A Travellerspoint blog

Day 19 – 5 June (Friday)


We leave Munich for the Dolomites in Italy this morning. It is about a four hour drive.
We went for breakfast at a Patisserie – I enjoyed the coffee and especially the pastry – I don’t think Andrew altogether enjoyed his.
We drove south through the green and fertile plains surrounding Munich and then through Austria which is very mountainous. The road follows along valleys and therefore was very direct – not bendy at all. In the middle of Austria we started a long descent into Italy. The traffic travelling north had the opposite – a long climb. An enormous number of trucks use these roads – we passed ling convoys of them moving north. At one spot on the way down there was some sort of blockage for the trucks travelling north and we drove past a line of waiting trucks which stretched for over 10 kilometres. It was the greatest collection of trucks I have ever seen.
We eventually came to the Dolomites. The scenery is quite spectacular in this area. The mountains are composed of massive limestone outcrops which rise very steeply and are rugged and jagged. In the midst of these massive mountains are rich green grasslands and beautiful pine forests. The roads through the Dolomites are very windy – many many hairpin bends! What amazed us was the number of motor cyclists driving on the roads. There are hundreds of them – they drive very fast and obviously come for the adrenalin rush. It seemed to me that they take enormous risks especially when they fly past just before a hairpin bend. I found the driving on these roads quite unnerving. Andrew was driving with Bill beside him navigating and I was in the back seat. You would go round a bend and motor cyclists would be coming in the opposite direction with their bikes bent right over as they took the bend at speed. Many of them are old guys – we could see them congregated at the various eating places along the way. I would say that most were middle aged or older – but there also quite a few young guys. The manager at the hotel (Sports Hotel, Pocol) told me that most come from Germany and Austria and there are a lot of complaints about them. I think they are tolerated as they would bring a lot of tourist money to the area.
The hotel we are staying at is typical of the area – very like ski lodges in Australia. We are staying at a little place called Pocol which is about 5 kilometres from Cortina, the largest town in the area. It is quite a rustic hotel – quite comfortable. It is surrounded by a green grassy area – then pine forest and then the rugged mountains – they are all around – very scenic. We were greeted by a Bernese Mountain dog – a gentle but shy dog. It came and sniffed around the car and then looked at us – but kept its distance. It wanders in and out of the hotel. When it wants to come in it stands at the door and hits it with his paw. If you open the door he stares at you for a bit and then comes in. Both windows in our room look out on the mountains. Bill and Andrew can lie on the double bed looking straight at a massive limestone mountain rising out of the surrounding forest.
After settling in we went to Cortina to buy some things. Cortina is a very pretty town located in a river valley. It is a resort town – so there are a lot of shops and hotels etc. We discovered that some towns in Italy have an interesting way of parking. The parking was free and they give you 1 ½ hours. We noticed that fitted on our car windscreen was a clock dial – from 0 to 24. When you park you turn the clock dial until it indicates the time you parked – in this way the authorities can check how long you have been parked. It is quite a nifty idea.
We had a late lunch in a nice little restaurant – very friendly service and we had nice meals. The shops were closed for afternoon siesta when we got there – that is the first time I have seen this. After shopping we returned.
I went for a walk on a track through the forest. The forest was particularly beautiful as green grass was growing among the trees. When I started the walk the Bernese Mountain dog followed me – I had to shoo him back and he got a bit scared of me. But we have since made up and are good friends – although he does not get too close. The walk was a nice introduction to the area.
We had dinner at the hotel tonight Bill had pasta and boar and Andrew had pasta and deer – I had tortellini – it was OK. A tour bus had arrived a little earlier and they had dinner in another dining room.
And so ended our first day in the Dolomites.

Posted by Tomheasley 10:37 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 18 – 4 June (Thursday)


It is a holiday in Munich today – “Feast of Corpus Christie” day – it celebrates the belief in the body and blood of Christ as being a really present in the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Andrew suggested we hire bikes for the day. Bill and I were in total agreement. We walked into the city which was very quiet car-wise – but busy people-wise and bike-wise. We had coffee and pastry on the way in – it was very pleasant sitting out in the street and enjoying the coffee – although Andrew did not enjoy his. He thinks I am lacking in discrimination about coffee and I think his standards are too high.
We picked up hire bikes at 9.30am and set off for the English Gardens – so called because the park is based on a design which was popular in Britain back in the 1800s (probably in the time of Pride and Prejudice). This is a large park (very much like Hyde Park in London – but I think a bit better actually – I have to reluctantly admit this). It is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It is filled with deciduous trees and open grassy areas and also has man-made streams running through it. The Lsar River runs along one side of it which adds to its charm.
We came first to a stream that has been shaped in such a way as to create a permanent wave of about one meter. Surf board riders queue up to ride the wave – we really enjoyed watching them. Some fell in almost straightaway but others had great staying power. The protocol is that no matter how good you are you should never stay on for more than a minute or so.
We then cycled through the gardens – this was delightful. The trees are in full leaf and the grass is rich green. As the day wore on more and more people came into the park and with them more and more bikes. There are paths criss crossing all through the park and everywhere there were cyclists and people walking. There are two beer gardens in the park – they are located in the shade of trees and are very popular. We thoroughly enjoyed riding around in the park. It was a perfect sunny day – maybe a bit warm in the sun but beautiful in the shade. Groups of people picnic in the grassy areas. This bike riding was most relaxing.
We sat in one of the beer gardens for lunch. It was thronging with people and to add to the atmosphere a brass band was playing. We shared a meal of pork knuckle, sauerkraut and baked potatoes – very German.
We then rode up to the BMW museum and its main display place. This was a great ride along the wide roadways of Munich. On most of the main roads there is a dedicated bikeway beside the footpath. The one thing I had to remember is “stay on the right” – in Australia it is “stay on the left” – you know what I am like about left and right – but I managed. We then rode through Olympic Park (the 1972 Olympics were held here and became infamous due to a terrorist group taking Israeli athletes hostage – the end result was the hostages where all killed – I remember the occasion very well). Crowds of people and bikes were enjoying the park.
We then rode on to Nymphenburg Palace which dates from the 1660s. It is surrounded by very extensive gardens. It was a very interesting place - a place worth visiting.
We then rode back into Munich and had dinner at the same place as yesterday. I had the same (when you are on a good thing – stick to it). Andrew and Bill tried a pork and dumpling dish – they thought it was OK but a bit on the heavy side.
We then rode down to the river. There were crowds of young people lounging along the shore of the river, riding bikes or just walking around – it was peak hour traffic – but the traffic was bikes and people. Evidently the good weather had drawn the residents of Munich out of their houses to enjoy the outdoors.
We then returned the bikes – it was about 6.30pm – and walked home. I was exhausted – but I thoroughly enjoyed the day and also enjoyed cycling in the city of Munich.

Posted by Tomheasley 21:44 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Day 17 – 3 June (Wednesday)


We leave Lauterbrunnen today and make a 5 hour trip to Munich. We headed over for breakfast and again ate up big. It was a sunny day. I am thankful we had good weather as it would be quite sad to be leaving today if the previous days had had bad weather (I’m never quite sure if using two hads is correct).
We travelled north and came to gently undulating country – it was still very neat (a characteristic of Switzerland). I had an idea that all of Switzerland was mountainous – but that is not the case. We travelled briefly into Austria and then into Germany. The scenery along the way was very beautiful. At times you pass mountain ranges but the roads are good and, once we were out of the Lauterbrunnen region, not at all windy. Cars travel very fast on the highways in Germany. We were travelling at 120kph and cars were zooming past us – they must have been doing at least 150kph or even higher. It takes a bit of getting used to.
Munich is the 3rd largest city in Germany – the city itself has a population of about 1.5 million – but greater Munich has a population of 5.8 million. The tom-tom does not work in Germany so we were guided by a similar app on Bill’s phone. It directed us quite easily to our hotel – the Leonardo – which is a 3 kilometre walk from the city centre.
We settled and then walked into the city centre. We crossed the river Lsar – the river flowing through Munich. It is about 50 meters wide and flows quite fast. It has gravel banks and large numbers of people enjoy the river and the sun on these gravel banks. They put down mats to lie on. It is evident the people of the city love their river!
We then walked into the city centre – it is a vibrant city. We walked through the farmers market, which was crowded and then into a large eating area. They use tables and bench seats in these outdoor areas (and in Beer Halls). Wherever there was shade the tables were crowded. As it was a warm day most were avoiding the sun. All kinds of food is sold in this area – especially beer. The Germans are very keen on their beer. I saw one little old lady sitting with a glass containing a litre of beer – I don’t know how she would be able to contain it. The area had a gala atmosphere – enjoyable to walk through. Munich must be “Bike City”. It is flat and has invested a lot of money into making the city bike friendly. Consequently there are bikes everywhere. We then walked into Marienplatz (Mary’s Plaza) which contains the town hall. The plaza or square was packed with people – in fact all the streets were. I really enjoyed the crowds of people. There is a column with a statue of Mary in the square which is where the name Marienplatz comes from. Munich is a Roman Catholic city. After the Reformation the area of Germany (which as a single nation did not exist in those days) became partly Protestant and partly Roman Catholic. Basically back in those days your religion was decided by the prince/lord who ruled over you. Munich was one of those cities that remained Roman Catholic. So there are a number of Catholic Churches in the city area. We visited three of them. But as Bill said – once you have seen the Churches in Rome you are pretty well spoiled for seeing other churches. One little church we visited was very ornate (an Italian Church on steroids) but it was just too overdone with ornamentation – we were not impressed.
We then watched the famous puppet display called Glockenspiel in the tower of the town hall. It chimes out a tune and life size puppets then move. The main story is about the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine in the 16th century. It shows a joust between two knights. Then there is a second show about coopers who danced to bring vitality to the city in 1517 after plague hit the city. Unless you knew the story it would not mean too much – but it is one of the famous tourist attractions in Munich. Apparently Renata was a very good woman who did a lot for the poor.
After that we walked quite a distance to a Beer Hall. Now that sounds bad – but it is really just a big restaurant that serves meals and all kinds of drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic). Very much like an English Pub only a lot bigger. It has the bench tabIes and bench seats which are so typical in Germany. I had a delicious meal of German sausage with sauerkraut, Andrew had pork knuckle (which he enjoyed) and Bill had a veal snitzchel (which he also enjoyed).
We then walked back. It was a long way – I was thoroughly exhausted when I got back to the hotel.

Posted by Tomheasley 21:05 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Day 16 – 2 June (Tuesday)


It was another sunny day – I am very thankful for this. We went for breakfast at 7.30am this morning. It was the same as yesterday and again we ate up big. After breakfast Bill and I went to see Trummelbachfalle (cascades within a very narrow deep cleft in the cliff). Andrew had been before so he did not want to go. The cascades within the cleft are quite amazing. A lift takes you up to tunnels which have been built to enable people to see the cascades from 10 different vantage points. Bill felt claustrophobic in the tunnels but persisted with the tour. There was a good flow of water and the water falls very fast. There was the constant thunder of cascades. Steps take you down through tunnels to the various vantage points. It was a worthwhile visit.
When we got back, Andrew suggested we go up to Wengen – a village located on a spur some 3 kilometres from Lauterbrunnen and about 500 meters higher. We got the train up. Because of the steep climb there are cogs on the railway track to enable the train to make the climb. At Wengen, there are great views over Lauterbrunnen. Andrew suggested we to walk up to Kleine Scheidegg which is about 10 kilometres away and is 800 meters higher than Wengen. I was apprehensive about my ability to complete a walk of 10 kilometres which was relentlessly uphill. I was inspired by the prospect of alpine scenery when we got to the top. We started through beautiful meadow (if ever I think of the word meadow again I will think of Switzerland) and then into delightful forest (I am sure the locals must clean out dead logs and branches because the forests are so neat). But the walk was up and up and up. I really felt like “Puffing Billy” – I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…I know I can! After the forest we came into open grassland which meant the view was unobstructed. We finally came to the crest of the hill and looked at scenery that was stunning. We looked down a deep valley and on the other side were the mountains which rose steeply. I would think the mountains would have risen some 2,500 metres (that is 2.5 kilometres) – the mountains are over 4,000 meters high! There was such grandeur that it took any tiredness away. The mountains were covered in beautiful white snow that shone brilliantly in the sun.
We could have caught a train up – but I am so glad we walked. There are a lot of trains running to take tourists up and the path follows the railway line. When the trains come to the crest which gives a view of the alpine range you see a multitude of hands holding cameras jutting out of the train windows as people take photos of the amazing sight.
We then continued our walk to Kleine Scheidegg which is a kind of train stop with restaurants and some hotels and chalets – it is a ski area in winter. We walked to a grassy knoll just up from the resort which gave 360 degree views all around. We could look down to the village of Grindelwald in the next valley (where the people are dirty and the river is black – the joke from yesterday) but most impressive of all, we looked straight at Eiger Mountain with its famous sheer rock face which is 1,800 meters high and has challenged climbers since 1935 – apparently some 64 climbers have died attempting the climb. We could also see “Jungfraujoch Top of Europe” a train station and restaurant 3,454 metres high – it costs an arm and a leg to catch the train up – but we lots of people on the trains going up!!! It was a great place to relax – and although we were up about 2,100 meters with just shirts on we were not cold.
We then made our journey back – downhill all the way – very painful for our toes as they hit the front of your shoes. The scenery was so enjoyable on the way down. We could see where we walked on Sunday – on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen valley. When we got to Wengen an English couple with a dog greeted us. When they heard we had walked up to Kleine Scheidegg and back again – they told us we must be super fit. I felt quite complimented – but it’s not true.
We then walked down the very steep 3 kilometre track from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen. It zigzags through beautiful forest. I was so tired when we got back to our room.
Andrew and Bill still had the energy to organise a barbeque up the valley at Murrenbachfall (417 meter falls – beautiful to look at). The barbeque area is located in a forest glade and looks up at the falls. We had German sausage with bread – very nice. There was also spring water at the site – this was very nice too.
It was a big day. I thought I would sleep like a top – but I didn’t. Andrew slept well but Bill had trouble sleeping.

Posted by Tomheasley 13:40 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Day 15 – 1 June (Monday)


We headed over to the Oberland Hotel at about 8.00am for our free breakfast. It was a continental breakfast – but quite substantial. We all ate up big. The only hot things were coffee/tea and boiled eggs.
After breakfast Andrew wanted to hire a mountain bike and Bill wanted to rest his feet due to blisters and also get his photos in order. So I decided to walk up the valley as far as I was able to do. Andrew rode first in the same direction but then went up the mountains towards Gimmelwald and then came back. After he came back Bill took the bike for a ride and rode up the valley and back again.
It was a sunny day – a great day for walking so I set off. I followed along the Weisse Lutschine. It is one of two branches of the river Lutschine – the other branch is in the next valley and is called Schwarze Lutschine. “Weisse” means white and “Schwarze” means black. There was a joke between the two valleys. The people living in the white valley said that the river in the other valley was black because the people in that valley were so dirty. The people living in the black valley said that the river in the other valley was white because the people in that valley never washed at all. I found this quite amusing.
Anyway the Weisse (white) Lutschine does have a white colour. It flows fast and is quite voluminous and the water is cold. In fact it creates a cool breeze as you walk along beside it. The walk up the valley was pure joy. There are massive cliffs on both sides and there are many waterfalls. It is claimed that the whole valley has 72 waterfalls. Because they flow down the massive cliffs they are very high and very beautiful. As I mentioned yesterday the waterfall in Lauterbrunnen (the Staubbachfall) is the highest free falling waterfall in Europe but a bit further up is Murrenbachfall which is the highest waterfall in Switzerland. It is not a free fall waterfall as the water cascades against the cliff face – but the water falls 417 metres! It is beautiful to watch.
All along the valley are delightful meadows – many covered in wild flowers and very enjoyable wooded areas. Some of the meadows did not have wild flowers and that is because they have been mown – I guess to make up fodder for winter. Livestock spend the winter in barns ion this area. Apparently in the summer the cattle are taken up into alpine areas and this is the reason for the bells – it enables the owners to quickly find them in the high country. Barns and chalets dot the meadows which creates what could be described as typical Swiss scenery – very impressive. Everything is so neat – it is quite amazing to see. Even the forests are neat and I suspect dead logs and branches are cleared out of them every now and again. From a distance the meadows have an almost manicured look – it is very appealing. There is the constant sound of jangling bells which the cows wear. They seem to be totally accustomed to it and just go on feeding without being distracted by the jangling. If you get a herd of cows together and they are feeding, they create quite a sound. It adds to the joy of the walk. Up to a place called Stechelberg the walk was quite level - it was easy going. But then the path started to climb. It follows the river and starts getting up into Alpine country – massive snow covered mountains towering above you. I walked up to a place called Trachsellauenen (which comprises a hotel and a restaurant and a few other buildings). I had walked 9.2 kilometres – but I did not feel tired because of the wonderful surroundings. On the way I passed a cascade that falls 840 metres (it is called Mattenbachfall) – I really enjoyed looking at this and it does show how high the cliffs are.
I then returned. I enjoyed the return journey as much as I enjoyed the going up the valley. As I had walked over 18 kilometres I was starting to tire when I got back to our Hotel. After I got back (at almost 3.00pm) Andrew went out again for a ride – he rode up a very steep mountain where the chair life is – there is no way I could have managed it. It would have been quite a climb – and after he got back he then did a ride down the river.
I had a good rest and a bit of a sleep when I got back.
The prices in Lauterbrunnen are very high, so we decided to buy dinner from a super market – Bill did the shopping. He bought bread, ham and Swiss cheese. When he got back we sat on the veranda which looks up the valley and enjoyed the sandwiches (and they were very nice). The outlook is just beautiful with the waterfall right in front of you and the great cliffs on both sides. We sat for a while, relaxing and enjoying the outlook and the very mild weather.
We have been blessed with good weather. Someone in the town told Andrew that up until the day of our arrival they had four weeks of cold wet weather. I am so thankful we have had such good weather - sunny and pleasant.
It was a most enjoyable day.

Posted by Tomheasley 12:09 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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