I was raved to about how Bamberg was a must see, literally from the first day I arrived with my suitcase in Erlangen. I stuck it firmly at the top of my list of places to visit but the first time I went I only caught a snatch and was slightly disappointed. It was boiling hot, we were heading for a Lido- Hainbadesstelle- on the river, and cut through what we thought were some rather pretty sections of the city on the way. Apart from a few enticing shops you can get quite a way before you see anything worth looking at, once you come right up against the green belt near the river you begin to see huge, sweeping houses, grand and pebble white with purple flowers tumbling riverwards from the balconies- proud examples of former Bavarian glory and affluence from the years of Bismarck. The Hainbadestelle too is lovely, a bit of an odd experience, bustling with people of all ages who boldly walk from the warmth of the old-fashioned wooden decking into the bracing river with its strong current. We, of course, got into to the river at the wrong end and found out very quickly just how hard it was to fight the current- although some people do it for training. We paddled ourselves promptly out and made our way to the correct set of steps where you can, if you want to, simply just hold your head above water and let yourself be carried, not too slowly, down stream to the other end of the lido- like a natural water ride.
After this I thought I’d seen Bamberg. I didn’t realise just how beautiful the Alt Stadt was until I ventured there a week later and found myself standing in a jumble of old twisting streets, with buildings that seem too large bursting out of them in every pastel colour. Bridges climb over one another, and snake round each other leading you over and across the river so many different heights, always with flowers tickling your shoulders, or ankles. The buildings perch delicately over the roof, with ornate embellishments and bizarre decoration, a carefully poised pile of candy. All the shops, some traditional some just quirky, seem to have snuck in and bedded down in every corner, and spill easily onto the streets with tiny cafes and breweries- tables crammed in every which way, people sipping cool- and delicious- Rauchbier in nooks and crannies. Aside: this locally brewed beer has a distinct and smoky taste, not to everyone’s liking and can feel more like a meal than a beer, but I really enjoy the strong flavour and intriguing smell.
It is flooded with tourists however, certainly in August and almost definitely in December, which means that eating on the main streets- although you could easily be tricked into thinking they weren’t main streets- is not very cost effective. I definitely prefer to buy good take-away food anyway and keep exploring. The Cathedral is a little too plain for me but it was still oddly impressive and cavern-like. After this I walked through a little rose garden, clinging to the steep hillside and pretty, with a kind of warm feeling, in spite of the rain. We then decided to make the short steep climb up to St Michaelsberg. It is a bizarre hill, seemingly narrower at the base than at the top and looking up during the climb was like a scene from an old-school horror-flick. Crooked, gnarled trees, bleak landscape, ominous sky framing spindly, dark towers. From the top the castle, now some kind of care home, looks less foreboding; simply like someone had too much money and built themselves a huge house to play in, it’s a bizarre mix of old dark stone and strange, fairy-tale like features (and strong iron bars on some windows), and sweeping gravel drive, with and open friendly courtyard and a beautiful curving walls. It is worth it though for the view- although most of what we say was a rain cloud ploughing its way across the flat land towards us.