Kindness of Strangers

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Loud thunderstorms kept us up well into the night last night and rain was still falling on the fly when we woke up this morning.  We loaded everything into the tent with a soft rain still falling, meaning that everything stayed pretty wet and muddy.  Then, we headed out toward Lake Bodensee to see what we could see.

Truth be told, we weren’t all that sure exactly what we wanted to see, but Ben had at least heard of the town of Meersburg and thought it might be worth a stop.  Without even bothering to find ourselves any breakfast (which is much more feasible when we are driving than when we are riding) we got to driving, passing plenty of cornfields and eventually meeting up with the edge of the lake.  The rain continued to fall even as we drove, lighting everything up with a lovely purple hue.

After we had stopped for gas, we found another parking lot and the associated parking meter and walked into the lakeside town of Meersburg.  Before we had been wandering more than about five minutes, we arrived in front of the town’s castle which was boasting to be the oldest in Germany.  On a whim, we decided to go in and check it out.

The lady who sold us our tickets informed us that we were out of luck on a guided tour since they only give them in German, but happily handed us a detailed English pamphlet and instructed us on giving ourselves our own tour, just as we like it.

As we headed into the castle, I read the detailed information aloud so Ben could hear and we realized the castle had been built in the seventh century and lived in for more than a thousand years afterward.  Instead of the dull replica furniture that furnishes most historical places over here, the artifacts which had been accumulated over time were all still sitting in their original places with nothing more than a rope to protect the more fragile items.  The rest were right out in the open for everyone to see.  We were stoked to get to see such old, old stuff and for the bulk of our self tour, we were the only people in each room we walked through.  It seemed this castle tour was made perfectly for us!

Ben:
The castle had everything from wells that extended over 150 feet to the level of the lake, underground passages that led from stables to exits near the shores of Bodensee, suits of armor that were used in the 30 Years War, and all of the medieval coats of arms and artwork that we could handle.  We passed through room after room with original furniture, and all sorts of weapons that were used at the time.

It seems that we got to the castle just in time.  Not long after we began wandering through the maze of masonry stairs and creaky wood floors we spotted masses of people lining up to take the tour of the castle.  We were quite lucky to have the place mostly to ourselves – as toward the end the crowds started building with the noise level increasing with each room.

After being awestruck by the castle, we had overspent our time from the parking meter.  We hadn’t even walked around the town, yet, so we ran up to throw some more change in the meter and luckily we didn’t even get a ticket.  We have learned that we have become horrible at gauging how much time any one stop will take us.  What we expect to be a 15 minute stop can easily leave us wondering where the past two or three hours have gone!

The town of Meersburg, while not as quiet or quaint as some of the other German villages we have visited, has a nice feel to it.  We walked around for some time, visiting the less cute lakefront and ending by grabbing some doner kebaps for the road.

Today’s drive through southern Germany was absolutely beautiful.  The dark, moody weather brought out deep colors in the grain, hay, and corn fields.  Unfortunately we were in a car, and passed shot after shot due to our inability to pull over.  We thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, though, as we drove to Fussen.

While Fussen may be cute, it was a total zoo as we drove through.  We briefly contemplated stopping and taking a walk through the old town, but seeing the parking situation and how many people streamed through the streets turned us off from the idea.  As two people who really enjoy quiet and quaint, Fussen was evidence that you can only cram so many people into a town before it loses some degree of its charm.

After battling traffic and pedestrians ignorant of any traffic through Fussen, we finally made it out to the country for a few kilometers before the Neuschwenstein Castle.  The castle has an idyllic and quite romantic location, very much befitting to the fairytale king Ludwig II.  It is perched overlooking several small but beautiful lakes and an expanse of agricultural fields, backed against the front line of the German alps.  The castle itself has a very clean architecture for such a building, and is not overly ornate (a good thing, in my opinion).

We parked in parking lot 2 of either 4 or 5, which in itself is a testament to how popular this castle is.  We knew as we arrived that we would be battling crowds, but the sheer number of vehicles and people took me quite aback.  Luckily the castle is high on the hill above the parking lots, which requires either a 30 minute hike to the top, a horse and buggy ride, or a bus.  These options and distance between us and the castle helped disperse the people, so we had a nice and fairly quiet walk up through thee forested hill to the gates.

Arriving at the castle via the trail, it was hard not to notice the simplicity with which this castle is designed.  It seems to pay more respect to shapes and architectural form than decoration and embellishment, which is a welcome relief from many of the prominent buildings that we have visited through our tour.  The crowds were oppressive, though, and the fact that it was raining did not help as anything with a roof was packed tight.  It was still a very nice castle to visit, though because we are more interested in the much older buildings (the castle was completed in the late 1800’s), we opted to not tour the interior.

After our quick self-guided tour of the castle grounds, the rain started coming down hard.  We stupidly had forgotten to tote along our rain jackets, and ended up taking cover under a covered exit to the castle.  The rain did not subside, and eventually we packed the camera up and made quick progress down the hill, stopping only once in the drizzle to sample fried balls of cream cheese.

 

Bree: By this point, we’d already had a pretty long day, but it was back in the car to head through Austria one last time.  As we headed back towards Innsbruck we enjoyed a beautiful mountain drive complete with castles dotting the hillsides and the farms surrounding the outskirts of Innsbruck.  Soon, the day was wearing short and we needed to find a place to camp.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a Vignette that allows us to drive on the Austrian freeways and every surface street we came to appeared to be closed.  With our frustration building as we made yet another U turn, a car came up behind us waving to us that we couldn’t go down the closed road.  They pulled up behind us and an older couple got out to ask us in Italian where we were trying to go.  Having Italian license plates makes everyone assume we speak Italian but unfortunately doesn’t much help our poor language skills.  Still, we got the message and they volunteered to let us follow them the correct way into town!

We followed them for quite a few miles around all of the crazy construction issues before they pulled over and asked exactly where we were going.  We indicated the campground we were headed to and did his best to give us directions the rest of the way there.  For once, his Italian wasn’t totally lost on us and we thanked him profusely before we headed our separate directions.  We seriously cannot get over how kind we have found the Austrian people to be.

We were actually headed back to the same campground that we’d been to on our last visit to Innsbruck and once we’d been hand held through the strange construction issues, we quickly arrived.  The same guy met us at reception and also assuming we were Italian, informed me in Italian that the campground was full.  Then he ran off somewhere, presumably to find a place for us.

He returned with a pitch number and as we headed over to it, we quickly realized that the place truly was packed to the gills and the people in the spots next to us had actually had to move their cars for our tent to even fit in the pitch.  Our car was mere inches away from motor homes on either side and we felt terrible for invading the already limited space in the campground.  We had been told campgrounds get crowded, but this was the first time we’d ever really seen anything this crazy!

While we were busy feeling bad, the couples camped on either side of us came over to make sure that we had enough room and that we were comfortable in our spot.  I’m pretty sure if roles had been reversed, we would have felt put out to be so cramped, but instead they were being terribly kind to us.  We had quite an audience as we unpacked our soaking wet tent, and soon we were chatting with our German neighbors about where we had come from and what had brought us to Europe.  We needed to fully disassemble our bikes so as I cooked, Ben used the very limited grass space to pull everything apart to be boxed up.  We chatted some more with the neighbors as we worked, sharing travel stories and laughing a bit at our total mess in the grass.  I hoped they weren’t watching too close, because I had purchased some strange looking dumplings in Germany and since I couldn’t read the directions, I was probably really botching their cuisine on my camp stove.

When our dinner was complete, I started feeling a bit self conscious about having people watch us eat out of our community pan, especially since our second spoon had gone missing in all of our packing effots. We had already made quite the arrival and truly our mealtime process can be a little bit barbaric! While I stalled, trying to put off eating as long as possible, the couple next to us asked if we had a table.  We laughed and said no, and were pretty taken aback when they carried over their table and and then their chairs for us to sit on.  Then, seeing the single spoon sitting in our pot, they expressed a bit of concern and brought over spoons for us to borrow as well!  Ben tried to insist that we did have one spoon already, to which our neighbor laughed and informed us that they were much too small for eating dinner!  We felt a bit like the orphan children of the campground, but their generosity certainly wasn’t lost on us.  They quickly made themselves busy and disappeared, leaving us to eat our hodge podge little dinner in silence.

Once the dishes were done and the bikes loaded back in the car, we pulled the rest of our gear into the tent to be sorted for packing and the rain set in.  As I was scrambling around the tent in the rain, the kind man camped on the other side of us from the Netherlands offered to let us sit inside their trailer if the weather got too bad!  We have been absolutely blown away tonight by the kindness of almost everyone we have met here.

As the rain fell, we sat in the tent with our headlamps, sorting the junk out of our panniers and thinking through how best to get everything on a plane.  It was sad to think this was our last night in a tent for a while!  I will certainly miss these evenings of sleeping on our mats and cooking in the grass, watching the world go by.

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