the coach tours in for the afternoon.

As with Austria we were surprised at how many shops sell traditional Austrian costumes for men and women. Without exaggeration every other shop had several costumes for men and rack after rack of ye olde German dresses for women. We see plenty of people if cafes and restaurants wearing the costumes but not enough to warrant the amount on sale. Before the question comes, at this moment lederhosen have not been purchased – but you never know :).

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Bad Tolz

We took a couple of days driving around the lakes to the South of Munich, Starnberger and Ammersee and an overnight in Diessen.  Again the houses and shops were similar to Austria but in the main they lack the flowing window boxes, relying more on the paintings and woodwork for decoration. We had a wander around the shops but resisted spending on cow bells and cuckoo clocks – so far anyway but there are so many its becoming more difficult by the day.

Diessen

Our mid-week aim was for the dual splendor of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwanstein, the former being most famous as the castle Disney modeled their fairy-tale castle on. We expected a few tourists so we arrived early, well before 10am. It felt like actually being in Disney, the most people we have encountered anywhere we have been. It is very well organised, there are loads of shops, cafes and even horses and carts to take you up to the castles but more people than you want to meet in one go anywhere.

Our plan was a quick trek up to the bridge to take some photos and get out of there. We were scuppered as the bridge was closed for repairs, so no choice other than to follow the hoards up to the top. We had to question how on earth the bridge can ever be open, would hate to stand on it with a few thousand tourists pushing and shoving for a selfie shot.

The best we could capture on ‘film’

Both castles were built at the end of the 19th century, more folly than castle, seemingly with an eye too future tourists.  We knew there were two castles but we were surprised just how close they were, within minutes walk. Without a doubt Newschwanstein is the star attractions – Hohenschwanstein gets a passing glance but no more. We lasted an hour at the site and that was enough, plenty more castles in Germany so hopefully find a few less popular ones.

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On the right day, from the right viewpoint – a bit of Disney in Germany

We booked on to a campsite down the road and got the bikes down for a trip around the lakes, very much up Alp and down dale. The following morning we decided to do the same route but to hire electric bikes from the campsite.  Despite fairly rubbish old electric bikes it was more fun than should be possible on a bike. The views had gone – lost to freezing fog – loved it so much though we got back to camp, packed butties and a flask and set off again to do the route in reverse – best bike rides ever :).

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Rest stop

Following the ‘Deutsche Alpine Tourist Route’  it was onwards to Friedrichshafen and Iain’s second nirvana after Skoda – the home of the Zepplin. The only trip on offer was the 45 minute €350 trip, one place left for the last flight of the day. Ah well, only one seat of course I let Iain have it!  We were there at lunchtime so whiled away the afternoon sat in the sun outside the hangar bar, Iain filling his face with struddle whilst I was astounded people want to go up in a box hanging off a balloon.

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Five o’clock came, Iain was off for his safety brief (which consists of “ be careful climbing up the steps to get on as it moves” and “it’s ok to take off the seat-belt and wander around once airborne”.).  I think its possibly more terrifying watching someone else go up, six or seven guys holding the ropes to stop it floating off whilst they do “two on – two off” to keep the weight even. The  they let go of the ropes and its gone, very little noise it just floats off. When it comes back it nose dives down to land, literally head down and the guys on the grass run around grabbing ropes.

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After the excitement of Zepplin flight we were planning a quiet weekend around the Bodensee lake, looking over at Switzerland. We pulled onto a campsite and found ourselves shoe horned in between a couple of large German vans. One of the German ladies spent most of the evening stood by our door smoking and glaring in at us, quit honestly she scasred us both! We got up and 7am and she was there again (or maybe had spent the night there). We decided to make a quick exit and leave the hoards around the lake.

With a few miles of leaving Bodensee we found a small Stellplatz next to a set of fishing lakes and parked up for the weekend. Nothing much to do but walk and cycle, suits us perfectly for the weekend.

Fahr’n und fun on the autobahn

The German border passed us by but we didn’t actually see it. Straight through onto the famous autobahn, truth be told we don’t yet get the fuss! Our second experience and we were still under-whelmed, thinking it similar to the M62. Mostly two lane, reasonable road surface, plenty of road-works. The occasional nutter passes by at 130 something per hour but other than that we are missing where the excitement is – for us the Dutch have better motorways.

Our next stop was Cuxhaven for a night before catching the ferry up the coast and avoiding Hamburg. Our first real experience of the Stellplatz – the German answer to campsite aires, upwards of 90 pitches, and  looking very much like a car-park. We went through a painful process of  registering with Frauline Unhelpful, two forms / 15 minutes cost us €5.60 tourist tax, then the meter wanted €10, plus €2 electric to Herr Elektrische, €1 shower and even 50 cents for the loo – it all seemed a bit chaotic and there was us expecting it to be very German and very organised – not a bit. It actually cost us more to stay there than on a campsite – not one of our better choices of overnight stop.

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You meet the best people on a roundabout

Cuxhaven, most famous as the exit point for millions of German emigrants is now more known as a holiday resort. It felt very like being in Eastbourne, according to Iain, a 12 km promenade lined with private beaches, shops, cafes and hotels and lots and lots of retired people.  Very few younger people or family groups, possibly still a bit out of season but the attractions seemed more directed to the older generation. It was busy, very busy,  possibly the most people we have come across anywhere on our travels.

We were both very taken with the German alternative to deckchairs – Strandkorb – a two seat affair, for a couple of Euro you receive a key to remove the little picket fence. The seat tips back, the awning comes down and hey presto you have your own mini cabana on the North Sea. Once we saw them in Cuxhaven we saw them pretty much everywhere, even a couple seemingly abandoned on the dykes.  P1120154

Cuxhaven Cobanna beach

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The best deck-chair ever?

After seeing all that Cuxhven had to offer we looked up details of the ferry times – to find it no longer runs!! Bit of a bugger and there is a moral in there somewhere. Alternative was the shorter crossing at Elbe. It took 100 km off our journey but we had to wait nearly 2 hours as the ferry queue stretched back over a mile. My German severely let us down when I ‘heard’ the ferryman ask for €70, when in fact he wanted €17 – thankfully an honest German ferryman :).

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in 600 metres take the ferry (or get very wet!!)

For the last few days we have been keeping very much to rural Germany. A couple of days on the coast staying on a wind-surfers campsite, to one side the dyke and the Wattenmeer,  to the other a large lake with crowds of German wind-surfers taking advantage of the gale force winds.  We were welcomed in to what seemed to be a bit of a makeshift set up, charged a few Euro and given a free cup of coffee.  Miles from anywhere we attempted a walk on the dyke but it was way to windy, so we made do with learning the art of wind-surfing from the warmth of our van.

Saturday morning we were up and away before 7.30am! Iain felt the need to see the day fully so we took the quiet roads North, within an hour we happened across Tonning, where we promptly stopped and pitched up overlooking the river. It’s a small village with a historic harbour on the edge of the River Eider just a few miles in from the North Sea. A new one on us here is the apparently popular ‘ring jousting’ tournaments. Twenty or so blokes on horses riding along a narrow stretch of park trying to lance metal rings suspended in the air. It may sound a bit dull, but was actually quite entertaining.

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The only shop open was a bakery where we bought the last of the days bread. We then needed a cart to carry it home. Not due to the quantity, we bought half a loaf, more due to it being heavier than a brick, whilst its very tasty it is surely the densest bread known to man. 

North Germany to us feels very similar to Norfolk (language and bread weight aside). Very flat, lots of waterways, mostly thatched houses, antique shops in every old house and plenty of evidence of some well to do inhabitants. The people are friendly, if a little more reserved than most countries we have visited. Possibly here it was due to my putting the proverbial towel out – staking our claim to the washing machine for several hours yesterday to do over two weeks worth of washing!

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Norfolk meets Germany

Today we cycled out to coast to see the Eider Barrage, the largest coastal defence in Germany. Built following the floods of the 1960’s the barrage is now a popular tourist attraction with two nature reserves, a couple of cafes and cycle paths galore around parks and coast.  On the two ends of the barrage a small colony of Arctic Terns have established breeding grounds, we were fortunate to witness the parents feeding chicks from just a few feet away, brilliant to see – pretty disgusting smell though.

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The Eider Barrage

Arctic Terns