Saturday 27 August 2016

The Twenty-Fifth Week

Saturday 20-8-16

We woke up in Germany and headed for France, stopping at Lidl to by some stock of German beer before crossing the border at Mulhouse. We headed for a camping municipal we'd been to a couple of years ago at Eguisheim, a very pretty little town. We got there at just gone 12 and the reception was shut till 2. I couldn't be arsed to sit outside reception until two so we found an aire nearby and headed there. It was up in the hills and we stopped for a picture of the valley on the way up.

When we arrived at the aire what should have been the motorhome area was full of stalls. It was an art exhibition on all weekend. So along with some other vans we decamped to a nearby car park.

As the day went on the car park filled up with cars but then by six they were all gone and it was just vans. We walked around the art show and it was a bit dire really. They all seemed very keen amateurs who liked to splash the colour around a bit much or go in for wishy washy moody pieces. But they were having a go so fair play.

Back at the van I snoozed whilst Liz sat down with the map and the Camperstop Europe book. She plotted a big circuit of French aires to visit in the next two weeks and marked them on the map. Excellent work from my co-pilot.

Aire at Troi Epis, France. N48.10202 E007.23027

Sunday 21-8-16 and Monday 22-8-16

So with a limit of 50km per day we set off. We had to ignore Lizzie's planned aires though, I fancied a camping and we needed to get laundry done. I'd had no wifi for a few days and wanted to upload last weeks blog. Knowing McDonald's have open wifi I dived into one when I saw it in Colmar. I sat in the van and did the uploading and Liz went and fetched us coffees.

That important job done we pressed on and got to the Camping Municipal at Le Val d'Ajol just before the lady closed the reception for her two hour lunch. Good news was it was a great little site, they had washing machines and it was 13 euro a night. We made ourselves at home.

For dinner I fired up our last disposable bbq and did the 10 euro lamb chops we'd bought in Germany. Cooked to perfection even if I say so myself.

On Monday the town got a good coat of looking at and we decided to stay another day. We were impressed, it was tidy and they'd gone to town with the plants and flowers everywhere. The town hall was impressively French.

We visited the bakers for bread and the supermarket for saucisson and ham. We also noticed a sign for a free classical music concert in the town square that night. I like free and some culture wouldn't hurt us so we decided to give it a go. Liz sorted the laundry out and I burnt some pork for dinner. We got ourselves dressed up and headed back for the concert. But it wasn't in the square, it was in a big hall and it was hot and busy in there. So we ditched that idea and went back to the van to watch a bit of The West Wing on the laptop. Bugger culture if its uncomfortable.

Camping Municipal at Val d'Ajol, France. N47.92471 E006.47442

Tuesday 23-8-16

So we now fell back on the Lizzie Aire plan. The bread yesterday had been great so on the way out of the town we stopped and picked today's lunch up.

As we were back in France I could return to my pre-dinner activity of boule. We had a problem though, I'd given ours away in Hungary. So when we saw a huge Carrefour supermarket we wandered in to get some new ones. I opted for a nice but stupidly expensive set while Liz was happy with the bog standard ones. We also grabbed a small fold up bbq so I could continue burning pork without having to buy disposables.

At lunch we found the aire and it was busy even then, free overnight parking is quite popular. But we found a gap and got ourselves installed by the canal. The old boy next to us caught lots of small fish, put them in a net, then chucked them all back in the canal again. Which seemed a bit odd. 

During the afternoon a couple in another GB motorhome recognised our number plate from reading this blog and came over for a chat. They were Phil and Julie from York. They were on their way south and this was their first stop on the way. We went to see their big motorhome. After six months of being inside ours seeing how much room they had was a shock. We had a good natter, took a picture and then left them to their dinner.

Next to the canal was one of the most impressive boule playing areas I'd ever seen. Normally they play on a patch of gravel and the council might stick a bench or two around it. Here they had a clubhouse with bar and a huge floodlit covered playing area. It intimidated me a bit so my new boules stayed in the van.

We also got to watch huge sand barges floating by every half hour. They carried 420 ton of sand and were 58m long. Impressively big when they're passing a couple of metres from your front door.

Aire at Thaon les Vosges, France. N48.24913 E006.42473

Wednesday 24-8-16 and Thursday 25-8-16

Today should have been 50km and it turned into 100km. It started off well as on the route we'd spotted a small village called Aulnois. We decided to stop and have a look about as Lizzie s maiden name is Henry d'Aulnois. Which means Henry of Aulnois. We took the obligatory picture of Liz by the sign and then parked up by the church. And apart from that there wasn't much else. The cemetery turned up no Henry d'Aulnois's and the small mayors office was closed.

We drove on but then when we got to Neufchateau our road was closed, we took the diversion and drove south when we should have been going West. Eventually I gave up on the diversion and headed west on a small road. It got us to the town with the aire and after driving about through its one way streets found a place to park to get our lunch. Then we went off to find the aire, the coordinates in the Camperstop book were wrong and we ended up in a farmers yard. I looked on the gps and found the aire marked on it elsewhere, which meant negotiating the one way system again. We found it and rejected it, just a gravel parking with nothing around it. The next nearest aire was one we'd used on our way south six months ago. So back to the town, around the one way system, back down the small road and then we carried on south. It was a pleasure to get to Goncourt.

We had a meaty salad for dinner and all was well with the world again.

During the evening two huge motorhomes parked up next to us. The larger one having a Fiat 500 in the boot. They made our little van seem a bit inadequate.

The next day was a lazy one. A bread van turned up at the aire in the morning and we got our bread for lunch without having to walk anywhere. I cleaned the van windows, snoozed and got up to date writing this. The only exercise we got was a game of boule. My new boules were the bees knees and I thrashed Liz with her crappy ones. A great day really.

And then it got even better. A kebab van turned up at the aire. Two kebabs and frites finished the day off a treat.

Aire at Goncourt, France. N48.23695 E005.61026

Friday 26-8-16

With another aire just north of Dijon set as the destination in the satnav we packed up the van. The aire at Goncourt had an honesty box next to the service point so we dropped our euros in it and used the services before leaving.

We had quick shopping stop for beer and milk just up the road and then a leisurely drive south. As we got near a town called Langres Liz remembered that we'd stopped there 6 years ago in our VW camper. It had a nice camping municipal inside the old city walls. So we ditched the planned aire and headed into the town. It was market day so we had to squeeze the van through the cobble streets via a diversion around it. The site was how we remembered it and we had no trouble finding a pitch.

The market was the usual French type, with stalls selling veggies, cheese, saucisson and handbags. We thought the prices were on the high side for everything so nothing got bought but it was good to look.

On Friday evening the site filled up with people using it as a stop off on their way south, lots of noisy Dutch in caravans and a few GB's too. We decided to stop here on Saturday night as well, there's lots to see in the town and we fancied a good walk around the town on the old wall. 

And that's another week over, only five more left before our booked crossing on the tunnel. We've one more week in France planned then we head back to a beer festival in Germany next Friday, which should be fun.

Camping Municipal Goncourt, France. N47.86052 E005.32883

Below are the numbers so far for 171 days away.

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.

Sunday 21 August 2016

The Twenty-Fourth Week

Monday 15-8-16

So we were in Austria on a small four van capacity Stellplatze with terrific views up a valley. When we got up on Monday morning we were treated to a view out of the van door of the valley with a layer of mist in the bottom of it.

When the mist had cleared we paid the nice Dutch couple who ran it 20 euro for the two nights we'd stayed and then headed on up the valley. At the end of the valley the road rose sharply via hairpin bends and we stopped to get a look back at our route.

We were heading north west into the Tirol area of Austria. It's got those mountains that make you stop and just stare at them. We didn't stop so Liz had to snap photos out of the window.

The mountains sent our GPS a bit wobbly, it kept losing signal, and the turn for a stellplatze got missed. As it was still early we carried on rather than go back on ourselves. This took us through a long eleven euro tunnel called the Felber Tauern Tunnel. Then at the large town of Mittersill we turned west and 25km later found a stellplatze at a Gasthoff that had space for 10 vans to park overnight. We spoke to the chef as the lady who manned the reception had as much English as we had German. He said it was seven euro a night, which seemed very fair considering the views and location.

The place was riddled with gnomes. The owner had them everywhere and had even created a gnome trail where you walked through paths in the forest finding the gnomes he'd placed all over. He also had a Russian Trabant in a nice old garage. That night it hammered it down with rain, I lent an umbrella to a couple who were walking up to the restaurant. When they came back they brought us over a bottle of wine and we shared it under our awning. They were East German and neither spoke any English. We had a very confusing hour trying to talk with them. But it was pleasant enough.

Stellplatze Gasthoff Friedburg, Austria. N47.23931 E012.24119

Tuesday 16-8-16 and Wednesday 17-8-16

As happened yesterday, when we woke up and opened the van door we got a view of a valley full of mist.

This part of Austria has views that can only be described as Chocolate Boxy. The tidy alpine houses all have flowers on their balcony's and the very green meadows all look like they'd just been mown.

We did a bit of food shopping and I picked up some beer, the only reason being that I liked it's can design. Then by lunch we crossed our eighth border of the trip, the Austrian/German border was unmanned and we drove straight through.

Ten kilometres after the border we drove around a lake and at a tiny town called Fall found a large parking area in a forest next to the water. It had a motorhome overnight parking area and they charged four euro for 24 hours. Perfect for tight wads like us. There was also a motorhome service point with water and a disposal point for grey and black waste. We found a good spot and were comfortably sorted again.

We thought we'd stop a second day so on Wednesday we had a walk around the lake and town. The lake was flat and reflective, and there was nobody there. No canoeists, sail boats, hikers or mountain bikers. It was odd but very nice to be the only ones there.

One of the houses was celebrating the birth of a baby and had gone to town a bit, I was most impressed with the use of the old German army helmet.

Liz also liked the the old man carved out of a log in front of a bar. Note the bloody gnome hiding at the back. These things are everywhere.

Remember the beer I bought because of the nice can, well it was nice beer too. I only wished I'd bought more than four. But I'll keep hunting for it.

Stellplatze Fall, Germany. N47.57039 E011.53380

Thursday 18-8-16

My day started with a trip to the service point to dump the contents of the toilet cassette. I always love a day that starts with raw sewage disposal as you know things can only get better.

Next jobs were finding a post office and an ATM. I searched for the nearest post office on the satnav and it took us to one fifteen kilometres away. With typical German efficiency there was a car park to dump the van in, a post office across the road to post our letter and a bank next door to get some Euros out of. Just after lunch we arrived in a small town called Wald that had a stellplatze. They worked on an honesty system for paying. We found this in a small wooden shelter next to the parking area.

You took a little white envelope, wrote your reg number on it, put 5 euro in it and dropped it in the blue box. Then you took a green paper slip, wrote your reg on it and dates of arrival and departure and stuck that in the windscreen. We were the only ones there and had pretty alpine cows in a meadow opposite us and a lake behind us people were swimming in.

We wandered down to the swimming lake and then around the town, stopping only to sit in a bier garden to have a bier in the sun.

Stellplatze Wald, Germany. N47.72302 E010.56388

Friday 19-8-16

My day started with a trip to the service point, this time to dump the contents of grey waste tank. I always love a day that starts with stinky dishwater disposal, as you know things can only get better. The official place to do this was at the fire station in the town, w hich felt odd but was the place the map in the wooden hut had shown.

As we entered a large town I had a sudden urge to do something we hadn't done in the last six months. I pulled into a McDonald's and ordered a sausage egg McMuffin and a coffee for breakfast. Then we drove a bit further and did a food shop in a very posh supermarket called Edeka, it's like the German version of Waitrose. We found lamb chops in the butchery department so spent a small fortune on them. After a mornings driving on lovely smooth roads through lovely countryside we arrived at Hofladen. The stellplatze there was big, more like a campsite but without a toilet block. And at first we thought it was free due to this sign....

But after we parked up I read the notice board and found out it was 12 euro and you had to do the envelope in the box thing again like yesterday. Expensive for us but we were set up now so stayed.

We walked through a gate and around the lake then found the gate locked so had to walk around the lake again and out through a lakeside restaurant. All very confusing. At 6 o'clock a big man in a little van drove around the place selling eggs, bread and veggies. Actually he just pushed the van around then drove off in it.

We sat and looked at maps and decided that we would make for France tomorrow. We had two weeks before we needed to be back in Germany for a beer festival we were meeting friends at. Germany wouldn't hold my attention for that long and we fancied some familiar surroundings. I took an arty photo of some teasels from where I sat outside the van and drank some lovely German beer.

And that's where I'll leave this weeks blog post. Next up France and the Alsace region, a language we can understand, food we recognise and less daily mileage.

Stellplatze Mengen, Germany.  N48.03075 E009.28166

Below are the numbers so far for 165 days away.

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.

Saturday 13 August 2016

The Twenty-Third Week

Monday 8-8-16 and Tuesday 9-8-16

This morning we had to drop the van off at the Fiat dealer which meant us getting up at half “bloody” six. Liz followed me in the car we'd hired. A vintage VW Golf with 250,000 km on the clock.

After leaving Brian the van in the capable hands of Valentino the mechanic we drove to the south side of Lake Balaton and got a ferry to Tihany on the North side. A little further on in the town of Balaton Fured we abandoned the car, ignoring the parking meters, and had a wander about. It was a very tidy place and a lot of money had been spent doing it up. It felt like money lived here and the presence of a marina with nice yachts moored up confirmed this.

I bought myself a hat and Liz paid to use the public loo's. We'd given the town enough of our cash so drove on around the lake. At lunch we found a German cafe where we shared a plate of Gyros and chips.

Then back on the road and by four we were back at the garage. They'd changed the radiator and replaced a turbo hose but the wheel bearing would have to be done tomorrow. So our back-up plan sprung into action. Tranquil Pines camping also had an en-suite B&B room. We declined the breakfast and paid for a bed for the night. That evening we treated Andrew and Sharon, the site owners, to a meal at a restaurant they recommended. It was run by a Swiss woman and served great steaks and great beer.

On Tuesday we hurtled south in the mighty Golf to a town called Pecs. Just outside the town was a TV tower that had a viewing deck at the top.

At the top we got a good view of the town and supposedly on a clear day you could see as far as Serbia. What it did show was how flat the country is south of there. I needed hills.

In Pecs we parked up and explored. We found fine old buildings, monuments, pedestrianised areas and street cafes. Altogether a very nice place. We dined out for the third time on the trot and had great pizzas while sat outside a restaurant called The Elephant.

After doing the touristy thing in Pecs we headed back to see how the van was doing. And it was done. For 528 quid we had a new radiator, radiator mounts, turbo hose, track rod end and wheel bearing. Driving back to the camping was like driving a new van.

Tranquil Pines Camping, Hungary. N46.59027 E018.10344

Wednesday 10-8-16

We said goodbye to Andrew and Sharon and headed for Slovenia. After crawling around the Lake in seriously slow traffic we eventually hit open road and by lunch were at the Hungarian – Slovenian border. If we'd of blinked we'd of missed it, just a sign, no guards or passport checks like the last three borders we'd crossed. Slovenia struck me as nice, very Germanic in the tidiness and building styles. We needed to recoup some of the expenses of the last six days, campsite fees, B&B costs, car hire, eating out and van repairs. So our 2013 edition of the Camperstop Europe book was dug out, the first time since Italy in March. It showed a few places in Slovenia and we picked one on our route north to Austria. As ever a couple of kilometres down a gravel path led us to it. It was a grassy field next to some fishing ponds and a pretty restaurant. The fine mustachioed owner of the restaurant confirmed it was free to stop and so we were sorted for the night.

We then decided to eat at the restaurant, which wasn't really part of the money saving plan. It was good food and they served good Slovenian beer called Union Pevo.

After the meal we took our drinks outside and sat chatting with the owner, who spoke good English. The motorhome stopover was his idea and he said it brought him trade during the week when he wasn't as busy with weekend fisherman at the ponds. He ran the bar and served the food and his wife did all the cooking, the salad and veggies came out of his garden. There was what I thought was a wood fired pizza oven outside but he said they used it to slow cook “small piggies and baby cows” I took this to mean suckling pig and veal.

Camperstop Grostilna Tmek, Slovenia. N46.55516 E016.21929

Thursday 11-8-16

There was mist on the fishing ponds when we woke up and a few workmen having an early coffee in the restaurant.

There were very few camperstops in Slovenia so instead of heading west through the country we headed north to Austria. We got to the border in an hour and found Austrian soldiers there. They searched inside the van and checked our passports. Perhaps worries about illegal immigrants had instigated this as we didn't expect anything at this border. Again we'd looked in the big book of camperstops and found three likely places all within 100km of our Slovenian fishing ponds. After a bit of shopping we realised that our days of cheap food were over, but it was nice to be using Euros again. We found the first of our stops and decided that it was good enough for us. A grassy area the local town had provided for motorhomes to stop at, and it was free.

The town was close and we nosied about looking at the immaculate houses, gardens and the tidy shops. It was the Austria I remembered from previous trips in our old VW camper.

Stelplatz at Schwanberg, Austria. N46.76342 E015.20632

Friday 12-8-16

We woke to sun and 20 degrees but the temp had dropped to 10 degrees in the night, we were glad we'd pulled the big duvet out of storage. Our next destination was a waterfall 100km west and the road ran along the Slovenian border. At one junction I took the wrong exit off a traffic island and next thing we knew we were back in Slovenia. Taking advantage of the mistake we found a supermarket and bought a slab of Union Pevo at 89 cents a can and 300 cigarettes, again cheaper than Austria.

A bit further on, the road entered Austria and we climbed through alpine meadows to a parking at the bottom of a trail to the waterfall. Boots got put on and we climbed up the very steep path to the falls. At the falls I did the thing where you take a photo of them so they look they're falling on your wife's head, then you wonder what else to do and then you decide going back down is the only option. I'm not very good at being a tourist.

Back down at the bottom of the hill a far more satisfying thing was on offer, Goulash soup in a cafe. Splendid stuff for lunch after a bit of a ramble.

The cafe allowed campervans to stop in the parking overnight and as it was quiet and they had a public loo where we could dump the contents of the bog cassette. We struck camp in a corner.

Stelplatz Wildenstien, Austria.  N46.53908 E014.50938

Saturday 13-8-16

It was quiet overnight and when I got up at seven there was one early bird marching up the hill to the waterfall. I made use of the immaculately kept toilets before wrenching Liz out of bed, the big duvet slips her into a coma every night. 

We hit the road and headed for the Alps. We'd sorted out a spot at a privately owned motorhome parking with four places that seemed more like a campsite. On the way we had quick visit to an Austrian Aldi, but they're called Hofer here. It probably had the best views out of the front windows of any Aldi in Europe.

By lunch we reached the camper parking. Yet again we found a Dutch couple running it. They showed us where to park, where to plug in for mains hook up and where the toilet and shower was. There was a washing machine and iron we could use. We got given a wifi code and I asked the price, expecting it to be at least 20 euro a night. It was 10 euro for everything.

We had lunch and then went back to the owner and asked for two nights. It seemed a shame to just spend one night here with views like this from the van.

So, thee countries this week. We're loving Austria and are in no rush to leave just yet. I've got a fridge full of beer and Liz is cooking me a potato and cheese omelette tonight. Happy days in Van Brian.

Stelplatz Gabby & Hank Struik, Obervellach, Austria.  N46.91941 E013.23507

Below are the numbers so far for 158 days away.

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.