Weekend trip: Weltenburg monastery, Befreiungshalle, Donaudurchbruch

We set out early before the sun would get too hot and arrived in Kelheim at about 10.00. This town of 1600 has plenty of well-marked parking lots, n°5 Wöhrd (green) being the closest to the passenger ships with n°4 Donauvorland (red) a bit beyond and free of charge for longer stays. We checked the departure times of the ships and headed up the steep hill to the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), an elegant and high rotunda overlooking the town and the Danube Gorge.

The Bavarian King Ludwig I had this building erected from 1842-1863, first by Gärtner, then upon his death, by Leo von Klenze. It stands on top of the Michelsberg to commemorate the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon’s troops. The different hues of yellow and cream are supposed to produce a certain color effect from the distance, much as an impressionist painting. The golden shields held by the 34 Victory angels created by Ludwig Schwanthaler are supposedly the melted bronze of the cannons.

You buy the tickets (€4,50) at the bottom, walk up the hill and steps and enter a turnstile. You can walk on the bottom floor, climb the 132 steps half way up or all the way up to the section that Leo von Klenze added.

After our visit of the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), we drove down to Kelheim and had an excellent lunch for about €12,- per person at the Weißes Lamm (White Lamb), fresh asparagus and Schnitzel. Then we bought tickets, €4,-, for the Archaeological Museum around the corner, formerly a grain silo.

After an hour or so in the museum, we were glad for some fresh air and wandered over to the landing of the five ships officially permitted to travel through the narrow gap, 80 m wide, between the chalk cliffs towering over the Danube. The little blue train takes tourists around town.

We paid about €12,- each for a return ticket and shoved our overnight cases on board. The crew serves delicious food, coffee and cake, beer and water and everything was very clean and shiny. You will hear a tape in English and German telling you that the current runs at 2.5m/sec, that the deepest spot is 20m down, that private craft may not go through certain parts, that one or another cliff is called “Napoleon’s suitcase” (left after the battle) or the “Virgin” or the three round boulders are the “Three Brothers”.

At the far end you can see the monastery Weltenburg, founded by St. Columbanus disciples as an Iro-Scottish cloister in the 7th century to be missionaries in Bavaria. The monks, currently 11, have changed to the rules of the Benedictine order. The Abbey grew to more prominence in the 18th century and a larger church dedicated to St. George was built by the famous brothers Asam (paintings al fresco and stucco) from 1716 to 1739. 1803 led to the secularization of the buildings which were reappropriated for the village, until King Ludwig I reinstated the monastery, which became independent in 1913.

Nowadays, after its big renovation, the Abbey invites backpackers, singles, seminars, families etc. to stay in its simply furnished, but comfortable rooms, dining area and cafeteria (€85,- for two). Among the weekend courses offered there is learning to paint al fresco and talking about Christian topics. And yes, there is internet!

You can also toss your cell aside and tarry in the church, stop in the shop for books and Weltenburg cookies, buy a ticket for €2,50 to see the historical exhibition including a 60-minute tour of the brewery, sit in the restaurant Klosterschenke (closes at 7 pm sharp when the ships have stopped running!) and enjoy a delicious Brotzeit with a Maß of beer (1 liter, the word derives from ‘measure’) or roast pork, a Bavarian specialty.

The Rose island at Feldafing, Starnberger See

We left at 9.00 in the morning to catch the cool air for hiking, as it was pretty humid and a hint of thunderstorms approaching from the west, i.e. France and the Atlantic, which is our usual weather direction in Central Europe, the others being the British Isles, Russia and even Sahara dust storms across the Mediterranean.

Taking the train S6 from any one of the central stations of the Stammstrecke, you are whisked down south to the Lake Starnberg. We got off at Possenhofen, next to the Sissi Museum. Sissi, the pet name of Elisabeth who married Emperor Franz from Austria, loved this area. She went for walks, horse riding, boating and other pastimes. You may know the movie with Romy Schneider, which consolidated her fame as an actress. There is also a Castle Possenhofen, but it is private property. You can peek into the garden and watch the fountain, but not visit.

We walked down the steep hill past the youth hostel to the expansive lake. Many are the spots that bathers use to climb into the cool water and swim among the fish. Some are grassy, some pebbly, some steep and some flat. In between you will see stand-up paddlers and farther on there are small and large marinas full of boats covered with tarpaulins.

After about half an hour we reached Feldafing (also a train station) and bought tickets for the ferry (€4). The tall, muscular young man pulled out the metal ramp, let us climb aboard and told us the history of the Rose Island. In prehistoric times there were Pfahlbauten, lake dwellings built upon stilts, dated to about 3700 B.C. Meanwhile they are covered by silt and mud, as are the ceramic jugs and other items. Signs and ropes indicate the area that must not be touched. They are now inscribed in the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.

King Maximilian II of Bavaria acquired the island and had Peter J. Lenné design the villa and the rose gardens in the 1850s. Later, his son Ludwig II would entertain his friends there such Empress Sissi of Austria, Richard Wagner and the Zarin Maria Alexandrowna. The single building on the tiny Rose island, the “Casino”, can only be visited with a tour guide, every hour on weekdays and every half an hour on weekends, beginning at 12.15 (€3,50). It is advisable to reserve your tickets beforehand, otherwise bus groups will have gotten ahead of you and you’d have to wait several hours or go back. Young couples make reservations for the Gartensaal for their wedding (max. 30 p.)

The gardener lives in another small house with a tiny museum. The roses, cultivated since the 1860s, have nice smells, many white and pink and red ones, with benches and trellises all around. June is the best time to visit. Some trees, beech and thuja, are extremely old and worth looking at.

When you arrive at the Glockensteg of the Lenné Park again, do stop in at the Strandbad restaurant and savor one of their home cooked meals with fresh potatoes from the farm. Then you can don your bathing suit and hop in the cool lake!

City trip: Augsburg, Germany

Our group met at the train station in Munich, from there it is only about an hour to Augsburg. We started with the visit of the St. Anna Church in the center. The main part of this 13th century church is Protestant, there are even portraits of Martin Luther at the west end, but the lateral church and the east end with the Fugger family tombstones are Catholic.

In the lateral chapel the ceiling is much lower and you can see wall frescoes. This shows that we are in the oldest part of the church. Note the Gothic arches of the ceiling. Different stories of saints and dragons are depicted.

In the main part of the church, the Protestant part, everything is larger, lighter, has an entirely different look. The walls have been whitewashed and only a few portraits adorn the walls. The altars and ceiling frescoes are still very Catholic, but the rest is mostly unadorned. Take a closer look at the red wax altar which was made for the church.

The east end holds the epitaphs according to designs by Albrecht Dürer of the Fugger family, bankers and merchants from Swabia in the 15th century, the ones who made Augsburg’s fame and built houses for the poor. This group of houses edified by Jakob the Rich in 1521 is called the Fuggerei, still exists and still offers homes to about 150 destitute people for less than a euro a year. The Fuggerei is not far from the center, within easy walking distance.

After visiting the St. Anna and walking up the Luther stairs to the tiny museum at the top, we went outdoors and walked through the streets and markets which were getting ready for the festive season.

Landshut also has a university and one of the largest and most famous institutes for ceramics with a nice park all around. Later on, we did a tour of the Schaezler Palais in the Maximilianstraße. It was formerly the city dwelling of the banker Benedikt Adam Freiherr von Liebert. The architect Karl Albert von Lespilliez built a small facade towards the street which stretches all the way to the back and has a long rear wall. You will find many unique paintings and works of art plus a wonderful rococo ballroom. The word rococo comes from the word rocaille, i.e. French baroque with curves and undulations.

Our last stop was the extremely modernized church St. Moritz remodeled by British architects John Pawson in 2013. We were very impressed by the simplified architectural elements. Stark white walls, dark statues, circular light holes in the ceiling and flickering candle flames create a wonderful atmosphere.

Not too far off you can visit the “Augsburger Puppenkiste”, the famous house of marionettes like Jim Knopf and Lukas der Lokomotivführer.

Paphos, Republic of Cyprus: Archaeological Park

We flew down to Cyprus at the beginning of November and had a very enjoyable week with lots of sun. It was hot enough to go swimming, but cool enough to go on day trips. The ocean was unfortunately too turbulent to go in without crashing into the pier, due to the heavy storms over Europe, but the swimming pool was fine. From most hotels you can easily catch a bus at a nearby stop and travel to the city center for a very low fare. Near the bus station you will find the entrance to the mosaics in the Archaeological Park (the reason why we chose to stay in Paphos). These mosaics stand on the list of World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.

It is advisable to carry along some water, as the area of the mosaics in ‘NeaPaphos is quite extensive. The mosaics, some in the open, some under excavation and some in the four very large Roman villas (House of Dionysus, Aion, Theseus and Orpheus), are very well preserved. The villas are usually built around an atrium with a proclinium in the front.

Other constructions have also been uncovered, an agora, the basilica of Panagia Limeniotissa – “Our Lady of the Harbor”, a Hellenistic-Roman theatre, the Saranta Kolones (40 columns) fortress, an asklipieion and a necropolis. If you are lucky, you can watch the archaeologists working. The opening times are from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm. Currently the entrance fee is €4,50.

The Maldives

Originally we had intended to fly to another destination, but couldn’t find anything we liked, so we followed the advice of a colleague and decided to try the Maldives. We were in no way disappointed! We landed in Malé airport and a boat took us out to Coco, one of the 1200 atoll islands which form a large circle.

We especially love the climate, about 30°, mostly sunny, not so humid and moreover, no “climate change catastrophes” such as tsunamis or typhoons or earthquakes. The people in charge of Coco (my good friends) have transformed this island into a lush paradise of palm trees, flowers and walkways between the island villas and the boardwalks to the water villas, which are more costly, but worth their money.

Coco offers about 5 fantastic restaurants, cafeteria and à la carte, a beauty salon, a diving school, meet and greet evenings, a turtle research center, several shops, e-carts to get to the other end, a large pool. several beaches and many other things.

At the research center you can talk to the marine biologist about how turtles are often caught in fishing nets or plastic waste. They sell adorable stuffed turtles and the proceeds go towards the research. The corals are unfortunately also bleached in many spots since 2016, when the water temperatures rose worldwide. Yet they are altogether still in better shape than, for example, the Red Sea. Many are growing back, due in part to the efforts of the research center.

The snorkeling is wonderful in this clear green-blue water, there are masses of colorful fish, turtles, manrays, small sharks and corals of every hue. You can take boat trips, learn diving, arrange for a massage with aromatic oils, book a table and order fresh fish at one of the open air restaurants, watch the natives dance or just relax on a beach. Hopefully this atoll will now be flooded some day when water levels rise!

Open-air farm museum in Großgmain, Salzburg

We boarded the bus early to drive south-east to Salzburg in Austria where we were planning to take a tour around the open-air museum of beautiful old farm houses and sheds from different centuries of five regions: Pongau, Pinzgau, Tennengau, Flachgau and Lungau.

The tour with one of the family Fuchs lasts about one and a half hours and the walk can be extended to seven kilometers around the farm houses and up the hill to the Alm houses. You can also board the little train that chugs all around the terrain and has several stops, free of extra charge (currently 11,-€).

In the entrance area and in the General Goods Shop you can buy all sorts of books, guides, souvenirs and local produce such as walnut liqueur, old-fashioned sweets, household appliances, postcards and the like.

a lovely 17th century house
a Hanichl fence: dried fir branches cut to measure
a balcony is a Hausgang here – note the wooden shingles on the walls
thriving plants like fennel, lettuce, beetroot, onions, carrots, herbs like parsley, sage and thyme and flowers like aquilegia, phlox, sunflowers, lilies, tagetes, zinnias, lemon balm/ melissa, forget-me-nots, also currants and boxtree
the hole in the box-seat is for chickens to get inside in the winter
nails were too expensive to forge to save the split shingles from a storm, so long poles and heavy stones would keep them in place
this stone wall is gaily decorated with swirls and “trees” made with black stones on white

Our treat after alle the walking and trying to remember all the construction details was heading back to Ruhpolding to the Windbeutelgräfin and ordering from a long list of cakes and Windbeutel – puff pastries full of whipped cream / ice cream / fruit / eggnog. Each was decorated as a Lohengrin swan and absolutely gigantic. There are tables indoors and out, display cases with doll houses, Mozart busts and flower stencils all around, quite picturesque and worth a stop!

Hongkong

Hongkong was the last stop of the three week trip in the group and we added on another day before we flew the 13 hours back home. It is a fascinating city of old and new, hi-tech and traditional. We first had a harbor cruise and afterwards drove up to Victoria Peak for the best views. One can pay to get into the platform, but opposite there is a shopping mall with good windows too. We also visited the largest museum with exhibits of crafts, boats, city model and art.

Naturally, we went to visit a temple with buddha statues, puppet figures and many other buildings of interest. My husband bought a nice cell phone downtown, it just needs a different plug for charging. Many Chinese speak quite good English and are always helpful. We sometimes took the underground subway train, cheap and fast.

Downtown Hongkong is a busy, bustling place. There is so much to see and to admire that it is difficult to describe it all. It is rather a shame that the British influence has lessened, but it is wonderful to visit. We can strongly recommend the Maritime Museum down at the water’s edge.