Having just arrived back from my holiday, it seems only fair that I now write about my previous holiday.  After all, without this sort of carry on how am I ever to make it appear as if I do nothing other than ambling about the place having fun, eh?

Just before Christmas, thanks to K’s brilliant idea I had a chance to tick something off my non-tangible but sporadically visualised “always wanted to” list – namely, an unstructured backpacking tour around Europe.  Granted, we didn’t go particularly far, and we departed from the backpacking tradition by staying in hotels, but I maintain it still counts.

Our point of arrival in Germany was the town of Friedrichshafen – commonly overlooked by many as being merely a budget airline dropoff point, however quite an interesting & cute place in its own right: famously, it was the home and place of manufacture of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s eponymous airships.  It’s also nestled into the shore of Lake Constance (or, in the local tongue, Bodensee), and provides an ideal point for getting around into other parts of the region.

Friedrichshafen from hotel window

Following a brief night walk from our hotel perched on what felt like the edge of civilisation, along with a demonstration of just how wet a pair of trouserlegs can get, we set about investigating Friedrichshafen – taking in their enthusiasm for zeppelins, the European enjoyment of having Santas everywhere (Santae?), and stumbling with delight over our first German Christmas Market!

Santa tries to make a getaway

For anyone who hasn’t seen a German Christmas Market (I’d expect this to be mainly my Australian readership, as the UK mainland also gets blessed with this phenomenon: I’ve certainly seen them in Leeds and Bristol), the principle is that sellers set up a load of street stalls and you can buy all manner of Christmas paraphernalia.  Typically this includes local specialty foods (read: high-profit; sort of the teutonic equivalent of a sausage sizzle), tree decorations, decorative candles, carved wooden trinkets, miniature Santae, sweets & gingerbread, but also includes other varied objets-de-shiny such as polished cut rocks & soft toys, and of course the ever-popular beverage for freezing outdoor areas, glühwein.

You’ll also find a nativity scene housing an array of partially bewildered but mostly contented livestock, and various entertainments by local community groups and the like.  We were treated to a rendition of various German tunes by the local male voice choir – most of whom were reasonably advanced in years, and all of whom were clearly freezing their gonads off.  Rarely do I pause to think that the Australian Christmas setup (midsummer rather than midwinter) makes more sense, however this would be one such instance.  There’s possibly a case for the fine-motor skills training for the German people in the form of getting them to pass the 3 Euro mug deposit for the glühwein back & forth whilst wearing gloves, however I suspect this advantage would be negated by the effects of the glühwein.

Yaaa deee buckety! Rum ping ba-dooo!

As well as the market we also sampled some of the local weissbiers, cuisine (mmm… schnitzel…), and did a whistlestop tour of the Zeppelin Museum.  Even knowing full well that Friedrichshafen was the manufacturing place for the rigid dirigible (not to be confused with a blimp!), it was still momentarily disappointing not to see a single mention of Robert Plant in there.  Fascinating stuff though – we all know that zeppelins ceased being a popular means of transport as a combination of political pressure and public reluctance to get into one following the explosion at Lakehurst, but I didn’t realise that prior to this they were popularly used for transatlantic crossings, and that the spire on top of New York’s Empire State Building was designed as a mooring point for the aircraft.

Inside the building were many Zeppelins, some of which were quite old.

Farewelling Friedy, we boarded a ferry across Lake Constance to the Swiss village of Romanshorn – this was chosen by a process of looking at the ferry departure board and seeing which one left soonest.  Once there we wandered about a bit and got a feel for just how little there can be to do in some of the random towns one picks to visit (however this was to be beaten later in the trip).  We popped into a cafe which K had previously visited with her Dad for a mid-afternoon beer and war council, and were greeted by one of the most helpful individuals I’ve ever met whilst on tour!  The lady at the cafe was very interested in our trip, and suggested all sorts of cool places to visit – even going to the trouble of digging out train timetables & working out connections for us.  Clearly not the overseer of the Romanshorn Tourism Board.

The woman was, however, a genius as our next port of call was the mountainside village of Appenzell.  It could very well be the template for the type of pictures you get on biscuit tins: idyllic Old Swiss.  One of the drawcards Appenzell promotes is its open air parliament – one of the few left in the world.  Presumably they don’t parlay during the winter months however, although in the photos we saw they were all packed into the town square pretty tightly, so maybe there’s a sort of penguinny effect at work vis-a-vis body temperature.

Aww, ain't it cute?

Having secured our lodgings for the evening the next most important step seemed to be to sample some of the local weissbiers and find somewhere for an evening meal.  We found a nice little bar around the corner from where we were staying (after NOT finding the local brewery: we found the distillery for the local liqueur, but after my experiences with Unicum I’ve developed a bit of a fear of regional booze) and plonked in there – they had some excellent variations on the dunkelweizen theme, and the people in there seemed quite friendly.  One bloke seemed fascinated at meeting an Australian, however his English vocab only extended as far as “G’day!” and “You Australian!”.

I seemed to take a lot of beer photographs on this trip...

Having established by now that Swiss people are friendly and helpful we asked the group where a good place for dinner might be, and the waitress babbled excitedly about a new fondue place in Appenzell.  We were a little wary as, having had a lovely fondue at Dom & Kat’s place recently, we knew the aftermath all that cheese could have on one’s digestive tract – but the Appenzellers assured us that there was also a meat fondue available which consists of various meats which you cook in a heated broth on the fondue set.  Seeing our mutual look of blankness at the phrase “various meats”, they then went on to explain – “You get… err… cow, and… err… lamb, and… err…. BK BK BK BK!”.  The waitress’s vocabular gap didn’t dent her enthusiasm, as she mimed out a convincing chicken impression, and we felt that on that basis alone we had no choice but to seek out this place!

Arrive we did, and discovered that meat fondue had to be ordered 24 hours in advance.  So more cheese it was!  No complaints here though – cheese fondue is a very fine thing!  We accompanied it with a couple of bottles of local wine as well, and it wasn’t very long before we were in the cab back to the guesthaus where we found ourselves enjoying a little nightcap.  Or two.  Perhaps three.

You need to rotate the fondue fork at just the right speed otherwise everything gets splattered in cheese.

Judging by the thumpitty-thumpitty going on in both of our brains our post-match estimate was that perhaps there had been six or seven nightcaps, along with barely-touched “one for the road”s on each of our bedside tables.  We slowly made our way back to the train station and headed back to St Gallen to embark on the next leg of the journey…

(To be continued)