A Travellerspoint blog

Time with Friends

Andre and Therese in Basel

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Zurich to Basel - 8 July

We awoke today excited at the afternoon rendezvous with our good friends Andre and Therese in Basel. Our meeting point was at 4:30pm underneath the 15 metre tall mechanical 'hammering man', you can't miss it they said and that was certaily the case. We arrived in town a mere 5 1/2 hours early and decided to take in the sights. After a quick pitstop for a nature break Steve found a handbag left in the cubicle. Our first introduction to Basel was a walking tour between the closed police station at the railstation before making our way across town to the weekend depot. On our tour we took in the sights such as the frescoed town hall, river and interesting transit boats, numerous clocks and a small food market before retiring from the rain to MacDonalds (our 4th visit in as many months, tut tut but oh soo good). Luckily the staff did not mind two soaked travellers setting up camp to read some LOTR and add our own assortment of tomato and cucumber to there tried and proven recipes.

Standing underneath the hammering man all of our travel weary worries and tension melted at the sight of our friends smiling faces. How funny to travel for so many months in unfamiliar places before finally seeing someone from home (even though they live here). Dinner was a fabulous affair cooked with real sized pots and pans, topped off with great conversations, endless catch-up regarding recent travel adventures from all of us and the chance to meet Therese's very friendly younger brother Robin.

Over the coming days our mornings started with a wonderful assortment of Swiss cold meats, Swedish caviar, local cheeses and all things good. On our first day we were shown Andre's playground (the ruined castle on the hill behind his parents house), enjoyed a picnic in a paddock during some wonderful sunshine and a driving tour through the Alsace in France, then Switzerland, France etc. about 6 times. On one of the entries we finally had our passports checked. Steve asked for an entry stamp and was denied on the grounds of they didn't have one! After dinner we sat up late discussing the light topics of war and politics in Switzerland and the world.

The following day Andre and Therese needed to drive to Zurich to secure their new apartment lease, which was as good a reason as any for us to revisit this great city. As it was raining we took a tour across the lake on the car ferry and drove high up into the hills for a spectacular view. Junghauskeller was the restaurant of choice, the best Swiss sausage house in Zurich (possibly the world), where we showed our appreciation and gratitude to both of them for their hospitality. Given that we don't understand Swiss German at the best of times, let alone in a crowded restaurant, Andre requested unnoticed a souvenir Junghauskeller beer mug for Steve. Thankyou Andre, it will be well used over the years.

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Walking down the famous shopping street, nibbling on champagne chocolate truffles, without hordes of people it is easy to see why so many people love this slick professional and elegant city on the lake. Having returned to Basel in the afternoon we toured Andre's family vineyard to taste the very young, sour and unripe grapes before settling in for our final dinner together.

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We really do hope to see both of them either in Zurich or Sydney before too long and will think of them whenever trimming a sail.

Posted by snchall 09:40 Archived in Switzerland Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Leichtenstein & Zurich

Unexpected Surprises

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Leichtenstein - Its small, really really small!

We would have done as all other tourists do in Leichtenstein and simply walked the small pedestrian shopping district however a number of obsticles made it very slow going. How lucky we were to find that this tiny little itsy bitsy country is a key stage in the Silveretta Classic car rally. The obsticles mentioned earlier were the procession of vintage and veteran sports coupes including Austin Healey, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Bristol AC Cobra, Bug (VW), Corvette, Fiat, Jaguar, Lotus, MG A & Bs, Mercedes, Porsche, Triumph, and a Volvo. After a few photos (A FEW!) we feel that our shopping trip in Leichtenstien was well out of our budget.

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We needed a tea to wash away the lead petrol fumes so we drove off in the opposite direction to the stream of classic cars still coming into town and found a waterfall on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley. Revived it was time to drive along a winding mountain pass into Switzerland making our way towards Zurich. After endurring our first traffic jam in months we set up camp at the very busy Lake Zurich campsite looking back at the city from the western shores. It was a long, hot and tiring day having driven more than 340 km in 4 countries so we had an early dinner and went to bed early at 10pm. Just as our heads hit the pillow we were startled by the sound of a massive explosion!

Ordinarily we would have been scared however the simultaneous eruption of dodgy 80's music from the speakers surrounding Zurich lake it could mean only one thing, fireworks. Our welcome to Switzerland party had obviously begun without us! Within seconds we were scurrying through the campsite pulling on cloths and cameras for a magical fireworks display across the lake.

Zurich - 7 July

Our day in Zurich started on the bus before walking thruogh the deserted streets, a quick stop in a well stocked model railway shop then settled by the lake to watch the swans. All around us and throughout the streets were festival stalls, open air bars and restaurants, fun park rides etc. It wasn't until then did we realise that we had arrived in Zurich in the midst of one of Switzerlands largest tri-annual festivals.

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We mixed up our time between stopping at the shows, smelling all the wonderful food stalls, window shopping in the classy shops and taking in the beautiful old city streets before lunch by the lake. Some of the highlights included breakdancing, swiss military helicopter and stunt plane shows, high diving, dragon boat races under the bridges of the river, feeding the swans, a bit of LOTRs under a willow tree, and a final spectacular fireworks display from the comfort of the campsite private park.

Posted by snchall 08:49 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Germany

Romance & Education in Bavaria

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On our final morning in Prague we were greeted with a sunshower which drove us underground to the metro. After a well executed multitude of line changes we arrived with time to spare. On board to Germany the ticket conductor gave us a frown before explaining that this carriage was going to Munich, not Nuremburg! We finished comparing travel notes with the friendly Canadians in our compartment before loading up and navigating to the very packed front three carriages.

Nuremburg - 2 July

We have found that when the tourist information bureau needs to look up where the closest camp site is, it usually means it is out of the way. Even though it turned out the indicated tram line was not ideal, the necessary route took us through Hitlers military procession grounds. The light rain and a menacing sky excentuated this unfriendly location. Thankfully our first German campsite owner was delightful.

After pitching tent between showers and a quick bite to eat in the common room we headed back into town via the much closer train station to explore. Camilla created a comprehensive tourist walk using the town map taking us past numerous churches, fountains and the Australian Icecream Shop. Understaning that much of Nuremburg was destroyed in WWII it is lucky that some of the historic buildings remain intact, whilst much of the rebuilt areas remind us of a cross between Brisbane and Chatswood.

After finishing a toast to another new country to visit we walked the shiny cobblestone streets alongside the city fortifications in a beautiful sunshower. Ducking outside the safety of the medieval city wall we were rewarded with a view of a thick vivid rainbow crowning the Opera House.

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Satishfied with our afternoon in Nuremburg we organised a car for the following day, headed back to camp for a basic dinner, received a brief lesson on Nazi politics from a Swedish history teacher and slept as only exhausted travellers can.

Romantishe Strasse (Romantic Road) through Bavaria - Day One - 3 July

It was a nice surprise to find that we received a free upgrade to a four door VW Golf even thought our booking specifics were somewhat lost in translation. Unfortunately, after packing our gear into the car (still amazed that it all fits in two backpacks) we were hurried off the train station parking before we could get our bearings. With maps in hand the result was an unplanned circular, then spiral, then multiple u-turn tour of Nuremburg.

We finally found the No. 6 to Shillingsfurst and breathed a sigh of relief. We attempted to determine where the 'schloss' (castle) was located from a map on the tourist billboard. It just so happened that we were standing in the castle carpark! After a pitstop at the backery and supermarket for supplies Camilla offered to drive whilst attempting to dismantle the steering wheel and relocate on the right. After some minor confusion we were steadily underway, what an experience to drive on the WRONG side of the road for the first time. After a short time Camilla drove us into a field (deliberately) where we stopped for tea just before the heavens opened.

Feuchtwagen was our next stop and already we were feeling more romantic! Driving past the sentry tower at the top of the hill, and possible through the pedestrian only parts of town by accident, we exited under the little aches and onto Dinkelsbuhl. Walking around the streets of this interesting little town we enjoyed climbing onto the ramparts where we passed a number of the 16 guards towers. The houses in Dinkelsbuhl have fantastic manicured gardens. It was raining at the time which made the entire town shine, as well as keep away those pesky tourists that get in our way (assuming we are not pesky also).

Drying off in the car we made our way through the Ries Valley, created 15 million years ago by a 1km wide meteorite which left a 25km wide crater. Thankfully we were late for that fireworks display. In the centre of the crater is the impressive walled village of Nordlingen, one of the few towns in Europe where visitors can view the town from the fully intact rampart walls. Again Camilla effectively nagivated the visitors walking tour (except for a few of what she calls 'Necessary Detours').

As the evening drew on it was time to find a camp site which was not as easy as we first thought. Zipping through the delightful Harburg, crossing the river 3 times, asking 2 guest houses for directions, getting lost in someones backyard (literally), then finally turned away by the campsite owner as the patch of grass adjacent to the river was deemed 'too wet', continued to Donaeworth, shot through the same intersection from all possible directions, caught on a small section of the Autobahn, we finally found ourselves in a nice little wheat field where we could see through the campsite hedge to the soft grass patch awaiting us. Total distance for the day including all detours = 235km.

Dachau Detour - Day 2 - 4 July

Today we planned our departure from the Romantic Road to to Dachau, near Munich. We spent the whole day at Gedenkstatte Concentration camp with a comprehensive audioguides to help with our concerted attempt to learn of the attrocities which occurred on these grounds. There is little we can write here to fully communicate how chilled to the bone with grief and horror we felt at how human beings can behave. Our visit will be remembered always not just for the ferocious winds and dark clouds that accompanied us through the bleek compound, but mostly for the knowledge and saddness we take with us through life.

Back on the Romantishe Strasse - Day 3 - 5 July

Having found the campsite more easily than the night before, we awoke beside Annasee lake to the sound of yacht mast ropes clicking and slapping. A short jaunt into the forest for tea and strudel for breakfast gave us full bellies until lunch which was also a formal roadside affair admiring King Ludwig II's masterpiece.

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Neushwanstein castle tour opened our eyes to the sheer decadence possible when you are an opera obsessed, swan loving mad king without a budget. The short stroll up to Mariebruck bride afforded one of the greatest views of Bavaria, only just short of our splendid windy campsite on the lake at Brunnen. To conclude our short yet enriching journey through Germany we had some local beverages and read LOTR (Lord of the Rings) until late into the evening.

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The Romance is Over - Day 4 - 6 July

For 4 days in a row now we have been able to pack up camp only moments before the rain came and thismorning was no exception. First stop for the morning was the pretty town of Fussen with matchstick fountains where 100kg bolders rotate sickeningly metres above our heads then to backery hop down to the river. Leaving town we stopped at the Lech falls where we saw more water flow per second than anywhere else so far. After a small navigation glitch (gap in corresponding maps) we simply decided to head south via Fern Pass and 'turn right' in Austria. It sounded simple enough, and once on the correct road to Leihctenstien we settled into the rhythm of freeway driving.

Travelling through numerous tunnels in the hills it was in a moment where to Steves absolute horror he gasped and we both witnessed the vehicle behind doing almost twice the legal speed limit (80km/h) in a tunnel with oncoming traffic (single lanes). Only metres from our car the driver locked up the brakes, fishtailed violently across both lanes in the tunnel before flipping onto its roof and narrowly missing our rear. Before this scene fully registered in our minds we had exited the tunnel and unable to safely turn back or stop. We hope the driver and any passengers were not hurt.

Posted by snchall 07:50 Archived in Germany Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Prague

The new 'Top Three European City' location

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Leaving Cesky Krumlov was a reluctant move. To soften the blow we had planned a walk through the castle gardens which rewarded us with great views of the town below. On our 'hike' through town, that is we were carrying our packs and therefore were 'hiking' we made it 20 steps before diving into a small restaurant for more traditional feast. Full of pork snitzel and roast duck we boarded our bus, destination Prague.

Watching the rolling hills, thick evergreen forests and small farmland lakes pass by the window over the hours was enriched by a number of attempts to read LOTR without getting ill. Camilla needed to remind Steve at the bus stop in Prague that you cannot judge a book by the editorial notes left at the dank, smelly and often overlooked bookshelf behind the toilet receptical. Sorry, a bit left of field, Prague looked pretty grim from where we were standing.

As with all similar scenarios on this trip a spoon full of Metro helps the busstation go down. 15 minutes later and we popped our heads out of the underground network to be greeted by traditional blacksmiths hammering bells into shape below the national museum at the end of the avenue. Whew.

Organising our fully equipped apartment only 10 steps to the river and behind the National Theatre was effortless in the helpful tourist office. 'Hiking' down the main road we had no idea yet of what lay in store around the corner into the old town or what may greet us from across the Vltava river. Eagerly dropping our bags and equiping ourselves for an explore we were out the door within seconds.

Standing across from Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world, with the Charles Bridge to our right we knew that this city had a lot of secrets to discover.

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Dragging ourselves away from the river bend we delved deep into the heart of the old town, crossing numerous cobblestone streets and dodging trams left right and centre to find the famous astronomical clock.

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In the old town square we admired the incredibly bright and colourful mansions lit by late afternoon sun, watched the buskers playing music and the many tourists starting to settle down to the evening meal.

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Knowing the good food at reasonable prices is always found a couple of streets back from the tourist hotspots we decided on dinner in the small courtyard behind the old town cathedral attached to a jazz club established in a 15th century cellar. Now that our love affair with hearty meat meals and Czech beer is well ingrained we ate pork shoulder with potato pancakes and beef goulash.

It is possible to wander the streets of Prague without fatigue for many hours however we realised that the only true compliment necessary after such a good meal was gelato. Where else in the world would you find a harpist playing Pacebels Canone in your local cremeria.

Day 1 - 30 June

The bakery did not see us coming as we dove for cover behind the pastry shelf for breakfast. Unfortunately we are not carrying a laptop with satellite connection so our first stop after breakfast was the @Cafe for a quick blog fix and juice to wash down the pastries. By the time we had surfed the www and chatted to all you fine folks the temptation to have a meal at the chinese restaurant outside the window was overwhelming.

Our objective for the afternoon may have been a little ambitious, visit the worlds largest castle complex. Thankfully they know that even the most hardened and diligent tourists with no real interest in anything at all could not possibly walk around this vast and gorgeous complex in less than 4 hours. We had three so were grateful that the long visit ticket would be valid for two days. Without further adue Camilla rushed back to the side of more handsome of the two sentry guards you have ever seen giggling like a schoolgirl.

After the blushing subsided (Camilla, not the guard) we entered the St Vitus gothic cathedral (one of the largest of its kind) we stood in silent amazement at the vast cavity that lay before us. The intricacy of the stained glass is unparalleled and a free climb up the 287 steps to the top of the bell tower was the icing on the cake. Having gawked at Prague from such a vantage point it is difficult to imagine any other city beside Venice or Paris will remain in our minds so prominently.

The rest of our visit on the first day included the old palace, St Georges basilica and convent erected over 1,200 years above more than 120 tombs from ancient times, the golden lane, guard tower and dungeon and finally the portrait gallery. Exhausted we handed by the garrulous (similar to our blog), tangent stricken audioguide we headed down the numerous stairs through the cobbled streets and across the Charles Bridge in the late afternoon for supper.

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In true medieval style Camilla had pork goulash in a bread round with pretzel and Steve gnawed on his first Pork Knee (enormous!) shaved horseradish and mustard. Exhausted we headed back for the evening with excitment brewing for our return the following day.

Day 2 - 1 July - Happy New Half Year

Today was commenced with a detour via the old Praha 1st train station where we came across a full blown film set in motion. Nothing too interesting, obviously they are hiding the stars in those big trailers, so we proceeded to the ticket booth to make our decision on where to go. You would think that these sorts of decisions are made well in advance however it has come to us that a trip of this nature is best grown organically. Of course we had in mind that Germany is on the cards tomorrow so it was just a matter of confirming that our desired destination was possible, reasonable etc.

Back through the cobbled streets of the old town we admired the astronomical clock tower again from a variety of angles through the throngs of tourist buses piling out for a sunny Sunday visit.

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No visit to Prague Castle would be complete without enjoying watching the handsome uniformed sentry guards change shift, or so we thought. After blinking at precisely the wrong moment half of the 30 second ceremony was over. Eitherway, it is good to know that when the youngest guard came out looking nervous and a little lopsided there was formal assistance from the guardkeeper to adjust his shining outfit.

Prague Castle had only two major exhibits left for us to enjoy. The story of the Castle complex, which included models, prehistoric remains of wholly mammoths, ancient graves (complete), jewelry, attire and crown jewels. Our second stop was the National Gallery which in comparison to many of the non-permanent exhibits left a little to be desired. On our way out of the castle we visited the gardens and walked down below the imposing cathedral and castle walls to the river below.

We debated for a good 15 seconds how to finish off an experience such as we have had in Prague and decided that it was only fitting to plant ourselves at the trendy Cafe/Restaurant/Bar/Disco/Terrace directly adjacent to the Charles Bridge and across from the castle. With cold drinks in hand we decided at this point that Prague has been such a spectacular highlight in our trip that our future plans will be to revisit in the future when the ground is thick with snow. As we left tonight in a steaming sunshower we know this decision will be one easy to keep.

Posted by snchall 13:32 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Cesky Krumlov

An unforeseen detour of great beauty

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Finally another stamp in the passport. While we have each travelled to 10 (or more countries which is debatable if you include principalities or not) the EU member countries have very loose border control processes. As we entered the Czech Replublic on the train we were warmly greeted in the carriage by 4 armed and uniformed border controllers.

20 minutes after this pleasant encounter we were kicked off the direct route train and herded onto 1960s buses due to trackwork (our Cesky may lack some finer translations). Without complaint we arrived in Cesky Budojovice on time and had a good hour up our sleeves for two of Steve's most favourite things. A visit to a new country supermarket, and to order the original Budwieser Budvar beer from Budejovice where it originated. The palers, crappier and unfortunately more profitable 'Bud' of the US has been in court battles for over 50 years as to the original but we now know which is the preference.

Onto an old rattler of a train which may have been the same vintage of the bus it was off to Cesky Krumlov. Knowing little of the destination and entirely amused with the carriage full of teenage Czechs making their way back from a school camp Steve dove off the train for 2 more ORIGINAL Buds for the ride. As the train was only a couple of carriages long it was easy to see past the engine at the overgrown grass between the rail sleepers and the encroaching forest.

Cesky Krumlov - 27 June (Arrival)

As the rain started to spit we were unperturbed in our quest for shelter. It is a great feeling to know that if suitable lodgings are not found we will simply aim at the town square at pitch. Finding accommodation in this medieval town was no qualms as every single backpacker from Austria to Eastern Europe comes via Cesky Krumlov. Having met the very cute receptionist, the price of good food and wine, and dumping our bags in fantastic cheap accommodation it is easy to see why.

Cesky Krumlov is a fairytale town nestled below rolling pasture land, in the crook of a fast flowing river below the Czech Republics second largest (and arguably most picturesque) 11th century castle.

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Dinner was the typical self catering we often do just after Steve has been carrying the bags for an extended period i.e. throw everything that weighs anything into a pot and heat. Sitting in our 1/4 acre garden overlooking the imposing town cathedral we enjoyed the view of the setting sun and drank to the Czech Republic.

Day 1 - 28 June

Our morning started with a big walk to find some food given that everything that was left ended up the pot previously mentioned. A big walk in Cesky Krumlov (pronounced Cheskie) would infact lead you off well into the adjoining pasture land on the opposite side of the county, instead we use this terminology to describe the continuous 300 metres of walk following the river bends to the rolled cookie store.

In fact the store was more a hole in the wall with yet another very cute (Steve is typing and therefore can put anything he likes!) Czech bakerette. Rolled cookies are baked around a large hot cylinder then dipped in butter and covered with almonds, cinnamon and suger. In retrospect we only needed one but two seemed the right and proper thing to do...

Climbing the winding cobblestone stairs through town to the bridge entrance of the castle we took time to admire the greeting party. In the bear pit there was no less than three... BEARS. What did you think we were going to say? Very cute, certainly cuddly and at a distance as tame as a kitten. No further experiments were made regarding their friendliness.

Straight up the closest vantage point we climbed the 13th-16th century tower (difficult to give an age to many things in Europe from the middle ages as they have frequently been burnt down, redeveloped etc.) Looking like a giant kids playground rocketship the tower has one of the most stunning frescos covering its outer stones. From the top we could see into the distant forests, hills and down to the jigsaw puzzle streets of Krumlov.

At 1:20pm our tour of the Rosenburg castle commenced with the increasingly gorgeous tour guide Camilla. A tour of a medieval castle with no less than 2 beautiful blue eyed, brunette and porcelain skinned Camillas was a treat for Steve. Camilla hung on every word and was suitably distracted by the bearskin rugs, 16th century interior frescos and perfectly maintained period furniture. Near the end of the visit we saw the golden carriage, used once to deliver presents to the pope it was adorned with over 2kgs of leaf gold. The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Masquerade hall with no less than 123 personalities in costume frescoed on all walls.

Now absolutely famished only one Czech traditional meal would suffice. Ordering the Bohemian feast with phesant, millet, potato, smoked bacon, yogurt dressing, saurkraut, beer and a goblet of wine we sat for the best part of the afternoon by the river below the castle (nb: castle tower climbed earlier on the left of the photo below).

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Cesky Krumlov has been one of the great stops made on the trip so far and whilst not being a truly accurate and comprehensive cross-section of the entire Czech Republic, we do hope it is a relatively accurate preview of what may be to come.

Posted by snchall 12:57 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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