2020-09-25 (Fri). Ashford to home.

I don’t really know how I feel about going home. On the one hand, it IS home. I.e. it’s where we live. OTOH, I’ve become so despondent about this country and the government and Brexit in particular, that I feel I no longer want to have any real association with it all. But it is what it is and we just have to make the best of it. One enlightened day, we may have an honest, ethical government and we may one day rejoin the EU.

We left at around 10:30, stopping at Sainsbury’s, Ashford, to get a few essentials and enough fuel to see us home.

The usual delays round the M26 & M25 weren’t much fun. Neither was the traffic through Bracknell. Nor the extensive roadworks on the M4 past Bracknell & Reading. In fact, it took as long to get from Kent to home today, as it took to get from Aachen in Germany to Ashford yesterday, aside from the hanging around at the Eurotunnel terminal. But we’re back, and the house is still standing.

That said, having barely arrived home, I shot out to meet a friend for a few beers at the Butcher’s Hook in Thornbury. Also had to sit outside in the cold & wind. At least it wasn’t as cold as last night in Kent, and it wasn’t raining!

2020-09-24 (Thur). Aachen to Ashford, Kent.

I remembered to fill up the moho before leaving!

We actually left at around 11:15, giving us oodles of time to get to the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais, by the earliest allowable check-in time of 16:50. Our intended destination tonight is the Dog House micropub once again, on the Evegate Business Park just outside of Ashford, with ample overnight parking

It’s a long, and fairly dull drive through the length of Belgium, especially at 50mph (did I mention that we mustn’t arrive too early?). The landscape becomes increasingly flat as you head further West, so there’s little to keep the mind active. There wasn’t even the usual slew of roadworks on the E40 – just a couple of smaller roadworks on the North ring around Brussels. The only thing to keep me alert was the very strong, and very gusty wind, blowing more or less head on. Hmm, glad we were unable to book ferry crossing for this trip – they’ve all drastically reduced their services during the pandemic, leaving only the vastly more expensive, but also more convenient, Le Shuttle crossing.

We stopped at the very unlovely aire at Waremme – West of Brussels – for 40 minutes or so for a bite to eat, then back to the road. Our SatNav was showing our arrival time as being BEFORE 16:50: that just won’t do! So I dropped my speed down to about 45mph on the stretch down through France. I was probably a bit of a hindrance to the other traffic on the 2-lane autoroutes, but they seemed to manage to overtake me ok!

About 10km NE of Coquelles, the police separated out the trucks from all the other traffic, forcing them down one lane of the autoroute, whilst all other traffic used the other lane. Curious. About 6 or 7km further on, an enormous line of trucks was stopped on the motorway, with – what looked like a number of French police at the head.

At the turnoff for the Eurotunnel terminal was another line of trucks, also around 1km long, trying to get into the terminal. What a mess. Presumably Brexit-orientated.

With all these last minute hold-ups, we arrived at the terminal at an easy-going 17:15, well within the limits allowed! Enough time to turn the gas on for a cup of tea.

As we were waiting to board the train, we could see increasing amounts of lightning to the West & North of us. The ominous looking cloud slowly coming closer to us. We could see the lansdcape rapidly disappearing in the advancing rain, reaching us as an enormous downpour just as our queueing lane was called forward. With the wipers on full speed, and us at practically no speed at all, we could barely see anything in front of us! Needless to say, we did make it onto the train; it did set off on time; and we didn’t get blasted off the rails by lightning!

We make it to the Dog House by 19:00. Just as it started to rain. It was also just 10°C and still very windy. When we stayed her overnight 3 weeks ago, the landlord, Duncan, was trying to get set up to allow indoor seating, so we were hoping he’d been successful in this endeavour. Sadly not. We had to sit outside. Under cover, but still cold and windy. We managed a couple of quick pints added to which I had about the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had, and Joy had a huge pile of veggy chilli nachos. Excellent.

Times are really tough for Duncan & his partner: being out of town, he has to rely on people who are very loyal to him and prepared to travel there. Apart from Joy & I, there were only two other brave souls there, although after they’d left, two other regulars arrived. Sadly, it’s not going to be enough trade to keep going. I can’t speak highly enough about this place and Duncan, who really goes out of his way to help you. Normally, the kitchen is closed on Thursdays, but he went out of his way to ensure there was something available for us. Top man. Do drop in if you get a chance. Here’s a link to their website.

Just to finish off – it didn’t get any warmer overnight!

2020-09-23 (Wed). Zell to Aachen.

Bye bye Zell.

It was pretty noisy there early this morning: lots of heavy traffic from around 05:30, it seemed, with lots of small but noisy grape harvesting tractors chugging by. Not to mention the occasional huge tanker truck & trailer combo thundering up the tiny lane past the Stellplatz.

We need to be in Aachen tonight, it being…

  • Still in Germany
  • about as close to the Belgian border as possible without actually being in Belgium
  • a place where diesel fuel is much cheaper than in Belgium
  • a place with a large Stellplatz where we might just get a place for the night

Belgium, as well as France and the Netherlands, are – somewhat hypocritically – on the UK list of undesirable places, Covid-19 wise. Thus, any time spent in any of those places will result in automatically being sent to Coventry (aka Quarantine) for two weeks after returning home. Yet transiting through these countries – pretty unavoidable when catching Le Shuttle in Calais – seems to be allowed as long as no-one is allowed to breathe upon you whilst in transit. From Aachen, we can make it to Calais on less than one tank full of fuel, so there should be no need to fill up in the deadly countries of Belgium and France. As long as I remember to fill up before leaving Aachen!

Road works and road closures seemed to be targetted at preventing us from ever reaching Aachen, and added over 1 hour to what should have been a 2 hour journey. I was desperate to get there early to stand any chance at all of getting a place at the Stellplatz. Joy also seemed to have developed sudden onset cold with prolonged bouts of apoplectic sneezing and running nose early in the morning and continuing throughout the day, which did nothing to improve the time or the mood.

In the end, we DID make it to Aachen, by 13:00 in fact, and had a choice of quite a number of places at the Stellplatz.

Our train departs from Calais at 18:50 tomorrow. Earliest allowed checkin time is 16:50 with a threat of a potential £200 additional charge for having the effrontery to turn up earlier than that. Bloody cheek. According to Google, we’ll need to leave here by 12:45. So I think we’ll make that 11:30. And if it looks like we’re going to arrive early (heaven forbid), we’ll just have to sit it out in a very unlovely French autoroute aire as long as we don’t get out of the MoHo or let anyone breathe too close to us.

Must remember to buy fuel in the morning.

2020-09-22 (Tue). Zell am Mosel and Traben-Trarbach by bike.

The day of the long bike ride…

The Stellplatz seems ok. It looks like it’s a recent extension from the Stellplatz on the other side of the road, which is where the payment machine is. Between the two Stellpllätze, there must be over 50 spaces. And there’s another Stellplatz/campsite on the other end of the town, along the Mosel. Where we are – in Zell-Kainmt – is close to the main road bridge that crosses over to Zell Zentrum, so there is some traffic noise from trucks going over there & down the opposite river bank road.

It looks like grape harvesting is in full swing: mini-tractors with trailers are going past the whole day long, from mid-morning.

We set off on our bikes around 11:30 to follow the radweg down as far as Traben-Trabach. We had no idea what’s at Traben-Trarbach, but it was the next decent sized town along the river, S of where we are. It’s another hot, dry day, though not as hot as it has been of late. Probably only around 25°C.

It’s pretty much tarmac all the way, with the last few km acutally on a road, for goodness sake! A quiet road, it has to be said. My GPS measured it at just under 20km.

T-T was very busy. Not as busy as it would be in a non-Covid year, but many of the places that would normally be open weren’t. There are no cruise ships going along the Mosel, and neither did I see a single commercial/industrial type barge the whole 2 days we were on the Mosel. There were queues of people waiting to get into every cafe/bar/Gaststätte along the waterfront. We went up into the town and Joy spotted a small hotel with Biergarten. Perfect.

Radler & pommes for Joy. Hefeweizen & Zwiebelkuchen for me. And very nice too.

The trouble with flat, level paths like these radwege is that one’s bum tends to get very sore with being in the saddle the whole time. We were both suffering somewhat in the undercarriage department by the time we got back to Zell. We had considered taking the “bus-train” that runs between Traben & Bulay, but the nearest stop to Zell is at Reil, and we’d just missed one train and would have had to wait almost an hour for the next one.

Link to Strava stats here.

2020-09-21 (Mon). Ockenheim & Zell am Mosel.

The bells didn’t stop overnight. They chimed on every quarter, plus a full-blown count of the hour on each and every hour. With a prolonged, 10 minute long clanging call-to-prayer (presumably) at 07:00. I woke at 03:45 and never got back to sleep again. The sleeplessness was further aided by aircraft coming in to land directly overhead from 05:00 onwards. It turns out we’re right under the flight path for Frankfurt airport. Yawn.

Zell, on the Mosel is our next stop, it taking just over an hour to get there, driving across the Hunsrück. That was the theory. Roadworks again prolonged the journey, so it took us a good two hours.

Fortunately, we grabbed the last place available on the Stellplatz, sandwiched between an old Hymer A class on one side, and an enormous US imported vehicle with slide-out sides on the other side. No shade again. A pity, because it’s another baking hot day.

We took a walk over the bridge into Zell Zentrum. Fairly pretty, but very touristy. Every second shop is a wine producer.

2020-09-20 (Sunday). Heilbronn – Bingen am Rhein – oops – Ockenheim!

No shouty youths overnight last night, thank heavens. Just BELLS!

We decided our next stop on the long journey home should be Bingen am Rhein – about 3 1/2 motorhome hours away. Why Bingen? There’s a large Stellplatz there where we stayed overnight last year. It’s not the greatest. It’s next to a railway line, and it’s actually about 35 mins walk outside of Bingen, though somewhat closer to Bingen-Kempten, which, in itself, is not terribly exciting.

So upon arrival, after many Autobahn roadwork-induced delays, we arrived at the Stellplatz at around 13:00 to find it completely full. German staycationers strike again! Quickly consulting our MoHo apps, we found another Stellplatz only 4 km away in Ockenheim – allegedly taking 20 units. Amazingly, there were a couple of free spaces.

It’s a lovely location, nestling amongst the vinyards – which are all pretty busy bringing in the harvest right now. It has very little in the way of tree cover or other forms of shade, which – in this unseasonably hot & sunny September – causes a little discomfort during the afternoon. You can order bread for delivery the next morning; there are two showers; full MoHo service facilities; waste disposal, including taking compostable food – the only one we’ve come across anywhere; and a very helpful person in charge of running the site. Asking him where the open Gaststätte were, he pointed us to two possibilities, adding then that there was also a Straußwirtschaft (Weingut Feser) in the town that was open today! No contest: off to the Straußwirtschaft with every intention of having just a couple of glasses of wine, then back to the MoHo to cook dinner.

One glass of wine led to another, the food menu looked good, and – apart from the very large and noisy group of Ockenheimer jahrgänge (school alumni group) – it was a very pleasant evening. TBH, the large group didn’t spoil things at all. The staff were lovely and we had several conversations with them. One of them thought I was her former teacher, or doppelganger thereof!

Got back to the MoHo at a very sensible 21:00 or so, for an early night.

2020-09-19 (Sat) Heilbronn & Bad Wimpfen

03:00. A group of youths are shouting and screaming on our doorstep. Well, possibly not on our doorstep, but maybe right next to us in the park. Probably a 100 metres away or so. But it SOUNDS like they’re on our doorstep. WTF are they doing at that time of night? This goes on until well after 04:00. I can’t sleep. THE BELLS start at 06:00 FFS.

We go in search of a Bäckerei. Google tells us there’s one about 11 minutes walk away according to Google maps on Joy’s phone. After 10 minutes of walking, all the way up Knorrstrasse and past the huge Knorr Fabrik, we’re now 14 minutes away, yet we’ve been following the route on Joy’s phone. We eventually find it after about 25 mins walk. Shopping done, we head back for breakfast. We decide to walk back a different way and find a flight of steps that leads almost directly back to the Stellplatz, by the Freibad. About 8 minutes away. Thanks, Google.

We’d heard that Bad Wimpfen was worth visiting. It’s about 16km away along the Neckar radweg. We got almost immediately lost and ended up in the centre of Heilbronn amongst heavy traffic. When we found our way out, we then accidentally ended up on a long island in the middle of a split in the river. It was very industrial! Eventually, we managed to get back onto the radweg proper and found our way to Bad Wimpfen.

It’s a lovely Altstadt and we even managed to get an ice-cream there. And, at a different café, a slice of Zwiebelkuchen. TBH, it wasn’t the greatest Zwiebelkuchen I’d ever had. Not by a long chalk. That award goes to the Zwiebelkuchen freshly baked at the Rohrauer hocketse, when we lived there 34 years ago.

It was another hot day, so we were pretty wrecked by the time we got back. Somehow, I managed to get very dehydrated, which bugged me with sore lips for the next few days.

Link to route in Strava here.

2020-09-18 (Fri). Bietigheim-Bissingen, Heilbronn & Lauffen

After a fairly sleep-disturbed night, from about 04:00 onwards (due to traffic), we decided the next stop should be Lauffen – a major wine centre on the Neckar. Lauffen had other plans: The Stellplatz am Friebad was full. Consulting our various apps, we decided to head to Rolf Willy’s Kellerei/winery in nearby Nordheim. This turned out to be two spaces in a small car park, large enough only for VW camper – sized vans. Ho hum.

We ended up at a Stellplatz in Heilbronn. Down Knorrstrasse, past the enormous Knorr factory with the overpowering aroma of Bruhe, down to the Wertwiesenpark or Neckarhalde. Actually, a very nice Stellplatz with lots of trees to give some shade, adjacent to a huge park, and only a 100 metres from the Neckar. And it’s free to stay.

The bad news was there were a couple of obviously gypsy caravans parked up, with their young offspring zooming around in an e-car. A small one, big enough for two kids, and scarily fast. The caravans had UK licence plates. The inhabitants had Irish accents. We found a place as far away as possible and set up under the trees.

Some time later, a police car arrived making it clear to the gypsies that they were to leave by the following morning.

Having missed out of Lauffen, we decided to cycle there along the Neckar radweg; about 11km each way. We thought we’d try to get an ice-cream whilst there. Possibly even a beer. Failed on both counts. In fact, we couldn’t find any shops at all, nor any evidence of a town centre, Marktplatz or similar. So we gave up & headed back to Heilbronn.

About 1km from being back at the MoHo, by a Sportplatz, is a very nice open-air Gaststätte. It would have been rude to pass it by, so we didn’t. Very pleasant in the late afternoon sunshine, which then started to turn rather chilly as the sun set.

In fact, although the days have been blisteringly hot, up to 29 degrees some days, the nights give away the fact that it’s definitely autumn. It’s decidedly chilly in the van getting up in the mornings.

Arriving back at the Stellplatz, we were surprise to see that the gypsies had actually left already.

Link to Strava here.

2020-09-17, Thursday. Off again, but not very far!

Now that the girls are both back at school again, it’s time for us to say our farewells.

In all the time we lived in Germany, and all our subsequent visits, we’ve never been up the Neckartal. We probably always considered it to be too close.

Like the Mosel, it’s all wine producing area, but unlike the Mosel, it’s almost all in Baden-Wurttemberg. I.e. Schwabenland.

We intended to begin our endeavours with a 1hr drive up to Bietigheim-Bessingen: an ancient town that isn’t actually on the Neckar. Not quite. It’s on the confluence of the Enz and Metter rivers, the latter being little more than a small stream, really.

The Stellplatz here is on a car park, with space set aside for up to 7 motorhomes of vast proportions. Just €5 for 24 hrs.

I took a walk up the hill to the old town, and very pretty it is, too. Lots of ancient timber-framed buildings, central Marktplatz, and Hauptstraße running the length of the town. Lots of interesting cafes and Gasthäuser to tempt us.

In the late afternoon, we both walked up into the town to find a place for a meal. And very good it was too.

Joy had forgotten to bring her favourite earl grey redbush tea from home, so when I spied an old-fashioned tea shop I felt it was worth a try. Bingo! There it was. Should keep her going till we get back home!

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.