Friday, 28 August 2015
We had a great time in the Mosel Valley and were sorry to move on but we decided we could always come back for a second visit on our long way back home. Ultimately we were heading for Basel in Switzerland where the Rhine begins before turning around and heading north west. Meanwhile, we had quite a bit of Germany to get through and wanted to experience the Black Forest area as well as sample the pampering spas in Baden Baden.
We stayed two days. The weather was glorius and very hot. It was about a 40 minute walk from our hotel to the centre of town via the delightful Lictentaler Allee where we saw a variety of wildlife including a heron fishing in the water.
It's a stroll you don't want to rush and we took our time marvelling at the statues, flowers, the ducks and herons, and we watched the children playing in the stream that ran through it and people sitting in groups with picnics in the park as well as the grand former Austrian/German palaces along the other side of the River Oos.
We found a nice bar near to the spas and spent a while sitting under the shade of a vine. Vines were everywhere across Germany. They trailed along trellises, hung beneath windows, marched in straight rows on hillsides, covered fields, and grew wild in the countryside. Bars were in a cluster in the centre and people sat on outside tables enjoying food and drink and the sunshine.
The one we were at had a piano player providing background music and entertainment but when we walked on, a dummy at a bar around the corner did the job on a mechanical stringed instrument. It was very lifelike with a huge smile so we took a picture because it reflected our happy and relaxed mood.
One thing that drew our attention, and which I thought was a fantastic idea, was to have an emergency defibrillator in the street. I've never seen one elsewhere especially in Britain which nags about lifestyle, bans you from having choices, and prefers to insult you if your lifestyle is not Government approved in terms of what you choose to eat, drink or smoke. My husband reckoned that a public defibrillator wouldn't last two minutes in our home town. "Some smack-head would probably break it from the wall and try to sell it on the black market for a few quid," he said. I had my doubts and I think if the Governemnt really wants to save lives and if charities like the BHF are really serious about saving people then they would do well to promote concrete methods of saving lives rather than flimsy ideological fluff and stuff based on junk science and scaremongering.
We went and had a look at both spas. There was the Friedrichsbad which looked amazing although I couldn't imagine Roman and Irish as a cultural couple so that added interest. It was definitely the one I preferred to the more modern and sterile, which to me suggested lack of character, Caracalla Spa. We took a sneaky look inside before going and then googled both when we got back to the hotel. Apparently the Friedrichsbad only allows you to go native and, to be honest, we were both a bit too British for that sort of thing so we went for the Caracalla. It was the most relaxing and yet invigorating experience we'd had and we both want to go again. I hate cold but the idea is that you swim in the warm water and then go in the hot saunas, which had temperatures ranging from 45 degrees to 80 degrees, and then in freezing water. I missed out the last bit. I'm always happier and more relaxed when I'm warm. Cold is torture in my view but my husband took advantage of all the complex had to offer - almost.
There was an upstairs but there was a sign saying clothes had to be removed past that point. Were they really naked up there? We had to take a peep and so we crept up and took a look and sure enough there were men laying on sunbeds with all their bits hanging out loud and proud for all to see. We went back down again. My husband fancied it and so I told him to make the most of it while we were there but when it came to the crunch, he decided maybe another day but not today. That day would come later in Bad Bellingen, by accident and not design, but for now we were both relieved to have had the experience in swimwear.
Kehl looked enticing on the tourist map of the Rhine we had bought in Cochem but when we got there it was a huge city and we inadvertently drove into Strasbourg on the French side where neither of us wanted to be. The traffic was horrendous and we always aim to get out and away from traffic choked cities because we inevitably get pushed into directions we don't want to be. Thankfully,we managed to make our way back across the border to Kehl and so we parked up and had a look around.
We did some shopping. I bought a new bag to cary all my junk around and he bought a new shirt. We wandered around some more and that's when we came across the first Stumbling Stones. These commemorate the Jews taken by Nazis from their homes and businesses to death camps. It really brings home to you the agony these people had to endure. Imagine running a business or living in a beautiful home before being taken, having your property stolen and then being put in what can only be described in any religion as a living hell. Stumbling stones allow you to see exactly what was lost and by who and you can really feel that pain in that moment you stumble across one of these subtle little brass tiles in the street. I assumed this one was a family who ran the shop that the tiles were placed in front of.
We didn't stay in Kehl and after a couple of hours, and finding nothing that really interested us, we carried on towards our end point of Basel. I really wish that nations would put at least one camping sign on motorways indicating whether or not camping is available in that area once you come off. The Dutch managed that OK, and we found that greatly helpful, but Italy, France and Germany don't. To find camping you have to come off onto smaller roads. We ended up coming off several times, driving around and finding nothing and then heading back to the motorway again which added hours to our journey.
We came off again at what looked like a small road only to find we had exited at a motorway road works which took us nowhere except to machinery that no one operated. We wondered how we'd get off this because there was no clear exit. Suddenly, from nowhere, a man appeared on foot. He approached and told us what we already knew - that this was not an exit but roadworks. Luckily for us he spoke perfect English as many Europeans do. My other half asked him if he knew of any camp sites nearby and we were both delighted that he did. We showed him our European road map and were not at all surprised that the place where we'd find camping - Bad Bellingen - wasn't on it. He marked it for us, told us how to get back on the motorway and which exit to take and low and behold within half an hour we were pulling up at Lug Ins Land.
This video shows the site and if we'd had children with us, I'm sure they would have loved the activities there too. The video doesn't show any tents but there were plenty as well as camper vans when we were there.
A strange name but a very nice place in the countryside with a marvellous view of the Rhine in the distance and my husband, from a farming family, found his ideal Porsche.
The camp site was about 1.7km from the town and another spa via an inspiring country walk along the Rhine. We were delighted to get another chance to go to a spa before our holiday ended. However, we were both left rather red faced when, because of a language problem, we paid extra to enjoy all the saunas and only found out that we had to be naked when we tried to get in. I determined that no way was I taking off my swim suit but as we sat in a 70 degree sauna with lots of aromatic steam, a man came in naked and we felt, well, rather overdressed. Outside of the sauna, an older woman without clothes was bent over reading a magazine completely comfortable. I swallowed my reservations, took a deep breath full of courage, looked at my other half, said :"Let's do it" and within a moment, we were taking those swim suits off. I held mine strategically placed at all times. Later, when we got back to the camp site, we sat drinking gallons of tea to get over the shock of doing what we thought we'd never do. When in Rome, and all that, or in this case Germany, and we had a giggle while lamenting our lack of language skills. Had we spoken German, I'm sure the ticket staff would have told us what we were letting ourselves in for but not having German, and coming across one of the few Germans who didn't speak English, meant most of what we did was via signs - ie: holding up two fingers for two tickets and the reception lady showing us on the ticket how much it cost.
The camp site was also 1.2km from a place called Reinweller where we found we could take a train to Basel. We'd been there once and drove through but straight out again after not finding camping and now we discovered that we could take a train and within half an hour we'd be there.
However, the day we enjoyed that first long walk to Rheinweller was a Sunday. There was nothing open but we stopped at a shop that had a vending machine outside with drinks and sausages and it was just across the road to the small train station.
I rather liked the bronze pig outside of the shop but more than that, I loved the walk. It went along grass paths, through a tunnel under the road, by the side of the river, and up to the village.
In the next post, I'll write about Basel the people swimming in the river with a clever bag that allowed them to take all of their belongings with them and keep them dry, our embarrassment at realising we had no money to pay for an item that we wanted in a country outside of the Eurozone, our couple of hours wandering around the gorgeous Speyer, and our night in hell in Bacharach before going back to the Mosel, where we learned that, apparently, wine drunks make better drunks than beer drunks, and on to one of our favourite stops at Bad Godesburg and Konigswinter across the river where we told the grandchildren Granddad came across and slew a dragon.
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
We decided to head for Koln (Cologne) after leaving Rotterdam and we arrived late so headed straight for a hotel. It didn't look like they had parking but it was at the back of a hotel via a lift for cars which took it to an upper level. We booked in got settled and then had a walk around the city, saw the glorious Cathedral and visited a church, where I again lit a candle as usual for my Mother near her favourite saint Mary. This is something I always do in memory of her because I'm not a religious person myself but she was and if she has the place in heaven that she wanted then no doubt her spirit will be spent sat next to her God and in a church where the Virgin saint is prominent.
There were many photos around that showed the awful damage of WW2 bombing and the blacked out shadow of the Minster with nothing but flattened destruction all around. My husband bought the poster below as a souvenir. I said the war was a tragedy in many ways. So much culture and centuries of historic construction gone during nights of terror. "They started it," my husband quipped back and I sighed. "Maybe they did but that's not the point."
War is terror after all no matter who is bombing, shooting or killing who and destroying cultural buildings isn't a lot different to what the Barbarians in ISIS are doing to historical sites in Syria and Iraq - although the difference is of course that ISIS thugs are just brain-dead philistines but there was some strategic purpose to WW2 bombing and devastating Koln was done in the belief that it would help bring the war to end quicker while demoralising the Nazis. I don't even think of them as German in the same way I don't think of ISIS members as being Muslims, despite their claims of being devout.
We decided to head back to the hotel after stopping for a meal in the town. We both wanted some German food but neither of us could understand German menus and a lot of what we saw on people's plates looked similar to what we eat at home. In fact, the more we travelled through Germany the more we came to the conclusion that there isn't a lot of difference between Germans and Brits, except for the language which had it's similarities, and I wondered why the hell we fought each other twice in one century. We watched a man trying to train his dog and he used the words "Sit" and "Stay" and "Comen here" (or something like that) but most German words sounded a bit rude to our English ears with a lot of words ending in Farht.
Once back at the hotel, I used the balcony to smoke. I had asked for a smoking room but as usual they were all taken. Only non smoking rooms were left but as it had a good sized balcony, I was content. While sitting out there a couple of police cars went past underneath us and was followed by a march. We had no idea what or who were marching and demonstrating and for what reason. I guessed they were Turkish Muslims but it wasn't until I got home that I google translated the words on their banner. It was to protest the bombing in Suruc in Turkey and a plea to hold those responsible accountable. If I'd known that when I saw them pass, I would have shouted my support but instead I just watched it go by in confusion at what it was all about.
We set off again the next morning with no clear idea of where we wanted to go. Basel in Switzerland was the end point but we were a long way from there and we still hadn't found the little Rhine towns and hamlets we hoped to see. But at least, in Koln, we finally found the river that inspired our holiday.
More motorway madness followed and we headed for Koblenz just because it was the next big town on our map. We crossed a huge bridge which my husband said probably just went over a town but I said we should pull off and have a look. We followed a road round and then eventually came off onto a smaller road and we passed small Germanic type villages on each side with the Rhine running through. We realised we were in the Mosel Valley.
I kept my eye out for camping signs which we followed but the camp site jumped out at us. My husband braked sharply and indicted to turn in when we spotted the entrance to the site at Burgen and then got blasted by the motorists' horn behind him, followed by lots of angry gestures. "Oh-oh, the indicator's not working," he said as he pulled into Camping Burgen. There was no one around but the sign said it was closed between 1pm and 3pm and we had just missed the reception staff.
He spent a few minutes tweaking and fiddling under the bonnet and the indicators worked again. We decided to go off for a couple of hours and explore and then come back. We drove along to Treis Karden, crossed the bridge and drove along the other side of the river for a while then turned and drove back. I think we were both tired but just for a moment, neither of us realised we were on the wrong side of the road because there was no other traffic about. Then I saw a car coming head on and my husband wasn't going to move. I yelled :"What are you doing! We're on the wrong side!" just as the motorist in front of us began to steer his car towards the river and away from us. My husband woke from his complacency and managed to get to the correct side to avoid forcing the unfortunate German into the Rhine. I spent the rest of our holiday knowing that somewhere in Germany was a German who hated us with good reason.
The weather was hot and blessed with blinding sunshine. Campers and their children paddled and bathed in the Rhine which had sandy shores like a beach. I didn't fancy it much myself. Huge barges went back and forth on a regular basis but my main objection to swimming in the river was the fish. Unlike in the sea, the fishes were close to the shore and despite the fact I am a fisherman's granddaughter, and I was once married to a fisherman, anything that lives and moves in the sea gives me the creeps, fish most of all.
The photo above was the view from our tent which had the Bischofstein Castle in the distance which is pictured below in the day and at night with lighting that makes it look on fire. We watched the moon rise and then quickly disappear without trace on the other side of the mountain behind it. We wanted to try and visit but we had no idea how to get there so the next day was spent drinking wonderful German beer in a beer garden and trying to work out how to take a boat trip which we never managed to do.
We aimed to try and follow the river and stopped at Cochem because it was stunning. We drove into the car park looking for a spot and managed to pull into the last one available. A woman approached us and gave us a parking ticket that still had two hours on it and she didn't want to throw it away. We saw there was another beautiful castle up on a mountain but we wondered if we'd have time to get up there. We tried but didn't find the path. We did find some WW1 war graves and wandered around the main square and cobbled streets off it. I fancied my first taste of Bratwurst so we stopped at a kiosk under the bridge. My husband tried a currywurst which was a sliced bratwurst in tomato sauce (not ketchup) with curry powder sprinkled on top. There was mustard on the counter to put on the bratwurst but I wanted tomato sauce instead if he had it. When I asked, the man who served us began a cheerful tirade about how he walks miles every day back and forth from the grillstove to the counter and now I was making him walk more because I should have asked him before he finished my order and then I added insult to injury by ordering two coffees as well.
"Again you should have asked me before ordering your bratwurst and now I have to turn back and walk over there and then back again. I am the troll who lives under the bridge," he said with a cheeky smile. I think that was just his banter. The bratwurst bought there was the best food I had all holiday. It was delicious. My husband enjoyed his currywurst too. Neither of us had another until we got back to the Mosel on our way home a couple of weeks later.
The war still hung over us and every time I saw a charming old and historic building in Germany, my other half couldn't help his mischievous self. "We missed that one then," he said as I reminded him that it had been 70 years since the war ended and it really was time he got over it. "Don't mention the war," I said. "It's getting very tiresome."
Cochem was so beautiful that it remains one of my highlights of the trip.
We followed the river when we moved on but because of our useless motorway map, we didn't know if we were going the right way. That's when we started using the compass to ensure we kept going south west through Germany and not north west back to Rotterdam. We were aiming to get to Baden-Baden because I'd heard about its wonderful spas. We wanted to find camping and drove around for a while when we got there but we could only find hotel signs. We eventually succumbed to the idea that we would have to have another hotel stay and we found a charming little place called the Deutscher Kaiser. We asked how much it was per night and the lady who ran it told us it depended if we wanted a nice room or a not so nice room. All smoking rooms were again taken but the cheap and not so nice non smoking room we were offered had a window. It wasn't plush but it was very comfortable and luxurious enough when you're used to a small tent. The hotel was about 30 minutes walk through the delightful Lichtentaler Allee to the centee of town and the spas. The Allee was littered with references to Kaiser Willhem and Otto Bismarck as the heroes of Germany and there was a distinct absence of any commemoration or mention of WW2 or the Nazis.
We later found the occasional tribute to persecuted Jews in other towns in the stumbling stones we found in their memory but I'll write more about that in the next post when I'll also write more about the wonderful Baden Baden and Bad Bellingen - a place we never intended to visit, we hadn't even heard of it before, but found fortuitously and we are so glad we did.
Monday, 24 August 2015
We had an ambitious plan to travel this year but it was feasible. After all, last year we drove 6,000 miles without incident around the whole of Italy's boot and Sicily before heading back home through France. The planned trip from Rotterdam along the Rhine, through Germany, up to Austria and then Bolzano in the North of Italy, across the country from Bologna to Livorno on the west coast and then over on a ferry to Sardinia and then back to Calais and the Channel Tunnel via the South of France couldn't have involved many more miles than we had already conquered.
However, we got off to a very bad start when our car died 70 miles from home in the middle of the night. Our travel adventure this year looked like it would end there. It was raining, pitch dark, and we had no idea who we should call. I only have a standard mobile phone that can get internet access but what I really needed was wifi for my tablet to Google nearby break-down trucks. There weren't any connections available. I tried to call a relative who could do the Googling for us but at that time of night, or early morning, calls went unanswered. Luckily for us, a lorry driver parked in the layby the car had just managed to limp into got up and after telling him of our plight he gave us the number for the AA.
We'd never joined before because my husband is a mechanic and has always managed to fix breakdowns but this was major - the equivalent to a sudden and fatal heart attack. The cambelt had gone and when it goes, apparently, it takes out the engine with it. Even a miracle wouldn't have saved the car which worked so hard for us last year and has never been anything but reliable since. The AA were great. Within an hour they had someone at the roadside with us who towed us to a safe place - a nearby service station. After telling us what we already knew about the car, the mechanic left saying that within another hour someone would come and tow us home. We grabbed coffee, Facebooked our dilemma, and within no time at all, a really nice chap came, loaded up the car on his break down truck, took us home and loaded the car onto the drive before wishing us well with our endeavour.
I was disappointed but counting our blessings. Thank God this happened where it did. I didn't even want to think what might have happened if the car had died in the middle of a German motorway, for example. Our annual holiday savings would be severely depleted but we had to get another car. My husband got it insured, taxed and ready to go and we decided to see how far the rest of our savings would take us in Europe but we were both sceptical that Sardinia, or even the north of Italy, would be possible. I amended our Eurotunnel ticket for about £6 extra and we were off two days later than planned.
People asked why we chose the Tunnel and a drive from Calais to Rotterdam rather than get a ferry from Hull to the Europoort. The simple answer is that Eurotunnel is cheaper and faster. I was a bit worried about the migrant crisis at Calais after all the scare stories we had heard but we saw none on our trip out which was uneventful. Our first stop was Bruges. It isn't our favourite city. It is very beautiful of course but we have been many times on day trips. We've walked every inch of the city, seen all there is to see many times over, but my other half wanted to go and stay overnight. We chose a hotel for its parking, went for a meal, and stayed one very long night before moving on to camping.
I agree with hitman Ray in the film In Bruges. It isn't my favourite place either, although the film is one of the best. Perhaps you have to be "in Bruges" to get it.
Last year we had a camping book to help us find sites in Italy but this year we needed a map of Holland, Germany, Austria and Sardinia, and camping books for all of those places and that amounted to over £100 before we set off. I decided on a European road map and I lifted some useful pointers from the ACSI camping site. If we go again next year then I'll aim to invest in a smart phone so we can check along the way for sites near to where we end up. The European road map was useless as it only had main towns off the motorway and no camping signs to follow once we exited. We used an old fashioned compass my son bought me as a present from a school trip he went on about 15 years ago to try and find our way. Basically Rotterdam was north west and we were aiming to go south west so it helped to keep us on course and forward rather than inadvertently going backwards due to having a map that was wasn't helpful once off the motorway. It was mostly down to luck that we found sites near to where we wanted to explore. Many times we didn't. I haven't been able to find a country map that has camp sites marked on it but I'm sure they must exist. I had one for Sardinia but by now we knew for sure we weren't going to get there. Perhaps next year.
I had been to The Hague before and tried to recall the Dutch name for it. While trying to get out of Belgium, I noted a sign pointing towards De Haan. :"That's it"" I cried. Take that turning, Rotterdam isn't far from there so there must be directions towards it once we find the road to De Haan."
After three hours of travelling around some very pretty seaside towns (the most bizarre sight was watching as a woman walked her ferret on a lead towards the beach) and ending up back in De Haan time and again, my other half pulled over in frustration to check the map. "You numpty," he said. "I think it's Den Haag we want which is miles above where we are now. De Haan is Belgium and Den Haag is Holland."
"Doh! Of course", said I and eventually our groundhog day was broken and we began to make progress towards Rotterdam. We followed the camping signs as soon as we hit the Rotterdam ring road and found StadsCamping - a lovely site about 40 minutes walk from the centre of town. That first evening's walk told me that I clearly didn't walk enough I ached so much I didn't think I'd make the walk back. It began to lash down with rain and so after a couple of hours in the town we decided to get a bus back. The campsite reception staff had helpfully given us a map and the details we needed to get a bus back but they didn't tell us the last bus left the city centre at 8pm and it was now 9.30pm. We walked back in the rain and I could have kicked myself for not taking my rain coat with me. Still, strangely enough, aching as I was and soaked through to the skin, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Rotterdam Zoo was just around the corner from our site so we went for the day. We walked around for three or four hours and still didn't get to see everything but we saw many animals. As I wandered past the enclosure for a Manenwolf I smelled the distinct fragrance of cannabis. "Someone must be smoking a spliff somewhere nbearby," I said to my husband as I looked around to see if I could spot who it was. Surely it wasn't the chap in front with his kids. Then I read the information about the Manenwolf which came out of its den to pee before shooting back inside again. Apparently, a Manenwolf urinates the scent of cannabis which once led to a police raid on the zoo looking for an illegal marijuana plantation which didn't exist. I'm sure they all had a good laugh about it afterwards.
My husband liked the Polar bear and its cubs best. I liked all the animals except the sharks and crocodiles, but I kept thinking whether or not a zoo was really the place they should be. I hate to see animals in captivity but then some have been born in the zoo and others might be danger without it so I'm also convinced by the conservation argument for zoos. As a tourist, it was a great day out. One thing seemed certain, this holiday was going to be all about walking miles, lots of them, round towns, cities, and attractions and maybe even some walks along the Rhine if we ever got to find it because we hadn't had sight of it in Rotterdam yet - at least as far as we knew - but we did walk along some of the canals and saw plenty of wildlife, including a rook and a baby rabbit playing together who shot off out of sight before I had time to get the camera out. We saw herons and kingfishers, and moorhens and ducks and geese all happy in their environment and apparently untroubled by humans.
I'd never birds like the black eyed geese we saw so I have no idea what they're called and as a townie, we assumed the other bird we saw a lot of was a heron but then what would we know?
We planned to stay two days in Rotterdam but it rained heavily the morning we planned to pack up so we stayed another day hoping for a clear and dry day to follow. The weather mostly didn't let us down and stayed hot and sunny. There is much more to say about Rotterdam and Holland in general, we it enjoyed very much, but I'll save that when writing about the trip home. First we had to get to Germany, find the Rhine and then come up with a plan on how to follow it up to Basel in Switzerland where it begins it's journey to the North Sea.
In the next post, I'll write about our time in Koln or Cologne, the Mosel Valley, Baden-Baden and the wonderful spas, and why I had to keep telling my Basil Fawlty husband the war had been over for 70 years and it's time he got over it. What is it about the English abroad.