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!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lyon and Switzerland

Choosing our next stop after visiting Bev and Chris was a little difficult and in the end we decided on Lyon because we'd never been there before.
"Old Lyon" narrow streets and great views
Another medieval city, this one with roman origins and ruins to prove it, Lyon is at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. It's old city center boasts hidden passages and fine dining. 
Across the Saone river.
We took advantage of both and roamed the area looking at the sidewalk cafes. The hidden passages are off the main street, at first they look like a doorway to an apartment or house between two shops. When you go inside there is a passageway that opens onto a small courtyard and when you look up you suddenly realize there are perhaps 20 apartments on 5 floors above you with a stone spiral staircase leading up to them. Very quaint and interesting.
Hidden Passages

Ancient courtyards

5 floors of apartments hidden away

Chocolate, candy and all kinds of treats

The Basilica looks down on the city
Another 250 miles to the east brought us into Switzerland (Where they charged us $50 in "Tolls" to enter their country!). Last time we were over in Europe on the motorcycle in 2006 we came to Interlaken because we'd attempted and failed to visit that town on our first ever trip to Europe in 1968.
Nice view from the campground in Interlaken
Obviously much had changed since the first trip but Interlaken (Which means between two lakes) is just THE picture postcard place its always been.

We found a nice campground right on one of the lakes in a place called Boningen and decided to stay 5 nights. We deserved to chill out and I had a desperate urge to break out my art supplies and paint.
Surrounded by the Swiss Alps
Painting went well and in a couple of days I knocked out 3 paintings and a sketch. 

We saw a paddle wheeler passing the campground and decided we wanted to take that. It was just a short walk from the campground to the pier and we were soon sailing the length of one of the lakes on the ship which was built in 1914.
103 years old ans still running strong.

A great day to sail the lake
We had tickets to ride the boat to Brein and to come back by train and bus to Boningen via Interlaken. What a gorgeous ride. The lake was an azure blue and the mountains towered over us as we sailed.
Swiss beauty
On arrival at Brein we saw they had a wood carving symposium along the shore of the lake. Before we could blink several hours had gone by and we jumped on the train back to find we were sat next to a lady from Orange County California who was on a "Tour of Europe". She was quite jealous when she found we'd been here for 2 months and had another 2 to go!


Neat looking woodcarvings.
The weather which has been amazing for the last 2 months took a turn for the worse with thunderstorms and rain, and we found out the roof on the RV leaked. I bought some caulk and tried to fix it but the rain revealed I hadn't. I'll have to wait for it to dry and try again.

In fact the RV has blotted it's copy book again. Driving to Interlaken the engine mysteriously quit. Before we could roll to a halt it fired up again, It did it once more, again firing up after a scary silence. We could only hope it kept going thru some of the long tunnels and luckily it did, only to die again in the campground. It appeared to be a loose battery connection. We're hoping that tightening the clamp bolt will fix it.







Friday, July 7, 2017

Spain, Andorra and France

Ken and Angie were great hosts, and we enjoyed every minute with them but the weather was just TOO HOT!

Barbara and I decided to revert to our US "Goldilocks" method of travel. We'd go where it's "Not too hot and not too cold", which for us meant head NORTH.

We chose the coastal highway up the east coast of Spain, an area well known to British tourists in the 1960's and 70's. This was the start of the cheap holiday abroad and came with tales of drunken Brits being thrown on jail, half finished hotels and many more adventures that made us avoid the place when we were young.
Open air restaurant at Finca Fabiola
Now we were driving past some of those places, Alicante and Benidorm. Although we didn't want to be in among the beach traffic we did pull off near Benidorm and again due to the heat, decided to find an air-conditioned hotel. Booking.com has been useful and we soon located a place inland from Benidorm in a village called Finestrat. 

The Finca Fabiola was like a dream come true with a welcoming owner, pool, AC, and a restaurant. We cooled off and went for dinner on the patio, which turned into a gourmet feast. We finally tore ourselves away at midnight simply because we couldn't eat anymore.
Beach at Cambrils
We decided to camp for the next stop, the weather was 20 degrees cooler and with nights in the 70's. The "Plan" was for somewhere around Barcelona but we'd had enough driving when we got near Tarragona and used a phone app I discovered to locate a beachfront campground near Cambrils (because it sounded so much like Gambrills where we lived in Maryland!). It turned out to be a gem, and we literally had the beachfront site. 2 nights became 3 really quickly.
Best campsite we've had in a LONG time.
I have to confess that our Laid Back - no plan life took a hit. 

We've been travelling 99% on freeways. Worse still, we sat down and planned the next 2 months!! We do have an excuse though, the end of July/beginning of August is peak period for vacations in Europe and we were concerned that we might not get on a ferry without reservations. We planned on doing some sponging off friends and relatives in Europe and UK so we thought we'd better make sure they'd be home when we showed up. Next thing we knew we had ferry reservations, and invitations to stop by.

Andorra La Vallee which means obviously Andorra in the Valley! You can see why.
Ever North! Our destination was eventually Barbara’s college friend Bev who lives in France. An almost straight line took us thru the little Principality of Andorra where we camped 40 years ago after a motorcycle rally in France that involved 3 weeks of torrential rain. A bunch of us decided to ride south until the sun came out and that’s where we would camp. The sun came out in Andorra and we discovered a lovely little city/state that was tax free and hence really cheap.

This time we came in from the South and the heat and it was raining and cold in Andorra. It’s still a lovely place and still cheap. We even camped in the same campground.

For some odd reason I decided we should walk to a shopping center I’d seen on the way in. Barbara reluctantly followed but after 3 miles she’d had about enough. After 5 miles she was DONE! 


We had lunch and caught a bus back to the city of Andorra only to discover a HUGE shopping area about 1 ½ miles from the campground in the opposite direction from the one we’d taken. Somehow she forgave me. 

I think?

The travel bug or “Hitch Itch” bit again. Barbara has met a friend from college on FB and we had an invite to visit them in a little village called Lessac. 

Chris and Bev live in this ancient farmhouse dating back to at least 1626

Barbara and Bev catch up on the news while walking Bobo

Bev and Chris have lived in France for over 30 years, they are deeply into horses, Afghan hounds and big fluffy cats! Their daughter Lindsey who competed in horse events before hurting her back, now is a Gymnastic coach and both her daughter Olivia and son Elion are gymnasts. Lindsey’s husband Fred drives a truck and spends all his spare time working on the renovation of an old Framhouse dating back to 1636.
The old well
I was fascinated by the farm house building and the barn next to it. It has such character. The ancient well is like something out of a fairy tale, with a wooden drum, handles to turn it sticking out of the side and a chain that drops 30 meters (90 feet) to the water.

Chris had a new barbeque and we tried it out! We ate like Kings. Duck one night then kebabs and sausages the next, out on the deck off the living room in the peaceful countryside and in perfect weather.


Fiseac is the larger town about 10 minutes from Lessac. We spent a complete day exploring it’s medieval streets and narrow alleys and discovered that the gentleman who cracked the hieroglyphic code in the Rosetta Stone was from this town. We treated Bev and Chris to lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes.


Sometimes life gives you such rich experiences as our visits with Ken and Angie, Bev and Chris, but rarely back to back.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gergal and old friends

Because the van came with a 3 month warranty we called the dealer we bought it from and asked how we got to claim against it, they wanted a written estimate.

Ken and Angie have been friends of ours since we were about 14, Barbara and I started riding motorcycles as a result of Ken's Dad buying him a motorcycle and me getting to ride it around his tiny backyard.
Angie and Ken 
A group formed based on a common interest in motorcycles, Ron and Sue, Steve and Jenny, Ken and Angie, John and Daphne, Barbara and I. Ken has pointed out that we are a pretty unusual group in that we all married at about the same time when we were around 21 years old. And all of us are still married to the same spouses.
Not a very clear picture but L to R Barbara, Ken, Angie, Me and Ken
Barbara and I have probably been away from UK the longest although Ken and Steve have wandered the globe too, in fact Steve now lives in Bulgaria. But somehow we all manage to get together once in a while to catch up with the news.

We're all retired now, and have chosen different ways to enjoy that stage of our lives. Ken and Angie have a holiday home here in Gergal Spain, which lies between Grenada and the west coast in the arid hills of Andalucia.
Walking into the village with the castle in the hill
When they heard we were in the area and had problems with the van they offered to put us up in their home and to enlist the help of their neighbor Anne who is English but fluent in Spanish, and the mechanic at the bottom of the hill who they know and trust.

Strangely enough the mechanic took a look at the van and announced there was nothing wrong with it!! He showed me how to jamb the gear lever hard over and push it into first, once there it stayed in gear and drove just fine! So much for the previous mechanic declaring it deceased.. We thanked Juan (the mechanic) and Anne, and we went out and celebrated. Something has changed it the gear linkage that changed the feel of it going into 1st gear but quite how and why we don't understand.

And the celebration started almost as soon as we arrived in town. Another friend of Ken and Angie, (who is also called Ken), was staying with them too and all 5 of us went to the local bar. Being Spain/Europe we didn't go out until 8.30pm and we happily drank beer while sitting in the square outside the bar until 11.30pm. The beers include a plate of "Tapas", which are snack size portions of food including shrimp, beef, sausage and a few fries. It's a delightful way to spend and evening, and being a small village everyone one knows everyone else so their are frequent calls of "Hola", handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek.
Narrow steep streets off the village square
There is also a fair sized English community here and we gradually met most of them. Every evening involved a late walk to one of the various bars for tapas and beer until on Friday night when we were in the square and a large celebration involving seemingly the whole village including all the kids had broken out.
Kids and squirt guns for the San Juan celebration
It was apparently San Juan's day. We know him as John the Baptist and it is celebrated here by people going to the beach and building bonfires, having parties with friends, then at midnight they all walk out into the water to be "Baptized" again. In Gergal it involved lots of drinking, bingo and all the kids having water fights with "Super Soaker" squirt guns and everyone else getting soaked by near misses. At midnight everyone came over to the public drinking fountain in the square and wet their heads and faces.
The church and castle with the white houses on the side of the hill make this so picturesque
It was wonderful to be part of this intimate part of the village life and we were welcomed with open arms. Even the bingo numbers were being called in English and Spanish! Before we knew it it was 2am and we crawled reluctantly back to Ken and Angie's.
Barbara, Angie and Anne (With the hat) at the market
Anne was our translator at the garage
Somehow we found enough energy the following day to walk up to the square again and look around the street market that comes to town on Saturdays, followed (of course) by a few rounds of drinks at the scene of the previous evenings religious observations! Dinner was as on previous nights except we met a new group of English residents, some permanent, some transient but all mellow people with whom we found a kinship in motorcycles and travel and before we knew it it was 2am again!
 
13 for lunch, Cortijillo Restaurant
The last day in Gergal we all went to an even more remote village for lunch and a birthday party. We were amazed to find a superb little restaurant perfectly decorated and with an extensive "Fixed price menu" with 3 courses and beer or wine for $11 a head! 13 "Ex Pats" met for Bob's birthday, the food and atmosphere were great and the company exceptional.
Bob's "TriBsa" motorcycle. Half Triumph and half BSA
Bob and Sheila's Pool
I talked motorcycles to Bob for hours then we went back to his house and sat around the pool until 7pm.
Pretty village from the restaurant.
What a perfect day and a perfect end to a surprise visit with old friends.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Portugal and back to Spain

Porto was a really nice place once we got settled into the hotel and we were looking forward to our next stop Lisbon.
What I thought was a palace was actually the Bank of Portugal!
Lisbon is another 200 miles further south of Porto and it was really hot there with temperatures hitting the 100's. We camped outside the city and took a cab into the center. Walking around soon got tiring and we did the "Hop on Hop off" bus but only the "Castle Line" that stayed in the center of the city. We have figured out that the longer (More expensive) tours just go to the outskirts of the cities without bringing you to much more of interest. It's a case of "stretch it out for a couple of hours to justify the cost"
A very imposing statue, with snakes all around his horse?
We got off the bus for the big castle that overlooks the city, the bus doesn't actually take you TO the castle. You have to climb quite a long way thru the tiny narrow streets that are closed off to vehicle traffic.
Steep narrow streets up to Castle San Jorge

Beautiful castle with lots of Moorish features

Looking down on Lisbom

Castle San Jorge was a nice place and brought home the history of Spain and Portugal which were conquered by the "Moors" in 790. The term "Moors" is a generalization for the Muslims who took over most of this Iberian Peninsular and stayed until around 1100. They brought amazing architecture as well as modern writing, arithmetic and more. I have always liked the architecture, I'm sure I'll be drawing and painting some soon.
Lots of boats

Antique Street Cars

And "Tuk Tuk's" everywhere for the tourists

A couple of days was enough, and we drove south again 300 miles back into Spain to the city of Seville.

On the way the van started to misbehave. The clutch started making weird noises and we couldn't get the transmission into 1st gear. When we slowed down the exit the freeway it began shaking like a wheel was loose or something! And it was Sunday.
Seville's cathedral
We stayed the night in a campground about 30 minutes outside Seville and on Monday morning the campground manager pointed us to a repair place just across the street. They could fix the van but parts would take a day to arrive and it would probably be Wednesday before they had it fixed. We left it with them, unloaded our stuff and made reservations for 2 nights in a hotel smack in the center of town, WITH AIR CONDITIONING! Why? Because the temperatures were going to be 105 degrees and higher most of the week...
Originally the prayer tower for the Moorish Mosque now the bell tower for the cathedral

More Castle walls in Seville

The hotel turned out to be just across the plaza from the world famous Cathedral. The city was teeming with tourists from all over the world, big parties of Japanese and Chinese and visitors from all over Europe. Sitting in a sidewalk cafe eating dinner we talked to a couple from Wisconsin, then an English girl and her Australian boyfriend, Asia and Nick. They said we ought to have a blog and we asked them if they wanted to be in it, so here are Asia and Nick!!
Asia and Nick say HI!!
We spent a morning wandering the cathedral but were driven back to the hotel by the afternoon heat. Now we know why they have the siesta. People stay in the cool until the evening then come out to eat at night. The sidewalk cafes are crowded at 9pm and stay that way. We left one at 11.30pm and it was still crowded when we left.
The city after dark is perhaps even nicer

Sidewalk cafes serving Tapas all night

Paella, our favorite
The van needed a new clutch actuating bracket and 2 tires to get it roadworthy but the gearbox was another thing. The dealer had a 3 month guarantee on all their vehicles and when I called them they told me I'd have to get a written estimate before they could approve any work. Not speaking Spanish made that difficult.

Then out of the blue some UK friends called and said they had a holiday home about an hour outside Granada and why didn't we come stay with them and they'd help us sort it out.
Ken and Angie our friends from WAY BACK!
Using 2nd gear to get going we made it to Ken and Angie's.