Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hey, let's drive on treacherous B roads for 5 hours.

Why is there fucking foliage in the middle of town anyway?
So said Al, driving down an almost non-negotiable alleged 'camper route' in France. A semi-trailer - articulated lorry - was coming at us head on. Al clipped - haha - the hedge with the passenger side mirror. Very squeezy.
We set off at 9.30 this morning from our sublime chateau camping with its manicured lawns and shady trees and wonderful restaurant, La Ferme, just outside the gate. Al had, through the campground manager, he thought, made a reservation for us at Vermenton, a five hour drive away. He wanted to 'break the back' of our return trip to Munich. (Break the back of our marriage?) Van and bikes need returning in about four days.
Well we did our drive. Yet, no matter how splendid the countryside with forests, fields, vineyards and 12th century. villages, it can be overdone. As it was today.
We'd stocked up with bread, cheese, pate and wine at Super U, this morning. We had filled the gazeole - diesel. But when it got to lunchtime we could not find a place to pull over to eat.
By this stage - about 2pm- I was ready to chow down on my own elbow. Sugar-free Fisherman's Friends weren't doing it, other than giving me wind. 
Eventually we pulled over in an asphalted lay by. I put the kettle on, grabbed the small goods and bread. But by jeeze I wish I hadn't opened the door to see that dump of human excreta and soiled loo paper just outside the van door. Put me right off my mousse aux canards.
At 4.30 we arrived at our camping to discover that we didn't in fact have a reservation and that the camp was suffering from 'l'inundation' - flooding- so we had to find another place.
Here we are now, a few k up the road in a 2 star joint. Squat toilets, bring your own 'papier' and 'les moustiques' - mozzies - up the wazoo. Which is why, despite the warmth, I'm wearing a hijab, long pants and socks.
Meh (love that expression) I've got everything, and wifi if I sit by the l'accueil - reception.
Not looking forward to being back at work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's raining again.

Okay, won't use that cliché, first world problems. Oh, it seems I have.

Bearing all that in mind this is what's largely been happening for three weeks: rain. Various kinds. The pelting, frightening, soaking deluge that catches one on one's bike, amidst traffic, suddenly, in Auxerre as one is heading back to the flooded 'camping'. One is without shoes because they're drenched. (Yeah, boo hoo.) Then there's the type of rain that shrouds the hills and vineyards as one is cycling back to the camping in Beaune, Bourgogne, after a surprising - cos it wasn't raining - blissful morning's ride with occasional sunshine peeping through the grey-wash. But mostly the rain's been that all-night pittering or smashing on the roof of the rental van. We heard it first when we picked up the van in Munich, three weeks ago and it's been a regular feature of our days and nights here in Germany and France since.

But we're troopers. The waterproofs have had a good workout and we've headed out on our velos - bikes - anyway. We've put in lots of ks and admittedly have generally laughed at our 'misfortune'. Is it misfortune when one is lucky enough to have left all responsibility behind on the other side of the planet for six weeks? Don't think so. 

Nonetheless, it casts a pall that dulls the verdant landscapes and makes me happy to have the activity of doing a load of washing and drying.

Currently, we're on the Atlantic Coast. Read cheek by jowl camping grounds - holiday villages I suppose. All neat and well appointed with swimming pools and water slides. The Atlantic Ocean is a .7 k sand dune walk away from our camping and it looked bloody bleak. One young man was swimming amidst the choppy grey. I'm sure he warmed up, as you do after a while in the ocean, but I was a bit frightened for him. I didn't notice any warning signs. Perhaps it's safe.

I pulled my hood over my hat and secured the ties.

Weather notwithstanding, we were both a bit flat this morning with the rain pittering on the van skylight. You see we'd 'dared to dream' that we could make it to Saumur for our third time for the fête du velo - vintage cycling festival - held over the past weekend and we made it. I try not to to put too much store into these things in case I'm disappointed. But far from it. I'd say it was the best experience so far these hols and for a long time. Sad that it's over.

I come over here hoping to engage with the French. (I've written elsewhere about being the French pretender but I can't link to it on this device. Merde.) Well, apart from the magnificent cycling through the vineyards and along the troglodyte route - where markets and houses were carved out of the clay in the eleventh century - we had a real treat. A group of people were celebrating the fête with a picnic in one of the caves. This cave has a wood-fired oven and toilet facilities. (Pretty good cave.) The cave, all chalky white, is built into the cliffs on one side of the Loire. It's a room-like space that is open to the elements above. On that Saturday it wasn't raining.

We could hear lots of echoing voices as we approached. Didn't want to bust up their party, whoever they were, but I really needed a toilet stop. I barged through. Pardon, messieurs dames - basically, excuse me, I'm coming through. Pas de problème.

And after I'd washed up we were invited to have a drink. Next thing, we'd both got a glass of wine and a hunk of bread with chèvres - goats cheese. I chatted to Dianne, who had a bit of English. Between my French and Dianne's English we were away. It was marvellous. They were a group of neighbours and friends enjoying the special weekend. We shared their marinated duck and saucisson and stayed there with them in that cave for over an hour. Magic. Definitely flies in the face of all that guff about the French being unwelcoming. Very special.

So was Claude, well met at a wine and food pitstop along the vintage vélo ride around the Loire the next day. Claude had worked for the French government around the world including in Australia. Of course he spoke excellent English. Somehow, during the course of our conversation we had been invited to park our van at his place next time we're in that area. And I'm sure he was sincere.

Despite mostly bad weather, it's been worth the trip. I love the French culture and being able to improve my French conversation, love being with Al in our cosy van. Love not working. However, don't think I'm ready for retirement. (That's a whole nother story.)

PS: next day. Great forest cycle track along the coast around St Jean de Monts. Beach at low tide on the still but overcast day was amazing. Loads of activities for the masses of tourists who'll no doubt fill all the apartments, gites, hotels and campsites along this part of the coast in ten days time.

PPS: two days later - our first experience of a hot blue afternoon in France this holiday. Camped now in the picturesque well-appointed grounds of a chateau - Castel Campsite Le Petit Trianon in Ingrande-sur-Vienne. Quite enjoying sweltering heat and the peace of this place after the four hour drive to get here from the Atlantic coast.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Touch wood indeed. Tour de Germany part 2.

Beware your own beatific smile. Beware smugness. That's a warning to me. Minutes after I posted my last blog I drove the campervan to the waste water drain. Very pleased with the way the van handled. Why does Al make it look so hard? I thought, swinging her round the corners and expertly positioning the outlet nozzle over the drain. He just wants to have all the fun.

I'd set the sat nav for our next destination. Told Al to hop in the back and I'd drive to recepzion. Except I couldn't find my way back through the hedge maze in the camping ground. Signs didn't help. I have about three words in German. (Wein - wine, tee mit milch - tea with milk, biergarten - beer garden. Okay, that's five.) I couldn't tell which way was the ausfahrt - exit. (Okay, six.) Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn down a narrow hedged lane and felt a bit of sick coming up cos I knew I couldn't get through. Al, meanwhile was in the back putting his shoes and socks on for the drive. (He has his standards.) Realising I was in trouble, I asked him to take over the driving. 

We couldn't go forward. Had to reverse back around a corner in this tiny lane. Well, we - me out in the rain rushing side to side at the back of the van flapping my hands and calling increasingly terse instructions - got stuck on a hedge with a low thick protruding branch which got jammed under the front wheel rim.

We needed help.

Given it was my fault I felt utterly sick, stupid and pathetic. Cried. (Been there before.) What else could I do? (Hyperventilate while pacing up and down with my purple umbrella, as it happened.) My 'patheticity' galvanised Al into action. In his yellow plastic poncho he headed off to find help at recepzion.

Interestingly, he found the office quite easily whereas I had been totally disorientated. Should have let him drive.

About 45 minutes later one of the campingplatz workers arrived in his golf buggy and inspected the problem. He ripped off a few branches then wrenched, with an alarming tearing sound, the offending branch from under the wheel. 'Now is good,' he said. But it took quite a lot more to-ing and fro-ing for Al to negotiate out of the trap into which I had led him.

At least a couple of locals were entertained. A giant sized elderly gent, in white singlet, blue shorts and plastic scuffs joined in barking out instructions in German. The louder the better, he evidently thought, nodding and grinning at me. An old woman in white cardigan and the ubiquitous white pants silently bore witness from her caravan site.

Ultimately, very lucky to have got out of that one with minimal damage.

And here we are in Waldshut on the Rhine in a camping car park. Might as well be in the Coburg - Melbourne - shopping centre carpark. No way. We're having an adventure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tour de Germany. Part 1.

Here we are again, smugly sitting in our rented van in a campingplatz on Bodensee, Germany. Okay so rain, thunder and lightning now and much of the night but the past two days have been sublime.

Again we bought second hand bikes in Munich. By the way, not only does Munich do Octoberfest in September, they also have the IFAT. That's the biggest trade fair in the world for Water, Sewage, Waste & Raw Materials Management. Held every second year in May. Apart from eavesdropping on animated American breakfast conversations about waste disposal, we also paid double for our accommodation.

Otherwise, we're well over jet lag and have relaxed into this vacation. Well, perhaps not when we were pushing our bikes uphill through torrential rain on a forest trail near Neuschwanstein Castle. We'd been trying to cycle around Alpsee - a lake - as recommended by a school mate. Except it's not possible. An hour into this isolated soggy workout, concerned about hypos with only a few jelly beans and a small container of sultanas to sustain me, insisted we back track. No harm done and good for the thighs.

We were camped amongst the meadows by Hopfensee, a beautiful lake reflecting perfectly the surrounding snow capped mountains. Gorgeous ride through wild -flowery fields to nearby medieval town of Füssen. Even had a deer sighting on the bike path.

Three nights there then onto Gohren, Bodensee. The cycling here is delectable on mostly flat well signed bike paths through apple orchards, corn and wheat fields, vineyards, villages and beautifully maintained allotments, mostly within sight of Bodensee - Lake Constance. 

We finished our two rides - about 50k to and from Meersburg on day 1, perhaps 30 beyond Lindau and back on day 2 - sitting in dappled sunlight under shade trees in a traditional Biergarten. 

Hence, smug. Touch wood.