Archive for June, 2010

Detour to southern Germany

June 28, 2010

Greetings from sunny Germany!

On Thursday morning we left Ingolstadt and made very good time biking towards Regensburg, enjoying ideal weather and beautiful remote German countryside. This was by far the most enjoyable biking we had so far. As we approached Regensburg that evening, we decided we might enjoy finding lodging in a guesthouse in one of the small, quaint towns surrounding the city rather in the pricier, somewhat touristy town of Regensburg itself. We found exactly what we were looking for in the village of Matting, where we were the only lodgers in a small, family-run guesthouse. We chatted World Cup “football” with the portly, mustached guesthouse owner over a very German meal of knödel and wurst before retiring for the night.

The next morning we got on our way after receiving a hearty farewell from the guesthouse owner (in the best English he could muster – “Happy holiday! Happy holiday!”). We rode a short distance into Regensburg, hoping first to visit to former residence of the famous 18th century astronomer and mathematician Johann Kepler, which is now a museum. The museum, however, was closed, though a beautiful Ferrari parked right in front of the house made the destination worthwhile. In the heart of the city itself, we were impressed by the very medieval feel (Regensburg is an ancient city – we got to see a Roman gate from the second century).

We boarded a train in Regensburg to get to Oberammergau. We weren’t about to bike here since it’s in a very mountainous region near the southern border of Germany. It’s not on the Danube, but we made it a destination on our trip because this is the year of the Passion Play, a production that the small town has put on every ten years for almost four centuries, with a few interruptions for wars and such. According to tradition, in 1633 the villagers of Oberammergau vowed to perform the Passion Play every ten years out of gratitude that their town was spared from the plague. The play involves most of the people who live in the village, and they perform it several times a week throughout the summer. The production is almost six hours long, with a break for supper in the middle. It was an impressive and moving show, although it took a lot of concentration to follow the dialogue, as the play was performed in German.

On Sunday morning we attended Mass in English at the Catholic church in Oberammergau. It was an unfamiliar format for both of us, but we couldn’t really follow the lead of the other people in the congregation because they were all visitors as well, probably here to see the Passion Play.

While we’re in this region of Germany, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Neuschwanstein, one of the most famous castles in Germany. After a hike up a steep trail to get up the hill, we took a tour of the castle. It was beautifully decorated and had a great view of the valley below. However, it was also quite crowded with tourists, and it will feel good to get back on the bike paths through the quiet German countryside. During our bus ride back to Oberammergau, we encountered a disabled vehicle that was blocking the road. Our bus driver steered the bus over the grass shoulder and onto a small, unpaved bike path to bypass the incident. We tried to start some applause after we got safely back on the road, but the only other person on the bus at the time was a nonchalant teenage girl who was listening to her iPod.

Today we will return to the Danube by train, this time to the city of Passau, where we will resume our biking and cross the border into Austria. In just a few days we’ll meet the missions team in Vienna. We’re looking forward to seeing what the upcoming week holds for us.

Kepler House Museum

Roman Gate in Regensburg

Roman Gate in Regensburg

Passion Play Theater in Oberammergau

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

The bus driving onto the bike path

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Our first week

June 24, 2010

Our first week in Germany has been full of surprises.  Germany has had an unusually cold and rainy summer so far.  Our first day, it started out raining, but by afternoon it cleared off a bit, and we were able to stop and enjoy a hillside of “baa-ing” sheep.  That night we stayed in a youth hostel located in an 11th-century castle.  And yes, it looked and felt like a castle, albeit with heated rooms.  Our second day, the rain persisted, so we stopped biking part way through the day in Gutenstein and checked into the first guesthouse that would take our credit card (as we discovered that in small German towns, many establishments only take European debit cards or cash, and the next ATM was two towns over).

On the third the day, the weather was still cold and wet, but bearable.  We biked to the nearest train station and took a short train ride to get us back on schedule.  We recommenced biking in Munderkingen, with Um as our destination.  Our path on this day took us on a slight detour away from the Danube and past the Blautopf, the source of the nearby Blau River.  On a sunny day, the spring has a deep blue color.  However, the overcast weather that characterized our trip up to this point gave the spring a greenish hue, though this was still more attractive than the muddy brown of the Danube that resulted from all the rain we’d had.

In Ulm we couchsurfed (www.couchsurfing.org), which is a nice way to learn about local culture by staying with a local resident.  The next morning in Ulm, we decided to attempt the 768-step climb to the top of the world’s tallest church steeple at Ulm’s Lutheran church (perhaps not the wisest activity before a long day of biking – but we decided it was worth it).  After getting new brakes put on our bikes at a local repair shop, we started on our way towards Gundelfingen, arriving there in the early evening.  The next day we biked to Donauwoerth, took a train to Neuburg, then finished that day’s stretch by biking to Ingolstadt.

Our couchsurfing host in Ingolstadt, Sebastian, met us on the Danube, and we biked directly to an open-air showing of a World Cup soccer game.  Due to some kind of German security law, we had to surrender our helmets at the entrance to this event.  Perhaps the security guards were afraid we would be more likely to riot when wearing bike helmets.  Here, our thoroughly Bavarian host introduced us to some thoroughly Bavarian cuisine.  At the end of the night, we discovered that the event security guards had already gone home, leaving us helmetless.  Sebastian was fairly certain that if we returned to the event the next afternoon, he would be able to get our helmets back.  He graciously offered to let us stay another night, so were able to take the next morning to see the beautiful city of Ingolstadt instead of continuing on our way.  Incidentally, Ingolstadt is the home of the German car company Audi.  (About 30,000 of the 120,000 residents of the city work for Audi).  That afternoon, Sebastian was indeed successful at retrieving our helmets. We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in a park, where Sebastian taught us how to juggle.  In the evening we went to his friend’s apartment to watch Germany play Ghana in the World Cup.  We watched the game on the rooftop of the apartment, which allowed us to hear all of the commotion in the city after Germany won this important game.  We stayed at Sebastian’s apartment a second night, which brings us to this morning.  Today we continue on our way to Regensburg.

Welcome!

June 15, 2010

Thanks for visiting our blog, where we will chronicle our journey from Germany to Romania this summer.   We are leaving from Philadelphia at 9:15pm on June 15 and we plan to return on August 18.  Hopefully in that time we will have many interesting experiences to share with you.  Stay tuned…

Lindsay