2020-09-13, Sunday. MTB ride with Mark & the girls in the Schönbuch & Clara’s 2nd Kindergeburtstag

It’s one of the hottest September days for a long time, and we decide to go for a fairly long ride in the Schönbuch – from Ehningen, up towards Hildrizhausen, then into the forest down towards Rohrau and some sweet singletrack (Strava link here), that seems to have been called “Canada”.

It was quite a long ride for the girls; Clara particularly struggled on some of the climbs but they both made it round despite the hot weather.

Back just in time for a quick shower before the guests arrived for Clara’s geburtstag celebration: Oma & Opa; Daniella, Elmar, Jonas & Mia; and eventually Caroline Hoffmann.

All a bit of a rush in the evening as the girls both go back to school tomorrow after the summer break.

2020-09-12, Saturday. Naturfreundehaus, Herrenberg, mountain biking & Waldseilgarten

As a treat for the girls, we all went down to the Naturfreundehaus, above the Autobahn tunnel near Herrenberg. We used to come here occasionally when we lived in Rohrau, but that might have been the last time I was here (1987?). Happily, it hasn’t changed much and is still very, very popular. We only just managed to park the motorhome in the very large car park.

The Waldseilgarten, just a 1km walk from the Naturefreundehaus, is a version of the Go Ape sites one finds across the UK: effectively up in the treetops, along rope walks & other obstacles; zip wires and much, much more. Not for me – I get vertigo just a couple of metres above ground, never mind the 5-25 metre height of some of the rope walks. I brought my bike with me as I’d been told there were some MTB trails at the same location.

As the place was so busy, there was a 1 hour wait for harnesses to fit the girls, so I went off to try out the trails whilst the others waited…

There are two trails: blue “Flowline” trail and red “Enduro” trail. I decided to start on the blue trail. It was actually very steep in places, with a few kickers, & tight switchbacks. Much steeper than an equivalent blue trail at home. It was also exceedingly short! It drops about 70 metres and then there’s a steep, but easily do-able road climb back up. I did the blue trail one more time, then I thought I’d take a look at the red trail. This has a couple of sizeable drops that would easily be graded as a double-dot black run back home! It also, rather dangerously, criss-crosses the blue trail in several places. Apart from the two big drops, there are some tight, steep switchbacks with roots thrown in for good measure. Technical, yes – but also very short. (Strava link here.)

In the meantime, all the others – Joy, Mark & the girls – got themselves kitted-up with harnesses for the rope walks, and the initiation training session.

It was one of the things Joy pushed herself to do, and – once up on the first proper ropes – regretted doing so! Whilst Emily & Clara were in their element, Joy was struggling with having the confidence to allow the harness to take the strain. She did manage to complete the first two sections before retiring with tired arms, though she was beginning to get the hang of it towards the end. A really good effort, I’d say.

Theirs was the last group to be allowed on: after the 1 hour wait, it was not far from closing time. Mark & the girls carried on to another section and then went to do “Flying Foxes” – 8 entire sections on zip wires!

In the meantime, I headed back to get a table at the Naturefreundehaus and order some pommes & drinks for Joy, Kathryn & myself as dusk approached. Mark & the girls joined us with barely enough time to grab their food before heading back to Ehningen for the fireworks.

Fireworks?

Apparently, there’s a major firework manufacturer based at the Steinbruch in Ehningen – just a few hundred metres away from Kathryn’s house, atop the so-called “Mount Ehningen” – actually the rubble from the quarry, which is now an enormous flat-topped hill, some 70 metres tall and a couple of hundred metres long. This guy often does test flights of fireworks from the top of the hill, but this time, he got approval from the local Gemeinde to do a full-blown display of some of his newer inventions.

The event had been advertised in the local papers, but I was completely unprepared for the scale: There were cars parked several kms away on the road back from Hildrizhausen: the Feldwege were full of cars all the way down to Ehningen. Ehningen itself was absolutely rammed with parked cars.

The display started as we we descending from Hildrizhausen as we’d got caught behind a tractor. It was still going when we got to Kathryn’s house some 10 minutes later. It was really spectacular – just a pity I didn’t catch any of it with my camera – though that seldom does justice to the display.

2020-09-09, Wednesday. Bike ride with the girls to Dagersheim

Eventually managed to persuade Clara to join us in a short ride on their mountain bikes to the Waldspielplatz in Dagersheim. Kathryn & Mark are both working (from home), so appreciate us keeping the girls busy until they go back to school next week.

Only a couple of Clara-induced crashes, but it might teach her to be a little more attentive!

2020-09-07, Monday. Forbach to Ehningen via Freudenstadt

Up the winding Murgtal (heading S) towards Freudenstadt: as it’s pretty much on our route to Ehningen, it seems worth a brief stop to have look at the Stellplatz (am Panorama-Bad – actually the car park of the swimming pool) and a quick mooch around the town.

Joy wanted to get to Ehningen so we didn’t stay long before heading off again, arriving at around 15:30.

About to move on…

Been at our daughter’s for 3 days now, and it’s been great to see them. Also gave us chance to replace the lost part of our toilet cassette – the part that contrived to drop off into the toilet disposal point in Longwy!

After an excellent BBQ, along with Mark’s parents, granddaughter Emily insisted on sleeping in the van last night with Nanny…

Emily gets a bedtime story in the van

…and actually managed to sleep all night!

Now it’s time to move on. Although we’d originally thought we’d get down to Naples (Pompeii & Herculaneum), we feel the delays in the UK have now made this unfeasible without running into main holiday times. We’re also now a little more experienced in knowing how long it takes to get anywhere at the van’s ponderous speed (or lack thereof).

Tuscany is now in our sights, though exactly where is uncertain. We’ll probably take in 2 overnight stops on the way. Not sure where we’ll have an Internet connection again, nor when. Keep looking…

Arrived at our daughter’s house

We’re in Germany. Ehningen, to be precise.

Two days without any internet connection and I feel like I’ve been cast adrift. What were those days like before the Internet? I guess I’ve been in the IT industry so long, I can’t remember. We even had company-wide internal email in HP in 1983. Now, If it feels completely unnatural not to have permanent, wireless access.

Arrived in Calais around 2:15am, local time. We never intended to get the late ferry but – without having booked the early ferry (believing we could just rock up & pay at the gate) – we found the price of the earlier ferries had gone up from £43 to £105. So we booked the late ferry at £43 still.

We spent out first night away in the stunningly exotic location of Calais docks departure area. We’d read that it was possible to park up there overnight, the trick being to leave the arrivals area, drive out of the docks to the 1st roundabout, then double back to the departures where you could park up in a motorhome. Ok, so we were tired; we managed to get into the freight terminal amongst several hundred trucks from Rumania, Poland, Latvia, & goodness knows where else. We were politely shown the  exit – the gate of which slid open majestically to allow us through to the outside world. A second stab at it saw us successfully entering the “departures with no tickets” area, complete with large car park sectioned-off for cars, motorhomes, buses, hang gliders, rubber dinghies, illegal immigrants, etc. It was almost full. We managed to park our beast in a slot designed for a Smart car, adjacent to an old, UK-licensed Astra with blacked-out windows and completely flat tyres, that clearly hadn’t been parked-up there anytime recently.

In the morning, we thought it would be nice to drive to an “aire” a few miles out of Calais, towards Dunkirk. We’d bought ourselves a guide book to all the French aires, and the one we selected sounded like a great place for breakfast. We’ll never know. We never found it. I think we covered 50% of the N of France coastline but had to give up in the end.

So we chose another one from the book, a little further along the route. We found the town. We even found the street, but we couldn’t find the aire – nor the cemetery it was allegedly next to – until our 3rd pass. Excellent. We even managed to find a friendly artisanal boulangerie close by.

By lunchtime, we hit the road proper: Lille, Namur, and a whole string of other places until we arrived at our next chosen aire at Longwy. In France, but we’d gone in & out of Belgium & Luxembourg several times in the 30 mins before arriving. With a name like that, it could have been in Wales.

I can’t figure out what drives the French to offer these aires. To cynical Brits, it seems odd that French local communities should go out of their way to provide (usually) free parking, often with water, electrical hookup, and chemical toilet emptying facilities. What’s in it for them? Many of these aires seem to be in provincial towns of little touristic interest, so I don’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong; I think they’re a fabulous institution, and maybe they are run out of true altruism for the traveller. But in the UK, they’d be barricaded, there’d be height barriers, £20 overnight parking fees & the threat of clamping for non-compliance. Which would you prefer?

Today, we drove again in & out of France, Belgium & Luxembourg for a while (Note: Luxembourg is THE place for less expensive diesel fuel. We even came across a bizarre section of road where – on one side of the road were – quite literally – ten or eleven gas stations next to each other. On one side of the road only. That side of the road was in Luxembourg, the gas station-free side was in Belgium.)  before crossing into the land of speed-unrestricted motorways.

I’ve said this before of Germany: The fact that large stretches of Autobahn have no speed limits is – of itself – no great safety problem in my mind as long as all the traffic is doing more-or less the same speed. The trouble comes when you have a string of BMWs, Mercs, Audis, Porches, VWs all doing over (say) 160km/hr (around 100mph), when a truck (or even a ponderous motorhome like ours) doing 60km/hr going uphill pulls out to overtake another truck doing 59km/hr. That’s a closing speed of 100kph (or 60mph). And the thing is, those fast cars weren’t even in your rearview mirror when you pulled out. It’s the speed differential that’s the problem. Although some idiot is always going to try sending a text message whilst doing 180. That can be a problem too.

We have to allow ourselves an extra 25% on our SatNav’s anticipated journey times: Garmin haven’t yet figured that some vehicles just can’t do their calculated avg. speeds.

Our daughter’s house is on a teeny-weeny cul-de-sac, 6 houses long, and about 3.4m wide. Our van is 2.3m wide. There’s nowhere to turn even a Smart car around in the street. The only way is to reverse in; a worrying time for the neighbours’ walls and gardens. Made it without any known damage to vehicle or property. Whew.

Lovely to see our family & grand-children again.