It’s been five months since I last posted on this blog, but I’ll catch up! Part of the reason for my negligence has been that I’ve started to study for accreditation as a Methodist Local Preacher, and that has occupied both my time and my attention since August. It’s actually the subject of another blog which I’ve just started – Wild About Preaching – so I’m in blogging mode at the moment. Anyway, the winter is coming and it’s nicer to sit in my warm spare bedroom than walk the streets.
Our daughter Kate got married this summer. She and Jez decided to have a quiet “destination wedding” in a place where they have enjoyed skiing holidays, Zell am See, in Austria. We were invited to join them, and it gave us the chance to pay a couple of visits to former Woodstock colleagues in that neck of the woods. So all good.
We’ve done a few road trips in the USA in recent years, but it’s been a long time since we’ve travelled much in Europe, so it was quite fun planning the itinerary. Kate works for Accor Hotels, so it seemed only fair to use them for our stopovers – Ibis and Ibis Budget was the way to go. We can’t get out of the habit of economising, and, frankly, the worst Ibis Budget is better than most of the backpackers’ hostels we frequented in India.
When I changed my car a year ago, I got one with a Europe SatNav, so that was good. To test it, I sat on the drive of our house and tapped in the address of the hotel in Austria. Route calculated, start now, don’t stop, and you’ll be there in 23 hours. Well, maybe not this time.
The day before we were leaving was the wedding of Emily, daughter of our good friends Chris and Tess. By special request, we reconstituted a band for the night made up of friends who hadn’t played together for years, and had enormous fun. So great to play with accomplished musicians, including Chris, the father of the bride..
The Channel Tunnel was the best option this time, so after an easy drive down on the Sunday morning, we got to France about 5:00 pm and drove a couple of hours to our first stop at Laon. We’d picked it purely on location but, as you so often find in France, we ended up having our first meal in a beautiful medieval town, and walking back to the car round massive walls overlooking the plains below. Magical.
Next stop Stuttgart, and a mis-programming of the SatNav added two hours to our journey. Who would have known there were two streets of the same name, one in the town centre and one by the airport. Hey ho. Then another long-ish run to Zell am See. The highlight, of course, was playing Kraftwerk “Autobahn” at high volume while cruising at 115 mph. It just has to be done – but not too often.
Hotel Tirolerhof in Zell am See: classic skiing lodge, with extravagant breakfasts and dinners, and a lake to walk around. What could be better? Well, a wedding. Horse-drawn carriage around the town, nice ceremony, live piano music, and the hordes of Kuwaitis who had descended on the town for the holidays cheering and waving as we drove by. The Arabs are just like the Indians, they love a good wedding!
After dropping Kate and Jez at the train station in Salzburg, we headed up into the hills to stay with Chris and Diana, who live in an area of the beautiful village of Faistenau called Vordersee (because it’s in front of the lake – my “A” level German is all coming back to me.) It’s perfect country for walking, and they had a garden full of birds. A delightful place to stay, and with warm hospitality.
After a few days, onward and downward: half a day in Salzburg (you have to see Mozart’s birthplace), then immense traffic jams on the way to Munich, adding a couple of hours to a reasonably short journey.
Munich is definitely a highlight, if only for the Vittelmarkt, the food market, with its enormous open-air restaurant area. Pork, sauerkraut, dunkelbier (dark beer) and interesting conversations with other people at the table, all under a warm sun. I could live like that!
On to Friedrichshaven. Again, mostly picked because it was halfway between two destinations, but with much more to it than we expected. It was the home and manufacturing centre of the famous Graf Zeppelin – an d you could actually have joyrides round the town in a small airship. It was also the base for the Junkers aircraft factory, and that was well worth a visit. Unsurprisingly, with these industries being so prominent, there’s wasn’t much left of the town after the Allies finished bombing it during the second world war, so it’s all new and very smart. Lake Constance (Bodensee to the Germans) is pretty nice too, with a whole variety of ferries, yachts, rowing boats and vintage steamers plying to and fro. A very nice stopover.
We were en route to stay with another couple from our Woodstock days, David and Lindy, who live in a Swiss ski resort above Lake Geneva. (Lac Leman to the French – I’m enjoying this!) Dot, who is a Heidi freak, absolutely fell in love with their Chalet-style house, with its stunning views over the valley and Mont Blanc in the distance. I feared she’d be applying for a job as house-keeper. She insisted on dressing up and having a Heidi photo shoot. We walked in the hills above the spectacular golf course, heard the cowbells, watched the clouds over mountains, sat in an old inn drinking beer in front of a log fire.. Can’t complain.
Back into France and on our way home. Our final stop before a night next to the Tunnel in Calais was at Troyes. Yet again, a convenient and unresearched stopover proved to be a beautiful ancient own, with some of the best medieval houses I’ve seen, and the usual pretty decent menu touristique at one of the restaurants – more pork and sauerkraut (or as the French call it, choucroute – tee hee).
And after all these years of visiting France, we finally achieved what we thought was impossible. On our last night in Calais we had a bad meal. Our own fault for mvisiting a restaurant in the Calais equivalent of Cheshire Oaks, a McArthur Glen Designer Outlet. At last we can rest easy – French food is not always perfect.