Food, drink, travel and everything in-between

Month: July 2022

And that was that…

Week 6 – 2nd – 5th July 2022

Soissons, France to Home in East Cowes, Isle of Wight UK – 388 miles

We are in our last week, a week that we have had to cut slightly short by a few days. Our other life is catching up with us and we need to get back and sort some personal matters out as well as get back to work. It’s going to be a tough long summer this year, one we will miss, and living on the Isle of Wight, that’s a shame. We are so grateful however that we have had the time and ability to get away on this trip, a trip that we will remember fondly.

Saturday 2nd July 2022

As soon as he wakes up Del is checking his phone for any reply or news from the local restaurant about the missing, or stolen money. Sure enough, there is a reply…

However, it’s not the reply he was expecting. The feeling was that the manager would ignore the message and pretend nothing had happened or return a volley of abuse for making such a terrible accusation and to defend his staff and his own honour. That’s how cynical life has become…

But no. The manager came up with a possible, and probable explanation that another customer, seeing the bag being collected from the window sill by the staff, which was put in a room behind the bar, used the staff toilets, as the customer ones were full, and took the opportunity to open the bag and take out the money. Maybe…

No matter, the manager was mortified that such a terrible thing could have happened in his establishment and requested that we come to the restaurant and collect 100 euros…!!!! How about that?

Dressed and ready we make our way to the restaurant and meet the owner/chef who was absolutely charming and apologised for the whole affair, reiterating once again his theory, then stuffing 100 euros in our hands and with a ‘bonne journee’ the whole matter was over.

With a smile on our faces and our faith in humankind restored, we set off in search of a patisserie and to buy some pastries to take back to Jess for breakfast before setting off.

Now that’s a salad…

Today we are not really sure where we are going, we would like to be in Belgium on Monday night for the short drive to Calais for the ferry home on Tuesday. Hayley sticks pins on a map and chooses various options before changing her mind. Finally, we choose a place called Cappy which is in the Somme. We have stayed there before and it was very pleasant. There is a steam railway there that was used to deliver ammunition to the front line back in the first world war, the area is quite hilly so there is a complicated collection of points that has to be switched and the train moved forward and backwards to make its way to the top of the hill. Like all things today now, money is tight and the train is now running only once a week, which is a shame. It’s not running today, but no matter.

We arrive at the site in Cappy and choose a nice spot and do nothing for the rest of the day. It’s hot and we have that “going home” feeling.

Dinner tonight is Hayley’s mega salad of mixed leaves, parma ham, peaches and blue cheese. Amazing. We have this with some small homemade pizzas. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

Sunday 3rd July 2022

It’s a beautiful morning this morning in Cappy, the birds are loud.

We have to be home on Tuesday, the ferries are booked and our days have already been mapped out for when we return. Today we are going to the Belgian town of Ypres. It was recommended to us at the beginning of this trip by the lady that ran the campsite in De Panne. It’s supposed to be very beautiful and they play the last post at 8 pm every night. Neither of us has ever been to Ypres so we decide that it is worth a look, not knowing what to expect we pack up our stuff and leave Cappy for a pleasant drive. Hayley has already a campsite in mind but when we get there it’s full. With her head down buried in an iPhone camper app she finds an alternative – a nice little aire (free or very cheap parking spot) not too far away. If the campsite is busy then there is no way there will be free space at the small aire.

As quick and as safe as we can we turn around and make for the aire, behind us there is a dutch motorhome following us, we know where he is going, spaces might be tight, we have to get there before him and hope that he doesn’t know a short cut. The race is on. He’s not going to beat us, he follows our every turn, the parking spot is in sight, quick, quick. We have to pay at the barrier, get the barrier up and get a space… When we get there we have a choice of half a dozen spaces!

It’s very nice here. The spaces are a little narrow but for your 9 euros electricity is included and it’s just behind a lake and a simple quick bike ride into the town of Ypres. Very good.

The bikes are released from the back of Jess and with our crash hats on and money in our pocket we are cycling to Ypres. It takes us just 10 minutes to get to the town.

The Menin Gate. Ypres

The first thing we see is the Menin Gate. It’s quite a stunning monument to the Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War 1. It’s quite something. What struck us most was that the monument had been under attack during the second world war later, as we see from the patched-up bullet holes. So nothing much was learnt then?

We cycle through the archway of the monument to the view of the main street of the town. Wow! This is not what we expected. It’s so beautiful.

The buildings are of the flemish style with stepped gable fronts. It’s so clean and so tidy. We take a slow walk into the main square which has an incredible church, just stunning to see.

Biggest ham hock ever!

We walk around this wonderful town for about an hour before deciding that it is time for some lunch, but where to go, there are so many places.

We decide on ‘The small townhouse‘ in the corner of the square where we order a beer, a local Flemish stew for Del and Ham hock for Hayley with a mushroom sauce, fried potatoes and cabbage. What a massive feast, with excellent service. The food was tremendous, very good.

We need to find out more about the monument and the Last Post. Back at the arch there is lots of information and sure enough at 8 pm precisely the Last Post is played under the arch and everyone is invited. We take our time and look at the many thousands of names carved into the stone of the walls and arch. The surrounding area is a lovely walk and gives us plenty of time to appreciate the whole thing before making our way back to Jess to chill out for a while and then come back for the playing of the Last Post.

Back at Jess we sit in the sun at the side of the van. The spaces are tight so it is a bit of a squeeze but nice all the same.

At 7:30 we are on the bikes again and on our way to the Menin Gate. A crowd has gathered under the spectacular arch and we all stand, waiting. Just before 8 three men dressed in military uniform and carrying bugles march their way to the centre of the east arch and after a few words they play the Last Post…!

The Last Post

Quite emotive, and very powerful. It’s very sad and it’s even sadder that today we still haven’t learnt much. All those lives… Lost…

After the Last Post… A minute’s silence…

The Menin Gate was quite an experience and powerful memory and one that we shall not forget.

We walk into town looking to lighten the mood, just a little. We find a bar that serves 25 different local beers.

Cheers!

Why not we think and we order a flight of 4 small beers each and some abbey cheese. It’s quite a lot, 8 small glasses of beer between us and a lot of cheese! We take our first sample and click our glasses and say a toast to all those men who died so that we could sit where we are now enjoying this wonderful town. We can’t and won’t forget.

Back at Jess, we are planning the next and final day in Europe. Oh, but before we leave the town, we just must have a traditional Belgian waffle with ice cream…

Yum!!!

Monday 4th July 2022 (Independence Day)

It’s our last full day today in mainland Europe. We were originally going to stay at our usual Belgian site, where we start and finish our trips but Hayley has found a new one called Lyssenhoek Farm Camping. It has a collection of horses and goats and reads very nice on the internet so we thought we’d give it a go. Belgium not being a very big country it didn’t take us long to get there.

The host is very nice to us, very polite and friendly and gives a nice pitch right next to the horses. Lovely and only 23 euros. Austria it’s not.

The weather today is a little cooler so we take a walk to the local war cemetery which is only 10 minutes away.

There are many commonwealth cemeteries in Belgium, and a lot of men died in this area, defending small pieces of land. There is a museum attached to this cemetery so we have to take a look. All very interesting, thought-provoking and sad. We walk back to Jess talking about the whole thing, not able to grasp the enormity and sadness of the whole thing.

Tomorrow we are up early for our 10:30 ferry from Calais, so we potter around the van doing a little bit of pre-packing and cleaning up before getting an early night.

Tuesday 5th July 2022

The alarm gets us up. We hate alarms, they remind us of real life! No matter we are up and ready to go, we will have breakfast in Calais. We set off and stop to fill up with diesel at a bargain-basement price of 2 euros a litre. The drive is busy but easy as we take in the last views of Belgium and France.

Not much of a queue at Calais, which is good. We are flagged through with our van full of Belgian beer and French champagne and head for the waiting area which has this impressive new building with a huge duty-free shop, showers, toilets and a restaurant. Great, we have plenty of time before boarding to get some breakfast. However, when we get to this monument to food and retail, we find that it’s closed and all that’s there are two vending machines at the entrance, once dispensing coffee the other crisps and chocolate.

No worries, back at the van Del fires up the cooker and it’s not long before we are stuffing our faces with potato rosti, fried eggs and toast, all in the Calais Port car park… We get the washing up done just in time to be waved aboard our ship to take us to Dover.

The boat is very comfortable. Being a Tuesday morning it’s so quiet, no screaming kids and shouting parents. Perfect. We pay 6 pounds for two teas… Yes, 6 pounds for two tea bags and some hot water… What’s going on?

We disembark at Dover, which not to put too finer a point on it is just grim. It’s small, dirty, old and grey. (Bit like Del). Soon we are on the main road out and making our way to Portsmouth for our second and last ferry of the day. Within 5 minutes of being in the UK, we are stuck in stationary traffic for 15 minutes… Welcome home…

We arrive at Portsmouth with 40 minutes to spare. Wightlink loads us up and within 40 mins we are driving off the ferry and onto the Island. Home at last. It’s another 15-minute drive home where we unload Jess before putting her to bed at the local campsite, clean, empty and probably just as much relieved as we are at being home…

SOME STATS FROM THE TRIP:

Countries visited: 7 (3 are new for us)

Miles covered: 2,321 miles (plus a few for getting lost!)

Toll charges: 30 euros

Fuel: 705 euros!!!

Most expensive overnight: Lichtenstein 46 euros

Cheapest overnight: Germany 8 euros

We would like to thank our family and friends who have followed us over the last 6 weeks, we appreciate hearing from you. For now, we would like to give you our very best wishes and we hope to see you soon. On a final final note, Happy 50th Birthday to Sarah & Liz, Hayley’s school buddies. Bless…

France, here we come!

Week 5 – 25th June – 1st July 2022

Bregenz Austria to Soissons France 463 miles

So far on this trip, we have done Belgium, Germany, The Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany, again, with a bit of Lichtenstein in between. We are on our last 10 days so now we are going west into France then up towards Belgium again, then home.

We loved the Czech Republic and Austria, which by the way have the best toilets and showers.

Saturday 25th June 2022

Time we left Austria and moved into Germany properly now, we only have a week and a bit left before we get home and get stuck back into work. It’s busy for both of us, not sure that we are prepared for it.

Camping Weiss was ok, it rained a lot but allowed us to catch up on some homework. Lake Constance/Bodensee is 65km long and we have to follow it part of the way to get to our next destination.

Lake Bodensee or is it Constanz?

The views of the lake are excellent but we can’t really enjoy them as it is so busy here. It’s quite a tourist attraction so the roads are busy with everything from bikes to large trucks. We soon get fed up.

Finally, the route clears and we are on some very fine German roads.

Hayley has found a nice stop in the town of Geisingen which is close to the Danube. It’s 10 euros a night with extra for electricity and water. It’s a nice day and the drive is very pleasant.

By early afternoon we are in a place in an immaculate ‘camperplatz’, after we have done a 70 euro shop at the local Penny Supermarket.

A cosy and warm afternoon

We are getting short on stuff, so time to spend some pennies.

It’s hot again but cloudy. Not much happening today, we go for a walk to find the Danube, but give up as it appears that you have to cross a railway line and we don’t fancy that.

Back at our home on wheels we get set up and read, chat and have a splendid dinner before an early night.

Sunday 26th June 2022

We had some rain last night. It’s quite loud on the roof of Jess. A shower is ok but proper rain can wake you up as indeed it did, for a bit.

A quick breakfast today as we are heading for the Black Forest and to a regular stop in the small town of Todtnau. This will be the fifth time we will have stayed there, it has a nice place to park for the night, which is cheap, good places to eat and it has a ‘rodelbahn’ which is always great fun to go on.

Our usual spot in Todtnau

We set off towards Todtnau, we need LPG for the cooking and off-grid hot water etc, so before pitching up we get some gas, 10 euros for 11 and a bit litres.

We are lucky to get the same pitch, right in the corner as we have done every time here, but what’s this?

Never disappoints

It’s still only 10 euros but now they have added a 5 euro “tax”. It seems that everyone is just upping the price and calling it a tax. The electricity had gone up, 3 euros now. 2 euros to empty the toilet and a euro for 90 litres of water. The last time we were here it was 12 euros, 10 for the pitch, 2 for the electricity.

We are here now and we want to have what can only be described as the best Black Forest gateaux ever! It really is though. We get the konditorei and it doesn’t disappoint, it is just brilliant.

A short walk and we are in the line for the rodelbahn. The view of the town going up on the chair lift is just amazing, but the ride back down on the rodelbahn just makes you laugh for the whole 3km run. Excellent.

It’s 3km down!

Back to Jess for a beer, or two, chatting and planning… because… well we shall see tomorrow.

Dinner tonight was supposed to be in a local restaurant that does excellent local food but instead, we opt to stay with Jess tucked up in our private space in our usual corner where Hayley does an excellent schnitzel, fries and salad, all served with a glass of good wine. It was one of those nights we won’t forget.

Great. During our nightly chinwag Del, stupidly, suggests that we could go to Europa Park, again. Why on earth…?

Theme parks (or rather roller coasters) are Hayley’s hobby, it’s on the way to the town of Rust so why not. More bag carrying.

Just a quick note here. Todtnau is the birthplace of the chap who invented the ‘perm’. One Karl Nessler was the man. Bet you didn’t know that?

The man behind the perm…

Monday 27th June 2022

The one thing that is a constant about this area is the rain. We did have a lovely sunny day yesterday, had dinner outside and sat out till late. It was really nice, however overnight we did have the worst thunderstorm and rain imaginable. The lightning was just constant, it never stopped flashing. The rain fell so hard on the roof that you couldn’t hear the thunder, on top of that we had a strong wind rustling the trees that we were under!

Today we are going again to Europa Park. We have been there before in September 2020, COVID year, and it was a good day out. Even for the bag carrier!

We are both tired after the storm last night but we get up early and Del does the drive to Rust. We are quite high up in the Black Forest, but to get down you have to go up to a peak of 1.2km. Our ears are popping going up and again coming down, the roads are very twisty with lots of hairpin bends but soon we come down and get onto the motorway towards Rust having just missed another huge rainstorm. The roads are soaked and are still raining.

We arrive early at Europa Park, which has its own campsite, but as we are so early they put us in a holding area, with the use of electricity while we go into the park.

Hayley is in there somewhere…

Hayley is like a kid, running between the rides while Del holds the bag.

However Del does try out a family coaster called Arthur which he enjoys, so much he goes on it twice. Today the place is packed, mad mad busy with kids and students from 15 to 18. There are no school holidays but there are many many buses in the car parks full of them, as well as parents with young children.

A good day at the park. Del gets back early to Jess to reposition her into the allotted pitch and cleans up the inside and gives the van a good airing before a tired Hayley returns.

Dinner tonight is in a local cowboy-themed restaurant, burger, ribs, chips and a glass of red wine each sees us off to bed for a good solid night’s sleep. A good day.

Tuesday 28th June 2022

Off-grid in a vineyard tonight

Today it’s goodbye Germany and hello France as we begin our last week and a bit before home. Hayley has found us a lovely place for 10 euros, where the pitch is right on the vineyards of Domaine Bachert in the town of Barr, not very far into France. The view of the vines is just stunning as we look down the valley from our pitch. In the distance, we can see the hills of the Black Forest, where we recently left. It’s an idyllic spot. We love these kinds of places.

We get set up, tonight we are off-grid, with no electricity so we are relying on our batteries and solar panel for lights, and gas for our fridge and hot water. No problem.

Barr townhall. Bet yours doesn’t look like this?

It’s a ten-minute walk to the town of Barr which is beautiful, with its old well-kept buildings, winding streets and cafes and restaurants.

It’s a wine-producing area so of course there are a number of shops run by the producers themselves. It’s a fantastic walk, every street is just a picture book.

Time to head back, we pop in to pay our fee for the night but can’t help but take part in a wine tasting.

Let battle commence…

Our host is lovely and Hayley gets stuck in with her French and soon we have tried 8 different local wines and bought 4. The owners are so nice and friendly and attentive. A lovely experience in a lovely place.

The rest of the afternoon is spent sitting under the broken cloud chatting and planning out the rest of our few days before having dinner, with a few glasses of our new purchase of local fizz, before showers and an early night.

Great to be back in France… They know how to do it here!

Wednesday 29th June 2022

08:30 and it’s a beautiful morning, it’s a little cloudy but still warm. We have breakfast and make our way to see our lovely host. She has our bill ready and our box of local wine that we sampled yesterday. All paid-up we are off and weaving our way to a local supermarket for a stock-up. It’s big and has nearly everything we need, but no duck in a tin! (nicer than it sounds, it’s a French delicacy ). 70 euros later and another 60 euros in diesel and we are on our way.

Today we are going to a campsite in the Vosges area, called Camping Vosgina Vosges . The drive is simple and straightforward until the last bit. The road to the campsite is blocked by a log loader. This could take a while, so we back up the narrow entrance onto the main road and get Google to re-route us, indeed it does, through a very quiet housing estate. We pop out at the other end and soon arrive at the site.

This place is probably one of the best sites we have been to… It’s very charming, well maintained with beautifully manicured pitches. We are welcomed by a lovely French lady who is so nice and kind and for 21 euros, including electricity, we can choose our space.

The pitch is level and spacious with hedges separating us from other campers, of which there are not many!

Unusual but efficient tank emptying equipment!

We have had a small issue with our wastewater (sink and shower waste).

The golden rule is to never let food go down the drain, so you need to wipe all the plates before washing them in the sink. We have been a bit lazy lately and the stench from the tank is overwhelming. One of the first jobs of the day, before anything else, is to drain the waste water tank, fill it with fresh and drain it again with the help of some Milton tablets, not the best, but they do work. 30 minutes later we have a fresh-smelling tank and van, and a promise to be more careful in the future…

The rest of the day Del, feeling bad about the waste water tank, strips everything out of ‘the garage’ and has a good clear-out. Well worth it. By the end of the day, Jess is fresh and sparkling again. It is amazing how quick a small van can get grimy with just two people in it after a few weeks. We do keep on top of it but sometimes it can overtake you.

Best paella

Dinner tonight was a fabulous Hayley paella, which is always a winner. after that, we have a good game of boules which Hayley wins by just 1 point by the way. 1 point!

After that great dinner, we have a good game of boules which Hayley wins by just 1 point by the way. 1 point!

Thursday 30th June 2022

It’s a lovely morning, cool in the shade so we make for some benches that are in the sunlight with our morning coffee. Today we are going to Bar-le-Duc about an hour and a bit from here which has a nice campsite and an apparently superb restaurant.

When we get there the town doesn’t look great, it’s a little bit tatty in parts so decide to drive on.

The sun has gone and the sky is getting heavy, it starts to rain, heavy rain.

A miserable, miserable drive

Hayley has found us another possible stop at Beaunay in the Champagne region which has some spectacular views, indeed it does, the rain has stopped but the place is a little desolate in the damp surroundings, we are also the only ones there, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, we like that sometimes, but today it doesn’t feel quite right. We move on. Again.

We decide to head for a place that we have stopped at before near Montmirail, it’s a Champagne house called Champion. After a long drive, we arrive but unfortunately, there is no one at home. We carry on, the roads are getting very narrow, and the rain has started again, lots of rain. Very wet and muddy. Our next try is at a stop in Champvoisy in a vineyard where you can stay, do a wine tasting and buy the local Champagne. Oh, and it has great views. Apparently.

Means the road is closed. Which, left or right?

Finally, the rain has stopped as we arrive after driving down a closed road and lots of narrow, bumpy, dirty roads.

Another wonderful stop, once the rain ended.

The view is wonderful. There is another Brit van with a couple on, it’s their second visit here, and also a German couple.

A selection that we tried…

At around 6:30 we all gather for the Champagne tasting on some trestle tables next to the cellar, the owner is a charming and funny man and we have a great time, an hour later and six glasses down we buy some to take home. The Champagne region has hundreds of Champagne houses, it’s not just about the names that we all know about, but there are many small independent growers and producers making some wonderful Champagne and Felix des Lys is no exception.

Hayley spends the rest of the evening planning our last remaining stops based on finding good French restaurants! Good idea.

Tomorrow Soissons.

Friday 1st July 2022

We slept well last night, with no noise at all. We are on a small private vineyard called Champagne Felix des Lys run by a very friendly French man called, funnily enough, Felix.

After all the rain yesterday we have woken up to a lovely fresh cool day. The sky is blue with lots of white fluffy clouds, no wind and the landscape is wonderful. After a full van service we are off and on our way to Soissons to a municipal campsite just out of town. First, we need to fill up with diesel, which by the way just seems to go up and up. Here in France on the 1st of July 2022, it is 2.11 euros a litre, just under 2 quid a litre. During our 6 weeks out the price has rocketed. How far will it go?

Dirty Jess…

We also get a small shop in as the weekend is on us and shops in France tend to be closed.

Jess desperately needs a wash though, she looks like she has been rallying. with mud up her sides.

The drive to Soissons is along a ‘D’ road which can be quite interesting with surfaces various and all kinds of known junctions where who gives way to who can be a competition. The French countryside is wonderful with its patchwork of coloured fields with a windy road carved through it all against a lovely sky. Love it.

We have to drive through a rather bumpy Soissons town to the campsite. Hayley’s French has come on in leaps and bounds and she is soon in the campsite office securing us a place for a staggering 12 euros. We have gone from the low 40s in Austria and Germany to 12 euros in France. The French know how to do campsites but it is under threat as free and cheap spots are starting to become rare. The pitches are spacious with good facilities.

We get set up and settled in and spend the afternoon drinking Belgian beer (?) It’s a lovely afternoon just chatting away in the sun. We get through quite a lot of paperwork. We are coming to the end of the trip and we are about to hit a firestorm of work and personal challenges when we get back, so we make the most of it while we can.

The plan later is to walk around the town via the river and to a highly regarded typical French restaurant that Hayley has found. Looking forward to that…

Dinner is in Soissons tonight. We set off for dinner in town, the idea is to have a walk around and get a feel for the place. The town is ok but nothing spectacular. We are both hungry and looking forward to eating. We make our way to the restaurant and we are the first to arrive. We are shown a table in the corner which is very nice and the service is attentive and quick.

Desert anyone?

We get through three courses, the food is ok but not as good as expected having read the reviews. The place is rated number 1 out of 50 in the town and indeed it is very popular and filling up.

We pay the bill and walk back via the river that runs all the way to the campsite.

We get to Jess and Hayley happens to say ”have you got the other keys?” It should be explained here that we have a small bag that we take with us every time we go out, inside it we take our passports, driving licences and bank/credit cards. The thinking is that if the van gets broken into, or worse stolen, we have ID and money.

That’s a great idea until the person carrying the bag (Del) leaves it in the restaurant on the window sill behind them (Del). Realising that the bag has been left in the restaurant, Hayley gets on the phone to them and in her best French asks if the bag is there. It is – what a relief. The bag was spotted and held. We get the bikes off the back of the van, the fastest we have ever done and cycle to the restaurant. Whew! Hayley now has the bag in her possession. Happy we cycle back to Jess. Hayley checks the contents, it’s all there, except… 100 euros in cash that we withdrew in Todnau, Germany. The bag is frantically turned inside out but no money is found. Clearly, someone, we don’t know who has picked up the bag, opened it, seen the cash and swiped it. Was it one of the waiters? Was it the manager himself or was it another customer? We will never know, nor are we able to prove to anyone that we had the money in the first place.

Del can’t settle and writes an email explaining the whole thing. Either there will be no reply or they will come back spluttering, “how dare you make such accusations…” blah blah blah… Del is not deterred and writes a firm but polite email. Thank god for Google translate.

Within two hours, a reply arrives…

It’s the manager explaining that he will look at all the cameras in the establishment and talk to all members of staff and will come back to us in the morning…

We shall see.

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