The Italian Job

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.

1 o’clock
4 o’clock

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.

Torrezzetta

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.

The Torrezzetta agriturismo

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?

Parma

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.

This delicatessen was like an Aladdin’s cave for foodies – Full to bursting with Parma hams, Parmigiano-Reggiano and local wines.

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.

Modena

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.

The ice cream was sooo good

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 ClaraMaranello

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.

We didn’t know how yummy Balsamic was with parmesan cheese

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.

Balsamic vinegar tour guide

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?

Toodle Pip

“This is the Self Preservation Society, This is Self Preservation Society”

Something fishy

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…..

Toodle Pip

D&L

Go No Go

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 nearly missed Mittenwald

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

It really isn’t that cold – Ok I’m lying it’s blumin freezing

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.

The pretty Lautersee lake

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….

Chapel of the Queen of Mary

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…

Toodle Pip

D&L

Answer – You don’t knock on your own hotel door and the man did.

Driving in and out of Austria

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.

Lake Constance

I’m driving home for Christmas
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

Chris Rea
Lesley at the wheel – Singing the song that became the sing along tune, as we approached the final weeks of this part of our trip.
Austria in the distance
A borrowed image of Neuschwanstein Castle, we gave it a miss due to far too many tourists even in December
Charlie II parked up in Schwangau near Fussen
Schwangau church
Charlie II admiring the view
Plansee Am – Austria
The road to Eibsee Lake – Near Garmish Germany

The video of the engineering of this cable car impressed the hell out of me when I first saw it.

It was quiet here at night at the bottom of the Olympic Ski Jump after the workmen had gone!

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.

The Zugspitze cable car

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

Toodle Pip

D&L

PS – Sorry for the accidental early publication of a version of this blog

Puzzled in Bavaria?

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

  • regular physical activity
  • pursuing intellectually stimulating activities
  • staying socially active
  • managing stress
  • eating healthily
  • sleeping well

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!

EDWIN HYMER MUSEUM

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 serpentine ramp you follow up to the 1st floor – I doubt some of the old cars displayed there would have made such a steep gradient towing their caravans behind.

The museum is not all about Hymer but more a history of caravanning from its earliest beginnings.

A Trabant from the former GDR with custom aerodynamics!
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
This caravan’s interior represented the height of luxury

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!

Yes this is a 1930’s Morris Oxford Motor caravan

The Brits were some of the early pioneers in the motorhome world, entering the field with a “Timeless classic”.

The interior of the Morris Oxford – You can imagine the sales literature of the day describing the interior as ‘Home from home’
Not much difference between the Oxford and the interior of a Hymer 2020 model then!

Carthago City

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.

Carthago only produce one of their model ranges (the E line) in Aulendorf , all other models are made in Slovenia 

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.

We were surprised to find assembly is from the inside out, with the sides, roof and the cab assembly added last.
The top 150 mm of the side panel is curved over at the top edge to meet the roof panel. Very neat.

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).

The complete cab is pushed forward as one of the last operations.

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

Bad Waldsee lake
Bad Waldsee is a pretty place especially with the Christmas decorations added

Each of the Town Hall’s 24 blue windows were numbered and were being opened in turn during Advent.

Ravensburg

Our next stop was the town of Ravensburg, famous over the world for jigsaw puzzles
A busy Christmas market in the old town’s ‘Marienplatz’ (main square)

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.

Ravensburg with the lights on
Our night out at the Ravensburg market Christmas ‘rave up’ the local swing band singing familiar festive songs mainly in English .

Merry Christmas to all our readers…

Toodle Pip

D&L

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

Castles, fairytales & legends

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, 
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.

Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story
This castle is real but the image is borrowed

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.

Oh dear….. But it’s only flat at the bottom….

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.

Bad Urach

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.

Hohenzollern Castle

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"
if only they’d cut back the trees a bit

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.

Blautopf (Blue Pot)

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. 

The fish must like the colour of the water as the river flowing from it was teaming with sizeable looking specimens

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?

Toodle Pip

D&L

Tales of the Riverbank

Lesley outside a very special multi-story car park

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 MercedesBenz history.

Each of the exhibits were in immaculate condition as if hey had never been used

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?

Mercedes Jellinek

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.

Red with cream upholstery – Not to every one’s taste but this model was WOW
Is Hydrogen the future?

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.

Otto – Mercedes 300 GD

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.

The sound system reverberated the noise of race cars roaring around a circuit

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.

Schumacher at the wheel of a Mercedes

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!

Toodle Poop

D&L

The Romantic Road

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.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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.

Your guilt was on full view when carted off in one of these.

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.

A comfy chair and flat bed to help relax your tongue?

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 Neck Violin – used to publicly humiliate or shame offenders

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.

Witch catchers were used to retrain witches’ necks from a safe distance
A shame mask – I can think of a US politician who could do with wearing one of these!

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.

An Old Romantic

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 confession concession.

The Rothenburg picture postcard shot
“These City walls

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 found
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

U2 – From The Joshua Tree
Charlie parked up the night outside the fortified town walls
Dinkelsbühl – Our next stop on the Romantic Road

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.

FlorryTheLorry

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.

Florry inside was like a luxury garden room, complete with pot plants

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?

The more garish the colour the better apparently – and for the houses too!
Dinkelsbühl Zentrum (town centre)

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.

Our guide with a map

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.

We saw lots of examples throughout Germany of window dressing for Advent

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?

Toodle Pip

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.

The Nürnberg Trail

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….!

Charlie happily parked up with his German and Spanish friends

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!

Handwerkerhof

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.

The world would be a much better place if these were acted upon

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.

Weisser Turm
The Ehekarussell fountain

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!

The Pegnitz river – A nice place for a waterfront apartment perhaps

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.

On reflection this is my personal favourite!

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.

http://www.fenestra-nuernberg.de/
The Medieval Weißgerbergasse – The houses were built to the same height, similar themes but in quite different styles.

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

Toodle oo

D&L

Bamberg – Bampot

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].

We like heilin coos

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 childFeart – Afraid
Blether – GossipGie it laldy – Put some effort in.
Bonnie – BeautifulGutties – Soft, rubber plimsoles
Bowfing – Smelly, horribleHoaching – full / swarming
Breeks – TrousersKen: To know
Clipe – A snitch or someone who tells talesMessages – Grocery shopping
Coo – CowNeeps & Tatties – Turnips & Potatoes.
Crabbit – Bad temperedPeely-Wally – Looking pale
Dreich – Foggy, cloudy, overcast.Piece – A sandwich
Drookit – Soaking wetScunnered – Bored, fed up
Drouthy – Thirsty.Wean – Child
Eejit – IdiotWee – 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

Bamberg Rasthaus (Town Hall)

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.

With the waterside houses , they call this area of Bamberg Little Venice
The ornately decorated side of the Rasthaus

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.

Cathedral, old court yard and cathedral square

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.

This region with more than 200 independent breweries which brew approximately 1000 different types of beer, has the worlds highest brewery-density per capita…. so it has to be investigated, right?

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.

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 inThere’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.

Bosch Service Centre hidden in a back street of Heiligenstadt

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.

Yes I look a ticket, but it was bloody cold

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

D&L

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

Sent to Coventry

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.

Meet Hewey our sprung loaded jumping trip mascot, near the town of Hinterhermsdorf
The House of Guests! – Closed Mondays!

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?

A bit Swiss looking

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.

This great a great cycling area with dozens of trails

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 Bastei giant pinnacles of sandstone rock are tamed by the stone bridge

The stone bridge, dramatic in its appearance, as it connects these towers of rock and then seems to lead nowhere.

River Elbe 200 metres below

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.

An image taken as we ‘passed though’ deciding not to stop in Dresden

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….?

Toodle Pip

D&L

Last but not least, but did you know Coventry is UK City of Culture 2021!

Bohemian Rhapsody

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.” 

We didn’t see many photographic images of Polish towns as we drove south but this was one

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.

Camp66 – Great campsite with big log cabin restaurant

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……?

Helloo!

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.

Drips of water had frozen on the tips of fir trees looking like fairy lights on a xmas tree.

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.

These strange frost formations looked like Santa Claus’s moustache.
National Park, Mumlava Waterfall that cascades into deep pools.

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.

It’s a shame the mist made the photos hazy, but it made the atmosphere all the more mist-teary-us

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.

Demonstrators hold signs at an anti-government protest before the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. [David W Cerny/Reuters]
Demonstrators in Prague 9th November 2019 at an anti-government protest before the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution

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!

Czech / German border – No longer in use

“Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth”

Toodle Pip

L&D

PS A “bohemian” is an unconventional artistic free spirit who lacks anything tying them down…. so where next?

Dawn Chorus

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.

The Cloth Hall

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.

The Menin Gate

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.

Perhaps this where the name Death by Chocolate originated?

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.

Can you spot Lesley in the The Beer Wall

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

Toople Pip

D&L

Roaming around Romagna

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?

The arches of Donkey’s Alley

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….

The clock tower with Brisighella below
View towards The Monticino Church – on the third of Bisighella’s 3 Hills

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.

Ravenna

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.

  • Some of the finest surviving Byzantine mosaics are preserved in the city of Ravenna. 
  • The Byzantine Empire, so-called for the former name of Constantinople, was the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire.
  • The surviving Byzantine art is predominantly religious and follow traditional models that translate their carefully controlled church theology into artistic terms.

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.”

Classe

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.

What’s the collective noun for fishermen – ‘An exaggeration of anglers’ perhaps

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.

The iphone is not good enough to get a close up of the Sacred Egyptian Ibis – This one is borrowed.

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.

Toodle Pip

D & L

Leaks in Les Gets

Skiing can be an expensive holiday, especially if you go at peak times, to exclusive hotels and chalets can be eye-wateringly expensive. Then there’s the ski equipment, lessons and all those tempting spa treatments to consider. By booking in September 2019 our two Les Gets ski passes cost us £725 for the whole ski season from December to April, plus 3 x 1 day passes for any of the other ski resort in the Haute Savoie. This compares to around £500 per week for two individual passes. A bit of a bargain methinks.

The car park at the bottom of the Les Perrieres ski run would therefore be our home for the next few weeks. We hadn’t been here in a motorhome before but had stayed last year close by at Praz de Lys. So we were quite surprised when we arrived to meet a couple we’d got talking to 12 months ago whilst down in Cluses servicing Charlie I .

Judging by the big pile of snow next to our parking spot, Les Gets had had plenty of snow over the last few days. And with Charlie II parked in a ski-in, ski-out spot we we were very excited to get going and reacquaint ourselves with the pistes and to sample as many as possible of mountain huts.

Every few days we need to service the van at the nearby Flot Blue to empty the waste water, add fresh water etc. Whilst backing up on one of these trips Lesley noticed spots of oil where the van had been parked.

We checked the oil and it was on the lower mark….. Looking at the engine under-tray it was covered in oil so we had a problem. I hadn’t checked the oil recently we therefore had no idea how serious the leak was. We called our insurance and after adding a litre of (very expensive €19.80) engine oil we made arrangements to drive it to the nearest Fiat commercial garage.

The European assistance via our insurers Comfort were excellent – very attentive and helpful throughout. They offered to to recover us to the garage but as Charlie II is over two years old any repair costs would be down to us.

The Fiat garage was at Anthy-sur-Léman on the south side of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), where we found a free MoHo parking place to overnight on the lake shore.

Digressing for a moment – A few days earlier Lesley lost both of the soft plastic bits on the bridge of her Silhouette glasses and had to resort to her spare pair. We had no luck getting replacements in the opticians in Les Gets. We went to two more in Morzine. The first couldn’t help and the second said “Je ñ’en ai pas” he (didn’t have any) or that’s what Lesley heard when he gave them back to her.

So whilst waiting for the garage to open we spotted another optician – Lesley was about to hand over her specs when she notice the bridge pads were in place??? Making a quick about turn to hide her embarrassment, she slowly began to realise the man in Morzine must have made very quick work of fixing them, either that or it was the fairies working overtime….!

Back to the oil leak – Well after a short wait the technician came back to announce it was good news, the leak was from a punctured oil filter (probably by a stone). However with parts, oil and labour the bill was 130 euros, but I guess it could have been a whole lot worse.

With Charlie II now as good as new, we headed back to Les Perrieres to catch up on more skiing stopping by at the patisserie en-route to buy our favourite cakes a Mille-feuille for Lesley and Religieuses au chocolat for Dave.

These snow covered trees had a life like quality – as if they moved or danced when the slopes were empty!

A big dump of fresh snow made the task of trying to visit all of the squillian mountain huts in the Les Gets /Morzine ski area that much easier. We still have a few to do but currently Le Vaffieu, Chez Nannon and La Grande Ourse on the Mont Cherry are our favourites.

The outside oven at Chez Nannon where the meats are cooked

Getting around Les Gets is really easy so most days we’d ski straight back to the van or if we ended up in town we could hop on one of the 4 free buses routes that after a scenic (pensioners) detour all took us passed Les Perrieres.

The Ski 2 Chalet Fleur de Neige

After nearly three weeks in the van in the Les Perrieres motorhome car park we were ready to share a bit of luxury in the Ski 2 chalet with my nephew Chris and his wife Laura.

Chris Laura & Lesley

Poor Laura aggravated an old riding injury on her back, after just a few days skiing and quite sensibly decided to take it easy for the remainder of the week leaving Chris to have the ski instructor to himself and by the end week had developed from his snow plough into a few parallel turns.

Not sure what holds up Le Chasse Montagne’s log fire chimney?

For our last day we decided to go to one of the few remaining restaurants we hadn’t visited this time the very nice Le Chasse Montagne. With access from both the slopes and by bus we all managed to meet up for a very nice lunch.

We arrived in Les Gets on the 7th January and have had some really good weather with blue skies, sunshine and cold crisp (-10) nights over the last 27 days, creating some just perfect skiing conditions. But the last couple of days the temperature has risen to 10 degrees bringing rain rather than snow. So with this set to continue we have decided to up sticks and head south.

But as we were preparing to leave, with the rain pouring down and getting heavier and heavier that’s when I found this big leak…., oh please yourself!

Toodle Pip

D&L

Dolomite Sprint

A report out this week found that foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most. Therefore I’m ashamed to confess that I’m rubbish at languages and almost always defer to Lesley, that is except in the case of Russian. Where I have a handy phase or two “Moye sudno na vozdushnoy podushke polno ugrey!”

Travelling around the South Tyrol working out what the language is can be very confusing – as although part of Italy, the first tongue of the locals in the Süd Tyrol is German. So you end up not knowing whether it Buongiorno or Guten Morgen…or even some obscure regional Dolomite dialect.

Arriving at the pretty town of Brixen/Bressanone (the map producer is also confused) was a place, we realised later, we have been to before, although not a town with great memories. As on a ski trip a few years ago our friend Rosie O’Shaughnessy fell and broke her hip the very instance she first put her skis down on the snow. Which resulted in a air ambulance journey to Brixen hospital.

We walked into town from our motorhome car-park heading for the Xmas market and hoping (Dave) to find a place for a pizza. The market in front of the Cathedral was quite small and was selling the Italian variation of Christmas market gifts (plastic domes with shakable glittery snow scenes). Not tempted we wandered around the old town admiring the Advent calendar on the windows of a building in the square, but not finding pizza we ended up eating back in Charlie II.

Technically the bumps they call the Dolomites are in the Italian Alps, but they’re quite different in appearance from the rest of the Alps. Although in many ways when the sun catches the soft brown colouring it can make them more striking than say Mont Blanc, Matterhorn or or Eiger. That said, the Matterhorn is pretty stunning..!

The Dolomites, also known as the “Pale Mountains”, take their name from the carbonate rock dolomite. This was named after 18th-century French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (1750–1801).

After 12 consecutive nights without mains electric, we decided we needed a bit of luxury. Biting the bullet, we paid €28 to the campsite in Corones for a hedge protected pitch, electric hook up and hot plentiful showers with toasty-warm heated floors.

En route we took a detour for some food from the market stall in Brunico (Bruneck). Here, there’s a new Mountain Museum created by a local hero, the climber Reinhold Messner, but unfortunately along with all the shops it was closed for a two hour lunch, maybe next time.

Slowly recovering from the shock to budget from the campsite, our next priority was a top up with diesel and what turned out to be another hit in the wallet. Looking back I think we were spoilt by the price of fuel in Belgium where diesel is typically €1.20 per ltr. So it came as quite a jolt, when at the first Sud Tyrol stop we had to pay €1.70, yes €1.70 per litre.

Heading southwards, we passed through the Italian ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo (the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics). This reminded me of one of the very first special cars I owned a 1966 Ford Cortina MK1 GT. 

The Ford Cortina wasn’t always destined to be named after an Italian ski resort. It started life as Project Archbishop and could have been Caprino, until somebody realised the latter is a slang word for goat dung

It was just lovely driving through Dolomites, carefree in the sunshine and although some of the roads were narrow there wasn’t much traffic. So we were both woken up with a fright, when after a bit of climbing to go over a high pass, (with Sat Nav trying to make us turn round) without any earlier warning a 3.0 m high tunnel sign appeared immediately before a hacked out hole in the rock with the road going through it. Our Carthago is 2.85m high so all we could do was close our eyes and keep to the middle……!

Charlie and I admiring the views!

I wonder how long this piece of tarmac string would be if it were stretched out straight?

After a couple hours of climbing up the twisty stuff we found our target for the night, the small ski town of Arabba. We didn’t stop to ski (a mistake in hindsight) and left early the next day after a free overnight carpark (including free hookup!) care of the very generous people of Arabba. With a bit more up to come we made our way on to toward Selva Val Gardena. As we reached and descended down from the highest part of the route we passed an attractive looking ski town of Corvara and Colfosco on a high plateau with some great looking ski runs.

Back once again to familiar territory, we stayed one night in Saint Christiana (one of the smaller satellite villages of the Selva Val Gardena). Finally Dave had his pizza wish in a posh hotel preening itself for the big influx of visitors at the weekend when the Ski World Cup Series comes to the area. We missed that but were entertained by daft locals practicing handbrake turns and Lewis Hamilton style doughnuts on the snow around a pole in the centre of our huge carpark at the ski station.

Finding free (or low cost) places to park in this region are rarer than hens teeth. Having been to this area a few times before our aim was to go ski at Alpe di Siusi. We weren’t permitted to park at the ski station but we discovered ‘The Sporthutte’ – a small out of town pizzeria restaurant in Kastelrotto with parking for campers including hook up but no other services for €25.

The upside was ‘The Sporthutte’ gave us a €10 meal voucher for each night (2) we stayed. Dave had pizza and beer two three nights in a row. Happy man.

The Seiser Alm is an easy part of the Sella Ronda ski circuit with lots of easy reds and blue runs, just perfect for us to get our ski legs going.

One of my favourite places to stop and eat/drink when out skiing is in this small hamlet with a pretty church. When we’ve been before, the warmth of the atmosphere pours out of the door when you go inside. With a large traditional green tiled oven being the centre piece of this cozy welcoming spot.

Alas no more, I haven’t got a photograph of what it was like before. But it has been gutted and completely modernised, all very trendy and chic with spot lights and coordinated coloured seating with matching throws! But they have ruined it. I’m utterly bereft. sob, sob

The car park at the base of the Seiser Alm gondola gets very busy and we were concerned that it might be tight for Charlie to make his escape after our last day, but he managed ok and we set off for an overnighter at Trento or is it Trentino?

After a couple of really enjoyable days of perfect skiing weather in the Sud Tyrol it was time to make positive tracks towards Bergamo and to find the storage place we’d organised for Charlie whilst we returned home to the UK.

Before leaving for Manchester, we caught a train just outside the campsite and the ticket (very cheap) entitled us to go on the buses and the funicular railway up to Bergamo’s picturesque old town, where there was time to explore the cobbled streets and catch up on some last minute Christmas shopping.

Shopping complete, our last task was to wrap a parcel for the rellies in France. With an attractive combination of tourist maps sealed with gaffer tape the package was ready for dispatch. Ah but don’t under estimate the frustration Italian postal bureaucracy can impart. One hour and many yards of brown tape (to cover the maps) and €44 lighter and the gifts were finally on their way.

I thinking he’s having a last minute sit down waiting for his sleigh to arrive before heading off to do the rounds.

There we go a quick Sprint round the Dolomites brings an end to our 2019 Rundfahrt. With Charlie safely berthed for the next 2+ weeks at a motorhome storage place. All that’s left to do is to maintain our sanity as we negotiate the joys of the RyanAir check-in experience for our flight home to Manchester.

Thanks for reading – please leave your comments. The next post will be in 2020, lets see where the new year takes us….

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Any Russians speakers will have translated “Moye sudno na vozdushnoy podushke polno ugrey!” to My hovercraft is full of eels” and Monty Python fans will no doubt wish to point out the phrase was from the 1971 sketch ‘Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook’ so in fact not Russian at all …….