Keszthely (Zala), Hungary July 2022 (Tour 6)

During our stay in Enzesfeld with our friends, the Dedics, Rohan (our daughter) advised she would like to see us all (the Dedics, Vanya and I) and that she would be flying out to Vienna the following weekend. Fair enough. We were all keen to see her. Vanya and I decided to spend the intervening time (that was 6 nights) in Hungary and we set off for Lake Balaton, a part of Hungary neither of us had visited before.

Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe and it has almost 200 kilometres of shoreline. With the country being land locked it came as no surprise to learn that this is a very popular holiday destination in Hungary.

We made for Keszthely at the western end of Lake Balaton. It is much closer to Austria than the larger beach resort of Siofok and it is cheaper and quieter (probably because Siofok is that bit closer to Hungary’s capital of Budapest).

The shoreline comprises a handful of private pay beaches and a large public area with a small promenade and boating pier, fairground activities, cafe bars and wooden beach huts serving local beers, wines and fast foods. It was quite lively as we arrived with a local band playing rock music on a temporary stage.

After checking out the beach area (very touristy) I made my way to the town’s L shaped main square, Fo Ter, which was just over a kilometre away. It is an attractive square holding the town’s principal church (Our Lady of Hungary); the town hall, a theatre and a school (both closed); what looked like an old monastery and; a couple of hotel bar restaurants but all was surprisingly quiet.

Leading off from the square towards the Festetics Palace (an absolute ‘must see’ in Keszthely) is the old town’s one main street, Kossoth Lajos Utca. It is on this street and in the lanes leading off from this street that most of the town’s interesting spots are to be found; shops, cafe bars, restaurants and some of the town’s many museums.

I didn’t visit any of the museums but some are quite unusual, to say the least – they included a Radio & TV Museum, a Toy Museum, a Puppet & Doll Museum, a coach museum (as in horses and carriages), a Marzipan Museum (I kid you not), an adult only Erotic Renaissance Museum (with wax model displays, so I read) and most bizarre of all one containing a scale model of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest made entirely of snail shells. It was made between 1975 and 1989 by an old woman who has since died and she used 4.5 million snail shells in the making of it. It takes all sorts.

And so to the Festetics Palace, which certainly has the ‘Wow’ factor! It is a beautiful, sparkling white Baroque palace dating back to 1745 (and extended significantly in the late 19th century). It isn’t cheap to go inside and, most odd, you have to pay extra if you want to take photos inside the palace. Money grabbing b—–s. Having said that, I spent hours wandering the palace and the equally impressive gardens with small lake, fountains, bird park, palm house, etc and I loved it.

We stayed two nights in Keszthely and then decided to move on.

Enzesfeld (Lower Austria), Austria July 2022 (Tour 6)

So we made it to Enzefeld. Gerhard was away on business but Clare, Alex and Niki made us most welcome (as usual) and our two day stopover became 3 days. Their neighbours were not as pleased that we stayed on because on our last night we were up singing German Kindergarden songs until four in the morning. I think Vanya and Clare stayed up another hour or so.

We made a couple of trips out in the Van from Enzesfeld; Clare showing us the way to Eisenstadt and Rust in the Austrian region of Burgenland on our first day out and then; me taking Vanya to Baden bei Wien.

A little bit about each of them… Eisenstadt first. Eisenstadt is the provincial capital of Burgenland and the smallest of the Bundeslander or state capitals. From what we saw it must also rank amongst the prettiest and has a surprising number of interesting places to visit. Principal amongst them is the beautiful baroque palace known as the Schloss Esterhazy. The Schloss has been home to Esterhazy Princes since 1649 although there was a castle on this site as long ago as the 13th century. Other interesting aspects of the town are the Palace Park (with it’s four ponds, the Leopoldine Temple and a large Orangerie), the Marien Temple (now known as The Gloriette), the Joseph Haydn Museum (the prolific composer worked for the Esterhazy’s for 40 years and lived in this building for 12 of them) and, my favourite, the Bergkirche (Haydn’s Church, which is now home to the Haydn Mausoleum).

A couple of interesting facts about Haydn. First, he is credited with composing 104 symphonies and 50 concertos. Prolific or what! Second, in 1790 Haydn moved to London for a while and at least one of his biographies claims that his days in England were the happiest of his life. I wonder how many people can say that but, of course, at that time the rest of Europe was in some considerable turmoil.

After wandering the town and parks for a while (and enjoying one of the best ice creams ever) it was time to leave Eisenstadt and make our way to the smaller but equally pretty town of Rust am Neusiedlersee. The Neusiedlersee is a large shallow lake (average depth 1.5 metres) which forms part of the border between Austria and Hungary and it is arguably the star attraction in the area. That is not to say that the small town of Rust itself is not also worth a day of anyone’s time. It is situated in one of Austria’s most famous wine producing regions, right on the banks of the lake, and has regularly won Burgerland’s ‘Most Beautiful Town’ award. One feature of the place which visitors will not fail to notice are the many storks nesting on the house chimneys. It reminded Vanya and I of our drive up through Portugal last year.

Other features worth visiting in Rusk are the local heuriges (you simply have to taste the wines here, white and red); the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity (get your timings right and you will be able to climb the church tower for reasonable views over the Neusiedlersee) and; the Fischekirche (a delightful little church by any standards).

The Fischerkirche (the fishermen’s church) deserves a special mention. It is a former fortified church which was dedicated to the Saints Pancras and Giles. It owes it’s name to a legend where Queen Mary of Hungary, while fleeing from Mongol invaders, was rescued from the lake by local fishermen. To give thanks, she founded the chapel, the inside of which is very quaint.

Finally, we come to Baden bei Wien. Vanya had never been to Baden. That had to be put right. Also, it provided me with the opportunity to revisit the town and to walk up to the Konigshohle and then on to Castle Rauhenstein. Despite visiting Baden a number of times (and I have previously written a blog about Baden), I had never visited either the Konigshole or Castle Rauhenstein.

Famous for it’s sulphur springs and Roman baths, Baden bei Wien was another summer residence of Austrian and German rulers and in 2021 was recognised by UNESCO as one of the great spa towns.

Baden is a pretty enough town but it doesn’t have that many ‘must see’ places and it therefore doesn’t figure amongst my favourite towns to visit. It is more a place to go and do something particular whether it be to soak up the spas or gamble in the casino, enjoy fine wines in the local heuriges or wander the many short hiking routes in the area.

This time my reason for visiting Baden (other than to show Vanya the place) was to walk up to the Konigshohle and then on to Castle Rauhenstein. These are two very short easy walks that took absolutely no time. I combined them with a walk to Burgruine Rauheneck.

Bystrc (Moravia), Czech Republic July 2022 (Tour 6)

This blog was going to be about Brno but, I never made it to Brno. I made it as far as Bystrc (some 6 miles from Brno) and then I got lost in Bystrc until it was almost time to go back to Vereska Bityska! Hence the switch from Brno to Bystrc and it was all my fault!

The day started reasonably well with me catching my boat from Veverska Bityska on time. Vanya decided not to make the trip because her leg was playing up and she wanted to rest it but, she was happy for me to make the trip on my own. It seemed a straightforward trip. The boat (The Dallas) would take me down the River Svratka to the Brenenska Prehrada reservoir. We’d cross the reservoir and I would disembark at Bystrc and catch a tram into Brno. All I needed to do was enjoy the boat ride and the sights and determine what I wanted to see in Brno.

I spent a pleasant hour or so drifting down the river past various very small places Skaly, Meckov, Hrad Veveri, Pod Trnuvkou, Rokle, Ukotvy, Sokolske Koupaliste, Kozi Horka to Bystrc but, in hindsight, it all started to go wrong when Vanya elected not to come along. Upon arrival in Bystrc I decided to give the tram a miss. I would never have done that if Vanya had been with me.

So, after we had docked, I walked from the harbour to where I would catch the tram into Brno and then… I carried on walking through Bystrc on my way to the old town of Brno (after all, it is only six miles or so of brisk walking) except… I didn’t quite make it through Bystrc. What a farce! Bystrc is an urban sprawl; a grotesque Russian inspired concrete jungle of apartment blocks; hundreds of them, all looking much the same and straddling narrow winding lanes which more often than not curved back on themselves, providing no indication as to where I was going or in which direction I was being led! It took me an hour and a half, that’s ninety minutes to escape the tower blocks; ninety dreadful minutes in 34 degrees centigrade of heat without my seeing a single shop where I could get a drink or a single person whom I could approach for directions. The place seemed wholly deserted; how I would imagine Chernobyl to have been at it’s nadir.

Of course I made it out. I found my way back to the port where the faithful Dallas was waiting to take me back to the Van. Actually, it wasn’t Dallas. I don’t know why I said that. It was The Leipzig. I’ve probably had a drink too many. After finding my bearings in Bystrc I paused just once on my way to the port; at a small bar where I consumed in just one go the largest glass of beer I have ever seen and then I did the same again at the port (only much quicker because I didn’t want to get left behind by the Leipzig).

Our last night in the Czech Republic (at least on this particular tour) saw us select one of the three not so good Cafe bars in Vereska Bityska for a not so hot meal and a few drinks. We will be in Austria tomorrow.

Veverska Bityska (Moravia) Czech Republic July 2022 (Tour 6)

We stayed longer than anticipated in Germany and Poland and had to make up time (because we were to meet our good friends, the Dedics, in Austria in just two days time). So, we made fast time through the Czech Republic planning just one stop such that we could visit the country’s second city of Brno. We stopped at a campsite in Veverska Bityska, some 20 kms outside of Brno, because (a) it looked a good campsite and (b) we would be able to get a boat trip from the village all the way down the River Svratka and across the reservoir to within spitting distance of Brno. Well, that’s what we thought.

There’s not a great deal to Veverska Bityska but the campsite was as good as the reviews suggested it would be and the owner operators proved both friendly and helpful (not least because I had reacted badly to a horsefly bite I received in Poland and needed to get to a chemist). They steered me towards the town’s ATM (we had no Czech currency and everyone seems to want cash in this area) and the only chemist in miles (and she did want cash) and then I had a bit of a wander. There is very little to see in the town; the Church of St James The Great (St Jakub) which was built in 1771, a school, a handful of shops and three not very impressive looking cafe bars.

The Svratka River is a pretty enough feature of the town and the hot weather (high thirties) had prompted a number of people to come out for a swim. As I walked back to the campsite along a 1 kilometre bicycle path which tracked the river I was sorely tempted to take a dip myself. Instead, I went back to the Van, cooked up a BBQ and then sat drinking Talisker whisky with a German and his wife until late in the night.

A hundred yards or so downstream from the campsite is a small jetty where the next day I would get a boat (public shuttle service) down river and across the Brnenska Prehrada Reservoir towards Brno.

Klodzko (Lower Silesia), Poland (Tour 6)

Klodzko is a small town of 27,000+ inhabitants in Lower Silesia, just a few miles short of the Czech Republic. It straddles the Nysa Klodzka River.

We paused at the place on our way to the Czech Republic and decided to stay over following the recommendation of a friend of a friend who had herself visited the place. She thought the 1760 Fortress which dominates the town would interest us. It didn’t. It is in good condition and provides reasonable views over the surrounding countryside but I have seen too many fortresses this year to be impressed by this one – I believe this was the fourth so far this year and, anyway, I much prefer castles to fortresses.

In contrast to the castle, however, I did find the town itself interesting. It is a small town with a fine, historic old town square which is dominated by the Ratusz (Town Hall).

On the same side of the river as the town hall is the Assumption of Mary Parish Church which dates back to the 1344 (although there was an earlier wooden church on this site some two hundred years before) and was built by the Knights of the Order of St John. I was unable to gain access to this church but it is supposedly very beautiful inside.

My interest in the town increased further after I arrived at the St John Bridge which leads across the river to the Franciscan Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This much smaller church dates back to 1631 and I was able to gain access.

Leaving aside the buildings I have already mentioned there is not much else in the town to interest a passing tourist (There’s a 1km underground city trail but while I found the exit I could not find the entrance) but it struck me as a friendly enough place. Indeed, everywhere we have been during our short time in Lower Silesia we have been impressed with the apparent friendliness of the local people and Klodzko was no different.

We went back into Klodzko for dinner that evening at a place which had been recommended to us, the Restaurant Nota Bene. Poland appears as welcoming towards dogs as the rest of Europe and Nala and Beanie were allowed inside. The restaurant had sturgeon* on the special’s board and the waitress (also the owner’s daughter) recommended it together with a German Riesling. Given that she is training to be a sommelier and is soon going to Paris to complete her certification it would have been inappropriate to ignore her advice and so, we ordered two bottles. The sturgeon and the wine were fabulous.

One of the particularly pleasant aspects of our visit to the town and in particular to the Nota Bene was listening to the waitress, a graduate from Wroclaw University, describe how the Poles in the area, especially Wroclaw where there are a significant number of students, have come to terms with the aftermath of WW2 and in particular the de-Germanisation of Lower Silesia. She understands and is sympathetic to how the Germans (and surprisingly the Italians) insist on referring to Wroclaw as Breslau. That impressed me.

* When I ordered the sturgeon (which I have never eaten before) I didn’t realise how rare and historically important sturgeon now is or I would perhaps have ordered differently but, in my defence, the waitress went into some detail as to how careful the local people are in terms of conservation. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was labouring this point so much but then I read up on the fish.

Sturgeon are considered living fossils which date back to the Late Cretaceous Period (i.e. hundreds of millions of years old). They can live up to 150 years and while the smallest species grow to an average of 3 feet, the largest (the Beluga) can grow up to 25 feet long and weigh 3,500lbs. Sadly, the Sturgeon species is now on the endangered list because of overfishing, the demand for caviar and habitat loss.

Wroclaw (Lower Silesia), Poland (Tour 6)

We parked the Van at a secure car park in Wroclaw and booked into a city centre hotel (the Puro Wroclaw Stare Miasto) for a couple of nights. In hindsight, we should have stayed longer. What a great hotel and what a great city! We loved everything about Wroclaw, pronounced Vrots-Waaf. The city was buzzing the whole time we were there.

Previously known as Breslau, Wroclaw is currently Poland’s 4th largest city with a population of 600,000 people. It’s history is as long and complex (and as tragic) as any town in Lower Silesia but, rather than repeat it all here, I would refer you to my blog on Jelenia Gora if you want to know more. It will suffice to say now that the de-Germanisation which occured in the city after World War II was perhaps as bad as it could have been anywhere in Europe with almost 300,000 Germans (many of them refugees from Poznan) being forcibly evicted from the city with only what they could carry. The Poles that replaced the German population were themselves forcibly displaced from their homes by the Soviets (many were refugees from Lvov) and the city they inherited was largely (70%) destroyed by war damage. If that wasn’t bad enough the authorities dismantled much of what was left standing in the city (now renamed Wroclaw) to help rebuild Warsaw.

The new city leaders made a decision to ‘faithfully’ rebuild the Old Town just as it was before WW2. Reconstruction around the Market Square (known as Rynek) and the adjacent Solny Square progressed very quickly but, with some not so subtle changes. Indeed, nothing that was built by the Germans during the 19th and 20th centuries was replaced and the Old Town is now almost entirely baroque which predates German occupation. Even the statue of a Prussian King on the Market Square was replaced by one of a Polish poet, Aleksander Fredro. Also, many of the buildings on the two squares had to be rebuilt using utiliterian concrete blocks and were then given elaborately decorated facades. No matter, the city was quickly rebuilt and it once again ranks amongst the most beautiful in Europe.

Throughout our visit, day and night, there was always something going on in the city’s two main squares and their surrounding streets.

Solny Square is famous for selling flowers any time of the day or night but, whilst you could still buy flowers from a number of market stalls while we were there, most of the square was given over to an amateur international five a side football tournament. I don’t know who won the competitions (there was one for men and one for women) but I watched a closely contested men’s game which saw Germany beat Belgium by 4 goals to 3 goals. The standard was quite high.

One event which has taken place on the Rynek every year since 2003 (except during 2021 because of Covid), and which I would love to witness, is the city’s annual attempt to claim the Guiness World Record in the ‘Guitar Ensemble’. Wroclaw claimed the record in 2009 with all 6,346 participating guitarists led by Steve Morse of Deep Purple playing the Jimi Hendrix version of ‘Hey Joe’ at the same time. Now that would have been something to behold!

One feature of Wroclaw that I absolutely love are the Krasnale (i.e. dwarves or goblins in Polish). There are literally hundreds of them scattered around the city. They started life in the 1980’s as cartoon characters created by an anti- communist protest group known as The Orange Alternative and started taking the form of small bronze statues in 2001. No one really knows how many there are throughout the city because as new ones arrive, others are stolen. I could spend a whole day looking for them and they are a great way to explore the city.

Still much to talk about and so, I’ll be brief. In addition to the Krasnale, the city is full of street artists of all kinds. During the day, it was mostly buskers, bands and mime artists that played the squares. In the evenings it was acrobats and fire eaters and yet more buskers. If you wanted to, you could sit outside a single bar or restaurant and see most of them because many artists rotate around the two squares but; I’ll get as much joy exploring the side streets as I will sitting and people watching and I was off.

If you’re hungry it pays to wander the side streets. You’ll not find the quieter and cheaper restaurants on the squares and Vanya and I were both keen to try the local Pierogi Dumplings. Pierogi dumplings are filled with all sorts of ingredients; too many to go into here but, Vanya favoured the plainer potato and cheese variety while I went for a spicier meat variety (containing beef, leek, Chinese cabbage, mushroom, coriander, chives and chilli). OMG. They were great, especially when washed down with Polish beer and, if I haven’t mentioned it already, Wroclaw is regarded as the city of Polish Beer.

There comes a time when you have to tear yourself away from the centre and where better to go for something completely different than Ostrow Tumski; a small island in the Oder which is filled with numerous religious edifices including the impressive 13th century Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John The Baptist. The island is within easy walking distance of the Rynek. A wedding was in progress as I arrived but by posing as a wedding guest I was able to see some of the interior of the church (I’m unsure as to what the official photographer thought of my following him around looking for photo opportunities) and it didn’t stop me getting a lift up to the bell tower albeit for somewhat limited views of the city.

Better views of the city can be obtained from the Church of St Mary Magdalene. There is a platform, known as the Penitent Bridge, connecting the twin towers of this latter church. Be warned however, there is no lift in the St Mary Magdalene and you have to ascend some 200 plus stairs (about 45 metres) to the Penitent Bridge. One other church tower with arguably the best view down onto the Rynek is that of the St Elisabeth Church but I didn’t do that one.

I’ve not really covered the more cultural aspects of Wroclaw but it isn’t easy gaining access to theatres, museums and art galleries etc when you have two dogs with you but there is a great deal of interesting street art about the city and; none more so than two sets of bronze pedestrian sculptures, one each side of a busy intersection. One group appears to be descending into the ground (a subway?) and the other is ascending from the ground (I think).

Of course, in just two days I was never going to get around the whole city but that’s reason enough to return. Some places which deserve a visit are the Wrocław Multimedia Fountain (Wrocławska Fontanna Multimedialna), the Wroclaw Zoo and the Kolejkowo Model Railway.

The Fountain, which is to be found in the Szczytnicki Park, is the biggest in Poland and one of the largest in Europe. It was initiated on 4th June 2009 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first free elections in postwar Poland and it comprises 300 water jets and 800 lights which create geysers, spurts and mists, etc and is synchronised to create spectacular light and music shows every day of the week.

Wroclaw Zoo is the biggest and oldest in Poland and certainly worth a visit (but the dogs will have to be left behind for that one).

Jelenia Gora (Lower Silesia), Poland July 2022 (Tour 6)

I’ve been to Poland before (on business) but only to the cities of Warsaw and Gdansk (& Gdynia). I’ve not visited this part of Poland and this is Vanya’s first time in the country. We were both looking forward to crossing the border from Germany and seeing a little bit of Lower Silesia.

Lower Silesia is a south west region of Poland near the Czech border and the Karkonosze Mountains. Jelenia Gora was established around the 11th century and is now a sizeable city of 80,000 people. By the year 1000, Silesia was part of the kingdom of Poland but, following the first invasion of Poland by the Mongols, Poland and especially those lands in the control of the Silesian Dukes became wholly fragmented and, after the Mongols withdrew, the country fell under Bohemian (later Czech) rule. In 1526 it became Austrian under the Hapsburgs. It then changed hands a number of times. Prussia (later Germany) seized it during the mid 18th century but at the end of WW1, when the Poles and the Czechs regained their independence, Lower Silesia was divided between them. In the late 1930’s Germany again seized the Polish and Czech controlled parts of Silesia. Most recently, at the end of WW2, Jelenia Gora (along with other large parts of Silesia) became Polish once again with all resident Germans being forcibly expelled and replaced by Poles whose own lands had been annexed by the USSR. Turbulent times indeed and believe me, the above is a most simplistic version of events. Enough of the history.

Despite all the turbulence surrounding the place, the town of Jelenia Gora came out of WW2 remarkably intact. As usual I made first for the old town; the centre of which in Jelenia Gora is the Market Square with it’s surrounding arcades, the town hall, restaurants, cafes, colourful old merchant’s houses and a Neptune fountain. I never did discover the story behind the fountain.

Moving away from the square I passed the minor basilica of St Erasmus and St Pancras which was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. Pausing at the church I couldn’t help but notice that all of the epitaphs carved into the church walls are written in German; a reminder that this part of Silesia was for many years wholly German.

Further on I came across the Wojanowska Tower and Gate. This entrance into the town dates back to the 14th century when it became necessary to upgrade the town’s fortifications, not least because of the development of firearms. The gate has three coats of arms on it being the Silesian, Polish and Prussian. I am surprised that this latter coat of arms is still on display given the diligence the city fathers appear to have shown in removing all things German during the years immediately after WW2.

Just outside the Wojanowska gate, a little further along the street known as 1 Maja, is the city’s most impressive building, the Holy Cross Church. This was originally a Lutheran church built in 1718. It was taken over by the catholic church in 1945. The outside is not that impressive but the inside is so incredibly ornate, it matches anything I have previously seen in the Orthodox Churches in the Balkans. It blew me away. And big! I read that it can accommodate up to 10,000 people incliuding 4,000 seated. If there is one building worth seeing in Jelenia Gora it is the Holy Cross Church.

We were unsure as to what to expect from either Jelenia Gora or the campsite we were staying at but were pleasantly surprised on both counts. That evening we headed back into the city for food and drink and…

Moritzburg (Saxony), Germany July 2022 (Tour 6)

Erfurt was fantastic but it was time to move on. Our next destination was Weimar and we made it to the town within 40 minutes of leaving Erfurt but, something was going on in the place which made it impossible to park. We drove around a short while looking for a parking space but then gave up and continued on to Moritzburg in Saxony. From what little we saw, Weimar for all it’s history and culture didn’t really appeal.

Most famous for it’s Baroque Castle, Schloss Moritzburg is a pretty moated castle with four large round towers situated some 8 miles from Dresden. Initially it was a hunting lodge built for Duke Moritz of Saxony between 1542 and 1546. It seems this the forests and lakes in this area were favourite hunting grounds of the Electors and Kings of Saxony.

Almost 200 years later Augustus the Strong of the Saxon House of Wettin (who became Elector of Saxony and King of Poland), wanting something of a pleasure palace, had it converted into the magnificent Baroque castle it is today. It was not open to visitors when I arrived but the inside is supposed to be spectacular. It has more than 200 rooms and seven extravagent halls. One room known as ‘The Feather Room’ has many thousands of multicoloured feathers of exotic birds on display. Another, the Banquet Hall has a collection of 71 red deer antlers some of which are 400 years old.

I don’t know much about Augustus the Strong but I read that he was a patron of the arts and it was he who transformed Dresden into a major cultural centre. He was enormously strong (as is suggested by his name) and he is rumoured to have sired more than 300 illegitimate children with a host of mistresses – seems a lot.

The House of Wettin used the castle as a residence from then on with the last owner, Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony, using it between 1933 until 1945 when towards the end of WW2 the Wettins were evicted by the Russians. Some of their most precious art treasures were buried in the castle park by the Prince and his sons but these were almost all discovered and carried off by the Soviet troops. What they didn’t find was unearthed in 1996 by some amateur archaeologists who discovered a number of boxes containing jewels and gold ornaments.

Except for the castle and it’s grounds there is not a great deal to Moritzburg but there are a number of cafes and a couple of bars (one being the hotel) and I did enjoy a nice beer sitting in the hotel gardens.

Next time, it will be Dresden, not Moritzburg. From all that I have heard, Dresden will certainly be worth coming back to.

Erfurt (Thuringia), Germany July 2022 (Tour 6)

And this is where, as so often happens, our plans changed. A pleasant, very interesting and well travelled German couple whom we met in Bacharach recommended we visit Erfurt and Weimar. He is a sportswriter who amongst other things is paid to trial new motorhomes all over the world and his wife was until recently an English high school teacher – no prizes for guessing whose job we most covet. With people such as this, you listen and you respond. We turned the Van around until it was facing Erfurt and off we went. Great decision!

Erfurt is Thuringia’s capital and it’s largest city with a population of 200,000+. The city made it’s money in the Middle Ages as a a trading centre for Woad (a then rare and very expensive blue dye) and it was, no doubt, helped in this regard by being a staging point on the Via Regia (i.e a pilgrim route set up by the Holy Roman Empire and which forms part of the Camino de Compestela) that stretched from Frankfurt am Main to Leipzig and the Polish border. It has a well preserved medieval centre and has been home to some very special people including but not limited to:- Martin Luther (theologian and religious reformer who was ordained in Erfurt); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman and all round good egg); Johann Friedrich von Schiller (poet, playwright, philosopher and a mucker of Goethe’s) and; Johann Bach (composer and musician).

Talking of musicians, if the number of buskers playing classical (and not so classical) music in the city is anything to go by, the music tradition in Erfurt is in safe hands. They were everywhere during my morning visit into the city and again during the afternoon and evening when I returned with Vanya. Sounds odd but one of my favourites was a young fellow playing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” on a cello.

One of the city’s most popular tourist sites and the place I made for first during my recce is the Kramerbrucke Bridge. It is a unique medieval stone arch bridge over the Breitstrom (a branch of the River Gera) which dates back to 1325. Much later, after the bridge had been lined with timber framed houses owned by the city’s merchants, it also became known as the Merchant’s Bridge. It is a wonderful looking bridge with the groundfloor of the houses now converted into shops, cafes, etc and the upstairs into apartments which are still lived in to this day. It is easy to understand it’s popularity.

At the east end of the bridge, on the Wenigemarkt, stands the Agidienkirche (the Church of Sankt Aegidius). For a few cents, visitors can access the Methodist Church which is now the Agidienkirche but, I was told by the curator that I must not ascend the 33 metre high Red Tower. Why on earth not? Other people were up there. Well if you’ve seen one Methodist Church, you have seen them all (they are remarkably spartan) and so; immediately after I had made a brief inspection of the church itself, I set off up the Red Tower and I was rewarded with some fine views over the city. On the way out I discovered that the Agidienkirche is fitted with closed circuit tv. The curator had a fair bit to say to me and it wasn’t all polite but, it was worth it.

From the Agidienkirche I set off down the narrow alley formed by the properties on the Kramerbrucke. I mentioned previously that the properties are now given over to cafes and craft shops and, yes, there is also the odd tourist souvenir shop but, there is one particular place which simply has be visited. It is the “Haus der Stiftungen” and it is easily recognisable. It is an original property built in 1578 and it is run by a foundation which serves to promote the bridge. Entry is free and visitors are welcome to wander around the inside of the building.

One thing I did start to notice as I circled around the back of the bridge (looking for photo opportunities) were a series of rather incongruous ‘statues’ of various cartoon characters. Subsequent research revealed that they feature in a very popular TV programme on Germany’s Children’s TV Channel (KinderKanal or KIKA for short) which is run out of Erfurt. Vanya and her dog Beanie will be interested in those.

To the west of the Kramerbrucke is the Fischmarkt, a particularly picturesque square of mostly renaissance buildings which were originally dwellings. The city’s more modern Rathaus (Town Hall) also sits on this square, as does the Kunsthalle (Art Gallery) and an interesting statue, Der Romer. This statue was put there in 1591 and is of a Roman soldier holding the city’s flag aloft. I had no idea that the Romans made it so deep into Germany.

My primary interest during this first sortie into Erfurt was the Cathedral of St Mary which sits on the Dom Platz (no surprise there) but, en route I passed the Theatre Waidspeicher, a converted woad store which in 1986 was renovated and converted into the Erfurt Puppet Theatre. This theatre, using homemade puppets and props, puts on plays of fairy stories, adaptations of children’s books and modern dramas for children (during the day) and adults (in the evening). Judging by advertising outside the theatre, I suspect some of the performances for adults will be quite racy.

I made it and the 12th century gothic style cathedral of St Mary, built on the site of the much older chuch of St Boniface, is everything I expected it to be; as is the smaller and older Sevirikirche alongside it. Unfortunately I was unable to take any decent photos of the front of the Cathedral and/or the Sevirikirche. The ‘Cathedral Steps Festival’ takes place on the Dom Square in front of the two churches every year during July/August and the festival stage and grandstands for this years open air operatic performance was already up and blocking all decent photo opportunities. My understanding is that this year’s performance will be Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ but I swear I could hear some of Berlioz’s ‘Damnation of Faust’ being rehearsed whilst I was sitting on the square drinking a weissbier. Strong stuff that weissbier!

Overlooking the Dom Platz and the Cathedral and the Sevirikirche is the large Baroque Zitadelle Peterberg. However, I’ve seen enough fortresses on this tour already and elected to give it a miss. Anyway, I prefer castles to fortresses.

But, Erfurt, we are so glad we came.

Mainz (Rhein Pal.), Germany July 2022 (Tour 6)

Vanya wasn’t so keen on Mainz but she has an aversion to larger towns and was always going to feel disappointed after Bacharach. I, on the other hand, didn’t mind it but the city has a wonderful cathedral and there was a beer festival on over the weekend we were there.

We booked into a city centre camp site just over the river from the Old Town. The main bridge across the Rhine was a stones throw from the camp site and the beer festival was at the other end of it. Perfect location and planning!

Founded at the confluence of the Rhein and Main Rivers by the Romans in the 1st century, Mainz (previously Mogantiacum) is the capital of the Rhein Palatinate region. More than 80% of the city was destroyed by allied bombing in WW2 but, to see it now, you would barely believe those figures. It was quickly and carefully restored. There is one church, that of St Christoph, adjacent to the Karmerliterplatz, of which only the outer shell remains and that has deliberately been left standing in memory of the victims and the destruction of the city during the heavy bombings of 1942 and 1945.

Anyone visiting Mainz old town will very quickly find the Marktplatz, just follow the crowds of people. In this square and the surrounding area is a large part of Mainz’s history. There are a number of beautiful pastel coloured buildings, the marktbrunnen fountain, the Gutenberg Museum and most important of all, the Mainz Dom (St Martin’s Cathedral). It’s worth going to the old town to see the cathedral alone.

Almost next to the Cathedral is the Gutenberg Museum. In case you don’t know, Mainz was home to Johannes Gutenberg who in the early 1450’s invented metal type printing. This means of mass printing revolutionised publishing and it perhaps comes as no surprise that Mainz is home to both Germany’s first ever newspaper and the Allgemeine Zeitung. William Caxton subsequently built on Gutenberg’s device and introduced printing into England.

After fully exploring the Markplatz and the area thereabouts I headed off to walk the eastern side of the old town. There I found so many stolpersteine (see previous blogs on Bacharach and Rudesheim) but, more uplifting, I stumbled on the Evangelische Christuskirche (the Evangelical Church) where, inside, a string orchestra was rehearsing. Don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t the church which so fascinated me although the church building is impressive. No, Evangelicals are a bit too fundamentalist for me, I was captivated by the music being played. Sadly, I didn’t recognise the music but it was an enjoyable 30 minutes just listening and watching. I don’t think I have ever seen a conductor work so hard to get his points across to the orchestra.

On the way back to the camp site I paused at the beer festival down by the riverside. There were some 20 to 30 kiosks selling different predominantly German beers and a handful selling snack foods or wine. Needless to say, I stopped and tried a couple of the local beers (three to be precise) and a really cold Vinzentiner Weissbier won the day.