Friday 6th June 2008, Lindau on the Bodensee, (aka Lake Constance)
(Today is the fifth anniversary of Neil and Jeev's wedding in Sri Lanka)
Tonight we are camped in the rain beside the Bodensee, a lake set tightly at the corners of Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The Rhine enters the lake near here at the eastern end and leave at the west. It was formed by glacial erosion and is 40 miles long by about 8 miles wide. We think we are in Germany – just. As there are now no formal borders, the language is the same and the currency in both countries is the euro, our assumption is based on the price of diesel. We have noticed that it is 15 cents a litre more expensive at the garages on the main road into Lindau than it was a couple of kilometres back down the road. Guess which country we will be heading for to fill Modestine's tank before we move on?
It was raining as we left Innsbruck this morning, making our way west along peaceful roads through smart little towns and villages. Driving in Austria is a joy after weeks of broken roads, useless road signs and crazy drivers in Italy and Greece. Speed limits are obeyed, road surfaces smooth and well marked and drivers keep their distance, waiting for a safe opportunity before overtaking.
To begin with, our route lay along the flat green valley floor of the River Inn but eventually, after passing Landeck, we reached the mountains when the road entered a series of very long tunnels through the hillsides. Really it was one tunnel about 20 kilometres long, where you came up for air from time to time, or to turn off onto a side road up into the snow topped mountains. Near Arlberg we did just this and twisted our way up to the top of the pass at 1,793 metres high. Somewhere along the way we stopped for a picnic lunch beside a river swollen and turbulent from the constant rain of the last few days. Above us we watched the chair lift from the nearby ski resort climbing to the top of the mountain where there may still have been just enough snow to ski. As we got higher we entered the clouds and the view was completely obliterated. So too was anything more than a few metres ahead of us. As we struggled on up in low gear, Modestine panting and getting hotter than was good for her, great walls of dirty snow lined the roadside. We waited for ages while scrobbling machines drilled holes in the wall of one of the tunnels and ripped up yards of tarmac. We then drove up slowly through the debris, only our headlights to pierce the darkness, the road surface gouged up ready for resurfacing while pile-drivers widened the tunnel walls, smashing out the bare rock. Eventually we reached the top of the pass but everywhere was milky white fog and horrid grey snow. It was impossible to see anything and was uncomfortably chilly. On the descent we soon left the clouds behind and drove on through pouring rain. With the improved visibility we could see down into the ravine beside the road and to the glacial waterfalls on the other side. The snow lay in patches deep in the crevices and there were long glaciers of ugly snow and ice with water rushing down the mountainside underneath them to cascade out at and tumble over into the ravine. We stopped for a photo. It was too wet and dark to work properly but we discovered large clumps of lily of the valley flowering along the roadside.
As we came down from the mountains we passed through clean, widely spread villages of huge wooden chalets with overhanging roofs and wooden balconies bright with hanging baskets. The buildings were constructed entirely from wood with tiny, neat fish-scale tiles covering the walls, larger ones for the roofs and decorated wooden shutters at the windows. Inside, the houses all had narrow white lace pelmets along the tops of the windows. The villages were spread across the green wet pastures where brown/grey cattle ruminated mournfully in the relentless rain.
And so we arrived beside the Bodensee. Shortly before we had crossed the route we took back from Munich to Champagne-sur-Loue in 2005. We had looked down on the lake then and promised ourselves that one day we would visit it properly. So that is what we plan to do tomorrow. It cannot rain forever – can it? As we sit in Modestine looking out across the chilly lake, we can see the lights coming on along the shore. The island of Lindau is just a few kilometres away, twinkling through the evening gloom.
Saturday 7th June 2008, Lindau on the Bodensee
It hasn't rained much today and we have done all we wished, though it has been rather chilly. We had not realised, down in the heat of Greece, just how far behind the season is further north in Europe. Here the meadows beside the lake are full of shining buttercups and yellow flowers while the hedges have wild pink roses and honeysuckle and the air is heavy with the smell of elderflowers.
We walked the five kilometres into Lindau along the footpath beside the lake. It was a very pleasant walk and saved us a small fortune on bus fares. Germany seems generally to be quite a lot more expensive than Austria. On the way we called off at the open air swimming pool to watch swimmers from across Bavaria competing against each other. One entrant for the butterfly stroke was in his mid 80s. He stood no chance in the competition but obviously regarded it as a personal challenge to participate. He was only half way down the pool when everyone else had finished. The entire crowd was with him, urging him on. As he finally finished there was uproar as we all cheered him! His own personal ambition achieved!
We crossed the bridge from the mainland onto the island of Lindau. It is a very pleasant, pretty little place, hugely popular with tourists. From its little harbour, proudly guarded by a huge stone lion and a lighthouse, it is possible to take pleasure boats to different towns – and countries – around the lake.
In the main square the Saturday market was in full swing. The markets of the little towns of Northern Europe are an institution and something we have missed down in Greece and in Italy. It was very pleasant strolling around amongst the stalls of cheeses, cooked meats and sausages and clean, colourful, appetising fruit and vegetables. In Greece we had found so many of the vegetables to be wilted, bruised and discoloured. They were also more expensive - Greece is definitely not a cheap country to live in.
We wandered the streets with their pretty fountains and buildings with painted and decorated facades. We visited the main church which is very restrained baroque - but then the town embraced Lutheranism by decision of the town council in 1528, quite something in strongly Catholic Bavaria! We discovered that the early tests of the Zeppelin air ship were conducted over the Bodensee, Herr Zeppelin being from Konstanze, further down the lake.
Eventually we made our way to the harbour where we stopped for lunch, purchased at nearby stalls and eaten sitting on wooden beaches along the lakeside. We sat with a beer and a Semmel filled with Leberkäse watching the boats entering and leaving the harbour. Leberkäse is a Bavarian speciality of ground meat cooked and compressed together to form something resembling spam. This is served hot with mustard in a flat white roll (Semmel). It was enjoyable as a one-off experience, but there were an awful lot of rather large German people who looked very much as if such fare was a regular part of their diet. Some could hardly walk – even with their Nordic poles - and we saw two instances of people struggling around with oxygen backpacks and masks to help them breathe!
On the other side of the island we discovered the 11th century church of St. Peter. Inside it is a memorial to so many soldiers from this one town who died during the two World Wars. Germany suffered losses just as the Allies did but whereas Verdun, the Marne and the Normandy landing beaches have their war graves and memorials, war does not discriminate in those it kills and German soldiers too suffered at least as much as the Allies. The victims of Nazism were also remembered here. Inside this same church we also discovered several wall paintings by Hans Holbein the elder, the only examples known to survive.
Nearby we found one of those German castle towers we thought only existed in fairy tales! This one was straight from the story of Rapunzel, imprisoned by her father in a tower to keep her from her lover. Every night she would let down her long plait of hair and her paramour would climb up to spend the night with her. When we reached the tower she was obviously expecting him as her long plait was dangling down the side! (Currently there seems to be a fairy tale theme in the town as we later discovered a special exhibition of German Märchen in the museum.)
Ian had spotted that they were selling huge slices of Kuchen down by the lake and wanted the full Bavarian experience. The Leberkäse had hardly been digested when it was joined by coffee and cherry tart drenched in icing sugar – Jill, and layers of chocolate, cream and almond jam- Ian. It's ages since we've eaten so much in one day and we were positively waddling as we set off for the long walk back along the lakeside to Modestine. Still, we've worked out we must have walked at least 12 kilometres today so maybe we've walked it off.
Just for good measure we walked on past the campsite to find the Austrian border. As we suspected, we are about 300 metres into Germany. It was nearly six pm when we finally got back to the campsite. The UEFA cup was just about to start so we joined other campers in front of the big screen in the community room to watch Switzerland and the Czech Republic kick off after the rather naff opening ceremonies. We don't know who won because we got bored and wandered off. (Judging by the black armbands we saw as we drove through Switzerland next day, they lost!)
Sunday 8th June 2008, Stockach near the Bodensee
We moved on this morning from our campsite on the lake at Lindau. We needed to! When we went to pay it turned out to be quite a bit more expensive than we had expected, making it the most expensive so far. Quality has no bearing on price. The facilities were clean enough but our pitch was waterlogged and we were a very long way from the showers and sinks. Warning to would-be campers - beware of electronic taps! Campsites, mainly in Italy, but also several we have used in Germany, claim to be environmentally conscious and try to save water. The sinks still don't actually have plugs – that would be too radical. However, they have electronic sensors that allow a quick burst of water when hands are at exactly the correct position beneath them. Move them to actually wash and the taps go off, refusing to flow again however wildly you wave your hands around. Meantime, the electronic light sensor at the entrance cannot see you in the far corner vainly trying to rinse off the soap and turns itself off. The only way to get it to work is to feel your way in the darkness out of the building and come in again, rush back to the taps and hope to get a spurt of water before the time switch goes off once more! And of course there are also the electronic loos that flush when you go to use them and refuse to flush when you have finished! But it all helps get that valuable eco award from a campsite inspector who has probably never actually stayed on any of the sites, thus enabling the management to charge exorbitant prices. We ended up paying over 25 euros a night whereas tonight's site is infinitely nicer, clean and bright with soap and paper towels provided for 14 euros. The gleaming chrome taps function as they should and plugs are actually provided as standard. The atmosphere is friendly and the site green and pretty. There are a few permanent caravans where the owners just come out for the weekend, leaving plastic elves and stone rabbits on guard during their absence, but at that price we are happy to have a gnome as a neighbour!
So although we had enjoyed Lindau, we were not sorry to leave Germany and make our way around the southern side of the lake, stopping off in Austria for cheaper diesel before continuing into Switzerland. Here we were very disappointed to discover it was absolutely flat. We didn't see a single hill, let alone mountain. It was the perfect place for a sedate cycling holiday. Most of this side of the lake was built up and generally rather a disappointment. Parking was difficult and had it not been a Sunday lunch time, it would have been impossible. Out main problem though was lack of money – Swiss money. Without it you cannot legally park or use the toilet. We had no idea how much Swiss francs are worth and except for needing the loo, no real need for any while in transit through to Germany again. We were reduced to pushing at loo doors along the lake side promenade at Rohrschach until we found one that had not been properly closed, then standing guard for each other while we used it!
Just before our route led back into Germany we found somewhere with a view down to the lake for a picnic lunch. Across on the far side was the town of Friedrichshafen where dirigible airships or zepplins were manufactured and tested over the lake in the early years of the last century. As we watched a zeppelin floated its way up the centre of the lake in the direction we had just come.
Even at the borders with Switzerland, not part of the EU, we were not asked to show our passports. We could have left them in Exeter really as nobody has yet looked at them! No sooner were we over the border back into Germany than we were in the centre of Konstanz (Constance). Here we parked easily and explored the town which sits on the lake at the point where the Rhine leaves.
(Note. At this point I fell asleep and Ian wrote the following account of our tour of Konstanz in a far more accurate manner than I’d have managed.)
We knew little about the city, having limited our guidebook packing to Italy and Greece, and it would certainly have merited more time than we were able to devote to it today. The great catholic Minster "unserer lieben Frau" (of our dear Lady) alone was very extensive and full of interest. It was probably first built in the sixth century on the site of the fourth century Roman fort of Constantia, sections of which had been excavated beneath the Minster square. Fragments of the Carolingian building survive in the aisled crypt with the tomb of St Pelagius. To this can be added the Romanesque nave and the high Gothic of the side aisles, the beautiful cloisters and the chapter house. It is crammed full of monuments despite the ravages of the Reformation, and the baroquifiers have had relatively little influence – the odd flamboyant altar here and there.
Outside the Minster, streets lined with old houses, many of them with painted murals, wind their way down to the lakeside or the banks of the Rhine. The medieval names of many of them survive in current use and their origins, if not their current facades, can in may cases be traced back to the 14th century. The elaborate Renaissance façade of the town hall, once the guild house of the linen weavers, has nineteenth century historical murals, which might have filled some of the lamentable gaps in our knowledge of the city's history had we had time to study them. And Konstanz must have had an interesting history, being located on a political island, being the only part of Germany on the south side of Lake Constance – but only just, as the frontier with Switzerland runs immediately outside the old town.
We did learn that the Council of Constance was held in the Minster between 1414 and 1418. Originally called to try to sort out the government of the Catholic Church, which then had three popes, it found time to condemn the reforming ideas of Wycliffe and the Czech Jan Hus. Hus was lured to Konstanz under the pretence of a safe conduct, tried and handed over the civic authorities to be burned in 1416. To make amends, the city now cultivates links with Hussite centres in Germany and the Czech Republic. The house where Hus stayed can be seen by the Schnetztor gate tower, one of several gates that stand along the shore of the Rhine and the line of the city's defences.
It was late afternoon by the time we were ready to leave Konstanz. The nearest cheap campsite on our list was about 30 kilometres on. The roads were excellent and in no time we were settled here in the peace of the countryside away from the rather uninspiring area along beside the Bodensee.