2002-05 (MAY, 2002)

London, England

Fri: The flight from Sydney to London was better than expected, but not as good as hoped for (i.e. the usual).

Sat: Lou & Richard very kindly collected us from Heathrow, despite the early hour of our arrival. It was good to see them again. Richard proceeded to cook a slap up English fried breakfast for us all (Australia wouldn't know decent bacon if it bit it in the arse - get it... bite, arse, bacon... oh, forget it). Whilst Andy was in the physio, I went on a manic shopping expedition to Wimbledon. My purchases included: a new pair of boots; a picture frame (to house the photos for the kids at work that Dave and I had doctored); a thank you present for Richard; and two shirts. Combined with all my mail-order purchases that had arrived for me at Lou & Richard's house (including, for example, a giant world map), I had successfully managed to double my luggage in less than 3 hours of arriving in the country. Arse. Our evening was spent in a fine local hostelry, supping real Guinness with Lou, Richard, Mike & Sian. Splendid.

Sun: I was awake much too early today (surprise, surprise) and spent the hours until rest of the house arose doing some planning for the Shetland Islands trip. We caught various tubes and trains up to visit Lynda in Biggleswade (on the other side of London) and were reminded of my number one dislike of London - the time you waste getting around it. Lynda & Michael cooked us the most impressive lunch spread that I've seen in years - we were absolutely stuffed with scrummy food by the end of it. We had to leave Biggleswade in the late afternoon in order to be back in Kingston for the evening's entertainment. Mike had organised a wee gathering and dinner for us. Sian, Robert, Doug and a pair of Mike's friends that I had not met before joined Mike, Lou, Richard, Andy and I for yet another food extravaganza. Mr Whitten outdid himself by providing a spread that 10 people were not able to demolish, or even dent severely. We returned to Wimbledon to sleep off our happy day of gorging.

Mon: We had a bit of a late start today. I began with a little more shopping in Wimbledon, just for good measure. For lunch we met up with Jennifer in Earlsfield and went to at Willie Gunn's. We got to see Jennifer & Eric's beautiful new flat, too. We had dinner with Linda at a delicious vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tooting and got to hear all about her plans to emigrate to the United States.

Clare & Kerry, Ireland

Tue: This morning we had another taste of the horrors of London transport. We departed Wimbledon three hours before our flight to Shannon was due to leave. An hour later we were still in the taxi trying to get into Liverpool Street station. An hour after that (i.e.checking-in time) we were still on our train to Stanstead. Half an hour before the scheduled departure of our aircraft we were still in the check-in queue with security and a shuttle ride out to the terminal still to go. We made it to our gate with minutes to spare and out of breath. It was only then we discovered that our plane hadn't even arrived yet and that there would be an hours delay. Did I mention that London sucks for transport? We were met at Shannon airport by John who had very kindly come out during his lunch break to greet us and give us the keys to his cottage. We collected our hire car and pootled into downtown Shannon (for those that have not had the pleasure, 'downtown' is a slight exaggeration). Andy went to physio whilst I navigated the delights of Shannon's shopping mall in order to acquire provisions for our car journey. We struck out north-west towards Ennis and the Burren. Our first stop was the Dysert O'Dea castle and archeological site. The castle was built between 1470 and 1490 by Diamuid O'Dea, Lord of Cineal Fearmaic. It is now home to a small museum and is the starting point for a short walk around the plethora of archeological sites in the immediate vicinity. The sites we saw included: Mollaneen House (18th century); St Tola's High Cross (12th century); Dysert O'Dea Abbey (originally built in the 8th century, and rebuilt in the 12th and 17th centuries) and round tower (11th century); Synge's Lodge (19th century); Rath Blathmheic (8th century); and Rath Castle (15th century). From Rath we drove over the hills, past Lough Inchiquin and on to Corofin where we spent the night.

Wed: From Corofin we drove to Killinaboy where we sought out the Killinaboy church and its famous Sheela-Na-Gig (a very pagan looking carving of an "Earth Mother"-type figure found on many Irish churches built in the Middle Ages). From there we drove up to Leamanegh Castle, a 5-storey high tower house built by Turlough Donn in 1480. Next up was Kilfenora, the smallest diocese in Ireland, and founded in the 6th century. The present day cathedral (a slightly grand term for what is little more than a large church) was built in the 13th century, as was the 'Doorty' High Cross which stands beside it. Inside are some magnificent stone carvings, including those of St Peter, a bishop and an abbot. Outside five remarkable and distinct High Crosses can be found. From Kilfenora we drove east to Cathair Bhaile Cinn Mhargaidh, an impressive stone circle dating from around 200 BC. Constructed of large blocks, averaging 3 - 5 feet long, its walls at their highest measure 15 feet. It is surrounded by a massive Chevaux de Frise (a wide band of jagged stones placed around the outside of the walls so as to impede any massed assault). Returning back past Leamanegh Castle, we again turned north and drove to Carran Church (15th century), with its unusual fortification (for a church) and carved stone head. Further north again was Poulawack Cairn, an early Bronze Age cemetery cairn, and then Poulnabrone Portal Dolmen, the jewel in the Burren's archeological crown. At 5,400 years old, it is an impressive monument from the Neolithic Age. A small double-back took us past Gregan's Castle before we returned to the coast and Ballyvaughan. From Ballyvaughan we drove north-west again along the coast and stopped in at the towering Gleninagh Castle. I wandered the grounds and coastline with my camera whilst Andy sketched the cute little Holy Well. Our destination for the evening was Doolin, Irish music capital and Aran Island departure point.

Thu: This morning we caught the ferry from Doolin to Inishmor, the main island in the Aran Islands group. As we only had just over three hours on the island before our return ferry, we joined one of the many tour buses (read: "dodgy van driven by some farmer whose grasp of island history was limited to the number of pubs you could find there") for a whirlwind tour of the sights of Inishmor. First stop was the apocryphally titled site of the Seven Churches (Na Seacht dTeampaill) dating from the 8th or 9th century. Next up was the highlight of the island, Dun Aengus (Dun Aonghasa), the enormous, cliff-edge hill-fort (c 1100 BC). Protected by a massive Chevaux de Frise on three sides, and a precipitous drop to the sea on the fourth, the fort is a magical place to wander around. Returning to our van we drove the inland byways of the island and back to Kilronan, the port, and our ferry home. After arranging a nights accommodation in Lisdoonvarna, we back-tracked to Ballinalacken Castle for dinner.

Fri: The first stop for today was a small detour up to Kilmoon Church with its 15th century chapel. Returning through Lisdoonvarna, we headed south-west to the Cliffs of Moher. The shear cliffs rise up to 203m straight out of the sea. They are home to a vast array of bird life and are presided over by O'Brien's Tower. We strolled around the cliff-top walkways for the best part of an hour. Looping back south and east we arrived in Ennistymon, a cute wee township whose centerpiece is a set of very pretty cascades. From there we turned south and west again and made for John's cottage at Carrigaholt. The cottage was an absolute gem situated less than a mile from the centre of the village. It is two stories high; has a master bedroom/bathroom upstairs; and has two bedrooms, a large kitchen and a wonderful lounge (complete with a massive fireplace) downstairs. We still had some daylight hours left so we headed as far west as we could go, to Loop Head. We took in a short walk around the head and its lighthouse. Dinner (boiled bacon and cabbage - heaven on a plate) and pints were imbibed at The Long Dock, the best little pub in Ireland (amongst the oddities in this establishment were the collection of old family snaps that adorned the walls - my favourite was one of the family's day trip to see the launching of 'Titanic' over in Cork in 1912).

Sat: We arose early for our blat over to Shannon airport to collect Mark & Neil. Linda had cried off at the last minute and so did not join us (unfortunately we did not make contact with her to find this out until we had been waiting for her for several hours). We departed Shannon and took the coast road back to Carrigaholt. We stopped for a picnic at Labasheeda and were thus the most exciting thing that had descended upon the town in many a year. We wanted to spend the afternoon exploring Scattery Island, but this plan was thwarted by the fact that no-one in Kilrush knew how to get out there. Returning to Carrigaholt, we got the boys settled in their room and then went for a walk down to the harbour. After a quick look around McMahon Castle (15th century) we retired to the Long Dock for a much needed pint or three.

Sun: Today dawned wet and windy. We had a slow start to the soft day. The dolphin watching trip that we had hoped to catch today was put aside in favour of some land-based entertainments. We braved the weather for a wander around the Bridges of Ross (a set of huge sea arches) and the Church of the Ark. Back in Carrigaholt we opted to visit an alternative village pub and thus ended up in Morrisey's, a rather scary drinking hall which had 'locals only' stamped all over it. That night we had an indoor BBQ, drank much wine and talked shite until the wee hours.

Mon: Up early and back to Shannon. We had a few hours before the boys' flight, so we took in several of the areas sights. First up was the delightful, but closed to the public, Quinn Franciscan Friary (15th century). Second up was Knappogue Castle (15th century) where we had a good explore out of the elements. After we dropped the boys back at the airport and bid them a fond farewell we drove west again in order to join the ferry to Kerry that departed from Killimer. Arriving in Tarbert, County Kerry, we began our long drive south-west. We passed through Tralee before bearing due west and out onto the Dingle Peninsula. We braved the pretty, but treacherous, Connor Pass route into the town of Dingle. By this time I was pretty knackered from all the driving and Andy had to jolly me along in our search for somewhere to stay for the night. We ended up at the sumptuous Benners Hotel (a small, but wonderful budget blow-out) and I was able to sleep off my exhaustion for a couple of hours whilst Andy went out for an explore on foot. Dinner was partaken of at The Old Smokehouse before retiring for a much needed sleep.

Tue: With only two days on the Dingle Peninsula to play with, we began by making a circuit along the south coast. At Ventry we got our first taste of the wild fiction that was our guide book and, after an hour of aimless wandering around the hills in a vain attempt to find an imaginary wedge tomb, we returned to our car. Next up was the Iron Age Dunbeg Fort with its elaborate defensive structures (5 fosses, 4 banks and a 3m high, 6m deep, dry-stone rampart). Further along the coast we stopped to explore the beehive huts at Fahan. These wonderfully built structures were still standing, and indeed were still waterproof inside, despite being over 1,600 years old. At Dunquin we visited the brilliant Blasket Museum and gained an insight into the lives of the hardy folk that inhabited these remote and rugged islands. Continuing on, we braved the back roads of Dingle to find Dun An Oir Fort. The fort itself was not much to write home about, but the location was pretty spectacular. We decided that we had had enough for one day and returned to Dingle via an inland route. Dinner was at Beginish.

Wed: Our second and final day on the peninsula began with a visit to the wonderful Kilmalkedar Church. In the grounds we found a sundial (or was it a 'scratch dial'?); an enormous conglomerate rock cross; and a lovely ogham stone (Andy and I placed our fingers in the hole at the top of the stone and thus are now married). The church was also very special and was built out of a curious grey-pink stone. About 50m away was St Brendan's House, an excellent little two-storey stone building used to house the clergy in the Middle Ages. Our second stop for the day was the spectacular Gallarus Oratory. The 5m x 8m x 5m, 1,300 year-old, corbelled-stone building is in perfect condition. Our final stop was at the Riasc monastic settlement, an extensive area of walls and foundations that traced out an entire 5th or 6th century village. From there we retraced our steps all the way back to County Clare and Carrigaholt.

Thu: Up early to get to Shannon in time for our flight to Dublin. We caught the airport bus into town and were collected by Coral. She dropped me off at Sandy Mount DART station so I could catch a train to Pearse Street. From Pearse Street I began my first walk from my 'Secret Dublin' book. The walk took in: Pearse Park; MacMahon Bridge; the Grand Canal; Charlotte Quay; St Patrick's Church; Ringsend (including a scary gypsy caravan park); Irishtown Nature Reserve; Poolbeg Electricity Generating Station; the Great South Wall; and Poolbeg Lighthouse. Not being a circuit, I had to walk all the way back to Landsdowne Road station to catch my train home, a total distance of just over 14km - I was knackered at the end. I caught the DART back to Dalkey and arrived just after 17:30. That evening Coral & Hugh played host to Bobby, Marie and Colin (Andy's father, aunt and uncle) as well as Bex and Pete (my sister and her boyfriend). Coral laid on a magnificent buffet spread. Yum!

Fri: Today I did my second walk from my 'Secret Dublin' book, this time around Howth (pronounced 'Hoe-th'). It was absolutely chucking it down, but this was my only full day in Dublin, so it was now or never (or at least 'now or very much later'). Howth is at the northern end of the DART line and was once Dublin's main harbour. Upon arrival I took shelter in a nearby café to have breakfast and see if the weather would turn. A yummy cooked breakfast later, I realised that the rain was down for the day. I had also hoped to get out to Ireland's Eye, the island just off the coast from Howth, but I could see that it would be unlikely that any ferry would be running that day. I roused myself, set my umbrella and headed out into the deluge. Once outside I immediately began to enjoy myself - there's something about walking around under an umbrella in a heavy downpour that brings a smile to my face ("I'm only happy when it rains..."). I did a slow, meandering circuit of the harbour and watched the docks at work. I took in the memorial to the locals that had been lost at sea; passed a plaque and sculpture commemorating the landing of King George IV of England; the Howth Lighthouse; and another plaque commemorating the Asgard, the yacht that smuggled in guns and ammunition to the Irish Volunteers in 1914. Sure enough, the Ireland's Eye ferry was not running so I made my way slowly back to the DART station and my train back to Dalkey. That night were had arranged to meet up with some of Andrea's Dublin mates as well as Bex and Pete. Halfway up the line on our way into town, however, our train was halted and we were all told to disembark. All trains had been halted due to massive flooding at one of the city's main interchange stations - the sheer volume of rain during the day and evening had overwhelmed the whole train system. A few rapid phone calls ensued which resulted in us cancelling the evening that we had planned. Instead we were instructed by one of Andrea's friends to install ourselves in a nearby pub (the trains home were stopped as well) and await further developments. Half an hour later eight of Andy's mates piled in through the door - they had each braved the shocking evening and had traipsed all the way across town to see her. Pretty bloody cool if you ask me. We drank much Guinness, talked shite and rescued an excellent couple of hours from an utterly dreadful night.

Sat: We caught a taxi from Dalkey to Dublin airport for our flight back to London. Andy was flying straight on to Sydney whilst I was staying on for the next part of my trip. At Heathrow we soon had to part, me to wait for my luggage and Andy to get to another terminal in time for her flight. We said a very unsatisfactory good-bye (although perhaps mercifully brief) and she was gone. And so began my afternoon from Hell. To exit Terminal 1 I followed the signs to the taxi rank. 100m before emerging from this maze all signs for the taxi rank abruptly dried up. Sure enough, when I finally got outside, the total number of taxi ranks was precisely zero. I wandered around to look for a bus to Kingston instead. I found one eventually and boarded what was to be my home for the next two hours. Even the original bus driver got off before I did. Once in Kingston I had to recall my way to Mr Whitten's house. I had walked there from Kingston once before just over a year previously. My wheely suitcase and I struck out in what turned out to be the right direction for the mile long walk to Mike's road. My only haunting doubt at this point was that I had very little idea of Mike's house number - I had a vague idea it had a '4' in it. Finding myself actually in his road was a bit of a result, but my hopes of recognising his house were immediately dashed - the houses all looked very similar to me. I dragged my wheely suitcase from one end of the street to the other and back again. I rang the occasional doorbell (no-one answered) and asked the occasional passer-by (no-one knew anyone else in the street). At this point I thought I'd better find a phone box (I should point out at this juncture that it goes without saying that I did not have Mike's phone number either). I rang a Lou & Richard to get his address and/or phone number but they were out. I went into a local shop to ask if I could borrow their phone book. Apparently they had never heard of such a thing so they directed me to the local library instead. At the library I got my one break of the day - they had free internet access. I was thus able to access my e-mail and get Mike's address - at last! I pootled back to his street, found the street number ('60', by the way - not many '4's in it at all, really), realised that it was in fact one of the doorbells I'd tried an hour earlier, and was very, very glad when Mike answered the door - some 5 hours after touching down at an airport about 10 miles away. I was hot, sweaty and knackered! That evening Mike laid on another fine soiree, this time attended by Mr Poole and his lovely wife, Sam; and Ms Ginger and her fiance, Adrian. A splendid evening altogether - much good food, good Guinness and good wine and a much later finish than was strictly wise.

Mike & Chris Tour Germany

Sun: Mike and I were up early and only feeling mildly jaded for our trip out to Heathrow. Our British Midland flight turned out to be in a Lufthansa plane. The dodgy chicken roll we were served in-flight stoked our (mostly groundless, as it turned out) fears for the state of German cuisine. We arrived into Frankfurt International Airport and one of most ill-thought out transport transfer systems ever devised. We were additionally hampered by a Lonely Planet guide book that rivalled The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy for its apocryphal nature. We wanted to organise a hire car between Cologne and Munich before catching a train to Cologne. This should not be a difficult thing to do. The Lonely Planet 'informed' us of a Lufthansa Fly/Drive deal (cue the first of several hikes through the entire airport - it obviously violates some German sense of propriety to put a Lufthansa desk anywhere near where the Lufthansa flights get in). The Lufthansa desk, however, had never heard of such a deal (car hire from an airline - are you mad). Next up was another Lonely Planet suggestion - car hire deals through German Rail (and yes, the German Rail desk was in a completely different part of the airport). Don't think so (car hire from a rail company - are you mad). Hike number three took us back to where we had started and to where the actual car hire desks were - finally someone was able to help us (footnote: German 'information points' and 'helpdesks' are invariably unmanned, which we discovered after several other fruitless hikes through Frankfurt airport). It was time for a beer before returning to the railway terminal where we were immediately on safer ground by requesting actual rail travel (instead of car hire, like some hours previously). Our "fast train" to Cologne took 2.5 hours and was a pleasant meander down the Rhine. We arrived in Cologne around 17:30 (normally a bit late to find good accommodation) but were pleasantly surprised to find a cheerful and efficient tourist office near the station who sorted us out a 2+ star hotel in no time at all. The Hotel Marien was comfortable, clean and central (and fortunately extremely well quadruple-glazed, given its proximity to the train station and motorway). Food, orientation and a beer or two were the next priority - a slice of pizza on the way to McDonald's satisfied priority one; a stroll around the block to find a bar, numbers two and three. Here we experienced our first thimblefuls of Kolsch, Cologne's local variety of beer (traditionally served in tiny, 200ml glasses) - yum! An early night after a day of travel.

Mon: Most of our first day was spent in and around Cologne Cathedral (Dom). We started with a slow circuit around the outside to get an idea of the scale of the beast and to take a few snaps. The rather extended period of building (1248 - 1560 and then 1820 - 1880) was immediately obvious in the exterior of the cathedral. Also noticeable were the small sections of the Dom damaged in WWII and subsequently perfectly repaired (but in newer stone). After our circuit we opted to ascend the 509 steps up the Dom's south tower. The view was spectacular, as was the insight into just how all the ornamentation that makes up the exterior of this cathedral is put together. Less impressive was all the graffiti, largely executed in German and Italian - very sad to see. After returning to street level we booked ourselves on an afternoon guided tour of the interior of the Dom and went and got some lunch. Returning in time for our tour, we spent an interesting hour or two being taken to see the best bits, including some that are not open to the general public. We were also shown a mildly pointless slideshow about the Dom at the visitors centre across the road. It was late afternoon by the time we had absorbed everything we could about the cathedral. There was time for a wee walk before beer'o'clock, so we headed west to find some of the parts of Roman Cologne that are still standing. Near the cathedral is the remains of a Roman arch and further along Komodienstrasse, a section of a city wall that once marked the city's boundary in Roman times. Further along again we found the first of two Roman towers. The second was south of the first and happily on the borders of one of the nighttime areas recommended by the Lonely Planet. After a fruitless search for a bar ('Lonely Planet'ed, again!), we settled for a German 'American Diner' (most amusing) - still, at least they served beer in big glasses.

Tue: We thought we'd do a few museums today, seeing as they were nearby. First up was the Romisch-Germanisches Museum (Roman-German Museum). This was crammed with vaguely interesting artifacts displayed in an extremely unimaginative way. We didn't last long there. Next up was Museum Ludwig, "a European mecca of postmodern art". Now, I'm not a big fan of postmodern art at the best of times, but this was something else. I apologize for asking the question, but does the phrase "German postmodern art" send shivers down your spine? It should do, believe me. The reason why we went in at all was to see the Agfa photographic exhibition - which turned out to be closed that day. Arse. Well, that pretty much closed the book for serious museums for the rest of the trip. It did not exclude, however, our next destination, the Schokoladen Museum (Chocolate Museum). This museum is located in a splendid, modern building right on the banks of the Rhine. Inside, every facet of chocolate production is explored. We learnt about the history of chocolate, how the cocoa bean is farmed and processed (including a walk though a glass house that simulated its steamy growing conditions), how cocoa is traded, and how chocolate has been used and marketed through the ages. We also got a tour around a 'visitor friendly' chocolate factory (complete with a chocolate fountain). We concluded our visit with a trip to the best museum souvenir shop in the world and sat outside in the blazing sun to eat our souvenirs. We returned to our hotel for a siesta before heading out for our last night on the Kolsch.

Wed: We arose early after our late night and had a bit of a bleary start to the day. This morning's priority was to locate our car hire firm. We braved the Cologne city rail system based on some half-arsed intelligence gathered the day before (it was way off all our tourist maps). We were forced to stop in at a local police station to ask for directions to the street where our hire car depot was situated. We arrived to discover (happily) that the Opel Corsa that we had booked was nowhere to be found and thus were given a bright yellow Audi A3 for no extra charge in compensation. Nicely! Boarding our vehicle, we blatted from Cologne to Koblenz for the first stop on our road trip to Munich. We parked in the Altstadt (old town) and walked down to the confluence of the Rhine and Mozelle rivers. At the juncture of the two rivers stands the Deutsches Eck and its enormous monument of Kaiser Wilhelm II (a replica of the original that was blown-up in WWII). Returning to the Altstadt, we feasted on some great, bunless burgers. Out again on the motorway South, we were subject to a not-so-straight-forward run to Heidelberg, a town totally devoid of budget accommodation. Once settled in, we partook in a very pleasant orientation walk through the Altstadt and Heidelberg University before choosing 'The Baufhaus' for dinner. In stark contrast to Cologne we were able to (and thus of course did) order litre steins of a lager style beer brewed on the premises - yum. And then we ordered some more. Mike and I talked crap for more than a handful of pleasant hours. Before retiring I rang Andy in Australia on my newly purchased phone card and then we returned to our hotel (thankfully Mike was paying attention to our route home) and a much needed sleep.

Thu: We, of course, could not leave Heidelberg without taking a wander through the impressive Heidelberg Castle, home of the world's largest wine vat. The castle is an absolute gem, but the wine vat defies belief. It is made entirely out of wood, holds 220,000 litres and stands about six metres high! They must have had some pretty special parties, eh. Back on the road, we invaded pretty, but bland, Baden-Baden for lunch. From there we struck out south and accidentally spent half an hour in France. It was odd, but we didn't actually know we were in France until we investigated why our surroundings had suddenly got a whole load more relaxed - Germany has a tension in the air that was absent just over the border. Weird! We drove back through Strasbourg and down into the Black Forest. We whiled away several hours exploring the back roads of this beautiful area before selecting Elzach as our home for the night.

Fri: We began with more Black Forest pootling. One thing soon became noticeable to the point of being scary - all roads lead to Villingen-Schwenningen. And we're not talking in a proverbial "all roads lead to Rome" kind of way here - we're talking Twilight Zone. We stopped for an hour or two's wander around the waterfalls at Triberg. The route back into Freiburg took us along the oddly titled Hollental (lit. 'Hells Valley'). Amusingly, the entry to this valley is gained through the village of Himmelsreich (lit. 'Kingdom of Heaven'). We arrived in Freiburg in time for a late lunch/early dinner. After a brief look around, we opted to continue our exploration of the southern Black Forest and to make our way further east before nightfall. Our random selection of a stop for the night led us to the village of Stockach. Can I say up-front that if there is one place in all of Germany that should be sought out by those who desire to experience the wildness of German night-life, it is not Stockach. It was a Friday night and even the tumbleweed had found a more exciting place to hang out. We ended up drinking a single beer each in our room and counting the people outside on the street (I got to four, but Mike reckoned I had counted the same grandmother three times).

Sat: Today our route took us past Lake Constance and into the town of Meersburg. Here we had a good wander around and sat by the lake for a while and watched the world go by. Our next stop was Ulm, gateway between the states of Baden-Wurttemburg and Bavaria and birthplace of Albert Einstein. Our final destination for the day was the vibrant town of Augsberg. Mike and I took the precaution of buying several litres of beer in bottles to ensure that there was no repeat of the previous evening's quiet night in. We got a room in an odd hotel beside a pub (all communication with the hotel management went on via an intercom and the keys to all the vacant rooms hung on a board beside the door). Our room was pleasant, clean and came with free chocolate. One bottle of beer led to another and soon our room-stash was depleted. There was nothing left for it but to go out. We started in the bar beside the hotel. Germany does an amazing line in 'mullet' haircuts, and this bar was a showcase for some of the finest. Unfortunately the bar seemed to close very early (either that or we were evicted for not having a 'proper' haircut), so we had to stagger down the road to find another establishment. We soon stumbled upon our home for the rest of the evening - a bar that had good music and was open late. The absence of any woman in the place piqued our curiosity, but this was quickly cleared up when a man with tattoos, no hair and a denim-jacket-with-the-sleeves-cut-off attempted to chat Mike up. We drank, nattered, played darts (well, Mike played darts - I just threw sticks with flights on the end at various parts of the wall) and drank. We got very drunk. Finally the bar closed and we were ejected out into the pouring rain. The call of nature was relieved against a parked car - a rather familiar looking yellow Audi A3 as it turned out. Damn. Once back in the hotel it was simply mandatory that we use all the spare room keys on the board by the door to execute a major chocolate raid on the rest of the hotel. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but definitely involved the construction of turbans out of the hotel towels (there are photos) and watching most of a Jackie Chan movie in German.

Sun: Here is a transcript of the morning: "thud, thud, thud, thud, McDonalds, thud, thud, fresh air, thud, thud, McDonalds, thud, thud". Our bleary-eyed meanderings took us to the middle of the annual Augsberg Car Rally. Germany has built some cracking cars and they were all here on display - excellent. From Augsberg we headed south to the pretty town of Fussen. Out on the road, we were beginning to get a feel for just how pretty Bavaria was. We found a cute little B&B on the edge of town. I had to have a wee sleep (getting old). Mike went out for a walk and a look around. I arose refreshed and we both took a walk around the township. We opted for an early dinner and then went for a drive out to watch the sun set over the mountains. Lovely.

Mon: I had a morning of money troubles, this morning. I wasn't sure if I was just being unlucky, whether my bank card had been damaged or whether there was something genuinely amiss with my bank account. I had to use my Australian bank card in the end (spending Aussie dollars in Europe is just not funny). That resolved, we turned our minds to the days entertainment. The two castles that loom over Fussen, Schloss Neuschwanstein (Neuschwanstein Castle) and Schloss Hohenschwangau (Hohenschwangau Castle), are both follies of the late King Ludwig II. After gorging ourselves on Bratwurst, we chose to do a guided tour around Schloss Neuschwanstein (incidentally, Schloss Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Disney Castle). The tour was not terribly informative and a bit brief, but the castle was interesting and the wittering of the many Yanks was amusing. Once outside again we did a circuit of the walkways that crisscrossed the mountains behind the castle. We stood on Marienbrukke (Mary's bridge) and looked back to the castle we had just explored. We were also afforded a moody view of Schloss Hohenschwangau nestling in the mist. We had a wet drive from Fussen to Munich which culminated in a navigation nightmare. We finally located the main railway station and got the Tourist Office to book us some accommodation (the 'Hotel Avello'). We also booked our train from Munich to Berlin and from Berlin back to Frankfurt. Beer and pizza was called for for dinner.

Tue: Today we drove to Berchtesgaden in the rain. There are two things to do on a rainy day in Berchtesgaden: the Eagle's Nest and the Salt Mine. We selected the Salt Mine to start, but were put off by the horrendous queues and waiting times. We elected to return in the afternoon and struck out instead for the Eagle's Nest. We caught the bus up the mountain which afforded a pleasant view of the inside of the clouds. The view was not much better in the summit car park and by the time we had ascended the elevator to the Eagle's Nest itself, it had started to snow. It was the middle of bloody summer and the most spectacular view in all Germany was obscured by a blizzard! We were not happy. We descended to the bus via a wind-blasted track, but at least managed to glimpse a bit of the scenery through momentary breaks in the cloud. Next up was the tour of the Berchtesgaden Salt Mines. It was even less interesting than it sounds. The one moderately 'interesting' piece (and we're talking 'relative' here) involved using the old wooden slides that once enabled the miners to quickly descend into the workings of the mines. This experience was marred by having the German guides 'organise' all of the fun out of it. Mike and I made rude gestures at the camera that snapped a photo of each group of sliders as they went past 📷. We also got to ride across a lake of very salty water and listen to the inane observations of the party of American tourists in our group. The 'icing on the cake' of this tour was a free gift of a packet of salt as a souvenir - says it all really. We returned to Munich in the rain. A bit of a poo day, all round.

Wed: Our first task for the day involved the return of our hire car. This proved easier said than done given the depots location at the heart of a one-way/road works extravaganza. The job finally done we made to the heart of the city and the start of our Munich walking tour. We began in Karlsplatz, the highlight of which was the medieval Karlstor, the western gate and perimeter of the Altstadt. Heading east along the pedestrianized Neuhausener Strasse and then south along Eisenmannstrasse we found Sendlinger Tor, the 14th-centuary southern portal. The next stop was the sumptuous St Johann Nepomuk church (better known as the Asamkirche), designed and built by the Asam brothers in 1733-46. The brothers originally lived next door and this extremely ornate chapel was their private place of worship. We passed the Stadmuseum and ear-marked it as a possible destination for later on in the day. Our next stop was in the bustling Viktualienmarkt (an extensive and impressive outdoor food market) where we wandered and salivated and took photographs. Heading northwards brought us into Marienplatz and the heart of the Altstadt. The midday Glockenspiel show was only minutes away so we took up station in front of the bell tower of the Neues Rathaus ( New Town Hall). Deciding that we were too cool to watch the very touristy show, we moved to a position under the tower and instead watched the gawping crowd as midday chimed. Also visible from here were: St Peterskirche; the Fischbrunnen (Fish Fountain); the Mariensaule (Mary Column); the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall); and the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Ghost). Thus lunchtime ticked around just as we arrived outside the Hofbrauhaus - what perfect timing. Needless to say we slipped inside for a stein or two (we may even have had some food). From here we meandered north and west and past the impressive Nationaltheater building. Around the corner to the north is the magnificent Residenz, the huge palace that housed Bavarian rulers from 1385 to 1918. Residenzstrasse culminates in Odeonsplatz, site of the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal's Hall) and Theatinerkirche St Kajetan. Turning south again, this time along Theatinerstrasse and then west, we passed the late-Gothic Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), the icon of Munich. We returned to the start of our walk passing the Michaelskirche as we went. A most pleasant stroll altogether. It was too early for dinner yet so we returned to the Stadmuseum, intending to have a look around. Sore feet and images of Museum Ludwig conspired to turn us instead to search for a snack, rather than go inside. We returned to our hotel for a wee rest and then found an authentic Bavarian restaurant for our dinner. This was excellent, but the experience involved our most insurmountable language problems yet - fortunately the owner took a minute out of his own meal in order to order food and drink on our behalf. Gorgeous food!

Thu: We were up early in order to catch our ICE train to Berlin. The journey took most of the day (7 hours), so we didn't have much time left in the day by the time we got to Berlin. We found a little pension in the west of the city and then headed straight out for a wee explore. First stop was a stroll around the grounds of Charlotte Schlosse. Next we caught a train into Potsdam Platza, the frontier of east-meets-west, a border that is still very much apparent. After a short explore around the area we decided to ignore the setting sun and walk the entire 7km back to our pension. We walked under the Brandenburg Gate (sadly swathed in scaffolding); through the Tiergarten, past the Soviet War Memorial and the Siegessaule on the Grosser Stern roundabout; through Charlottenburg and back to our pension. We got in just before 23:00 - a good, long walk (10+ km all up).

Fri: Explore Berlin day! We began with a jaunt into Zoo Station to store our luggage. Next we headed around the south side of the Tiergarten, on foot, and popped into the Bauhaus Museum. Having learnt so much about the Bauhaus at University, I was very pleased to get to see this museum. I only wish it had been a little more substantial. From there we walked along the Landwehrkanal and up to Potsdam Platza again. We strolled the length of Unter de Linden before returning to the Sony Centre in Potsdam Platza for a late lunch. The weather was beginning to close in, so after an aborted attempt to have a beer, we opted to visit the IMAX theatre to see 'Extreme X', a thumping movie about the X-Games. We exited the movie an hour later, only to walk out into the most impressive flash rainstorm that I have seen in years. It decimated the interior of the Sony Centre in minutes, but was all over in less than half an hour. We jumped on the number 100 bus for a budget bus tour of the inner-eastern parts of Berlin. Even ten years later the division between the two halves of the city are still very obvious, as was the realization of just how much work will be required to overhaul the desperately archaic eastern side of the city. After our bus ride we still had an hour or so to kill. We selected the Erotik Museum to while away some of that. At 22:00 we collected our luggage and a wee while later boarded our night train to Frankfurt. We had been allocated the top bunks in our compartment and spent the next hour accidentally dropping stuff on the people below us (poor Superman).

Sat: We were awoken at 05:30 and forced to drink some nasty black liquid that the guard insisted was coffee. At 06:20 we disembarked at Frankfurt and immediately encamped ourselves in McDonald's for breakfast and a planning session for the days activities. These great plans were slow in getting under way and we spent the first few hours stretched out in sun on a couple of benches beside the Main River. We returned to the railway station for brunch (yes, in McDonald's) and to use the phone. Despite being a little jaded from our night on the train, we decided that we really should see something of Frankfurt whilst we were there. We walked to Main Tower, supposedly for the best view in the city, but the queue was too long. We retired to a nearby park to doze in the sun some more. A second look in at Main Tower was enough for us to abandon this idea (the queue had subsided, but were instead scared off by the admission price). Instead we returned to the river to seek out the Museum fur Kommunikation (Communication Museum). The museum was excellent and we spent several hours exploring this gadget-freak's paradise. We returned to the station via the Holbeinsteg pedestrian bridge. A short train journey later and we were back in our favourite airport and onto our flight home. Germany - been there, done that.