Into Bavaria

Thursday 3rd June 2010, Eging am See, Bavaria
Tonight our blog comes to you from Germany. We have been criss-crossing the border between Austria and Germany for most of today, but now we have finally left Austria behind. It never really stopped raining the entire time we were there. Nevertheless we enjoyed our visit, finding it a friendly, clean and affluent country where people are proud of their homes and towns. Religion can be rather overwhelming, it must be said, with their elaborate baroque churches and adherence to Sundays as a rest day. We understand that there is a law that forbids cutting your grass on Sundays and we even encountered a campsite where you are not allowed to arrive or leave on a Sunday!

The rain was less heavy when we woke this morning and although the skies have been threatening, and there have been heavy showers during the day, it has been an improvement on the past few days.

It turned out that today has been the feast of Corpus Christi and a national holiday in Austria. As we parked in Braunau a lady told us there was a service in the church and we should hurry along there at once as everybody was in national costume and the band was playing. Just as we arrived the service ended and people flooded out. It was a pity to have missed seeing the service but at least we saw everyone in their dirndls and lederhosen. It wasn't worn only for the service as we saw people around the town for the rest of the morning dressed in their finery.

Leaving the church, Braunau

Children in their national dress, Braunau

As we suspected, there was nothing to indicate where Hitler had been born in the town except a block of stone taken the quarry of Malthausen concentration camp bearing a message that such terrible things must never be allowed to happen again. It was placed on the pavement immediately outside the house.
House in which Hitler was born, Braunau

Commemorative stone outside Hitler's birthplace, Braunau

Commemorative stone outside Hitler's birthplace, Braunau

Braunau seems to have drawn the short straw when it comes to harbouring power hungry dictators who have changed the course of European history. Although we found nothing naming Hitler, we discovered a plaque to his near neighbour, Napoleon!

Plaque recording that Napoleon also haunted Braunau

A rather more sympathetic Braunau resident was the 16th century councillor with a VERY long beard. His monument is among many elaborate epitaphs on the walls of the parish church.

Hans Staininger, the man with a very long beard, Braunau

Braunau really is a very pretty town with its main street of large, 17th and 18th century colour rendered baroque houses, wide cobbled streets, smart and expensive shops and numerous ice cream parlours and cafes selling coffee and cakes piled high with cream. Ian, who is a complete sucker for horrible sticky cakes, has been disconcerted to discover Austrian cakes really do taste as good as they look and the cream is real! His great disappointment is that I always want to taste a bit, something I've never wished to do elsewhere.

Main street, Braunau

Town Hall, Braunau

It is the custom in Austria and Bavaria to erect a maypole for 1st May. These bear no resemblance to our British maypoles. They are made from the stripped trunk of the longest and straightest pine tree to be found and are usually around 20 or 30 metres high! At the top is fixed a decorated pine tree, like a Christmas tree, and the trunk is decorated with garlands. How they transport the trunk into the town centre we don't know, but today we watched in fascination as they dismantled the one in Braunau. It took at least seven men working quickly and efficiently together. Firstly the trunk had to be secured half way up to the crane. This was done by a steeplejack who then abseiled back to the ground. Then the trunk was released from the clamps and wedges securing it to the ground. Meanwhile a single policeman held up all the traffic - the mind boggles at how many police would be needed in Italy! When all was ready the trunk was lifted free and laid gently onto its side along the road. Men with axes and hatchets removed all the decorations and nails before it was sliced into six metre lengths and loaded onto a trailer. The ground was swept clean, flag stones re-laid, rubbish collected and it was all over for another year! It was all so efficient but we were left to wonder at the amount of work it caused. It just shows how important traditions are to the Austrian and Bavarian people.

Securing the maypole, Braunau

Taking down the maypole, Braunau

Safely down and cut into sections, Braunau

Braunau stands on the banks of the river Inn. On the other side of the bridge is Germany. After the recent rains the river was hugely swollen, brown and turbulent as it swept under the bridge, carrying huge logs and trees that it had uprooted higher upriver in the mountains. Ian went down to photograph it where it had overflowed its banks and flooded the riverside road. When we passed by an hour later even the area where he'd stood was two feet under water!

Flooding on the River Inn at Braunau

We crossed into Germany stopping briefly at the little town of Pocking waiting for a downpour to subside. Then back into Austria to stop at the picturesque little town of Scharding, an obviously popular place with local people for a stroll on a national holiday. The shops were shut but religion does not apply to bakers, coffee shops and ice cream vendors. Scharding too stands on the banks of the Inn, further downstream. Here the banks had been flooded and the fire brigade was pumping out basements while the roads in the lower town were closed to traffic. Flooding seems a regular occurrence and this one had a long way to go before reaching the level of some of the floods marked on the wall of the appropriately named Wasserturm next to the river.

Main square, Scharding – still with its maypole

River Inn at Scharding

Flooding on the River Inn, Scharding

Our main target today was Passau, just inside Germany, but we'd found so many attractions on the way it was 4pm before we arrived. Parking was difficult and we were obliged to leave Modestine down near the banks of the Inn near the old town and walk back in.

Passau stands at the confluence of three rivers – the Inn, the Danube and the smaller Ilz. Inevitably there was flooding so we were unable to see the point at which the Inn and the Danube converge as it was blocked off with waves flooding back up the street. Generally though, the fiercest flow was definitely from the Inn rather than the Danube, though both were wide, brown and swollen.

Passau across the River Inn

Passau on the River Inn

Inevitably, located on three rivers and linked by bridges, the town is rather fragmented with pockets of buildings on different banks. Passau though is a very pleasant university town with cobbled streets, pretty baroque houses, hundreds of coffee shops and little souvenir shops selling painted wooden toys, carved figures, huge beer mugs, embroidered linen and wooden whistles, puzzles and puppets. It also boasts a spectacular baroque cathedral at its highest point. Inside it is stunningly pretty, elaborately painted and heavy with white stucco and cherubs. Mass was in progress so we did not linger.

Street decorated with Silver Birch fronds for Corpus Christi, Passau

Deciding we did not want a campsite anywhere near a river tonight, we have driven twenty kilometres along beside the Danube to find a crossing point and moved up into the foothills of the Bavarian mountains. The man on reception here makes Basil Faulty look tame! Even Ian cannot understand his thick Bavarian accent. Noting the UK on our camping card he logged us into the computer as coming from the Ukraine! As he tried to print off our receipt the printer jammed. With a lot of terrifying guttural shouting he threw the keyboard across the room and walked off! We decided to slink away before he returned. The campsite is busy and the grassy pitches waterlogged. From our experience we know Modestine would stick in the soggy mud, so we've ignored the oozing pitch allocated to us and parked on the roadway beside it. Hopefully we won't be woken in the middle of the night by a mad campsite manager ordering us to move. It's still raining tonight! How long can it go on like this?

Friday 4th June 2010, Landshut, Bavaria
Well at last the rain has stopped! We woke this morning to bright sunshine that lasted all day while temperatures reached 28 degrees! Perhaps because of the sudden change in the weather, we have felt very weary today and as we are expected in nearby Munich tomorrow afternoon we decided to have a restful day. We spent a leisurely morning around the campsite where we used the internet to sort out emails and post up a blog. We left the site around midday and made our way to the local lake, prettily set amidst green meadows with pine forests along the far shore. The area has been turned into a Kurpark by the local council and there is a Wellness Centre overlooking the lake. We decided to investigate and it was quite an eye opener. There were several pools - indoors and out. There was a fitness gym and a sauna. Visitors could have massages – with or without chocolate. They could have health consultations and fitness programmes arranged for them. There was a foot clinic and a physiotherapist and much more. Prices were surprisingly reasonable, just seven euros to use the swimming pools for a day.

The German concept of health is intriguing. To sustain guests who may find exercise too exhausting there is a restaurant serving healthy slimming meals such as currywurst with chips and tomato sauce, spaghetti, Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad and similar fare, all heavily sprinkled with salt. For those wishing to smoke as they ate there were tables on the sunny terrace with cigarette machines in case more were needed. Beer was served in tall litre glasses and sugar-rich Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite were popular choices too. In the entrance an automatic machine served chocolate bars and candies, sugary drinks and yet more cigarettes. For those too weary to cope with the single flight of stairs there was even a lift! In the pools, guests lounged in the warm water between palm fronds, climbing out occasionally to wrap a towel around themselves and toddle to the restaurant from some emergency Strudel and cream. Meanwhile, the really fit could take a stroll in the grounds and use the exercise equipment strategically placed at various points along the path. We had a go on some of these, such as the walking machine that simulates a stroll by the lake without actually doing so, or the arm and leg massage machines which were equally pointless. Germans are Europe's greatest enthusiasts for health cures, fitness and Wellness but they cannot possibly manage without their traditional foods which unfortunately are saturated with sugars, fats and salt. Still, the bath robes make them feel they are doing themselves good.

We were not on a cure and rather like German food in moderation so decided to lunch on currywurst in the centre's restaurant. The poor waitress raised her eyebrows in wonder when we asked not to have salt put on the chips before it was served! We thoroughly enjoyed our meal on the sunny terrace overlooking the lake. Next though, we faced a longish drive on minor roads across the Bavarian countryside, passing through countless little villages that looked very clean and nice but all rather the same. The hot sun and the unaccustomed heavy lunch made us both sleepy. By the time we arrived here in Landshut we decided to go straight to the campsite beside the still swollen river and have a nap. We ended up too weary to visit the town so will do so in the morning though we have in fact visited it before on 3rd July 2006

Saturday 5th June 2010, Munich
Oh the delight of seeing friends again! We are back with Charlotte and Hans whom we have not seen since September 2005 just after we retired and started our travels with Modestine, little dreaming that nearly five years later we would still be wandering! What does it matter that we'd not seen Charlotte for so long? Her happy smile and warm embrace when we arrived simply bridged the gap and within minutes we were all sitting in their sunny garden with coffee and apple tart, chatting happily on topics ranging from grandchildren, mutual friends and holidays to comparative politics and electoral reform. Friends who know Hans and Charlotte will, hopefully, be reading this and will appreciate just how welcome we have been made.

Preparing the supper table in the garden, Charlotte, Hans and Jill, Munich

Leberkäse, Charlotte's Bavarian speciality, Munich

Tonight we will be sleeping in a real bed for the first time since last March! We even have a bathroom of our very own! The washing machine has already been put into overdrive and once everything is dry we will be fit to face the world once more.

It has been very hot today, actually reaching 36 degrees on Modestine's external thermometer. Even this evening it was warm enough for us to have supper – Bavarian asparagus with ham followed by fresh strawberries - outside and linger chatting over large glasses of Weissbier long after dark.

Last night you will recall, we were camping on the banks of the river Isar a couple of kilometres outside of Landshut. The river was still flowing fast and furious this morning and still carrying huge uprooted trees rapidly downstream. In Landshut we discovered we'd only been camping on a branch of the river. The main flow was twice as wide and the riverside walk at least four feet under water! (We have since learned that three people have been drowned in unrelated incidents in Bavaria's rivers over the past two days.)

Sometimes when you return to a place you really liked, the second visit can be a disappointment. Not so Landshut. It is a charming town with a happy atmosphere. There are two parallel streets of attractive baroque buildings, some with stepped gables, all painted in pastel colours. Both the main streets are wide with a flower market and cafe terraces. At one end, on a hill above the town, stands the medieval castle while at the other beer tents had been set up with long wooden benches and tables. During the afternoon a band would be playing and several kilometres of sausages would be sold, covered in mustard, tomato ketchup or curry sauce – possibly all three! Meanwhile, the cafes on the main street were doing a rapid trade in ice creams, fruit salads with whipped cream, beer, cappuccinos, rolls filled with roasted fish and schnitzels with salad. How could one not enter into the happy, relaxed atmosphere of this beautiful little town?

We mentioned on our last visit the church with the highest brick spire in the world. We loved it even more on this visit. By contrast with the baroque churches which are so plentiful in Bavaria the church is pure gothic with slender columns, a high arched roof, light, tall windows and an organ that filled every corner of the church with surround-sound as we listened to a Bach organ recital. Digital Sound, eat your heart out - this is what gothic churches were really built for!

Brick built gothic church, Landshut

Church interior, Landshut

We were offered the opportunity to climb up to the organ loft for a talk on Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi's concertos for the Duke in Weimar and to watch the organist as she gave her recital. Ian was in his heaven and I loved the atmosphere even if I didn't understand all that was said.

After a pleasant lunch at one of the cafes we made our way to Munich avoiding the motorways. This proved to be a good move as the school holidays end this weekend and the motorways were at a standstill with traffic queued back for miles in the hot sunshine as people returned to Munich. Passing though a small town we parked and joined a long queue ourselves, but this was for chocolate ice creams licked beneath a shady tree. It revived our sleepy wits enough for Ian to navigate me through the Munich suburbs to the home of Hans and Charlotte.