Friday, June 26, 2015

Our German & Swiss Road Trip

The most important part of our German road trip was ticked off in speedy fashion, 200kph. Now that we had returned to a more manageable and fuel economic speed we made our way further south from Berlin with no real plan, just a few ideas of places Stefan suggested we could stop.  The autobahn was quite informative. A large yellow sign for every historic attraction and an illustration of it existed at nearly every exit, and they all looked equally interesting, so that didn't really help us decide where to stop. We did eventually call at Erfurt. 

What we stumbled upon was just a magical town, with a huge market filled square and two huge towering but opposing cathedrals. The daunting and cavernous medieval presence these structures  had over the whole space was like nothing I have witnessed before. Opposing the cathedrals and lining the maze of narrow streets was a myriad of tall, wonky and colourful traditional buildings. We explored the streets, climbed amongst the historic hilltop fortress and enjoyed a bratwurst. 

A hold up further on our drive held us up for several hours at a stand still on the autobahn only just short of Bad Camberg, We read, slept and peed om the road side, it actually was quite a relaxed traffic jam.

We took a drive with the boys, Mickey and Stefan the Sunday before the wedding to Cologne. More of a working city, but still littered with history and prestige. We just explored and enjoyed our good company. A thousand or so steps took us to the top of The Dom Cathedral, which provided an amazing vantage. We enjoyed a few fresh Kölsch beers, a beer that can only be so named if it comes from Cologne, tasting amazing right from its source.

Amy, Thomas, Mickey and Stefan with the Dom of Cologne in the background


Heading off for a big week on the road after the wedding, we again didn't have a true plan, just a bit of an idea and we'd see what we came across. En route to the Black Forest, we called into the Spa town of Baden Baden, an elegant spot with beautiful gardens shouldering the river through town with an opulent French influence. Jumping headlong from there onto some awesome driving roads, winding up into the dense dark forests. We quickly climbed to a fair elevation and rewarded with vistas out to the west toward France. Ending the afternoon with a beer in a high mountain town of Freudenstadt at the local brewery Turm-Brau, meaning Tower-Brewery. It was my favourite drinking experience in Germany. Their unfiltered pilsner beer was the genuine thing, in ceramic steins right from where it was brewed.

We made it to our planned destination Freiburg in the early evening, with no maps or booked accommodation, just the address of a backpackers. I was surprised at the size of the university town as we aimlessly drove the city in search somehow of finding the backpackers. In rush hour traffic we circled the town completely lost and not knowing what to do until we stumbled right upon the street of our planned accommodation, to our delight and surprise. Unfortunately, they had no room left but allowed us to sleep in the lounge area, along with a few other unprepared travelers. The town was again another stunner with bustling streets, bars and restaurants. The streets were littered with cyclists, trams and pedestrians. It was a little cultural gem, of youth and history. 

Interlaken, Switzerland was only a short drive the following day. The Swiss alps rising from the horizon, growing and towering are just such an impressive sight, with our tent backpackers nestled right amongst it all. This was our most expensive accommodation for the trip, and actually the most expensive we have ever paid for one nights accommodation, and it was also by far the most basic and despite being summer, we were treated to some wild mountain weather for the stay. Thunderous rain and wild wind managed to blow open the flap door several times overnight, making for a chilly but exciting night. It was nice to warm up in the spa pool, minus the menacing twenty school children having a water fight around us.

Heading up to Grindewald at the base of the Eiger, we were witness to Switzerland 'for-real.' Green pastures dotted with log-cabin villages beneath soaring mountains with vertical glacially carved walls where waterfalls hailed down from above. This place is spectacular. We climbed steps carved through tunnels into the rock then poked out behind one of these great waterfalls and climbed a steep goat trail at the end of the road, literally, and were rewarded of a vista to die for. 

Driving toward Wettingham to visit the Swiss Devos, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular drives. We continued to be rewarded with these incredible drives throughout Switzerland and further along in Southern Germany while driving off the AutoBahn. What the car beats the train or bus in this situation is that we probably made 10 stops on this couple hour drive, each time with the most remarkable view. Also the switchbacks were fun to drive in our little Spanish made Seat Ibza. Along with the drive, we had a lunch stop in Luzern. We had a sandwich lunch by the lake and took a nice stroll through the historic city, walking the old town walls, crossing the picturesque bridges and happily watching life go by around us.

Once in Wettingham, we enjoyed a fun couple of laid back days with Richard Deverson, and the young Devos, Alexia, Mattias and Natasha. Quite an entertaining bunch, who would be a bit cheeky or shy and try speak only German to us. It was great to spend some more time with my god daughter, Alexia, and we were particularly impressed to attend a little musical recital, which the children preformed the violin and clarinet spectacularly, we'll happily be the audience rather than the performer, solid nerves kids. We just generally got to play and mess around, but we surly gathered a few disapproving looks from locals when we started booting round the soccer ball in the historic town streets.

It was cool just being a kid for a few days, we went to the swimming pools and did flips off the diving boards, went on the watersides, where Amy had a mishap with her bikini, and even had a play around at underwater hockey. Yes it is a sport. Natasha was set on making paper airplanes all weekend long, and we masted the different techniques to achieve the best aerodynamics. We explored the area in the family minivan, found craft beers and finished the visit off with a family fondue. Looking forward to catching you Swiss Devos again soon.
Natasha Getting into the Fondue

From Wettingham we headed back toward Germany, with one interesting diversion for 20km or so crossing a small corner into Austria, where we choose to leave the Highway and take side roads as to avoid buying a registration sticker for the highway, one which we had already forked out ‎€50 on entrance to Switzerland and didn't see it being worth that same price again for the quick flash through AUT. So we had a slightly slower journey through Austria, but yet again this was the second time that I have journeyed through Austria and not touched soil. 

Schloss Neuschwanstein
Arriving at Schloss Neuschwanstein, the real Disney castle, we were quite blown away with the crowds. However the castles were well worth the crowds, and it wasn't hard to lose some of the crowds on the strenuous climbs up to the castles. Both King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles were spectacular. Walking the trails and seeing them in perspective at the base of the Alps, you can understand why Walt Disney used them as inspiration for is own Castle. Heading off North on the Romantic Road and eventually getting lost was a relaxing and scenic way to end the evening while headed for the Tent Village in Munich. With a stop in a town somewhere along the way and getting our schnitzel fix on, served by a cheery lederhosen-clan man. Just a random town, but again filled with its own timeless character you seem to stumble upon everywhere in Europe.

Just another German town.
One full on action packed day in Munich and we ticked off all the good stuff. Mainly beer related, but hey we're in the home of beer! Once again, our night was spent in the tent, this time being a bunch of huge circus tents with sleeping rolls on the floor, but once again, we had some wild weather. No dramas, they provided unlimited blankets, I think we each had about ten. While in the city, we did the free walking tour, learning all the usual historical notes and followed on after to a tour of our own jumping from brewery to bar to brewery. Haupfbrau, Augustiner, Schneider and I can't remember the others. I have heard that many people have similar memory failure in this city. 

That's about how it felt.
Heading North for a night in Manninheim to stay with our friend Martin, we stopped for a somber and reflective morning walking the grounds and reading the displays at the Dachau concentration camp. Not much needs to be said, but it is a necessary visit. With a good long drive to follow, it gave us ample time to process all that we had just experienced. We made it to Martin's following a serious case of being lost, and we jumped on his suggestion of heading to the local brewery for some well needed stress relief. A few mugs of there keller beer, meaning cellar, an unfiltered helles lager the way beer should be drank and we were spinning yarns of the good old times back at university, of life back where we all met. We stopped for a quick look around Frankfurt the following morning before our flight out of Europe. Lacking slightly the Germanic feel of smaller or more famous places, the center was clean and very modern, typical for a financial capital. We were stoked though to come across a market fair in the center of town. It was a perfect way to end a fantastic 3 weeks in Germany.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mr & Mrs John Deverson

Bad Camberg 
This event may well go down in Germany's history as the 'Deverson Invasion of Bad Camberg'. I'm not sure if the sleepy spa town  North of Frankfurt could have really prepared. But as usual, we arrived in a small but strong and colorful grouping, taking up occupation of front lawns and the living rooms of those that invited us and quickly established control over the alcohol supplies and snacks. It's dangerous to invite such a family into your world, but I guess that's what these political weddings are about, settling the peace of two international territories and the bringing together of two kingdoms, that of the Deversons and the Loleits. 

The hospitality of the Loleits was truly exceptional. The setting was idyllic, truly romantic. It was almost unbelievable how much tradition was maintained in this town, a sleepy hamlet where shops closed their doors for a several hour rest at lunch. An easy stroll up the hill led out of town to an amazing view over town and across the the rolling hills of wheat, barley and forest cover. The town centre was gorgeous surrounded with buildings that predate our traceable heritage with its cafes and ice cream shops, all of which will serve you a beer at anytime of the day. 


The Germans play off that they are cool and reserved, but they do love a good party. And being a wedding, there were a good couple. The neighborhood party was  a nerve racking experience for both the non-English speaking Germans and all us non-German speaking Devo's, but some fantastic conversations were completed in the end, I imagine using a lot of hand gestures. I'm not sure if they were expecting a thousand attendees, but it seems like that's how many they had catered for. We gave it a go, but it was even too much food and beer or us to deal with. Falling the day after the bachelor and bachelorettes parties, it was touch and go for some. Let's just say the jerry-cans of beer the night before put me over the edge.

On Monday June 15th, finally the real party we were all there for. We didn't really know what was going on during the ceremony, as they were mainly speaking German, however with some suspicious translations at the end they claimed John and Kathrin were married. It was a truly fantastic setting in the historic chapel. The entire event had been preceded with the pre-wedding photos taken up atop the town at the church. Followed was an entertaining night with some more suspicious but sublimely entertaining speeches. Congratulations to John and the newly titled 'Ked'.

What an awesome week, you couldn't ask for more. Well done to the Loleits for putting on such an occasion and well done for dealing with the Deverson clan.
The Deversons

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bindow and Berlin with Stefan

Thomas and Amy with the Berlin Wall 
We were so happy to be able to have a good few days chilling in Bindow and Berlin with Stefan. The place was everything I had remembered, even better being there with Amy. We were hosted amazingly by Stefan, with our own private quarters with river views and all. Sigrid, my 'German Mother' outdid herself with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of good beer, great food and even better company.

Our memories might have faded a bit, as it is now December, but my taste-buds remember well. It was a few days of all types of German sensations. The traditional welcome breakfast platter of meats, cheeses, breads and spreads blew Amy away, as it does with anyone on their first visit. What it also does, is set you up with the perfect base to lay out the rest of your German indulgences for the day. For us, a casual Sunday trip into Berlin it was. Alexanderplatz, with a Beatles cover band, our first Doner Kepab and a beer, which we carried around the streets with us, to wash it down. We cruised around and took in the sights on a absolutely splendid day.

Gabby, Stefan and Amy in Berlin
Later in the week, Amy and I returned for another look around Berlin. We were very chuffed with ourselves that we had successfully navigated the public transportation system right from Bindow all the way to the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin, where my limited German came in quite handy. We did a free walking tour of the city, enjoying the usual tales and tribulations of a city rich in history, although dark at times. I was particularly impressed with a small brew pub we happened upon at the end of our tour. One thing we noticed at this point with German brewery's was a lack of choice. No problems though, we are in Germany after all! A Pilsner, Helles, Kolsh or Weiss will do, whichever one they have. Whatever one they did have, it was good! After all, they have been making it that way for hundreds of years, and I'm cool with that!

Our beloved curry-wurst and 'pommes'
What better way to top off a day in the city, than to enjoy some more of that great 'Körber Hospitality'. On request, we had schnitzel- a lot of schnitzel! We were welcomed back to Sigrid's house with a full basket of beers and of course we were provided with the matching glassware for whichever particular beer we chose. Call it being German, call it perfection, whatever, we love it. Amy also loved that Sigrid compared her to looking like Kate Middleton, probably the highest compliment a girl can receive. Now this was the longest dinner we have ever been involved in and despite the usual communication limitations, we ate, talked, drank, talked some more and ate some more, with a couple more drinks. Sitting on the back veranda on a long summer's evening, watching the sun set through the forest with friends and family, tasty food & beverage and conversations involving elaborate hand gestures. This was seven hours of social perfection!

Keeping it local and casual we really were able to enjoy the fruits of the beautiful little village of Bindow. We took the pedal paddle boat right from our back doorstep up the river on a beaming day. We were lucky to meet Gabby, Stefan's girlfriend who had come in from the Czech Republic, and spent the weekend with us. Man, did she know how to throw together a mojito! Good way to start the boat ride. We paddled a kilometer or so upriver to the lake, where we anchored a safe distance from the aging nudists and swam and had a beer. Stopping for riverside ice cream on the return. As Gabby would say, as is a saying in Czech Republic, ah Americaaaaa! Once back on land, we each took a bike and rode down the unpaved streets to the local beach on the lake. We had another nice chilled day enjoying a little community festival that was going on.  We got sausages and beer, played beach volleyball, met some nice locals and enjoyed some techno music in the sun. 

Thomas with the impressive gateway to one of the schlosses
Our last day before heading south for the wedding, we picked up our rental car and took a little day trip to Potsdam to check out all the old royal-ness and gardens. I had been many years ago with a big Devo/Körber posse, but it was great to discover some more. Exploring the extensive grounds and stumbling upon the most glorious castles and palaces. Very, very cool indeed. A country and people that never disappoint, we had the most amazing time in Brandenburg and we had only just started in Germany. Thanks to my German family for having us!!!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Oxford with the Clarks

Beautiful Oxford
We had a good overnight flight via Frankfurt and made it into Heathrow, jumped on the bus and made the walk through Oxford to Wolfson College on a cool and dreary morning. What a nice way to perk ourselves up to meet the awesome and animated Juliet for the first time. Our first day was one where your energy levels rise and fall with the growing jet lag. We made it through the whole day, due to Elliott's energy levels keeping us alert and maybe the idea of a beer later in the day.

Amy was particularity excited about visiting the historic city of Oxford for the first time. Having visited before myself, we were able to explore and guide ourselves around the narrow and windy cobbled streets and find many points of interests, including a few pubs. We took the free city walking tour, and was entertained with the usual local stories, tales and history that is always a good base for ones further exploration. We found ourselves on many occasions having a pint or half at many a traditional establishment. I did mention to one bar manager that I was a brewer and inquired if he might show me the pub's cellar. This being the Turf Tavern, the old pub in the city dating back to the 13th century. So he led me down to the cool but casually set out cellar room with its low beamed ceiling and perfect natural coolness for dispensing some beautiful cask ales. I fired away questions and snapped some photos. With that and all the product testing I did, I could have written this trip off as business.

Turf Tavern
We were really blessed with some amazing weather and took advantage by taking Charlotte and Mike's bikes for a ride up the canal and back down the River Thames. Bumping along the canal path past the back of cute terraced houses with little decks and beds of wildflowers right on the bank and canal boats with friendly cats lounging in the sun, it was a perfect ride. With halftime refreshments at The Trout, I stumbled across the best cask ale I have ever put my lips to. Marston's Pedigree - New World Golden Pale Ale, it was perfection. With a delicate carbonation, a beautiful soft and subtly sweet malt and the most beautifully subtle hop profile, sitting in the sun on the bank of the Thames, with my lovely Amy in tow, it was the best drinking experience ever. I even splurged for a second.

Thomas in heaven
On cloud nine, we continued our cycle journey through the open fields next to the river catching glimpses back to the city with the high church steeples poking out above the green cityspace. We met a friendly but scary looking bunch of cows hanging out on our bike path and proceeded cautiously around them and the landmines they had left scattered. 

Amy and the Thames
 Aside from having a good explore by ourselves, we were just thrilled to spend some time with our family. Being apart so often makes just being able to all sit down to dinner together a high light. We had brought over some craft beers from the U.S to share with Mike, and we enjoyed some good yarns with Char in the evenings. Playing with Elliott is as much fun for me as it would have been for him. I am just a kid at heart so I was as stoked to play rough and tumble or shoot Elliott's first GoPro movie of him doing extreme backyard cycling.

Our last day in Oxford, Amy decided to climb the St Mary the Virgin tower giving her spectacular views of the city. A great way to end our time in this beautiful, and historic city.  It wasn't such a sad goodbye, because we knew we'd be seeing the Clarks again in just a week. For now, on to Germany!

Thomas and Amy enjoying the history and beauty of Oxford