Plan A is to go to Norway via Harwich and the Hook of Holland, plan B is still Norway but via Dover Calais, plan C is an alternative idea to tour France, plan D is to tour Poland instead going via Italy and Bulgaria and Plan E is … err we don’t have a plan E.
Unlike the temperature shock on returning from Portugal in February, we left Cumbria enjoying sunny weather with temperatures in the low 20’s. The grey skies approaching London soon changed to a steady drizzle and the typical slow M25 traffic was viewed though metronomic wipers struggling to clear the screen.
Due to the need for the last minute change, the Dover – Calais ferry at £137 was chosen instead of the Eurotunnel at £246 (ok so you don’t get choppy seas in the tunnel). Waiting for the ferry we were surprised to find aside from a small convoy of horse boxes, we were the only motorhome on board. There was just one car but we were surrounded by lots of large trucks most of which had European plates.
Ever since we came home in February we have been talking about our next trip, we were confidently planning a tour of Norway and Sweden. In February it appeared a real long shot, but we hoped that by the time the summer came EU Covid numbers will have improved and borders will have opened up. Well it’s not that easy….. FR, NL, DE, DK SE and the NO governments have all multiple changes to their plans for opening up. The current largest hurdle is Germany.
Organising the Norway trip has been a nightmare. Each country on our route has repeatedly changed their entry requirements, with contradictory statements adding to the confusion. This has made it almost impossible to plan with certainty. Thinking we understood what we were allowed to do, we booked a ferry from Harwich to Holland only to have to cancel as Germany announced the Delta strain is a “variant of concern” meaning Germany will not allow UK residents to enter or transit through unless they quarantine or (we think) have spent at least 10 days in the EU!
France changed their rules on the 9th June 2021 and (currently) we’re allowed in provided we’ve both had PCR tests within the previous 72 hours and are fully vaccinated. So the plan is to start with a slow meander down to see Lesley’s family near Chalon-sur-Saône.
The dreich weather continued into France and followed us to a free aire on a disused railway line at Marcoing just south of Cambrai. Avoiding parking under the trees to avoid the drip,drip,drip of Chinese water torture, we had a good nights rest.
It was very sobering driving through the tranquil rolling landscape of north eastern France, how many well tended war graveyards we passed. Each small town we drove through made you think of the sacrifice made my hundreds of thousands of young men who gave their lives fighting over yards of foreign soil for our freedom and our shared values..
Next day the weather improved slightly and we were able to enjoy a ride from parking place in Saint Quentin along the canal and around the old town. This was after a false start when we had to return to put a charge in Lesley’s bike battery (mine had been charged twice though)!
Saint Quentin’s town square had a couple of bars around periphery open but the middle was fenced off and looked as if it had been organised to marshal people for a Covid test in a shed.
Moving on, our next overnight stop was at Saint-Imoges to a free aire which was a credit to the townsfolk who created and maintain the clean service point and tended the well manicured spacious pitches. We did consider a bike ride through the surrounding countryside, but still feeling jaded after all the departure hassles we opted for a stroll in the woods and around the village.
I had always imagined that grapes were picked by armies of students or cheerful peasants, gently laying the precious bunches into wicker baskets before settling down to a hearty lunch in the vineyards.
- The reality is that most vineyards (where the terrain allows) use mechanical harvesters that resemble some kind of sci-fi grapevine grazing monsters, that straddle the vines and thwack their way along the rows, beating the vines with the help of rubber or fibreglass rods to shake or strip ripe grapes from their stems and bring in the harvest.
- Machines can pick large areas quickly at optimum ripeness, or perhaps before a weather front sets in, helping to prevent crop loss.
Catching a good weather window we mapped with the help of Komoot a cycle route along the canal tow paths and river banks near Tornerre (translates as thunder in French).
Lesley discovered yet another lavoir (wash-house) but thankfully our washing basket is nowhere near full yet!
Time to leave our very comfortable Chablis camp site and head south to Bourgogne and visit the rellies.
Can you spot the very proud and pleased looking Aunt next to Bruce, Lena and Scott.
Our stop to see Bruce’s first house was sadly very brief as the next day we were due at Lesley’s sisters house near Chalon-sur-Saône. It was our first time visiting Sue since she moved into Jean’s house. It was also a chance to meet Jean’s daughter Manon who was lovely.
Fed and watered we set off once more this time Margo was headed north-east towards Alsace.
Although Alsace is part of France, its borders have not always been clear. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since 1681, when Strasbourg was conquered by French forces. As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.
Having previously been to Colmar on route to a ski trip and as we like the medieval Alsatian buildings we picked out Eguisheim as a good place to land. Margo liked the swanky new aire but complained that new tarmac could have been laid level!
All very chocolate box pretty but you could imagine the number of day trippers coming here in the height of summer?
Every other shop in the town sold wine, but you could not buy a bottle of water or milk anywhere we saw..
Leaving behind the pretty village we set off on a bike ride through the vineyards
This machine was working along the rows adding new supporting wires to the top of the vines. Our route took us to the next village before we turned back to follow a track up and through the forest. After a steep start the rough path became gradually overgrown until crossing a stream we came face to face with 3 French soldiers out on manoeuvres.
I thought they were going to tell us to go back in case we were accidentally shot. These guys were carrying some serious kit and looked as though they’d been in the forest all night. When they spoke to Lesley, it turned out they were only interested to know if we’d seen any other “combatants”….. phewee.
With that drama over we returned to Margo and headed for a France Passion (FP) site at Spitz et Fils a winemaker in Blienschwiller (I know not very French). FP’s sites are usually free to stay overnight and you’re not obliged to buy their produce, but we usually think it would be rude not too.
Mark the owner’s son (Fils) gave us an excellent tasting experience. He spoke very good English and shared his extensive knowledge of wine making. We hadn’t previously understood just how much work there is, not only to harvest the grapes and produce the wine. But the vines need staking, pruning, cutting, wire stringing as well as all ground management. (Mark and his dad plant radish between rows as tillage for soil improvement). Well I didn’t know that?
Next morning Margo took us up into the hills to the east of the Vosges mountains, she struggled slightly with the extra 3 bottles from last night but managed the climb up to a parking place near Cascade du Hohwald.
The walk up to the waterfall was just 800m, but was a good uphill leg stretch and likely to be our last bit of exercise before the first ‘attempt at the German border’ tomorrow.
Captain Virgil Hilts would have found a border fence to jump his Triumph motorbike over, but Margo is not that kind of ride, so lets hope the nice border guards look favourably on our friendly faces, double vaccine +10 day stay in France (EU) + plan to transit through German in <24 hours.
We’ll let you know how we get on.
Toodle Pip, Dave & Lesley
PS if you’re interested you might like: https://reopen.europa.eu/en