After enjoying the BBC series ‘Life’ we have now opened our long overlooked box set of the US television series The West Wing. First aired in 1999 the shows gave an insight into daily dramas of the Whitehouse staffers and a fictitious US democratic presidency. Watching this now, has been all the more fascinating as it’s coincided with the real life horror show of the current US administration and the 2020 election amplified by the defeated President’s unprecedented, unpresidential bonfire of respect for facts, truth and shame! Nate White expresses Donald Trump’s qualities (or lack of them) so colourfully here.
Thankfully we’re a long way from the USA and we’re not intending to go any further west than the Algarve’s west Atlantic coast (as opposed to its south Atlantic coast which is to the south unless it’s moved!). Anyway after leaving Ourique, we arrived by way of a very uncomfortably crowed Lidl to Vila Nova de Milfontes in Alentejo district. This coastline is a mixture of long sandy surfing beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs fully exposed to everything the Atlantic ocean can throw at it.
The popular Portuguese holiday destination of Milfontes sits at the mouth of the Mira River – the same river we cycled around from our previous campsite. This coast normally attracts its fair share of surfers dudes due to the big Atlantic rollers. However the stormy conditions we witnessed were rather too fierce to persuade us to don wet suits and hire cool coloured polyurethane ironing boards. Anyway “Life’s too short for Ironing”…!
The very useful ‘Search for Sites’ app directed us to an overnight parking spot on a headland. Whilst taking in the view, we spotted a fish restaurant with outside tables looking out towards the sea. The socially distanced tables and masked waitresses added to the Covid-safe feeling.
After the very nice food and wine at Porto das Barcas restaurant a post lunch nap was required before watching the sun go down with a crowd of (predominantly) unmasked sunset snappers at Milfontes, Lighthouse Beach.
I have become quite sensitive to how people appear to respect the coronavirus regulations. Observing how many people are wearing masks is for me a way of sensing the risk. Having overnighted in Margo in Milfontes we were planning to spend a week or more on this coast. However after arriving at Zambujeira do Mar, I really didn’t feel comfortable as most of the tourists and locals milling around seemed either immune to, or unaware of, the dangers in the world outside their blissful oblivious ‘carry on as normal’ bubbles. I turned Margo around and we headed back south.
Statista recently published the result of a survey entitled How often have you worn a face mask outside your home to protect yourself or others from coronavirus? Significant differences existed between European countries in terms of wearing a masks, which they suggest is mainly due to the differing legislation. According to the results, over 95 percent of Spanish respondents always wore a face mask outside, while a large proportion of respondents in the Nordic countries hadn’t worn a mask at all.
“How about we go back to Mikki’s”? It was disappointing to cut short our southern Portugal mini tour and head back to Mikk’s place near Albuferia, but it was somewhere where we had felt (even though mask wearing wasn’t universal) much more comfortable.
With the pitch from our previous stay now taken, we spent a noisy night under a tree before changing our location to a spot opposite Beertje & Babsy two Göttingen mini pigs, with two alpacas and two goats as their next door neighbours. Beertje and Babsy are very docile and seemed to love having their backs and belly’s scratched with a garden hoe by one of our Belgium fellow campers, as do I – although I prefer Lesley to do it rather than the Belgian neighbour!
Settling back into the campsite we set of to explore the area. The bikes cope well with most off road condition but we decided to find a better way to get to Armação de Pêra than attempt cycling along the beach.
We had to cycle the long way round to get to Armação de Pêra but the ice cream was a nice reward for our efforts.
Like other urban centres on the Algarve coast, Armação de Pêra developed out of a small fishing village. However, in the middle of August, its population peaks at around 80,000. Although fishing has lost its importance due to rise in tourism, where it has become the main source of income, not only in the former fishing village, but also in the wider municipality of Silves.
I’m not sure how many tourists would normally be slapping on the sun tan lotion on the beaches in November. But cycling through the town it feels quiet and the near deserted beaches give an indication of the drop off in visitor numbers which must be really hurting the local and wider Portugese economy.
Expensive data – Having wittered on in the last blog about our marvellous O2 Data SIM costing only £31 per month for 45Gb. How shocked were we to receive a bill this week for the 2nd month of our O2 contact for £2,287.87. Quite shocked actually! An urgent call to O2 was made and they explained that in the small print it says we have to pay £25/Gb for every extra Gb of usage above 45. However as we were first time offenders a refund was speedily applied to our account along with a data cap set so we would not be able to go over our limit again. Phew!
From Mikki’s there are numerous routes to walk and cycle. Silves is a 19 mile return trip with the promise of lunch at a fish restaurant at the halfway point.
Our route back guided by Google maps took us right through the middle of the Amendoeira golf course. (In 2016, Faldo’s course won the title of Portugal’s Best Golf Course, given by World Golf Awards). No one stopped us as we cycled nonchalantly through its manicured landscape. We only came unstuck when we found the security gate at the far side was closed. Fortunately we spotted a bike size hole in the fence nearby….. needs must.
Well I am disappointed to have to report Beertje and Babsy have been moved. One morning the vet came and we feared the würst(joke). A team of six was needed to catch them one at a time. By putting something tasty on a wire noose the vet was able to snare and muzzle them with the loop. Their squeals were probably heard for miles (especially from the female when the male was being caught!) But we needn’t have fretted, as it turned out they were just to be moved to a bigger enclosure and be kept company by a couple of young kids. More on B&B next time.
The Portuguese government in an effort to combat the increasing numbers (especially in the north) has put further restrictions on movement for the next few weekends. But as the camping is in the Silves municipality apart from the weekend curfews it shouldn’t affect our freedoms too much. We just need to stay local, be respectful and keep safe.
Hope you’re all able do the same.
Thanks to our O2 data SIM’s 45Gb monthly allowance, even when in Europe we’ve been catching up the drama series ‘LIFE’ via BBC iPlayer. We’ve both really enjoyed the format, although we were ever-so slightly disappointed with the final episode which we both thought a bit short on drama compared with the previous twists, turns and surprises. As a Guy Garvey fan I was also taken by the theme music ‘My Angel“. No this is not a tenuous (although much overdue) link singing the praises of my beloved, but more of an insight into our ‘LIFE‘ in the Moho.
Having moved on (for now) from Mikki’s place to stay near Albuferia, we found our way west along the coast to Praia de Luz and the very different campsite at Turiscampo. If Mikki’s is earthy, by contrast this Yelloh Village site is highly manicured with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and even 5 star showers for the residents’ pampered pooches!
Talking of showers our arrival coincided with the onset of rain. The forecast suggested we were due a serious thunder and lightening storm. When you’re handicapped by the weather, there’s not much else to do in the van during the daytime – it’s time to find a good book, practice duo-lingo or perhaps research where to go next. However after dark and with dinner in Margo’s exclusive restaurant taken, the nightly phone calls made, it’s time……. to get the cards out. Oh what exciting lives we lead.
During the night of the predicted storm, we realised rather late that our awning was still out and it had started to lash it down. Waiting until it eased a bit, I grabbed the umbrella (is that a lightening rod I’m holding?) and dashed out to put our sodden ‘sunshade’ away. As I was about to come back in, I noticed our neighbours struggling to put the their awning away. They hadn’t been so lucky and the wind had got hold of one corner and snapped off the retract arm from it’s outer mounting point. A quick grab for my International Rescue outfit and the toolbox from Thunderbird One and between us we quickly repaired the connection sufficiently for it to be retracted in time before the heavens opened up, F A B. Mr Tracy.
The next night brought even more drama. Two nights before we had found a (keep-Dave-happy) pizza place in the village next to Turiscampo. Nearby Lesley had spotted Sunita’s Castle – an Indian restaurant – so we decided to satisfy her longing for a curry. Alas, walking along the rough tarmac road in the dark, Lesley stumbled and fell on her hands and knees in the mud. As a result she sprained her ankle quite badly, although the thought of the curry temporarily overcame the pain. The discomfort didn’t improve when arriving at the restaurant with embarrassingly mucky knees and hands that were too muddy to accept the mandatory alcoholic hand sanitiser, oh dear.
Sunita’s Castle’s brown panelled decor had all the charm of a1970’s London transport canteen, but the food was surprisingly good especially the naan bread.
With Lesley’s ankle needing 72 hours rest and regular application of ice packs, it was difficult to walk anywhere far. Even so, we made a short journey to the coast and managed to get Margo close enough to the beach at Salema for Lesley to sit on a road side bench whilst I found a parking spot for Margo behind the village.
Feeling like we’d ‘landed’ ourselves in the Algarve we decided we should get a better feel for the whole area and go and explore the countryside away from the coast, so we made a bee-line for the five star Monchique Resort and Spa.
No I’m only joking we didn’t desert Margo, instead she found her way up a rough rock strewn track about a 1km south of the spa to Camping Vale da Carrasqueira. The campsite’s website makes the very bold claim to be”the best caravan park for mobile homes in the Algarve“! (I think they should consider sacking their publicist and hire someone with fewer concerns for truth decay and false modesty – I hear Donald Trump will be looking for work in January).
After a couple of nights R&R we left behind the creature comforts of our gravel parking spot (complete with on pitch EHU, water and GWD*), heading on to an overnight spot at the new (this year) Area de Autocaravanas de sao Marcos Da Serra.
We had no idea why the trees in the main square in Marcos Da Serra have been so beautifully crocheted. Apparently after years of extensive research Portugese scientists have discovered that some tree species feel the cold this time of the year and ‘Yarn Bombing‘ helps them keep warm! Who’d have believed that?
Clearly Cork trees are much hardier and don’t mind at all spending the winter without their trousers on.
The dog’s bark, was probably worse than his bite., or wait for it .This dog was barking up the wrong tree…. groan oh forget it.
After a few days rest, Lesley found cycling easier on her ankle than walking. Using Komoot once again we found an easy 9 mile circular route from the auto-caravans site in Marcos Da Serra.
The route we chose had, at some point, to cross a river to get home. We found a track that went down to the river (and continued up the other side) the only problem was the width and depth of the wet bit in the middle. I gallantly, nobly, bravely, nay foolishly, offered to go first to see how deep it was. Lesley on the other hand sensibly took her shoes and socks off, rolled up her trousers and came out the other side considerably drier than me……. hmmmmmmm.
Swiftly moving on, next day we made our way a little further north towards Ourique leaving the Algarve and entering the Beja District and to Serro da Bica. This was a gem of a camp site run by a Dutch couple where we felt very Covid safe, a completely chilled and relaxed place to be. We had originally booked for one night but ended up staying for three, although Lesley would have stayed on longer.
We didn’t do very much whilst at camping Serro da Bica except another quick 9 miler on the bikes. This time Lesley volunteered to go first across the ford over Mira river at Alento.
As members of the UK Carthago Owners Club we thought this would make a good entry for their STC (Spot The Carthago nonsense.
Well that’s nearly caught up with our Portugese wanderings in these strange Covid times. We’ll hopefully bring you bang up to-date in the next blog suffice to say we’re staying safe and hope you all are too.
Dave & Lesley
EHU – Electric Hook Up
*GWD – Grey Water Disposal not to be confused with black water, where… on second thoughts ,let’s not go there.
The weekend we elected to cross the border into Portugal coincided with All Saints Day followed by Dia de Finados (Portugals celebration of Day of the Dead). Traditionally this time is a holiday during which families come together, even spending the night at the graves of their loved ones, believing that the spirits of their dead relatives return to visit those they left behind.
A few days before the holiday the Portuguese government decreed (in order to reduce the spread of Covid), circulation across council areas would be against the law between 30th October and 3rd November. The decision to limit the circulation comes a week after the Council of Ministers announced the return of the state of calamity to Portugal, where many regions particularly in the north were placed under semi lockdown conditions.
Latin America (Mexico especially) create fantastically colourfully celebrations to mark the occasion, in Portugal it is a more sombre affair.
Having left locked down Spain behind we were now unsure of what the Portuguese travel restrictions mean to us. We decided to pause and take stock at a small friendly camp site in Covas. Getting there involved a tortuous route over a mountain road with healthy dose of hairy, blind bends. (thankfully the co-pilot in the lefthand seat, does a fine job of spotting round the blind right hand bends).
Our first day began when Antonio our talkative Portuguese live-in site warden, came by to for a chat (usually a mixture of Portugese history and European politics), and take our bread daily order. He also asked if we’d like to join him and our Swiss neighbours in a Hymer plus the French occupants of the only other Moho on site for a socially distanced lunch.
Well of course we said yes. The village restaurant had a dish of the day which on Friday was Bacalhau à Brás – a lovely warm salad mixture of fish, potatoes, egg, onion. Antonia collected it from the village and we were invited onto the patio area where each table was served with the food and a bottle of wine per table. The meal was delightful, very international and expertly orchestrated by our convivial, multilingual chatty host.
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most famous Portuguese dishes and is considered the ultimate comfort meal in Portugal. The dish uses many of the quintessential ingredients found in Portuguese cooking: bacalhau (salt cod), eggs, potatoes and black olives
The ebikes are a great way of exploring and quickly discovering more about an area. With Komoot’s help we found a good route from the campsite albeit on ancient uneven limestone cobbled roads, that connected Covas to the surrounding hamlets. It was a steady climb up but the view from Alto da Castanheira looking back down on Covas and the Coura river valley was worth the effort. With the reward of a long perfect tarmac descent back down again.
Our three nights at camping Covas had been our longest stay so far but it had given us time to workout our plan needed to change radically. All the research we had done on great places to see in northern Portugal was going to be have to be kept for another time. With the new travel restrictions coming in imminently we needed to head south. Lesley’s analysis of the changes revealed the Algarve as one of the few areas largely unaffected by the new rules.
Using motorways from Covas to Faro is just shy of 700 kms and would take us best part of the day. We packed up and pointed Margo south. The roads were incredibly quiet – even for a Sunday. The real reason we concluded was, All Saints Day, plus the restricted local movement due to Covid, resulted in motorways that were virtually empty.
Regularly swapping drivers we made steady progress, but nearing the outskirts of Porto, traffic cones reduced the lanes from 3 down to 1 then directed us off the motorway to a roundabout underneath. Here police were pulling cars over, presumably questioning their routes and anyone found breaking the weekends local travel restrictions fined. Fortunately for us (maybe because of the UK plates) Margo was just waved through. We had been advised that as tourists going to a pre-booked campsite we were legal but it did have our pulses racing for a little while.
7.5 hours after setting off, we were tired but relieved to leave the boring traffic-free motorway near Albufeira. We were also relieved of 95€ in motorway tolls but hey ho! The sun was going down by the time we found Mikki’s very relaxed camp site. First impressions suggested an eclectic mix of motorhomes and their owners.
We quickly discovered this place is not like any standard aire or campsite. Around Mikki’s huge quirky site there were donkeys, five or six types of chickens, goats, white doves, miniature pigs, parrots, llamas, and a whole variety of budgies and parakeets. These were mixed in with the bio garden where an impressive range of fruits and herbs are cultivated with bi-lingual information boards. Last but not least everywhere you explored you’d discover more of the crazy assortment of Mikki’s colourful and bizarre pottery.
Melded into this melange, is a colourful collection of campers, where £300k portable palaces are neighbours to surfer dude’s re-cycled double decker buses. Bronzed youthful looking full-timers, share spaces with transient short stay tourers. Super fit silver surfers side by side with families with young children. Spanish, Dutch, Brits, Irish, German, Belgium French and Portugese nationals, all brought together in this one big cosmopolitan cocktail.
Dave & Lesley
Obsessively checking the weather means we can adjust our plans to eek out the best of the sunny days and where to be when it’s not so nice. We also search a whole variety of websites to help choose where to go. As Phil Roberts, my boss back in 1984, used to regularly say “We are where we are” and prophetically add “We shall see what we shall see“. Indeed….! On our travels Lesley and I never usually ignore the chance to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site. However WE, for reasons not entirely clear to us, decided on this occasion to give Santiago de Compostela a miss.
Santiago de Compostela – “The famous pilgrimage site in north-west Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas”.
After overnighting at Brandoñas where the camp site owner -a very welcoming and friendly woman – plied us with free Café con Leche’s, pastries and chocolates, what’s not too like. With rain forecast to be set in for the day, instead of Santiago we choose to turn south and parked up for the afternoon at a huge empty beach at Carnota in front of a newly shuttered concrete pad. The next day (whilst we were out on a walk) the concrete pad had grown a fish.
Next day we made an appointment at the end of our pilgrimage, a wine tasting at Martin Codax.
Martin Codax is the largest producer in Galicia of Albariño wine. The co-operative was founded in 1986 by a group of 50 winemakers and currently comprises 2,400 tiny vineyard parcels individually managed by 550 families. We quaff a lot of Sauvignon Blanc (purely for its anti-inflammatory properties!). When we found that consumption of Albariño also protects against heart attacks, well…
As the only patrons we had an exclusive visit to the winery. We tasted 5 wines including the one we know (the cheapest) and the more expensive varietals normally outside our everyday price range but they all had BLIC….!
According to bluffer guide to wine -“BLIC” is a useful acronym to use when describing a wine.– balance, length, intensity and complexity. “Good wines are ‘good’ because they have a BALANCE of sweet fruitiness and fresh acidity. They have great LENGTH that leaves the taste on your tongue after you swallow. They have INTENSE fruit flavours you can identify. And they’re COMPLEX – If you ever want to describe a wine like an expert just rattle through the BLIC”.
Suitably inspired and with the night closing in, we headed off to a free overnight spot near Combaro, Pontevedra.
Whilst Rías Baixas brings fame to the area for wine making. Rías, the deep, sunken river valleys that have formed inlets around the cities of Vigo and Pontevedra are the heart of Europe’s shellfish industry. Spain produces 200,000 tonnes of mussels a year, nearly half the European market, with 90% produced in Galicia. (they must have some great body-builders…..groan)
Unbeknown to us we had parked outside a shellfish factory. So before dawn dozens and dozens of men and women assembled chattering noisily, then like lemmings they headed en-masse to the waters edge to rake up large bucket loads of mussels and clams. As they say “the world’s your mollusc“!
A lucky piece of research and we found a beautiful walk not far off route, along the Fraga River Trail. This easy walk winds its way gently uphill, the path semi-shaded by the trees as if to keep it secret. Nature has overtaken this place and it’s now difficult to imagine what the landscape was like when the 29 water mills along its route were all in operation. Several of the mills have been reconstructed and the information boards suggest more than one is still used today by some families to grind corn.
Constantly by your side the stream passes over multiple small, naturally beautiful waterfalls, with the water flowing over and around the rocks in its way, creating classic splits, cascades and many beautiful pools.
We cut the route short after we had to retrace our steps when I found I’d dropped the lens cap off the camera. (Well it could happen to anyone, couldn’t it?). Right ‘no time to angabout’ we have to head south and Portugal.
Ok so it’s unsurprising that the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to change our plans. The UK is about to go into lockdown, France is already locked down. Now Spain is about to go the same way, meaning we need to get out of Spain just in case they ban travel. However our changed plan is complicated by Portugal’s 5 day travel ban starting tomorrow for the Day of the Dead celebrations, hey ho.
But, before leaving our last task is to top up with fuel. Best price in Spain €0.89 per litre. Portugal reputed €1.30.
Dave & Lesley
Since leaving home in September we have been averaging 75 miles per day and to-date covered 2,060 miles. Wherever practical our plan is to avoid the motorways and use the non toll road. The French and Spanish motorways are great, but they can be expensive. As they also bypass the towns you can end up missing much of the character of the region you are travelling through. Cost is another good reason for using the lesser roads.
That is except when you collect two speeding tickets within a hour of each other in the French region Poitou-Charentes – Oh PUTAIN…… Unfortunately this means the beer and ice-cream kitty is depleted (understandably) by €45.00 for doing 78 kph in a 70 zone and a whopping €90.00 for a careless 56 kph in the 50 zone. Incidentally there isn’t alway a 50 sign, but a red bordered rectangular sign indicating the town name is the start of 50kph zone, so for not paying attention “it’s a fair cop gov”.
Having spent a fab few days in the Picos de Europa, like the dedicated souls doing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, our compass now indicated a firm heading westwards. But in our case it’s towards Galicia and the magnetic pull of Rías Baixas (more about that later). In the meantime we knew at some point we would inevitably meet a wee bitty wet weather.
The Atalaia Camper Park is one of the best best aires we have stayed since we came out. We were greeted by a very friendly, helpful owner (as he was about to go off to Portugal in his own motorhome). He proudly showed Lesley the sparkly clean shower block and toilets, the bikes and smart car for hire but the best bit…….. it had 3 washing machines and 2 dryers – I know, I know we couldn’t contain ourselves either. Such was our excitement we weren’t that bothered when the weather decided it was also a good spot to give Margo a wash!
By morning the rains had gone and it was time for a bike ride up into the hills behind Foz. The steady uphill route took us on a circuit through the eucalyptus forest plantations that covered most of the surrounding hills. After the climb, the reward was a long decent down into the town and to the attractive harbour and a lunch of meatballs for Lesley and tortilla & beans for me.
Whilst the washing machines did a fine job on the sloshing spinning the smalls, unfortunately the tumble dryers weren’t quite as efficient and Margo ended up decked out with pegged out lines draped with a multicoloured assortment of partly damp pants.
Galicia surprised us, we’d read about the long rainy seasons but (given where we live) we weren’t prepared for the greenness that comes with the precipitation. Compared to the popular south, the most north west province is vastly underrated, which is totally unjustified.
The mountainous interior produces deep river valleys. The green wooden landscape is often blanketed in what we began to recognise as the ubiquitous eucalyptus. The greenness of the interior, is fringed by a rugged coastline with rocky inlets, interspersed with beautiful sandy beaches.
The coast of Galicia is where the Bay of Biscay meets the Atlantic bringing very strong currents. Apparently it was the British newspapers that first coined the term ‘Coast of Death’ Costa da Morte after the many shipwrecks on the stretch of coast from Malpica to Fisterra,
Useless fact 436 – Did you know, due to the high number of shipwrecks in this area at the end of the 19th century, it became law to ensure there were sufficient life jackets for every sailor onboard ships.
Famous for its Roman walls, Lugo was our next destination. The guide books say “The grand Roman walls encircling old Lugo are considered the best preserved of their kind in the world” However what the guides fail to point out, the city inside and surrounding it’s historical walls have been disfigured by years of hideous crimes against fenestration.
There is no kind way of putting this – The combined conspiratorial exploits of the Galician town planners and the regions window manufacturers, have turned Lugo into an ugly town. If Caesar‘s ancient Roman crowds were around now I have no doubt their view would be a case of thumbs down!
Praia do Ariño is an inlet on the Atlantic coast 40km north of Finisterre where Margo found a great spot amongst the trees only a few yards from the beach. We had the place to ourselves most probably because the signs now say it has now been undesignated as a MoHo parking place. I suspect, judging by the numerous picnic tables amongst the trees, the change has been made to accommodate the volume of in season visitors – shame.
After the overnight rain had eased we continued round this most westerly stretch of Europe’s coastline. The Galicia region of Spain has really tuned out to be a gem and somewhere to come back to. It’s an attractive mix of small fishing villages, powdery beaches, rugged sea cliffs topped with distant lighthouses. Most famed is the spectacular Cape Finisterre, a rocky peninsula that the Romans believed to be the end of the world.
This old cynic partly thinks the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage has been taken over and is now a money making scheme for those souls who are looking to find themselves! However there are multiple ways to follow the route of Saint James. If the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela wasn’t enough ‘cleansing’ the Camino de Fisterra is the final encore to the end of the world.
The bronze boot marks the end of the road for the tired pilgrims who have successfully completed the Camino de Fisterra pilgrimage extension. Now ready to start a new and better life, they have been known to burn or throw their shoes into the sea here to symbolise a new beginning.
For us it’s not yet time to burn our boots as our ‘journey’ to complete the calling to Rías Baixas and to ‘find ourselves’ amongst the Albariño grapes continues.
Dave & lesley
PS – Thanks to Gary and Jen for opening up our Paris postmarked mail. . . On 2nd thoughts!
The walk from Cain de Valdeón to Poncebos ( Cares Gorge) is just 7 miles. To drive there is 65 miles and 7,125ft of climb and 7,875 of decent, and when you get there, parking a 7.45m motorhome is nigh on impossible. So we went. Arriving late afternoon we needed to wait until most of the cars had gone then we secured one of the only near-level spot for Margo to sit it out till morning.
Our chosen spot was luckily right above the entrance to the funicular railway so in the morning we didn’t have far to go. Our plan was to take the funicular up the 400m to the village of Bulnes and save our energy for the steep descent back down to Poncebos.
Because of Covid-19, we were a bit concerned in case the train might be too crowded, we needn’t have worried as apart from us and the attendant there were two other tourists and three locals delivering bread.
There are no routes for vehicles up to the village so traditionally, the only options were the strenuous two-hour trail from Poncebos or the mountain path from Sortres 5 miles away.
We kept asking ourselves, why build a village here when it is so inaccessible, it’s mad, no really it is. Some might say it’s a hill farmers idyll but no. To want to live in this location is mad, completely bonkers! I bet in 2001 when the village found they could reach civilisation in 7 minutes – the villagers said “Nah, thanks very much but we’d prefer to walk”…!
Leaving the village we climbed up for 15 mins to the observation deck to Mirador Del Naranjo De Bulnes. Right so now I get it – If we build a house up here (Bulnes) we’ll be able to walk up the hill a bit and look at this big peak 10 miles away! Oh why didn’t you say so before!
Daisy was a little camera shy at first, but once we’d paid her agent the royalty fee, she turned on the charm. She wasn’t really that bothered as the hillside grass was much more interesting.
The village is well kept and has rustic mountain charm and had a few quad bikes and ultra small trucks, which had presumably put the now redundant donkey out to enjoy its well deserved retirement A couple of restaurants appeared to be doing ok, but it wasn’t obvious if it was because of the tacky flora arrangements or in spite of them. When you live in this stunning landscape I don’t really think it needs brightly coloured plastic embellishments even if some are purple….
The 2 .5 mile path down must have been a real hard slog for the donkey to get supplies from Poncebos. In places it’s perilously steep, rocky and narrow. With two legs, going down is harder on the knees, however looking at the faces of the walkers we passed coming up (as we went down), I’m convinced that the 17 euros for the funicular is better spent coming up than going down.
High on a hill was a lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo
Loud was the voice of the lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo
When we came upon this spot I thought I might go home and rip out our attempt at a water feature. Whoever nature did its water feature apprenticeship with but they were really good tutors!
By the time we got to the bottom we were tired out and in need of some food and refreshments. The first (and only) place we came across in Poncebos had socially distanced outside tables. I was only wearing my buff and was told I needed a proper mask which was fine. We had one large cheese sandwich for me and Lesley had this enormous wedge filled to the gunnels with 3 large pork lions, sorry loins. One was enough and a quarter of the bread.
Adequately (!) replenished, it was back to Margo and to our next destination on the coast this time.
Spanish researchers have found evidence of dinosaur tracks belonging to the Upper Jurassic, between 140 and 160 million years old.
So there is some serious fossils to be found on the Asturias coast if you know what you are looking for. We don’t. Anyhow we scratched around blindly at the bottom of the cliffs and after 20 minutes came up with a rock in the image above. We decided to quit whilst we were ahead.
After all the walking in the Picos in the last few days it was nice to kick back and relax by the beach before planning where to go next.
Dear Clair Rayner,
The Spanish coronavirus regulations of wearing masks outdoors appears to be strictly observed. Everyone we’ve seen outside has been dutifully wearing a mask. However I have to confess as today was a warm 26 degrees, we went off to Playa de Rodiles beach searching for fossils amongst the rocks, had a paddle in the surf and a walked along the near deserted mile long beach. But Clair, with only a few folk around I wasn’t always wearing my mask. While I know this was against the rules, at the same time it didn’t feel so wrong. What would you have done? And do you think I need to pay a visit to Go Outdoors or Decathlon and get myself a new moral compass?
Stay safe and well everyone
Toodle Pip, Dave & Lesley
The recently launched Earthshot Prize is a global environment prize, centred around five ‘Earthshots’, that aims to incentivise change and help repair our planet over the next 10 years. The £50 million prize intends to provide at least 50 solutions to the world’s greatest environmental problems and has Prince William and David Attenborough as flag bearers.
In spite of his longevity David Attenborough has said he may not be around in 2030 to see the results of the Earthshot initiative. Although David goes back a bit, even he wasn’t around when Frias, our location today was first settled. Frias is considered to be the smallest “city” in Spain having been given that title in 1435.
From Frias we found an easy walk to the small hamlet of Tobera along a forested trail with wild, thyme, lavender, juniper, walnuts, figs and all manner of unknown berries and nuts. The figs and walnuts featured later in our tea. – BUT beware of small worms hiding in unidentified nuts!
Back in Frias, a wander around the neatly presented medieval village (strangely short of other tourists) provided some good photo opportunities. Frias strikes an imposing silhouette with the castle looking disdainfully at the tiers of houses tumbling down the terraced hill below.
“Cleese: I look down on him because I am upper-class. – Barker: I look up to him (Cleese) because he is upper-class; but I look down on him (Corbett) because he is lower-class. I am middle-class. – Corbett: I know my place. . . . . Cleese: I get a feeling of superiority over them. – Barker: I get a feeling of inferiority from him, (Cleese), but a feeling of superiority over him (Corbett). – Corbett: I get a pain in the back of my neck.”
leaving Frias we had a tough drive via Torrelavega and then on a difficult route with sections of narrow motorhome unfriendly passages ready to rip the sides out of Margo. We’d driven through quite a bit of wet and cloudy weather so when we arrived at Posada de Valdeón with a forecast of dry, cold but sunny days ahead we were relieved it was such a idyllic spot.
From the aire most of the previous reviews talk of a great taxi service to transport you down and back to Cain from where you start the Ruta del Cares walk. We rang Conchi the English speaking taxi driver, she was lovely but unfortunately in Madrid as she wasn’t anticipating fares out of season.
Conchi gave us some good tips to enable us to use our bikes to get to Cain. She also suggested stopping off on the way down at Chorco de los Lobos. This is where wolves used to be enticed into a narrowing stockade, then once corralled they would be forced into a stone pit at the end.
The rest of the journey down the 8km decent reinforced the steepness of the return journey and our plan to find a taxi to bring us and the bikes back up to Margo waiting patiently in Posada de Valdeón.
The Cares Gorge trail was first opened along the Cares river‘s canyon between 1916 and 1921 to provide access for workmen and materials during the construction of the level channels that transported water through and around the mountainside to the Camarmeña hydroelectric plant in Poncebos.
500 men were needed to mine and excavate the 12 kilometre route of the canal, though and around these limestone mountains. 11 men died in its construction. And as you gawp at the breathtaking scenery through which this spectacular natural gorge route takes, it’s easy to overlook the ingenuity, courage and skill it took to construct.
Improved and expanded between 1945 and 1950 the Cares gorge is now one of the most well known routes in the Picos de Europa.
The route was mainly good underfoot except in the tunnels where there were puddles after the recent rains, although you still had to take care as it was a long way down.
After 9.5 kms we stopped and had our butties before heading back. The mainly level waking made the total we covered (on foot) of 6 miles feel easy. But we both agreed the 23km return route would have been a challenge!
Our only remaining challenge was to get the bikes in the back of the taxi – Right said Fred “Have to a wheel off, that there wheel is going to have to go…” Even with the wheel off we were getting nowhere and so. . . .
Useless fact 434 – Did you know “An hórreo is a typical granary from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula (mainly Galicia, where it might be called a Galician granary, Asturias and Northern Portugal), built in wood or stone, raised from the ground (to keep rodents out) by pillars” – There you go
Well, the ride down, the walk, the sunning scenery had made it a day to remember, to recommend and to come back for more of…!
Toodle Pip the noo
Dave & Lesley
As a fan of Genesis’s early stuff, one of my favourite tracks is ‘Firth of Fifth’ from the Selling England By The Pound album. The highlights of the track include Tony Banks’ piano introduction, Mike Rutherford’s flute piece and Steve Hackett’s haunting guitar solo which have received much critical acclaim. The lyrics have received less favourable reviews, but they hold a special feeling for me. Especially the last two lines…
The Dune of Pilat is the tallest sand dune in Europe. It is located in La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon Bay area, France, 60 km from Bordeaux. It is Europe’s biggest at 377 feet tall in places. The wind shifts the dune as much as 16 feet a year, forcing it to swallow trees from a neighbouring pine forest.
As I was climbing on all fours (stupid idea) up this near vertical wall of sand, each upward lunging foot or handhold would immediately sink back to where it had come from. My heart pounded (pulse 176), my lungs screamed and when I paused to recover rivers of disturbed sand would flow steadily down from above, to exaggerate the futility of this exhausting enterprise. Watching the sand brought the song straight back – “The sands of time are eroded by the river of constant change”.
Gradually making our way south, our general direction was Spain, but also wanting to steer clear of the busy coastal area around San Sebastian (sob, sob we’d just love to call in for some Pintxos). With N10 motorway (mostly) free we made good progress towards Dax and on to an overnight aire at Salies-de-Béarn. Saline water naturally occurs here and our aire was behind the salt factory.
Useless fact 433 – Did you know, “Wagon trains did NOT form a circle overnight or during rest periods for protection from Indian attacks. It was simply to create a makeshift stockade to stop their animal escaping!.
Leaving France was uneventful, the first sign we had crossed into Spain was the price of diesel at 0.95€. As EU countries there is no obvious border between France and Spain. But the N-135 from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France) to Pamplona does involve crossing a mountain range and negotiating a few wriggly bits of road!
As we were still right in the heart of the Basque country the signs in two languages continued to challenge us but we eventually shook off Pamplona and headed first for Estella, then up to Baquedano. This small town is in on the southern fringe of the mountain range that is part of the Urbasa-Andia Natural Park.
Getting to the parking spot for our walk involved a tricky narrow road with concrete ditches to the side. Luckily all the traffic was going in the same direction as us and we soon realised they were all going on the same walk as us. We managed to squeeze Margo into the fast filling car park, as the rains continued falling and still there were more families arriving. However, a quick check and we found we’d chosen to come to a very popular spot on a bank holiday Monday! But, if we waited for the crowds to disperse the chances were the rain would also ease.
Astonishingly by the time we set off, all the crowds had disappeared and were well on the way through the 7km round trip to the waterfalls near Nacedero del Urederra. Coming in autumn was just fantastic with the russet reds, orange, green and yellows colours combining with the blues, greens and white of the river beautifully.
The river is astonishingly beautiful, with some section of the river of a unreal aqua blue colour.
In spite of the compulsory mask wearing (when anyone was about) the walk to see the source of the Urederra river was just brilliant. We’d avoided most of the rain and the crowds. It was great to be out and seeing nature at it’s best, watching the water finding its path, falling over the rocks and changing course to find its way around the boulders . “The sands of time are eroded by the river of constant change”.
Until next time, stay safe
Toodle pip, D&L
To avoid getting to an argument about which is the best weather forecast – BBC, the Met office or Meteoblue – we use all three. I will from time to time for the sake of editorial balance draw upon illustrations from multiple sources. Today it’s Meteoblue’s turn.
We’re not sure it’s the best way of getting a good night’s sleep but so far on the trip we have either outsmarted the worst of the wind and rain or we have timed it so it hammers down on Margo’s tin (sorry aluminium) roof just when we really should be allowed to dream, snore or dribble!
Last night Margo was parked under the blue cross at Coulon 40 kms west of La Rochelle. We chose this bonny spot after reading a review on the ‘Our Tour’ blog which describes it as the Green Venice of France.
Some places at the end of the season can feel a bit unloved, rejected and a little sad as the traders realise their punters and their euros have all disappeared until next spring. Trying to make the best of a bad job after a night of rain probably heightens their sense of futility, especially when the ground is sodden, the cushions are soggy and the boats are half full of water.
Moving on, Margo’s wheels were ready to roll unfortunately there was next to no chance of avoiding shedding mud on the road after a slippery exit from our saturated overnight grassy(!) parking spot. Destination set and we headed off.
However in spite of it only being about an hour since breakfast, we couldn’t resist stopping enroute when we saw a frite van. It reminded us both of holidays in Normandy and Brittany and those old ribbed bullnose Citroen model H vans selling pommes frites in a paper cone.
Our next port of call was Rochefort, a former naval base and dockyard founded in 1665. The cycle path from our aire, followed the river Charente to the docks near the centre of town. Sitting in pride of place is a replica of Hermione a frigate first launched in 1779 and best-known for carrying General Lafayette to America to assist in the American War of Independence against the British.
Similar to the Middlesborough transporter bridge that opened ten years later, the original Rochefort-Martrou bridge was a real accomplishment of 19th-century design and engineering. This 66-metre-high steel behemoth spans the Charente a short way downriver from the dockyards. Cables suspended from a trolley 50 metres above the water transport a gondola across the river – now just for pedestrians and cyclists.
Margo found her way to a great spot overlooking the lock-protected moorings at Mortange sur Gironde. We liked it so much we decided to drop anchor for a couple of nights to watch the comings and goings of the various chandlers and most likely expensive yacht maintenance providers.
Useless fact 432 – Did you know, in medieval times, a chandlery was the area of the house which kept candles and the wax used to make candles.
Komoot once again found us a fine cycle route between Étauliers and the fortified town of Blaye. An old railway track (now tarmaced and well signed) gave us a pleasant 18 miles of level initially tree lined cycling, amongst the profusion of vines in Bourg and Blaye – The oldest wine region in Bordeaux.
2/3rds of the way along, as the route entered a small hamlet, a frantic frenchman in a car stopped to ask us (in english) if we’d seen his small ‘black‘ dog. We said no, but if we did see it, we’d return with it. We re-joined the cycle track and after a couple of hundred yards there was this (definitely not black) King Charles Spaniel on it’s own. Once we’d made a fuss of him we had little difficulty herding it back to the spot where we’d originally met his owner. After flagging down two cars the next one was pouch’s Dad this time coming the other way.
It was a cute dog and the man was very grateful for our help. “you’re very welcome in France” was his parting farewell. As we cycle off feeling chuffed that we’d been able to help.
At the risk of coming over all noble or preachy, I often bang on about the kindness of strangers we’ve experienced on our travels and I’m a big fan of ‘pay it forward‘ but today’s experience was a lovely reminder of the rewards the helper or giver receives from helping others. A serious point but true – And one I’ll try to remember.
It seems the Citroen model H frite van lives a different life in Bordeaux. By “it’s okay to wine” I don’t think they mean grumble or moan.
Gotta dash we’re booked in for socially distanced wine tasting at our overnight France Passion stop. Tonight is free parking with electric and no obligation to buy the wine. Oh but it would be so rude not to…
We are pleased with what lockdown has helped us to achieve in the garden, but when the restrictions under lockdown started easing our thoughts turned to planning for our travels. In an impulsive moment I signed us up for a Carthago UK Owners Club three day gathering in York, as I thought it might make an ideal shake down run prior to a bigger trip.
Charlie II also seemed to like this idea and inexplicably got quite excited imagining there would be plenty of Margo Leadbetter types at such a gathering. Questioned further Charlie revealed he was fed up being in the closet and from now on he’d like to change his name to ‘Margo the Carthago’ In fact she suggested, it was about time I took off her scruffy winter wheels and tyres and fitted her with the shiny aluminium wheels and summer tyres we had stored in the garage.
The UK Carthago Owners Club turned out to be nothing like the Leadbetters, but instead a welcoming down to earth friendly bunch , who not unlike us had invested their savings in a Carthago as a way of living their dream. As an unexpected bonus MTC was very pleased to introduce Lesley and I to her original owners Terry & Dot who now own a very nice Carthago Chic E-line 51 QB. Margo was most impressed!
We like many others have found it difficult to fully understand the fast changing rules that followed the simplicity of lockdown. Especially when travelling between England and Lesley’s home town in Scotland. Our current understanding is: it’s not going to just go away – a vaccine is probably coming but is 6 months away – the majority are taking it seriously – but some are not – the economy needs society to function – for the sake of our mental health life has to go on – we shouldn’t abandon common sense – we should act responsibly.
The data provided by the New York Times has been very useful in helping us decide where we should go. Like the local restrictions being imposed in England -France, Spain and many other potential European destinations have very varying numbers of Covid cases. Our plan (along with the weather forecasts) is to stay in touch with what’s happening around us and alter our plans to suit. Living in a motorhome it’s quite possible to have very limited contact with other people, aside from food and fuel shopping, where we take care to avoid taking risks.
Matt Lucas summed up the latest advice from Boris “So, we are saying don’t go to work, go to work. Don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work,” Lucas spluttered. “Stay indoors. If you can work from home, go to work, don’t go to work, go outside, don’t go outside. And then we will or won’t, something or other….” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WT59lu4tCU
With her first MOT passed, cab serviced, habitation and gas checks completed, Margo was ready to roll. But where to?
We feel incredibly lucky, privileged as retired, financially free, reasonably healthy people who have the chance to go off and explore. We have this possibility and although we may also feel slightly guilty we aren’t going to waste the opportunity we have.
When we were leaving France avec vitesse back in March we found a great aire at Neufchatel-en- Bray which held about 18 vans but was clean, well organised and about two hours from Calais. We decided to return there choosing a mainly non toll route and arrive still with no fixed plan of what next but decide to land for a couple of nights whilst we assess what to do next.
As born again cyclists, we’re discovering how biking is a great way to see nature, enjoy fresh air and explore. With great cycle paths and quiet lanes the Normandy countryside around Neufchatel-en- Bray was perfect for settling us back into our routines.
Nearby to our aire we came across allotments buy the side on the path. Lesley was especially interested in the tall spiral metal canes for the tomatoes to grow up. It all looked very productive in spite of a distinct lack of leaves? Personally I was more impressed by their ability to grow satellite dishes…
After a relaxing start, looking at the weather we had intended to head for the coast before the forecast wind and rain came through. Honfleur has a large motorhome stopover very close to the town with great views across the inland waterways.
After an afternoon strolling the town (observing the compulsory wearing of masks outside) as we returned to the waiting Margo we got talking to an English couple Martin in a van nearby. We would have loved to have been more sociable but the nagging concerns of Covid-19 inhibit normal sociability. However they did pass on some good tips regarding motorhoming in Portugal and Spain which we’ll follow up later.
Honfleur is a attractive place with boats in the sheltered harbour backed by a network of medieval streets, so we could imagine that it would be heaving in the height of summer. Out of season it was quiet whether this is entirely due to the time of year – or more likely the effects of the Coronavirus.
On our second night deciding to eat out, it wasn’t difficult to find a harbourside table in a restaurant with just one other couple. Our galettes washed down with local cidre was enjoyable, but we felt the pricing may have been set to make up for the lack of custom.
We had half a plan to head north west for the likes Quimper and Concarneau but a close look at the weather maps showed storm Alex would hit that corner with 60-70 mph winds so we changed our minds and headed south in the general direction of Alençon. We later read winds of more than 110 mph were recorded in Brittany on Thursday and Friday!
Avoiding the toll roads we made good progress on the smaller D roads and see more at the slower pace of a less direct route that is interspersed with the occasional village. The landscape in this region is littered with half timbered buildings many in the rural parts in need of TLC or renovation. Mmmmm there’s an idea!
Chosen as one of the ‘prettiest villages in France’, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei was a good spot for a bit of Komoot-researched bicycling . We also intended to stay the night . When arrived it was certainly pretty and pretty narrow to drive a 7.45m motorhome through. The second challenge was the 2m height restriction on our planned overnight free (close to village) parking spot.
Finding a temporary parking spot in a rain soaked car park, we set off on the planned bike route in search of a couple of interesting river crossing points. The first one was meant to be a raft with a wire to pull yourself across, but unfortunately had closed 3 days before… Whilst I struggled to keep my bike in lower gears we carried on in search of the ‘bridge of five stones’. We did find the location indicated by the Komoot app but no bridge. however after hunting in several places we were about to give up when Lesley spotted an overgrown sign for Pont de cinq pierres, voila!
With parking limited we abandoned our beau village and set course for a overnight parking spot 20kms down the road at Fresnay-sur-Sarthe. We joined on a free parking spot next to the recycling bins by a rarely seen GB plated motorhome. We would have been up for a safe disanced chat but curtains were still drawn when we left for Le Mans inthe morning.
The town of Le Mans must feel pretty neglected. As most visitors (us included rush by to get to the 24 hour Le Mans circuit. We were quite close when yet another confusing Mal de Sat Nav sent us down a route which lead us, first onto an industrial estate, then a long detour back and round to join a traffic queue that took us eventually 24 minutes later back to where we started… arrrrgh.
With no racing taking place, our target was the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum.
Seen through a 2020 lens there are examples of all manner ridiculous contraptions. Steam powered from Léon Bollée Automobiles and De Dion Bouton Trepardoux Steam Quadricycle from 1890. There were also examples of early electric cars from 1900 that had a range of 310 kms on single charge.
The museum was much more than the story of the 24 hours. Yes it was full of examples across the history of 24h race. However I was most impressed how it also told a brilliant story of automotive development, of mechanical ingenuity, craftsmanship and of the characters involved in the history of motor car manufacturing. Many branches of motor sport have helped advanced everyday motoring. However the 24 hours is first and foremost an endurance race. The test upon the cars, the drivers and the teams behind them is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff.
According to Wikipedia – In 1803, Hayden Wischett designed the first car powered by the de Rivaz engine, an early internal combustion engine that was fuelled by hydrogen. Lesley and I both think the future is H-powered cars, but maybe the risks of crashing a hydrogen fuel tank during competitive motorsports and the interests of big oil have held back the development?
Continuing the British Racing Green theme…. The Bentley Speed 8 that won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2003.
Bentley was the first British manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 2003 win provided Bentley with an unusual 24 hour record: the longest time, 73 years from 1930 to 2003 between two overall Le mans 24h victories for the same manufacturer.
Le Mans is the name of the town that hosts the legendary race course, Circuit de la Sarthe. Much of the 8.46 mile circuit comprises closed public roads.
The circuit has many familiar (to petrol heads) turns and landmarks like Dunlop Bridge, the Esses and the famous Mulsanne Straight . This once single very long straight connected Le Mans and the town of Mulsanne. The straight now has two chicanes to keep top speeds down.
Talking of speeds the quickest cars lap the eight and a half miles in around 3 mins 20 secs. That’s an average of more than 150 mph with top speeds of 210 miles per hour. Le Man authorities are known for its openness to new categories. e.g. diesel, hybrid. So how about motorhomes! The test might be how long would it take to complete a lap in Margo whilst boiling an egg? Just a thought…
Okay, okay, that’s enough about cars already. I promise….!
Toot, toot, peep, peep and Toodle Pip for now
Dave Lesley & Margo
It seems a world away since we cut short our last trip and skedaddled out of France and returned to back to ‘Blighty’ back in March. Oh how things have changed. I’m not sure many of us knew back then how blighted the UK or the world was about to become.
With the global situation becoming ever more serious and as our concerns grew, we became increasingly cautious during the last two weeks travelling through France. On the 14th March when we heard (in a take-away) in Mehon Sur Yevre the French were going into lockdown, we knew it was time to go.
Looking back, our re-entry into the UK via the customs post at Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal seemed very, very casual. No health checks, no masks, and no questions asked. Just a cursory glance at our passports and we were waved through.
Continuing our ‘virtual quarantine‘ in the van, we decided to slowly make our way up country and did our best to observe the principles of the government’s 14 day quarantine. Our first stay at Love Lane Campsite near Hertford had no other campers, so felt right.
We then found a pitch in the car park of the Thaymar Dairy Farm shop. Very handy for isolating from others, yet with fresh produce literally on the doorstep. And… they made their own ice cream – what’s not too like…
Having agreed to let some friends stay in our house until the middle of April, arriving back in the UK mid March we therefore weren’t immediately able to go back home. So we booked ourselves into a campsite five miles from home.
But when a few days later the government announced all UK campsites were to close we started to run out of options. Luckily we persuaded (we’re coming to park on your lawn, you don’t mind do you?) our friends Martin and Dawn to let us stay in Charlie in their garden. Dawn kept us topped up with groceries as we continued our self isolation and took rides out to sample the beautiful but conveniently remote countryside around Crosby Garrett – Where?
Like many others the Covid-19 lockdown encouraged us to tackle some of the ‘elephant in the room‘ jobs around the house and for us our largest land mammal is our rear garden. This area has been the dumping ground for all the stones, rocks and building detritus, left as a task to be tackled some time in the far distant future.
Well, Lesley with the help of Liam, a neighbour’s son, and encouraging noises from me, the three of us set about clearing the multitude of stones, by digging, shovelling, raking, sieving and levelling the soil to prepare this wasteland for a lawn. After a couple of weeks 200 sq/m of turf arrived and was laid in double quick time before we all had to go for a lie down. It’s amazing what can we achieved when you’re metaphorically chained to the job!
As I write this we’ve not finished the construction of the waterfall we planned to compliment our large exposed rock face. However after falling off my mountain bike (cracking a cheekbone, bruising a few ribs and tearing a ligament in my shoulder), this provided the necessary excuse to stop any further hard labour in the garden this year.
With UK garden centres and plants sales in the summer hitting record levels many of us found solace in our gardens. We’re pleased lockdown helped us to achieve what might otherwise taken several years. But not everyone was in the same boat.
‘We’re all in the same boat’ they say
But I would disagree
So many different sailing crafts
Upon this stormy sea
Some sail on ocean liners
In comfort, style, and ease
Relaxing on their balconies
….Sipping their G & Ts
Some speed along in motor boats
As if it’s all ok……
With little care for smaller crafts
Which may get in their way
Some struggle on their battleships
Where nothing’s going right
For the next relentless fight
Some huddle in their lifeboats…
And pray that they’ll be saved
Hoping for a calmer sea…
And fearing every wave
Some drift around upon their rafts….
They barely stay afloat
They’re praying for a change of luck…
And chance to board a boat
Some haven’t found their sea legs yet….
And dread each wave and swell
They’re struggling to stay upright
And don’t feel very well
So whilst you’re on your journey
To a safe and calmer port
Look out for fellow sailors
Who may need some support
Could you throw them a life belt?
Or a paddle or an oar?
Perhaps you could help guide them
A bit nearer to the shore
Well that’s all for now. A blog of our next adventure is currently with the type setters and should be published in the next few days.
Dave & Lesley
We recently witnessed the destructive power of the 2016 earthquake(s) in and around Norcia. We can all also remember the devastating effect of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, the recent Australian bush fires or perhaps more locally living through the awful weather the UK and elsewhere has experienced this winter. These all provide clear reminders of how limited our control is over the power and forces of nature.
We arrived late in the day at the motorhome parking at Marmore Falls to find it busy with other vans. This wasn’t surprising as it was Friday and the weekend is the time when the water is diverted over the falls for a couple of hours to show off the splendour of the falls to dozens of increasingly moist visitors.
The Romans built the Cascata delle Marmore, the world’s tallest artificial waterfall in 271 BC. The falls are an impressive sight. Water from the hills above the city of Rieti flows along the Velino River then it’s channelled to top of the green 165-metre-high cliffs, before plummeting into the valley below.
Generally, the water from the Velino River is directed to feed the Terni hydro-electric complex, with the full flow of water only released at certain times to show off nature’s tremendous power that man first tamed 2,291 years ago.
Missing the sign for the ticket office we had to backtrack and join a very slow-moving queue along with several dozen others. After the water had been released, we were too and we made our way up an assortment of paths that were easy at first but as we climbed got harder, with the spray making it increasingly difficult to get close up photos and staying dry just wasn’t an option. Stopping off to get our breath back at various vantage points when we neared the top we were able to witness a spectacular sight of a rainbow appearing to originate from the bottom of the highest cliff.
If you zoom in you’ll see Charlie waiting patiently in the car park below.
Our reward on reaching the feed channel at the top was a much-deserved ice cream and a short rest before the walk down. Going down is definitely easier than coming up.
Chronicles of Narni
The next morning, we made our way to Narni. A popular place at the weekends judging by the very tightly packed parking spot, with six vans already occupying most of the available space. Charlie breathed in and we managed to fit him in on the end. Extracting the bikes from the garage we found my bike had a puncture on the front tyre, but with tools at hand we changed the tube faster than a F1 pit stop.
We started with a quick wheel around the town before dropping steeply down through the narrow streets, we found our way onto the old railway track that we followed under a Roman bridge and along a busy road.
Leaving the the road, signs indicated a track that followed the river which flowed into a beautiful shallow pool with crystal clear water, where people were enjoying the sunshine and chilling on the decking around the river bank.
Our route back was on the disused railway track, where lots of families were enjoying the level walking and sometimes oblivious to our friendly bell tinkling. The uphill road section back into Narni was a little steep but the thought of ice cream at the top kept us going.
With all the other motorhomes now gone (I must have a talk with our Charlie), we decided to do the same and headed for San Gemini, where we found a free spot and spent a quiet night parked up with some ambulances.
With a course set for Orvieto we stopped off for a brief look around the small hilltop town of Todi. Parking was at the foot of the town, but next to a free funicular that whisked us up to the town and its attractive main square. It was very pleasant to wander around in the sunshine, but with no obvious places open for lunch and not much else to detain us, we continued on our way to Orvieto.
The MoHo parking area at Orvieto was a few hundred yards away from a busy motorway and between two railway lines one of which carried the Frecciarossa (red arrow) the Italian equivalent to France’s TGV, so it seems we were in for a noisy night.
After ordering bread and croissants for the morning from the site manager, we settled in resigning ourselves to a night spent listening out to see if we could detect the the difference between trans regional and the high-speed trains.. Such fun!
Somewhat sleep deprived, the next day (after our compensatory jam filled croissants) we took the conveniently located funicular railway up to the town and bought a multiple ticket for various attractions including the first, at the Pozzo di San Patrizio, or St. Patrick’s Well.
The central well shaft with two helical ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to carry empty and full water vessels separately in downward and upward directions without obstruction.
The well has 427 steps, which was no problem at all going down, but “I can tell thee, it were lung bustlingly tough coming backup”.
“Let’s find an ice cream” I said (I’m not an addict), “good idea”, Lesley said. Temporarily sated, our next challenge was the Torre del Moro clocktower guess what yes with more steps and more steps, but I have to confess the view of the town and the surrounding countryside from the top was impressive and worth the effort.
Time to stop going up and go back down again, this time to the fascinating underground complex of the Pozzo Della Cava in the oldest part of the medieval quarter of Orvieto. We discovered later that almost all the houses in Orvieto have caves underneath.
I saw these modern day plastic pots for sale a few yards along from the Museum displaying ancient Etruscan pottery dating back from the 10th to the 1st century BC and couldn’t help but notice the incongruity.
We found a shop down one of the side streets selling some quite unique wood in all forms of art and some really imaginative furniture designs.
To finish off the day we concluded with a visit to the cathedral. Yes it’s an ABC (Another Bluming Castle/Church) but that apart, it was quite unusual on the outside and heavily decorated inside with some famous frescoes.
“Built in 1290, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Italian gothic architecture. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499 and 1504, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante…”.
Feeling a bit tired of all the sightseeing it was time to go back to Charlie and head on to pastures new. But before leaving we needed to service the van (get some fresh water and empty the waste water etc) but once again we discovered the handle on the waste water tank turned but didn’t open the valve….. “Oh flip, what again..!” I said or something similar.
There was nothing else for it but to make arrangements to drive back to Terni to the nearest authorised Carthago garage and get them to look at the problem in the morning. The next day the garage wasted no time in fixing the fault which is apparently a common problem in Italy where the roads are so bad they shake the poor motorhomes to bits and cause issues that Carthago don’t experience in Germany or anywhere else with smooth tarmac!
Maybe when we get to Tuscany the roads will improve (yeah right….!)
But before entering the next phase of our Italian tour we decided we must go back to Orvieto and see Orvieto Underground, that we’d wanted to see but missed off the day before. This time no expense was spared and we propelled Charlie along the smooth toll road to get back in double quick time. Aiming for an English-speaking guided tour we parked up on the top of the town, close to the centre. As we had arrived in good time, for completeness and for research purposes we thought we’d also sample more of the ice cream flavours we’d missed from the day before (have I mentioned how good Italian ice cream is).
We both agreed returning to go on the tour was worthwhile and were impressed with the knowledge and the enthusiasm of the guide but doubt that photos can really do an experience like this justice.
Returning to Orvieto’s magnificent Duomo for a moment. This is considered one of the must-see churches in Italy because of its stunning gold-and-mosaic Gothic facade and magnificent frescoes. BUT I can’t help thinking that if the Italians spent half the money they spend on churches on their roads, they could really improve the country’s road accident statistics (just a thought?).
Ok, so let’s set a new course for Tuscany. However we have been avidly following the news of the Coronavirus Covid-19 strain coming from Italy which has become increasingly worrying – particularly the increasing number of cases in Lombardy and Trento.
Deciding to overnight in Montepulciano, we talked about what to do. Tuscany has been the area we have been looking forward to exploring the most, with Florence, Siena, Pisa and so many other smaller places we have planned to visit. BUT as we have journeyed around we have been swithering more and more over the worsening situation with the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Should we make a mad 650km dash for the French border, are we panicking? In the end we decided rightly or wrongly, for now, to carry on with the next part of the trip but to take sensible precautions and keep a watchful eye on developments in Italy and elsewhere.
In the morning we woke and said. “Let’s go to France”, we’ll come back and see Tuscany another time.
Right better Toodle Pip then…
Dave and Lesley (safe and well in Provence)
PS Depending on your political point of view you may wish to ignore the linked article below by Will Hutton, that suggests that collectively perhaps we can influence if not control the power of nature?
Umbria is awash with tiny, medieval, hilltop towns, so we are getting used to the idea that visiting anywhere interesting often involves a fair amount of up. Our 4-mile circular mainly level walk around Spoleto today was a bit different. Above Spoleto’s old town is a medieval Rocca and spanning the deep gorge to one side of the Rocca is the town’s most famous sight, the Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers.
The bridge is an ancient Roman aqueduct rebuilt in the 1300s that used to be possible to walk across, but access has been restricted and it is currently closed awaiting a structural health check following the 2016 earthquake.
Circular routes are marvellous for getting you back to where you started…
Once we’d reached the top of the bridge it was mainly level walking with great views of the Rocca and the aqueduct.
Extract from the Life of Brian
What have the Romans ever done for us…? Xerxes: ” The aqueduct. Reg: Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true, And the sanitation! Oh yes… sanitation, Reg, you remember what the city used to be like. Reg: All right, I’ll grant you that the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done… Matthias: And the roads… Reg: (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads… the roads go without saying. But apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation and the roads.. Masked Activist: Irrigation… Medicine… Education… Health… Reg: Yes… all right, fair enough… Activist Near Front: And the wine… Francis: Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if the Romans left, Reg. Masked Activist at Back: Public baths! Stan: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now. Francis: Yes, they certainly know how to keep order… (general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this. (more general murmurs of agreement)
Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us? Xerxes: Brought peace! Reg: (very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) Peace, yes… shut up!
Sometimes walks can include a sting in the tail, maybe a steep uphill finish, with our walk today the opposite was true, an unusual and welcome easy finish. Our path had descended down about 500ft to the river and to the lower part of the town. However, to save the walk back up, the clever townsfolk of Spoleto have installed multiple escalators to transport you up to the Rocca and to the top of the town – What a brilliant idea.
Our view from the top. It was a tough job being carried up the 7 escalators to get here! How disappointed were we when after all that effort only to find we’d left the ice cream kitty back at Charlie…
Vallo di Nera
Heading to Norcia along the Nera river valley we broke the journey with an overnight stop at the small sleepy hilltop town of Vallo di Nera.
It’s easy to imagine how this well maintained, pretty little village might attract visitors in the summer, but as we walked around it was deserted. If anyone lived there they must have been having lunch or hiding.
Charlie’s parking spot looking down on the river Nera. We chose this place especially to take advantage of the La Taverna Del Bordone (just out of shot), only we’d come up on a Wednesday, the only evening the restaurant closes.
Agricamping Brandimarte was a small farm on the outskirts of Norcia, with electric hook up, a farm shop and a ‘meal to your van‘ service. As we had timed our visit to Norcia to coincide with the annual black truffle fair, our tagliatelle was accompanied with olive oil and truffle shavings – delicious.
The Nero di Norcia, is the biggest agricultural fair in Umbria and gathers together all the “trufflers” and shepherds of the area. In spite of the major rebuilding work going on all over town amidst the destruction from the 2016 earthquake, stalls lined the main street selling all manner of traditional local products such as prosciutto (ham), sheeps milk cheese, lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia, and other products of the area.
This boar’s truffling day are over, a truffle hunter has riffled him now he looks a trifle ruffled to be a truffler’s trophy….. groan!
On 24th August 2016 a earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 occurred with its epicentre 6.5 kms southeast of Norcia. In October 2016 there was a second quake causing further widespread destruction in the area trapping scores under debris and killing in total 247 people.
Norcia was the closest town to the epicentre, the medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, was among buildings destroyed, with just its facade left standing.
Three and a bit years after the earthquake Norcia is gradually being rebuilt. The building in this image has a giant image of what it once looked like fixed to the scaffold supporting what is now left.
After buying some black truffle sauce at the fair we also brought some bread. These enormous loaves were about 2ft long. We paid €5 for a quarter of one, that we sliced and froze to keep us in butties for days.
Heading up into the Sibillini Mountains the long narrow and virtually deserted road wound its way upwards though several switchbacks with barriered sections where the road had collapsed. All the way up there were great views looking back down on Norcia from above.
From a distance Castelluccio looks the same as it has done for 1,000 years, a beautiful hilltop town in the midst of one of Italy’s most celebrated plains, the Piano Grande. But even from the road below the village you can see the buildings are shattered, roofs have collapsed, it’s more reminiscent of a war zone than the Umbrian countryside.
I expect the few remaining inhabitants of the town could do with the tourist dollars, but we decided it would be wrong to stop and gawp morbidly at the rubble that is now Castelluccio.
“La Fioritura“, the spectacular summertime showing of wild flowers in the meadows of the Piano Grande will no doubt once again bring in the visitors. The flowers were absent as we drove through a landscape that reminded us a bit of the altiplano in Bolivia, but had an Italy-shaped forest to catch the eye!
As we said before Armco is a neglected bit of the travellers landscape, so we pleased to include a section in this photo. Judging by the drop on the other side the person responsible for this barrier’s re-shaping is pleased too!
When you discover a wild camping spot as good as this it is very difficult to pass it by. We spent a very peaceful night there under the stars, and left early the next day to descend down the valley to Pretare.
Forgive the pun but we weren’t prepared for the drive through Pretare. It was very sobering to go along the cleared road that wound its way through what was once a fairly ordinary small mountainside village where 175 people lived.
Witnessing the destruction the earthquake caused close up was quite distressing. It’s difficult to contemplate what it must have been like to have lived through the horror of the quake. And to think of the lives that have been lost and the community that has been destroyed. We only got the merest glimpse of the aftermath of their terrible experience and can only imagine how hard it must be for these people to try to rebuild their lives.
Over the last few years we have become more and more interested in the performance of our pension pot. We now keep a keen eye on the growth or otherwise of the various stocks and markets our pension pot is invested in. When thinking of which markets might perform well in the future, trainers (or sneakers to use the American name) probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. But according to newly released research, some trainers could be a better investment than gold.
For example, there are the Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Denims, which originally sold for $65 in 2002 and are now reportedly worth over $4,000. There are also the Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, which retailed for $250 in 2014 and are now worth $5,655.
It was 80 miles from San Marino to the free Montecorona Abbey Ristorante car park 5 mins south of Umbertide, so we were quite tired when we arrived. Judging by the number of diners’ cars the restaurant is doing a roaring trade. Which leads me to suspect they are serving up something a bit more appetising than the plain fare Monks have to live on, of just black bread, plain water and vegetables?.
The modern-day church is in an attractive setting built on the site of an old Cistercian abbey. It’s a peaceful spot situated beneath a wooded mountain and surrounded by fields. The crypt of the Abbey dates back to 1000 AD and quite different from the simple church above which felt neglected with some worn frescoes and in need of a good dusting.
We didn’t quite understand why each of the stone columns was strangely different from its neighbour. Curious?
Leaving the Abbey behind our trusty bikes took us up the tarmac road that initially avoided the steepest climb by going between the wooded hills. We did feel a bit guilty when we powered passed a cyclist on a road bike peddling up the tarmac incline without the benefit of an e-motor. Our circular route took us back via an off-road section that went very steeply uphill, (this steep rocky bit soon wiped away our smugness) before a rough descent, where the challenging downhill had us pulling hard on the brakes, before hitting the water splash and onto the road section back to Charlie.
Perugia, the capital of Umbria, famous for the architecture of its historic centre, its wealth of art works and well-known cultural and artistic reputation, was the obvious next town to visit,
So that’s where we went. But I have to report dear reader that although we did spend 30 minutes circling the Perugia one-way system multiple times, in the end its maze of tunnels got the better of us and our not-so-clever Garmin sat nav. Four times we entered the tunnel on the one-way system, each time trying a different exit strategy, only to be forced back to repeat the process in order to entertain the locals enjoying our merry-go-round whilst siting outside drinking their café latte’s and expressos.
So Assisi it is then….
Seeing as the historic centre of Assisi is built on a significant bump we thought one of the best ways to see the place was by bike (with a little help from a couple of 75Nm electric motors). Komoot found us a ‘sneak up on it gradually’ route but we were still breathing hard by the time we reached the level of the Duomo or the Cathedral of San Rufino.
One of our friends said to us to say hello to Frank but who was he?
Born in Italy circa 1181, Saint Francis of Assisi was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison — awaiting his father’s payment — and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty. Consequently, he abandoned his life of luxury and became a devotee of the faith, his reputation spreading all over the Christian world.
Today, Saint Francis is the patron saint for ecologists — a title he received apparently to honour his boundless love for animals and nature.
Right that’s enough of that, lets talk tractors.
Our parking spot (€18) had uninterrupted views of Assisi old town, but the sosta was closer to the commune of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where Assisi railway station is. Whilst Lesley watched a scary film I decided to go explore and nearing the station I heard horns and powerful engines revving.
Following the noise, I stumbled upon the closing stages of the Assisi’s Farmers’ Day 2020. Where over 300 tractors and agricultural vehicles plus an estimated one thousand people had gathered from all over Umbria and the neighbouring regions. To me it just looked like an excuse for the boys to get out and show off their toys.
After leaving Assisi, Spello was targeted as a stopover identified as somewhere with a selection of well-regarded eateries. It was also a chance to give our chef extraordinaire a well-deserved night off. Especially as she’d been required to work her normal shift on Valentines’ Day.
As predicted it was quite a hike from Charlie, up the deceptively steep ramps and through a maze of small alleys to get to the main street to see which of the recommended restaurants we fancied and more importantly which were open.
With limited options it wasn’t hard to choose Ristorante La Cantina Di Spello which had in fact been our first choice. At another time of the year we were convinced it would be much harder to get a table. At 7:30 we didn’t mind being the first ones in, convincing ourselves the emptiness meant ‘we’d discovered it‘, that was until 9pm when all the cool trendy locals started arriving and hugging and greeting the staff.
The Head Chef heading home after her night off
Talking of being cool and trendy I have a tip to share with all the many fashionistas reading this blog. Cropped jeans or short bell-bottom trousers in combination with loud striped long socks appear to be all the rage in Italy. So anyone who’s already going around wearing tight trousers that have shrunk in the wash and Jon Snow socks – You’re hip and cool man.
Dave & Lesley
Oh in case you’re interested I’ve also come up with a fantastic idea for a footwear investment opportunity. E-boots, yes electric boots, shoes and trainers. Just imagine how fast you could run and how easily you could walk up hills (just like our ebikes). Isn’t it a brilliant idea? Ok so there’s still a bit of work to do on the (Friction Accumulated Recycled All Green Energy) technology or FARAGE for short…… But I’m convinced it’s the future.
When I saw the Republic of San Marino on the map and a potential place to go my first thought was – oh, isn’t there a Grand Prix circuit there? I knew the Italian Grand Prix was also held at the Monza circuit. What I hadn’t appreciated was that San Marino Grand Prix was held 100km’s down the road at Imola.
The Imola circuit had it transpired hosted the Italian Grand Prix whilst the Monza circuit was being remodelled (after numerous tragic fatal crashes). So the owners of the (Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari) circuit asked the Automobile Club, in the nearby Republic of San Marino, to apply for their own Grand Prix and the San Marino Grand Prix was born.
The road from Rimini on the coast was a twisty turny affair as it rose up from sea level to 1,722 ft and our designated overnight motorhome parking at Borgo Maggiore.
The large motorhome parking area was only a short uphill stretch to the cable car station, where for €4.50 return we were transported up to the centre of the town. Although arriving at the top was bit of a shock as we were immediately confronted with 30 or 40 tourists jostling to take selfies of the hazy views below.
Disappointed to discover we were going to have to share the place with others. We set off on a route away from the groups lead by guides holding up widgets on telescopic sticks, we climbed our way up to the first of the three main castles on the top of the long ridge that San Marino is built on.
Aside from no GP circuit and the attractive castles founded in 1301, San Marino which is also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, claims to be the oldest constitutional republic in the world. It also has the smallest population of all the 47 members of the Council of Europe and the 3rd highest GDP per capita in the world. However, I suspect the lower levels of TAX than in Italy, mean purchases (perfumes, clothing etc) are cheaper and a draw for bargain hungry shoppers.
As we wandered around the maze of cobbled streets, posing and framing shots of the historic centre, it’s was a tough job to avoid the gauntlet of bizarre temptations us and our fellow tourist had to resist. I wanted us to buy a witch’s broomstick, but Lesley said no, we should take the cable car back down to Charlie.
When visiting NT properties in the UK, we are used to seeing the attractively packaged grapefruit and lime fragranced gel candles. Here San Marino probably also sells scented candles but we saw more than one outlet selling crossbows, a serious selections of guns, ammunition and some very lethal looking knifes.
I suspect owning a retail outlet here in the height of the summer is quite lucrative. But what should you choose to sell? Whatever your product choice is obviously very important, when you’re competing for a share of the tourist dollar is to make sure you get your ducks in a row!
After a few of hours of castling, our empty stomachs got the better of the chains around our wallet and we succumbed to lunch in surprisingly reasonably priced San Marino restaurant.
Reflecting later, given its hilly topography, with no flat ground and its narrow winding streets. The idea of staging a Grand Prix circuit on this most un-serene rock would be a pretty stupid one.
No, hang on here’s a thought… what about if instead of F1 cars they raced Fiat 500’s?
Although our stay was a brief one night affair, I was quite disappointed in Castel Bolognese. For a start they don’t have a castle and bolognese is apparently in reference to the famous meat sauce said to originate from down the road in Bologna, but where they also don’t have a proper castle!
Swiftly moving on…
I have to say our arrival in Brisighella wasn’t text book. Turning off the main road as directed by camper parking sign, we were immediately confronted with a 2.5m width restriction (Charlie is 2.3m wide). Managing to squeeze the van between the rear of 4 parked cars and an immovable roadworks sign, we were about to cross an unmanned railway line when we realised the road ahead was blocked by the roadworks. “Oh flip” there was nothing for it but a nervy multi point turn of a 7.5m long motorhome on the railway line. Wasting no time we quickly managed to regain the main road. That’s what you might call a twitchy _ _ _ moment!
Brisighella does have a castle (sorry castel) they also have a nice looking clock tower perched on a rock 400 steps above the town. The clock tower works on a six-hour system, compared to the 12-hour one on my watch. Perhaps that means everything here takes twice as long?
Donkey Alley is a raised and covered road lit by half-moon-shaped arches and said to be the only one of its kind in the world. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries as a defence fortification, it was later used for carrying chalk on donkeys from the quarries in the surrounding valley.
Brisighella’s history originates from an unexpected source. The surrounding hills are rich in gypsum, which was used by the Romans in making cement. Gypsum crystals were used as glass panes.
La Rocca fortress was built in 1228, ok so it’s a fortress but it looks like a castle and it’s on a hill. We know it’s on a hill because we cycled up it….
Our bike ride was going to be a there and back affair with the first half all up hill although not too steep. And at least we had the excuse to stop and take a breather and take in the vistas on either side of the ridge.
During our standard visit to the tourist information office we had been told that the area was renowned for it’s gypsum and “is what the town was known for in Medieval times.”
Near the top of the climb we left the bikes to follow a sign to the Continico Cave. We imaged it was just off the road but after 20 minutes of walking down we were about to turn back when the cave appeared. As it turned out it wasn’t that impressive and definitely not worth the slog back up. However as we turned to retrace our steps, we noticed lots of small sparkling crystal-like stones. A quick rub and our trek down was rewarded with a small gypsum souvenir.
We liked Brisighella, we’d had a good ride, recharged all our batteries and (Gary & Jen you’ll pleased to hear) we caught up with essential laundry and van washing.
We can be a bit fussy when it comes to finding the ideal spot to park Charlie for the night, somewhere safe and legal, not too noisy and if possible with a nice sculpture to look at.
At night Ravenna’s old town blossomed with a multitude of attractive looking bars and restaurants, with people sitting outside even in February.
Only opened in December this building was originally a covered market and has been renovated to contain lots of trendy bars and food outlets. We were attracted by a stall selling Piadina, a thin Italian flatbread, typical of the Emilia-Romagna region that is folded and filled. Washed down with beer and wine it was surprisingly good.
Not a particularly detailed mosaic but I liked that with just a few tiles it manages to captures the faraway look of the sitter – It appealed to me.
Lesley cycling past the church of San Vitale where the mosaic’s of the roman Emperor Justinian can be seen and which we only found out later was one of the best in Ravenna.
Cycling in Ravenna is not quite on the Cambridge scale but locals young and old move around on their (not necessarily trendy) bikes with ease. This map from the tourist office was designed to fit on the bikes handlebars and it made navigating our way between the various sites easy.
Whilst touring around the streets we came across a plaque with a quote by Henry James who was a big fan of Ravennna:
“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Our next stopover was about 6km’s south of the city where we found a flat route to cycle alongside a canal where Lesley spotted several beavers living in the riverbank. The track wound its way through the pine forest to a waterway with fishing houses that have huge nets which are lowered into the river.
We intended to cycle as far as Cervia but a local man approached us excitedly and managed to tell us in broken Inglish! If we approached with care we could catch a glimpse of some rare Egyptian Ibis that had flow in from West Africa and were just of the road in the Salt Pans before Cervia.
In making the detour to see the Ibis we headed back along forest track, but only after about a mile Lesley discovered she must have dropped her mobile phone on a ramp near the salt pans. A mad dash followed with Dave arriving at the spot just as two dog walkers simultaneously discovered it. A bit breathless Entalian and the iphone was soon handed over..
With Sat Nav set for our next destination San Marino we made a small detour to find a coastal spot to have our lunch by the sea. We couldn’t face going to Rimini and with almost every other inch of the seaside fronted by hotels, finding a nice place wasn’t straightforward but we did manage at Valverde to locate a seafront carpark with views of the unusual sea defences.
Bypassing Rimini meant missing the eight hundred hotels and one thousand bars, restaurants and nightclubs, but I’m sure we’ll cope!
Before I sign off I thought I’d share a couple of more quotes this time by Groucho Marx;
Outside of a dog, a book is your best friend, and inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.
D & L
When I heard that a German film production company were planning to do a re-make of “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, I didn’t believe it until, when leaving Les Gets we spotted these 3 Mini’s (sorry BMW’s) in the car park at LiDL…., so it must be true. I wonder if they’ll ask Michael Caine to play the lead again?
The German’s aren’t the only one’s off to Italy, after stocking up with supplies we decided to make a quick dash through the Mont Blanc tunnel (€60 ouch) and down the Aosta valley to try to reach some drier weather on the southern side of the Alps.
After a long afternoon’s drive we made it to a MoHo service point close to the town of Biella 60 miles west of Milan. We thought Biella would be a useful stepping stone as they had a Vodafone store in a large shopping Mall. To save retelling all the frustration of how much time Dave has spent on the phone to Vodafone or on their ‘live chat’, trying to organise a replacement for the Vodafone 30GB data SIM….. “No we don’t want a new 12 month contract” Anyway. After checking out a few other data SIM providers, we managed to buy from Vodafone! a 100GB / 90 day contract for 60 euro which we think will last us until we get back.
Heading south and east, we picked out Torrazzetta, an agritourismo just south of Pavia for our next stay. It wasn’t a difficult decision especially when we discovered you could stay for free when eating in their restaurant that served regional dishes complemented by wines they produced themselves.., we thought, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
According to the very friendly English-speaking hostess, Torrazzetta was previously their family farm that in 1984 was transformed by her Grandparents into the first farm stay (agriturismo) in the province of Pavia (possibly the 1st in Lombardy?).
This could be where Marvin Gaye first heard it…..!
We had the parking area in a huge field at the top of the residence carpark to ourselves. There was no electricity or other services but with views of the vineyards surrounding the farm and the rolling landscape beyond it wasn’t too shabby a spot for a couple of nights.
In Italy, agriturismi (that’s the plural form of the word) must by law be working farms, and guests must be served items grown on the farm – whether that’s wine or olive oil from the estate’s vineyards and orchards or fresh produce culled from the house’s small private garden. Many agriturismi pride themselves on not only using ingredients grown on their property but bringing all other foodstuffs required from a short distance away. The focus is often on hyper-local and seasonal food in a rural and picturesque setting
This is Dave on his bike before he and the bike got caked in mud when the route we took went from muddy track to field edge quagmire. Keeping your balance in mud is usually ok unless it’s really thick stuff and you lose momentum. Then, well you might fall into a prickly hedge, but that couldn’t happen could it?
Since Roman times, the unique conditions of the Parma region have made it possible to produce the highest quality hams, that have been appreciated by gourmets for centuries. ‘Prosciutto’ is from the Latin ‘perexsuctum‘ meaning ‘dried‘ – an indication of the purity of Parma Ham production and its ancient roots. It was in 100 BC that Cato the “Censor” first mentioned the extraordinary flavour of the air cured ham made around the town of Parma in Italy.
The centre of Parma was easy to get into taking the no. 23 bus from just outside our Area Camper Sosta, although we ended up not paying as the ticket machine was, as a helpful fellow Italian passenger explained, ‘Kaput’ – I didn’t realise I looked German.
We didn’t end up buying any ham but did have a very nice lunch in the ‘Ristorante Corale Verdi” just by the park. Which meant we of course had to sample prosciutto di parma and a local speciality called torta fritta (fried bread made with butter, flour and milk shaped into pouches). All the while surrounded by the music and images on the walls of Giuseppe Verdi.
This is a small yet prosperous city, that isn’t especially spectacular, but Parma was definitely worth visiting. With lots of competition for the crown of food capital of Italy producing two of Italy’s most famous exports Parmesan cheese and prosciutto gives it considerable bragging rights.
Before leaving we felt the need to get the bikes out again and begin the process of waistline recovery after all the mountain food in Les Gets and for what is to come. It remains to be seen if the Italian cycle routes are as good as those in Germany. But we both got a good work out fighting our way along on the MTB trail we found today.
Italy is starting to get to us, Lesley and I have not yet fully succumbed to all the tempting guiles of Italian food, however our resistance is weakening. Visiting Modena started ok, we felt in control. The usual visit to the I office to pick up a map and tips about the historical centre. Although in a moment of weakness whilst in the tourist office we did accidentally make a reservation for a Balsamic vinegar tasting….oops. Our wallet and waistlines also survived largely intact after the all too tempting excursion around Albinelli indoor market. But dear reader, we have to confess we could not resist the temptations of Modena gelato.
Ferrari – Maranello
Ferrari needs no introduction of course, but I have to confess I wasn’t entirely sure why I wanted to go to see lots of expensive red cars, that wouldn’t fit my 6’4″ frame let alone our bank balance! In the end curiosity got the better of my inverted snobbery.
You don’t have to be a petrol head to get Ferrari. Yes the cars are special but once again it’s the story of the people behind the cars that made this place come alive. Enzo Ferrari started out racing Alfa’s before the war. In 1929 he founded the Scuderia Ferrari team, racing Alfa Romeo’s before borrowing money to start his original factory.
The history of the development of the designs and technology behind the race performance raised the small hairs on the back of my neck. When first setting up the factory in Maranello, the area had many farmers but very few engineers, so Enzo built an academy to train Ferrari’s own. It is difficult not to be impressed. Ferrari is the oldest surviving and most successful Formula 1 team, having competed in every world championship since 1950 and holds the record for the most Grands Prix victories, having won 238 times.
After not being sure why I wanted to go, I ended up enjoying the museum immensely and was especially pleased not to break the F1 simulator which was great fun.
Acetaia Clara – Maranello
Since the friendly chap from the sosta club had recommended a balsamic producer Acetaia Clara we decided to investigate. We navigated into someones back yard following an acetaia sign. Indicating in our best sign language we wanted to taste vinegars, the shop/tasting room was opened up – a large room in an outbuilding. A leaflet was found in English, and soon spoonfuls of rich, dark vinegar were tasted, including vinegar on parmesan cheese.. We ended up buying a 25 year old and a sweet liquid called Saba made from grape must used in desserts.
Acetaia Leonardi – Modena
We had pre-booked another tasting via the tourist information at Acetaia Leonardi. When we arrived it was a very grand looking place.
We had a really informative guide who showed us around the premises explaining how balsamic vinegar is made from slow cooking juice from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, then aged in wooden barrels, each year moving to a smaller barrel with the different woods adding complexity.
What’s really impressive to see is the barrels of 100 old vinegars that were started by the grandparents, knowing they were passing on the legacy to their children and their children’s children, but they would not get to taste the fruits of their labour themselves…..
Ok – so where next?
“This is the Self Preservation Society, This is Self Preservation Society”
In 2018, an estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide purchased goods online. During the same year global e-retail sales amounted to 2.8 trillion U.S. dollars. Ecommerce in the United Kingdom increased in 2019 by 14.6 percent to over 200 billion euros. So I’m not the only one buying a few things on the internet.
Whilst at home over Christmas we decided to back up our batteries and solar panel output with a purchase of an inverter generator. With the idea for it to be shipped to the Ski 2 Chalet in Les Gets for us to collect when we arrived. Searching around the net for the best price etc, I found Generators Direct who had a good selection and lots of technical information. Before ordering I checked with Ski 2 to make sure they were ok to take delivery and rung the Generator Direct number to confirm delivery cost to France.
With all the arrangements in place I went back to the Generator Direct web site and ordered a Honda EU10i Suitcase Generator. Providing the delivery address in Les Gets. as required. Shortly after I received a payment confirmation email.
It was great to be home for Christmas and spend time with the family in Scotland and to enjoy a relaxing time being at home in Cumbria. Our good friends Gary and Jen who had collected us, transported us back to Manchester airport for our flight on the 3rd January and a couple hours later RyanAir landed us back into Bergamo. After a short wait we were transported from the airport and quickly reunited with Charlie II at Booking Camper‘s (local motorhome hire company) storage facility.
The winter daylight was fast fading as we arrived at the entrance to the Area Sosta Camper Città dei Mille in the centre of Bergamo, where we’d spent 2 days in before Christmas, so we soon settled into the familiar surroundings.
Having drained everything down and emptied the tanks before leaving, our first priority was fresh water. However in our haste the fresh water hose was passed into the van, just as Lesley was preoccupied with mopping up a mysterious liquid coming from the fridge area – a quick look into the freezer explained the cause of the smell we’d noticed on initially entering the van. Fish had been left in the freezer 😱 and awful liquid was leaking out.
So whilst Lesley is trying to deal with the smelly fish juice, at the same time filling the fresh water. Dave helpfully comes in, offers to stand on the water hose to keep it in place but instead stands in fish juice in his size 12’s, the hose flails about spraying water everywhere. What a mess!
After much mopping up, the watery re-acquaintance fiasco was ended, or so we thought. Needing food, we elected to make use of the 10% discounted pizza vouchers given out by the camp site. Arriving back Lesley tried to fill kettle – but no water. Someone had asked Lesley to close the outlet valve but someone had not specified which one. Lesley had closed waste water valve not realising there was a second fresh water valve. So, at 10:30 in the evening we were back out in the dark filling the water again so we’re able shower in the morning.
Next day Dave spent the morning fitting the replacement solar charge controller he’d smuggled past the airport security on our return flight from the UK. Which, wait for it, gave us chance to catch up on our washing, yeah…..
As we drove west across Bergamo, our route to washerie was lit by gorgeous winter sunset.
I won’t dwell on small(s) talk, but we spent an interesting! time talking to a local Italian with OCD who spent 60 mins folding his family’s laundry! – Oh we know how to live it up on a Saturday night!
Avoiding the Swiss Vignette or the performance-related heavy vehicle fee (HVF)? or tunnel tolls. There are a few ways to cross the alps either via the one of the high alpine passes or the more expensive tunnels routes. We chose to enter the country via the Simplon Pass.
Making it to the top of the pass before it dusk, reminded of us of making the same journey a few years ago in a hire car without winter tyres. We emerged from a tunnel on the Italian side near the top of the pass to 4 inches of fresh snow. On that occasion we managed to spin, slip and skid our way over the top and on to drier tarmac on the other side.
On this occasion the snow ploughs had cleared the roads days ago including the summit car park, where we enjoyed a quiet night on our own under the stars, with only the early morning trans border commuters to break the silence of the mountains.
The next morning we headed down to the town of Brigg in the valley floor for supplies. 30 kms further on we climbed up again to find the motorhome parking place we’d identified near the small hamlet of Savièse, high above the town of Sion.
Disappointingly the parking area was for some reason fenced off. However we managed to squeeze Charlie on to a levellish spot close by with super views of the mountain villages lightning up the hillside at night.
The next morning we ventured off for a short uphill walk to find the Bisse de Savièse Torrent Neuf. Nieither of us had heard of a Bisse before but reading later up they remind me of the leats we have in the UK (artificial watercourses or aqueducts dug into the ground, more often to supply watermills).
A bisse is an irrigation canal, generally 5 to 10 kilometres long, taking its water from a torrent or small river at the bottom of a side valley resulting from the melting of glaciers. Its purpose is to supply water to various crops, orchards, vineyards or simply meadows for fodder.
The big difference between the Bisse in Switzerland and the leats we have at home are the sections constructed with timbers fixed to the rockface. These channels and super scary walkways carry the water round the contours of the mountain. It is mad, crazy, gravity defying and completely awe inspiringly ridiculous.
As it was winter the walkways are closed (for safety reasons!) I think in all honesty we were rather relieved. Otherwise I may have not be writing this? Clearly we did make it safely back to the van and set off towards Martigny and the French border.
Having planned to just drive through Switzerland we had not stopped to change any euros for Swiss Francs, Stopping at the first bakery, Lesley had the embarrassment of ordering bread (and cakes) only to have put them back when she found they wouldn’t accept euros cor cards.
The route from Martigny over the Col des Montets and the Route de la Forclazto to Chamonix was a proper mountain pass with lots of hairpin bends to negotiate first up then down. Not a journey I would fancy in any vehicle in the depths of winter.
After topping with LPG and supplies in Cluses in the valley we made up the last 15 miles to Les Gets and the Perrieres parking lot, at the bottom of the red ski run making our home a ski in – ski out location for the next few weeks.
I hadn’t expected to hear from Generator Direct over Christmas and the New year holiday period, but as it was the now the 5th January I was beginning to think it strange I had not heard anything regarding a delivery date. Having sent an email the day before I decided to ring them.
There was no answer from the telephone number I ‘d previously used before Christmas. Finding the Generators Direct web site. I rang that number. They had no record of our order. Alarm bells started to ring. Soon all became clear.
Generator Direct it transpired was a clone website of the perfectly legitimate business Generators Direct.
We spent the best part of a morning on phone to the credit card company and registering an incident with Action Fraud (police team dealing with this type of fraud). According to Generators Direct the clone web site had been set up 6 weeks before xmas and we weren’t the only ones to be caught. After taking lots of details the card company told they had to give the scam supplier time to deliver and to ring back in 30 days and they will refund our money.
The moral of this tale then, if it smells fishy it probably is fishy…..
If you want to drive a vehicle in Austria and it weighs more than 3.5 tons (including all lorries, buses and heavy camper vans). A mileage-based toll applies on Austria’s motorways and expressways and you need a Go Box. The box costs €5 to buy and it must be loaded with a £75.00 minimum pre-payment. owch.
Electing to enter Austria without a Go Box meant avoiding the motorways and sticking to the minor roads, unless we wanted to risk a rumoured €2,000 fine. Following this plan the initial part of the route was a 600m decent down through Möserer. Judging by the smell of the Carthago’s brakes, if they could talk they would have shouting ENOUGH already!
This image doesn’t look as steep as it was but the descent was about 600 metres in about 6kms.
Care had to be taken after going through Landeck town to avoid the motorway tunnel and take the by-pass. Safely avoided we negotiated our way over the Resia /Reschen pass and into Italy.
Having spent the morning before we left walking the Leutasch Gorge and then with the 3 hour non motorway drive we ended up arriving about 4:30 at the parking lot on the other side of the lake from Reschen am See, just as the sun was going down behind the hills giving them a pinkish tinge.
Charlie looked a bit lonely on the huge, free, ski lift car park, which was empty waiting for more snow to entice the skiers before the lift opened in a few days time.
The lone Romanesque bell tower was part of an old church from the 14th century, which was drowned along with the rest of the town’s buildings when the water flooded in and is the only remainder of the old town of Graun and former life in the valley.
There are many stories and legends about the flooding event, and the lonely bell tower is often the main subject of them. One oral story of the locals about Lake Reschen is quite scary. It tells that the church bells sometimes still ring in the deepest and coldest hours of the winter nights. And the fact is that they were removed 60 years ago, a few days before the waters came and drowned the church and the lower half of the tower.
Heading down from the mountain ridge into the valley below we set our sights on a Carthago dealer near Merano.
The water tanks on the Carthago are accessible from inside the van. The white tank is for the fresh water the black is the grey water from the sinks and shower.
Normally you should be able to open the grey water tank (lever above red cap), but it’s become disconnected from the valve in the tank! With this jammed open we now run the risk of a frozen pipe if we rely on the tap at the end of the discharge pipe. (oh no, we’ve not got to get the hair dryer out again!).
So after some research we found the nearest Carthago dealer not far from Merano and booked Charlie in for 2 days later on Monday morning to get his water works fixed.
With the weekend to wait for the waste water tank to be fixed we settled in Merano’s very busy motorhome parking place and because it was the weekend, it seemed half the motorhomers in Italy had come to see the Christmas market.
Apparently the Penguins quite enjoy being steered round by the ears!
How could we pass by a stall selling Bombardino’s – Just has to be done
The next day the garage had Charlie fixed (common fault) in half an hour for €25 and once more we were free to head of to Brixen and up into the mountains.
We are still learning about e-bikes, I like to use mine in the TURBO setting to zoom up the hills and go as fast as I can. Lesley is more frugal (I can’t possibly comment why), as a consequence I use more battery.
Being a kind and generous wee soul Lesley offered to swap batteries for a quick 6 miler up the hill behind Merano, meaning she’d would have to make what was left in mine last!. A slight navigational error on my part meant the route grew to 10 miles. No problem for me with Lesley’s battery on board. But…… well my battery did last 6 miles. Oh dear!
When traveling in the van and taking photos it is inevitable you are going to capture a fair bit of Armco or crash barriers in your images. So I think we should celebrate the much overlooked and over photographed essential piece of infrastructure.- Here we’re taking the toll free route via the tunnel whilst the A22 Autostrade towers above us.
That’s it for now we managed to get through Austria without a Go Box and I survived giving Lesley my No Go battery, just!
Toodle Pip, Dave & Lesley
I thought it time to apologise for the many typo’s you have to endure when reading this blog, but to point out it could be worse!
Gust becos I cud not spel It did not mean I was daft. When the boys in school red my riting. Some of them laffed. But now I am the dictator. They have to rite like me. Utherwise they cannot pas Ther GCSE.
Some of the girls were ok. But those who laffed a lot. Have al been rownded up. And hav recintly bean shot. The teecher who corrected my speling. As not been shot at al. But four the last fifteen howers. As bean standing up against a wal.
He has to stand ther until he can spel. Figgymisgrugifooniyn the rite way I think he will stand ther forever. I just inventid it today.
We almost drove straight past Mittenwald. Our plans as we left Garmish was to head for Innsbruck for a quick look at the Austrian Christmas market, before making a dash for Italy. However we were still uncertain whether we needed a ‘Go-Box‘ in Austria as Charlie II is over 3.5 tons.
On a whim we elected to stop another night in Germany and Mittenwald was the last town before the Austrian border with a Stellplatz. An empty, quiet spot by a river with mountain views to wake up to.
Because you did so well with the riddles on the last post I thought you’d like one more – or maybe not? Answers on a postcard.
A woman is sitting in her hotel room when there is a knock at the door. She opened the door to see a man whom she had never seen before. He said “oh I’m sorry, I have made a mistake, I thought this was my room.” He then went down the corridor and in the elevator. The woman went back into her room and phoned security. What made the woman so suspicious of the man?
Once again the cycle paths took us past some intersting spots including the back of this beautifully decorated wood shed
Even though it was cold we still decided it would be ok for a bike ride, so wrapping up warm we headed for one of the many cycle routes found via our friendly Komoot app.
As our cycle experience grows, we are learning from lessons along the way. Firstly if a route looks rocky and stupidly steep, it probably is! and before ordering food at a restaurant make sure you’ve brought enough CASH.
Needing a warm up, we found Gemütlichkei restaurant serving local comfort food right on the edge of the lake. The wood burning stove soon warmed our cold hands. Lesley went for the flat potatoes with apple sauce and I had the spinach Spätzle washed down with a small beer. As they were both specials the menu pricing (in German) wasn’t very clear. Perfect. Except when we came to pay they (like many places in Germany) didn’t accept credit cards, for the €22.50 bill…. In the end the waiter was very nice and accepted our emergency €20 note and our gratitude….
With warmed hands and red faces from our embarrassing payment saga we headed down the trail and back to the town.
Ace mountain “biker Dave” with the ever so slightly more impressive Karwendel Alps in the background
We really enjoyed a whizz round the area and decided (shock horror) to stay another night to do a walk to the gorge.
We are on the receiving end of a Pay It Forward moment today. Recovering in the van after our ride, there was a knock on the door and instead of the carkpark attendant wanting see our ticket it was a Tila. A German fellow motorhomer who’d arrived a couple hours earlier, came over to offer us a bottle of beer. Tila was passing forward a similar experience he’d had from a Brit whilst he and his wife Kirsten had been touring Scotland.
We ended up spending an enjoyable couple of hours chatting to to this lovely couple and listening to their experiences of travelling through Greece in their converted lorry and discussing the need or not for the Go-Box.
Meeting Tila and Kirsten once again served to underline that it’s not the places you go to or the things you see that makes motorhome travel enjoyable and enriching, but most definitely the people you meet along the way.
Leutasch-Klamm Wasserfallsteig – The sign says “Access Forbidden”
To save time we cycled to the start and began the ‘Mountain Spirit Gorge’ with the walk up first section most definitely ‘up hill’. This is an amazing and special place. And for us because it’s winter and was technically closed (when there’s been recent snowfall), we once again we had the place to ourselves.
They started building the Walkway in August 2003 and finished in August 2005. The total length of the walkway is 450meters. The Hell bridge is 24m long and the Panorama Bridge (picture above) is 27m long. It is very steep-sided and was not opened to tourists until 2006.
As the river can swell in a flood it was necessary to locate the walkway at a height of at least 15 m above the foot of the gorge.
It mind boggling how they managed to drill the rock face. The walkway sections are constructed with steel supporting brackets and bridge abutments drilled then somehow bonded to the rock so that the whole structure seems to hover above the river.
The walkway was constructed with the help of dodgy looking temporary platforms anchored in the rockface, with the workmen suspended by ropes on the top of the gorge.
The construction costs of the Austro-German project to build the 970 metre long walkways in this steep sided gorge, including the steel and the two bridges, was approx. 1.4 million euros, supported by EU funding.
So what a great place, we didn’t even visit the violin museum! or the Karwendelbah cable car up to the ski area on the Austrian border. Ok so there’s no doubt that Mittenwald will be a much busier place in the summer time, this is definitely going on the not to be missed next time either list…
Answer – You don’t knock on your own hotel door and the man did.
So this is a quick blog to play catch up and show some of the highlights on our route from Ravensburg through to Fussen, briefly into Austria before arriving at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
I’m driving home for ChristmasChris Rea
Oh, I can’t wait to see those faces
I’m driving home for Christmas, yea
Well I’m moving down that line
And it’s been so long
But I will be there
I sing this song
To pass the time away
Driving in my car
Driving home for Christmas
The video of the engineering of this cable car impressed the hell out of me when I first saw it.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is famous for the Kandahar, with its vertical drop of 940 metres, it is the resort’s signature downhill run. We like thousands of others have skied it but very few would want to try to beat the sub two-minute record time for its descent.
Not all our plans quite worked out on the trip. In the North of Bavaria we arrived too early for the Christmas markets like Nürnberg and the ski season hadn’t yet started when we arrived here.
Next stop Mittenwald then through Austria again to Italy
PS – Sorry for the accidental early publication of a version of this blog
I have decided growing old is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Forgetting peoples names, appointments and where I’ve put things, are all signs that like many of my generation, I am gradually losing it. Finding out that brain ageing to some extent is inevitable, is quite depressing. So is brain ageing a slippery slope that we just need to accept? Or are there things we can do to reduce the rate of decline?
A quick internet trawl and you find a growing body of evidence suggesting that people who experience the least decline in cognition and memory all share certain characteristics
So to encourage you with some intellectually stimulating activity I have found 3 riddles I thought might help? If you don’t want the exercise ,the answers are at the end of this post….
1, A murderer is condemned to death. He has to choose between three rooms. The first is full of raging fires, the second is full of assassins with loaded guns, and the third is full of lions that haven’t eaten in 3 years. Which room is safest for him?
2. Can you name three consecutive days without using the words Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday?
3. This is an unusual paragraph. I’m curious as to just how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so ordinary and plain that you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is highly unusual though. Study it and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work at it a bit, you might find out. Try to do so without any coaching!
Today we are slowly making our way down through Bavaria to the spa town of Bad Waldsee to visit the Hymer Museum. Hymer is one of the most well known and best quality motorhome manufacturers, so after finding they had a museum we decided to to add it to our plan.
The museum is not all about Hymer but more a history of caravanning from its earliest beginnings.
The Trabant is often vilified as being among the worst cars ever made, but during German communism, it was a status symbol. If you wanted to buy a new Trabi the waiting period was between 11 and 18 years. And it cost as much as one year’s salary. Which seems pretty expensive, but the Trabi had an average lifespan of 28 years because if you were lucky enough to own a Trabi you took meticulous care of it
You could tell this caravan was the ‘dogs doodah’s’ with all its ‘mod cons’ and a hefty price tag to match. Lesley now wants a bath in our van!
The Brits were some of the early pioneers in the motorhome world, entering the field with a “Timeless classic”.
Hymer has a huge factory in Bad Waldsee, but a few miles down the road in the town of Aulendorf is Carthago City. Deciding it’s ok to take ‘coals to Newcastle’ a few weeks ago we managed to book ourselves on an unscheduled Carthago factory tour with a free place for the night to park Charlie II amongst a few of his brothers and sisters.
They say confession is good for the soul, and yes it is probably a bit weird, but as both of us have spent a large part of our working lives in factories, even now we are retired, Lesley and I both still enjoy going around factories.
Manufactured beside the assembly line, the side panels are made from a hard foam sandwiched between 2 aluminium skins. The roof is the same, except the upper surface is made from hail resistant GRP. The use of a complete aluminium exterior forms a Faraday cage that is alleged will protect against a lighting strike (but not wolves and bears).
We both went away quite impressed and reassured with the construction methods Carthago use to make their motorhomes.
A Motorcaravaner’s lament
Last night I sold my motorhome, today, the tear drops flowed;
Tomorrow’s urge will surely be, to get on down the road.
No longer can I sit up high, in that roomy Captain’s chair;
No longer meet the friendly folk, in campsite here and there.
To mountains, towns and seashores, where we often went to look;
We’ll long remember all famous places, written in our log book.
Through many years and many vans, our travels have been vast;
But the time has come to hang it up, sad now those years have passed.
If you get caught by wanderlust, or pressured by life’s load;
Just buy, or rent a motorhome, and get on down the road.
Before leaving the area we went back to Bad Waldsee to pay a visit the thermal baths. With dedicated overnight parking outside, it would have been rude not to!
The thermal baths were excellent – boil your head steam rooms, outdoor jacuzzis, water massage jets and a fast flowing river
Each of the Town Hall’s 24 blue windows were numbered and were being opened in turn during Advent.
Once again our Moho parking spot was only a 15 minute walk to the centre of town. So we had a good wander around the traditional and the Christmas markets during the day managing to avoid the many temptations (felt handbags) although unable to resist enticing smells coming from the food stalls.
Merry Christmas to all our readers…
Oh yeah the answers to the three easy riddles Ans 1 – The third room. Lions that haven’t eaten in three years are dead. Ans 2 – The three consecutive days, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.Ans 3 – The letter e, which is the most commonly used letter in the English language, does not appear even once in the paragraph. Post a comment if you got all three
The well-known and much loved story of The Pied Piper luring rats away from the city with his sweet song has darker origins than the classic tale – a tale that can be traced way back to the Middle Ages. According to legend, in the small town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony, masses of children disappeared at the same time without trace. No one knows where they went, but suspicions are with a rat catcher who bewitched the kids away after The Town Mayor refused to pay him for a job.
When, lo! as they reached the mountain-side,Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Heading south from our over night in Esslingen, we found a great stellplatz (car park) in Bad Urach, complete with hook up, next to a pool a bar and a short walk to the town. There is also some good walks and cycle trails nearby.
Once again with the aid of Komoot we were able to plot a good route to have a zoom about on the ebikes. Although, we had to leave to make the steep climb up to see this water feature, which was billed as a waterfall. It was worth the yomp up, but it featured too much water re-routing by man for my taste.
Admittedly we aren’t experienced bikers, but we do carry a tools, a repair kit and a quality pump. So getting a puncture shouldn’t be a problem? Or should it? The one thing we/I overlooked was that the pump was only suitable for….. our old bikes with Schraeder valves!
I only had to push 2 kms back to the van. So with the horse well and truly bolted, all that was left was to find a nearby bike shop with Presta to Schaeder adaptor and another spare tube.
Whilst enjoying our two days in Bad Urach we heard there was a good castle not too far away. We made an early start and after stopping off en-route to visit the Washerie in Tübingen to ‘do our smalls’ we easily found Hohenzollern castle, sitting on a solitary bump amidst a flat plane south of Hechingen.
You don’t have to a military historian to work out why most castles are built on a hill. a) Few armies would be eager to attack up a steep sided hill, b) It’s got to be easier to defend by throwing rocks burning oil down on any foolish uninvited guests c) Lookouts could spot trouble coming a mile off, allowing plenty of time to stock up at Lidl, in case of a seige.
Search for sights led us to the parking for the castle with spaces for three motorhomes. The walk up through the forest up to the castle is steep but the views from the walls of the castle are stunning.
BTW "Dracula has moved out of his castle for a few weeks. He's getting it revamped"
The Hohenzollern Castle is the third of three hilltop castles built on the site. The first castle on the mountain was constructed in the early 11th century. However although it was constructed in gothic revival style the current castle was built in 1850… so it’s Victorian then!
We joined a guided group for a tour of the interior, unfortunately the guide was all given in German so we missed almost all the detail. But we picked up a few snippets. And we got to wear some very comfy over-slippers to protect the library floor from our hobnail boots.
Access once you reach the top of the asphalt switchbacks, is through an internal cobbled road that spirals up inside like a medieval carpark, complete with portcullis and draw-bridge. Designed to be suitable for horse, carriage or Daimler, me thinks
You can learn lots of useless facts coming to a place like this. For example, as it couldn’t be properly heated it was too cold to live there in winter. Partly because of that, Burg Hohenzollern has never been a royal residence.
The castle belongs to the Prussian royal family and does contain some interesting artefacts including the Prussian royal Crown. Amongst the displays’ is King Frederik William IV snuff box collection. Amassed after it’s said he was shot in battle but was saved when the shot hit a snuff box in his breast pocket.
We liked the route from Bad Ulrach so much we decided to go back that way to get to Blautopf Blaubeuren. So named because of the unique spring feed blue pool. The water’s peculiarly blue colour, varying in intensity due to weather and flow, is the result of physical properties of the limestone in the rock.
Next the Blautopf is a Hammer mill fed by the water from the spring
Numerous legends and folk tales refer to the Blautopf. Its characteristic colour was explained by the account that every day someone would pour a vat of ink into the Blautopf.
Although we may never know the true events that fuelled the Piped Piper story, there are still lessons to be learned from fairy-tales, myths and legends.
I wonder if you can recognise what story the advice below is related to? – Throw all caution to the wind and have a grand adventure! Follow the white rabbit, drink from that mysterious bottle and go to tea parties with strangers. You’ve already made so many other inadvisable decisions in your life – what’s the worst that can happen?
Today we are in Stuttgart on the banks of the river Neckar to visit the Mercedes museum
The company was started in 1890, when Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach engineered and sold the world’s first four-cylinder cars made in a factory. Unfortunately for him, Daimler died 10 years after founding the company, but his name lives on as one of the most important in Mercedes–Benz history.
The first petrol powered Mercedes vehicle was made by Karl Benz, the Mercedes-Benz co-founder. His fiancee, Bertha, had to invest in the project as a part of the prevailing marriage law. Not only did she use her dowry to finance Karl’s horseless carriage venture, she taught her husband — an engineering mastermind but clueless marketeer — how to popularise his invention.
In 1888, at age 39, Bertha Benz and her two teenage sons climbed aboard one of the two Patent-Motorwagen vehicles her husband had assembled and set off on a 66-mile romp from Mannheim to Pforzheim. She didn’t bother to tell Karl, though she did leave him a note on the kitchen table
Where does the name Mercedes come from?
Emil Jillinek a much valued Daimler retailer would purchase Daimler vehicles, modify them, and race them. After establishing credibility, Emil began to work with Wilhelm Maybach to design cars that delivered more performance and reliability. In 1900, the first Mercedes was born. It was a name given to a car that Jellinek modified and it came from his daughter, Mercedes. It had 35 horsepower and was considered to be one of the world’s first “modern cars”.
The variety of vehicles on display in the impressive museum spans from the very first patented car in the world to the hydrogen vehicle.
The Museum is on nine levels, covering 16,500 m² of floor space. I was curious as to how they move the 1,500 exhibits into position. A bit of research suggests there’s a custom-built 40-tonne crane concealed beneath the ceiling of the central atrium. It is used to install or remove vehicles on levels 2 to 7 via the atrium. The exhibits on level 8 reach their positions by conventional but no less spectacular means: they are lifted over the roof terrace from outside, to a height of over 40 metres, by a heavy-duty crane.
The automotive exhibits are what visitors have come for. However as you descend the spiral walkway between the levels, the panels on the walls capture and bring to life via snapshots of contemporary history and culture. This brought relevance to the period in which the assortment of cars, buses, and competition vehicles on display were produced.
An example of an interesting fact from one of the displays Oldham – 1978 the town where world’s first ‘test tube baby‘ was conceived.
Like many automotive brands the Mercedes three pointed star immediately associates it to the Mercedes Benz brand, but I bet ya didn’t know what the symbol stands for? Ok the secret’s out, it symbolises air, land, and sea.
A growing proportion of vehicles produced today are based on renewable energy. Alongside developing battery technology the Hydrogen Cell is likely to become an increasingly attractive option in the future, with ultra clean technology playing a more important part once the infrastructure is there to support it.
Gunther Holtorf, and his wife went on an impressive 26 year, 897,000 kilometres, 215 country adventure in “Otto” his Mercedes 300 GD off-roader. You can watch Otto‘s globetrotting expedition in a short story about a very long trip. I found their travels inspiring but also sad that his wife died before they completed their incredible journey.
There is a lot of discussion in the F1 press as to whether the Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is the best F1 driver of the modern era. The Briton is now within reach of equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles, sparking more debate on who is the greatest F1 driver of all time.
So is it the car? or the driver? or the whole team? Could Lewis have been as successful if he was still at Mclaren? How would today’s drivers fair in cars of an earlier era. Ayton Senna never drove for Mercedes but is still regarded as one of greatest F1 drivers of all time. Check out this interesting site- FiveThirtyEight
Mole asks Ratty if they can visit Toad, so off they both go to Toad Hall. Toad is delighted to welcome them and reveals his passion for boating has recently been replaced by a canary-coloured caravan. In fact, Toad intends all three of them to start a caravan adventure that very day.
Ratty can see that Mole is anxious to agree to the trip so both friends set off on the open road with Toad. They spend an uneventful night in the caravan and the following morning a distant cloud of dust appears on the horizon – a motor car. The car flashes past and the caravan falls into a ditch. But far from being annoyed Toad is entranced: as the car disappears once again all he can say is ‘Poop! Poop!‘
I hope I’m not going to spoil your cornflakes with an unwanted lecture in 18th century history, but my understanding of this period became a little less fuzzy today, so I though I’d share what I now understand better.
The ‘Age of Enlightenment‘ occurred during the “long 18th century” (1685-1815). It was an intellectual movement emphasising reason, individualism, and skepticism. It presented a challenge to traditional religious views. Enlightenment thinkers were the liberals of their day – typically humanists who supported equality and human dignity. They stood opposed (in varying degrees) to supernatural occurrences, superstition, intolerance, and bigotry.
We’re in Rothenburg, an extremely attractive place on the Romantic Road, so to balance the diet of Disney’s fantasyland, we decided we couldn’t resist a visit to Rothenburg’s Museum of Medieval Crime and Torture.
The exhibits in the museum include all manner of torturing devices, such as racks, thumb screws and dunking stools. Contraptions designed and used to extract confessions and inflict punishment.
Before the Age of Enlightenment, punishment for crimes was arbitrary, court cases were often just a precursor to the sadistic torture and barbaric punishment of the guilty and the innocent alike! ‘The Law’ as we know it didn’t exist.
A good example is witchcraft and witch-hunting, where hundreds of innocent women were ruthlessly persecuted and mercilessly punished, with convictions based often on nothing more than fear and superstition.
With Age of Enlightenment came a separation between law and morality. Religious justification’s in criminal law were replaced by secular equivalents.
The old inquisitorial proceedings – in which the accused, who was obliged to tell the truth and was investigated by a judge through a secret written fact-finding process – were replaced by reformed criminal proceedings of public and oral hearings.
The concept of a constitutional state based on the role of law with separation of power and protections of individuals rights began to prevail. A clear statutory regulation was necessary for punishment. Discrimination based on the social status was increasingly disregarded.
The prosecution was assumed by the district attorney whose duty it was to be guardian of the law. Defendants had rights and no longer had to assist in their own conviction. Judges ruled on the basis of evidence rendered during the trial. This judicial freedom to consider evidence made torture as a means of obtaining evidence redundant.
Seeing the the artefacts and reading of life in those times was disturbing and powerful. It brought home some horror of what it was like for the folks who lived through that period of history and makes me grateful for the laws that society is governed by today.
Rothenburg is on the German ‘Romantic Road‘. This route visits some really pretty chocolate box places, as it meanders through the provinces of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Many of the towns are overflowing with medieval timber framed buildings inside walled perimeter defences. So for someone with a soft spot for timber framed houses, this makes them cute and attractive but trapped in an another age.
Ok so I’m not that romantic but I’m old, NO, I’m no that old. BTW – You know you’re ‘old‘ (not just getting old) when no one is at all surprised or bats an eye when you ask at a museum for an over 65’s
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you,
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you,
But I still haven’t foundU2 – From The Joshua Tree
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
Arriving in the Stellplatz in Dinkelsbühl we were surprised to see three other motorhomes all UK registered. As these were the first ‘Brits’ we’d seen since Vogelsang about 30 days ago, we had to go for a bit of a ‘blether’. We were soon learning about the town (given a map) and hearing of one couple’s trials and tribulations whilst motorhoming in Italy.
The most interesting of the three couples was Cat & Chris who had made a fab job of converting a lorry into ‘FlorryTheLorry’. They had made the inside a real home from home with all the mod cons of a motorhome but in a lorry.
We could have talked to these two for ages but they were heading north (Cat driving their car) no not a cat! They kindly gave us the remainder of the electric left on their hook up meter and we said our goodbyes. Now where’s that town we had to explore?
With abundant forests the timber frame designs of Bavaria have worked well for the houses and the farm buildings of the predominantly agricultural communities spread across the fertile lands of lower Germany and as far south as Switzerland.
Dinkelsbühl was a good example of the multileveled constructions in this area that have that particular high gabled look. A look that prominently features in romantic images of Germany from tourists like us.
Walking around you could tell Christmas is coming as there were some great displays using colourful natural materials to celebrate Advent, something we see less of at home in the UK.
150 years after the artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement of age of Romatisium came the New Romantics in the guise of Adam Ant, Boy George, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Soft Cell and Spandau Ballet. I wonder in the future if this will be remembered as an age of ………
So if I have understood correctly, through Enlightenment society introduced laws that reduced intolerance and bigotry, making society more civilised. And we no longer need people to wear shame masks, correct mmmm?
Dave & Lesley
Maybe it’s me but in what seems such a short time we seem to have forgotten the lessons of history. I need to re-read Jonathan Freedland’s loss of shame again.
A few years ago whilst touring North Harris in our Adria panel van, looking for a place to wild camp, we arrived at a beautiful beach. “Not quite right”. Why not try the next bay, so two bays later, “how about this one”? Lesley asked thinking it’s fine. “Could we just see what’s around the corner” I said. However as we set off, we spotted a photographer taking shots of a building over-looking the beach. Stopping to chat, it transpired that the images were for a restaurant that had recently been awarded a Michelin star*. “Ahhh, now it is just right.”
Since then we refer to this as the Goldilocks moment, trying out many options until you find the one that’s ‘Just right’….
After our expensive ‘battery episode’ we needed to find a free parking spot in Nürnberg. On the way in to the centre whilst looking for LPG, we spotted a couple of motorhomes parked up in a green space, that looked a pretty good spot and it was free. mmmmm I’m not sure says Goldilocks.
A bit further on, we found the stellplatz we’d targeted close to a school and railway. We parked up. “Too noisy” said Goldilocks. Ermm, “What about the one we passed on the way here”. So back we went. It was also free, next to a park and a bus stop. And no there were no bears….!
When we arrive somewhere new, we quite often head straight for the Tourist Information Office (TIO), primarily to illustrate to the bemused staff just how little German we can speak. We normally start off by asking for a plan or map of the town? [Hast du eine Karte der Stadt?] and if feeling especially brave, are there any special events on or recommendations of things we shouldn’t miss? By this time, we (Lesley to be fair) are usually way passed our best pidgin German and the Google translate app has shut down with embarrassment.
Our bus ride into the old town dropped us at the Koenigstrasse, which we strolled along looking at the Christmas market preparations. Not finding the tourist office, we inexplicably jumped on a tram at the Hauptbahnhof (no not the Berlin one, but the same name!) supposedly to go the Zentrum, only to realise after one stop we had just come from there! Oops! Back to Hauptbahnhof and the TIO…. For a map!
Armed with the map, our first stop on our Nürnberg trail was the Handwerkerhof, a small craftsmen courtyard within the city wall, where we sampled for the first time Lebkuchen biscuits with spices (yum, yum). We also noticed a lovely glass shop with an array of Christmas themed pieces.
Just exploring freely to see what you can discover is fine. But in Nürnberg without the map we would have missed a lot. For example the Way of Human Rights – 21 columns each depicting one of the Articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all in German and one other language.
This sculpture is part of Nürnberg’s efforts to shake off its Nazi-era reputation as the “City of the Party Rallies” and reinvent itself as a “City of Peace and Human Rights”.
In 2001, Nürnberg was honoured for this attempt at transformation with the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education, The Way of Human Rights is intended as both a repudiation of past crimes and a permanent reminder that human rights are still regularly violated.
The controversial Ehekarussell metal fountain next to the Weisser Turm, is not to everyone’s taste. The fountain shows 6 interpretations of marriage based on a medieval poem. Parts of the fountain are really quite gruesome and provocative!
In a city like this there you don’t have to look too hard to find many good photo opportunities. A view from a bridge over the Pegnitz river.
Like the preparations for the Christmas market, it was obvious from many of the shop window displays everyone is focusing on xmas. We enjoyed window shopping in the Trödel Market and loved the glass on display.
As the launching point for some of Adolf Hitler’s largest Nazi rallies, Nürnberg played a significant role in World War II. The modern city is peppered with war monuments such as the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds, the Nazi Documentation Center, and the courtroom where the Nuremberg war crimes trials took place. We chose on our trail around Nürnberg not to visit these sights, I hope our photos capture this beautiful city that is more than just the Nuremberg Trials.
That’s all then, till next time
Over the years my knowledge of Scottish words and Scottish slang has increased immeasurably. However I would claim (I might even be right) that many of these unique Scottish words were invented to fool, confuse or deceive the English Sassenachs [Scottish / Gaelic word for Saxons].
The smallest amount of research will reveal that there are hundreds of Scottish words and phrases, plus they are still being added to today. Although my ‘education’ is far from complete and the accent still leaves a lot to be desired, at least I do now know the meanings of this group of words:
|Bairn – baby (jist a wee bairn) or small child||Feart – Afraid|
|Blether – Gossip||Gie it laldy – Put some effort in.|
|Bonnie – Beautiful||Gutties – Soft, rubber plimsoles|
|Bowfing – Smelly, horrible||Hoaching – full / swarming|
|Breeks – Trousers||Ken: To know|
|Clipe – A snitch or someone who tells tales||Messages – Grocery shopping|
|Coo – Cow||Neeps & Tatties – Turnips & Potatoes.|
|Crabbit – Bad tempered||Peely-Wally – Looking pale|
|Dreich – Foggy, cloudy, overcast.||Piece – A sandwich|
|Drookit – Soaking wet||Scunnered – Bored, fed up|
|Drouthy – Thirsty.||Wean – Child|
|Eejit – Idiot||Wee – Small|
With good roads and autumn’s colours in full glow, the drive through the Franconia forest was bonnie. Upper Franconia is a significant part of Upper Barvaria. Wikipedia suggests that the area is characterised by its own culture and language, colloquially referred to as “Franconian” (German: “Fränkisch“).
Finding good (stellplatz) places to stay at as we drove through was easy, first in Freiberg and then Saalburg-Ebersdorf, where the free parking spot was on an empty beach, beside a large lake in the Thuringian nature park.
I suspect, judging by the swimming pontoons and the nearby caravan park, this place is hoaching in the summer. The only cost for us to have the big swathe of lake shore to ourselves, was a bit of mist and light rain in the morning – one of the first times it had been dreich on our trip so far.
At Mitwitz we found a great wee camp site, recently built by a local builder and his wife. This was a great pitch, since the owners themselves were motorhomers so everything was well designed and in pristine condition. On Saturday evening we ended up blethering to the owners over a beer in their camp-site bistro. Then after a lazy Sunday morning, making use of the free WiFi to do more research, we headed south to Bamberg
We have 30 GB of data but as we use data to research places to see on the route ahead of us we have been using our data allowance faster than the 1 GB per day. Located by the river and with free wifi on offer the stellplatz in Bamberg enabled us to catch up on the blog and to check out where to go next.
Leaving Dave welded to the laptop, Lesley headed into town to get the messages and have a sneak preview of the town.
It’s likely that during the summer months this quaint town, with its colourful town hall built on the island in the river, will undoubtedly receive lots of tourist attention. We had a good wander and a good gander at the shops, improving our daily step count by walking up to have a look at the Domplatz, the most impressive square in Bamberg.
We had to have a peak inside the four-towered Imperial Cathedral as it’s the heart of the city and an important work of art, the current Cathedral dates back to 1237.
All the sight seeing had worked up an appetite for us both. A reasonable priced Italian restaurant caught our eye. The food was tasty and Dave washed his down with the local Smoked Rauchbier – Well it had to be done….but probably only once, as unsurprisingly it tasted of smoke! and although it looks like Guinness but was bowfing.
We could have stayed longer but with further adventures yet to be had, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the free WiFi and set sail to Heiligenstadt.
The next day at Heiligenstadt started with a relaxed lie in, always a good sign of a quiet overnight stop. A bike ride was planned but before we got on the road again we noticed power to the music system and Sat Nav had been left on overnight!!!! Yes the cab battery was flat and I was the Eejit who’s now left us stranded with no battery power to start the engine…..!
I’m not convinced that this word is unique to Scotland but Lecky is said to be the shorthand for electricity; though usually focused on the bill, not the actual thing. As in “There’s me having to put a tenner in that lecky again because you’ll noo turn yer telly aff!”
A drained cab battery is an issue we had a couple of weeks before when we had to resort to jump starting it from the habitation battery. This time the gods weren’t smiling on us. I got the jump leads out but there was not enough charge in hab battery either.
Och shite Pooh-n sticks! The engine barely cranked over and definitely wouldn’t start even with the two 12v 90 amp hab batteries connected.
Now what do we do? Enter Jürgen a man innocently out walking his dog. Quick, make a fuss and he might come to our rescue – it worked. He stopped to ask if we needed help. With our combined pigeon German/English he soon understood what we needed and dropping off his Irish terrier on route he walked Dave the 1km to a well equipped specialist Bosch garage at the other end of town.
The garage technician who came out was brilliant. He tested the battery and although he didn’t say it was Kaput, according to his multi-meter a reading of just 12v wasn’t brilliant. He also tested the alternator and that was fine so a quick jump start via his zillion amp power-pack fired up Charlie II once more and we were able to follow him back.
Luckily the garage had the right battery in stock, the downside was it was a Bosch, (not the cheapest). Not wanting a doubtful cab battery when facing a winter in the Alps, we gulped and €200 later (including the call out and fitting) we’re back in business.
Ok, deep breath, so we’ve wrecked our thus far frugalness but we’ll get over it. So in spite of the cold weather we decided there was still time to get the bikes out for a quick blast around the many excellent cycle paths that connected the various small towns in the area.
Well there you are, today I have learnt the meaning of a new Scottish word bampot: [an unhinged idiot] and a bit of an expensive lesson? Actually I think the battery wasn’t great anyhow and it was better to find out here than at an isolated spot without a Jürgen in sight.
Cheerio fur noo
Postscript – Jürgen was just great. After walking me to the garage, he came back in his car to show us the way, before finally returning again to check on progress whilst we were getting it fixed. What a nice man. Lesley says he was a a real sweetie and meeting him was the silver lining of the experience
The bombing of Coventry occurred on the night of 14 November 1940. When more than 400 German bombers attacked Coventry, leaving a trail of destruction.
Before World War Two, Coventry was one of the largest manufacturing and engineering cities in Britain and its factories supplied Britain’s military at the beginning of the war. Many workers lived near to the factories, so attacks on these buildings put the civilian population at risk too.
The Germans intended to create a firestorm in the city that would obliterate factories and wipe out the historical centre, inflicting maximum damage to the city’s contribution to the war and to the morale of the residents.
Having resisted the temptation to visit the place on our way to the tunnel and so far, I haven’t been sent to Coventry either! However, we are planning on going to Dresden as it’s near to Saxon Switzerland.
It probably won’t come as a surprise, but the Saxon Switzerland National Park, is nowhere near the Swiss border but is in the German heart of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, part of the huge Sächsische Schweiz National Park.
Hewey hasn’t yet fully qualified as a lucky mascot but he’s working on it. Following on from the previously documented ‘hat incident’ in Hann. Münden. On Sunday I left my hat (cap) in the Hinterhermsdorf tourist Information office opposite our overnight parking spot. At 9 o’clock I went over on the unlikely chance there would someone there. There was, and he spoke English with an a perfect English RP accent having spent 15 years in military in South Africa.
I wonder if my hat will have as many lives as a cat?
I had assumed the area got its name after the rolling hills of the Swiss Jura? But apparently not so, it was in fact named because it reminded two famous 18th century Swiss artists of of the shape of Toblerone. Ok so that ‘s not quite true but it could have been.
Incidentally I missed it but a couple of years ago Toblerone, against rising costs and in order for the likes of Poundland to continue to sell their (teeth breaking) bars for a quid, came up with the daft idea of wider gaps between the chocolate’s peaks. However after an outcry from shoppers, Toblerone soon announced its bars would revert to their traditional shape.
Today we’re out on the bikes again starting off from our Stellplatz at Pirna-Copitz following a route planned on the Komoot cycling app.
Our route from our parking place was about 15 miles round trip
Coachloads of people from all over the world, turn up to see the Felsenburg Neurathen with the nineteenth century Bastei Bridge, a landmark of Saxon Switzerland, built 200m above the Elbe river between two jagged 1-million-year-old rocks. In spite of its popularity it’s still an amazing sight!
The Bastei has been a tourist attraction for over 200 years. In 1824, a wooden bridge was constructed to link several rocks for the visitors. This bridge was replaced in 1851 by the present Bastei Bridge made of sandstone.
The stone bridge, dramatic in its appearance, as it connects these towers of rock and then seems to lead nowhere.
Looking at the other well equipped tourists that had come by car and bus I felt slightly inadequate that my mobile wasn’t mounted on the latest extendable, remote controlled selfie stick.
After an exhausting photo shoot we thought we were deserving of a nice lunch. As the Bastei Hotel & Panorama Restaurant (a window seat gives scenic views of the river Elbe below) was our only choice it was really good that we weren’t made to feel bad about sitting at tables with napkins and pristine white table-cloths in our mud splattered cycling gear.
After the hills to and from the Bastei bridge, our return journey retraced the path back down to a level track alongside the Elbe making our return route much faster.
The riverside track gave a different perspective on the area and we weren’t deterred when halfway along we saw a sign in German saying effectively go back 5kms as there were impassable roadworks 2kms ahead. We didn’t (Dave) decided to continue (First break all the rules). Happily it ended well, as we had arrived almost at the very moment they were re-filling the holes they’d had open for the last 6 months….Phew
Bombing of Dresden: February 1945
Before the 2nd World War, Dresden was called “the Florence of the Elbe” and was regarded as one the world’s most beautiful cities for its architecture and museums.
On the night of February 13, hundreds of RAF bombers descended on Dresden in two waves, dropping their lethal cargo indiscriminately over the city. By the morning, some 800 British bombers had dropped more than 1,400 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians.
At the end of the war, Dresden was so badly damaged that the city was basically leveled. A handful of historic buildings–the Zwinger Palace, the Dresden State Opera House and several fine churches–were carefully reconstructed out of the rubble, but the rest of the city was rebuilt with plain modern buildings
It is oft repeated that Churchill “ordered” the firebombing of Dresden as a “vicious payback” for the German bombing of Coventry. So Like Coventry I have little desire to be sent there.
Coventry and Dresden, the common fate of the two cities during World War II and their many years of efforts for reconciliation and understanding among people resulted in the twinning of the two cities.
Nowadays, both cities seek to build on the twinning relationship to promote the economic prosperity of the two cities by developing opportunities for partnership projects.
Maybe bypassing Dresden was a bit like the numerous times we’ve travelled passed Coventry on the M6. We probably don’t know what we’re missing….?
Last but not least, but did you know Coventry is UK City of Culture 2021!
The legendary six-minute single by Queen, is what many call the greatest song ever written. It’s still one of the best-selling rock singles of all time, was voted The Song of the Millennium in 2000, and was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the No. 1 song of all time.
A Bohemian is a resident of Bohemia, a region of the Czech Republic or the former Kingdom of Bohemia, a region of the former Crown of Bohemia (lands of the Bohemian Crown). In English, the word “Bohemian” was used to denote the Czech people as well as the Czech language before the word “Czech” became prevalent in the early 20th century.Wikipedia
To get to Bohemia we still have to travel on a few Polish roads. In general most of the main the roads in Poland are ok. We happened to pick one of the bumpiest ones!
The Notorious E36 or national road 18, the southbound part of national is in a shoddy condition. So much so, that some people even call it “the longest staircase in Europe.”
Before we left our very short dip into Poland we had a very enjoyable night in attractive Camp66, a great campsite in the Karkonosze mountains near Karpacau.
Karpacau is a spa town, a ski resort and is supposedly a popular centre for walking and is promoted as this area’s alternative to the Alps. Judging by the volume of people milling around on a snowless Sunday, they looked like they’d had a good lunch and were wondering how they’d make the 100m trek back to their coach! All very reminiscent of the hordes of visitors who flock to Bowness-on-Windermere.
Poland is on one side of the Karkonosze mountains, the Czech Republic is on the other. But before heading to the border and not wishing to be tarred as cozy coach travellers, our plan was to take a short walk to Chojnik Castle.
This ruined castle sits on a prominent hilltop with lovely views of the surrounding countryside. The challenge is getting to it. On the map it only looked about 3kms but 2.9k of that was up! along a broken cobbled path and very steep in places.
As we arrived near the end of the afternoon and it was about to close, we managed to blag our way through the pay kiosk without paying.
It seemed this fresh, dry, autumn Sunday afternoon had bought the locals out and seemed very popular with families, couples and groups. We tried in vain to engage with our fellow ramblers, saying an occasional Hello hoping to get a Cześć or Hi back, but as they descended and we climbed up trying not to look like our lungs were about to explode, making eye contact is very clearly not the done thing around here……?
The views from the top were worth the effort and after an easy route back down we felt recovered and quite worthy.
Just before the border we had a slight altercation with a grumpy driver at a one-way system at bridge under repair, but when we wouldn’t reverse, after much shouting he gave way. We carried on to Harrachov, close to the Polish border and home of the Čertova Hova ski area and Čerťák ski jump. Even without the snow with lots of ski rental shops, it still felt like a ski town. It seemed they were expecting the white stuff anytime as all the empty car parks had barriers or chains.
We eventually settled on one with a friendly disabled man in a hut, who insisted on charging us 2 x €4 for two day tickets in spite of us explaining we were only staying overnight.
Next morning, we were up early (for us) and was good to be out in the bracing air, wrapped up against the cold. The pavements were slippy as we made our way to the start of the walk to the Mumlava waterfalls.
Keeping the stream on our left we walked up the frosty path through pine forests, stopping to look at the strange ice patterns on odd pieces of wood.
After the walk and now suitably warmed up, we next headed south towards the town of Jičín. After a few sat nav wrong turns we found, the Prachov Rocks and our second walk of the day that was completely different. No water in sight. But the rocks, wow!
The rocks are part of the Prachovské Skály nature reserve. The region is called Bohemian Paradise, Český ráj in Czech.
This is one of the most popular regions in the Czech Republic. However today, out of season and with a low blanket of cloud covering the area we had the place virtually to ourselves. With the entrance kiosk unmanned, we followed the path up a gentle incline into a forest which opened up with the most striking tall sandstone rock formations.
The sandstone pillars were so tall we got cricks in our necks looking up at them. There were various marked trails to choose from. Setting off on the longest path and with route finding easy as we followed the colour coded signs – up steps, down steps, up more steps, and squeezing through narrow gaps between huge stones, up more steps….there were a LOT of steps.
The beginnings of the sandstone formations date back to the Mesozoic era when the whole territory was flooded with sea water. Millions of years later, the region was pushed up by the effects of powerful tectonic powers, the flood shrank back and the seabed split into separate blocks. Then wind and rain caused erosion creating the distinctive with tall rock towers and deep rock gaps.
Making it up to the various viewing points, we then had to climb down steep staircases carved in the rocks holding onto the handrails on the slippery steps. The tortuous path took us round in a loop through narrow gaps to yet new vantage points to look down on nature’s impressive carved exhibits. The circular route was only about 3.5 km but with all the ups and downs it took us about 2 hours. We finished tired, happy and impressed.
On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is sometimes known, as the Velvet Divorce a reference to the bloodless Velvet Revolution of November 1989, that led to the end of the rule of the Communist party of Czechoslovakia and the restoration of a capitalist state in the country.
Old habits die hard so it taken us a while to re-programmed ourselves to say that we we’re in Czech or The Czech Republic rather than are in Czechoslovakia…. So as we left Czech and went across the border to Germany, there were no checks and from now on it’s ‘Check-no-Slovakia’…… groan!
“Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth”
PS A “bohemian” is an unconventional artistic free spirit who lacks anything tying them down…. so where next?
We’re off again…. One of the many small peripheral benefits of being away is that we’re free from the tyranny of the bin collection cycle. For now, at least we don’t have to jump out of bed at the eleventh hour and run around half naked, like headless chickens because we can hear the familiar purr of the Dennis Eagle bin lorry coming up the lane and we’ve only just remember its Monday morning and we’ve forgotten to put out the assortment of coloured plastic recycling containers and the bins!
So, after many weeks of preparation including a last-minute delay to have one of Dave’s front teeth fixed, we finally left on Thursday afternoon leaving the house in the safe hands of our homeless friends Gary & Jen.
We first met these two down on their luck selling the big issue outside M&S in Kendal….. Ok so that’s not true! Those of you that know Gary and Jen will be familiar with the sad tale of their return from holiday to face the clear up and extensive repairs required to their very lovely house in Grange. This is after a top floor bathroom leak, flooded 15 cubic metres of water down the stairs and though most of the ceilings. I won’t dwell on unfairness of their plight further as it must be heartbreakingly difficult for them to find the energy to rebuild what was an already perfect home…
An easy trip down the M6 to a pub stopover in Newbold on Avon, near Rugby somewhere halfway-ish to Folkestone was our intention. However two+ hours of perennial M6 roadworks torment meant we arrived at the Barley Mow just before they called last orders in the kitchen. Tired but pleased to once more be on the go and suitably fed and watered Charlie II provided the perfect place for our first night on the road again.
Next morning after carefully skirting around the swans that had left the water and were milling around Charlie II looking for food. We set off for a short walk along the canal, passing by the usual assortment of dog walkers and fishermen to discover after short distance an attractive trail that looped around a small lake formed by a disused quarry.
Leaving our free overnight parking spot at the Barley Mow we headed off towards Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. However due to the extent of the roadworks on the M11 this time, delayed our arrival by an hour which meant we were too late for our scheduled departure but we were put on the next available crossing at 5:20.
Once safely on the train we took the opportunity to have 40 winks on our comfy bed, waking as we emerged into the darkness of the Calais port. Not wanting to travel too far after a long day we headed for Dunkirk and a free aire in the carpark of a Carrefour supermarket at Bray Dunes.
Our knowledge of the 1st and 2nd world wars, whilst not encyclopaedic is sufficient to know enough to know that Dunkirk is infamous after the evacuations of allied troop’s during the early part of the second world war. Therefore with rain threatening we elected to pay a visit to the Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo which served as a place to shelter from the weather and worthwhile reminder of what happened here nearly 80 years ago.
Early in the Second World War, in late May 1940, the Allied forces of British, French and Belgian troops were trapped by the invading German army on the coast of France and Belgium, in the area around Dunkirk. The desperate and near-miraculous rescue that followed – controlled from Dover Castle – saved the Allied cause in Europe from total collapse, and was the biggest evacuation in military history
By rescuing the bulk of the army, in what was the biggest evacuation in military history, Operation Dynamo returned to Britain a priceless asset – most of her trained and experienced troops. If they had been lost, the whole conflict might have taken a very different course. It was a critical moment for Britain in the Second World War
We saw this car in the Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo Museum, staged to illustrate how civilians loaded their cars to the gunnels to escape the conflict. Seeing this reminding me of our comprehensive van packing to escape the dread of Brexit except we not only brought the bed but the kitchen sink as well.
After Dunkirk we debated for a bit whether or not to go as intended to Ypres (‘eeepra’). It’s difficult not to be affected even by the very isolated exposure to the horrors of war the experience of the visit to the museum had. But we weren’t here specifically to see, experience or understand what the wars(s) did to this area. So not due to morbid curiosity, but because we were in an area that is so full of significant history we decide we should go.
The excellent Searchforsites app led us to a great aire which became even better when it turned out to be free… saving €8.00 off our daily budget. This overnight spot was also the perfect place for us to try out the ebikes in anger. So next morning we set off along the track that starting at our the aire and following the trail by a lake then to a well signed cycle path and a beautiful tree line riverside cycle route that led right into the heart of Ypres town.
Given the history of the battles in and around Ypres The Cloth Hall, which runs along the large cobbled square could easily fool you to believe it was at least 500 years old. When actually, like the entire town, it was levelled and was reconstructed after the 2nd world war.
Cycling through the square we reached the Menin Gate an imposing broad and tall white archway stands solid over the road. 60,000 men’s names are engraved within, listing a vast array of initials, surnames and regiments from all over the commonwealth.
Although the names only represent those killed in this area who have no grave, it was found to be too small, another monument for 35,000 more was created at Tyne Cot Cemetery. And, these memorials are just for those with no grave. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise what these men went through and to be moved by those thoughts. We left it tearful.
Passing up the opportunity to pay a respectful visit to the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Passchendaele or any of the other 157 similar cemeteries in the region we headed for Bruges.
Both us have been looking forward to ‘Brugges’ with Its attractive combination of pretty canals meandering through the medieval centre. But Bruges disappointed us as much of ‘medieval’ Bruges is a clever lie, built only 100 or so years back? I guess also part of our disappointment was the unexpected volume of other tourists, many of whom had arrived by cruise ships docked at Zeebrugge. Who even on a grey October day thronged through the place like sheep to market, only sheep with cameras.
Belgium is famous for beer and chocolate but one thing that strikes you when wandering the streets is the sheer volume of shops selling chocs of every variety. It’s amazing who buys and eats it all!? There were some amazing displays including this one full of chocolate skulls.
Needing food, we found the place away from the main square, that appeared not too expensive (looking) and not fast food? It only took cash which fortunately restricted our selection to what we had in the wallet. The cheese panini and a croque monsieur were ok but was steep at €40.
The Beer Wall bar is on the tourist map and I think it suggest the Belguim’s make a few different varieties of ale, with a whole gamut of confusing names like Abbey, blonde, tripels, dubbels and quadrupels but which are apparently generally the same style of beer.
There’s a lot of folktales about where the names “dubbel,” “tripel” and “quadrupel” came from. You might think dubbel is “twice as strong? But the term Dubbel came about because the Westmalle Trappist abbey had long made a single beer, but then they made a second type of beer, which happened to be much stronger (but not necessarily twice as strong). They called this beer “dubbel” to denote it was their second beer. The tripel, however, is a very dry, golden beer which has its origins in the early 20th century; generally speaking, the tripel is very similar to a beer it was allegedly patterned after: the Belgian Golden Strong Ale (e.g. Duvel).
After a few hours of looking at the tourist looking at touristy things, we’d had enough and headed back to Charlie II, deciding we wanted to find somewhere off the tourist map so we upped sticks and set a course for Rotselaar, not heard of it?, neither had we, so just perfect!
It’s great to find a quiet spot all to yourself (well almost just one other MoHo). Peace and quiet achieved it was only mildly disturbed by the sound of the rain pitta pattering on the roof during the night. When camping ‘living amongst nature’ hearing birdsong at daybreak is always a pleasure. So imagine our delight for the third morning in a row of being woken at 7am by the unmistakable sound of the ‘Eagle’ arriving for their early morning collection at a nearby refuse point. Ah, Home Sweet Home