Sunday June 9, 2013

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These trips (I’ve often explained) are not holidays – they’re learning experiences, adult education, like being in a travelling university. And there’s so much to take in, it’s not just your LEGS that feel tired at the end of a busy day: it’s also your BRAIN!

I mean, for starters there’s geography: getting your head around the countries, rivers, cities and landmarks of the places we visit. Then there’s history – in this case, masses of it, with glimpses back beyond the Roman Empire … a major focus on the Middle Ages (with 600-900-year-old castles and walled towns littering the landscape) … and frequent references to World War 2 (Hitler, the Nazis, Allied bombing raids, etc). And there’s art, architecture and religion everywhere you look – especially in the countless cathedrals that Europe’s founders were addicted to building.

Take the ‘bergs’ and ‘burgs’ we’ve been visiting. Back a few centuries, it seems, every German town worth its salt was given a name that ended with one or the other – and the country is littered with them. A ‘berg’ (in case you’re wondering) is a town on a hill. A ‘burg’ (on the other hand) is a town with a castle.

Yesterday, for example, after our non-weight-watchers hearty breakfast aboard the stationary Amadeus Classic, we drove through the countryside in search of Nuremberg ­– the big city (second largest in Bavaria) where Hitler held his huge Nazi Party rallies (from 1933 until 1938) … and where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946. We didn’t have time for the WW2 sites – but we did get to clamber around the massive, 900-year-old ramparts and the storybook Imperial Castle that looms over the old walled town.

Then, in the afternoon, we checked out the lovely old city of Wurzburg – guarded by the hilltop Fortress Marienberg, and famous for its Residenz, the vast Baroque palace built for the prince-bishops in the early 1700s. We climbed the great marble staircase … got all stiff-necked ogling the stunning ceiling frescoes by the Venetian master, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo … and traipsed through the gloriously decorated rooms (no photos allowed inside, bummer).

This morning we rode endless German autobahns to the town of Kelheim, then embarked on a pleasant small-boat trip through the lovely Danube Gorge to Weltenburg Abbey – founded by Irish or Scottish monks in about 620 AD. We lunched hugely on German dumplings and the famous dark beer that’s made here in the oldest monastery brewery in the world. Then we enjoyed a quick look-see inside the mind-bogglingly ornate chapel – which features a giant sculpture of this region’s patron saint, St George, slaying the dragon.

Finally, this afternoon, we weary-footed it across one of Europe’s oldest stone bridges (which has spanned the Danube since the 12th century, and was the starting point for the 2nd and 3rd Crusades). Then we did some more traipsing – this time down narrow lanes in magnificent Regensburg, one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities, inspecting, en route, its impressive gothic cathedral and architectural highlights.

Tonight, regrettably, we’re in a Regensburg hotel. I say ‘regrettably’ – not because the hotel’s not nice, but because, thanks to ongoing fallout from the awful floods that have swept Central Europe, our river-cruise has turned into a coach-tour. But that’s nobody’s fault … we’re still seeing heaps … the weather has, ironically, been fantastic (it was actually stinkin’ hot today, and we were all hunting for shade) … and our Mad Midlife Kiwis are still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

TOMORROW: We’ve got a long four-hour drive, crossing the border into Austria and visiting the magnificent Benedictine abbey of Melk. Each kilometre will bring us closer to Austria’s gorgeous capital: musical, historical Vienna! So watch this space …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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