The Romantic Road meets the Danube…. .

Our journey down the romantic road came to an abrupt end a week ago.  Not for any other reason than we became sidetracked by a glossy brochure I’d picked up in the tourist information office.  In it was a photo of a pretty picturesque stretch of river flanked by cliffs.  The Danube (or Donau in Germany), Europe’s second longest river.  That was it.  Our route changed.

We swung out of Nördlingen heading east instead of south in pursuit of that picture.  That’s the beauty of this type of travel – no plans are set in stone (or more like ‘No plans. Period’).  We can take a different road if the fancy takes us.  So, the fancy took us.  And take it, we did.

P1040574.JPG
Harburg Castle – our last pitstop on the ‘Romantic Road’.

A free stellplatz at Neuberg an der Donau hooked us in and waylaid us on the way.  We can still hardly believe that you can pitch up next to the river just a few minutes walk from a beautiful old town for zero euros per night. Yup, zero euros.  Fantastic.

P1040590.JPG
The free stellplatz at Neuberg an der Donau.

The stellplatz was so well situated too with a little beach to launch from for a swim in the river.  The temperatures were into the thirties again so being able to cool off in the river was great.

P1040588.JPG
A perfect spot for a swim on a hot sunny day.

I was swooshed down the river by the gentle current whilst being treated to a view of the impressive 16th Century Schloss which looks out over the Danube.  Perfect.  It was a popular spot for swimmers with some drifting off on a one way trip down river armed with just a dry bag with, I presume, some clothes in.  Such a lovely way to spend a hot afternoon.

P1040583.JPG
The view of the castle overlooking the town.

We ended up staying three nights in Neuberg not doing very much of anything except for a short bike ride as it was so hot and Tim wasn’t well and had to take to his bed on the Tuesday.  Fortunately, what ever had struck him down passed within twenty four hours and he rallied enough to resume normal service the next day.

P1040585.JPG
Entrance to the old town at Neuberg an der Donau.

So then it was onwards east again to seek out that picture.  Kelheim, or more specifically, Kloster Weltenburg was where we were heading in the hope that we weren’t going to be disappointed.  You know what it’s like, you see a picture in a magazine, poster or book and think ‘oh yes, that looks amazing, we have to go there’ and then you get there and think ‘Meh, it doesn’t look anything like in the picture’.  Well, fortunately we weren’t disappointed.

P1040599.JPG
Weltenberg Abbey on the banks of the Danube.

We stopped at the stellplatz at Kelheim. There are, in fact, two stellplatz’ in Kelheim a few hundred metres apart.  One is closer to the river but is just a gravel open car park whilst the other is landscaped and well cared for with individual pitches, has a bit of shade and overlooks some tennis courts.  We opted for the latter.  Same price (€8.50).  No brainer.

From Kelheim you can either take a boat up the Danube to Kloster Weltenburg (monastery) or there are footpath/cycleways running both sides of the Danube climbing up through the woods above the river.

P1040604.JPG
The boat trip from Kelheim is a popular outing.

This stretch of the Danube is described in our guide book as ‘one of the region’s most beloved excursions’ and we can see why.  It really is a beautiful stretch of the river, wedged between steep cliffs and forest on both sides.

P1040601.JPG
Lunch stop on our walk from Kelheim to Weltenberg.

It’s a six kilometre scenic walk on either side of the river to reach the monastery which just so happens to be famous for its brewery, which claims to be the oldest abbey brewery in the world.  Obviously with that kind of accolade we needed to sample their wares after our walk.

DSC03160.JPG
Trying out the abbey beers.

Tim tried the award winning Barock Dunkel beer whilst I tried a lighter one.   Sorry to the brothers of Weltenberg but we thought the dark (dunkel) beer wasn’t up to much and Tim described it as ‘bland, fizzy, lacking in taste, flavour and body’.  Oh dear, not a particularly good review.  It’s won awards though.  World awards.  Wikipedia informs me that it won the World Beer Cup Award in 2004, 2008 and 2012 as the best Dunkel beer in the world.  Seriously?  Tim gave it a two out of ten.  I was more generous with a four.  As the Americans would say ‘go figure’.  We’ll just have to beg to differ then.

P1040610.JPG
The courtyard of Weltenberg Abbey.

Suitably refreshed we ducked in to have a look at the Baroque abbey church built between 1716 and 1739.  The word ‘bling’ struck me as soon as we were inside.  Am I allowed to say the word ‘bling’ to describe a church?  Well, I thought it was a tad ‘blingy’.  Gold everywhere.  Strictly no photos were allowed so the photo below is courtesy of Google.

2392598818_700b6e0265_z.jpg
Weltenburg Abbey Church interior – image courtesy of Google!

Kelheim, then, was worth a detour and we enjoyed our few days there.

We’ve branched off the Danube river now but we’ll come back to it later in the week.  We headed west out of Kelheim to follow the Main-Danube canal which will offer us some nice easy scenic cycling.  We arrived yesterday in the little town of Reidenburg whilst it was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the completion of the canal.  Leiderhosen were much in evidence along with town bands and traditional Bavarian fodder.

DSC03168.JPG
Smoked mackerel.

We tried the smoked mackerel and Bavarian bretzel washed down with a local Bavarian beer brewed in the town.

DSC03173.JPG
Sampling the towns local beer with smoked mackerel and bretzel.

Dosed up on our Omega 3 and a complete weeks salt intake we sat back and listened to the town band reminding us very much of scenes from the film ‘Brassed Off’.  If you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

Anyway, rain stopped play today but hopefully we’ll get out on those bikes tomorrow.

Schönen Tag!

The ‘Romantic Road’…. .

So, our ‘Romantic Road’ road trip is still ongoing and, in truth, we haven’t actually got that far along it.  We are in no rush.  We have been basing ourselves for two or three nights at towns along the route exploring the ‘Romantic Road’ cycleway to see some of the ‘must see’ sights.  Germany is so well set up for cyclists with miles and miles of cycleways along either traffic free paths or quiet country lanes.

P1040496.JPG
Cycles and farm traffic only.

We’ve really enjoyed tootling along in the countryside from village to village with only other cyclists or the odd tractor for company.  It has all been so well signposted which really does take the tedium out of constantly stopping to get a map out checking whether we are still on the right route.  It’s a big thumbs up from us for Germany on their cycleways.

P1040498.JPG
A welcome watering hole on the cycleway between Creglingen and Tauberzell.

The countryside here reminds me a little of the Wiltshire countryside with gently rolling hills, forest and farmland interspersed with hamlets, villages and market towns.  Cycling from Tauberzell, where we had based ourselves for a couple of nights, we followed the river to the hilltop town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  The cycleway took us in to Rothenburg from river level giving us great views of the medieval town perched on the hillside above.

P1040460.JPG
The view of Rothenburg ob der Tauber from the river below.

Most of the town’s growth took place in the 15th Century but the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which swept across Central Europe, put paid to further growth.  Development came to a standstill in this once thriving and prosperous town as wealth and population were lost.  Therefore, little has changed since that time leaving pretty much perfectly preserved city walls, medieval buildings and a gothic cathedral although some had to be restored after 1945.

P1040465.JPG
Spital Gate built at the end of the 16th Century.

Our guide book had warned us of the sometimes oppressive number of tourists visiting the town but other than outside the Rathaus (townhall) we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too heaving.  We were amazed that the walls were free to wander around and not too busy (which was just as well as you do have to breathe in to pass other people) and we spent a relaxing couple of hours exploring a complete circuit of the them.

P1040480.JPG
Rothenburg town walls.

Most of the walkway is under cover making it an ideal outing on a wet day.

P1040482.JPG
There can’t be much room on the top floor of that house.

Our next stop was an excellent free stellplatz at Feuchtwangen which turned out to be perfect as the stellplatz was a ten minute walk from the town, two minutes to Lidl or Aldi and had a fantastic outdoor swimming complex right next door.

 

 

P1040515.JPG
The free stellplatz at Feuchtwangen.

After 5pm, for just one euro, I could make full use of the beautifully landscaped outdoor pools sharing them with only half a dozen other people.  Incredible!  I’d be paying a euro just for a shower on a campsite.  Needless to say I made the most of it.

P1040516.JPG
The eight lane fifty metre pool was just one of the pools.

Cycling from Feuchtwangen to Dinkelsbühl we were reminded again of how much wildlife we have seen since being in Germany or maybe we are just paying more attention to it without having to worry about the traffic.  Either way we have seen plenty of hares, deer, storks, heron and birds of prey.

Dinkelsbühl, having escaped being damaged in World War II, truly is a perfectly preserved medieval town.  Not that we would have noticed!  Unless you look really closely it’s not always easy to tell which bits have been rebuilt or restored.

P1040511.JPG
Dinkelsbuhl.

I still find it amazing that even in such a compact area that many of the houses have plenty of garden space and how well kept and beautifully landscaped they are.  In fact, everywhere we have been to in Germany so far we have been greeted with very well kept gardens and green spaces much as we saw in France last year.

P1040455.JPG
Most houses seem to have beautiful gardens.

When we resume normal life again, whatever form that might take, I am going to try to make more of an effort on the garden front.  That’s if we have a garden that is as we still don’t know what our future life is going to look like!  Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Nördlingen yesterday and bagged the last grassy edged spot at the stellplatz just outside the walls of the old town.  At €3 per night, it was a bargain.

P1040553.JPG
The stellplatz at Nordlingen.

Nördlingen’s claim to fame is that it was built on the site of a huge meteorite crater.  Fifteen million years ago, give or take a year or so, a meteorite fell from the sky with a heavy bump creating a 25km wide crater, today known as the Ries, and supposedly the best preserved impact crater on the planet.  Go Nördlingen!   It is also another perfectly preserved medieval walled town.

P1040523.JPG
The town walls of Nordlingen.

The town walls are pretty much completely intact giving an impressive 2.7km circuitous walk around the old town including five gates and twelve towers (dating from the 14th to 15th centuries).

Surprisingly again, there weren’t that many people circling the town on the walls so we had a very quiet and enjoyable hour or so taking in all the sights from a perfect vantage point.  We climbed the 90m Daniel tower of St George church to see the views of the town from above and to try to work out where the edge of the crater was.  Mmm, 15 million years is a long time and the edges must be a tad blurred by now so we had to leave that one to our imaginations.

P1040535.JPG
The view above the town ninety metres up.
P1040539.JPG
For a Saturday afternoon it was surprisingly quiet.

Taking a circular walk around the outside of the town walls proved to be equally as picturesque seeing the walls and towers from a different perspective.

P1040555.JPG
Lovely open spaces outside the walls too.

There are some lovely houses built into the walls with beautiful gardens as well as open parkland.

P1040560.JPG
House built onto the outside of the town walls.
P1040564.JPG
I suppose you really can say you have a walled garden!

So that concludes this weeks excitements and the over use of the word ‘wall’ (I counted fourteen times!).  Tomorrow we’ll move on again and see where the ‘Romantic Road, takes us.

Bis dann!

 

 

Leaving Dairy HQ…. .

We are back on the road again now after our final week on the dairy farm passed by in a flash.  In all we spent nearly four weeks with the Bayers and learnt heaps about the trials and tribulations of farming life.  It was a steep learning curve and although the work was hard we are very grateful to the Bayer family for sharing their lives with us for the short time that we were there.  I think I now have a new found respect for our farmers, particularly those who have gone down the organic route, which doesn’t seem to me to be the easy route at all.

DSC03088.JPG
They still use this 1950’s tractor for harvesting the corn.

We’ve experienced, for a short while at least, life in a traditional German rural village.  We’ve eaten piles and piles of home grown and home cooked hearty traditional German food.  In the time we were with the Bayers we had a different lunch everyday – Ilse has a huge repertoire of meals that puts me to shame and nothing went to waste.  Homemade spätzle (a type of noodle), kartoffel salat (potato salad), pancakes, different types of bratwurst, soups, goulash with pasta, home-reared roast beef, beef stew, homemade pizza, fried egg and chips(!), bread and vegetable pudding, roast chicken, a type of sweet bread, homemade jams, cakes and yoghurt and lots of other things that I can’t remember.  We also consumed our own body weight in bread.  With the amount of physical work we did we should have left a few pounds lighter but with all the hearty food we had we were on a losing battle.

DSC02863.JPG
That’s the rhubarb prepared and now starting on peeling the cooked potatoes.

Oh, and what about the language?  As it turned out both Gerd and Martin (sons) spoke very good English but the small amount of German we learnt in the week before we arrived did make a huge difference especially when working with Ilse in the kitchen and out in the fields.  I think I’ve improved a little bit since arriving (ein bischen!).  Having only done German for two terms at secondary school and only being able to remember how count to twelve, say ‘ich heisse Jane’ and ‘eine banane’ I was pretty much stating from zero.  It did prove to me that with a bit of effort I can achieve more than I thought I could in a short space of time and I’m going to try to keep going with it.  Next time we are in Spain I’m also going to do the same and make a start on that too so then I’ll have three languages I can’t speak!

DSC02883.JPG
This black cat just loved the cows and would get washed by them every day.

Besides the cow care and the thistle clearing we’ve topped up water tanks, done some tractor work, helped with the harvesting, cleaned, cleared, strimmed, fenced, helped make silage, painted, picked berries, weeded vegetable patches, planted seeds, cooked, made jams and made cakes.

DSC03024.JPG
Painting the alterations to the barn.

We’ve enjoyed spending time with the many other helpers from different countries to learn from and share stories and ideas with.

DSC03086.JPG
Billy, from Hong Kong, stoning the home grown cherries.

Seeing milk production from the grass roots level has certainly opened my eyes to the whole process.  It’s kind of shattered my image of happy go lucky cows chewing the cud in the fields with the sun on their backs slowly ambling in to the milking parlour twice a day.  Mmm, not quite.

DSC02880.JPG
These cows have access to pasture.

The majority of dairy cows these days spend much of their lives inside as there is no requirement to offer outdoor pasture areas.  The stipulation for organic dairy cows, though, is that they have to have access to pasture whenever conditions allow.  Organic cows are also fed on a grass rich, GM free diet, and the use of antibiotics is banned but average yields are around thirty per cent less than for the more intensive methods.  Suffice to say that seeing the whole process from calf to dairy cow the lot of the organic dairy cow is better than those that are more intensively farmed but by no means wonderful.  It’s definitely made me think more about what I will be buying at the supermarket in the future.

DSC02885.JPG
Siegfried still helps with the cows in the evenings.

Anyway, on that cheery note what are we up to now?  Well, we spent last weekend relaxing on a free stellplatz by the river Tauber near Weikersheim.  We were tired and needed a few days of rest and relaxation before continuing on our travels.

P1040453.JPG
Tim back to cooking outside.

Unfortunately, it was roasting hot (in the 30’s) so we didn’t feel that rested after the weekend!  It’s the first time on our travels that the heat really affected me and I felt I had no energy whatsoever.  Fortunately, though, I was able to cool down by swimming in the river just a few steps away from the stellplatz which was very welcome.

After all the thistle clearing we had done in the few days before we left Dairy HQ our hands had practically seized up with no grip at all.  After four days I knew things were improving when I just about managed to squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube.  Well, ok, that is a slight exaggeration but it’s not far off.

DSC03068.JPG
Nope, we won’t miss that job!

We are now loosely following ‘The Romantic Road’.  Apparently it is Germany’s best known and most popular holiday route taking in all that is traditionally German from walled medieval towns to fairy-tale castles and Rococo churches.  It starts in Würzberg and continues in a southerly direction down to Füssen in the Alps.  We picked it up in Weikersheim and we will continue south until the end or until we get Romantic Road burn out.  The burn out is bound to happen as we experienced it before last year in France with all the Bastide towns we visited.  So, we’ll see how it goes.

Bis später!

Down on the farm…. .

So what has been happening down on the dairy farm in the last ten days?  In a word…….lots.  It is certainly hard work here and you don’t get to sit down for too long.  We’ve been on the go seven days a week with various different jobs to do.  Two barns have been sorted, cleared, swept and the rubbish taken to the tip.  What is it about farms that they accumulate so much stuff?

DSC02894.JPG
Clearing out the barns.

Some of the cows have been on the move in the mobile pen to different pastures.

DSC03003.JPG
The mobile cow pen.

If you don’t own a lawnmower then a cow is probably the next best thing as half a dozen of them will clear a two acre field of lush long grass in just a few days leaving it looking like a barren wasteland.  They do, however, leave their mark so to speak.

Tim got to play with some more boys toys (well not really, he was in charge of a shovel) on a busy scorching hot day whilst a mixture of grass, corn and wheat was harvested which will be used for feeding the cows.  Four large tractors and trailers were used for the job with other farmers pooling their resources to help get the job done.  Once cut, the grain was pumped into a giant airtight pvc sausage where it will ferment for at least six weeks before being fed to the cows.

DSC02985.JPG
The big guns were brought in to harvest the cereal which will be fermented for six weeks and then fed to the cows.
DSC02992.JPG
Taking a break from shovelling.
DSC02974.JPG
Once cut, the grain is pumped into a big plastic sausage.  

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ilsa (Mum Bayer), had a birthday party to prepare for last Saturday.  Thirty people were expected for a barbecue on the Saturday evening so it was all hands to the pumps in the kitchen in preparation.  Picking, gathering, washing, peeling, chopping, boiling, steaming, weighing, mixing, blending, whipping, baking, stirring, marinating, tasting…….the list was endless.  Ilsa co-ordinated everything in the kitchen with aplomb but it took seven hours of furious work to get all the food prepared.

DSC02899.JPG
All hands on deck in the kitchen.

It was a shame for Ilsa that it was actually her own birthday that she was preparing everything for.  If I was her I’d be insisting that next year I be taken out instead!

P1040421.JPG
Tim ready to tuck in.

Gerd (son Bayer) and other helpers had made the area at the back of the barn look amazing with table cloths and home grown flowers on every table and fairy lights draped around the perimeter of the garden.

P1040410.JPG
That’s what I call a barbecue.
P1040427.JPG
Michael (from Russia), ( Markus from Latvia), Nick (from Australia), Billy (from Hong Kong) and Tim enjoy the fire pit.

The following day the village had their annual street festival with traditional German food, beer, cakes, theatre, archery and music.

DSC02952.JPG
Russelhausen village festival.

It’s the first street party I’ve been to since the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977 when I was nine!

DSC02954.JPG
Obviously a stein of beer is obligatory as we are in Germany.
DSC02959.JPG
The best way to transport the beer in these parts.

Tim was asked to play in the little church before one of the villagers gave a talk on the history of Rüsselhausen church.

P1040440.JPG
Tim played everyone in to the little church in Russelhausen.

A documentary about the farm and the Bayer family is currently being made and a cameraman and interviewer were at the house for the weekend filming what was going on.

P1040419.JPG
Filming for a documentary about the Bayer family.

I got to do some strimming before I was dispatched off with Ilsa to the supermarket.  It wasn’t until we came out of the supermarket that I realised my legs below the knees were completely green from the strimming with a tide mark where my socks had been.  Doh!  Fortunately I’m not well known here.

 

 

DSC02964.JPG

Another first for Tim was changing the oil on the tractor.  It’s not often he gets his hands dirty these days and normally avoids it at all costs but, well, the tractor is more interesting than the bikes I suppose!

DSC03049.JPG
Happy as a pig in ……!

The swallows have been bringing up their young in the cow barn and it looks like they are now almost ready to fledge.

DSC03044.JPG
There are dozens of swallows nests in the cow barn.  The young look almost ready to fledge.
DSC03045.JPG
Hungry baby swallows 🙂

All in all, then, a busy time and we have aching muscles where we didn’t even know we had muscles but we’ll feel all the better for it………….won’t we?

Schönen tag!