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Paris, Properly...

France Part Four - the beginning of the end

Rob was so happy to be back in France he practically danced a jig across the border (difficult while sitting in the drivers seat!) Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, we had a bit of trouble finding a supermarket that was open (having resisted buying anything in Expensiveland purely on principle...)

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Pont de la Cable – an amazing bridge at the crossroads of the Alps

We spent our first night back in France at Annency, a beautiful lakeside town, and the following day we went for a wander around the town and were finally able to afford a fondue - at least we were pretty close to Switzerland.

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Annency

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Cheese anyone?

We spent the next 7 days driving north through France towards Paris taking in Lyon and some fantastic wine regions including Beaujolais, Bourgogne and Chablis. We gave ourselves plenty of time to make the most of our final weeks visiting the France Passion sites; but we had such a great time at a slow crawl through the countryside that we pretty much left all of our driving to the day we were due to arrive in Paris! We will let the photos do the talking:

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Billieme in the Rhone-Alps countryside

We arrived in Lyon with plenty of time to wander around and explore before lunch. It took a bit of finding, but we eventually managed to find some of Lyon's famous traboules - a series of secret passages between buildings and joining adjacent streets - which were put to good use by Resistance members trying to dodge the Gestapo during WWII...

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The Notre-Dame-de-Fourviere cathedral overlooking Lyon

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We found a small bouchon recommended by Lonely Planet and shared an amazing three courses for lunch before hitting the road again towards Paris...

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Dessert!

That night we wound up at a brilliant hillside vinyard just outside of Jullie... A stunning sunset, wonderful wine, and a friendly proprietor made this particular evening one of our France Passion favourites!

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Jullie – where we will retire when we win lotto! Eve spent a few hours taking photos while Rob sampled the (entire) range and found a new BFF in the vigneron...

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We have no idea where this is...

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A Cote d'Or vineyard near the village of Vougeot...

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The north Bourgogne countryside

We arrived in Paris on 23 September and were treated to a wonderful week of hospitality with our friends Martin and Isobel, who we met in Egypt. Inexplicably, our arrival coincided with the All Blacks vs. France pool match... Thankfully, Martin was very gracious putting up with our best attempts at sportsmanship...

On Sunday they treated us to a day trip to the phenomenal Palace of Versailles, and despite the unbelievable disorder of the ticket system (see Isobel's take on the whole shemozzle at: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187148-d188681-r118611137-Chateau_de_Versailles-Versailles_Ile_de_France.html) we had a fantastic (but tiring!!) day wandering around the Palace, Marie Antionette's Grotto and an haute couture exhibition (Dior, Westwood, Gaultier and others vs. 18th Century fashion) at the Grand Trinanon.

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The gates at Versailles

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The gardens were massive!

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The desk on which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 - arguably the principal cause of WWII (the treaty, not the desk...)

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The Grand Trinanon - unfortunately we weren't allowed to photograph the dresses

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Marie Antoinette's grotto

The wide angle view of the Palace...
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... and a 180 degree turn:
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The following day we booked ourselves a night at the Jeanne D'Arc hotel in the Marais district, which Eve's family had stayed at on their previous visits. In the end, we were lucky to get a room, picking up the last one available...

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We had a good time wandering around the Marais, just enjoying being in Paris, before sitting down to a fantastic meal at Les Bourgresses, a little restaurant just down the road from our hotel - well worth a visit, if you're in the area...

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The underground mall at the Louvre is connected to the Musee du Louvre metro stop... Our hot tip for avoiding queues is to head to the Virgin Megastore and buy all your tickets in advance to the Louvre, D'Orsay etc...

The next day we took in the amazing D'Orsay art museum, which is worth going to simply for the architecture (unfortunately no photos allowed), and strolling up the Avenue des Champs Elysees to the Arc De Triomphe.

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The view down the Champs from Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe

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That night we met Isobel and Martin at the Cafe Trocadero for drinks and a meal with an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower...

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We probably took too many photos of the tower...

The next day we caught a lift into town with Isobel and headed straight to the Louvre...

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The Nike (a.k.a. Winged Victory) of Samothrace enjoys a commanding position on the Daru staircase

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Typical crowd for the Mona Lisa...

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Eve singlehandedly fought back an entire Asian tour group to get this shot...

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Canova's Psyche revived by Cupid's kiss

After the Louvre we grabbed a quick lunch and checked out the Paris Louboutin flagship headed back to Martin and Isobel's place to reluctantly pack up for our long drive to London the next day...

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Lunch, just off Rue du Louvre...

Unfortunately we didn't think we needed to pre-book our EuroStar tickets from Calais to Folkestone, so when we got to the car train terminal at Calais we found ourselves having to fork out over 200 euros... We also missed out on stocking up on a van-load of French wine because once we were in the terminal, we couldn't leave without voiding our ticket!!

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On our way to Ol' Blighty

Posted by RobandEve 05:08 Archived in France Comments (0)

Switzerland

OK, we need to start this blog off with a few apologies to several countries that we have maligned along the way:

Dear Austria and Liechtenstein,

We apologise from the bottom of our hearts for labeling you expensive... If only we had visited Switzerland first, our opinion would have been different!

xxox
Rob and Eve

We started hemorrhaging money as soon as we drove over the border and didn't stop until we made it safely back into France!!

It was so expensive that we had to crack out the credit card just to buy a toasted sandwich. Forget about trying to eat out anywhere – our budget; which in other countries spread to sightseeing, camp grounds, wine, beer, the daily groceries, and even the odd meal out; barely carried us through the supermarket in Switzerland...

The only thing that even came close to making up for the crippling cost of everything was some of the most mesmerising, jaw-dropping scenery we have seen in Europe.

The blow by blow account goes a little something like this...

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After leaving Lichtenstein we drove into Zurich where we had planned to spend one night. When we got there we couldn't find anywhere to camp for the night so we had a bit of a walk around and tried to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat... After looking at the menus of a few small cafes around the city we beat a hasty retreat and decided to head somewhere, anywhere less cosmopolitan.

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Eve's favourite shop - not that we could afford anything...

Zurich is overrun with beautiful people and it was all we could do to shield our eyes from all the Blue Steel being thrown around! Everyone looked like they had just stepped out of Vogue or GQ – in all of our travels around Europe we have never felt more out of place in our trekking shoes!

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St Peter's in Zurich boasts the largest clock face in Europe

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After lunch we drove to Meggen a small town just outside of Lucern where we could (just) afford a camp ground for a couple of nights.

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Our backyard for the two nights we spent in Meggen

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Sunset over the lake

Lucern is stunning town but, unfortunately, the day after we arrived the weather packed up before we had a chance to photograph its famous teal lake. Despite the rain, we spent some time wandering around the town, we found some brilliant (and cheap) cheese pies and practically inhaled them while trying to find a reasonably priced coffee. We headed for the closest thing we could find that resembled a coffee shop (Starbucks) and left in a hurry when they tried to charge us 8 francs for a cappuccino!!!

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The Chapel Bridge

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Rob loves his new hat...

After a couple of days counting change by the lake at Lucern, we continued on our journey west, towards France. That evening we found ourselves in Interlaken, a town nestled between two beautiful lakes and very close to the Eiger, one of Switzerland's more famous mountains and the inspiration for the North Face logo.

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The campground at Interlaken, looking up towards the Jungfrau (next to the Eiger)

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ZOOOOOOOOMMM...

A quick walk through the (relatively small) town confirmed that Interlaken was no cheaper than anywhere else in Switzerland... But it is spectacular!

We found a Kiwi bloke, who owns an Irish pub (Three Tells) on the road into the town centre. After confirming that they would be playing the Rugby World Cup, we locked in two nights at the camp ground and went for a drive to the base of the Eiger...

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Unfortunately when we got to Grindelwald, at the foot of the Eiger, the sun was in completely the wrong spot for photographs...

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While we were watching Ireland give it to Australia (HA!) we overheard a conversation between two expats who were discussing the high prices in Switzerland... Apparently, and this is totally hearsay, the reason everything is prohibitively expensive in Switzerland is because some bright spark decided that minimum wage should be something around $4000 USD per month!! Unfortunately, what they didn't factor in to their math is that almost every employer in Switzerland had to hike their prices to be able to afford their employee's wages!

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Bern, looking across the river to the city centre - unfortunately its famous steeple is covered in scaffolding...

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The main plaza in Bern - again, no chance of finding any cheap eats!!

Naturally, this is fantastic if you work in Switzerland, or even better, work there and shop in France, Germany or Italy. However, in our case, it made our time in Switzerland just one giant headache... So much so, we rushed through Geneva with Rob begging Eve to let him keep driving until we got back to France...

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Lake Geneva

Posted by RobandEve 11:19 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Liechtenstein

Why? Because it was there...

After about three hours of driving through the south of Germany we got to the tiny principality of Liechtenstein...

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We have to admit that we weren't exactly taken with Liechtenstein... Our first experience was of an overly zealous border guard who gave our passports the third degree and regarded us with the kind of contempt usually reserved for a dog turd the moment after you realise you've stepped in it!

The second bad experience was purely economical - at 5 Swiss francs for a cup of (bad) coffee, and 11 francs for a bag of ice, they're having a lend...

Thankfully, Eve met an extremely helpful woman at the information office in Vaduz who told us where we could park for free overnight... Not the most glamourous of spots, but free, which is more than we could say about anything else in the country.

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Our 'camp spot' for the night

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Vaduz Castle - not a bad view from the Smurf mobile...

With no agriculture or industry to speak of, and more letterbox companies than citizens, coupled with ridiculously low corporate tax rates, it is more "Swiss" than Switzerland. We found it incredibly sterile and a little bit surreal - a fairytale fiefdom, full of people simply going through the motions as if to lend credibility to the idea that this is actually a functioning country, rather than merely a large Swiss bank.

Having said all that, Liechtenstein is a beautiful place with stunning mountains, kinda like Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy - you get the picture...

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The daytime view up to Schloss Vaduz - Crown Prince Alois's digs...

Oh, and if you have a need to launder some money, Liechtenstein is well worth a visit, otherwise, don't bother.

Posted by RobandEve 08:58 Archived in Liechtenstein Comments (0)

Mainly Munich

Germany Part Two

After making like the Von Trapps and fleeing a beautiful, but expensive Austria, we found ourselves with a night to kill before meeting Eve's dad, Neville, in Munich, so we stayed in the beautiful town of Fussen at the southern end of Germany's Romantic Road.

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A pretty amazing fountain outside the Fussen Info Centre...

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Apart from the surrounding mountains and its beautiful lake, Fussen's main claim to fame is the Schloss Neuschwanstein castle which King Ludgwig II built near his childhood home (apparently Ludgwig's obsession with swans and Wagner is very obvious). The castle is also meant to be the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle, but we remain skeptical as we have heard that said about at least three other castle's during our trip.

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After watching the first All Blacks game of the World Cup and returning to a van with a flat battery (Rob left the lights on...) we headed due north to Munich for a “van-escape” weekend at an apartment we had booked several weeks earlier. We picked up some supplies and Rob cooked dinner while Eve headed off to the airport to meet her Dad.

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First stop on Saturday... The Marienplatz

The next day (after dragging Rob away from some early morning rugby) we headed into the central Marienplatz to battle our way through the thousands of howling Bayern Munich fans, all in various stages of inebriation, and all on their way somewhere to watch the big match...

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The Bavarian version of a totem pole...

We eventually managed to grab a bite for lunch at the Viktualienmarkt although we had to eat our sausages and drink our beer standing up because there were no seats anywhere in the massive beer garden.

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Once the game had started and the streets were deserted (except for the tourists), Eve (FINALLY) got her promised palace trip around the Munchner Residenz, the palace of the former Bavarian rulers, which included over 100 spectacularly decorated state rooms and the crown jewels (Eve went a little crazy on the photographs...)

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Crown...

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Jewels...

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If you zoom in on this one, you can see the arteries in the neck and severed head actually form part of the water flow in this fountain... Gruesome!

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The Royal Chapel

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The old formal dining room... Now used as a conference room

After a strenuous afternoon of sightseeing the boys well and truly deserved a cleansing ale and after some close calls with naked Germans sun-baking in the Englischer Gardens (insert your choice of witty comment about Germans and sausages), we enjoyed a few drinks at a beer garden near the Chinese Pagoda before heading back to the apartment for a 'home' cooked meal...

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On the way to the gardens, we found a street food exhibition and the Rockgrill - Think heavily tattooed, death metal types cooking sausages on a BBQ that looks like a prop from the movie Spawn...

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The Chinese Pagoda

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A pretty fair representation of our diet during our three days in Munich...

The next morning we found an Irish pub near Marienplatz to watch the Wales v South Africa game and unfortunately made the wrong decision to miss the final 10 minutes to catch the ultimately uninspiring Glockenspiel. The video we took is refusing to be uploaded, so you'll have to take our word for it...

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To cheer ourselves up, we headed to the Augustiner brewery in eastern Munich, a traditional beer hall inside the actual brewery (to get to the toilets you have to walk past the draft horse stable – unfortunately the horses were out while we were there) and shared a gigantic, traditional Bavarian feast. Somewhat predictably it involved lots of sausages, potato dumplings, pretzels, piles of sauerkraut, and beer...

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Inside the Augustiner Brewery

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Lunch

Desperately needing to walk off our lunch we headed to Munich's Science and Technology museum which despite rave reviews was incredibly boring...

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The Man-o-meter: Legend has it that Chuck Norris scored a 65 - the machine has been broken ever since...

After trying (and failing, it must be said...) to get a half decent coffee at the museum coffee shop we headed back to the apartment to pretty ourselves up before heading out for dinner. After several recent Lonely Planet fails, we were glad to chalk up a pretty memorable win at Kranz, a fantastic little restaurant in the Glockenbach-Viertel district.

The next morning, after jump-starting the van again (not Rob's fault this time), we drove Neville to the airport and said a sad goodbye before hitting the road to Liechtenstein.

Posted by RobandEve 05:55 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Austria

The home of Schwarzenegger, schnitzel and schnapps...

After a short drive from Bratislava, we arrived in the Austrian capital. All our tearing around eastern Europe over the past two weeks had left us completely buggered so we just found a camp ground and stayed in for the rest of the afternoon. It was a good opportunity to relax, catch up on the blog, and make contact with the respective parental units...

The next day we caught a bus to the suburban train and headed into the city centre via the massive Schloss Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Palace).

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Our first destination in the centre of Vienna was the Sacher Cafe, home of the famous Sacher Torte... The cake was good (we've had better) but the cafe was pure opulence! Not hard to see where our 15 euros went with the gold trim, velvet upholstery, and sharply dressed waiters ; but we felt a bit out of place dressed as we were in jeans and trekking shoes.

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If you look closely, you can see Phil Specter's brother hiding behind the cake stand...

The inner city was very impressive and is one of the best combinations of modern architecture and classical design we've seen thus far...

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... Having said that, this fountain was awful!

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The street performers take a smoko break

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The Imperial palaces

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As far as we can tell this statue recounts the story of a naked man who punched out a horse...

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The Austrian Parliament building - an architectural nod to the founders of democracy

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As we wandered around the streets we accidentally happened upon the last day of the Vienna Film Festival in the plaza outside the town hall... The outdoor cinema was set up and the plaza was full of street food vendors so we settled in for a classic Bavarian lunch of schnitzel, sausages, potatoes and beer...

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The impressive Rathaus (Town Hall)

The next day was a complete write off due to torrential rain on the way to Salzburg, so we found a campsite and tried our best to stay dry. Finding the sun shining the next morning, we decided to head back into Germany to check out the Eagle's Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) near Berchtesgaden before the forecasted clouds closed in.

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We almost baulked at the ticket price of 17.50 euros per person, but we are glad we didn't because the views from the top were quite spectacular:

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Canon should be paying us for shameless product placement like this...

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The house itself is now a restaurant (bad taste?) and there is very little Nazi related information around (which is probably in good taste)... This may be because the place was spared from demolition at the end of WWII due to the local mayor (or MP, or something...) pleading that it is actually an amazing feat of engineering (the road, the building, and the interior was all completed within 13 months!) and should be preserved.

Probably the most incredible thing about the chalet is the 120m elevator shaft cut into the granite – the original brass elevator is still in service.

Thankfully the clouds did not roll in until we were ready to head back down the mountain.

That afternoon we caught a bus into the centre of Salzburg and had a walk around, Eve trying to drag Rob past as many Sound of Music sights as possible...

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The amazing Salzburg Castle (view from our campsite)

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Sound of Music fan(s?) will recognise the Schloss Mirabell and its impressive manicured gardens

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Initially our plan was to spend two days in Vienna, two days in Salzburg, and drive to Innsbruck for two days after a detour to the Hohe Tauern National Park in the south of Austria... Unfortunately, when we got to the Hohe Tauern they had set up a toll gate and were demanding 30 euros just to drive the road! Needless to say we turned around and drove directly to Innsbruck...

When we got to Innsbruck we found the situation was no better... There were no reasonably priced campsites, and no free camping spots anywhere near the town so we just kept going. Eventually we wound up at Lermoos near the border with Germany and the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze.

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The view from our campsite in Lermoos

We would have liked to climb the Zugspitze but found that it was a 16 hour hike (or a very expensive cable-car back down) so we gave it a miss because we were due in Munich to meet Eve's Dad on the ninth...

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En route to Munich...

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Posted by RobandEve 13:51 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

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