Biking and hiking on the Peloponnese…. .

After enjoying an extended ten day stop at ancient Corinth where we spent the time chatting to neighbours, cleaning the van inside and out, chatting to neighbours, on line learning, chatting to neighbours, a few bike rides, chatting to neighbours and walking up to Acrocorinth and back several times we hit the road again heading back to Nafplio.

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Barbecue night at the Camperstop in ancient Corinth.
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British, Dutch, French, German, Austrian and Greek campers. 

The main reason we had decided to go back to the Camperstop, apart from a bit of a recharge, regroup and a relax, was that Tim was waiting for a parcel to be delivered to the Post Office in Nafplio.   Back in Nafplio, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We weren’t idle whilst waiting as we always find plenty to do.

 

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We weren’t idle whilst hanging about in Nafplio.
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Of course we found the time to go for an Ouzo tasting night with Sue and Mick  who were our neighbours for a couple of nights.
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Agios Nikolaos, a little church built into the cliffs and accessed via a coastal footpath from the carpark at the end of Karathona beach.

 

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The lovely young dog and numerous cats that lived near the church at the end of Karathona beach.  Various people come to feed them.

The tracking history for the parcel showed it was getting closer and closer but not close enough.  It spent three days in Argos which, on closer inspection of the map, we realised was only ten kilometres away.  Long story short, after several emails and phone calls we arranged to pick it up in Argos.  We arrived in Argos and parked up on a busy street outside the town.  Tim went off in search of the delivery depot whilst I stayed in the van in case I had to move it.  He relayed to me later that, unable to find the place, he asked at a local garage for some directions.  After the owners daughter had done her best to translate the directions Tim obviously must have still looked puzzled as the owner called over one of his young employees and said ‘he take you’.  Oh, how I wish I’d seen Tim’s face when the young lad nodded to him to clamber onto the back of his moped.  Now, for those of you who know Tim you will know that he is Mr Health and Safety personified.  He won’t even use an electric toothbrush without risk assessing it first.  He just does not do any kind of motorised two wheel transport.  I had a moped for over ten years to zip back and forth to work on and he never once got on it.  So there he was careening round the streets of Argos in a pair of shorts not wearing a crash helmet on a genetically modified moped driven by a multi tasking teenager who had one eye on the road and the other on his mobile phone.  All I can say is he badly wanted that parcel.  You never know, if you get to the end of this blog post I might even tell you what it was.

In all it took two weeks from order to delivery (or not quite delivery).  Curiously, the ACSI card my mum kindly sent to the Nafplio Post Office arrived in a few days.  Finally, then, we left Nafplio for good taking the coast road on the next ‘finger’ of the Peloponnese.  Under a cloudless sky we chugged up and down the coastal road giving us glimpses of little fishing coves all set against a back drop of the Parnon mountain range.

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A walk and a lunch stop at Astros.
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Views of the Parnon mountain range.
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One of several picnic laybys on the coastal road to Leonidio.

We arrived in Leonidio and immediately loved it.  The town nestles in the shadow of a huge red rock at the end of the Dafnon Gorge and the area is popular with sports climbers who have a choice of over a thousand different routes.  It truly is a very beautiful area and we have been waylaid here for the past five days.

 

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Leonidio – you can just see the van to the left of the picture.
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Tim had the choice to walk or cycle up the hill above Leonidio to the top of the rock.  He chose to walk – opting out was not an option!
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The views from the top. 
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The main road through Leonidio.

It has to be the cleanest town we have been to in Greece.  I haven’t mentioned it before on the blog but we’ve been really saddened to see a huge amount of rubbish, particularly plastic and building rubble, strewn all over Greece.  I’m not having a go at Greece as every country has its fair share of waste issues but we’ve found it particularly prevalent here. There are plenty of large industrial type bins around but many have no lids, are over flowing or just aren’t emptied or used.  Here in Leonidio, though, they seem to be taking a real interest in keeping their town and environment clean and recycling what they can.  I hope that this rolls out to the rest of Greece and sooner rather than later.

 

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Recycling in Leonidio.

We could spend a couple of weeks here just exploring by foot or by bike. We spent a couple of nights parked up on the edge of the town but on Monday morning we were woken up at 6.30am to find ourselves surrounded by the local fruit and veg market.  Ooops.  They were very kind and had left us a gap to get out so we decamped and drove down the valley to the harbour at Plaka four kilometres away to have some breakfast.   We found out that the campsite behind the beach is open so we’ve decided to base ourselves here and stay for a few days.

 

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The harbour at Plaka.
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Working out in Plaka!

I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.

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Out on the bike.  Views back down to the village of  Poulithra.
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A dusting of snow and ice on the road near the top of the climb.  
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Back down the mountain towards Plaka.

Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.

 

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Spectacular views and quiet roads make for a perfect afternoons cycle.

Sixteen kilometres north of Leonidio, the Monastery of Panagia Elona, built into a cleft in the rock six hundred and fifty metres above the river bed is quite a sight even after experiencing Metéora last year.

 

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You can just see the Panagia Elona monastery clinging to the hillside.
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Close up view.

It must be quite a popular pilgrimage site as stalls are set up outside the gate selling local produce like honey and olives. I was the only visitor and was greeted by a monk who showed me around the little chapel.

 

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Inside the monastery with the little chapel at the end.

Anyway, enough of that let’s get back to Tim’s new toy.   Since embarking on our trip around Europe Tim hasn’t had the opportunity to play his clarinet or saxophone as much as he would have liked and he has missed playing in a band.  In a bid to kill two birds with one stone he has decided that he is going to take up the life of a ‘street entertainer extraordinaire’ (aka ‘a busker’).  In order to do that he needed some amplification.  And that is what was in the parcel we were waiting for, a battery powered amp.  He had his inaugural gig yesterday on the harbour front and was invited over to the taverna to knock out a few tunes on their sun terrace.

 

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It beats the draughty streets of  Bath.

Today he whiled away another hour or so playing on the harbour and was thanked by the lady in the shop who said she enjoyed the music.  All in all, it’s a win-win then.  Tim gets to play and people enjoy it. You never know it could become a good side hustle to keep him in beer money.

 

Before I go I must tell you about the campsite cats.  When we arrived we were greeted by a few cats that were sniffing about.  Obviously being such a soft touch I brought out a bag of food I have (it’s actually dog food for the numerous needy stray dogs we see) but before the food hit the floor another ten cats appeared.  I fed them again this morning and we are now prisoners in our van.  We are completely surrounded.  Most of the cats in Greece are pretty aloof but these ones know how to manipulate.  They have taken to lounging on our chairs, table and bike rack and try to get in the van at every opportunity.  Cooking outside is a nightmare and you can’t go to the washing up area without at least two kittens hanging off your trouser legs.

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Oh yes, just sit where you like we’ll just stand!
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It’s just as well the barbecue has a lid.

I don’t think our neighbours are too happy with me encouraging them as they keep spraying them with water to keep them away from their van.  I thought I was going to have to go out tonight after dark to feed them but another van has just turned up and the first thing the lady did even before getting their van into position was feed the cats.  Phew, that’s good, the heats off me now.  Oh, how we’ll laugh as they become prisoners in their van tomorrow!

 

Αντίο!

 

 

Finally….Croatia…. .

Croatia……………at last.  This time we came prepared waving our passports in our grubby little mitts.  Having been turned back at the border on our bikes the day before for not having our passports I was a little disappointed when we were waved through border control with hardly a cursory glance at the passports in my out stretched hand.  I might as well have been waving my shopping list.  Still, we were pleased to be going in to Croatia, another new country for us.

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Yay, Croatia is finally on the map.

Croatia boasts nearly 2000km of rocky coastline as well as over 1000 islands.  After not having seen the sea for nearly five months we are going to be spoilt for choice.  Ironically, though, we started our tour inland just outside the hilltop town of Buje.  After visiting a cashpoint to pick up some Kuna’s (no euros here) we pitched up at Eco Gecko Camping in Triban, a little hamlet deep in the Istrian countryside.  What a little find.  Just four pitches in the owner, Michaels, garden.  Excellent.  Washing machine included in the price.  Big tick.

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Master chef at Eco Gecko Campsite.

The site was also a short distance away from the Parenzana Cycleway where we would be able to cycle to Grožnjan, our first hilltop town stop.  The Parenzana was a 130km long narrow gauge railway line linking the port of Trieste in Italy to Poreč in Croatia which was only operational from 1902 to 1935.  In 2006 work began on converting the former track into a foot and cycle path.  Our Rough Guide informed us that the most breath taking sections of the route were those connecting Buje, Grožnjan, Livade, Motovun and Vižinada.  After having cycled some of the route from Lucija to Koper I was really looking forward to some more.  What the Rough Guide failed to mention, though, was that not all of the route is suitable for road bikes.  We picked up the trail not far from the campsite but it was an unsurfaced rough track which, although doable on our touring bikes, would have been slow, uncomfortable and tedious.  We decided to go by road instead.

The Istrian peninsula is dotted with historic hilltop towns overlooking forest, farmland, vineyards, orchards and olive groves.  Many of the towns suffered huge losses of population after World War II when local Italians were forced to leave.  In the 1970’s, in an attempt to keep the towns alive, empty houses were offered to painters, sculptors and musicians which also stimulated tourism.

Grožnjan was alive with people enjoying lunch at the many cafes, wandering around the tight cluster of cobbled streets or poking about in the numerous galleries and craft shops.

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Groznjan, it doesn’t look busy but there were lots of people about.
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Groznjan.

In contrast, the following day we walked to Buje, another hilltop town which had a much more deserted feel to it.  We loved it though and practically had the place to ourselves feeling slightly like voyeurs nosing in on other peoples everyday lives.

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The footpath to Buje.
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Approach to Buje.
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It was washing day in Buje.
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Restored homes stand side by side with derelict buildings.
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Buje old town is a warren of alleys and dead ends.

Novigrad, on the coast, was our next stop.  A pleasant spot for a couple of days with the bonus of an outdoor pool on the sea front.

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Colourful umbrellas in Novigrad.
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Fishing is still thriving in Novigrad.
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The pool to myself.

Back inland again we headed for a camper stop below the hilltop town of Motovun where Mario Andretti was born.  At €23 per night for what is effectively a car park it’s a bit steep but inland Istria is limited for campsites or motorhome stopovers.  Wild camping is forbidden in Croatia, with a knock on the door and a subsequent fine from the police being the likely outcome, so we parked up and paid up.  However, included in the price was free use of the hotel swimming pool.  The only drawback was the hotel was at the very top of the town, a fifteen minute brisk walk up the steep hill.  After a three hour walk taking in the town and the surrounding countryside I did that fifteen minute brisk walk up that hill and had that swim.

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Motovun
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The narrow streets of Motovun.
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Motovun from below.

Our Rough Guide  recommended the Trail of the Seven Waterfalls, or the Staza Seven Slapova, which has a better ring to it I feel.  The 15km walk starts in Buzet and takes in the Mirna Canyon, the water features of Kotli and several ‘slaps’ before returning to Buzet.  We almost didn’t start the walk as it was raining but refused to be dictated to by the weather.  We got water proofed up, set off and hoped for the best.  The first part of the walk up through the canyon had some interesting climbs with ropes and rails to cling on to which was just as well with it being so wet.  The only disappointment was that the river was so dry with just a trickle of water over the falls.

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Vela Pec Slap (or no slap)
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Up through the Mirna Canyon.

We emerged through the trees at the top of the canyon just as the rain cleared and the sun came out.

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The hilltop village of Buzet in the background.

 

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Lunch stop at Mala Pec slap (again no slap).
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You can keep your fancy restaurant lunches – an egg mayo sandwich and a flask of coffee is all we need.  Slap up.

I’d taken my swimming costume hoping for a bit of fun in the natural pools at the little hamlet of Kotli but alas no water was to be had.

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Kotli natural pools (Kotli apparently means hollow in Croatian and from which the hamlet gets its name).
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Kotli hamlet now mostly holiday apartments.

All in all an excellent well marked trail that would be spectacular with higher water levels.

Krk island was our next destination, an 80km drive.  No probs, it should take an hour or so.  That was before the sat nav diverted us off the A8 and onto a minor road heading up the mountain.  How was I to know that the A8 was a toll road?  It didn’t look like one on the Maps.Me app.  A tortuous, winding climb up and then down the mountain road to avoid the toll road delayed us somewhat with darkness approaching.  Driving in the dark is something we try to avoid in unfamiliar territory and I can’t actually remember the last time we drove in the dark on our trip.  Looking at the map it now seemed likely that we’d have to drive right through Rijeka, a huge industrial conurbation, before reaching Krk island.  Now, we would have been happy to pay the toll for the drive to Krk but as we’d made the decision to avoid toll roads back in Slovakia neither of us had bothered to research how the system worked in Croatia.  Do we need to buy a vignette?  A go-box?  A pre-mid?  Or is it just a pay at the toll booth affair?  Too late asking the questions now.  We did the only available option and pressed on.  We were so relieved when the sat nav directed us back on to the A8 before reaching Rijeka and then had us take the A7 avoiding the city.  Mmm, weird.  We arrived at Kamp Nijice on Krk island without further incident and settled in.  (Note to self: Even if you don’t intend using the toll roads still do the research stupid).  It turns out that the toll on the A7 is just a one off payment for the five kilometre long Učka tunnel and not a toll road as such.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, no?

Doviđenja!

Slovenia…Italy…Slovenia… .

Biking in bright sunshine the beautiful eight miles or so to the Bohinj Bovine Ball we were in high spirits.  Arriving bright and early at 10.30am things were just starting to kick off.  Accordion music blasted from outdoor speakers, craft and food stalls had set out their wares and the barbecues were just cranking up.

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Cheesemaker’s at the Cow Ball.

We looked set for a good day out.  No cows to be seen yet as the parade was to be later on.  Three hours later on.  That would have been fine if the weather hadn’t deteriorated.   The clouds appeared, got lower, and lower, and lower, then drizzle came and then the rain.  Not torrential rain but that steady wetting sort of rain.  Not prepared, we mooched about in our sandals, shorts and non waterproof jackets slowly getting wet through.

Three hours was a long time to wait in the rain, with no shelter, for the parade of the cows.  We broke up the wait with a traditional Slovenian lunch of sausage, corn mush and sauerkraut which I can only describe as a flat sausage patty served on a bed of grit.  The cows, led by their herdsmen, were worth waiting for though trotting through the crowd, bells jangling, replete in their bouquets.  Calves, some as young as a few days old, and a bit skittish, hopped, skipped and jumped along after the adults.  They will graze in the valley now until early spring when they’ll go with their herdsmen back to their mountain pastures again.

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The parade of the cows.
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What handsome cows!

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Traditional cheesemaking equipment.

Back at the campsite we wrung out our clothes and sat steaming away in the van with the heater on full blast to dry out.   After another couple of days hiking and biking in dodgy weather we threw in the towel and headed for the north eastern coast of Italy.

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Savica waterfall.

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Bohinj Lake.

Once again, it was a bit of a culture shock driving back to civilisation once away from the Triglav National Park.  Several miles of retail outlets lined either side of the road into Udine where we’d planned a stop for the night.  It was one long strip of Malls, DIY stores, food outlets, supermarkets, garages and car showrooms which seemed to go on forever.  And ever.  The weather was warm and sunny but I already had that sinking feeling of ‘what are we doing here’ having no interest in any retail therapy and already missing the calm tranquillity of the Slovenian mountains, albeit a grey, wet and cold tranquillity.  We did, however, walk to the Decathlon shop a mile or so away after we’d parked up the van at the aire to peruse the miles of aisles of sports equipment.  Yeah, I know, double standards.

Not feeling the love for Udine, even though it is said to have a historic centre, we pressed on to the coast the following morning.  We were waylaid for a few hours in Palmanova though.  We knew nothing about Palmanova but the shape of it on the map drew me in.  Planning our route I hadn’t even noticed it.  It was only when we were a few miles outside the town, whilst I was faffing with the Maps.Me app zooming in and out, that I realised it was definitely worth investigating.

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Palmanova on the Maps.Me app.

 

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Aerial shot of Palmanova courtesy of Google images.
Built by the Venetians towards the end of the 16th Century the nine pointed star structure was conceived as a defence system to keep out the Turks.  The town is now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Walking the ramparts.

A walk around the inner ramparts followed by a second lap around the outer ramparts and a mooch about the town square took up most of the afternoon and we were really glad we had stopped.

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The centre of Palmanova.  The fair was parked just to the right of the picture!

Not least because we spotted these guys basking in the sunshine in the moat below the upper path.

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Turtles catching some rays in the moat.

We hit the Italian coast at Grado. This was our first glimpse of the sea since early May when we’d left the French coast.  The sun was out, it was warm and there was an aire (aka large carpark) fifty metres from the beach at €4 per night.  Life doesn’t get better than that let me tell you.

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Carpark aire at Grado, Italy – living the dream!

Approached by a four kilometre long causeway Grado, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, is a little island beach resort backed by lagoons teeming with birdlife.  It was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days enjoying the sunshine whilst biking around the nature reserve.

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Grado.
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Fishing boats in the Valle Cavanata Nature Reserve.
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Cycling the causeway into Grado.

Onwards then east along the coast and back into Slovenia.  Slovenia has just over forty kilometres of coastline sandwiched between Italy and Croatia.  We based ourselves for a couple of nights at an aire on the marina at Lucija.  When we arrived there were only about seven or eight vans parked so we felt mightily pleased with ourselves that we were able to bag a ringside seat right next to the sea.  Perfect.  When we returned from a bike ride to Piran several hours later though we were completely surrounded by Slovenian and Italian vans settling in for the weekend.

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Aire at the marina in Lucija.  It filled up on the Friday night.

Piran, set on a triangular shaped peninsular, is just charming.  Thanks largely to nearly five hundred years of Venetian rule much of Piran and the coast of Slovenia is Italianate.  It’s a compact warren of alleys lined with narrow houses and tiny churches.

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Approach to Piran.
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The narrow alleyways.
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Looking down on the rooftops of Piran.

 

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Tartinijev square, Piran.
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Looking towards the square from the harbour.

The following day we thought we’d cycle to Croatia.  Now, Tim has been itching to get to Croatia for months and his plans have been scuppered by our dilly dallying here and there.  But finally, finally he was going to get there.  We picked up the Parenzana Cycleway just outside the marina which took us past the salt plains to the nearby border.  Once at the border we were confronted with passport control.  What?  Taking our passports hadn’t even crossed our minds.   We haven’t needed them on any other border (apart from Gibraltar).  I tried it on with my driving licence but passport control man said ‘NO’.   Croatia, then, still eluded us.

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Passport control on the Slovenian-Croatian border.  No passport.  No entry!

Returning to the van I left Tim to check on the back of his eyes whilst I cycled to Koper along the Parenzana Cycleway in the other direction.  And what a great mostly traffic free ride it was too.  A bit up and down, a couple of tunnels, views of the coast, vineyards, and olive groves.  A very popular day out it seems and a well used section of the path.

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One of the tunnels on the Parenzana cycle trail.
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Looking towards Izola.
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The old coast road from Izola to Koper is now traffic free.  It felt like riding on a road that had been closed for the day.

On Sunday morning we nudged Ollie out through all the vans, camping tables, chairs and bikes surrounding us and made our way to the Croatian border.  This time clutching our passports.

Tako dolgo!

The ‘Romantic Road’…. .

So, our ‘Romantic Road’ road trip is still ongoing and, in truth, we haven’t actually got that far along it.  We are in no rush.  We have been basing ourselves for two or three nights at towns along the route exploring the ‘Romantic Road’ cycleway to see some of the ‘must see’ sights.  Germany is so well set up for cyclists with miles and miles of cycleways along either traffic free paths or quiet country lanes.

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Cycles and farm traffic only.

We’ve really enjoyed tootling along in the countryside from village to village with only other cyclists or the odd tractor for company.  It has all been so well signposted which really does take the tedium out of constantly stopping to get a map out checking whether we are still on the right route.  It’s a big thumbs up from us for Germany on their cycleways.

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A welcome watering hole on the cycleway between Creglingen and Tauberzell.

The countryside here reminds me a little of the Wiltshire countryside with gently rolling hills, forest and farmland interspersed with hamlets, villages and market towns.  Cycling from Tauberzell, where we had based ourselves for a couple of nights, we followed the river to the hilltop town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  The cycleway took us in to Rothenburg from river level giving us great views of the medieval town perched on the hillside above.

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The view of Rothenburg ob der Tauber from the river below.

Most of the town’s growth took place in the 15th Century but the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which swept across Central Europe, put paid to further growth.  Development came to a standstill in this once thriving and prosperous town as wealth and population were lost.  Therefore, little has changed since that time leaving pretty much perfectly preserved city walls, medieval buildings and a gothic cathedral although some had to be restored after 1945.

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Spital Gate built at the end of the 16th Century.

Our guide book had warned us of the sometimes oppressive number of tourists visiting the town but other than outside the Rathaus (townhall) we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too heaving.  We were amazed that the walls were free to wander around and not too busy (which was just as well as you do have to breathe in to pass other people) and we spent a relaxing couple of hours exploring a complete circuit of the them.

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Rothenburg town walls.

Most of the walkway is under cover making it an ideal outing on a wet day.

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There can’t be much room on the top floor of that house.

Our next stop was an excellent free stellplatz at Feuchtwangen which turned out to be perfect as the stellplatz was a ten minute walk from the town, two minutes to Lidl or Aldi and had a fantastic outdoor swimming complex right next door.

 

 

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The free stellplatz at Feuchtwangen.

After 5pm, for just one euro, I could make full use of the beautifully landscaped outdoor pools sharing them with only half a dozen other people.  Incredible!  I’d be paying a euro just for a shower on a campsite.  Needless to say I made the most of it.

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The eight lane fifty metre pool was just one of the pools.

Cycling from Feuchtwangen to Dinkelsbühl we were reminded again of how much wildlife we have seen since being in Germany or maybe we are just paying more attention to it without having to worry about the traffic.  Either way we have seen plenty of hares, deer, storks, heron and birds of prey.

Dinkelsbühl, having escaped being damaged in World War II, truly is a perfectly preserved medieval town.  Not that we would have noticed!  Unless you look really closely it’s not always easy to tell which bits have been rebuilt or restored.

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Dinkelsbuhl.

I still find it amazing that even in such a compact area that many of the houses have plenty of garden space and how well kept and beautifully landscaped they are.  In fact, everywhere we have been to in Germany so far we have been greeted with very well kept gardens and green spaces much as we saw in France last year.

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Most houses seem to have beautiful gardens.

When we resume normal life again, whatever form that might take, I am going to try to make more of an effort on the garden front.  That’s if we have a garden that is as we still don’t know what our future life is going to look like!  Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Nördlingen yesterday and bagged the last grassy edged spot at the stellplatz just outside the walls of the old town.  At €3 per night, it was a bargain.

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The stellplatz at Nordlingen.

Nördlingen’s claim to fame is that it was built on the site of a huge meteorite crater.  Fifteen million years ago, give or take a year or so, a meteorite fell from the sky with a heavy bump creating a 25km wide crater, today known as the Ries, and supposedly the best preserved impact crater on the planet.  Go Nördlingen!   It is also another perfectly preserved medieval walled town.

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The town walls of Nordlingen.

The town walls are pretty much completely intact giving an impressive 2.7km circuitous walk around the old town including five gates and twelve towers (dating from the 14th to 15th centuries).

Surprisingly again, there weren’t that many people circling the town on the walls so we had a very quiet and enjoyable hour or so taking in all the sights from a perfect vantage point.  We climbed the 90m Daniel tower of St George church to see the views of the town from above and to try to work out where the edge of the crater was.  Mmm, 15 million years is a long time and the edges must be a tad blurred by now so we had to leave that one to our imaginations.

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The view above the town ninety metres up.
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For a Saturday afternoon it was surprisingly quiet.

Taking a circular walk around the outside of the town walls proved to be equally as picturesque seeing the walls and towers from a different perspective.

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Lovely open spaces outside the walls too.

There are some lovely houses built into the walls with beautiful gardens as well as open parkland.

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House built onto the outside of the town walls.
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I suppose you really can say you have a walled garden!

So that concludes this weeks excitements and the over use of the word ‘wall’ (I counted fourteen times!).  Tomorrow we’ll move on again and see where the ‘Romantic Road, takes us.

Bis dann!

 

 

Meandering along the Mosel…. .

So a break in the weather sees me returning to the blog.  Apart from some rain overnight and the odd shower we have had two glorious weeks of weather here in Germany.  Today, though, it is raining which gives me a chance to catch up on a few things.

We moved on yesterday after having spent a whole week at a stellplatz at Losnich on the Mosel.  We hadn’t planned to stay that long but every evening I found myself saying ‘eine weitere nacht bitte’ to the lady who came to collect the money.  We just didn’t seem to want to leave.  It wasn’t that there was anything exceptional about Losnich it was more that every once in a while it is nice to stay put for several nights.

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The stellplatz at Losnich.  It filled up as the week went on as the weekend was a bank holiday in Germany.

We managed to pick up some free wifi in the village to do some research on a few little projects we have on the go at the moment so for a couple of hours every morning we’d go to ‘the office’ in the village to ‘work’.  ‘The office’ being a couple of benches in the shade set around a fountain.   It might conjure up a nice picture but it wasn’t without its frustrations with the wifi dropping out occasionally or not working at all sometimes but we managed to get a few things done and some info downloaded.  Not least of which was we have organised another Helpx to start next week.  Woop!  This one is going to be a challenge.  Not so much in the work we’ll be doing but the language barrier.  I think only one person in the family speaks English.  With our German being non-existent it’s going to be interesting.  Hence taking advantage of the free wifi to frantically download some language learning material.  We are now on a crash course in learning German.  We need to be fluent by next week or we are doomed!   There’s nothing like a deadline to get me motivated.  More on the Helpx next week.

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Bernkastel-Kues.
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You can volunteer at this former winery just outside Bernkastel-Kues, via the Workaway website, painting antique furniture amongst other things.  It will be opened as a hotel later in 2017.

In addition to our language learning exploits we thought we’d start a new fitness regime to give us a bit of structure to our day and keep us ticking over.  Tim came back from a run feeling mightily pleased with himself but then somehow managed to pull a muscle in his calf right at the end.  I did some circuit type training and got up the next morning feeling like I’d been repeatedly hit by a cricket bat.  After walking around like a pair of cripples for a few days we are probably ready for another go at it if we can summon up the enthusiasm again in this rain.  Watch this space.

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Happy as larry cooking…………something!
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Speed boat event going on at Traban.
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Our first Bratwurst in Germany 🙂

 

In amongst reading, language learning, planning, researching and cooking we have combed the countryside on the bikes and on foot.  It’s a very lush green area dominated by forest and steeply terraced vineyards.  In the last week I have pondered on how the vineyards are maintained being on such steep slopes.  Every scrap of the hillside is utilised for vines.  Even the rocky outcrops don’t go to waste.  My musings were answered whilst out on the bikes cruising the cycle paths along the Mosel.  We watched as a mini caterpillar contraption attached to a tractor was winched up and down the hillside whilst rotavating the land in between the vines as it went.

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The mini digger thing is winched up and down between the vines.

Then, we noticed the metal snakes winding their way at intervals up the steepest slopes.   Aha, kind of a stanner stair lift to transport the workers up the slopes and to get the grapes down from the hills.  Apparently it is called a monorack train.

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A monorack train to transport workers and grapes to and from the vines.

Even with the machinery it still looks like a lot of hard work and labour needed to look after and harvest the grapes.

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We’d have loved to have a go on it but had to make do with just sitting in the chair!

Bremmer Calmont, one of the steepest vineyards in the Europe, at a 68% incline, is right here in the Mosel valley at Bremm.

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On the cycle path looking back towards Bremm.

We just happened to be staying on a stellplatz a few kilometres away from Bremm and we’d seen some walkers traversing the hillside in amongst the Bremmer Calmont vines when we cycled past on our way upriver to take a look at Zell.

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Looking down to Zell.
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That was at least four of my five a day!

We did the walk the following day.  And what a walk it was.  Wunderbar!  It’s only a few kilometres in length but the views are spectacular and there are various interesting obstacles to negotiate along the way.  You’ll see from the pictures it isn’t ideal if you have no head for heights and the warning signs clearly spell that out at the start.

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We had no idea what the walk entailed.

The walk, or climbing trail, as it is called was set up in 2002 as a joint project between the communities of Bremm, Ediger-Eller and Neef.  The German Alpine Association secured the paths with the steel ropes, ladders, stepping brackets and pegs.

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As well as the stupendous views the walk was great fun too.

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Bremmer Calmont vines.
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Did I sign up for mountaineering?

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P1040336.JPGI can’t ever imagine Joe Public being free to roam on such a trail in the UK.  The health and safety police would be all over it before it was even thought of.  Seeing the vines from the path really gives you a feel for what it must take to farm this sort of terrain.

Surprisingly, you can pick up a Bremmer Calmont wine at less than €10 a bottle which is cheap as chips when you consider what it takes to harvest the grapes to get it.  We would have bought some if we could have found somewhere open in the village but everything was as dead as a dodo. It was the day after a national holiday with few people about.  We hadn’t even passed anybody on the walking trail either.  Ah well, maybe next time.

Onwards then to the Rhine or Rhein as we are in Germany.

Bis später!

 

Germany…. .

We arrived in Germany, in the rain, over a week ago.  After twenty four hours of rain the weather significantly improved to become warm and dry.  Then warmer and drier.  Then warmer still.  Then hot.  Then hotter.  Now we are roasting.  I have to keep remembering to turn Tim over every twenty minutes or so to cook him evenly on both sides.  Temperatures for the last few days have been in the thirties.  Just a little too high to be comfortable but we’re not complaining.  It’s a good time to sit in the shade and catch up on this here blog.

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Tim got the honour of putting Germany on the map.

Our plan for Germany is to keep to the southern half as the country is vaaaaast.  Germany is a motorhomers dream destination.  Like the French aires network, Germany has a similar set up with their stellplatzes.  There are thousands of them.   It makes travelling around in a motorhome so easy and we’ve been spoilt for choice.  The ones we have stayed on so far are more like informal campsites and range from €5 to €10 per night.   For the locations they are in I think that’s a bargain.

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Not a bad view for six euros a night.

For example, I’m currently sitting writing this at a Stellplatz on the banks of the Mosel, flanked by steep vineyards, with the odd barge or tourist cruiser quietly chugging past.  Ok I admit, I can hear the traffic from the road on the other side of the river but you can’t have everything.

So, we arrived in Germany and randomly picked out Saarburg as our first stop.  No other reason than it is set on a river where we’d likely be able to get the bikes out for a tootle about.  It turned out to be a good choice.

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Saarburg.
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Saarburg town.

A pretty riverside town boasting not only a Lidl but an Aldi too.  Double the excitement.  Having now done back to back visits of Aldi and Lidl in a few towns since then we have decided we prefer Lidl in Germany as it has a better fresh bread section and some provide dedicated motorhome parking.  It’s Lidl all the way from now on.

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Motorhome parking at Lidl 🙂

Breaking out the bikes in Saarburg we spent a very relaxing few days making the most of the traffic free cycle paths either side of the river in both directions.  We joined hundreds of other people for a cycle event last weekend where the road from Konz to Merzig was closed for ten hours and open only to cyclists, walkers and a few roller bladers.

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Bicycle event along the river Saar.

The whole stretch followed the river.  As with all good events beer tents were set up at convenient points along the way.

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A beer at the end.

We are still fascinated by the barges especially at the locks.  We’ll quite happily spend half an hour watching a barge go through a lock and not get bored.

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Our narrow boats would feel like match sticks in these locks.

We also walked some of the steep wooded hillsides along the river Saar.  We wanted to see the Saar river bend near Mettlach which can be viewed from the hills above it.

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Bend in the Saar.

A huge wooden and steel viewing tower, which looked like it must have been great fun to design and build, enhances the experience.  It will cost you €10 each for that enhanced experience.  Suffice to say we remained on terra firmer with a more than adequate view thank you very much for €0.

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Elaborate viewing tower above the Saar river bend.

Moving on from the Saar we have been moseying on down the Mosel for the last few days.

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Campsite along the Mosel.

Eventually we’ll end up in Koblenz where it runs into the mighty Rhine.  We are firmly onto the Mosel Wienstrasse, or Mosel Wine Road.

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Looking across to Piesport.

It’s the final 195km stretch of the Mosel between Trier and Koblenz and home to some of Germany’s steepest vineyards and best full bodied wines.  We’ve spent the last few nights at a lovely stellplatz at Ensch right on the banks of the Mosel.

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Stellplatz at Ensch.

Despite the heat we’ve cycled twenty or so miles in each direction enjoying picnics whilst wondering how the farmers actually look after and harvest the grapes on such steep hillsides.  I must look that up.

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Just like on those Viking River Cruise adverts!

So far, then, Germany has lived up to our expectations.  We are settling in and learning the German way particularly in relation to recycling plastic bottles, cans and beer bottles.  I was bemoaning the fact that there seemed to be plenty of places to recycle glass and paper but nothing for tins and plastic.  The Germans can do better surely?  It wasn’t until our second visit to Lidl that the penny dropped.  A machine at the supermarket takes any plastic  or glass bottle or can which has a ‘Pfand’ recycling symbol on it and gives you money for it.  25c for each item.  Wow, amazing.

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Returning our plastic bottles and cans.

There must be a catch right?   Of course there’s a catch.  We’d already paid the 25c for each of them in something called the Pfand, or bottle deposit.  Any bottle or can with the Pfand symbol on incurs a deposit of 25c each which is added on to your grocery bill.  Doh!  When you return the empty items in non squashed condition you get that money back at the check out.  Makes you think twice about throwing it in the bin.

Tim was mildly put out about the Pfand after he had thrown away some plastic bottles and a few beer cans in a fit of pique as we couldn’t find anywhere to recycle them and they were becoming a pain stored in the van.  Shouldn’t have been quite so hasty.

Whilst out walking now if I see a bottle with the Pfand symbol on it I’ll pick it up to return on our next visit to the supermarket.  Tim is incredulous.  He probably thinks I’m just one step away from picking up road kill to cook but 25c is 25c and it can go towards the ice-cream Pfund!

Tschüss!

Boat-lifts and barges in Belgium…. .

L’Ascenseur furniculaire de Strépy-Thieu, before it was trumped by the Three Gorges Dam in 2016, was the largest boat-lift in the world. We thought it would be interesting to take a look. At just over 100 metres high and 135 metres long it is a monster.

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Strepy-Thieu boat-lift.

By the 1960’s the four existing hydraulic boat lifts, built in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, were no longer sufficient to accommodate the larger barges that were by then plying the canal network. A program of modernisation was needed. Taking twenty years to build the lift was finally unveiled in 2002 and can accommodate barges of up to 1350 tonnes.

The Voies d’Eau du Hainaut website entices you with the words ‘climb up through the core, all the way up to the panoramic viewing point at the top where you can experience the “Land of Genius” interactive tour’. We were not to be enticed. After seeing a barge enter the lift at the bottom we frantically scrambled up the steep bank to see it exit at the top. It’s cheaper that way. Genius!

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Out comes the barge at the top.

Parked right on the edge of the canal at the free aire at Thieu we spent three days cycling and walking the canal.

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The aire on the canal at Thieu.

Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site the four ‘old’ boat lifts were a much more photogenic affair than the new one.

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Boat-lift number 3.

Spaced out over seven kilometres each boat lift hauls its cargo up or down 15-16 metres. They are still in their original working condition.

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Boat-lift number 1 in the foreground and number to beyond.

Tim extolled on the quality of the rivets and the craftsmanship of the build. Not being an engineer myself I can’t really comment but it all looked pretty sturdy to me.

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Odd to see a flock of goats on a housing estate?!

Even though Belgium hasn’t been up there for spectacular landscape it has got some excellent traffic free cycle paths. 15km along the canal took us into Mons.

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Mons.

We didn’t go specifically to see Mons as we were after a bit of peace and quiet really but we had to find somewhere to print off a couple of documents to get posted back to the UK.

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The Bell Tower at Mons.

Job done the round trip took about three hours. It is nice to have the time to take three hours to print and post a letter though.

Twenty kilometres further up the canal we stopped to take a look at the Ronquières super lock completed in 1968. It’s not a lock as such more a kind of boat slide. Stretching 1.4km in length it is quite a sight. The boat motors into a type of lock which is then winched, on rails, up or down the 68m hill.

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Ronquieres super lock/lift/slide.

We arrived expecting to be able to walk along a tow path alongside it but were disappointed that it can only be seen from the bottom, halfway up or at the top. Also there wasn’t a boat to be seen so we didn’t see it in action.

We nipped back over the French border to stop for a few days at Givet as I thought we could cycle to Dinant along the river Meuse from there. We parked up at the ‘unofficial aire’ on the opposite side of the river from the town. The official aire, a ten minute walk away, was full of plant machinery for some refurbishment that was going on.  I don’t think anyone uses it though.

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Givet, France.

I asked at the tourist information whether they had a route map for a cycle to Dinant. Unfortunately, as Dinant is in Belgium it’s not their remit to provide guides for anything across the border but I could have a lovely spiral bound glossy guide to the Voie Verte going south along the river on the French side.  Oh, Ok.  So we went south down the Meuse towards Fumay instead.

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The view from Chooze village on the cycle path.  So picturesque but there is a nuclear power plant on the other side of the village!

Along the way we happened upon a rather large group of youngsters on an outing with just two adults in charge and nary a high viz vest in sight. They’d never get away with it in the UK 😉

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A gaggle of  over forty goslings 🙂

We’d never seen anything like it before counting at least forty two goslings being led by two adult geese. I later googled it and was surprised to learn that goose crèches are fairly common. An article in the Daily Mail does say though that forty is exceptional. It made my day seeing them 🙂

Not being able to find a suitable traffic free route along the Meuse to Dinant we drove instead.  Quite a lot of the route followed the edge of the Meuse and was very picturesque.  We were into the Ardenne region which is full of gently rolling hills, forests and quiet roads.  Quiet roads, that was, until we got to Dinant where every man and his dog seemed to be driving through.  Our guidebook describes Dinant as ‘picture-postcard’ which it kind of is except for all that noisy traffic.

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Dinant, birthplace of Adolph Sax, inventor of the saxophone.

We didn’t have the relaxing stroll we were hoping for and spent just an hour there.   Adolph Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born in Dinant so with Tim being a sax player it was a chance to get the obligatory photo outside where the inventor was born.

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Outside the tiny Adolph Sax museum.

There is a free tiny museum to look around but it isn’t much to write about and the interactive commentary was drowned out by the constant traffic rumbling past outside.

We stopped overnight at the free aire behind the fire station at Arlon which is in the Province of Luxembourg but in Belgium and where many residents apparently speak Luxembourgish.  Mmm weird, but then Belgium has a curious mix of languages in different areas with predominantly Flemish (similar to Dutch) spoken in the northern region of Flanders, French spoken in the southern region of Wallonia and a teeny German speaking area in the eastern province of Liege.  Add in the Luxembourgish and all the different dialects and it all gets a little bit complicated!

We went out for a couple of Belgian beers and I ordered them in French.  So far so good.  On the second round I asked the lady ‘Qu-est ce-que vous recommendez?’  She started to reply in French and seeing my blank expression morphed into what sounded like German and then what appeared to be Dutch?  I just said ‘yes’ to what she had suggested to keep things simple.  What came out was not a beer at all but a kind of homemade wine or punch with a bit of orange floating on the top.  And foul it was too!  When I paid she said she thought we were Dutch which explained a lot!

Anyway, next up Luxembourg.

Au revoir.  Auf wiedersehen.  Vaarwel.  Ӓddi!