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.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Tuesday 22 August - Haren and Bad Bentheim

Where's Bertie? He's at a municipal Stellplatz in Bad Bentheim, at a cost of €9/24hrs. Extras available: electric (50c/ kWh), shower (€1) and water (10c/10litres). Toilets and waste are free. (Exact location: 52.30395, 7.15517)

A slow start due to an unintentional lie in was followed by a walk through town to find the Tourist Office. We weren't optimistic about finding wifi there and our pessimism was spot on. Free public wifi isn't easy to come by in Germany. We nearly pulled into a McDonald's later in the day, but were thwarted by a ban on left hand turns. With only one day of crosswords and puzzles left in our downloaded stash, our need for wifi is about to get pressing.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself.

The temptation was there to spend another day and night in Haren, but: a) in looking up the Tourist Office I discovered you're only meant to stay at the Stellplatz for 1 night (although many others were clearly flouting that); and b) it was touch and go whether we had enough toilet capacity to stay put. As lunch time arrived, we decided to move on. Someone took our prime riverside space almost before we had vacated it.

The town of Twist was to where we removed ourselves. There we found a Stellplatz that would comfortably have had room for one more van, if those already there were parked in a more considerate manner and if it wasn't being treated as a campsite*. We lunched. I pored over the 'where to stay' resources. Then we went to Lidl, right across the road, and continued on our way south. It seems I was entirely wrong a couple of days ago when I said that as soon as we left Haren we would head west to cross the border to the Netherlands.

So, Bad Bentheim is where we ended up. It's a big parking area here, in the parkland next to a castle.

Looking across the rose and lavender garden to the castle.

We didn't go into the main part of the castle as there's a charge and it was almost closing time. We may go tomorrow.

Shapely rock and ornate window surrounds

Incidentally, the Stellplatz here closes in 3 days time for a special market that immediately precedes the town's fair. The fair was just setting up in Haren too. That's five fairs we've seen setting up in as many days. I assume different regions have their fairs and festivals at different times of year, otherwise there couldn't possibly be enough marquees and fairground rides to go around.

(*I can understand getting your chairs out when parked at the side of some water or amongst some nice greenery. Here everyone had their deckchairs/canopies out even though they were sitting at the side of a road. In most of Europe it is not permitted to put stuff outside when at a motorhome parking area. To do so constitutes camping and that is what campsites are for. I'm not sure what the rules are in Germany, but I find it unacceptable to get your tables, chairs and canopies out if it takes up spaces that could be used by others.)

Monday, 21 August 2017

Monday 21 August - Haren

Where's Bertie? He's exactly where he was yesterday, in the Stellplatz on the bank of the River Ems in Haren.

Only a few paces into my run this morning I discovered that where we are parked is not only on the riverside, but also next to the entrance to the Haren-Rütenbrock-Kanal - a fact we failed to notice yesterday having walked from the Stellplatz in the opposite direction. We took a short walk up that canal later in the morning.

Even with my lack of German I could understand the graphic on this sign. Google Translate tells me that the slogan 'Entenbrot ist ententod' means 'Duck bread is duck death'. Quite right too!

Post elevenses, a second stroll was had. This time to Lidl to buy some sushi for lunch. Finding a short-dated family pack with 30% off, we pigged out. Well tasty!

The post lunch stroll (which was going to investigate the far bank of the river) didn't happen. I got distracted crocheting outside in the sunshine, during which time one of a number of huge barges, each toting a car on the back, went by. I would have got a much better snap if I'd stood up, but my lap was covered in crocheting stuff at the time.

Later, as I cooked tea, a much smaller vessel went by and caught my attention:

Full of dressed mannequins. A mobile market stall?

And that's about it. As you may gather, we're not doing much at the moment!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sunday 20 August - Haren

Where's Bertie? He's in a municipal Stellplatz alongside the River Ems in Haren (exact location: 52.78967, 7.24740).

The banging tunes, possibly associated with the wedding that took place at Hesel church last evening, were audible from Bertie, yet far enough away as to not disturb our slumber last night. That's a good thing, as when I woke briefly at 4am, they were still going strong. They had stopped by the time I got up at 7.30 and took myself for a run along the same route as we walked yesterday afternoon, but over half of the cars of wedding guests, parked within view of Bertie, remained in place.

With nothing to keep us in Hesel any longer, it was to the town of Rhede, less than half an hour away, that I set the SatNav. We knew even as we set out that the Stellplatz there may be closed, but as it was almost directly on our route we thought we would go and have a look.

It makes perfect sense that many municipal Stellplätze in Germany are housed at the towns' festival/fair grounds, which would only otherwise be used for a few weeks a year. It seems, however, that we have just hit a popular week for those grounds to be in use for their primary purpose, thus causing a temporary closure of the Stellplätze. We arrived in Rhede not only in pouring rain, but also to find circus vehicles in residence, even if not set up yet.

On account of the rain, we didn't even pull into the adjacent car park for a quick look around. Instead the SatNav was reprogrammed for the town of Dörpen instead, just 14km away.

Again, we knew the Stellplatz there is on the Festplatz, but I had a bit more optimism about this one. We had encountered two closures in three days, and surely every town can't have their fairs in the same week? There wouldn't be enough fairground rides to go around!

My theory was false. The fairground was just setting up.

Onwards again, another 25km to Haren, where the Stellplatz is not situated on the Festplatz. It is, however, situated a few metres away from the river, and is free, which looked like a recipe for popularity.

Once again, we were lucky, securing the only remaining front row spot, giving us an unfettered view of the water, in a spot unarguably nicer than either of the places we had visited earlier :

It's not busy with craft. This is the pleasure boat that leaves from adjacent to the entrance of the Stellplatz. Judging by the queue to embark at ten to three this afternoon, it's a popular outing.

A stroll around the town in between showers took us past the large church (which, as I often do, I have bent to fit it into a single snap)...

... before walking back along the river.

Doing a quick recce of the best looking location for a jogette in the morning took me over the adjacent bridge, giving a good view over to Bertie and his neighbours:

Not bad for a freebie spot

The 'Ems meadow project' along this bank of the river gives the location a nice feel too:

Most of our journey today was within a short distance of the Dutch border, hence quite a few of our neighbours here are Dutch. The rest are German. If we leave here tomorrow, almost the first thing we will do (after visiting Lidl to get the deposit back on Mick's now-empty beer bottles!) will be to cross the border, leaving just two more countries then between us and our return to the UK.

(Note: My knowledge of German is very poor. I *think* that Stellplatz is the singular and Stellplätze is the plural form of the places we are staying, which is how I've used the terms in this post. I may be entirely wrong.)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Saturday 19 August - Hesel

Where'sBertie? He remains in the Stellplatz in Hesel, where this evening someone came and collected the fees.

There's not a lot to say about today. We stayed put not because Hesel is an interesting place, but so that we could have an easy and lazy day without any need to drive or to put thought into where to go next and what to do if our intended night stop didn't work out.

The only activity of the day (unless you count reading, crocheting or doing puzzles as activities) were two outings using the Ostfriesland Wanderweg long distance footpath (which totals 97km with a whole 12m of ascent - it's reet flat around here!) which happens to pass straight through the Stellplatz. This morning we used it as the basis for the outbound leg of a short circular amble. This afternoon we did the same again, but in the opposite direction.

It was entirely unexciting, particularly this afternoon, which saw us on a remarkably straight section of path, lined with trees, and with fields either side. It screamed ex-railway line:

I did observe on these outings, as we came back through the village each time, that if our bricks-and-motar home was transported here (abducted by aliens?), it would fit right in, except for being a bit on the small side.


It's not just the UK that houses local libraries in old phone boxes!

Whilst we failed to find anything here to divert us, the place must get a reasonable number of visitors, based on the size and prominence of the Tourist Office. Unfortunately, as we've found previously in Germany, they don't open on a weekend, which surely is when most tourists are around?

Friday, 18 August 2017

Friday 18 August – Sander See, Friedeburg and Hesel

Where’s Bertie? He’s at the municipal Stellplatz in Hesel, where it costs €4 for 24 hours. Electricity is extra, at €1 per 8 hours. (Exact location: 53.30474, 7.59162)

After I posted yesterday’s blog, a cycle tourist appeared and set up his tent next to Bertie. Considering the amount of grass nearby, he was amusingly close, but we’ve been closer to other motorhomes on busy Aires, and a cyclist in a tent (in the rain) was never going to be any bother. Offering him a cup of tea, we got a very British ‘Yes please!’ back as it turned out that, having encountered just five sets of Brits over the last three months, and in a country absolutely heaving with bicycles, the cyclist next to us was a Brit*. His name was Simon, on tour from the Hook of Holland to Copenhagen, and we chatted for about an hour before he took advantage of a pause in the rain to go and sort his stuff out. By the time we surfaced this morning, he was gone.

Having not ventured out on arrival yesterday, on account of the rain, this morning I acquainted myself with the path that goes around Sander See (note: where you see ‘See’ in a German name, it denotes a lake), by walking around it once with Mick and then running around it three times. I would probably then have taken a dip off one of the beaches, but on close inspection the water was unpleasantly murky.

If that Stellplatz hadn’t been just the other side of a field from a motorway, with the constant noise of traffic that goes with such close proximity, we would have stayed another night. As it was, we left after lunch, visited a supermarket, then made our way all of 16km to the town of Friedeburg.

There, we pulled into the free Stellplatz, but a fair was in the early stages of being set up on the land and over a cup of tea (which coincided with the arrival of another big fairground ride) we decided to move on. It was only as we were leaving that I saw a notice pinned to a tree nearby that started ‘Dear Motorhomers’ in German – I didn’t get to read the rest, but presume that it said the Stellplatz was closed).

Wondering where to go instead, I belatedly dug the German Stellplatz book out from the bottom of a locker. It’s 3 years out of date, but I wish I’d thought of it days ago, as it’s much more comprehensive than the App I’ve been using. Better late than never, as it told us of a place at Hesel (26km further towards the Dutch border) that we hadn’t known about.

It’s a very nicely designed Stellplatz we are on here, all block-paved, with individual bays separated by wild rose bushes (which must have smelt divine about a month ago), but perhaps it hasn’t proved as popular as the town would have liked, as it’s clearly lacking in TLC. There are four slots of the ten taken tonight.

At just €4 for a night’s stay (although we’re not sure how we go about paying that), we thought we’d splash out an extra €1 on electricity. We thus have power until midnight, and are making the most of it by getting everything fully charged up. We probably could have managed without mains power for the rest of the trip, but now everything that we can’t charge from the solar panel/leisure battery should definitely last for the final 12 days  … which almost certainly means we’ll have the option for electricity on a daily basis from now on.

(*Of course, he was at an advantage in knowing our nationality, by virtue of our number plate. We fully expected him to be German.)

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Thursday 17 August - Wilhelmshaven and Sande

Where's Bertie? He's in a free Stellplatz alongside Sandersee, just outside of the town of Sande (exact location: 53.51167, 8.00090)

Last night's Stellplatz was such a peaceful place until, at 4.15 this morning, we got startled awake by fighting cats. It wasn't just squealing meows; they were right below us and actually bouncing off Bertie's underside. Venturing out this morning there was much disturbed gravel and clumps of fur, but we've seen worse on our driveway at home.

It took a while to settle again, thus when the alarm went off this morning I decided to have 'five more minutes', which somehow translated into waking up at 9.15. What lazy layabeds!

There were only two things on our agenda today: to visit the naval museum and to try again to find the location of Mick's old school. We succeeded in both.

We did, however, err at the museum by starting with the inside exhibits. We had been reading the displays for over an hour when it occurred to me that, as it was forecast to rain this afternoon, it would have been more sensible to start outside. It probably would have made more sense from a crowding perspective too. We promptly abandoned what we were reading and went out onto the harbour.

The u-boat was particularly crowded, but then submarines aren't renowned for being big and spacious, and we inched our way through the 'tour route'. I never thought I would have liked to have been a submariner and our visit did nothing but reaffirm that view.

As this particular u-boat was decommissioned in 1993 there's a chance that Mick tracked it at some point in his RAF career.

Another shot of the u-boat as taken from the destroyer and with a bit of the minesweeper visible to the right. The wooden vessel to the left is the German Navy's longest serving ship (1951 to 2005) and the green one to the right of the sub was a GDR vessel that was only in service from 1976 to 1989*

The rain started as we entered the destroyer, which was the next accessible vessel along. The signage told us it would take 45 minutes to go around and that it wasn't possible to shortcut. It only took us 35 minutes, but that's probably because all of the information signs on this one were in German only and German is a language in which neither of us excels.

After a shufty around a minesweeper, a fast patrol boat was last on our tour of the vessels and, being a more recent exhibit (decommissioned in 2014), it does have bilingual signage.

Finishing off what we had skipped inside the museum (the special exhibition, which we gathered was to do with the church's role in the military didn't take long as it was also only in German), it was gone 3 by the time we headed back to Bertie, giving us time for lunch before we needed to leave our parking slot, by 4.

We had spotted a number of motorhomes on a free wasteground-esque car park as we arrived in Wilhelmshaven yesterday and we joined them briefly as we left town, so that we could continue our quest to find the place where Mick went to school.

He's pretty confident that we found it. Even though the buildings are all gone, the land hasn't been redeveloped and thus we were able to walk across it with Mick pointing out where all of the buildings used to be. The layout of the remaining roadways and cleared areas and location of the water ways either side certainly matched his recollections.

Mick walking with purpose towards where the school's main building once stood.

Then we did leave town (in pouring rain - only just managed to dodge being out in that!), but not by a long way. Just outside of Wilhelmshaven is a town called Sande, where we would have stayed last night if the motorway junction hadn't been closed. That's where we are tonight. We're right alongside a lake here, but with rain falling I'm not feeling inclined to go and take a look at it just now.

(*All those dates are from memory. It's possible I could be a year or two out here and there).

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Wednesday 16 August - Wilhelmshaven

Where's Bertie? He's at a commercial Stellplatz in Wilhelmshaven. It costs €10 to stay. We opted not to pay an extra €3 for electric and the same again for use of the toilet and shower.

A run on the same cycle route along the Elbe as we walked yesterday started my day. It wasn't dreadfully exciting compared to many of the places I've run over the last few months (mainly because there was a flood defence between me and the river), but it did the job. Breakfast preceded showers then gradually we hauled ourselves into a fit state to move on.

Our planned destination for today was Sande, just outside of Wilhelmshaven, but that plan went awry when we found the relevant motorway junction to be closed. It wouldn't have been many extra kilometres to double back from the next junction, but we were almost in Wilhelmshaven by then, which was where we intended to visit tomorrow.

I suspect that Wilhelmshaven isn't a popular destination amongst British tourists, but it held a special interest to us as Mick went to boarding school here between the ages of 11 and 13. Thus, once we had installed Bertie into Slot No 7 at the Stellplatz, and had a spot of lunch, we went off in search of the bits of town that Mick remembered.

We failed in that mission, in spite of walking 10km. However, further internet research this evening, combined with poring over the map has given us another possible area to look at tomorrow.

As well as failing to find the site of the school, we also failed to find many of the points of interest on the town-tour leaflet given to us on arrival. The leaflet looked good but was a bit imprecise as to exact locations, so, for example, whilst we walked quite comprehensively around Kurpark, we failed to locate the entrance which "leads through the beautiful, brick Hindenburg Gate". With a bit of trouble we did manage to find a mural by local artist Buko Königshoff:

Back at the Stellplatz we found we had a new neighbour to our left. The whole time I've been typing this it has sounded like there's a carousel, playing its traditional sort of music, with a strong umpah undertone, as the occupant has been playing his accordian. A bit surreal.

A few more snaps from our wanderings (not because they have merit but because I have wifi tonight!):

On the sea front, just along from the Stellplatz, are rows of these wicker canopied beach chairs.

A few old naval ships and a submarine outside of the German Naval Museum had us convinced that it will be worth the entrance fee to pay the place a visit tomorrow.

The duck pond in the Kurpark

Bizarre, but interesting sculpture outside of the Kurpark