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!

 

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!