Homeward Bound…. 19/7/19

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Metz is a beautiful town, sitting on the banks of the Mosel river, centralised around its cathedral which is apparently known for its stunning stained glass windows….needless to say we didn’t see them.

Although we had decided to stop in Metz for Bastille Day we didn’t realise that they also had a street festival over the weekend comprising of a mixture of theatre, acrobatics and music – similar to the festival we found in Epinal but not as large.

We headed out to stretch our legs and get our bearings on Friday, found the covered market and lots of beautiful buildings as well as fair number of interesting boutique shops…. mostly food related!! The town was lively and had a lovely atmosphere as it was a sunny Friday afternoon and people were just finishing work and happily filling up the bars.

Saturday morning was absorbed by the market – we have missed a good French market over the last couple of weeks – so managed to spend a small fortune re-stocking with lots of smelly cheese as well as fruit, vegetables and some meat for the BBQ… it all looked lovely and there was so much to choose from.

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After lunch we set off to take a look at the rest of the town and some of the street theatre and although we only managed to see three performances – they were all very good….. above was a musical farce which was followed by a bit of Jazz…

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Then  finally a bit of a mix of mime, acrobatics and I am not sure what… but he was quite amusing!

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Metz is a beautiful city and as part of the tourism set up they offer different walking trails to get to know it better …. we decided to do two on Sunday – the Street Art, which had a special guest taking prime position

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was a little disappointing though.  I think we have been well and truly spoilt by visiting Dunedin and seeing the spectacular street art there,  although there were a few interesting pieces that are worth a photo….

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The second trail we followed in the afternoon took us to see Art and Gardens and it is fair to say that there are lots of green areas in the city and by the time we had finished we had walked to every corner of Metz!

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We got back to Hattie mid afternoon to find that she had a new ‘beau’.  He was slightly intimidating to be honest – A German Concord Liner Plus…. all 11.5m with a car in the back, making Hattie look small with her 8.2m!

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There wasn’t a huge amount going on during the day – I would actually say it was quieter than normal although Sundays are normally fairly peaceful in France –  we were however honoured by a spectacular firework display which are the usual Bastille Day (14th July) celebrations.  Although we have only seen three in France – one in Bagnoles de L’Orne, one in Tain de l’hermitage and now Metz – we don’t have a huge amount to go on but this was certainly up there but I won’t bore you with lots of firework photos….

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Everything quietened down eventually at around 1am  – in addition to the fireworks and so many people being out in the town, Algeria also got through to the AFCON (Football…. for those of you who don’t know) and there is a huge Algerian presence in Metz so the horns were a honking – a lovely atmosphere!

Following a run and a bit of exercise, we sorted ourselves out and set off to find the River Meuse where we were hoping to do some walking. After a quick trip into Belgium by accident – we didn’t realise that vehicles over 3.5 tonnes need a tag for some non-motorway roads – we arrived at Stenay (GPS n 49.489899 e 5.18278 9.40 euro per night).  A lovely, reasonably new aire by a little marina on the canal…. unfortunately with a lack of walking paths.  The maps clearly highlight walking routes and a cycle path in both directions – we tried one way which ended up by the side of a sewage station and then disintegrated into very over-grown grass.  We then tried the opposite direction which just turned into a locked gate on a bridge …. very strange, first time we have come across this but needless to say we gave up, went to the supermarket and walked back to Hattie through town …. a little disappointed but what can you do?

Strangely, we didn’t stay a second night and instead moved on to Bogny-sur-Meuse (GPS n 49.858946 e 4.745107 4 euros a night) where we parked up in a brand new Aire right on the river Meuse…. very nice!

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The cycle path went in both directions along the river so we walked South on Tuesday afternoon and then ventured North on Wednesday.

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Both directions were lovely, tranquil walks passing through a couple of small towns/villages and locks along the way.  It is interesting to spend time on one large river after another – The Meuse is very different to the Mosel as the towns and villages are slightly larger as a whole and the hills that rise away from the river, smaller and further away …. and disappointedly no vine – but beautiful all the same!

We both went for a run before moving on Thursday morning and the river was like a mirror in parts – just beautiful. It is fair to say that the Ardennes are a beautiful part of France and well worth a visit, I don’t know why we haven’t passed through here before.

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We headed even further North, winding our way to the Parc Naturel Regional de l’Avesnois and a little town called Solre-le-Chateau where we found a brand new aire which is currently free of charge (GPS n 50.178645 e 4.090299).  The Aire was so new the tarmac still had that ‘newly laid’ smell and the areas in between the pitches were still just earth but it had everything we needed, is near to a greenway and was peaceful overnight.

We had a nice walk through the woods along the greenway on Thursday afternoon before getting back to the motorhome just before it started to rain for Keith to cook up a lovely Squash Dahl.

The rain fell on and off all night but had stopped by the morning which was good as it meant that our walk in the opposite direction was a good temperature and dry!

The town of Solre-le-chateau doesn’t appear to have a chateau from what we can see but it does have a rather impressive church with a wonky spire which made me smile ….

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Today is our last day in France for now as we have booked the train for tomorrow afternoon. Although we still have 200km to get to Calais we have stocked up on wine and are looking forwards to being back in the UK for the summer and already have a couple of little trips planned!

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Meandering our way up the Mosel….12/7/19

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Whilst out on my run along the river I was happily admiring the scenery and saw something in the water that looked like a slightly larger than a normal duck and on second glance realised it was an otter – I am not sure I have ever seen one swimming in the wild… yes, ashamedly for those non city folk that means not in the zoo – or on TV… what a sheltered life I have lived…. I had a smile on my face all the way back to the motorhome!

Showered and breakfasted we decided to take on the German supermarket – this time it was Globus which was enormous…. far better than IKEA – you could definitely spend the whole day there and people obviously did.  There were a few men who had obviously been left by the bakery on the second floor – there were three in total – sat on benches reading a paper…. I wouldn’t mind but they weren’t having a coffee or eating anything, the cafe and restaurant were on the ground floor!

As we had planned to go into Koblenz we tried very hard to make this a reasonably quick shop but it still took us a good hour or so to extract ourselves from all the interesting cookery items and smoked meats/fish etc.

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We were really impressed by the smoked fish counter and despite google not wishing to tell us what most of the types of fish were we found smoked herring, mackerel (in about eight different varieties), Salmon (again in about five different varieties) and some others …. they all looked delicious but we finally decided on a couple of different types of Mackerel and a smoked herring…. I am sure that we will find more before we leave Germany!

We finally jumped on the bikes and arrived into Koblenz just in time to have our sandwiches whilst watching the world go by.  The cycle route was roughly 8km and took us alongside the Rhine which was only 500m from the Stellenplatz – an easy ride.

Koblenz is where the Rhine joins the Mosel and as a city it is pretty normal, certainly not something you would describe as beautiful but it does have beautiful river walks, several impressively imposing government buildings in addition to an interesting little old town and a good shopping centre.  The point where the rivers join is called Deutsches Eck  ‘German Corner’ – in 1897, a monument of the German Emperor William I mounted on a 14-metre-high horse was inaugurated there and since this point is associated with the (re) foundation of the German Empire and the German refusal of any French claims to the area.

The area is known for its beautiful castles …. unfortunately Koblenz itself doesn’t even have one of those…. it has a fort instead on the opposite bank of the river!

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After a sit down and an ice-cream we found the bikes and headed back to the motorhome for our first taste of proper German sausages on the BBQ…. we were not disappointed, nice and meaty!

After debating whether to stay an extra day and do some more walking we decided to move on and wiggled our way up the Mosel to a little village called Ernst where we stopped at the Moselland Vinyard which has two fairly large Stellenplatz for motorhomes to stay in. (10 euros a night …. which included a 250ml bottle of Riesling wine …. GPS n 50.142628 e 7.231903)  We stopped on the circular area which was pretty much in the vineyard itself and had a walk into Cochems in the afternoon along the Mosel whilst admiring the steeply vineyard lined hills.

When we got closer to Cochems we were struck by the real Germanic Mosel beauty that everyone talks about, picturesque town on the river edge, steep hills and a fairy tale castle …. what more could you ask for?

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In need of a toilet and a sit down we stopped for a drink and dared to try another Black Forest Gateaux despite not being in the Black Forest… shame on us!!

The cafe was called ‘Becker’ – my maiden name – so we felt the need to try it – although we may be doing a lot of eating and drinking if we followed that method in Germany – and although the service was appalling, the gateaux was ok.  Difficult to follow on from the last one but it wasn’t bad which is probably a compliment!

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Feeling well rested – well I did say the service was slow – we finally made it back to Hattie just as it started to rain…. the heatwave was about to break!

Dinner was the smoked herring and mackerel that we bought on Friday and we can confirm that it was delicious…

It rained on and off all night and until about 10am on Sunday providing us with a refreshing start to the day rather than the 23 + degrees at 8am we have been used to over the last couple of weeks!

We jumped on the bikes and went in the opposite direction to Cochem up the Mosel for just under 20km which got us to Bremm.  A pretty ride taking in a few villages along the way, including Ediger which had a fire fighting competition going on and on the opposite river bank, Beilstein which was probably the prettiest village we came across on the ride,  demonstrating some of the steepest vineyards in Europe….shame the sun was in the wrong position for a decent photo!

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The temperature had dropped overnight finally, providing a lovely 14 degrees for a run and exercise, so feeling refreshed we set off to our next port of call Traben-Trabach (12 euros inc. elec. GPS n 49.9585 e 7.10302).

The Stellenplatz was lovely and we decided to set out for a little walk around the towns in the afternoon – Traben is on one side of the river and Trabach, the other. We were a little disappointed as they were both a little depressed and run down with many empty shops – something we haven’t seen a huge amount of to date in Germany but there was development going on in the town to create a new Spa so hopefully things will pick up soon!

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Once again we decided to stay for two nights, so on Tuesday we jumped on the bikes and rode another 22km up the Mosel to Berkanstel-Kues a much prettier town – also split by the river – unfortunately packed with tourists as all the cruises stop here.

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Once again, we also took advantage of the weather and the fact that we are on a site where we can do a BBQ and made pizzas when we got back in the evening.  As they say all good things come out of mistakes, this time we made the wrong quantity of dough – too little – and I think we have now perfected the thin crust pizzas!!

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I headed out for another morning run along the river and saw no-one – not even dog walkers – which still surprises me as 8-9am is such a lovely peaceful time of the day… amazing light and so tranquil…. he ho, their loss!

Another hop along the Mosel and we got to Piesport (8 euros GPS n 49.872799 e 6.9272), another beautiful Stellenplatz on the banks of the Mosel, surrounded by vineyards.

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We knew we were forecast a bit of rain over the next few days so took advantage of the afternoon and headed out along the river to take in the views. This part of the Mosel is definitely one of the most beautiful parts we have visited with a silky smooth river and vineyards stretching up the sides of the hills….

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We also managed to get another sneaky BBQ in before the weather turned as we found some chicken legs and Keith did a lovely Cajun rub.

The rain arrived on Thursday at around 9am and continued on and off most of the day.  We hung around for the morning hoping it would lighten, eventually going  out after lunch in the opposite direction for a walk to stretch our legs and see a couple of the other little villages along the Mosel.  Amazingly, it stopped raining for the return journey, drying us off by the time we got back to Hattie just before the skies opened again…. all the more reason to have a lovely Chilli Con Carne for dinner…. yumm!  There is no such thing as bad weather …. it is just a good excuse to eat different food!

Piesport was our last stop in Germany this time round as we had decided to head to Metz for the weekend and more importantly – Bastille Day!

We decided to stick to the Mosel for the majority of the route despite the SatNav wanting to take us into Luxembourg! The route was pretty, especially when we got past Trier and we were travelling on the left bank of the river and Luxembourg was on the right bank.  Although Keith passed through a few years ago, I have yet to set foot in Luxembourg …. although we possibly should have gone in to fill up with fuel before we got to France as there weren’t any fuel stations on our side of the river in Germany!

We crossed back over into France after two fantastic weeks in Germany and after a bit of Deja Vu – my fault as we missed the turning – we finally got to Camping Municipal Metz (28.60 euro for a vehicle over 3.5 tonne GPS 49.125702 e 6.17068) mid afternoon and after a bit of a ‘discussion’ regarding the price, we parked up and plan to be here until Monday …. hopefully they celebrate Bastille Day in style!

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In search of Black Forest gateaux… 4/7/19

Kehl is a pretty normal town and as we went for a walk round on Friday afternoon we were surprised to find that cigarettes are obviously a lot cheaper in Germany as the number of ‘border’ tobacco shops in town was proportionally high!  Although it did seem to have a fair number of nice cafes and restaurants and a lovely cycle path and park along the Rhine….. oh and a UFO.  Yep, randomly on the Rhine bank there was a UFO.

Although we had finally arrived in Germany we were cheating really as we only slept there, I went for a run in the morning along the German side of the Rhine and then we caught the tram back over into France to go and have a look round Strasbourg!!

The slow introduction to Germany was a relief really as I am embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of the language. Someone came up to me just before I set off on my run on Saturday morning asking how to get somewhere and I barely managed to get out ‘no spreiche Deutsche ….’ which I now know should actually be ‘Ich Spreche Kein Deutsch’ or better still – ‘Tut mir leid, Ich Spreche Kein Deutsch’ Which would be ‘I am sorry, I don’t speak German’…. best get practising if we are going to be here for a couple of weeks!

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As it has been so warm, pollution levels were high (although not noticeably to us), so we benefitted from free Trams as they try to encourage people to use public transport rather than taking their cars – such a great idea, I wish they would do the same in the UK.

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We were very pleasantly surprised by Strasbourg as we had thought that going in on a hot Saturday would be a bad idea but it wasn’t too busy and possibly because of all the canals and rivers, it had a lovely calm and open feel to it.

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On the far side of the centre is the covered bridge (Barrage Vauban ) which you can walk up on top of and take in the views back over Strasbourg (as above), as well as walk inside and admire the gargoyle’s and statues.

The Barrage Vauban was built in the 17th Century and used to be known as ‘The Big Lock’ as each of the 13 small arches can be closed off to create a lock or a dam.  However it is now only used as a viewing platform (on top) and a museum (below) nowadays.

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The area near the Barrage Vauban is known as Petit France and is probably the  prettiest part of Strasbourg if you like the traditional Tudor style architecture.  Although everywhere we went was lovely really…. that was possibly helped by the lovely boutique shops,  gourmet patisseries and delicatessens.  We were helped through the day by some artisanal ice cream mid afternoon whilst we had a quick rest in the shade.

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As Cathedrals go, the Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre- Damme is an incredible centre piece of gothic architecture.  The photos don’t do it justice as it is only from a distance that you can see the delicate stonework to the towers that are open to the elements.

Apparently it is considered to be one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Europe and for centuries it was the tallest building …although those days are long gone!!

Strasbourg’ed out, we jumped back on the tram and headed the 5km or so back over to Kehl in Germany to get some air flowing through Hattie.  It was a warm evening and Keith had made a Quiche so we didn’t have too much to prepare, although we weren’t expecting the entertainment that accompanied it.

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At around 9pm the music started up and we were apparently benefitting from free tickets to some kind of concert which had cover bands from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and some 00’s who were pretty good thankfully as it carried on until 1am and there was a separate firework display at around 23:15.  What with the heat and the music not much sleep was had but it was an interesting evening!

On Sunday morning we set off to Baden Baden, a Spa town roughly 50km from Kehl where we parked up at a Stellenplatz just outside the town (12 Euros a night GPS n 48.782399 e 8.20361).

Sunday had been forecasted to be the hottest day yet and it was 37+ degrees and unfortunately the site didn’t have much shade.  After a bit of lunch we took a walk into Baden Baden along the treelined cycle/footpath which ran alongside the Stellenplatz to be met by beautiful colonial architecture and green areas.

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The town oozes wealth and although the majority of the very large buildings were hotels, the smaller ones like the above were still private residences.

As the town isn’t very large you quickly get to the huge park area which follows the river Oos up into the hills and on to the next town.  We just walked along the side of the river for a couple of miles but it felt like you were in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by the sound of water running alongside you as they had cleverly built steps into the river so you could hear the water flowing at all times!

On the way back, closer into the town we were surprised to see a gentleman walking his dog….. and pony – obviously something he does every afternoon, both on a lead – the dog leading and the pony dragging its hooves!

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Of all the beautiful buildings, the Trinkhall (Pump room) is probably the most beautiful building in the town in my eyes and it sits alongside the Casino and hotel which are slightly more understated.

We had decided to visit Baden Baden not only because we had heard it was a beautiful town but also as it is in the Black Forest and apparently its a pretty good place to try the traditional Black Forest Gateaux.  Based on reviews we homed in on Cafe Koenig which is a traditional cafe and patisserie and despite the 37 degrees we ordered Black Forest Gateaux but to complement it, Black Forest Sundae as well….. what a treat!!

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The Black Forest Gateau was light and fluffy with a biscuit base which we didn’t expect and a good balance of Kirsch soaked cherries which made it not too sweet or rich.  The Black Forest Sundae was amazing….. the warm cherries were drowning in Kirsch then covered with homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream, a little chantilly cream (not too much), flaked chocolate and meringue to finish it off… heavenly!

Not really the kind of thing for a hot afternoon but exceptions must be made!  Needless to say that it was quite nice just to have smoked mackerel and salads for dinner as we didn’t need a huge amount!

German law mandates that kirschwasser (Kirsch liquor) must be present in the cake for it to be labelled a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateaux). Additionally, it is not considered to be a legal Black Forest Cake in Bavaria without the liquor from the Black Forest cherry…. it is a very serious topic!!

The weather forecast had said that from Sunday night the temperatures would start to drop, however it was probably the warmest overnight that we had had, only going down to about 27 degrees…. it was a slow run into the park in the morning for me but we both felt better after a bit of exercise and a shower to cool us down!

We noticed that there was a supermarket not too far from the Stellenplatz so ventured over to do our first German shop and we can confirm that we like Germany!!  Although we were constantly looking up words on google translate they had a great variety of produce, both fresh and otherwise …. and they even had Skyr yoghurt ….. whehey!

Keith was hoping to get some good German beer and we were both a bit confused as initially we couldn’t find anything except a few bottles of Pilsner… and then the doors opened into the Beer room!!  As expected the Germans take Beer seriously and it has its own dedicated warehouse!!

What we hadn’t completely understood however was the recycling/single/Multi usage – the Pfand system – deposit which are complicated.  Keith was opting for cans of beer as not only are they better for the motorhome but we also thought they wouldn’t have an additional fee for the receptacle…. how wrong we were.

So apparently it works like this…. Any single use drink receptacle has a 25 cent charge, any glass drinks bottle has an 8 cent charge – the higher charge is supposed to discourage people from purchasing single usage drinks – i.e. cans of Coca Cola or beer etc.  The 8 cent charge can be refunded if you take the bottles back to the store with your receipt.  Good concept, how many people actually do it is another question…. but next time we will be buying glass bottles that is for sure.  The weird thing is that they only have the tax on drinks containers and not on food???

Anyway, after sorting the shopping we hit the road and finally made it to the Concorde factory (GPS n 49.7677 e 10.5646) where there is a Stellenplatz open to all.

After parking up we popped down to the reception to check that it was ok to stay only to find that the showroom was shut until Wednesday ….. we aren’t having a huge amount of luck with our trip to Concorde!!

We had also thought that we would be able to go and look at the Phoenix motorhomes as their factory is next door but quickly realised that there wasn’t a showroom so after a quick walk round the village and a bit of lunch we jumped on the bikes and headed over to the Morello Factory (the other big motorhome builders in the area) all of 8km away.

Morello was set up by a couple of Directors who left Concorde roughly ten years ago and it is fair to say that their motorhomes are of a quality build and fairly attractive…. although we didn’t see anything that would make us change…. at the moment at least!

On Wednesday morning we finally managed to get into the Concorde showroom and we have decided that we would currently still be faithful … although they didn’t have the exact model that we liked, by looking at the front end of one and the rear of another we think we have a future potential!!  It’s all theory though as we are really happy with Hattie and aren’t thinking of making any changes for a while!!

Whilst jumping between motorhomes we met a lovely english couple (Terry and Wenda) and ended up chatting for over an hour…. always good to exchange knowledge and experiences….although even better if over a glass of wine/beer!  However, realising the time and that we had a fairly long drive ahead of us we made our excuses and set off on the road towards Koblenz.

Although the roads are excellent in Germany there is a huge amount of traffic and a higher proportion of Trucks and even though there are no speed limits on the majority of the motorways there are over taking restrictions if you weigh more than 3.5 tonnes and we ended up stuck behind slow trucks on several occasions.  This was nothing however, as when we got to Frankfurt we decided to ignore the Sat Nav… we won’t be doing that again …. and continue on said route rather than turning off and taking a road closer into Frankfurt…. it was getting close to rush hour after all….

A 4 hour journey ended up taking just under 7 hours…. there was obviously a really bad accident and the road was closed and we just sat there … moved ten meters, then sat there…. finally arriving at our Stellenplatz just outside Koblenz just before 8:30pm …. thankfully there was still a spot for us as it was pretty full!  (11 euros a night GPS n 50.309101 e 7.59798).

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The Germans looked at us as though we had two heads … probably for turning up and eating so late but the temperature started to cool down a little, we had a lovely dinner with a bit of wine to ease the stress and we slept really well…. all was good!

We woke, did our exercise and took advantage of the Stellenplatz being slightly more like a campsite to do some washing before heading out for a lovely walk along the river Lahn…. we decided we will stay more than just a couple of nights!

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