The Christmas adventure continues, London 2018

Saturday we awoke to a sunny but cold London winter morning.  The plan was to walk into the City of London and find some brunch along the way.  Breakfast got a bit way laid as we stumbled onto some of the iconic architecture of the City.  The first was the architectural icon – the Gherkin (or more correctly named 30 St Mary Axe) in the centre of the financial district.  Its unique shape and 41 floors at a height 180 metres makes an imposing impression on the London skyline.

Close by to the Gherkin is the Leadenhall Markets.  The market dates from the 14th century and contains fresh food vendors such as cheesemongers, butchers and florists.  Originally a meat, game and poultry market, it stands on what was the centre of Roman London.  The ornate roof structure, painted green, maroon and cream, and cobbled floors are from 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.  It has featured in many films such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), where it was used to represent the area of London near the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley.  Leadenhall Market also formed part of the marathon course of the 2012 Olympic Games with runners passed through the market.  It is stunning piece of 19th century architecture in sharp contrast to the 21st century Gherkin.

From there it was onto breakfast in the financial district followed by a wander around Bank (refers to the Bank of England) & Monument (refers to the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666) areas before catching a tube to Covent Gardens.  The name Covent Garden is probably most associated with opera and the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens.  But the name actually refers to the 13th century walled kitchen garden and orchards of Westminster Abbey and as London grew the gardens disappeared and in the 17th century it became a fruit, flower & vegetable market.  By the 19th century the area had begun to fall into disrepute, as taverns, theatres, coffee-houses and brothels opened up.  Some of those theatres still remain today such as the famous Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  The original market has been covered by roofs & buildings, and shops & restaurants have replaced the fruit & vege stalls.  The Christmas decorations in the Apple Market make quite a display – silver balls and mistletoe lights.  I stood under the mistletoe for and hour but nobody kissed me 😦 😦 😦

It was about this time the rain arrived.  Just as we began to make the one & half kilometre dash to Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia for drinks & lunch.  We had actually booked a table for Friday night but had somehow mixed up our days and missed it.  Fortunately they could fit us in for lunch today.  Now Mr Fogg’s bars are a concept based on a collection of adventurous bars around London transporting you back to the Victorian era of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg.  There are five locations – a Tavern, a Gin Palour, a Bar in a Victorian Train (Society of Exploration) and a Dockside distillery.  The one we were visiting was suppose to represent the house where Philaes Fogg and Passepartout kept their collection of plants gathered on their trip around the world.  I must say the evirons were top notch and authentic with even the staff dressed in period costume.  The cocktails were divine however the food was just mediocre pub fair.  Good thing was the staff took the critic with a positive attitude and informed us that a review of the menus was underway.  A recommended visit if just for the environs and drinks.  I did hear a rumor that their high afternoon teas are not to be missed.  Refueled and lubed up it was back out into the rain again.

From there we hit the Christmas Shopping on Oxford Street.  It was still pelting down with rain.  Miserable!  Oxford Street was beautifully decorated but congested and unpleasant in inclement weather.  Patrik managed to snag some deals on some Christmas sweaters and a new winter jacket while my extravagance knew no bounds and extended to buying some Christmas sweets.  Big spender! 🙂

To escape the crowds we headed to Notting Hill & Portabello Road to meet with friends for a drink & dinner, however not before another wander down memory lane.  Patrik lived in this area when he lived and worked in London in the 90’s.  We couldn’t visit here without going down Portabello Road on Saturday afternoon, its biggest market day.  Portabello Road Market is divided into five sections: second-hand goods, clothing & fashion, household essentials, fruit, vegetables & other food, and antiques.  It is the world’s largest antiques market with over 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible.  Just off Portabello Rd. on Kensington Park Rd is the Biscuiteers Boutique.  A quaint little shop & cafe selling iced ginger biscuits decorated in a variety of motifs, and at this time of year the theme was predominately Christmas.  So what does one do, but buy some 🙂

By now I was truly sick of feeling cold and wet.  The rain hadn’t let up since we arrived in Covent Garden about 6 hours ago.  We had decided to meet up with friends Mats & Erik for a drink & dinner.  After some confusion about times, inability to find one another and the genuine misery of the weather we finally stumbled in to Sun in Splendor Pub to recuperate.  What was meant to be just a stop for a drink before dinner turned into an evening of many pints, lots of chatter and some fantastic pub grub.  I warmly recommend this place.  Atmosphere is fantastic, the staff are great and the food & drink some of the best pub stuff I have had.  Hearts, stomachs, bodies & souls reconditioned from the horrible weather and an evening spent with great friends it was time to head across London to our hotel.  Upon arriving at Notting Hill tube station we were confronted with the news that the District Line was out of action meaning we were going to have difficulty reaching Whitechapel and our hotel.  But with Mats & Erik’s help and the amazing London tube system (which I think Londoners complain too much about), we found we could travel two stops in the opposite direction to catch the Circle Line to Liverpool St station, then the Central Line to Mile End (two stops passed Whitechapel) and then return on the Hammersmith & City Line to Whitechapel.  I just love the London Tube 🙂  Most other places or cities you have one travel option and if that stops then you proverbially stuffed. Nighty night.

 

SUNDAY

Last day in London and thank god the rain has disappeared.  First order of business – brunch!  We found a fantastic restaurant in East Algate – Amber Restaurant, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant serving wonderful Lebanese style food.  Warmly recommended with good food and pleasant staff.  Popular.

Fuel onboard we made our last visit to the inner city.  This time Leicester Square and the Christmas markets.  Leicester Square was created out of fields (outside Westminster) in 1670 by the Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester when he built his London residence.  The square has had some prestigious residents over the decades including Frederick, Prince of Wales and artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds.  The area has always been associated with entertainment and is the centre of the cinema district in London hosting many of Britain’s film premiers at the Odeon or the Empire.  Here can you usually purchase your tickets to any West End show you wish to see.  At the North end of the square is the Swiss Clock.  It brought back memories of my first visit to London in July 1990 as I made my journey to re-settle in Sweden.  When planing to meets friends in the city, it was always under the Swiss Clock and 30 years on it is still serving that function.  I have used it as a meeting point on numerous visits and sometimes you will be surprised who you find there.  While planning to meet another friend at the clock, I run into another acquaintance who I hadn’t send in 10 years and the last I knew they were living in Australia.  That chance meeting under the clock all those years ago lead to the renewal of friendship which has been ongoing since then for the last 20 years.  After a circuit of the Christmas Markets it was time to make tracks back to the hotel, collect our bags and catch the train to Gatwick.

A trip to London would not be complete without stocking up on food items that reminded me of home or are unavailable in Sweden.  So a trip to Tescos during the visit was inevitable to stock up and get some Christmas goodies among other things.  A picture speaks a thousand words 😛 😛

With some time to kill at the airport, a chance for one last meal together at Jamie’s before we parted ways and to stock up on some duty free.  Low and behold look what I found.  Game of Throne’s whiskey – The White Walker.  One friend would later comment on it when I returned to Sweden.  What is it? Whiskey with a taste of Tipex 😀 😀 Witty! Not!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane Patrik. ❤

Merry Christmas to one and all.

 

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A Little Christmas Feeling in London 2018

Good friend Patrik, come up with the idea to spend a weekend in London leading up to Christmas.  A bit of quality time together.  It took a bit of planning to coordinate our flights to land at Gatwick as close as possible to one another with him arriving from Stockholm and I from Copenhagen.  Accommodation was booked in a part of London I had never visited.  The East End or more specifically Whitechapel (yes, the 2nd stop on the Monopoly board).  We had booked the Whitechapel Hotel.  A nice modern reasonably priced hotel close to the London tube.  After a 40 minute train trip from Gatwick to Blackfriars and a switch to the tube to Whitechapel, we arrived at the the hotel.  Great room although while having its own bathroom it was amusing to find the hand-basin was actually in the room.

Time to load up on some fuel, we headed off to find a pub for lunch.  We stumbled into the Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Rd.  Unbeknownst to us we were stepping into a bit of local history which I had seen on TV and in film (“Legend” and “The Rise & Fall of the Krays”).  Mats would later fill us in on where we had unwittingly been.  The pub was the site of a gruesome killing by Ronnie Kray of George Cornell of the Richardsson gang.  The bullet hole still remain in the bar.  Ronnie & Reggie Kray were a pair of identical twins who terrorised the East End of London during the 1950s & 60s with their gang “The Firm”.  They rose from nothing to the top of the East End and Soho underworlds by gruesome intimidation and murderous methods.  They were genuinely feared.  Reggie was the brains and the calmer of the two while Ronnie was a mad homicidal paranoid schizophrenic homosexual.  The murder of a George Cornell at the Blind Beggar lead to the undoing of the Krays as the barmaid refused to be intimidate and testified against them.  It was the beginning of the end.  Great Pub, good selection of ales and fantastic “dog” menu.

Whitechapel is an area in the East End of London just outside what they call “The City”.  The borough designated as the City of London was the site where Londinium was established by the Romans 1800 years ago.  The borough is now known for being the site of the financial district, the Old Bailey, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s.  Whitechapel Rd. was the old Roman road from the east into the Old City of London.  As accommodation was scarce in the old city, coach stops and guesthouses grew up along the road.  By the late 16th century, the suburb of Whitechapel and the surrounding area had started becoming ‘the other half’ of London.  The name Whitechapel probably arose from the church of St Mary Matfelon (the church no longer exists as it was destroyed during the blitz in WWII).  Whitechapel being located outside the City Walls and beyond official controls, it attracted the less fragrant activities of the city, particularly tanneries, breweries, slaughterhouses and foundries (including the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which cast USA’s Liberty Bell and London’s Big Ben).  As the city expanded it saw the rise of slum areas which evolved into the classic Dickensian London, with problems of poverty and overcrowding.  Whitechapel’s warrens of small dark streets contained the greatest suffering, filth, danger, gin parlours and prostitution.  Having once sung the role of Fagin in Dickens’s Oliver Twist, I found out one of Fagin’s dens was located in Whitechapel and Fagin himself, was possibly based on a notorious local ‘fence’ named Ikey Solomon.

However, Whitechapel is probably most famously known for the activities of the “Whitechapel Murderer” in 1888 or as we more commonly know him – “Jack the Ripper”.  Attacks ascribed to Jack the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations.  The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge.  The name “Jack the Ripper” originated in a letter written by someone claiming to be the murderer.  The public became more increasingly convinced that the murders were by a single serial killer mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal nature of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events.  Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper, and the legend solidified.  A police investigation into a series of eleven brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888.  Five victims—Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly—are known as the “canonical five” and their murders between 31 August and 9 November 1888 are often considered the most likely to be linked. The murders were never solved, and the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory.  The term “ripperology” was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases.  There are now over one hundred hypotheses about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired many works of fiction.  The 3rd victim Elisabeth Stride was actually a Swede by the name of Elisabeth Gustafsdotter and was murdered not far from our hotel.

With lunch under our belt it was time to get ready for an evening on the town visiting old haunts, dinner & a show.  I just love the London Tube.  It is so efficient although if you asked a Londoner you would only here complaints.  First stop Leicester Square and from there to Rupert Street & The Yard bars.  It is amazing how after so many years you can lose your sense of direction in a city you know so well.  I have a pretty good sense of direction but the crowds made it difficult at times.  Finally, having found The Yard we discovered how much it has changed since Patrik and I haunted the place.  While maintaining its unique outdoor style, the atmosphere had changed some what to one of suits and Kardashian wannabes.  Fortunately, the Rupert Street bar was right opposite and the atmosphere there hadn’t changed a bit.  Suitably refreshed and memories re-lived it was off to Chinatown in Soho for Dim Sum at the Dumplings Legend.

Dinner done, time for a show.  A must when in London.  We chose to check out a 2 man show which had received top ratings from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – “Hot Gay Time Machine” at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.  Studio 2 is an intimate 90 seat theatre where you are no more than 3 rows from the stage and drinking is allowed 🙂  The show involved much audience participation.  Thank god neither of us were dragged on stage.  After much frivolity and musical hilarity, we decided to stop off once again for a drink on the way home at Rupert Street.  Looking forward to tomorrow.

HGTM

 

 

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Reflections – Summer in Austria & Bavaria

To finish the posts of the summer of 2018, I thought I would leave you with some of the impressions & thoughts from the trip.

There was certainly a lot of driving done in those 10 days.  Nearly 3,200 km of it.  Four of the 10 days were at least 6-7 hours in the car to cover distances of 600-700 km.  The autobahns may make it easy to cover large distances in a short time at speeds which a kiwi is seldom used to, but it is at a cost of being left with views of very little other than asphalted concrete and traffic.  Audio-books helped and sometimes I just enjoyed the silence to think.  Names & places I had heard of turned up on signage along the journey and it was tempting to stop and take a look but it meant I would either never reach my friends in Austria in time or take a week just to get home.  I thought I had planned the trip well in advance with the help of virtual maps but even so I was still surprised when something turned up on a motorway sign that I had missed.  Just means I have more to see next time.

Austria and Salzburg were a dream destination after discovering Mozart’s music and Baroque architecture many moons ago.  It didn’t disappoint although I would have like more of a musical interlude in the trip.  Two films come to mind – Amadeus from the 80s and the Sound of Music I first saw in the 60s.  To wander in the scenery at Berchtesgarden where the Sound of Music was filmed softened the darkness surrounding the Obersalzburg.  Next time Vienna and the Salzkammergut.

I had heard, read & seen much of the history WWII, and met men who took part in it.  It is not until you stand on some of the sights that it is brought home to you in full force of what had occurred (similarly WWI when I was in Passchendaele in 2017).  The madness of a man who tried to conquer the world.  His isolation from reality as seen in Berchtesgaden and the repercussions of that madness in the atrocities committed in Dachau.  As we say on ANZAC Day on the 25th of April, “Lest we forget.”  Having stood in the gas chamber at Dachau, you can never forget!  A poignant reminder today as the right wing populist rhetoric abounds in European politics and even here in Sweden.

A King persecuted for being different.  Denied the right to be himself and eventually died for it at the hands of narrow-minded power hungry men who couldn’t accept someone who was different.  Today he would be hailed for his intellect, his support of the arts and his inspired architectural visions.  His legacy will wow generations to come.  A true rainbow hero.

The ability to renew and refresh old friendships.  No matter time and distance friendships of the heart never fade.  They are still full of fun, conversation and memories and a chance to create new ones, even with the next generation.

 

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Day 10 – Homeward bound as fast as I can.

Awoke in this morning and feeling not much better.  Had been a rough night.  Thankfully next to the hotel was a Shell Petrol station so while I was filling up with petrol I was able to buy some more paracetamol and fill myself up.  I decided that I would take a look around Göttingen to allow the drugs to take affect and decide on whether to head home or not.  After an hour in the town I felt well enough to push on.  It would be a 621 km drive taking about 7 hours with 1 hour on a ferry crossing between Germany and Denmark.  Worst case scenario I would put some kilometres under my belt and check into another hotel closer to home if needed.

Göttingen to Malmö

Göttingen is famous for its old university (Georg-August-Universität), which was founded in 1734 by George II, who was king of Great Britain and Ireland and Prince-elector of Hanover.  It would become one of the most visited universities in Europe.  Its alumni include some well-known historical figures: the Brothers Grimm, Max Planck, and the German Chancellors Otto von Bismarck and Gerhard Schröder.  Some of the most famous mathematicians in history, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Bernhard Riemann and David Hilbert, were Professors here.  Like other university towns, Göttingen developed its own quaint traditions.  On the day they are awarded their doctoral degrees, PhD students are drawn in handcarts from the Great Hall at the university to the Gänseliesel-Fountain in front of the Old Town Hall.  There they have to climb the fountain and kiss the statue of the Gänseliesel (the goose girl).  This practice is actually forbidden, but the law is not enforced.  The statue is considered the most kissed girl in the world.  During the 1930s, Göttingen housed the top math-physics faculty in the world, led by eight men, almost all Jews, who became known as the “Göttingen eight”.  Their members included Leó Szilárd and Edward Teller.  The faculty was despised by the Third Reich, and as a result the University of Göttingen suffered greatly at their hands.  The Göttingen eight were expelled, and these men were forced to emigrate to the West in 1938.  Szilárd and Teller went on to become key members of the Manhattan Project team (the project that built the atom bombs used on Japan).  Ironically, the Nazi insistence on a “German physics” prevented German scientists from applying Albert Einstein’s breakthrough insights into physics, a policy which stifled the further development of physics in Germany and the German’s A-bomb efforts.  Göttingen was mostly untouched by Allied bombing in World War II due to the fact it was a hospital city for war wounded and was not of industrial or transport significance.

Having made it into the city centre, it was a chance to take a walk around and assess how I was feeling and plan how the day would develop.  Meandering the streets gave me a chance to take in the beautiful 15th & 16th century cross timber houses which lined almost every street.  All were original having being spared the bombing of WWII.  My wanderings eventually lead me to the town square and the famed Gänseliesel-Fountain (Goose-Girl) but I didn’t bother to climb up and kiss her as I took my PhD 28 years ago so probably a bit late.  From the town square I headed over to the Wilhelmplatz and the Great Assembly Hall of Göttingen University.  Time for a decision – go or stay?  I was definitely feeling better but I suspect that was the paracetamol talking.  Decision made, I’ll go.  After a quick stop at the supermarket to stock up on fluids, I navigated the car out of town and 2 hours north towards Hanover and the next assessment point.

As Hanover approached I was still feeling up to driving so I ploughed on towards Hamburg.  As I approached Hamburg, I made the decision to leave the autobahn and head across country on smaller roads to avoid the traffic jams on the motorway ring around the city.  This was the result of a bad experience last year when returning from Belgium where it took me an hour on the ring to do just 10 km.  A good decision as the GPS started warning of traffic delays about 30 km out.  It may have been a little slower travelling but I kept moving north without any stop and got to enjoy the pleasant German countryside away from the monotony of the autobahn.

After 4 hours I reached Burg just outside Puttgarden where I would catch the ferry over to Denmark.  Before leaving Sweden 10 days ago, I had pre-ordered some alcoholic supplies for the summer at Calles border shop.  I was glad I did as I wasn’t feeling up to running around the store getting what I wanted.  All I had to do was just back in and load up.  All done in 10 minutes.  It was also good to take a break from driving and fill up on some paracetamol as the last hour I had begun to feel crap again.  I decided I would push on as I was now only 3 hours from home and one hour of that would be resting on the ferry.  I arrived at the ferry terminal about 3 hours before my original booking and hoped I could get on if there was a vacancy.  At check-in I was told the earliest I ferry I could take was 90 minutes before my original booking.  Thankfully there was a very kind German lady in the booth and when I explained I was sick and just wanted to get home, she took pity on my and let me go earlier.

The remaining 3 hours of the trip flew by.  The ability to rest for an hour on the ferry and let the pills work made all the difference and the final run home flew by quickly.  It was nice to see home as I crossed the bridge between Denmark & Sweden.  I cruised into my parking just after 5.30 pm.  I grabbed what was necessary and the valuables from the car and headed to the apartment.  The rest could wait until tomorrow.  I think it took less than an hour and I was in bed.  I arrived home on a Wednesday and was supposed to return to work the next day but ended up confined to my bed for the next 2 days.  Just as well I pushed hard to get home for the next couple of days as I was much worse than I had been when I left Göttingen.  By the weekend I was feeling better and made the move to the summer house in Ystad for 2 months over the summer.  It would prove to be a record warm summer and gave the opportunity to swim everyday for 6 weeks.  I worked most of the summer as we had a shortage of staff due to sick leave & parental leave, so commuted everyday the 55 km by train.  This would prove to be a challenge as there was chaos on the rail system due to buckled rails as a result of the heat.  Several times I got stranded in the middle of nowhere when the trains had to stop.  Got good at finding alternative means of travel and became well acquainted with alternative routes.  On more than one occasion I was rescued by kind friends and their cars.  I did managed to enjoy a couple of weeks off in August and so here ends the summer of 2018.

 

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Day 9 – On the trail of the Grand Tour

Awoke to a lovely sunny morning and over breakfast faced the fact that in an hour I would have to say bye to my friends from NZ and head north (first sad thing of the day).  The start of a list of several things that would take the edge off the day.  Nine o’clock sharp it was hugs all round before climbing into the car for a 670 km trip to tonight’s stop in Göttingen.  As they faded in the rear-vision mirror, next stop would be in Würzburg for lunch in 4 hours.  The Swiss, however, were not finished with trying to extract money out of me before passing over the borders out of their country.  One of those things with a flash went off as I headed out of Lucerne.  I was not sure if it was me or the guy in the vehicle beside me which tripped it, but it went off.  It had me cursing for the next 20 km muttering about how much that was going to cost me in a few weeks when the fine arrived (second depressing thing of the day).  Good news – after a few sweaty weeks the fine never arrived so it must have been the guy in the other car or they decided not to follow it up with a Swedish vehicle.  If so, it was a little revenge for extorting a year’s road taxes out of me yesterday.

Lucerne to Göttingen

The route north would take me around the outskirts of Zurich, crossing the border at the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen and heading north past Stuttgart before arriving in Würzburg.  The first break came an hour and half after I left Lucerne just before the German border at the Rhine falls.  A major stop on the Grand Tours of Europe for the rich and famous in the 1800s.  Arriving by car these days is probably much more comfortable than arriving by horse and carriage back then.  The Rhine Falls are the largest waterfall in Europe, a 150 metres wide and 23 metres high.  The Schloss Wörth (Water Castle; b. 1348) is built on a small island in the Rhine river and on the opposite side on the cliff is the Schloss Laufen (Laufen Castle; b. 858).  Both acted as custom houses for the shipping on the Rhine.  The falls can not be climbed by fish, however eels are able to worm their way up over the rocks.  Tourists have been awed by the Rhine Falls for centuries.  There are several viewing platforms above and under the falls.  It is even possible to take a boat out and climb to the top of the pinnacle rock in the middle of the falls.  In the 19th century, the famous English painter J. M. W. Turner made several studies and larger paintings of the falls, and the poet Eduard Mörike wrote of the falls:

“Hold your heart, oh traveller, tightly in mighty hands!
Mine nearly collapsed, shivering with pleasure.
Restlessly thundering masses thrown upon thundering masses,
Ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?”

 

After a short break at the falls it was back onto Highway 81 and on to Würzburg.  I would have liked to stop in the historical towns of Ludwigsburg or Tübingen along the way but I had to put some kilometres behind me if I was to have time in Würzburg and make my goal in reasonable time tonight.  Another time maybe.  I arrived into Würzburg in time for a late lunch and having found a parking house under one of the squares right in the centre of the town it was off to explore the town.  The name Würzburg comes from the German word Würze meaning “herb or spice” and the name was even Latinized as Herbipolis in the medieval period.  Würzburg was occupied by Celts, Alamini, Franks and Merovingians through until the 7th century when it was Christianised by the Irish missionaries St. Kilian, St. Coleman and St. Totnan.  Later, the bishops of Würzburg created a secular fiefdom where they not only tended to the religious needs of their flocks but also governed them as Prince-Bishops.  The citizens of the city revolted several times against the Prince-Bishops depending on how they were treated.  The first church in the city was built as early as 788 and consecrated by Europe’s father Charlemagne.

Würzburg received a notorious reputation during the period 1626 to 1631 for its famous witch trials.  They are one of the largest peace-time mass trials ever.  Under Prince-Bishop Philip Adolf an estimated 600 to 900 alleged witches were burnt.  In 1631, the Swedish King Gustaf Adolf (here he is again; named in earlier posts) invaded the town and plundered the castle.  In 1720, the foundations of the Würzburg Residence were laid by the then Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn.  From the late 1700’s a large number of military incursions took place in and around Würzburg (including the Battle of Würzburg) with the city losing its status as religious principality and passing into the Kingdom of Bavaria.  At this time many Imperial Estates, ecclesiastical principalities, free imperial cities, secular principalities, and other minor self-ruling entities of the Holy Roman Empire lost their independent status as the Empire collapsed and dissolved.

The University of Würzburg was founded in 1402 and it was here at the Institute of Physics that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-Rays in 1895.  In the early 1930s, there were around 2,000 Jews in the city and by June 1943 they were all gone having been sent to the Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe.  It was not the first time Jews in this city had been persecuted, with massacres having taken place earlier in 1147 and 1298.  On 16 March 1945, about 90% of the city was destroyed in 17 minutes by fire bombing from 225 British Lancaster bombers during a World War II air raid.  Würzburg became a target for its role as a traffic hub for Nazi logistics.  All of the city’s churches, cathedrals, and other monuments were heavily damaged or destroyed.  The city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was totally destroyed in the firestorm.  Over the next 20 years, the buildings of historical importance were painstakingly and accurately reconstructed.  The citizens who rebuilt the city immediately after the end of the war were mostly women – Trümmerfrauen (“rubble women”) – because the men were either dead or still prisoners of war.  On a relative scale, Würzburg was destroyed to a larger extent than Dresden was in a firebombing the previous month.

I emerged from the subterranean car park onto the Unterer Markt (Lower Market Square) outside the Marienkapelle (Maria Chapel), a magnificent 14th century Gothic Church in red and white stone.  It was started in 1377 on the site of a synagogue which was destroyed in the pogrom in 1349.  There are conflicting reports about whether the building of a chapel dedicated to Mary was intended as atonement for the murder of the local Jews or as atonement for having earlier tolerated the presence of Christ-killers (as the Jews were called).  From there I headed east on to the Oberer Markt (Upper Market Square) and to the Falkenhaus (Falcon House), an iconic building in downtown Würzburg with a bright yellow rococo facade.  It was built in 1629 and served as a guest house and later as Würzburg’s only concert and dance hall.  From there it was south past the Neumünster (New Minster: b. 1065) before turning west onto the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge).

The bridge was built in 1473–1543 over the Main River.  In the 1730’s, the bridge was adorned with twelve 4.5 metre high statues of saints and historically important figures such as John of Nepomuk, Mary and Saint Joseph, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short.  It reminded me of the Charles Bridge in Prague but on a smaller scale.  The bridge was damaged by explosives in the final days of World War II.  US troops threw the original Pepin statue into the river to make way for an anti-aircraft gun.  Cultural illiterates.

From the bridge you get a great view of the Festung Marienberg.  It is a fortress on Marienberg hill to the west of the city centre and overlooks the whole area.  It served as the home of the local Prince-Bishops for nearly five centuries.  It also doubled as a military fortress for the Prince-Bishops when being attacked by foreign armies or citizen’s revolts.  Most of the fortress’s current structures date to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but the foundations of the chapel go back to the 8th century.  It has impressive fortifications which stayed many an attack but succumb to the Swedish King Gustav Adolph when he conquered the area in 1631 during the Thirty Years’ War (here he is yet again).  The fortress was plundered by the Swedish troops and most of the well-known library was carried off to Uppsala in Sweden where it still resides today.  The fortress was held by the Swedish and their allies until 1635 when the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was signed (see earlier post on Münster).  In 1720 the Prince-Bishops moved across the river to the Würzburg Residenz and the fortress became solely a military fortification.  It was occupied by Napoleon’s forces between 1806 & 1813 with Napoleon himself visiting prior to his Russian campaign.  It was used as a barracks in both World Wars and was heavily bombed by the RAF in 1945.

Perched on a hill facing the fortress is the Käppele, a small Baroque/Rococo chapel with its onion domed towers.  The Käppele (‘Little Chapel’) is the commonly used name for the Wallfahrtskirche Mariä Heimsuchung (Pilgrimage Church of the Visitation of Mary).  It was built following plans by Balthasar Neumann in the mid-18th century in the Rococo style.  Until 2014 it was run by members of the Capuchin Order of Friars. Originally, a local fisherman erected a statue of Mary holding the dying Christ in what was then a vineyard in 1640.  About ten years later, four miracle cures were reported in connection with the statue and this lead to a chapel being built around the statue, and then this large church later on.  Together with some other reported phenomena, the cures began to attract pilgrims to the site.

The east side of the river done, I headed back across the bridge to the west side past the Cathedral up to a place my friend Martin said I must see if I was in Würzburg.  The Würzburg Residenz.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, commissioned by two brothers who were Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn and Friedrich Karl von Schönborn.  The place is massive as you approach it across the square in front of it.  The building was reportedly called the “largest parsonage in Europe” by Napoleon.  It was started in 1720 and finished in 1744 and is best known for the following features:

  • Hofkirche: The church whose interior is richly decorated with paintings, sculptures and stucco ornaments. The altars were painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
  • Treppenhaus: A magnificent marble staircase created by Balthasar Neumann (who designed the Käppele) and painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo who created the largest fresco in the world adorning the vault over the staircase.  A work of architectural uniqueness & beauty I had read about and wanted to visit.
  • Kaisersaal: The “Imperial Hall”, the centerpiece of the palace which illustrates the close relationship between Würzburg and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Residenz has had many prominent guests: Napoleon in 1806 and Queen Victoria & Prince Albert in 1845 stayed here on their way to Schloss Rosenau, in Coburg.  The palace suffered severe damage in the British bombing of March 1945, but has been completely rebuilt.  Having wandered the gardens and grounds of the Residenz it was time to head back to the car.  It was nearing 4 pm and I still had just under 3 hours to Göttingen.

From Würzburg it was back onto the A7 and 2.5 hours north to Göttingen.  It was at this point the third depressing thing of the day reared its head.  Already, when I left the Rhine Falls I noticed I was feeling a little sluggish and a little off.  By the time I left Würzburg I was no better and as I drove to Göttingen I began to go down hill rapidly.  As I arrived at the hotel about 7 pm I was not feeling good at all.  I just skipped dinner and dosed up on paracetamol and hit the hay.  Things got pretty bad in the night and I was already thinking if I was not better by morning I would not be capable of driving any further.  Lets hope I can stay another night if needed.  Night, night.

 

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Day 8 – GALS: 4 countries in one day

Our journey together is nearing its end for this trip.  As we leave Füssen we were heading to my final stop in Lucerne with David & Steph before heading our separate ways.  They continuing on their vacation to Italy and me back to Sweden.  Today would be about tripping through the GALS – Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein & Switzerland (and not the feminine kind).  Four countries in just under 300 km.  Where else but Europe?

Füssen to Lucerne

Weather was brilliant for driving through the rolling country side, passed all the lakes and the farmers making hay.  Reminded Dave and I of haymaking time at Ardmore in West Otago back in NZ, and me especially of the blistered hands.  A lot of talking and reminiscing was done while Steph watched movies in the backseat on her iPad.  I think it was during this drive a seed was planted of may be Dave & I celebrating our 60ths together.  We arrived at the conclusion that we had missed most of the major events in one another’s lives due to the separation of half a world away, and with not too many milestones left, may be our 60ths was that chance.

Germany & Austria passed quickly and our first stop was the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.  Liechtenstein is bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and Austria to the east and north. It is Europe’s fourth-smallest country, with an area of just over 160 square kilometres, a population of approx. 38 000 and its capital of Vaduz.  Economically, Liechtenstein has one of the highest gross domestic products per person in the world when adjusted for purchasing power.  It was once known as a billionaire tax haven, but no longer.  An alpine country, Liechtenstein is mountainous, making it a winter sport destination. Almost as many people commute to work in Liechtenstein as live there.

Liechtenstein means “bright stone” and comes from the Royal family’s original home Castle Liechtenstein in Lower Austria.  Through the centuries, the dynasty acquired vast swathes of land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, and Poland.  The Liechtenstein Princes served as close advisors to the Habsburg family who ruled Austria and the Holy Roman Empire.  To gain political power and a seat in the Holy Roman Empire’s Diet (council), the head of the family arranged the purchase of the minuscule Counties of Schellenberg and Vaduz in 1712.  After the purchase had been made the Holy Roman Emperor decreed Vaduz and Schellenberg to be united and raised to the dignity of a Principality with the name of “Liechtenstein.”  The Princes of Liechtenstein did not set foot in their new principality for several decades, a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchases.

A bit of a useless fact I read:  The 3rd Prince in line to the Liechtenstein throne is quite unique.  Prince Joseph Wenzel is the eldest child of Prince Alois of Liechtenstein (the Regent and Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein) and his wife Princess Sophie (Duchess in Bavaria).  He is also the eldest grandchild of the current ruling Prince of Liechtenstein.  He is both second in the line of succession to the Liechtenstein throne – through his father – and third in the Jacobite line of succession to the thrones of England, Scotland, Ireland and France – through his mother.  He is the first Jacobite heir born in the British Isles since 1688 and will be, assuming his accession to the throne of Liechtenstein and upon the death of his mother, the first Jacobite heir to become the head of state of another country.  Elizabeth & Charles & William better watch out in case of another Jacobite uprising 😀

The Princes of Liechtenstein

L to R: The reigning Prince of Liechtenstein; Prince Joseph Wenzel heir presumptive; Prince Regent Alios heir apparent

After a visit to Vaduz Castle and lunch, then a wander around the beautiful city centre of Vaduz, admiring goods at prices we could not possibly afford, it was time to cross the Rhine Canal in to Switzerland.  Upon entering Switzerland you find you have to pay road taxes for your visit.  Now I was not completely unfamiliar with this as I had encountered the same thing in Austria.  I had to paid 9 euros (NZD 15) for 10 days.  Which seemed quite reasonable.  What I was not prepared for is that in Switzerland you have to pay for a whole year even if you are only visiting for 2 days – 36 euros (NZD 62).  Admittedly it does last for the entire year but how often am I going to be driving in Switzerland in a year?  Seems like a good racket to me and no wonder the Swiss are rich.  So be warned if you are ever planning to drive through Switzerland – drive around it or avoid motorways.

Vignette (Road Tax) Switzerland 2018

Anyway, after moaning about the road taxes for the next 30 minutes of the journey we meandered our way through the Swiss countryside as the landscape became more and more undulating and in the end travelling around the edges of mountains & alpine lakes to arrive in Lucerne (Gr. Luzern; means lantern) an hour later.  Lucerne was as Swiss as I had anticipated.  Clean, green, well-organised, polite and expensive.  After depositing ourselves at our respective hotels (or hostels for those on a budget 😀 ) and with some handy tips from my good friend Martin (who had lived here), we set off to explore the old city.  I would only have this evening before setting off tomorrow on my two day trek back to Sweden.

After crossing the River Reuss at the mouth of Lake Lucerne we arrived at Kapellplatz containing the Fritschi statue and fountain in the old city.  Fritschi was a legendary character associated with spring and joy.  As we wandered the narrow streets past the Town Hall (Ratshaus b. 1602) on the old corn market, we discovered amazing buildings with incredible and intricate street signage and frontages covered in illusion paintings which delude the viewer into believing that the window frames and embossing are real stone work.  Above the old city you could gain views of the Musegg Wall and its nine towers from the 13th century which we designed to protect the city from attack on one side while the river protected the other side.

Returning to the river we discovered the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge b. 1333).  A covered wooden footbridge spanning 200 metres diagonally across the River Reuss.  It is named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel at one end of the bridge and is unique in containing a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed in 1993 when a fire ravaged a large part of the centuries-old bridge.  Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.  It serves as the city’s symbol and as one of Switzerland’s main tourist attractions.  All this walking had built up an appetite so time to feed the hunger and quench the thirst.  Be warned if you do not earn a Swiss wage this place is horrendously expensive but as it was our last night together I suppose we could afford to splash out even if it was just a burger and a beer that made the wallet feel like it was champagne & caviar.

One place I unfortunately did not get to see but had read much about from Lucerne, is the Lion Monument or the Dying Lion of Lucerne.  It is a rock relief designed by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and was hewn into the rock in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn.  It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  The monument portrays a dying lion lying on broken symbols of the French monarchy.  Mark Twain praised the sculpture of a mortally-wounded lion as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

lion

The night and the trip were drawing to a close and time to head back to the hotel to pack and ready myself for the 1200 km two day journey back to Sweden tomorrow.

Sidenote: Upon arriving back at my hotel I found the floor of my room flooded with water.  The evening was extremely humid and the A/C had been working overtime but the overflow pipe from the condenser had come loose and the condensation had just run out on the floor.  The hotel staff were excellent and moved me with the greatest of assistance and minimal inconvenience to a new room.  So Swiss 😀 Night night.

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Day 7 – Part 2: An afternoon in Füssen

After a morning in a King’s lala-land we headed back down to base in Füssen for a late lunch and some souvenir shopping.  Got my lunch, got some Bavarian snaps Hopfenbitter (vodka flavoured with hops) for midsummer but unfortunately I was unable to find the souvenir I was looking for the whole trip – a pewter stein.  There were plenty in Munich but when were there it was evening and all the shops were shut.  I was not having much luck here either as most of the shops were closed because it was Sunday.  I suppose it will have to be an online purchase which is disappointing as I like to support local businesses.

Füssen is a 700-year-old town on the edge of the Bavarian Alps on the river Lech and Lake Forggensee.  It is the gateway to Austria over the Fern Pass via the Autobahn 7 passing by only 4 km away.  A road I have traveled many times going skiing in the Tyrol and did not know I was so close to Schwangau.  The Autobahn 7 follows the part of the old Roman road Via Claudia Augusta used for trade by the Romans and travels from Venice to Augsburg passing through Füssen.

The old town centre of Füssen is a combination medieval and baroque buildings.  Towering over the medieval lanes is the prominent landmark of the Hohes Schloss (High Palace) the former summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg and one of the largest and best preserved late-gothic castle complexes in Bavaria.  The bishops’ living quarters today house a museum & gallery of local treasures.  In the palace courtyard, the facades are adorned with impressive 500-year-old illusion paintings, which delude the viewer into believing that the window frames and embossing on the corners are genuine.  Below the Hohes Schloss is the magnificent baroque complex of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Mang, whose history goes back to the 8th century.  Saint Mang (Magnus of Füssen) is the patron saint of Füssen.  The basilica is the largest and most impressive of the numerous baroque churches in Füssen’s Old Town and in its crypt it houses Bavaria’s oldest preserved fresco from around 980.  The richly decorated baroque rooms of the monastery give some idea of the former wealth of the Benedictine monks.  In the Anna Chapel, the Füssen Danse Macabre (Dance of Death)** is the oldest death dance cycle painting still preserved in Bavaria.

In the history of European music, Füssen acquired importance thanks to its lute- and violin-makers.  At times there were up to 20 master lute-makers & 80 violin-makers working in the town and their instruments were in great demand throughout Europe.  Hundreds of Füssen’s lute and violin makers emigrated in order to set up new workshops at princely courts and in the great European cultural metropolises, such as Prague, Vienna, Lyons or Northern Italian towns.  Thus the making of stringed instruments in these cities was strongly influenced by the Füssen tradition.  In Vienna, violin-making was almost monopolised by the craftsmen from Füssen.  Among the most famous of the some 60 violin-makers from Füssen was Franz Geissenhof, the “Viennese Stradivari.”  That the town of Füssen was able to acquire this importance was due, in part, to the raw material necessary for building instruments in the mountain forests in the North Tyrol and the Ammer Mountains.  Here there was easy access to a large amount of spruce, maple and yew trees.  To this day Füssen cultivates its tradition as a music town.  Two violin-makers’ workshops and a maker of plucked instruments still turn out high-quality products for the international market.

Lutes from Füssen

Füssen is also the southern terminus of the Romantic Road.  The Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) describes a 460 km route between Würzburg in central Germany and Füssen in Southern Germany.  It travels specifically through Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, linking a number of picturesque towns and castles.  I would be visiting both the start of it and end of it on this trip but in reverse order.  In medieval times, it was a trade route that connected the center of Germany with the south.  It possesses “quintessential German” scenery and culture, in towns and cities such as Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and in castles such as Burg Harburg and Neuschwanstein.  When the holiday route between Würzburg and Füssen was officially opened in 1950, it was intended to be the flagship of a friendly Germany, a Germany far away from the Hitler terror and the piles of rubble.  A route rich in culture and history, with Medieval towns, half-timbered buildings, palaces, castles, gentle hilly landscapes and vineyards, one after another, like pearls on a string.

Tomorrow sees us leave Bavaria for a couple of new countries and my last days with the Coubroughs before I begin my 2 day trek back to Scandinavia.

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**Danse macabre (Dance of Death) was meant to represent how death was the great social equalizer – no one escapes the dance with death – and there were a number of paintings and pieces of art inspired by this philosophy.

 

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