Weekly read 155
Monday 9th June 2014 week 155 France (just)
The French? As mad as us.
We left Verdun on Friday. We were going to leave earlier but it had been raining on and off for a couple of days. During that time the sloping grass pitch we were on had become sodden, you couldn't walk across it without puddles forming in the indentation left by your footprint and manoeuvring almost four tons of vehicle off what was fast becoming a bog was not going to be easy. I'd told Hazel it would take skill, or a tow truck to get us off. However, on Friday morning, through deft clutch control and the gentle application of the throttle, I managed to get us off. (You just wellied it like a loon. Ed) It may have looked like that to the uninitiated dear, but trust me, skill played an integral part.
For some reason I hadn't given the onward journey much thought. I say this because I rather rashly took the toll road. My reasoning, such as it is, was how much could they reasonably change me for a piddly little sixty miles on the N4. Well, as it turned out a whopping £20. That’s not much you might say, but sooner in my pocket than the French governments. Worth remembering, every time we spend money here we are contributing to their tax revenues so why pay if it can be avoided?
Lutzelbourg, could it be anymore charming?
So today you find us in Lutzelbourg, Alsace France. You'd be forgiven for thinking we are in Germany, but we're still 40 miles from it. This part of France has changed hands more times than a second hand pair of gloves. It was once a country in its own right and has its own language, Alsatian, which is still spoken by 40% of its population. The official language however is French. Alsace is also where the German shepherd dog comes from so I've been informed by the expeditions chief information officer.
The camp site is tucked away in picturesque valley between a Railway and a Road. The railway is favoured by intercity trains that fly past making more of a whooooooshing sound than that familiar clickity-clack. The road is favoured by motorcyclists all out to prove Einstein was wrong when he said nothing can move faster than the speed of light. Now being a keen motorcyclist myself I can almost enjoy the sound of a powerful engine being wound up to 16,000 RPM and then whistle past. What I can't stand is those noisy 50cc scooters favoured by spotty teenagers that just buzzzzzzzz, you can hear them crossing the German boarder. How on earth can something so small, make so much noise and yet move so fucking slow? Its a total mystery to me. It's the same with microlight aircraft you always get on a Sunday mornings. They all seem to hang in the air over your garden buzzing like a giant wasp going anywhere.
Our local cycle route to the shops.
We picked this site because, on paper, it had what I was looking for, an outdoor swimming pool and free wifi. It wasn't the only reasons but they are high on my list. Unfortunately, on arrival, I noted the the pool was empty.
“It doesn’t get filled for another month, no call for it”. I was told by the charming French lady owner when I booked in and pointed out it looked a tad dry. With temperatures in the nineties all weekend, that excuse, rather like the pool, doesn’t hold water. Still, look on the bright side it has free wifi I told myself. And it does! its just doesn’t work, or works when there’s only a 'R' in the month or some such nonsense.
Because of this we may move on quicker than anticipated and they've only themselves to blame.
Tuesday 10th June 2014 week 155
You lucky people.
Wow its hot! Ridiculously hot. The temperature, since we arrived on Friday, has sat in the mid eighties. By early evening last night it was 97 inside the van. I don't know what the weathers like in England, probably snowing, but being too hot is almost as bad as being too wet. There's not much you can do when it's raining, nor when it's this hot except look longingly at the empty swimming pool while you pray for a better internet connection. I'm tempted to tell the French owners, when we leave, we would have loved to have stayed longer if only the pool had water in it!. I won't of course. Besides Hazel says it sounds like I'm whingeing. Cheek! Me whinge, as if?
We got chatting to a very friendly Yorkshire couple on the next pitch. I asked him when did they leave the UK? He told me a week ago. -they are on their annual holiday-. He then asked me when I had?. I told him June 2011. He almost fell off his sun lounger. I explained we were on a two year adventure which has now run into extra time. He was quite envious. He expressed this several times over, which I found made me feel a tad uncomfortable.
Someones pride and joy, or nigthmare I suppose.
“Wow you're so fortunate he said. You have the perfect life” he said. I found myself trying to play it down. I don't like being envied. I'm, by nature, a humble chap. I also think you're tempting fate and inviting misadventure to knock at your door. Everything’s going swimmingly and you could jinx’s it if you're not careful.
“What’s that you say? Phil drove off a cliff? And he was only saying the other day how champion its all going. Pity, I was enjoying reading his mildly witty, yet insightful daily diary”.
It's that 'touch wood' syndrome. Its quite barmy but we are all guilty of saying things like: “Oh! I've never had a brake cable snap”, and then add, “touch wood”. It's as if by saying something, we can bring it about, evoke the God's displeasure. So we play good fortune down. We really are a daft bunch.
“Well its not erm.... all fun!” I said to my Yorkshire neighbour.
“No. There’s erm.... the weather.”. Since we were standing under a blazing Sun at the time that clearly wasn't going to engender any sympathy. I was going to have to think of something else, something discouraging. “Course it's not like this all the time” I added vaguely.
“No, guess not”
“It can be very windy some times”. Even as I said it, it sounded quite pathetic.
“Suppose you miss the Uk”. He proffered.
“Well, not really,.... Probably the last thing I'm missing to be honest.”. I was struggling to make our lives seem any less idyllic than perhaps they are. I thought of mentioning the pool being empty. “No water in the swimming pool?, it's a fucking horrible life!!” but decided against it. Doesn’t seem a hardship some how.
“Well you look good on it anyway. You don’t look like you’ve a care in the world” he said filling in the pregnant pause I'd created.
“Thanks, I feel it”.
And that was it. I guess we are to be envied, but I'm still not comfortable with it.
Wednesday 11th June 2014 week 155 France
Cowboys and castles.
A storm had been forecast. We had hoped it would provide us with a brief respite from the heat, clear the air and make for a cooler night.
Late evening, grey rain clouds rolled over. There were a few half hearted attempts at thunder, the heavens opened and a little bit of rain came out. It was, as thunderstorms go, quite pathetic.
Earlier we had rode into town. That makes us sound like a couple of gun-slingers. Perhaps I should say we moseyed, or even sashayed into town, although I doubt gun-slingers ever sashayed into town. If they did I doubt it ever worried the sheriff none (Get on with it, Ed) Yeah sorry seemed to have gone off off piste again.
We'd seen an ancient castle atop a mountain -It was just visible in Mondays photo- I reasoned it would afford us some excellent views ao have stayed longer if only the pool had water in icross the valley and I know you guys like photos, so we decided to climb it.
You see our van from here.
Now we could have taken the road but that would have been too easy. Besides we didn’t know a road existed, at least I didn't. We took the goat trail toward the summit. (You're making it sound like Mount Kilimanjaro. Ed). Its a gift. The art of over statement luv. I know it was a goat track because we met a large number of goats on route. I wasn't sure if I should be wary of them but they all seemed to have other things on their mind so thankfully ignored me. During the hike, which was actually signposted, I comforted myself in the knowledge that there’s no way they could charge an entrance fee once we reached the summit, they'd have to pay people to make this climb. Besides, I'd forgotten my wallet. (Again. Ed). It was as near vertical as it could be and yet still be navigable without the need for ropes, crampons and a Sherpa guide. When I emerged from the thicket at the top, hot, panting and with leaves and twigs poking from every orifice it was onto a large well laid car park.
I looked at Hazel and was about to open my mouth when she said, “I could have told you there was a road”.
Why is it I'm always the last person to find these things out?. I bumble around like frekin Mr Magoo while everyone else seems to have the jump on me. It's that feeling you get when you stand in a hallway of a hotel for five minutes trying to open the room door with one of those stupid plastic cards. Someone then walks past and says: “Just do it slow, it's a bit tricky”. You then spend five more minutes of your life varying the insertion speed of the thing before it finally opens, and yet, strangely, you can do it first time every time after that. Ask at reception why they don't have proper door keys any more and they can't tell you. I've asked.
High on a hill was a loney goat heard. de dum de dum.
Anyways, the castle or château is in an excellent state of repair, not that you could move in or anything but enough left to make the assent worthwhile. From the top we got some spectacular photos of the valley. I hope you agree.
Tomorrow we are leaving France and heading into Germany. We are heading into the Black Forest which is neither black nor really an actual forest its more of an area.
Oh! yes... it was free entry.
Thursday 12th June 2014 Week 155 Germany
Stranger than fiction.
What did I say about tempting fate? Something along the lines of: It really doesn’t pay to count your blessing as you’ll only run the risk of jinxing yourself?. Turns out, I couldn't have been more right.
We left the empty swimming pool and dodgy wifi and headed east toward the German border under a hot Sun. The Route would take us slap bang thought the middle of Strasbourg. As we approached, less than a mile out, on the busy duel carriageway, there was a extremely loud BANG! and the van suddenly sat on its rear haunches. The rear tyre had blown and dramatically as the photo shows. By sheer good fortune we were just approaching a lay by. I pulled in. The road had no hard shoulder.
We quickly donned our hi-vis jackets and placed the warning triangle 200 yards from the stricken van. Trucks thundered past, our home shook in their wake.
Where's me puncture repair kit.
I attempted to jack up the van, however, it wouldn't lift it high enough to get the wheel off. I then found some wood to place under the jack and tried again. Traffic roared past. The sun blazed down. Lifting four ton of vehicle isn’t easy with a scissor jack, it really needs a bottle jack. At one point there was an almighty CRACK!. I stopped. After inspection I found part the jack, a bearing case, had snapped. It wasn't serious enough to render it useless but it did make it even harder to jack up.
I then had to extract the spare. It was under the van where it had hung since some Fiat worker put it there when the chassis was built. I had to slide under the van. -Not recommended- The spare was held by two rusted bolts which I couldn't shift. My T-shirt, by this time, was sodden with sweat. It was then, the noise, heat and humidity got to me. I had, what I think the Victorians called 'a touch of the vapours'. My head started to swim. I begun to feel nauseous. I had to get out from underneath. Concerned, Hazel ever the nurse, had me sit in the van with the air con on.
It was then, as if by magic or prayer, a motorway maintenance truck pulled up behind us. Two French guys got out and asked what the problem was. It was evident. They then set about changing the wheel, using my tools, insisting I stay in the cab.
All I had was 15 Euros in my wallet which they refused, three times, to take before accepting reluctantly. I could have, and probably should have, kissed them both. They got back in their truck and drove off.
Now in 1984 I was driving to the south of France for a holiday. On route I spied a chap on the hard shoulder waving frantically at traffic in the rain. He was clearly in some difficulty. I pulled up and walked back to him. He was French and had a flat tyre. He was old and quite frail so I changed it for him while he held an umbrella over me and his wife sat in his car. He was extremely grateful and I walked back to my car knowing I'd done both a good deed, which I hoped would one day be repaid and I had done my bit for French Anglo relationships.
What’s that saying?: What goes around comes around.
Friday 13th June 2014 week 155 Germany.
My brother lives here in Germany. He was once in the British army, stationed here. I think at the time he drove tanks, or sat in them, or did whatever soldiers do in tanks during peacetime. I remember him telling me once me, when I'd asked what it was he actually did?, that he spent most of his time thundering around the German countryside leaving rutted tank tracks across farmers fields. I guess, one of the drawbacks of losing WW2 meant you'd be lumbered with my younger brother who, by his own admission, spent his days churning up the countryside in a 60 ton Chieftain tank. Still, thankfully, they don’t seem to hold any of that against him. He seems remarkable well liked, and why not? he's a thoroughly decent fellow who writes and performs excellent music. Check out the link below.
On my very first visit to him some years ago, I remember walking from his flat to the local bakery on the first morning. I hadn't been walking long before I started to feel something wasn't quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn't until I was walking back did it dawn on me. Heck! there was no litter. None. Anywhere. No fags packets, sweet papers, plastic bags, fast food containers, crisp packets, cans, none of the normal detritus you'd see on many a British street. I found the lack of rubbish quite odd. So odd in fact I started looking for it, it became a mini quest as I walked back. Surely someone must have dropped something?. A child must have discarded a chocolate bratwurst wrapper at the very least?. I'd even settle for something accidentally dropped, but no! The streets were squeaky clean. This spoke volumes about the Germans as far as I was concerned. I was approaching my brothers flat, eager to tell him what I had discovered about his adopted country, when my spirits flagged. I spied something in the gutter. Bugger! I thought. It was a small piece of paper. However, to my delight it looked more abandoned, than discarded. (There’s a difference?. Ed). Oh Yeah, you betcha. Even though I didn't drop it, I felt a strong urge to pick it up. I wasn't responsible but in these clean, almost sterile surroundings, it looked at odds with the world, so I did.
Ice cream parlous abound heer in Germany, they love it..... its an optical illusion these were in foot tall glasses. yum yumy yum
One of the 'Rules' which helps to keep both Germany clean and tidy, and its citizens litter conscious, is a deposit system on all cans and bottles, regardless of what they are made from. Because of this you don't see them colonising waste ground or cluttering up grass verges as you do in some European countries. I'm not saying they don't get thrown away but there’s always someone willing to pick them up and cash in the deposit. (Households are also fined if they do not dispose of their rubbish in the correct containers!Ed)
It's a sad statistic but in some European countries, ours is one of them, there are millions of tons of litter dumped on our street yearly. Plastic bottles, cans and convenience food wrappers make up the biggest bulk. Other people's crap makes our countryside look ugly and worse, imply we don't care. Motorway grass verges are a favourite 'trash-can' for motorist waste. I would show little mercy to these drivers. If caught, their cars would be crushed by the road side in front of them and their crying children. And on top of that three penalty points would be added to their licence!!
Erm.... bit much? Bit draconian? Well Okay then, drop the three penalty points.
Have a fun litter free weekend.