7-23 December 2011: Morpeth, Edinburgh and London, England – THE END OF THE TRIP

7 December 2011 – Calais, France

We are up at the crack of dawn and head off towards Limoges where we drop my cousin at the airport for his flight back to the UK and Scott and I continue to drive to Calais in convoy.  The drive is relatively boring as we elect to take the motorway.  However, once we reach Paris the rain starts and our plan unravels fantastically.  We had made lots of plans about stopping etc but we became separated and realised that I didn’t have Scott’s mobile phone number for France and he didn’t have my mobile number for London.  After a few calls back to London we realise that I had overtaken Scott and was now close to Calais and sat at the petrol station waiting for him to arrive.  Also in the best planning we have managed I didn’t even have a jumper etc, so it was a cold wait.  By now it was getting late and dark, but once we catch up we elect to continue the drive to Calais as it was only an hour away.

Vinnie and wind turbines on the road to Calais
Vinnie and wind turbines on the road to Calais

On arriving in Calais we grab a pizza and then park at the Aires de camping spot.  It is incredibly windy here; it feels like the van is going to roll over.  We are exhausted so just crash.

8 December 2011 – Earls Colne, Essex, England

Up and finish cleaning and packing up the van.  During the night due to the wind and rain, Vinnie is now covered in sand (we are on the coast), but we decide to head to the P&O Ferry Terminal early and see if we can get an earlier ferry.  On arriving we find that due to the bad weather they have put us on an earlier ferry but it isn’t scheduled to leave until after the one we were on.  However, we get in the queue with everyone else and sit there and then sit there some more.  We eventually board the ferry and the crossing is very rough and also takes an hour longer than normal.

We are having dinner with friends in Essex, so hit the motorway and make great progress until we get to the M25 junction with the A12 and sit there for 45 minutes before electing to continue to another junction.  The traffic is a nightmare along with the road conditions.  We eventually make it to have dinner with Nancy and Marc about four hours late.

9 December 2011 – London, England

We get up early to see Harvey and Mary in their school uniforms which was fantastic.  So annoyed that the travel plans for the day before were so bad.  We pack up Vinnie and then head down to Kent to drop Vinnie off.  Sadly we waved goodbye hoping he finds some good owners and they have as much fun as us.  We are soon on the road to London where we are staying tonight.  The weather is totally different today and there is even some sun.  The roads are clear and we arrive in London by mid-afternoon.

10 December 2011 – York, England

We are still trying to do some sightseeing to head up to York to have a look at the Cathedral and the town.  It is a lovely town with the river currently at a high.  We had no idea it would also be so busy and managed to get a room at a B&B with the help of the local Tourist Office.  We park the car nearby and drop our bags in our room.  Heading out for drinks and dinner we realise it is only 5:30pm.  Considering it gets dark so early plus it is freezing, we are also exhausted; we do a quick walk around the town and have a drink.  We end up eating dinner at 6:30pm and then just crash.

11-16 December 2-11 – Morpeth, England

We are spending the next week visiting family and friends in Morpeth who I haven’t seen for about 25 years, so it is good to catch up with people and Scott is enjoying the hospitality of roast dinners and lots of pints of lager.

13 December 2011 – the weather is getting colder and windier so we decide to head to Hadrian’s Wall and have a walk around one of the Roman forts.  We are the only tourists, but it was a great place to visit and you appreciate how skilled the Romans were at building, especially ones that last.

Scott at Hadrians Wall
Scott at Hadrians Wall

14 December 2011 – we hire a car and head up to Edinburgh through the snow and ice for a night in Edinburgh.  The city was all lit up for the Christmas period.

Edinburgh Castle at 4:30PM
Edinburgh Castle at 4:30PM

 

15 December 2011 – we drive back from Edinburgh via the coast road visiting Bamburgh Castle, Craster (fantastic lunch at The Jolly Fisherman), pop into Alnwick and then head back to Ashington to visit my Uncle and Aunty.

Scott's favorite beer of the trip
Scott

 

17-23 December 2011:  London, England

We catch the train from Morpeth back to London to spend the last few days arranging some boxes to be shipped to Australia and catch up with more friends and family.  We spend the time wandering through some of the places we still haven’t visited and start organising work and travel options for 2012.  We still found places we hadn’t visited before i.e. The British Museum (absolutely fantastic), Tate Gallery (love Turner) and also revisited some favour haunts of the Morpeth Arms and Mildred’s.  In addition Scott did his best to drink as many beers as possible before heading back to Australia where he will miss traditional ales.

We can’t believe our trip has ended, although we are getting excited to see some sun and warm weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 November-6 December 2011: Besancon, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil and Coutancie, France

27 November 2011 – Besancon, France

We drive towards Besancon today with the landscape changing from vineyards to more agricultural lands and the scenery as usual for us recently shrouded in fog.  We avoid the motorways (they can add up in costs here in France) plus you get to see more of the countryside.

On arriving in Besancon we find our Aire de camping which is just on the river with a range of services.  We rug up and head for a walk into town.  Besancon is famous as the birthplace of Victor Huge and the Lumiere Brothers.  It was also a Gallo-Roman city, so we head up to the Citadelle de Besancon getting there just after 4pm.  This is a relatively new building as it was constructed in the late 17th century and the walk up is considerably more interesting than going into the Citadelle to see an insectariums, aquarium, noctarium and parc zoologique.  On starting the walk up you pass through the Porte Noire which is the old Roman entrance to the city and has some beautiful carvings which are sadly deteriorated at the moment. 

 

The roman gate
The roman gate

 

 

Just up from the Porte Noire is the Cathedrale St-Jean and the Horloge Astronomique which is a small astronomical clock compared to those we have seen in other cities, however the church is simply furnished and very serene.

Inside the Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral

Besancon is in full Christmas celebration swing with lots of stalls set up selling traditional Christmas items such as mulled wine etc.  We stop at a local bar for a couple of glasses of wine to wait for the Christmas lights to be turned on and then wander slowly back through the streets to Vinnie.

28 November 2011 – La Bourboule, France

We wake up this morning to find we have been blocked in the service point has been turned off so they can lop some trees – well lopping is an understatement, they are being totally removed to make way for a tramline being implemented in the near future.  So we eventually find the other way out of the Aires de camping and start the long drive to La Bourboule.  We don’t plan on stopping anywhere until we reach La Bourboule which is about 6-7 hour drive, so a relatively boring day in all.

Hmm the scenery isn't very good
Hmm the scenery isn

On reaching La Bourboule it is a fantastic town, beautifully located in the Auvergne region of central France it is a spa town and a winter ski resort.  Unfortunately we are there just before the ski season.  It is laid out around the river and surrounded by mountains and views.  On the main streets are lots of bars and cafes and the architecture has been preserved.  All in all a lovely stop for the night.

29 November 2011 – Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil

Not such a long drive today as our main point is Sarlat-la-Caneda.  However along the way we stop at one of our favourite villages in France – Beaulieu-Sur-Dordogne which we visited in summer.  This town still captures our interest and although the pub we went to last time is closed, we found another restaurant/bar nearby that did gorgeous food as great prices.  Obviously it must be good as it was full of locals.  After a lovely lunch we jumped back in Vinnie and soon arrived in Sarlat-la-Caneda.  The Aires de camping isn’t fantastic and is on a main road and sloping, but we park up and head into the main town.  This is mean to be one of the country’s best-preserved architectural villages, however it just didn’t grab us and we were fairly disappointed as a whole. 

 

Scott thought this was the best sight in Sarlat
Scott thought this was the best sight in Sarlat

 

 

We wandered around the medieval part of town and stopped at the Cathedrale St-Sacerdos and walked through the medieval historic quarter.  There just wasn’t much to keep our interest so we headed back to Vinnie and decided to head towards Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil which we visited in summer and wanted to return to anyway.  We arrived there just as it was getting dark and the Aires de camping is in a beautiful spot just down on the river and surrounded by trees and on a nice flat spot.  There is only one other motorhome parked there, so it was also lovely and quiet and we had a great view of the cliffs surrounding the town.  We headed to the local pub for a quick drink to relax after what turned out to be a long day of driving.

All parked up for the night between the river and the mountains
All parked up for the night between the river and the mountains

30 November-7 December 2011 – Coutancie, France

We get up for a wander in town and some fresh bread from the bakery before deciding to head to the house at Coutancie where we hope to sort out the sale of Vinnie and get organised for home.  Scary to think it is only three Sundays of holidays to go.

We arrive in Coutancie late afternoon and crash.  Our plans for the next few days are to clean Vinnie from top to bottom and do some day trips around the area, or of course we may just sit around doing nothing and have a little break from driving. 

2 December – We finally arranged the sale of Vinnie and have now booked our ferry journey back to the UK on the 8 December.  We decide to head into Riberac for a glass of wine to celebrate.  Unfortunately it wasn’t a very inspiring place and we had an insipid lunch at one of the only places open.  I hope we get one more good meal in before we leave France.

3 December 2011 – my cousin and his partner arrive from the UK to do some work on the house.  We have a homecooked meal (go Scott and his vegetarian lasagne) and due to my almost migraine I watched the boys get absolutely plastered.

4 December 2011 – the weather has changed and it is windy and misty, and as my headache isn’t that much better we stay in and can’t be bothered to go anywhere.  We do however do the final bits on Vinnie and almost ready to head off for our final drive.

 

 

19-26 November 2011: Villers-Bretonneux, Reims, Epernay and Strasbourg, France

19 November 2011 – Royes, France

A freezing night as yet again the alarms in the van went off, wish we could turn them off, but figure that may be dangerous it is bloody annoying though and as Scott has developed the ability to not hear anything I have to get up and turn it off.

Today we are driving from Germany through Luxembourg and Belgium to Villers-Bretonneux in France.  Scott still gets excited we can drive through whole countries in less than a morning (four of them to be exact).  Of course at this stage we can hardly see a few metres in from the van due to the fog, so the only sign we know we are going in the right direction is the chance of country signs and the price of fuel going up astronomically.  Luckily we filled up in Luxembourg which should last a few days.  We are finally back in France after what feels like an eternity of travelling and start the drive (not using toll roads) to Villers-Bretonneux. 

Villers-Bretonneux:  The drive here is via several other war memorials, but this one stands out from them by miles.  Strangely enough there is no actual parking next to the memorial so we end up parking right out front, soon copied by several other cars, I wonder what they do when there is special events?  The memorial here was designed by Edward Lutyens and was the last big WWI memorial built.  It was subsequently heavily damaged in WWII and refurbished although the scars are still there which adds to the poignancy.  It is a sad place to think that life is so cheap so many had to die and this isn’t just for Australians there are a substantial amount of graves for Canadians and South Africans and so many to the unknown soldier who’s remains have never been identified.  The grounds are immaculate and with fog hanging over the surrounding valleys you wonder was all this death worth the fight! 

 

A long way from home
A long way from home

 

 

Royes:  We finally found a relatively nearby Aire de Camping Car in a car park in the small city centre and via a huge amount of tiny one way streets we finally got there.  There doesn’t appear to be any parking to go with the service point, so park up near the school and as it is Sunday tomorrow, should be quiet.  What wasn’t quite true however, as there was a group of hooded youths who decided that playing with their soccer ball next to the van would be fun.  As the night progressed they moved away a bit and after the police confiscated their football they decided to beat each other up and look generally like unsavoury characters.  I stayed on guard duty whilst Scott slept! 

20-21 November 2011 – Reims, France

After a crappy night’s sleep for me – I mean who gets up to walk their dogs at 5:30am and then proceed to chat with other people next to a motorhome.  Anyway the morning brightened up, well we aren’t sure if it did as the fog today was even worse than yesterday and to top it off the Aire was broken and we couldn’t top up our water and hence I couldn’t have a hot shower, could this day get any worse.  We are driving through to Reims today which is at the start of the champagne region and also houses a Cathedral and a Basilique. 

Reims:  We arrive at the supposed location of the Aires de Camping Car to find nothing, so have to drive a million miles (no exaggeration) around the block to see if we missed it.  We find the service point so park up Vinnie and go for a walk around the area as the Camperstop book stays there is parking for 8 motorhomes.  We finally find other motorhomes and then locate a Hostel who hands out the passcode for the boom gate, so we top up on free water etc and park Vinnie in a free spot right in the centre for 48 hours free.  There are several other campers here, so we leave Vinnie in the sun hoping it would warm up and walk into Reims.  Reims (pronounced “rahns”), an ancient Roman city, was important when Caesar conquered Gaul. French kings came here to be crowned.

The Cathedral Notre Dame was originally build in 1211 and was famous for hosting the coronation of Charles VII with Joan of Arc in 1429.  It has been seriously damaged in WWI and with the help of the Rockefeller family has been heavily restored; luckily it escaped relatively unharmed during WWII.  Inside the remaining stained glass windows are breathtaking, but I am not as sure about the modern interpretations as they look slightly out of place in the gothic architecture.  Even better as this cathedral is one of the few that are free.  Built on the site of an earlier church that burned down in 1211, the resultant cathedral was intended as a place where French Kings would be anointed.  St-Remi the bishop of Reims baptized the King of the Franks (Clovis) here in AD496.  As such, every French monarch since a.d. 496 was crowned at Reims, including Charles VII who was escorted there by Joan of Arc in 1429.  Now it seems to have a place in the Franco-Germany reconciliation process that has been in place to overcome animosity after the war.  Pope John-Paul II visited the cathedral in 1996 on the 1500th anniversary of Clovis’s baptism. 

 

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

 

 

We leave the Cathedral and head towards the main pedestrian mall.  It is Sunday and as such most things are shut so we opt instead to sit in the sun and have some wine and pizza.  As the sun is out most of the restaurants are busy and doing a booming trade, however, they don’t seem very organised and almost disappointed when most customer come and they have to set the table, take orders and deliver food – honestly customers just get in the way don’t they!

Eventually back at Vinnie we have an early night as it is freezing and as usual the alarms go off, getting sick of this and starting to fantasise about a warm holiday destination.

Today we are off to the Basilique St-Remi and maybe some champagne tasting.  We approach the Basilique St-Remi and I find this much more interesting that yesterday’s Cathedral.  It is huge and the Romanesque architecture from the mid-11th century is just beautiful.  Some Gothic features were added from the 12th century, but the history here is fantastic.  The church dates from 1007 and holds the tomb of St. Remi.  The Nave is Romanesque which leaves to a beautiful choral area full of flamboyant style.  Paying the EUR2 to turn the lights on was EUR2 well spent as the inside of the Basilique lit up and highlighted the vaulted ceilings.

I have become fascinated by ceilings
I have become fascinated by ceilings

Suitably impressed we then decided to visit the Taittinger Champagne House.  There are many champagne cellars to choose from i.e. Pommery, Mumm and Veuve Cliquot, but we elect Taittinger due to the history of its cellars.  So we booked in and headed out for a coffee as we had 40 minutes to kill.

EUR14 secures you a spot on the English speaking tour and we have a small presentation about the history of the home of Taittinger before being led down to the underground cellars and this is where it got interesting.  As well as 19m bottles of Champagne the vaults were originally built in the 4th century by the Romans who excavated the area for stone.  It was then excavated by the 13th century Benedictine monks and has today been restored as much as possible for the champagne house.  Many of the champagne cellars of Reims extend for miles through chalky deposits.  During the German siege of 1914 and throughout the war, people lived and even published a daily paper in them.  The caves that are 30m (98 ft.) deep, where the temperature is a constant 50°F (10°C).  Taittinger is a grand marquee of French champagne, one of the few still controlled by members of the family that founded it (in 1930). The tour was informative, interesting and just steeped in history.  We then finished with a glass of the Brut Reserve champagne.  I am definitely a fan of Taittinger for the dry style of champagne, but at EUR110 per bottle, wasn’t keen enough to buy a bottle, however, I kept the tasting glass.

Okay now a fan of vintage champagne
Okay now a fan of vintage champagne

Off to lunch at a local restaurant where the food was a little bit disappointing, but I tried the champagne here and it was totally different, now I understand the processes behind making the different blends, makes and vintages, it starts to fall into place the differences and I am definitely a fan of the vintage style – which as usual is the most expensive, typical.  We have a wander through the streets of Reims before heading back to Vinnie.  As the sun sets so early now it makes the days of sightseeing shorter as well.

22 November 2011 –Villeneuve Renneville Chivigny, France (Champagne Leclere-Massard – France Passions Stop)

We leave Reims and head towards Epernay via the Montage de Reims Champagne Route which links the two towns via the Parc Natural Regional de la Montagne de Reims.  Scott is keen to actually see some vines as so far it has been much industrialised.

Verzenay:  as soon as you head towards Verzenay the acres and acres of vineyards take up all the visible distance.  We stop at the Phare de Verzenay which is a lighthouse on the hilltop at the eastern edge of the village and head to the top (EUR3 per person) for a view of the surrounding area.  There are no leaves on the vines and they are in the process of cutting them back which appears to be a hugely manual process with people still hand-cutting the vines.  Considering how cold the weather is, I don’t understand how they don’t freeze. 

Phare de Verzenay in the background
Phare de Verzenay in the background

 

 

Verzy:  we head just outside Verzy to the Parc Natural Regional de la Montagne de Reims for the hour round walk to see the mutant beech trees known as Faux de Verzy.  These are interesting and exquisite trees that appear to be all twisted with the branches growing over them like umbrellas.  As there are no leaves you can fully appreciate the gorgeous trunks which are covered in mosses and are gnarled and tortured in appearance.  Interesting that there are signs and the trees are sometimes fenced off, but that of course doesn’t stop some people having to climb over to take a photo!

Looks like my spinal cord after 7 months on a foam mattress
Looks like my spinal cord after 7 months on a foam mattress

Epernay:  as soon you are approach Epernay you are reminded you are now in the capital of the champagne region and you can instantly start ticking off all the big names i.e. Moet et Chandon, Mercier, Pol Roger etc.  We find the Aires de camping spot but it is full and the other parking has a maximum of one hour, so we leave Vinnie near the bus/motorhome spot and hope nobody complains and head into the town centre.  Although Epernay it only has one-sixth Reims’s population, it produces nearly as much champagne, with an estimated 322km (200 miles) or more of cellars and tunnels.  These caves are vast vaults cut into the chalk rock on which the town is built.  Walking up Epernay’s main boulevards and in particular the avenue de Champagne it radiates wealth, in one driveway there were four Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and several other cars that I am sure Scott would trade me in for.  Invading armies have destroyed or burned Epernay nearly two dozen times and few of its buildings have survived.  We find the huge offices of Moet & Chandon to do a tasting, but the next tasting isn’t until late so we book in for tomorrow instead and walk around the town which has a lot of wine shops (no surprise there) but also a huge amount of landscaping and renovation of the public squares.  We head back to Vinnie after stopping off at Carrefour City for a few snacks and drive the 20 minutes to Champagne Leclere-Massard Winery in Villeneuve Renneville Chivigny (page 321).  We are now using our France Passions book which does not have gps coordinates only a very brief description of how to get places, but luckily this France Passions stop has got up signs etc and we pull into a lovely little Aire with everything you need including picnic tables etc and buy a bottle of champagne to enjoy in the setting sun before it becomes freezing.

23 November 2011 – Cousancelles, France (Les Vergers de Cousancelles – France Passions Stop)

After a fantastic night’s sleep (we have worked out if you turn off the control panel the alarms don’t go off) we head back into Moet et Chandon (EUR15 for the traditionalle tasting and EUR28 for the vintage tasting) for our tour and tasting. 

Scott and the Dom
Scott and the Dom

There isn’t a huge group and we are lead through the history of the Champagne House (started by Jean-Remy Moet) and then head down into the kilometres and kilometres of tunnels which were warmer and definitely more humid than outside.  The tour is interesting and informative about the history of the house, although I think its early success was due to the patronage of school friend to Jean-Remy Moet (Napoleon), without that things may have been a bit different.  At the end of the tour I had elected to do the vintage tasting and Scott was going to do the ordinary tasting and I have to say you can definitely taste the difference with the Vintage being so much smoother and lighter, very similar to Taittinger yesterday.  I wasn’t so keen on the vintage Rose, but that’s only because I was getting a tad picky.  As usual I squirreled away the glass for a keepsake.

These two bottles were mine to taste - great birthday present
These two bottles were mine to taste - great birthday present

We leave Epernay after a final walk around and head to another France Passions stop just outside of St-Dizier (page 328).  This stop is something different and deals with apple products i.e. cider, fruit and an apple champagne.  Unfortunately they were out of cider and their next bottling won’t start until December, so we settle on the Champagne.  The stop isn’t as nice as last night, but we have got a spot to enjoy as much sun as possible and it is quiet.

24-25 November 2011 – Strasbourg, France

We are heading to Strasbourg today as it sounds nice and is on another wine trail.  The drive is fairly monotonous mainly due to the fog and you can’t see far into the distance, however, we seem to have hit on a small area in France that is big on wind farms, not as big as Spain, but nonetheless I am becoming keener on wind farms as our trip progresses.  We arrive in Strasbourg and have a problem with the GPS mainly due to the fact they have dug up most of the roads and changing things around.  There are also huge gypsy camps here that look like rubbish tips and they seem to be parked in any available carpark and I don’t feel very comfortable leaving Vinnie somewhere that isn’t secure.  We originally chose an Aire near the Parc du Rhin and when we get there we top up water, change grey water, clean toilet etc.  There are a couple of other campers but it is a long way from town.  It is next to a youth hostel so I grab a map and we notice another Aire at Elsau near the tram, so we drive there.  The lady at the counter at Elsau gives us all the details and we had noticed that you can only park there during the day but Scott checked and she assures us it is 24 hours.  Just as we had changed into a million layers of warm clothes she comes and apologises to say she was wrong and gives us the address of another place to stay.  We decide to head into Strasbourg on the tram anyway (the parking comes with train tickets i.e. park and ride – concept Perth can’t get the hang of) and instantly love it.  The trams are fantastic and cheap and whisk you into the centre of town.  They also have grasses down the tracks which softens the development of light rail and provides an almost architecture feel to the system.

Strasbourg:  The capital of Alsace and the site of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg is also home to the European Parliament.  In 1871, Strasbourg was absorbed by Germany and made the capital of the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. It reverted to France in 1918.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg:  The city’s crowning glory is an outstanding example of Gothic architecture, representing a transition from the Romanesque. Construction began in 1176. The pyramidal tower in rose-colored stone was completed in 1439; at 141m (463 ft.), it’s the tallest one from medieval times.  Four large counter forts divide the main facade into three vertical parts and two horizontal galleries. The facade is rich in decoration: On the portal of the south transept, the Coronation and Death of the Virgin in one of the two tympanums is the finest such medieval work. In the north transept, see also the facade of the Chapelle St-Laurence, a stunning achievement of the late Gothic German style.  In the south transept stands the Angel Pillar, illustrating the Last Judgment, with angels lowering their trumpets. Not to be outdone the organ here is one of the most decorated and drop dead wow we have seen anywhere.  The astronomical clock was built between 1547 and 1574. It stopped during the Revolution, and from 1838 to 1842 the mechanism was replaced.

This was the best organ we have seen on our travels
This was the best organ we have seen on our travels

We have a quick wander back through some of the squares where everything has been decorated in Christmas style and as it is now getting extremely cold and dark we head back to Vinnie and move to our new spot at Camping de la Montagne Vert (www.camping-montagne-verte-strasbourg.com) where we check in and try and defrost.

Strasbourg is famous for its christmas decorations
Strasbourg is famous for its christmas decorations

Up earliesh we head back to a nearby tram stop and buy a 24 hour travel as much as you want ticket for EUR4 each.  We head into town getting off near the Barrage Vauban and then going to spend the rest of the day walking through the sights.

Barrage Vauban:  The picture of what this looks like depicts a 17th century bridge but it is currently under renovation and is shrouded in scaffolding, so without using some good imagination it could look like anything really.

Ponts Couvert:  I read that this is described as a covered bridge, but it isn’t as there is no top to it, so for me I think of it as a bridge with some 13th century towers at either end which are fairly impressive.

Petite France:  Along the canals and locks is a gorgeous part of Strasbourg that is full of narrow lanes and at the moment lots of Christmas kiosks and decorations.  Originally this area was where tradesman plied their trade in the middle ages – and you can see the paintings on the tanner’s houses with the dates.  This area is full of nice looking Alsation restaurants and even a vegetarian restaurant. 

Our lunch spot
Our lunch spot

Grand Ile:  steeped in history the lanes are full of vibrant cafes and timbered houses all under the gaze of the cathedral.  Here also is the Maison Kammerzell which is now a restaurant but they have still maintained the ornate carvings and leaded windows.

Palais de Rohan:  This palace south of the cathedral was built from 1732 to 1742 and is meant to be an example of supreme elegance and proportion. Unfortunately it wasn’t open and along with the other tourists we sadly wandered off.

We decide to head up to the Parlement Europeen as I have in my head it is going to be a futuristic glass building etc (similar to the development around the Reichstag in Berlin), unfortunately it was a huge disappointment and the area is littered with rubbish and just feels soulless, but I suppose it is full of politicians.  We head back into the main squares and retake some photos of the cathedral as today it is sunnier and you can actually see the top of the spire unlike yesterday.  Next we venture back to Petite France for Scott to have a feed of local Choucroute (sauerkraut) with pork and sausages.  Suitably refreshed we head to the Musee d’Art Moderne and although it is a Modern Art Museum it would seem most of the art dates from the early 20th century.  There is a fairly good variety of artists from Picasso to Kadinsky and also an ArtCafe/WineBar on the top floor where we stop for a drink so that Scott can shake himself awake and complain some more about modern art being crap.

26 November 2011 – Pfaffenheim, France (France Passions Stop)

The drive today follows the Route du Vin between Strasbourg and Colmar following the Vosges foothills with plenty of villages and vineyards to break up the monotony of motorway driving.  We arrive in Obernai which is in full Christmas mode with lots of stalls and roads closed off and of course the GPS always wants to go through the tiny villages where we sometimes just don’t fit.  This is a gorgeous town with lots of see and do, but we don’t dally too long as Scott is keen to keep moving.  We drive through Ribeauville, Kaysersberg and Ammerschwihr before arriving in Colmar.  What a disappointment, parking for campervans was just on the edge of the main road with no services, so we had a sandwich and decided to keep going.  As we were driving out of Colmar there is a huge assortment of motorhomes spread through the street parking – wonder why they don’t put in a purpose built aire.  We head to Pfaffenheim where we find a local vineyard that is part of the France Passions (Domaine Walter & Fills pg 370) and stay there for the night.  However, we do walk through town but it is either siesta or everyone has been abducted as nothing seems open or even inhabited.  Scott has arranged with the family to do a wine tasting at 5pm, yum so looking forward to sweet wine.

Vinnie amongst the vineyards
Vinnie amongst the vineyards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-18 November 2011: Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg

11-13 November 2011 – Amsterdam, Holland

An easy drive again today and into Holland – yeah another country with no borders.  The weather is sunny but still cold, so we aren’t really deviating along the way and hope to get into Amsterdam early afternoon.  We are staying at Camping Het Amsterdamse Bos (www.campingamsterdam.com) in Amstelveen.  We arrive, get our spot and head straight out to find something hot to eat and for Scott to try the local beers. 

 

The Scott Beer tour continues
The Scott Beer tour continues

 

 

We head to a local bar on the advice of the girl at the reception counter and have a nice simple meal with a few beers and wines.  Stuffed, warm and merry we head back towards the campsite but find a supermarket to buy a few bits from, so now with some extra food we get back to Vinnie and do some tidying up.  Scott has a friend here in Amsterdam so he is coming to stay for a couple of nights and once he arrives, we soon head back out for dinner and a few too many drinks at another bar.

Up not so early with a slight hangover for me, we head into Amsterdam for some sightseeing.  We catch a train into Amsterdam but at the station there is no ability to use cash, so we board the train and hope that someone understands our predicament.  At the main station the guard lets us through as it is obviously a known problem and we head into the world of Amsterdam.  We are now in the hands of Geoff as he knows the area much better than us – it has been about 20 years since I have been here.  As soon as we head out of the station we take our life in our own hands with the millions of bikes, trams, cars and pedestrians heading in every direction. 

 

Multi-story bike park
Multi-story bike park

 

 

Like any good tour, we start the day with a walk through the Red Light District, considering the time of day some of these women are very scary, but due to the amount of drunken groups of men around, they probably look fantastic and are kept busy. 

 

I think I am the third wheel
I think I am the third wheel

 

 

The architecture of the area and planning is also interesting; with buildings that fill every nook and cranny along the canals and it is one of the oldest parts of the city.  The women sit in windows wearing not very much, except lots of plastic i.e. boobs, lips etc and not always in the best taste, most of them also look just plain bored. 

 

When in Holland... you sit on a clog
When in Holland... you sit on a clog

 

 

In Dam Square Scott and I bought our tacky souvenir straight away as we found the perfect thing so no point in prevaricating, I mean it is a ceramic windmill in the Delft colours and also has a pair of clogs and some tulips on it, oh and we also take in the view of the Royal Palace, which apparently the royal family only use once a year, maybe they should consider converting it to homeless accommodation as that seems in high demand.  We spend a fair bit of time wandering through the streets and canals enjoying the sights and scenery.  We stop for lunch at a Dutch Pancake Shop and head back out again.  We go past the outside of Anne Frank’s House which I think she would be surprised at today – it is just a huge money spinner and you do doubt what is left of the original building.  We managed to make our way through the piles of tourists, sand (due to roadworks) and cyclists we found a cafe in the sun for a refreshing cuppa.

Canals, canals and more canals
Canals, canals and more canals

This afternoon we walk through the Vondelpark which was packed and headed towards the Van Gogh Museum (EUR14).  This is on my must do itinerary, but seeing the queue even I faltered, but encouraged by Geoff and Scott we stuck it out (yes I know, usually Scott takes the first hint of my weakness for queues and bolts).  This museum houses approximately 200 of his paintings as well as a huge collection of drawings and also some nice works by his contemporaries, this allows you to see how his work evolved during his extremely short career (approx 10 years).  The exhibition space is stark and contemporary so does not distract from this work.  As the paintings are in chronological order you can see how he is changing and can almost feel his mounting inner pain.

Once we get outside the sun is almost setting, so have a short break back in the park before deciding to have a few drinks, something to eat and head back to Vinnie.  Unfortunately I know I peaked early with my one too many drinks last night and it is coming back to haunt me now, god must be getting old, two late nights in a row and I am knackered, well actually one late night!  We wander back through the Red Light District which is just as busy and the women are just as scary, however, what is more scary is the roadworks which have a vertical drop into the canal, even I nearly walked in – we wondered how many people they have to fish out during the night, of course a bit of tape or some fencing would help!  We stop at a couple of pubs for the boys to have some of the local beers and then settle on a Thai restaurant for dinner, strategically placed next door to a traditional coffee shop, which the boys thought smelt very potty!  According to the tourist guides the drug trade has been restricted, but with the amount of drugs available and the smoking of it everywhere, can’t see how that is being managed. 

 

The closest we got to a windmill
The closest we got to a windmill

 

 

The most interesting thing is the bicycle culture.  There are reckoned to be anywhere from 600,000 and up bikes in the city and they cover every spare inch of pavement, in fact they are given more road space than cars and it is easy to take your bikes everywhere.  I wish Perth would get more into the swing of things.  Oh and the bikes aren’t the super expensive Tour de France bikes with everyone kitted out in the latest lycra, the most popular bikes are one-speed city bikes with panniers and baskets which some people have really customised with flowers, ribbons etc.  A relatively early night with the boys listening to some music stuff and me reading.

Up not too early and it is as cold as usual.  We are spending the day here at the campsite doing washing and emails etc before we start the migration back towards Dordogne in France.

14 November 2011 – Sint Truiden, Belgium

On the road again.  We leave foggy Amsterdam and drive slowly down through Holland towards Maastricht.  We can’t find any info on motorhome facilities but the town sounds interesting, so we plug it into the TomTom and head off.  The drive is not the most scintillating and we are soon in Maastricht where we find a parking spot and walk into the city centre.  Maastricht was founded in 50bc but I doubt whether there is much left from that period.  We head into the Vrijthof (the city square) which is vast and surrounded on three sides by restaurants etc and on the fourth side by the Romanesque Sint-Servas Church and the Gothic Sint-Jan’s with its soaring red belfry. 

Maastricht square
Maastricht square

 

Maastricht was also the home of the real life d’Artagnan (from Musketeers fame).  We have lunch at a local cafe sitting in the sun under a heater and watching the world go by.  The TIC isn’t far so we head off and get a map and when we ask the assistant about motorhome parking she says there is none, so we give up on the few remaining sights we wanted to see and decide to head to another town instead who seems to have worked out that people with a motorhome have money and want to spend it in the local town.  We arrive in Sint Truiden at the free Aire de camping and walk into the small town centre – it isn’t very big, but there are plenty of bars, restaurants, shops etc.  There is even an Australian Ice-cream shop!

15 November 2011 – Tournai, Belgium

We are leaving Holland and heading down to Napoleon’s last battle site at Waterloo.  The journey is awesome (sarcastically) with almost zero visibility and it is cold and I mean cold.

Waterloo:  Scott and I both thought that Waterloo was in France, so this is a surprise for us, obviously high school geography and history didn’t sink in.  Waterloo is where French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte met final defeat on 18 June 1815 and the battle ground is made up of rolling farmland.  To survey the battlefield, climb the 226 steps to the top of the nearby Butte du Lion (Lion Mound) (EUR6), a conical hill surmounted by a bronze lion—it takes an active imagination to fill the peaceful farmland with slashing cavalry charges, thundering artillery, and 200,000 colourfully uniformed, struggling soldiers.  We visited the 360-degree Panoramic Mural (included in the ticket) after climbing up to the Butte du Lion.  The panoramic features the massed French cavalry charge led by Marshal Ney.  As the weather didn’t look like it was improving we decided to head towards the town of Tournai.

A monument to another French war gone wrong
A monument to another French war gone wrong

Tournai:  which is Belgium’s second-oldest town (after Tongeren) and also the first capital of the kingdom of France. The Aire is not bad, all the facilities and close to town – best of all, it is free.  The area is due for an upgrade soon and will include CCTV; the one thing to remember is that drinking water is free but only in non-frost periods.  There are only two other motorhomes here, but it is winter and the number of people travelling has decreased dramatically.  During medieval and Renaissance times, it had a position of prominence as a European ecclesiastical centre. Its importance in earlier centuries was forgotten until 1653, when a workman discovered the tomb of Childeric, king of the Franks, whose son, Clovis, founded the Merovingian dynasty that ruled for nearly 3 centuries. This led to the discovery that Tournai’s predecessor, a Roman settlement known as Tornacum, was the first capital of the Frankish empire. We walked through the town and it must be noted it is a giant building site with works everywhere.  We subsequently found out that Tournai is a Tour de France town for 2012 and wonder if the works are to pretty the town up before then.  The architecture that isn’t covered up in scaffolding is interesting and we wandered down to the Belfry dates from the late 1100s, making it Belgium’s oldest. 

The Belfry
The Belfry

 

Cathédrale Notre-Dame is a magnificent five-towered cathedral which was completed in the late 1100s and is currently closed for a total renovation, although the sign did state it would be finished in 2016.  We stopped in at a little Belgian Beer Bar (Charles Quint) for a beer and wine, but Scott ended up with a Stella Artois, so we moved on to another bar on the way back to the Aire which was lovely and Scott tried another couple of different monastic dark ales, I think he is a convert, although the British ales still are his favourite on this trip.

One of Scott's favourite beers of the trip
One of Scott

 

16 November 2011 – Hans-Sur-Lesse, Belgium

Another rambling drive today going from one side of Belgium to the other.

Namur:  an old riverside town at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers.  We are coming here to visit the Citadelle which overlooks the town.  A fortification has stood atop this bluff since pre-Roman times.  There is plenty of parking here and you get a great view of the rivers and the city below.  So we sit and have lunch in the sun and enjoy watching the boats ply their trade up and down the canals.

Another great camping spot
Another great camping spot

Abbaie de Maredsous (Maredsous Abbey):  The twin towers of the neo-Gothic Benedictine abbey stand out clearly above the rugged, forested countryside. It is famed for its own beer, cheese, and bread, but we only bought some of the locally produced beer.  In summer this would be a fantastic place to visit for a picnic and a walk as there are loads of things to see and do. The abbey’s third abbot, Dom Columba Marmion of Dublin, appointed in 1909, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Abbaie de Maredsous
Abbaie de Maredsous

Hans-Sur-Lesse:  This village sited on a scenic stretch of the Lesse River has an Aire which is EUR7.50 which includes water and power, however as nobody was there to pay and nobody came to collect the money it became free.  We parked up and walked into the town centre which looks like it would be a lively place in the summer.  We found a cafe/bar and Scott tried out a variety of beers and we had to partake in the frites which are everywhere and were excellent.  So suitably warmed up and full we head back to Vinnie and watch a movie.

On today's beer tasting this is the winner
On today

17 November 2011 – Dudelange, Luxembourg

Today we are driving through the Ardennes and along some of the battle fields that were intensely fought in WWII.  The terrain is much wooded and as you approach into La Roche-En-Ardenne you can only imagine what it would have been like in the winter of 1944-1945.  The town itself is quite lovely with lots to see and do.  We don’t stop – today is probably the coldest day we have come across, there is even ice on the ground, so unless we really really really have to get out of Vinnie and the heating I will do my photography from inside. 

Bastogne:  This is the site of Battle of the Bulge where US troops fought to hold the strategic town.  We stopped at the Mardasson Memorial which is a huge tribute to the US from the Belgium people and quite moving.  Currently there are a lot of groundwork’s going on to make the centre more interpretive and informative.  We thought we had parked under a sprinkler but realised it was all the ice melting from the trees above.  We so love European autumn, it is actually getting colder than in Tibet at winter which is saying something.

A huge memorial and so sad
A huge memorial and so sad

Dudelange, Luxembourg:  We are driving into Luxembourg to spend the night at an Aire in Dudelange which is free and fully serviced.  We know we have arrived in Luxembourg when the price of petrol drops to about EUR1.20 per litre which is about 20-30 cents per litre cheaper than Belgium etc.  On arrival we locked Vinnie and walked into the town centre as we need to find a bank.  Fully cashed up we found a little Italian cafe and had a huge meal before wandering back through town.  It is a nice town, but what surprised us was that you can smoke inside cafes, pubs etc – maybe because it is so cold outside.  Because of that we couldn’t be bothered to sit in a pub and bought some wine to take back to the campsite.  As we were enjoying our wine the Aire started to fill up and soon our side was full with four large motorhomes – so we aren’t the only people travelling, yeah.  Except so far nobody is from the UK and language is a problem.

A great view from Vinnie
A great view from Vinnie

18 November 2011 – Trier, Germany

Scott and I both woke up this morning with colds, obviously the weather has got to us and the visibility here where we are is non-existent, so we are heading to Germany for one last visit before hitting our remaining sites in France.  We can’t believe how much the time is flying by and we need to have Vinnie back in the UK and get organised for our flight home.

Trier, Germany:  We find our Aire which is spacious and even has showers, drop Vinnie off as usual.  The good thing with the Aires is that as there are other fancier motorhomes we feel safe and they usually have some form of security etc.  We walk into town which turned out to be further than we thought and considering we aren’t feeling very well it was a long, cold walk.  There is a Roman gate here (Porto Negro) which is meant to be the largest in Europe.  The gate is in good condition and it is huge, guarding one of the entrances to the town.  There is a large faire being set up for Christmas, groan, thought we were bypassing all that nonsense.  We wander around and as we aren’t feeling too flash, decide to get some hot chips and a cake for later and trudge back to Vinnie and spend the afternoon being totally unsociable and reading etc.

The Romans certainly got around Europe
The Romans certainly got around Europe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5-10 November 2011: Germany

5-6 November 2011:  Dresden, Germany

A not too early start to the day and a short drive to Dresden in Germany.   Scott loves the fact that we can just drive between countries, no passports, no checkpoints – nada.  We didn’t even know we have crossed the border (no signs whatsoever) except that the drivers seem to be faster but much more courteous.  And when I say faster, I mean faster, there isn’t even a maximum speed on the GPS.  We have found a parking spot right across the river from the Cathedral etc (EUR14 per night with security) so drop Vinnie off, rug up and head straight out to the TIC as we don’t even have a map, after all Germany wasn’t on our list of countries visit, sometimes being spontaneous can be a bugger.  We have to say that first impressions are fantastic, the city is easily laid out, great transport, lots of places to eat, and a lot of things seem to be free – what more can two unemployed homeless people ask.  So we made an executive decision and are staying an extra day to see some more of the city before heading to Berlin.  The only bizarre thing here is that the memorials to the war dead don’t really mention WWI or WWII, they mention the Nazi war, ignoring that the vast majority of people here in Germany were involved against the Allied forces.  Even here in Dresden, instead of mentioning the bombings that took place in 1945, they say the fire fights.  I suppose it is hard to acknowledge that they started two world wars where millions of people were impacted across the globe.  After the tourist office for maps our first stop is somewhere for a snack and drink and we choose that German of all restaurants – an Argentinean Grill (El Rodizio on Wilsdruffer Str. 22), it was close, they did something vegetarian and we could work out where we wanted to go.  Suitably refreshed with nachos and a couple of huge classes of wine we head back into the town.  Strangely it doesn’t even feel so cold now.

Even the lightposts are exquisitely designed
Even the lightposts are exquisitely designed

Zwinger:  Built in the 18th century this is giant courtyard surrounded by buildings that would resemble a glasshouse with a covered in roof.  The buildings are baroque and extremely ornamental.  It is hard to describe just how big some of these buildings are and how intricate their carvings and designs are.

Semper Opera House and Theaterplatz:  Walking outside the Zwinger you come straight up to the Opera House.  Again designed in the 18th century but instead of baroque it is in the Italian High Renaissance style.  Yet again I realise I should have probably studied architecture or history or anything else other than sustainability.  The building was totally destroyed in 1945 but reconstructed in 1985 with fantastic attention to detail.  In fact I didn’t realise it had been rebuilt until I read the blurb.

Catholic Hofkirche Church:  This is a strange church; it is all white surfaces with lots of gold edging, no dark gothic art that is normally associated with the Catholic Church.  Designed in the 18th century it meets the requirements of the Lutheran church (middle nave).  The heart of Augustus the Strong is buried in the church crypt.

a very different church
a very different church

We stop at a German restaurant (Kutscherschanke on Munzgasse 10) for something more substantial (Scott had sausages and I had a veggie soup) before bracing the cold weather for the walk back to Vinnie.  It may be cold but the sun is shining and loads of people are out in the parks doing a huge variety of sports and just enjoying themselves.

Dresden skyline at night
Dresden skyline at night

The next day it is sunny but still freezing, but we are up and about with an aim to finish the sights.  Scott goes for a morning jog (mad if you ask me) and I stay inside nice and warm and reading of course.  Even though I am not working it is hard to keep up with all the reading I want to do and also write up my book reviews (www.ourbookclub.net.au), not enough hours in the day and I wonder how on earth I managed working full-time, studying full-time and reading.

Bruhl Terrace:  This was a set of private gardens for Count Bruhl but is now a promenade which gives you fantastic views of the surrounding buildings.  Just below Bruhl Terrace is the river which has a large selection of paddle steamers and you can take a trip up or down the river – we elect to do a walk instead especially as I hate boats and being stuck on one just doesn’t appeal.

Procession of Princes, Royal Mews:  This is a strange art work.  Along the side of the transport museum you can see a porcelain depiction of all the Saxon rulers.

 

 

 

Dresden skyline
Dresden skyline

 

 

 

We spend the rest of the day wandering through the streets of the city on both sides of the river having a leisurely lunch back at El Rodizio on Wilsdruffer Str. 22.  As the weather starts to turn to freezing, we finally head back to Vinnie.

7-8 November 2011 – Berlin, Germany

The drive to Berlin was along motorways and we were totally obscured by fog, so didn’t really see too much.  We had picked an Aire in Germany from the Camperstop book but the first one was closed, so we then picked an Aire from the Aires de Camping GPS software and yep, that was closed or didn’t look like it had even existed for ages, so we gave up and looked up an AA Aire and headed towards the Internationale Reisemobilstation which is a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate.  On arrival there was nobody on reception so we headed out for lunch at a local Italian restaurant – loving this Germany food aren’t we.  After a couple of hours we went back and checked in and then headed back out to the supermarket to buy a few staples and Scott bought a mobile phone card for the iPhone, this didn’t work but he had to come back at 5pm when the owner would be there for a refund (we think the guy who gave us the card had cut it wrong).  It is now dark and freezing, so back to Vinnie it is.  At 5pm Scott heads back to the mobile phone shop and gets a new card, but we have to wait a while for it to activate.

Up early and tourist map in hand.  We stop at a Vodafone store as the mobile phone card we bought yesterday still isn’t working to find out that it was someone else’s card, so we bought a new one and it worked instantly – moral of the story don’t buy from a local shop that isn’t the actual provider.

Reichstag (Parliament):  The home to the German government.  Although designed in the 19th century (it originally opened in 1894) it was almost destroyed in 1933 when a mysterious fire broke out and with the blame placed on the Communists, this gave Hitler the perfect opportunity to declare dictatorial powers and should we say the rest if pretty well documented in history.  It also faced massive bombardments in WWII.  After the reunification of Germany it was rebuild with a recent addition of a large glass dome designed by Sir Norman Foster.

the Reichstag
the Reichstag

Brandenburg Gate:  The Acropolis has to be the inspiration for this monument.  Constructed in 1789, there is a fantastic photo of how it looked after WWII and the work to restore it today.  It was the boundary between East and West Berlin and was once integrated into the Berlin Wall.  Around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is a wonderful memorial to the European Jews, very eerie with large concrete blocks in different heights.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

Potsdamer Platz:  This was once one of the most prestigious areas in Berlin, it was the place where Germany’s first traffic light was installed and where the first electric street lights were installed, however it appears to be a building site at the moment and other than large amounts of roadworks, it is hard to work out what the area is.  Yes I know it was flattened during the war, but in the rebuild they could have put some of the glamour back into the area. 

Berlin Wall:  We walked to an area where this is a section of the Berlin Wall along with some information panels, a large section of below the wall and how things were cut off or destroyed. 

 

Now and then
Now and then

 

 

Next door is a large photographic pictorial of the War and the rise and fall of the Nazi’s.  There is so much information in here, that it could easily take up several hours and it is interesting to see some of the photos and descriptions.  It is a strange place and I wondered if some elderly people came in here and saw themselves in the photos in their Nazi uniforms etc, or whether they just ignore the whole thing.

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall

Stallschreiber Strasse:  This area was known as the “Death Zone” and saw the killing of many people who tried to cross the Wall.  There isn’t much left here, but large boarding’s that have been put up show pictures of what the street and area looked like when the wall still stood.

Corner of Zimmerstrasse and Charlottenstrasse:  This is the sign of the shooting to Peter Fechter as he attempted to climb over the Berlin Wall to escape.  A few months later the Wall was demolished.

Site of Checkpoint Charlie:  This is the spot that everyone knows from the Cold War days.  Created in 1961 and was the only border crossing that all Germans were forbidden to use.  It is now a giant tourist attraction and there is also a museum.  If you want your photo taken there are plenty of people dressed up as US or Russian military.

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie

Gendarmenmarkt:  You stumble into this area and it is breathtaking.  The buildings are monumental.  It is also easy to forget it was totally demolished during WWII and rebuilt/restored by the East Germans.  The square’s centrepiece remains the neoclassical theatre (Schauspielhaus) designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1821. Restoration of the French Cathedral here was completed in 1983, and the property was returned to the French Reformed Church. The Schauspielhaus reopened in 1984 as a concert hall.

Königliche Bibliothek (Royal Library):  This library is part of the Humboldt University, which was completed in 1780 and modelled on the Royal Palace (Hofburg) in Vienna.  The library is remembered as the site of Hitler’s infamous book burnings and through a window set in the pavement, you can look below to a small library lined with empty bookshelves which is very evocative.  How can students, or anyone, burn books, you go to school and university to become educated and learn about the world around you!

An empty library
An empty library

Unter den Linden:  We take a quick walk along the Unter den Linden on our way to Alexanderplatz.  The street is a wide boulevard with the East Germans restoring many of the buildings.

Alexanderplatz:  This was the centre for activity in the old East Berlin. It is now an area of really rundown shopping centres etc.  However, we found a great Hari Krishna restaurant to fill ourselves up at before hitting the streets again.

Nikolaiviertel:  restored in 1987 this part of town is where Berlin was originally founded.  Many of the medieval and baroque buildings in the neighbourhood were completely and authentically reconstructed after World War II. Subsequently, some of the city’s old flavour has been recaptured here.  The Nikolaikirche is the oldest in Berlin, was originally constructed in the 14th century on the remains of a 13th-century Romanesque church. The restored building now displays the finds of post-war archaeological digs; during the reconstruction, 800-year-old skeletons   Around the corner from the church is an incredibly lifelike statue of St George slaying a dragon.  I also find my perfect tourist souvenir of a small chip of the Berlin Wall and for under our budget I was suitably chuffed even though Scott thinks it is highly unlikely it is from the wall itself.

Berliner Dom:  constructed between 1894 and 1905, in the style of the High Renaissance and the largest Protestant cathedral in Germany.

Hedwigskirche:  the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Berlin diocese. Begun in 1747 by Frederick the Great and was restored between 1952 and 1963.

The New Synagogue:  Originally consecrated on Rosh Hashanah in 1866, and capped with what’s remembered as one of the most spectacular domes in Berlin, this synagogue was vandalized in 1938 during Kristallnacht, torched by Berliners in 1944, blasted by Allied bombs in 1945, and finally, after about a decade of further deterioration, demolished by the Communist East Germans in the 1950s.  It was inspired by the architecture of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  It has been partially rebuilt, and capped with a gilded dome that’s visible for many surrounding blocks.

We were totally shattered by the end of today and can’t believe we managed to get to see everything on our list – whew.

9 November 2011 – Eland, Germany

Up early as the weather is diabolical and you can hardly see across the Aire.  We are heading to a hill town called Eland to have a break from cities and to hopefully enjoy some quiet.  Berlin is not the quietest city with sirens going off nearly all night long.  The drive is not interesting until we get into the forests, which originally start out as eerie and then the sun breaks through and it is all blue sky.  On arriving in Eland we even crack out the camp chairs and sit in the sun for a while – awesome is the only words we can use to describe that feeling.  Unfortunately as soon as the sun sets it drops to minus lots and we rug up.

Sun and an awesome spot - perfect
Sun and an awesome spot - perfect

 

 

 

10 November 2011 – Horstel, Germany

The drive today is through beautiful countryside, it is interesting and varied.  We are also on the hunt for a gas bottle as we are getting low and with the cold nights we need to use some gas for heating.  We following many wild goose chases until we chance on a small one man garage selling the exact bottle we need – so between his German and our English we hope we have got a good bottle.  We hit the road again and finally find our Aire in Horstel which is on the edge of a canal.  We spend the time watching the huge canal barges go by and they are so quiet it is a really nice setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2-4 November 2011: Czech Republic

2-4 November 2011:  Prague, Czech Republic

Up early for a shower and brekkie before heading out of Vienna and onto the road to Prague.  This is exciting as it has been a huge must see for my whole life.  The roads aren’t too bad, except for the fog which makes seeming anything on either side of the road impossible, let alone the cars coming towards you.  We bought a Vignette for the car at the border which we had to veer off the motorway to get – there really aren’t any notices other than a small sign to say you are crossing the country borders these days within the EU.  We continue on and eventually we come over a hill and there is Prague in front of us, we drive through part of the town where you can already see the wonderful architecture (hmm maybe I should go back to Uni) and headed to Triocamp to park the Motorhome.  The camp is managed by Vlastimil Nemec and he speaks wonderful English and provided heaps of information on how to get the tram, buses, trains etc around the town along with a pile of maps.  It is getting cold and dark so we set up the van and sit down with a bottle of wine reading up on our maps etc all ready for tomorrow.

Up early and pick up our bread rolls from the front counter for cheese on toast brekkie.  We then head off to catch the 162 bus which takes us to Kobylisy and then we take the 17 tram which we got off just near the Charles Bridge.  Already we love Prague – there is so much to see our heads are on swivel sticks.  As soon as we get off the tram and see the massive Prague Castle complex on the hill with the Cathedral, we decide to split the sightseeing into two days instead of one, so today we are off into the Old Town area and leaving the Castle etc until tomorrow.

We do however walk most of the way across Charles Bridge which crosses the river Vltava.  This has to be one of the most beautiful structures to come across.  Dating from the 14th century, Charles Bridge links the castle to the town and although it is now a pedestrian promenade with bands and artists it is also a living art gallery with both sides of the bridge holding about 30 statues.  Of course the beautiful gateways at each end are as much a sculpture as anything else and the Old Town Bridge dates from approximately 1357 (designed for Charles IV) and designed by the same architect who drafted the plans for St. Vitus Cathedral which we are seeing tomorrow.  The statues are all religious in their nature from Madonna, to St Ives, St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas etc including a statue of St Christopher, although he is apparently a saint no more and another of St Francis of Assisi. 

The Charles Bridge
The Charles Bridge

From here we walk back into the Old Town which is full of weaving streets that following the map is almost impossible.  There are loads of shops and interesting things going on around up and we head towards Havel’s Market to an open air market full of local products and souvenirs (there are lots of souvenirs shops here in Prague, so don’t think you will run out).  It is now getting cold so we stop for a coffee and Scott has a local beer (for the grand price of EUR20, even more than in Florence).  Warmed and recaffinated or rebeered in Scott’s case we head off to Wenceslas Square.  We pass a bookstore on the way which had a terrific section of English books, but none that Scott wanted and he lamented his lack of Czech.  We weren’t sure if we were at Wenceslas Square as it really isn’t a square as such, more a grassed area with a huge statue and groups of kids dancing.  So much for being one of the city’s more historic squares.  The only good thing is that we didn’t do a city break from London and stay here, much better to stay in the Old Town.  We continue walking through the streets to The Globe Bookstore where we hope to browse through some books and have a snack.  In the Frommer’s Guide they recommend this restaurant/bookstore a lot.  We arrived, sat down, waited, waited and waited some more and then got up and rugged back up again, on our way out the waitress said she was sorry but she was too busy running around!!  What a waste of time.  We continued back through the streets, now starving and settle for a pizza restaurant – nothing fancy but at least it was hot and there was good service.  So far everyone here speaks English as well which is fantastic. 

We continue back through the streets reaching the Old Town Square and were just in time to see the astronomical clock ring in the new hour.  This is a beautiful square full of churches and old buildings and you can easily spend a lot of time wandering through the churches.  The Old Town Hall’s Astronomical Clock was built in 1410 and isn’t exactly the most accurate; however the clock at the top of the tower is.  The astronomical Clock is meant to mark the phases of the moon, the equinoxes, the seasons, the days, and numerous Christian holidays.  When the clock strikes the hour you are entertained by a variety of doors opening, statues moving and ringing bells and in addition a trumpeter then finishes off the tune. 

They don't make them like this anymore
They don

It is now starting to get a bit dark (it is 4pm after all), so we walk back through Josefov which is the home to the Jewish area before boarding our tram and bus back to the campsite.  Josefov was once a home to approximately 118,000 Jews, but after WWII only 30,000 survived and now only 3,000 live in this area. 

Next morning we are up early(ish) and after another filling brekkie of fresh bread rolls we board the bus and tram to go back into Prague.  We walk back across the Charles Bridge and up towards the castle complex. 

I still can't believe we are here
I still can

This is a lovely walk with loads of restaurants, shops, churches and a whole swag of historical and beautiful buildings. 

Only a small uphill walk.
Only a small uphill walk.

According to Frommer’s Europe you have to be very fit to do this walk but they recommend a taxi – anybody could do this walk, just take it slowly and enjoy the scenery.  We take it slow through the Lesser Town district before we finally reach the hill in Hradcany for a few of the city and wander through the Palace grounds.  You don’t have to pay unless you want to go inside, but after seeing the entrance to St. Vitus Cathedral, I quickly go back and buy a ticket. 

St. Vitus Cathedral:  This Cathedral has to be one of the most spectacular we have seen anywhere in the world.  The Cathedral was originally started in 926AD with most of the current construction taking part in the 14th century.  Even Pope John Paul II came here three times in seven years.  We can understand why – just spend time looking at the stained glass windows, only two of them (I think) were restored after World War II – not bad going.  If they don’t impress you, try the gold mosaics which date from 1370.  Everywhere you look you are surrounded by gorgeous sculptures, architecture and it is difficult to put into words how interesting it all is without using the same words over and over again.  Of course then there is the St. Wenceslas Chapel which is a sight in itself, it is encrusted with Jasper and amethyst and sits atop the gravesite of St Wenceslas.  The royal crypt was closed due to technical issues and didn’t have a re-opening date.  This was worth the entry fee for the Palace complex (250Kz each for the short tour).  We then headed to the Royal Palace

Inside St Vitus Cathedral
Inside St Vitus Cathedral

Royal Palace:  Since the 9th century this Palace has been the home to the Bohemians and the Vladislav Hall was used to host coronations.  There aren’t a lot of rooms, but what is open are interesting and well kept and you also get spectacular views of Prague.  It would certainly have been nice to be a royal living here in the day. 

St. George’s Basilica:  This is Prague’s oldest Romanesque structure and dates from the 10th century.  Inside the church is small but beautifully designed and it is plain in comparison to the more grandiose ideals of the cathedral.  There is also a great carving on the side entrance of St George slaying the dragon.

Golden Lane:  This street is a recreation of the houses that were used up until 1952 by castle workers.  The houses were originally built in the 16th century and you couldn’t complain about how far you had to roll out of bed to get to your desk. 

We leave the castle complex and find a more traditional pub/restaurant for lunch where Scott enjoys a giant port knuckle with potatoes and cabbage along with a beer (Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen), I settled for an omelette, oh the woes of being vegetarian and standing strong in the face of such weakness. 

We head back across Charles Bridge which is now much busier than earlier and back into Old Town.  Scott is on the hunt for a traditional Pilsner glass so that becomes out mission.  After all Pilsner started here.  Eventually after much walking and almost giving up, we found one, so happily we can head back to Vinnie as it is getting dark and cold.  We can honestly say that Prague is one of the best cities we have visited and gives Istanbul a run for its money.