Saturday, 15 June 2019

Saturday 15 June - Esslingen and Kirchheim-unter-Teck

Where's Bertie? He's in a Stellplatz that forms part of a large car park in Kirchheim-unter-Teck (exact location: 48.64989, 9.45898).
Weather: Mainly overcast but warm and humid. Some sunshine this afternoon.

StreetView coverage is a hit-and-miss affair in Germany (far more miss than hit; I've found few places with coverage) and thus I'd not been able to check out the access for a Bertie-sized vehicle in the car park for Esslingen's parkrun this morning. We thus arrived early in case we needed to park elsewhere and walk in - which happily turned out not to be the case. We were able to settle Bertie within metres of the start line.

About an hour after our arrival, others started to congregate. We weren't expecting a big crowd as this was only the 11th week of this particular event and they've only yet attracted an average of 20 participants (I'm sure it will grow as word gets around; parkrun is proving popular in Germany). Today was an average day (i.e. 20 of us took part) and it was a nice riverside route with the added interest of going through one of those wooden, roofed bridges, with an open doorway at either end.

I was disappointed in my time today (didn't look at my watch the whole way round and wasn't going as quickly as I would have liked) but consoled myself with cake at the end.

There were more cakes than people, so I got two and Mick got one too

Ten of us took the 10-minutes-or-so walk, along the riverside cycle/foot path, to the post-run coffee location and there Mick received a much lesser breakfast than the one he thought he had ordered. Ne'er mind. I helped him with his bread and jam. The small bag of gummy bears and a single lettuce leaf were bizarre additions to the plate.

It was knocking on for noon by the time the breakfast gathering broke up, we'd walked back to the car park and we were on our way to a local Lidl. Gosh, what a crush of people we found there! I suppose we don't usually find ourselves in supermarkets during peak times, and with shops being closed on a Sunday in Germany, the middle of Saturday is a popular time to shop.

It was then but a short hop (18km) to Kirchheim, where we arrived to find these signs:

We obeyed what we initially thought the sign means (park facing this sign - i.e. everyone has to be neatly facing the same direction), but that leaves Bertie nose-down. We have therefore decided that later this evening we will re-interpret the sign to mean 'park perpendicular to the edge of the car park, not parallel' and we will turn around to give ourselves a more comfortable sleeping position.

Our walk around the town this afternoon (less than 10 minutes away) showed it to be another attractive and interesting place. We again did a walking tour based on a leaflet from the Tourist Office, from which it became apparent early on (by a mention in reference to every building) that one event had had a major impact on the town's history: The Great Fire of 1690.

A typical street in the town centre

Looking up past the Corn Exchange (one of the survivors of the Great Fire) to the Town Hall

A grand Town Hall (plenty of wedding parties there today).

Having almost been sidetracked by the art gallery, the next possible distraction was avoided by virtue of entrance to the castle being by guided tour only, and tours in English have to be pre-booked. We thus went for a different sort of cultural waylayment on the way back to Bertie, in the form of a large beer/glass of water (Mick/me) at the tables outside of a bar opposite the Town Hall. My water cost only a few cents less than Mick's stein of beer; I suppose beer is generally cheap in Germany.

(Today's aside: Considering how common motorhome service points are in mainland Europe, it's impressive that we have managed to spend eight consecutive nights in locations without one. We almost detoured to one on the way here today, before deciding the toilet capacity would last one more day, but we will have to visit one tomorrow.)

Friday, 14 June 2019

Friday 14 June - Esslingen

Where's Bertie? He remains unmoved, in the Stellplatz at Esslingen.
Weather: Mainly overcast but warm and humid (26 degrees).

Last night, just before dusk, we went for another little stroll and decided that the thing I referred to yesterday as a 'castle(y-thing)' is indeed a castle. Google confirmed that when I did an idle search this morning, and in that process it also told me that there is a tourist office in town.

Thus today, after descending via the 280 steps of covered walkway that leads down the outside of the castle wall...

Part of the covered walkway is visible in this snap

...we didn't waste time with aimless wandering, but went straight to said information point. There we found that they charge for all of their leaflets and brochures (not come across that before), but 50c for the 'Old Town Walking Tour' leaflet in English didn't seem unreasonable, so we bought a copy and off we went.

What an interesting, and attractive, place Esslingen is! It also seems to be a place that likes to make claims to age related records, including:
The oldest half-timbered house in Germany (1267)
The oldest terrace of half-timbered houses in Germany (1328-1331, but done up in 1980 so they now look: a) too new; and b) a bit 'Trigger's Broom' when you look closely at how much woodwork has been replaced).

One of the oldest stone bridges in Germany (1286). We were taken with the very small chapel.

We also saw...
The New Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (which was much more interesting than this front facade, but I didn't take any snaps from other angles), where so many weddings were taking place that the next was going in just as the previous was coming out.

...and visited two of the three churches. We'd been accosted by a chap searching for the entrance door of the most notable one, St Dionysius, located in the Market Square, and were amused to meet him again inside The Church of Our Lady a couple of hours later. The only other obvious tourists we spotted all day were a couple with broad Yorkshire accents.

Just another view of a bit of the town from one of the bridges. The walkway between the two church towersare striking but the English translation in the tour guide was dubious; we think it was added due to stability issues.

With the sights seen, a detour took us back across town to the Post Office, where the woman who served us positively rolled her eyes and tutted that we had done something as outrageous as to queue for stamps. Unfortunately, our language skills weren't up to: a) asking her why it was such an inconvenience to her to have to open her desk drawer and get some stamps out; or b) explain that we couldn't use the stamp machine because it didn't have a price list and we didn't know what value stamps we needed. (Actually, I did ask Google for this information, but by the time I had the answer we were next in the queue to be served, so we opted for the human interaction.)

I'm not sure whether it was the attitude of the Post Office or our distraction with buying exceedingly large cakes that threw us, but either way we arrived back at Bertie to find that we had forgotten to buy the postcards that were supposed to go with the stamps.

We thus headed back down to the town late this afternoon to put right that omission, and were entertained on the way back both by overtaking a bicycle on our way up the hill (we went for the road route rather than the steps this time) and with spectating on some boules matches going on in the park. There were some skilled boules players there today!

I'll finish with a couple more snaps, both on the same theme:

(Incidentally: During last summer's German tour I picked up a leaflet about Germany's 'Half Timbered House Road' - a series of cultural driving routes, totalling 3500km. A few days later I got over-excited at finding a paper recycling bank and accidentally discarded it. I wasn't able to find another copy in any other Tourist Office, but did download an electronic copy before the start of this trip. Not long into this morning's walk around Esslingen I began to suspect that we had stumbled upon one of the featured towns, and the e-leaflet on my phone confirmed that was the case. On the one hand I now feel more inclined to visit more of them (maybe starting tomorrow), but I do fear that after a few we may get 'half-timbered out' and find them all a bit samey. We'll see.)

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Thursday 13 June - Esslingen (via Annweiler)

Where's Bertie? He's at a small (3-space) Stellplatz at Esslingen, to the east of Stuttgart (exact location: 48.74721, 9.31044)
Weather: Mainly sunny and increasingly warm, topping out at 25 degrees.

With a couple of errands and a 3.5-hour drive on the agenda today, I resisted the urge to continue to sleep when my alarm went off at 0715 and within minutes was up and clad in Lycra. To my surprise, Mick followed within minutes. I was off out for a run and, after his latest set of injuries, Mick had decided to see how his body reacted to recommencing the same activity.

We didn't go together; I was targetting a Strava Segment and Mick was going to endeavour to take it slowly. Within the hour we were both back at Bertie. I'd done a lap and a half of the ox-bow (including taking the 2.7-mile Strava Segment course record by a margin of 2 minutes - sadly a reflection on how little Strava is used by women rather than a reflection on my speed) and Mick had done a couple of miles, hopefully without aggravating anything too much.

Showers would have been next on the agenda, but with Bertie's water tank guage flashing empty (which actually means somewhere between 0 and 30 litres (we left home with less than half a tank and haven't added any since)), it seemed wise to conserve that water until we found somewhere to top up. That wasn't going to be in Saarlouis, as the service point was removed last year and hasn't yet been replaced.

So, via a quick shopping trip, we headed for the town of Annweiler where a Stellplatz could be reached with only a couple of kilometres added to our journey. Conveniently we reached there at lunchtime, so it became a multi-purpose stop as water was filled, lunch eaten and showers had and waste tanks emptied. It was tempting to stay the night, as we were stopped anyway and as it looked a reasonably interesting place, but Mick's preference was to get the driving done today and spend two nights stationary. (It's probably a good thing we have an appointment in Bad Waldsee next Wednesday, otherwise I suspect that we could have spent a month getting as far as Stuttgart; there are plenty of Stellplätze in interesting looking places along the way.)

A couple of traffic jams held us up for probably only 10 minutes apiece, but by late afternoon we were descending to the River Neckar (along which we toured a little last year, to the east of here), crossing over the bridge in Esslingen, then ascending the other side of the valley. There's not much of a view from this elevated Stellplatz due to trees, but there's a castle(y-thing) almost next to us and a footpath that will take us down to the town. We've had a very brief shufty at the castle(y-thing) today, but have saved the town (and a recce of Saturday's parkrun location, which is why we're here) for tomorrow.

Views from inside the castle(y-thing)

(A complete aside: we started watching 'Free Solo' last night and finished watching over tea tonight. It's probably the best climbing film I've seen, without the over-hyped jeopardy that one tends to get on most TV adventure programmes (although, it's difficult to see how one can over-hype the jeopardy of someone climbing a difficult 3000' sheer wall without a rope). I'd recommend it. It's available on All4 for another few days yet.)

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Wednesday 12 June - Saarlouis

Where's Bertie? He's still at the Stellplatz at Saarlouis.
Weather: A wet morning before becoming increasingly sunny and warm this afternoon.

The result of driving so far over the last couple of days is that we didn't need to drive anywhere today. We're now within easy reach of where we want to be on Friday, so were at leisure to, well, be leisurely today.

So leisurely were we that Bertie's door was not opened all morning. The rain hammered, then drummed, then pattered down and we busied ourselves doing indoor things. In my case that involved turning the heel on the latest sock I'm knitting*, then pulling the entire turn back out to add a few extra rows to the gusset, only then to realise I'd missed a decrease in the first extra row. I did finally get back to where I'd been earlier in the day and it does now fit!

I'm liking the colour scheme! 

With the day looking slightly brighter by the time lunch had been despatched, we took ourselves off for a walk along the old course of the river, with a detour to see the 'Old Town' that we'd missed on yesterday's walking tour. That was underwhelming! Our expectations had been set by any number of old towns we've visited in Spain, Portugal and France. Here it is just one block that looks exactly the same (age and architecture) as the much of the rest of the town.

It was nice once the sun came out.

As I type this we're just about to walk back into town. We forgot to take the tablet earlier, so couldn't avail ourselves of the free wifi to download some stuff. Plus, I'm always curious to see towns in the evening - will it be a vibrant hive of life, or will the hundreds of pavement tables outside the dozens of eateries be just as empty as they've been in the middle of the day? (Answer: all very quiet. Perhaps the restaurants do all their business on the weekend?)

(*All the socks I've knitted to date have been to the same pattern, knitted from the top down, ending with a seamless grafting of the toe. I was curious about knitting toe-up, as it avoids any games of 'yarn chicken' (i.e. uncertainty as to whether there's enough yarn left to finish  the toe of the second sock). This pair has thus introduced me to Judy's Magic Cast-on (which is, indeed, magic!) to create a seamless double-edged cast-on at the toe, and also a Fleegle heel. Even though I have now completed the heel of the first sock, I've no idea what it is about this heel that identifies it as a 'Fleegle'.)

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tuesday 11 June - Saarlouis (Germany)

Where's Bertie? He's at a free Stellplatz in the town of Saarlouis (exact location: 49.32154, 6.74187).
Weather: A bit of sunshine early on, then increasingly overcast. At the point of typing, only a few drops of rain have fallen.

After running five laps of the lake at Neufchateau this morning, I joined Mick in his search for the measuring cup that we use for scooping our porridge oats each day. We'd re-purposed the item for yesterday's bailing out of Bertie's boot and it had gone missing, eventually to be located in the bike bag.

Over breakfast Mick asked what our destination was for today. "No idea!" came the reply. I was so busy sorting out blog posts and dealing with the water ingress yesterday that I'd not put any thought into the matter. Ten minutes later I'd consulted Park4Night, Google Maps, a road atlas and a map of German parkruns, had concluded that we didn't need to go very far today and had come up with two strong contenders for our night-stop. Running what I knew about these by Mick (not a lot: one's in a town and has services, one's by a river and a town but has no services), we opted for Saarlouis (the river/town/no services option).

It's a bonus that the most sensible toll-avoiding route to southern Germany goes through Luxembourg, as the price of fuel there is not only cheap, but is also set by the government, meaning there's no need to detour from the motorway to find a cheap station. For us the only slight fly in the ointment of filling at a motorway service station was that Bertie's LPG and Diesel filling points are on opposite sides of the vehicle and the layout of the station made it impractical to fill both. With no option to re-enter the station once we'd left, that meant that having filled up with LPG at the first services (LPG being the priority as it's not available at every outlet), we had to stop again later for Diesel. It actually worked out quite well: we bought Diesel a matter of metres away from the German border, thus getting the best value for money*.

Our stop at a supermarket a kilometre away from our end-point was an exercise in shopping when hungry. That was followed, within minutes of arriving at the Stellplatz, by a combined coffee/elevenses/three-course lunch.

I'd seen a sign on the drive into Saarlouis that referred to it as a fortified town and that's as much as we knew when we set out this afternoon for a look around. An information sign we found on our way in told us that it used to look like this:

We've been to similar walled towns before, and the remarkable thing about this one is that once you've passed through the German Gate...

 ...there is little indication of its historic and fortified status. It's a place that needs to be viewed from outside to be appreciated.

After a bit of aimless wandering Google told us the way to the Tourist Office and our visit became structured, following most of a walking tour detailed on a leaflet. We started with the Church of St. Louis, where I spent a while wondering whether I disliked the architecture for looking like a multistorey car park, or liked it for being so completely different from any church I'd seen before (and I've seen *a lot* of churches!). I came down on the side of 'like'.

All looks normal from outside. The frontage and spire date from 1880, when they were rebuilt following a fire.

The interior was constructed between 1965 and 1970. It is described thus: "a large crystalline-shaped concrete sculpture with a high ceiling and cave-like interior.

Stained glass windows by a local artist

We finished our tour with a round of the pleasant parkland, dotted with more evidence of past fortifications (and with views of an unfortunate number of ugly 1960s buildings), that lies between the original route of the River Saar (now effectively a cut-off ox-bow) and the re-routed course (moved for flood avoidance).

Our verdict: a place worthy of a visit and a good start to this summer's tour.

(*LPG was 43.9c per litre, Diesel 106.3c. I did have a sudden "What language?!?" panic when I unexpectedly had to go to pay at the LPG station (a drive-through booth where Mick found he couldn't reach the cash desk from his elevated position) which resulted in me accidentally using Spanish in Luxembourg. Full marks to the cashier for not batting an eyelid and for Mick not laughing too loudly behind me!)

Monday, 10 June 2019

Monday 10 June - Neufchateau, Belgium

Where's Bertie? He's in a car park next to a lake at Neufchateau in Belgium (exact location: 49.83781, 5.43142).
Weather: Mainly overcast, with a bit of sunshine, quite a lot of rain, including a big thunderstorm, and a bit of hail.

There was great pondering this morning as to where we were going to spend tonight. My first idea turned out to be too near, and the place I finally popped into the SatNav had the major flaw, when I looked more closely, of not being on our route. With a desire for a service point, I pondered some more as Mick drove and we decided on a stop at Tournai (a place we know from a visit in March 2018) for elevenses and further contemplation.

We sat there longer than intended as there was no way we were going outside in *that* rain, but eventually it did let up, the service point was used and by then I had come up with a night-stop that was the right distance away and not too far off route.

Mick did all the driving today and even with the assistance of podcasts and audiobooks I was thoroughly bored and ready to stop by the time the SatNav said we had half an hour of our journey remaining. It was thus a relief to pull into the car park here to find there was a space (just the one), that it was suitable for Bertie and that it was a nice location, being right next to a lake.

The lake next to which we are parked

And from a different viewpoint

After a late lunch, we joined the masses and walked around the water. One lap wasn't a good enough leg-stretch, but with the sky looking threatening we didn't want to venture too far away, so we went around again and witnessed an angler land a huge fish on our way.

We made it back to Bertie just as the first rumbles of thunder were heard. Twenty minutes later, the car park had almost emptied and the rain was bouncing. The occupants of the two remaining cars were soggy indeed when they returned.

It was as tea was minutes away from ready that our day took an unexpected turn. I went outside to get something out of Bertie's boot to find it doing a fine impression of a swimming pool. When we last found water in the boot (a one-off event in March) we hoped that it was because we'd failed to put the top on one of our water bottles and as we've had plenty of rain since then and not a hint of moisture inside, that seemed to be a sound explanation for that incident. Alas, no. We have a serious leak somewhere, but (as we've gone months without any ingress) we are now pretty sure it's only coming in when we are parked nose in the air on a left-leaning slope. Litres and litres of water were bailed out, a major mopping-up exercise followed and having examined everywhere we can think it could be getting in we are none the wiser as to the source. Next time we have heavy rain in a place where we're parked at this angle, I'm going to have to empty the boot and get inside and watch. What fun that'll be...

Sunday 10 June - Bergues, France

Where's Bertie? He's at the large Aire at Bergues, where we've stayed a couple of times before.
Weather: Mainly sunny during our day in Crawley, but mixed once we hit France, with rain on and off into the night.

After spending yesterday playing with grandchildren, it was after bedtime when we arrived outside the house of friends in Crawley. We therefore left them to battle their children into the land of sleep, and took ourselves off to bed too.

After a very rainy day yesterday, it was a relief to open the over-bed blind this morning to see sunshine. I thus leapt up, donned running gear and set off on what I had perceived from the OS 1:50k map would navigationally be a very straightforward off-road route which would take me through open countryside.

I should not have been here! This was the scene of my second backtrack.

The reality was that over the first couple of miles I had to stop repeatedly to check the map, at one point got completely disorientated, and twice had to backtrack. Once the way did become idiot-proof, I didn't get the open views I had hoped for:

Not much by way of views even when I was on the right track

Having covered 4 miles on my outward leg, I thought that returning the same way would take me up to 8, but I hadn't taken the earlier deviations and backtracks into account. Ne'er mind. 7.7 miles was near enough when I had friends waiting for me.

A walk to and around a local park with friends + children featured after a late cooked breakfast...

The geese are not timid around here! There was much cooing over baby geese and moorhens.

...and the day flew by until it was time to head off to the Channel Tunnel.

We arrived at check-in just over 2 hours before our crossing and were offered the 1920 shuttle - an hour earlier than the one we had booked. In the event, once our departure was called, we made it through customs, border control and gas check so quickly that we made it onto the 1906 crossing. That fourteen minutes made all the difference. Had we been later we would have spent the night at Cite Europe, the large shopping centre right next to the Tunnel Terminal. As it was, we knew we could make it here, to the much nicer location of Bergues, by 2130 local time, and having been there before we knew the Aire to be huge and thus we would be guaranteed a space on a Sunday night out of season.

We arrived to find the Aire full! Eeek!That is to say, there wasn't a single space around the perimeter where everyone parks. There are, however, no marked bays and after a small amount of contemplaton we decided we could pop Bertie slap in the middle of the parking area without impeding anyone's exit, so that's what we did.

It was about an hour later (during a "why is it so busy?" conversation) that it suddenly occurred to me that there's a public holiday in Belgium in early June and I began to suspect that holiday may also apply in France. A quick Google confirmed that yes, we had unwittingly arrived in Europe during a holiday weekend. In fact, surveying the list of dates, it seems that in the last month and a half it would have been pretty difficult to avoid holiday weekends in France.