Thursday, July 19, 2012

McKay update - The long way home... Leaving South Africa and onto Germany

Our last few weeks in Stellenbosch were spent catching up with lots of friends and doing some last minute sightseeing. Lots of food, lots of braais and some beautiful scenery and great friends.
We really enjoyed driving along Chapman’s Peak to see absolutely stunning scenery (it was raining in Stellenbosch when we left and came into blue skies and sunshine!) along the coast. We also went to see an excavation in situ where we saw skeletons of the African bear, the short-necked giraffe and many other animals. Our final farewell was a lovely braai at Elaine’s house with many of our friends. It was very sad to say goodbye to everyone.
In mid-April we left Stellenbosch and flew to Frankfurt, Germany. Niall braved the German roads (right-hand driving!) and lack of sleep and drove us safely to Dilsberg, near Heidelberg. Dilsberg is an old castle town from the 1300s and the youth hostel we stayed in was on the edge of the town. The castle ruins were amazing and had a wonderful view over the valley and it’s meandering stream. We also ventured into Heidelberg by train and visited the castle, had a ride on the funicular for a spectacular view of the city (chilly at 1oC) and enjoyed Turkish for lunch! Fi had to try out shopping at Aldi, so we bought some supplies at the local store and had fun working out what everything was in German! On our way to Gunzberg we stopped at an Air and Car museum at Sinsheim. What a find! Mounted aircraft hung mid-air towering over us as if they were flying and we walked through them (mid-air). Our favourites were the Concorde and it’s Russian equivalent, the Tupolev (TU 144). The aircraft were so huge up close! We stayed in a youth hostel and spent a day at Legoland.
What an amazing place - so much lego everywhere - replica cities, underwater adventures, star wars. Then there was the lego factory, the aquarium, rides and of course building your own creations. We all had a ball at Legoland, even though it was very cold. Not that that deterred Connor from wanting to go on a water ride - we did wait until it stopped sleeting.
Next we moved on to a very scenic small village called Schönhofen, near Regensburg. Our cottage included a mini hydro-electric plant on the running stream underneath us. We looked out onto the river and some cliffs. Spring had just arrived and everything was blossoming. In between some wet patches we enjoyed some lovely walks up the cliffs - amazing views of rolling hills, blossoming flowers and the sleepy village below. We found our way into Regensburg driving, no thanks to the GPS, on a very icy wet day and saw some beautiful old churches, very ornately decorated and often gilded with gold. We came across a brass quartet from Russia playing beautiful classical music in the plaza - absolutely exquisite music (sounded like a CD) - should have been in the concert hall, not busking outside! Starting to get sick of pizza everywhere. We cooked our own dinner tonight! Nürnberg was our next stop, staying with Rosemarie and Hans, the parents of our good friend, Martina, from Stellenbosch. We had an amazing tour of the Staedler factory seeing how pencils and are made and the enormous warehouse which is totally mechanised - so many floors! White asparagus (spargel) had just come into season, so we walked to the town butcher and bought some fantastic bacon and his home-grown spargel, to be served with potatoes and a butter sauce. We also tried a traditional German meal of pork shoulder blade, knoedel (glutinous ball like a dumpling), gravy and salad. It was so huge! The Nazi history in Nürnberg is still visible with the unfinished Colosseum, steps of major buildings, the main parade and of course lots of plaques and memorials. But still lots of amazing churches, a castle and the Rathaus (town hall) to see. Next time we might do the underground tour where they kept safe from the bombings (and kept many treasures)! Our hosts guided us through their local church which was rebuilt after the war; many of the precious items were kept safe during the bombing. We were really impressed with the amount of windfarms and solar panels on so many buildings. Most farms were covered with them - obviously an alternate income source. After saying goodbye to our friends, we caught the ICE train to Berlin and stayed 3 nights. The day we left it was really warm - 29oC. Fi happened to find a matinee performance at the Konzerthaus, so we saw an exquisite orchestra perform (didn’t think much of the Soprano soloist though!) and we got a croissant and a drink - very high brow! We found our way around the metro and buses and booked our evening meal up the tower - 3 hours of revolving views of Berlin at sunset. A walking tour of Berlin was fascinating - the kids loved it, even after 4 hours of walking! It was amazing to see the Berlin wall and the Jewish memorial was very moving. So much history here and so many museums (which we didn’t go to). Our hotel, the Ibis, was fantastic - and had scrumptious breakfast buffets! Our favourite restaurant was Mexican, very close to our hotel - and so cheap!


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