Thursday, 23 August 2018

Tuesday 21 to Thursday 23 August - Izegem (Belgium) and Wissant (France)

Where's Bertie? Tonight he's at the Aire at Wissant, where he has been quite a few times before. On Tuesday and Wednesday night he was outside the Hymer dealer in Izegem.
Weather: Cooler, slightly murky starts, gradually clearing and warming up, but still mainly overcast days.

With the saga of the design fault on Bertie's bed having dragged on for 17 months, and with the customer relations at the dealer where we bought Bertie being seriously lacking, we had little faith that we would come away this week with a properly functioning bed*.

Things did not start well on Tuesday morning. Having been present, back in June, when the timeslot was found where three technicians would be available for two whole days, and having delayed our return to the UK to make ourselves available for that timeslot, we soon learnt that there were actually only two available, and one of them only until lunchtime. Aaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!

Two days were spent sitting at a table in amongst brand new motorhomes, waiting, waiting and waiting some more and, to our great surprise, by the end of yesterday the necessary bits of the bed frame had been replaced, plus the only other major issue (a drivers seat that moves from side to side whilst driving isn't ideal...) and a few more minor ones had also been addressed. Hopefully we'll only need to make one more visit to get the last few things sorted, and hopefully nothing else will be found amiss during the warranty period.

I did get a couple of runs in whilst I was there, took a walk around the local area (remarkable for how uninteresting it is) and did a fair amount of crosswording, knitting and internet surfing.

Being 7.30 by the time we had Bertie returned to us last evening, we drove him all of two spaces along the car park (from a sloping slot to a flat one), plugged into the dealer's electricity supply and stayed another night.

This morning we left Belgium, stopping only for LPG on our way (49.8c/litre - bargain!) and drove straight to Lidl in Coquelles (by Calais) to do the traditional 'leaving France' shop consisting principally of wine, beer and cheese. Now, every time the fridge door is opened, Mick accuses me of having smelly feet. I'm not sure he believes me that it really is that camembert he chose.

It was coming up to quarter to one when we pulled into the Aire in Wissant and, having not had elevenses, we were ready to eat a scabby dog. No time was wasted in heading into the village for Moules Frites. Last year we opted for the most expensive eatery. This year we went for the mid-priced one next door, whose menu contains two options: Jambon + Frites ou Moules Frites. Like us, every other customer had opted for Moules and the servings were not small:

Walking down to the beach afterwards, the scene was a contrast to last year. That was a hot, sunny day, the tide was out, the beach was crowded and the sea full of people. Today there were a few families dotted around on what little beach wasn't under water, but the sea was full of wind- and kite-surfers. It was a bit breezy.

Tomorrow morning we'll be up early. We're booked on Eurotunnel at 0750. And that's it. The end of another trip. I have no idea how it went by so fast!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Monday 20 August - Harelbeke

Where's Bertie? For the fourth time this year, he's sitting at the Aire at Harelbeke. It's still €5 per night, including electricity, water and waste.
Weather: Overcast but warm. One very brief shower whilst we were driving.

My day started with a half marathon. Just over actually. I ran 13.2 miles along the Canal de Centre between Thieu and Mons, half of which was against the wind, which, fortunately, was blowing less than it was yesterday evening.

I was finished by quarter past nine, and it seemed to me that I had good justification for doing very little for the rest of the day. Thus far I've succeeded in that, although there's a little strollette, over to the nearby lake, on the cards for later this evening.

The only other exersion of the day was a quick grocery shop, to give us enough supplies to cobble together tonight's tea.

Oh, and a big spring clean of Bertie, seeking out as many dust traps as I could find and giving him a good vacuum too (as in, more thorough than my usual once or twice weekly whizz around with the Dyson). Even his underfloor lockers have been de-gritted (the migration of grit/sand/dirt into Bertie's interior is something to behold).

Oh, and I had to wash about six gallons of sweat and a few handfuls of concrete dust out of my running gear.

In fact, now that I think about it, I've not been as lazy as I thought!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Sunday 19 August - Luxembourg City (Luxembourg) and Thieu (Belgium)

Where's Bertie? He's five metres away from the canal at Thieu, where he previously spent the nights of 9&10 June.
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine.

Arriving in Luxembourg City this morning, we thought our visit was going to be over before it started, just like our visit to Ghent back in March, and for the same reason: the huge car park in which we had intended to leave Bertie was closed and full of a funfair. I knew of no other Bertie-friendly car park that was a short-enough walk from the city centre, and we weren't going to drive around aimlessly trying to find one. So, we pulled into some roadside parking for a rethink and, after a bit of manoeuvring, decided that Bertie fitted into that space well enough to leave him there whilst we looked around. Hitting the city on a Sunday morning was definitely a good bet, with the roads quiet and little competition for parking spaces (which also happen to be free on the weekend).

With the shops shut on a Sunday, I had expected that we would have the city streets almost to ourselves. What I hadn't anticipated was that the place would be so multi-nationally touristy. Almost everyone we did see was clearly there for the same purpose as us, and a large number of them were speaking English.

Fountain of the day, front and back views.

We spent a couple of hours wandering, with the highlight being the city walls...

...and, if we weren't on a schedule and there had been somewhere suitable to park, we probably could have filled at least a day, and maybe two.

I'm not sure how we came to leave Bertie without arming ourselves with any food, water or even our hats (on a clear-skied day - careless!), but at least the first two issues were easy to resolve:

The only other thing to divert our course back to Bertie was the sound of music from somewhere nearby. A band, making proper use of a bandstand, was providing an excellent performance:

The afternoon consisted of driving, with just an interlude for diesel and for lunch, both birds killed with one stone at the last motorway service station before we left Luxembourg (fuel prices are uniform across the whole of the country, even at motorway services). Had we known we would only be buying diesel (their LPG pump was closed) we would stopped at one of many quiet petrol stations on our way out of the city, instead of queuing five vehicles deep (at 20 pumps!)* and having to deal with a really badly designed payment system.

Back in Belgium there aren't a huge number of dedicated motorhome parking areas, from which to choose, so we opted for the space-guaranteed option of returning to Thieu. Being right on the canal, it also serves to give me an easy location for a run in the morning.

(*Diesel currently costs 111.9c/litre in Luxembourg, compared with an average price of 154.9c/litre in Belgium. It's understandable that people are willing to queue, having nipped over the border to fill up.)

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Saturday 18 August - Mannheim (Germany) and Mondorf-les-Bains (Luxembourg)

Where's Bertie? He's at an Aire in the town of Mondorf-les-Bains which sits on the Luxembourg side of the border with France (exact location: 49.50537, 6.2754).
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine

There's some initiative on in Mannheim at the moment to promote sport in the park (it's called 'Sport in the Park' in that bizarre way that European countries tend to adopt English when they're after a slogan). It's not that there's a lack of people exercising in the park, as I discovered on our previous visit there in June, but there can't be any harm in a promotion that gets even more people out and about. For today's ParkRun it meant a record attendance of 88.

I don't know what the newbies made of it, but if today had been my first time ever, I would have been thoroughly put off. Happily, I know that a 15 minute full-on mass-participation aerobics session (a thing of my nightmares) by way of a warm-up is not normal. Nor is starting 12 minutes late.

Once we did finally get underway, things went better than I had expected, with me bettering the PB I set on the same course in June by 1 minute 34 seconds, coming home in 25.34. Annoyingly, I crossed the line with the knowledge that I could have gone faster, on the basis that I was nowhere near the state I was in when I finished at Stuttgart last week.

Equally good is that Mick also managed to finish without his calf exploding again. That's the first (and possibly last) time I've ever beaten Mick at a ParkRun; I'll gloss over the fact that he was intentionally taking it steady and in so doing, found himself acting as pacer for a first timer.

Then things got even better, as the city of Mannheim had paid for a coffee, at the nearby cafe, for every ParkRunner today. Mick supplemented his with a small breakfast, which I kindly helped him consume:

Contrary to appearances, we weren't on the deck of a boat.

Leaving Mannheim post-breakfast proved to be an incredibly stressful experience. I've been having problems with Google Maps (again!) recently. Unlike the other four mapping apps on my phone, it really struggles to hold a GPS signal and to keep track of exactly where I am. So, over breakfast, I took advantage of the free wifi and updated the App in the hope of improving its performance. It was at the point that we needed to take an unsigned diversion*, around the bridge roadworks with the 2m width restriction, that I discovered that Google Maps was now refusing to show me any roads at all. Not helpful in the slightest!

Clearly, we did finally escape and 240km later, we arrived in Mondorf - chosen because it was the most convenient location I could find, with an official motorhome parking area, for a visit to Luxembourg City tomorrow.

We took a look around this afternoon and as far as we could see, the main attraction here is the thermal baths complex and the surrounding parkland, through which we walked a pleasant circuit.

Fountain of the day

The final joy of the day: they speak French in these parts. After two months of language ignorance, I can understand again!

(*The SatNav does have a 'take me around a roadblock' function, but Bertie's dashboard is about half a mile longer than my arms, so operating the SatNav whilst in transit, and whilst trying to make immediate directional decisions through city centre streets, with nowhere to pull over, is not an easy thing to do.)

Friday, 17 August 2018

Friday 17 August - Heidelberg & Mannheim

Where's Bertie? He's in a car park at Neckarau Park on the south side of Mannheim. It's the same place he spent the nights of 15 & 16 June.
Weather: Sunny for most of the day, with cloud, rumblings of thunder and a bit of rain coming in late afternoon.

Having surveyed the options for where we could spend tonight, so as to position us reasonably well for a quick visit to Neckarau Park (Mannheim) tomorrow, I set the SatNav for a walkers' car park that sits up above Heidelberg. It was an 'interesting' drive up there, involving a closed road, a diversion and some streets made a bit tight by cars parked on both sides. Then we arrived to find the whole car park to be on a bit of a slant. There were a couple of spaces (not free at that time) that would have been acceptable, but we decided that we would stay there only for lunch and a walk, then would continue on to Mannheim today.

It was a pleasant short route, through old, mixed woodland, although it was lacking viewpoints. Not that today's air clarity made for good views where we did find a break in the trees:

Back at Bertie, the SatNav (with Google Maps as a sanity-check back-up) took us back down to the River Neckar via a much better route (minimal tiny roads and no closures), and half an hour or so later we were installed in Mannheim, where I'm hoping to go for another little strollette later, assuming that this rain passes.

Snapped out of Bertie's window when stopped at traffic lights.

The only other not-really-news of the day is that, after spending a few days watching Bertie's 'miles to empty' read-out, and comparing it with how far away from Luxembourg (land of cheap fuel), we decided today that the numbers were a little too close for comfort, so pulled in to put €10-worth of diesel into the tank. Hopefully that will see us over the border, and as far as a fuel station that doesn't have a big queue of border hopping fuel-tourists. We will find out tomorrow...

The rain barely lasted any time at all and wasn't too heavy, which is a good thing as I've only just remembered that I opened the roof light above Bertie's bed when we arrived here. A late evening stroll has just been had through the wooded park and along the river. At the Strandbad (riverside leisure area) the car park was heaving, and we expected to find great groups of people picnicking and barbecuing. That wasn't the case, as the dry weather has caused barbecues and open fires to be banned. The river itself is rather smaller than it was in mid-May too:

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Thursday 16 August - Obrigheim and Mosbach

Where's Bertie? He's at a Stellplatz in the town of Mosbach (exact location: 49.36087, 9.14760).
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine and hot.

Whilst walking along the river yesterday afternoon we came upon an information sign that told us that we were just 500m away from the start of a heritage trail that visits the few visible remains of a Second World War aircraft engine factory, and its supporting infrastructure. The factory itself was situated within 56000 square metres of underground tunnels, which had been commandeered from an old gypsum mine.

With information provided in English, we thought it might be moderately interesting, and we seldom object to a walk through the woods, so this morning that's what we did.

It turned out that the only sign with any English on it was the one photographed above, advertising the route. Those situated on the route itself weren't even set out in a Google Translate-friendly way. We made do, and it was, as we'd hoped, moderately interesting.

Down there are the sites of the four concentration camps from which forced labour was taken to create the factory and then to run it. It started in early 1944 and ended with the war in 1945.

This tunnel was a very effective air conditioning system today. From a couple of hundred metres away we could feel the cold air eminating from it. The tunnels were very firmly closed off to prevent access.

There had been a bit of dithering before our walk as to whether Bertie should stay put on our riverside pitch today, or whether we should move a few km up the road to Mosbach. By the time we were back from our walk, we had decided to move - something we nearly regretted when we ran into yet another road closure blocking our way. Our perception is that the Germans don't often employ temporary traffic lights, but instead operate road closures. It feels like not a single journey goes by without us seeing at least one.

Even on arrival, I wasn't convinced we'd done the right thing in moving, as rather than being parked on a river bank, with nothing between us and the water, we were now in a compound of other vans, with wooded slopes around, but no particular view.

Then we walked into the old town, about 1km away through parkland, and soon decided that it was most definitely worth visiting.

It's another historic town full of half-timbered buildings

I'd already picked up a leaflet at the Stellplatz which set out a tour of the town, taking in the most historically interesting buildings and features (plus the old people's home, built in the 1980s, which was a bit of an odd inclusion in the tour, even if it did win a design award for how well it integrated old with new). We'd managed to find our way to Point Of Interest No 3, unable to understand any of the information about them, when I noticed that I was standing outside of the Tourist Information Office. They had a copy of the town tour leaflet in English, allowing us to get much more out of the rest of our visit.

This was described in the leaflet as the 'Kiwwel Poo Spring'. Initially I thought it a bad translation, but then I read on. In the 19th century, toilets in Mosbach consisted of cider and wine barrels set up in quiet locations, such as in the narrow gaps between houses. This was odd behaviour to the people from outside the town, thus Mosbach residents became known as 'Kiwwelschisser' (Bucket Pooers). Over time this morphed from an insult to an accepted name for a Mosbacher, so much so that this fountain has been built to commemorate it.

Back at the Stellplatz, the rapid progression of summer made itself known when the sun dipped behind the nearby hill at just gone 6pm. That was a welcome occurrence, with a drop in temperature soon following. It's 2030 as I type this and now quite a pleasant temperature to be sitting outside. Perhaps there's time for a bit of alfresco crochet before darkness falls?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Wednesday 15 August - Obrigheim

Where's Bertie? He's 20m away from the River Neckar, at a Stellplatz at Obrigheim (exact location: 49.35039, 9.09959).
Weather: Overcast start, clearing slowly all day, such that there is now not a cloud.

Over the last couple of days of perambulations around the Stellplatz at Lauffen, I'd seen a number of Waymarkers and had gleaned from them that there was a 10km lollipop shaped route. I didn't go out of my way to find the start point (Bertie was parked near the 1km & 9km marks), but today I decided that, rather than simply running up and down the river, I would follow the markers.

It took me meandering through the vinyards and orchards that run up from the river - with the emphasis on 'up'. It seemed when I finally reached the top that I was standing on the highest ground in the vicinity.

Within half an hour of arriving back at Bertie I was (cold!) showered, breakfasted and we were on the move, heading for Obrigheim, 40km down-river.

Given more time, I'm sure we would have been waylaid with at least a night in
Bad Wimpfen, which looked like a place worth visiting, but as we are now on a schedule, we stuck with Plan A.

The Stellplatz here (which is a shared car/motorhome parking area, running parallel to the river) is in mixed surroundings. We've walked in both directions along the river today, and the valley itself is attractive, with a large flat plain, bordered with steep slopes covered in trees, meadows and orchards, with large clusters of houses. That sounds lovely, but there's also a lot of industry and infrastructure nearby, which makes it feel a lot less like we are in an idylic landscape.

Here's an illustration, with my view as I sat outside crocheting this afternoon:

But walk the few paces to Bertie's back bumper and look very slightly right, and the outlook becomes less attractive (and at times, quite noisy!):

As well as watching the huge commercial barges passing on the river, our in-Bertie entertainment this afternoon has come from our neighbouring van. We can't understand a word they are saying, so have no idea what the content of their conversation is, but they come across as Herr & Frau Grumpy, completely displeased with everything they see and hear, including each other. It's a wonder they travel if everything makes them so unhappy! (Or, to give the benefit of the doubt, maybe it's just an accent and mannerism thing and they're really perfectly happy ... although I haven't heard them laugh or seen them crack a smile yet.)