27 April 2013

Koblenz
Rivers
Statue
Castle/Forts

K09postfeatureWe made it to Koblenz today.  Through the rest of the Rhine gorge. Here the gorge ends and the Rhine landscape changes.
Koblenz ia another historic city founded by the Roman in 10BC.  Accommodation could have been a bit tricky as the first hotel we went to seemed to be closed, and the next was a little expensive.  However they were more than helpful, and gave us a map marking on other hotels they thought could be cheaper.  We went and checked them out, but as they were all around the same price we went back to the helpful one.  Only after dropping our bags and walking around to get our bearings did we find that we had exited the station on the wrong side.  Still it is a very nice hotel, and we don’t have to carry our bags around any more.
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Only having the day, we decided to make the most of it.  Even if the weather had changed and it was cold and miserable.  Off to see where the two rivers (Rhine and Mosel) join, called the Deutsches Eckand, and a famous statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I.

Still ruling..

Still ruling..

This is made larger than life, you could even go as far as saying larger than larger than life.  It towers above the river made from big black blocks, giving it a dark and overbearing feel.  Almost as if the statue is commanding the town to do as it says.  Good solid building to last a few lifetimes.
On the opposite side of the river is the old fortress.

Great steam punk fountain downtown.

Great steam punk fountain downtown.

This is a large complex covering most of the hill.  Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to catch the cable car and go exploring up there.  Anyway we have to leave something for when we return.  We made ourselves content with trying to get to the smaller fortifications behind the train station.  Most of these were inaccessible, and when we did make it to the top, we were surprised that it was all built up with modern housing, and the palace there was closed to the public.  It was a pity we couldn’t have a good look at it.

A city with a rich history

A city with a rich history

Trying to find a different way back down the hill was interesting, as it just kept winding round and round.  There seemed to be no other way down until we came across a small set of stairs.  This led us deep into an overgrown jungle with signs up saying that the council takes no responsibility for anything that happens here.  The original steps were well maintained, and although not sparkling clean, easy to navigate.  We wouldn’t want to do it when they ate covered with ice, but now they were fine.  The steps finished, and we made our way through small trails, eventually making our way to the base of the hill.
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Although Koblenz is a lot bigger, there are still plenty of things to see here, from statues of Royalty, lavish parks and an interesting mix of contemporary architecture in places.  A good place to visit.

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25 April 2013

Train to Bacharach

Today we are mixing a few days into one.  Sorry.

On the 25th we made our way by train further up into the Rhineland.  It is a beautiful trip that you are supposed to by boat.  Unfortunately this was not possible for us, and we took the train.  This is still a very good way to see the country side, as you are close to the river looking up to the hills on the opposite bank.  You cannot get a good view of your side of the river, unless the train goes around a corner, but you do get to see all the small towns and castles on the peaks.  Well worth doing.
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On arriving in Bacharach we made our way to tourist info, and a very nice zimmer frei run by a little old lady and her husband, the local bee keeper. B01 A nice room overlooking a back square.  The houses it looks onto are all built at different stages, from Vakwerk to concrete.  It is a small history lesson from the window.  A nice place, good bed, shower and everything you need.  A great breakfast with lots of fresh caramelly honey, jams and meats.  Perfect.

Gorgeous vakwerk houses.

Gorgeous vakwerk houses.

The town of Bacharach is nestled on the side of the river with an old castle on the hill.  It is pretty steep countryside, but that has not prevented the farmers from growing grape vines on the slopes.  Although I would not like to be the one picking them!  It is almost a sleepy little village, and walking along the river you get a good view of it.  Originally surrounded by a fortification wall, there is not that much left.  Just where the railway lines use it, and houses back onto it.  There are a few small tunnels, just wide enough for a car to go through.  These are also the only ways under the railway.

the ruins of an old cathedral.

the ruins of an old cathedral.

Although it is UNESCO listed, this has not changed its charm at all, and most of the buildings have had a lot of care and attention paid to them over their lives.  They are all painted up.  Many with small pictures or sayings painted directly onto the facades.
Walking around town and up the hill to the castle,we followed small tracks along the base of the original fortifications.  Mostly made from bricks and the local shale.  A couple of towers dot the side of the hill.  These would be normal if they had all their sides.  However the original ones have only three sides with the fourth open to the elements.  A couple of these have been turned into private residences, with the missing wall being put up, another is in its original condition with the last being repaired to represent how they used to look.
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The castle, Burg Stahleck, on top of the hill is stunning. A mix between castle and villa.  There is a large central tower with fortifications surrounding it.  The buildings are within these fortifications and butt up against the tower.  It has been used as a Jugend herberg or basically a youth hostel since the 1920’s.  This has preserved the castle in good condition. We originally wanted to stay there, as I would love to sleep in a castle, but it would have been impossible to drag our bags up the narrow, steep dirt tracks.  There is a road there, but we have no idea where it came from.  We must admit that only the fit would make it.  Or at least make them fit.

Castle Stahleck, with great views over the Romantic Rhine.

Castle Stahleck, with great views over the Romantic Rhine.

A Tower that has been turned into a house.

A Tower that has been turned into a house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Later we found that the town is a lot larger than we had assumed, as it stretches up through a small valley on either side of a little stream.  Discovering a micro brewery we had to sample their wares, and discovered that you can distil beer into liqueur!  This was fantastic.

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Although the weather was no longer as nice as the last few days,with patches of rain, and a generally cold and misty outlook, it is still a fantastic place to visit and gave us a small idea of why the area is so famous,even if we couldn’t stop to check out every small town.

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24 April 2013

Mainz Town

Today we have to go to Mainz.  Well, we don’t have to, but it is the start of the Rhineland-Palatinate.  It is where the Rhine and Main rivers join and start to form a gorge, the area is a very important religious area, and the home of Gutenberg (The guy that invented the printing press hence revolutionising religion and printing).

Quaint and charming little hotel.

Quaint and charming little hotel.

Here we found a little hotel right in the middle of down town.  The down town area is not as traditional as other towns, as it was heavily bombed during the war, and there are great glass monstrosities of modern architecture (shopping centres) with small quaint 5 story buildings preserved in between.  Our hotel was one of these.  It looked much better on the outside than the in, but it was still pretty good.  Also an ideal base to explore from.  However we were there as it was the only place not booked out or charging 200 euro to stay!  Not sure what was in town, but everywhere was booked solid, and we had ended up dragging our bags all the way from the station.
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Here it was a quick skip over an arterial road to the Main river,and most of the museums in town.  It was a beautiful spring day, and perfect to explore the city.  So far we had been lucky with the weather in Germany,as we have had a string of sunny days.  Considering the reports of the weather from people we talked to, of a long dark and gloomy winter.  Due to this, there were lots of people out and about.  Enjoying the sunshine, cycling, walking or just lounging in the sun.

German workmanship. It lasts for centuries!

German workmanship. It lasts for centuries!

Beautiful vakwerk houses.

Beautiful vakwerk houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to multiple church’s, the castle walls, and out into the suburbs on both sides of the river.  Again we wished we had pedometers, as this is the longest walk we have done in ages, and it is a good thing it gets dark so late here, as we took full advantage of it.  Only getting lost occasionally, but this led us to other new and interesting parts of the town.  At one stage we found a map with walking routes marked on it, and were happy to discover we had already covered most of it.  Another big difference.  Signposts.  Love them!
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At some stage we ended up in the pub district and had to sample a few of the speciality ciders the town has to offer.  Most were too tart or bitter for me, but after a few sips you get used to it.  This is what life is about.  Sitting in an attractive courtyard, in the sun wit a cool drink.

Springtime in Germany!

Springtime in Germany!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our return we found another part of the Altstadt (old down town area).  Here the architecture was amazing.  Vakwerk houses lining the streets (these are the houses with the wooden beams on the outside and plaster between them).  Most of the buildings have been superbly renovated, and give a special bit of charm to this part of the city.  Combined with the many different speciality shops on the ground level, with restaurants, bars and cafes creating a light and lively atmosphere.

23 April 2013

Walk around Frankfurt

Frankfurt!

Frankfurt!

After a good nights sleep in our hotel (in the middle of the red light district) we were up and about.  It is quite refreshing.  As long as we don’t talk, we blend in.  No one staring at us, no one trying to sell us something, no big flashing neon sign pointing us out as tourists.  It is fantastic.  Even when we do speak, there is nothing.  Ordering a meal, drink or even just buying a few groceries for lunch, you don’t have to haggle, or even worry that you are going to be ripped off.  Receipts.  We haven’t seen one of those for a long time.  All in all, we are experiencing a bit of culture shock.  Everything is organised, efficient and operating smoothly.

Beautiful, historic main square

Beautiful, historic main square

We have nothing planned for the day, just to wander around town and look at all the fine architecture, both new and old in the city.  This is easily accomplished, and even as we leave the street we have the hotel on, we can appreciate the history of the place.  there is something special in European towns.  Egypt has ancient monuments from thousands of years ago, Morocco has a fine oral history with fantastic Ksars, Ksors and Medinas, Tanzania… well, we are sure it has something, but Europe?  You can see the history of the last two hundred years right in front of you.

The old..

The old..

.. and the new.

.. and the new.

One of the first big complexes we came across was the “beating hart of the Euro”  Or the ECB (European Central Bank) with a proud statue of the Euro out the front and whole displays on the currency.  Is statue the right word for a massive symbol?  Sculpture isn’t right, and it isn’t a work of art.  It just is.

Making it to the down town area we stop off at tourist information.  Here we expected to find out all about Frankfurt, and around.  There were a few places we may have been interested in visiting, and wanted a bit more info.  Unfortunately this was not to be the case.  The guy was helpful in as much as he could be, but he knew nothing about the region.  A wealth of knowledge on the city, but as soon as you ask about surrounding towns, he couldn’t help.  Still, it was good to have a proper tourist information that was not only about selling you a tour.

The "love bridge" full of pad locks.

The “love bridge” full of pad locks.

A bit of a pub crawl (So German beer is cheap, you rent it by the half  litre, and when you have to return it, you may as well stock up on another.  This trend is still continuing a few weeks later as we write this!) trying out all the different beers, ciders and wines.  On making it back to where we were staying we found the police massed around the street corners.  One side street was filled with squad cars from end to end.  We had to ask what was happening as some were in full riot gear, and every one was walking in groups of five or more.  Apparently there was going to be a protest.  A bit further on we found the protesters setting up for their march.  The story we were told (by the police) was that a couple of squatters were forcefully evicted the previous day, and now there was a retaliatory protest that had its ranks swelled by the anti-globalisation, anti-ECB, and the occupy Frankfurt Movement.  Pretty much all the troublemakers and unemployed people that want something for nothing.  (hmm, can we join in as well?) The police were a bit worried it may go wrong, especially as the Organised Anarchist Movement had their uniforms on of Black hoodies done up tight with dark glasses.  This is so if it does get messy the police cannot use the cameras to identify individuals.

German esthetics back then..

German esthetics back then..

.. and now...

.. and now…

Grabbing a couple of Kebabs, we pulled up a chair between the police and the protesters to get a good view.  Eventually the protesters started marching down the street.  Some waving banners, some pushing their prams along, and nearly all of them carrying bottles of beer.  Even this was organised and as they went down the street the police moved in unison with them.  Flanking the sides and bringing up the rear.  We knew we were in a different world when the funniest thing happened.  Half the protesters had gone around the street corner when the lights changed from green to red.  The other half stopped and waited for the lights to change before moving on to catch up with their comrades!  It was hysterical to watch.  After they made it through, the police had to stop at the lights as well, and await their turn.  We were making jokes that the police would pull them up for jay-walking, as apparently this is still a fine-able offence in Germany.  Although when I did it – right in front of the police, all i got was a bit of tsk’ing from them.

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Dresden

Dresden

Our accommodation in Chemnitz ran out today.  This meant back to moving around.  As we have spent almost two months in Chemnitz, we decided that if we had to rent a motel room, it may as well be in a different city.
We decided to go to Dresden as it used to be UNESCO listed.  They lost the listing as the city decided to build a new bridge into the downtown area and UNESCO objected.
We grabbed our bags and did a final walk from the University to the Hauptbahnhof.  We have done this many times, and are glad this is the last.
At the station we got our tickets.  This turned out to just be a day pass on all transport in Saxony.  It is the same as going to Leipzig, or anywhere else!  As long as it is a local train.  This wasnt a problem for us, and we took our seats on the upper level of the train.  In theory so we could see the country side better.  This was not really the case, as there are banks or trees blocking most of the views.  I suppose most people do not want to see trains going past, and would much rather have trees across the landscape.  Not so good for us though.  There were patches in the trees however, and we got to give Anna’s new camera a workout.  (There is a story to this:  Her other camera took a swim in Jordan as reported earlier.  However it took us this long to replace it.  Knowing that we were resuming travel in a few days we went out and bought a new one.  We specifically wanted one that took SD memory cards and her old batteries, as that would give us a few spares, and there is nothing like running out of battery half way through a day.  Unable to find a camera that took these batteries, we settled on the cheapest camera that did the long panoramic photos.  On getting it back to our room we played around with it, and found out that you need to create the panoramic photos on a computer.  What is the point of that?  We can do that ourselves without any functions on the camera.  We also know that we couldn’t be bothered doing this.  That is why we wanted it on the camera.  So the next day we went back to exchange it.  This was a rather painless process.  There was a lot of paperwork involved though, as everything had to be in triplicate.  We were lucky enough to get the same sales girl.  Explaining the problem, and her agreeing that there was no way to do the photos on the camera she helped us find one that could.  On buying this one, she kindly helped us change the settings to English, and teach us to use the menus.  On opening the box, surprise surprise, we found that this one took our batteries!  Score.  Now if only we had known that before.  Nothing against her, as all the cameras are locked closed, and she couldn’t open a box of every type to find out the batteries.)

Trains

So.  Here we are on the train.  Looking like idiots playing with the camera.  We did not neglect the view though, and it was nice to go across the countryside.  From Wind farm to Solar farm to ploughed fields between the towns.  The towns themselves were small, and fairly close together.  There were a few hills and a couple of streams as well.  In places it was very pretty.  German trains are very quiet, but we still didn’t hear a single wind tower as we went past.

Little towns with big wind towers

There were no eardrums exploding.  Even when we passed right underneath one.  I am not sure what the Victorians are on that get a headache when there is a tower 25km away, but I think they need their heads examined.  As for the solar side of things.  Germany has probably 10 sunny days a year and it is still beneficial to have solar panels on any surface.  I swear even the tractors have them.  There was even one perched on top of a hay bale.  At other times the view was awash with colour.  It is Autumn here, and all the trees are changing colour.  There were Dark greens, light greens, yellows, oranges of all different shades, as the leaves started turning.

Beautiful church downtown Dresden

We arrived in Dresden in good time, and locked our bags in storage at the station.  Asking at Tourist info if there was a cheap hotel, she said the cheapest was 84 Euro.  Ouch.  Still, we should be able to find cheaper, or we would just go to Leipzig (We have to be there Monday to see the Lawyer before we leave).
Walking into the city centre you start to see all the old buildings.  Apparently Dresden was bombed flat at the end of WWII, and was rebuilt under the DDR.  Who says they didn’t care?  The restoration was very well done.  Going into one of the cathedrals there are all the photos of what it looked like, and the devastation was massive.  You can still see a lot of the poc marks created by the shrapnel on the lower levels of the buildings.  They have been plastered up, but are very noticeable.  A lot of the Government buildings were built by King Albert of Saxony in the late 1780’s.  These are stunning.  They need a bit of a clean, but other than that, the architecture is brilliant.  I wish as much attention to detail was put into todays buildings.

Joining the locals for a beer overlooking the river

Over to the river, where we got to see all the people crowding onto the big boats for the lunch tours of the city, and how one side is flat grasslands and the other is wall.  No riverside cafe’s or bars.  Apparently the river floods a lot, and the last big one was in 2002.  This broke the banks and flooded most of Dresden.  Crossing over, we decided to have a cool beer looking back at the massive monuments on the other side.  The cathedral, Opera house, art college etc.  A perfect way to spend the afternoon.

On this side of the river there used to be an old venetian fortress around the city, but walking around we could only find wide boulevards, brand name shopping, and goldish green statues of unknown people long dead.  I am sure they were important but who were Franz and Joseph?  Then there is this guy Albert.  He seems to have a high opinion of himself stuck up there on his horse.  As we were sipping our beers, we had decided on going to Leipzig, as the tickets were still valid, and we are stingy.  So a long walk back to the station, where I managed to completely avoid the beautiful old sections of the town, and in the process get us lost.
The ride to Leipzig is nowhere near as interesting as this mornings, and we don’t have much to report on that.  However I would like to say that we wanted to stay at an A&O Hostel/hotel.  DON’T!  They advertise cheap rooms/dorms etc.  When we got there they wanted to charge us double.  On bringing up the price difference they dropped it down, but then wanted us to pay for the sheets.  Right.  That was not happening.  The private rooms they have are more expensive than a hotel in the very city centre!  We went there instead.  Motel One.  Well recommended.

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Leipzig

Leipzig.

Beautiful city. Much much bigger than Chemnitz.

BIG station

We were here twice to look at real estate again, but it turned out that prices had gone up here, and you cannot get as good a rental return as in Chemnitz any more. Not that you can’t find a bargain here if you search for it. Leipzig has always been the financial hub of Saxony and it shows in the buildings. Sometimes it is a bit too much. Trying to show of how much money they had. The train station we arrived in was massive. One of the biggest of Europe and really impressive. Also it is off course the town of Bach. Great downtown area, as it was not bombed much.

Bach

OK.  Leipzig is beautiful.  While we were being driven around by an estate agent, he took us through the area of Jugendstil that is competing with Chemnitz for the title.  No contest.  This area is a lot better.  However  The quality here is better.  It may not be bigger.  Still it was a good area to drive through, and if you have a cool mil and a half, you can pick up a pretty building.  Or at least a unit or two!

Market square in Leipzig

Mark was brilliant.  It was a shame that we met him so late in the game, and we were there, as we felt a bit guilty.  We did explain the situation to him, and he was fine about it.  But he still wanted to show off the city as much as he could.  It was almost enough to make us change our mind.  There is one, well two, really nice buildings.  The second one is now sold, and the first is third on our list.  It is big, and has a good return.  The main point is that there is another building out the back that is included in the price.  This would be perfect for us, but we will see what happens.  It is happening so slowly in Chemnitz that if we change our mind now, we could be here all winter (at -20 degrees, no thank you!).

While we were there to check out the sights for the Auction, we got to walk around the city.  There is plenty of Terraced cafe’s, bars and the like.  There was even a market on.  OK, so this happens all the time in European Cities, but it was still good to see.  There are always the obligatory sausage stall.  Beer.  Mead, Bakeries, flowers?!? (This region has a thing for flowers.  Every balcony has a thing for flowers.  They are everywhere.  If you have a window sill there are at least three blooming flowers on it at any time) veggies, Beer and sausage.  Did we mention the beer and sausage already?  No?  Well there is plenty of beer and Sausage.  With more Sausage stalls with a few more beer stalls.

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