25 October 2012

European Expedition - Part 2

Day 3

Weather: Misty. Err... that doesn't translate well to German... umm... Slightly Foggy.
Destination: Leipzig

When we arrived in Würzburg we'd seen a castle in the centre of it, and decided to go and have a look. Again we gave the hotel's breakfast a miss, and trundled round the corner to have McFrühstück. It's where we'd had dinner the night before - the problem with budget hotels is that they tend to be on industrial estates and decent places to eat tend not to be...!

Threading our way through the streets and up the hill to the castle, Fortress Marienberg, it always feels slightly illicit to be riding along narrow, cobbled, residential streets, but a nice dedicated motorcycle parking area before the (chargeable) car park was nice. With hardly anyone about, we went for a wander. Monday seems to be an extension of the weekend in Germany, and none of the museum areas were open but we could wander freely around the grounds and inspect the tower in the centre - which Rapunzel would have been proud of. We could only go in to the bottom section, which used to be a prison, and not upstairs, so I couldn't see if there was a fair maiden or damsel in distress.

The ornamental gardens overlooking the city were very well maintained and added a touch of colour to the mis... slightly foggy day. I'm sure the view would have been good too, but as it was we could see the Main River, complete with boat traffic, the vines and hear a particularly noisy ambulance making its way through the town below.

Leaving Würzburg behind, we set a course for Leipzig. Our destination was of course in the old East Germany, and whilst there is a noticeable difference between the two parts, there's nothing to denote the old border except for an easily missed sign. Which I missed.

As lunchtime approached, we started looking for somewhere to eat and this is when we really discovered that Germany is closed on Mondays. We stopped at a few likely looking places, including one that had a distinctly Marie Celeste feeling about it as the door was open but there was nobody around, without any luck. We eventually back-tracked slightly to a hotel restaurant that I'd spotted earlier, but Craig had missed. Walking in there were a group of evidently local people sat at the bar, and nobody else... We took a table, were presented a menu, and enjoyed a very nice lunch.

Continuing to Leipzig, the roads were not unpleasant if not especially memorable. Leipzig itself is how you would image a former East German city to be, complete with old trams, wide roads and imposing buildings. The roads themselves were a bit worn, and combined with the tram tracks you had to keep your wits about you. I also spotted my first Trabant, the infamous two-stroke, plastic-bodied car, chugging along in front. Actually, that's not fair, it was more than able to keep up with traffic speeds.

An early-ish arrival in town gave us time for a little sight-seeing.  One building had a Police guard outside, and a number of American cars outside, so we suspect it could have been their consulate. Walking past it, and towards the main road we'd come in on, the imposing town hall had a huge, well kept paved area in front.

The cinema opposite had a choice of a tribute to Michael Jackson, or the BBC's Planet of the Dinosaurs - an interesting choice.

East Germany is also the home of the Ampelmännchen, the figure on pedestrian (and cyclist) traffic signals. The be-hatted figure is one of the few GDR symbols to survive and remain popular since the fall of communism. It adds a touch of character to the traffic signals than those elsewhere lack.

Heading off to the outskirts of the city, we spent another night in one of Herr Ibis's Budget hotels, which had been recently refurbished and was very modern and comfortable. Although it helps if you check the towels are in the shower before you start otherwise things can get a little awkward...

Leipzig is also the only city we visited twice - and the reason will be revealed in part three.

Overnight: Ibis Budget
Food: Pasta in a German bar mit bier
Language: English

24 October 2012

European Expedition

I must have a lousy sense of direction. Last time, I planned a trip to Iceland I ended up in Morocco, and this time the trip to Nordkapp saw us in Poland...

Craig and I decided that as both had time off in October, we'd go somewhere. Research in to Norway in October suggested short days, low temperatures, and possibly snow... So Eastern Europe it was.

With no real plans, no hotels booked and just the return ferry crossing to aim for, we set off on an early Saturday morning crossing from Dover to Calais: destination Poland.

Rolling off the boat, we turned left, and kept going. Belgian roads are dreadful. Motorways with huge potholes that, in the rain, fill with water and can't be seen. Lovely. And why, in the roadworks, are all the cars squeezing over on to the one lane? Oh, OK, it's a road-roller trundling down the live carriageway towards the oncoming traffic, with just its hazard lights for protection. But of course. Imagine that on the M1!

Overnight: Liege, F1 hotel. Cheap.
Food: Pizza made by a Macedonian chap in an Italian restaurant.
Language: Italian.

Day 2

Weather: Misty
Destination: Germany

Through the morning gloom we set off east. Belgians have the comedy "give-way to the right" rule that France is generally abandoning, and with there having been no driving test there before 1970, driving standards are low.

Climbing up on to a hill-top road, we spot an American WW2 cemetery.

7992, if you're counting. In the sunshine, with misty edges, it's quite a moving experience.

Not having had breakfast at the hotel, we spot a sign to McDonalds but at a roundabout we see a biker café instead and, as we'd crossed the border without noticing, we sat down to frühstück. Fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, rolls, bread, orange juice and coffee. There was probably some sauerkraut there too.

Realising that our route was in the general direction of Colditz, we decided to pay it a visit and looked for somewhere to stay halfway there. Würzburg was the answer.

The journey there was mostly on fast German roads and Autobahn. Unfortunately, loaded with panniers my top speed was limited as the bike developed a wobble between 120 and 130 KPH (it seemed to depend on wind direction too).

Spotting a sign to the Nürburgring, we thought we'd go and take a look. It was closed to bikes, apparently, but there were plenty of cars including a couple of KTM X-Bows (one British, one German).

From there, onwards to Würzburg. Arriving in a smallish town, we noticed an interesting looking stately home. It wasn't really grand enough to be called a castle, but certainly looked moderately impressive in the setting sun.

The circus was in town too, and no, I don't mean us!

Overnight: Würzburg, Ibis Budget hotel. Slightly less cheap.
Food: McDonalds
Language: Deutsche

More to follow...