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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.