19. Germany, Switzerland to France and home
Justine – We left you last in the lovely streets of Salzburg pondering why Britain has few such lovely cities.
We spent the afternoon visiting the wonderful castle and the nunnery where Maria was a novice before she looked after the Von Trapp children and hit the big time with the Sound of Music. Tom was chuntering that we needed to get going across Europe while I kept procrastinating searching for a reason why I should buy a very expensive but very gorgeous dirndl.
We set off dirndl-less and headed for the German border where we experienced our first queue since entering Turkey. This was surprising as we had anticipated the queue to be biggest as we entered Schengen Europe. When we eventually reached the crossing there seemed to be no one checking anything so we sailed through and headed to Lake Chiemsee, where Bavarian King Ludwig II built Herrencheimsee, the last of his three fantastical palaces from 1878.
The roadside manicurists were even more precise in Germany and I wondered whether it was social pressure to keep up with the Shwartz’s that fuelled the perfection of the outside environment or whether the Germans have an extra ‘precise’ gene in their DNA.
Lake Chiemsee was so “herding with tourists” (Petra’s term for the beaches in Biarritz in July and August) that we nearly gave up buying tickets for the paddle-steamer over to the island of the famous palace. With true Germanic efficiency however, the herd was directed onto several waiting vessels and we found ourselves on the shady island in no time. Ludwig certainly chose a lovely spot on this sparkling lake, with the Alps on one side and manicured rolling hills on the other.
Ludwig II was a most interesting king. Had he been born a century or two earlier his eccentricities might have been accepted, but the world had changed and the ideal of a romantic potentate with a belief in absolute monarchy and very little interest in the day to day affairs of state was a little out-dated. Though he was popular, Ludwig almost bankrupted himself in paying for his three fairy-tale castles at Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrencheimsee before his family and his ministers decided that he was mentally unfit to rule and shuffled him off, aged 40, to another family castle. Shortly afterwards he and his doctor were found dead, floating in hip high water after apparently going for a walk around the lake. Their death remains a mystery as does the truth as to whether he really was unfit to rule, or just too eccentric and mad for his ministers.
Ludwig was obsessed with the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV and modelled Herrenchiemsee on Versailles. Whereas Versailles lacks the original furniture and fittings, Ludwig’s creation is complete and apparently many French come to see an almost perfect, but smaller, Versailles in all its glory. Ludwig called himself the ‘Moon King’ and when he moved in to Herrencheimsee, he would sleep all day and awake at 4pm and then pace the mirrored hall in his palace until day-break. His dining table was lowered through the floor to be set and winched up so he could dine without seeing any of his staff. He seems rather a tragic figure, probably agoraphobic and so caught up in his obsession with Louis XIV that there is nothing personal or Bavarian in the entire palace, only busts and paintings of Louis and his descendants.
Like Austria, there are so many lovely places in visit in Bavaria and wonderful alpine hikes that we would have loved to do, but we had to get some mileage under our belt and, heads swimming with Ludwig’s excesses, we set off on the long drive to Lindau, at the tip of Lake Constance.
Lindau is another, gorgeous picture-perfect town with winding streets, pastel colours, frescoed buildings, pretty gables.
Sadly we did not have time to stop at our other Happy Family card game towns like the Castle of Chillon on Lake Geneva, Lucerne or Schaffhausen. Instead, we marvelled at the Swiss countryside as we whizzed past and vowed to come back one day soon.
At 17.48 on the 25th of August, we drove over the French border, wistfully lamenting that our Retro Road Trip adventure was coming home and to an end.
We found a campsite mercifully devoid of August holiday-makers in the hills of the Jura just inside France, by a river that we could cool down in. The following morning we awoke with the tent in star gazing mode (flysheet off and roof windows open) and enjoyed a lazy morning listening to Bill Bryson’s history of the Home as we watched the mist lift off the wooded hill-top.
We set off for another long drive towards Limousin where we planned to meet our great friends Evelyn and Nick Brealey and their children. The Brealeys had most generously agreed to bring our dog Zazou over from the UK where he has been residing with Tom’s parents during our trip. Thank goodness we were ending the road trip with four days with great friends and our gorgeous doggy, otherwise we would be feeling very miserable indeed by this point.
With 2 km to go to reach our rendezvous campsite, and with over 17,000km under her belt, Kabylie suddenly lost all power. Tom pressed the accelerator to the floor but nothing happened. The engine spluttered out and the car started to roll backwards down a slight incline. Ever calm in a disaster, Tom leaped out and started ferreting about under the bonnet. What a cruel twist of fate it would have been if Kabylie had made it all the way to Iran and back, only to break down a few hours from home – though at least in France, I noted, we have breakdown cover. Luckily Tom worked his mechanical magic and with the help of a small nut managed to reconnect the accelerator with the thing that makes it work, and we were off again for a reunion with Zazou our dog.
We spent four lovely nights with the Brealeys in the same field – a duration totally unheard of for the retro roads trippers. It was a great relief not to be moving on every day and to be basking in the company of old friends, French cheese and the lovely Zazou. Having missed most of the Olympics, we staged our own and went canoeing while the kids spent the rest of the time up a tree building a den and constructing new sleeping arrangements, mainly in hammocks or under a mosquito net and the stars.
We said our sad farewells to the Brealeys this morning and we are now, with new team member Zazou, driving the last leg of the Retro Road Trip home. What an adventure it has been and what a joy to experience so many different cultures, peoples, foods and ways of life with our children.
Kabylie has been phenomenal. At almost 60 years old with her original engine, she has been a remarkable mode of transport. Her age and dashing good looks have bought us much good will from the people we have encountered and Tom’s intimate knowledge of all her parts has meant he has managed to keep his mistress going through deserts, mountains, rivers, potholes – essentially all terrain and circumstances.
Though praise must go to the mechanic, it is our children Petra and Hector who deserve the most. They have been immense fun to travel with. It would have been an impossible venture to undertake if they did not get on so well and enjoy each others company so much. Not once have they said ‘Are we nearly there’ (a good thing as I have never been sure where ‘there’ is.) Not once have they said ‘I’m bored’ and not once have they said they don’t want to do something (except Hector about having a shower.) They have only argued a couple of times, both about Petra being messier than her brother, and have occupied themselves brilliantly during all the long, hot drives. Best of all they have been enthusiastic, inquisitive and generous of spirit about everything and every situation. We very much hope they have enjoyed travelling with us as much as we have loved travelling with them.
Hector turns 11 today and as we approach Biarritz, we are munching on the last crumbs of his birthday cake, depicting Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit. In summary, and borrowing wise words from Wallace, all I can say is:
“It’s been a cracking adventure.”
(to view our tracker route Click here)