The “Love Route“ ! – September 2015

Monday, September 21st, 2015 – Würzburg to Füssen

I was up bright and early the next morning, but then again, I always am !

We were staying in the Hotel Strauss, which was right in the town centre and small enough to feel welcoming. The breakfast was typically Teutonic. No matter how much travelling I do, I can never get used to how other nations start their day, but at least I could get eggs which I like and I left satisfied.

The weather had cleared up and it was bright and clear, so I set the SatNav for our first destination of the day, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was a mere 65 kilometres away. I chose not to use the A7 motorway, opting instead for the B19 which promised nicer, more relaxed riding.

I enjoy riding in Germany. Whilst history is, quite rightly, no friend of the Germans, they are an orderly people and this reflects in everything they do. The countryside looked neat and well tended, the road surface was uniformly excellent and the manners of other road users exemplary. We do not tend to rush about and we were able to travel at our own, rather leisurely, pace and take it the sights as we went. There was nothing particularly remarkable but there is no getting away from it – Germany can be very pretty.

Before long, we came to Rothenburg.

I knew from watching Henry Cole that Rothenburg is the centre of a year-round Christmas industry. Nonetheless, the sheer extent of what this means in reality still surprised me !

Outwardly, it is just a pleasant little medieval German town. However, a closer examination soon reveals that it not only boasts an unprecedented number of shops selling weapons and armour but that almost all the shops in the centre are entirely devoted to the sale of Christmas related items. The variety and extent of goods on offer, all with the same central theme, is mind-boggling.

One of the things which Lucie and I do when we travel is to buy a bauble for our Christmas tree (I even have an Islamic one from the Mejdan in Samarkand) and sometimes we have a job to find one. Not so here. We entered the Winter wonderland that is the shop run by one Kathe Wohlfahrt and our jaws collectively hit the floor. To say there were a million different “Christmassy” things on offer may well be to understate matters. The shop interior is more or less a succession of terraces, all crammed with Christmas themed stuff, that surround a huge white artificial tree. The tree must be more than 20 metres tall and every available space is crammed with “themed“ hangings. Its “kitsch factor“ must be off of all known scales !

After rummaging for some time through all sorts of stuff (who, for instance would want a wooden soldier, nearly 2 metres tall which would be impossible to get into the attic ….) we did find a decoration with a minimal “kitsch factor“ so we anted-up a few Euros and left the heaving ant’s nest to the hordes that were still rushing in.

As I mentioned, most of the other emporia that were not devoted to Christmas, seemed to be touting replica armour and some scary reproduction weaponry. When I saw Lucie weighing, somewhat ominously, what appeared to be a hellish combination of battle axe, mace and sharp, nasty prodder, in her tiny hands, I quickly suggested a coffee.

There is a very pleasant square, with tables, so we augmented our drink with some sticky (and delicious) pastries. Right in front of us was the Town Hall, which had a quaint clock with a window either side. It was approaching the hour and people began to gather, looking up. There was an air of anticipation and, as the clock struck, two mechanical people came out and then went back in. All a bit anticlimactic, particularly if you compare it to the Old Town Hall in Prague ! Sorry Rothenburg !

We set off for our next intended stop, another “Cole“ recommendation, the town of Dinkersbuhl. It was only around 45 kilometres away and we again opted for the secondary route, this time the B25.Dinkersbuhl is undeniably lovely. You can easily get overdosed with prettiness in that part of the world, but it probably stands out, even so. We had a nice coffee (and another pastry) in a warm, cobbled square surrounded by medieval buildings that looked as though they were new. It probably looks far better now than it did in the middle-ages !

Resisting the temptation to just sit there, away we went again. Our next destination was Nördlingen, only a little over 30 kilometres to the south.

We were entering Bavaria proper now. There were subtle changes to the architecture we were passing and a lot of the agriculture was obviously oriented towards hop production. We came over a small ridge and then a more pronounced one.

Cast your mind back about 15 million years.

Out of the sky came a meteor, over 1.5 kilometres in diameter and travelling at about 72,000 kph. The rock then struck the Earth’s surface with the explosive force of of 1.8 million of the atomic bombs detonated in Hiroshima. The impact created a crater, the Nordlinger Ries, which is 25 kilometres across and which has a secondary ridge even further out. Some flying debris ended up over 450 kilometres away in South Bohemia. It was not a place to be standing when that happened.

There is no trace of what must have been unimaginable destruction now although, of course, no-one was around to see it when it happened. The road wound across a plain which has an almost imperceptible downward slope and, right in the very centre of the “natural“ bowl, lay the town of Nördlingen.

It is a very lovely place. Despite the depredations of various wars including two significant battles (in 1634 and 1645), during the Thirty Years’ War. It still has its city wall, around which we made a pleasant walk and you enter the town by one of its medieval gates set at the compass points. A lot of the beautifully preserved buildings have a slightly “shimmery“ look. They are constructed principally from a rock called suevite that was created by the heat of the meteor impact and contain billions of microscopic diamonds !

Although they are, individually, worthless, it is estimated that there is over 72,000 tons of diamonds imbedded with Nördlingen’s stonework !

Although maybe not so keen on meteors one and a half kilometres across, I do love their baby bothers, meteorites. It is a lifelong fascination, one was found near where I grew up and I later discovered that some of my ancestors had lived in a street still known, colloquially, as “Fireball Alley“. For this reason, Nördlingen’s Rieskrater Museum was high on my agenda. Sadly, it was closed – so we vowed to revisit it on our way back.

After leaving Nördlingen, we rode to the lip of the first crater and looked back. The town itself, a bit over 12 kilometres away, looked tiny and circular. It really is pretty. The far lip of the crater, about 25 kilometres away, was hazy in the distance. Behind us, the road dipped before rising slightly again to the second lip. That must have been one hell of a bang !

Like the defeated forces of the Holy Roman Empire in 1645, we then headed east to Donauworth. Again, it was almost unbearably cute, but mainly remarkable for an intricate arrangement of roadworks and accompanying diversions that seemed intended to keep us within its environs for all eternity. Even the SatNav could not seem to find a way out. In the end, I was forced to ignore everything and eventually found my way far enough from the town for the navigation to recalculate the way to our next destination which was, nominally at least, Augsburg.

Sadly, Bavaria is almost too perfect and Augsburg was no exception to that rule. It was astonishingly neat and tidy, with wide, clean streets and, as such, wholly unremarkable. Having lost a lot of time in Donauworth, we did not stop in Augsburg even though we would have liked a coffee. Instead, we headed south again, on Route 17, towards a town with a lovely name, Kissing. According to my notes, it was in Kissing that a baroque Chapel, that had achieved UNESCO World Heritage Status, was located.

Now, call me old fashioned, if you will, but, because the Germans are so good at signs, I foolishly expected that finding a UNESCO World Heritage site would be pretty easy. I admit that I had no address for the SatNav, but how hard could it possibly be ?

The answer turned out to be more than just hard and, ultimately, impossible.

We rode down Route 17, with me expecting to see either a familiar brown sign or at least some indication for the town of Kissing. Eventually, it became obvious that either there was not going to be one – or I had missed it. A quick conference, beside the road, led to a decision to visit on the way back, as it would be easier than retracing our steps when exits seemed few and far between on that stretch of highway.

We kept heading south and, after a very nice coffee at a roadhouse near Denklingen, decided to make our final hop straight to our hoped-for destination for the night. This was the town of Füssen which, by then, was only about 60 km away.

The same story continued. The road was wide, extremely well surfaced and even our leisurely progress, uninterrupted by any hold-up, meant that before long we could see the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland ahead.

Sometimes, SatNavs do funny things for no discernible reason – and now ours did.

It is a sad thing that, when you use a SatNav, you are never “lost“ in the traditional sense. That said, it is still quite possible, whilst not being lost, to have no real idea where you are. That phenomenon duly occurred.

I was starting to think we had come further south than I had mentally expected (the mountains, by then, seemed very close indeed). This was only a “feeling“ as it was some time since I had seen any indication that Füssen, which was our destination, even existed. Then as we rounded a bend the SatNav indicated I should take the next road to the right. Nothing wrong there – it was where Füssen had to be. But, after a few kilometres, we were directed over a cattle-grid and through a sort of gateway. An ominous sign indicated that lorries, cars and motorcycles should not enter.

I stopped and looked. The road was metalled, but not to highway smoothness and undulated gently across wide green meadows, flanked by distant pines, towards the far horizon. According to the SatNav, which I tried to reset twice without obtaining a different result, Füssen was about 21 kilometres away. Suddenly, in the far distance, I could just see the late afternoon sun glinting on a car that was driving away from us. Oh well ! We set off after it !

The landscape was almost like some stylised painting. The wide meadows were very green, the forests dark and foreboding and the mountains of Switzerland on our left had the occasional patch of snow. The little farms we passed were white-walled and red-roofed and possessed of that almost scary Germanic tidiness. The pungent aromas of the cow sheds seemed almost out of place.

Although the road had been built for serviceability, not traffic and, as such had quite a rough surface devoid of markings, it was very easy riding indeed. Visibility, as I have said was almost startling as there was absolutely nothing to disrupt the endless swathes of bright green grass. If there had been any other traffic, I could have seen it from 5 kilometres away – but there was not any at all. In such tranquility, our Harley, which is not quiet, seemed extra loud, but no disgruntled yeomen rushed out to confront us. Almost before we knew it, we went over another cattle-grid, through a gateway that was the “twin“ of the one we had entered through and out onto a “proper“ road.

Füssen was signposted to the left and we were in the town after only a few minutes.

The problem with riding around Bavaria is that, eventually, all the towns begin to blend into a single, mental image. They are all beautifully quaint, extraordinarily well kept and a joy to behold. Sadly, this does tend to make them a bit “samey“. Füssen was no exception to this rule but it did, at least, have a backdrop of fir tree covered mountains between what appeared to be every small gap in the buildings. We wandered the central, pedestrianised, square and tried not to wince too hard at the epic prices in the cafes. The town’s proximity to the tourist draw of nearby Neuschwanstein also meant that hotel prices were fairly astral. I had been recommended to one in particular, the Hotel Sohne and it did indeed look like a fabulous place. Sadly, when we saw its posted tariff we were in immediate agreement that it was way too high. Just because you can afford to do something does not always mean you are obliged to do it. A quick search on the internet revealed a more “touristy“ place about a kilometre away where the price for a night was under half that of the Sohne, so we went there. It was utilitarian, but comfortable and as all we wanted to do was sleep, that is what we did.