Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Europe by car

After a few hectic days of selling the furniture and sorting what we would need for the trip and what would stay in storage until we finally leave the UK, we we're ready to start our journey. Having had the final inspection for vacating the apartment, we headed off for the evening to stay with AD and Danielle. Stopping to purchase some last minute things - a dash camera for the car and a GB sticker required for the continent, our little car was loaded to the hilt looking more like we were travelling for a year, not 8 weeks. Arriving at Hindhead, we then took on camping chairs, air pump and Cooley bag and had to draw the line there.

                        Nothing left in the apartment, just waiting for the inspection

Before sunrise the following morning, we crept out of their house and headed for Dover, allowing ourselves plenty of time for traffic delays. A really good run had us down to Folkestone in 2 hours and plenty of time to stop for a leisurely breakfast. From there, it was only 10 minutes up the coast to Dover and a very easy check in for our departure. From number plate recognition as we approached the office, an offer of an earlier ferry, follow the road until we reach lane 210 (a massive complex), join the queue for a couple of minutes then we were boarding and on our way. After locking the car below, we headed up onto the back deck to watch the White cliffs of Dover fade away, and already France was clearly visible ahead.

                                    Leaving the UK - the White cliffs of Dover

                                   The car in its lane of the ferry across to Calais

After just 2 hours, we arrived in Calais, and remembering to drive on the right, we followed the queues of cars ashore. Our first impressions were of all the refugees waiting on the side of the road to stowaway on a vehicle heading back to the UK. For every one of them was a police officer making sure it didn't happen - what a sad situation.

Soon we were out of the port area and onto the highway heading for the Belgium border, a first nights destination the small village of Ochamps. On the way we stopped at the Euro Space Centre where we saw, amongst other things the Europa 2 rocket which was an expendable launch system for the Space Agency. It made 11 missions - only 4 of them successful.


                           Pete in front of the Europa 2 rocket - Euro Space Centre, Belgium

Ochamps was a delightful little village nestled amidst plantations of forestry and paddocks of cattle - the strangest we had ever seen. They had the shortest legs and biggest rumps we had ever seen and it turned out they were BBB - Blanc Blue Belge found only in Belgium. The huge rump appearance is known as double-muscling and the breed has an increased ability to convert food into muscle which also means the meat has a reduced fat content. You definitely wouldn't say they were a pretty cow. Dinner that evening was with our hosts and their family, a enjoyable night, and with their broken English and our school French, we managed to keep the conversation going.

Off the next morning to Baden-Baden, Germany - the foothills of the Black Forest. As we left Belgium, we could see the terrain starting to change from the flatness of the area surrounding Ochamps to the German mountains appearing in the distance. We made good time along the autobahn, sitting in the right lane - the slow lane. At times it looked like we were standing still as we were passed by Audis and BMWs that came up behind us out of nowhere and were gone before we could blink. No speed limits is a little scary but their lane discipline is amazing.

Baden-Baden is a spectacularly beautiful town with immaculate gardens, old buildings that are so carefully maintained and not a speck of rubbish to be seen. We felt when we arrived we probably did lower the average age considerably, not very many younger people seen at all. We checked in at our hotel and headed for their famous Frederick Baths. As the temperature outside was over 30 degrees, we were more than happy to spend the next few hours inside.

                        Just one of the beautiful buildings in Baden-Baden, Germany

                                                  Frederick Spa in Baden-Baden

                                   Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath in Badeb-Baden

Next morning we took the Merkurbergbahn to the top of Mount Merkur. It is Europe's steepest funicular railway and the views from the top were amazing. We then opted to walk back down the mountain into Baden-Baden, thankfully most of the route was shaded by forestry and gardens. Back down, and wanting a break from the heat again, we headed to the Caracalla Spa and kept ourselves cool for the afternoon. We are definitely struggling with the heat after 12 months in the UK.

Next day we headed south to the bottom end of the Black Forest stopping at Mummelsee, a picturesque alpine lake set amidst forestry and after a pleasant stroll around the lake to stretch our legs, we were on the move. Next stop was another lake - Titisee, a popular tourist stop where holiday makers were out in force on the lake in every type of craft imaginable. In the village, we purchased punnets of fresh strawberries, cherries and apricots - the sweetest, most flavoursome fruit we have ever had. Our destination that evening was Todtnauberg and a small B & B we had read about on Trip Advisor. 

                                           A pretty painted cow at Lake Mummelsee.

Hotel Sonnenalm was such a lovely spot. They had been fully booked up until our arrival, 12 rooms vacating that morning so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Our room and the communal sunroom had views down across the valley which were breathtaking. We took a walk up through the forestry tracks, climbing higher and higher amongst paddocks of wild flowers - yellow buttercups and purple lupine. They encourage locals and visitors alike to use these tracks, with play areas for the children along the paths. 

                 Looking through some wild lupine back into the village of Todtenauberg

                     Trying our hand at Skittles - only managed to ever hit 4 out of 10

          Peter trying to balance on the moving log in the kids play area - Todtenauberg 

                           An 'Insektenhotel' - teaching children how different insects live

             Enjoying the view from the sunroom at the Hotel Sonneralm - Todtenauberg

Tomorrow we start on the Deutsche Alpenstrasse - one of the most anticipated parts of our journey driving throu the German Alps. 

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