Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Tuesday 29 August - Wissant

Where's Bertie? He's in the Aire at Wissant, just down the coast from Calais. It's another return visit as this is where he also spent the first night of this trip.

Leaving Bergues this morning with the fuel light on, we intended to stop at the petrol station we had seen on our way into town. Finding we couldn't turn left into it due to solid white lines, I expected Mick to go around the roundabout a few moments further on. He didn't, and the next fuel that wouldn't involve a detour was at the Cité Europe shopping centre, where we were headed for wine, tea bags and rice (the latter two being of varieties not easily available in the UK). Bertie's range told us he could manage another 77km on the fuel we had remaining, which was fine as we were only going 49km.

Half way there the range reading said 77km. As we pulled in it said 77km. Hmmm. Does it just stop counting down at that figure, or does it pessimistically state it automatically when the low fuel light comes on? I know not, but we crammed 82.5 litres into his 80 litre tank, which would suggest that it was quite empty (or that I've mis-remembered its capacity).

Shopping trip complete, we arrived at Wissant at a time of day when there were spaces at the Aire and, pausing only for elevenses, we nipped down to the beach before the day got too warm.

Who nicked the sea? It's been much further in when we've been here before

This trip has not been heavy on eating out. In fact, if you ignore the take-away burgers we had in Kristiansand, when we needed to spend our remaining Norwegian Krone, we haven't eaten out once. Neither of us thus needed any persuading to stop at a restaurant on our way back for enormous servings of Moules Frites.

We subsequently waddled back to Bertie and lounged for a few hours before feeling in a fit state for a swim.

Arriving at the beach at 6pm the tide was much further in, and there were far more people around than we had expected at that time of day:

I'll wager that the beach emptied rapidly come 7.30, not because it was tea time, but because that's when a sudden downpour struck. Here on the Aire it was a flurry of activity as people put stuff away and closed windows, and over the next ten minutes various drowned rats, who had been off in town or at the beach, scampered back to their vans, thoroughly caught out.

And there we have it: the final blog post of this trip. Tomorrow morning we will head back through the tunnel, exiting it on the other side with much chanting of 'drive on the left, drive on the left...'.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Monday 28 August - Bergues (France)

Where's Bertie? He's in the Aire at Bergues, which is exactly where he was on the second night of this trip, all the way back on 5 June.

Eeeeh, it's been a warm one today! So, probably not a bad thing that we spent most of the day driving, and making full use of the air con.

We drove straight through Belgium, deviating from the motorway only to go in search of LPG. That deviation probably added an hour to our journey, but three garages later (broken with a pause for elevenses in the car park of a Lidl) we had Bertie's tanks full again, having got down to registering less than five litres remaining. At the first garage we found no LPG pump. At the second we half filled the tanks before an attendant came out to point out that the connection was leaking. At the third garage we finished the job.

Horrible traffic slowed us down around Antwerp, and in that traffic, in the space of ten minutes, we saw more British number plates than we have seen in total over the last three months. The concentration of British plates increased from then on until, as we reached the French/Belgian border, there were so many that it would have been easy to think we were already back in the UK.

Bergues was an easy option for where to end our day. Having been here before, we knew the Aire here is big, is next to a pleasant fortified town, and it was only 8km out of our way.

We arrived here in 30 degree heat, whereupon we realised we had made a ghastly error when in Lidl earlier - we hadn't bought ice cream!

Happily, Mick volunteered to go for a walk to rectify that omission and as soon as he returns from chatting to our Australian neighbours, we will devour them (the ice creams, that is, not the neighbours).

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sunday 27 August - Camping Fortduinen

Where's Bertie? He's still at Camping Fortduinen.

If we thought our first night's stop here was cheap by campsite standards, today proved to be even more so. We did query the requested fee of €6.50, to which the receptionist explained that her colleague had entered something wrong on our account yesterday and thus the computer was only allowing her to charge us €6.50 today. Who were we to argue?

We improved the value for money yet further by using not only the electricity and showers today, but also the swimming pool.

Before the swim, a circumperambulation of the lake was had (where we could have swum, had we gone suitably prepared)...

Swimming in the lake we saw lots of people, ducks and a few dogs and, to our amusement, this horse (it did swim, just after I took this snap)

...then, after lunch, a stroll around some of the local woodland.

With clear blue skies, although not as hot as yesterday (still hot enough to be outside in the shade until late evening), it's been a very pleasant relaxing day (I say like some of our days are stressful or hectic).

We might have been tempted to stay another night, but we have a Chunnel to catch back to the UK in a few days time, so onwards we will go.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Saturday 26 August – Zaltbommel and Vught

Where’s Bertie? He’s at a campsite(!!), called Fortduinen, near a place called Vught. With our ACSI card, it costs €11 for a night here, including electricity and showers. Without the card it would have been €28.50. (Exact location: 51.65578, 5.24480.)

It’s funny how an occurrence that is disappointing at the time (like taking a detour to a marina in the hope of staying the night there and doing some laundry, only to find on arrival that there are no vacancies) can turn out to be a positive thing*.

After another unintended lie-in this morning (even the extensive mowing and strimming going on outside of Bertie only vaguely disturbed us), and a walk around the town of Zaltbommel, where I got particularly distracted by the traffic on the River Maas…

The Maas is busy with barges. We had just watched one barge pushing an unpowered (whatever the boating word is for the equivalent of a trailer, but that you push in front of you), both full of coal, when this one came past, with the same inverse trailer arrangement but also with two more unpowered vessels being dragged alongside – so four times the capacity of a barge, for one powered vessel.

…we had a choice before us. We could go to the town of ‘s-Hertogenbosh (whose name does, indeed, start with an apostrophe), where we would park out-of-town at a supermarket I had identified, and walk to a laundrette that the internet had told me was in the town; we would then continue on to a free Aire, probably in Belgium. Or we could go to a campsite. On finding that there was a campsite only a couple of kilometres off-route, available to us at the bargain price of €11, including electricity and showers, it was the obvious choice, even if it did end a record run of 87 nights since our last campsite.

It turned out to be such a good choice that we had barely got Bertie settled on his pitch before we decided that we would be staying a second night. The fact that it has been so hot and sunny today has made the campsite even more worthwhile – there are no restrictions on getting ‘stuff’ out here, as there would be in a car park, so we’ve been able to sit out in our deckchairs all afternoon, whilst the laundry has dried on the washing line, saving the cost of a tumble drier.

Other than doing some laundry, using showers connected to a mains water supply for the first time since we left home on 4 June, and walking to the nearest supermarket, nothing has been done today. Tomorrow we will take a look at the lake which is apparently behind the campsite, although if the weather is as warm and sunny as today, I’m thinking that will be the extent of our activity.

I’ll finish with a leap back in time to the final paragraph of last night’s post. The band of youths with their music grew and shrank as the evening went on, but the loud music was relatively short lived. Just before 10pm, they all left. This morning the area of the car park where they had been parked was strewn with litter, even though there were bins within twenty paces (insert a heavy sigh here).

(*The marina yesterday would have cost €15, we would have needed to pay for a tumble drier as we wouldn't have been able to get the rotary airer out and we quite possibly couldn't have got our deckchairs out either. Because there was no room for us there, we ended up somewhere cheaper, where we could dry the washing outside and where we could sit out.)

Friday, 25 August 2017

Friday 25 August - Bunnik and Zaltbommel (via Cumelborg)

Where's Bertie? He's in the motorhome area of a car park in the town of Zaltbommel (exact location: 51.81074, 8.24006).

The Dutch Waterline Museum was the main feature of today, and we were in the car park of Fort Bij Vechtan, where it is located, before it opened this morning. An early elevenses (at 9.30!) later and we made our way across a bridge, through a slot in the external wall of the fort...

...and parted with €7.50 a head (plus €3 for the car park) to go into the museum.

It's not a particularly big museum, but it's another one, like the Visitor Centre at Jelling in Norway, that uses modern technology well in its interactive exhibits.

On entering, each visitor gets given a wrist band with an electronic chip and in the first room one answers a ringing telephone (of a traditional style), and, having 'dibbed' the chip against the reader, chooses a language. All exhibits then play in that language.

Mick knew nothing about the museum before we arrived and from my desciption of 'it's about the Dutch water defences' he thought it was about flood defences ... which it is, in an obscure sort of way. What it actually tells is the history of the way the Dutch used water to defend the west of the country from attack from the 1600s right up until the mid 1900s. This was done by a set of dykes and sluice gates, by means of which it was possible to flood a corridor which spanned the length of the country. By flooding that area (something made possible by the fact that a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and another quarter is flood plain) to a depth of between 50 and 60cm, the water was too deep to wade through at the necessary speed for an attack, but too shallow for boats. Combined with building forts on all raises in the ground along that line, it apparently made a very effective defence and held off attacks by the French in 1792. Of course, by the Second World War it was pretty well obsolete, as the Germans simply flew over it, although having occupied the west of the Netherlands they did then briefly put it to use themselves.

Unfortunately out of order today, a scale model of the waterline defence has been constructed in the courtyard of the museum.

I didn't get a snap of the main highlight (because we were both on it at the same time and we had the place to ourselves so couldn't snap anyone else), which was a virtual reality parachute jump giving a view over the defence and seeing it being flooded.

Other fun bits were the 'where would you place your forts and how much water would you use' game...

We learnt from the 'practice run' disaster and got it right the second time around

...and the room where five characters (including the chap who designed the defence, a farmer's wife whose land was flooded, and her husband who was called up to build the fort) told the story of the defence from their point of view:

The faces were projected onto figures built out of horizontal layers of felt, presumably an environmentally friendly recycled material.

We exhausted the exhibits within an hour and a half, but having gone in with no knowledge about the waterline, it was a fun and educational visit. We topped it off with a stroll around the fort grounds, pausing on our way to watch the activities of a very large group (of college age) who were on a team building day. I don't think I've ever been on a team building day that I enjoyed, but this looked like fun!

A marina in Cumelborg was where we intended to stay the night, about half an hour down the road from Bunnik (where the museum is located - that's just outside of Utrecht). We arrived via a Lidl, approached via an 'interesting' tour of narrow, block-paved residential streets (thanks to the SatNav that then wanted us to nip through a pedestrian walkway). Alas, having made the slow detour across town, along more narrow streets where bicycles rule, we found there to be no room at the inn. That was a blow. Aside from it looking like a nice place, the reason we had gone there was so I could do some laundry (yes, we are home in 6 days, but some things are desperately in need of a clean). I gave passing thought to asking if we could just use their laundry facilities for an hour, but decided that our priority should probably be to find somewhere to stay if everywhere was going to be so busy over the weekend.

Another half an hour down the road brought us Zaltbommel, where there was plenty of room available for us, probably because there's nothing to recommend the car park itself, even if the town is nice. For the entire time I've been typing this the location has gone down further in our estimation, as a cluster of cars, a bong and some Bollywood tunes (played at volume) have all appeared. Fingers are crossed that they don't intend to hang around past dark...

When I was in a Lidl yesterday the woman in front of me in the queue bought a few of these and I wondered what they were, so I bought one today (and as a further indication of their popularity the woman in front of us in the queue today had some too). I'm still not sure what they are, but it was tasty!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Thursday 24 August - Zutphen, Netherlands

Where's Bertie? He's in the motorhome area of a car park next to a body of water in the town of Zutphen, at a cost of €2 per 24 hours (exact location: 52.13742, 6.19798).

I'm sure that most people on holiday choose a place they want to visit and then look for somewhere to stay nearby. We do that sometimes (indeed, that will be our strategy tomorrow), but more often than not when just meandering around on a tour such as this one, we look for somewhere to stay that sounds reasonable and arrive there with no idea as to what awaits us.

And thus today we found ourselves in the town of Zutphen. Sometimes our gamble on arriving in a place with no prior knowledge of what it's like or what it has to offer doesn't pay off. And sometimes we find a very pleasant old town like this one.

Whilst the Tourist Office didn't seem to cater for English speakers (or French; or anything other than Dutch or German), we did stumble across a couple of tri-lingual information signs around the town so learnt that it was granted city rights in 1195 and became the richest town in the Duchy of Guelders. It opted to show off its wealth by building, amongst other things, lots of towers:

This one rings a long and pretty chime every quarter hour. I don't know whether it continues all night, but it's quiet enough from where we are that it won't bother us.

We could have gone up this one for €2.50 each, but didn't

Aside from the market, which was just in the untidy process of being taken down, it was all very pleasant, and they've cornered the market in cobbles and block paving, which adds to the old feel of the place but looked uncomfortable for all the cyclists.

Typical city centre side street

Lots of water courses

Day-old moorhen chicks - awwww

Having concluded our ambling we were just on our way to Lidl to rectify Mick's lack of beer, when the dark cloud that had long been above us, started to leak. We scurried back to Bertie, but it only amounted to a few drops.

I stayed put just long enough to do a bit of research on yarn shops then headed out again, thus saving Project Granny Square Blanket (crochet) from grinding to a halt:

I only went for a couple of balls, but couldn't choose!

As for where we are staying, it would be much nicer if we were parked the other way around, looking at the water and the town, but we have joined everyone else in facing the car park, for the sole reason that if we turned around then our open door would be looking into our neighbour's open door, which seems a bit impolite.

I'll finish, for your amusement, with a couple of occurrences of the last 24 hours:

1. Bertie's bed drops down from above the cab area and, when in use, sits about chest high. To enter/exit, one uses the adjacent seat as a step. That process went spectacularly awry for me at 2.30 this morning when I missed the seat and crashed to the floor, coming to rest right at the opposite end of Bertie. By some miracle, I was completely unhurt, but the crash and yelp didn't half give Mick (who had been sound asleep) a fright.
2. We demonstrated such incompetence in the control of taps and a hose pipe at the service point this morning that it was beginning to feel like swimming costumes would have been suitable attire. We did, of course, have an audience for this.

Bonus photo for Kay and Kev:

A wooden bungalow for sale for €23k!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Wednesday 23 August - Bad Bentheim

Where's Bertie? He is unmoved from his spot at the Stellplatz in Bad Bentheim.

What a glorious day it has been today! Lots of blue sky in today's snaps.

After a run and showers, my forgetting to turn the water heater off led to a bit of hand washing being done, which in turn led to us needing to stay in whilst it dried (being not in a location where we could get the rotary airer out or string up a line, the best I could do was to hang it from open windows).

Mick did venture out to the Tourist Office to use their wifi, which we later discovered isn't limited to the location of the Tourist Office, but is also available in our Stellplatz. Bonus! I don't need to spend time reducing the size of my photos in this blog post, as I usually do, to save on mobile data.

By the time we had eaten lunch the washing was dry and off we went to the castle, passing on our way the remains of a moat, containing ducks, goldfish and at least 4 terrapins:

I paused on my run to take this snap and now that I look at it I realise I should have taken it again later, when the sun was higher

Once through the second gate, which requires the payment of €5 a head, a manicured lawn lay before us:

Up onto the walls we went to look down on the gardens next to which we are parked:

Not roses and lavender as I stated yesterday, but roses and thyme.

The tower was next on the agenda...

...the top of which gave extensive views over the mainly-flat landscape.

Then, via a sparse museum housed in one of the buildings on the long edge of the lawn, it was into the hall (think National Trust-esque stately home) that was rebuilt in the late 1800s/early 1900s having fallen into a state of disrepair after being heavily damaged during the Seven Years' War in the mid 1700s:

Our castle tour was followed by a walk around the town, before frittering away a chunk of time in the park, taking advantage of t'internet (we are now well stocked up with podcasts and I've read a few more posts on a blog I only read when I have unlimited internet access).

Tomorrow, I do believe we will finally leave Germany.