The Great Escape

427 nights : 15,432 miles travelled : countries visited: 20

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”  Hans Christian Anderson

Insurances. Pensions. Tax returns. Letting agreements. Bank accounts. We faced up to twelve months worth of the essential  poppycock of modern life in Britain. We cleaned and gardened ready to let the house for another year. And we put ourselves and Brian through MOTs. Brian passed with flying colours while we were reminded that we’re not getting any younger. We took part in the most significant referendum in a generation and were completely disorientated by the result. That’s more than enough of being a grown up. The trail has called us back, and this time it is taking us north, north and further still.

Passing through Belgium and Germany, our travelling senses quickly returned. Everything looks brighter, sounds clearer and the the ordinary feels special. We made for Lüneburg, 30 miles southeast of Hamburg and relished in the novel but strangely familiar streetscapes, food and voices.

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Yay we’re back on the road!!

Lüneburg is another Hanseatic town (we’ve seen a few!) and historically it’s wealth was mined from salt under the streets of the old quarter. The excavations caused significant subsidence, the results of which can still be seen. The leaning towers and gables added quirkiness to a lively town and we were very happy to be exploring again!

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The spire on the Church of St John does lean slightly but my photography straightened it!
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McDonald’s looks ready to fall over in this picture but seemed perfectly upright in real life!

 

However the destination for this summer is Scandinavia so the wheels on our snail kept turning. The border into Denmark was the first manned crossing we passed for a long time but we were waved through. This happens a lot. Is it because we’re grey?

Pitched at a beautiful marina just before we left the peninsula of Jutland, we caught up with laundry and caught our breath. The Danish vikings traded and raided in East Anglia and we could see why they (temporarily) made it their home. We found their flat arable land, big skies and sea breeze comforting.

 

Denmark is made up of more than 400 islands, of which 70 are inhabited. The largest are now linked by bridges and we followed the main route over the Little Belt from Jutland to Funen and the Great Belt Bridge which connects Funen with Zealand. Water is never far away even when you reach the capital. Copenhagen goes to the top of our friendliest cities chart, even after driving through the centre at rush hour!

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The first of many Viking Troll encounters

We joined a free walking tour as we find this a great way to orientate ourselves and learn about the history of a new place and it’s people. All the walks we have done were very entertaining as well as informative. We were suspicious about them at first….nothing is for free, right? But the guides ask only what you feel you want to pay, even if that is nothing. We have always found them to be worth a lot more. Søren battled through some bonkers rain showers to explain, among other things, that Danish kings are alternately named Christian or Frederick.  The current Queen Margrethe II is only the second Queen in Danish history and her talent as an artist, her relationship with the people and her reluctance to give up smoking has made her very popular. Hans Christian Anderson lived at several addresses in the city having moved there as a teenager. He took up writing only after failing as an actor and singer, with his fairy tales eventually becoming embedded in modern culture.

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The Round Tower built in 1642, is the oldest functioning observatory with a 3m telescope

 

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Nyhavn is filled with wooden boats and surrounded by busy bars and restaurants
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but is too crowded for a swim
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Copenhagen’s iconic attraction is there somewhere
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A lot of children and pensioners were elbowed out of the way for this shot!

Denmark is separated from Sweden by the Øresund Strait and connected again by the Øresund Bridge which together with a tunnel, takes road vehicles and trains between the two countries. As with the other bridge crossings we found it exhilarating to ‘fly’ over the sea above birds and boats. We were stopped at the border this time. The migrant crisis earlier this year led to a break from 60 years of passport free travel between the Nordic countries, and a friendly customs officer welcomed us to Sweden. She also commiserated with us over the referendum result. This has happened frequently. Germans, Danes and Swedes have told us how sad they are about Brexit and wished us well. The Swedish customs officer even invited us to move there!

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Sadly we do not have time to explore Sweden in depth but we did briefly head south to visit Ystad, which is the setting for Henning Mankel’s fictional detective Kurt Wallander. We have really enjoyed both Swedish and British television adaptations but I have to confess I was more wishfully interested in spotting Kenneth Branagh than in finding locations!

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The beach by the marina had the finest sand in Europe…so far

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It is a really attractive town with a variety of traditional buildings and cobblestone streets.

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One town square had a food festival with specialities from around Europe. We were bemused to find a British stall offering fudge, marmite and an admirable collection of china!

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Love it or hate it?
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Fancy a cuppa?

A highlight of our time in Ystad was hearing the mournful horn blowing from St Maria’s Church tower every 15 minutes after 9.15pm. It is thought that this dates from the 17th century when a Watchman warned of any unwelcome intruders or fires in the town. The tradition was revived recently and we walked to the church at 10pm to hear the horn up close but more importantly, to spot the end of the horn protruding from the little window below the clock. We were very excited to see the Watchman’s arm ( yes a real man with a real arm!) waving at us when he had finished. We waved back….I actually jumped up and down and waved. We then turned to leave and saw two small boys behind us, probably the more likely target of the Watchman’s greeting! Hummm….

Tjolöholms Slott was built in the Arts and Crafts style and the both castle and gardens have a very English feel. There was even a Jane Austen exhibition featuring costumes from that period. It offered the most peaceful camperstop and we enjoyed a blissful hour watching barley sway then took Mr Kips for a paddle at the beach.

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Our escape is complete. Stress has been left somewhere beyond those bridges and the paperwork will still be there when we get back. Now it’s onwards and northwards!

M & G xx

Treat Of The Week: Copenhagen lays claim to more than 15 Michelin starred restaurants but still makes a big deal about the national dish which is, lets face it, just half a sandwich. But we feel honour bound to celebrate it here!

 

Back to the future

406 nights : 13,676 miles travelled : countries visited: 17

The future rewards those who press on.      Barack Obama

Now, we know that you’ve been thinking that all this snail trail malarkey is just one long holiday. Yet we had started to believe it was hard work.  Reflecting on what had already happened for the blog, planning where to go next, whilst remembering to enjoy the present at the same time can be challenging. Then we arrived back in the UK. It was a joy to catch up with family and friends but within days, we appreciated how fortunate we had been to step off the merry go round of real life. So after a hectic 10 weeks, we can finally tell you about our journey home.

Lake Maggiore bridges Italy with Switzerland and the stunning scenery surrounding it’s shores flow from one country to the next. But you are immediately clear that  you have moved on. We cannot overstate how tidy and orderly Switzerland is, and after the casual wonkiness of southern Europe, we both felt slightly unnerved. Urban areas resembled scenes from the Truman Show and we struggled to find countryside that was truly wild. Everywhere was so well managed.

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We spotted this footpaths officer more than five kilometres from the nearest town

This did not reduce the impact of the mountains, rivers and lakes and it was easy to float into the tranquility and beauty surrounding us.

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Rivers, lakes and mountains also help to define the lovely city of Lucerne in Central Switzerland.

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The octagonal water tower is a 13th century fortification

The Chapel Bridge was originally built in 1333 although much had to be rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1993. Not all the painted panels dating from the 17th century were replaced providing a stark reminder of the fire damage.

 

Interlaken really does sit between two lakes and is a hub of extreme sport and endless activity. We settled for leisurely walks and let Mr Kips raise our average speed!

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Our chances of spotting Heidi always felt high!

The picture box beauty of Switzerland was just as we hoped and the cost of living as high as we expected. We decided to spend our remaining Swiss Francs on lunch and chocolate on our last day but with a burger and fries for two costing nearly 50 pounds, there was barely enough for half a bar of Toblerone!

Our plan to visit the Black Forest was abandoned after days of heavy rain left the dark trees steaming and waterways resembling Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. So we decided to visit the border village of Schengen. As major beneficiaries of the agreement that allows free movement across borders in Europe, and in light of all the uncertainty surrounding the future, we came to pay our respects. The village is near to where the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg meet and the river was close to flooding. We hoped this wasn’t a bad omen!

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The agreement was signed on a boat on the River Moselle, marked by this visitor centre

Sections of the Berlin wall were a poignant reminder of a darker time when Europe was divided by more than checkpoints and customs booths.

Throughout the year, whenever ( read often!) we found it difficult to move on, we promised ourselves that we would return. We retraced our steps to the Mullerthal region in Luxembourg which was reassuring as it proved a return visit is possible, if not often likely. 

Graham was in charge of the route home, which meant we would always be close to waterways. The role of the Canal du Centre in keeping lorries of the road was dramatically boosted by the building of the Strépy-Thieu boat lift. It reduced travelling time on that section of the canal from four days to one and meant that larger barges were able to transport heavier goods.

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Two counter balanced caissons move boats between the downstream and upstream reaches
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The boat lift bridges a height difference of 250 feet and the viewing platform made an old canal fan very happy!
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The four original lifts are now on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Our last night was in France in preparation for the journey home. We had already decided that we were not ready to give up the nomadic life of the trail and we were heading back for a pitstop not a return. This was a great reminder that there is a wonderful life in the UK to resume some time in the future. But for now the trail is leading us back across the Channel!

M & G x

Treat of the week: We love the journey through the Channel Tunnel. It is so convenient when chauffering a dog and it never fails to impress us as a feat of engineering. Our journey to Folkestone was made more special by being the first to enter our section of the train and driving up the empty carriage was like time travel, although it wasn’t clear if travelling home was going back or forwards?

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