Luxembourg, Sunday, June 10, 2012
It was absolutely tipping it down with rain when we packed up to leave Innsbruck, so I was already a bit irritable when we drove down to the petrol station we had earmarked for a fill up with cheap Austrian fuel (diesel €1.45 per litre) before we crossed to Germany. Of course every car and truck in Austria had the same idea so all the entrance ways were blocked. Never mind, we knew of another further up the road. Unfortunately when we got there we realised that we would not be able to manoeuvre the caravan in and out, so we had to drive past along the village street looking for somewhere to turn round. No easy feat doing a U turn towing 25ft of caravan in a village street.
managed it without disaster and set off on the motorway towards the Fern pass, hoping that there would be fuel once we left the motorway to join the pass road. Thankfully we found a service area on the approach to the pass, designed to frustrate all
concerned. It was a sharp left across the carriageway to the filling station and then there was no parking that side of the road for caravans, so we had to return to the main road in the opposite direction and do a U turn into the service area car park
on the other side of the road. After all that I needed far more than a coffee, but common sense prevailed and we settled for the usual. Of course we forgot that in Austrian and German service areas you must go to the loo before going to the cafeteria.
The loo costs 50 cents, but the entrance machine issues you with a ticket to get 50 cents off the coffee. We have two tickets for sale if anyone wants to buy them……..
By then the rain was clearing and spirits were lifting, and the road over the pass, whilst not as spectacular as we had hoped, was still very picturesque. Before we knew it we were in Germany and onto their famed autobahn system and their less well known opening hours system. We all know that in the Mediterranean countries everything stops for the afternoon siesta, but one can usually find some places open and there is not a lot of restriction on arriving at campsites. Germany however shuts down, full stop. This meant we had to reach our targeted campsite by 1pm or sit outside until 3. We had timed our departure with this in mind, but I had forgotten the fact that in Germany you cannot tow a caravan at more than 80kmph unless your outfit has gone through a special test. Needless to say we had not, and although 50mph is not much slower than our usual towing speed, it was slow enough to cause concern about reaching our destination. It is strange that on many autobahns there is no speed limit at all for cars, but trucks are limited to 90kmph and untested caravans to 80kmph. It makes for some scary and frustrating driving. There are many stretches where trucks and towing vehicles are not allowed to overtake, which makes it a bit safer for the Mercs and BMWs flying past at 200mph, but so irritating on a long slow hill being stuck behind a truck crawling along at 40 when you know you have enough power to safely overtake. However we reached Waldpark Camping at Hohenstadt, half way between Ulm and Stuttgart with five minutes to spare.
After all that it was a very pleasant campsite. The friendly owner directed us to a good spot and we set up camp and had lunch. I was all ready for a relaxing afternoon, but you may recall from the end of the last instalment that we had no food in the larder! So it was off to the next town to the supermarket before I could sit down and have a nap. All ended well though, the supermarket had rhubarb at 99 cents a kilo. Couldn’t resist.
Next morning while collecting the bread at reception I asked about places to visit nearby. We had picked Hohenstadt more because it was half way between A and B than for a need to see the area. I was told that the city of Ulm was well worth the 25 mile trip, and that the little town of Blaubeuren was a must. The sun had re-appeared so Lesley took advantage of a very cheap washing machine to catch up. By lunchtime it was too hot to sit outside to eat and the washing dried in no time. After lunch we had a short chat with our new neighbours, who, it turned out, came from Barcombe, near Lewes, just 15 miles from Seaford. We also had two other visitors. Two lovely Persian cats appeared, very friendly, purring and looking for food. Sadly, although apparently healthy and well fed, they were not well groomed and their fur was extremely matted. They visited us several times over the next couple of days.
We set off for Blaubeuren after lunch, to find it as described, a very pretty little town set in a rocky hollow with lots of very old, very Germanic buildings, a 15th Century Benedictine Abbey and monastery and a wonderful blue lagoon, which gives the town its name. The lagoon is either a collapsed cave or a sinkhole, I’m not sure which or even if there is a difference, but it is quite round and a wonderful clear deep blue in colour. The water from the karst hills bubbles up through it and over a weir to form the river Blau. Most of you will have heard of the river Blau without realising it. It flows from here to Ulm, where it joins the Donau, or Danube as we know it. Blau-Donau became simply Donau, but the English version, Blue Danube, lives on through Strauss waltzes. The Danube itself, as anyone who has seen it will confirm, was never blue.
Next to the lagoon, making use of the flow to drive a water wheel is an old drop forge, and across the weir is the abbey which has an amazing altarpiece and beautifully carved choirstalls. Surrounding it are many old buildings and a nicely crooked main street. There is a nice little stream running through the town, one street back from the main street, which was reminiscent of some Dales or North Yorks Moors villages. There can’t be many towns though where you can live in the town centre and be able to fish for trout out of your living room window!
On the way back to Hohenstadt it started to rain, and by the time we got to the campsite it was tipping it down again. The skies were black and later that evening we had a wonderful thunderstorm, with lightning forking down from the sky and thunder rolling round the hills.
Next day was fine again so we set off for a day in Ulm. Ulm has several claims to fame: it was one of Europe’s most important medieval cities, its cathedral has the highest church spire in the world (528ft), it is the birthplace of Albert Einstein and it was at the Ulm School of design that the pictograms currently used to represent each Olympic sport were designed in 1972, for the Munich Olympics.
Ulm was much bombed by the Allies in the war, but many old buildings, including the cathedral, survived and many have been rebuilt as they were. However part of the city which was badly bombed is now a smart modern shopping centre. The old Fishermans Quarter, on the banks of the Blau where it joins with the Danube, was very pretty, and the walk along the city wall along the banks of the Danube was very pleasant, although by now the sky was getting grey and it was very hot and humid.
Lesley was intrigued by the new public library, looking very like the glass pyramid at the
Louvre, so of course she had to go in and inspect.
Opposite the beautifully painted Rathaus we found an Indian restaurant and the smell wafting out of its doors was far too tempting to resist. We had a very good value help yourself buffet, which, though not up to “English” standards, was a welcome change. You don’t realise how much you miss some things!
After lunch we went to the
cathedral, which we could not get into earlier because of an organ concert. The interior of the cathedral matches the exterior in its size. The chancel arch has the largest fresco north of the Alps, at the entrance to the chancel is
the tallest tabernacle in Germany, and the overall effect of these and the tall Gothic vaulting is to strain the neck looking heavenwards. Whilst overall the cathedral did not provide the quality to match the quantity, the choir stalls were the exception.
Wonderful 15th century carving of the stalls, the misericords and the busts of both biblical and pagan characters really were a sight. After this I am afraid we did not attempt the 768 step ascent of the spire.
On the way back to the car park we passed a shop which we had seen elsewhere: Euroland. Then the penny (or should I say cent?) dropped. It is the German equivalent of the Poundshop. Lesley was in like a flash and emerged with a pair of flip-flops and two pairs of trainer socks. She just can’t resist a bargain. Then on the way home, inevitably, it started to rain.
After a quiet day on the Friday, punctuated by a visit to the supermarket, we set off on Saturday to another campsite in a place once more remarkable only for it being halfway between A and B. Camping Konigsberg at Wolfstein was a very nice site indeed. It was peaceful, it was cheap, the facilities were good but its location? I struggle to remember where it was. Somewhere near Kaiserslautern I think, or was it Sauerkrauter? I recall a drive on the autobahn past Stuttgart, stopping at a service area which had the temerity to charge €2.99 for a donut (usually continental service areas are reasonably priced); I recall passing a Mercedes factory and a Ford factory, and crossing the Rhine somewhere near Karlsruhe, then going up what might easily have been a Pennine mill valley and past some huge Army bases, but how we got to the site and how we left it I have no idea. As I say, it was a nice site and we had a relaxing couple of rainy days there, but why it was where it was, with no distinguishing features in the area to visit, I have no idea. There was a littlerailway line nearby with an hourly train, there were some fields of sheep and cows which occasionally sang in a loud chorus.
Sunday was the day of the Jubilee river pageant. It was one of the few Jubilee events (if not the only one) that I wanted to see, so up goes the satellite dish and let’s find BBC1. We had a good signal, but of course our wee caravan TV is no match for the huge wide screen HD sets everyone has now, and the tiny boats were a bit lost. At one point I wondered why one boat was going in the opposite direction to all the others until I realised it was a fly on the screen. Most disappointing though was the BBC commentary. It added nothing. In fact most of the time it was a distraction. A number of B or C list celebrities taking the opportunity to promote themselves, none of them telling us what was actually happening. Repeated mentions of the peal of bells which preceded the parade, the bands and the orchestras, but did we get to hear them? No, they were talked over by these nitwits. Stephen Fry described the presentation as mind numbingly tedious, and I am afraid I had to agree. What a disappointment. Fortunately, just as the rain on the Thames had put a dampener n the day, so the rain on the caravan roof drowned out much of the commentary.
Next day we moved on to Luxembourg, where it was still wet, but more of that in the next instalment.