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!

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.

Shanghai by Day

When visiting Shanghai you should take some time not only for the fashionable colonial street “Bund” and the skyscrapers, but also for their wonderful museum.

Right outdoors of the museum is the river bank walk, where we witnessed a young bridal couple having their photo taken. From the walk you can admire the Bund and the skyscrapers opposite.

Funnily enough, on the way to the airport we saw an area with low houses and little grass + garden plots all around. We were told they belong to affluent people who can pay to have a larger plot and not have to live in a tall building.

As to ownership, the Chinese may only lease their appartment for about 70 years, then it is given to the State. Those people who wish to make money by renting out appartments can only buy a second or third flat under certain circumstances, such as divorce. One lady was in the newspaper for divorcing her husband several times over in order to buy new appartments!

Dornbirn near Bregenz, Austria – home of the Opernfestspiele

Dornbirn is a small town on the outskirts of Bregenz, home to the spectacular Opera Festival on Lake Constance. We had arrived a day early for “Carmen” by Georges Bizet and decided to explore our surroundings. And we found many interesting things to do following the street up the mountain:

  • the Rolls Royce Museum
  • the aerial tram up to the very top of the mountain: “Karrenseilbahn”
  • the swimming pool in the glade

The owners of the small museum offer detailed insights of the making and history of the luxury cars. Spend a delightful hour or two admiring the sleek chassis, leather seats and “Spirit of Ecstasy” figurehead.

This is the view you get when you take the aerial tram “Karren.at” to the top. Not only is there a breathtaking view, but also a nice restaurant. We had Wurstsalat with cheese and onions. Prices for the aerial tram are about 12€, up and down.

The pool is nearby, with nice meadows next to the river Dornbirner Ach. It’s a great place to cool off before dressing up for the big opera “Carmen”in Bregenz, the backdrop of which was designed by the Londoner Es Devlin.

Museum Brandhorst in Munich

Should you ever happen to be in the lovely city of Munich, capital of Bavaria, you should not miss out on visiting several of the fantastic museums there. Most of them are concentrated in the area Schwabing and the Königsplatz, there is a special Museum-Bus no. 100 running from the Train Station East (Ostbahnhof) to the Main Train Station. Nearby you will find the three Pinakotheken, the Mineral and the Egyptian Museum, a bit further on the Glyptothek, the Staatliche Antikensammlung and the Lenbach-Haus

The Collection Brandhorst in the Theresienstrasse specializes in modern art, currently showing oeuvres by Alex Katz and many others, such as Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, Laura Owens et alia. The entire upper level is dedicated to Cy Twombly.

Admission fee is €7 for adults. The locker room and restrooms are airy and pleasant downstairs from the information desk. The snack restaurant cooks excellent soups and salads, closed on Sundays. Sundays the admission fee is only €1. All museums offer audioguides for enhanced analysis of the works on display. Don’t miss out!

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Puerto Madryn is on the southwestern coast of the province of Chubut, Patagonia. The peninsula Valdés, World Heritage site of the UNESCO, as well as Punta Loma, a reserve since 1967, hosts many pebble and sand beaches full of sea lions and rock shags, terns, cormorants as well as other wildlife like penguins on its beaches, also whales and dolphins offshore. It is wonderful to be able to observe these interesting animals without having to disturb them. The male sea lions have a mane, are darker in color and can attain up to 350 kg at more than 2 meters height. We greatly enjoyed this stop.

The Welsh have had close connections to the Patagonians ever since 150 Welsh people landed here in 1865 under difficult conditions. We visited the lush town Gaimán and enjoyed a Welsh tea spread with scones and biscuits. The houses are neat and well-kept with trees and gardens. All around this area, irrigated by a small waterway, the landscape is rocky, arid and bleak, covered with low, thorny plants.

We also visited the paleontogical Museum Egidio Feruglio in Trelew. It seems most of the bones and objects on display are not original, as they would be too heavy to support. However, it is an interesting place with good guides, a nice gift shop and coffee corner with generous cake slices.