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

Berlin’s Up’s Downs

Many of us have our downs and our ups, for example: three decades ago, the Springboks were widely viewed as a pawn or a symbol of the white-minority apartheid regime. On 2nd November this year they beat England 32-12 in Japan, earning their third rugby world cup crown. But this team broke new ground, being the most racially-mixed in a national sport which was once the preserve of the white elite.

The Springboks’ final stop on their victory tour pounded home the message of unity in a country still nursing the wounds of apartheid a quarter-century after its end. “Look how we are all different, different races, different backgrounds, and we came together for South Africa and we made it happen,” Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ first black captain, told thousands of fans.

Last Sunday marked 30 years since the Berlin Wall was torn down, ending years of painful division in the German capital. It had been constructed overnight and on the night of 9 November 1989 it fell, with thousands of East Germans travelling to the barrier to demand the gates be opened.

Wall Art on a section of the wall called the East Side Gallery
There were two walls for escapees to overcome an inner and an outer

As it turns out, the actual fall or opening of the wall was the result of a mistake.

The East German government had announced at a press conference on November 9, 1989 that it planned to loosen restrictions to allow greater free movement of people. A representative read a public pronouncement and took questions. When pressed by a journalist as to when the regulations allowing people to cross into West Berlin would go into effect, the government representative didn’t know the official answer. As it sometimes does, pride got in the way. Fearful of showing ignorance, he made something up: “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay.”

With that prompt, East Berliners flocked to the border crossings to see if the news was indeed true. The East German government was unprepared. Without guidance from superiors as to what to do with the crowds, the commander of the now famous Bornholmer Straße border crossing opted against violence, ordered his guards to open the border, and allowed East Berliners to cross.

Another famous incident illustrating the barbarity of the shoot-to-kill order occurred on 17 August 1962 when 18-year-old would-be escapee Peter Fechter was shot and wounded and then left to bleed to death as East German guards looked on. There’s a memorial in his honour on Zimmerstrasse, near Checkpoint Charlie.

Trabants smashed car sales during the DDR era, so I was disappointed not to see any on the streets

We had managed to park our Charlie not at the checkpoint, instead our 5* accommodation in a stellplaz not far from a tube station, but at €27 per night it was our most expensive so far. We’d read mixed reviews of the staff, some reviewers saying they were friendly, others complaining about the grumpiness of the woman on reception. I’d agree with both these sets of opinions and would add my voice to the complaints about the petty charges, (€20 deposit for a gate key and €10 for a 2-pin hook up adaptor. €4 to use their toilet, €2 for fresh water…. ) I guess as a major city site with a 100+ motorhomes they’d probably had issues with campers stealing sheets of toilet paper that had necessitated these Nazi style rules.

The former headquarters of the Stasi now a Museum

At least once we’d settled in we weren’t spied upon unlike those East German’s living with 92,000 Stasi employees plus informal informers in their midst. Our first destination on our two-day whistle stop tour was the Stasi Museum. I had some idea of the activities of the GDR’s secret police from the excellent film ‘The Lives of Others’ whose plot is about the monitoring of East Berlin residents by agents of the Stasi. The Museum is housed in the former headquarters and is full of detail, but for me a bit overwhelming and after 90 mins I’d had enough.

The Reichstag (home of the German parliament) was badly burned during the war.

Although the ruined building above was partially refurbished in the 1960s, it was not until after german reunification in 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.

Behind the Reichstag, the river Spree is a natural dividing line between the two ex-halves of Berlin. On the East bank of the river is an impressive new Parliament Building .

Visible in the image above are six of the seven white crosses on the Western bank of the Spree, put there in 1971 by a group of West Germans in memory of the East Germans who died in their attempt to flee to the West.

Film and TV crews were setting up their equipment as we walked under a flowing net of 100,000 rainbow coloured nylon strips, that moves with the wind in front of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate. Many of the strips had written messages of love, peace and hope.

A naked protester at the Brandenburg Gate – We had no idea what this guy was ranting on about. Maybe “Meine Bits frieren”?
Alexanderplatz

Arriving up from to subway to a cacophony of noise and finding footage of historic pictures and symbols projected in a multimedia show on the buildings in the Alexanderplatz square, was very powerful and moving.

The Alexanderplatz demonstration (German: Alexanderplatz-Demonstration) was a demonstration for political reforms and against the government of the German Democratic Republic on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin on Saturday 4 November 1989. With between half a million and a million protesters it was one of the largest demonstrations in East German history[A] and a milestone of the peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.

To some extent the real history of what people lived through remains apparent in buildings of the former East Germany. It feels that bit poorer, a bit more austere. In the centre of Berlin 30 years of investment has definitely blurred the line, but travelling through from West to East the differences are still there to be seen and felt.

And yet, although the West is in general is a bit prettier, more colourful, the West’s buildings are less plain faced, more individual. Unlike the soviet influenced apartment blocks of the east. These differences are the physical scars of the history that created them. However I would argue, that while East’s image is less attractive to glitz and glamour seeking tourist like us, there is still oddly, a beauty in the historical honesty and truth it tells. Let us hope Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) continues….

Brandenburg Gate symbols etched on the underground carriage windows

Getting about Berlin is really very easy. The city’s network of underground trains, trams and buses are all fully integrated, so single day ticket allows you to hop on and off at any point. Well that’s the theory until you get to Hauptbahnhof!

Berlin Hauptbahnhof station is the German capital’s main station, it’s big, if fact it’s huge, it’s also the most confusing place I have ever been trapped in. The multi-level, open plan design with its impressive arc of curved glass roof and supporting steel structures, sets a trap that once inside the network of multiple lifts and elevators, innocent passengers are caught in a high-tech web of assorted main line train and underground platforms heading in every conceivable directions. The ability to read German is of little use, as the limited number, but bewilderingly numbered signs and illogical colour coding are utterly confusing.

After 45 minutes of utter confusion and for the sake of our sanity, we took the only option, take any train, to anywhere but the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

Please don’t try this at home – Whilst scratching our heads at the top of an UP escalator, a confused man (we weren’t alone) made to go down (the escalator), realising his error he tripped and deposited most of his carton of 12 beer cans on the downward moving flights. Naturally seeing his plight, we immediately ran over to help him to his feet. I then inexplicably headed off down the moving stairs to collect the man’s remaining run-away cans. I managed to gather them all and turned around to attempt the near-death experience of trying to run up a down escalator whilst trying to keep hold of the subsequently ungrateful man’s alcohol….

I really wish I’d seen this YouTube clip before I embarked on such a misadventure… It’s worth watching this to the end

Tood lep IP

Dave & Lesley

It’s Grimm up North

Germany is a country with a long and rich tradition in folklore, with stories many us know and love. It’s also the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, storytellers who collected fairy tales and folklore from far and wide with characters such as Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and that one with the name that the Queen finds hard to guess.

Can you guess my name?

We’re in the Harz mountain region, travelling from Goslar (v nice) on our way to Wernigerode where we passed alongside and crossed over the Harz steam railway that transports tourists to the nearby Brocken mountain, a popular place steeped in witchery, folklore and myth. We thought about taking a ride on the narrow gauge train that runs to the top but as the Brocken was shrouded in cloud we decided to give it a mis(t)…

Our targeted stellplatz in Wernigerode is near the centre of town but when we arrived it was full, which meant we ended up along with 20+ other motorhomes in the lorry park just outside. We thought it was strange for there to be so many vans here this time of year but we soon discovered why.

Today was the chocolate festival chocolART in Wernigerode.
One of the many temping stall selling far too much chocolate naughtiness
Wernigerode is a really pretty town with a very friendly atmosphere

On the market square in front of the historic town hall and many of the shopping street around there were dozens of chocolatiers from all different countries, selling chocolate presented in a huge number of imaginative variations. Along with the chocs there were lots of accompanying stalls selling tempting alcoholic beverages, Bratwurst sausages (seemed very popular) and all manner of other naughty looking stuff.

Best not choose the spicy Bratwurst next time

Lesley went for the hot sausage (not for the faint hearted). We also tried, in spite of not having a clue what we might be ordering and whether it was sweet or savoury, something called Kürtőskalács (translated as lard cakes) which turned out to be sugar-dusted doughnut pieces in a paper cone.

The tourists who came on this vintage outing had obviously heard of the school bus trip to Lake Bala

After Goslar and Wernirode, Quedlinburg (just outside of the Harz’s foothills) completed our trio of the area’s attractive medieval towns. Once again, we had chosen a parking spot close to the centre but this time there was space for us amongst the other camping cars and tourist buses (new and old).

Arriving late in the afternoon the town had a distinctly autumnal and out of season feeling. Going for a wander we met Norbert Kline (local guide) but we passed up his advances, choosing instead to explore on our own the mystical maze of cobbled medieval streets and to soak up the diversity of the aged architecture.

Quedlingburg Town Hall

Quedlinburg is said to have Germany’s best collection of creaky half-timbered buildings (more than 1,200 – probably the reason for its World Heritage status). But back in the day the poor witches around here had a really hard time, when Quedlinburg burned 133 suspected witches in a single day in 1589.

These fortunate ladies were just hung for a spell on a whirligig outside a shop

Strolling around is a magical experience; one of those places where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Although Quedlinburg has hundreds of pre-16th-century buildings, some are a bit down-at-heel, even after 30 years of reunification investment there’re many who are not yet completely tourist camera ready.

In German folklore, there is a tale of an imp that rattles sticks, makes creepy noises in the dark, and has been compared to a poltergeist.

In the Brothers Grimm tale, a miller tells the King that his daughter can spin straw into gold in order to gain the King’s favour. Of course, the daughter can do no such thing which is when the magical powers of the infamous imp becomes useful to her.

He offers to spin the gold for her in exchange for her firstborn child once she becomes Queen. When he comes to collect his payment, the miller’s daughter, now a Queen, refuses to give up her child. So the devilishly cunning imp only agrees to release her of her debt if she can guess his name. And after three days of guessing, he returns to take the child but the Queen’s messenger has overheard the imp singing his own name so with her third and final guess she reveals his name as Rumpelstilzchen which promptly drives the angry Rumpelstiltskin quite mad.

Toodle Pip

D & L

Liebesbankweg

The German word Liebe translates in English as Love. So, Liebesbankweg = Love Bank Path.

I learnt the word Liebe a while ago whilst I was on one of the first skiing holidays in Zell am Ziller in Austria, I was asked by a very attractive woman if I would like to try some ‘Heiße Liebe’ (Hot Love). Tasting ‘hot love’ on that holiday created a often desired love for vanilla ice-cream covered in delicious warm dark cherries soaked in kirsch mmmmm….

Last night we’ve parked Charlie in a Stellplatz in the town of Hahnenklee specifically to enjoy walking the Liebesbankweg.

Lesley and Charlie II wrapped up warm

The weather had changed during the night and although there was no snow, we woke up to a heavy frost on the ground and at +2 degrees it was bitterly cold. Fortunately there was no wind but the chilly air gave a hint of what this area could be like in winter, when this hill turns into a winter-sports playground with four downhill ski slopes plus a bobsleigh track. In the summer the skiers just change their outfits to tackle the multiple downhill mountain bike tracks.

Route finding was easy and our path soon crossed over the bike trails, on the tracks and emerging at a fair lick we saw at close range the downhill bikers racing down the twisting root exposed course, each one desperately trying to avoid cuddling a tree and us! (note to self – I need to get some of that padded MTB plastic armour).

A couple of competitive bikers had obviously hit this at some speed!

The varied route is popular with ‘lovers’ and lovers of walking of all ages and appeared to have attracted many to come out on this sunny but frosty Harz mountains to enjoy a bracing weekend hike.

Lesley with that Ready Brek glow admiring the many stone stacks.

As we climbed through the forest we passed by large sculptured seats positioned for lovers to sit, reflect and enjoy a views There was also various art works on the route and as we reached the highest point we started to see lots and lots of stone groups or stacks that people had gathered together.

Emerging from the woods the path staarted descending down past the ponds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Oberharzer Wasserwirtschaft”.

Much of this system of dams, reservoirs, ditches and other structures were built from the 16th to 19th centuries to divert and store the water that drove the water wheels for the mines in the region.

Dave screwing around with the Archimedes’ pump

Close to the dams there is a brilliant children’s play area where kids of all ages can transfer water from streams to channels via series of specially constructed and imaginatively engineered contraptions.

We both loved this interesting and varied 7k circular walk that led us eventually back to this attractive wooden Stave Church and our starting point at the busy parking lot.

On the subject of love, I came across this….

My One Eyed Love

I've fallen in love- I don't know why
I've fallen in love with a girl with one eye.

I knew from the start. It was plain to see
That this wonderful girl had an eye out for me

She's charming and witty and jolly and jocular
Not what you'd expect from a girl who's monocular.

Of eyes - at the moment - she hasn't full quota
But that doesn't change things for me one iota.

It must be quite difficult if you're bereft.
If your left eye is gone and your right eye is left.

But she's made up her mind. She's made her decision.
She can see it quite clearly in 10/20 vision.

She'll not leave me waiting, not left in the lurch
If she looks slightly sideways she'll see me in church.

I'll marry my true love who's gentle and kind.
And thus prove to everyone that loves not quite blind

Toodle Pip (till next time)

Dave & Lesley

I’ve lost my hat?

Looking back, the education I received in my formative years largely passed me by. Algebra, grammar and the periodic table all failed to make a lasting impression. However I do remember the school trips. I was one of the kids lucky enough to have parents who could afford to pay for the ‘educational trips’ on the train to Paris, the German tour of Cologne & Koblenz and the unforgettable outdoor activity holiday to Lake Bala, North Wales.

A 1950’s Bedford OB with Duple coachwork very similar to the school bus that broke down so frequently on the Bala trip

Clearly those early memories had a strong influence. It therefore comes as no surprise that touring around Europe by campervan is in part due to those seminal adolescent influences.

To get the most out of our meanderings a bit of research is required. Firstly we decided to spend the time before Christmas in Germany, that narrowed it down a bit. Neither of us have spent much time in Germany, so we toyed with ideas like the Octoberfest (but we’d get there too late) the German Christmas markets, some walks in the countryside and how about Berlin.

Slowly a rough plan emerged but more investigation quickly revealed that Germany is a huge place with absolutely loads to see and do. After a bit more internet-time a couple of themes started to emerge ‘Culture, Architecture and Nature’ and UNESCO World Heritage sites have these covered in spades. In fact, if you’re looking for the C, A & N hot-spots in Deutschland (or indeed anywhere) you perhaps need look no further.

After leaving the World Heritage Site at Vogelsang, we avoided Bonn and Koblenz and drove 150 miles northwest to Marburg with its elegant castle that looks down on the town below.

The attractive medieval centre of Marburg was busy with local tourists enjoying the street food and buskers entertaining the crowd.

Charlies berth for the night was a small Stellaplatz next door to the towns’s main camp site. There was considerable faffing when we arrived whilst the two of us, like some hyper version of a Laura & Hardy double act tried to service our toilet cassette. I really hope no one saw us pair trying to simultaneously feed the meter, keep our food grade the hose away from…, open and close the high pressure tap. Oh ‘such fun’ and it really didn’t take that long to dry out!

The Marburger Schloss (Castle) located on top of Schlossberg. Built in the 11th century as a fort
Marburg had nice feel to it but it was thirsty work and a pig of a climb to reach the castle at the top of the town.

Our next ‘port of call’ was the large town of Kassel with our sights firmly set on the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe on the outskirts of Kassel, which is of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The extensive park, sprawling over 240 hectares and took 150 years to be completed. The beautifully landscape park is a great place to spend time in and has a number of amazing attractions (including the Löwenburg Castle).

The Löwenburg Castle is said to be modelled on a Scottish castle but if I’m honest it just looked a bit over the top, trying too hard to be too fairy tale.
When they open the gates a huge volume of water cascades off the end of this fake ruined Roman aqueduct.

The 1,725 ft tall Karlsberg hill towers over the park, topped by the Hercules Monument, from where water is released over a waterfall that rushes down to the gardens via a stunning gravity fed fountain below. That sadly, closes for the season in early October. However seeing the scale of this water management here has given me a few ideas for our more modest water feature at home.

Although the scale of the gardens is impressive many of the structures have been designed to look like roman ruins. This faux approach personally doesn’t work for me, ok yes people do create folly’s, in large parks, stately homes etc, but every structure here look fake and Disney!

We really enjoyed our walk through the park and the next day we went off-piste to play in the extensive grounds this time on our bikes. We were able to enjoy and experience the natural, less-tamed beauty of landscape, which probably will have a greater lasting impression than the designed-to-impress, man-made elements of the Bergpark.

Hann. Münden’s building facades were reminiscent of those in Chester

Our next stop was the medieval town of Hann. Münden, when we arrived it was rammed with other motorhomes. We did manage to squeeze in Charlie and connected up to the last remaining electrical hook up point amidst the muddy spaghetti of other cables.

Only after inserting our 1 euro coin in the machine did we discover why the last connection was available; the socket wasn’t working! Oh well, the next morning before we left we tried one of the other outlets and managed to get a few hours battery charging as someone else had kindly left a few watts unused.

Charlie parked up in the Stellaplatz in Hann. Münden.
We saw this outside a cool looking piano bar, I’m guessing the pianist is also a keen gardener?
The very impressive Hann. Münden Town Hall with 16 bells

We sat at a nearby bakers to have a coffee just in time to watch the 12 noon performance across the square of these figures emerging from the windows to play along with the 16 bells on the face of the Town Hall.

All very nice. Alas, once they’d finished we went off in search of a cash machine only to discover ‘I couldn’t find my hat’. We checked our pockets, looked in our bags, nowt… Ok so now it’s time we really put google translate to the test. The not overly friendly woman in the bakery who had given us an old-fashioned look when we’d ordered coffee, looked at me even more strangely when we returned and I enquired Entschuldigen Sie, Ich habe meinen Hut verloren?

After much searching and various hurried trips retracing our steps to the bank and then back to the bakery, then the tourist information office. To be eventually very relieved to find ‘meinen hut’ hooked on a roadworks barrier near the bank….

Last night we parked up in the designated area outside the Hainich National Park which is one of the 16 national forest in Germany and would you believe it?, yes it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sprawling deciduous woodland is home to several rare species of animals and birds, and the park contains the last remaining central European beech forests. Although the fantastic range of vibrant autumn colours in the forest we have been through were not so obviously evident here.

The first attraction of this park was the tree top canopy walk that lets you enjoy a bird’s eye view over the entire parkland and beyond. But another time there are also an abundance of interesting walking and bike trails to explore.

The long wooden walkway meanders its way along the tops of towering trees and spirals upwards to the observation tower. En route, visitors are fed nuggets of information about the forest and its flora and fauna. One interesting observation we read on an information board asked the question can you name as many trees as makes of cars?

Now not many people get the chance to see exotic wildcats that have been reintroduced to the forest going about their business in their natural habitat. This rare, shy creature, is almost never seen in the lush wilderness of the forest below the observation deck. But without a word of a lie I did manage to feast my eyes on this very life like picture of one, even the paw print in the top corner is real….!

I also spotted this caged cat purring along one of the walkway’s aerial challenges for children. She’s just a big kid really…

Well that rounds up the last few days. It just leaves me to recall once again the instant when I first tasted French bottled water on that 1965 train trip to Paris. The schoolboy reaction I had to the revolting carbonated, most distinctly mineral flavoured water was… Yuk. So, imagine my delight when Lesley made the tea with the same foreign fizz she has accidentally brought in Lidl this week. But hey, at least we’ve only another 5 x 1 litres bottles to go.

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Recycling

Having a bike holds very fond memories for me, memories of building bikes, using rusty old frames we’d salvaged, with no or at least optional brakes. We’d paint them up to zooming about in the woods and race around the local Rec. Mine had a fixed gear so by standing on one one pedal you could go up and down like the horse rides on a merry-go-round.

I remember watching Eddie Merckx on the TV and dreaming of having a new racing bike like his. So imagine how chuffed I was when Christmas 1969 after all the presents had supposedly been opened and my Dad told me to take out the wrapping paper to the garage and there where they’d smuggled it was a shiny two tone blue second-hand racer, with drop handlebars and clip-in peddles.

Easy rider: Merckx takes a breather as he leads the pack during stage 8 of the 1969 Tour
Eddie Merckx’s victory in the 1969 Tour de France

Lesley and I have had hybrid bikes for a while but haven’t really used them much since moving to Cumbria. During our last trip in the Loire in Charlie I we’d really enjoyed hiring electric bikes which fired us up and as soon as we got back we started looking for a pair of our own. The size of Charlie II’s garage was perfect to fit in all our stuff (skis etc) and a couple of E bikes. After much research we settled on a pair of Sduro Hiabikes, chosen mainly for the battery size and the powerful Bosch Performance Line CX 75 Nm motors, that is just perfect for helping a fatty like me up the hills.

Belgium seems to be very, very bike friendly – bike racks and many cyclists in towns like Ypres. I guess with famous Belgium riders like Merckx and Sir Bradley Wiggins you’d expect cycling to be ingrained in the national psyche.

After a good first run out on our steeds in Ypres our next stop turned out to be an even better area for cycling. Suitably aided by a distinct lack of bumpy bits (hills) we found the traffic free routes and really easy to follow signs showing the direction to and at each section end-point.

Image result for google translate

Reading the reviews we had already decided to stay for two nights at ‘Nollekes Winning’, in the garden of a restored traditional Belgian farm. Its rural location was in the middle of a fruit growing region with a wide variety of crops from apples & pears to multiple varieties of fir trees. It’s always a great feeling when you arrive somewhere and have a good first impression. Although our host didn’t speak much English he did make us very welcome and showered us with maps of cycle routes, recommendations plus a host of tourist guides albeit in Flemish…..!

Not speaking the ‘lingo’ wasn’t so difficult as we’ve discovered for the first time the wonders of google translate, A couple of French children introduced it to us last trip and it is bloody marvellous. By speaking to the mic, the app will translate your speech in whatever language you choose. But the best function is the camera. Whilst using the app you point camera at text and it overlays the original text with English. This is brilliant for menus, road signs, camp site info in fact anything….. “Are you open on Sundays”? Haben sie Sonntag Geöffnet, brill. AND if you’re too embarrassed to give an instant pronunciation a go, the app will say it for you… unnnnn….believable!!!

The almost traffic free cycle routes were exactly what we had hoped for before coming away, a mixture of cinder tracks, tarmac road sections and autumn leaf covered bike specific paths. Most of them smooth and mostly level with just enough hills to warrant using the TURBO setting occasionally.

Typical of the quiet roads we encounter on our ride
Reading between the Lines church

This impressive sculpture near Borgloon called ‘Reading between the Lines’ was reached via a short walk through cherry and pear fields, was a modelled on a nearby church although I’m not sure how much protection the parishioners will get when it rains

This would have been a nice spot for lunch, had we remember to bring the purse!

We found this nice spot near a small lake in Bilzen about 13km from where we’d stayed and a perfect place to stop have our lunch and relax in the sunshine. So relaxed was Dave he left his rucksack behind and only discovered it was missing when we got back to our parking to the farm. A frantic dash was required back to Bilzen in Charlie II this time, to thankfully find it still on the bench where we’d left. pheeeew. All I can say in my defence is I think Lesley should have spotted that I wasn’t wearing it? That makes it was her fault right, eh wrong, oh well it’s worth a try….

So it’s goodbye Belgium hello Germany, and a quick stop in Aachen to have a look at their famous Cathedral. (A B C, it’s as easy as one, two, three
As simple as do re mi…. )
In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first building in Germany to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During World War II, Aachen, including its famed cathedral, was heavily damaged by Allied bombing attacks and artillery fire, but the cathedral’s basic structure survived. Many of the cathedral’s artistic objects had been removed to secure storage during the war, and some which could not be moved were protected within the church itself. However, the glazing of the 14th-century choir hall, the Neo-Gothic altar, a large part of the cloister, and the Holiness Chapel (Heiligtumskapelle) were irretrievably destroyed. Reconstruction and restoration took place intermittently over more than 30 years, and cost an estimated 40 million euros.

We liked Aachen lot, a manageable size not small, attractive but not overrun with tourist. But with Charlie II needing somewhere to rest his wheels, we set off to the Rurberg in The Eifel National Park, a huge area of natural beech mixed forests with panoramic views of impressive lake landscapes and open grasslands.

The Eifel National Park has a motto “let nature be nature” and it applies to more than half of the area. This is mainly because of the military use of this area over the 80 years after the war has generally kept people away leaving nature to its thing. This has enabled thousands of threatened animal and plant species to re-emerge in the special and emerging habitats here. Rare species such as black stork, eagle owl and wild cat have been able to have places vital to their survival in the Park

We will probably stay in some unusual places on our trip but the bargain stellaplatz (overnight €6) with a large parking area on the edge of Ordensburg Vogelsang might yet prove to be the strangest.

Vogelsang is on a huge natural elevated finger of land with a dominating position overlooking the whole Eifel National Park. This former military training area was built in the early 1930s chillingly to take German cadets from humble backgrounds and transform them into the elite of the Nazi Party.

The scale of the camp is enormous, the concept of training a complete leadership from indoctrinated youth is hard to imagine without seeing this reality. In February 1945 it was captured by the American Army with the end to 2nd World War two only months away. After the war it was first used as a training ground by the British army and then by Belgian Forces. Since 2006 it has been open to the public.

A text on a sculpture in the grounds expresses Vogelsang purpose in clear and no uncertain terms: “For the development of a loyal, physical impressive and ideologically resolute group of nationalist socialist fighters”., “creating the racist ideal of a master race in national socialism”.

I personally find this very chilling in the context of what is going on in our world today.

With lunch packed and the rucksack (this time) securely fastened we decided it was too nice a day to spend time inside the museum and so we headed off on a 20km circuit around the reservoir.

This profile of this route was very steep downhill at the start. A beautiful flat section on a level path following the edge of the reservoir. Then a ridiculously difficult steep, rock strewn muddy track up to this viewpoint. After setting me off with a big push from the bottom, Lesley was left to ride, push and wrestle her bike up from the dam to here. it’s no wonder she has her eyes closed…!

We’ve had a few complaints from Charlie II, it’s been suggested that he’s not getting enough credit and that this blog is too much about cycling. To set a better balance I have agreed to point out some of Charlie’s very considerable attributes. For instance like how roomy and spacious his garage is, ideal for transporting the new ebikes and how large the access door is ,just perfect for loading and unloading two bikes… There, even BBC management couldn’t complain about the lack of of editorial balance, could they?

Toodle oo for now

D&L

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

Home or Away

The football press have been in raptures recently about Liverpool’s remarkable comeback in the Champions League semi-final overturning their European rivals Barcelona’s 3 away-goal lead to win 4-3 at home. Tottenham’s similar 3-3 win over the Dutch side Ajax, was also unexpected after being 1-0 down from the first leg at home.

So, what’s it like for us playing at home compared with being away in Charlie?  We’ve been back now for about 6 weeks, long enough to write a few observations, share a few statistics and reflect on life on the road.

Uk Customs – calais

Driving up through northern France the magnetic pull of home became stronger and stronger.

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

William Shakespeare

First impressions of blighty

As soon as we arrived back in the UK, we immediately noticed the sheer volume and intensity of the traffic. After the calm and absence of traffic on the motorways in northern France, the M20 was a wake-up call. The density of cars, vans, lorries of all shapes and sizes was a real shock. The M25 was worse and was compounded for us by a 90 min delay whilst they closed the M25 near the M11 after a serious accident only 20 or 30 vehicles in front of us, caused enormous tailbacks. The traffic on the big motorways around the large towns in France is, to be fair, probably comparable but wherever we’ve been since returning to the UK, there seems little respite from the congestion on this small island of ours.

Bluebell Woods Duddon Valley 22nd April

Being at home

Fortunately for us, life in the Lakes (except during major public holidays) is a lot calmer than our baptism of fire in the south east. Without doubt coming home was always going to be more comfortable than being on the road. One of our April commitments was to lead a walk for our local ramblers group and after a couple of recces around the natural beauty and relative peace of the Duddon valley, we both adjusted quickly to appreciate where we are very fortunate enough to now live.

Lesley has taken early retirement which raises a few important questions for the future. How do we want to spend our time when at home? Will ‘that‘ (whatever ‘that’ is?) be enough? Do we need to have a purpose? Conversely what is endlessly touring all about? Do I need ‘a project’? There are many questions we have still to answer but they’re interesting problems opportunities to have and thoughts to ponder on.

At home we can enjoy the comfort of our home and the company of our family and friends. However, whilst touring life is simple, your daily worries are usually about basic needs. Like: where to stop tonight, do we need water, where’s the bakery, what’s the weather like? At home things aren’t quite so relaxed. The ‘tyranny of the list‘ is ever present.

Our lists include:

Jobs to finish off on the house, things to fix on Charlie, maintenance on the car, garden plants to buy, landscaping & garden planning, doctors and dentist appointments, letters & cards to send, presents to buy, shopping list, bills to pay, accounts to finalise, packing for holiday…..what? yes we’re off again!

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Decision time

13 weeks has been a good long time to assess the good points and bad points sssssssh about Charlie. Is the Chausson 640 the right spec for us? On the face of it, it has so much going for it. It’s not too long but is Tardis-like inside. It has a big bed but it takes up no space and loads of other really good attributes. Where it falls short is in the heating department.

For example when skiing at minus 15 we weren’t able to reliably heat the water. Compared with the double skinned ‘European quality’ vans Charlie’s winter coat and heating system isn’t that great. It’s not possible to set timers for either the heating or hot water. The heating relies on full electric hook up or a good charge in the habitation battery.

Whilst it is possible to ‘manage’ and improvements could be made by insulating the waste water tank, adding a second leisure battery and solar panels and so on. These mods would make it more winterised and boost the electric capacity, but in the end there are options out there that we think will suit us better.

An upgrade to a better spec, even for a used vehicle isn’t going to be cheap. Therefore, we can’t complete the purchase of Charlie II until a new buyer is found for our faithful companion for 3 plus months. But we have found a van (an A class) we like and have put a deposit down so all will be revealed in due course.

  • Days away        95
  • Miles            6,462
  • Av per/day   68     Close to our 50 miles per day target
  • (excluding Cumbria/Tunnel/Cumbria)
  • Diesel         €1,513     Averaging 27.5 MPG including use of the
  • Webasto diesel heater
  • Supplies      €1,119    
  • Eating out   €1,923    This is all Lesley’s doing!
  • Overnight      €545     That’s €12 average for the 45 nights which weren’t ‘free’ or wild camping
  • Attractions    €918     Includes Ski passes which are big part of this cost
  • Tolls              €279     Tolls in the first week were €120! + €76 to go through the Frejus tunnel
  • LPG                €48      €3.50 per week is good as 6kg would last about 2 weeks and cost €15/€20
  • Medical            €55
  • Overnight           €8     Service point only
  • Ad Blue           €21     Equals to £2.80 per 1,000 miles
  • Clothes         €225     Lesley’s new skiing jacket after a chair lift oil dripped on her ‘white’ one.
  • Laundry          €96     GARY, we had seven paid trips to the Laundromat, plus two freebies 😉
  • Sundries         €97
  • Buses etc      €275     Includes 2 x Eurotunnel tickets @ €112
  • Total            €7,120     = £6,224 or £65 per day

And… the burning question how many beau villages in France did we visit? The truth is we’ve lost count! It is more than 20, but we’re going to have to read through all the posts to check for sure…

The lessons we learned are mainly to do with the motorhome as already mentioned. A few others are: We became better at budgeting the further we got into the trip so £50/day is a realistic target. However, we need to balance the cost saving of free Aires versus the sociability (perceived) of campsites. A season multi resort ski pass would make extended ski touring more affordable. We’d like to see more of Spain. Endlessly visiting tourist hot spots no matter how good they are, is not as spiritually rewarding as connecting with nature (walks/cycling) local people or fellow tourers.

Maybe it’s partly because our opportunities to explore more of Europe and beyond may be more difficult in the future… whether as a result of Brexit or changing attitudes to impact of flying. However for me the draw to travel is as strong as ever. We have a few ‘normal’ holidays planned then we have an outline plan to go away again in Charlie II in October for about 6 months, including the idea of flying back from somewhere for a couple of weeks at Christmas.

In the meantime we have decided to spend the summer focusing mainly on converting the wilderness at the back from a building site to something resembling a garden.

Weighing up the benefits of being at home against the unknown adventures of travel is a tough call.  Tottenham’s victory in Holland was a close-run contest, however under the Champions League rules, in the event of a draw, away goals count as double!

Toodle Pip till next time

D&L

Leaving with a good impression

Art historians consider Impressionism to be the first distinctly modern movement in painting. It started in the 1860’s in Paris and the ideas of the movement spread throughout Europe. Instead of the photo-quality realism of a highly blended finish with invisible brush strokes that was the accepted manner of painting at the time, Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, fleeting effect of a scene on the eye, especially the effects of light.

Claude Monet Impression, sunrise 1873

Because they were interested in light these artists left the studio and began painting in the open air. And because they painted outside, they had less time to mix colour and had to paint quickly to keep up with the ever-changing daylight. This resulted in work with loose brushwork that looked unfinished or messy compared to the accepted work of the time.

After leaving the Loire we are now making our way to Calais and the Eurotunnel. However we thought we would break the journey with a visit to Claude Monet’s house & garden at Giverny near Vernon, north west of Paris. Where he lived and painted, amongst many others, the now famous water lily painting.

Monet’s bridge

We arrived at Giverny late in the afternoon and found the free motorhome parking where we planned to stay overnight. After the usual cuppa on arrival, Lesley went in to pick up the tickets we’d ordered online hoping to avoid queueing the next day. Following a wander through the colourful museum gardens, Lesley found the house but was too late to pick up the tickets. The village was crowded with people. In a nearby cafe a man was playing smooth jazz on a piano in the courtyard, so although busy this gave the place a nice relaxed ambiance.

Next morning bright and early we were off to beat the crowds and being some of the first people there, I was hoping to get the iconic image of the bridge before it was crammed with with day trippers like us.

It wasn’t long before coach parties started to arrived and the place was buzzing. As one of the first to be let in we started to look round the garden but I soon realised that we’d missed the sign at the entrance directing visitors straight to the ‘Lily pond’. So I back tracked and headed for the water garden to beat the coach parties whilst Lesley lingered in the flower gardens and Monet’s rather eccentric house.

Although organised formally the mixed borders were planned in informal cottage garden style, all very lovely.

As Lesley took the chance to beat the queues for the house, I found a bench overlooking the Lily pond and sat there soaking up the beauty of the place and watching all the various coach-sized slugs of Japanese, American, French and British groups come by to snap ‘the picture’ of the pond and the bridge…

A brief moment of calm

Occasionally there would be a quiet spell for maybe half a minute before the next batch were processed though by their guide with a flag and microphone.

Lyons-la-Forêt

After spending a couple of very pleasant hours we headed off to Lyons-la-Forêt. Stopping there for lunch, we were about to call in at the boulangerie when we spotted a restaurant with pizza on the menu, well, it would have been rude not to go in!

Michelin* starred restaurant

We nearly blew our daily supplies and eating out budget on lunch (I had fresh mozzarella vegetarian pizza) in a upmarket cafe attached to Michelin* starred restaurant.

Previously we had been thinking we might stay in this area, but about this time – a bit like Moley calling out after Ratty in Wind in the Willows – the magnetic call of home started to get stronger. So we went online and changed our booking to bring the tunnel crossing forward by a day.

“The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go. ‘Ratty!’ he called, full of joyful excitement, ‘hold on! Come back! I want you, quick!’

‘Oh, come along, Mole, do!’ replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding along.

Please stop, Ratty!’ pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. ‘You don’t understand! It’s my home, my old home! I’ve just come across the smell of it, and it’s close by here, really quite close. And I must go to it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!’

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he too could smell something— something suspiciously like approaching snow.

‘Mole, we mustn’t stop now, really!’ he called back. ‘We’ll come for it to-morrow, whatever it is you’ve found. But I daren’t stop now— it’s late, and the snow’s coming on again, and I’m not sure of the way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there’s a good fellow!’ And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.

With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began chattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and how jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he meant to eat; never noticing his companion’s silence and distressful state of mind. At last, however, when they had gone some considerable way further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse that bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, ‘Look here, Mole old chap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet dragging like lead. We’ll sit down here for a minute and rest. The snow has held off so far, and the best part of our journey is over.’

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found…”

Excerpt from chapter five of Wind-in-the-Willows by Kenneth Graham

Properly stuffed we headed back to Charlie and set off again, this time for the coast. A couple of hours through some lovely countryside took us to an aire at Stella Plage with a gigabyte size beach.

Nice beach but it was still a bit too cold for a swim or a paddle
Charlie parked up neatly behind the beach protected from the sea breeze by the sand dunes.
All very Victorian with a nice splash of colour

We have driven the best part of 6,000 miles around France and Spain. So it came at as a bit of a shock yesterday whilst driving on a straight road though Stella Plage, a car approaching from our right came screeching to a halt at our side blasting his horn. “What was all that about?” I said to Lesley? It was only later I realised that car on my right had intended to drive straight out because HE had right of way (= la priorité)

I can image the conversation that would have ensued had we crashed. “Qui Mousier, Don’t you no ze rules when driving in a small, obscure backwater en France, it is priorité à droite…” My response is probably unprintable, but would have included comments about how un-impressed I was with the French road regulations lack of ******** consistency!!!!

Following a caravan in to the Euro tunnel train.

Arriving back in the UK after 95 days on the road, our first and overriding impression was just how much traffic there is on the UK’s roads. In spite of the recent work to widen or make our motorways ‘Smart’ the shear volume of cars, lorries, buses (and motorhomes) the road network is coping with is staggering. I know France and Spain are twice as Big as the UK by area and have similar population numbers to ours, but even so, it really is absolute madness here!! At some point I’ll right up a summary of our tour with some reflections, observations and statistics (including how many beau villages we visited) But for now I’ll sign off my thoughts with this.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyám

Happy Easter to everyone and Toodle Pip till next time…

Dave & Lesley

Amboise

We woke up to a beautiful, sunny morning in a France Passion site near to St-George-sur-Cher.

Before we set off this morning the owner of the winery Pierre, came by to apologise for the smoking pyres dotted around the vineyard. He explained that they set fire to the straw bales at around four o’clock in the morning. From what I can gather this is a relatively new process, where the smoke from the fires forms a cloud over the vineyard, which softening the sun’s rays as it rises. This is to prevent the first rays of the sunshine burning the buds that are frozen during the night.

Back in Amboise, we collected the bikes and set off on today’s outing, a circular route to the famous Château de Chenonceau.

Another 46 km, will our posteriors ever forgive us!
Flat out (top speed 49.4KPH)

I don’t think even with the added battery power I’m going to make the grade for the ‘Tour de France’.

Great spot near Blére with lots of picnic tables

We found a good location for a quick lunch with picnic tables, however although it was sunny it was still bloody freezing. If we’d been organised bringing one of the flasks with some hot soup would have been a good idea. As I don’t think the Loire equivalent of Wilfs cafe in Staveley near Kendal exists.

The Cher valley

This area is very pleasant indeed, the Cher river is smaller and quieter than the Loire with less development close to the river. That is apart from Chenonceau… although technically speaking, Chenonceau is on the river.

lesley framing the iconic image of Château de Chenonceau

Perhaps the most famous of the many castles in the region, Chateau de Chenonceau is an impressive sight. Spanning the River Cher, it’s an attractive mix of architectural styles and is best known for being the residence of Queen Catherine de Medici. The endless rooms and halls are decorated sumptuously. It’s history is also very accessible through the engaging information provided of the colourful lives of its multiple owners.

Monster oven in the extensive kitchens

Getting good images of the interior of this very popular place without including the backs of peoples heads is really quite difficult. I’ll save you from having to wade through the dozen’s of photographs we took of the interior except this one taken in the briefest of lulls in visitors walking in to spoil the shot.

Château de Chenonceau gardens are huge

Lesley would like a garden with a wall with a gate in it. However I think we should start with a garden first!

Having visited many of the houses owned by the National Trust in the UK I was disappointed with the gardens here. Although the gardens at Chenonceau are very extensive, for my taste I thought they were very formal with the sort of creativity usually reserved for the orderly, symmetrical beds in the middle of roundabouts planted by local council.

Sheep and tortoise (not shown)

Although the French probably can do chic better than most. Their taste can at times certainly be questionable. I can only assume it’s meant to be very tongue in cheek, but faux sheep were definitely very tacky and not up to NT standards and to cap it all (shock horror) neither were the tea rooms!

I much prefer the concrete cows in Milton Keynes cows to a random Green Daisy!
We liked the lilac or was it wisteria growing up this cottage in the gardens

The visit to the Château de Chenonceau had been well worth in spite of the freezing cold (100 kph?) headwinds, at least we’d been able to get some feeling back in our hands, standing by the large log fire in the main entrance hall.

Not another fake… this time as we cycled through a nearby village – I wonder where they got the idea from?

Arriving back at Amboise we had cycled along mainly dedicated cycle ways and quiet back roads though pretty, sleepy villages, clocking up a total of 90km over the two days we had rented the bikes. But we feel quite inspired to get our own ebikes now….

We both had really taken to Amboise and the area around it. Before leaving we planned to visit the popular Sunday market which is meant to be one of the best in the area. Therefore after a comfortable night in the Municipal Campsite on the island we packed up parked Charlie outside the gates and walked over the bridge into town.

Artichokes a speciality of the Loire region

Following the crowds along on the town side levy, we were soon wedged in with the masses getting our ankles bumped with pushchairs as we squeezed between the queues lining up to buy from the stalls.

The fruit and veg on all the stall looked really well presented and fresh., there were also several stalls with huge pans of paella.

Not sure the image really does justice to the variety of fresh pasta for sale.
This chap looked like he tried one too many of his own free wine samples!

We didn’t buy that much, just a few bits of veg, some bread and brioche €6, oh and the strap on my cheap watch broke a few weeks ago so I looked at a few stalls to find a replacement but in the end brought a new watch for €5. That’s a euro less that the bread…! But then you can’t eat the watch.

Time to go!

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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