I woke up in my rather lovely hotel on the morning of the 26th of May, hugely happy about the previous day’s events (if you do not know the full story I would urge you to have a quick wade through the very many previous entries in this journal if you think you can stand it) but to summarise briefly I was in Kempten im Allgau for what I though was to be the last of the Virtual Tourist meets, given birth to by the eponymous website. They were an annual and very well attended event and I was hoping they could continue with TravBuddy friends joining in and that is a theme I shall return to later. TravBuddy was the site that many of us had jumped to when VT was shut down but it has sadly also closed now as well.
Regrettably, I could not stay where I had been as it was completely booked out for that night (a Friday) which I believe was due to it being a holiday weekend and, to a lesser extent, the presence of a decent number of us VT members being in town. Still, that was not a problem as I had managed to secure myself a bed online in a little village about fifteen miles from Kempten (which turned out to be an excellent result) and I am well used to living out of a smallish kitbag so a nice shower, five minutes to pack and I was back on the road, trailing my newish suitcase with a now half broken handle (you get what you pay for) and off to the meet point where the hugely friendly driver opened the cargo hold and told me to throw my kit in there. No problem, well no problem then but we’ll come back to that.
Christian (the organiser), despite all the fairly massive obstacles that were thrown in his way, had got everything perfectly arranged and we all met up at the appointed place to embus on a rather spectacular coach. Hell, we were all there and damned if any self-serving, egotistical corporate charlatan who pays himself $39 million (US) a year was going to stop us.
On the bus and Christian was acting as tour guide as he did so very well. I know that it was probably a money-saving measure (very rightly so) in not employing a qualified tour guide which would have been a fairly pointless exercise anyway. As I have mentioned previously, trying to organise VT i.e. independent travellers is like trying to herd cats and I did not envy him his job at all. We were all big boys and girls so just dump us off somewhere interesting and let us go. That is what VT members were like and I was to discover on my brief acquaintance that TravBuddy members were like as well. We were all fairly independently minded travellers irrespective of which website we chose to use.
First stop of the day was the utterly delightful town of Wangen which, although being reached by a decent autobahn still managed to take in some pretty decent scenery. Our ultimate destination was Lindau where I had had my little “interaction” with the local polizei on the bus from France.
In truth, lovely as Lindau later proved to be in daylight and me not being turned over by the local constabulary, I think I marginally preferred Wangen. It is a beautiful mediaeval town and I was right back into “Memmingen mode” (see previous journal entries for an explanation of this) where I could not walk round a corner without my jaw dropping yet again at the stunning, pristine beauty of the place. It is yet another of those little beauties that Bayern (Bavaria) seems to specialise in and which really makes me want to go back and explore that region more.
Again, I shall let the images (amateur as they are) speak for themselves and would point the reader to the work of some of my fellow travellers who are far handier with a camera than I am and who have contributed tremendous images of this most photogenic town. Perhaps the highlight for me was the Spitalkirche (church) dating to 1447 which was stunning outside and in. I have mentioned before that I am a man of no religious faith and yet places of worship are like magnets to me, I love them.
Removing headgear (bandanna in my case) as Christian etiquette demands, I wandered in there and spent quite a bit of time wondering at the outstanding architecture and artefacts. Without looking it up, I could not tell you if this place was Roman Catholic, Lutheran (which is a popular faith in this region) or whatever. Frankly, I feel I am better off not knowing. I was brought up in Northern Ireland in the 60’s through to the 80’s and I have seen far, far too much of what religious intolerance does. Yes, I fully appreciate that this is a bit heavy on a predominantly travel website and I apologise but I only know one way to write whatever rubbish it is I contribute here and that is the truth and what I feel at any given time.
Of course, it was not all heavy (I didn’t feel any negative influence at all in that beautiful church) but the more secular attractions of the town were going to have to be investigated, namely the bars which Bavaria is famous for and rightly so. A few of those were duly researched against writing future reviews for the website I was then contributing to, no other reason obviously!
I can’t remember if it was 1300 or 1400 we had to be back at the coach but we all made it on time (we were all pretty experienced travellers as mentioned above) and I even had time to stop off at a nearby supermarket where I was amazed to find that they had easily 100 types of beer but nothing in a can, it was all bottles. Not a huge problem as I can open bottles with a cigarette lighter, belt buckle, door jamb or just about anything solid. I have even been known to do it with my teeth but I have given that up as I don’t have so many left at my time of life and it seems to make women squeamish. No problem as my Scandinavian mate (ex- Special Forces and always well kitted up) had the necessaries on his keyring so that eased the admittedly short journey to Lindau which will be dealt with in the next paragraphs.
Before we get to Lindau, here are a few more images of the absolute gem that is Wangen. Apologies if there are any “doubles” in the images but I hacve so many images of that day.
It is not a long drive from Wangen to Lindau which was the “main objective” of our excursion although, in truth, I could have happily spent the whole day in the former town. Bayern just seems to be packed to the gunwales with the most amazing little places that I had never even heard of prior to this trip. The whole region just oozes charm but I suppose it is like everything else and the eternal lament of the traveller of “so many places, so little time” much as I would love to re-visit.
As mentioned in a previous entry in this journal / blog my first exposure to Lindau had hardly been great as I was having my passport examined by an armed police officer at about 0600 in the morning after a long and fairly uncomfortable night on a long distance coach with pretty unsanitary “facilities” and a bunch of raucous children. None of this is a problem to me and the officers were obviously looking for one person whom they removed from the coach, a pretty young Macedonian girl who was undoubtedly being trafficked for some purpose that probably doesn’t bear thinking about. I do hope that they found some way of “saving” her.
As my religious discourse above, I know this is pretty heavy stuff for a mainly travel website but I have news for those that don’t already get it, travel is not all pretty castles and lakes and mountains and white sand beaches and Disneyland. Bad things happen in the world and the more you travel then the more likely you are to encounter them. Open your eyes and live with it, perhaps even try to help a little if you can.
Anyway, enough pontificating from me and back to Lindau. We rolled into town, past the place where I had been stopped before which raised a slightly rueful smile with me and were dropped off in a sizeable car park just out of the centre and told what time to be back. Christian, in his totally brilliantly organised way, had obtained timetables for boat trips on Bodensee aka Lake Constance which is a rather large body of water and, indeed, the harbour would do justice to a small coastal town anywhere. It even boasts a lighthouse although whether this is operational or not I could not say. I am not sure whether or not any of our party availed themselves of the maritime exploits on offer but I had decided on a wander round and, yes, obviously a beer or ten.
My quest for a beer was never going to be a problem as the place is stuffed to the gills with restaurants and bars. This was obviously getting into high season and many places were full at the al fresco tables eating what looked to be delightful food. However, Fergy does not work like that. After a small shutterfest (with the fairly average results attached here) on my compact camera I let the “nose” take over again.
For those who have come upon this page by some strange twist of fate (your karma must be awful!) I shall explain briefly so as not to further bore whatever regular readers I may have. I seem to have an innate ability to seek out great little bars in the strangest of places even if I have never visited them before. Well, the “nose” rarely lets me down and so it was to prove in Lindau. No, I didn’t just hit any bar and sit there all day, I had travelled far enough to see this place and I did. Lindau was stunning and I do recommend it as it is utterly gorgeous. Again, Christian had picked well.
I had seen a small restaurant called Mediterraneo which gives something of a clue to the cuisine offered. I perched myself at the bar, which is my preferred position and called for a beer which was promptly served by the charming lady behind the bar. My German is even more appalling than my schoolboy French, which I can just about get away with but, by dint of a whole lot of miming, we managed to carry on some sort of “conversation”. When I was at school I often wondered why we were made to mime, I know now as it is so fantastically useful and I thank Zandra Magennis and the late Joan MacPherson from the bottom of my heart for that as it has carried me round the world!
From my “perch” I could see straight into the kitchen and watched the chef knocking up a number of dishes for the patrons who came and went and it was a joy. Whilst I have the appetite of a sparrow, I can watch chefs, or indeed cook myself, all day. I would certainly have been tempted by some of the offerings but one meal a day is quite enough for me and I knew I was set up for a feed that night so I restricted myself to a few beers before heading off to the bus at the appointed hour.
Before you ask, no, this wonderful ice cream cup was not for me but I could not resist a photo as it looked so beautifully presented. Chef had all the stations covered by himself, he was completely a one man band and obviously very good at it.
Back on the bus then for the return journey and, again, nobody went MIA. A couple more beers and a small dozette made the time fly.
On the way back to Kempten we did stop for a bit of a photo stop which really did bring home to me how delightful this part of the world is and what utterly superb company I was in. I really was so glad I came.
We arrived back in Kempten in good order although there was a slight piece of drama after we alighted right in the centre of town. The driver, who had been an utter delight all day (I had had a few chats with him albeit we had hardly ten words of a common language) was quite rightly and properly in “daytrip” mode and wasn’t expecting to offload baggage. Sorry, I was effectively homeless at this point with far too little kit and most of my wordly goods and possessions in that bag in the belly of the bus.
I was standing by the cargo hold door waiting for him to open it and he jumped up into the interior of the bus. No problem, I thought it was some sort of electronic opening from inside, it really was a flash coach and I wish we had had one like it on my sub-Arctic trip to Scandinavia where I played a lot of gigs and nearly died of hypothermia when the heater failed! Next thing I knew, he had pulled out into the traffic and was off. I do not blame the guy at all, he was in one mode and I, as is my way, was messing up his nice schedule. There ensued then something that would have done justice to the Keystone Cops with Christian and I chasing a very smart coach down a main road in central Kempten screaming and shouting. Fortunately it was rush hour and we ran him down by the second set of traffic lights (I could not have gone much further at my time of life and with my lifestyle as I am not that fit any more) and he was terribly apologetic although he really had no need to be. So, I was re-united with my four-day bag and ready to go (I was to go an awful lot further later so wait for that).
Back to where we had been dropped and some of the group headed home to freshen up whilst others adjourned to a nearby bar. You can guess what camp I was in. I was actually staying that night in a little village about fifteen miles away and although several friends offered me use of a shower, spare bed for a doze etc. I was on a roll. More of the village and wonderful hotel to come.
I knew that the evening meal that night was to be in a “rooftop” restaurant which immediately presented problems for me as I really do no like heights. I am sorry, they just freak me out. I feel physically ill some times and yet other times I can stand quite happily, well, without blind panic anyway, in a high place.
I was enveigled by friends into an external lift so beloved of high-rise places. I swear I was hanging onto anything which didn’t appear to be hurtling upwards at a very disagreeable rate of knots. I include in that several of my friends and yet again I can only apologise and do hope the nail marks eventually faded. It was only on the way home that I found out there was a “real” internal lift (elevator) with proper walls and the like and wasn’t going to make me pass out in fear and so I used that to make my exit!
Into the restaurant and a beer was immediately required if only to calm my heart rate from that Apollo liftoff ride up there. As always, Christian had picked brilliantly. I genuinely don’t know how he managed a meet of that size with the rug literally pulled out from under his feet. Rather ludicrously, I didn’t manage to take a single image of what I ate, nor do I remember what it was after all this time, but I work on the principle that it must have been pretty good as I always remember a bad meal. Perversely, the fact that I cannot remember it is no adverse comment on the kitchen.
I even braved the outside terrace for a smoke (I was not going to risk that external lift again to go downstairs for one) and got some beautiful views of Kempten at dusk which I hope I have managed to convey here.
Of course the main purpose of being there (last-minute as it was) was to meet my VT mates and it was a great night with many old friends. Yes, there was an element of sadness at what we had lost but the mood was overwhelmingly positive and there was an uge desire to keep the whole thing going even if the website had been taken away from us.
Getting not particularly late in the evening I knew I had to make a move. As mentioned previously, I had had to take a room in a village some miles away (what a good move that turned out to be) and was still wandering round with my complete worldly goods in a tiny case with my computer in another. I asked Christian if he knew a reliable taxi firm in town. I was quite happy to pay for it but did not want to leave it too late. Not at all. He would not hear of it and offered to drive me. What? A cab would probably have been €30 or €40 and I was set up for that (I think it was about €35 on the return next day) but no chance, he was going to drive me home. What a man and what a positive affirmation of what I have always said about travellers. As a man approaching old age when I will not be able to travel and when I will look back on these things, I know exactly what I think.
Christian dropped me off in the charming little village of Wiggensbach at the Hotel Goldenes Kreuz (Golden Cross if my appalling German serves) and even came into the reception to make sure everything went smoothly (he knows I speak minimal German but that was no problem as the charming lady had perfect English anyway). I would include a hyperlink here but they do not appear to have their own site. Upstairs to a most delightful “garret” room which suited me down to the ground (no witticism intended) and back to the bar, obviously. Despite my complete lack of facility in German (I find it a really difficult language) I managed to ascertain that the bar was open just about as long as I, as a resident, was there and did not fall off the perch. As is the way in such places I think the night porter doubled as the barman.
Happy days but dangerous for me as I had another day of the VT meet to go. Let’s see how far we can go. As usual for me, somewhere vaguely out the far side of madness! A couple of beers and a chat with the barman and I thought a relatively early night was called for as I had to get back into Kempten for the last day of the weekend. Off to my lovely room where I slept the sleep of the just, albeit that that is far from my moral state.
The weekend was not over yet, I was thoroughly enjoying it despite my initial misgivings and there was another day to go so I was not going to blow that on what was effectively to be the last day of the last proper VT meet ever after all those years, as I believed. Even writing about it months later in my home in London it still provoked very mixed reactions. I had debated just taking off and not going as I knew it was going to be hard and so I thought I would wait for the morning with a relatively clear head to make a decision.
To find out what I did decide, stay tuned and spread the word..