Denmark at last!

We had two overnight stops from Delft to Ribe. as we don’t like to drive for more than about 4 hours in a day.  The journey was pretty much event free and the two places we stayed didn’t have anything remarkable about them as far as we could see. 

This is our first ever visit to Denmark, land of the Vikings, hand knitted jumpers, sea, sand and (as it happens) rain.  What do we think so far?  Well it isn’t as expensive as we were led to believe from what we have read.  Food and drink is fairly comparable to the UK and diesel is about £1.14 per litre which is cheaper than back home.  Eating out looks more expensive though, for example we saw a sign for an average looking hamburger and chips for around £18.  We had a couple of cappuccinos (Wednesday) which cost around £9 which I think is expensive.  So swings and roundabouts.

So far everyone speaks English (thank the Lord) as we only know now how to say Hello (Hej pronounced Hi) and Tak (thank you, pronounced as it is spelled). 

I’m going to find it very hard NOT to buy a jumper!  Of what I’ve seen so far in the shops here in Ribe, they are gorgeous and yes, expensive! 

Ribe

So what about Ribe itself?  It is the oldest town in Denmark, established in the early 8th century and by the middle of the century was one of the most important trading cities in Scandinavia.  It has a Cathedral which was started to be built in 1150 and is the best preserved Romanesque Church in Denmark.  Theoretical for us as the bloody thing was closed when we went to visit 😕

Here is what it looks like from the outside…

Ribe Cathedral

The square brick tower you can see is part of the Cathedral.  Just before morning mass on Christmas Day 1283, the northwest tower collapsed into the church and onto the streets around the cathedral, killing several people.  In its place, the much larger “Commoner’s Tower” was built.  I’ve no idea why it’s called the commoners tower……

These are photos of the interior, taken from the Wikipedia entry…..

The harbour was very pretty and had a small market.  We bought some local apples and pears, both delicious.  We meandered through the town and picked out a few things to photo that looked interesting.

The weather forecast wasn’t great, due to rain from lunchtime on, and we just got back to the campsite as the rain started.

Yesterday (Thursday) weather was forecast for sunny intervals with showers so we decided to visit the Viking Centre just outside the town.  It is a living museum so the whole ‘town’ is built with houses that the original inhabitants of Ribe would have lived in when the town was founded around 1300 years ago.  The Centre also attracts 1000 seasonal Viking volunteers from around the world to dress as authentic Vikings and carry out the everyday tasks as the Vikings would have done. 

Part of the museum is a working farm with horses, pigs, sheep and cattle from breeds that are most closely related to those of the 8th century.  The Vikings took horses and cattle to Iceland (the island, not the shop) in their little wooden boats; the farm animals are all descendants of that Icelandic stock.

Also:

The buildings in the museum have been built based on archeological findings in Ribe town and reconstructed using traditional methods.  We can confidently say the thatched roofs definitely are water tight having sheltered several times in the day from short sharp showers.

The mural depicts the story of the foundation of Ribe using earth pigments bound with chalk as they would have been in Viking times.

Inside some houses were reconstructed workshops, some with people working….

The Church has been built based on evidence of other Viking churches rather than the original one in Ribe, which is probably still buried under the current Cathedral.

Eric took the opportunity to dress up as a warrior….

And we both had a go at some archery, not very expertly!

We also watched a falconry display including an owl, hawk and a falcon.  I’ve tried to capture the birds in flight….

We spent nearly 5 hours here and thoroughly enjoyed every minute!  There are other things to do and see in Ribe, but we decided to move on.  Our next stop is Skagen on the northerly tip of Denmark, where the sky meets the sea.  Hope to see you there!

Delft

As is our usual want, the journey to Delft via Harwich was not without its interesting points.  First off, on picking up our van from storage Eric noticed a strange whining sound coming from the engine.  Luckily the storage facility is next to a small business park with a couple of garages and as it was a Thursday, they were open.  With much mumbling and scratching of heads, the mechanics couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, and waved us off with a cheery ‘it’ll be OK mate’.

Then I noticed the sound seemed to be coming from inside the van.  Bending down from the front seat my ear was level to the speaker.  See where this is going?  Yep, the untuned radio was on and was making an awful background hissing, popping noise.  Well at least it was nothing serious…..

We arrived without further ado at Harwich and spent a quiet night on the ferry waiting area for our early morning sailing.

Harwich

The boat journey was uneventful, calm and sunny.  The crossing was really busy with mostly container ships and I tried to get a picture so you we can see…

Harwich-Hoek van Holland crossing

The sky looks great doesn’t it??  We arrived at the Hoek on time and set off for Delft about 45 minutes away.  This is where Mr.S started up again.  Nearing our destination, we had to exit the motorway and turn left at the junction signposted to the campsite.  But Mr.S insisted we turn right which we did, and we ended up manoeuvring our van down a narrow residential street where he then tried to get us under a low bridge with chicane approach too narrow for our van to navigate.  Cursing slightly, we retraced our steps and found the correct turning and arrived without further mishap. 

The following day we planned to see the key bits of the town; the two churches, and the Vermeer and Prinsenhof museums.  Personally I wasn’t expecting to like Delft that much having formed the (wrong) impression that it would be built up, dirty and really busy.  It wasn’t any of those things, well that’s not entirely true as it was very busy especially in a mad cyclist sort of way.

Delft turned out to be very pretty.  It helped no doubt that it was sunny and warm 😎

You will know that we don’t visit many churches as they start merging into one pretty quickly but there was something about the Old and New Churches of Delft that will always stick in my memory.  For a start they were both relatively warm, light and airy, and a lot of effort was made to provide interesting and interactive information boards.

New Church, Delft

The New Church was originally the Church of St. Ursula founded in the 14th century and has the second highest tower in the Netherlands.  The first ‘landing’ had restored and working clock from the city hall….

Eric climbed much higher than me you will be surprised to learn, but even he didn’t go out on the really narrow balcony!

 

The main attraction is the William I Prince of Orange Mausoleum.  Also known as William the Silent, he played a pivotal role in the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Habsburg’s which resulted in Independence in 1581.  (He’s the (several) greats grandad of the William of Orange that was, much later, given the English throne and caused a bit of bother in Ireland). The Dutch Royal family are still buried here.

William I Mausoleum, Delft

The wooden roof above the Mausoleum was highly decorated in a ethnic Indonesian looking style.

New Church Nave ceiling, Delft

The Old Church was also impressive. Founded in 1245, it is known for its 75 metre tower that leans precariously (but safely so they say) nearly 2 metres out of true. 

Now honestly, does this Church Tower look safe to you? You are not allowed up the Tower, and I wouldn’t go if you paid me……

The glass windows inside the Church were beautiful.  The originals were destroyed by an massive explosion in 1536 known as The Delft Thunderclap (a store of gunpowder blew up destroying a quarter of the town and killing loads of people).  They were soon replaced with plain windows.  It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that these plain windows were replaced by these gorgeous stained glass designs by Joep Nicolas, which were finally completed in 1972. (Click on the photos to see in full size).

The church is the burial place of Johannes Vermeer, the painter known as ‘The Master of Light’.  In fact his plaque is quite modest compare to some of the elaborated ones littering the floor.  Apparently in the past it got quite wiffy in the Church as the newly buried bodies slowly decomposed. 

We also went to the Vermeer Museum in the centre of town which again was interesting because the pictures (all reproductions) were displayed in chronological order with a historical context, and information on the pigments and techniques he used.  Although we weren’t seeing the original paintings, it was better in many ways because you could get right up to see them in detail if you wanted, even touch them. The reproductions were excellent and you can really appreciate the quality of his work. 

The Prinsendorf Museum was our last visit in this whistlestop tour of Delft. Originally a monastery, the building also served as the court of William I.  The museum is interesting as it focuses on three key areas that formed both Delft’s significance and its international reputation: William the Silent (William I), Delftware and Delft Masters.  It is also the place where William was assassinated in 1584.  The bullet holes are still visible….

There was also a temporary exhibition about Mojo, the largest festival organiser and concert promoter in the Netherlands.  The connection is that the business was set up by Berry Visser based in Delft.  It was a really interesting and fun exhibition with loads of information and lots of music!

Delft

Here are some street scenes which I hope will give you a general flavour of the town….

The picture wouldn’t be complete without these….

I really liked Delft and would visit again.  We are currently making our way North and are due to reach Denmark tomorrow.  Our first stop will be Ribe just inland from the North Sea Coast.

 

Back on the road again

We found ourselves house sit free for September and decided to use the time fruitfully by fitting in some more travelling.  This time we plan to return to Europe via the Harwich-Hoek van Holland ferry and then head north to Denmark. 

As we arrived in Holland in the early evening, we didn’t want to journey far to our first campsite so we are staying in Delft for a couple of days.  In fact we are there now and you can expect my report in the next few days.

After Delft, we’ll be heading for an overnight stop in Germany near Osnabrück before crossing the border into Denmark.  We have a rough plan of where we want to go which is Ribe, Skagen, Mariager, Ebeltoft, Faaborg, Ærøskøbing (on the island of Ærø) and Copenhagen.  There are lots of islands that look great to visit, but as ferries are so eye wateringly expensive, we’ll limit our visit to one island.  What we do and see is as always subject to change 😉

One of our quests in Denmark will be to endeavour to discover why the Danish are supposedly one of happiest people in the world.  Will we be able to figure it out, or will the puzzle elude us?  Read all about it in the coming few weeks….

I am also conducting a couple of self sufficiency tests during this trip.  I was given a sourdough bread starter by Rachel and Craig who we house sat for in July.  The starter is now fondly called ‘Baby Craig’.  I’ve been making sourdough bread since then and want to see how successful I can be making bread in the van with my trusty Remoska mini oven.  Here’s my first attempt…..

0150710C-9486-441F-BC3F-245D28219E45D89C8F5E-038F-4552-ACB7-0D2AE3B01638

I have also managed to produce my own ‘heirloom’ yogurt starter.  What I mean by this is I am able to successfully produce a batch of yogurt from the previous batch and have been doing so since July.  “So what?” I hear you ask. 

Well, you can make yogurt from a store bought one, but you can only replicate it a couple of times before the yogurt fails.  I haven’t been able to find out exactly why, but assume it’s because a store bought yogurt is made with pasteurised milk where all the natural and beneficial bacteria has been killed off by the pasteurisation process.  To then manufacture yogurt some of the beneficial bacteria have to be reintroduced such as Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Some yogurts will also have lactobacilli and bifidobacteria added during or after culturing.  I believe that because the manufacturers only replace a few key bacteria, it can’t be successfully replicated indefinitely.

 

So in the summer I decided to try and make my own yogurt starter with raw (unpasteurised) milk i.e. milk with its full compliment of natural bacteria.  It took a few tries but eventually I succeeded and as I’ve already said, I’ve successfully made dozens of batches since then.  It shouldn’t be difficult to continue to make my own yogurt whilst on this trip and again I’ll keep you posted.

Home made yogurt

Lastly I have invested in a small portable spin drier (I’ll let you work out why he’s called Thomas).  Here’s the background.  Whilst travelling the only options for doing laundry are a) use the campsite facilities or b) hand wash.

Campsite laundry facilities vary in cleanliness and cost, costs ranging from €5 to €6.50 per load excluding drying.  That’s quite a bit of money especially if you’re travelling like us for months at a time.  Also to get your money’s worth you need a full load and to do that, we would have to mix colours with whites.  And have loads of spare clothes to wear whilst building up enough dirty laundry to wash.  We simply don’t have space in our van to store loads of spare clothes.

So far I’ve been doing quite a lot of hand washing which I actually quite enjoy.  I feel I’m getting things really clean and it’s good exercise!  But when washing by hand it’s impossible to wring a lot of water out and get stuff dry relatively quickly (in a day or two) unless it is hot, sunny and breezy.  So after a bit of investigating, I found the solution in Thomas (Eric pronounces like in the Tom & Jerry cartoons) the spin drier, who gets such a lot of water out, it dries pretty quickly.  He just about fits into our garage at the back of the van.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy! 

CA7BD6F2-F6EC-4580-80D2-4E8B1E0D4ED3

Next posting about Delft in a few days.  Watch this space!

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…..