Tuesday 29 May 2018

Dry run

Here's something a little bit different as it’s a post without any beer. There might have been beer, and it was my every intention that there would have been beer, but the best laid plans and all that!

To elaborate, it was the Late Spring Bank Holiday Monday, and I decided to take my bike for a ride. The household chores were up to date, it was too hot for gardening and whilst we were planning a barbecue for later on, it seemed a good idea to get out into the countryside and enjoy a slice of the great outdoors.

There’s a new cycle-way opened locally; actually there are two cycle-ways, as I discovered earlier. To set the scene it’s worth looking back to the long-awaited opening of the new section of the A21; the London to Hastings trunk road. For years motorists travelling between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells had to put up with a two and a half mile section of single carriageway. Seeing as the aforementioned settlements are the largest towns in the area, this was not a good state of affairs, and the congestion along that stretch of the A21 was never good, and often appalling.

Starting with the Blair government in 1997, successive administrations  played political football over widening the so-called “missing link”. A scheme would be agreed, the necessary planning consent approved, funds were made available, and then there would be a change of government. The project would be cancelled, as part of a spending review and it would be back to square one.

So when work started back in 2015, there was some optimism locally that at last it would be possible to drive between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, along a decent, dual-carriageway road, free from any hold-ups. After a few delays, the new section of road finally opened late last year, and straight away it brought a massive reduction in congestion and a significant reduction in journey times between the two towns.

Driving along the old road, and watching the new one slowly taking shape, did show the construction of what looked like some sort of “service road” running alongside the new dual-carriageway, and it was later revealed that this was to be a new off-road, cycle path, between the two towns. Actually, the path runs from the edge of Tonbridge to the top of the North Farm Industrial Estate - Tunbridge Wells Retail Park.

Once the landscaping work along the road had been completed, news broke that the cycle-way was now open, with the official opening taking place a couple of weekends ago. The MP’s from both towns, were photographed at the opening ceremony, riding their bikes at least part of the way along the path' although I wonder how far they actually went, once the photographers had disappeared!

If they could do it, then so could I, so on Bank Holiday Monday, I set off on my rather basic hybrid bike which I bought 20 years ago from Halfords, to see how far I could get along this new, and very welcome local amenity.  The sun was shining, and with hardly a cloud in the sky, temperatures were already in the mid-twenties by midday. Fortunately, there was a bit of a breeze blowing, but in sheltered spots the sun felt really fierce.

The cycle-way begins a short distance away from the Vauxhall roundabout, and almost straight away it starts to climb. As mentioned above, the path follows the A21, and as this road passes Tonbridge, it climbs steeply up Castle Hill; the site of a former Iron Age Hill-Fort. Monday was the first time this year that I’ve ridden my bike, so I was a little out of practice. I therefore don’t mind admitting that there were at least three occasions when I dismounted and pushed.

Despite the noise of the traffic, just a few feet away but behind either an embankment or a fence, it was great being able to cycle without fear of being tailgated or even getting mown down by irate motorists in a tearing hurry. As the route took me nearer the summit of Castle Hill, I turned round to enjoy the view back towards the outskirts of Tonbridge.

Eventually I reached the top, where the path flattened out and then began to slope away slightly. At this stage I was on the old part of the A21, which is now used solely as access to the farms and cottages which look out onto the road. With the new dual-carriageway hidden behind an embankment, the occupants of these dwellings  must surely be enjoying a much deserved boost in the quality of their lives.

I carried on until I reached a newly created underpass, which allows access from both sides of the carriageway, to a side road which leads down towards Capel. Rather than carry on to the end of the path at North Farm, I decided to dive under the carriageway and see where the route led.  This was because the first option meant a downhill ride thereby losing  much of the height I’d gained.

Taking the second option led me to an alternative, off-road route first to Pembury Hospital, and then to the large village of Pembury itself. In the future this would be a good route to follow, especially as there are three reasonable pubs in Pembury. Yesterday though, I decided I’d come far enough and it was time to retrace my route and head back down towards Tonbridge. I had a few items of shopping to pick up in the town and after my exertions, I also really fancied a beer.

I turned the bike around and sped off, confident in the knowledge that the vast majority of the route home would be downhill. You get a real smug feeling when free-wheeling downhill, especially when you meet people puffing and blowing, as they struggle uphill in the opposite direction. To give some idea of how good the return journey was, it took me just over 5 minutes to get back to the Vauxhall roundabout, compared to over 35 minutes on the uphill, outward stretch!

I headed towards the centre of Tonbridge, via the “mini-bypass”, using the completely pedestrian-free pavements as an impromptu, off-road cycle-way. There are plans to extend the new cycle-path into the town centre, but for the time being I’m completely at ease in breaking a rarely-enforced, 19th Century law, than risk disappearing beneath a juggernaut.

Once I reached Cannon Lane Bridge, I used the tow-path which runs alongside the River Medway to take me into the heart of Tonbridge. The developers have been at work here, with rows of expensive-looking houses lining the opposite bank. Fortunately the massive gas-holders, and the old gas works site on my side of the river, preclude, for the time being at least, further houses being built.

After a brief pause to admire the scene at Town Lock, I made my way to Tonbridge Castle, fully expecting the town’s Food & Drink Festival to still be in full swing. Fuggles had a stall there, so I was really looking forward to enjoying a nice refreshing pint in the courtyard beneath the ancient castle walls.

Imagine my disappointment then at discovering the festival had finished the previous day. All the tents, stalls and other associated items had been cleared away, leaving nothing in the way of refreshment or sustenance for a tired cyclist to enjoy. There was nothing for it, but to pedal across the busy Sports-ground to the Nelson Arms, which I was sure would be open.

It was a double whammy then to find the pub well and truly closed, but at least there was a note on the door informing thirsty customers that the place would be opening at 4pm. I was 90 minutes too early, so gave up. I could have cycled back to Wetherspoon’s, but Bank Holiday Monday in a garden full of screaming kids and loutish blokes stripped to the waist, had about as much appeal as a wet weekend in Bournemouth.

Instead I called in at Waitrose, for few bits of shopping, picking up my “free” cup of coffee on the way out. So as you can see, there should have been beer, and a nice, long, cool and refreshing pint (or two) of beer would have been the perfect way to end my cycle ride; but there’s always next time.

For the statistically-minded amongst you, my bike ride was 9.16 miles in length and my average speed was just under five miles per hour. However, it did peak at 23 mph on the long downhill stretch. I also gained 350 feet in height, and burnt off  1,000 calories.

These stats come from an App on my phone, called Map My Walk. I use it regularly to monitor my lunchtime walks. It’s a bit of fun really, as I don’t take it too seriously, but it’s a useful guide, all the same.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Brauerei-Greifenklau - Bamberg's hidden gem

We left it until our final day in Bamberg to visit what I regard as one of the city’s best pubs, and one of my favourite drinking establishments as well. Situated slightly out of the city centre, on the old road to Würzburg and right on the summit of the Kaulberg, Greifenklau is a lovely old pub and it is well worth taking the bus (or walking, if you’re fit enough), in order to spend a few hours there.

Greifenklau was the nearest pub to the rented apartment which Matthew and I stayed at back in 2010, when made our initial visit to Bamberg. We called in on our first night and sat out in the attractive and shady beer garden behind the pub, and put away a few mugs of the tasty Lagerbier brewed on the premises.

The pub, and brewery, is named after its founder, Freidrich von Greifenklau, and the present building dates back to 1719. The name Greifenklau, comes from the founder’s coat of arms, which depicts a griffin’s claw. Much to son Matthew’s annoyance, I sometimes refer to the pub as Gryffindor, after the Harry Potter novels.

Greifenklau has been owned by the Brockard family since 1914, and is now run by the fourth generation of the family. Until the opening of the Ambräusianum brew-pub in 2004, Greifenklau was for many years, the smallest brewery in Bamberg. The brewery itself was re-built in the 1950’s, and whilst Rauchbier was produced up until the 1930’s, this is no longer the case – or at least it wasn't until just a few years ago.

Greifenklau produce a very tasty pale Lagerbier, and also brew a Weizenbier and a Bock. The latter appears for a short season from November to December. As mentioned above, they have just re-introduced a smoke beer, known as Grief-R, and we were able to enjoy a couple of glasses on our recent visit.

As mentioned above, we left that visit until our final day in Bamberg, stopping off there on a bus journey back into town. We’d travelled out to the village or Bug, about three kilometres from the city centre, in order to visit the Buger Hof Gasthaus. Like many Brits, we found the name of this establishment highly amusing, but it’s the setting of this pub, overlooking the River Regnitz, which is the main attraction; that and the beer from Schlossbrauerei Reckendorf.

The threat of rain had been in the air all morning, and when we reached Greifenklau’s beer garden, the waitress advised us to sit at the tables closest to the pub, as these were protected with some large umbrellas. Her advice was well heeded, as shortly before finishing our meal (Bratwurst mit Pommes), the rain began and we had to move, taking our mugs, plates and thoughtfully provided cushions with us.

The garden can accommodate up to 500 people, and is very popular on warm summer evenings. I find it particularly pleasant as there are a number of mature trees, which provide just the right amount of shade, and the garden overlooks a wooded valley behind the pub. From your table, you can see right across the valley to the picturesque, old Altenburg castle, on the other side, right on the crest of the hill.

Apart from walking through the hallway, in order to access the garden, I have only once actually drunk inside the pub. That occasion was during my visit to Bamberg in late December 2010, when the snow was several inches deep and temperatures were well below freezing; definitely not beer garden weather!

After finishing our meal and our drinks, we reluctantly left. There was one other Bamberg brew-pub that I wanted to re-visit, and I also desired to pick up some bottles of Rauchbier, from Schlenkerla, to take home with me. Before we paid the bill, I bought a couple of Greifenklau from our friendly waitress. One was the brewery’s standard Lagerbier, whilst the other was a bottle of their recently introduced Helles. I haven’t opened them yet, but I’m sure I will do soon.

To sum up, if you ever find yourself in Bamberg and have visited all the "must-do" beery attractions the city has to offer (Schlenkerla, Mahrs, Spezial, Klosterbräu etc), do make time for a visit to Greifenklau. If you do, then I’m sure that just like me, you will be smitten with the place.

Friday 25 May 2018

Bamberg - a brief over-view plus some new pubs

May’s trip to Bamberg was my sixth visit to the city and my third actual stop-over. My first visit was a brief morning halt as part of a whistle-stop coach tour, which involved a visit to several German Christmas Markets, in 2007. Whilst most of the coach party headed for the market, I made a beeline to the world-famous Schlenkerla tavern, where I sat in the lobby enjoying a few glasses of the equally famous Rauchbier.

Three years later, Matt and I ended up renting a holiday apartment during one of the hottest July's imaginable. During that holiday we must have visited virtually all of Bamberg’s brew-pubs, as well as two of the three Bierkellers up on the Stephansberg.  The only brewery who’s tap we failed to visit was Kaiserdom who, despite being Bamberg’s largest brewery, seem to have limited distribution for their products within the city.

I returned for a brief solo visit later that same year, when the contrast with the summer could not have been more vivid. Those few days in late December saw temperatures well below freezing, and an unbelievable amount of snow on the ground. Even the locals were saying they had rarely seen so much of the white stuff. The extreme cold meant ideal conditions for enjoying a few glasses of the strong, seasonal Bock-Biers (Weinachtsfest Bier) which most of Bamberg’s breweries produce, including a stand-out one from Schlenkerla which is brewed using malt smoked over oak chippings, rather than the more usual beech wood.

In 2013, Matt and I spent a day in Bamberg as part of our holiday in Forchheim, and I also treated myself to an afternoon in the city, when I came to Nuremberg in 2015, for the Frankisches Bierfest. Schlenkerla and Spezial were visited on both occasions, and in 2015 I renewed my acquaintance with Café Abseits.

Our May visit took place as part of a group of beer enthusiasts, most of whom are CAMRA members, primarily from Maidstone branch. I have know most of these individuals for many years, and not only are they good company, but we all get on well with one another. The various members of the group made their way to Bamberg by a number of different routes, with most choosing the Eurostar – Deutsche Bahn ICE fast train option.

As Matt and I had decided to stay to stay on in Bamberg after the main group had left, we chose to fly, and I mentioned in a previous post that it is relatively easy to take the train from Munich to Bamberg. However, we did note that with the increasing roll-out of fast ICE Inter-City trains, there has been a cut back in Regional Express services between the two cities. The inclusive and good value Bayern Tickets are not valid on the former, so given this restriction, we found ourselves having to wait for a RE train between Munich and Nuremberg.

These issues aside, we were still in Bamberg by mid-afternoon, and whilst checking into the stylish and ultra-modern IBIS Hotel, just five minutes’ walk from the station, we bumped into a member of the group which had travelled by train. They had arrived about 30 minutes before us and were about to head out into the town. They agreed to wait whilst we dumped our luggage in the room and freshened ourselves up a bit.

Our tour leader was due to arrive in the early evening, and we’d arranged to meet up at the Fässla brew-pub, but with several hours to kill beforehand we decided to visit a few other of Bamberg’s drinking establishments first. We took a bus into town because, as I mentioned before, one of the group members has difficulty in walking. Alighting at the central bus station (Z.O.B. in German), we headed for a nearby pub called Zum Sternla. I’d noticed this place a few times on previous visits to Bamberg, but had never set foot inside. I later discovered that Sternla is the oldest pub in the city.

We entered and found several of the wood-panelled rooms which are so typical of pubs in the region, but before we could sit down we were informed that the bar was closed and we would have to sit out in the courtyard. There were a few mutterings, but this suited me fine as I am a huge fan of outdoor drinking.

The courtyard was long and fairly narrow, but there was a long table capable of accommodating us all. We took our places and ordered some beer. Zum Sternla is not tied to a particular brewery so there were a couple of draught beers to choose from. I went for the Mahrs “U” to begin with, before switching to the lightly smoked Lagerbier from Spezial.  Both were full of flavour and generally rather good.

A quick word here about payment. The general rule, for those who wish to join in, is that a “kitty” system is operated. Participants chip in with an initial payment of €20, and then top up the kitty  in increments of €10, as required. The kitty is purely for beer, although on this trip it was used to cover public transport as well. Individuals pay for the cost of the food they consume. The arrangement works well, providing participants drink at roughly the same pace.

After paying our tab, we departed Zum Sternla and walked back through the bus station to a place called Tambosi. Jon Conen’s Bamberg Guide, describes this place as more of a "lunchtime" pub which caters for the older generation. It was pleasant enough despite the décor being a little dated, and this theme extended through to the gents, where the orange porcelain urinals, and the brown wall tiles, looked very 1970’s. For some reason we all opted for a bottled Kellebier – I suspect this was because several members of the party are avid users of Untapped! The Weiherer Kellerbier is brewed by Brauerei Gasthof Kundmüller in Viereth-Trunstad, a village to the north of Bamberg. The beer comes in swing-top bottles, and was rather nice.

It was then time to move on to Fässla, where we’d arranged to meet our tour leader. The place was packed, and we were lucky to get a table; even so it was rather cosy all squeezing up together. We decided that despite the squeeze, it would be a good idea to grab something to eat. As this was to be my first Bavarian meal of the trip, I naturally opted for roast pork. It came with one of those spongy potato dumplings (Kloß), and sauerkraut. To drink I had a couple of glasses of  Fässla Gold Pils.

One reason why Fässla was so crowded that evening is that Spezial, on the opposite side of the street, is closed on Saturday evening, but whatever the reason, we decided to seek somewhere a little quieter for the final drinks of the evening. The Bamberger Weissbierhaus, a short walk away, provided the ideal in which to unwind. It is a fine old traditional, Bamberg pub with a beamed ceiling and plenty of dark wooden panelling.

There was a choice of several different draught beers, but most of us opted for the Aktien Landbier Dunkel from Bayreuth. It was a full-bodied and satisfying beer on which to finish on, and the Weissbierhaus was a good place to end our session on too.

It had been a good start to the holiday and a good introduction to some of Bamberg's lesser known pubs. For me, Sternla, Tambosi and Bamberger Weissbierhaus were all new places, and with the exception of Tambosi, worthy of a return visit. The next day saw us heading off to Forchheim, but I've already written about that.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

A new destination pub for Tonbridge

Several months ago I mentioned that Tonbridge would be getting another “destination pub” , and yesterday afternoon, following one of the worst kept local secrets, the Nelson Arms, a former back-street local, tucked away in a 19th Century residential area, finally reopened its doors.

The former Shepherd Neame house, closed in February 2017 following a decision by the brewery that it no longer fitted their “business strategy”. It was put on the market with the prospect of being used for residential purposes, but fortunately the local Barden Residents Association stepped in and managed to have it classified as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

This meant the pub could not be sold for a period of seven and a half months. The brewery appealed against the decision, but this was rejected by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. Shep’s then decided to sell the premises as a pub after all.

It was at this point that Matthew Rudd and his partner Emma Cole stepped in with an offer for the pub. The couple had been running the award-winning Windmill in Sevenoaks Weald, but were looking for a new challenge. They had seen the Nelson advertised previously, before they took on the Windmill, but it was only available as a tenancy, and that was not what they were looking for.  

Matt and Emma are aiming to repeat the success they have had with the Windmill, as this too was a closed pub when they first acquired it. They now plan to repeat their formula, the first part of which has been to sympathetically restore the Nelson to its former glory. This has involved completely ripping out the interior, and then installing  new walls, ceilings and various other fixtures. The end result a fine-looking traditional  town pub with three different bar areas.

Unlike the Windmill, which is something of a "foodie" destination, the Nelson will focus on serving high-quality beer, and will only be providing bar snacks. The pub will be stocking up to 10 cask ales, along with a range of craft "key-keg" and bottled beers. Whether this number is too many remains to be seen, but the pub was certainly shifting some beer when a neighbour and I called in yesterday evening.

We met up with friends from West Kent CAMRA; some of whom had been there since the pub opened at 4pm. The latter will be the weekday opening time, with longer hours at the weekends. I have to say that having known the Nelson from its time under both Courage and Shepherd Neame, that I was extremely impressed by the tasteful renovation and restoration work that Matt and Emma have carried out.

Beer-wise I enjoyed Low Rider Citra Amarillo - a 3.9% pale session ale from Bristol Beer Factory;  Magic Rock Inhaler – a 4.5% Pale Ale, before finishing with a pint of Thornbridge Jaipur (a mistake with work the next morning!). There was a good mix of customers in the pub last night, many of whom were local residents, delighted to have their pub back.

When asked by one of the local papers, whether he thought it a risk to run a pub without a dining option, Matt replied that he was really interested in having a go at running a  “wet-led” community pub. He went on to emphasise his belief in the demand for such a pub;  especially in Tonbridge, where there’s a lot going on at the moment. He finished by saying, that the feedback had been really positive and how much himself and Emma were looking forward to running a pub that is an important part of the community.

The pub - prior to restoration

The final words in this story need to go to Barden Residents Association, and its Chairman, Mark Hood, who said, “When we heard that Shepherd Neame was selling our pub we feared the worst. North Tonbridge had lost all but one of its pubs and the Nelson Arms and Barden Stores are the hubs of our community here. We scrambled to register the pub as an Asset of Community Value and that enabled Matthew and Emma to purchase the pub at a reduced price.”

He added: “Now we are delighted that they are bringing their CAMRA award-winning experience to our neck of the woods". Fellow resident Lucy Athey, echoed Mark’s words, by saying, “Matt and Emma buying the pub is our dream scenario: they are very experienced and have some fantastic ideas. They are keen to be part of the community and have already attended our Residents’ Association meetings. It’s been a long refurbishment so we can’t wait to get the first round in!”

I’ll drink to that, and wish Matt, Emma and the Nelson every success. The pub is slightly under a half hour’s walk from my house, so I suspect I will be paying it quite a few visits!

Sunday 20 May 2018

Forchheim re-visited

On the Sunday, which was the first full day of our stay in Bamberg, our party visited the town of Forchheim. This small Franconian town lies to the south of Bamberg and is approximately 15 minutes away by rail.

For the majority of the group, this was their first visit to a town which boasts four breweries, but for Matthew and I it was second time around. We spent a week in this pleasant little town, back in July 2013, in order to experience Annafest; a beer festival of legendary proportions, but we also took the opportunity of visiting a few other places in the area as well.

Annafest is held over a 10 day period around the 26th July; the feast of St Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. It  takes place at the Kellerwald, a wooded hillside on the edge of Forchheim, where there are a series of natural rock cellars cut into the hillside. The cellars were originally constructed for the storage and maturation of beer, in the days before refrigeration. Today there are two dozen such “Kellers”, the majority of which are just open for Annafest, although a handful remain open all year. 

During the summer evenings the Kellerwald is the perfect location for a cool beer in the shady woods. The local Forchheim breweries Hebendanz, Greif, Eichhorn and Neder all brew a strong beer especially for this festival, the so-called Annafestbier, and a number of other local breweries also supply brews of their own as well.

As well as plenty of beer drinking there are other attractions such as fairground rides, various stalls, plus six stages which feature a wide range of different musical acts. With seating for about 30.000 people, the Kellerwald provides sufficient accommodation for the 450,000 – 500,000 visitors who come each year over the course of the festival.

During our stay we found it quite difficult to get a drink plus an evening meal in Forchheim itself. The trouble is most pubs and restaurants close early whilst Annafest is on, with some not bothering to open at all, as it seems everyone in the town it seems wants a piece of the action up on the Kellerwald. The landlord of our rented holiday apartment had warned us about this on our first evening in the town, but we did manage to find a few places open.

Five years on, we met up with the rest of the group at Bamberg station shortly after 1.30pm. We had all spent the morning doing a spot of sight-seeing, which for Matthew and I involved a look around the cathedral area and the Old Bridge. With the Rathaus, or town hall, hanging precariously over the River Regnitz, on a pier of the bridge, this is by far and away the most photographed building in Bamberg. We took a few of our own, just for completeness, before making our way back to the station.

Our tour leader had bought a group ticket for us all, so once we were all assembled we walked under the subway and boarded our train to Forchheim. The station has been enlarged since our last visit, with a couple of new platforms installed. This is because a new high-speed rail line has been built alongside the original tracks. This will enable high-speed trains to complete the journey between Munich and Berlin in under four hours.

Although it is a relatively short walk from the station, into the centre of Forchheim, we waited for a bus as one member of our group is partially disabled, as the result of a particularly nasty motor-bike accident, and finds walking both difficult and painful. Our rail tickets were valid on the bus, which is the beauty of public transport in this part of Germany.

Our bus dropped us close to Brauerei Eichhorn, which was our first port of call. Eichhorn is the smallest of Forchheim’s four breweries, and uses a squirrel as its emblem. This was my visit to their actual pub, as the place had been closed during Annafest.  We sat inside, due to the onset of a thunderstorm, and had the place virtually to ourselves.

The landlady looked slightly bemused as all 13 of us filed in, but brought us our beer in a friendly and efficient manner. Vollbier Hells was the offering on tap, a pleasant enough dark golden lager, but spoilt by being rather gassy. One member of our party resorted to giving his beer a good stirring with a fork, in order to dispel some of the CO2!

We decided to move on to the Brauerei Neder, the next brew-pub situated a short walk away in the town’s main square. Matthew and I had definitely been there before, recognising it as the place we drank a toast to Prince George, with several rather inebriated locals. (Our arrival in Forchheim five years previously, had coincided with the birth of William and Kate’s first child).

The beer in Neder was much more to everyone’s liking; in fact some people thought it the best beer of the entire trip. Served direct from a cask, perched up on the bar, and dispensed into stoneware Krugs, Neder Kellerbier certainly took some beating, and I could quite happily have stayed for another mug.

Onward and upwards though, and just a couple of doors away was Brauerei Hebendanz. Like Eichhorn, this brew-pub had also been closed during Annafest. It was an old-fashioned looking place, and for some reason we sat out in the corridor to begin with, before moving into the front bar. We tried the Dunkles, but most of us found it rather disappointing; I couldn’t even find the beer listed on the Hebendanz website.

Because of its location, outside the town centre, we gave Brauerei Greiff, Forchheim’s fourth brew-pub, a miss. I’m pretty certain that  the bus we caught into town earlier would have taken us there, had we not decided to alight at Brauerei Eichhorn, but no matter, as Matthew and I had consumed plenty of Greiff beer at Annafest five year’s previously.

On leaving Brauerei Hebendanz, we caught the bus to the station, and then a train back to Bamberg. It had been something of a whistle-stop tour of Forchheim’s pubs, and with hindsight I would have preferred to have spent a little longer in the town. The fact that this rather fleeting visit brought back memories of Annafest, has persuaded me that a return trip to Forchheim should be planned to coincide with that event, so maybe next year?

Friday 18 May 2018

Five days in Bamberg

Well I’m sure as anyone who has read the previous post will have gathered, I’ve been away in foreign parts, and from my comments on other blogs,  particularly Retired Martin’s page,  Germany was the destination for this year’s spring break.

The base for our five day short holiday, was the lovely city of Bamberg; a real gem of a place which fortunately managed to escape the attentions of Arthur "Bomber" Harris, an obsessive man who considered it his mission to pound as many beautiful and historic German cities into rubble.

Bamberg is a well known destination for British beer lovers, given its nine or ten breweries, and its distinctive beers; the most famous of which is Rauchbier – literally “smoke beer.” The importance of the latter is perhaps over-stated, given that only two of the city’s breweries produce it on a regular basis but, Schenkerla, who produce the most distinctive and widely known Rauchbier are custodians of not only a world classic beer, but are also guardians of one of the most unspoilt taverns in which to drink it.

I travelled there with son Matthew, leaving Mrs PBT’s to spend a few days down at her sister’s in Bexhill. She is recovering well, but decided a spell at the seaside would be more beneficial than a trip abroad. This was undoubtedly a wise move on her part, as Matt and I formed part of a group of beer enthusiasts, most of whom were from Maidstone CAMRA. This was the same bunch of individuals who we visited Düsseldorf with, last year.

The main part of the group travelled over by train (Eurostar plus Deutsche Bahn), but as our travel arrangements were rather more last minute (due to Eileen’s earlier illness), we flew into Munich and then took the train.  Flying into Nuremberg is undoubtedly the quickest way of getting to Bamberg, but Ryan Air are now the only airline offering direct flights between this handy little airport and the UK. Easy Jet, on the other hand, operate three flights daily, each way between Gatwick and Munich, and by making use of a Bayern Ticket, it was possible to make the onward trip to Bamberg at a very reasonable price.

The train journey is quite lengthy, but our early morning flight, allowed plenty of options, so after landing at Munich, we took the bus to nearby Freising. From there we boarded one of Deutsche Bahn’s double-decker, Regional Express trains, and from the upper deck we enjoyed a comfortable journey to Nuremberg, as our train sped through the picturesque Bavarian countryside.

A quick change of trains, saw us arriving in Bamberg shortly before 3.30pm, and five minutes later we were checking in to our recently-built, stylish hotel, close to the station. The rest of the group were also staying at the same hotel, although I hadn’t realised this when I first booked it.

Our itinerary allowed for two days in Bamberg plus a trip out to nearby Forchheim and its four breweries. Matt and I stayed on an extra day, so we decided to do the cultural thing by spending a day in Würzburg. Harris unfortunately managed to virtually destroy that city, and seven decades later the scars are still visible, but the magnificent Würzburg Rezidenz has been painstakingly reconstructed, along with a number of other historic monuments.

I will be writing about our experiences at these various places, later on, but for now I will just say that we had a really good time. The weather was fine, apart from the last day, the pubs were splendid, the beer was magnificent– along with the prices (around €2.80 for a half litre), and the company was excellent.

Matt and I got back in the early hours of Friday, and have spent the day unpacking, washing, tidying things away along with some shopping. Tomorrow, there is a street party taking place at the bottom of our road, as apparently two people are getting married. I’m not an ardent royalist, but the party will be a good excuse to get to know some of the new people who have moved into our road, and to catch up with those neighbours who we wish to catch up with.