Saturday, July 8, 2017

Tandeming Around the Bodensee

We left you in our last blog entry in Liechtenstein, which is just off the bottom right end of this map.  About 150 km (just under 100 miles) from its source high in the Alps, the Rhine enters a large lake known in English and most Romance languages as Lake Constance, or in German as the Bodensee.  Our starting point in Liechtenstein was only 50 km from the lake, and as we started we were in the flat floodplain of the Rhine but surrounded by towering mountains still bearing dots of snow at the end of June.  Rising up from the Rhine were patches of land turned over the centuries by the Swiss from forest to farms and pastures, with light green farmland below melting into dark green and then into the grey of bare rock far above, and small farms adding additional color and detail throughout.

Getting back to the map and a geography primer:  Lake Constance is 63 km/39 mi. long and up to 14 km/almost 9 mi. at its widest.  It's the third-largest lake in central Europe.  We came north down the Rhine to it, then rode clockwise almost the entire way around the lake following the Bodenseeradweg (Bodensee Bike Route) marked in red on the map above, to Lindau.  As you can see, three countries border on the lake:  Austria, Switzerland and Germany.  When we first got to Konstanz we headed northwest to round that end of the lake and make our way to Lindau.  We then took a passenger/bike ferry from Lindau back to Konstanz and spent the night there.  That is where we will end today's blog, and leave the last part of the lake, which is more like a wide part of the Rhine, to the next entry.

But even before we got to Lake Constance, our cycling guidebook routed us through Werdenberg, the smallest incorporated city in Switzerland, population about 60.  It consists of a castle, a tiny vineyard, and several dozen wonderful wooden homes on a single narrow street.  As you can see, most of the homes are highly decorated with designs and/or sayings.  Since they're in the local dialect, we'll pass on telling you what they mean (in other words, we just don't know, dang it).

With the help of our guidebook and these colorful burgundy red signs, we made our way down to Lake Constance.  It definitely helped when we finally figured out that we were supposed to be following route 2.  Our first stop was Rorschach, where we got good views of the lake and of . . . Zeppelins?  Yes, the Zeppelin was invented across that busy lake in Friedrichshafen, and today there is both a Zeppelin Museum and also a company or two that will take you up in one.  We checked out a website that let us know that by booking online we could save €10 on any of their flights, from the €225 thirty minute flight pretty much up to see what Friedrichshafen looks like to hawks and eagles and then down again, to the full ninety-minute tour around the lake at just €625.  Per person.  And there's two of us persons here.  Uhhhh . . . maybe not.  We've had weeks in Europe where €1,050 is what we've spent for the whole week: lodging, meals, museums, €0.50 admission fees for toilets, the whole shebang.

Just before we got to Konstanz we passed through Kreuzlingen Switzerland, separated from Konstanz Germany by a pretty much invisible line.  150 years ago Kreuzlingen had 13 houses.  Today it's a suburb of Konstanz and houses over 20,000 people, making it the largest Swiss city on the lake.  And the easiest to miss, since it looks for all the world like part of its bigger neighbor.  We did stop nonetheless because the gorgeous Schloss Seeburg pretty much ordered us to take its picture.  A few steps away we pointed the camera across the Bodensee for you to see it at one of its widest points.  Widest so long as you aim across the lake and not at that peninsula that juts out on the left.

We stopped in Konstanz for lunch and some sightseeing, but we'll hold the sightseeing pics for later in this blog, when we returned to Konstanz to spend the night.  But that lunch!  Have you ever had potato pizza?  The pizza dough contains potato as well as wheat flour, much like potato bread, and it was to die for.  If someone starts a potato pizza chain in the U.S., we want in on the IPO!

As we made our way over some hills that got us ambulatory --  let's just say that the days of riding up 8% grades, our limit a decade ago -- are done and gone.  On the north shore the biking was distinctly easier, and there were numerous chances to see the lake and the vineyards that are somewhat common on these south-facing slopes.  Just to be clear, we were riding at right angles to those lines of grape vines, along the edge of the lake!

. . . until we weren't.  At Meersburg we turned left to climb away from the lake up a humongous hill.  Ancient buildings surrounded us on the climb, and at the top was the Alte Schloss, or old castle.  It was just waiting to be explored, starting with the drawbridge.

From too many fictional castles we've gotten the idea that the drawbridge has to go over a watery moat.  Not here.  But with a drop like that, the absence of water in a moat seems like a minor thing.  Inside, you can still see the wheel that hoisted up the drawbridge.  This is one of the oldest parts of the castle, dating to sometime in the 1400s.

We wandered about, helped by our English language guide pamphlet, admiring for example a room the family probably spent a bit of time in back in the day.  The wood-burning stove did not come in until the room had been used for, oh, two centuries or more.  Anyone who thinks living in a castle in the Middle Ages was easy hasn't thought things through quite enough.  Oh, and then there's the kitchen.  That's where everything that wasn't bread was prepared.  There's a whole other room that was the bakery, where the real food was from.  Your average castle inhabitant could expect to have about a kilo of bread per day, as his or her main source of nutrition.  At least it was organic and whole grain, right?

Castles are of course military establishments of sorts, and our castle had an impressive display of suits of armor, some for combat, some for the mock combat of jousting.  The main defense of the castle, however, was its resistance to being entered without permission, thanks to its tall outer walls.  But just in case, there was a pile of rocks by one of the windows, ready to be dropped onto anyone attempting to "drop in" without an invite.

  The old castle of Meersburg has a wonderful vista over the town and across the lake.  Unfortunately, some of the folks who arrived here did not get a chance to fully appreciate it.  The grimmest part of the castle was the dungeon.  It's said that some prisoners were lowered on a crossbar of wood -- and never raised up again.

On that happy note we exited through the gift shop with its scale model of the castle and headed off for supper at a wok restaurant. It's just down the street, below the castle.  Sure beats a kilo of bread for supper.

The official bike route was back down that steep hill, but Jeff had an idea.  He saw a road called Hohenweg, "high road," that seemed to descend the hill more gradually.  We tried it and it was even better than expected, despite some hills along the way, as it gave us a different perspective on the vineyards from the top of the hills, and even showed us a vintner trimming the vines and keeping the space between the vines nice and tidy.

As we made our way past Friedrichshafen we saw more and more Zeppelins up close.  We also came across one of these poles that we've seen before in Germany.  When you get up close you see that they have little scenes illustrating traditional jobs from the old days.  For example, the bottom row says butcher, merchant, barber and fisherman.  We understand that they are a distinctively German version of a May Pole, though they seem to be kept up more or less all summer, maybe longer. 

Our final destination on the Bodensee before heading back to Konstanz was the city of Lindau.  90% of the city is on the mainland, but for most tourists, that part is invisible.  It is Lindau Insel, the island part of Lindau, that attracts tourists like bees to a field of clover.  It's small, about a mile long and one third of that wide, and connected to the main shore by relatively short bridges, one for trains, pedestrians and bikes, one for cars, pedestrians and bikes.  And it is Oh, So Charming.  Here for example are a few shots of the harbor.  By the way, if you look closely at the old lighthouse, the 13th century square one (the round one is an 1856 latecomer), you might see a very long braid of blonde hair with a red ribbon on the end hanging out of a tall window.

We spent two nights to relax and see it at leisure.  Here are a few more shots around the island.  The first one is the old city hall, which we admired from our table at a Thai restaurant in a plaza across the street.

The second evening we got a wonderful shot across the lake looking southwards up the valley of the "Alpine Rhine," the part above Lake Constance.  Somewhere up there is Liechtenstein, and a whole lot of the Swiss Alps.

Having circled most of the lake (we did miss the Austrian section, alas) we took a boat back to Konstanz.  This was a great way to see the lake.  In fact, we ran into a recently retired German couple who moved to Konstanz upon retirement and bought a season ticket on the boats that crisscross the lake.

Once a week, they told us, they take a boat trip somewhere on the lake, do a walk there, then come back on a later boat.  From our one-time shot at it, here are a few of the more photogenic buildings and places we saw.

The next-to-last photo was of Schloss Mainau, previously owned by the Swedish royal family, the Bernadotte's, and currently by a foundation set up by the late Count Lennart Bernadotte.  The last photo is perhaps better described as "rectangular" than by "photogenic."  It is the modern campus of the University of Konstanz.

And then there is Konstanz.  The entry to the harbor is magnificent.  In the center is a white building that was a Dominican cloister built in 1236.  During the Council of Constance the Czech preacher Jan Hus was imprisoned there before being put to death for heresy.  Today the place is a luxury hotel.  The tall spire to the left is the Minster, a very large church whose tall tower we climbed -- pictures to follow a little further below -- and to the right a low bridge where the Rhine resumes its journey to the North Sea.  The bridge is the official Kilometer Zero of Rhine River measurement.  So, for example, it's 496.63 km from here to where we plan to take a right turn off the Rhine to head to Frankfurt.  Want to go all the way out to the open water of the North Sea?  That would be right after kilometer marker # 1,036.

Close to shore is a statue that commemorates, or rather comments on, the Council of Constance.  Before the Council there were three popes.  The Council got all three to resign in favor of a single pope, who is the fellow with the discretely crossed legs.  The other chap is the Holy Roman Emperor who persuaded church leaders to come together in Konstanz to sort out the chaos caused by three claimants to the papacy.  And, yes, the only clothing he's wearing is his crown.  You'll have to ask the sculptor just why that is.  The woman is named Imperia.  You're invited to Google why.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, Konstanz blends right into Switzerland and vice versa.  Since both the U.S. and the U.K. had no interest in bombing Switzerland in WW II, even by accident, they left Konstanz alone.  As a result, it has one of the best and most authentic old towns in Germany.  Here are a few shots of buildings and one of a building that has recently chosen to artistically advertise its age.  In fact, large parts of the old town are over 500 years old.

Our hotel was in a great location in the Altstadt or Old Town, and just down the street was the Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, with its super-skinny tower that is assuredly not 500 years old.

In many if not most cultures, it is common to add decoration to a building.  In central Europe there is a type of decoration not seen in America, and Koblenz had several examples.

And then there was the Minster, a cathedral-like church with a tower that was inviting us to climb it.  Before plunking down our euros for that right, we looked around a bit.  There is some elaborate carving on the main doors of the church that deserves a close look.  Inside, there was an interesting tableau of a deceased wealthy lady whose generosity to the church resulted in a large number of saints looking over her as she lay in her sick bed.

And then there is the tower.  You first climb a relatively spacious set of stairs, which you find are not quite that spacious when folks are going both up and down at the same time.

This brings you fairly high up, with a good view of the Swiss shore of the Bodensee to the right and of the German shore to the left.

But wait, there's a door over there -- where does that go?  Oh, there's another stairway to climb.  This one is so narrow you have an existential crisis if you're going up and someone else is coming down.  But there are even finer views from the top, particularly of the oldest part of the city, to the north of the Minster.

Sometimes you need to look down from your normal height to see important things.  Right outside our hotel, and elsewhere in Konstanz, are reminders to a grim part of the past in Konstanz as in all other parts of Germany.  We're glad to see that they have not forgotten that time.

Leopold it might be noted was arrested in 1938, long before the war.  If you Google his name and Konstanz you can find the web page where all the individuals memorialized by these stones have their photos and stories (but in German).  His and his wife's second daughter Margot alone fled to the U.S. and survived.

OK, we've "done" the Bodensee.  Time to move on down the Rhine.  Here's a close-up of the bridge at Kilometer Zero, with unknown saint, and then of the route downstream.  496.63 km to go 'til we turn right at the Main River and head over to Frankfurt!

No comments: