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