Thursday, 23 December 2010

Riyadh to Germany: Christmas Market Tour: Part 2

We've flown from Riyadh to Germany and totally enjoyed a day in Frankfurt, now it's time to start the Christmas Market Tour.

Day 1:
We met Greg, our tour guide, and said a quick hello to our other fellow travelers as we joined the rest of the German Christmas Market crew on the bus.  Our first stop was Heidelberg Christmas Market. Cute. I love the cobblestones in these towns. A bit wobbly underfoot, especially with ice, but I can imagine the clip clop of horse drawn beer kegs – for some reason Germany is synonymous with beer.

The ruin on the hill, Heidelberg.

On the walking tour - Entrance to the bridge

No idea...but was I there?  Yes I was!
Craftsmen, Heidelberg
I envisaged I would find lots of arty crafty types making their own Christmas related goods on a Christmas Market Tour.  Not quite.  It was fairly repetitive merchandise and mainly useful as Christmas tree decorations - not terribly popular back in Saudi.  You had to search for the true handcrafted creations, but once you found them, you usually weren't disappointed.  These were the only two I found early on the tour making their own goods.

I met a lovely German family while I ate my Kartoffelpuffer – a German potato pancake with apple sauce on a wafer. Rather nice on a cold day. And the obligatory cup of Gluwein. We decided to start a Christmas cup collection – at least one per market.

Oh - TrinkHalle, not Beer Drinking Hall
On to Baden Baden – a spa town with well heeled types wrapped against the cold browsing the stalls.  After being told all about the spa’s in Baden Baden it would have been nice to experience a mud wrap. But alas, it was not to be.  Instead, we got led on a walk to the ‘Drink Hall’, which ended up not being what we thought. It’s basically the’ Trinkhalle’, a pump room housed in an impressive building fronted by large pillars and lovely artwork that accommodates some healing water that you pay 50c to sample. We followed it with Gluwein.

After a quick look around and a bite to eat it was back on the bus and we headed off to Triberg, a little working town in the black forest, with a stop to take photos of a house size cuckoo clock.   It's a pity it was dark.  It would have been nice to have a closer look. 

Gunther, our driver, had to back us down the hotels' long driveway - not an easy feat given the snow everywhere, the rather steep drop off to one side and the narrow space he had to work with.  Claps and cheers all round once we arrived.  That evening we enjoyed a welcome dinner at the hotel, looking out at the snow falling while we were snug, warm, well fed and wined.

Day 2:
Next morning, we woke up to snow covered, hillside beauty and went out to take pictures of candy floss topped hedges (snow looks so light and fluffy when it’s new - have I already said that?) and steep, snow covered roofs huddled into the valley – very quaint and Christmas looking.

The snow shovel was out, the automated and manual variety, to clear the bus.  We grabbed the manual one to have a go.  There is no doubt that clearing snow off paths and driveways is a great way to keep skinny over winter.
Sludge and my Caterpillars
Back on the road, there was a slight change of plan due to weather conditions.   It had started to rain and that fluffy snow was turning to sludge, I was glad I bought Caterpillars before I left Saudi.   We had a potty stop by Lake Constance and one of the many churches in Germany.   Then on to Lindauer for lunch – the markets, unfortunately, were closed.  While Gregg was talking history a huge dump of snow fell off a roof and landed on the bonnet of a car parked below with a heck of a thud.  We moved the group into open spaces – better to be wet than dumped on. 

Oberammergau was our next stop – a real Christmas town. The famed Kathe Wohlfahrt shops were here. Actually, I discovered, they are everywhere. It’s amazing what you could waste your money on under the excuse of “Christmas”. Here’s just a few samples of what was on offer in the shops:

Witches???  Xmas???

These are popular
We were a few weeks late for the Passion Play that won’t be around for another 10 years – interesting story that one. Lots of paintings on buildings in this town tucked away under the mountains.  I love how artwork is everywhere in Germany - Inside buildings, outside buildings. I love the old buildings and architecture. I actually really enjoyed Germany.
Fussan night lights.
We spent the night in Fussen, another cobble stoned cute town.  Our attempts to find the recommended local brewery were to no avail.  Instead, we wound up in a nice little eatery, with a few others from the crew who also failed in brewery finding endeavors, where I tried Liver Balls and Sauerkraut.  There's no point being in a new country and not trying the local dishes.  Despite the title, it wasn't bad actually.  Washed it down with a local beer that started with ‘A’.  (A beer? Alcohol?)

Off to mad Ludwigs castle – Neuschwanstein - a nice little walk up the hill.  Ludwig II built this castle as an escape from the throngs, and he never finished it. What was completed, however, had all the latest mod-cons of the time – central heating, automatic flush dunny, running water. I quite liked the kitchen and could imagine myself a cook of the time, ordering peeps about with loads of firewood stoking the stoves.

View from one castle to the other
Lunch was coffee on the bus and left over breakfast. German breakfasts, we decided, were perfect for bus tours. They have loads of meat – sausage and ham – with rolls and eggs, tomatoes and Danish treats. I’d eat Bircher Muesli with fruit for brekky and make a packed lunch out of everything else. Brilliant!

The scenery of the alps provided a stunning back drop as Greg regaled us with the history of the area, Bavaria, and the Prince-Bishops in charge.  Potty stops, there were two, were a monastery (another OTT decked out church) and a rather large summer residence, Nympenburg, with an iced over pond that one of the crew decided to stand on. Wayne whipped out his video because if the ice had cracked he wouldn’t have wanted to miss that, now would he?

We traveled on to Munich and were unloaded at the Christmas markets with the promise of seeing the glockenspiel in operation. Nope! It only goes at lunch time. Never mind, Gluwein got me over that and the fact the we had lost one of our trio in the crowds. The place was quite busy.

Munich had my favorite hotel of the entire tour with central heated bathroom floor and a huge triple room.  We had time to change for dinner and off to a beer house we went. The Lowenbrau was walking distance up the road, and we couldn’t possibly leave without scoffing a pork knuckle and a few brews.
I quite liked Munich and would love to go back to see the museums - actually I’d like to see the museums and galleries at a few of the cities. Sounds like an art and museum tour is on the cards too!

The rest of our journey took us to Salzburg,  Nuremburg and back to Frankfurt.  It was a whirlwind trip and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it.  This was my first ever bus tour and it did what it said it would - took us to all the Christmas Markets on its route through Germany.  There was little time for self-exploration of the towns or meeting the locals which was something I was wanting to do as time drew on and my passion for shopping began to wane.  But there was plenty of time in the evenings to get to know fellow bus travelers and the end of the trip saw a lot of email and facebook swapping with promises to stay in touch.

Ka Kite,

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