Day 1 – To Bamberg:
Ah, just up at 3am on a Friday morning, the first flight out of Dublin Airport. At this point it would feel weird to have a flight after 9am. Lufthansa is a slightly different experience to Ryanair. Efficient check in, boarding and all that jazz but you get a free croissant and coffee. Wine and all if you’re into that at 6am of a Friday. I encounter an Asian lady looking perplexed at me entering the gent’s toilets in Frankfurt Flughafen, she must have miss-interpreted the trouser sporting stick-man for an invitation to anyone wearing pants.
Just two hours to Frankfurt and then a couple of hours drive to Bamberg in our rented, whopper, Ford S-Max or some such, after about twenty minutes searching for Orla in Frankfurt airport and another twenty minutes filling out forms at Enterprise Rent-a-Car while a gracious, but probably very angry queue forms. We could be there for lunch at this rate, but for the numerous road works we are about to encounter. Bamberg by 3 so. The cheese rolls Clair smuggled onto the plane becoming a life-saver on the drive. We arrive to Paddy & Heike serving up some fantastic dinner. A much welcomed lasagne and salad. All topped off with some sparkling Würzburg wine to celebrate some wonderful news.
After a much deserved rest, we pick up a six pack from Brauerei Greifenklau on our way to Paddy & Heike’s place. To be informed it’s actually a little insulting to bring beer to a German person’s house. Oh well. Later we head back to Brauerei Greifenklau for some beer garden fun and indulge in some very nice Weizen. We attempt to order some bratwürste, but alas, we’re informed the kitchen is closed but in an act of probable pity, the waitress rustles up some chips for us. Little did we know then, the ordering of bratwürste would become a serious issues and this incident would become known as The First Bratwürste Fiasco.
Day 2 – Würzburg:
We’ve sort of kept it hush-hush that we’ll be heading to Würzburg for the day, something different, just me and Orla for the day. All is revealed at breakfast in Paddy and Heike’s apartment, with sarcastic gasps as thought something serious had happened. Again, Paddy & Heike putting us up with a feast. Bringing a whole new meaning to the generosity of a host. Too good to us. Paddy even dropping us to the train station after.
Würzburg is about an hour on the train from Bamberg, with some Dresden fans…..only about 40 of them. But loud ones. Very loud. At a stop on the line, a stag party gets on to calm things down. We’re even treated to a German rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. At first it’s familiar but somewhat different, until the unmistakable chorus chimes in. At Würzburg there’s a heavy police presence, plenty of riot gear and big German shepherd’s. All very intimidating. Not the type of thing a tourist wants to see getting of the train hoping for a quiet few hours wandering around a new place.
We spend a while trying to find the wine cellar tour at Residenz Würzburg, we walk all the way around several buildings, and arrive back to where we started from, and the entrance to what we were looking for. Grand. We miss the wine tour by 20 minutes or so, but have a wander around the palace and some wonderful and quiet gardens. Würzburg is beautiful, the sun is out and the surroundings could have you snapping photo after photo if you were into that sort of thing.
We finally get some bratwürste in Kafe Klug, or not….after a 45 minute wait we cancel our order. Nothing that costs €2.70 should ever take 45 minutes to get to the table. The Second Bratwürste Fiasco. We wander on and tide ourselves over with some hazelnut wafer snacks from a Norma, a cheap and sparse looking version of Lidl, while en route to Fortress Marienberg. It dominates the hill it sits on. Surrounded by rows of grape vines drenched in the now 27 degree heat. It’s an amazing structure. The Old Main Bridge (Alte Mainbrücke) is the best place to get some views of the fortress and the stunning landscape. There are plenty of old, very Bavarian looking buildings around the cobbled streets. We’re on the hunt for a bratwürste but to our amazement there are no quick options obvious to us. Incredible considering the number of bakeries around. They love their brot here. It will later be revealed to us, with no resemblance of detail, that we were unlikely to see, or get a bratwürste in Würzburg. It’s almost offered as a bitter piece of trivia. We get some quick food to go in the now busy streets, sitting on a fountain watching the world stride by, before making our way back to the train and Bamberg.
Back in Bamberg, and our immediate destination, having nearly been reversed over by Heike in what would have been our fault but also probably a bit of an upset to the weekend, is Spezial Keller for an introduction to Rauchbier. A Bamberg specialty, smoked beer. Spezial Keller holds a wonderful position on one of the seven hills overlooking Bamberg. The beer is not bad at all. I expected awful things from the descriptions but, you know, I’d have that again.
Our third attempt to get a bratwürste doesn’t go to plan when everyone else’s food arrives but the bratwürste make their way to another table. Fup sake. One day maybe…..After a wait, and then a bit more of a wait and some looking around, finally we get a fucking bratwürste, a sausage and a bit of bread is the last flipping thing I’d expect to have difficulty getting in Germany. Probably not worth the wait either. There’s always the rauchbier to drown the sorrows though.
The options after Spezial Keller are, go home or go somewhere else. We arrive in Schlenkerla, where you can have a smoked beer…..nothing else. No wine. No water. You can sit there and drink nothing, or you can have our smoked beer, and fucking enjoy it…..gas. It’s been here for some time, 1405 apparently, so I guess they’re just set in their ways and who’s to argue with a 610 year old. We’re forced to move on however, as only myself, PJ and Paddy are having a drink. Orla and Ciara unable to stomach the unusual beer. Next up is Alt Ringlein, where we order up a couple of weissbier and some wine in the open air night followed by a few whiskey’s later……just to settle the nerves.
Day 3 – Bamberg:
Day three commences with coffee and Englische scones at Teegießerie. Sitting outside shaded from the mid-day Sun in the square. Perfect relaxation. Even the wasps can’t break us. It’s a gentle start to another busy day.
Soon the day is stirred with our 180 Km/hr drive to Nuremberg. Heike’s parents (Hans & Ilsa) have invited us for a bbq. En route there’s an announcement on the radio to inform the general public that someone has come onto the autobahn the wrong way. There’s something a little uncomfortable about a car hurtling the wrong way down a no speed limit road. Anyway, the car we’re travelling in avoids ending up in more pieces than pre-manufacture and all is well. Hans & Ilsa are hosting us at their allotment, a beautiful big garden with an abundance of fruit, vegetables and flowers all looking perfect. Running water and electricity blur the lines, for me, between allotment and holiday home, but sure look.
Hans doesn’t have much English, and I have no German but communication is surprisingly good. Ilsa has a decent handle on the language though and Heike fills in the gaps. Everyone gets on very well. We’re given hand pressed Apple juice on arrival, made with the apples from the tree we’re sitting under. Amazing stuff. Hans presses the juice by hand with a wooden apple press. All very old school. It takes him half a day to produce 4 litres, this information making me change my drinking habit to a sip, not a chug, which is difficult as the temperature in the garden is rising.
The charcoal bbq is fired up and looking very much the part, soon we’re almost overwhelmed by the Transylvania bratwürste, chicken, pork steaks. A sort of feta schnitzel, too delicious. Aubergine and courgette, and wonderful chestnut mushrooms all sautéed. Washing down some incredible food with a few Mahrs-Braü beers. Hours pass, as if only minutes. Followed by Kaffee und Kuchen, the German tradition, just a little later than normal.
Day 4 – Bamberg:
We’re straight into the day, just enough time to stand and get a coffee into us, accompanied by a pastry assortment before a spot of shopping and strolling about the greater Bamberg area. It’s all small coffee shops, chocolate shops and boutiques. Cobbled streets and old buildings warmed by the rising Sun. Such a pretty little town, and still quiet this early on a Monday morning. I’m happy standing around waiting for Orla to try on clothes in Pimkle, recording the absolutely cracking tunes pumping so I can Shazam them later. The latest update to Shazam removing the record now, check later function, meaning when I’m away I can’t Shazam! Seriously, what the fuck. Suddenly, some horrendous techno, hip-hop hybrid oozes from the speakers and it’s definitely time to exit.
It’s Paddy & Heike’s wedding day today so we have to get back before the mid-day Sun, that and we have no sun cream on. The sweat starts while walking up the hill on the way back to our lovely little apartment. I’m not confident about the slacks and shirt later.
Kaffe & kuchen in the rose garden atop one of the hills of Bamberg after the ceremony, the views are spectacular, an enormous old cathedral ominously watching over us. It’s a lovely start to the celebrations, but I’m feeling a touch out of place. Sitting with no German in the middle of a German conversation. No change for the toilet either. Only a €50 note in my pocket and only coins in the attendants pocket. Wonderful. Things begin to even out though and it’s not long until the conversation flows along with the beer and delicious food. As the evening arrives, we make our way to Eckerts Restaurant and dinner overlooking Little Venice basking in the sunset. There’s no other place I’d rather be right now..
We’re positioned opposite Lother (Heike’s brother) and Anika (his girlfriend) who are great fun. Bonkers but good bonkers. They both speak English, excellently so, and I’m just happy to be able to understand the particulars of the conversation. We’re informed that those from the area (Bamberg, Nuremberg and the like) don’t consider themselves Bavarian but rather Franconian. In fact, there are many here among them who would consider the title somewhat insulting. Just as well I don’t speak German so; I may have insulated many a Franconian by now. Lother is in a band called Animal Mother and it’s a great common ground to kick off the conversation.
We end a wonderful day strolling back up the hill to our apartment, a perfect night for a wander.
Day 5 – Bamberg, and home to Dublin via Frankfurt:
It’s difficult to talk about the journey home at the best of times, but when you have up to a three hour drive before waiting in the airport for your two hour flight it makes things a little more, or probably less, interesting. For the moment, however, I’m distracted by the beauty of Bamberg.
I start my day waiting for a prescription in a doctor’s office in Bamberg’s old town….I’m not really sure what’s going on. I’m told to fill out a ‘form’, or blank piece of paper, with details and pay a surgery charge and then for the prescription. After some back and forth about suppositories and such, we settle on something else, Vomex A, for Orla who is back at the apartment awaiting medication. I thought the whole process for, basically Motilium, was a bit excessive. The German medical staff did not agree. Then it takes trips to two bakeries, in Germany, to get a single croissant when on the way home I pass a bakery, right around the corner from our apartment, with literally a mountain of croissants behind the counter. To top it off, I then get stuck in the shower. Gas craic altogether.
The drive back to Frankfurt is a lot smoother, not much traffic and no roadworks. We just had to basically go to Fulda first. After all the paranoia about missing our flight, we make it with plenty of time to argue with security about a dirty pram, get coffee and even wander around aimlessly for a bit. Airports are hard. Despite the plane bouncing around the sky, they manage to get the kaffe and kuchen out. Between 3 and 5 too. Tradition you know.