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.

P1080641
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!

P1080659
The spire on the Church of St John does lean slightly but my photography straightened it!
P1080655
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!

P1080686
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.

P1080684
The Round Tower built in 1642, is the oldest functioning observatory with a 3m telescope

 

P1080721
Nyhavn is filled with wooden boats and surrounded by busy bars and restaurants
P1080726
but is too crowded for a swim
P1080766
Copenhagen’s iconic attraction is there somewhere
P1080764
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!

P1080787

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!

P1080824
The beach by the marina had the finest sand in Europe…so far

P1080811

 

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

P1080790

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!

P1080796
Love it or hate it?
P1080799
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.

P1080830P1080826

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!

 

A Lidl Bit Further

102 nights : 3,897 miles travelled : Countries visited: 7

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks”     Tennessee Williams

Brian outside Lidl in Berchtesgaden, Germany
Brian outside Lidl in Berchtesgaden, Germany

One of the things we most looked forward to on our trip was lazily wandering local markets for fresh produce. Unfortunately we have come across surprisingly few, so most shopping has been at a supermarket. We weaned Kipper onto Lidl dog food before we left home as they have 10,000 branches across Europe and so far, we have used 15 branches in 7 countries for basic supplies. There is quite a bit of variation between all the Lidls so I am still walking the aisles open mouthed, head going side to side Wimbledon style, trying to work out what is what. There is no end to the unidentifiable things you can find in a jar.

After our wonderful week in Oberammergau, we moved a lidl bit further into the Alps via Chiemsee, a huge inland lake that has several resorts around it.

SAM_5842

It was our first experience of  arriving at a stellplatz that didn’t exist and we only just managed to bag the last tiny pitch on a very overpriced campsite right by the lake. The owners were making the most of the August demand and gorgeous weather so it was like camping at a music festival. Still, it was surprisingly easy to get away from the crowds and find a corner of the lake to ourselves. It was wonderful to swim in the endless still water with the mountains gathered around, making you feel very small indeed.

SAM_5766 SAM_5783  SAM_5785

It's not still water when Kipper's around
It’s not still water when Kipper’s around

King Ludwig II also loved Chiemsee but he was able to buy an island in the middle to escape the crowds. It was here that he built his tribute to the French King Louis XIV with a palace modelled on Versailles. SAM_5827 

We took a boat trip out to see Herrenchiemsee on the island Herreninsel

SAM_5832 SAM_5791

The palace was fascinating (it helped that the tour guide looked and sounded like Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp…I would have found a tour of King’s Lynn bus station interesting with him!) and the finished state rooms were somehow more breathtaking than those in Versailles. (Annoyingly no photographs allowed.) However the extraordinary sections of the palace are the unfinished parts. Ludwig ran out of money but had the foresight to put a steel and glass roof over them and it was fascinating to see a stately building naked of the decorative finery. The whole project epitomised Ludwig’s autocratic ideas of monarchy which unfortunately for him were outdated. He was a king lost in his own time.

We then moved a lidl bit further to where the Alpine scenery was more intense and the focus was more on winter activities.

SAM_5852

No Alpen but the Alps
No Alpen but the Alps
Inzell
Inzell

Inzell is a place that seemed to be waiting for the winter season and we were fascinated by the strings of young people on inline skates, training for the speed skating season when the town’s futuristic ice arena would open.

We stayed in the garden of a farmhouse on the edge of town with a view of lower but closer mountains. There was plenty to do in the gorgeous weather and we did walk around Falkenstein, our closest mountain, but it was lovely just to sit and look, and listen and breathe in the scented Alpine air.

The next village was an easy walk
The next village was an easy walk

After more days of stifling heat, a dramatic electric storm encircled the village, spotlighting the peaks around us. It really cleared the atmosphere so the next morning, feeling revived, we drove a lidl further still, on to Allweglehen near Berchtesgaden. As it was August, we called ahead to ensure there would be space on the campsite and when we arrived the owner proudly told us he had reserved a ‘panoramic’ pitch for us. The campsite looks towards the Watzmann, the third highest peak in Germany. However the law of sod decreed that after two weeks of direct sunlight, we arrived on the day that cloud descended and the Watzmann along with the whole mountainscape was cut short. Occasional glimpses of rocky peaks only made the irony more torturous.

Our 'panoramic' view
Our ‘panoramic’ view

The area around Berchtesgaden  was where Adolf Hitler spent holidays from the 1920’s and during the Third Reich, other leading members of the National Socialist Party requisitioned properties in Obersalzberg, near Hitlers Berghof. The village became the southern headquarters of the regime during the war and a series of underground bunkers, connected by three to four kilometres of tunnels was developed to reflect the homes and offices above ground, to create a base for a ‘last stand’ if the war went against the Nazis.

SAM_5869     SAM_5870                                               This grim underground world only highlights how remote from reality the National Socialists were. Even though it was lit and furnished to the same lavish standards of the world directly above, the idea they could continue to rule from within a mountain was fanciful. Dokumentation Obersalzberg chronicles the story of this place. The museum displays the propaganda that portrayed Hitler as a nature and animal lover in the Alpine environment and describes how the village attracted followers from all over Germany, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Fuhrer. It was also the centre of high politics, drawing world leaders during the 1930s. The horrendous plans of destruction and mass murder that were formulated here are documented in uncomfortable detail. There is no shying away from the truth in this museum.

SAM_5917

Kelsteinhaus, or the ‘Eagles Nest’, is a tea house built to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday and it sits on the peak above Obersalzberg. Hitler rarely went there, but it has become synonymous with his absolute power. We waited a couple of days for the skies to clear enough to make the trip up a mountain worthwhile and eventually the cloud finally lifted. Graham was very excited to spot the distinctive outline of the Eagles Nest looking down on to our campsite. It had been beside us all the time.

SAM_5875           SAM_5873

On our second drive back up to Obersalzberg, Graham took us on a different route to avoid the 24% climb around hairpins over seven kilometres. The alternative took us eight kilometres out of our way to a three kilometre climb of 15%…Brian felt it was a worthwhile diversion! From there, the only way to the top of Kehlstein is via a specially adapted bus which rises more than 700 metres over six kilometres, through five tunnels, with only one switchback bend. Graham’s palms were sweating and poor Kipper struggled to cope as he kept sliding towards the back of the bus. I got the window seat and enjoyed the fantastic views. The journey to the top only ends when a brass mirrored lift takes you the final 124 metres in 14 seconds.

The view when you gratefully climb out of the bus
The view when you gratefully climb out of the bus
Hitler was driven along the elevator tunnel. We walked.
Hitler was driven along the tunnel to the lift. We walked.  

Then you step outside into……thick cloud!

Yes in the time it had taken to reach the very top the views had vanished.

SAM_5893

SAM_5928

However it made us look closer to our feet and I was amazed at the number of wild flowers growing in very inhospitable surroundings.

I didn’t know how I felt about visiting The Eagles Nest, especially as it was my birthday. Were we so very different from those admiring pilgrims who flocked to see Hitler in the 1930s? But as I looked around I saw that among the fellow ‘sightseers’ gazing into cloud, were people of many races, religions and abilities. The Nazis would have hated that. So I swallowed down my doubts with a celebratory apple cake and coffee.

I won!
…I won!
Last one to the bottom gets cream with their cake
Last one to the bottom gets cream with their cake…

The Alps put on a peep show with tantalising glimpses of the glacial lake Konigsee being the biggest flash.

SAM_5908  SAM_5918 So we decided to see it below the white stuff.

My favourite!
My favourite!

I was on the promise of some Mozart Kugeln (known as Mozart’s balls in our family) for my birthday and fortunately for Graham there were some discreetly available in the street running down to the lake at Konigsee.

So we were able to watch the tourist boats return and supervise Kipper having his most spectacular swim of the trip, whilst I chomped through the perfect blend of marzipan and chocolate. We weren’t going any further for some time.

SAM_6000          SAM_5999 SAM_5995  SAM_5975 SAM_5976

 M & G xx

Falkenstein
                       Falkenstein

Treat of the week: On our Sunday walk to the monastery in Ettal the week before, I bought a cushion filled with dried herbs and flowers from the area. We cynically speculated that it was stuffed with the contents of herbal teabags. But then we arrived in Inzell, with wild mint, rosemary and fir trees scenting the air…it was my cushion! We can now imagine the monks have really picked the contents from the mountainsides and I can relive our walks when I can’t sleep at night.

Going cuckoo!

96 nights :  3,635 miles travelled: Countries visited : 7

“I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others”  Ludwig II

Arriving in the Bavarian Alps is like stepping through the back of a wardrobe. One minute we were playing who can spot the mountains first (Graham) and then you are in the middle of a landscape seen in so many picture books. Red topped chalet villages and needle sharp church spires bathing in yellowy green pasture. We spent a minute still believing the mountains were clouds, then they are spectres behind the forested foothills and closer still, the gigantic characters reveal themselves.

We had travelled south on what was labelled on the map as the Romantische Strasse. It was one of the least attractive we had seen in Germany and anyway, we don’t do romance. The problem is there are three people in this marriage. And Graham insisted on bringing the other woman along. He listens to every word she says and on the rare occasion he goes his own way she doesn’t shout, but sternly tells him to turn around when possible. He gazes into her illuminated face every evening and if he pushes the right buttons she patiently answers all his questions. Now do I sound like a jealous wife?

Our view
Our view
Oberammergau Church
Oberammergau Church

We expected to stay in Oberammergau one night but found it hard to leave after a week. The village welcomes many tourists but still retains a local community at core. It is this community that puts on an elaborate Passion Play every 10 years in gratitude for escaping the plague in the 17th century. Oberammergau is renowned for it’s Luftmalerei, painted houses which give the illusion of ornate facades like window frames and columns and others telling stories, like those from the Brothers Grimm or religious scenes. It is also a centre for intricate woodcarving and  we spent too long looking at lovely things that we couldn’t carry with us for the rest of the year.

SAM_5576SAM_5577 SAM_5586 SAM_5595 SAM_5596 SAM_5600

The icy river provided a safe place to exercise Kips during another heatwave. Graham lost his footing a couple of times and sank into the clay that lined the banks. We speculated that it was the same mud they charge hundreds of euros to coat you in at the spa up the road. Graham’s knees look 20 years younger than the rest of him!

SAM_5565 SAM_5568

We took a long hot walk to the nearby village of Ettal to see the monastery. The views along the way were accompanied by the sound of bells from the sheep and cows and took me back to my childhood love of Heidi…I was smiling from the inside out.

SAM_5654

SAM_5622 SAM_5629

20150809_144252[1]

 

The heart of the monastery is the Baroque church. It was open to visitors and most surprisingly, so was the slick gift shop, selling their own brewed beer….on a Sunday. I could hear my strict Methodist Grandmother whispering “heathens”!

SAM_5635    SAM_5642 SAM_5640         SAM_5639

Nearby was Linderhof Palace, one of several built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century, but the only one he completed and lived in. As with The Wartburg, the gardens and parkland are open and free to all visitors, with entrance tickets needed only for guided tours. The Rococo architecture was enhanced, if not outdone by the dramatic but gentle landscape.

SAM_5758 SAM_5686

SAM_5700
Go on dare me!

 

SAM_5706
The formal garden created views down on to the palace…
SAM_5720
…from higher and higher positions..
SAM_5724
…setting it into it’s stunning natural backdrop.

 

SAM_5732

Ludwig died in 1886 aged just 40, in mysterious circumstances, a day after he had been declared insane. He led what appears to be an eccentric and isolated life but he left Bavaria with some amazing monuments to an age that was past even when he was alive.

SAM_5728

 

Treat of the week: The only clock we had in Brian is a useful little device that also indicates the temperature and predicts the weather. However it is difficult to read because it is digital so we cannot read it without our glasses and we often confuse the functions even if we do. The answer? There is only one in the Alps. We found a battery powered cuckoo clock that is both lightweight (for Graham) and incredibly kitsch (for Mandy) AND it tells us the time…no glasses required…just count the cuckoos! Every hour it still makes me smile….and Graham wince.20150819_090015[1]

Berg or Burg?

89 nights: 3,357 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5

“It is the devil in us that makes us want more”  Martin Luther

So far, Germany is the country that most reminds us of England and it certainly shares our strong sense of history. The most visible evidence is in the striking buildings including many castles set high looking over the surrounding landscape. The big daddy of these is Wartburg in Central Germany.

Wartburg is 1,000 years old
Wartburg is 1,000 years old
It's easy to believe almost a third of Germany's land is covered with forest
It’s easy to believe almost a third of Germany’s land is covered with forest

Originating in 1067, it was greatly restored in the 19th century and is now a major tourist attraction. In the 12th century, it was the venue for a medieval singing competition (the first Germany’s got talent?) that later inspired Richard Wagner to write the opera Tannhauser. Martin Luther translated the New Testament whilst sheltering in the Wartburg in 1521 and the great fortress was one of the inspirations for Ludwig II who built iconic palaces in Bavaria.

SAM_5349 SAM_5329 SAM_5336 SAM_5316We were lucky to be able to stay right behind the castle for a couple of nights and enjoy the woods and surrounding views after the visitors had gone home.

SAM_5381       SAM_5378     The Wartburg stands majestically over the town of Eisenach, the birthplace of J. S. Bach. Bachhaus is the largest museum dedicated to his life and works. It is an innovative mixture of traditional displays and opportunities to listen to his music.

There were many instruments, some still played at recitals
There were many instruments, some still played at recitals
It would have been lovely to have listened for an hour or two
It would have been lovely to have listened for an hour or two
An accurate representation of Bach's face has been created using his skull
An accurate representation of Bach’s face has been created using his skull

It was only when I reached the third room that it became clear that the 17th century house we were in probably had nothing to do with Johann. His father had rented somewhere overlooking the garden before he was born. A tenuous link at best!!

However, Eisenach was certainly the birthplace of the Wartburg car and Graham had great fun spotting vintage treasures visiting the town. We later regretted not making time to visit the factory which is now  a motor museum. The other major museum in the town celebrates the links with Martin Luther and was due to reopen following refurbishment soon after we left. Another good reason to return.

We had spent a lot of time in what had been East Germany and there are still ghosts of the past like grey lego brick apartment blocks thrown up wherever needed, whether in a town or a scenic rural village. There is also much evidence of the vast investment in the East after reunification. The road we took south to Bamberg was breathtaking with long flyovers and viaducts that left you soaring above gorgeous Thuringian forests.

We visited Bamberg because a wax plaque depicting the town hung on my mother’s kitchen wall for years. My brother had run there competitively and I always wondered what the rooftops and spires really looked like. They look amazing! Bamberg is by far the best town or city we have visited so far.

At the heart lies the ‘Island City’ and ‘Little Venice’ with magnificent merchants houses and halls, half timbered former fishermen’s houses and small boats edging a river and a canal, with a variety of bridges linking them all.

SAM_5476  SAM_5478

SAM_5487           SAM_5482 SAM_5475                SAM_5486

SAM_5541Bamberg is often described as the city built on seven hills and Cathedral hill was historically the centre of power. There are many imposing buildings in this part of town but we enjoyed the relative peace and tranquility in the Prince Bishop’s rose garden which was also a great place to look out over the red rooftops.

SAM_5496 SAM_5529                    SAM_5530  SAM_5498               SAM_5504  SAM_5515 A lot of other people had heard about what an amazing place this is, but whilst the city was busy, that created a great atmosphere, especially on the buzzing Saturday evening. As if things can’t get any better, Bamberg has a diverse selection of breweries!

Graham in the seconds before he decided he did indeed like Bamberg's famous smoked beer!
Graham in the seconds before he decided he did indeed like Bamberg’s famous smoked beer. This was…treat of the week!
We drank so much he spent 30 euros on a new hat!!
We drank so much that he spent 30 euros on a new hat but not so much that he bought the lederhosen!!

Unbelievably, the temperatures were too hot to do the walking tour of the city’s breweries!! So Martin Luther may be correct in believing it is the devil that makes us want more, but there is definitely more that we want to come back to in Central Germany.

So is it Berg or Burg? We often debate which suffix to use for the many towns that end this way. Having checked, a fortified town was a burg and a mountain (hill?) is a berg. However, many fortresses were built on a hill so I guess we’ll still have to check!

Sweet Harz

82 nights : 3,335 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5

“Tonight the mountain’s mad with magic” – Faust, Goethe

The Harz mountains rise unimpressively out of a long stretch of plains. As you approach the region it is hard to believe that it boasts the tallest mountain in Northern Germany, or that it harbours the witches and goblins that are celebrated throughout the area. The Brocken is the setting for the scene in Goethe’s Faust when the Devil tempts Faust on a night of revelry with witches and other mythical creatures on the mountain.

Right on the edge of the region lies Quedlinburg. Depending on which you read, the guide books tell you that this little town has between 1400 and 2000 half timbered houses. But that doesn’t prepare you for the pleasure of walking through streets that look like a film set. There was a “wow” as we turned every corner.

SAM_5044  SAM_5078SAM_5086                SAM_5095 SAM_5097

It was a lovely afternoon and we found the shade of some parasols and ordered a couple of beers.SAM_5093 As we sat reflecting on the sights, we noticed that everyone else was eating large slabs of cheesecake. We had found Quedlinburg’s speciality kase-kuchen shop serving 145 varieties… and we were drinking beer!  Luckily they did a take-away service.

I hoped the scales meant 'eat your own weight in cheesecake'
I hoped the scales meant ‘eat your weight in cheesecake…5 euros’

Quedlinburg is on one of the largest networks of narrow gauge railways in the world, the Harzer Schmalspur Bahnen, but we moved on to Wernigerode, on the same network, to enjoy the journey up to the summit of the Brocken on a steam train.SAM_5164 When we enquired at tourist information about taking a dog on the train we were informed that those over 20cms would have to wear a muzzle. Now even if Kipper had been the Jack Russell he was supposed to be he would be taller than that! After half a day of disbelief and disappointment, we decided to turn up at the station and see what would happen. We ensured that the assistant saw our 60cm mutt and she happily sold us a ticket for him at 18 euros, 50% of the cost of an adult! However this did mean we didn’t have to resort to our cunning plan of lying Kips on his side to be measured.(He’s only 18cm tall that way!) The lovely ticket inspectors on the train were very welcoming to him and he enjoyed most of the journey watching the forest go by through the window.

Getting ready to be measured if challenged!
Getting ready to be measured if challenged!
A nervous start to the journey...
A nervous start to the journey…
...but fascinated within minutes
…but fascinated within minutes

Up close to the dark density of the trees, you could see how the Harz inspired many German fairy tales. Thousands of acres of inaccessible forestation leaves much to the imagination.

SAM_5192  SAM_5264

There is something about steam trains that brings a boyish smile to most men’s faces but I have to admit after an hour and a half of climbing higher and higher, with the engine appearing ahead on the many bends, leaving a sulphuric whiff with the whistle, even I was enjoying myself.

SAM_5213        SAM_5216

Can't wait to go down again!
       Can’t wait to go down again!

The expansive views from the summit were also worthwhile and deserved a celebratory beer and bratwurst….yes yes we are cutting down soon!

Wernigerode is a wonderful town with many wide open half timbered streets, an impressive castle looming over the town and the cutest Rathaus in the ancient market place.

SAM_5135  SAM_5158SAM_5265

However we had been a bit spoiled by Quedlinburg and we were soon ready to move on.

The primary reason we visited the Harz region was to catch The Norfolk Youth Orchestra performing in the area and to meet up with our lovely friend Jessica.SAM_5285 We did this in Bad Lauterberg where Graham and Kipper enjoyed the afternoon rehearsal and I was lucky enough to attend a brilliant concert including a virtuoso performance of Elgar’s cello concerto by a 19 year old from Slovenia. I had Leonard Bernstein’s Candide buzzing in my head for days. The age range of musicians is 12 to 21 and rehearsals are in the young people’s free time, led by some committed coaches and leaders. The quality of performance was outstanding and very much appreciated by the German audience.SAM_5287

SAM_5288We camped a couple of kilometres from Bad Lauterberg to make use of the most expensive WIFI and washing machines to date. However the setting almost made up for it and on a hike from our pitch we saw a sweeter side of the Harz Mountains with wildflower clearings graced with clouds of butterflies and wild strawberries and raspberries in abundance.

20150728_144459[1] 20150728_152827[1] 20150728_155107[1] 20150728_153632[1] 20150728_162102[1]

A nicer walk than Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood had!

M x

Treat of the week: Graham is mostly happy to go with the flow (the secret of this happy marriage!).  However he was very downbeat at the thought of not riding up a mountain on a steam train but he didn’t see much fun in going alone. His reaction at getting a seat and Kipper being allowed one too will always be one of my highlights.

SAM_5167

Water water everywhere….

75 nights : 3,032 miles travelled :Countries visited: 5

“I would rather have WIFI than water”  G.W. Stratton

The holiday is over. The supply of Sainsbury’s red label teabags is almost exhausted. We are well into our trip and our expectations are evolving as we become travellers rather than tourists. Our routine revolves around the procurement and disposal of water and our dreams are fulfilled by the ability to tune into a strong WIFI signal and a washing machine.

To make our budget go further we mostly opt to stay on a wohnmobil platz which are in many European towns and villages. This may simply be a designated space in a car park or resemble a campsite with electricity and water. Prices are usually considerably cheaper than a campsite or, joy of joys…sometimes free! In the past weeks we have stayed in a meadow behind a beach, a railway station car park, outside a national park information office, on a harbour front, a field behind a restaurant and a car park next to a ring road. Variety is a mixed spice!

Water has also featured in many of the stops we have made recently. Unlike the town musicians in Grimm’s fairy tale we actually made it to Bremen and loved what we found.       Our walk from the stellplatz took us along the river Weser to an amazing city centre.SAM_4762

 

SAM_4679

The Market square is gilded with a very ornate Rathaus (town hall) alongside a 13th century twin towered Dom. The Rathaus is guarded by a medieval knight Roland, which protects and symbolises the city’s freedom.

SAM_4750
Bremen’s Roland is 13m tall

The Bottcherstrasse was formerly the lane where coopers lived and worked but was redesigned in the 1920s with amazing art deco facades and links the market square with the river with shops museums and cafe-bars.

Trying out the Kolsch from Cologne. A bit light for me!
Trying out the Kolsch from Cologne.             A bit light for me!

 

The 16th C Hanse buildings were incorporated into the design
The 16th C Hanse buildings were incorporated into the design
The glockenspiel plays 3 times a day
The glockenspiel plays three times a day

SAM_4722Then there is the Schnoor quarter, 15th & 16th century narrow lanes which used to be the fishermans quarter but is now a maze of arts and crafts shops.

SAM_4721

SAM_4693

 

And of course the town musicians are celebrated everywhere, most famously with Gehart Marcks sculpture, with the rooster, cat, dog and donkey scaring the robbers who attacked their house.

 

 

We wandered across the North of Germany, to Lubeck which was at the heart of the Hanseatic League, a medieval confederation of trades guilds. They dominated the Baltic sea and had links all over Europe, including our home town of King’s Lynn.  SAM_4822

 

The merchants adopted a distinctive style of architecture which links many German towns like Bremen that were members of the League.

The towers lean towards each other across the stepped gable
The impressive towers lean towards each other across the stepped gable

 

The Holstentor is a dramatic city gate that, together with many spired churches, forms a ‘crown’ around the centre of the old town.

 

 

The Salzpecher used to store the salt that was pivotal to the Hanseatic trade
The Salzpecher used to store the salt that was pivotal to the Hanseatic trade
Lubeck in Marzipan
Lubeck in Marzipan

Marzipan has been made in  Lubeck for hundreds of years.  Whenever we mention to  Germans that we visited Lubeck,  they ask did we try the  marzipan.                                  Happily we can say  yes! Graham says    it is the best marzipan he has ever  disliked….. so there was more for me.

 

Some of the lanes were reminiscent of Kings Lynn
Some of the courtyards are reminiscent of those in Kings Lynn

Graham was keen to see the Baltic sea so we spent a weekend in Boiensdorf on the North East coast, in a gorgeous little field with a  sea view.SAM_4835

 

 

 

 

SAM_4870

It is a beautiful coastline, with the countryside sweeping down to the waters edge with few interruptions.

 

 

 

We were lucky to be there at a time when many crops were ready for harvest and the light cast a sharp contrast between field yellow, Baltic blue and the fresh green of the lollipop trees that drew a dotted line across the landscape.

This area is very popular with windsurfers and Kipper took some convincing that they were chasing the wind and not him! He did however, have fun demonstrating the principles of the bouncing bomb!

SAM_4891

 

 

 

SAM_4861

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our watery theme continued in Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg West-Pomerania (just love saying that name!) The city seems to rise out of water with lakes in every direction.SAM_4954 SAM_4899

 

 

Schwerin Palace is now the State Parliament and the peaceful gardens are open to all.SAM_4935

SAM_4986SAM_4989

 

 

There are many impressive buildings but the whole city had a shabby chic style about it. This is in what was East Germany and some streets certainly had a different feel.SAM_4918

 

SAM_4944

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public art was very diverse.SAM_4924

SAM_4948SAM_4933

SAM_4906

 

However there was a laid            back atmosphere which we       really enjoyed.

 

 

 

We also enjoyed some good local beer and yet another bratwurst lunch at Zum Stadtkrug, a microbrewery/pub just up the road from the railway station where we were pitched.

SAM_4993 SAM_4994 SAM_4996

The Germans are masters at making beer,  bratwurst and bread. We know…. we have sampled a lot. The Snail Trail is fast becoming galloping gluttony. Yes the holiday needs to be over before Brian exceeds his 3.5 tonne limit!

The Mecklenburg lake district has over 1,000 lakes and whilst there are no real hills, rarely do you turn a corner without seeing water. We had planned to base ourselves at the top of the largest lake, The Muritz. Happily the campsite we had intended to use was full – full of running children and grumpy parents. So we spent the night in blissful solitude outside the National Park information centre. Alone that is apart from hundreds of cows on the dairy farm behind us.

The night revealed that our fridge was not working on gas, an essential as we are spending so much time off grid. We located a dealer about 25 kilometres away in Neustrelitz; the silver lining to our cloud. Luckily the repair would take a couple of days so we stayed at the harbour of this great little town in the centre of the lake district.

An old railway line passes through the harbour but motorhomes stand where trains once did
An old railway line passes through the harbour but motorhomes stand where trains once did

                                             There were elegant Schloss gardens, a Tiergarten for Kips to log some running time and a unique star shaped market place with delightful streets running off in all directions.SAM_5006SAM_5003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grand entrance to the Tiergarten
The grand entrance to the Tiergarten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One man and his dog...a familiar sight!
One man and his dog…a familiar sight!

But most wonderful were the sunsets over the Zierker See.

SAM_5028

SAM_5029

 

 

 

 

 

 

No shortage of water but WIFI has been surprisingly hard to come by, especially a strong connection needed long enough for blog posts. So we are a few weeks behind in updating you but as all snails know, we’ll get there eventually.

Treat of the week: There are more than 300 varieties of bread in Germany and we have especially enjoyed those with wheat and rye flour mixed. However the winner so far is Sonnenblumenkernbrot. Not with rye but with loads of sunflower seeds and the most delicious texture and flavour.

Makes Kingsmill 50:50 seem like a bad dream
Makes Kingsmill 50:50 seem like a bad dream

This could well turn out to be treat of the trip.

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.

SAM_4451 SAM_4456 SAM_4510 SAM_4514

SAM_4504

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”

SAM_4540

 

 

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.

SAM_4578

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

SAM_4465

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.