Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cooks' Tales

It's interesting to put it all together, so here is Susanne and Crosby's 'spin' on The Trip.

After picking up our coach and meeting P&R, we were loaded onto the cross -Channel Ferry. The ferry is mind-bogglingly huge!! There were dozens of semis (HGVs over here) and tourist buses and caravans and just ordinary cars. Once the bus was loaded we had to get out and could wander almost anywhere. We found a nice fresh air place and guess what? I did not get sea-sick! I was very pleased with myself. C did point out that it was almost impossible to get sea sick as the crossing was so smooth, but I could feel it lurking at the edges. We had to buy food for tea (dinner, supper, whatever) as there was no meal provided that night and we would not get there 'til late. We watched the White Cliffs (sort of green and grubby) disappear and the French coast appear, there was a call to load and we were all back on the bus which was unloaded (took a bit longer than it sounds). And there we were driving (on the wrong side of the road) through France and then into Belgium. Now we can say we've been to France and Belgium. (Or at least through them).
The hotel we stayed at was nothing special. Clean and neat, yes. Soap and towels supplied etc., TV yes, but was supposed to be 4 stars and according to the paper on the wall 200 euros a night. No Way!
Breakfast was interesting: buffet style, we were offered a choice of croissants, rolls, variety of sliced meats and cheeses and hard boiled eggs(cold). Also fruit and cereals. On our way out, P discovered that there were also some hot foods offered..bad timing Peter.
Back to the bus, and a rather long and sort of boring trip for the whole day. We had toilet stops, morning and afternoon tea stops and lunch. The scenery was the same all the way. Paul the driver did say it was the edge of the Black Forest. So I watched carefully for witches and dwarves and talking animals and gingerbread houses, but I did not see a single one. We met several holdups, road works, and assorted incidents, just to make the journey so much longer. We arrived much later than planned, had dinner (nice) and collapsed into bed.
The view from our room was superb! Beautiful mountains, with green meadows on the lower slopes and grey stone higher up, dark green pines and lovely chalet style houses decorated with flowers. Every morning it looked different. P&R had different mountains and different buildings from their window.
A very similar breakfast to the other, though this place also had raw eggs you could cook yourself. I tried something different every day. The cheeses were nice, some of the breads were yummy and there was real butter as well as marge. Some of the meats were nice and some mmm...Fruit was pretty ordinary...I think in Australia we have been spoilt for fresh fruit and vege.
Mon: We left for our first castle at 9:30 and drove through fairytale tall mountains.. chalets covered with flowers, hanging baskets and window boxes.... cows with bells around their necks....neat little fields with some golden crop waiting to be harvested..... and absolutely no rubbish; unbelievable!!! Little shrines in the most obscure spots (Austria is a Catholic country) lovely.
Now for Neuschwanstein. Another slice of fairy-tale life. The castle is set in a fairytale landscape and looks like something that Cinderella or the Sleeping Beauty would inhabit. Stunning!! Our bus parked at the foot and we caught a mini bus up to Mary's Bridge. This is no bridge for height-fearers! [Crosby: needless to stay I didn't go right into the middle!] Suspended over a chasm with a raging torrent (well, maybe a bit smaller than a torrent), the view was out of this world. On one side the mountains sloping to the river and on the other a stunning view of Neuschwanstein, set in its mountain please!! I took lots of photos, but when C checked them he said we wanted the castle and not my foot (how did that happen?) so he had to brave the bridge and take some himself. We walked the rest of the way to the castle, to face the dreaded entrance. Paul had warned us about this nerve-wracking system, possibly designed to eliminate the weaker members of the human race. First one had to wait for one's group number to come up...we were 433!!.. then one lined up at the gate and waited for the green light for your group. Then you had to slip your ticket in the slot, pull it out at the right moment and then walk through the turnstile or lose your turn for ever, or at least until some official, with an exasperated sigh, let you through. With such intelligent people as C&P&R (I hope you are reading this P&R) I had no trouble getting through, though a couple of ladies on our tour had to be rescued.
Inside the castle itself was mind-boggling! You need to get out your thesaurases and find words to fill in here!! The whole castle was painted with themes from Wagners Operas. Seems King Ludwig was very keen on Wagner. All the walls and ceilings were covered with murals, sounds rather boring, doesn't it? "The walls were covered with murals", but it was absolutely stunning, beautiful colours, exquisite carvings and gold leaf everywhere. Each room more overwhelming than the last!! Our guide mentioned that Ludwig had been "committed" and taken to Munich, as he had spent all his money and some of his rellies' money on these castles. He never lived in this one. Later Ludwig and his physiciatrist were found drowned in a Lake. There is a mystery about this as Ludwig was a very tall and strong, healthy man who was an excellent swimmer...Our tour guide spoke very good English, and at the end of the tour when we thanked her, I complimented her on her English, guess what.. she had spent a year in Australia, near Coff's Harbour!! So we had a nice little chat, before leaving the castle and heading inevitably to the shop. If I have ever complained about prices in English tourist shops I take it back!! For ruinous prices, nothing matched this shop. We were almost tempted to take photos of the price tags (couldn't afford anything else).
Now down to the small village, where our bus had been left. We could walk down, take the mini bus down or catch a horse drawn vehicle. So of course we caught the horse transport. Once in the village we found a nice spot to sit and eat and watch things go by. Very restful.
Now back on the bus and off to the Church in the Meadow. It really was in a meadow. We wandered off to the church, expecting just another church. Forget "just another church". This church was, well, stunning, (I think I am overworking this word). So light and airy with gold paint and beautiful pictures on the wall. It is hard to conjure up the atmosphere of such a light, colourful, spacious church.
Next morning on to Vipiteno, Italy. We thought that we would end up in some Italiano somthing or other. Not so. It was a very Austrian/Bavarian village. This is because (as Paul explained it) the village is still part of Tirol, only Italian Tirol. The language seemed to be German. We went off to explore and found the tourist info place where I tried out my limited German (very limited) and found some one who spoke English. She suggested the church and the old room in the Rathaus [Crosby: not very complimentary; it's pronounced 'rat-house'] (council chambers) and yes we made all the obvious jokes about the two names. The old church was fascinating, we crept around so as not to disturb the people in there who were praying. More old paintings on the wall. I also caused a slight muddle with my German, there were so many people in the church, that I asked someone if it was a Mass going on as we had no desire to tramp rudely through a service. He misunderstood me (not hard) thinking that I wanted to attend a Mass and very kindly showed me the list of Mass times posted outside. Very thoughtful.. what could I say except "Dankeschon". But at least we knew that there was no service going on. Throughout our whole trip we found people very friendly and helpful like this (even if total understanding was lacking).
We found the Rathaus and the old room, where we saw an old heater tiled all over and originally wood burning which used to be common in old chalets, but no longer in use. Sadly, we could not read any of the signs around as they were all in German.
Leaving the Rathaus we met up with P&R and pointed them in the direction of the places we'd seen and they pointed us in the direction of the cafe that sold nice hot- chocolates. We didn't make the cafe as we were side-tracked by a shop selling the most beautiful embroidery, but the prices... so high and the lady so insistent that I almost felt threatened thereby making me reluctant to buy. C would not buy a pair of braces embroided all-over with flowers.[Too expensive for slingshots!] We also saw our first eidelweiss, funny looking flower, rather spiky to look at but a soft creamy colour and it felt like an Australian Flannel flower. Back to the bus...
We went to Innsbruck, in Austria. The bus was parked in the official Bus Park and we wended our way into town..not far...., past lots of shops etc. until we came to the Plaza where the Golden Roof was. It seems some king or Duke or some body had heard a rumour that he was poor. This so incensed him that he built a golden roof...actually tiles covered with gold leaf. The roof shone and sparkled as we admired it. Looked like it had just been polished, then we set off to look at the Cathedral. C by this time was feeling quite crook, with a high temp.[Crosby: thank you, Peter!] The 4 of us admired the Cathedral though poor C spent most of his time sitting in a pew "admiring". He had hoped to take the ski lift to the top of a local mountain, but that was becoming increasingly out of the question.
We found some little old narrow lanes, and wandered through them, looking at all the lovely and expensive souvenirs, then off to the museum, far too expensive ,[Crosby: I don't think they would have sold it anyway] and R was starting to feel a bit tired. In case you are wondering we could not take C straight back to the bus as it was locked until a certain time. By now it was getting close to bus opening time so we started to wend our way (slowly) back to the bus.
Back to the hotel, C dosed up with panadol, crawled into bed and slept for the rest of the afternoon and night. By now R was feeling better and P still a bit crook, so abandoning our husbands to nap time R& I set off to find a supermarket, to buy water. On the way we crossed a bridge with the beautiful water that was so common in this area. It was a soft milky sort of bluey-green, and tumbled charmingly in its gentle, shallow way, over rocks and it looked so picturesque. The sort of place you could take the kiddies to paddle. We found it hard to believe, as Paul told us later, that on one tour the river had flooded so wildly that the bridge was covered and the tour bus could not get out.By the way, if you are wondering, we found a supermarket (an Aldi under another name) and bought some water and returned to the hotel, all with barely a bungle. Mind you, crossing the road was interesting as all the cars were on the wrong side.!!
Wed, off to Linderhoff Castle, another creation of Ludwig. Now this castle was where Ludwig ended up living. This is also known as "The Wedding Cake". Again we were booked to enter the Castle at a set time, so we had time to wander the grounds and see THE Fountain. It rose every 15 min (I think) so we got to watch it several times. Then it was time to line-up for our entry. We had to go through in a group, as we were counted. P (of course) was missing, and C (of course) was allowing some ladies ahead of him, but they weren't in our tour!! He was nearly counted out. But we all made it . This castle was white outside and all Rocco style with lots of gold. Each room was a different colour. One room which was yellow had silver leaf trim. This was a small "cosy" palace . In the dining room was a table which had some kind of set-up which was lowered through the floor to the kitchen to be set or cleared and the next course set. This saved Ludwig from having to see the servants. He lived alone here in all this splendour, and rarely saw any other human. So sad.
After our tour of the castle was over, we headed off to see the grotto. Ludwig also had this built. It looks like a large cave, but is set up for the performances of... guess who... yes, Wagner's works. So lavish, so expensive, the very first place in Bavaria to have electricity. There are coloured lights shining on the water, and a stage and all this for a one man audience as no-body ever came here except Ludwig ... He must have been a very lonely man.
On to the Moorish tea house. This you could not enter, merely looked-at through the doorway which was glassed off. The whole of the inside was covered with tiny tiles, in all sorts of patterns, quite fascinating. Time to wander back to the bus.
Thurs. The morning was free, C & P were feeling better so we set off to wander around Reutte, the nearby town. It was inevitably beautiful and clean. We saw lots of old buildings with murals on their external walls. Lots of lovely window boxes, filled with bright colourful flowers. Not a lot of actual flower gardens. Most of the gardens are window boxes. These "Gardens" are taken inside during the Winter, with their heavy snowfalls, [Crosby: must get cool in there] and renewed next Summer. We found the Tourist Info, with some pamphlets in English (yea!!), a 2nd hand shop, with lovely Austrian clothes, nothing fitted. Again C refused some lovely embroided braces...I don't know why.... I can just see him wearing them to work....well, maybe not. I wonder if I can convey to you the atmosphere of this town: Lovely 2-3 storey chalets, with fascinating pictures, colourful flowers everywhere, no litter, not many cars..we just strolled along gazing at the sights... it seemed very gentle.
Now, back to business. Lunch at the hotel, then off to Ettal Abbey and Oberammergau. The Abbey was again spectacular. Light and airy and full of gold leaf. This was founded in 1330...a bit before my time. [Crosby: only a bi!]
The small village of Oberammergau was threatened by the plague and they asked God to deliver them, and promised to perform the "Passion Play" if they survived. They survived, and they kept their promise. This was in 1633 and has been performed every 10 years since. The next one being 2010. The first stage was built over the graves of plague victims.
The stage we saw was enormous, and there were people in there working. We wandered through the rest of the village, which of course, was lovely and clean. We were enchanted by the cuckoo-clocks and the exquisite wood carvings, but finally decided against any thing...the cost... I know... I know, this is a tourist place, perhaps they cater only for wealthy Americans.... There was also a Christmas shop, full of nice Christmassy things. A nice selection of Nativity sets. Then we found the icecream shop...that we could afford..and very nice too. Again, some nice little streets/lanes and another spectacular church and some very dressy headstones, then we set off to find our bus.
On the way home we stopped at a lovely lake, the water was so blue and clear, this was used for swimming and boating and in winter it freezes and is used for skating. It really was so post-cardish (new word): blue lake so clear you could see the bottom, surrounded by steep mountains covered with pines, and later on of course, with snow.
Back to hotel, with a quiz after dinner. The four of us were one team...nearly all the questions were English, but Paul assured us their was one Australian question. At the end we had to ask him which one was it. The question? How many stomachs does a cow have? Huh? Australian? Oh well, we came third anyway, what else would you expect? Now, here's one question that we got correct..(we're pretty good). Who was the last prisoner in the Tower of London? Can you answer that one eh? [Crosby: I've got to put the answer in or you'd never know. It was Rudolph Hess. I wouldn't know, but my observant wife read it while she was there not so long ago!]
Fri. C and P were feeling better and it was R's turn to feel crook,but like the other two on their worst days, she stayed the course.
We were off to Lake Constance and the island of Lindau. Instead of the motorway, Paul took us around some "back" roads, the scenery was again spectactular, what else could I say. We stopped at a small cafe/pub thingie, for morning tea. The dining room had a tree in it . . . why not ...and the ceiling was decorated with all the old-time farming implements, such as a plough and the wooden stakes they used to dry hay on... outside was a tiny shrine like a miniature for only two people at a time.
Now for the island. The bus had to park on the mainland and we walked across a long bridge. We found a pizza cafe for lunch, where the bloke who served spoke Italian and German and English. To us it seemed interesting that an Italian man should work in a German-speaking town and be able to talk to Australian tourists.
P & R went off to the park and C & I explored to Island. Lovely old churches, old houses and a harbour, where we watched the docking of the ferries that took people around the lake. Back to the park, met P & R and took a stroll around before it was time to return to the bus.
Early departure, for the long (very long) trip to our motel that night. We ate in the restaurant of that motel. We were not too impressed by the enormous and very friendly dog that strolled among the diners, his tail occasionally sweeping over someone's food.
Next day, back to the ferry and home to England.
Our feeder bus stopped to help another of their buses which broke down. This was fine, except that as a consequence we were dropped off at an obscure bus stop in Cambridge, and being Sunday the last bus had gone. So my poor little toes had to walk about 2 miles to the middle of Cambridge to find that...(thankfully) there was still one bus left to our village.. or at least within walking distance.... about another mile or two. Thanks to my husband's strong arms (he took the baggage) I limped home on one very swollen foot.
Was it worth it??? you betcha !!!

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