Busy Doing Nothing in the Black Forest

7 – 22 August 2019

We ended up spending an extra day at Stockach as the nice people at Caramobil completely failed to live up to the German stereotype of efficiency. We were indeed booked in for 7th August but despite us turning up a week early to check all was in order and get extra parts delivered, they had failed to order the fly-screen door we were booked in to have replaced. And then they had ordered the wrong fridge door. And failed to order the window catch at all. After seeing the look on our faces they hurriedly arranged to get a fly-screen there the next day and fit it as soon as it arrived.  

So a day later than intended we headed from Lake Constance to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), an area of rolling hills with dark conifers cloaking their slopes. On the flatter ground, fields of maize and, surprisingly, tobacco (although we have seen a lot of cigarette machines around, we haven’t noticed a lot of smoking). The small town of Staufen im Breisgau is on the western edge of the Black Forest close to the French border and has a small campsite just 10 minutes walk upstream from the centre.

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Camping Belchenblick reception, Staufen im Breisgau

We had booked in for a while, Danny being convinced that German summers would be lovely and we would get in lots of cycle rides and walking.  

The day we arrived the sun was indeed shining and the town’s outdoor swimming pool next door to the campsite was buzzing. But the greenness of the landscape should have given us warning and we soon found that Britain is not the only place with unpredictable weather. The general tone was grey skies, regular periods of heavy rain and occasionally glorious sunshine which inevitably resulted in a thunderstorm – quite spectacular at times.

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The good news was that it was generally warm and once we managed a whole 8 hours without rain. The bad news was that sometimes it was colder than London.

The campsite is set between the river, and the railway & main-road. Given that our pitch was separated from the railway line and automatic crossing by just a privet hedge, we can report that the train service runs like clockwork.

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Our pitch, with  level crossing behind!

Thankfully the trains are short, electrified and only run every half hour. It surprised us how quickly we got used to it. Okay, it’s not as quaint as the cuckoo clocks that originate around here but pretty much as good for keeping track of time. 

Staufen itself is a pretty small town with an attractive old square that hosts a Saturday market, and a main street with small water channels (bächle) either side. Supplied by the river, these medieval runnels originally supplied water for drinking and for fire-fighting but today their main use appears to be for children to sail small wooden boats along. The town has a really nice feel and the buildings in the centre are very traditional in style although many are showing some big cracks. This is the result of a geothermal drilling operation in 2007 to provide heating for the town hall that went badly wrong. The old town has since risen several inches causing signficant structural damage. Tasteful protest signs are painted by some of the worst cracks. It’s a very polite kind of a place.

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Staufen Altstadt (Old Town)  – Town hall on right, red protest sign centre-left

The Neuman River that runs through the town has been contained within a pretty tree-lined channel with foot-and cycle-paths along it, and on the outskirts is an attractive old ruined castle on a small, vine-clad hill. Nice.

For Danny’s birthday we made use of the free regional public transport pass provided by the campsite by taking the train to the ‘capital’ of the Black Forest, Freiburg im Bresigau, where we dropped our bags at the Holiday Inn Express and headed off to explore.  

Freiburg is an old city and its position as a strategic transport hub led to it being badly bombed during WWII by the RAF – and also the Luftwaffe, by mistake! The centre has been rebuilt on its medieval footprint and many buildings round the Münsterplatz (the main square) look genuinely old. At it’s centre is the impressive red-sandstone cathedral with intricately carved spire, gargoyles and statues that took over 300 years to complete. Despite it’s size the bombers somehow missed it.

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Freiburger Münster (cathedral)

Impressive as it was, Danny refused to visit a church on his birthday. Instead we dandered around the bustling daily farmer’s market that surrounds the cathedral, filling the square with delicious smells. 

Like Staufen, the streets of the old town have bächle running alongside them, the gurgle of the water adding to the charm of the place. But even outside the old town centre there is a relaxed feel. The “most environmentally friendly city in Germany” has very light traffic with trams powered only by clean electricity and thousands of cycles making for minimal traffic noise.

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A busy street in Freiburg – with bächle & tramlines 

On a more sombre note Freiburg commemorates its Jewish citizens who were shipped off for extermination by way of bronze plaques set in the pavement outside their houses, and the site of the old synagogue, burnt to the ground by the SS in 1938, now has a shallow, reflective pool of water in it’s footprint. But it’s difficult to be sombre in Freiburg when the sun is shining and you are surrounded by the hum of people enjoying themselves – shoppers sampling the farmers produce, students sitting on the warm pavements chatting, and children playing in the fountains near the old synagogue.

In the evening we visited the Zirbelstube restaurant for a Birthday meal, a pine-clad place with crisp white tablecloths and waiters in traditional dress. We had finally discovered German food that didn’t involve some sort of pork with potato. Delicious. 

Back in Staufen we spent our time bouncing backwards and forwards to Camping Hentrich in Bad Krozingen to finally get the refrigerator door – a remarkably expensive item – and in-between that dandering round the village (it has and amazing cake & chocolate shop) or wimpishly sheltering from the rain and storms. 

Despite the weather we stayed longer than intended, waiting for a couple of parcels to arrive. As we had no TV reception – an inconsiderately placed birch tree saw to that – we had time to catch up with lots of reading, a couple of box sets and 3-months worth of The Archers. And in a break in the rain, a group of Alpenhorn players visited the campsite and provided an evening’s cultural entertainment – we find it’s the unplanned and unexpected that often provide the most memorable experiences.

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Alpenhorn Players, Camping Belchenblick – a memorable experience

Fixes and Phone-calls 

31 July – 6 August    

Because motorhome travel wouldn’t be the same without it, our van had developed a range of problems – the habitation-door fly screen was irreparable, the freezer door hinges had broken, our fridge door still wasn’t right, and a warning for low brake fluid had been flashing regularly and we couldn’t check the levels because the bonnet was jammed. Driving nearly 5 tonnes on steep roads, brake failure is not an option to contemplate lightly. So now we were in Germany, where our van was built and almost all its parts originate from, it was a good time to get things sorted.

An appointment was made for 7th August for a new fly-screen to be fitted, at Stockach on the north-west tip of Bodensee (Lake Constance to the Swiss who own the southern part), just because it was close to the Black Forest which we wanted to see. So we were heading back west, this time across Germany.

We identified somewhere on-route that may be able to help with the brake-fluid & bonnet issue – a bit of a priority – and headed that way. It was still grey and inclined to rain and the rivers were all full,

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Full river on a rainy July day in Bavaria – summer come back please!!!

but we took the country roads and enjoyed pine-clad hills, picturesque Barvarian chalets, fertile farms with brown-and-white dairy cows, and large fields of maize all interspersed with small villages with carved and painted maypoles, and the huge farmhouse-barns characteristic of the area.

A quiet overnight stop next to the river at a large Stellplatz at Schongau – it rained of course – and we were off again. Our cross-country danderings  re-acquainted us with the yellow “Umleitung” signs – German for diversion – that are not always where you need them and we were grateful for the map.me app we have downloaded for off-line use. It really comes into its own for finding ways round the arbitrary road closures – sat nav just keeps trying to take you back to the closed road which can be frustrating to say the least.

Travelling from Barvaria into Baden-Württemberg the landscape opened up more and crops such as rape, oats and wheat appeared amongst the maize. The sun came out for a while and brightened the blue of the wild chicory and the gold of the buttercups in the verges and some red kites wheeled up above. Nice. 

The Erwin Hymer Centre at Bad Waldsee is huge and truly excellent – Travelworld eat your heart out. Next to the Hymer factory itself and the Erwin Hymer museum, the range of motorhomes on display was really impressive. There were 3 staff on reception and the guy who dealt with us spoke good English and was technically knowledgeable and extremely helpful. He whisked the van away to the workshop sending us inside for a coffee, but we got distracted by the excellent shop. Before we had gathered up too many goodies he was back with the bonnet fixed – no charge – and directed us to a Fiat Servicer round the corner. They were great as well and within half-an-hour our brake fluid was overflowing and we were on our way with confidence. The sun was shining and things were looking up.

At Bad Waldsee we parked up at the Stellplatz near the centre and walked into the town.

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Bad Waldsee is a spa town with thermal springs and as a result there are an abnormally high number of people on crutches who come for spa therapy – a big thing in Germany. It is pretty in a traditional sort of a way with pavement coffee-shops and bars busy with locals. Just behind the centre is a lovely lake that you can walk round and people were busy enjoying the warm sun in their own watery ways – pedalos, small boats, sculls, paddle-boards. And a fair number having a swim. It was really nice and relaxed. 

Like everywhere else we have been in Germany it had kebab shops and Danny decided a donner was just what he needed for dinner.

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Danny’s Donner – more than a mouthful!!

By the time we headed off next day we had obtained a SIM card for our old phone so we could now make calls and had established that in Germany are-paid data SIM for our wi-fi hotspot is just too expensive.

As we approached Bodensee we started to see huge apple orchards with densely planted columns instead of branching trees, row upon row upon row. Bodensee’s microclimate makes it a very important apple-growing area for both Swiss and the Germans – including a lot of summer rain – and they manage to grow an astonishing 3000 trees per hectare.

As we approached Friedrichshafen we were surprised to see a huge zeppelin in the sky – a proper one, not just a tethered balloon. We had to rub our eyes and double-check. Then we discovered that this was where they were first built, and the first Zeppelin flight was over the lake in 1900. It would be awesome to have a trip on one.

At Stockach, we arrived a few days early and they agreed to order us some parts which will hopefully arrive for 7th and we got new hinges for the freezer door which Danny fitted. Opposite the workshops is a small, green campsite with a nice feel so we decided to sit still until our appointment.

Stockach is a completely different kettle of fish to Bad Waldsee, being functional rather than attractive but we explored anyway and found an interesting statue commemorating the town’s sponsorship of a couple of U boats over the last 50 years.

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Interesting statue – look closely…

The rain set in again but we were glad we had finally arrived somewhere we could get British TV – Gardener’s World and the NW News full of tales of flooding and damaged dams. At least someone is having more rain than us! Time to chill out and use our local SIM card to catch up with friends and family.

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Relaxing at Stockach Campsite

Into the Eagle’s Nest

28-30 July 2019

The rain followed us up through Liechtenstein, right across Austria – where we belatedly remembered the need to fork out for a Go-Box so a fine is possibly in the post – and into the south-east corner of Germany that is a stone’s throw from Salzburg. 

Berchtesgarden was our target and the campsite is 2 or 3 miles outside town up quite a steep hill. We knew it was fully booked so headed onto their Stellplatz and found ourselves a spot. It has electric hook-up and space for your awning – in this case rain rather than sun protection – and you can take the steep steps up to campsite and use their excellent facilities, toilets, showers, pool and restaurant. 

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Stellplatz Allweghlen

Sunday closing meant the larder was bare so we decided to try the restaurant and shared a table with a nice Dutch couple on their first camping expedition who were waiting for it to stop raining! Schnitzel stuffed with ham & cheese, and fried Austrian spam with fried egg and fried potatoes – it’s not a healthy eating destination but it’s not expensive either and we found it very tasty. 

The rain didn’t stop all night and didn’t give up until lunchtime next day – almost 48hrs of heavy rain which of course made it a lot cooler making Danny happy. The reason we were here was to visit Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and rain and low cloud kept it hidden from view but we trusted to the weather forecast and booked a tour for the next day. A nice German couple and their daughter joined us and our guide, Regina, on the 10 minute drive uphill to the Documentation museum. From there people are ferried up the restricted road to Kehlstein, 5 buses at a time. It was already busy when we arrived at 0845 and were shepherded onto our bus. 

The Eagle’s nest is at 1,834m (6,017ft). It was part of an “off limits” area created for Hitler from his early days in power which centred on the Berghof – his private residence away from Berlin and the second centre of power of the Third Reich outside the capital. Miles of tunnels were developed in the hillsde for a secret HQ, and the National Socialist Workers Party commissioned a prestigious teahouse for the Führer, on a summit called Kehlstein. The Kehlsteinhaus was intended for him to use to meet, impress and entertain people and only became known as the Eagle’s Nest after the War. It cost a huge amount and took nearly 2 years to build including the 7km of road constructed to reach it, but the summit is so steep the road could not go to the top and a 124m long tunnel was cut into the mountain leading to an art-deco brass-panelled lift that rises 124m to the building itself. 

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The Tunnel & the Eagle’s Nest – and Dan

The tunnel remains cold even in summer – around 7°C – and Regina told us that at times the queues for the elevator reach all the way down it with waits of up to an hour.

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We had no such problem at 9am and were whisked up straight away. Apparently Hitler was scared of heights and didn’t like elevators, so didn’t use it often – only 14 visits by him are confirmed by documentation. Eva Braun used it more than her boyfriend, as did other high ranking Nazi leaders. Our German colleagues on the tour told us they hadn’t heard of the place until 4 days earier which surprised us initially. Regina explained that after the war Hitler’s Berghof and other buildings associated with him had been flattened so they could not become shrines. The Khelsteinhaus had survived because it had been used by the Americans and when it was handed back to the Germans many years later, the local government decided to use it to sensitively earn revenue from tourists and use the profit for charity.

The place is pretty much in its original state and once up there we admired the huge red marble fireplace gifted to Hitler by Mussolini in 1938 which is a focal point in the large room with excellent views that once hosted the leaders of the Third Reich.

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Mussolini’s Gift to Hitler

It now serves as a cafe. There are no bedrooms and the kitchens were never used to prepare meals – food was brought up by car from Berchtesgaden and reheated due to lack of trust. Outside the building is the sun terrace which we had seen many times on old colour film footage featuring both Hitler and Eva Braun. Fascinating to be there even on a chilly grey day.  We were lucky with the weather really – the day before we wouldn’t have been able to see much but we could see through the clouds over to Salzburg in Austria and down below to the blue waters of Königssee, Kings Lake,  it’s tourist ferry a small white dash on the dark expanse. 

We walked up from the Teahouse to the mountain cross on Kehlstein summit and the viewing point beyond. There were lots of others – Australians, Americans and Chinese, but surprisingly only a couple of other Brits. Even here, with 3,500 tourists a day tramping across the rocks, wildflowers  still bloom, pushing up through the cracks and crevices, some completely new to us like Hairy Rhododendron!

On the wooded hillside some distance below the Eagle’s Nest is what is left of Hitler’s residence, the Berghof – some foundations. The house was bombed in April 1945 and later set on fire by the SS, but was finally destroyed on the order of the Americans in 1952. The area was open meadow but it was decided to return it to nature and now beech trees cloak the site – a good decision we think. 

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Berghof Foundations

After that we called in on a local falconer, one guy and his birds which include eagles –  Steppe and Golden. Oh, he had marmots too – they live in the hills and are very cute but bigger than we had imagined. A totem pole of sorts, with skulls of wild animals, marked the centre of his domain and strangely, it didn’t seem out of place.

We would have appreciated some time at the Dockumentation Museum but otherwise had achieved our objective which we celebrated with some more heart-clogging German food – Schnizel topped with cheee & salami, and Devils Toast – thin slices of grilled pork in a sweetish but spicy sauce on toast – accompanied by a mountain of fries.

This time we shared our table a corporate accountant from the north coast of Germany who was happy to talk politics as well as camping – in perfect English of course. A very nice evening to finish our stay.

 

Little Liechtenstein

25-27 July 2019 

We gave our neighbours a bottle of red wine in thanks for letting us encroach on their pitch and headed out of Switzerland. We had found it stunningly beautiful and horribly expensive with questionable food, although to be fair we don’t know if the food in Brienz is representative of the country. It is perfect for those who love mountains, lakes, snow and the great outdoors. We have never seen so much paragliding and it is the only place we have felt tempted to try it – if we win the lottery, we’ll come back and give it a go.

To get to Liechtentsein we followed valleys filled with lakes of varying colours – Lungernsee, Sarnersee, Alpnachersee, sprawling Lake Lucerne, Zugersee with pretty little Arth at the end,

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Zugersee & Arth, Swirtzerland

and finally Zurichsee, long and vaguely reminiscent of Windermere. We moved from high Alpine to lower, more open areas. We liked the look of Luzern but found the shores of Lake Zurich rather built-up. But we were never far away from views of the mountains. 

Despite a 4-hour drive we only actually entered Liechtenstein in the last 10 minutes, crossing a bridge over the Upper Rhine to pass between the Prinicpality’s flags.

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Entering Liechtenstein over the Rhine

We knew it was small but had never really absorbed just HOW small!! The 6th smallest independent country in the world its borders are only 48 miles long in total and the entire western border is formed by the Rhine – 15 miles of it. It is one of only two doubly land-locked countries in the world (Uzbekistan is the other), has one of the highest GDP’s  and has more registered companies than citizens (38,000). It has monetary union with Switzerland and whilst the average British salary is £28,000 after tax, theirs is £56,000, which sadly means it is no cheaper – 400g of beef mince €7.50, 225g chicken breast €11. 

Our campsite was terraced into a hillside above the Rhine looking across at Switzerland and was a much more low-key affair than our previous site. It also had the occasional British van passing through. We liked it. 

On Saturday the heatwave broke and the temperature dropped into the mid 20’s so we cycled into the capital Vaduz, about 4-miles away. What a strange place Liechtenstein is. Some traditional chalet style buildings still exist but most of what we passed was achingly modern.

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Not a museum – just a house in Vaduz

Small but exclusive private banks lined the road into the capital and it was only as we approached the small pedestrianised area that real old buildings like the cathedral came into view. And of course, Vaduz castle, residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein, perched on a cliff above this tiny capital. We didn’t bother walking up as you can’t go inside. 

It had been quiet on the way in but the pedestrianised area of the small centre was relatively busy with surprising numbers of Asian, Chinese & Taiwanese tourists – without them the place would have been deserted. Obviously not uncommon as the Tourist signs were in German, French & Chinese! The shops were full of luxury goods and the restaurants looked expensive.

Not being shoppers we exhausted Vaduz very quickly and forked out a surprisingly reasonable fee for the National Museum. 

The small collection was mildly interesting with a good audio-guide and decent value for money in a place not famous for it. The older stuff and way-of-life stuff was the most interesting for us – Danny particularly liked a schnapps still- and there was enough of interest to keep us there for an hour and a half.

After which we treated ourselves to our first junk food since arriving on the continent at the only McDonalds in Liechtenstein.

Back at the camp a couple of British vans rolled up bringing with them some real British weather -the heavens opened and thunder and lightning set in. It poured the rest of the afternoon and right into the night meaning that ear-plugs were essential – the sound of rain on the roof can really ruin a night’s sleep. And that was Liechtenstein. 

Jungfrau – Snow in Summer

24 July 2019

Today was Jungfrau day. We packed walking poles, long trousers, layers, gloves and bubble jackets just in case but dressed in shorts. We caught the 8.36 to Interlaken and changed for Grindelwald, joined by more people clearly going in the same direction. Grindelwald was much bigger than anticipated with a sheer cliff towering above on one side and green mountains on the other. The chalets were nicely spaced and it is clearly a popular hub for outdoor pursuits.

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We changed again, this time to a rack-and-pinion line and the train filled making us glad we had reserved seats for the final stretch, Kleine Scheideg – Jungfraujoch. We climbed steeply, looking down on walkers on the tracks below and for a while watched helicopters ferrying materials from a depot on the moutainside to workers higher up. The scenery opened out below us as we climbed and at Kleine-Scheidegg we got our first view of the big mountains and their glaciers.

It was here we finally realised just what a huge multi-cultural tourist destination the Jungfrau is –  there were many groups from Asia – China, India, Japan and Taiwan – as well as Europeans, Americans and Australians. 

The last stretch gave great views up the Mönch and its glacier meltwater-created waterfalls cascading down sheer cliffs. Then darkness as we headed into the long steep tunnel through the mountainside finally disembarking into the passageways carved inside Jungfraujoch (3454m) where we followed the masses into the shopping area – yes, a shopping area! The Jungfraujoch is spread over several floors with restaurants, the highest Lindt shop in the world, and the opportunity to buy Swiss Army knives, Swiss watches and other expensive products on “the Roof of Europe”. It is also the hub that provids access to otherJungfrau experiences – the Ice Palace, the Sphinx and other viewing platforms, and if you follow the tunnels far enough you emerge into the snow on the shoulder of Jungfrau. 

 

Our first impression was of a mass of people and the zing of zip-wires operating overhead. But we carried on past the Snow Fun area – sledges, snow tubes etc – and away from the crowds onto the trail that leads up through the snow to the Mönchsjochhütte, the highest-altitude serviced hut in Switzerland. It says 45 minutes but it took us just over an hour to do the 1.5 mile, 1,300 foot ascent partly because we kept stopping to admire the views – and get our breath!

As we approached the hut we saw the bright yellow mail plane take off downhill and fly off down the glacier – what a job! 

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Mail plane about to take off

The views on the catchily named ‘UNESCO World Natural Heritage Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch’ are stupendous – they would have taken our breath away if the walk hadn’t altready done it!  We sat in the sun and ate our boiled eggs at 3840m (12,631feet) above sea level, drinking in the views – we sometimes can’t believe how lucky we are, but we really do appreciate it!

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The Mönchsjochhütte, is bottom right

Back at the centre we re-joined the hordes and visited the Sphinx – a viewing point on a peak. We had been been looking down on it during our walk!

Where we took the obligatory selfies then escaped the crush. ut we did learn that  Jungfraujoch is the highest permanently staffed meteorlogical station in Europe, operating since 1922. Since 1961 the days where the temperature remains above freezing during the entire day have increased by 60% – it was certainly warm enough for Danny to do the entire day in shorts & T-shirt. 

Danny had discovered there was an Indian buffet in Jungfraujoch so we immediately gave up thoughts of ‘traditional Swiss’ and hunted it down, joining the queue of Indians to load our trays with dahl, channa bahji, chicken curry, rice and roti and filled our boots. Lovely. 

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The journey back was via Lauterbrunnen rather than Grindelwald which gave excellent views but the trains were packed and not air conditioned making it a bit of an endurance test to say the least.

We had loved Jungfrau but most of all were glad we had done the walk up to the hut. It wouldn’t have been the same experience if we hadn’t.

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Walking on the Jungfrau

Ballenberg Swiss Folk Museum 

23 July 2019

Our muscles needed a bit of a break so we figured a walk round the open air museum at Ballenberg would be a good way to spend a day. We caught the bus from Brienz and were there 10 minutes before official opening but they let us in anyway and we wandered up the wooded path to start our exploration. What a great day, and what a huge site – you really need at least 2 full days to do it justice. 

Across the site, clustered in regions, are houses and farms, and shops and workplaces from across the whole of Switzerland. Relocated and restored, where possible with a history of their previous occupiers and sometime with anecdotes from them. Some hold displays, such as traditional costumes, or music and musical instruments. Others are furnished just as they would have been. A working bakehouse, traditional crops such as spelt being harvested and placed in stooks, vegetable and medicinal gardens, pigs and cows and goats. All there and all traditional. 

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Medicinal Garden, Ballenberg

We found ourselves at the old Tilery wearing aprons and getting our hands dirty making a traditional roof-tile each, signing our work and carrying it up to the drying area. When enough are made they will be fired and used to roof or re-roof buildings here at Ballenberg. There is something very satisfying about playing with clay, although we got strange looks from the children!

We also loved the sawmill, powered by water-wheel, and spent half-an-hour there watching one man move and saw a huge tree-trunk into planks and 4”x4”. Amazing. 

We were exhausted by the time we got to the east entrance near the end of the day and had really done just over half the exhibits. If we ever return to Switzerland (lottery-win necessary) we must come back and finish!

Swiss Steam and Scenery

22 July 2019

Our next Brienz exploration involved the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn, the steam railway that goes up the highest mountain in the Emmental Alps, the Brienzer Rothorn (2351m7713ft), from the lakeside to 2244m leaving just the last 350ft to the summit to walk. It was a lovely journey up with great views of the turquoise lake below and our campsite at it’s foot.

We passed farmers turning and gathering their hay, and higher up the livestock sheds and the cows munching on their high pasture, their bells audible even above the chugging of the steam engine. The rack and pinnion mechanism of the railway was certainly needed given how steep it was. 

The views from the top allowed us to see where we had come into Brienz from over the Grimsel Pass, and as it was clear we could see across the lake, in the distance, the peaks of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. 

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Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau

We had decided to stretch our legs out and walk the 3,000 feet downhill to the station at Planalp. The wildflowers were gorgeous

and they, the cows and the views were a welcome distraction on what turned out to be a very steep path at times. Danny was being careful with his knee and Kate’s knee went after an hour which made taking things slow an imperative – walking down a hill

The train down generated a gentle but welcome breeze in the heat of the afternoon and we cycled back to camp and went straight down to the Lakeside for a lovely cooling dip. We do prefer sand under our feet but when it’s hot you take what is there!

This was our 22nd anniversary of getting together, and we celebrated with an anniversary meal at the campsite restaurant. Danny had his first taste of rosti, which he loved – well he is Irish and it is potato – and we treated ourselves to a bottle of Swiss red wine, the only one we bought in our time in Swizerland. We finished with a stroll to the edge of the lake but actually we were knackered after all the fresh air and just wanted an early night. 

Brienzersee – An Exploration

19 – 21 July 2019

We woke to what was to become a familiar call, “Annn-a!”, usually in tones of comand and control, sometimes in sheer exasperation. We barely knew the names of our neighbours 2 other daughters but the youngest one was a real character. 4 or 5 years old, her favourite pose was hands on hips and flouncing was an art she was busy perfecting – as well as dominating her siblings and the older children in the site. How her parents kept their cool we will never know, but she provided a week of great entertainment. We would often catch her watching us with a serious expression, and she would quickly look away and pretend complete disinterest.

The site is lovely, set between mountains and with excellent facilities. But it is in Switzerland and this was our first exposure to Swiss prices. A visit to the supemarket in Brienz drove us back to our store-cupboard, freshly stocked in Italy – we were going to have to make it last as long as possible in a country where 2 small chicken breasts cost £9. But salaries here are high – as an example we are told the average salary for a cop here is £84,000 and the minimum wage for unskilled workers is around £35,000 – all with a maximum tax rate 11.5%. No wonder they can afford to eat chicken!!

Our priority was to sort a problem with our pantry door – on the way over the mountain passes we it flew open despite being locked and we had to finish the journey by wedging it closed with a pole. On examination we found that all the rattling over the months had done some real damge – screws had pulled out completely and others were driven into places they really shouldn’t be.  A hot and sweaty 3 to 4 hours with a lot of team-work gave a temporary repair  – to be reinforced when a proper DIY store is located – outside of Switzerland, obviously. 

For our first exploration we decided we would cycle round the lake. Danny had looked at cycle routes on the map and was sure we could manage it without difficulty. We set off after lunch going across the foot of the lake where people were sunbathing, taking a dip, and in one case practicing the Alpenhorn! Sadly the route then took a sharp turn uphil and eventually Kate quit, despite the batteries, and resorted to pushing. Maybe 34°C wasn’t the best time for our first bit of real exercise in months?

Finally it levelled out and a rough track took us to the picturesque Giessbach Falls

Which rewarded us with another climb, although the height did give us lovely views across the lake until we dropped down to the lakeside and  picturesque Iselberg.  ]

We carried on past lots of people enjoying their Sunday sunbathing and picnicing on rocks or grass at the lakeside, all the way up to Interlaken which as the name suggests, is between 2 lakes – the Brienzersee and the Thunersee. There were even more people out here enjoying the lake.

We crossed the railway bridge over the river between the 2 lakes and climbed up the other side of the lake through the village of Ringgenberg where Kate’s legs cramped up with the unfamiliar exercise and onto a rough cycleway along the hillside. Only to find it appeared to be blocked.

Kate nearly went into meltdown at the thought of going back but once she had got her breath back we took it slow and headed back down to the road along the lake and stayed on it all the way back. A killer 4-hour round trip of 25 miles, with hills, in 34°C – we had earned that cold beer. 

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Switzerland – 3 Passes to Brienz

17 -18 July 2019

We struggled to tear ourselves away from idyllic Noah’s Ark but eventually headed up into Lombardy on roads of varying quality – some quite bone-shaking – a condition we have got used to in Italy. Partly our fault as we were trying to stay away from toll-roads  on the flat Modena-Milan corridor which we dislike intensely. Even trying to stay as far out from Milan as possible we got caught in horrible traffic and the demonic electronic toll system as we headed up towards Como. We reached Como’s sosta early evening but Danny took an instant dislike to it so we continued an hour up the shoreline to Menaggio. Como is a lovely lake and we ended up on a carpark with a view of its water and the magnificent mountains that run down into it.

Next day we drove along Lake Lugano and entered Switzerland – more quickly and less dramatically than we had expected. We didn’t come over a mountain pass like in the Sound of Music, we drove up the side of Lake Lugano and suddenly there was a small border post. Where a nice young border agent talked us through the paperwork we needed and happily relieved us of our money. A very Swiss trait, we soon learned.

 

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At Lugano itself roadworks led to a wrong turn that took us all the way to the top of a mountain – great views obviously but a bit hair-raising – and when we got there Danny teetered on the edge of losing it when told it was a dead end and we had to drive all the way back down.

After leaving Lugano behind we drove along a wide, flat valley floor lined by steep mountains. It was a pleasant 25°C and we were happy. Anticipating great Swiss scenery we had decided to go over the Gotthard Pass – a winding mountain pass that has connected north & south Switzerland since the 13th century. So glad we did, it was gorgeous. We twisted and turned and when we got to the top (2106m) we were unreasonably shocked to find a bustling area with a couple of restaurants, a small lake and plenty of parking! Not unlike the Horseshoe Pass and the Cat & Fiddle on Tan Hill but on a much grander scale with much grander views. We parked up alongside a number of other motorhomes and had lunch.

 

Down the other side of the pass we chose the longer route to our destination, a spectacular drive up and over the Furka Pass (2429m) which is on the “Grand Tour’ of Switzerland. We stopped at the top for oohs, aahs and photos, along with a guy on a Harley Davidson, and someone clearly from a different species who had cycled up – without a battery.

We had a great view from there of the route up to our final Pass of the day, the Grimsel Pass.

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But first we had to drive down through Belvedere next to the Rhone Glacier, the source of the Rhone……

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The hut is Belvedere, the source of the Rhone is to the left….

…. and into the valley floor before our last steep climb up again to the busy stop-off point of Planggerli with its tarn and cafe’s, then over Grimsel Pass (2164m) itself and down past the towering walls and grey-blue waters of two reservoirs recently completed in the steep-sided valley.

It was a journey of jaw-droppingly gorgeous mountain scenery, just what we had hoped for from Switzerland – and great roads even on the hair-pins.

After which the flat, green valley floor containing the river Aare that took us to Camping Aaregg was a bit of an anticlimax. On the shores of turquoise Lake Brienz (Brienzersee), the campsite was bustling with kids everywhere and we were very glad our pitch was out of earshot of the playground.

We set up in the heat of the afternoon and had just finished when the occupants of the tent next door turned up with their 3 little girls and politely pointed our that we were overlapping onto their pitch, preventing them from parking their car.  There were inconspicuous markings (bright red) delineating the pitches. Our hearts sank at the thought of all that work, but they had a quick chat and decided they could live with things and park their car by a little-visited caravan a little way away. Campsites can be very territorial places so we were very relieved and very grateful –  particularly as they had 3 little humans underfoot. One of whom, we were to learn, was particularly demanding…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noah’s Ark – Cheese & Chores

14-16 July 2019

We wanted to take our time on our way to Agriturismo L’Arca di Noë and enjoy the countryside. We were also determined not to end up using the horribly scary and unsuitable road we ended up on last time we visited. Well, sometimes not all your wishes are granted…. 

As we headed away from Lucca we saw a greener side of Tuscany, away from the wheatfields and olives of the area around Volterra. We happily followed the twists and turns along the Serchio River to where it split, then followed it’s tributary, the Lima, upriver and uphill into the mountains of Parco Nazionale dell Appennino Tosco-Emiliano.

Eventually we reached the pass and the ski resort of Abetone which was bustling with walkers who watched curiously as we wove through them on our descent and out of Tuscany and into Emilia-Romagna. Home of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and the famous balsamic vinegar of Modena, it is also an area of very diverse landscapes. And, just for us, it was raining!

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As we got closer to our destination the desire to avoid small roads made us avoid minor roads to Polinago signposted in Lama Mocogno or Pavullo and instead we stayed on the main road. Only to find that further on the only routes to Noah’s Ark were exactly the kind of ‘roads’ we hoped to avoid! Having checked and rejected a couple, desperation and the time – 6pm – meant that we found ourselves on a road we had refused to take 2 years earlier. We had often wondered if it would have been better than the one we did take and now we found out – it wasn’t!  Steep, narrow, crumbly and bumpy. One part had fallen away and we could only just get past. To make matters worse we met 3 – yes THREE – cars coming the opposite way and despite the etiquette of giving way to traffic coming uphill, they just had to reverse back down to a point where they could pull onto a field to let us pass. Finally at 6.30 we arrived at Noah’s Ark – from completely the wrong direction – and Vivienne was waiting for us with smiles and not a little incredulity at the road we had come in on. 

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Not a lot has changed – she has put in campsite-type electric hook-ups and in the barn are 4 nice new showers. The “honesty” system of noting what you use on a piece of notepaper is still going strong, we were glad to see. In the last 2 years she had lost a horse and a goat, and recently a fox killed all her chickens, but she remained as cheerful and positive as ever. The scenery and peace were exactly as we remembered – good to be back. We were the only people there – its a small place – but then a Belgian van arrived and parked up and later, just after dark we heard the unmistakeable sound of another motorhome coming down the same hill we had. Vivienne couldn’t believe that 2 foreigners had taken the same insane route, guess she doesn’t understand satnav. They were also Belgians, friends of the other motorhomers crossing paths for a night. When asked how the road was, he replied “Magnifique’

Early next morning, in the rain, Vivienne took us all to a local co-operative dairy to see Parmigiano Reggiano being made. We watched the cheesemakers hard at work at 8 large copper-lined stainless steel vats in which the milk had been coaxed by the addition of rennet and heat into producing a mass of solid curd. The curd in each vat is enough to produce 2 huge cheeses and we watched as they first lifted it from the hot whey in linen cloths, then separated it into 2 balls which were hung in their linen cradles from a bar across the top of the vat whilst the hot whey was drained off.

Next they are put into moulds, wrapped in a teflon surround that imprints the dairy identification code, date of production etc on the cheese as it dries. 

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The store-room where the cheeses are aged for a 12 months to 36 months have their own unique smell. Shelf upon shelf of cheese wheels that are regularly checked and turned. Any that don’t come up to standard have their imprinted rind scored off and are used in products such as grated cheese.

Obviously there is a shop and of course we bought a huge hunk of the stuff as they don’t seem to sell it in smaller sizes. Italians would be appalled at the small wedges of parmesan we buy at home.

We would have liked to relax after that but had to deal with the fridge again. An intermittent fault, had it bleeping at us for 20 seconds every two minutes and we just couldn’t work it out. Very annoying. We drove the hour or so to a Camper Service workshop in Modena who were  very good and spent hours trying to work out the fault. The beep, beep, beep beep was driving us and the engineer insane. Eventually they sent us home with a promise to get more help from the makers, but later that night Danny, trawling the internet, managed to find a solution and we now have a quiet and functioning  fridge. Wi-fi has it’s uses. 

So we got one full day of peace and quiet at Noah’s Ark. And promised ourself a longer visit next time. We don’t now why, but it just has something that appeals to us – and we don’t mean the honesty bar ! We didn’t see the fireflies this time but we were surrounded by birdsong, butterflies and dragonflies. Lovely.

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A visitor to our pitch