Sunday, August 13, 2017

Back in UK

The ferry from Dieppe took us into Newhaven which is on the south coast of England between London and Portsmouth. Our plan was to drive back to Portsmouth and stay with my Aunt Sheila again while we fixed the bumper of the van which had been “Crunched” in Portugal.

The white cliffs, but not of Dover, these are near Newhaven.
Aunt Sheila welcomed us once again and her Son in Law Robin was kind enough to lend me tools and run me round to the Auto Parts stores to get some fiberglass, paint and filler.

The weather decided NOT to co-operate and I ended up getting soaking wet and taking a day longer than planned to finish the job. As soon as it was finished we drove back to Weston Super Mare where we bought the van and took it back under their “Buy Back” agreement.

I was quite stressed out about this, I was convinced in my own head that they would try and knock the price down. In the end my repairs helped when they glanced over it and gave me the full agreed amount! Which meant that the cost for the 2 1/2 months we had the van was about $4000 including repairs, insurance, tax etc. Which compared with the $1000 A WEEK it would have cost to rent one was a good deal and we didn’t have the hassle of selling it privately.

Next order of business was getting a rental car and loading all the equipment we’d bought for the trip into it. We were going to donate everything either to our daughter Sally if she wanted it, or to a charity store.

After some LONG delays due to a wreck near Weston Super Mare we finally got on the road to see our friends Graham and Elaine who live near Lincoln in the East of England North of London.

Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln Castle
Lots of catching up was spread between dinners out, trips to Lincoln castle and cathedral, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a wonderful Country Fair/Show. Lots of fun was had and lots of memories shared.
Lincoln Castle
The city gate which dates back to the Roman era

The Country Fair had so much to see

Sheep dogs herding geese!

Our good friends Graham and Elaine
Barbara’s Brother Stu and his wife Linda live a little way South of Graham and Elaine so we spent the rest of the first week with them with more dinners out and more catching up together with a trip to the Shuttleworth Trust.


This was to have been a picture of Stuart and Linda until Holly decided she was the star!
Shuttleworth trust and a very rare Kirby Kite glider
WW2 Hurricane fighter

1909 AVRO triplane.

Shuttleworth is a great collection of airplanes, cars and motorcycles that began as the private collection of Richard Shuttleworth in the 1930’s and which was carried on by his family after he was killed in a flying accident during WW2.



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Last days in France.

After we finally shook ourselves loose of the mechanical breakdowns in Bastogne we drove almost due West and back into Northern France. 

From the Bastogne battlefield of World War 2 we had arrived in the area of the vast battles of World War 1. Signs for Museums and Military Cemeteries appeared at crossroads along the way.

The Musee De La Grand Guerre

The French call World War 1 "La Grande Guerre", what might have been grand about it I don't know. Of course Grande means "Big" in English and WW1 was. Millions died in the 4 years of trench warfare. The trenches reached from the coast of Belgium all the way to the Swiss border. South of Switzerland the Germans and Italians (who were on the Allied side in WW!) fought in the Alps. Britain landed Australian and New Zealand troops in a disastrous attempt to invade Turkey.
A typical soldiers equipment.
We picked a campground from our book based on mileage as much as anything. We found ourselves in a delightful little town a short distance off the A2 the main road. Looking at the brochures in the reception showed us a local museum "History of the Grande War" which was about 15 minutes away.

When we got there we discovered that it was located in the rear of s lovely Chateau on a lake close to the Somme river.

The place was very different from other museums. I've been to a lot of military museums usually they are dark and fairly well packed with displays. This one was light and airy,  It showed current events in France, Britain and Germany at each stage of the war and the build up to it through newspapers, souvenirs and posters.

Dieppe Harbor
We ended up in Dieppe at a campground about 6 Km from the city. At first it seemed nice and quiet but as the weekend arrived the place filled with teenagers and families. Every evening in the restaurant there was an "Entertainment". One night a disco that started at 9pm and went on until about 1am. The next night Bingo announced on a loudspeaker system and then Karaoke.

Carousel Horse Dieppe

The old city Dieppe
We got a cab into the city and enjoyed a day walking all around the place visiting the Canadian War Memorial, the shops and the restaurants where seafood was featured and it was FRESH.
Dieppe was the scene of a complete fiasco of a raid in WW2 where Canadian troops attempted to land on the beaches in front of the town. The tanks couldn't make it across the pebble beaches and the troops couldn't scale the seawall. Out of 5000 troops landed only about 2000 made it back. All the equipment from tanks to trucks and guns were lost. 

Monument to the French Canadian Troops Dieppe

Canadian War Memorial Dieppe
Then the time came for us to get on the ferry and depart for Newhaven in UK.
Dieppe - Newhaven Ferry

Friday, July 28, 2017

War

All along the route from Germany thru Luxembourg, Belgium and Northern France there is a recurring theme.

War


When we stopped in Strasbourg we found a monument to the Franco Prussian Way of 1820 when France lost Alsace to Germany.

When we passed thru Bastogne we visited the museums commemorating the Battle of the Bulge in WW2, but at the same time there were references to Germany coming thru the same area at the start of WW1 and again at the start of WW2.

A little further West we saw the turn off for Waterloo, the scene of the battle where Wellington defeat Napoleon.

At our stop in France we were camped on the River Somme, scene of frightful battles in WW1 and the location of another museum called “La Musee De La Grande Guerre” (Museum of the Great War).


Our last few days in France were spent in the port of Dieppe. In 1942 almost 6,000 Canadians came ashore in what was called a "Raid", various military and government authorities have described it as "A practice invasion", a "Diversion". Anything except what it was. Which was a poorly planned waste of life.

I have a post about my Father and Grand Father who served in WW2 and WW1 respectively. (http://banbrv.blogspot.com/2014/11/john-g-downing-and-john-downing.html). 


They were both in this general area but a little further West. My Grand Father landed in Belgium very early in the conflict as a cavalryman and served on the front lines and in reserve thru the whole thing, finally getting out in 1919.

Dad came up thru France and into Western Belgium, liberating Lille and St Nicholas before being sent into the fury of Market Garden in Holland.

Wars have passed thru this area for millennia, Goths, Gaul’s, Vikings, Prussians, Germans, the English. All leave their legends, their battlegrounds, their tales of glory and yes, their graveyards.


The dead counted in their millions between 1914 and 1918, their 100’s of thousands in 1940 – 1944.

If you sit and let your mind wander just about sunset I really believe you can hear all those people whisper to you.



Or maybe that’s just the wind?

Luxembourg and Belgium


Our Mosel experience was complete.

The Mosel leads west into Luxembourg. As kids we all knew Luxembourg because they had the best Pop Radio channel! We’d listen to all the new hits from the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits while snuggled under the blankets at night with our transistor radios tuned to Radio Luxembourg.

Luxembourg like Andorra and Lichtenstein is a small independent country, so small that the first couple of times we visited it in the 60’s and 70’s we missed it completely! I remember when there were still borders asking the border guard for direction to the campground in Luxembourg and he pointed back the way we came from. We’d actually driven thru the country without realizing it and were on the French border on the other side!


We just passed thru, our destination was somewhere I’ve promised to visit but so far never made it to. Bastogne.
A Sherman tank hit during the battle is a permanent monument in the city square
For all you military history nuts and fans of the HBO series “Band of Brothers” you probably remember this town as being one of the key places in the “Battle of the Bulge”. This is where the 101st Airborne stood against the fierce German surprise attack of December 1944.
The General who told the Germans "Nuts" when he was asked to surrender
What it was all about, a strategic crossroads in the town.
There are several museums in the town naturally, and a big monument to the fallen in the shape of a US star. The Bastogne War Museum is well thought out and at the beginning you are introduced on the included audio guide to 4 characters that guide you thru the exhibits. The characters are a 13 year old boy, a young female school teacher, a German officer and a US Paratrooper.

No dry show of static objects this, as you progress thru the story of the build up to WW2 and the Allied advance to Belgium each character describes their part in events and their interaction, 3D movies and interactive displays keep you (or at least me) involved and I was surprised when we exited the building to find out it was 2pm. We had to leave even though I still wanted to see the 101st Airborne Museum across town.


Fate in the shape of FIAT intervened again! The darned motorhome broke down yet again about 15 miles out of Bastogne. We had camped about a mile outside town for the previous couple of nights and laughed that the Fiat dealer was across the street. I’ll give you one guess where they towed us to!!


As we waited for the wonderful RAC breakdown service to get the tow truck to us we got a call from them. They are very good at checking that you are safe and that everything is going well. Then the truck arrived and off we went back to Bastogne. The phone rang again and Sophie had to break the bad news to us. 

Apparently RAC insurance only covers ONE tow per trip and as we hadn't been back to UK in between calls this was all ONE TRIP. Then she mentioned that they should not have sent tow trucks for this and the previous breakdown in Germany but as they had failed to check their records they would pick up the $600 the two tows had cost. BUT NO MORE!

It was late in the day and the dealer couldn't get to the van until the next day so we set off looking for a hotel.

Now Bastogne is not a large town, in fact you can walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes easily. Being a small town the don't have a taxi service and the busses only run once an hour. So guess who got to lug the bag with our overnight things for the 15 minute walk into the center? And when we got there we walked past one hotel because I didn't like the look of it and we tried the other 4 hotels in town only to find they were all full! So back to the first one where luckily they did have a room but up 4 flights of stairs.

Did I mention we got lots of exercise on this trip!

Next day we visited the 101st Airborne Museum. If you come to Bastogne and have time for only 1 museum make it this one!
101st Airborne Museum in what was the Officers Mess building
We chatted with the owner on the way in, a very pleasant Dutch guy who explained that this museum and everything in it are his personal collection. Amazing stuff and laid out as full size diaramas of the battle and surrounding scenes. In the basement you get to sit thru a German bombing raid with full motion effects and surround sound.
Full size diaramas in the mueum

When we done there we called the Fiat dealer and they had fixed whatever it was that made the gas pedal inoperative (Second time for that) and refused payment for the work! WOW!
This yellow safety vest has become one of my most worn items lately.

Nelly Belle in her position of repose
 After a nice dinner in town and a second night in the hotel we set off again, having decided to take a direct route to Dieppe where we were booked on the ferry just in case Nelly Belle did her thing again.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Mosel Valley

One of the areas we’ve been wanting to return to is the Mosel Valley.

The Mosel river flows from approximately Luxembourg to Koblenz in Germany where it joins the Rhine River. We stumbled across it 11 years ago when we shipped our motorcycle over from Baltimore for 6 weeks touring Europe.

Back then decided to just wander without a plan for the first time, (signs of things to come!). We’d stopped in the Ardennes area of Belgium, famous for the Battle of the Bulge and Spa/Francorchamps the Grand Prix racetrack. We wandered across the border into Germany and discovered first Trier then the Mosel.

The river valley is narrow and winding, very steep sided. Apparently ideal for growing the grapes that are used to make our favorite wine: Riesling! All along the valley (which is only 100 miles long at the most) are those fairy tale castles you see in travel brochures. We soon discovered that every guest house and restaurant served excellent appel strudel and wine from their own vineyard.

Being on a motorcycle we could only sample the wine in the evenings when we stopped, but we wanted more!

We’re BACK!

A bus ran the length of the valley and a day pass on it was only $7 and would let us get on and off as we liked. We were camped at Burgen near the  
eastern end of  the valley and intended heading West when we left, so we took the bus to back track on some of the towns we’d seen on the way in.

Diebicht was the furthest west we went, a nice town along the main road but when we explored a little higher up the hill we stumbled on the “Old Town” and some very nice old houses. We also stumbled on a bakery with Apel Strudel and coffee!


Strudel, OHHHH!!
Alten was similar but a little more touristy, we tried the beer and local wine, and had lunch before returning to Burgen for some more beer and wine and a HUGE dinner in the local restaurant. Sleep came quickly when we finally got back to the rig.
Awsome houses
2 nights stretched to 3 as we lazily sat in the campground and watched the tour boats go by every couple of hours. My 2 sisters are due to take one of these cruises and so I called Jackie and we talked about schedules etc. Something else to look forward to when we get back to UK.

Time came to move on again, less than 2 weeks now to our ferry to UK, my how quickly a couple of months had gone by. The broad plan was to continue along the Mosel and stop near Berncastle for a night or so then on to Trier with maybe a river cruise from there for us too!

Castles were everywhere.
The rig, which by this time had acquired the name “Nelly Belle” in honor of Roy Roger’s sidekick’s jeep that was always breaking down. Started to stink of diesel fuel.
Nelly Belle!!
It was the first time this had happened, and as I started to watch the fuel gauge I became convinced that it was dropping faster than it should. We had just gone thru a little town called Zell when I spotted a lay by and pulled in. 

Once the hood was up it was obvious that the entire right side of the engine was soaked in diesel.

Thank goodness it IS a diesel, I think a gas powered engine would have caught fire. Diesel is much less flammable than gas and there are no high energy spark plug wires to ignite the vapors.

It was still driveable so RAC couldn’t help. After a very stressful drive around Zell we found a Fiat dealer and in an hour they had fixed another old and rotted rubber pipe

As we continued along the river we noticed a number of camping areas exclusively for motorhomes. These are called “Aires” in Europe and offer limited facilities for self contained campers at very cheap rates. We stopped for “Strudel and Coffee” at a restaurant overlooking one such place. We discovered that it didn’t have electrical hookups and we’d just filled the refrigerator and had no idea how to get it to run on gas. We decided we’d get a “proper” campground.


A little further on we saw what looked like a suitable spot and pulled in. This too was an “Aire” with no bathroom block etc, but it did have electric hookups which provided 2 Kilo Watt Hours of power for $1. Turned out that was all we needed to run the fridge for the night and it was $7 a night to camp.


That whetted our appetite for low key camping and we discovered one almost in the heart of Trier which we had planned for our next stop.

Trier is another ancient city dating back before the Romans, it boasts a truly massive Roman city gate, an amphitheater and like many Roman towns is centered on hot springs that fed their baths. Aptly the baths here are named the “Barbara Baths”. They must have known we were coming!
Roman city gate in Trier
We excelled ourselves by catching a bus to the center of the city then walking all the way back again. Along the way we discovered the shopping area and the ancient marketplace which still functions as a market today. We even stumbled on the house where Karl Marx was born. And no he wasn’t one of the Marx Brothers he was the “Father of Socialism” for all the good that did him!

Karl Marx was from Trier?


How bazaar that he lived on Karl Marx Straat!!
We even managed to discover the red light district, but it was daytime and therefore closed.

On our last day we took a taxi ride to the “Harbor” where the cruise boats leave from and we took the 2 hour tour grandly called “On the trail of the Romans”. Quite where the trail was and what it was supposed to mean wasn’t very obvious as the commentary lasted for about 3 minutes of the 2 hours and was only in German! The scenery wasn’t that fascinating either!
Some nice parts of the cruise

Our Mosel experience was complete.

Monday, July 17, 2017

In and out of Switzerland and Germany

Lichtenstein
Our problem was now that we thought we had all the problems licked!

Lichtenstein was a nice break from camping and we hit the road again heading towards Freiberg in Germany. Freiberg was a ¾ hour drive away and it’s in a nice area called “the Black Forest” which is a famous scenic area of hills and woods.

The GPS decided to add some confusion to our task and we went thru one little village 3 times! We found ourselves on a one car wide road with tight hairpin turns, in first gear and no sign of any end to it. I had visions of us breaking down again up there and trying to tell somebody where we were.


We found a good spot to make an U turn and went back to the bottom of the hill, set the GPS for toll roads, fastest route and it finally started to take it in a sensible direction.

Don’t think that we just blindly follow the GPS. Barbara has a map book and checks where we are heading. Occasionally she gets into a fight with the GPS and I have to be patient while the 2 of them argue it out. Barbara always wins.

There were no major highways where we were. Our route took us thru 4 countries in 3 hours! Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. There were road works and diversions, towns with multiple stop lights, traffic was heavy. Eventually I gave up and we turned off near the Bodensee in Germany to find a campground.


Busy campground in Hagnau. The Bodensee out there somewhere. That's Switzerland on the far side.

We found one with a vacancy in Hagnau and soon we were camping next to Daniel in his converted fire truck. 
To show how big this is, that's our camper behind it!
He was the center of attention with this and we suggested he hang a box on the side to collect a few Euro’s from all the people asking him questions! It was a 1950 firetruck, behind the driver’s cabin were bench seats for a crew of 9! Behind that where the old [pumps and tanks had been , there was a good size sleeping area and space for his bicycle. I asked how much the huge tires cost thinking they would be really expensive, but they apparently came from old fire department stocks and were dirt cheap. I wonder if we could make them fit the RV back in the States?

Happily setting off again the next morning we found ourselves cruising up a big hill on a 3 lane road when everything went quiet. I thought that engine had quit again but as I slowed I realized it was still running but the accelerator didn’t seem to be connected anymore. I pulled over half onto the grass as there was no shoulder. Trucks and cars were swerving around us and I put on the emergency 4 way flashers. 

A camp store in UK had sold us a “Roadside Emergency Kit” that they told us was compulsory in France and most of Europe. It contained an emergency warning triangle and a yellow jacket. Putting on the jacket I walked back along the road and set up the triangle then called our Emergency Roadside Assistance insurance (RAC) for the second time in 3 days.

Before long a Police car came along and closed the lane we were in. They were very nice but told us we were in danger where we were and they called a tow company to get us out of there.

A regular feature of our trip lately.

Within minutes a mechanic had fixed the problem, this time a vacuum hose had worn thru against a hose clamp. They replaced both of them, and we were set to go. EXCEPT the tow company wasn’t one that the RAC had on their list of providers and it was 3 hours before they got it sorted out.
Assume the position!

I was tempted to stop at Freiburg but it was only about 40 miles away so we decided to head instead for Strasburg in France.

Our daughter Sally had spent a semester at Strasburg University as part of her French language degree. We’d never been there so we decided to give it a try. We found a campground but it was completely full/ They gave us the address of another 20 miles away. The traffic was a nightmare. When we go to the campground there were barriers everywhere and security checkpoints. Hundreds of people were streaming into the gates, What the heck was going on?

Dinner in Erstein France
Well a little look at the calendar revealed it was July 13th. The next day July 14th is Bastille Day in France, the equivalent of Independence Day in the US. The public park in which the campground was set was having their Bastille Day party a day earlier. There were bands, food stands, comedy acts and as a finale a fireworks show.
Beer tent, YEAH!
We had dinner and a few drinks then settled down to watch the bands and fireworks. It was 12.30 before we got to bed.
Bastille Day fireworks
A true adventure which if not for the breakdown we might never have stumbled across.
The old town of Erstein, very picturesque

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A swiss challenge

Time came to leave Interlaken after 5 days, the last 3 being very wet and revealing a leak in the roof.
Roof vent leak
In addition there was the loose battery terminal to sort out before we left. Being completely relaxed I left the battery terminal to the morning we were leaving. BAD CHOICE!

First off I didn't have a socket to fit the terminal bolts and the adjustable wrench didn't have enough clearance. Being a little concerned about working on the the positive terminal and shorting the battery out via the socket handle I decided to remove the negative cable first. As soon as I touched the negative terminal it broke in half!! Ah HA, thought I I have found out why the engine was cutting out.

I grabbed the vice grips and clamped them over the two halves of the broken terminal. That got us going and within 1/2 a mile of the campground we found a small garage. The owner/mechanic came out and started talking English straight away. He had it fixed in no time and $25 lighter we set off for the Lucerne.

Happiness turned to despair after we climbed the first mountain and the engine died at the top. This time it didn't start up again.

We had purchased RAC European vehicle coverage (RAC is like AAA in the US but much, much more customer oriented). I called their number in UK, told them where we were, what I thought the problem might be (Fuel) and within 45 minutes a huge flat bed tow truck showed up. He found a bad fuel pump plug/socket in seconds and we were hoisted up onto the truck and take BACK DOWN the mountain! The mechanics were at lunch so we went to a local restaurant and had lunch too.
The mechanics are out to lunch! We'll have to wait for them to get back
By the time we got back the mechanic had the fuel pump fixed. We mentioned that the serpentine belt was slipping and asked if they could adjust it. Oh boy did that turn into a performance! The adjuster thread was stripped so they had to remove it completely from the engine. Instead of ordering one and waiting for it to arrive they welded a nut on to give the adjuster bolt something to work against. It took a couple of hours.
Just getting to the belt tensioner was a major headache
Happily the RAC covered most of the cost and we were only $50 out of pocket when we left. We LOVE the RAC.

A couple of hours turned into 3 after we took several wrong turns and realized I'd set the GPS for "Shortest distance" not "Fastest time" when I was last playing with it. Eventually we arrived in Vaduz in Lichtenstein. Never heard of Lichtenstein? Well it's a little Principality between Switzerland and Austria. It's only about 10 miles long so you could be forgiven for missing it.
Sitting on the balcony of our roof planning our next stop.
As a treat for our patience we treated ourselves to a night in a 3 star hotel and dinner in their restaurant,

Life is good!