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After a couple of nice days we awoke in Mosonmagyaróvár to a colder and damper day.  After exploring the town and finding the spa it appeared to be mainly outdoors and thus a bit chilly.  After checking emails and finding there was a weather warning in Eastern Europe we actually felt the temperature had dropped a few degrees.  We decided to skip a chilly spa (which would be great in the summer) and head to Vienna to an aire we had in our books to fill our almost-empty water and take a well needed shower.  Sadly the aires water supply was turned off for winter!  We then fell back to a plan-B campsite (£23!!) which we found okay but reception was closed and it looked a bit of a mud bath.  We filled our tanks anyway then Mel mentioned why bother staying and paying £23 for a parking-space on mud when we could wild camp now we had full water.  Not sure I’m proud of her savvy thinking or embarrassed at her cheek.  Either way we legged it and parked just down the road (with 2 other vans) and took a very efficient tram into Vienna.

It was unfortunately a bit chilly and drizzly but not enough to get drenched, so we were able to explore the city quite easily.  Most of the sites are inside the “ring-road” whereas the outskirts are really quite densely packed.  (Recommend park on outskirts!).  Vienna even in the wet is hugely impressive.  Even aside from the key buildings, virtually every building and every turning shows up some fantastic views and architecture.  Parliament was impressive as was the town-hall next to it with a market in the grounds.  The museum quarter was “wow” with yet another market, and really everywhere you looked there were magnificent buildings with statues atop.

The shopping streets were full of designer brands and posh-shops and the Stephansdom just appeared like a ghostly apparition in the dark and dominated the skyline – brilliant tiled roof – but sides/tower were being repaired.  The Hofburg was fantastic – one of the largest collections of superb buildings that you can just wander round, though we never made it inside the art museums.  Enough of Vienna – suffice to say we will definitely make another visit and explore further – preferably in the summer when we can enjoy the gardens (such as Belvederegarten) and the Danube that just weren’t tempting in the wet (yep – same river as Budapest bizarrely enough!) 

In the morning we decided to save the missed inner-city sights for a future visit and instead went to Schonbrunn Palace and gardens a few km from where we were staying.  We parked free round the back and entered through the gardens that were quite amazing and full of semi-tame red squirrels. If you go take some nuts and they will eat from your hand!  The grounds have a zoo, maze (closed end Oct) and loads of sculptures and garden features.  On a summers day it would be easy to wallow a day away.  As it was bitterly icy however we opted for a scenic drive meandering along the Danube river where we were blessed with some stunning views and amazing little villages.  We stopped and had lunch at Dürnstein which is worth a visit, yet deserted on our visit!  We then continued the pleasant drive to Mauthausen where there is WW2 concentration camp.  We arrived only a few hours before closing time so opted to spend the night with some Austrian wine, watch the snow settle, and visit in the morning. 

The route we’ve using heading back in Austria is a lot more beautiful than the route we took in which is rather pleasing!

In the morning with a bitter wind and a layer of snow on the ground we headed to Mauthausen concentration camp. We’d only heard of it after reading Motorhomeandaway blog and we’re glad we did.  When we were there there were only 5 or 6 other people there so pretty much had the camp to ourselves and took an “audio tour”.  Considering we were freezing and wearing all our winter gear it brings home what the inmates actually went through.  Unfortunately the memorial gardens were pretty much closed for winter.  Incredibly sad and very sobering and well worth a visit.

Leaving Mauthausen we headed out of Austria back into Bavarian Germany to a campsite in order to fill up and do our final washing before coming home.  We eyed a small campsite in a small country village called Rohrbach which also had a spa.  So after settling in we went for a spa which was a cross between a spa and a swimming pool – but bizarrely everyone had to move at the sound of the “ding-dong” – and everyone (bar us) did (until we knew).  Weird.  Then venturing into town for a feast we found a really authentic restaurant and afterwards the owner gave us some complimentary Bavarian “shots” which were a cross between vodka, gin and Benolyn cough mixture!  We slept well.

After completing our chores in the morning we drove up to Zwiesel in the Bavarian national park, and the drive there was glorious.  The town was nice enough but the landscape was just beautiful.  A perfect base for walks and cycling – though not at this time of year!  After lunch we headed to Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and parked in one of their many free aires.  A brisk and fresh walk into the town along the river we visited their famous Christmas market which was incredibly big.  It lacked the festive feel of, say, Budapest or Landau markets but it was massive.  Guess we are just marketted out now!!  First impressions were very positive as we headed back to the van for the evening.

We were blessed with sunshine in the morning as we cycled into the city centre – but the temperature was still freezing!  Nuremberg surprised us and we would add it to our “must see” towns.  The old walled town has a great castle Kaieserburg, lovely shopping streets, and loads of character almost everywhere.  The post WW2 bombing buildings can be a bit plain but overall a very nice place to be.  We had a look around their toy museum which was fun enough – and proved we’re not *that* old as none of my childhood toys had yet made an entrance!

After fully exploring we headed off to Wurzberg for the night ready to explore in the morning.  Fairly early we headed into the town which was 80% destroyed by us during WW2.  The guidebook (wrongly in our opinion) compares the rebuild to Dresden which we love.  However, apart from a nice square and a few interesting sights its not really worth making an effort to visit.  Towards the end of our short tour the snow came down thick and fast, settled quickly, and was as slippery as, well, ice.

We decided to head off ASAP to the motorway and get “out of dodge” but the road out was on a hill.  Cue lots of wheel-spinning and under-steer with the traction control not even making an effort to help!  Great.  On the hill we slid into a garage forecourt so decided to fill up with diesel anyway and perhaps get another 60kg over the front wheels.  This made little difference and we then got stuck about 200m away on the slight hill.  Cars came past wheel spinning and one got stuck just beyond us.  Even thought the snow wasn’t deep we put the snow-chains on for some extra grip.  Just as we were finishing an articulated lorry was coming past us and got stuck and started wheel-spinning and sliding towards the curb where we were!!!!  Fortunately the chains worked and we got out of there as quickly as physics would allow so he didn’t hit us and for the next 3-4 miles climbed up to the top of the hill until the road started to clear and we saw a gritter. Chains off and away we went… (Tip:  If you have snow chains and expect to use them, store them inside as handling wet metal chains that are below freezing isn’t fun!)

As the winter weather seems to be chasing us we decided that was enough for us and would head home in safety before we pushed our luck too far and save the delights of another wine route and Frankfurt for another warmer visit. 

We’d been tipped of a delightful town in Holland where they hold (another!) Christmas market but uniquely inside caves.  As this was a convenient distance we set TomTom to go there and run away from the snow though it did appear to chase us down the motorway.  The tip proved good (thanks Barry & Hazel) and the small town of Valkenberg was bustling and in the festive spirit.  The cave market was definitely  worth a visit and we settled down for our last meal of this trip in one of the many restaurants.  I had a glorious meat fest casserole and the only complaint was the waitress was very rude (to everyone – not us).

Finally no more snow fell overnight so we were able to head to the ferry – though in Belgium the snow came again and unbelievably the motorway was not treated so it became a crawl with just tyre marks barely showing.  But we eventually made it to Calais calling an end to trip 6 and our last nights in the van for 2009.  We now have the first few months of 2010 for more serious planning…..  Till then…..

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