Our Trip 7 diary has been added here
CLICK HERE or also available off menus above
So far only in Holland but will be heading into Germany and then up to Denmark over the next few weeks…
Our Trip 7 diary has been added here
CLICK HERE or also available off menus above
So far only in Holland but will be heading into Germany and then up to Denmark over the next few weeks…
20 November – 17 December 2009 (27 days)
Trip distance: 2776 miles (excluding Home to/from Dover)
Trip cost: €1141 (c. £1026 ) – €41 or £37 per day
|Parking (see Wild if overnight stop)||5.00 €|
|Essentials (laundry, household)||17.00 €|
|Aires (or equiv)||9||16.00 €|
|ACSI Site||0||0.00 €|
|Camping Cheque Site||2||35.00 €|
|Other sites||0||0.00 €|
|TOTAL||Total cost||1,114.00 €|
|Days away||27||41.26 €|
Hmmm. Not one of our better trip to date, but most of that is probably due to WHEN we went rather than WHERE. We knew going out of season was always a challenge, and so we called this trip “Budapest and Back” and just seeing what we fell into on the way. It is a shame that in late November and early December most of the smaller and nicer towns and villages along our route (with exceptions!) were closed down and not really atmospheric and some of our “must see” sights were also closed. Most seem to gear up for the summer holidays and some for also the ski season which is mainly post-Christmas. So the time we went was fairly poor and, in fairness, to be expected.
Most campsites were closed, most “paid aires” were closed, and thus we wild/free camped most nights which suited us fine. It meant we could and did stop where we wanted rather than where the campsites were. We did actually stop in places that we’d not describe as picturesque or great and on previous trips we’d have found somewhere nicer! But as it was dark before 5pm convenience was the order of the day, so as long as it was safe and convenient we took it.
Even so we recommend the BordAtlas books which contain lost of Aires information for Germany and the rest of Europe
Hungary and SE Austria were the only problems where we had to plan where we’d change water/waste – but apart from that we had enough options – most free – to keep us going.
On this trip, German is the most common language – even in Hungary I had French people trying to speak to me in German (thinking I was I guess) – so best I could do was respond in French! Think that confused them a bit! That said, our German has improved a little and we can get by, but it isn’t our strongest.
We like Germany and its history is most interesting. It is a very clearly a very western country but maintains its own identity fairly well. Austria does feel like Germanys sister, and Hungary indeed like a very close cousin.
Hungary was our first taste of “Eastern Europe” and to be fair we entered it a little nervous with concerns over security, safety, and generally how things would be. In truth – we needn’t have worried at all. We do have concerns for Hungary in that since communism has gone it has been trying to become more westernised – and it does appear to be doing this at a fairly budget level – but apart from the cost their identity is being eroded. More than once we stopped and could not see a single thing that identified it uniquely – we could have been in pretty much any mainland Europe country. Contrary to our guidebook we would say we found Hungary to be entirely safe; very clean; the driving wasn’t that bad (it was better than the Belgiums!); and we didn’t get any hassle or grief from anyone. Our only complaints would be the condition of some A/B type roads and the lack of “tourist friendly” signage, parking and picnic areas which other countries seem to provide. Their motorways were smoother than some autobahns in Germany and Austria!
This trip has opened up our eyes to the start of Eastern Europe and we will explore Hungary and its neighbours again, and in our view Hungary and especially Budapest are worth visiting.
Towards the end of the trip we did find the cold weather particularly bitter – feeling different from the cold we get when snow-boarding. Wearing up to 5 layers and 2 lots of gloves when going out was getting a bit tedious!
We WOULD recommend this trip to anyone considering it – though we would suggest you completed it between April and October when most things would still be open – else you may not get the best possible experiences.
This trip was probably the biggest challenge to the van as the latter half of the trip the temperature seldom got above zero. This means of course that frozen pipes etc are cause for concern. Previously we had made modifications to the van to cope with snowboarding but in the main then we were on hook-up, whereas this trip we only had 2 nights on hook-up with the rest wild. This meant everything was heavily used in all conditions and apart from a fuse blowing – fault free.
Our insulated cab-curtain was essential, and the automatic 12v tank heater kept the fresh water defrosted. The gas heating was on pretty much all the time, and if you know us, you’ll know the van was very snug indeed when we were in it! We did leave the heating on overnight and with the van unattended on a low setting to ensure no problems. This meant the gas was gobbled quickly and we probably used 40 litres in total – so without refillable LPG we’d have been a little stuck!
With the 12v tank heater, the main heating fan, lights, TV (24 series 5!) then the batteries (2x100AH) did take a hammering. Driving seemed to keep them topped up enough but we did feel they needed a boost at the first campsite as they seemed to not quite get a full charge from just driving. Considering they hadn’t been on hookup for perhaps 2-3 months they were doing pretty well!
The poor van has around 32,000 miles now (20,000 since we left on our tour!) and is probably in need of a wash and a new set of tyres – the original tyres weren’t quite up to European winter standards and we did need snow-chains to get us up a slippery snowy hill. That said the interior is pretty much pristine which is still astounding considering the use its had.
Overall, we’d say the trip as it was had some good peeks, but would probably only score 6.5/10. However, at a warmer time of year when things were open it has potential to be 8.5-9.
We recommend the BordAtlas books which contain all of the German aires
Well trip 6 – our first major trip in our second year is underway. The goal is to make Budapest, but only if we don’t have to rush too much through southern Germany. If we don’t make it then we’ll just have to do it on another trip.
We’ve definitely become more laid back. It took us a fair few days to get the van packed this time, whereas previously we could do it in an evening! OK – packing was dispersed in between me getting mullered in Modern Warfare on the Wii…. A few other events delayed our departure too, but then we settled on leaving on the Thursday. Unfortunately Mel saw the weather forecast so she wanted to delay till Friday to ensure the sea was calmer. Then Thursday evening Mel got an email regarding an 8-day locum job, and after a brief conversation via email on Friday they wanted her to pop in! So our Friday morning departure got delayed to such an extent we’d be arriving too late, so instead we decided to leave anyway and have an afternoon/evening spa and a massage for Mel in Brighton then headed out Saturday morning. Good news though – Mel got the job which will pay for another trip, though it does mean we now have to be home for Christmas as the job starts just after.
With no fixed plan, set to “Germany”, the route went via Gent in Belgium – a place we’ve driven past so many times but never stopped. Till now. A free aire with a short 2 mile (well should have been) walk into the centre (there is also a tram and #3 bus). The outskirts were very uninspiring, a little dowdy, and not much to recommend. However the centre area was lovely. As usual for Belgium, a cross between German and Dutch, with a huge selection of old churches, squares and al-fresco bars. One of the squares was very Dutch reminding us both of our first trip and “Slagroom”….
On Sunday we decided to head to Bonn as our first German stop before meandering around southern Germany. The journey was dull as anything – almost dead-straight motorway with an annoying side wind. Surprisingly though the route touched southern Holland which was a little unexpected. We stayed a short walk from Bonn and the Rhine which were pleasant enough. Continuing south to Koblenz where the Rhine meets the Mosel and then having to debate which valley to explore on our journey south – Rhine towards Mainz or Mosel towards Trier….
As Mainz is probably en-route for the way home we opted for the Mosel route along the river and just enjoyed the uniquely German villages and towns along with its own mini Milau Viaduct (If you drive the road you will know what I mean!). We ventured up the mountain in search of a castle but called it off as it was getting dark and it appeared to be Longleat-esque with a long (long!) entry drive, massive car park, and closed. We thus decided to wild camp in Muden before it became pitch black. With heavy rain and strong winds it became a movie night with the hatches battened down.
The route to Trier along the Mosel is very long and twisty with many loops! The entire route is dotted with campsites and Reisemobileplatz (aires) – but the majority are closed in late November! We were fortunate enough to find one near Zell where for a euro we could top up tanks. Through the many pretty villages along the river we stopped at Cochen and had a good walk up to their castle as well as buying some local wine. On arrival at Trier we just parked in the park and ride and walked in exploring some basic Roman ruins and the Christmas market before polishing off the wine.
Waking to a lovely day (!) we decided to only have a short drive and make the most of the weather. We headed towards Wadern which, to be fair, was a characterless modern town. They did however provide a free aire with full facilities so we wisely topped the tanks and headed off for a long work in the forest nearby. We spent the evening looking at the map (for a change!) and realising how close we were to places we’ve already been to (such as Metz in France), and how our route for the next few days virtually touches Switzerland and Austria. A bit unexpected though I guess our Geography is improving!
On our last day of week 1, we decided to head towards the spa town of Baden-Baden but via the slower roads and the Deutsche Weinstrasse from Bad Durkheim to Dorrenbach before eventually hitting Baden-Baden – a fairly long drive with a fair few stop offs taking pretty much the entire day. We visited Hambacher Schloss where they have an annual Hambacher festival. As usual we missed this and Mel doesn’t much like burgers anyway. From there to Saint Martin, a very quaint and pretty village with old traditional houses, then down to Borg Trifels another castle. Now at least we know why they build castles at the top of hills – its because when the enemy get to the top they are too knackered to fight! Finally from there to Dorrenbach which was a tiny village similar to an old Tudor English village.
Then the last quick stint to Baden-Baden (cutting through France!) ready for tea and to explore the town at the start of week 2.
Overall a lovely start to this trip – loads of new sights and the fact we’re going a lot slower than expected says it all. The downside is sadly that we’re so far out of tourist season (late November) that the “wine regions” are pretty much closed up shop and most of the villages are like ghost towns. On many of our walks we don’t see anyone! This is a shame as the lack of others dampens the atmosphere in the smaller places. That said – the roads are clear
We recommend the BordAtlas books which contain all of the German aires
We started Week 2 waking up in Baden-Baden where the weather wasn’t too baden but wasn’t too gooden either. It started in a chilled manner with a little bit of light rain. A short flat cycle ride into the town centre allowed us to explore when a very old German lady came to talk to us realising we were tourists. (Guess speaking English, with a back-back and a map give it away!). She was lovely and made sure we knew where things were – so following her tips we found the spa and Christmas market and a few other gems before heading back the van for a hair-cut. My recent lessons paid off (cheers Mum) and Mels hair looks pretty good (considering).
With a hairy back we ventured into the spa for a long soak (and needed bath no doubt) and watched the sun set in the outdoor pools. Followed by a tour of the festive market with warm wine and chocolate pastries, finished off by the old-lady recommended “traditional” eatery for for beer and traditional Bavarian food which was rather good and festive.
After eventually rolling out of bed the following morning, we headed deep into the Black Forest, firstly via Gutach to Freiburg. We didn’t explore Freiburg but from our tour through it – it appeared to be very similar to towns in East-Germany like Leipzig. There may well have been a lot to see there but we had plans to enjoy smaller towns. Via some scenic mountain roads we ended up in Todtnau to explore the forest and to find their famous waterfall. Our guidebook mentioned the waterfall SE of the town whereas the one signposted and we found was NW…
On the hill adjacent to the town there is a massive down-hill gravity based toboggan/roller coaster – similar to the one we had a go in at Thale (On our first trip also in Germany). But this one looks bigger and badder and so as it was closed after our walk the plan for the following morning was set….
With trepidation Mel got out of bed – but after breakfast she was keen to go on the toboggan ride. Till we started getting higher and higher on the ski-lift! The ride is about 3km long with loads of loops, bumps and twists. We shared a car with me “driving” – and I was kind to Mel but still got “Christ!” “Sh*t!” and various other comments – okay we did go a bit quick round one corner but that was due to Mels elbow preventing me from applying the brakes! (Honest!). I’m sure she enjoyed it and the “Don’t ever ask me to do that again” comment was meant in jest.
Leaving Todtnau and Heidi country (what ever happened to her – did she ever escape her nasty aunt?) we stopped at an aire in Singer to top up tanks and then passed a disappointing place called “Titisee”. It looked rather good from the road but didn’t look up to its namesake – maybe it was the weather. After Singer we followed the road north of lake Constance though to explore the towns. All very nice but not as spectacular as we expected and not up to, say, Como standards. Maybe the Swiss side is better. We had lunch in Überlingen which was pleasant enough and continued through to Lindau where we wild camped next to the lake and enjoyed a run round the rather nice old town where there was the best Christmas market we’ve seen so far.
Waking and leaving early (e.g. 9am!) we headed towards Oberstdorf where there is a spectacular cable car ride with unbeatable views. However today it was snowing and raining and the clouds were in so Oberstdorf was also like a ghost town – it appears to cater for both summer and winter-ski trade but not offer anything for late autumn/early winter. This also meant the ski-jump centre was closed much to Mels relief. As the weather wasn’t great we decided to move on and head to Fussen then Innsbruck. Fussen wasn’t really that special but it is worth a detour as the town is nice, tidy, and full of colourful buildings. Though saying that we forgot and thus didn’t see the tipped Neuschwanstein Castle! DOH! We had lunch there then filled up with Diesel and headed towards Innsbruck. Much to our surprise we entered Austria almost immediately and then found diesel was 10% cheaper! Damn. Having not bought a vignette for Austria we kept to the A roads and enjoyed the stunning scenery, turquoise rivers and lakes, and headed into Innsbruck where we found a quiet place to wild camp about 4km walk from the centre. We walked in, got lost, and briefly explored the old town and Christmas market, listened to the band, enjoyed more coffee and apple strudels, and got back to the van eventually soaked though planning to cycle in the following day.
The cycle ride was much more sensible and made us wish we didn’t walk the previous day! Innsbruck is well worth a visit, both the old and new towns are picturesque and the horizon too would have been a great view bar the clouds. After a morning and lunch there we opted to leave Innsbruck and head further east into Austria and into Schwaz which is a typical non-touristy town. We planned to just chill for the afternoon and find a laundrette to do some washing. We could not however find one, and upon asking were told they are rarely found in Austria! Oops. A quick stock check showed we needed to get to a laundrette in the next couple of days and also we needed to get some more LPG as we were playing Russian Roulette with it as the needle has been off the scale for a day or so…. (running out in below-freezing conditions would not be nice!) Neither of which are readily available in Austria so a plan was set to head to the Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany (Berchtesgaden and Königssee) along the smaller non-motorway roads and just see what we see.
The route to Berchtesgaden took us along some roads with stunning Austrian views and were a pleasure to drive. Berchtesgaden held one of our “must do” viewings – of the Eagles Nest (Hitlers mountain top retreat on top of Kehlstein) – and also the unique “Panoramic Highway” of stunning views over the Alps and mountain ranges. The day could not be better – fresh but clear blue skies and sunny. Our route was glorious and from Berchtesgaden centre we went up into the mountains over the snow line and up a 24% hill (with old summer tyres; wet; fully laden and FWD) it was a challenge. But then all signs vanished. After half an our or so we found the entrance to the Panoramic Highway and after sliding our way to the entrance found it was closed…. On returning to the town tourist office we were informed its only open from mid May to mid October and closed for the entire winter! We were gutted, so after lunch we headed to Königssee sulking.
Königssee is just a full tourist village next to a lake, and it has to be said the lake looked absolutely stunning and the views were well worth a visit. That said the rest of it was next to deserted so we would expect a much better atmosphere in the summer months. Finally before the sun set we opted to go to Bad Reichenhall near the Austrian border for the night and just take a tour of the rather pleasant town and get our laundry done!
The following morning was glorious as we headed to Salzburg parking about a mile from the centre and walking in. Salzburg is a stunning city and fairly unique with a cross of Cambridge, Berlin, Rome etc which make it a lovely (and fairly small city) to walk around. The old town, river and part of the new town are well worth a wander. The Christmas market was massive and, as usual, we enjoyed another treat! Deciding it wasn’t ideal to stay there we moved on towards our next planned stop just seeing what we’d find, and we stumbled across Sankt Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee lake. The town is tiny and looks reasonably authentic though of course is geared for tourists. Though the Christmas market (another one!) was friendly enough with some fires to keep us warm and a re-visit in the evening was lovely with a small amateur brass band playing to a very small crowd!
So after 2 weeks we’re in Austria. This week seems to be one of those weeks where we’ve just seen and done loads – and looking back its hard to believe what we’ve squeezed in! The weather is below freezing but mainly snow free and the van is doing superb considering we’ve only wild camped/aires so far so been fully self sufficient. It is quite snug inside and the heating and insulation is doing its job and the tank defroster has cut in and appears to be working!
We recommend the BordAtlas books which contain all of the German aires
After a couple of nice days we awoke in Mosonmagyaróvár to a colder and damper day. After exploring the town and finding the spa it appeared to be mainly outdoors and thus a bit chilly. After checking emails and finding there was a weather warning in Eastern Europe we actually felt the temperature had dropped a few degrees. We decided to skip a chilly spa (which would be great in the summer) and head to Vienna to an aire we had in our books to fill our almost-empty water and take a well needed shower. Sadly the aires water supply was turned off for winter! We then fell back to a plan-B campsite (£23!!) which we found okay but reception was closed and it looked a bit of a mud bath. We filled our tanks anyway then Mel mentioned why bother staying and paying £23 for a parking-space on mud when we could wild camp now we had full water. Not sure I’m proud of her savvy thinking or embarrassed at her cheek. Either way we legged it and parked just down the road (with 2 other vans) and took a very efficient tram into Vienna.
It was unfortunately a bit chilly and drizzly but not enough to get drenched, so we were able to explore the city quite easily. Most of the sites are inside the “ring-road” whereas the outskirts are really quite densely packed. (Recommend park on outskirts!). Vienna even in the wet is hugely impressive. Even aside from the key buildings, virtually every building and every turning shows up some fantastic views and architecture. Parliament was impressive as was the town-hall next to it with a market in the grounds. The museum quarter was “wow” with yet another market, and really everywhere you looked there were magnificent buildings with statues atop.
The shopping streets were full of designer brands and posh-shops and the Stephansdom just appeared like a ghostly apparition in the dark and dominated the skyline – brilliant tiled roof – but sides/tower were being repaired. The Hofburg was fantastic – one of the largest collections of superb buildings that you can just wander round, though we never made it inside the art museums. Enough of Vienna – suffice to say we will definitely make another visit and explore further – preferably in the summer when we can enjoy the gardens (such as Belvederegarten) and the Danube that just weren’t tempting in the wet (yep – same river as Budapest bizarrely enough!)
In the morning we decided to save the missed inner-city sights for a future visit and instead went to Schonbrunn Palace and gardens a few km from where we were staying. We parked free round the back and entered through the gardens that were quite amazing and full of semi-tame red squirrels. If you go take some nuts and they will eat from your hand! The grounds have a zoo, maze (closed end Oct) and loads of sculptures and garden features. On a summers day it would be easy to wallow a day away. As it was bitterly icy however we opted for a scenic drive meandering along the Danube river where we were blessed with some stunning views and amazing little villages. We stopped and had lunch at Dürnstein which is worth a visit, yet deserted on our visit! We then continued the pleasant drive to Mauthausen where there is WW2 concentration camp. We arrived only a few hours before closing time so opted to spend the night with some Austrian wine, watch the snow settle, and visit in the morning.
The route we’ve using heading back in Austria is a lot more beautiful than the route we took in which is rather pleasing!
In the morning with a bitter wind and a layer of snow on the ground we headed to Mauthausen concentration camp. We’d only heard of it after reading Motorhomeandaway blog and we’re glad we did. When we were there there were only 5 or 6 other people there so pretty much had the camp to ourselves and took an “audio tour”. Considering we were freezing and wearing all our winter gear it brings home what the inmates actually went through. Unfortunately the memorial gardens were pretty much closed for winter. Incredibly sad and very sobering and well worth a visit.
Leaving Mauthausen we headed out of Austria back into Bavarian Germany to a campsite in order to fill up and do our final washing before coming home. We eyed a small campsite in a small country village called Rohrbach which also had a spa. So after settling in we went for a spa which was a cross between a spa and a swimming pool – but bizarrely everyone had to move at the sound of the “ding-dong” – and everyone (bar us) did (until we knew). Weird. Then venturing into town for a feast we found a really authentic restaurant and afterwards the owner gave us some complimentary Bavarian “shots” which were a cross between vodka, gin and Benolyn cough mixture! We slept well.
After completing our chores in the morning we drove up to Zwiesel in the Bavarian national park, and the drive there was glorious. The town was nice enough but the landscape was just beautiful. A perfect base for walks and cycling – though not at this time of year! After lunch we headed to Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and parked in one of their many free aires. A brisk and fresh walk into the town along the river we visited their famous Christmas market which was incredibly big. It lacked the festive feel of, say, Budapest or Landau markets but it was massive. Guess we are just marketted out now!! First impressions were very positive as we headed back to the van for the evening.
We were blessed with sunshine in the morning as we cycled into the city centre – but the temperature was still freezing! Nuremberg surprised us and we would add it to our “must see” towns. The old walled town has a great castle Kaieserburg, lovely shopping streets, and loads of character almost everywhere. The post WW2 bombing buildings can be a bit plain but overall a very nice place to be. We had a look around their toy museum which was fun enough – and proved we’re not *that* old as none of my childhood toys had yet made an entrance!
After fully exploring we headed off to Wurzberg for the night ready to explore in the morning. Fairly early we headed into the town which was 80% destroyed by us during WW2. The guidebook (wrongly in our opinion) compares the rebuild to Dresden which we love. However, apart from a nice square and a few interesting sights its not really worth making an effort to visit. Towards the end of our short tour the snow came down thick and fast, settled quickly, and was as slippery as, well, ice.
We decided to head off ASAP to the motorway and get “out of dodge” but the road out was on a hill. Cue lots of wheel-spinning and under-steer with the traction control not even making an effort to help! Great. On the hill we slid into a garage forecourt so decided to fill up with diesel anyway and perhaps get another 60kg over the front wheels. This made little difference and we then got stuck about 200m away on the slight hill. Cars came past wheel spinning and one got stuck just beyond us. Even thought the snow wasn’t deep we put the snow-chains on for some extra grip. Just as we were finishing an articulated lorry was coming past us and got stuck and started wheel-spinning and sliding towards the curb where we were!!!! Fortunately the chains worked and we got out of there as quickly as physics would allow so he didn’t hit us and for the next 3-4 miles climbed up to the top of the hill until the road started to clear and we saw a gritter. Chains off and away we went… (Tip: If you have snow chains and expect to use them, store them inside as handling wet metal chains that are below freezing isn’t fun!)
As the winter weather seems to be chasing us we decided that was enough for us and would head home in safety before we pushed our luck too far and save the delights of another wine route and Frankfurt for another warmer visit.
We’d been tipped of a delightful town in Holland where they hold (another!) Christmas market but uniquely inside caves. As this was a convenient distance we set to go there and run away from the snow though it did appear to chase us down the motorway. The tip proved good (thanks Barry & Hazel) and the small town of Valkenberg was bustling and in the festive spirit. The cave market was definitely worth a visit and we settled down for our last meal of this trip in one of the many restaurants. I had a glorious meat fest casserole and the only complaint was the waitress was very rude (to everyone – not us).
Finally no more snow fell overnight so we were able to head to the ferry – though in Belgium the snow came again and unbelievably the motorway was not treated so it became a crawl with just tyre marks barely showing. But we eventually made it to Calais calling an end to trip 6 and our last nights in the van for 2009. We now have the first few months of 2010 for more serious planning….. Till then…..
Our final week is going to be a quiet week – we read back over our diary and can’t believe how much we’ve seen and done – so for our final week – we’ll be taking it slow, avoiding cities and just enjoy getting out and about! Leaving Bad Sachsa we just pootled along to a small town called Naumburg, had a 10 minute walk around, and then just settled in for a lazy Sunday just chilling and playing games. Most things (well everything) is closed on Sundays in Germany anyway!
The next day we went off onto the twisty roads for some challenging yet fun driving, via Waldeck and their castle, through Vohl, and then on to Frankenburg. We stumbled upon a free motor home parking site with facilities, so decided to stay there for the rest of the day and venture into the town. Some lovely timber framed houses and the old town is reasonably good, but most things are closed on Mondays! These Germans have an easy life! Mel found an open hairdresser and just about got across what she wanted, and the end result was okay but the Germans must like it a bit rougher than English girls. As the light faded we had a tough 11km run which felt like more!
From Frankenburg we knew we had to head roughly home – and as we’d seen enough of cities we were looking for more suitable chill places to maybe do some more walking or cycling. On the map there appeared to be an interesting route via a couple of castles in the Munster area. With really poor weather we set out via a Center Parc and enquired if they allowed camping (like the one we found in Holland). In no uncertain terms we were told no – so we headed off into the mountains towards Munster in pouring rain. After we crossed the mountains about 70 miles later, the sun was shining so we thought the day was going to turn out well….
The first castle on our route was at Ludinghausen which turned out to be a lovely castle with some nice grounds and town, but it was closed. We then ventured to Schloss Lembeck which looked lovely – but this too was closed. As such we gave up castle hunting and looked for a suitable place to set up camp and just explore for the rest of the day.
We stumbled on a town called Dorsten which has a specific motorhome parking area for €3 which looked perfect. Even better, it was a stones-throw from Atlantis – an ultra modern swimming complex with full size pool, play pools with 370m of slides, outdoor spa which was superb – underwater music, hot, mood lights, and a great view of the stars! Just what we needed! (That is, of course, a bath after 37 nights away!). As the area is fairly flat and littered with cycling routes we decided to stay a couple of nights and enjoy the area. We actually are a little annoyed we’ve only just started finding these little cheap gems at the end of our tour! Ah well – practice makes perfect and the day ended surprisingly well!
With the sun shining the following day, we enjoyed a long bike ride out into the country following a Roman Ruin trial – which we forgot about and therefore didn’t knowingly see anything that ancient! After popping into the very friendly local tourist information office, we were recommended a restaurant in town where we had a superb meal – and very good service. We have to say, Dorsten seemed to be a superbly friendly place – the friendliest we felt in Germany, and though the town is reasonable it is unfortunately a bit down and in need of some TLC.
Upon leaving Dorsten we headed to a small place on the Holland/Germany border called Afferden to spend our last couple of nights. Incredibly friendly staff gave us some maps so we could have a run in the nearby forest which is literally touching Germany. You could imagine how this place would have felt years ago at the start of WWII. Having no real plans but to veg and chill, and plan our next adventure trip – and boy did we come up with some ideas!!! We bumped into a nice English couple staying on the same site – the first English we’ve seen for over a month! They kindly gave us some good tips about camping locations in Portugal which look gorgeous.
Our second day we just had our last bike ride and final shop ready for the main drive home. The entire final day will be road & ferry, about 350 miles or so, wondering what bills and post await us at home, and what plans we can make for our next trip! One down – who knows how many more to go!
After our exhaustion of seeing Berlin, we planned to have a fairly quiet day. This idea started badly when trying to leave our superbly located site – the guys running it all appear to either be rude to everyone or just hate the English! Long story – but after an argument over incorrect dates on the form we just left the right money and left. We headed for a short drive to Potsdam – supposedly “One of Germanys most attractive towns”. We would not agree with this – some parts great but no real wow factors in the town, and as appears common in Germany, nice is muddled within the tatty. There appeared to be lots of building works and improvements ongoing so maybe worth a visit in the next few years. After there we went for a run in the Park Sanssouci to try and stretch out our ongoing aches. This park is, it has to be said, superb. We ran for around 5 miles and the park is full of superb statues, castles, and works of art. Sadly they were in the middle of “box-protecting” the statues for the winter. In the summer this would be a lovely place to chill for a day.
The fog started to descend so we headed to Leipzig for a couple of days. was superb guiding us to the city centre – rather than the campsite. Human error – but it gave us a superb tour of the city on a fortunately quiet Sunday afternoon! First impressions were of a poor typical Eastern Europe town, wide tram-cabled roads, semi derelict shops, and rows and rows of flats. The following day we took a tram into the city centre – a highly modern and clean tram – and we were efficiently dropped off at the central station.
Inside the ring road, Leipzig is a marvellous city – vastly different to the area just outside. We were greeted with clean streets, stunning buildings, nice shops and good eateries outside. Clearly work is still ongoing, many of the superb views and sites are surrounded by building works, but that said – it didn’t take anything away from the place. We went to the Stasi museum and realised that only a few days before we saw Michael Palin there in part of his New Europe show we brought with us – shows how much attention we paid to the programme! A very interesting museum with insight into how the Stasi used to work…
Leipzig also has a zoo – so, as usual, Mel dragged us there to see the animals as apparently the zoo (though 130 years old) has been modernised and has animals in “natural” enclosures without bars… Sadly, out of season it was quiet and a lot of the animals were in their indoor environments rather than the massive outdoor areas they had. However, there was a superb indoor large 360’ aquarium which was stunning – loads of fish we’d never seen before in almost total freedom.
When leaving Leipzig we headed towards Dresden – a place we both wanted to go to, but one we’d heard conflicting reports of. We arrived safely and found motorhome parking right in the centre with the best ever signing! They appeared to want you there and went out of their way to ensure they could accommodate you, even giving you free WiFi! All this about 3 minutes walk from the main city centre – a model facility. We ventured around the city in awe of many of the sites. As usual, modernisation work is in full swing, but Dresden still looked superb. Many old buildings, such as the Frauenkirche are rebuilt from the war – and this particular stunning church retains the dark original stone only which shows how much rebuilding was necessary.
We pretended to have an arty side and went into the Old Masters picture gallery – and whist some of the pictures were quite interesting to look at – we don’t think we’re particularly arty enough to fully appreciate them. After a nose around Zwinger and the old town we decided to chill for the rest of the day and explore the following morning when we were pleased to see the sun out shining well for the first time in a while. We started off with a run along the river Elbe and through the Grosser Garten park where we saw a load of wild red squirrels! All we can say – is this was a perfect start to the day – lovely weather and absolutely stunning views along the river – must be hard to beat anywhere. 7 miles later and showered we ventured back into town to see the old town in the sun and also the new town. The former was even more impressive – we found bits we missed yesterday with a stunning shopping mall hidden away. After an easy afternoon we headed back for a nice meal in the evening washed down with some large German beers. Overall very impressed – we reckon Dresden will be *the* city break in the next few years.
The next day was foggy so we just had a long drive to the Harz mountains ready to explore the following day. We opted for “interesting back roads” – but with the fog and road-works the journey wasn’t great. Where we camped wasn’t either – and we got stung for €21 for the night – most we’ve paid by far!
In the morning we headed into the mountains, via Harzgerode than Ballenstedt where we explored a glorious castle and grounds. These towns are much more what we expected German towns to be like so were very impressed! From there we headed to Thale which was a very pleasant surprise – another glorious town at the base of a mountain, with a couple of cable car runs to the top and some extreme mountain bike trails down. Very tempted to get the bikes but they are more hybrid than mountain… We took a ride to the top to check out the Hexentanzplatz (where witches fly from apparently) which was fun, and we stumbled on a cross between a toboggan run and a roller coaster! Surprisingly Mel wanted a go – but only with Ryan “driving” – and away we went! Ryan was very generous in the application of the brakes so didn’t make any of the “jumps” – but Mel didn’t kick him and thus enjoyed the experience! There is so much to do at Thale, especially in the summer months, it is well worth a visit.
Leaving Thale we headed towards Blankenburg where we found a camping place for €4 – much more like it. We decided to stay there the night and explore another gorgeous town; stunning castle and grounds; and plan our morning run via the “Devils Rocks” (or something – a 3km cliff and forest run) followed by another look around the nice but quiet town. We then headed off on some challenging (fun!) roads into the mountains to Rubeland – which appeared to be a ghost town apart from some caves. Trying not to remember “Descent movie” – we ventured into the caves to admire the Stalagmites and tites they had to offer. Reasonably interesting as the tour was in German, so clearly we could not understand the “no photo” rule! Then off to Bad Sachsa and a very quiet site in the hills with a lovely meal in a quiet restaurant and some German beer, thus ending our penultimate week.
Start of week 4 – and it sounds like its getting close to home time! We rose early to head to Hamburg Fischmarkt – about a 2 mile hike from where we stayed. The market was really quite large – very impressive and lots of bargains. We foolishly bought loads of fruit that we could only just carry for €10 – then wished we hadn’t as our arms were twice as long when we got back. There seemed to be a live gig (classic rock) going on in the auction house and wondered if we’d see “The Hoff” – but didn’t. It was around 9am and clearly been going on all night – and considering our guidebook says “Germans like drink but it is rare to see a drunk” – well we can assure you – there were a fair few around here – still drinking! After a little more site seeing in a stunning city we decided we’d had enough of cities for a while and escaped to the coast.
Our Gaslow meter was just entering the “yellow” which should have meant about 30-40% left – so thought we’d better top up and actually see how accurate it was. We manually routed via a few stretches of motorway with some nice roads in between – and headed to a site in Ziewro near Wismar on the north coast via an LPG filling station. Well the LPG Euro adapter didn’t fit, but the Italian/French one did – we then connected the pump (and obviously could not read the instructions) and managed to get about 0.02 litres in. Oops – had to go and ask for it to be reset. After fluffing a bit more and a few more “moments” – we got it working and got 7 litres of LPG in for around €5 and filled our 6kg bottle – and we now know the gauge is accurate enough.
After our walks we were pretty knackered and decided to have a chilled afternoon once getting to site (it started raining and everything closed on Sundays anyway!) and do the laundry and listen to music. On checking the site, there was an impressive (and I mean impressive) facilities block with showers to beat all showers; and a nice little bar/restaurant just outside! Not bad for a fiver a night, just what we needed! We ventured to the nice bar and restaurant to be greeted by a scary lady who thrust the menus at us. We only wanted a beer but were too scared to decline the food. After being asked 3 times in 5 minutes what we wanted, we chose quickly translating only the odd word. Ryan had a lovely meat & mushroom dish (Pork steak) – and Mel had a lovely fish meal covered in bacon! Needless to say, Ryan didn’t go hungry.
The following day we decided on a day off – and simply cycled into the nearest nice town, Wismar, about 6 miles away. Wismar was rather nice and pleasant – but nothing really special. We found a quiet internet cafe and caught up on business and made a few more plans. Annoyingly we had to pay for the first time ever – the Germans seem to have far better configured WiFi than anywhere else!
Following a good nights sleep we set off towards Nationalpark Muritz, and a town called Waren. We set a route via the country roads – and this time we really enjoyed the drive. The roads were as smooth as glass, nice fast and sweeping, some technical corners, and quite good fun to hack along on! We brits have something to learn from their road repairs – in places they looked like a patchwork quilt – but were smoother than the painted white lines! A pleasure to drive on. We have decided though its not just BMW drivers who can’t use indicators – its all things German! They use them when overtaking on the Autobahns, but never in towns, roundabouts or even turning off a main road! That explains more the BMW mentality in the UK then….
The views were more of what we expected, lovely countryside of all autumnal colours and quite picturesque villages on the way through set alongside one of the many lakes along the way. We camped literally two feet away from the lovely Muritz lake and explored the amazing town of Waren. We can only imagine what it would be like in the heat of summer – something that would fit right in on the med! It is full of old character, but well maintained with all (and we mean all) buildings neatly painted and colourful. The only downside was autumn turned to winter and it was bitterly cold!
At this point we were torn between what to do – on one hand on a tour you want to see as much as possible, but on the other hand you don’t want to simply wiz through everything just to tick the box. On this trip, one of the key objectives was to see Berlin and Dresden – and we’d pencilled in the coming weekend for Berlin, the following weekend in Dresden, and the last week we’d amble west back towards home. Unfortunately this meant missing some bits out rather than simply rushing through, so the North East corner of Germany, Rugen, will now have to wait for another trip – and to be honest it’d probably be much nicer in the summer!
After Waren, and knowing Berlin was coming, we thought it wise to enjoy the countryside and national park a bit more, so we headed to Lake Wobiltzee and stayed a couple of nights – planning some running, hiking and cycling through the national park. We can still only manage short runs (still recovering from the Amsterdam race) which is a shame. The second day in the forest we awoke to rain and it was chucking it down – so opting for a lazy start to the day instead and simply a took a small walk in the afternoon past the local shop and stocked up with goodies before settling down with Schindlers List.
The following morning turned out to be sunny and warm with a lovely glow over the lake. After sorting out, Mel drove a fine drive into Berlin to a motorhome park right in the centre (10 min walk from Checkpoint Charlie). Driving in the city was quite mental but Mel kept her cool and was, as ever, spot on. As we were staying two days, we spend the first day in East Berlin, with the Jewish museum and Checkpoint Charlie, followed by a tour of the main eastern sites. We found a shopping centre which just had multiple car showrooms in (VAG?). Bugatti had a showroom we looked around with the showpiece being the stunning Bugatti Veyron. A very impressive toy – maybe one day!
Our second day started in superb (but chilly) sunshine, so we set off early to continue our tour of the sites. Brandenburg Gate is hugely impressive as is the Tiergarten park with its Siegessaule (Triumphal column). We ventured back to the Eastern side to see their exquisite buildings and managed to get some free wifi over lunch and massive hot chocolates. We ventured back to Checkpoint Charlie and went into the large museum there and spent a fair few hours looking around. It provided a very informative, educational and moving experience – well worth a visit.
The central part of the city is stunning, but just outside and especially the suburbs it appears to be a bit of a dump (and sometimes smells like it). Lots of high-rise flats, old looking and semi-derelict buildings, tatty roads and unfortunately quite unappealing. That said, Berlin is most definitely worth seeing – but be prepared for a few days of knackered legs or do as we didn’t – take a tour bus. We just wore ourselves out and prepare ourselves for our penultimate week away.
We definitely overdid the walking yesterday – we ache like hell which isn’t a good sign…. In order to stock up on energy (honest!) we visited the local shop to buy some chocolate. Now we know why the Dutch are so thin – quite simply there wasn’t any!!! We had to resort to biscuits with a small slither of chocolate spread in between! Not good as we’ve now exhausted our English stock of goodies. Then the race….
Running conditions were superb, so we had a late breakfast and cycled the 4 miles to the start full of enthusiasm. The atmosphere was superb – loads of music, people blasting stereos out of their flats playing “eye of the tiger” and the like, bands of all kinds and a large crowd cheering us on. We both started in different groups, Ryan in the front group, and Mel back a bit. The first few miles were fine, and up till around the 8 mile mark we were both feeling good….. Then we both floundered and ran out of steam - Mel was sick and we both slowed down to well below our normal pace. When “Mr 1:35 Pace Man” came past Ryan, he had just about enough anger brewing to keep up till the 1km remaining mark, then was able to pull away in pain till the finish – clocking a respectable 1:34:11 but a fair few minutes below PB. Not a great race for us – incredibly tough – maybe a lack of distance training we need to address.
After cycling 4 miles back to the site, we decided to go out for a meal and wandered into the nearest “Real Dutch” village. Out of a choice of eateries we randomly chose the furthest away which was packed – but no menu outside so we went for it anyway. After a couple of beers we got the menu – in Dutch – and asked if they had an English menu. “No!” was the short and sharp reply, and no offer of translation assistance was forthcoming. Serves our right really – we have become so blazon with English and never tried to translate anything. Which meant the translator was back in the van… Ryan chose a random dish off the menu, and Mel chose the only one that vaguely looked vegetarian. To our pleasant surprise, both were superb hot and tasty dishes! After another beer or so we headed back and slept like logs.
On the Monday we awoke aching quite badly, but excited knowing from here on it’s off into the unknown and to places we’ve never been to! South Holland has been our comfort zone as we know it well – but from here – we have absolutely no idea what to expect! After consulting our maps and guides, we headed first to Cruquius to see a working museum of a massive old steam pump and to get an insight into the Dutch water management showing how they can keep their feet dry when they live below sea level. It was full of volunteers and we virtually had a 1-2-1 tour with a very knowledgeable and interesting chap who started the engines and demoed them just for us! From there we headed to Zaandam to see Zaanse Schans which is an open air museum on Dutch life. Entry to the open area is free but parking is quite expensive – so if you can park outside and walk you’d save €7. Mainly a tourist trap, but the main purpose was to go and look around a working windmill (€2.50 each) which was quite enlightening – and the surrounding area was lovely. A free ferry to Zaandam and a “provided walk” through the town was quite good – seeing traditional and real Dutch living.
So much for a rest day – we got back to the van aching, limping, and moaning about how old we felt. We set off and continued heading North on the A7 crossing the massive dyke (20 miles) in the top left corner of Holland – stopping to take a look in a howling gale – and continued to Zwaagwesteinde where we’d spotted a lovely little overnight camping place next to a canal/marina for €6. Bargain!
After a lovely tea and shower and nights kip, we awoke to intermittent rain. This was disappointing as we had hoped to visit one of the West Frisian Islands to chill out, fly the kite and have some long nature walks. We decided the weather would have ruined this so we parked this for a future trip and headed towards Groningen. We’d eyed up a little “site” in one of our guides on a watersports lake 6 miles west and so headed there. Sadly no watersports in October – but the site has everything you need for €5.50! Another bargain found, we set up camp and cycled a 13 mile round trip into Groningen.
Groningen is a surprisingly busy and unique town – lots of character and a typical shopping centre, yet loads of little streets containing bespoke and unique shops selling all manner of wares. We managed to locate a decent WiFi link in range of a large pub, so settled there and caught up on our Internet stuff and replied to all our emails.
After Groningen we spotted a small historic “town” called Bourtange which is surrounded by star shaped canals making it highly fortified. We located a campsite right next to it and headed there. Whilst the town is an impressive spot for a beer in the square (and a sweet shop), in truth there isn’t much there that will interest you for more than a couple of hours. So well worth the visit – just don’t go out of your way. Whilst still aching, we decided to go on a small run “to Germany” – so a 5 mile gentle jog to loosen our muscles up a bit, then settled down for the day and watched a movie.
Finally, the following day we were leaving Holland to the unknown territory of Germany – deciding on visiting Bremem before heading to Hamburg for the weekend. Mel took the wheel for the first stint and had to deal with the “unrestricted” German roads where other cars seemed to be at Vmax… Bizarrely, there was an overhead gantry with speed cameras – so they either slow down for them or just blatantly ignore them.
We located a private Stellaplatz just off the centre of Bremem – again was superb especially at rerouting due to road closures. Bremem is reminiscent of some UK cities – mixing a few old buildings with modern. Overall though a bit disappointing and a bit messy – they had a lovely old building with a 1960’s extension on the roof! Looked awful! The market square had a market and fair in – but really quiet and unexciting. Worth seeing the town, but not one we’ll remember.
In order to try and see some more interesting German sites, we asked to route us to the picturesque town of Stade via the back roads. This it did really well, though we have to admit many of the roads were just tree-lined rural roads and the villages and small towns didn’t tempt us to stop. Getting to Stade, we parked in the town Wohnmobilstellplatz (Special motorhome parking) and ventured into town. Tourist information was great and we had a good map to wander round the town and see all the sites. Venturing back to the van we decided to go out for a meal in one of the many restaurants. We opted for a fish restaurant and did decide to take the mini laptop! Good job too – our host did try and help – but the translator was superb and we actually knew what we ordered!
After a couple of good German beers, we left and slept well ready to go to Hamburg in the morning. According to one of our guides, there was a special parking place just south of the City… did its best despite multiple road closures, and then once in the city we made some accidental detours and unfortunately the site appears to be in the middle of a building site! With closed bridges and roads, we managed to get in with about half a dozen other vans. No idea what has happened, but we parked there for the night, for free, with cars fighting for expensive places a few 100 meters away! Not entirely convinced its legit – but hey!
Hamburg is a superbly impressive and photogenic city. The centre has so many “wow” sites no matter which way you look. Considering this city was too bombed heavily during the war, it has kept the old and rebuilt wisely. We have to say, so far, it is the most impressive city we’ve seen – though it is vast and our legs are tired! The red light area however is very seedy and probably best avoided. Part of an old church, St. Nikolas, has been converted to a monument with a lift in with some lovely panoramic views of the city. We’ve been informed and have read about a Fischmarkt which is supposed to be awesome on Sunday mornings – so the start of Week 4 has been planned!