Reflections on twenty one and a bit months on the road…. .

We are over twenty one months into our life changing decision to give up our jobs, rent out our house and travel around Europe in our motorhome.  It may seem a bit odd to be writing a blog post about our reflections at this stage in our journey as twenty one months isn’t one of those milestone figures.  Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years, five years, yes.  Twenty one months, well, no.  The truth is that I had planned to do updates every six months or so but I simply didn’t get around to it.  Better late than never as they say.  So, I thought I’d give you those reflections today.  Just because.

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Our journey so far (except Ireland and Holland which we visited before this trip).

Twenty one and a bit months is a long time and yet it seems that it has passed by in no time at all.  Time seems to speed up as we get older making me realise that we only have just the one chance at life.  Over the last few years during what I like to call as my ‘mid life crisis phase’ I’ve read several books on such things as mindfulness, simplicity, happiness and the like.  My twenty or even thirty something self would have scoffed at such a reading choice but as I’ve got older and (hopefully) wiser it’s dawned on me that life is short and we need to try to make the most of it.  I read Gretchin Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ late last year (downloaded from the library when I wasn’t even in the UK…just another bonus of living in the digital age) and a quote that she uses over and over ad nauseum, but which is so true is  ‘The days are long, but the years are short’.  Life passes you by if you let it.  We are trying to not let that happen.

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We haven’t quite reached Hollywood yet………….but you never know.

Living in and travelling in a small space no bigger than a single garage with one’s spouse would maybe seem like hell on wheels to some but we muddle along just fine.  We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our routines now and can go through them practically blindfolded without getting in each others way.  It also helps that we are both a bit slimmer now and find it somewhat easier to squeeze through small gaps!  In terms of the stuff we carry in the van I think we’ve probably got it about right now after our final purge of clothes, shoes and bits and bobs almost a year ago.  Everything has its own place and can be got at without too much rummaging.  On the who does what front I have my jobs and Tim has his.  It’s best to keep it that way.  When we don’t stick to our allotted tasks the outcome is never a good one.  Twice recently we have driven off leaving the water cap behind after I have replenished the van with fresh water.  It’s not normally my job so how can I be expected to remember something difficult like that?  Equally, I’ve learnt that watching Tim struggle to change the duvet cover is really not good for my mental health.  Repressing the urge to snatch it off him saying ‘oh just give it to me’ is just too much.  Getting into bed with the innards of the duvet scrunched up and doubled over and not reaching each corner of the cover can make me feel a bit, well, murderous.  Therefore, even though our jobs are a bit genderist (is that a word?) we know what we are good at and we generally stick to that.

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Things don’t always go to plan – getting stuck on our first Helpx in the UK.

We’ve truly settled in now to a life on the road and enjoy the freedom of having no rigid plans.  Occasionally we think it might be nice to be back in a house with more room to stretch out a bit, be a part of a community and see friends and family more but the financial benefits of renting our house out far outweigh those feelings at the moment.  Maybe in time we’ll feel differently but we’ve no plans, as yet, to return to a more conventional life.

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Getting to grips with mountain passes.

When we left the UK again to start our second year of travels I did feel a bit overwhelmed and unsettled for a while.  For our second year we’d planned to travel further and all the countries were new to us.  I just didn’t know where to start in planning a route.  After struggling for several weeks to get to grips with it all I decided to change my mindset.  I told myself to just deal with where we’d go the following day and leave it at that.  That change of mindset has definitely made a big difference.  It’s got us as far as Greece anyway. My little brain can’t cope with too much information at once so I try not to over stress it!

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It wasn’t so bad planning a route across Luxembourg!

The minor niggles we’ve had with the van such as the recent demise of our water pump have been just that, minor niggles which, although inconvenient, aren’t enough to send us into a downward spiral of ‘woe is me’.  Tim, if he’s honest, has quite enjoyed flexing his practical skills from time to time and has felt satisfied at tackling repair jobs that we would have previously left to a garage to sort out.  Fortunately we haven’t had anything fail that has needed us to leave the van with a repairer for more than one day thus we haven’t, as yet, faced the dilemma of ‘where do we live’ whilst it’s sorted out.  Oh we know that will happen at some point but we’ll no doubt find a solution if we need to.  We have, though, spent more in repairs in the last two years than I think we had in the first six years that we owned the van. Living in it all the time does take its toll and it has come as no surprise to us that certain things are at about their life span and will fail at some point.  Modern appliances and gadgets just aren’t made to last in this day and age.  The one thing that has been fine has been the fridge which seems to be the bane of the motorhomers life if speaking to other people is anything to go by.  Of course the fridge will be on death row tomorrow after having now written that.

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Resealing the kitchen window near Thessaloniki, Greece.  Tim didn’t tackle this one but may take it on next time it happens.

Nothing much has changed on the internet side of things.  At the six month stage in our travels we’d (that’ll be me) just about learned to live without unlimited internet access………..and I’m still learning.  We still generally try to find wifi when we can but we have relaxed a bit on using our mifi in the van and now that we are able to buy data cards loaded with up to 12G of data that are valid for twelve months it has made life a bit easier.  I still update the blog using wifi as my pictures take up so much data (I am compressing them now via Google, which also takes up lots of data, as they were taking up way too much space on the blog too).  In terms of getting a signal on our mifi the only times it has let us down has been when we really needed it!  Like when I hadn’t written down the address of a Helpx we were going to and on the morning we were due to arrive there we had no signal so weren’t able to look it up and ended up driving around for an hour or so trying to get a signal.  Something we could have done without but if I’d been a little more organised and written it down in advance it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Note to self: the internet is an excellent tool but don’t completely rely on it.

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Too much time spent glued to a screen and you miss days like these.

We’ve done seven weeks on two different Helpx’s this year, both in Germany – one a Dairy Farm and the other an Alpaca Farm.  The two experiences were very different and we enjoyed them both.  Having the opportunity to learn about and work with different people and animals has been one of the highlights of our travels.  It’s fair to say though that volunteering in this way doesn’t come without some frustrations.  The two Helpx’s we did this year we found a little trying at times mainly because we didn’t have the autonomy we would have liked and the number of hours we worked did push the boundaries of the ethos of what Helpx is all about.  Every opportunity we have done has been different though and it hasn’t put us off doing some more in the future but we’ll just try to be a little clearer with our hosts about expected working hours when we apply.

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A wonderful experience to wake up to a new born Alpaca on our seventh Helpx.

One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog so far is whether either of us has missed conventional work.  The answer to that question for both of us would be ‘NO’.  Tim has settled into this early retirement thing with aplomb and doesn’t miss his previous job and doesn’t think about it at all.  In his words ‘not one bit’.  I haven’t missed working for an employer at all but do sometimes think about what my purpose in life is and feel a little guilty about bumming around Europe with no set plans.  I’ve learnt to deal with it though!  We are never bored and it never ceases to astonish us that time just seems to vanish when living a life on the move.  We try to get into a good routine balancing our time between reading, our own projects, exercise, sightseeing and general everyday stuff like laundry, shopping and driving.  When on an extended tour like this sightseeing everyday quickly becomes a going through the motions affair and isn’t sustainable.  Less is more as they say.

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Oh yes, Tim’s settled into pensioner life like a pro!

I do find it a constant battle trying to live in the moment and try to stop myself thinking too far into the future.  I’ve said it before that the truth is we just don’t know what our future is going to look like and I’ve found that constantly thinking about it detracts from what we are doing in the here and now.  But it’s a hard habit to break as that has been my default thought process for such a long time.  I mean, all we need to do really is check in with each other every so often on whether we are still content to continue this vagabond life and whether either of us has had some revelation about what they want in the future.  Surely that can’t be too hard?  We are fortunate and grateful that we do have choices though.  I really need to get over myself, lighten up and enjoy the present moment more.  It’s a work in progress!  Tim doesn’t seem to have any problems living in the present which is probably why he is a happy bunny 99.9% of the time.

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Tim in contemplative mood.

The other thing that has changed since the last time I reflected on our travels is that we no longer have our stuff stored in a container.  When we left on our journey in April 2016 we’d held onto a large part of our possessions.  Even though in the run up to our departure we’d purged more than half of them we still had a container full of stuff.  On returning to the UK in April 2017 we made the decision to give it all away to a charity so we no longer had the associated costs of storing it all.  It wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve made and I did spend time afterwards wondering if we’d made the right decision.  For a time, I felt like the security rug had been whipped out from under me.  I felt, oh I don’t know, like I’d lost my connection to a home if that makes any sense.  That feeling has worn off and I feel differently about it now.  We have a clean slate without the mental drag of our stuff getting in the way of what decisions we make in the future.  If we decide to move back into a house then we are completely free to start afresh.  If we don’t then we no longer have to think about our stuff.  One thing is for sure though we definitely won’t be accumulating as much stuff again.

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The ‘stuff’ has gone.

Part of our decision to do this trip now, instead of waiting until we got to a traditional retirement age, was that we both still have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy like walking and cycling.  And that is something that will change as we get older.  Another ten years sat behind a desk wasn’t going to improve our physical abilities.  After nearly two years away from an office environment we feel that way more than ever.  We are far more content, far more active and far more in control of our own destination (pun intended).  Obviously living this kind of lifestyle isn’t all hunky dory all of the time but then neither is life no matter what your status, financial position, family situation etc etc.  Things will go wrong or not quite as expected and acknowledging that makes it easier to deal with when it does happen.

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‘Le bump’ we had in France three months into our trip.  After having it repaired we’ve since damaged it again when parking up on a campsite!  Hey ho, c’est la vie.

To wrap up this rather rambling blog post then our travels so far have exceeded our expectations and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to take the plunge to try a different kind of life at this stage in our lives.

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Sign at the campsite in Split, Croatia.
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Cheers!

For now, then, the journey continues:)

So long!

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!

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!