A Travellerspoint blog

The Land of Beautiful Women - The Baltics

Sadly quite a few meathead men too

The flight from Berlin to Tallinn took only about two and a half hours with a stop in Riga, which is the central transport hub of the Baltic states. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this was to be the first of three visits to Riga. The Baltics on not on central Europe time so we had to put our watches forward and hour. By the time we got to our hotel, Hotel Portus, it was already dark. Hotel Portus was - surprisingly - at Tallinn port, which wasn’t the nicest place to walk around at night time. Not that it was grimy or anything - it was actually very clean and modern as far as ports go - it was just dark, quiet and isolated. The terminal was completely surrounded by huge 24 hour bottleshop/warehouses, which was puzzling until we remembered that tax on alcohol in Scandinavia is exorbitant so on the weekend people hop on a car ferry to Tallinn, load up the boot with booze and get on the next ferry home.
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The next day we wandered into the beautiful, UNESCO listed Old City. Tallinn is a very small city but extremely beautiful. Unlike the other Baltic capitals, the Estonians seem to have torn down the grim Soviet era ‘new town’ and replaced with shining new and modern architecture. Tallinn seems safe, clean and modern and is definitely the poster child for post-Soviet development. It is also filled with some of the most beautiful people on earth. All the young women look like supermodels and the men are well dressed and handsome. Although it poured with rain that night we cruised around its bar and club scene. A particular favourite was the ultra hip and modern Stereo Bar, although its supermodel clientele were a little intimidating.
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As I mentioned, evidence of Soviet era neglect had largely been swept away but near our hotel there was a museum of Soviet technology. The housing of this small collection of cars, motorcycles and military vehicles in a derelict factory was particularly fitting.
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We spent two days in Tallinn before taking the bus to Riga. The trip takes about four hours though a monotonous landscape of pine forest but the tour buses serving this route are particularly flash with Wi-Fi and power points for computers and phones. About 4pm we arrived on the outskirts of Riga and the comparison with Tallinn couldn’t have been more different. The outskirts were shabby and rundown, as if the Soviets had never left. Indeed, many haven’t. 35% of Latvians are Russian immigrants from the Soviet era and many feel significant resentment of their recent decline in status. There is a constant state of tension between Russia and Latvia (as indeed between Russia and all the Baltic states). The Russian mafia have also infiltrated almost all levels of politics and business, exacerbating the already endemic Soviet era corruption. The central bus station, set beside a fetid polluted creek and an awful Soviet era market, surrounded by beggars and ancient babushkas was like something from the Borat movie. We hurried to our hostel, trying to draw as little attention to ourselves as possible (not really possible actually!) and fending off demands for Lats.
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While everyone we met in Tallinn was model gorgeous, the same could not be said for Riga. There were some beautiful girls, but this was often offset by appalling Russian fashion and hooker blonde hair. The men tended to look like surly Russian meatheads. As the Riga city guide itself suggested, if lost or in trouble ask help only from young women (the authors of the independent Riga city guide were clearly extremely frustrated with the situation in Riga - it’s a furious diatribe against everything that’s gone wrong in Latvia. Amazing it ever got published).
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Our hostel, the Naughty Squirrel, was right in the centre of town. It was run by a Latvian girl called Eva and her Australian boyfriend, Gerald. They were absolutely great and contributed to the excellent time we had in Riga. The first night we wandered around the old town. Riga isn’t particularly old. There are three buildings dating back to the 16th century but most of the city dates from the late 19th century art nouveau era. The city could look spectacular if more effort was spent on restoration. We visited a few interesting bars, including The Hospitale, which looks like a hospital and the staff wear ….doctors and nurses outfits (the nurses were especially fetching!).
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The next day, after more sightseeing, Eva took us shooting. In an old Soviet bunker, clearly run by the mafia, we got to shoot a Glock pistol, an AK47 and a Winchester pump action shotgun. Never having fired or even handled a real gun before, this was quite a nerve wracking experience. I was surprised by the kickback on the Glock but managed to put four of the six shots through the head of the target (what can I say!). Shelly was very nervous but quickly got the hang of it. She preferred the Winchester and put all four shots through the body of her target. Note to self - don’t mess with Shelly!!
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Later that evening we joined the hostel pub crawl; and I mean later as it didn’t start until 11pm at the hostel and we didn’t leave for an hour. As with the Berlin crawl, it was a great way to meet people and we had a very good night. By the time we reached the last club it was just us, the Latvia guide and her very drunk boyfriend and a couple of Portuguese lads, whom we hope to meet when we get to Portugal.
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Surprisingly we were not too bad the next day - there were some sorry looking characters wandering around the hostel that morning. We bade everyone adieu on took the bus to Vilnius.
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Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, had a similar feel to Riga. It seemed very post-Soviet and run down. The hostel we’d booked that day using the bus Wi-Fi turned out to be a newly renovated 3-star Panorama hotel just a few metres from the bus and train stations. The girl at the counter couldn’t find our reservation but allowed us to book at the price we told her it was advertised on the internet (22 euro per person - the advertised room rate on the front counter was 93 euro). She was extremely helpful (and gorgeous). The name of the hotel wasn’t wrong either - we had a panoramic view of the whole city. We also noted that there was an underground bomb shelter in the carpark of hotel!
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After freshening up we set out for the centre of town but it absolutely poured with rain. Although we had an umbrella we were absolutely saturated. We had a nice, if somewhat damp and uncomfortable, meal at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant of potato cakes, zeppelins and fried black bread with cheese sauce (absolutely absolutely absolutely cracking!!).

The next day we headed out to the airport to sort out our flight to Barcelona. We had booked a flight over the internet but the booking went a little awry when the agent refused to accept our credit cards and demanded a bank wire transfer and three days clearance. As it was already the weekend, this was impossible. Attempts to contact them on their weekend service number and email failed (fat lot of good that did!). In the end we lost that booking and had to rebook again and pay extra, as our internet booking was the last of the cheap seats. We also had to rearrange our travel days which meant we would have to fly to Riga that night in order to meet the connecting flight the next day. This was quite frustrating as we had only just rebooked and paid for a second night at the Panorama at the same discounted price. But, those are the breaks when you’re travel like us.
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At least we had the rest of the day in Vilnius. It’s the least exciting of the Baltic capitals in my opinion but it is still pleasant and it certainly seemed more prosperous than Riga. There were lots of department stores and high fashion shops in the main street.
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Our final sight seeing stop in Vilnius was the KGB museum. It is housed in the former KGB headquarters and has exhibits on both the Gestapo and KGB atrocities perpetrated in Lithuania (the Gestapo occupied the same building before the KGB took over!). It was grim and informative. For instance, who knew that the Lithuanians fought a guerrilla war with the Soviets from 1945 to 1958? Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were executed, imprisoned or exiled during the Soviet era - more even than under the Nazis. It is safe to say that Lithuania does not forget or forgive Russia for its treatment and relations between the countries are tense to say the least. It is even illegal to sell Russian army surplus souvenirs in Lithuania. Less than 15% of Lithuania’s population is ethnically Russian so perhaps they can afford to be a little more provocative than say Latvia.

Later that night we flew back to Riga. We didn’t go back into town but stayed in a little hotel near the airport and we flew out again the next morning. Another phase in our holiday was about to begin in sunny Spain

Posted by paulymx 15:40 Comments (1)

Berlin

Shelly has "Great Success!"

In Berlin Shelly and I agreed to separate. Travelling together and living in each others pockets for so long certainly puts a relationship under pressure and by the time we’d reached Berlin Shelly made it clear that if she had to spend another afternoon in a motorcycle museum she’d have to f*cking kill me. Actually she didn’t say that at all, but in Berlin we did have very different priorities. For me, I want to visit the East German Motorcycle Museum in east Berlin (as I’m an East German motorcycle owner) while Shelly wanted to go big city shopping.
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This was our third visit to Berlin, which makes it one of only a few cities we’ve visited repeatedly (the others being London, Paris, and Istanbul - all great cities, except London). Last time we were here ten years ago the city was like an enormous building site with construction going on everywhere. The city itself was rather run down and not very appealing. I described at the time as a city more famous for what it was than what it actually is. It’s good to see that in ten years nothing has changed. I must admit after we settled into our rather Spartan hostel room and walked around the neighbourhood I thought, “Jeez, Berlin is such a sh*t hole!”
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But Berlin has an insidious way of getting under your skin. While Shelly went shopping I went to my motorcycle museum, which had an excellent collection of MZ motorcycles but was just a little too cramped and poorly lit to properly display them. I then wandered down the famous boulevard, Unter der Linten, passed the Kaiserdom and Museum Island and finished up at the technical museum. The Berlin technical museum is nothing compared to Speyer and Sinshiem but still had an excellent collection of unusual aircraft including a space age tailless Horton glider from the 1930s - think Stealth Bomber, only seventy years ago. Germany has never been short on technical innovation. Although it was early afternoon I decided to head back to the hostel as I had been feeling increasingly unwell since Nuremburg. The dreaded swine flu was upon me. I needed some rest.
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Here is a link to more photos of the museum
http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com/2009/10/east-german-motorcycle-museum.html

Shelly meanwhile had been touring around town and had had some shopping success, returning with a pair of new boots and four dresses. Great Success!!

We decided it was time to see other people, so we opted for a bar crawl tour. Many big cities have them and they are often run through hostels. They are a great way to get out and meet people (and get drunk- which works for us). The Berlin bar crawl was huge with about 70 people attending - it was Saturday night after all. At the first bar we were plied with free beer and ‘entertained’ by an insane man with a flame thrower. Note - is it really a good idea to let and insane man have a flame thrower?? Not really I think. We tipped him a few coins to ensure he stayed far away from us. The group was quite mixed with British, Irish, Australians, Kiwis, Americans and some Spaniards. An English couple we spoke with told us they had attended on Thursday and had a such a good night they’d come back again. Of course, they couldn’t actually remember the last two bars they visited and were too ill to do anything on Friday, but hey…
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So it turned out to be a totally excellent night. We visited four bars - the last two of which we can’t really remember all that clearly and finished up around 3am. But what we do remember is we had a great night and made lots of new friends… but can’t quite remember all their names now.
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Another thing we noted while out at night was that all the prostitutes in our area (and there were quite a few) wore what can only be described as a uniform - it came in combinations of pink, black and white and featured tight jeans, high stiletto boots, tight top and a bustier. Surprisingly there were a lot of young girls working the streets, not old druggy hags and there were always lots of young guys talking with them, negotiating. It was all done quite openly.

Sunday was a very very quiet day.
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In the late afternoon we visited the Pergamum Museum which houses some amazing ancient Greek and Persian sculpture. It is a wonderful museum.
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From Berlin we intended to fly to the Baltic states but had some problems arranging flights. No matter what we tried we couldn’t complete an online booking through Air Baltic, the Latvian discount airline. Frustratingly we were forced to go into their Berlin office (which fortunately was on the same street as our hotel) and had to pay the normal rates (as opposed to the internet discount - is it a scam?). All these little hassles meant we had to spend an extra night in Berlin. On our last day we wandered over to Checkpoint Charlie, which really is nothing more than a big tourist scam. There actually is NOTHING to see there except a sign - hidden behind the teeming street vendors flogging Russian army surplus. BUT, around the corner from the Checkpoint is Trabant Safari.
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For those of you who don’t know, the Trabant is the East German wonder car. As the Cold War heated up in the 1950s, the East Germans were forced to start building their own domestic auto industry (as most of the auto companies had fled west). The East German government established VEB as the state auto consortium, dolling out specific contracts to specific vendors - MZ built motorcycles, IWL built scooters, Simson built mopeds, IFA built trucks and Trabant built cheap cars. Due to resource shortages Trabant were forced to make some compromises. Firstly - they used an enlarged MZ motorcycle engine. It was noisy, dirty and not very powerful, but that was okay, because a lack of pressed steel meant the body of the car was made of cardboard. Well, it was fibreglass coated cardboard. The Trabant ran so badly that it was instantly branded a joke. But they still made millions of the things and exported them across the Communist world. In East Germany the wait list for a new Trabant was 10 years!! Despite all its flaws the Trabant was loved by its owners - they didn’t have much of a choice. Of course as soon as the wall fell Trabant was out of business, replaced by modern, reliable cars from Asia. All across eastern Europe Trabants were left to rot. Until some westerners and entrepreneurial easterners realised that there is a nostalgia for the Communist past and the old rust buckets were tidied up, painted and pushed out onto the road for tourists to drive.
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Trabant Safari offers tourists a first hand opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of these unusual vehicles. There are two set tours and an ad-hoc short drive tours. The set tours take about an hour and you follow a lead vehicle around various sights of Berlin with commentary relayed via the radio. The ad-hoc tour is just a quick half hour around central Berlin in order to experience driving a Trabi. This is what we did. I must say it was a lot of fun - although nerve wracking. The Trabi is bare bones basic driving and the clutch and gearbox betray the engine’s motorcycle origins. The gears are in a H arrangement and you tell which gear you are in by feel and the noise the engine makes. The brakes were very dicey. Shelly only screamed a few times but you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for hours.
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I have heard a rumour while in Germany that there is a plan to relaunch the Trabant, this time as an electric car.

The next day we were up and out fairly early for our flight to Tallinn, Estonia and I think we were both a little sad to say goodbye to Berlin.
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In Berlin we also said goodbye to our good friend - the Opel Astra. It was somewhat disappointing to pick up a hire car exactly the same as our own car, but she served us well. We however treated her badly. She probably needed a thorough cleaning and disinfection after we'd almost lived in it for five weeks. We did over 8,000 kms in that time and there were plently of very long driving days. You could say our trip was sponsored by Red Bull as there is no way we could have survived without its energy boost. I must also add that power naps, even for less than fifteen minutes were absolutely essential. If businesses in the west want to get more out of their employees they really need to consider the benefits of a siesta. It's amazing the difference it makes.
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Posted by paulymx 16:02 Comments (1)

Nuremburg and Nazis

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From Plzen we drove to Nuremburg, a city famous for both the rise and fall of the Nazis. The Nazis chose the city as the setting for their rallies because Nuremburg was long held to be a quintessentially German city. The Allies chose the city as the setting for the war crimes trials for exactly the same reason. Nuremburg indeed has a long and noble history as the cities numerous monuments attest. After visiting so many tiny old medieval cities, the size of old Nuremburg was astonishing. The old city was enclosed within a massive double row of walls, complete with moat (now a park), interspersed with huge round watch towers. It seemed to take forever to drive around the old city and find our way (and not simply because of our navigational challenges). We found a parking spot near the central market square and headed out.
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I’d originally intended Nuremburg to be a short stop on the drive to Berlin, but shortly after we started exploring the old city Shelly began to feel a little unwell. With her stamina flagging we decided we’d find accommodation and stay the night. Shelly opted to relax while I went out to explore. I had been keen to visit Nuremburg for some time as the city not only preserves not only its medieval architecture, but a number of important Nazi buildings. On the outskirts of the city lie the enormous National Socialist Party Congress Hall and Zeppelin Field. The enormous Congress Hall started construction in about 1935. Nazi rallies had already been held in the nearby Zeppelin Field (which had been a parade ground and Zeppelin landing field - hence the name - since the beginning of the twentieth century) but Hitler wanted a purpose built congress hall that would demonstrate in steel and marble the power and prestige of the Nazi party. The site was poorly chosen - specifically because it needed to be near the Zeppelin field parade ground - the lakeside ground was swampy and required driving of thousands of concrete piles into the mud to secure the foundations. This resulted in years of delay and eventually construction was abandoned when the Nazis got a little distracted by a war, but the vision of its creator is clear from the unfinished shell.
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Hitler was a mediocre artist and his taste in architecture was equally shallow. He wanted the Congress to be a new Colosseum; a shining marble colossus of imperial power. But the Congress is nothing like the Colosseum. Walking around the shell, which is occasionally used as a setting for outdoor concerts (which is still quite controversial) but is mostly just provides a home for stray dogs, I was struck but how awe inspiringly boring the building actually is. It is astonishingly plain, It is simply an exercise in size over substance. Rarely have I encountered a historic building whose preservation seems so unwarranted.
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So I wandered across to the other side of the lake to the Zeppelin field, glancing ever backward to the looming bulk of the Congress. It still made no sense. Zeppelin field is also an oddity. The field itself, once home to those stirring Nazi rallies famously captured in the propaganda films by Lennie Refenschtall, is now a football (soccer) field. The stands, where the Nazi leadership once stood still remain - stark, white and bare marble. You could walk right the way up to the podium where Hitler gave his speeches and I did so. Like the Congress, the Zeppelin field was cold and bare. There was no substance to it. Now it was just a desolate urban graveyard; a transitory home for local toughs, drunks and bums, and the occasional curious tourist. As I walked away I tried to imagine what this place had been like during those rallies and it occurred to me that like King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstien palace, Zeppelin field and the Congress were really nothing more than stage sets. But whereas Ludwig set his stage with dazzling extravagance, the Nazis had nothing. Without the Nazi flags, without the choreographed, anonymous masses, without Hitler, they weren’t even places. Hitler of course would have appreciated that. In his mind, HE was the German nation. The buildings he left behind therefore reflect his vision. And it’s empty.
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We walked the city that night and took in the castle and the market square; all the buildings beautifully lit up. Of course, all the buildings have been restored as Nuremburg was flattened during the war. Although Nuremburg is famous for its sausages, we had schnitzel and a pork knuckle, as we’d pretty much had our fill of sausages. I wanted to try the local beer, a strong dark ale, but was myself beginning to feel poorly. The first signs of the dreaded swine flu were upon me, so we had an early, alcohol free night.
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The next day we took a lengthy walk around the town. Being so big there was no way we could see all of it and I would be happy to go back spend more time in this very interesting town. I need to clarify though that Shelly doesn’t share the same opinion of Nuremburg as me and was quite pleased to bid it adieu. She had other destinations in mind - Berlin and shopping!!
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Posted by paulymx 13:52 Comments (0)

The Czech beer tour

You really need to have a purpose in life

After an overnight stop in Regensburg we drove on to Cesky Krumlov, arriving around 1pm (very early for us!). Like Bern and Strasbourg, Krumlov snuggles into the bend of a river. A high rocky embankment is topped by a massive baroque palace and blocks the way into the old city. You walk under a massive archway that supports part of the palace and boom! You’re in the middle of the old city. The river positively tears around the outskirts of the old town and is popular with kayakers. It was stinking hot and we planned to go kayaking in the afternoon, but never actually made it. We wandered into the old town and found the imaginatively named Travellers Hostel. It had been recommended to us in Warsaw but proved a little less appealing in reality.
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Cesky Krumlov is a beautiful town but extremely small. The river, the gorge and the rocky cliff have all conspired to protect the old city from modern development - it’s quite unsuitable for cars - but it also constrains the size of the place. Within a couple of hours we’d completely covered the whole town and even the palace gardens. That night we had traditional Czech food in an old restaurant and mohitos out by the old bridge.
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We had originally planned to stay a couple of days but as we’d seen everything in the town in one afternoon, including the Jawa motorcycle museum (much to Shelly’s delight!) we decided it was time to push on to Cesky Budovice. Budovice is only about 60 kms from Krumlov and is the home of the famous Budweiser beer - not the American sh*t, the real Czech Budweiser (there is a long running international lawsuit over use of the name). Our primary reason for visiting Budovice was to do the brewery tour, but we almost immediately ran into a hiccup. Upon presenting ourselves at the recommended pension we were told that it was full and that because there was some major event in town almost all the hotels were full. Hmmm! We had a little time to kill before the brewery tour so decided to head into the centre of town to sightsee and perhaps find alternative accommodation. When we reached the town square though it became apparent that our turn of fortune was actually for the best as Budovice was actually a pretty awful town. The centre square was pretty but outside of that it was pretty grim and Soviet and there was nothing else to see. We decided that after the tour we’d push on to the home of Budovice’s brewering rival, Pilsen.
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The Budweiser tour was very good and we did get to try their product.
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It was only a relatively short drive to Plzen and we managed to secure a good, cheap apartment right on the main square. Plzen is famous as the home of pilsner beer. We were a week early for the Pilsner Urquell festival but there was a free concert in the church square so we settled in with a couple of beers and enjoyed the evening.
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The next day we wandered around the very small old city; like Krumlov and Budovice it was no more than about six blocks square (although the surrounding new city is sprawling). We decided not to do a second brewery tour but took a walking tour of the underground. Beneath the old city are miles of tunnels that were once used for brewing and storing beer, but it was a bit boring. And that was enough of the Czech Republic. It was only a short drive to the German border, but we had a very long drive to Berlin ahead.
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The Black Forest and the Romantic Road

We went to Titisee but didn't see any
It would have been nice to stay longer in Switzerland but we’d already decided to travel on to Freiburg in Germany so that we could drive the Black Forest so we dared not linger. As it was we reached Freiburg around 7.30pm. We were lucky in that we managed to find the pension we were looking for and it had a room free - it’s last one. It was a little way out from the centre but after a quick freshen up we headed into town. We didn’t have any great expectations of Freiburg; it was simply a convenient starting point for the Black Forrest route, but the old city proved to be very scenic. The cathedral is very beautiful and the surrounding square becomes an enormous market during the day. A notable architectural feature of the city is a channel of running water that runs through all the major streets. In the middle ages people would tip their waste out into the channel and the running water (fed by mountain streams) would flush it away, making Freiburg a surprisingly clean city. In an age of public liability and law suites, an open sewer of running water down the middle of a public pathway seems a little hazardous, but this is Europe and people behave like grown ups here. “There is a sewer in the middle of the street so WATCH OUT!” Apart from the ambiance of running water in the streets, it was also very cooling. People sat on the kerbside and rested their feet in the stream, kids played with toy boats in it, and it came in very handy for washing pasta sauce from my shoes after I accidentally trod on a slice of pizza someone had dropped.
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For the second time in Germany we visited an Augustiner Brauhaus. Those Augustinian monks know how to run a good business and the place was absolutely packed. We had another round of ridiculously large beers, plus a strangely white and insipid looking local weisswurst. It looked a little disconcerting but tasted okay.
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The next day we drove the Black Forest. Our first stop was Titisee, a popular lakeside town and although I looked intently there wasn’t any titty to see. Instead, the place was packed with tour buses filled with oldies intent on buying cuckoo clocks and ’Nordic walking.’ Having missed our boating opportunity in the Tyrol, we hired a pedal boat at Titisee and took a bit of a turn about the lake before we got back on the road. To be honest, while there were a couple of pleasant, winding drives through the deep forest - the ‘Witches Road’ was particularly notable - there really wasn’t much to the Black Forest. It’s main drawcard is cuckoo clocks - which originate from here, not Switzerland - and this seems to be enough to draw hordes of tour buses.
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A little disappointed we decided to completely change plan and drive into France. We both loved nearby Alsace-Lorraine so swung across the border to Strasbourg, which we had never visited before. Germany and France are quite different in character and the French influence meant more than just a change of language on the road signs. It’s hard to quantify exactly, but the villages are prettier in France. I still believe Colmar and the Alsace vin-route is one of the most beautiful and scenic areas I’ve ever visited in Europe.

Strasbourg is the state capital of Alsace-Lorraine and the home of the European parliament. It was originally a Roman city, founded in 12BC, although there are few Roman ruins to speak of. The city is most famous for its magnificent 12th century gothic cathedral. When the north tower was completed in the 15th century it was the tallest building in the world. The cathedral literally soars above the old city - it’s hard to appreciate the scale of the building from the ground (only aerial photos do it justice). Plague put an end to plans to build a south tower and so the front of the cathedral remains unfinished. Despite its enormous size, the cathedral is surprisingly light and airy thanks to the daring use of columns rather than solid stonework. This means you can see through many of the decorative features of the cathedral, such as the bell tower. We were lucky enough to witness a temporary sound and light show at the cathedral that was simply mesmerising.
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Strasbourg was also famous as the city where Johannes Gutenberg began printing with moveable type.

We were lucky enough to find a cheap hotel right on the centre square (staying in the bright yellow Pavlova room). We had a hearty meal of pork knuckle - for a change (although this one was boiled in red wine. Yum!) - and Alsatian potato cakes, all washed down with French lager and wine.

Speyer and Sinshiem - And The Children Go Mental
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We left Strasbourg fairly early as I wanted to visit the technical museum in Speyer, Germany. Speyer, and its partner Sinsheim, are rather unremarkable industrial towns that have placed themselves on the tourist map by housing an astonishing collection of automobiles, motorcycles, aircraft, trains, ships, submarines, machinery and assorted technology. The collection is so large that it is distributed across both cities in enormous hangers that are, even despite their size, crammed with displays. Sinshiem is by far the better museum. Its set up seems more professional and thematically consistent. Speyer feels a bit like it is holding the overflow. Perhaps the most striking feature of both museums is the display of aircraft. At Sinshiem a Concorde and a Russian Tupelov are suspended high above the main hall as if taking off. Behind them trail a series of older airliners dating from the 1930s through to the 1960s. At Speyer a giant Russian Antonov cargo carrier dominates the skyline. Parked incongruously next to it is a 1960s submarine.
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Inside the halls are row upon row of vintage and classic cars and bikes. Both museums have a huge collection of steam trains. Sinshiem has an impressive display of German tanks and military aircraft from the Second World War. Every metre of space is used. Planes and motorcycles hang from the ceiling about the vintage cars. For me, it was like every boyhood fantasy come true. Shelly, despite some initial doubts, enjoyed the car displays but wasn’t so excited by the aeroplanes.
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Here is a link to more photos http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com/2009/08/auto-technik-museums-at-sinshiem-speyer.html
After a couple of hours at both museums, we drove on to Wurzburg, the starting point for the Romantic Road. We arrived fairly early - about 7pm - but soon found that every single hotel room in the city was taken. We had almost reached the point of despair when got a lucky break and snagged the very last room at Hotel Barbarossa, which was not so much a hotel as a pension. By the time we got settled it was well after 9pm so there would be no sightseeing tonight. Instead we spent the next hour searching for a kebab. We found one eventually - just behind the hotel!
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Sunday in Wurzburg - as it is all across Germany - was quiet. We wandered around Wurzburg taking in the sights. The old and ‘new’ cities are separated by a river. An old castle overlooks the town from across the river, joined to the new city by a stone bridge that is reminiscent of the Charles Bridge in Prague (minus the hordes of tourists and souvenir stalls). The new town - and of course by new they mean 17th century - is also very pretty with lots of baroque palaces and cathedrals.
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We finished up our sightseeing about 1.30pm and set off. There first stop was Weikershiem, a pleasant little town with a well preserved early baroque palace. Weikershiem had once been an independent state and the princes of Weikershiem had converted an earlier 11th century castle into a baroque palace. Either the family was quite poor or the princes were extremely ugly, as the portrait paintings hanging on the walls of the palace were quite appalling. At any rate, the family died out shortly after renovating the castle and their state, being so tiny, was absorbed into Bavaria. The palace was pretty much sealed up and left vacant for the next couple of hundred years and so preserved early baroque furniture and decoration intact. You can only visit the palace on a guided tour and, unfortunately for us that was in German. We were given a pamphlet with the English translation to read but it was pretty hard going having to sit through the German tour. The decoration of the great hall was astonishing however.
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The tour took an hour - we could have done it all ourselves in ten minutes I’d say - so we didn’t get back on the road again until after 4pm. It was only a short trip to Rothenburg however and we arrived about 6pm. We parked in one of the many car parks outside the medieval walls of the city and walked in. We were keen to find accommodation as quickly as possible as Rothenburg is an extremely popular tourist destination. We needn’t have worried. Most of the visitors come on day trips and are gone by the afternoon. We found a suitable cute and old room at a pension (formerly an old barn) near the wall. We got changed and headed into the city. By another stroke of good fortune there was a local produce festival on and there were plenty of stalls selling food and drink in the square. The atmosphere was great. Wine - for once - was plentiful and Shelly got to enjoy some nice whites. As in Dusseldorf, every glass and plate had a deposit value and you either took your glass back for a top up or returned it to claim your deposit.
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At dusk we joined The Nightwatchman Tour. Shelly and I have done quite a few walking tours over the years - the last had been the Ghost Tour in Prague - but this was certainly one of the best. Firstly, the Nightwatchman knew his stuff. He told good stories and told them very well. Secondly, he wasn’t competing with anyone. There is only the one Nightwatchman so he didn’t need to hype or sensationalise. And thirdly, he was bloody funny. It’s hard to capture in words his delivery. I could say he was sort of a cross between Borat and the laid-back American comedian Steve Wright. Highly recommended.
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Rothenburg is a beautifully preserved medieval city. Almost its entire circuit of walls have been preserved. Most of the old buildings, especially around the central squares are given over to souvenirs and other touristy trinkets. The Lonely Planet makes a comment that the city feels a little bit fake and recommends visiting Dinkelsbuhl for a “more authentic” medieval city. We visited Dinkelsbuhl and it is absolutely beautiful, but it doesn’t really cater for more than the occasional tourist so there is little to do there except admire the buildings. And that kind of summed up our trip on the Romantic Road. We drove through beautiful village after beautiful village and saw well preserved half timbered houses, baroque churches and medieval walls galore, but it was all too much in the end. A little south of Dinkelsbuhl we decided we’d change tack and drive to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. But that story will have to wait.
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