Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ding dong, the bells are ringing . . .

It dawned a cool morning - all of 2°C! Oh yes, winter is well and truly on the way in Europe. Felix wants to study today so after a prolonged breakfast, Steph and Michael and I head out to explore the countryside around Schwäbisch Gmünd. We filled the car with petrol after travelling from Slovenia on one tank of fuel - part of Slovenia, across Austria and then about a quarter of the way across Germany. Not bad huh! In Australia, the only way you could even travel part way across three states on a single tank of fuel would be if you were in the corner areas where they all meet!

While the weather is still fresh and crisp, the sun is shining and out of the breeze it is a beautiful autumn day. Although lots of people here in Europe say that they love autumn, I think that us, coming from an area where we have predominantly evergreen trees are truly enjoying the change in the season the most. What they have here that we in Queensland can never have is a totally different look of the landscape for each season. At the moment its warm to look at (probably to compensate for the falling temperatures!) and when there is a mist or fog, which is often, it is very surreal - as though you are looking out through a gauze curtain.

So, we begin our exploring at the remains of the Limes and Roman Fort just on the outskirts of modern Schwäbisch Gmünd. Throughout our journey, we are constantly awe-struck by the monuments we've seen. However, the Limes and Roman Fort need some imagination (with the assistance of some thorough information boards and models) but this does not minimise the expanse of the Limes Germanicus (Germanic Frontier) created by the Roman Empire.
Limes Germanicus represented a remarkable frontier line of walls and forts bounding the Roman provinces of Germania Superior (this comprised the areas of western Switzerland, the French Jura, Alsace and south western Germany) and Raetia (containing the Upper Rhine and Lake Constance). The Limes forts were established between 83AD to 260AD to divide the Roman Empire and unsubdued Germanic tribes. This frontier eventually stretched from the North Sea outlet of the Rhine to Regensberg on the Danube! The total length of the Limes frontier was 568km of walls and ditches; including 60 castles, 900 forts and 30000 troops.

However, we are concerned with the immediate area of Schwabish Gmund. To appreciate the area, and get a 'feel' for the Limes requires a long and enjoyable walk. We first start at the parking area, which provides an information shelter with substantial information boards (in both German AND English), together with a bronze high relief map. This information allows you to obtain an overview and directions to commence ones exploration.

Leaving the shelter, we are presented with a tall monument which indicates the regions the Limes actually reached: VINDOBONA (Vienna); CASTRA REGINA (Regensburg), to name just a few. Nearby we reach replicated sections of Limes walls and ditches. One side of the road (yes, and it's the original Roman road) is a wall section constructed from dressed tree trunks and shattering. The other side provides a wonderful example of Roman technology at its best - the composite masonry wall. After, several absorbing moments we head upwards and towards Kastell Freimuhle (Castle Free Mill). The fort was first discovered in 1901 and subsequent investigations have revealed the castle to have been 55m x 55m, about 0.28 ha. Little remains of the site, except for the wall and tower footings. At the centre of the site is a bronze model depicting what the fort may have looked like.
We then retrace our steps to the replica walls and proceed along the Roman road. The map at the information shelter indicates the road leads to a lower fort. This is an interesting promenade which is punctuated by altars, road statuary and mortuary stele. It appears the lower fort may be further than expected, however, it is indeed a glorious day for a jaunt. We come across the remains of a roman bridge concorse, here a modern wooden bridge has been added to allow visitors to cross into an adjoining forest.

Forest's in this region are just spectacular and more so when we cross the bridge into the forest. Following a well worn path, we climb further into the forest where we finally reach the remains of a small part of the wall. After enjoying the silence which the forest provides, we once again retrace our steps to resume our trek along the Roman road. Finally, we reach our destination and it is realised that there is nothing left of the fort - only a green pasture. The walk is not a disappointment as many interesting sights have been experienced, and nothing less than the forest itself.

From here we drive up into Schwäbian Alb so that we can look back over the valleys of the Rems River and indeed over Schwäbisch Gmünd itself. The light is magical, casting a warm glow over the landscapes below and it makes me want to find a piece of paper and some watercolours. From above, Schwäbisch Gmünd look a real picture with its mix of red terracotta roofs, statuesque civic buildings and churches and wooded hills.

Up into the lowest slopes of the Alb we find small towns and smaller villages in a rural setting. That 'alpy' smell of freshly fertilised land is back and you know even after travelling in and out of the Alps for the last months, we still crinkle our noses when we smell it. I'll never forget it, and I'm sure I never want to get used to it!

Passing through towns with evocative names like Straßorf, Lauchof and Lenglingen with its equine industry, through to Hohenstaufen with its castle sitting high on the hill in the forest over the town (we haven't got time to walk up), we continue on our way and cross the Neckar River to go to Plochingen - home to the Hundertwasser-Haus (reminiscent of Antonio Gaudi's architecture that we saw in Barcelona) named for the local architect who designed it. This ultra modern flowing masterpiece is home to commercial spaces as well as apartments. But Hohenstaufen is more than just one building and they have retained their old market square with some great examples of timber trussed houses. The old market house has been adapted to modern uses - something that is always nice to see. Modern art sits alongisde more traditional items like the 13 bell Glockenspiel that chimes its tunes at 11 am, 3pm and 5 pm daily. We are standing looking at thise small history column when the bells start at 3 o'clock.

All the time, we are en-route to visit Katie and Josef (friends of Steph we met when we were through here in July) at their home in Stetten - a small town set amidst the vineyards. Katie has been baking up a storm and we enjoy slices of Zwetschgedatsche (plum cake) and a Kugelhopf as we played with Joesphine their gorgeous little daughter (and missed our own little precious one Izabella). It was remarkable to see not only how much she had grown in the last few months, but also how much she has developed as a little individual!

And finally we met Olga and Rudi Mucz (Steph's aunt and uncle) for a final dinner with them at the local s’Būrger Stüble Restaurant just next door to their house. The food here is typically
Swäbian and always delicious. And I have forgotten to write down the menu, so you will have to make do with a translation of what I remember!
Olga, Rudi, Felix and Michael began with Kürbis-Creme-Suppe mit saurer Sahne(Creme Pumpkin Soup with sour cream)
Gänsekeule mit mit blauen saukraut und Kartoffelknödel (Goose leg with with blue saukraut and potato dumplings) Rudi, Olga and Michael
Casserole der Rehe und Wildschweine und Pilze mit Spätzle (Casserole of Deer and Boar and Mushrooms with Swäbian noodles) Felix

Schweinefilet in Cognac-Sahne-Sauce mit Spätzle, Kartoffelsalat und grünem Salat (Pork in Cognac cream sauce with Swäbian noodles, potato salad and green salad) Steph
Maultasche mit Ei mit Kartoffelsalat und grünem Salat (Swäbian ravioli with egg with potato salad and green salad) Maria

Steph and Felix and Michael and I shared two desserts that are the speciality of the chef - a trio of tastes - Mousse au Chocolat, Panna cotta und Nuss-Eis (Chocolate mousse, Panna cotta and nut ice cream). Mm, mmmm!
Of course there was champgane and red wine and liquers consumed in sufficient quantities to ensure that the conversation was lively and varied. At times like these, the rest of us are thankful that Michael is able to be our designated driver!

A great night for us all!!!

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