Friday, July 31, 2009

Dresden and the Sächsische Schweiz

The end of June saw Bel and I take advantage of one of the last long weekends for the year, and we headed off to spend some time in Dresden and surrounds. We had been toying with the idea of camping in Dresden, but decided relatively last minute that we wanted to find a Ferienwohnung (holiday apartment) to rent instead, and ended up finding an abolute gem within walking distance to the Altstadt. Ferienwohnungen are one of our new favourite things, as they give you a certain amount of freedom (no set breakfast time) and the ability to cook for yourself if you want.

Dresden and the Elbe River by night
Now, Dresden pretty much had the living bejeezus bombed out of it at the end of the second world war, and still finds itself in an ongoing state of reconstruction, but is still a very impressive city none the less. Especially impressive is the reconstructed Frauenkirche which was rebuilt using as many of the original stones as possible. You can still see which of the stones are the originals today due to their discolouration, but this will slowly disappear with time, which is kind of a shame, IMHO.

As is typical on our holidays of late, Bel and I managed to:
  1. Sit in traffic jams for ages on the way there and the way back (thanks to the economic stimulus package that has resulted in road works all over the country); and
  2. Get rained on...a lot! (Luckily we had a few days to play with and could reschedule our planned hike to a sunnier day)
Other than being architecturally spectacular (in the Altstadt), Dresden also managed to entertain us on the cultural (in the Neustadt) and language side of things.
The Neustadt is the newer part of town, though it is barely older than the older part of town - the Altstadt. This part of town is really the heart of the alternative scene and is full of interesting shops, restaurants, punks, graffiti, etc., all of which are completely harmless (my impression anyway).
As far as the language goes, the Sachsens don't speak Hochdeutsch like we learned, but rather their own Sächsisch dialect. This resulted in many false starts, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and funny looks from both sides, and it generally took us a couple of sentences before both sides had found the lowest common denominator and were able to progress with a conversation with a relatively acceptable level of understanding.

The Sunday saw Bel and I take the train out into the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), which is the playground of all outdoor sports fanatics, offering hiking and mountain biking trails, outdoor rock climbing possibilities, and much much more. We chose probably one of the most popular hikes and did it in the reverse direction (less people that way), taking us from Stadt Wehlen up to the Bastei (pre-medieval fortress) and back again in a leisurely 13k loop. If only we had have realised how much up and down was included in those 13k...

The final day of the long weekend saw us head out to Schloß Weesenstein before piling back into the car for what turned out to be a hell of a long 5+hr drive home. And boy did we need a holiday after that long weekend...

Schloß Weesenstein

Scary goat...


PS: Sorry for the long post...

Schängel-Stadt Koblenz

A week after our weekend touring Bamberg and Coburg, Bel and I headed to Koblenz for the weekend to watch some friends go crazy and run in the Koblenz half-marathon.

The Altstadt in Koblenz lies nested between the rivers Mosel and Rhein near the so-called Deutschen Eck (German corner). If you take a look at the pic that I just linked to, you will see that the flags of all of the 16 german states and the flag of the Republic of Germany are all present here, as well as a massive statue to Emperor Wilhelm I (Wilhelm the Great).

Ehrenbreitstein by day

Ehrenbreitstein by night

Overlooking Koblenz is the fortress Ehrenbreitstein which was built by the Prussians to guard this area which was continually under attack from the French. And is it because of the French that Koblenz has the "Schängel" as its town symbol.
This area belonged to the French for 20 years, and the most common name for children of german mothers with french roots was derived from Jean, which the Koblenzer couldn't pronounce. So Jean became Schang then finally the diminutive Schängel, and this cheeky little kid can be seen all around town on all of the manhole covers, and even has his own fountain dedicated to him, which spits on passers by. :)

The Schängel fountain

Bindy checking out the local art offerings

So, thanks to our nuttier than squirrel shit friends who wanted to run the half-marathon (and did a bang-up job), we got to tick off another beautiful and famous german town (which we then proceded to take GkT back to a few weeks later).


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Smokey Beers and Daunting Defenses

A few weeks after getting back from France, Bel and I decided to check out one of the gems in Germany - the town of Bamberg in Oberfranken, Bavaria. An important point for the unaware - although the town of Bamberg is in Bavaria, the inhabitants ARE NOT Bavarian, they are Franken.

The town of Bamberg is well known for 2 things - one we got to enjoy, and the other that we chose not to enjoy. The first is the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) which sits perched on its own little island in the middle of the Regnitz river. The second of the two is smoked beer, but this just isn't our beer (meaning it's just not our thing).

Bel and I spent a fair bit of the day following a cache around town, which lead us to most of the interesting points and places to see...but didn't lead us to the cache itself. We're not really having too much luck with caches as of late.
Towards the end of the day we stumbled across a market in the middle of town which just happened to have a "Bio" stall where we were able to find all manner of things sugar and yeast free (yes, we are back on the diet again). Nearly 50€ later we had stocked up on spreads, breads, pestos, etc. and the weekend was well and truly saved (I had my sads on about not being able to eat anything...).

The next day we had planned to go to Nürnberg for the day, but a quick browse of our "Germany on a Shoestring" book the day before had revealed a fortification in the nearby town of Coburg that I wanted to see - die Veste. So we packed up our tent and headed off to see these daunting defenses that were never defeated.

After having a look around the fortifications, we walked down into the heart of Coburg to check out the palace, chill a little in the town square, and generally take in the ambience.

If you get the chance to come here, both Bamberg and Coburg are worth a day trip, IMHO. But make sure you have a designated driver, so that you can try out the Rauchbier in Bamberg - they say it's pretty good, but what would I know?!?! :)


Mayday! May Day!

Yeah, this posting is a little late, but better late than never. We have been quite busy lately, and haven't managed to get around to posting about the various goings-on in our lives, where we have been, what we have seen, etc. It's finally time to do something about it.

So, as a sequel to last year's May Day long weekend in Paris, Bel and I piled onto a plane and flew back to Paris to catch up with Stéven and Emilie one year later, and to celebrate Stéven's 30th in Brittany.

Parisian Café life

Best Falafel in Paris

Pretty flowers in a Parisian park

Soccer and Pétanque in the Colosseum

This time around we managed more than just the long weekend, which allowed us just to relax, take things easy, and enjoy Paris for what it is, rather than rushing around to see the sights.

Old guy getting his Pétanque on

Evil Mr Tumnus...

Tennis Pavillion at the Petit Trianon (Versailles)

Part of the village in the Petit Trianon

Before heading to Brittany for the start of Stéven's long weekend of birthday fun and frivolity, we took a day to head out to see Cháteau Versailles, where Marie Antionette lived, and where the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of the First World War (which arguably lead to the Second World War, according to Bel who is sitting on the couch reading HP 7 for the 5th time).

Cháteau Versailles from the back

Fountain at Versailles

Part of the village in the Petit Trianon

Part of the village in the Petit Trianon

After Paris, Versailles, and a really good Côte de Boeuf at Baignoire (the Bath), it was off to Brittany to Stéven's parents' house and the beginning of his weekend of birthday celebrations. Unfortunately we were only able to stay for the first night of festivities, and therefore missed seeing Stéven soil his newly purchased white Converse boots with the insides of his own stomach... But who knows, maybe he will do us the honours of repeating it next year, if we manage to make it to Paris again.

Brushy in a tent

Bel and Stéven in Brittany