Monday 6 June 2016

Isny and Lindau, Germany

The harbour clock tower at Lindau

Switzerland and Germany, 30th May – 3rd June 2016

We’re getting some relief this morning from the rain that’s been pattering down on the roof at our current location in western Austria, after having left Switzerland and spent a few days in Germany.  We’ve been told that there’s been flooding problems this week around southern Germany and Austria, but haven’t seen any signs of trouble so far spare for a bit of rain and this unappealing, overcast sky.  This time last week we would have had to place drip-trays in the van to catch water leaking through a skylight during such weather, but no more!  Our motorhome is now touting a brand new skylight, which is filled with air rather than puddles and condensation.

While we were still in Switzerland we’d said that we would eat out at least once, and when we were getting too close for comfort to the Austria border, we got online to consider our options.  There were a few restaurants listed where campers could stay, but when we checked their websites found they were either closed in May or we didn’t fancy the menu options.  This left the option of either trying to find a free parking spot for the night close enough to a selection of restaurants, or shelling out for a campsite.  Free parking seemed much more limited in this region of Switzerland, and by the time we were paying for Swiss restaurant prices (where just one main course will set you back around 25 Fr; enough for a whole meal in Spain!) we didn’t feel inclined to spend another large amount for a campsite. Maybe it was the lack of not knowing where is good to see in this area of Switzerland, maybe it was the dreary weather making us miserable, maybe we are just getting stingy with the money.  Perhaps by starting our Swiss forays with the amazing Pennine Alps and Interlaken, everything afterwards seemed like an anti-climax.  Whatever the reason, nothing was appealing to us.  Decisions were made: we were leaving Switzerland.

We left Liechtenstein early in the morning, crossing back into Switzerland for one last important destination: Denner supermarket.  Seeing as we’d saved by not eating out it would be a criminal offence to not stock up on Swiss chocolate goodness, especially when the 0.50 Fr supermarket budget stuff tastes like gold.  Ten francs later we were on our way with two kilos of the stuff.  How long I can resist gorging on the lot remains to be seen, but we’ll try and ration it out!  Having taken care of this important errand, it was over the border into Austria and then north into Germany.

Aah, Germany.  We haven’t spent too much time in this country, but from the bits that we have seen, I love how they manage to combine practicality with style.  The roads are all kept in immaculate condition, and there is great accessibility for safe cycling around with plenty of bike lanes and paths.  For most vehicles the motorways are toll free, and the drivers are very sensible (we approached from a sliproad and three vehicles in a line switched lane to let us in).  The buildings are well kept and not left to crumble away.  Everything is clean, practical, and well designed.  But why were we here?

Isny town centre
The main paying stellplatz in Isny
As we intend to swap to a cheaper van when we return to the UK to free up money for investing, there are a few repair jobs we need to get out of the way before we put ours up for sale.  They’re mainly minor niggles, chief among which was some cracked side trim and a faulty overcab skylight.  After the seal popped going over a mountain pass in Greece the air gap between the double glazing would fill with water then drip through the air pressure release valves.  Seeing as we were in the area we went to Isny, hometown to the Dethleffs factory, to see if we could get these things sorted by the people who made the vehicle.

We arrived at Dethleffs and called at the reception for their repair centre, where we were told it was 8-10 weeks for an appointment, by which time we should be back in the UK.  So that we could get an idea of the repair costs anyway, Matt asked if it was possible to get an estimate.  They had a look and perhaps it was a smaller job than they were expecting, because they checked their availability and said that if we could bring the van in the next morning at 7:30, they could have it ready by the afternoon.  We agreed, and went in pursuit of somewhere to park up for the night.

There are two aires (Stellplatz as they’re known in German) in Isny.  The first is at the Dethleffs factory, which is free (excluding tourist tax) for Dethleffs vans, so we drove there just in time to see the last space being filled up by a car towing a caravan.  After grumbling to ourselves about how a caravan shouldn’t technically be parking in a motorhome aire, we drove to the more central stellplatz (GPS: 47.69459 10.03738) near the town centre.  The normal rate is €7.50 + €1.50 p.p. tourist tax, but as we discovered when the lady came around to collect in the evening, Dethleffs drivers get a €2.50 discount.

The last time the van went into a garage, the nearest town was a rather lacklustre working town.  With Isny we were a bit luckier as the town was a fairly attractive place to wander around, with a few bakeries and ponds and pretty buildings, but it’s small.  You can easily cover most of the main areas in around an hour before you start repeating yourself.  After raiding one of the bakeries (and emerging with a kirschquarkstruessel, a cherry flavoured pastry I can recommend) and admiring the baby swans by the waterside, we were struggling for things to do.  It was time for the default option: off to McDonalds for a couple of hours, for use of the WiFi.

Dethleffs factory stellplatz
After getting the van back in the afternoon we moved to the factory aire (GPS: 47.69926 10.05510, Free for Dethleffs vans/€5 for others + €1.50 p.p. tourist tax, Free service point), where we took advantage of the free electric hookup to top up our devices to full – not because we needed it, but because we love a bit of free juice as it means we can drive away without having a tangle of charging cables all over the cab the next day.  We ventured out to look at the Pössl van conversions (which are built by Dethleffs, branded Globecar in the UK) in the showroom, making note of design features we did and didn’t like.  Since we’ve resolved that we’re going to have a custom-build van, we’ve become critical of every professional van conversion we’ve visited if we spot an area where the space isn’t fully utilised or the finish isn’t quite up to our standards – in the case of Pössl, there was a good storage setup but there were wooden panels around the bed base where the edges could have done with some finishing trim, and pattern in the lino on hatches in the floor that didn't match up to that around it.  Perhaps we’re drawing criticism to ourselves when it comes to the finish of our own future van, but we shall see!

The next morning we resolved to tackle another van maintenance issue; whilst getting through all the mountain roads in Switzerland in the previous couple of days, the brake pad warning light had been intermittently appearing.  After another trip to McDonalds for WiFi (Germany isn’t a Three Feel at Home country and you need a German address to buy a local SIM, so internet hasn’t been so easy) we got the address for a Fiat garage and an A.T.U, which is the German equivalent of Halfords, in the nearby town Wangen im Allgäu.  A.T.U didn’t have the brake pads in stock and reckoned they couldn’t order them in either (probably looking at the wrong part); Fiat did and could fit for a maximum €299, maybe less.  As our credit card was still maxed out from the other repairs and we needed to withdraw cash too as we hadn’t managed to convert our Swiss francs back to euros, we said we’d call back to arrange a time when we had the funds ready to pay.  In the meantime, it was over to Lindau.

Lindau is a town by Lake Constance, or Bodensee as it's known in German, close to the Austrian border.  The main appeal is Lindau Isney, an old section of town set on an island connected to the mainland by two bridges.  Over the water, both Austria and Switzerland are within sight.  It’s a place full of charm; the buildings have plenty of German character, and everything is clean, tidy and cared for.  There is a pay by the hour car park close to the island, but there is also a stellplatz on the outside of a campsite (GPS: 47.53754 9.73142, €12 including showers) from which it is 2.5 miles of walking or easy, flat cycling around the lake to get to the centre.  As an added bonus, it was close enough to the Austrian border for us to manually select an Austrian network on our MiFi and get online to pay the credit card off!

Stellplatz at Park Lindau am See Camping
As it was also my birthday, whilst we were staying at Lindau a rare feat occurred: Matt did the cooking!  I’d made advance precautions for the occasion, and the day before wrote him a full recipe for one of our current favourite campervan meals: chicken in creamy white wine sauce.  I stuck my feet up with a glass of prosecco whilst he made his way through the instructions with minimal questions, and am pleased to report the end result was both tasty and fully cooked.

After Lindau we didn’t do much more in the way of exploring, other than moving to a free stellplatz at Lindenberg im Allgäu (GPS: 47.60086 9.87644, No services) for a night.  Matt wanted to check if the brake pads had any life left, so we took one of the front wheels off for a look and found they still had about 3mm of wear left in them.  We couldn’t get the other wheel off by hand as a garage had previously overtightened the bolts, but from what we could see underneath the van it appeared to have a similar amount of wear.  With the cost being much higher out here we decided we’d wait until we get back to the UK to resolve the issue, and so on Friday it was time for a new country.  We made a couple of stops in Germany first, mainly for filling up on LPG as it was only €0.55/litre, calling at another A.T.U to pick up some brake fluid, and going to—of course—a Lidl.  In Germany you have to pay a €0.25 bottle deposit (pfand) on plastic bottles which is only refunded when you return the bottles to the store so we wanted to get ours back, which meant decanting the bottles we had left into other spare bottles!  After that, we put Germany’s smooth roads behind us and crossed the border into another country of what appears to be beautifully kept roads: Austria.

- Jo

P.S. In the time it's taken us to post this, we've now got clear blue skies and temperatures in the high twenties... I think the rain is on its way out.

P.P.S. Nope.  Now it's thunder and heavy rain!

Lindenberg im Allgäu

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