Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Walking in a winter wonderland

Looking over the Lech to St Mang's 
Being English means, in part at least, developing an obsession with the weather. The Other Half and I had spent weeks before our Bavarian trip studiously watching the weather forecast for the area – not least in an effort to work out exactly what clothing would be required.

Overall, the outlook was not good, with precipitation of various sorts predicted for almost the entire week.

Looking back to Füssen
And it began exactly as forecast, with snow falling throughout Saturday night so that we awoke to a winter wonderland. A winter wonderland, it should be said, with knobs on.

And fairylights on the knobs.

Even in London, a little snow is transformative. In terrain such as this, it’s magical.

After breakfast, dressed in proper walking boots – mine, coincidentally, from Bavaria – and wrapped up against the cold, we set out.

A snowy stroll
The cloud was still low as we headed down the road. I was desperate to see Neuschwanstein and insisted we continued down a path the bordered a park, believing that, as soon as we reached a certain point, it would be there, soaring majestically out of the woods.

We never quite got that view, but we warmed instead to a walk that gave us the chance to enjoy the snow. And to see the slopes of the lower hills, with trees dressed in white – evergreens bowing under their thick garments; deciduous with a dusting that gave an illusion of mistiness – was just one of the pleasures.

Then there was the water of the River Lech as it wound its way toward the Forggensee – crystal clear and a wondrous, malachite green.

The Forggensee itself – the largest lake in the immediate vicinity and the fifth largest in Bavaria – is partly drained in the winter, which makes for an odd sight.

The clear, icy waters of the Lech
Created in 1954 when the Lech was damned for the first time to create the Lechsee further north, being able to drain it helps to reduce the risk of flooding during the spring snow melt, and provides a perfect setting for aquatic sports in the summer. It’s also a great source of pike, eel and trout.

And while we’re on the subject of such things, the Lech is a tributary of the Danube, flowing from lake Formarinsee in the Austrian Alps down past Füssen, before flowing through the Forggensee and on north to reach the Danube near Donauwörth.

The walk back was as pleasant and we continued under the main road bridge and round toward the side of the summer palace of the bishops of Augsburg before slipping back into the old town alongside St Mang’s Abbey.

The Benedictine abbey has stood there for centuries and is named for a hermit, Magnus of Füssen, who built and oratory and cell there and died on 6 September in a year nobody bothered to remember. The first proper documentary record shows that, while he was certainly not the first abbot, Gisilo held that position in 919.

The Heilig-Geist-Spitalkirche
But there were practical and political reasons for the founding of the monastery there too. Füssen lies on the medieval road that leads from Augsburg south and across the Alps to Italy – it’s the point where the Lech breaks out of the mountains, which is what gives it great strategic importance.

Thus both the bishops of Augsburg and the Holy Roman Emperors considered it to be of political interest.

But we’ll return to the abbey another day. In the meantime, as we enterted the old town, we came across the Heilig-Geist-Spitalkirche (Holy Ghost Hospital Church), which was built between 1748-49 by Franz Karl Fischer.

At this point, you might be thinking that that name reminds you of Spitalfields in east London – named because the land in that area belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory and hospital nearby.

Damn such linguistic connections, illustrating how we don’t live in clearly-defined national vacuums.

But back in Füssen, the tiny church’s rococo façade shows the trinity and assorted religious figures, including Johannes Nepomuk, the patron saint of rafters – rafts being an important craft used on the Lech when this was built.

The walk gave me a first opportunity to see if my photographic experiment was going to work.

Having finally been pretty much forced to upgrade my phone, instead of bringing the big camera, I’d decided to see if I could shoot the entire trip on a camera phone, albeit that the phone in question is an iPhone 6 plus, which I was just starting to realise has a very good camera.

Cake. And coffee
This is a phone camera that will do macros and panoramas and various other whizz-bang things, including video, which I was determined to try – and the first attempt can be seen above, giving you a brief look at the inside of the Heilig-Geist-Spitalkirche.

But after a stroll around the streets and a first sense of orientation – and a first chance to admire some of the painting on the buildings, including plenty of trompe-l’œilgiven that it was still rather grey, we returned to the hotel and took coffee and cake in the Kurcafe, which was how our hotel had begun life, back in the late 19th century.

The cake involved chocolate. And creamy truffle.

And after that – and after a break to let thew cake and coffee settle – it was off to enjoy the sauna for the first time.

An early dinner followed in Himmelstube, the hotel’s Bavarian restaurant. For me, it was a first experience of a Schweinebraten, a roast pork dish; this one in Dunkelbiersoße – a dark beer gravy – with a substantial potato dumpling, a little side salad and some red cabbage, and with a glass of beer on the side.

And so, sated and warmed, and with the mind full of the winter landscape, we slept, with the weather forecast having told us that the following day would be the best of the week.

Fairytale castles awaited.

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