Lost in Germany

Unlike the previous day, the morning of our departure started with a downpour. Well, that explains why last night was very so sticky! We agreed as we packed our luggage.

Oh, poor you!

Below our window, there were a group of weekend cyclists who were pondering what to do with the pouring rain.

We checked out shortly before 9 o’clock and steered our car towards Strasbourg.

My Google Maps estimated the distance from Salem to Strasbourg as 188km and the journey would take a little more than two and half hours.

However, the actual journey turned out to be not so straight forward…

During our road trip, we always admired German style of doing things, like their automatically rotating toilet seats at their motorway services, efficient and cheap public transports, etc. However, we were not at all impressed with the way they managed their roadworks.

In Britain, any roadworks or events would be signed well in advance, and any associated traffic diversions would be clearly signposted too so drivers wouldn’t get confused or go astray.

I can’t remember exactly where, because I was in a state of panic, but somewhere between Hornberg and Gengenbach, there was a long tunnel going through underneath the mountainous region. Up until that point, we were making a good progress thanks to Google Maps, and feeling pretty optimistic. Then, we arrived at a traffic crossing and beyond it, we could see the opening of a tunnel. Once the light changed to green, the satnav directed me to cross over and head for the tunnel.

‘OMG, what’s going on here?!’ I saw a road block which was barring the entry and a red lamp was shining at the top of the entrance. Do you mean the tunnel is closed?! And where is an alternative route?! It was a dead end and I could do nothing other than a three-point turn.

For a while, we drove around like a headless chicken. The satnav didn’t understand why I was not following the navigation and kept on insisting on me to turn around and go back to the tunnel. ‘Oh, shut up!’ I cursed and scanned my horizon for any road sign indicating the alternative directions.

Then, we ended up on the street which seemed to be leading to a town, and the street was very crowded. It appeared that those behind the wheels were also in the same boat, lost and confused by the closure of the tunnel.

We sat behind the queue for a while, feeling let down by the nonchalant attitude of the German highway agency. Why didn’t they put up road signs? Not all the drivers were local and most of us rely on satnav nowadays. I never experienced anything like this in the UK or France. Aren’t you a bit careless, you German traffic control? We weren’t very pleased.

The town we drove through at snail pace was busy with the Saturday shopper’s. Some stretches of the street were cobbled instead of tarmacked, and rows of colourful bunting were stretched across the street lamps. We would have enjoyed the scenery and even been tempted to make a detour to have a coffee break if we weren’t so horribly lost.

After the town, we (and our fellow drivers) found ourselves near a large business park. What do we do next? Up until that point, I was still listening to Google Maps and following its navigation. ‘Mum, I have to ditch the satnav for now.’ I turned my iPhone off because I had a sinking feeling that it was directing us towards the useless tunnel again. As I made a U-turn, we saw a coach which was a few cars ahead of us making a U-turn in the forecourt of the petrol station. Oh god, no one knows where we are heading…

We decided to follow the traffic ahead of us, hoping if they were locals and knew the alternative route. But no, a bunch of us ended up at the mouth of another blocked up tunnel shortly afterward. And again, there was no road sign. We all scrambling to make a U-turn in haste, and the scene resembled the one from the cartoon, Wacky Races!

Those cars, which were thrown into disarray with us, were all German. What do they feel about being aboandoned like this? Where is the German efficiency?!

Again, I realised how lucky I was to have mum sitting next to me. She had been driving for a long time, and she knew how to get out of the sticky situations like this. ‘Look, that coach! You remember it was making a U-turn at the petrol station?’ She pointed at a blue coach which was about 80m ahead of us. Oh yeah, it was the same coach! She suggested that we should follow it because the coach driver may have known the area well and been travelling on the alternative route already. If the coach was a holiday charter kind, it may be heading towards Strasbourg as well! So we started to follow it. The tall body of the coach was easy to keep an eye on, and mum spread our reserve paper map on her lap and trailed our progress with her index finger. I felt very reassured.

Mum’s hunch was spot on! The coach did lead us to Strasbourg. And to our delight, we saw a “GB” badge plate which was displayed on the rear of the coach when we got closer to it as the traffic slowed down after crossing the French Border. At the exit toward Strasbourg city centre, the coach in shining armour did not come off E52 like we did, and it carried on towards Reims instead.

Thank you very much for helping us even though you had no idea that we were using you as a guiding beacon! We waved at the coach as it disappeared rapidly out of our sights.

Once again, Google Map was turned on, and we headed towards an underground car park in La place Gutenberg…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Kloster und Schloss Salem

After our last “German” supper at the beer garden, mum and I strolled towards the direction from where the cyclists appeared. ‘What can it be?’ We were very curious.

Before an imposing gatehouse building, we saw a site map of the surrounding area…

The hotel in which we stayed was two white buildings in front of the brown square building “Eingang” – a ticket office & shop.

This is another map on which you can see how vast the monastery once was…

The former monastery guesthouse and the present hotel was to be built on the edge of the monastery boundary near the right bottom corner of the map.

Mum with Unteres Tor…

By the way, “unteres tor” means “lower gate” in German. The gatehouse was very substantial and impressive. Inside of the deep passage had no illumination and the opposite side of the gate with decorative steel gates looked like the end of a tunnel.

As we walked through the gatehouse, we found a plaque on the wall…

The plaque stated “Markgräflich Badische, Court Pharmacy, former monastery pharmacy founded around 1500”. Apparently, a term “Hof-Apotheke” suggests that the pharmacy was not an ordinary kind but a court pharmacy which was for a princely court. I don’t intend to delve into the history of the pharmacy too far, but I imagine the monastery must have had a close tie with the imperial court of Holy Roman Emperor as the portrait of the abbot with a badge of the Imperial Eagle in my previous post.

There was another thing which made the place rather unique. It was a name, “Kloster und Schloss Salem”. A term “Schloss” which means “Palace” in German and it may mislead some people including me as the place was once a residence for aristocrats or royals. Contrary to my expectation, the place was used exclusively as a home for the Cistercian monks until 1803. I have been trying to find out why it was called “schloss” but my effort hasn’t bore fruit so far. If anyone knows the origin of the naming, please enlighten me!

The other side of the gatehouse was a large open turfed ground with crisscrossing footpaths and pavements.

A Baroque-style building and mum…

The building used to be Salem Abbey and now it is owned by the State of Baden-Württemberg. Inside, it houses the administration faculty of Markgräflich Badische, the cultural office of Bodensee district and a museum dedicated to the former monastery.

You may wonder why the abbey, which was established in 1134, is in Baroque style? It was because the original structure from the 12th century was destroyed by a fire in 1697 and the reconstruction was done in the style of Baroque.

An impressive church in Gothic style…

The only structure escaped the fire of 1697.

The sound of pipe organ was heard through the door which stood ajar. It seemed to be the church was holding an evening service. One thing I still remember vividly about that church was the small of the place. As we walked past the opened door, a whiff of musty smell, which was like the one of cellar’s, struck our nose. It smelt very very old, we agreed.

A cross on the wall of the church…

In the middle of the turfed area, there was a bust of a man, bearing an inscription “PRINZ WILHELM von BADEN”…

His family, the house of Baden, gained considerable territory in Southern Germany after the Holy Roman Empire was finally dissolved by Napoleon in 1802. Napoleon decided to reorganise the aftermath of the dissolution by giving away key territories to secure an alliance with the prince-elector of Baden and in which Salem Abbey was included.

The statue of the prince was facing squarely a building called “Marstall”…

“Marstall” means “royal stable” in German. This ornate structure was created in 1734 for the horses and carriages of the abbot and its guests. According to the guide book, the Baroque interior was still almost perfectly preserved and it was decorated with paintings and wood sculptures by Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer. If I had known more about the abbey beforehand, I could have shown all of them to mum. Damn!!

Along the Marstall, there were oblong buildings which appeared to house some studios and shops…

Some of them were clearly commercial premises and the others seemed to be used as a storage.

Beautiful roses were blooming here and there along the building…

The roses were very well kept and the place was spotlessly clean. But where is everybody? We were puzzled as there was not a single soul around us. ‘I guess all went home for the weekend already because it’s Friday?’ We reasoned as we pottered along the path.

Fancy meeting you here, your Majesty!

In one of the window, I spotted a bobblehead doll of Queen Elizabeth! The sight made us smile because it was totally unexpected.

Staying in Salem turned out to be a treat for both of us as the place was not too touristy, therefore, we could experience somewhat more authentic German atmosphere.

Did you know the place was given the biblical name “Salem”, which meant “place of peace”?

We sat on one of the wooden benches near the hotel and mused how the name was fitting to the place like Salem.

We should go back and have some rest, we stood up, patted our backsides and headed to the hotel.

Look mum, their door handle is so pretty!

Were these made by one of the blacksmiths who were displaying wroughtiron works in the windows along the abbey square?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Beer garden @ Markgräflich Badischer Gasthof Schwanen

Before I start to write about our last German supper at their beer garden, let me fill you in with the history of this hotel. I still regret about not doing any homework before visiting this amazing place which resulted in me not allocating enough time to explore the hotel and its surrounding area.

Markgräflich Badischer Gasthof Schwanen was mentioned by the chronicler Franz Xaver Staiger in 1863. He recorded that the placed was called the “Gasthaus zum Schwanen” and it was built in 1665 as a monastery guesthouse of the Cistercian monastery.

Reichsprallat Anselm II Schwab, one of the abbots of the monastery Salem who was portrayed in 1749 by Gottfried Bernhard Göz in front of the Imperial Eagle…

Once upon a time, it was a monastery wine tavern and pub, and now, the place is a restaurant with a beer garden for the locals and visitors…

The beer garden was half-filled with guests who seemed to be enjoying a long summer evening with a lively conversation and glasses of beer.

Mum and I sat ourselves down at one of the tables and ordered beer…

Ahhh, how much we loved German beer! They were well chilled and rich without being too bitter. A perfect accompaniment to alfresco dining.

The menu was brought by a waitress who spoke very limited English and their menu was described in German only. Hmm, what should we do? We looked around and found two diners nearby who were eating something looked tempting. ‘Let’s try what they have!’ I pointed at their table and gestured to the waitress. She, in turn, nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.

While mum and I waited for our food, we sipped our beer and reminisced about our road trip. ‘Can you believe this beer garden is the last German beer garden of our holiday?’ We couldn’t help getting sentimental.

Then, the foods were brought to our table…

Mum had “Gebratene Schweinefilletmedaillons an Pfefferrahmsoße mit Eierspätzle und einum gemischten Salatteller” – fried pork fillet medallions with pepper cream sauce with egg tender pasta and mixed salad dish. She wanted spätzle because there would be nothing like it in Japan.
My last German supper was “Maishähnchenbrust an Rosmarinrahmsoße mit Basmatireis und einum gemischten Salatteller” – corned chicken breast with rosemary cream sauce with basmati rice and mixed salad dish. I hadn’t had rice for a long time, therefore, I enjoyed it very much.

While we were dining, we saw more than a few cyclists riding out from the gate nearby and were very intrigued by it. Maybe we should investigate what is behind the gate after dinner, we discussed as we chewed through our food…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

A night in Schwangau

Only €6 for parking?! I was mightily impressed as I stood in front of a ticketing machine at a public car park of Hohenschwangau. My car was in there for nearly half-day! What a bargain. If this was in London, any local council would charge extortionate rates because the area was a tourist hotspot. The area I live charges £5.00 (€5.50) per hour for street parking. Do you see what I mean?

Mum heading for our car…

Her knees weren’t too badly affected by the strain of walking up & down the hills and negotiating the stairs and steps. Thank god.

After exiting the car park, we headed towards Schwangau which was a stone’s throw from Hohenschwangau, about five minutes by car.

The route was through open pastures and the area was very quiet and peaceful…

Our one night abode, Landgasthof Zur Post…

It was almost six o’clock and the hotel staffs seemed to be very occupied with their restaurant. One of the waitresses noticed us standing at a reception and reassured us that someone would be with us as soon as they were available. Then, another ten minutes of us hanging around, a bespectacled man appeared finally (finally!) from behind the door as she promised, and processed our check-in.

Our room on the second floor…

A view from our window…

We decided to have dinner at our hotel’s dining room. ‘Hallo!’ A large waitress in a traditional Bavarian dress ushered us to one of the tables along the wall and handed us the menu in English.

Beer! We missed you…

Mum really loved German beer. There was a problem though. Because there were many German beer brands listed in the menu, we didn’t know which one to choose!

‘Why not try our local beer in a small glass and see if you like it?’ The waitress suggested. Then, the beer turned out to be a delectable kind which made mum very very happy.

For dinner, we ordered roast pork with dumpling…

And salad nicoise…

Most of the diners seemed to be holiday makers. However, a group of men, sitting on the opposite side of the room, appeared to be local and were playing card while nursing glasses of beer. All of them looked like in their late sixties or early seventies and wore traditional Bavarian short trousers and embroidered braces. So those costumes were not just for Oktoberfest!

After dinner, we went for a little walk. The air was still and smelt of green pastures.

Mum with a Bavarian totem pole…

We crossed the road and sat on a bench in front of a tourist information office…

We admired a well-tended flower bed in front of the office. Mum used to plant the same flowers in large flower pots in front of my late dad’s atelier, I remembered.

A gentle evening breeze felt wonderful on our flushed cheeks. We exchanged a greeting with passers-by who were enjoying an evening saunter, ‘Abend!’

Schwangau was winding down…

Let’s get back and have some rest because tomorrow will be another action-packed day, mum. We stood up and returned to our room.

Around 11 o’clock that night, we looked up to the night sky from our balcony. The sky was filled with twinkling stars whose brilliance were unspoiled by light pollution. ‘Aren’t they gorgeous!’ We exclaimed in a hushed tone so we wouldn’t disturb our neighbours. There used to be the same night sky in our home town a long time ago. A canopy of the truly dark night sky and the glittering stars which inspired awe and wonder in me as a child. And the sensation of excitement still lived on in my heart.

‘We should check out the sky again in Garmisch-Partenkirchen!’ Oh, I can hardly wait to tell you what actually happened there. *sigh*…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura



Spätzle@Hotel Müller

The reason why I didn’t reserve tickets for Neuschwanstein Castle was because I weren’t sure if mum’s knees could take the stress the visit may cause. As the castle was built on top of the steep cliff and the access was limited by foot only, the visit would involve a fair amount of climbing up and down the slope as well as the stairs. ‘Are you sure you really wanna risk them?’ I asked mum. She told me that she would rather choose to risk her knees than miss out on the visit and regret about it forever. 

After waiting in the queue under the beating sun for about half an hour, we finally put our hands on the tickets. Phew! 

However, our guided tour was from 16:45 and we had more than four hours to wait. Oh, what should we do? 

The time was almost noon and we were a little peckish. ‘Shall we eat at here then?’ I pointed at Hotel Müller which stood next to the ticket office. 

The interior of the hotel was airy and bright with white walls and unstained woodwork, and there was hardly anyone except hotel staffs. 

Their restaurant was also almost empty when we walked in…

A waitress with a pretty Bavarian dress greeted us and she let us choose a table. We wanted to see the castle while we dined, therefore, we opted for the one by the window.

Aww, Neuschwanstein Castle in the distance…

Our arrival must have been slightly ahead of the rest of lunch diners. We saw a sudden influx of the hungry customers filing into the dining room and taking up all the tables as we studied the menu.

Hmmm, what shall we have?

We wanted to try something new and asked a waitress who arrived to take our order. ‘Could you recommend us any Bavarian specialities?’ 

She suggested “Spätzle”…

She described the dish as rich and comforting with lots of cream and cheese. She assured us, ‘You will like it.’

Then, it arrived!

The dish tasted like very tasty macaroni cheese. Could this be the origin of the present macaroni cheese, a king of comfort food which is found in any supermarket shelf and freezer cabinet? Maybe, immigrants from Bavaria took the recipe to the States and eventually the dish had become the American favourite? We mused as we ferried hot cheesy short pasta into our mouths.

Another dish we order was salad. We need to top up vitamins, mum and I agreed…

We chose Salatvariation mit Feigen und Pinienkermen…

Unfortunately, the fig was slightly underripe. Otherwise, the salad was very fresh and tasty.

It was because we had ample time to kill before our guided tour, we ate with leisurely pace and managed to finish the Spätzle whose portion was very large. 

Now, our stomachs are full, and we will have to find a transport to the castle…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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