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!

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.