Rohrbach, Landshut and Ingolstadt

Monday 3rd July 2006, Rohrbach, North of Munich, Germany
We made our way up and out of the deep hollow sheltering Berchtesgaden and the
Königssee, and followed the Alpine route round behind the Watzmann mountain, through little villages, up beside steeply tumbling azure streams and out at the top across flowery alpine pastures where we stopped to gaze up at the grey, bare summit of the Watzmann still towering high above us. Here the cattle spend the summer, minute specks of orangey red grazing their way across the steeply sloping meadows that somehow still cling to the lower slopes of the mountain. Rumour has it that the cattle have longer legs on one side than the other so they can retain their balance as they go, but if you believe that you'll also have legs of uneven length.

Behind the Watzmann, Bavaria

We left this idyllic scenery behind with more than a tinge of regret and started the decent down to the flatter countryside on the far side. Modestine was eager to scamper down and it was quite a struggle to restrain her on some of the steeper curves, not helped by a huge container lorry eager to pass us. Those are the less pleasant bits.

Farewell to the mountains, Bavaria

The landscape changed as we continued north towards Munich. The large fields were mainly of cereals and recently cut grass left to dry out in the sun. The heat has returned again – though we understand it is relatively cool in Vienna and Budapest now! We found a shady roadside picnic area for lunch, a coffee and a rest before skirting round Munich and continuing to Landshut. This was recommended by Anne on the phone last night and is indeed a really lovely little town pleasantly set on the river Isar. It is full of historic buildings that along the main street blend into a wonderful long façade painted in a variety of pastel shades. Long cool shadows are thrown down over part of the broad cobbled street below. This area seems mainly pedestrianised with street cafes and hundreds of bicycles but very few vehicles. The town also benefits from a very pleasant shopping area. It has the sort of shops that make Jill long to browse amongst the rather expensive fashionable clothes and shoes that we cannot possible find space for anyway in Modestine. As an alternative treat, and a reward for all the driving, Ian generously dragged a protesting Jill away from C&A to the church across the way which has the highest brick spire in the world and is 100% gothic. What more could a girl ask for?

Main street, Landshut, Bavaria

Town Hall, Landshut, Bavaria

Superlative brick spire, Landshut, Bavaria

Inside, the church was cool and stark by contrast to the flamboyant baroque of Salzburg. The height of the columns and gothic arches was quite stunning. There was a treat for Jill there too. Sometimes travelling can get quite wearing with so much to see, to learn and to record and the everyday business of shopping, washing and cooking still needing attention. There are occasional moments when it is necessary to just sink down wearily and do nothing for a few minute. It was good to discover that even Jesus had his moments and what are Jill's labours compared to his?! Personally this counts as one of the best- if not thebest - statue of Christ we have seen on our travels, not necessarily for its artistic merit but for the capture of a very real human quality.

Gothic interior, Landshut, Bavaria

Christ at rest. c1540, Landshut, Bavaria

Licking really squidgy chocolate ice creams we returned to Modestine and continued our journey. On the way we passed several incomprehensible bright purple signs in English requesting drivers to "Pimp my Friday. "We arrived at Rohrbach just in time to join Anne in her shady garden and to enjoy a pot of Lapsang-suchong, the first since we left Exeter last August and an unexpected bonus of having English friends around Europe.

After cool showers we left Ray watching Wimbledon and drove with Anne to the nearby town of Paffenhofen to meet up at the Chinese restaurant with a dozen or so of the students from her English conversation class. It seems a wonderful way to learn a language. Each week they meet in a pub, or sometimes in someone's home or a restaurant, and spend a couple of hours speaking together in English. Everyone is very conscientious about this and the standard is excellent. It was particularly nice for Jill to have so many friendly faces to chat to and to discuss with ladies of similar age about grown-up sons and daughter, travel plans, and to note future places not to miss as we travel north. Twice a year Anne organises visits to England for the group and they have just returned from Cumbria. Each trip covers a different region so they are quite well travelled having been with her to Dublin, Glasgow, Falmouth, Stonehenge, London – naturally, and they even walked Hadrian's Wall! She puts a great deal of effort into arranging the trips and everyone seems to thoroughly enjoy them. It certainly gives an added purpose to learning English.

Anne's English class, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria

It was so nice to have finally met Paul who has been following our blog and sending us occasional messages as we travel. Part of his interest results from keeping a travel diary himself of the trips he has made with Anne and the group. He though, does it in English! Jill feels almost ashamed of herself! He was also able to enlighten us about the Damerican expression "Pimp my whatever." We had no idea it simply meant to dramatically improve something. There are apparently web sites devoted to this activity and pimping seems to be a very common German pastime. (And to enlighten you, Damerican is an expression for an Americanism that has found a place in the German – Deutsch- language. Another expression very much in vogue (Frenglish word) here is "wellness" a Denglish word used in Germany that is not normally found in Britain.

Paul honours the blog with an appearance! Bavaria

As if a cold beer on the terrace at dusk with a happy group of German friends were not pleasure enough, we shared a huge and delicious Chinese meal served by pretty little Chinese ladies in turquoise embroidered silk tunics who naturally spoke perfect German.

Anne's English class, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria

Anne's English class, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria

For those of you interested in what we ate

All too soon the lovely evening ended and we returned home where Ian listened as Ray expounded his theory about the malaise he feels Germany is suffering, its reasons and possible solutions. He also presented a few rather individualistic views on how to solve America's difficulties, most having something to do with putting George Bush and Tony Blair beyond the reach of interfering further in globalisation! Ray is delightfully eccentric and comes alive in the small hours of the morning. Jill and Anne left the men putting the world to rights and retired to bed.

Tuesday 4th July 2006, Rohrbach, North of Munich, Germany
Today has been so hot again we have spent much of the day sheltering on the shady terrace, grateful to have a substantial roof over our heads as the sun beats down on the wide open Bavarian landscape. Out there this year's hop plants are rapidly climbing the network of poles and wires erected for them. Soon the leafy round flowers that contain the yellow substance so vital to the brewing industry world wide will be forming.

Ray has a timetable that is unique to him, so he rarely appears before lunchtime but is always wide awake at midnight. Anne had an appointment in Munich and we had a mountain of laundry to do. We honestly don't call on our friends just to do our washing but we are so very grateful of the opportunity to do so. In this hot weather it dried in the garden as quickly as we could hang it out and we are now immaculate for a while longer.

When Anne returned we sent Ian off to the baker for crusty brown rolls topped with green pumpkin seeds which we ate on the terrace with salad and cheese - Bavarian and goats. As we enjoyed lunch Ray appeared and settled to a breakfast of toast and jam with fruit juice as he watched the play at Wimbledon.

Mid afternoon Anne took us to the recently opened hop museum at Wolnzach. Here she works on demand as an English guide and interpreter for groups of English and Japanese tourists or for conferences. Recently her services have been used by the Chrysler car company for an international conference held at the museum to promote their vehicles. It had little to do with the museum but is illustrative of the entrepreneurial attitude of the town of Wolnzach, eager to promote its brand new building and to recoup some of the construction costs raised entirely from the town's own initiative and support from local businesses. The town had the foresight to include a large hall for conferences, trade fairs or even local dances. It is an excellent place both architecturally and for its contents.

Hop Museum, Wolnzach

So while the sun burned down outside we were comfortably sheltered in the museum, receiving a free guided tour from Anne detailing the industry of Bavarian hop production. We will regard our next glass of beer with far greater respect, realising exactly how much work goes into producing high quality hops. All aspects of the industry were covered from the growing of the plant and its harvesting -much of this we have already covered during our visit here last September (see 2006-09-11)) – through to the grading and drying process, carried out on racks in kilns, much as on the tea plantations we visited in Sri Lanka.

The hops are then packed into enormous sacks and marketed. The entire flower however is not nowadays required and the museum included a section on the extraction of the tiny grains of lupulin which are then added to the must after the fermentation stage. Sometimes even these grains are further refined to form a sticky paste.

The history of the industry is well illustrated with examples of tools and machinery accompanied by hundreds of old photographs of the hop pickers who, like those of Kent, would come out from the cities, often as entire families, and live together in huge barns while working for three weeks solid in the plantations gathering in the hops. Meals and drink would be provided by the employers and at night there were wild revels in the barns with much singing, dancing and beer drinking. The work though appeared very hard. Indeed it is still hard today with huge poles to be erected and heavy wires to be constructed and dismantled each season. The rootstock stays in the ground and grows again the following season for up to fifty years.

Hops and harvesting machinery, Hop Museum, Wolnzach

Model of hop picker, Hop Museum, Wolnzach

Hop pickers' canteen wagon, Hop Museum, Wolnzach

We found the museum so fascinating – and our personal guide so knowledgeable - that we were still there at throwing-out time. Anne suggested a swim in a nearby lake to cool off further, so while Ian sat in the shade on the grassy bank with a book, Anne and Jill swam with the fishes under the shadow of the surrounding trees. At least Jill stayed near the bank but Anne is well hard and struck off across the sunny lake of an unknown depth, far more at ease in water than Jill who loves it but lacks strength, skill and elegance. The countryside around this area has a number of similar lakes, some used for fishing, others for recreational activities including swimming and picnicking. It was a lovely experience - once you became accustomed to the fishes which really did swim close up. Jill couldn't decide which was more scary though, to touch the bottom with her feet and wonder what those entwining things were round her ankles, or to find there was nothing there at all with a drop to the bottom which could be any depth. Remember in the Königssee it was 200 metres deep?

Bathing nymphs near Rohrbach

After drying off, the worst of the heat had gone from the day, so around 8pm we drove to the farm where Anne keeps her horse Hal. Again, some veterans may remember Ian's first acquaintance with Hal in September last year. The track up to the field where Hal enjoys the summer with a dozen other horses, lacks tarmac and is potholed and rutted with tyre tracks. For toe curling awfulness we offer you the line – "the road to Hal is paved with good indentations". If you appreciate it you are as nurdy as us, if not, just put it down to us being affected by the hot weather.

Hal had been sheltering from the heat all day and was now out in the field making up for lost time as he munched a swathe through the grass. He was not best pleased to see Anne approaching dangling a halter and stoically ignored her until she attempted to capture him. Even he couldn't be bothered to put up too much of a struggle though and eventually we were leading him reluctantly out of his field, up through the pine woods to the stables where he had his coat brushed and hoofs cleaned out. He hates the flies – don't we all. Fortunately he has a long mane to protect his eyes and an even longer tail to swish across his back. He is a Cumberland Fell pony Anne brought out from England, well adapted to the harsh winters here, less so to the hot summers.

Hal in black, centre stage with friends near Rohrbach

As mentioned earlier, Anne is considerably more fit and sportive than Jill. As we had no saddle with us and Jill still has memories of trying to mount a horse without a girth to the saddle in Hungary, she declined Anne's invitation to try some bareback dressage with Hal, even on the end of a lunge rein. So Anne made up for our missed visit to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna by putting Hal through his paces in the schooling yard. He was very well behaved considering how reluctant he'd been to stop eating when we arrived. He obviously enjoyed the stimulation of showing off and probably realised he'd get back to his grass more quickly if he cooperated.

Dusk was falling as we released Hal back with his friends. He wandered back to them munching a huge juicy carrot without bothering to watch us go. Fickle friend!

Back home in the darkening twilight Ray had by now finished his lunch and joined us for wine on the cool terrace while supper was cooking. As Germany played Italy in the semi-finals of the football world cup Ray cheered for Italy – showing a perverse streak having lived most of his life in Germany. Germany lost and is therefore out of the final to be played in Berlin on Saturday. Tonight we can safely change our allegiance and cheer for France against Portugal.

A delicious candlelit supper of baked salmon and vegetables with a fresh salad containing sharp tasting herbs from the garden and followed by strawberries terminated a lovely and very full day. Even Ray was by now hungry for supper and the conversation was as stimulating as always where Ray is involved. He is well informed on world affairs and has very definite views on education, employment and industry throughout the western world. These views are soundly supported and well argued though not necessarily our own. Around midnight we decided that for some of us the day had been quite long and it was time for bed.

During the evening Ian phoned Hubert in Weimar. As we will be passing nearby on our way north we have always intended visiting him again as we go. Unfortunately he says he feels unwell because of the heat and would prefer to give our visit a miss on this occasion. Naturally we are very disappointed but wish him a speedy recovery. We will probably go to Potsdam instead.

Wednesday 5th July 2006, Rohrbach, North of Munich, Germany
Anne, very fit and undaunted by the heat, had gone off running and to play tennis by the time we were up at around 8.30am. Ray's day would not start until considerably later. While we were on the terrace sorting out photos the Jehovah's Witnesses called. It was probably fortunate for them that Ray was not yet around so they only had Ian to argue with. Ian greatly enjoyed the challenge of a ten minute chat in German on such a topic. Ray would probably have managed considerably longer before the hapless caller sought his escape!

The sun was very vicious by mid-morning as we made our way to Ingolstadt in Modestine. The roads were very empty and the sun beat down on the shimmering roads as they crossed the wide, deserted countryside of ripe wheat, maize and plantations of hops. The windows were wide open and, as we turned onto the busier main route in to Ingolstadt, Jill was accidentally stung on the neck by a bee. Bee stings hurt rather badly. There was nowhere to pull off the road and fast moving traffic behind us. It is quite amazing how a pain can be ignored when other things take priority. Eventually we pulled off at a bus stop and Ian was able to pull out the sting. Fortunately we still had one of Ian's antihistamine hay fever tablets remaining which stopped the inflammation from spreading further.

We parked on the edge of the town as most of the car parks were full or had height restrictions, and walked slowly in, Jill with a large, throbbing pain in the neck that gradually eased as the day wore on. We were already exhausted by the time we arrived and temperatures reached 34 degrees during the afternoon.

Under shady trees and umbrellas in the square near the Rathaus we stopped for an inexpensive lunch served from street stalls. We lingered over our schnitzel and salad with iced water, loath to face the heat of the streets. Really we are in no position to describe the town as all we could do was follow the shade slowly around and spend more time than Ian would have believed possible in air conditioned clothes shops, shoe shops and bookshops. The last he enjoyed and we now have two more maps and guide books covering northern Germany. Poor Modestine is carrying far more books than we originally intended and we haven't even reached Scandinavia yet! We also visited the large Gothic Liebfrauenmünster which felt very cool inside but even here the temperature registered 26 degrees.

Ingolstadt has an excellent medical museum and a beautiful tranquil garden planted out with medicinal herbs. We spent much of the afternoon there enjoying the sound of the fountain in the garden and sitting in a rose covered arbour in the shade of the beech hedge. Inside the museum the entire history of medicine was laid out in a series of rooms on two floors. Apart from prints, books and paintings there were surgical instruments, iron lungs, human skeletons and desiccated limbs and bodies. There were sections covering dentistry, obstetrics and blood letting. It was cooler in the museum but there was no air and it felt stuffy. The security staff were all out in the shade of the garden and we were alone in the museum. The effects of the heat and the antihistamine took there toll on Jill who sat down in the curator's seat beside a benign looking "real live" corpse and fell asleep! If the curator had returned he'd have thought he'd got another specimen and popped her into one of the display cabinets!

Botanical Garden and Medical History Museum, Ingolstadt

It was too frustrating, sticky and uncomfortable sightseeing in such weather so we returned across the hot, exposed bridge over the Danube to find Modestine who was looking far fresher than us as she stood beneath the leafy trees. By the time we'd got lost a bit and finally found our way back to Rohrbach there was just time for a quick shower before joining Anne and three friends at the local pizzeria for supper and another English conversation lesson. We were shortly joined by Ray and together spent another delightful evening. Anne's German friends all speak excellent English and have given us yet more ideas of places not to miss as we travel on. English conversation practice over a pleasant meal is an excellent way to improve one's language skills. One lady had recently returned from Santiago de Compostela and we compared impressions from our own visit last February. She did the pilgrimage from Burgos to Santiago by bicycle and her account made it seem really exciting.

English conversation group in the pizzeria, Rohrbach

With Anne and Ray in the pizzeria, Rohrbach

We returned home where we asked Ray to show us some of the medals he has received for services to Astronomy. These included the recently awarded "Legion d'Honneur" received from France and the Prix Lallemand presented to him by the Académie des Sciences in Paris last November. We really are very proud of our friends even if we do tease them a little at times!

Ray's astronomical success story

So our brief few days of tranquillity end. Tomorrow we move on into the unknown. As we know nobody further north or in Scandinavia it will be some time before we can appreciate home comforts again.