Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The last week of our European vacation

The holiday is coming to a close and we are down to the last week. Leaving Italy, it was lovely to cross back into Switzerland - a land so clean and tidy, no graffiti and no rubbish - a refreshing change. However, the 45 euro vignette (Aud$66) for 2 hours driving on the motorways is highway robbery. It is valid for 12 months but we only needed it for one short trip - you would think they could have a lesser fee for just transiting the country.

In Basel, just inside the Swiss border, we picked up the Rhine river and we would follow this now almost right through to its mouth into the North Sea - 1230 ks. Our first stop was in Germany and we stayed for a couple of nights, camping again at Bad Beligen. Again great facilities with lots of local walks alongside the river. Many local therma and spas in the area and again we found a nice way to spend a couple of hours cooling off. From here we headed north into the Rhine valley following the river and stopping for a night at Assmannshausen right on the banks. We sat having lunch and then dinner watching the various cruise boats leisurely making the way up or down, the diners onboard themselves enjoying their meals with panoramas of castles, vineyards and quaint villages.


                    The view from above our accomodation at Assmannshausen looking south


                    Then looking north, and nicer temperatures than the intense heat of Italy

                         Landscapes along the Rhine valley, castles and churches at every bend

On the road again and next stop was just inside Germany before crossing into the Netherlands. Just when we thought we had put the tent away for the final time, out it came again. The weather was lovely and we had found a great little campground so we just had to set up again for one final time. We had mastered the whole process very well over our holidays, getting it down to a fine art and in total had camped for 27 nights. Once done, it was off to the pool for a swim then the afternoon spent lounging poolside reading. We were heading into Holland in the morning, a step closer to Calais and our ferry back to the UK.

In the morning it was rejoining the autobahn and making our way north to Utrecht where we were catching up with friends that we had made in Montenegro. Always lovely to reunite with people that you have shared travelling in common and we had a wonderful nights stop. Once we finally located the address (after finding ourselves lost and in the dreaded one way 'bus only' lane), we headed into the city to explore before dinner. We jumped on one of the glass top canal boats and spent a leisurely hour getting a different perspective of the city. Utrecht is one of the Netherlands oldest cities with a compact medieval centre set around canals that are so unique to Holland. However, their system is different to Amsterdams in that there is a lower level to the canals where warehouses were located back in the 13th century and these give the canals a split-level character. The lower levels nowadays have many bars and restaurants so you can drink and dine down at the water level, and this was where we enjoyed a great tapas dinner watching the canal boats cruise past. A lot of wine, some great food and wonderful company made it a night that we will always remember.


                                                A view of the canal from our cruise boat


              A night shot of the split level canals in Utrecht where we enjoyed a great tapas dinner


   A canal shot with the Dom Tower in the background                Very picturesque Utrecht

It's away from Holland and into Belgium for the last night of our holiday. We headed for Ghent in the Flemish Region of the country and leaving us only a short drive to the ferry the following morning. Checking into the Holiday Inn, we then jumped on one of the very modern trams for a 20 minute ride into town. Lots of beautiful old buildings once again, St Nicholas Church, the Belfrey, the Courts Castle all within easy walking distance from the tram stop. We learnt how bells were forged (not made) and of the long process it takes before they are deemed suitable for use in the belfry. Then after a couple of hours ambling around the canals and Graffiti Street, it was time for dinner. We have eaten great continental food over the last 9 weeks, but by now were hankering for a burger and found ourselves a great gormet burger bar on the square. A 'burger with the works' whilst people watching was an idyllic way to end the day.


            2 different views of St Nicholas Church - the 2nd one taken from the top of the Belfry

                                                  The Courts Castle - Ghent, Belgium


                                                        Enjoying the canals of Ghent


                            'Pete and his dragon' that lives in the Belfry and protects the city


                        One of the amazing examples of the art work in Graffiti Street - Ghent

       Roland's Bell that hangs in the Belfry - 2.15 m height, 2 m diameter and weighing 6,200 kilos
                                                            Now that's a bell !!!

The final run into Calais was smooth and we were soon joining our queue to board the ferry. After all the recent media hype regarding illegal immigrants going through the tunnel, we didn't know what to expect when we arrived. However. We saw no sign of refugees and very little police presence. Once in the queue, we did however have to open the boot for an inspection by the border agency team - just checking that we weren't trying to smuggle any into the UK. So that was us finished with our holiday and coming away with memories of a wonderful 9 weeks and 9 countries - of  some amazing places visited and some very interesting people met along the way. It is now time to make our final farewells to family in the UK and head back to the East.

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