Motorhoming with Family in South Germany And Czech Republic

It was so lovely to meet Mary and James. We’d been looking forward to it for a while and had been waiting for them in Haus Guggemos campsite in Hopfen-Am-See. After minor difficulties; waiting for the campsite to open its gate on the side of the road, trying to find a big enough spot for two campervans (and not far from the toilets/showers, if possible, as instructed by Jamie’s parents) in this busy medium-size campsite on a slope, we finally parked. An hour later, as Jim and Mary parked next to us, the campsite lady still hadn’t opened the electricity box to plug us in. And the owner didn’t come up for Mary either. We waited another hour for her to come. An unusually laid-back attitude for German business owners we thought.

It was quite a busy campsite with Germans and Dutch campervans and caravans. You could tell that it was probably an attractive holiday spot for local Germans, and other tourists from neighbouring countries. The views onto the mirror-like lake and its promenade were postcard-perfect. We had a lovely walk with Mary and Jim along the lake and beers and latte (for me) sat outside one of the lake-side cafes/restaurants.


Our camp in Haus Guggemos campsite, Hopfen-Am-See.


Jim and Jamie by Lake Hopfensee, right opposite the campsite.

Isn't it picture-perfect?!


It was nice for once to not have planned what we would be doing for the next couple of days. Jamie and I had waited to be with his parents to see what they’d planned to do as it was their holidays. We didn’t want to impose and were happy to tag along. For our first night together I made “croque-madames” for everybody – French cheese and ham-toastie topped with béchamel, grated cheese and fried egg (the “Madame” touch). (Click on the croque-madame link to make your own).

Making croques using Jim & Mary's oven in their "Hymer machine".

Do you remember seeing this fairytale-like castle on pictures? Bearing a strange resemblance to the castle on the Walt Disney logo. This famous castle or "schloss" as the German would say is called Neuschwanstein. We knew it would be busy and an expensive visit. Whilst Jamie and his dad weren’t too fussed, Mary and I thought it was still worth a visit especially as we were so close to it. Only 10kms away from the campsite, Jamie and I decided to do the journey there and back on our bikes whilst Jim and Mary took their scooter.



Neuschwanstein Castle's postcard.

It was a beautiful day and a very nice cycle. As we’d set off on our bikes earlier than Jamie’s parents, we didn’t have to wait for each other. Jim and Mary arrived only a few minutes after we’d parked our bikes. It’s a few minutes walk up to the castles-area with cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and trails to the three different castles that are perched higher up. As we came in the ticket office and worked out which ticket we wanted, we realised we had to wait for two and a half hours for the next English tour to start.

Yes, unfortunately, the castles can only be visited as part of a tour. Ours was only 30minutes and costs 12Euros per person. Jim and Jamie were even more on the side of not bothering, but knew Mary and I still wanted to give it a go – we’d gone all this way, we weren’t going to turn back. I’d made a packed lunch for everybody so we decided to picnic once we’d got our tickets. Once eaten and having a quick look around, we walked up to the castle. (about 40mins-walk). It was steep. We still had an hour to kill up there. We took pictures, read some of the displays and drank coffee. A lot of people from all nationalities were waiting like us. About 30 of us did the tour. It went quickly, but were told great information and story about the castle’s history. 

Ludwig, the Bavarian King only spent 100 days in the palace he’d dreamt out. The interior illustrated his thirst for grandeur and his envy to recreate castles or rooms he’d seen in other castles; there were Moroccan-style motifs on ceiling and walls in corridors, flamboyant Baroque furniture, huge frescoes in the theatre/dancing room. His stay was cut abruptly. With history of mental health, Ludwig was declared unfit to rule and asked to pass a psychiatric test in 1871. Mysteriously, the King drowned a day later in the lake near the clinic. His uncle came to the throne as Ludwig’s brother also had mental health problems. Since then, there have been stories of family feuds and scandals. Could the royal family have blood on their hands? The family doesn’t want to exhume the body. The truth will remain a mistery.


On our way to Neuschwanstein by bike.

Making our way up to the castle of Neuschanstein from the ticket centre. A 40min-walk up a very steep hill!

Finally up there and waiting for our tour to start, it's time to take pictures.

Part of the impressive castle front.

Finally by the gate!

Part of the courtyard.

A panoramic view of the countryside from the Castle.

I'd almost forgotten to mention that there is a no pictures/no videos rule inside. Hence the "exit through the gift shop" which sells many postcards of the interior. Quite a money-making enterprise. Part of me really didn't want to buy postcards, but I hadn't been waiting for hours to not even remember one bit of what the rooms would look like in years to come. Nowadays, I always take pictures of exhibitions, museums and historical monuments Jamie and I visit to ensure I'll have a record and make our money worth. So I did purchase a set pack (10) and four separate ones for a total of 10Euros. Here are some of it...

The grand chapel.


The last room of the visit, the ballroom.

Once the guided-tour finishes, there is still one room left to see, the kitchen. As nobody was around then, I took some sneaky pictures.

For a castle this size, I had imagined the kitchen to be much bigger.


Next on our short “Walker-guided” tour of South Germany was Bamberg and its UNESCO World Heritage’s old town. It was a picturesque cycling- and pedestrian-friendly town with  a colourful fruits and vegs market, but also cosy independent coffee houses and restaurants. We enjoyed cycling there and back through the village, its park and along the river Regnitz. Being beginning of June (5 to 8 June 2014), the campsite and Bamberg were already crowded with tourists. 

Too many people and high campsite’s prices were probably the two disadvantages we experienced visiting South Germany. For example, family-run Campingplatz Insel in Bamberg was very well located along the river with a nice restaurant/cafe/reception and very good facilities. But it was very busy. As each site’s not marked/delineated, it was a bit of a “free-for-all” camping ground to the point where driving out (leaving the campsite) could become tricky. It was 23Euros a night. Looking back, it wasn’t as expensive as I’d thought, but compared to low-season ACSI-discounted prices in Portugal, Spain or France, it was.


At Campingplatz Insel, Bamberg ready to cycle to the local Lidl store. You can see in the background how busy it is.

The banks of the river Regnitz running along the campsite.

A very "sociable" duck visitor.

Heading to Bamberg, cycling through the park. Jamie, Jim and Mary can be seen in the background.

The entrance to the old town after having cycled along the river bank.

Our first bridge crossing.

Having locked the bikes up, we stroll through the pretty cobbled streets of Bamberg.



The "Obere Bruke" (Upper Bridge) and the old city hall.


The fantastic mural on the "Altes Rathaus" (old city hall) by Johann Anwander (1755).



Colourful market stalls.

Time for a rest and a sneaky group picture.

Why not trailing one of these behind Izzy the Motorhome...

Away from the crowds, on the other side of the old town.



Some pretty flats and/or even houses alongside the river bank.



Back to the Upper Bridge, a few kayaks.

View of the Upper Bridge from the opposite bridge.


Amazing salads made by Jamie Walker, not to be confused with Jamie Oliver.

We had been spoilt and lucky to visit areas at any time. This was only a spell though. Our next stop was lesser-visited Czech Republic. For the first time we drove as a “convoy”. Having a GPS with the whole of Europe, we lead the way followed by the “Hymer”. Without talkie walkies, we communicated via “Hangout messages” or calls from time to time. It was a little nerve-wracking to lead. We were even more so careful to not have our "Irish Lady" directing us onto dirt tracks or narrow roads.

We went off our own way for one night. Whilst Jim & Mary stayed in Germany, we headed to Czech Republic. Eager to escape the crowds and maybe wild camp, we were happy to leave Germany and discover our first Eastern European country. Jim & Mary were just a little more concerned about it, especially regarding its vignette (if you drive a vehicule over 3,5T, you have to apply for an "OBU" (OnBoard Unit which can be purchased at Toll Roads points). We soon realised that free camping may be a little trickier and unsafe. Free camping is also considered illegal in Czech Republic (Ref. Caravan Europe book from the Caravan Club). After driving through lovely countryside, but a little bit too close to farmlands, we decided to play it safe and stay at Autocamping Luxor near the once thriving Victorian Spa town of Marianske Lazne. 

At first nice and peaceful, we soon noticed that the facilities needed a little more attention... The toilets and showers weren’t cleaned during our short visit and the coin-operated showers didn’t work (I ended up using our own motorhome shower). 14Euros wasn’t much, but expensive for the country and quality. 

Just passed the border Germany to Czech Republic!

Not so far from home... Yes, Tesco's made it to many countries in Eastern Europe.

Autocamping Luxor. At first glance, a very nice campsite, but facilities are quite poor and not well maintained.

Nice drinks after a long day's drive.

Autocamping Luxor. Ready to set off for our bike ride to the spa town of Marianske Lazne.

40mins later, we're getting to the centre of Marianske Lazne.

Many Victorian buildings are either newly-built or have recently been renovated.



After locking the bikes up, a stroll through the park...

... We come to the "Singing Fountain" and the 19th Century Colonnade. One of most iconic buildings in Czech Republic. 

Inside, people cool off on one of the benches or check out some of the tourists shops.

The mystical frescoes on the ceiling are the work of Josef Vylet'al. It illustrates men's desire to fly. 



Jamie's stood next to the statue of the English King Edward VII and the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef I (on the left).



Our next stop, Camping Karolina (Click on the link to read our review of the campsite) made up for our poor experience. ACSI-discounted, we knew the campsite would be of a better standard. Jim & Mary arrived not long after we’d parked.

After a quiet day, Jamie and I spent the next cycling in the surrounding countryside. Our 23km ride was through all terrains from dirt track to steep ravin. At that point, I must admit, I didn’t look too happy. My very patient and lovely husband carried my bike down for me. He’s the one who always make the effort to research nice routes to do. Without many tools at his disposal, he doesn’t always know exactly what terrains we’ll cycle on. I can’t complain!

Our shaded spot in Camping Karolina.

The playground area with wooden climbing frames, ropes and volleyball net.

Jim and Jamie setting off to get a trailer-part repaired.

Whilst the men are off to the garage, Mary and I go on a walk along the river Ticha, just behind the campsite.

Next morning, I prepare sandwiches for all of us. Jamie and I are going off on our bikes.

Start of our bike ride in the shade.

An example of the many wooden chalets and bungalows en-route.

Quite a scary shrine in the woods.

Making sure we're on the right track... Cycling/Hiking trails are actually signposted (see the signs on the tree).



An abandoned factory in this quiet village (where we were looking at signs).

Unfortunately, everything's well locked. We decide to not adventure it inside and go on our journey.

Back on the wooded track dotted with bungalows leading back to Camping Karolina.



Although I hadn’t researched anything about South Germany, this time I had looked at places that may be of interests to all of us. Our next stop was one of them. Kutna Hora, the pretty old town’s famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Church of St Barbara and nearby Sedlec for its grim Ossuary. Both were definitely worth a detour. We walked for hours in the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and kept the scary bones for the end avoiding coaches-load of tourists. Last owned by the Schwarzenbergs family, this resting place was an eerie celebration of death with chandeliers and family crest made of the remnants of more than 40,000 to 70,000 individuals killed by the devastating plague or, later on, the Hussite wars... It is listed as one of the scariest places in Europe by the Guardian: A Halloween holiday? The top 10 creepiest spots.


A view of our campsite near Kutna Hora, Autocamp Transit. Listed in the Caravan Club Europe book.

On our first night stay in the campsite, we walked to nearby Sedlec to eat out at the great restaurant, U Balanu (found on Google Maps).

The chapel of Sedlec Ossuary.

The next day we explored Kutna Hora and the Ossuary. Here's one of Kutna Hora's main square.



The Italian Court restored in 1880. It used to be the Central Mint from the 14th-15th centuries. Mintmasters struck coins & silver.

Some nice independent cafes...

... And quirky shops such as this one.

... And old buildings.

Kutna Hora's former synagogue now housing the Czechoslovak Hussite Church.



The former Baroque Jesuit College built between 1667 and 1703 now housing the Modern Art Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region (GASK).

The cobbled terrace in front of the Jesuit College is lined with 13 statues of saints created between 1703 and 1716.

There's a nice view down to the valley.

Probably one of the grimmest of the 13 statues with its many skulls.

The view.

Side of the Cathedral of St. Barbara, a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.






A nice unusual non-religious fresco in one of the chapels depicting the minting of coins in Kutna Hora.

One of the colourful stained glass windows made as part of the restoration work of the Cathedral between 1901-07.



Jim and Jamie admiring the vault and its altar.



Back entrance of St Barbara's Cathedral.






Time for a "pose".

Back in Sedlec, on our way to the Ossuary, we come across an Asian Gothic-themed wedding shoot.

In the basement of the small chapel of all saints, we find the Ossuary aka "the Bone Church".

It became a sacred burial site after the abbot scattered soil from Jerusalem onto the cemetery in the 13th C.

Hit by the plague and the Hussite War, the small sacred cemetery quickly filled up.

It wasn't long before some of the bodies had to be moved to a nearby crypt.

The artist's signature!





One of Rint's oeuvre; the Schwarzenberg family's coat of arms.

Jamie and his mum, Mary looking at some of the knights' skulls who'd fought in the Hussite War.

Upstairs, some more "upbeat" work's on display: Pavel Holeka's work on the Hebrew script.

"Along the path of butterflies", the illustration for the letter Dalet.

After a long day tour, time for some well-deserved drinks!

A colourful mosaic in the hotel/bar/restaurant's terrace (next to the Ossuary).

The town of Litovel near Olomouc (pronounced “Olomout”) was our last stop in the company of Jim and Mary. Our campsite was basic, beautifully located along the Morava river. More of a Summer-activity camp-look, what In-Life Kemp (click on the link to read our review of this Czech campsite) lacked in comfort, its owner/manager, Petr made up for it with its friendliness and can-do attitude. Being the only one there, we felt a little spoilt. Petr was busy, but always made sure we had everything we needed. Our first day was spent exploring small Litovel; stopped on our path by a concert happening on the main square, we turned around and checked out the local brewed beer instead! Many families and groups of friends were sat at the brewery outdoor kiosk terrace.


View of our camp at Kemp In-Life Litovel from the adjacent track..

The field opposite Camp In-Life Litovel is often used by Petr and his friends for local sports events and festivals.

The human balls look fun, but painful too!

As we make our way to the centre of Litovel, we can hear the sound of a steam engine! (The station's round the corner from the campsite).

Walking the streets of Litovel.

An old-fashioned record store with some retro covers by the window.

One of the oldest buildings remaining in Litovel. A shame it's falling apart.

A 1970-80s-style shop!

Stopped on our track by an overpriced (200 Czech Koruna p/person) fenced-off local music festival, we headed to the brewery...

Litovel Brewery.

A very happy Jamie!



Back towards the campsite, we realise we're not the only "train geeks".



Next day, we took the local train to visit the old town of Olomouc (pronounced "Olomout"). It felt like a little adventure within our big adventure! We all love train journeys. It’s always nice to do a train trip in a different country. With only two coaches on the way and one coach on the way back, our local train was small and packed with locals.

We walked together to the main square where Olomouc's UNESCO World Heritage Listed Holy Trinity Column stands. We looked at some of its many fountains and explored some of its churches. Plain and subtle on the outside, the Church of St Michael never kept to surprise us, first with its flamboyant, sometimes overbearing, Baroque interior. Then, Mary's eye expertly noticed something unusual in a painting of the Virgin Mary. It was right by the church's entrance, on the right-hand side. The supposed "Virgin" Mary was depicted with a full blown belly! A pregnant Mary! What a remarkable sight. To this day, I still cannot find anything about who painted it and how it survived centuries without being destroyed by the clergy.  Even one of the church bells has a pregnant Mary embossed on its bronze. 


A difficult morning.

En route for a tour of Olomouc!

On-board the second train (there's a change), Cervenska-Olomouc.



Some tired passengers.

The one-change train journey, Litovel Mesto-Cervenska - Cervenka-Olomouc took us 40mins, door-to-door.

Out of Olomouc's busy train station, we make our way to the old centre.

Olomouc's Marian Plague Column (1715) on the Lower Square. It was built in honour of the Virgin Mary, after the Plague hence its name.



Probably Olomouc's most modern sculptures forming part of the Arion Fountain. Built in 2002 as part of the Upper Square's reconstruction.

A panoramic view of Olomouc's Upper Square: the Holy Trinity Column, the Town Hall & the sculpture of the turtle (Arion Fountain).

Olomouc's Town Hall entrance and Clock Tower.

The UNESCO World Heritage Holy Trinity Column, Olomouc.

Olomouc's astronomical clock was remodelled during the communist-era.

The astronomical clock represents the first real effort to organise society according to the 24hour clock.



The subtle exterior of St Michael's Church.

Inside, it's a totally different sight. Floor to ceiling, the church is adorned with detailed Baroque ornaments, frescoes, paintings and sculptures.

The way to the altar is quite overpowering.

The altar.

Up, we find the bell of  the Virgin Mary: "The Protectress of the Unborn". Made in 2009.

A pregnant Virgin Mary! That's when Jamie's mum, Mary told us she'd seen the painting by the entrance.

If it hadn't been for Mary, I would have completely missed it! The painting of a pregnant Mary in St Michael's Church.

As Jamie and I wanted to see more of this buoyant student city, not often on the tourist map, we went our separate ways and decided to meet back Mary and James at the train station. The former royal capital of Moravia is a real gem to explore, a shame (but good for us) it remains ignored by most visitors of the Czech Republic. We strolled through the park passing a few impressive graffitis to have a peak at Olomouc's fortress (only fragments remains). But first, we went for a dose of caffeine and chocolate at Cafe 87! Famous for its chocolate pies, we couldn't resist buying a few slices for all to share later on!


The Neo-Baroque Chapel of St John Sarkander. Built in 1910 on the former prison site where the priest, Jan Sarkandar was martyred in 1620.

Walking passed what look like a cool venue named after one of the best films, Vertigo.

Coming to Olomouc's Modern Art Museum.

We can hear music being played... Inside a passageway!

The tram line goes to the train station.

Café 87 next to the Modern Art Museum.

The facade of the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow. Built between 1712-16 by the Jesuit order.

Following the tram line from the Art Museum, we can see the spires of St. Wenceslas Cathedral.

An old damaged building near the cathedral. The old low rise buildings may have been part of a Jewish quarter.

St. Wenceslas Cathedral is next door to the Archdiocesan Museum as this modern sign indicates.

The Gothic cathedral of St. Wenceslas (first completed in 1141).

The present Neo-Gothic interior was built in the 19th century. A more subtle interior than St Michael's.

Impressive graffitis on the way to the ruins of Olomouc's fortress.



And finally back to Olomouc's train station!







On our last day together, we decided to stay put, but still had time for some fun adventure. We hired canoes from the campsite for a couple hours. And here we paddled- or attempted to paddle down the Morava River...


Life-jackets on, James and Mary were ready to go.

A very happy paddler.



Time for a canoe-selfie!

Not so happy after all... Yes, my paddling skills were so poor that I became a very frustrated child. Patient Jamie had had enough of his wife!

Meanwhile, James and Mary could see the fun in navigating their canoe in a rather diagonal line!

The hard bit; dragging our canoes on the river banks to pass the canal.

Back at Kemp In-Life, we realised that it was probably going to be our last evening together for a while. Not until Christmas (2015). Our two weeks together (2-16June 2014) had gone so fast! To compensate for the sadness and a goodbye present, I baked Jim's favourite desert, a lemon meringue pie. Jamie could spend some time alone with his parents whilst I "tackled" certain parts of the baking process: laying the motorhome-made pastry with a bottle of red wine was quite an achievement!



The lemon meringue pie, still fresh in the morning, was ready to be cut in half: one half for Jim & Mary and the other for us.

Busy packing the "Hymer".

That's it, they're going. Bye bye Jim and Mary. It'd been fun.

Thank you Mary and James for such a wonderful time! We miss you.

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