Friday, 24 June 2016

Alps, day two...

A nice thing happened at the beginning of Sunday: having arrived relatively late on Saturday, we made a brief trip to stock up on food at the airport Edeka on the basis that one of the local supermarkets in Murnau was open on Sunday morning. I duly headed down to Murnau on the Sunday morning to make a dent in our shopping list and, sure enough, the doors to the Fenemann were indeed open: even people inside. The shop looked dimpsy, but sometimes that's life. I duly headed in, grabbed a basket and began to look for some fruit and veg, only to hear a rather frantic 'Entschuldigung!' from behind me. Oh.

I turned, and the lady explained - very nicely - that the shop is not in fact open, just the bakery at the front of store. Oh. So, putting on my best confused foreigner display (not hard, you might unkindly say!) I explained that we'd just arrived the night before, had seen on the internet that the shop was open and had no idea it was just the bakery - was there anywhere in town where I could get food for two small children and their parents? Bless her, she was kind enough to take me round the supermarket, find me enough to get us through the next three meals and ring it all up on a side till - I cannot imagine that I would ever have been treated so generously in the UK...

So - partly because of this semi-aborted shopping trip - we headed to Murnau for Monday morning to finish off the shopping, find out what there is to do when you have small children in these parts, and let the girls let off some more steam at a playground. The tourist office were very helpful and the playground was great: a ride-on rocking motorbike a particular hit. We then walked down to the Staffelsee to see whether there might be some wildlife, some views and some more space to play. The verges on the way past the railway underpass were casually stunning: Meadow Clary, Nottingham Catchfly and Viper's-bugloss rubbed shoulders (leaves?) amongst the grasses, set off by Bird's-foot Trefoil and poppies.

The lake offered all three opportunities: the girls fished with twigs, ran riotous games of tag and cooed over ducklings. A small family of Coot were also entertaining: the parents delicately feeding their half dozen offspring with fragments of water plants and then disciplining the more insistent with a brief shake whenever they got too excited. A family of mallards with larger young were tolerated when they passed through, but a pair of Red-crested Pochard were driven off with great enthusiasm whenever they got within ten metres: no apparent reason - perhaps the Coot just didn't like the male's flamboyant hairdo?

Coot tending offspring

We thought we might try and have a look at the Murnauer Moos in the afternoon as the background reading and info we had seen looked amazing. We discovered that nearly thirty square kilometres of valley bog are indeed fabulous, just not when you have a long walk through boring conifers to overcome first, and most particularly not when it's steadily raining and one child is steadily howling. Perhaps another time.

Beautiful flowers of Cranberry - Vaccinium oxycoccos - at the Murnauer Moos.
Another day, another thing to try. The weather forecast was ok and so we thought we could try something a little more flexible. We trundled down to the Staffelsee again, and hopped on the boat to Uffing, gliding across a glassily calm lake under a mist-shrouded hillside. The boat company provide blankets for the trip and these were eagerly snapped up by the passengers. As everyone migrated for the cafe at Uffing, we made the most of the chance to explore.

Lissa soon wanted to have a nap, so was strapped into the sling. Na wandered off ahead and Bina and I ambled along behind. Initially we walked along a fairly standard piece of lakeside fen which rose up to some fairly undistinguished farmland - the occasional pair of Canada geese honking forlornly in the damp areas - and the gentle burble of Marsh Warblers from the fen. Taller trees hosted a plethora of Fieldfares fussing over well-grown young and a couple of Icterine Warblers spinning out a reel of frenetic mimicry as an aural backdrop.

After skirting a campsite and working our way through a small woodland - nothing more interesting there than a Grey-headed Woodpecker - we dropped back to the lower-lying fenny land near the lake and, my word, but it was impressive. The wet meadows were studded with orchids, mainly broad-leaved marsh, but also the occasional twayblade skulking in the sedges. Pale pink spikes of Bistort rose through the longer vegetation, towered over by vivid purple irises. Splashes of blue proved to be rampion flowers, and a closer look revealed an abundance of spike-rush, sedges and butterworts. Drier land was a riot of yellow composites, Oxeye Daisy and buttercups - all in all a feast for the eyes. To cap it all, the most abundant butterfly was Marsh Fritillary. Very satisfying!

Looking back down towards the Staffelsee from the road back to Uffing. Note the lowering cloud on the Hoernle behind!

Iris germanica - how appropriate.

A trio of marsh-orchids

Rampion species - Phyteuma orbiculare, I think.

Token picture of Marsh Fritillary

With the cloud lowering across the Hoernle, we made it back to the cafe for lunch in time to hear some ominous rumbles of thunder across the lake. The boat arrived promptly when due, and we hurried on board to travel serenely back to Murnau. Fortunate perhaps that we got back when we did: the rain began to fall and as we arrived, the captain announced that this was to be the last boat of the day as the weather conditions precluded further trips! What about the poor souls waiting at Uffing, we wondered - presumably there is an alternative bus service, but how would they ever know that the next boat was not in fact coming?!

The cloud closing in over the Hoernle did at least make for some dramatic colours...

...and some moody views

Thursday, 9 June 2016


I feel I should probably rename the blog 'what I did on my holidays' or somesuch nonsense. The winter has been long and wholly lacking in inspiration, the spring has sprung equally uninspiringly and summer once again arrived. Time to get out of this country and see what else there is in this world. So we - temporarily - 'Brexited' (bleagh!) and a couple of hours after leaving Bristol found ourselves in the sizzling sunshine of the foothills of the Alps, on the edge of a small town called Bad Kohlgrub.

The scenery from our holiday flat was suitably grand - traces of snow on the distant mountains, rich green conifer forests on the neighbouring slopes and flower-bedecked hay meadows right outside - more on those later. The air was ringing with the songs of crickets and the mellow clonks of the cow-bells. More on these sounds in a later post.

Looking east across the Murnauer Moos (a whacking great valley bog, not a large deer) to the Alps

For the girls, the best point of all was that the railway line between Oberammergau and Murnau ran just below the house, so the hourly train was visible from the neighbouring bench or the edge of the balcony - not only that, but the existence of an unguarded level crossing just down-line meant that the uphill train had the decency to announce itself with a short blast on the horn a minute or two before passing, leading to wild cries of "Zug! Zug!" and an undignified scramble for the nearest viewing point, often up an unsuspecting parent.

We started out on the Sunday morning, not unreasonably, with some exploration of the immediate surroundings. The day had begun with a pair of Spotted Flycatchers zipping and twirling around the balcony catching sundry unfortunate flies, whilst a Black Redstart scratched out his song on the neighbour's satellite dish rim. A Cuckoo threw in a few exploratory notes just to emphasise the fact that we were no longer at home.

We took a walk along the road to see what the immediate surrounds had in store for us - it proved to be flowers. And what flowers! The hay-meadow just along the road was spectacular: a riot of buttercups, dandelions, Goat's-beard, Red Clover, Yellow-rattle and Marsh Hawk's-beard, spattered with Spreading Bellflower and Broad-leaved Marsh Orchid. Getting past that initial impression took a little while, but was worth it: below and between the immediate eyecatchers were Horseshoe-vetch, Yellow Rock-rose, Ragged-robin, Fairy-flax, Shrubby Tormentil, Kidney-vetch, thyme, Germander Speedwell, Hedge Bedstraw, Lady's Bedstraw, Oxe-eye Daisy, Chalk Milkwort, Thyme Broomrape, Salad-burnet and much, much more. That's without even mentioning the grasses, the sedges, the spike-rushes... We definitely weren't in England any more.

Lissa realising she has the wrong colour clothes on to blend with her surroundings. Yellow is by far the order of the day. In the background is the Hoernle... more below
After some parental brain burn-out (too many plants!), we split up: Na to take Lissa to the flat for her lunchtime nap, Bina and I to head off along a little loop around the back of the farm and see what else we can see. The flora proved equally diverse and interesting: wet field-edges garlanded with the salmon-pink bells of Water Avens, a dry bank with spreading mats of Mouse-ear Hawkweed and thyme, punctured with Heath Sedge and a solitary frond of Moonwort, a spring-head hazed purple with the spears of marsh-orchids.

Moonwort - Botrychium lunaria

Water Avens - Geum rivale

The afternoon was spent on the local hill: the Hoernle. We decided to brave the chairlift to take the effort out of the ascent. It certainly made our journey easier, though trying to pin down a wriggling two-year-old who's bored with the journey and wants to get off now, thankyou - never mind the drop, offers challenges of its own.

We were greeted at the top by a brisk breeze several degrees cooler than the valley below (to the surprise of the children), a neat welcome mat of One-flowered Fleabane and Spring Gentian, and a dramatic view across to the snowy summit of the highest peak in Germany, the Zugspitze. Underfoot were exotica like Hybrid Buttercup, Anemone-leaved Buttercup (cruelly white-flowered, so not offering a clue as to whether one might like butter), Monk's-rhubarb and bewilderingly foreign-looking dandelions - the latter offering some comforting sips to a majestic Swallowtail butterfly.

Spring Gentian - Gentiana verna

Alpine - or Purple - Coltsfoot - Homogyne alpina

Who cares about the view of the mountains...

...when this is clambering over your seat!

The lure of a refreshing Johannisbeerschorle got the better of us all, so we repaired to the conveniently-located Gasthaus, where we could shelter from the wind, sip our drinks and admire Nutcrackers - the bird, not the implement - at point-blank range. Almost cheating to see such goodies with such ease, but take 'em where you find 'em.
Bina's working her way through the European corvidae: just Alpine Chough and Siberian Jay to go now...

Just don't look down, whatever you do...