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.

No comments: