Saturday, October 31, 2009


Slept in until 9 am and then rose to have breakfast with Stephi - she had been down to the bakers and got those yummy yummy pretzels and fresh rolls. None of this stuff out of the freezer or those over-preserved breads from the supermarket here! We opened the blackberry jam that Sarah had made (at Il Sarale in Umbria!) and was truly delicious.

And so this morning it was in to the Post Office - I had something to post to Isabelle in Pontorson in France (no, I am not telling you what it is - you will just have to wait and see!) and some souvenirs for Donna - the big one is for you sis - as well as finding out the best way to get some 'stuff' home.

Max box size 60 x 60 x 120 and no more than 20 kgs. Try to find a box anything like that size here. The largest that the post office sells is much smaller and all the shops in the mall where we were rip them down as soon as they unpack them. Hmmm, might need to rethink what we don't bring home! Now its off to do some grocery shopping - gosh how I love the delis here - even the ones in the supermarkets are so different to those back home. Ideas, ideas and more ideas!!!

We have been invited to afternoon tea with Mutti (Steph's grandmother) who greets us with hugs hard enough to break you in two. She served the lightest most delicious chocolate torte and a sweet yeast bread with jam. Both she had cooked this morning - not bad for a lady of 89 years is it?! And it was not just Mutti who was there - Olga and Rudi (Steph's aunt and uncle), Anja and Thomas, Ulli and Andy and their girls Maya and Anneka rounded it out. We all squeezed into Mutti's dining/lounge room and the chatter flowed back and forth for about 2 hours. Then it was time to say goodbyes and head back to 'home'.

Tonight Ulli and Andy and coming with the girls and we are having raclette. We shopped today for all the ingredients - reclette cheese, pork fillet, turkey breast, salami, ham, potatoes, capsicum, mushrooms and zucchini. Ulli brought the dips/sauces and I am determined to get the recipe for her yummy cheese one. We shared champers, a bottle of Chateauneuf de Papes and lots of stories. They are just about to begin building a new house, so the toast was to old friends and new beginnings. Great night.

Felix gets home from an absence of 3 days about 10 pm much to Steph's delight - ah, true love!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Making plans for Australia

Today was a quiet and kind of frustrating day.

When we woke about 8 am Steph and Felix had gone to work.

I spent the first two hours on the phone to the trave agents, trying to change our flights back to Australia. When I booked the return tickets last December (and then only because we had to have proof of our return to our place of residence so we could go to the US to visit my brother) I knew that we would probably need to change them and that this would incur some cost. We can be a little flexible around the 13 - 16 November, so armed with this information I phone Zuji who have informed me that for security reasons they will not make changes through email.

I get an agent who sounds asian and when asked about the weather back home, he informs me that 'home' is in India where the Zuji Call Centre is located! Back and forth we go, exploring all possibilities including cancelling these tickets outright and booking a return fare home (a return ticket is always cheaper than a one way ticket - helps to have worked in the industry!) But the penalty costs are too high. And when I originally booked the tickets I was smart (NOT) and booked them through to Brisbane. Now however, we want to go via Sydney and catch up with our Mums before we return to Queensland and Maryborough. My Mum flies out to South Africa for 3 months to visit Michael and Aunty Mary on December 8.

Turns out that a change in the route - that is, Sydney instead of Brisbane, can only be okayed by the airline and they only work to 5 pm Monday to Friday - bugger the greatly increased time difference, it is now 10 hours instead of 8 and I have missed this time. So now, I have to wait for Monday because we sure as hell can't afford two changes.

After that, I went back to bed and slept for much of the day - I am fighting a cold and a persistent sore throat so a few extra hours sleep was great.

Michael emptied the car and brought all our bits and pieces up and then did some washing. Tonight we sorted through all the literature we have yet to send home and sorted winter and summer clothes into the appropriate suitcases. Steph had a minor heart attack when she came home and saw the table covered in 'stuff' for them. Some camping gear and food staples that we are not going to be able to use any more. But it didn't take long to go through it and put it all away.

Felix is out tonight, so Michael and I are treated to some of Steph's Hungarian Goulash and Rice. She ate a big lunch (as they do here) and so just had bread with cheese and cold meats. We chatted over dinner and later Michael ironed and we half watched X-Men while he did it.

Tomorrow we are off to the Post Office to sort out the most economical way to get our extra stuff home - ah, the fun of it all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ulm - from disaster to fantastic

We made a good start towards Ulm this morning, getting away just before 11 am. After changing our minds, we are travelling towards Stuttgart along the motorway. This one is still being built and we often are turning into re-directed lanes that snake from one side of the road to the other. Then as if to laugh at our decision to take the fast route, we find ourselves coming to an almost screaming halt about 40 minutes into the trip and for the second time in a few months, we are being held up by a burning truck. It is about 800 metres from where we are and there are about 40 cars between us and it. Everyone rushes to pull to the outer edges of the lanes leaving space for the emergency vehicle (that we know will come) to travel down the centre between us. They do come eventually, but are travelling down the other side of the barrier.
This time the truck is carrying palleted goods, and boy, do they burn. The smoke starts thick and black and for a while we can’t even see the traffic lined up in the other direction. Then the smoke clears to white before a very loud explosion signals the petrol tank going and again the smoke turns black. The roads workers have a back hoe and they are trying to pull the burning load off the truck bed, but every time they move it, it allows more air in to the fire and up she goes again.

One police car,
1 fire truck, 2 fire truck, 3 fire truck, 4.
5 fire truck, 6 fire truck, gosh, do we need more?!
1 fire chief, 1 ambulance make up the score!
And foam, lots of foam seems to be the answer.

An hour after we first stop, the traffic in the opposite direction is led slowly past us by the fire chief. We however are still at a dead stop. They will need to clear some of the debris and much of that foam before we can move. The traffic from the opposite direction has now cleared and there is no more coming passed so we can only assume that they are diverting the traffic at the next junction. Behind us, the traffic stretches for kilometres – as far as we can see. Too bad there is not a spot to turn and re-trace our steps back to the last exit, although that was miles back.

It is 1¾ hours before we move. Once we get near the mess that was once a truck, the roads crews have forced open the barrier between the traffic lanes so we can cross to the other side and then a little later cross back in again. We reach the next exit about 3 kilometers further down the road and see that they are indeed diverting the traffic in the other direction. It is crawling at a snail's pace - much slower than we are going because they are being forced onto much smaller roads. And even though it is moving, the queue is a further 8 kilometres long!

We finally arrive at Ulm at 3 pm after crossing the Danube River. There is quite a haze covering the whole city and I guess that where there are industries, by the end of the week there is going to be some build up of pollution. Its a real pity because the countryside is lovely and green and the autumn leaves colour the landscape with a kaleidoscope of colours that is so different to the myriad of greens we saw here in the summer. We had come through here in July and had a very quick look at the Ulm Cathedral – just long enough to know that we wanted to come back and see more. Once we find our way into one of the underground car parks we head first for the Town Hall just off the main square.

This is one impressive building! Part is set with gothic windows and the surrounding walls are decorated with sculptures. But the north and east facades are covered most wondrously with paintings depicting human virtues and vices. The south east corner has a magnificent embedded oriel window and there is a pulpit of homage and an astronomical clock - and it dates back to 1491. Well sort off. It was destroyed by bombing in 1944 and rebuilt to the original plans and decorations in 1951.

There is the impressive 'Syrlin Fountain' of which we can just glimpse the top as is has been shuttered over for winter. We later find another in the courtyard of the police headquarters that was once the 'Neu Building' where the Swabian circle sat. (regional council)

The Cathedral too is an amazing building and boasts being the world's tallest church. We have seen some tall ones including Notre Dame, Cologne and Salisbury but this one really does take the cake. Check it out here. Michael is determined to climb the 768 steps to have a look today. When he comes back down, he tells me that he actually counted 772 steps.

Begun in 1377, it grew from small cathedral to grander and grander until all works were halted in 1534 with the arrival of the reformation. Work did not start again until the 1840s and the cathedral was not completed in its present form with the spire and twin towers until 513 years later in 1890! It is filled with stained glass windows from across the centuries, a 15th century tri- polytryptic altar and the most amazing carved choir stalls. And the views out over the twin cities of Ulm and Nue-Ulm from the steeple are fantastic as you can see!

By the time Michael gets down from his climb up the steeple it is 4:45 pm and the light is very quickly fading. We stop for a hot chocolate and coffee because with the dimming light, the temperature is heading south very very quickly! Then we walk around to the
Fisherman’s Quarter. This quaint reminder of days past houses narrow little streets and crooked little half-timbered houses that were once the residences of local fishermen and boatmen who shipped goods and emmigrants to Hungary and other eastern Europe destinations.

Very foggy tonight and leaving Ulm I have programmed Kate to take us on the fastest route to 'home' - Steph and Felix's in Schwäbisch Gmünd. I though that this would have been motorway and major roads, but no, it is on back lanes through small villages, up hill and down dale - and all at a crawl - sometimes we are only going at 40 kph - all because of the thick enveloping fog. And it did not help that we climbed up and over the northern most tip of the Schwäbian Jura mountains in that fog - round and round the hairpins. Gosh, what a day!

Its great to see Steph again. She looks really well and a holiday in the States recently has given her a little colour. She has cooked a stir fry for dinner with VEGEs. Yum. We sit over a meal and shared bottle of red chatting about all that we have seen and done since re left here in July. Gosh it really has been a trip and a half. It is as cold as here - only 3 degrees outside. Thankfully, the heating is on and we warm up pretty fast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Old technology and new applications

We came back to Munich so that we could have a little more time at the Deutsches Museum. With over 50 exhibit sections spread over 47,000 square metres, this is one of the world's largest museums. And as they like to say, a technical museum is never complete because with the changes of time, the exhibits are constantly evolving! Last time we were here we spent all of our hours at the Astronomy exhibit and the Planetarium. This time we are determined to see more!!

We begin with Bridge building and hydraulic engineering. Now, bridges have always fascinated me and the new construction techniques are nothing short of amazing. These days, Michael too snaps photos of all the different bridges we pass under or cross over. There are lots of references to the great bridges of the world and how early planning and construction is still used either fully or as a part of new ways, and as we walk around the displays we realise that we have seen more than 90% of the bridges cited - in their actual settings! Their dioramas and models are not bad either! The first hour is spent here - gosh, we will have to pull finger out if we want to get through all we came to see today.

Next stop is to have a look at the Museum's model of Foucault's pendulum. It is smaller than the one we saw at the Cathedral in Bologna, but probably more impressive because you can get well above it and look down on it in motion rather than just viewing it from side on. We watch for a few minutes and actually get to see one of the markers fall. The pendulum hangs in the tower on a line that is 7 stories high. For those who forget, this is the experiment that demonstrates the rotation of the earth. And just as the earth doesn't stand still, neither does time, and nor should we!

Up on the next floor is the first of the Musical Instruments displays. The setting is a beautiful parlour with egg-shell blue coloured walls and white stucco mouldings. In here we find keyboard instruments dating back to 14th century. And then there is the trumpet from the 1930's that looks like a lily!

Then it is through to the Foto and film section and with the many many thousands of photos we have taken on this trip, you could be forgiven to think that we lost our concept of space and time here! But no, we have a walk through look, learning how man conquered the sciences to allow us to record all our favourite things on film - still and moving. There are many references to the Lumiere Brothers and the breakthroughs that they made in the development of colour film and moving pictures. And again, we have seen much of their work they left us in their house that is now a museum in Lyon. In the latest state-of-the-art technologies there are huge touch panels set in the centre of the room where you can learn more about the exhibits. Think about all those futuristic shows where city maps come to life on glass screens at a touch and you will know what I am referring to.

A walk through the Textiles exhibit it shows us just how far we have come in using raw products to clothe ourselves and how synthetics have taken us even further. It is true that necessity is the mother of all invention and equipment such as the Spinning Jenny loom have made it affordable for us all to have clothing made of nicer fabrics. Before this, they were much coarser. Continuing to walk through the second floor we pass through first the Ceramics and then the Glass blowing and glass technologies sections.

These two sections demonstrate the age old techniques developed by early man to solve his storage needs. Lucky for us, we have seen many many examples from pre-historic pieces to Roman amphora and then to the fascinating and beautiful Murano Glass in Venice. Everywhere we go, the museums have pieces of ceramics that link the journey we have taken with man through the ages.

And it is not too far a stretch of the imagination to then link ceramics and glass to Astronautics and mans conquering of space - really, its not. Because these two substances form the basis of so much of the hardware that has been developed in the space race. For those of you who are old enough to remember, like we are, the space age and the mass and multimedia age arrived together, so the museum has a wealth of information on the development of the space industry and the exploits into outer space. They cover all the development and application of space knowledge in terms of us exploring it - from the earliest land based rocket engines to Man in Space.

At this point I went back to the car to take another cold and flu tablet (yeah, thanks Donna!)while Michael spent one last hour in the Aeronautics and Marine navigation sections. I guess the only thing that made him leave here was when they started shutting the lights as the museum closed at 5 pm. I mean, we all know about Michael and planes!!! He tells me that it is an exhibit of the German contribution to the development of aviation. Highlights included the Zeppelin displays, WWI fighter craft and the icing on his cake is a restored ME109e - his favourite of German fighter planes, and yes, it is the real McCoy not some copy. And therewere biplanes and triplanes a-plenty!

In the marine section he had to drag himself away from drooling over the WWI German U1 submarine - the first one to go into service. The fact that its neighbours included a very old barquetine that sailed in the mid 1800s as well as other old vessels was not lost on him either!

We had missed seeing the
Sendlinger Tor the last time we visited Munich so once we left the museum just after 5 pm, we drove around. This is the last remaining bastion of the walls and gates that once defended the inner sanctum of Munich and it dates from 1381. Amazing that so much of it is still standing given the recent history of Germany. Trouble was, it is now dark and so the photos can't do it justice.

There are a couple of stall vendors still open in the plaza just outside the Gate - guess that they are trying to catch commuters on their way home. Bought half a kilo of the freshest dates you can find - literally just picked, still plump and moist. We could have also got freshly roasted hot chestnuts - ah yes, winter is on the way and the countdown to the Yuletide is on.
After a search for a restaurant we found the Hackerhaus Restaurant that specialises in Bavarian favourites. Behind our table we stare dumbfounded at the largest beer stein we have ever seen and wonder just how many hangovers are in this behemoth!
Entree: we both start with a bowl of steaming hot Das Münchner Traditionshaus Kartoffelsuppe mit Speck (Traditional Munich potato soup with bacon)
Schmorbraten "München-Stil" in Sauce (Sauerbraten) mit Semmelknödel und gemischtem Salat (Braised beef 'Munich style' in gravy (Sauerbraten) with bread dumplings and a mixed salad) Michael
Ein halbes knusprig gebratenes Schweinefleisch knucle mit Kartoffelknödel und Krautsalat mit Speck (Half a crispy roasted pork knucle with a potato dumpling and cabbage salad with bacon) Maria

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In a place out of time?

Ah yes, that glass walled shower on view for all the room to see was interesting to say the least! Breakfast at the motel was expensive to say the least so Michael took a walk to the train station and came back with great coffees and pastries. Graz like many other cities is having road works done so we dodge them to get across the river and closer to the old city that we want to see.

Parking is not too much of a problem here - while there is no street parking nearby, there are plenty of parking stations that have been located underground. And these parking stations are like none others we have come across - spotlessly clean, very well lit, plenty of space with the spots marked by a sensored pad on the ground, piped music etc etc etc! And affordable!

They are all located at the peripheries of the main tourist areas, which makes it easy to get to things to have a look. The city sits in a valley and up the slopes of a steep hill that is crowned by the Schlossberg (castle hill). We will finish our time here with a trip up to there. But we start down in the main square, which is just around the corner from the car park. The tourist office here has put out an excellent brochure that is divided into three walks through the old city allowing you to tailor your time.

We begin our stroll in the Hauptplatz (main square) near the town hall with its domes, statues and clock. In the Square in front of the town hall there is a market place with permanent stalls selling souvenirs, food, flowers and newspapers. They are set all close together so that along with the modern settings, you still get the atmosphere of the markets places of old. There is the Archduke Johann fountain just outside the town hall. All around the sqaure (on the outer sides of the tram lines) there are a number of buildings with amazing facades of stucco or sgraffito high on their walls (including the amazing 'Painted House') and with arcades from the streets into inner courtyards. Many of the facades date back to the early 1700s!

Around behind the town hall lies the Landhaus - a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance that looks like it should be sited in Venice. Turns out that it was designed by a northern Italian architect so no wonder it looks like it does. Not only is the facade beautiful, the inner courtyard with its lamps and wells and its arched porticos is just as stunning. The Styrian parliament (the State that Graz is capital of) sits here.

From here we head up. The streets are not too steep, but the cobblestones are painful - how I hate them. And no, even after almost a year, my feet have not grown accustomed to them! And to add insult to my injury, we enter into a medieval courtyard where the cobbles are made from river stones that are laid on their edges - ouch ouch ouch! We see the Glockenspiel and buildings that have operated as various enterprises for hundreds of years, including a bakery with an amazing carved and inlaid timber store front.

I pass the shop of a tailoress who is selling traditional clothes. There are hand knitted jumpers and cardigans on a rack out the front and I can't resist buying a special little girl a special little one. It will come in very handy - no not in Darwin, in Kapooka! We heard from Antony this morning that he has been promoted to the rank of Bombadier and is being transferred to Kapooka near Wagga Wagga on the New South Wales / Victoria border as of early January as a Cadet Instructor! Anyway, back to Graz - this seamstress must be pretty good, there are three couples in there buying clothes - all Austrians!

We continue to walk up and come to the Cathedral built in 1438 - 1464 and the close by Mausoleum. Neither are open so all we can so is admire them from outside. In the architectural gems of the surrounding areas there is a Jesuit College and the 'Old' university that was founded in 1585. There are more squares with statues and more churches including the Parish Church that is a nice mix of old and new. We are now winding our way back down to the main square through narrow pedestrian streets filled with narrow shops selling all many of goods from sporting equipment to jewellery, from confectionary to eye glasses. People walk or ride pushbikes here - though not too many of them are riding uphill, just a couple of very fit young men - most people get off and push their bikes!

Now its time for lunch. Well, I'm not sure what you call the meal that covers both lunch and dinner - lunner? Kind of like brunch at the other end of the day. Anyway, whatever it is, we are having it now. We walk away from the main square looking for somewhere that takes our fancy and we find the Keller Restaurant through an alleyway and a courtyard. We are hungry, but boy, these meals are huge!
Champignon gebacken mit Sauce Tartare (Deep fried champignons with Tartare sauce) Michael
Emmentaler gebacken mit Preiselbeeren (Deep fried Emmentaler cheese with Cranberries) Maria
Gemischter Grillteller mit Reis, Bratkartoffeln und feinem Gemüse (Mixed grill with rice, pan-fried potatoes and vegetables) Michael
Fiakergulasch mit Ei, Gurkerl, Würstl, Servietterknödel (Beef goulash Fiacre style with egg, gherkin, sausage, white bread dumplings) Maria
We had been eyeing off the breaded apple slices for dessert, but the meals are so big that we can't finish either of them, so there is definitely no room for desserts! Our hunger pangs put away, we head back out into the afternoon sun to head towards the Schlossberg high on the hill overlooking the city. There are three ways you can get up there - on foot up the hundreds of steps, using the funicular or via a lift that goes up through the centre of the mountain - our preferred choice today. For the tiny sum of 2.80 we both get return tickets!

Now this has been my eagerly awaited highlight of the day. The clocktower that sits high above the city and is visible from almost every part of it is the best known symbol of Graz. Trouble is that the clock's hands are back to front with the small hand showing the minutes and the large hand, the hour! And while we don't have time to climb all the way to the castle, we do spend some time at the clocktower, admiring the scene over the rooftops of Graz and the Mur River. The hoarding around the top of the tower was erected as a lookout for the fire brigade. And then there is the bell tower just a little further up the hill that Michael dashes up to see.

But dont think for a minute that Graz is trapped in some time warp. Just as the old city shines, there are a number of very futuristic buildings that have been commissioned. Most notable are the Kunsthaus Graz built in 2003 to host exhibitions, and the Mursinel - a floating structure in the Mur River connected to the banks by two weaving footbridges. It houses a restaurant and an amphitheatre. They sit shoulder to shoulder with the architecture of times long past, complementing rather than competing with them. And their wierd shapes seem very much at home amongst the myriad of towers that were there long before them.

And so our time has come to leave Graz and head for Munich. We have a four hour drive ahead of us which means that we won't get there until after 8 pm. As we are leaving the city, the afternoon light is fading fast. Gosh, it wasn't all that many weeks ago that it was light until the late hours of the night!

As we travel across Austria we are heading back into the land of the high snow capped mountains (and yes, they have already had snowfalls high on the peaks)! For quite some time we are actually travelling throug the mountains in a series of tunnels - the longest being 8.3 kms long is the longest we have travelled on our trip. When we see the last breath of the sun gently washing the wispy clouds with a soft rosy hue, and the mountain tops gleaming in that last light of the day, with small villages burrowing down for the cool night in the valleys below (it is now 4°C), I understand why my Dad loved this part of the world so much and kept coming back.

We are travelling the motorways and as soon as we reach Germany, just past the city of Salzburg, the speed limit free Autobahn sees the traffic take off in a frenzy of fast paced racing. Honestly, some of the cars are travelling well in excess of 200 kph - in the dark. Not us though. We keep to a much more sedate 120 kph! We make good time and hit Motel One in Putzbrunn just outside the main centre of Munich about 8:20 pm. Oh for a bed. On checking in, the receptionist Consuela, remembers us from our last stay here in July - now THAT is what you call great customer relations! She does say however that friendly guests make it easy to remember them!! Ain't she sweet.