A great day out.

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.

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Our lovely coach later in the day.

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.

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These little piggies went to market and became bratwurst,,,,,,,
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…..but this little piggy had the sense to run away!

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!

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It was always going to happen.

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.

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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.

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The hills are alive with the sound of Fergy (Heaven help us!).

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).

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I do like German beer.  OK, I just like beer!

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!

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No mistaking who was in that night.

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.

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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.

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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..

A turning point.

22nd of May.

The 22nd of May was somewhat of a turning point in the trip and I do not have a single image to accompany this particular day but I hope it will serve to explain the (many) journal / blog entries that follow this.

I make no secret of the fact that I am here in the undoubtedly forlorn hope of ever creating a decent website as one of the many refugees from the late and much lamented Virtual Tourist which many of my few trusty “followers” were members of.

One of the highlights of the VT calendar was the annual Euromeet which was held in a different town or city every year and was organised entirely by one or more members. Whilst the meets were not officially sanctioned by VT (I suspect for legal reasons more than anything else) they were hugely supportive and used to send the organisers large boxes of “swag” i.e. promotional items to be distributed amongst the attendees. Additionally, one of the members of staff usually attended and I had met and got to know several of them personally over the years. I count the last two CEO’s of VT, Giampiero (G) and Kimberly as personal friends. It really was that kind of site which makes it’s loss, especially the circumstances of that loss, all the greater.

This year’s meet had been in the planning for some time and was scheduled for a town called Kempten in Allgau in Bayern (Bavaria) in Southern Germany. It was being organised by a German member called Christian who had already done an awful lot of legwork and booked coaches, restaurants etc. which must have left him in an awful position when they pulled the rug out from under us.

Needless to say there was much discussion as to whether it would go on or not but the overwhelming consensus was that it should for a number of reasons. Obviously, nobody wanted poor Christian to be out of pocket nor for all his hard work to be wasted. Also, there was an element of defiance that we weren’t going to let the “bar stewards” grind us down and if we wanted to have a meet then we were going to have one, website or no. Perhaps most importantly, a number of very firm personal friendships had been formed over the years and people go to the meets as much for the incredibly sociable atmosphere as for the excellent activities and meals that the organisers consistently arrange.

I had more or less decided that I wasn’t going to go this year although I had initially signed up as I thought it would be something of a wake with everyone sitting around moping over the loss of something we all held so dear. However, as the date drew ever nearer I was increasingly thinking that if I did not attend then I would regret it forever. I will give full details of the meet itself in future journal entries. I have mentioned before that I had made my mind up I didn’t want to fly if I didn’t have to and so I booked an overnight bus (coach) from Lyon to Memmingen which is very close to Kempten. I knew if I headed off the next night I would have a day to spare and so I might as well take in another location.

I “booked passage” with a company called Flixbus on the night bus the following evening and I must have spent the rest of the day toiling over a hot keyboard as I do not have a single image of that daytime as I mentioned at the top of this piece which is unusual for me. Don’t worry, there are plenty more to come.

23rd May.

 

After the supper of the night before it was a miracle I slept at all but I did. The idea of consuming a whole beautifully over-ripe French cheese along with some more Crement d’Alsace (which is really champagne but they cannot call it that due to where it is made) I suspect would not be recommended by a sleep expert, especially for one with my sleep disorders.  I should explain that I deliberately leave cheeses in my fridge at home for a month or two past their sell-by dates just to mature.  They have not killed me yet.

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I love French cheese!

I knew I had to keep myself fairly well in check that day for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I did not want to miss my bus (coach) and secondly, I know that the “facilities” on such vehicles can be a touch unsavoury to say the least so the less need to use them the better. The day, therefore, was spent going round one or two of the local establishments of alcoholic refreshment I had taken to frequenting and drinking small beers which caused some confusion as that is not my normal way. I was bid some very genuine and hearty “Bon voyages” (I am not sure if I should pluralize that or not so apologies if I have it wrong).

Not least of these fond farewells was in the hostel of which, yet again, I cannot speak highly enough. The staff had taken to calling me by my name and would invite me to sit with them when they were having their coffee breaks etc. for a chat. Despite the fact that I was easily old enough to be the Father of anyone there and probably biologically even Grandfather to some, I never felt anything less than most welcome there. I know I was most happy in le Flaneur and it was certainly a far better experience than sitting alone in a room or soulless hotel bar in any place I could afford in the city. I’d never have found a guitar!

I shall publish a little collage of images of the hostel on another page here.

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Au revoir, old friend.

I kept myself fairly straight and, with a final pat on the “head” of R2D2 (does R2D2 have a head?), I was off in plenty of time to get to the station, maybe even slip in a quick beer before the off. Wrong. Once again I relied on technology and once again it failed me. Using the appalling Google maps I walked and I walked and when I had done that I walked some more! Eventually I resorted to tried and trusted tactics, asked a passerby, got proper directions and arrived with about five minutes to spare, sweating like the proverbial pig although I am sure I have read that pigs do not actually sweat as I mentioned before but who knows? What I do know is that I could have wrung out my bandanna and I was very grateful for having worn it. I thoroughly recommend one for travellers of either gender, especially if you have a bit of hair.

I made it to the bus station and not a problem as the baggage loader / conductor seemed in no rush so I joined him for a smoke and a chat. I asked about seats and was told they were not allocated and to sit where I wanted. Great stuff and I knew where I was headed. The bus was about half full and I spied my seat immediately. If i can I always take the middle seat of five in the back row as it offers just about unlimited legroom and I am 6’5″ (194 in metric?, I am not sure) so that was me. Happy days with happier to come as nobody else apparently wanted to sit in the back row. Whether this was due to me being there I cannot say but the upshot was that I had five seats to myself and whilst not the most comfortable bunk in the world at least it was a lie down. I knew it was going to be a long night but a sleeper on the train was going to be ludicrously expensive and take me on a most circuitous route with not a lot of time saved by doing that.

A short time after the appointed hour off we went and I settled down with a decent book, a very interesting military biography of a chap called George Alexander (Sandy) Forsyth who fought for the Union in the American Civil War and then spent years fighting the “Indians” in what was still then very much the “Wild West”. He fought with Custer and “little” Phil Sheridan, whose most trusted lieutenant he was, before organising buffalo hunting parties for Russian nobility and a whole lot more. The book is called “The Hero of Beecher Island” by a very eminent American military historian called David Dixon and I do recommend it.

Night had fallen and there wasn’t much to look at anyway as it was purely motorway (autoroute) driving which is never too exciting at the best of times so I thought I would try for an hour or two of a kip. Boots off and a bit of judicious positioning of the seatbelt anchor points and I made a half-decent “basha” (Army term deriving from the Hindi in the days of the Raj). OK, there was not much chance of a decent sleep as the bus would stop every couple of hours or so at some major settlement to let people on and off. Still, it was a smoke break and there was an interesting interlude at one point when the conductor politely asked me to stand five metres away from the bus whilst smoking. Some stupid regulation from the detested EU. He gave me this instruction standing right at the door chatting to the driver! One law for some and one for the rest as they say.

Being half asleep most of the time I had sort of lost track of what countries I had even travelled through as border controls are just about non-existent on these borders although this was to change during the course of my trip due to the completely insupportable amount of economic migrants from sub-Sharan Africa particularly to Italy and now Spain. These are UN figures and not any sort of xenophobia of mine and were to dominate the newspapers in Italy when I eventually got there (trust me, I shall write about it eventually!) Seven out of ten of the supposed refugees landing or being rescued from the seas by the totally overstretched Italian and Spanish authorities are UN designated as economic migrants and not refugees but as soon as they hit Lampedusa or Sicily or get pulled out of the sea then they have reached the “promised land”. Why else would they risk such a hazardous crossing? I know that I was later to sail through Brenner on the Austrian / Italian border without even having a passport check and yet a couple of weeks later the Austrians had effectively closed that crossing point but more of that later.

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On this journey I think I probably went through about four countries although, as I say, I was half asleep or reading most of the way. I know I was in Geneva just before midnight which was the first time I had ever been in Switzerland (who can afford that place?) but I am never going to “claim” it as a destination I have been to as a jump out the door for ten minutes and a smoke hardly constitutes “visiting” a country. That being said, I can quite honestly say that I have set foot on Swiss soil.

Onward, ever onward and I cannot say it was the most pleasant journey I have ever been on albeit I knew what to expect and wasn’t at all misled by Flixbus. They are a cheap option and you get what you pay for. The “excitement” came at one pickup / drop off / smoke break / leg stretch stop and by this stage I genuinely did not even know what country I was in. There was a police van waiting and I worked out from the plates that I was no longer in France or Switzerland but rather I had somehow ended up in Germany in the delightful town of Lindau which I was to revisit and thoroughly enjoy later.

We stopped at a car park in town to set down, pick up and have a smoke for those of us that did but not so quick Fergy, my lad. I pulled the boots on and down the steps for a smoke only to be ushered quickly back on board by the conductor with the brusque phrase “police check”. OK, fair enough, I have nothing to hide and there then ensued a complete performance by two armed police officers, one male and one female who went through the pantomime of checking everyone’s ID. Again, no problem for me and I was asked a couple of cursory questions but it was so obvious they were acting “on information received” as I believe the cop term is and looking for someone in particular.

There was a youngish female sitting a few rows in front of me and I was privy to the conversation which was conducted in English as the only common language between her and the female officer. It turned out she was Macedonian, had a scant few € on her, no credit cards and apparently little idea where she was going or where she was going to stay.  She was to be picked up at the bus station by someone of whom she had no details.  At a guess I would think she was being trafficked for prostitution.  Last I saw of her she was being put in the back of the police van and I have no idea what happened to her after that but it merely extended an already long and tiresome journey by over an hour. Deep joy!

I have no problem with any country protecting it’s borders and, grateful as I am that we never joined Schengen, I shall be even happier when we finally leave the Federal States of E (aka the EU) and regain proper control of ours.

In due course we reached Memmingen where I alighted in the early(ish) morning and that will have to wait for the next edition of this journal / blog but at least I had got there.

Stay tuned and spread the word and there will be images of Lindau in a future entry I promise.