Oirschot in the Netherlands, and back in the UK

We have actually been back in the UK now for 9 days, and boy have those days just flown past!  We’ve stayed with friends in Manningtree, caught up with our children in Ipswich, and visited parents in Norwich and already bumped into a few friends whilst shopping in Ipswich.  I’ve also had a lovely relaxing Spa day with Anna (my soon to be daughter in law), her mum and friends.  We both have seen doctors, nurses, dentists for our regular health service and MOT. 

But back to the last two days of our European tour, spent in Oirschot, in the Brabant area of South Holland.  To be honest, it was just a place to stop on our way to the Hoek van Holland and our ferry home but it was a lovely place with excellent cycling as you would expect, and with no hills!

Checking up on trusty Wikipedia I was surprised to learn that the Netherlands only has around 50% of its land more than 1 (yes, one) metre above sea level, and nearly 17%  below sea level.  The population of the Netherlands is around 17.3 million making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. 

With rising sea levels as the climate gets hotter, it won’t take much to displace millions of people.  Scary thought isn’t it?

But for the moment we can enjoy what the Netherlands has to offer, and for all the above, it seems like a pretty place. 

The weather turned as we left to travelled north toward the Hoek, the sky darkening with flashes of lightening and rolling thunder.  Great we thought, what a lovely sea crossing we’re going to have.

Brabant, heading north

We were however, fortunate as the storms were south of the coast and the crossing was calm and uneventful.  Here’s a picture of the retreating coastline… we think these are fancy two storey mobile(ish) beach huts – a major step up from Southwold’s.

Hoek van Holland

We arrived in Harwich at around 8:30pm UK time to a dull, cool evening.  It looks so grey doesn’t it?

Parkeston Quay, Harwich

Since we’ve returned, we have captured some wildlife antics….

Well that’s it folks! What a great time we have had.  We’re now planning more tours, we’ll keep you informed.  In the meantime, Eric has said he’ll whip up some statistics from the trip and we’ll share with you our highlights and lowlights once we get round to pulling it all together.  Thanks to you all for keeping up with our antics and for your lovely messages whilst we’ve been away.

Ahrbrück

As I write this very short blog, we are now sitting outside our new camping spot in Oirschot in the Netherlands having left Ahrbrück this morning. On Wednesday we will travel our last 180 kms or so northwards to the Hook of Holland and catch the ferry to Harwich on Wednesday afternoon, marking the end of our 9 month tour of Europe!

So back to Ahrbrück. After our relatively short stay in Heidelberg, we headed off for a bit of quiet countryside in the Ahr valley in north-western Germany. Although the area is close to the major industrial and urban sprawl of Koblenz and Köln, it is a green and picturesque area and a very peaceful contrast to the last couple of stays we have had in cities of Freiburg and Heidelberg.

The Ahr valley is well known for the many vineyards located a little further downstream from our campsite. The area is also popular with cyclists and walkers. Both walking cycle routes are easy and take you through some beautiful countryside….

Vineyards at Mayschoß, taken on one of our lovely bike rides….

Mayschoß, near AhrbrückMayschoß, near Ahrbrück

We also saw Trout fishing in the river….

Mayschoß, near Ahrbrück

 

And a lovely inviting spot to sit down and watch the world go by…..

Mayschoß, near Ahrbrück

A typical scene, disused windmill atop of rocky prominence……

Arhbrück

We stayed in Ahrbrück for 3 days/4 nights just relaxing, cycling and walking as well as soaking in the long awaited sunshine and warm evenings…..

Heidelberg

There are some places you visit that take you pleasantly by surprise and others that just disappoint.  For us, Heidelberg was the latter.

We arrived at the Altstadt by train and walked along the river Neckar which has a lock opposite the old town.  The lock is one of 27 along the river making it navigable for cargo ships to travel about 200 kilometres (120 miles) upstream from Mannheim to the river port of Plochingen.  At our campsite which is about 10 Kms upstream from Heidelberg, we regularly saw commercial barges carrying coal, cars and foodstuffs sailing by, as well as smaller cruise ships.

Anyhow, back to the lock, we wanted to see it working and we were lucky enough to time it right to watch a large barge and pleasure boat negotiate the lock….

Little did we know it but this turned out to be the highlight of our Heidelbergian visit!

HeidelbergHeidelberg

We also took in the general view of the city from the far side of the river, with the famous Heidelberg Castle in the background, and the old bridge over the river…..

HeidelbergHeidelberg

As we crossed back over to the town side of the river it got a bit crowded….

HeidelbergHeidelberg

And as we walked to the old town it just got worse. Mostly Japanese and American tourists in large tour groups disgorged from cruise ships and buses parked up nearby.  I’ve read that Heidelberg castle in particular attracts 1 million tourists each year, most of them in the Spring and summer months. It gets quite busy. 

We popped into the Tourist Information Centre to get a town map.  Usually these are handed out free, in Heidelberg they are not. We weren’t getting a good feeling about the place.

We decided to get a coffee in a nearby square – this was the experience which finished the whole visit for us. We had to order our coffee separately from our cake and so they didn’t come together.  Of course not. In fact I had to remind the waiter a couple of times that I hadn’t had my cake though I had finished my coffee 10 minutes before. When it came to pay the bill, he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘In Germany service charge is not included’, so I looked at him straight back and said ‘thank you for letting me know’.  We paid (no tip) and decided to forgo visiting the castle which I’m sure would have been heaving with visitors.  Instead we walked along the high street to the train station and headed back to the campsite.

We had hoped to spend a couple of days in Heidelberg but initial impressions put us off.  We left the following day…..

Freiburg

This morning (Wednesday) we woke up to the start of rain which when I checked yesterday, was not forecast.  So our plans to go to the local market were cancelled, and I am writing this instead.  We are now in or just outside Heidelberg, but this blog is about our visit to Freiburg.

We were looking forward to visiting this city as it’s one of Germany’s greenest, not for its many trees (though it has those) but for its environmental practices.

Freiburg is known as an ‘eco-city’ and as such has attracted eco industries and research.  The Green Party have a stronghold here and it is reflected in how the city has developed.  For example this bridge which passes over the train station has been converted to tram, cycle and walking traffic only….

Freiburg

When we arrived we were warned that cycle ‘traffic’ is so heavy, cyclists have been banned in certain parts of the city because of congestion!

Newly built neighbourhoods have been developed with sustainability in mind.  Way back in 1995 the city council adopted a resolution to permit construction of low energy buildings only which must comply with certain low energy specifications such as solar power acting both passively and actively.

You see, it can be done, the city has over 220,000 inhabitants so it’s not a small village or town.  If the political will is there, it is possible. 

What struck us initially was how the city’s green spaces had, for the most part, been left to grow naturally with long grass mixed with dandelions and nettles. Initially it seemed really untidy as we had come from neatly trimmed and manicured Austria (where even the meadows looked neat and tidy), through Salem in Germany which was less tidy but still neat. 

 

Some general street scenes……

 

The city is also known for its medieval minster.  When we visited we were pleasantly surprised how warm it was inside, compared with most churches which always seem to be freezing cold inside whatever the weather….

 

Over the main entrance is a reminder of what will happen to you if you don’t do as you’re told….

Freiburg

Inside was quite dark which made the stained glass windows, some of which were paid for by various guilds, really stand out.

 

The leaded detail was amazing.

Freiburg

Surrounding the minster is a huge open space…..

Freiburg

which is filled every morning (except on a Sunday) with a vibrant market….

 

We also went for a walk up to the Freiburg Schlossberg which used to have a fortified castle overlooking the medieval city.  Nothing is left now other than the fantastic views with the Black Forest in the background.

 

There is a viewing tower at the top to afford an even better view.  I made it to the first platform (ie not very high) Eric went further but not to the top.  Even he was put off by the high wind, the wobble of the tower and the fact you could see through the steps to the ground far, far below…

Freiburg

Freiburg is one place I would be happy to visit again.  It is a lovely city and we would highly recommend a visit…..

Meersburg and Cats on leads…..

On what must have been the hottest and the most humid day so far this year, we decided to cycle to Meersburg from our campsite – just over 9kms away.  Meersburg is on Bodensee/Lake Constance and was recommended by one of our camping neighbours as well worth a visit.

True to form, we went the ‘scenic’ route to get there, up and down hills and getting hotter and more sweaty by the minute.  The trip there took us an hour and a half.  On the way back we took the proper route, it took us forty minutes……

It was worth it though, Meersburg is very pretty in a chocolate box sort of way.  The old town boasts two castles; the old castle built by the Merovingian King Dagobert I in the seventh century, and the new castle built in the 18th century.  See if you can guess which is which!

MeersburgMeersburg

The old town itself has some lovely little streets…..

Here are a couple of pictures of the waterfront.  As the day was very hot the view across to Switzerland was very hazy, you can just about make out the mountains behind the picture of the statue in the first picture……

1F4F779861A3960Meersburg

We stopped by a hat shop to get a hat for me.  Just as we had left, the shop owner stopped us to enquire about Eric’s hat.  She wanted to know where he got it as she wanted to see if she could get some for her shop!  I’m not sure how helpful we were, but I wish her the best of luck trying to source some.

Back to the campsite.  One of our camping neighbours was a very friendly German couple who travelled with their two Ragdoll cats, Diego and Eddie.  We’ve seen a few cats on leads in our travels, it’s clearly a trend that is getting more mainstream.  The Ragdoll breed apparently is quite docile and easy to train to wear a lead.  Of the many cats I have had or known in my life, I can’t imagine any of them tolerating such a restriction, but these seemed quite used to it having been ‘trained’ since they were little kittens.

Salem595AE9565Salem

The lighter coloured cat is Diego, he took quite a shine to our van having inspected it inside and out.  Eddie is the darker coloured cat, he wasn’t unfriendly, but a bit more wary of us funny talking strangers.

So last Thursday we decided to leave Salem and head to our next stop, Freiburg.  See you there!

Salem, Germany

We left Innsbruck last Monday and headed off to Salem in Germany.  Salem is about 9kms away from Bodensee/Lake Konstanz.  On our way and just before the border, we handed in our Go Box, the way you pay for tolls in Austria if, like us, your Motorhome weighs over 3,500 kgs.  The Go Box works by topping it up with credit. Luckily after our second top up we had learnt that we could easily avoid the motorways so when handing the Box in, we gratefully received our €100 back. 

Our journey should have taken us 2 1/2 hours but we got caught in three sets of road works that extended the journey to nearly 5 hours!  One of these road works was clearing rocks off the road after a rockslide.  The only compensation was a quick stop at the roadside for a snack and to buy some strawberries at a stall there.  They were enormous and deliciously juicy and sweet…

Salem

On arriving at our campsite we were surprised to learn that it was almost fully booked and we could only have our pitch for a maximum of 4 nights.  Actually that suited us fine.  In Southern Germany (the Catholic part) there are a number of religious holidays in early summer and we had arrived just before one that gave people a long weekend off (something to do with Pentecost apparently).

The campsite is near a well known Schloss and Monastery at Salem so we went to visit.  The Monastery was founded in 1134.  There was a devastating fire in 1697 which destroyed the medieval buildings, and the ‘new’ buildings are in the baroque style.  The whole complex was and is huge, originally a self contained town with shops, a smithy, bakery, vineyard and winery/brewery and even its own Apothecary.

SalemSalem

The Apothecary….

Salem

The Smithy….

The old winery….

Salem

The buildings that originally serviced the Abbey complex…

The day was really hot so we sought sanctuary in a couple of buildings which were deliciously cool, first in the highly decorated stables…..

And then in the Abbey church.  The original roof was decorated in green tile , only a small turret now has them…

Inside (in my humble opinion) was way over the top and very ugly…..

The Abbey complex now has a fire-fighting museum, which given the history of the site is not surprising.  What surprised us was how interesting it was 😳!  We learned about how medieval fires were dealt with through to how fire-fighting developed into what we recognise today.  I know, but it really was interesting!!

Early fire engines….

Fire-fighting equipment and Clothing…….

The boots in the last picture have wooden soles to protect the feet from the heat. A couple of uniform examples….

We also saw how communication equipment, fire extinguishers and flexible water hoses developed, which, you will be relieved to know, are not pictured here!

Just before we left, we came across this strange little goblin-like statute which we have decided to share with you…

Salem

Our next posting will include cats on leads and a visit to Meersburg on Bodensee…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natterer See, Tyrol

Natterer See is the small lake next to the campsite we stayed at whilst visiting Innsbruck. When the weather cleared we took advantage and went for a couple of lovely walks. The countryside looked beautiful and full of green lushness after all the rain! I only took a few pictures.

Natterer SeeCountryside path…..

Natterersee

Some older farmhouses….

NattererseeNatterersee

This is just a short posting, I’m catching up with our blog as the campsite WiFi was very weak and we didn’t have a strong enough mobile phone signal to use our data…..