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Back on Home Ground

After 5 months, 7 countries, 7 ferries and 4,500 miles of driving, we finally return to where we started, Hellwell Bay at Watchet. The suns shining, the sea looks lovely, and after a few pints of distinctly English ale last night, I can’t complain that the travels have come to an end for now.

I’m sure we’ll get to explore a bit of the UK during the summer to help keep the spirit of adventure going. Meanwhile, it’s going to be fun catching up with family and friends.


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In Bruges

The last two days of the current tour, and what better way to round it off but with a trip to Bruges. We’ve been twice before so know most of the sites, which means there is more time to spend enjoying coffee, cake, moules, frites and the lovely and extensive range of Belgian Beers. I do enjoy a good Gueuze (deliciously sour beer).

Some excitement at the campsite on Saturday morning when the garage of a neighbouring house went bang, then burst into flames. Don’t think anyone was hurt, but it gave everyone something to gawp at for a bit.


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The Eifel National Park and Ordensburg Vogelsang

After the Rhine, we headed North West into the Eifel. A region I didn’t even know existed, it borders Luxembourg and Belgium and is a former volcanic region (I think there may be some existing low level activity in places).

As it turned out, we headed for the park area and missed the volcanoes! Not sure why you’d have national park that didn’t encompass the major geological feature but there you go.

The park is nice though, and we found a site on the edge of a reservoir system comprised of Rurstausee, Schwammenauel, and Urfttalsperre. It was the later, higher reservoir that our site was near. A startlingly neat parking area-cum-campsite on the edge of the town of Gemünd.

We went for a walk the evening of our arrival along the banks of the reservoir and found the former Ordensburg Vogelsang, one of four centre designed to educate form leaders in Germany’s Third Reich. As you ascend through the woods these stark buildings come into view, the trees softening what was once a glaring example of machismo gone mad. It’s still immediately apparent that this was once a place of misguided ideology.

It operated between 1936-39 and was intended to train Nazi Germany’s future administrators. However, those chosen where blond haired, blue eyed, athletic types, and academic excellence was not relevant. Thus they spent their time learning such useful pen-pushing skills as archery, horse riding and flying.

On the outbreak of war the centre was handed over to the army, used for barracks and latterly a fitness camp for Hitler Youth members. After the war it was used by the British Army and then, right up till 2006, the Belgian Army. It’s only recently returned to German control, and is now a museum.

The estate is alleged home to one of the best preserved collections of Nazi propaganda. The buildings themselves do that, but there are also statues and emblems about the place. We stumbled across the ‘Torch Bearer’, now emancipated by rifle fire, and with key words of the inscription removed.


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Bad Kreuznach and Good Company

Sunday, and a slow start, what with the time change. But another day to take a stroll, this time a little shorter than perhaps planned, but it was a good sunny day, so a stroll was probably a better idea than a hike, and by the time we’d found a beer garden within the first couple of miles, well that pretty much sealed the fate of the day. Still, we got a good walk around some woods overlooking the spa town of Bad Kreuznach (with it inhalatorium, where you sit outside and breath salty air). We also got to climb to the top of Rotenfells, alleged to be Europe’s highest sheer rock face north of the Alps, at about 200 metres. We were underwhelmed at first, until we realised we were looking at the wrong bit, which was a rather steep drop, but a nice view too.

After the shortened walk we headed into Bad Kreuznach and found a riverside restaurant, enjoyed more Schnitzel (what else is there?) and more beer, followed it up with Italian Gelatto style ice cream (a darn sight cheaper than the Italian prices, although perhaps not quite up to the standard), and then sat about at the campsite drinking yet more beers. Sebastian had done us proud with a plentiful and wide ranging selection of German beers, we we did our best to make inroads, and then he was generous enough to allow us to keep the remainder, which should keep us very happy for a few days!

It was great to meet up with Sebastian and Nadine again – I first ran into them (or perhaps more aptly stumbled into them) on the South West Coast Path last year, and we spent several enjoyable days together then. It was a marvellous treat for them to drive south to meet us, and we had a lovely time again! They are now planning on a year in New Zealand from early 2015, so I hope we get to see them again before, and perhaps even during that trip!

Thank guys for a smashing weekend!


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The Rhine

Saturday was hiking day. Sebastian and Nadine had arranged a route, but first we needed to drive north from the campsite, alongside the Rhine, across on a ferry to the west bank, and then along a little further to Loreley. A site of ancient legend (I think), and an impressive view point across the river known as Dragon Rock. Our hiking route started just north, took a wide sweeping arc and then approached the rock from the south. Lovely sunshine accompanied us, and we all had a thoroughly good time.

The Rhine here is very charming, steep hills either side to the broad river below, pleasure cruisers and freight boats chugging back and forth, and a railway on either side.

Back to the van via the supermarket and Sebastian showed off his culinary skills and rustled up a traditional Putenschnitzel (thats Turkey to you and I, not reclaimed Russian president), and Schepnudeln (I think I may have misspelled that, but its a bit like Italian Gnocchi but firmer). A sauce, salad, some great German wines, and of course, great company. Perfect day!


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The Black Forest and the Schwarzwald Hockstrasse

After a days cycling around Lake Constance, we decided it prudent to move on and into the Black Forest. I’d been remise in checking my Facebook messages and not realised the Sebastian had replied, confirming that he and Nadine would be joining us along the Rhine for a weekend of hiking. That left us with a few miles to cover, so we headed into the forest and found a parking spot for the night.

On Friday, we took the Route 500 (the Schwarzwald Hockstrasse) north across the forest towards Baden-Baden. This is renowned as a great driving route, and out of season there isn’t much traffic, just sweeping bend after sweeping bend. Not quite the thrill ride in a 4 tonne motorhome, but you could see what fun it would be on a motorbike or in an open topped sports car.

Alas it was a whistle stop tour, but we had a BBQ appointment with Sebastian and Nadine at Bingen am Rhine.


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Lake Constance (or Bodensee if you prefer)

After the fun of skiing, it was time to leave the mountains, and what better contrast than the edge of a rather large lake. After arriving late in the day, Thursday was spent cycling around the north east corner of the lake starting from Meersburg, going anti-clockwise to until reaching the northern half of Constance, then crossing the lake back to Meersburg via the ferry. About a 40 mile jaunt, and very lovely too. Despite a chilly start with mist hanging over the lake, by the early afternoon we had a lovely sunny day, and a good excuse for both a coffee & cake stop, as well as a lunch on the shore of the river, beer included. Lunch legs followed making the last stretch to the ferry a little uncomfortable, but one does have to suffer for ones art.


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Skiing St. Anton Style

Finally the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the snow delivered a lovely afternoon of winter sports fun. I wouldn’t say St. Anton provides the best skiing in the world, but it was certainly good enough for an afternoon of piste bashing.

The lower slopes, even with the fresh dusting are now trashed. I got caught out on a black run by a wall of slush puppy, but it wasn’t much of a tumble, just ended up going unexpectedly backwards whilst trying to find something to get the edges into to arrest the descent.

We are going to head into Germany today, probably around Lake Constance, and see of we can find Some nice walking or cycling. Only a couple of weeks left before we are back home, so trying to make the most of it.


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A Winter Wonderland

It snowed continuously for 36 hours, but the reward was one of the prettiest views we’ve ever had out the bedroom window. Not a huge amount of snow overall, maybe 3-4 inches in the valley, but it looks like it’s topped up the slopes nicely, so will need to go and investigate.

Some pictures of those stakes I mentioned, up along the side of buildings. Still can’t figure out the use of them, there are hundreds of them about. Best we can figure is that it’s something to do with hay drying. Any idea?


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St. Anton

After dropping Sarah and Angus off at the airport in Innsbruck, we headed west along the valley towards Switzerland. We’ve found a campsite a couple of miles from St. Anton. We need to sit out a couple of days of bad weather which hopefully should top up the snow. We’ll then be able to get the ski bus into town and see what St. Anton has to offer.

We walked into town last night along the valley, then rewarded ourselves with Black Forest gateaux and coffee before walking back in the dark.

On the return to the campsite we stopped in at the onsite bar. About half a dozen locals plus a similar number of campers. Two beers ordered. I was not sure weather to be offended by the glass it came in. Is it me, or are they suggesting it’s for ‘foreign buggers’? Anyway, not so offended that I didn’t drink it, and another, along with the obligatory Schnapps chaser. Very warming!

Another walk along the valley this morning, hoping to get some exercise before the snow starts. Lovely pasture, chalets and little huts, plus some local wildlife in the sharp of deer (big buggers too), and some charming log stacking. If anyone knows what the wooden stacks that are hung up under the waves of buildings and sometimes their own little hut, let me know. They have two cross-pieces at right angles, but we can’t figure out the function.


Travelling Through Life