Meanwhile back at Alpaca HQ…. .

So, it’s been alpaca mania for the last three weeks with all forty two of them keeping us busy and entertained.  Making sure the alpaca family has enough pasture to sustain them is always a constant headache for Georg and Silke our hosts.   With increasing numbers year on year they are always on the look out for new fields.  Five alpacas will generally need at least an acre between them depending on the quality of the pasture.

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One of the group of twelve boys.

The four Lindforst Alpaca groups are currently rotated round eleven different pastures of varying sizes I think but with the extra little ones born this year they are in need of more.

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Hippi and the girls.

Georg breathed a sigh of relief after he had managed to secure a huge area of land owned by the church, with the bonus of a barn, which could be split into two different areas.  The plan was to move Sancho and his girls to the new area.  Excellent.  Slight problem though, it all needed to be fenced.  Aaaargh.  It was a bit of a beast of a job.  Old fence needed to be taken out and areas cleared and strimmed and the barn needed a good clean.  It took Tim and Georg over a week of furious work to complete the first area.

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Tadah……..the new fence.

Then it was just a case of moving Sancho and his nineteen girls to their new home………………..in the car……………………four or five at a time…………………trying to match up the right cria with the right mother (not easy)…………..with a few escaping (just as well they have a strong herding instinct)…………..much alpaca humming…………..and spitting………..oh yes………green spitting.    To be fair there was just one culprit doing the spitting, Philly.  Apparently she’s always like it.  Aymeric (French helper) suffered the worst of it.  Just as well he wears glasses.  I’m sure that green spit must burn one’s eyeballs!  Fortunately, once she was in the car she was like a little lamb and more interested in what was outside the window than with us.  It took three of us three hours to get the whole family moved and I’m not sure who was more relieved when it was done, us or the alpacas.

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There we go, plenty of room.

Three days later they escaped!  An early morning phonecall from a local farmer notified Georg that seventeen alpacas were loose.  After safely rounding up the seventeen escapees we found three were still in the field.  One had her head and leg stuck in the fence.  She must have thrashed about a bit trying to free herself causing a big gap in the fence for the others to make their escape. Livestock, they do keep you on your toes.  Since starting this Helpx lark we have rounded up pigs in France, donkeys in Portugal and cows and alpacas in Germany.

With the fence repaired and Sancho and his girls safely back behind it the second area needed to be fenced.  Fortunately for Tim two new helpers, Geuwen and Elyes, who had arrived the day before, were earmarked for that job.  We now know why farmers end up with hands the size of shovels as after several days of banging in fence posts and the like Tim’s hands were twice their normal size.  He was glad to have a break from it and busied himself instead with fixing things.  He had quite the little outside workshop set up.

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Tims outdoor workshop.

Over the last few weeks he’s pottered about happy as larry tinkering with things.  Silke did comment that it was the first time they’d had a helper who was able to fix things.  She said they normally break everything!

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The sack trucks are now in working order.

It’s been a lot of work here though with a thousand and one things to do.  The animals alone (ducks, geese, chickens, alpacas and dogs) take two people four to five hours of work a day sorting out their food, clearing the pens and pastures, topping up their water, replenishing their hay and driving to where they are.  Our time here has been full on with other tasks thrown into the mix beyond animal care and fencing (painting, strimming, clearing, weeding, digging, fixing, watering, cleaning, tidying, pruning, harvesting). Then after lunch more of the same!!

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Akira, therapy dog and all round good egg!

We’ve enjoyed all the tasks we’ve done though and I have especially loved looking after the alpacas, spending time with them everyday observing how they behave and enjoying their antics.

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Eena devil dog therapy dog in training at thirteen weeks old 🙂

Their fleeces are used to make socks, hats and duvets (alpaca fleece is not greasy like down so they are suitable for people with allergies) which our hosts sell at events, shows and on the internet.

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The ‘shop’ set up at the local ‘Herbfest’ in the village nearby.

Our time here, though, has come to an end and we are looking forward to pastures and countries new.  Thank you to Georg and Silke for hosting us and to all the other helpers who have been here at various times throughout our stay.  Our plan now is to leave Germany via Passau and go on into the Czech Republic.  From there we’ll travel through Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia to reach Croatia but, once again, time is running away with us and we need to get a move on if we are to chase the sun.

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L-R…Pirin, Anna, Georg, Amyeric, Elyes, Geuwen, Silke, Me, Tim.  

Auf Wiedersehen auf Deutschland!

Straubing Volksfest…. .

Munich’s Oktoberfest is not only Bavaria’s biggest festival but it is by far and away the largest and most well known annual festival in Germany which attracts over six million visitors every year from near and far.  We will have moved on and left Germany way before October and, if I’m honest, Oktoberfest is probably a bit too big for our liking.  Whilst at Alpaca HQ, though, Georg and Silke (our hosts) took us to the opening evening of the Volksfest in nearby Straubing, the second largest festival in Bavaria behind Oktoberfest.

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The local area around Straubing is known as the ‘Gauboden’, hence the name.

The Volksfest is a big deal in these here parts.  Lots of businesses close down for the whole of the festival and many local people take the week off work so they can go to ‘Volksfest’ everyday. So, yes, a big deal for the local people.  It’s open for ten days and practically everyone dresses in their traditional outfits to enjoy a good old knees up Bavarian style.  We were definitely the odd ones out in our ‘normal’ clothes.

It kicked off on the Friday evening with the ‘Volsfestauszug’.  Over 3000 participants, dressed up in over eighty different national costumes, paraded through the streets of Straubing with horse-drawn carriages, oxen, classic tractors and cars, dance and music groups.

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The ‘Bier Frau’.
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No Bavarian festival would be complete without an ‘oom-pah’ band.
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All the horses were huuuuge!

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One of the many brewery floats.

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The bizarre walking Christmas tree made us laugh.

After the parade everyone wandered down to the festival site set on the banks of the Danube for an evening of beer, fairground rides, beer, traditional Bavarian music, beer, traditional Bavarian food, beer, amusement activities, beer, singing, beer, storytelling, beer and, um, more beer.

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The ‘civilised’ tent for us oldies.

We got talking to a German couple who told us that many people will spend at least a month’s wages at the volksfest every year.  That’s not surprising as the beer was €9.30 per litre and the food is pretty expensive too but, as there is no entry fee for the volksfest, we were happy to pay it.

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We looked so out of place in our ‘pac-a-macs!’

They also told us that the marquee that we were in was the ‘civilised’ one where the food was really good and the music was more traditional.  Looking around most of the occupants were over 50+ so we were in good company.

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Carrying the litre steins of beer seemed to be a good form of weight training – some managed four or five in each hand.

Later we wandered around some of the other marquees which were definitely more rowdy but good fun and what we imagined a traditional Bavarian festival to be like.

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The ‘young-uns’ marquee where we looked even more out of place!

So, if you are looking to experience a traditional Bavarian festival and something more low key than Oktoberfest then we can thoroughly recommend the Straubing Volksfest.

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Prost!

Bis zum nächsten mal.

Alpaca HQ….

I can count on one finger the number of times that I have got out of bed on a Sunday morning to be greeted by a shiny new baby alpaca (cria) complete with the wrapping paper still attached.

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A shiny new cria…..

Meet the latest new addition to the Lindforst Alpaca Team.  Expected since April, this baby has been a long time coming.  The baby was to be called Mañana if it had been a girl but as it was a boy he has been named Mañano.

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…..still in it’s wrapping paper!
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Picking up the after birth………..that’ll be a job for Tim then!

So with Mañano now the last cria to be expected this year I think he takes the team up to a total of forty two Alpacas.

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And here is Manano all dried, fluffed up and lovely.

They are kept in four different groups.  We have Sancho and his seventeen girls.  Herbert and his five girls.  A group of six girls.  And my personal favourites ‘the boys’, eight young boys and four castrated boys.

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One of the young boys.

DSC03267.JPGIt’s a full time job looking after them all but a thoroughly enjoyable full time job.  We’ve learnt so much about them in the week we have been here observing how they interact with one another.

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An extra feed for the new Mum in Sancho’s group.

They are endearing, curious, gentle herding animals with a wonderful communication system and such a super soft fleece.  Being herding animals they are in constant communication with each other.  They really are very vocal in a quiet sort of way.  They hum, cluck, spit and snort at each other for varying different reasons.  It’s hard to explain what the hum sounds like so if you are interested you can hear it here on this YouTube clip.

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Alpacas are such gentle creatures – very safe for adults and children.  We took four of the boys to a local fete last Sunday.  Here is Georg introducing his ‘boys’ to the children.

For me, I find it very calming listening to the quiet background humming of the Alpacas.  The humming, though, is generally associated with the alpaca feeling curious, distressed, anxious, bored, too hot, too cold, nervous or stressed.  Whilst we are working amongst them feeding, watering and clearing their poop up they are constantly humming to each other.  I guess they are alert and wary to our presence.

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Such handsome boys:)

Herbert and Sancho need to be tethered as we go about our daily chores as they can become aggressive protecting their herd.  Even though I’ve been told that Alpacas are easy animals to care for they are a little bit needy and fragile.  For example, they don’t really show any signs of illness until they have all four legs in the air so owners need to be constantly vigilant about any subtle changes in behaviour of their animals.  And that poop picking.  Oh yes, it needs to be done.  Every. Single. Day.  Cleaning up after them helps control parasites and worm related health problems.

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Tim doing his alpaca impression whilst taking the boys out for a ride in the car!

The alpacas will generally  ‘go’ en masse in the same two or three areas of their pasture which does make it a little easier to pick up but you’ll always find several ‘rogue’ piles around and about too.  Not to go into too much detail here about the size and consistency of Alpaca poop but it’s a bit like rabbit droppings or chocolate coated raisins and it needs to be raked out of the grass.  Yup, every last drop.  Or as near to it as you can get.

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Moving Sancho’s girls to a new pasture.

But enough about the poop.  A question often asked is ‘do they spit?’  Well, yes they do spit.  And at point blank range.  But not often.  I wised up pretty quickly on their body language and why and when they are about to spit after being pebble dashed from a spitting Alpaca with a mouthful of food.

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Are we nearly there yet?

They have several different types of spitting technique too.  We have the ‘dry spit’ which is just fresh air.  As already mentioned, we have the ‘food spit’ and finally we have the ‘get away from me I am very angry spit’ or otherwise known as ‘the green spit’.  Now this one is really not one you want to be on the receiving end of.  This one is serious and contains regurgitated stomach contents.  And boy does it smell.  I’ve seen two alpacas having a spat, or should I say spit, and the smell is horrendous.  They’ll spit at each other as a warning to stay away or at displeasure to another’s behaviour.

It is lovely to just watch and observe them seing how they interact and care for each other.  When the new cria was born the whole herd gathered around the Mum and baby to have a good sniff and to help protect them.  So sweet 🙂

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Caring alpacas.

More from Alpaca HQ next week.

Auf Wiedersehen!

A deluge on the Danube…. .

All good things come to an end.  That includes the weather.  Our recent run of scorching weather came to an abrupt halt sometime last week.  Don’t ask me which day it was as I never know what day it is now.  Whatever, the rain came.  The tranquil scenes along the Danube went from this…….

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The Danube before the deluge.

to this……..

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The Danube after a few days of rain.

…..and we were van bound for a few days.  Did we get out on that nice easy scenic cycle? Nope.  Did we do any amazingly scenic walks?  Nope.  Did we see any interesting sights?  Nope.  Well, maybe a few.

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The historic town of Berching.

 

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The excellent stellplatz at Berching.

With plenty of time on our hands the wonders of the internet are always welcome to keep us busy with all our little projects that get our undivided attention when rain stops play.  Queue the Rewe supermarket chain.

 

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Google image of Rewe supermarket.

We’d discovered their supermarkets have free wifi.  And, joy of joys, it reaches the van in the carpark.  Excellent.  The excitement, chez Ollie, was palpable!  We wiled away a happy few hours a day at the Rewe supermarket carpark surfing and downloading to our hearts content.  Ah, but not just the same carpark everyday.  Oh no.  To keep it all fresh and exciting we went to a different Rewe supermarket in a different town each day.  Yep, we sure know how to live.  To pay Rewe back for their hospitality and lovely superfast free wifi we did do our daily shop there.  It’s a win-win.

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Regensburg cathedral.
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A lovely knitted bike in Regensburg.

But with the scorching hot weather now restored let’s cut to the chase on what we are up to now.  We arrived a few days ago at our latest Helpx assignment deep in eastern Bavaria.  Oh, this is a bucket list item this one.  Well, it is for me.  We’ve gone from Donkey HQ to Dairy HQ and we are now at Alpaca HQ!  When first discovering what Helpx , Workaway, and Wwoofing was all about a few years ago, Donkeys and Alpacas were right up there on my list of ‘fun’ animals to get up close and personal with so to speak.  They had to feature during our travels.  So here we are with the Lindforst Alpaca Team.  I think there are about thirty seven of them but over the coming weeks we’ll get to know them better and learn all about caring for them.

So, without further ado, I’ll introduce you to the ‘Lindforst Alpaca Team’.

Tada…….

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Sancho (left) and his girls.
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Rosanna, the latest addition to the team.  Here she is just one day old:)
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The young ones taking a nap.
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Ah, the joys of Alpaca Poo Picking!

In the coming weeks you’ll get to meet more of them.

Bis dann!

The Romantic Road meets the Danube…. .

Our journey down the romantic road came to an abrupt end a week ago.  Not for any other reason than we became sidetracked by a glossy brochure I’d picked up in the tourist information office.  In it was a photo of a pretty picturesque stretch of river flanked by cliffs.  The Danube (or Donau in Germany), Europe’s second longest river.  That was it.  Our route changed.

We swung out of Nördlingen heading east instead of south in pursuit of that picture.  That’s the beauty of this type of travel – no plans are set in stone (or more like ‘No plans. Period’).  We can take a different road if the fancy takes us.  So, the fancy took us.  And take it, we did.

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Harburg Castle – our last pitstop on the ‘Romantic Road’.

A free stellplatz at Neuberg an der Donau hooked us in and waylaid us on the way.  We can still hardly believe that you can pitch up next to the river just a few minutes walk from a beautiful old town for zero euros per night. Yup, zero euros.  Fantastic.

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The free stellplatz at Neuberg an der Donau.

The stellplatz was so well situated too with a little beach to launch from for a swim in the river.  The temperatures were into the thirties again so being able to cool off in the river was great.

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A perfect spot for a swim on a hot sunny day.

I was swooshed down the river by the gentle current whilst being treated to a view of the impressive 16th Century Schloss which looks out over the Danube.  Perfect.  It was a popular spot for swimmers with some drifting off on a one way trip down river armed with just a dry bag with, I presume, some clothes in.  Such a lovely way to spend a hot afternoon.

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The view of the castle overlooking the town.

We ended up staying three nights in Neuberg not doing very much of anything except for a short bike ride as it was so hot and Tim wasn’t well and had to take to his bed on the Tuesday.  Fortunately, what ever had struck him down passed within twenty four hours and he rallied enough to resume normal service the next day.

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Entrance to the old town at Neuberg an der Donau.

So then it was onwards east again to seek out that picture.  Kelheim, or more specifically, Kloster Weltenburg was where we were heading in the hope that we weren’t going to be disappointed.  You know what it’s like, you see a picture in a magazine, poster or book and think ‘oh yes, that looks amazing, we have to go there’ and then you get there and think ‘Meh, it doesn’t look anything like in the picture’.  Well, fortunately we weren’t disappointed.

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Weltenberg Abbey on the banks of the Danube.

We stopped at the stellplatz at Kelheim. There are, in fact, two stellplatz’ in Kelheim a few hundred metres apart.  One is closer to the river but is just a gravel open car park whilst the other is landscaped and well cared for with individual pitches, has a bit of shade and overlooks some tennis courts.  We opted for the latter.  Same price (€8.50).  No brainer.

From Kelheim you can either take a boat up the Danube to Kloster Weltenburg (monastery) or there are footpath/cycleways running both sides of the Danube climbing up through the woods above the river.

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The boat trip from Kelheim is a popular outing.

This stretch of the Danube is described in our guide book as ‘one of the region’s most beloved excursions’ and we can see why.  It really is a beautiful stretch of the river, wedged between steep cliffs and forest on both sides.

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Lunch stop on our walk from Kelheim to Weltenberg.

It’s a six kilometre scenic walk on either side of the river to reach the monastery which just so happens to be famous for its brewery, which claims to be the oldest abbey brewery in the world.  Obviously with that kind of accolade we needed to sample their wares after our walk.

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Trying out the abbey beers.

Tim tried the award winning Barock Dunkel beer whilst I tried a lighter one.   Sorry to the brothers of Weltenberg but we thought the dark (dunkel) beer wasn’t up to much and Tim described it as ‘bland, fizzy, lacking in taste, flavour and body’.  Oh dear, not a particularly good review.  It’s won awards though.  World awards.  Wikipedia informs me that it won the World Beer Cup Award in 2004, 2008 and 2012 as the best Dunkel beer in the world.  Seriously?  Tim gave it a two out of ten.  I was more generous with a four.  As the Americans would say ‘go figure’.  We’ll just have to beg to differ then.

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The courtyard of Weltenberg Abbey.

Suitably refreshed we ducked in to have a look at the Baroque abbey church built between 1716 and 1739.  The word ‘bling’ struck me as soon as we were inside.  Am I allowed to say the word ‘bling’ to describe a church?  Well, I thought it was a tad ‘blingy’.  Gold everywhere.  Strictly no photos were allowed so the photo below is courtesy of Google.

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Weltenburg Abbey Church interior – image courtesy of Google!

Kelheim, then, was worth a detour and we enjoyed our few days there.

We’ve branched off the Danube river now but we’ll come back to it later in the week.  We headed west out of Kelheim to follow the Main-Danube canal which will offer us some nice easy scenic cycling.  We arrived yesterday in the little town of Reidenburg whilst it was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the completion of the canal.  Leiderhosen were much in evidence along with town bands and traditional Bavarian fodder.

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Smoked mackerel.

We tried the smoked mackerel and Bavarian bretzel washed down with a local Bavarian beer brewed in the town.

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Sampling the towns local beer with smoked mackerel and bretzel.

Dosed up on our Omega 3 and a complete weeks salt intake we sat back and listened to the town band reminding us very much of scenes from the film ‘Brassed Off’.  If you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

Anyway, rain stopped play today but hopefully we’ll get out on those bikes tomorrow.

Schönen Tag!

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!

 

 

Leaving Dairy HQ…. .

We are back on the road again now after our final week on the dairy farm passed by in a flash.  In all we spent nearly four weeks with the Bayers and learnt heaps about the trials and tribulations of farming life.  It was a steep learning curve and although the work was hard we are very grateful to the Bayer family for sharing their lives with us for the short time that we were there.  I think I now have a new found respect for our farmers, particularly those who have gone down the organic route, which doesn’t seem to me to be the easy route at all.

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They still use this 1950’s tractor for harvesting the corn.

We’ve experienced, for a short while at least, life in a traditional German rural village.  We’ve eaten piles and piles of home grown and home cooked hearty traditional German food.  In the time we were with the Bayers we had a different lunch everyday – Ilse has a huge repertoire of meals that puts me to shame and nothing went to waste.  Homemade spätzle (a type of noodle), kartoffel salat (potato salad), pancakes, different types of bratwurst, soups, goulash with pasta, home-reared roast beef, beef stew, homemade pizza, fried egg and chips(!), bread and vegetable pudding, roast chicken, a type of sweet bread, homemade jams, cakes and yoghurt and lots of other things that I can’t remember.  We also consumed our own body weight in bread.  With the amount of physical work we did we should have left a few pounds lighter but with all the hearty food we had we were on a losing battle.

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That’s the rhubarb prepared and now starting on peeling the cooked potatoes.

Oh, and what about the language?  As it turned out both Gerd and Martin (sons) spoke very good English but the small amount of German we learnt in the week before we arrived did make a huge difference especially when working with Ilse in the kitchen and out in the fields.  I think I’ve improved a little bit since arriving (ein bischen!).  Having only done German for two terms at secondary school and only being able to remember how count to twelve, say ‘ich heisse Jane’ and ‘eine banane’ I was pretty much stating from zero.  It did prove to me that with a bit of effort I can achieve more than I thought I could in a short space of time and I’m going to try to keep going with it.  Next time we are in Spain I’m also going to do the same and make a start on that too so then I’ll have three languages I can’t speak!

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This black cat just loved the cows and would get washed by them every day.

Besides the cow care and the thistle clearing we’ve topped up water tanks, done some tractor work, helped with the harvesting, cleaned, cleared, strimmed, fenced, helped make silage, painted, picked berries, weeded vegetable patches, planted seeds, cooked, made jams and made cakes.

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Painting the alterations to the barn.

We’ve enjoyed spending time with the many other helpers from different countries to learn from and share stories and ideas with.

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Billy, from Hong Kong, stoning the home grown cherries.

Seeing milk production from the grass roots level has certainly opened my eyes to the whole process.  It’s kind of shattered my image of happy go lucky cows chewing the cud in the fields with the sun on their backs slowly ambling in to the milking parlour twice a day.  Mmm, not quite.

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These cows have access to pasture.

The majority of dairy cows these days spend much of their lives inside as there is no requirement to offer outdoor pasture areas.  The stipulation for organic dairy cows, though, is that they have to have access to pasture whenever conditions allow.  Organic cows are also fed on a grass rich, GM free diet, and the use of antibiotics is banned but average yields are around thirty per cent less than for the more intensive methods.  Suffice to say that seeing the whole process from calf to dairy cow the lot of the organic dairy cow is better than those that are more intensively farmed but by no means wonderful.  It’s definitely made me think more about what I will be buying at the supermarket in the future.

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Siegfried still helps with the cows in the evenings.

Anyway, on that cheery note what are we up to now?  Well, we spent last weekend relaxing on a free stellplatz by the river Tauber near Weikersheim.  We were tired and needed a few days of rest and relaxation before continuing on our travels.

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Tim back to cooking outside.

Unfortunately, it was roasting hot (in the 30’s) so we didn’t feel that rested after the weekend!  It’s the first time on our travels that the heat really affected me and I felt I had no energy whatsoever.  Fortunately, though, I was able to cool down by swimming in the river just a few steps away from the stellplatz which was very welcome.

After all the thistle clearing we had done in the few days before we left Dairy HQ our hands had practically seized up with no grip at all.  After four days I knew things were improving when I just about managed to squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube.  Well, ok, that is a slight exaggeration but it’s not far off.

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Nope, we won’t miss that job!

We are now loosely following ‘The Romantic Road’.  Apparently it is Germany’s best known and most popular holiday route taking in all that is traditionally German from walled medieval towns to fairy-tale castles and Rococo churches.  It starts in Würzberg and continues in a southerly direction down to Füssen in the Alps.  We picked it up in Weikersheim and we will continue south until the end or until we get Romantic Road burn out.  The burn out is bound to happen as we experienced it before last year in France with all the Bastide towns we visited.  So, we’ll see how it goes.

Bis später!

Down on the farm…. .

So what has been happening down on the dairy farm in the last ten days?  In a word…….lots.  It is certainly hard work here and you don’t get to sit down for too long.  We’ve been on the go seven days a week with various different jobs to do.  Two barns have been sorted, cleared, swept and the rubbish taken to the tip.  What is it about farms that they accumulate so much stuff?

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Clearing out the barns.

Some of the cows have been on the move in the mobile pen to different pastures.

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The mobile cow pen.

If you don’t own a lawnmower then a cow is probably the next best thing as half a dozen of them will clear a two acre field of lush long grass in just a few days leaving it looking like a barren wasteland.  They do, however, leave their mark so to speak.

Tim got to play with some more boys toys (well not really, he was in charge of a shovel) on a busy scorching hot day whilst a mixture of grass, corn and wheat was harvested which will be used for feeding the cows.  Four large tractors and trailers were used for the job with other farmers pooling their resources to help get the job done.  Once cut, the grain was pumped into a giant airtight pvc sausage where it will ferment for at least six weeks before being fed to the cows.

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The big guns were brought in to harvest the cereal which will be fermented for six weeks and then fed to the cows.
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Taking a break from shovelling.
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Once cut, the grain is pumped into a big plastic sausage.  

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ilsa (Mum Bayer), had a birthday party to prepare for last Saturday.  Thirty people were expected for a barbecue on the Saturday evening so it was all hands to the pumps in the kitchen in preparation.  Picking, gathering, washing, peeling, chopping, boiling, steaming, weighing, mixing, blending, whipping, baking, stirring, marinating, tasting…….the list was endless.  Ilsa co-ordinated everything in the kitchen with aplomb but it took seven hours of furious work to get all the food prepared.

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All hands on deck in the kitchen.

It was a shame for Ilsa that it was actually her own birthday that she was preparing everything for.  If I was her I’d be insisting that next year I be taken out instead!

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Tim ready to tuck in.

Gerd (son Bayer) and other helpers had made the area at the back of the barn look amazing with table cloths and home grown flowers on every table and fairy lights draped around the perimeter of the garden.

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That’s what I call a barbecue.
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Michael (from Russia), ( Markus from Latvia), Nick (from Australia), Billy (from Hong Kong) and Tim enjoy the fire pit.

The following day the village had their annual street festival with traditional German food, beer, cakes, theatre, archery and music.

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Russelhausen village festival.

It’s the first street party I’ve been to since the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977 when I was nine!

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Obviously a stein of beer is obligatory as we are in Germany.
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The best way to transport the beer in these parts.

Tim was asked to play in the little church before one of the villagers gave a talk on the history of Rüsselhausen church.

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Tim played everyone in to the little church in Russelhausen.

A documentary about the farm and the Bayer family is currently being made and a cameraman and interviewer were at the house for the weekend filming what was going on.

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Filming for a documentary about the Bayer family.

I got to do some strimming before I was dispatched off with Ilsa to the supermarket.  It wasn’t until we came out of the supermarket that I realised my legs below the knees were completely green from the strimming with a tide mark where my socks had been.  Doh!  Fortunately I’m not well known here.

 

 

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Another first for Tim was changing the oil on the tractor.  It’s not often he gets his hands dirty these days and normally avoids it at all costs but, well, the tractor is more interesting than the bikes I suppose!

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Happy as a pig in ……!

The swallows have been bringing up their young in the cow barn and it looks like they are now almost ready to fledge.

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There are dozens of swallows nests in the cow barn.  The young look almost ready to fledge.
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Hungry baby swallows 🙂

All in all, then, a busy time and we have aching muscles where we didn’t even know we had muscles but we’ll feel all the better for it………….won’t we?

Schönen tag!

 

 

Helpx number 6…. .

So, once again behind with the blog.  I had intended putting out a blog post just before we started our 6th Helpx but alas it never happened.  The German learning kind of took over as I wanted to get through the whole of the Michel Thomas Foundation German before starting on our current Helpx and my brain can only cope with one thing at a time these days.

Time was getting on though as we had been lingering along the Moselle for over a week.  It was time to carry on up to Koblenz and swing a right onto the Rhine.  The sixty five kilometre stretch between Koblenz and Rüdesheim, known as the middle Rhine, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on an island in the middle of the Rhine built for the sole purpose of generating revenue from boats travelling along the river.  

Although much busier than the Moselle, with a railway line on both sides of the river, it does boast more castles sitting on hillsides overlooking the Rhine.  We based ourselves for a few days at a Stellplatz in Bacharach, a very pretty small medieval town.

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Bacharach.

I think the best way to ‘do’ the Rhine is by boat though as the cycleway is adjacent to the busy road and railway line and it’s not as relaxing as cycling alongside the Moselle.

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Bacharach.
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Campers enjoying the sunset whilst sampling the produce of Wiengut Gehring at Nierstein which also happens to have a lovely stellplatz in the grounds. 

After kicking back for a week on the Rhine cramming our heads with German we arrived at our latest Helpx.  We are staying at a dairy farm near Markelsheim in the Baden-Württemberg region learning all about cows and crops.

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A different kind of commuter vehicle.

The Bayer family has farmed here I think for five generations and are in the process of changing over to organic status.  They should have their organic status by next year and they are the only organic farm in this area.  The farm is in a little village four kilometres away from Markelsheim set in a valley with rolling countryside all around. Every child in the village seems to have their own toy sit-on tractor so very much a farming community.

We’ve been here for over a week now working alongside Mum and Dad Bayer, their two grown up sons, an aussie helper, an American helper, two French helpers and Siegfried the family mascot who isn’t related to the Bayers but who came to live and work at the farm in his early twenties over fifty years ago.  There are also two Polish guys doing some building work and alterations to the cow enclosures.

We’ve had a full on first week with a huge variety of jobs to do.  We’ve helped out with all things cow related like feeding, mucking out, milking, moving cows to different pastures, fencing and the feeding of the calves.

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Feeding time.
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Ten days old.
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Ilsa (Mum Bayer) feeding the calves.

Tim also helped with the birth of a calf which I completely missed as I’d nipped back in to the kitchen to do the washing up.  It was a bit of a drama with the calf having to be pulled into the world with a piece of rope tied around its back legs.  All very James Herriot!

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‘It’s a girl’ – a few minutes old 🙂

Tim has done lots of boy stuff like riding around in the tractor, cleaning one of the barns and cleaning the bathrooms!

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Boys toys.

I’ve been helping Mum Bayer in the kitchen making jams and cooking for everyone on the wood fired range which is no mean feat with the numbers to cater for.  It’s a military operation in that kitchen.

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Cooking homemade Wurst on the wood fired range.

I am in awe of the amount of work that everyone does here.  Aside from the cows the family have 120 acres of crops, some of which need weeding as, being organic, no pesticides can be used.  We’ve been out in the fields pulling up thistles trying to clear them before they flower which has been back breaking work.  If they have flowered they need to be hoiked out and then carried out of the field otherwise there will be even more next year.

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No end in sight.

It is something that needs to be done though whilst converting to organic status and should reduce year on year with the crops rotating but it will always be a continual headache for organic farmers.  The bed in the room we are in is very low to the floor and I have had to roll out of it in the mornings onto my hands and knees!

I will never. Ever. Ever. Ever. E.v.e.rrrrrr. again complain about clearing the small patch of weeds at the front of our house back in Wiltshire.  NOT EVER!  In comparison, I would now see that job as a bit of light entertainment.  Even though it has been hard work it has also been very satisfying being out in the countryside in the sunshine on a completely still evening listening to the skylarks singing above us and seeing the end results of a clean field.

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It seems even cows have bad hair days!

So that’s it folks, our first week down on the farm.  More next week if we survive!

Bis bald!

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!