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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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?

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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

The Great Escape

During my adolescence I spent many a happy Saturday afternoon in the Regent Cinema in Stanford-le-Hop, watching 1960’s ‘Classic’ war films (It’s probably a boy thing). This movie diet created an (admittedly less than perfect) cinematic understanding of what had happened during the war still fresh in the memories of our parents.

And there were some great titles around in the 60’s. My favourite was Zulu (I saw it 7 times!). But amongst the other 2nd World War classics were – The Dam Busters, 633 Squadron, The Great Escape and A Bridge Too Far.

The Rakotz Bridge in Kromlauer Park. near Bad Muskau

Leaving Berlin we headed south west to see a bridge close by the spa town Bad Muskau, well known for its Kromlauer park, which sits astride the Neisse River, and is half in Germany and half in Poland. The park is the largest and one of the most famous ‘English’ garden parks in Central Europe. The park’s eye catcher is the Rakotz Bridge, a folly built between 1863 and 1882. In the mirror of the water surface, it forms a full circle and is thus probably the most famous photo from the park.

Cycling through the park with nature’s dazzling display of autumn colours was just delightful.

The 750 hectare park was created in the first half of the 19th century by the garden-mad Prince Hermann of Pückler-Muskau. The prince had studied gardening in England and spent his entire inheritance and that of his soon to be ex-wife developing his own garden dreamland.

Given the limited photo editing capabilities of the iPhone, It would have been going ‘too far’ to expect to get an image of the Devil’s (Rakotz) Bridge as good as this one below I assume taken at a similar the time of year.

So we weren’t expecting this…

The Rakotz Bridge undergoing essential maintenance – Didn’t they know we were coming!

The park is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it seems dear Hermann has been vindicated not only for what he left behind, but what he contributed to the field of landscape architecture while he was alive. In any case, he and his ex-wife remained friends. The park has also lakes, an English cottage, a chapel, a Medieval fortress and several elegant bridges and can be explored on foot, by bike, or by boat.

On route we stopped in the attractive town of Lübbenau to pick up bakery supplies and to check out these sculptures in the cobbled town square.
A distinctive former East German ‘barber pole’ border marker. The spike on the top is to deter birds from perching on it.

Charlie II’s parking space in Bad Muskau last night was shared with 3 other motorhomes. The reasonable €10.50 (including tourist tax) overnight payment was collected by Mike the helpful park keeper cum part-time DJ…? who gave us maps and encouraged us to go and explore the Geopark just over the border in Poland.

Lesley crossing the wooden boarded old railway bridge

So before we set off the next day it was out with the bikes again for a quick whizz into Poland. With aid of Mike’s map, the route was easy to follow initially crossing the old railway bridge over the river Neisse (no monsters here) and via the (Boris take note) borderless, border into Poland.

A more humane Polish border marker pole – lacking the bird skewering spike!

Moving away from the river the path skirted the small border town of Łęknica. As we rode through we both simultaneously commented how ‘Scruffy’ it felt especially compared with its well-groomed German neighbour.

We’d passed a busy, large tobacco kiosk selling (TAX Free?) cigarettes by the case. Many of the rear gardens were unkempt, small grubby vegetable plots or just neglected overgrown and unloved yards. We cycled by doggy compounds guarded by mad barking dogs and young men in hoodies fixing up old cars amongst crumbling brick-built ruins overrun with weeds.

Eventually the scruffiness melted as we entered the Geopark. Even though us humans have exploited every last inch of this place (leaving the damage for everyone to see (eg collapsed mines). The numerous lakes created by this activity painted an appealing natural picture. Cycling along the well-maintained route you saw a variety of mini-lakes in full rainbow colours of greens, reds, browns and yellows. Some quite different from their neighbour.

The variety of these colours is as a result of the natural occurring materials exposed and exploited by man. Brown coal (lignite) was extracted both in deep mines and open pits.  In the 19th century, there were about 60 mines, each having several extraction pits. The open pits left about 400 lakes spread all over the region over a surface of some 280 square kilometres.

The commercial use of these geological features, coal, chemicals and other useful products from the earth, has resulted in this post-mining landscape mix, of nature and man’s footprint. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

There’re some breathtaking (literally) views from the top of this viewing platform

Compared with the surrounding villages there appears to have been considerable effort to make the most of the Geopark which I assume attracts many visitors at other times of the year. So we were pleased to have it virtually to ourselves.

As we were so close we thought we would pop into Poland to Żagań, and visit the site of Stalag Luft III, the prisoner of war camp that inspired the film The Great Escape. Made in 1963 it is based on the true story, of the POW’s who dug three tunnels in an audacious plan for 200 captured allied airmen to escape from this infamous camp.

The film was a classic and I‘ve lost count of number of times I’ve seen it, each time hoping Steve McQueen will, make it over that second barbed wire fence to Switzerland….

The Great Escape museum is a pleasant enough experience but makes little of the association with the film. Although it does explain some of the history of the place via a series of photos, copies of documents, models, personal items loaned by relatives and items excavated from the site of the camp 1 km away, I’m not sure it conveys what these men went through as powerfully as the (semi-factual) film manages to do.

3 tunnels were dug Tom, Dick and Harry. Harry was the tunnel where the bold escape plan was carried out.

Tom began in a darkened corner next to a stove chimney in hut 123 and extended west into the forest. It was found by the Germans and dynamited.

Dick’s entrance was hidden in a drain sump in the washroom of hut 122 and had the most secure trap door. It was to go in the same direction as Tom and the prisoners decided that the hut would not be a suspected tunnel site as it was further from the wire than the others. Dick was abandoned for escape purposes because the area where it would have surfaced was cleared for camp expansion. Dick was used to store soil and supplies and as a workshop.

James Garner & Steve McQueen played characters introduced for the US audiences

The entrance to Harry was in the sleeping part of hut 104 under an iron stove. The work started on 11th of April 1943 and it was planned that it would lead towards the north. It was Harry that was actually used for the escape on the night of the 24th/25th of March 1944.

The tunnel was 111 m long and about 10 m below the ground. At the bottom of the shaft there was a room with an air pump, excavated sand storage and a carpenter workshop.

Along the tunnel there were also two wider chambers, so called halfway stations named after London tube stations (Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square).

The tunnel had electric lighting and its walls were covered with 2,000 bed boards and 45 bunkbeds. A total of 132 tons of sand was dog out, the 12 tons of which were carried to the tunnel ‘Dick’. 80 tons were spread under the theatre seats and 40 tons with disposed of by ‘penguins’ a special group of prisoners carrying the sand in long sacks hidden in their trousers and spreading the sand all over the camp grounds.

The escape was set for Friday, March 24, a moonless evening. On the night, freezing temperatures had hardened the ground. It took more than an hour to open the exit shaft, only to reveal a near-catastrophe: Harry fell a good 20ft short of the forest. The first man in fact emerged just short of the tree line, close to a guard tower meaning escapees had to risk crawling across open, snow-covered ground to the trees.

Plans for one man to leave every minute was reduced to 10 per hour. By four in the morning, it was decided the 87th man in the tunnel would be the last to go. Above ground, meanwhile, a sentry patrolling the perimeter approached the edge of the woods to relieve himself, only to notice steam rising from the ground.

As he approached, three escapees broke cover with their arms raised high. Startled, the guard fired a single shot into the air. Armed guards swarmed the compound and eventually a roll call was taken. The numbers tallied were startling. Seventy-six men had escaped.

Of the escapees, 3 made it to safety, 73 were captured, tragically Hitler personally ordered 50 of the officers to be murdered, the other 23 were sent to various other POW camps including Colditz.

The Stalag Luff III camp was massive holding more than 10,000 POW’s. In the film it tells how 600 men were involved in the escape planning, tunnelling and creating clothing, false papers and creating all the supporting equipment and deceptions etc.

In the final months of the war ending the remaining POWs of Stalag Luff III were faced with a winter force-march from the camp, ahead of the advancing Soviet troops and eventual liberation.

http://www.214squadron.org.uk/Graphics/The_March_British_POWs_1945.jpg

Just before midnight on 27 January 1945, with Soviet troops only 16 miles away, the remaining 11,000 prisoners were force marched out of camp. In freezing temperatures and 6 inches of snow and marched 34 miles to Bad Muskau where they rested for 30 hours, before marching the remaining 16 miles to their eventual destination of Spremberg…..

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley