An A to Z of snailing!

51 nights : 2,042 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5

“If in the years to come, you meet a man who says, “I was at Arnhem”, raise your hat and buy him a drink”.  Alan Wood – British war correspondent

A is for Aachen . We dipped our toe into Germany in a great place that sits close to the border between Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. Quirky, with gorgeous shops in narrow streets and a 1200 year old cathedral, Aachen also has the most number of fountains we’ve seen in one place and 3 thermal spas, so would be a great destination for a ‘girlie’ weekend when the Christmas market is on. (Anyone?!)

A promising glimpse.
A promising glimpse.
Trying to blend in with the locals!
Trying to blend in with the locals!
Reminiscent of Montmatre
Reminiscent of Montmatre

We bumped into a lovely German from Northern Ireland when we arrived. Tom gave us tips on using the local transport system and his daughter Orla told Graham about spaghetti ice cream, finding which became his mission.

Mission accomplished!
Mission accomplished!
I knew patience would be rewarded.
I knew patience would be rewarded.

The cathedral is a mixture of architectural styles but at it’s heart lies the octagonal church built by Charlemagne in the ninth century. The site became his burial place and where more than 30 German kings were crowned. The stone throne is still there as are two gold encased shrines. It’s a beautiful and fascinating place and we’ve just never been in a building so old.

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Our memories of Aachen will always be enhanced by the friendliness and kindness we encountered. We arrived in the city centre at the same time as a terrific thunderstorm. Elated after nearly two weeks of stifling heat and though tempted to do a Gene Kelly, we took shelter under parasols outside a restaurant. While Graham was in ordering bratwurst and beer, a local couple saw that  Kipper and I were going to be saturated by the rain just starting to hit the ground in stair rods. They insisted on giving us their seats inside and told the staff to welcome Kipper, who duly brought him a bowl of water, a complimentary sausage and a tickle of the ears. Aaah…chen!

Graham highlighting the unique blend of caroliningian, gothic and baroque architecture
Graham highlighting the unique blend of caroliningian, gothic and baroque architecture
Struggling to hold Kipper's attention
Struggling to hold Kipper’s attention

The respite from the heat was short and we decided to head North. We visited the Hoge Veluwe national park in the Netherlands a few years ago and the thought of camping in a deep forest was very appealing. We found a campsite by Grinkel Heath, across from the First Airborne Memorial at the site that was Drop Zone Y where hundreds of paratroopers landed to take part in Operation Market Garden. ‘A Bridge Too Far’ was one of those Saturday afternoon movies that left on me a lasting impression of what a desperate struggle war can be. The Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Oosterbeek tells the story of the military operation and graphically portrays the consequences for the local population, who were punished by the German army for supporting the allied forces in their struggle for liberation. The experience has never been forgotten and we spoke to a man in the town who had collected munitions from the riverbank as a child and knew their significance through stories from his grandfather. His finds, along with other local collections are within the museum.

 

"They shall rise up with wings as eagles"
“They shall rise up with wings as eagles”

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The forest delivered lower temperatures and we enjoyed our first rainy day which became our first lazy day.

ZzzzzzzZzzzzzzz.....
Zzzzzzz…Zzzzzzzz…..Zzzzzzz…….Zzzzzzzzz

The local walks were crisscrossed by excellent cycle paths which put some Belgian roads to shame! There were warnings about wild boar and we saw much evidence of these but happily they are more shy of us than we of them.

A 3 day stick
A 3 day old stick
The boars got to this first
The boars got to this stick  first!
Fantastic cycle ways
Fantastic cycle ways

As the skies brightened we decided to keep heading North and see the sea. The Netherlands are not flat. You think so and then you drive into Friesland. The horizon is invisible beyond miles of green hay fields, bordered with dykes guarded by storks and herons. There are pocket fields with small business-like sheep and huge freisian cows, pied and familiar. Skies are dotted with lapwing. Even the man-made structures seem to spread low to the ground.  You would not expect such a landscape to be exhilarating, especially after living close to the English Fens,  but we both had wide smiles for miles.

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Lauwersoog is close to the point at which the sea was finally closed to Lauwersmeer to create a unique watery haven for wildlife and sailors. There is also enough to make the perfect Friday night for landlubbers….a pleasant walk, fish and chips and a gorgeous view to enjoy a bottle of wine by. Lauwervly!20150710_175602[1] 20150710_184826[1]

Z is for Zoutkamp.  A few kilometres around Lauwersmeer lies an old fishing village which was separated from it’s main fishing heritage when the sea was dammed in 1969. The  Visserjimuseum tells a story of fishing life at sea and the community on land that mirrors the tales told at Trues Yard in King’s Lynn. Remarkably, it emerged that our guide had fished out of Boston and King’s Lynn during his working life. (This was relayed despite him not speaking English and me not speaking Dutch!) It’s such a small world.

The fishing museum was once a bouy maintenance shed and store
The fishing museum was once a bouy maintenance shed and store.
Pieter explaining how gas bouys lit up to make the coast safe.
Pieter explaining how gas bouys lit up to make the coastline safe.
The old fisherman's cottage interior is almost identical to the one in King's Lynn
The old fisherman’s cottage interior is almost identical to the one in King’s Lynn
The kiln was used to bake cockle shells for use in construction.
The kiln was used to bake cockle shells for use in construction.
Zoutkamp has a unique feel.
Zoutkamp has a unique feel.
The ZK 31 was once a lifeboat on a steamer.
The ZK 31 was once a lifeboat on a steamer.
Kipper loved his first boat trip!
Kipper loved his first boat trip!
Pleasure boats now sit where fishing boats once were.
Pleasure boats now sit where fishing boats once were.

Groningen is the city with the youngest average age in The Netherlands. We had intended it to be our last destination before we crossed back into Germany. Unfortunately it must have been a  young person who designed the parking meters and as old people, we could not work out how to use them. Therefore we only got a passing glimpse of the fifteenth century Martini Tower, the innovative museum and the antiques market on the pretty streets. Another time!

M x

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Treat of the week: Printen. Unique to Aachen and beautifully displayed in shop windows.  Like lebkuchen in Germany. Not like Grasmere gingerbread. Many varieties….all delicious with coffee.

Moan of the month: Many campsites charge extra for showers. You put a euro or fifty cent coin in the slot and get 5 minutes of hot water in return. Five minutes is plenty of time to wash top to toe but when time is limited, it feels like a rush. I especially hate the models which have a clock counting down your precious seconds. Last week, having ergonomically arranged my lotions and potions in order of use, I undressed and put the coin in the slot. It was immediately returned and refused to work four times. I would have to move to another cubicle. Everything was packed back into the bag, I carefully arranged the towel to avoid traumatising the men washing up next door and then …  I mindlessly tried the coin back in the same slot. It worked! The water immediately started flowing and I lost precious minutes scrabbling to unpack the bag again. Bah! It put me in a bad mood all day.

For Sure

44 nights : 1,599 miles travelled : Countries visited: 3

“It’s too darn hot”  Cole Porter

Why is everyone not visiting Luxembourg? It’s wonderful here!

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We had planned a week of quietly camping by a river to recharge our batteries and were amazed to find just what we were looking for in Luxembourg. Camping de la Sure is in lovely Reisdorf. The village has a boulangerie, a bar and a restaurant, a part time post office and… an ATM….the height of civilisation in Graham’s view!

Most important is the opportunity to sit quietly by the Sure and watch the wildlife in front of us. Wagtails working all day feeding young in the willow tree, cormorants and herons gliding low over the river and a red kite soaring high above. When the sun eventually sank we even had neon fireflies in the long grass on the bank. A first for us and they don’t look anything like the Disney version! Lots of water vole holes but the only one we saw was a stowaway in Kipper’s bed and luckily Graham was quick enough to rescue him before he escaped into Brian’s cupboards.

This is a good game!
This is a good game!

Kipper must have heard our sighs of relief and relaxation as we pitched up. Within 20 minutes of arriving he had thrown his favourite toy into the river, dug up two ant nests and snapped an awning pole….more gaffer tape required.

Cheers!
Cheers!

Our neighbours are mostly Dutch with a few Belgians. This makes it hard to know how to greet people in the mornings. Is it Dag, Morgen or Bonjour? An abrupt “Moh” with chin down and a nod of the head seems to work for all. We are ashamed of our lack of language skills when so many people we meet speak good English. Luckily we all smile in the same language!

SAM_4280There are some great walks from the village and one led us to the border with Germany….we hadn’t realised we were so close. Luxembourg is quite unlike anywhere we have been in Europe but it did remind us of Singapore! It is so neat and tidy. Every day, roadsides are manicured by an orange army of mowers, strimmers and sweepers. Residents take great pride in front gardens, neatly arranged hard landscaping and bright plants in pots.

Luxembourgers are not afraid of colour!
Luxembourgers are not afraid of colour!

We were in the area known as Luxembourg’s ‘Little Switzerland’ featuring forests and meadows. The nearby Mullerthal trails offer great forest walks with bizarre rock formations and sparkling streams. We expected Gandalf to appear around every corner. This was the only way to get out and about during the heatwave. Set off early to walk in the trees and paddle in the water before the heat of the day drives you to melt into the chair under the awning.SAM_4418 SAM_4417 SAM_4389 SAM_4357 SAM_4348

Luxembourg is no bigger than a large county in England and is dotted with castles and ruins. We loved the little town of Vianden whose glorious castle had once been a ruin, having been sold to a scrap merchant, but was restored by the Duchy in the 1970’s. Although a tourist trap, we explored on a quiet Monday and  enjoyed the old streets, the new fountains and views of the castle from all sides.

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Our 7 night stay extended to 11 as we chose to wilt in 36+ degrees by the river rather than on the road. Kipper and Graham found their own way to keep cool with Kipper fishing for sticks and Graham fishing for Kipper. He was not a confident swimmer before we arrived, but after days playing in the river had well and truly mastered doggy paddle and more.

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From now on he can get his own toys out of the water!

M & G xx

Treat of the week: for Brian, it was hiding in the shade, snuggling up close to a gorgeous 1977 Hymer.

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