Escape to Iberia. 2.

Monday 7th May. Peaceful day at Camping Solpamo. It was nice to just relax in sunshine at last during the morning, as well as catching up with jobs. During the afternoon was followed the track on the winter watercourse down to the sea, which naturally was further than it looked. It was surprising how many plants were thriving in such uncertain conditions, and that all the flowers were yellow!

We were very surprised to see a few campervans and caravans drawn up by the shore, and agreed that we did not fancy stopping there for the night, not remote enough. The track and coastal path continued and we followed it as far as a defensive Moorish lookout tower, Pirolicu Tower, which had impressive views. We had a very welcome beer at a beachside bar, and looked at a 18h century tower, Macenas Castle, that had many similarities to a martello tower at home. We then had a hard slog back up the watercourse, only enlivened by a flock of sheep following their shepherd.

Tonight might not be as peaceful with a baby of Alex’s age in the adjoining campervan. They seem to have an inordinate amount of gear in a very small campervan.

Tuesday 8th May. We did not hear the baby at all during the night, and that had me worried as well. We decided to go out in the van and explore more of the Park Natural de Cabo de Gata- Nijar. The coast road to Carboneras is extremely spectacular and sweeps down to the sea. It is a shame that the little cove was disfigured by an almost complete resort building that has been abandoned unfinished, there are so many of these, victims of the economic downturn.

After Carboneras I was surprised to see a large oil ?? Refinery. We decided to go further on to the park, so rejoined the motor way, then turned off at Campobermoso, a very poor town with large immigrant community, whom I assume work in the sea of polytunnels that surrounded the town. I knew of these tunnels, but nothing prepares you for the sight of so many and will make me re-think about food out of season!

Once in the national park again, the scenery returned to its desert like appearance, with lots of wild flowers. I was amazed at the amount of abandoned terracing, had the land once been more fertile, what had they been growing and where did they live? We came to the small seaside village of Las Negras, which I guess had once been a tiny fishing village, and now was devoted to very low key tourism. Most places were shut up, and a few tourists looked lost, apart from in the single active lively restaurant. The coastal scenery around was spectacular but the coast path was more than we could comfortably manage. We have been spoilt by the scenery around the coast of Dorset, and Devon and Cornwall.

We found an excellent supermarket in Carboneras, and solved the underground parking problem with parking in a side street. ( We are trying the dark greeny red tomatoes that are reputed to taste better – Raf tomatoes, I will report) . We then returned to Camping Solpamo, an exceeding good tiny campsite.

Wednesday 9th May. We left the lovely campsite, and drove out via Molzjar. The promenade ( think Eastbourne) seemed very pleasant after yesterday, perhaps we should have come here and eaten Italian ice cream, then wandered up to the old town above. However now we had to press on because I want to get to the Festival of the Courtyards at Cordoba, which I have had on my ‘ things to do’ list for some time.

We passed Sorbas, an interesting town set above a gorge, then past several ‘Wild West ‘re- creations, which were tourist attractions above Almeria. There was a lots of snow on the Sierra Nevada, and at the previous campsite the owner had said they were skiing there till last weekend! The mountaintops were covered in clouds. Guadix also looked interesting, with lots of troglodyte dwellings, some of which could be seen from the road.

There seemed to be loads of buttercups on the verges round Granada. I had tried to get tickets for the Alhambra, once I found you could book and print the ticket at home up to 3 months ahead. But when I tried I found all the tickets for May and June had been sold, probably to ticket touts which is why they are available locally at inflated prices. I could have booked for July! Now I know the system, I’ll book tickets well in advance as soon as we book a ferry!

Once past Granada there were green fields and vast acres of olive trees, I think this landscape suits me better than the desert one on the coast. I enjoyed the wild flowers but found the arid scenery rather depressing. We easily found the aire at Priego de Cordoba, and after a cup of tea set off to explore. It was a walk into town, past the bull ring, but through interesting streets with more normal shops, closed till later. The area of tiny streets around the castle was full of flowers and really charming. There was an impressive Balcon de Adarve, with views over the countryside. Elsewhere in the town wás an unusual fountain, with 3 layers. As we wandered back the shops had opened and the town was full of bustle.

Thursday 10th May. Quiet night at the aire and off in good time as wanted to get to the campsite promptish to get a space. It wa very grey, but lots of wild flowers by the roadside. Also lots of olive processing plants, and above the groves, the hills were thickly wooded. As we nearered Cordoba the verges were thick with broom, and the olives gave way to large cereal fields. No problem when you arrive at 10.30 here for space, mostly full by 16.00, I was immediately given a map of the Courtyards open to see.

I was told at the campsite they opened all day, I had read they opened at 17.00 during the week, and from noon at weekends. In reality they open 11-14, and 18-22.00! So it was as well we went straight into the city. I was not prepared for the large queue st the first one we tried to go in, but quickly found this was because they were tour groups, and give that one a miss, and go onto another.

The courtyards were every bit as charming as unexpected. Such a riot of colour, and in such a small space. And the rooms off looked cosy and cool. A bit salutary to think that originally the women would have been expected to live in that area and not go beyond the front door! After a disappointing tapas we came home for a rest before venturing out again.

We have been very confused about the Plaza de Colon, we keep going through it, there are all sorts of places named after it. Eventually the penny dropped (!) when we saw a tiled picture which we took to be Christopher Columbus!!

The courtyards seemed much quieter and more atmospheric during the evening. One of the courtyards had a group of singers which really added to the atmosphere. As we were preparing to go home, a local suggested we went with him so he could show us the winning balcony. It was on a modern house in a small development, it is hard to see how such a solid mass of flowers could be achieved by individual pots. He also showed us the patio of the president of the society, which we had already visited but it was good to see through the eyes of a local.

Friday 11th. Andy could not not face courtyards all day, so I wandered into town through the excellent parks and boulevards . It had been my intention to quietly sit and sketch in a peaceful courtyard, but a. I’m none too good on plants, and b. The courtyards are all far to busy to sit peacefully! I made the mistake of trying to visit the Alcazar Viejo patios, all close together. A big mistake. It was crowded out, with enormous queues, large groups. They are all wheelchair accessible, and each time a group of such arrived, or a group of nursery children, they were shepherded in, so we waited even longer. I should had given up long before; then had a lovely walk along beside the river, and much quieter patios in a another area, and past a couple of prize winning balconies.

Our evening stroll was much more pleasant, around more remote courtyards, and came across another group singing and dancing.

Saturday 12th. The night was punctuated by the cries of tawny owls who seemed to be perched in the branches just above the van. They woke us several times!

We had read that the Mezquita was open from 8.30 -9.30 and hoping that this would be quieter, as tour guides are not allowed then, we left the site at 7.45! The city was largely deserted and it was very chilly, so we were surprised to turn a corner and found a queue, at the wrong gate it transpired. It was quieter than later, and worked its usual magic.

The Mezquita is definitely my favourite building. I’m always impressed by the glimpse of the 3rd century floor from the first church on the site, for which there is documentary evidence; and most of all the mihrab, which shines with the 1,600 kg of gold cubes sent by the Emperor of Byzantium, as a gift.

I had hoped to sit drawing in the baroque cathedral in the centre during the mass which followed, but was spotted; when I made my way out later it was great to have the long aisles of columns to myself for a moment .

We found somewhere for a second breakfast, then walked through to the Roman bridge, for views over the city.

Later I tried a drawing in the courtyard outside the Mezquita but it was just too busy.

I wandered back through the streets passing a Roman temple and popping in to two churches, which happened to have weddings going on inside. Very long veils seem to be the order of the day in Spain. As in Greece, some of the guests seem to be spilling out of adjacent bars.

I then reached a square where there was Flamenco singing and dancing. I had read that a gravely voice and lots of feeling was essential, the singer had this in spadefulls. And I’m sure that the dancing was also most authentic, the female dancer especially put such feeling and verve into her dancing, throwing herself about, such accented moves.

I then caught the bus home to gather strength for the last lot of courtyards during the evening. We visited the last group of patios. I think I had managed to see about 40 of the 50 available to view! The queue outside the overall winner had to be seen to be believed. The police were in attendance to keep the road clear. The thing that made the patios charming as well as the flowers was the collections of memorabilia tastefully displayed. And the decorated wells that looked still used. Amongst the last was a really tiny patio that was incredibly cosy.

Afterwards we joined the crowds in the Plaza de Corredera where we sipped sherry till the promised flaminco concert started at 22.00. However there was an incredibly chilly breeze blowing throughout the square and it was not long before we were as cold as we had been in the morning, but with no hope of warming up. On our way back to the bus stop we glimpsed a procession, and watched an incredibly heavy statue and plinth make its unsteady way down a side street, with followers.

Sunday 13th. We came south from Codoba through lovely rolling countryside with few trees and far reaching views. The edges of the roads were bright with wild flowers, especially very deep red poppies. We aimed for the aire at Olvera, but the access road was blocked. However we managed to park and have a wander, up to the Moorish town centre at the top of the hill.

We had a drink in a tiny bar, called the Torre de Pan, then took the scenic route east, which included busy mountain passes, ( it was Sunday) up to Grazademia (which we recognised from our last visit, supposedly the wettest place in Spain) then down via incredible views to Arcos de la Frontiera.

I had very fond memories of our last visit to the town in 1998, I remember climbing up through the town in brilliant sunshine, declaring I wanted a house here. Well, I certainly did not recognise anywhere, though I am sure we came on the town from a different angle, and I did find some charming corners, but there are many places I now would prefer to live! And definitely could not cope with the ex-pats we saw round the town.

Monday 14th. We made our way south, so many wild flowers by the roadside, I have never seen so many poppies. We tried to find somewhere to stop in Medina Sidona, think we are still unnerved by previously being stuck, as we found somewhere in 1998. Our first attempt at somewhere to stop in Vejer led us to the sea near Conil de la Frontera, and was unbelievably awful, mile upon mile of seaside shacks and hovels. The beach might have been fun and full of windsurfers, but at sometime you would have to come out of the water. I’m not sure whether the high rise developments, or miles of shacks are worse.

However with a bit of effort we found somewhere in Vejer de la Frontiera, and Andy spent a very pleasant afternoon in a lovely park beside a row of windmills while I wandered the streets of the old town, and sketched.

Vejer was very pleasant indeed and the old town unspoilt. Apparently the women of the town had worn an outfit very similar to the full hijab, the Cobijado, a full long skirt and lined enveloping hood, until discouraged by Franco, but seen even up till the 1970’s. Interesting as we associate the outfit so strongly with Islam.

We then drove south towards Tarifa, and soon the Altas mountains appeared looking as close as nearby scenery. Enormous fields of wind turbines. And swarthy looking bulls with handsome families. However the countryside was green, with cork oaks, and would not have looked out of place in England. The campsites here looked better, and miles of deserted beaches, apart from the windsurfers. We parked in the run down aire at Terifa with the other hippies!

Every street in Terifa had a motor home parked on it. We did see a notice that said motor homes were not allowed to park anywhere in the municipality, and worried for a bit. The sea front was a mixture of smart, and run down port. The town has some surprisingly smart houses and shops, as well as a Moorish old town and castle. The story goes that when Guzman El Bueno was threatened with the death of his captured son unless he surrendered. He threw down his own dagger from the walls of the besieged castle, to kill the boy and refused to surrender. The only trouble is I’ve heard the identical story when visiting a Cathar castle in France, as well as one in Romania. A lot of it about.

We decided to risk a night in the car park, along with 20 others in varying states of repair. Really a shame this is not reinstated as a proper aire, that could earn the town a steady income, then perhaps tidy up all the vans scattered across the town.

Tuesday 15th. Uneventful night, we drove towards Algeciras to try to get a gòod view of Gibraltar, but there were no spots for photographs. Africa looked no further away than the Isle of Wight does from the mainland. There was a limited view from a beach, and then we tried a road to the lighthouse at Pinto de Carnero but the road drove past to an unexpected modern village.

We then retraced our steps to Terifa, and tried to find the campsite we remembered stopping with the children. We drove backwards and forwards and would still be doing it now had we not pulled into Camping Torre de la Pina ; admittedly we have road noise, but this is made up by an uninterrupted view of the sea and Africa from the open van back doors. The washing dried almost as soon as we put it out. And the receptionist listened to my description of the site we were seeking,and said it had new owners and is closed at the moment!

Advertisements

Escape to Iberia. 1.

Friday 27th April. We set off toward Portsmouth in Molly, our new van, and had our lunch in the very wet New Forest, before driving through torrential rain to the port. We were loaded onto the Cap Finnistere and easily found our cabin which was on the deck that also had seating and restaurants. We had forgotten just how nice Brittany Ferries were, ( We had been very unimpressed with a DFDS ferry last year) and regretted all the food we had bought with us, as there was plenty of reasonably priced food on offer.

I do enjoy sailing out if Portmouth as there is so much to see, the navel ship Queen Elizabeth was in for a refit, and we could just see the Victory and Warrior through the mist. Sallyport also always looks charming, even in the rain. I managed to sit in the lounge area until the sea became ‘lumpy’ as we reached the western approaches, when I made a quick dash for the cabin. I think that any form of cruise is totally out of the question for me!

Saturday 28th. The sea gradually abated as we sailed into The Bay of Biscay, and when I eventually got up the sun was shining, and it was quite pleasant. However as we approached Spain the clouds gathered again and by the time we docked at 17.00, it was raining and no warmer than when we had left England. Once I had a signal I started to check the weather for our proposed route I saw that heavy snow showers were forecast for Tuesday morning. I think I may have given this diary the wrong title. We have already spent more nights in this van in the snow than any of our previous vans put together, the first incident being on the third day after her collection in November. I think we will have to amend our plans.

I had forgotten just how spectacular the route south is from Santandar. The rise is so sudden and the hills and valleys beautiful, even through the rain, which stopped when we reached where the countryside roughly flattens off. The sun came out and in the distance we could see the Picos covered in snow. We stopped for the night at Alar del Rey, the aire had disappeared but we easily found a spot beside the Canal du Cantabria. I didn’t know that Spain had any canals, thinking the land too mountainous, this canal looks maintained but little used, however there is a newly renovated warehouse adjacent. It is interesting that the spring is even later to arrive here than at home!

Sunday 29th. A bitterly cold night, woke up to put on a jumper at midnight! And still cold. Why did I not bring winceyette pyjamas, and thermal vests, long socks and big waterproof for the daytime?

We had a look at the Canal de Castilla, which starts in this town and runs down to Valladolid, I would love to know what was transported. The swallows were much in evidence over the canal. There was a magnificent restored warehouse all ready to be an interpretation centre but was sadly empty, and had been ready for use for some time. We drove on through far reaching views and past the San Miguel Arch, last vestige of a church and village that stood here in the 12th century. As we took pictures we heard our first cuckoo.

We found a place in the aire at Burgos and went out to explore. I was wearing so many layers but it hardly felt the 6′, with horizontal sleety showers. We firstly made our way to the elaborate Gothic cathedral which is noted for its details. There was so much to look at but what stood out for me was the wooden carved screen in the Capilla de St Ana, which I think told the story of the tree of Jesse. Also the star vaulted central dome, under which lies the tomb of El Cid, and in another chapel two unidentified marble tombs.

We then battled through the rain to the new Museo de la Evolution Humana, which details finds made at Atapuerca, N of Burgos, in 2007, where Europe’s oldest human fossil remains were found, dating back to 850,000BC. There have been subsequent finds at the spot spanning many stages of evolution. There is also a floor devoted to Charles Darwin, all most impressively displayed.

Going to be 2′ overnight rising to 3′ by 10.00!

Monday 30th. Another cold start, though possibly not quite as bad as previously, then we drove SE to Soria, and the South to Medinaceli. There was very little sign of spring, and the trees were not even showing buds. Sheep were still corralled into barns, and there was snow on distant hills. We crossed the infant Duero at Almaden, and wondered about following it East from Porto on our way back.

We did not hang about on our way as imagined that the aire, which was described as popular and scenic, would be busy, so were surprised when we arrived to find only a couple of vans and a handful of cars parked. It might be the weather which has snowed quite heavily since we arrived, and a forecast of -1C for the next two nights! I drew the village from the van, certainly not suitable for sitting outside! We bucked up courage to explore the village which is picturesque in a touristy kind of way, and well cared for. There was an imaginative archeological museum, which had worked hard on simple re-creations, and there are two impressive Roman Arches! The central square was being replaced and everywhere very quiet, tomorrow might be different as it is a bank holiday.

Tuesday May 1st. We slept in, I think we are confused by the light here, it stays light till surprisingly late. We decided to celebrate May day, and sunshine, albeit with v cold wind, by eating in town, and took our seats in La Ceramica st the prompt time of 13.00. Helpful staff made choosing local dishes easy, bread soup, and shepherds breadcrumbs were tastier than they sound.

Later we went for a walk around the edge of the town. Far reaching views up several river valleys. It was obvious that the town was much larger than now, as there were piles of rubble under the edges of the hilltop. We found the Puorta Arabe, and in the valley could identify a Roman aquaduct, and Iberian/Celtic settlement on opposite hill. We walked round to the castle that had been built by the Moors in 780, and we intrigued by the well restored keep with locked door. We scrambled round trying to look inside and were surprised to see the village graveyard inside! Later we found an impressive Arabic Mosaic preserved under glass, with a house partially suspended over it.

Most of the time we were still wearing hats and gloves but I did find a seat in the sunshine and managed to sit for 5 minutes enjoying the sun! However any thought of opening windows in the van out of the question! And still jumpers and socks at night as the temperature goes below freezing.

Wednesday 2nd May. We drove SE towards Cuenca, down quiet roads, here the trees were further out and a lovely spring green. Eventually we drove past a very large reservoir, it was alarming to see it barely half full in May! Perhaps the dam was weak. We were now level with Madrid and there were olive trees and much terracing of the hillsides. The cereal growing fields were much larger.

We stopped to buy LPG which had been sadly depleted due to much use of the heating, even overnight, and were rather worried when the machine could not deliver any, even with assistance. Just hope the next fuel station can help or we have a problem. Fortunately our new fridge is all electric, so it’s just hot water, cooking and heating that require gas.

We reached Cuenca and the aire, which was small and rather expensive, but useful. We climbed up beside the river and crossed a rather precarious bridge to the city. Andy stuck firmly to the centre of the bridge, but the trouble was that so did everyone else, so passing was challenging. The views of the town and the hanging houses over the gorges was wonderful especially from the Mirador at the top . On the way back down I visited the church of St Pedro which had a fine Mudijar ceiling. The Alcaszar area, where the Moorish castle had stood had been extensively excavated and the finds well presented. The town was re- conquered by Alphonso 8th in 1177 and I was very surprised to read he gave equal rights to Christians, Muslims and Jews within the town . A shame it did not last. I was disappointed that the museum which displays audiovisuals and artifacts of the famous silent Holy week procession did not open on Wednedays.

When we returned to Molly we decided to move on, firstly to seek another LPG station, I also fancied exploring the Serrania de Cuenca, spectacular landscape East of Cuenca, so we took the quiet main road towards through Teruel, and stopped at a very cosy aire at TorreBaya, beside a small arbouritum and one of the best sports centre I have seen. It was so much warmer, now at 2,500 ft above sea level instead of 4,000 last night! Interesting seeing several flocks of sheep with shepherds. There were lots of irrigation channels between the small fields and near every village and town every inch is carefully prepared for the next season’s crops.

Thursday 3rd. We drove to Teruel, where the LPG fortunately delivered, then visited the adjacent Al Campo supermarket. We then took the minor road to Albarracin, which is restored medieval town. We visited it in 2011, and I was keen to see it again. I cannot think of another place which gives so good an idea of a medieval town, nothing jars and I was waiting for a Shakespeare play to begin. There are hotels and this time I did glimpse one small discrete shop, but it is just as if the town had been asleep for 600 years, albeit much cleaner!

We then drove south east along quiet roads through pastures, over passes and through gorges stopping at picnic spots and statues. The road was so quiet that we came upon a dog asleep in the middle of the road. We finally spent the night above Uno beside the Fuente del Arenazo, a picnic spot near where we spent the night in 2011.

Friday 4th. Up in good time, as we drove back down to the valley there was frost on the grass! No wonder none of the small holdings are planted up yet! We took the wrong road and missed the road that went through the spectacular gorge. Soon we were heading south through terracotta fields contrasting with the spring green fields and evergreen oaks. At first there were very few olive trees, then the large fields gave way to lots of vineyards, but all the vines were cut down to almost ground level. I can’t imagine how they grow and support the grapes with no wires or other supports.

We then drove through an area called La Mancha, but the only windmils for Don Quixote to tilt were modern wind turbines! I caught right of an elderly couple bent over their allotment breaking up the soil with mattocks. The light was getting noticably brighter now, even if everyone in the villages were still wearing winter coats. There were lots of poppies and another yellow flower by the roadside.

Once we were on the N322 we were surrounded by olive groves and some of the time on a ridge with far reaching views! Our problems started when we reached Carzorla. We were aiming for a campsite that proved only suitable for tents and very tiny campervans. The road had been quite challenging to reach so we decided to drive on. Then we excelled ourselves!?! At first it did not seem too bad but then we came to tiny, tiny streets, I had my eyes closed, it was awful. We drove through a square and the road seemed to improve a tiny bit but at the end was a pinch point, and we got stuck! I had squeezed out and was trying to direct though but could see no way was it possible! Horrendous! Wedged! Total nightmare.

After some minutes the traffic behind calmly backed, Andy squashed back out , at the end of that bit did a 12 point turn and squeezed our way back up the streets which did not seem quite so bad in comparison with the place we had been stuck! And the Spanish drivers were so understanding and patient, no shouts of abuse, and we deserved it! We then found the aire on the other side of town and drank large amounts of rioja, and I don’t usually drink much!! This experience definitely comes under the category ‘Eat a live toad for breakfast and nothing else will seem so bad all day ‘ I might suggest 2 toads. Only damage sustained was a slightly grazed bumper above the wheel arch and mirror guard! And totally wrecked nerves!

Saturday 5th. A calm day wandering around the town. We found the spot where we had been stuck, Andy could almost reach across it with arms outstretched! The place where we did a 10 point turn turned out to be the Balcon de Zabaleta, a famous view point over the town, and up to the castle and mountains behind.

There was a festival taking place, with flowers and branches leading up to a decorated small shrine. And a lot of noise in the square below.

I wish Spanish shops were a bit more inviting, they seem so dark, I saw a craft shop with a very interesting window and glimpsed an Aladdin’s cave inside, but the doorway was full of the large proprietor, and it was obvious I would have to ask for something and not just comfortably browse.

We spent some time in the plaza De Santa Maria, beside a 16th century church wrecked by Napoleonic troops. We had more success with tapas this time, before climbing up to the castle which was started by the Moors and now housed a local museum. We were just in time for the guided tour! In Spanish. I would have liked to see more than the keep.

Really tired when we got back to the van but we had been up and down a lot of hills. Just in time before the rain started. We have seen lots of wild flowers, and swallows and house martins nesting.

Sunday 5th. We had intended to explore the National Park on our doorstep and even do some walking, but the day dawned grey and with rain forcast for later in the day we had had enough. Patches of blue started to shown as we left, but too late! We drove along a ridge on the very ridge of the park, so many ancient olive trees. Then through a region with many fruit trees, when we stopped I went to investigate and decided by examining the young fruit they were peach trees.

We reached the coastal strip at Mojacar, ( or mum’s car as the spell checker tried to tell me), low rise development but still more than we would like! However Camping Sopalmo was very pleasant, a small tidy site with helpful owner, even if I did disturb his Sunday lunch. Sunshine was lovely though with keen wind. Still not as warm as UK!

To Berlin, and beyond……….via Leeds. Autumn 2017

 Thursday 31st August. After a busy summer, we set off on a very circuitous route towards Berlin, our eventual destination. However we wanted to go to see a potential new campervan, that I had been eyeing up for a couple of years, and now thanks to Dad’s generosity had the means to buy. The van, a Vantage Neo, is made by a small builder who only makes 50 quality vans a year, and only shows his vans at 2 motor home shows, apart from outside the factory in Leeds, not a trivial trip.

We had been drawn to panel vans as all the coachbuilts are now too wide for our storage spot beside the garage, and this particular manufacturer adds a proper door instead of the dreaded sliding one which I find too heavy and noisy. We got to Leeds early afternoon, and spent the afternoon in and out of a Neo, discussing details with Richard. We were so pleased that we were offered part exchange on our present van, value tomorrow.  This takes all the worry out of the sale and more unusual these days.

Later we walked into Leeds along a canal which started off pretty seedily, but improved near the city centre, which turned out to be so impressive, with monumental decorated Victorian buildings. And the most beautiful arcades! The Art Deco arcade rivaled the one in Turin! We spent the night next to the factory.

Friday 1st September. We met Richard again at 10, who offered us a fair price for Tilly, we obviously would have liked more, but as we negotiated lots of things were included, so we signed on the dotted line! Collection in November, the factory is quiet as they gear up to the show in October.  We were able  to add lots of adjustments to the basic design as each van is individually made; including a larger fridge, which had been my main concern.  After lunch the weather turned wet, so we made our way to a CCC ‘sites for holidays’ just outside York.

Saturday 2nd. We caught the bus into York and had an easy day wandering around. We were surprised by just how busy it was, especially with Japanese tourists.  The Shambles, which was really busy, featured in Harry Potter as Diagon Alley, and one of the shops was named ” The shop that must not be named”, selling Potter merchandise. The queue to get in was enormous.


Sunday 3rd. We visited Castle Howard, very impressed by the house and most especially the room guides, who were so informative and interesting. The house by Vanbrugh, a smaller Blenheim, and also influenced by St Paul’s. 


It had the first large dome on a house, which sadly collapsed during a major fire in 1940. It has since been rebuilt, and other gutted rooms have been used to good effect for filming, especially Brideshead Revisited, which I admit I have not read.


We especially liked the Arts and Crafts chapel, decorated by William Morris, a family friend. So many references to Florence, right down to the wild boar we had last seen in the market place, did not imagine him turning up like this when we rubbed his snout! 



We spent the night at the Windmill Inn, Linton, where we had an evening meal. A very nice friendly pub with excellent food. 

Monday 4th. We  got to the Vantage factory in good time, and spent an interesting morning with Dan, who was able to answer any remaining questions. And lots more ideas!  We have ended up with 4 leisure batteries, so no problems being away from campsites, tried a few items in the cupboards and they just swallowed them up.

Eventually we got to Hull, the visit did not start well as the large vehicle park was a building site. We found on the road parking round the corner, but mistakenly turned the wrong way in our search for a late lunch, and came on a very sad area, and difficulty finding anything. Eventually we found a more pleasant area, with splendid Victorian architecture. We also went into an impressive art gallery,  which Andy  most unfairly said he preferred to the Ufizzi in Florence. We only  had a short visit but based on what we saw I was more impressed with Leeds, and we think all the restaurants have fled to York, which was stuffed with them.

We loaded on to the ferry 4 hours before sailing was due! And sat in the lounge with picture windows waiting for sailing time!

Tuesday 5th. After a poor night we were woken at 6 o’clock, I am glad we have spent our money on a motor caravan and not on cruises because we really are not keen on any aspect of sea travel! I know this was an economy cabin, and I did enjoy seeing all the ships with their lights as we came up to the lounge, I counted 16! Means to an end! I like looking at boats but not travelling on them.

We disembarked about 9 oclock, and drove on easy motor ways to Diventer, which I had identified as interesting. However parking proved challenging, and we did not try the municipal site, so drove on towards Zwolle. This smaller road was on a dyke, which proved to be part of the Ijssel Line, a Cold War defence that was complete with gun emplacemets  and would have involved large-scale flooding of the Ijssel water basin. Here all the farmhouses were thatched and we saw storks and windmills. 

We  found the designated parking spot in Zwolle, and after lunch I set off for town, a short distance across a couple of canals.  The town proved to be a large shopping  centre but with interesting older buildings mixed in with the new. Only in Holland would you see a sex shop right in front of the large Catholic Cathedral.  (Think even I  might be a bit churched out after Italy).  


I stopped to draw a a statue of Adam by Rodin, in front of the new Stadhaus. I was considerably put off by a friendly man who came to watch before I had even put in a pencil stroke, and came to check on progress every 3 minutes. Results not great. There was lots of interest to see but all the information boards were totally in Dutch, whereas in the shops so much was in English! ‘Back to school, Today is the day to be happy, Coffee and chat! Health and beauty. ‘ I got back to the van just as the heavens opened!

During an evening walk we found much more appealing areas along by the canal that surounds the central town, and also the area toward the one remaining gate. Even a Lego shop which had some pretty impressive Lego in display! 

Wednesday 6th. Rain. We were woken rudely at before 7.30 as they are demolishing part of a water tower and turning the rest into flats. Don’t think they should inflict that level of constant noise on flats and a school for commercial gain! We drove through the rain and rather boring scenery to Bourtange, a tiny defensive border village set within a 5 pointed star shaped wall and moat.

It was raining hard with strong wind as I walked to the village, far from perfect, but could see the vilļage was charming even if very done up for tourists. It centred on a circular village ‘square’ with roads radiating out. I did not go into the museums but the synagogue had lost all 60 members of its congregation, a large number out of a population of perhaps 500 at most! The intriguing red building up the steps on the ramparts proved to be the toilet! And also a small distance away from the village was the powder store. 

We then drove on through the rain to Bremen, and when the rain stopped walked over the river into town. The central square is in front of the very spectacular Rathaus, where stands Roland, facing the similarly magnificent cathedral, to protect the citizens against the might of the church. A demonstration came round the corner, stronger on sound than numbers , from what we could make out concerned about the country of Togo, a former German dependency. Some of the ladies costumes were really magnificent!  Tucked in round the corner is the statue that everyone remembers, the Musicians of Bremen. 



The town is also famous for the charming 1930s arcade, Bottcherstasser, miraculously saved from the Nazis and also the Schnoor area, which feels like collection of village streets and is really charming. The tiny lanes were constructed in the back gardens of grander houses, much like some of the terraces in the old town of Hastings!



Thursday 7th. We had a very good night in the quiet aire, and then set off for Berlin. Many German motorways are incredibly boring, straight and endlessly treelined, so I got out my knitting to pass the time! The countryside became a little more undulating with more glimpses of the outside world once we passed what had been the East / West divide and the motor ways were a bit younger. 

We headed for an aire very conveniently set near the city centre and should not have been surprised to find, again, it was a building site. So headed back out of town and eventually reached one that was adjacent to the old British barracks at Spandeau, unfortunately under the airport flight path, but quiet apart from that. In the city every lamppost is adorned with advertising for the coming election, I just hope that they are a bit more sensible than in recent elections. I really don’t like the look of the man standing against Mrs Merkel. Lots of Islamaphobic signs.

Friday 8th September. We caught the M45 bus from just round the corner, then with a lot of confusion, as did not understand the system, caught the overground train, S5 to the Zoological Gardens. This system proved so useful, as it was always easy to find the overground as it’s usually on stilts above the city streets, so easy to make for!  (1935). We then got on the number 100 bus, which gives a simple run  past most of the major city sites and gives you a feel for the place! 

We passed the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Staatsoper and Museum Island, ending up the far side of the town. We had a coffee before we went to see the East Side Gallery, a 3/4 mile section on the Berlin Wall, preserved with murals painted when the wall fell. I was surprise by how much of it there was, as had heard that it had mostly been torn down in understandable haste.

 

We then found a sushi bar before searching for Checkpoint Charlie, again using the overground. Nearby the checkpoint are lots of explanitary boards. 

We passed the memorial to Peter Flechter, who symbolised those who lost their lives trying to cross the wall. My mind kept going back to the Green line we had seen in Cyprus in 2001, and the grey no mans land in between the two lines. The wall today is marked by a blue pipe that runs along the pavements above people’s heads. 

We found another unadorned section of the wall, complete with the holes that people had chiseled out to get momentoes. Adjacent to the wall, and near the site where many of the offices where the Nazis planned the worst excesses, and the SS had their headquarters, were a series of pictures and texts, explaining the history from the 1930’s onward. There were no excuses made and it was being read in quite shocked silence. I heard one American, about my age, point to what happened to the gypsies, and saying, ‘I didn’t know anything about that, we were never told!’ We found the spot where the family came across the wall on a wire and harness, I’m sure I can remember that happening in 1965.

We walked down to the facade of the Anhalter Bahnhof, once Berlin’s largest railway station, and from where Germany’s most gifted intellectuals including Einstein caught the ‘last train to freedom’. Once the border was sealed after the wall was erected the station became redundant. 

00

We then headed up the Friedrichstrasse looking at the modern shopping centre built in the once Eastern Berlin section. We were a bit underwhelmed by this area, but eventually found a welcome loo and coffee in the new French department store, Galeries Lafayette, and then made our way back to the S5, overground, which took us right back to Spandau. 

Saturday 9th. Rain again. We had a brief look at Spandau whilst waiting for the tourist office to open, to buy a 3 day passes for Museum Island and transport. Then S5 to the Zoological Gardens again and down the Tauentzienstrasse  to look at Kaufhaus does Westerns, KaDeWe, largest department store in Europe, beginning with the food department on the 6th floor. This claimed to be the best and biggest in the world, and I can believe it. It lacked the style of Harrods foodhall, though of course may have had it before being severely bombed in the war, but the quality and style was impressive. After a coffee we explored the housewares floor, Joseph Joseph was very well represented, and then the toys. I picked up one tiny teddy with a KaDeWe tee shirt…… 19€! We then returned to the food hall for lunch, eateries of every description scattered throughout the floor. 

Around the corner was the restored neoclassical U-bahn station, dating from 1910, complete with old style billboards and ticket counters.

We retraced our steps and caught the 100 bus to the Reichstag, taking pictures from all angles in the rain! Police very much in evidence putting up barriers ahead of a march against Angela Merkel. Andy offered to swap her for Mrs May, but no takers. Nearby were memorials to those killed nearby, with claims that they were still being persecuted. We moved on to the Brandenburg Gate, it is striking how close the wall was to this iconic monument, and what an impressive avenue in both directions, that had been cut by the wall. 

Nearby were many embassies, and round the corner the monument to the Jewish Holocaust victims, blocks of concrete set on an undulating surface. We were upset that the other victims were not included but also upset by people climbing on the monument. When Andy tried to explain the young man just did not understand. He said they were not tombs, to which I replied it was all the people had! It was very chilling looking down the rows of the blocks and hearing the shouts and seeing the flags of the demonstration going by. 

We retraced our steps back to the Unter den Linden, where there was work on a new underground line, with colourful hoardings, and had a cup of hot chocolate in the Cafe Einstein,  before finding the overland train back once more. The sun came out as we got back to the van! 

Sunday 10th. We got into the city centre in plenty of time, and after a coffee popped into to the Alte Nationalģalerie,  dedicated to 19th century art, for a short while until our time slot. 

We then went into the Neaus Museum, showcasing ancient history, where there were surprisingly few people, having bothered to book a slot. (We are still remembering Florence). We went straight to the star attraction, who was Nefertiti, well presented in a domed room. I was very interested to see another picture of her, this time with her husband and 3 daughter’s, still with that iconic profile! 

The museum had been much damaged in the war and restored to reflect its history. I was interested to see Heirich Schliemann was praised as an archaeologist despite his controversial methods of digging through other important layers to reach what he considered to be ancient Troy. I had understood that the magnificent necklace his wife displayed in a famous picture had shortly afterwards mysteriously disappeared, but it appeared to be displayed in the adjacent case.

We were amused by several statements throughout the museum, complaining that the Russians continued to display items looted from this and the other museums, when most of the artifacts on display have come from other places throughout the world, by various means, as controversial as the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum!

I was very impressed by the display of bronze and iron age finds, and had never heard of the Bronze Age ceremonial  Berlin Gold Hat, which purports to give a luner calender for 19 years. 

I then moved in to the Bode Museum, which held a variety of sculptures  throughout the ages, and was surprisingly interesting, bearing in mind I was developing museum fatigue by now! 

There was a magnificent tiled apse from Ravenna, amongst other things. 

The highlight here was undoublably Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna, from Florence (!) hard to believe it was 600 years old as looked so modern!

I then wandered along beside the river in the sunshine, lots of people in deckchairs and in one place people were dancing. I visited the Hackesche Hofe, a series of courtyards built in 1906, housing mainly Jews and their workshops. Nearby was the central synagogue, I was shocked to see it needed a permanent police presence with police box. The historic Neue Synagoge inpired by the Alhambra, was attacked on Kristallnacht, and only saved by the intervention of a local police officer. The building however was largely destroyed during the war, and just the iconic front and dome has been resurrected. 

I caught the ‘usual’ overground train back but was a little alarmed when it stopped at the Olympic stadium station, all the lights out and only me on the train. I did get out and was told to go over to the platform full of very armoured policemen with enormous helmets, and then I heard the roar from a crowd some distance away and the penny dropped! Rest of the journey without incident! 

Monday 11th. Into town to see the Pergamonmuseum, There was time to have a coffee in Oxymoron in the Hackesche Hofe beforehand. 

We were very disappointed that development works prevented us from seeing the Pergamon Altar, we had seen the base in Turkey and had looked forward to seeing the rest in Berlin. However there was still a lot to see! 

The Ishatar Gate gate of Babylon is really stunning, and was bought  back in pieces and reassembled as seen. The scale is unbelievable.

In the following room was the Market place from Miletus, which reminded us of the library at Ephesus.

Much of what we saw would have subsequently been damaged or destroyed, some very recently, but some here didn’t do too well in WW2! There were some fragments of Pergamon to be seen, and a film of the reconstruction going on, and what the Pèrgamon Altar will look like! Save us rushing back in 2020! 

Upstairs was devoted to Islamic Art, which I really love. I can’t get my head around the various periods and caliphates, but could see the development. 

Glass from Raqqa, c. AD 800, 1mm thich

The walls of the desert palace of Mshatta, near Amman, AD 746,  were vast in size and incredibly ornate. 

Going into the Aleppo room, wonderfully preserved, belonging to a Christian family, was very moving.  The house has recently been damaged. 

There was also a display of pictures and book showing Christian biblical figures in Muslim scriptures. 

Also a display of ancient text belonging to the various branches of Christianity , some unbelievably old! 

Coptic, Egypt, 4th cent. Lost civilisation of Nubia, 10th cent. Syriac from Egypt, 5th cent.Armenian.

There was no restaurant in the Pergamonmuseum and Andy had long since given up on me, so I went back into the adjacent Neue Museum for lunch. Then I walked along the Inter des Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. There a gentleman in tattered uniform was roundly abusing the police on guard, who ignored him, and a hurdy-gurdy man was cheerfully playing. I revisited the Reichstag before walking through the Tiergarten. I would have walked further but after reading scraps of a monument to more victims, it began to rain so I jumped on a 200 bus. 

I caught a number 100 bus back to the Zoological Gardens and after taking a picture of the gate, caught the train and bus home! 

12th September. We took the short route south to Potsdam and stopped in a convenient aire.

I was very keen to visit Potsdam as I have long been interested in the life of Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest child, and her husband Frederick. Vicky and her mother kept up an intense correspondence which gave a very interesting window on her life, she and Frederick were very liberal, and often at considerable odds with the Prussian court. They attended services at synagogues to support Jews during periods of persecution, and opposed much that Bismark stood for. They wanted to restrict the power of the chancellor and introduce a British style cabinet system.  Europe’s fate would have been so different if Frederick had not died from throat cancer just few months after becoming Emperor.

The Royal park is vast, and open to wander in. Much was initially built by Frederick the Great, who hated Berlin, and subsequently other palaces and buildings were added. Firstly we passed the orangery, then on to the Sansouci palace, a sumptuous baroque building that sits on top of a series of terraces. We wandered though the grounds to the Chinese Tea house, a fantastic imaginative building, much decorated with gold. 

I wanted to visit the church where Victoria and her husband were buried with two sons who died in infancy, but sadly  there was no admittance into the mausoleum. However the sacristy which had become a side chapel was much used by Victoria after Frederick’s death and decorated by her pictures.

We walked into town through the Brandenburg Gate, but after lunch it soon it came on to rain so we  saw little of the town before returning through the park. 

Wednesday 13th. A wet morning so we played with our toys. After lunch I set off for the Neu Palace, where I understood Frederick and Victoria had lived for quite a bit of their lives. It was a considerable walk along the central avenue, the palace was totally vast, and behind it two more palaces which apparently were service quarters. 

The whole palace was designed by Frederick the Great, and over the top Rococco! Most impressive room was probably the Shell Ballrom, decorated by thousands of shells to produce patterns and pictures. 

I spent time in the room where Frederick died, there were lovely pictures of him and Victoria. 

Also impressive was the marble ballroom , with a most amazing inlaid marble floor. Sadly this room has been little used over the centuries as the joists struggled to cope with the 18 tons of flooring! 


Kaiser Wilhelm was the last royal to use the palace, and several rooms illustrated his life there, where he introduced mod cons such as bathrooms and electricity.  Much of the furniture  had been shipped off to join him in exile in Holland.

Once out of the palace I decide I was too tired to walk back so tried to catch a bus!!! The first one that came, I asked the driver if it went to the town, he replied no, when I asked where it went to he just shouted No, no, no. I asked a passerby who told me I needed to be the other side of the road, really counter intuitive. When the next bus came I tried to pay the driver, as we had done in Berlin and was rudely directed to a large ticket machine! There was a list of small instructions, A4 size, above my head,and about 16 buttons to choose from. All this with a lurching crowded bus, holding on for grim death, trying to find unfamiliar coins. It seemed that I had to say how many stops I wanted to go for!!!!! As far as I was concerned the bus was going in the wrong direction,  and I had no idea of where I was going. I just pressed a button at random, I think I might have paid for 4 and must have been on the bus for 16 stops?! Germans  confonted with the machine did not seem to fare much better.

I got off in the town centre,  and after a quick look round the town, through a toy town gate, an attractive Dutch quarter, and pleasant but unexceptional shops, I walked back through the park. I was caught in a very heavy rain burst as I climbed the terraces up to the Sansouci palace but there was no way I was going to tackle another bus! 

Thursday 14th. Left the very pleasant aire, and drove due East towards Frankfurt an Oder, then South to get a brief view of surrounding countryside. We were much bothered with road closures, and for lots of the time roads were lined with the typical heavy German forests, but were rewarded by several really large birds of prey and some interesting villages. Many older buildings were left to moulder and new builds were obviously preferrèd but we did see quite a few of the typical Saxon village houses, at right angles to the street, with barns and outhouse to the rear, just the same as in the Saxon area of Romania! We entered an area where all the signs were in two languages, apparently Germany’s only indigenous minority, the Sorbs, who settled in the area in the 5th cent, much persecuted by the Prussians and Nazis but currently having a revival. 

Eventually we reached the campsite outside of Bautzen, in heavy rain.

Friday 15th. We were up promptly to catch the irregular bus, i.e. nothing between 9 and 11 o’clock. We fell at the first hurdle as could not find the bus stop, we asked a very kind man who took us in his van closer to the town centre for a better service. We were confused when  the bus dropped us off but eventually found the attractive town centre. Lots of well preserved buildings, despite having been in the centre of lots of conflicts, most notably the Thirty Years war. 

The St Petri dom was impressive, light and airy, a toddler group were getting ready to sing harvest festival hymns. However the most interesting feature was a waist high barrier ( 4m till 1952) that divided the  nave, used by the Protestants and the choir, by the Catholics. The church was divided amicably after the Reformation . There were many other interesting buildings, and 17 towers remaining of the towns fortifications.

 

The town was reputed to be on a cliff overlooking the River Spree, which we were rather doubtful about having seen flat countryside for 100s of miles, but had to admit that the town as on a bit of a buff above the river, There were several buildings dedicated to Sorb culture. 

We had a pleasant lunch of soup in town, then attempted to catch a bus once more. It was foolish to try to catch one as the schools emptied, it was definitely every young person for themselves, elbows at the ready, and an elderly disabled lady had to fight for a seat! Not impressed! We passed the infamous yellow prison that had been famous for abuse, and is still in use, not a landmark to walk out to see. 

Quite cold all day, really should not have looked up the weather in Italy! 

Saturday 16th. Drove the short distance to Gorlitz, via an uninspiring Aldi supermarket. We got a place in a tiny private aire only a kilometre from the town. A very entrepreneural man had established an aire around his house at the end of Goethestrassa. Gorlitz has not suffered any damage during the world wars and is stuffed with historic buildings, 3,500 of note! The inner town is full of 16th century decorated houses, and a little further out so many wonderful 19th, and early 20th century buildings. Everywhere there are decorated doorways, windows and details calling for attention. 

We had read that the Kaufhaus department store had a very impressive Art Deco interior, it is at present being renovated and we were allowed to go in the shell of the building to admire the staircases, chandeliers  (originals taken by the Soviet authorities) and amazing glass roof.

 The buildings round the Obermarkt were stuffed with detail, and nearby the Rathaus had a never ending supply of brides and wedding parties. One memorable one left in an armoured car with Harley Davison outsiders. 

The town owed its wealth to being on an important trading post. In communist times its richness was acknowledged though little money spent  but a lot has been invested since reunification. Its unspoilt nature has meant it has been used for many films, standing in as Paris and even New York! It was also an important point on the route from the east to Santiago De Compostella. I do enjoy finding these spots all over Europe. It interest me that it has been considered much more important to go there rather than Rome, and the Italians are struggling to get a similar route even recognised today! 

The city was divided in two when the border was put down the centre of the Neisse  River in 1945, and we crossed the pedestrian bridge into Poland, which had no sign of a border. The suburbs across the River were definitely rather sad, and ugly flats stood on the skyline staring back at the elegant German sister. One of the houses in the street leading down to the river, the Biblisches Haus has a facade like a bible carved in sandstone.  A really impressive town!

Sunday 17th. We decided to spend another day here, as the town was so impressive, and the sun at last shining. I wandered in, discovered the impressive railway station, then into town. I found one street where a row of buildings had been ‘unimproved’ and could see just how grey the town had been under communist rule, before the buildings were restored and painted with such beautiful pastel shades. 

I decided to go to visit the Helliges Grab, supposedly a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built 500 years ago by a local mayor in attonment for his behavior with a neighbour’s daughter when young! It was interesting but for the wrong reasons, I’m sure we got much better an idea when we visited the underground cities in Anatolia. There we found caves with beds carved out of the rock, and most impressively doors that were stone circles that rolled. However the graffiti was fascinating, I saw several dating from the 17th century! 

I then continued to wander till I met Andy for lunch, and later an ice cream, not a patch on Italian ones and must stop having them. However we did sort out the origin of the funny groaning/ growling we could hear on the quarter hours, apparently it was the lion above the town hall clock. We went into a store that sold Xmas decorations, most especially those that turn with candle power. Amazing carving, and prices! Later I went into Schlesisches Museum zu Gorltz, explaining the history of Silesia. I really struggled to follow the history time line, as power went from one kingdom to another. However it did bring home the terrible time the people had firstly with the Nazis, then fleeing before the Russians. I had not fully understood the levels of citizenship enforced by the Nazis, nor that Gorlitz was cut off by the arbitory border from the rest of its cultural identity. 

I wandered home and found an interesting path between the Zoo, with glimpses of the animals, and a collection of allotments / dashas where people had erected quite elaborate garden pavilions surrounded by mini gardens.

Monday 18th. Set off for Dresden and settled in the most convenient aire near the  Augustus bridge, so easy access into town, midway between iconic reconstructed area and the commercial area behind us.

We are parked behind the trees on the left over the river!

 Andy had terrible cold which arrived from nowhere in the middle of the night. We wandered into town revisiting the old favourites and noted where the rebuilding was now taking place, the enormous vista towards the Frauinkirk had been filled. 




There was still one area showing the cellars of the original  buildings where the people sheltered during the air raids which flattened the city. I hope they keep a corner of it, as like the Berlin Wall it is part of their history. 


I tried to draw the Frauinkirk, seem to have developed an interest in quick sketches of impossible buildings, before a coffee in Dresden 1900, a cafe we frequented last time, which has an old tram as a centre piece. I then attempted to book a visit to view the opera house, The Semperoper, noted for its elaborate reconstruction. There was no convienient slot, but we could get tickets to see the evening performance of the ballet Manon, for the same price of 11€, up in the gods, as was a little worried about spending yet  more money in light of recent purchases! 

The opera house was magnificent, where Strauss and Wagner had staged many premiers, and the full orchestra including two harps was similarly impressive. I was also impressed with our view, which was quite adequate and did move to better seats after the interval, a very enjoyable, unexpected  experience! 

Tuesday, 19th. This morning spent trying to draw the amazing scene across the River just beyond the trees where we are parked, the Balcony of Europe!


This afternoon had a general wander and time spent sketching in the Frauenkirk, still a most inspiring building. Everytime I look at it I marvel that it has been reconstructed so lovingly, with all the buildings the dark stone is stone that has been rescued,  whereas the light colour shows new stone, such an effective way of telling the story. 



When we  came in this evening there were two singers in front of the Frauenkirk, the square must have some magical quality as they had no amplification but their voices soared for some considerable distance, wonderful! I don’t know of anywhere else that has such a quality of busker! 



Wednesday, 20th. I wandered into the Neustadt behind us, firstly into an impressive market hall, then a rebuilt church which featured an unrestored altar. Then  I went further north into a more informal alternative area, lots of interesting tiny shops and cafes but far too much graffiti. I found the arcade I was looking for, and later the wonderful toy shop that we visited before.  

This afternoon paid a brief visit to the Dom, quite plain apart from a most impressive pulpit, then spent a happy hour drawing in the Frauenkirk listening to the thunderous organ. We had tea and cake once again the Grand Cafe of the Cosel Palais , then had a general wander. In the October Market we came across a harvest festival display where the wheat was full of sparrows feasting! 

I came across the small exhibition explaining the re-development of the city, which illustrated how much more elaborate and varied the buildings had been, and then came across a large slow -moving demonstration about the cuts to playgroup provision, meaning more children to each adult.  Sounded familiar!


In the evening we went for our usual walk then had a happy couple of hours in the cafe Kuntz Antik, which was a stylish restaurant/ bar, full of furniture and fittings late 19th, early 20th cent, also very discreetly for sale. Sounds tacky but was really pleasant and cosy.

Germany is very keen on Green issues, and we have a special sticker that details our emissions, to allow us into various cities. So it is very surprising that diesal is at least 15 cents a litre cheaper than petrol. And most senseless of all is that all the cafes in the cities have enormous heaters blazing away so that you can sit outside even if it is chilly! You can feel the heat as you walk past!! I can understand blankets over your knees but this is not the Mediterranean, and they go inside once it gets chilly!! And don’t get me started on the cigarette machines on so many corners even in the tiniest villages! 

Thursday 21st. We went to breakfast at Dresden 1900 before setting off the 150 miles to Bamberg. It was a very grey dreary sort of day, till we  crossed the now imaginary line that separated East from West Germany, and gradually the countryside became more interesting, and by the time was got to Bamberg it was considerably warmer! 

We got a spot in the popular aire, and wandered into town. It was bigger than expected, with a vast array of shops in impressive 19th century buildings on one side of the river, and an old town up a steep hill on the other side. We will have to explore that tomorrow.  We had a good shop up at the impressive market. 



Friday 22nd. We wandered into town along the Danube Main link canal, sadly no sign of any water traffic! We later wandered over the river  bridge into the old town. The old town hall sat amidst the Regnitz River, a variety of bridges, with rapids underneath, it looked as if they are building a water turbine adjacent. We climbed up to the impressive Dom, which has medieval wall paintings and a lovely memorial to Emperor Henry, but am so hazy on German history I’m unable to say of where. 



In the historic Alstadt we went into the Wirthaus sum Schkenkeria, a dark rustic inn that claimed to have been founded in 1310, and brewed its own beer, as do many establishments in the town. After a very grey start it came out quite warm, with strong sunshine. We have at last got towards the bottom of the writing we have seen chalked above lots of doors, it relates to the Three Kings and indicates that the household has given to the children going round dressed up as the kings. 

Saturday 23rd. Easy route to Eisenheim, a village beside the Main, where we found a very crowded aire and a small village open afternoon. We had a very pleasant lunch and (large) glass of wine in the forecourt of one of the houses, some stalls and family agricultural exhibitions. The church was very interesting, lots of blue and gold, and an unusual baroque organ set above the altar, we were told by the caretaker. 

I settled to draw a local doorway, and soon was watched by a girl, who gradually bought members of her family. Some of them were running a stall selling Middle Eastern food, we enjoyed a glass of Ayran ( a salted yoghurt drink we liked in Turkey). I was persuaded amongst lots of laughter to draw the girl’s sister, and eventually her brother sitting right beside me! Eventually her father and mother also came to watch. I really am guessing but thought they were probably Syrian refugees that had been settled in the village. 

Sunday 24th. We moved the short distance to Volkach and got a spot right by the river. Last visit there was a wine festival in town, this time a band was playing Glen Miller music. We were surprised when everything packed up promptly at 1 o’clock. The town continued to be busy throughout the afternoon, eventually I came back to sit by the river and admire the barges and swans. 

Monday 25th. A quiet day wandering about the town, drawing and shopping. I went into a butcher for some meat, I was confronted with one small counter of the usual raw meats, and an enormous display twice that size with such a variety of sausages. All I could think of was the quote about dried cod, 365 recipes for it and all of them awful. 

Some enormous barges past,  Andy reckoned that one was at least 130 metres. And the Main river is extremely meandering. The sun finally came out today later in the afternoon, I’ve definitely given up summer clothes. After a stroll in town I went for a walk along  a pleasant avenue, parallel with the river. It is described as The Linden Avenue, and was grateful to Mr Google for telling me that the trees were limes.

Tuesday 26th. We had a very good shop up at a store called Edeka, a Waitrose look alike and welcome find after some of the stores we’ve popped into. Then drove the short 5 miles to Nordheim, a small village beside the Main, but no barges because they can go down a cut to save the bends. A lovely spacious grassy aire that was  justifiably very popular. There was a tiny ferry adjacent over to the campsite  and beyond on the other bank. The village had few shops but so many small wine producers, inviting you into shady courtyards for tastings. It is obvious that there are no cooperatives here as in Italy, and each property processes and markets its own wine. There were vineyards on the surrounding hills as far as the eye could see. 

Wednesday 27th. We drove the short distance to Dettelbach, another Mainside small town, and this time got a space in the front line by the river, between the trees. A really pleasant aire (5€), beside the tiny ferry that connects a village with the town. We wandered into walled town, a quiet sleepy unspoilt place, still many wine producers but other small businesses as well. There was a magnificent 14th cent Rathaus, with an ultra modern library and meeting house beside.

 

We were especially taken with the 1445 Catholic church, high above the rest of the town, the interior had been completely  modernised in 2011, and was really impressive. Simple wooden furniture, new stained glass windows with vivid colours, ultra modern stations of the cross which were most effective, the result was harmonious and pleasing. 

During the afternoon I went back into town and drew a picture of the attractive roof tops from outside the church sitting in the warm sunshine, first we’ve had! On my return I was interested in a lorry which was drawn up, where fishermen were unloading their catch. One man drew a net into one of the holding tanks and drew out the largest and ugliest fish I had ever seen, enormous! Followed by a second. Apparently they were monkfish, which have been increasing in European rivers and eat all other fish! They grow to over 3 metres long and live up to 90 years!!  The fishermen had also caught some handsome  fish which were obviously more sought after…by us! 

In the distance I could see the locks adjacent to a weir, so  as the sun was still warm at 5 o’clock walked along to it. I could not get close to the lock itself, but the length  was amazing,  it could accommodate at least 2 of the average barges with plenty of room to spare. 

        The house built on top of the base of a tower is a holiday cottage for 1-3.

Thursday, Friday 28th,29th.  We spent a couple of pleasant days at Dettlebach, painting and wandering. We had a very good Italian meal In Le Strada, and enjoyed sitting in the warm sunshine on Thursday. It dawned rather wet on Friday, but when it eventually stopped I found a lovely walk through the vineyards above the town. It was a shame it was so misty as there were spectacular back towards the town and the aire.

After lunch I caught the small ferry across the Main, I had hoped for a view of the town to paint but it was shrouded by trees, and the village though very old in foundation was not very interesting so I came back to sit in the sun again. 

Saturday 30th. We made our way to Knaus Camping at Frikenhausen, mainly to do some washing and post our blogs. The internet connection was excellent and the reception friendly. But the pitches were so close together, we were almost touching the caravan in front. The comparison with recent aires was striking! And the washing!! We had to queue for the single washing machine, then the tumble drier took 4 hours  not to dry our clothes. We would have been better using the sunshine, but with rain forcaste thought it was a good idea! All the while a chemical works over the river threw out an unpleasant smell. There were some nicer areas of the site but they just enjoyed a better view of the chemical works! How people could have permanent vans there I don’t know! And the children’s playground was on an island surrounded by dèep unfenced water!

However I did manage to get into Ochsenfurt across the river, another walled town which had been an important crossroads. It had the usual crop of towers and half timbered houses, and quaint town hall, this one with a ‘ship of fools’ clock. 

There was an interesting wedding party in the  courtyard of one of the houses, the guests arrived following a drum and trumpet. Many of the male guests and a few women danced in a circle while some people threw money into the ring and granny in a tight black headscarf looked from an upstairs window. I could see the  (Greek?) bridegroom but no sign of the bride. 

Heavy rain and thunderstorm late afternoon. 

Sunday/ Monday 1 and 2nd October. We  were pleased to leave the cramped camp site and made for a lovely aire beside the Main at Kitzingham, 9€ a night compared with 19€ at the campsite and a world better, with vans separated by shrubs and flowers, adjacent to a beautiful park beside the river. There were small trampolines set beside a path and we were amused to see several adults stop their bike, have a quick bounce and then carry on. 

We were less keen on the loud Country and Western music from an adjacent  cafe, and amused  by the listless line dancers who seemed to be moving so lathargically, studying their feet. It seemed to be a one off occasion, but dressed up so early on Sunday morning seemed so strange and thankfully it finished at two! 

The town was very pleasant and the gardens magnificent. Monday started wet, but this seemed a  nice place to be stuck with our toys and we did get out later. We are struck by the size of so many of the German vans, which are colossal, but all round Germany access is easy with motorways everywhere, and chatting with a German at a wine tasting at the aire confirmed that they do not have to have a strict medical at 70, and can drive vans up to 7.5 tons with an ordinary licence! However they would find Devonshire lanes a challenge! We have seen very few non German travellers. 

Tuesday 3rd. A bank holiday to mark German re-unification day. We left Kitzingham in good time and drove the short distance to busy Warzburg, where we failed to find the aire, I think it was closed. Next time we must just go to the camp site, but this time we drove on to Markthiedenfeld, another attractive town beside the Main, and set against beautiful Autumnal trees. The colours really are developing beautifully. (Aire large, undivided, 5€, hookup available as it has been on most of the Aires in the Main Valley.)

We were surprised just how dead the pleasant town was this morning, but more people came out during the afternoon. There was an excellent model railway exhibition, and I saw one little engine that actually puffed smoke in perfect time with the sound effects. There were lots of attractive little streets leading down to a row of houses called the Quay, that once must have been far closer to the river. Barges were inching under the town bridge, the river would not have to rise much for traffic to become impossible. 

Wednesday 4th. We had a morning stroll round the town, which had more life, and eventually found an impressive department store, which seemed rather out of place in quite a small town. We came back to the van with some useful treasures, but not the impressive wooden wine rack that Andy had fancied.  

After lunch we drove up the wooded valley to Lohr, another Mainside town which was surprisingly large. The aire was just part of the car park, and rather noisy, but the town was interesting. Most importantly of all, it was apparently the home town of Snow White!! She was based apparently on baroness Maria Sophia Margaretha Freifraulein von Erthal, born in the town castle where her father was in charge of the local glass and mirror works. He did indeed make  a magic mirror for his second wife. The town backs onto an area of woodland, now a national park, and was worked by miners, many of whom were of small stature. The Brothers Grimm lived nearby so it is not at all far fetched to believe they took the story from here. All this was presented quite tastefully, as was the story of the Pied Piper, when we visited Hamlin. 

Thursday 5th. We drove over the hills through the National Park. We could not take the planned route due to a number of diversions but eventually reached Klingenberg am Main, where the aire was a private one, Sonja’s Wohnmobil- Haven. It was set on a quay beside the Main, with more space adjacent on mowed grass, very pleasant. The town was small and a little sad, but the weather certainly did not help. There were gale force winds for most of the day, and intermittent heavy  rain. Even the Main was rough!  However we had a ringside view of the river and an incredibly narrow lock within our sights.  We had viewed the lock from an adjacent bridge and saw that not only was the lock narrow, it had a slight bend in it, and narrowed at the entrance. The barges only squeezed in with barely inches to spare, a bit like getting the van beside the garage! 



Friday 6th. We had a morning  stroll into town and a short walk along the Red Wine route above the town and valley. We were surprised the view was so industrial as from the aire from where we could just see vineyards up the hillside. We set off for Aschaffenburg  up the surprisingly industrial valley. However the aire was occupied by a circus, so we decided to drive on to our next destination which was in the Mosel valley. 

An easy drive, though with heay rain at times. We resisted the temptation to revisit our favourite spots on the Rhine, and reached Reil en Mosel after lunch. We had considered stopping at Enkirch, which had a huge aire, but drove on down the river. Reil is a village totally devoted to wine production, and many small wine cellars to visit, with few other shops. The scenery is superb, gently rolling hills covered in vines, even where the earth seems to give way to rock. No other industry to detract.  The river curves around and is busier than the Main. Very pleasant and full of motor homes! 


Saturday 7th. Pleasant day by the Mosel. Very autumnal.  Nearby the river made a great loop and almost doubled  back on its self. We wandered along one of the signposted routes, beside the small train that connects to a larger one at Bulley. There is also a ferry on the river, so lots of options for getting about which we will have to explore next time. There were tractors everywhere, pulling loads of grapes and sometimes people. The Mosel appeared a faster flowing narrower river, and the barges appear slightly narrower but that might be my imagination. Reil has an excellent village shop, the first one we have found, this must be because there is not the sad ribbon development of out of town shops that blight so many other towns in Germany. 

Sunday 8th. We drove through a very attractive route into Belgium, then round Brussels to get to Flanders where we headed for the Passchiondaele Museum 1917, in Zonnebeke. The museum was really excellent, not a subject I wanted to know anything more about but wanted to find out more about my Great Uncle Edward Martin, who died on the very last day of the Battle for Passchiondaele on 10 November 1917. I had not realised that the reason for the battle was to eventually capture the Belgium ports including Zeebrugge, or that the battle had been quiet for some some time, ‘ All quiet on the Western front’, allowing the Germans to become very well dug in. The most blood thirsty bit had been the last few months, 31st July- 10th November 1917. 

The museum concentrated in the Third Battle of Ypres, and said as I had known that the weather had been so wet in the autumn of that year that the whole area had turned into one big swamp, all signs of life having been obliterated. I strongly suspect that uncle was just lost in the mud. The majority of the battle had been carried  initially by the Anzac forces and when they began to fail the Canadians were bought forward . A small contingent of Uk forces also were bought forward, the South Wales Borderers, including my uncle, moving to the left of the Canadians. 

Apparently they swerved to the right after the loss of their commanding officer, and the Germans took advantage of the gap, and 400 of them were lost. We will look tomorrow at the area we think all this took place, and now I know a little more it might be possible to pin things down further, up to now the internet has not helped. 

Then we found our ticket included a visit into the dugout under the Zonnebeke church. There are apparently upward of 300 of the dugouts still deep under the soil of this area of Belguim, mostly now unknown. This one was on show for just the 100 days of the Third Battle of Ypres, and then will be flooded once again. This was not the sanitised history that we had seen in the museum, it was very wet indeed, but totally fascinating. This was just for 130 men, some had been built to house 2,000! Very moving! The guide said that there were 5 men killed per square metre for this area! We then went on to spend the night at Langemark  nearby. 

Monday 9th. We drove to the Tyne Cot museum, which was surprisingly busy for a Monday morning. Last time we came there was barely a car park, now there is a visitors centre and they were gearing up for a special service to commemorate the Anzac forces who died, with people rehearsing their moves. In spite of having visited before, it is still mindnumbing  to see just how many names there are of men who were lost. The wall bearing the names has to include several circles to get them all in, and it is in one of these that Martin E.G. is recorded, under the Welsh Borderers. His unit must have been joined with theirs at one point. 

After that we tried to identify the Passchiondaele Ridge that the Borderers were trying to gain that day, but although there are slight variations in the landscape it’s impossible to identify a ridge, and think I will have to do some more work to pin locations down, although now I do know they managed to get to Venture Farm then had to draw back. I think most of  these names were just given by the soldiers during the war and were not all traditional names of the places. 

We then attempted to do a shop in the large hypermarket on the outskirts at Lille but it wouid appear they are no longer admitting motor homes, or any larger vehicles to their car parks, so we will have to think again next time. We drove on to an aire at Wissant, beyond Calais. A seaside village, a  little faded and quite shut up for the winter, under-developed seaside, with the white cliffs of Dover opposite, Caps Gris Nez and Cape Blanche Nez visible on both sides and windsurfers in the shallows and tankers further out to sea. The village had lots of older French cottages, one room up and down, as well as a few new seaside flats and a short promenade all reminisant of Peacehaven or similar. 

Tuesday 10th. We had an easy journey to the tunnel , where we were able to board earlier, and the whole journey was a very good experience, with none of the time wasted last time we had used the tunnel. I’m sure we will use it again, despite the fact it is a more expensive. With no problems on the M 25 we were at home by midday UK time. Back to Ellie’ s birthday, and  later,   delivery of our new van so lots to look forward to and a busy Autumn/ Winter. 




To Berlin and beyond……via Leeds. 5.

Saturday 30th. We made our way to Knaus Camping at Frikenhausen, mainly to do some washing and post our blogs. The internet connection was excellent and the reception friendly. But the pitches were so close together, we were almost touching the caravan in front. The comparison with recent aires was striking! And the washing!! We had to queue for the single washing machine, then the tumble drier took 4 hours  not to dry our clothes. We would have been better using the sunshine, but with rain forcaste thought it was a good idea! All the while a chemical works over the river threw out an unpleasant smell. There were some nicer areas of the site but they just enjoyed a better view of the chemical works! How people could have permanent vans there I don’t know! And the children’s playground was on an island surrounded by dèep unfenced water!

However I did manage to get into Ochsenfurt across the river, another walled town which had been an important crossroads. It had the usual crop of towers and half timbered houses, and quaint town hall, this one with a ‘ship of fools’ clock. 

There was an interesting wedding party in the  courtyard of one of the houses, the guests arrived following a drum and trumpet. Many of the male guests and a few women danced in a circle while some people threw money into the ring and granny in a tight black headscarf looked from an upstairs window. I could see the  (Greek?) bridegroom but no sign of the bride. 

Heavy rain and thunderstorm late afternoon. 

Sunday/ Monday 1 and 2nd October. We  were pleased to leave the cramped camp site and made for a lovely aire beside the Main at Kitzingham, 9€ a night compared with 19€ at the campsite and a world better, with vans separated by shrubs and flowers, adjacent to a beautiful park beside the river. There were small trampolines set beside a path and we were amused to see several adults stop their bike, have a quick bounce and then carry on. 

We were less keen on the loud Country and Western music from an adjacent  cafe, and amused  by the listless line dancers who seemed to be moving so lathargically, studying their feet. It seemed to be a one off occasion, but dressed up so early on Sunday morning seemed so strange and thankfully it finished at two! 

The town was very pleasant and the gardens magnificent. Monday started wet, but this seemed a  nice place to be stuck with our toys and we did get out later. We are struck by the size of so many of the German vans, which are colossal, but all round Germany access is easy with motorways everywhere, and chatting with a German at a wine tasting at the aire confirmed that they do not have to have a strict medical at 70, and can drive vans up to 7.5 tons with an ordinary licence! However they would find Devonshire lanes a challenge! We have seen very few non German travellers. 

Tuesday 3rd. A bank holiday to mark German re-unification day. We left Kitzingham in good time and drove the short distance to busy Warzburg, where we failed to find the aire, I think it was closed. Next time we must just go to the camp site, but this time we drove on to Markthiedenfeld, another attractive town beside the Main, and set against beautiful Autumnal trees. The colours really are developing beautifully. (Aire large, undivided, 5€, hookup available as it has been on most of the Aires in the Main Valley.)

We were surprised just how dead the pleasant town was this morning, but more people came out during the afternoon. There was an excellent model railway exhibition, and I saw one little engine that actually puffed smoke in perfect time with the sound effects. There were lots of attractive little streets leading down to a row of houses called the Quay, that once must have been far closer to the river. Barges were inching under the town bridge, the river would not have to rise much for traffic to become impossible. 

Wednesday 4th. We had a morning stroll round the town, which had more life, and eventually found an impressive department store, which seemed rather out of place in quite a small town. We came back to the van with some useful treasures, but not the impressive wooden wine rack that Andy had fancied.  

After lunch we drove up the wooded valley to Lohr, another Mainside town which was surprisingly large. The aire was just part of the car park, and rather noisy, but the town was interesting. Most importantly of all, it was apparently the home town of Snow White!! She was based apparently on baroness Maria Sophia Margaretha Freifraulein von Erthal, born in the town castle where her father was in charge of the local glass and mirror works. He did indeed make  a magic mirror for his second wife. The town backs onto an area of woodland, now a national park, and was worked by miners, many of whom were of small stature. The Brothers Grimm lived nearby so it is not at all far fetched to believe they took the story from here. All this was presented quite tastefully, as was the story of the Pied Piper, when we visited Hamlin. 

Thursday 5th. We drove over the hills through the National Park. We could not take the planned route due to a number of diversions but eventually reached Klingenberg am Main, where the aire was a private one, Sonja’s Wohnmobil- Haven. It was set on a quay beside the Main, with more space adjacent on mowed grass, very pleasant. The town was small and a little sad, but the weather certainly did not help. There were gale force winds for most of the day, and intermittent heavy  rain. Even the Main was rough!  However we had a ringside view of the river and an incredibly narrow lock within our sights.  We had viewed the lock from an adjacent bridge and saw that not only was the lock narrow, it had a slight bend in it, and narrowed at the entrance. The barges only squeezed in with barely inches to spare, a bit like getting the van beside the garage! 



Friday 6th. We had a morning  stroll into town and a short walk along the Red Wine route above the town and valley. We were surprised the view was so industrial as from the aire from where we could just see vineyards up the hillside. We set off for Aschaffenburg  up the surprisingly industrial valley. However the aire was occupied by a circus, so we decided to drive on to our next destination which was in the Mosel valley. 

An easy drive, though with heay rain at times. We resisted the temptation to revisit our favourite spots on the Rhine, and reached Reil en Mosel after lunch. We had considered stopping at Enkirch, which had a huge aire, but drove on down the river. Reil is a village totally devoted to wine production, and many small wine cellars to visit, with few other shops. The scenery is superb, gently rolling hills covered in vines, even where the earth seems to give way to rock. No other industry to detract.  The river curves around and is busier than the Main. Very pleasant and full of motor homes! 


Saturday 7th. Pleasant day by the Mosel. Very autumnal.  Nearby the river makes a great loop and almost doubles back on its self. We wandered along one of the signposted routes, beside the small train that connects to a larger one at Bulley. There is also a ferry on the river, so lots of options for getting about which we will have to explore next time. There were tractors everywhere, pulling loads of grapes and sometimes people. The Mosel appeared a faster flowing narrower river, and the barges appear slightly narrower but that might be my imagination. Reil has an excellent village shop, the first one we have found, this must be because there is not the sad ribbon development of out of town shops that blight so many other towns in Germany. 

Sunday 8th. We drove through a very attractive route into Belgium, then round Brussels to get to Flanders where we headed for the Passchiondaele Museum 1917, in Zonnebeke. The museum was really excellent, not a subject I wanted to know anything more about but wanted to find out more about my Great Uncle Edward Martin, who died on the very last day of the Battle for Passchiondaele on 10 November 1917. I had not realised that the reason for the battle was to eventually capture the Belgium ports including Zeebrugge, or that the battle had been quiet for some some time, ‘ All quiet on the Western front’, allowing the Germans to become very well dug in. The most blood thirsty bit had been the last few months, 31st July- 10th November 1917. 

The museum concentrated in the Third Battle of Ypres, and said as I had known that the weather had been so wet in the autumn of that year that the whole area had turned into one big swamp, all signs of life having been obliterated. I strongly suspect that uncle was just lost in the mud. The majority of the battle had been carried  initially by the Anzac forces and when they began to fail the Canadians were bought forward . A small contingent of Uk forces also were bought forward, the South Wales Borderers, including my uncle, moving to the left of the Canadians. 

Apparently they swerved to the right after the loss of their commanding officer, and the Germans took advantage of the gap, and 400 of them were lost. We will look tomorrow at the area we think all this took place, and now I know a little more it might be possible to pin things down further, up to now the internet has not helped. 

Then we found our ticket included a visit into the dugout under the Zonnebeke church. There are apparently upward of 300 of the dugouts still deep under the soil of this area of Belguim, mostly now unknown. This one was on show for just the 100 days of the Third Battle of Ypres, and then will be flooded once again. This was not the sanitised history that we had seen in the museum, it was very wet indeed, but totally fascinating. This was just for 130 men, some had been built to house 2,000! Very moving! The guide said that there were 5 men killed per square metre for this area! We then went on to spend the night at Langemark  nearby. 

Monday 9th. We drove to the Tyne Cot museum, which was surprisingly busy for a Monday morning. Last time we came there was barely a car park, now there is a visitors centre and they were gearing up for a special service to commemorate the Anzac forces who died, with people rehearsing their moves. In spite of having visited before, it is still mindnumbing  to see just how many names there are of men who were lost. The wall bearing the names has to include several circles to get them all in, and it is in one of these that Martin E.G. is recorded, under the Welsh Borderers. His unit must have been joined with theirs at one point. 

After that we tried to identify the Passchiondaele Ridge that the Borderers were trying to gain that day, but although there are slight variations in the landscape it’s impossible to identify a ridge, and think I will have to do some more work to pin locations down, although now I do know they managed to get to Venture Farm then had to draw back. I think most of  these names see just given by the soldiers during the war and were not all traditional names of the places. 

We then attempted to do a shop in the large hypermarket on the outskirts at Lille but it wouid appear they are no longer admitting motor homes, or any larger vehicles to their car parks, so we will have to think again next time. We then drove on to an aire at Wissant, beyond Calais. A seaside village, a  little faded and quite shut up for the winter, under-developed seaside, with the white cliffs of Dover opposite, Caps Gris Nez and Cape Blanche Nez visible on both sides and windsurfers in the shallows and tankers further out to sea. The village had lots of older French cottages, one room up and down, as well as a few new seaside flats and a short promenade all reminisant of Peacehaven or similar. 

Tuesday 10th. We had an easy journey to the tunnel , where we were able to board earlier, and the whole journey was a very good experience, with none of the time wasted last time we had used the tunnel. I’m sure we will use it again, despite the fact it is a more expensive. With no problems on the M 25 we were at home by midday UK time. Back to Ellie’ s birthday, and  later,   delivery of our new van so lots to look forward to and a busy Autumn/ Winter. 

To Berlin……vis Leeds, and beyond. 4

Monday 18th. Set off for Dresden and settled in the most convenient aire near the  Augustus bridge, so easy access into town, midway between iconic reconstructed area and the commercial area behind us.

We are parked behind the trees on the left over the river!

 Andy had terrible cold which arrived from nowhere in the middle of the night. We wandered into town revisiting the old favourites and noted where the rebuilding was now taking place, the enormous vista towards the Frauinkirk had been filled. 




There was still one area showing the cellars of the original  buildings where the people sheltered during the air raids which flattened the city. I hope they keep a corner of it, as like the Berlin Wall it is part of their history. 


I tried to draw the Frauinkirk, seem to have developed an interest in quick sketches of impossible buildings, before a coffee in Dresden 1900, a cafe we frequented last time, which has an old tram as a centre piece. I then attempted to book a visit to view the opera house, Semperoper, noted for its elaborate reconstruction. There was no convienient slot, but we could get tickets to see the evening performance of the ballet Manon, for the same price of 11€, up in the gods, as was a little worried about spending yet  more money in light of recent purchases! 

The opera house was magnificent, where Strauss and Wagner had staged many premiers, and the full orchestra including two harps was similarly impressive. I was also impressed with our view, which was quite adequate and did move to better seats after the interval, a very enjoyable, unexpected  experience! 

Tuesday, 19th. This morning spent trying to draw the amazing scene across the River just beyond the trees where we are parked, the Balcony of Europe!


This afternoon had a general wander and time spent sketching in the Frauenkirk, still a most inspiring building. Everytime I look at it I marvel that it has been reconstructed so lovingly, with all the buildings the dark stone is stone that has been rescued,  whereas the light colour shows new stone, such an effective way of telling the story. 



When we  came in this evening there were two singers in front of the Frauenkirk, the square must have some magical quality as they had no amplification but their voices soared for some considerable distance, wonderful! I don’t know of anywhere else that has such a quality of busker! 



Wednesday, 20th. I wandered into the Neustadt behind us, firstly into an impressive market hall, then a rebuilt church which featured an unrestored altar. Then  I went further north into a more informal alternative area, lots of interesting tiny shops and cafes but far too much graffiti. I found the arcade I was looking for, and later the wonderful toy shop that we visited before.  

This afternoon paid a brief visit to the Dom, quite plain apart from a most impressive pulpit, then spent a happy hour drawing in the Frauenkirk listening to the thunderous organ. We had tea and cake once again the Grand Cafe of the Cosel Palais , then had a general wander. In the October Market we came across a harvest festival display where the wheat was full of sparrows feasting! 

I came across the small exhibition explaining the re development of the city, which illustrated how much more elaborate and varied the buildings had been, and then came across a large slow -moving demonstration about the cuts to playgroup provision, meaning more children to each adult.  Sounded familiar!


In the evening we went for our usual walk then had a happy couple of hours in the cafe Kuntz Antik, which was a stylish restaurant/ bar, full of furniture and fittings late 19th, early 20th cent, also very discreetly for sale. Sounds tacky but was really pleasant and cosy.

Germany is very keen on Green issues, and we have a special sticker that details our emissions, to allow us into various cities. So it is very surprising that diesal is at least 15 cents a litre cheaper than petrol. And most senseless of all is that all the cafes in the cities have enormous heaters blazing away so that you can sit outside even if it is chilly! You can feel the heat as you walk past!! I can understand blankets over your knees but this is not the Mediterranean, and they go inside once it gets chilly!! And don’t get me started on the cigarette machines on so many corners even in the tiniest villages! 

Thursday 21st. We went to breakfast at Dresden 1900 before setting off the 150 miles to Bamberg. It was a very grey dreary sort of day, till we  crossed the now imaginary line that separated East from West Germany, and gradually the countryside became more interesting, and by the time was got to Bamberg it was considerably warmer! 

We got a spot in the popular aire, and wandered into town. It was bigger than expected, with a vast array of shops in impressive 19th century buildings on one side of the river, and an old town up a steep hill on the other side. We will have to explore that tomorrow.  We had a good shop up at the impressive market. 



Friday 22nd. We wandered into town along the Danube Main link canal, sadly no sign of any water traffic! We later wandered over the river  bridge into the old town. The old town hall sits amidst the Regnitz River, a variety of bridges, with rapids underneath, it looks as if they are building a water turbine adjacent. We climbed up to the impressive Dom, which has medieval wall paintings and a lovely memorial to Emperor Henry, but am so hazy on German history I’m unable to say of where. 



In the historic Alstadt we went into the Wirthaus sum Schkenkeria, a dark rustic inn that claimed to have been founded in 1310, and brewed its own beer, as do many establishments in the town. After a very grey start it came out quite warm, with strong sunshine. We have at last got towards the bottom of the writing we have seen chalked above lots of doors, it relates to the Three Kings and indicates that the household has given to the children going round dressed up as the kings. 

Saturday 23rd. Easy route to Eisenheim, a village beside the Main, where we found a very crowded aire and a small village open afternoon. We had a very pleasant lunch and (large) glass of wine in the forecourt of one of the houses, some stalls and family agricultural exhibitions. The church was very interesting, lots of blue and gold, and an unusual baroque organ set above the altar, we were told by the caretaker. 

I settled to draw a local doorway, and soon was watched by a girl, who gradually bought members of her family. Some of them were running a stall selling Middle Eastern food, we enjoyed a glass of Ayran ( a salted yoghurt drink we liked in Turkey). I was persuaded amongst lots of laughter to draw the girl’s sister, and eventually her brother sitting right beside me! Eventually her father and mother also came to watch. I really am guessing but thought they were probably Syrian refugees that had been settled in the village. 

Sunday 24th. We moved the short distance to Volkach and got a spot right by the river. Last visit there was a wine festival in town, this time a band was playing Glen Miller music. We were surprised when everything packed up promptly at 1 o’clock. The town continued to be busy throughout the afternoon, eventually I came back to sit by the river and admire the barges and swans. 

Monday 25th. A quiet day wandering about the town, drawing and shopping. I went into a butcher for some meat, I was confronted with one small counter of the usual raw meats, and an enormous display twice that size with such a variety of sausages. All I could think of was the quote about dried cod, 365 recipes for it and all of them awful. 

Some enormous barges past,  Andy reckoned that one was at least 130 metres. And the Main river is extremely meandering. The sun finally came out today later in the afternoon, I’ve definitely given up summer clothes. After a stroll in town I went for a walk along  a pleasant avenue, parallel with the river. It is described as The Linden Avenue, and was grateful to Mr Google for telling me that the trees were limes.

Tuesday 26th. We had a very good shop up at a store called Edeka, a Waitrose look alike and welcome find after some of the stores we’ve popped into. Then drove the short 5 miles to Nordheim, a small village beside the Main, but no barges because they can go down a cut to save the bends. A lovely spacious grassy aire that was  justifiably very popular. There was a tiny ferry adjacent over to the campsite  and beyond on the other bank. The village had few shops but so many small wine producers, inviting you into shady courtyards for tastings. It is obvious that there are no cooperatives here as in Italy, and each property processes and markets its own wine. There were vineyards on the surrounding hills as far as the eye could see. 

Wednesday 27th. We drove the short distance to Dettelbach, another Mainside small town, and this time got a space in the front line by the river, between the trees. A really pleasant aire (5€), beside the tiny ferry that connects a village with the town. We wandered into walled town, a quiet sleepy unspoilt place, still many wine producers but other small businesses as well. There was a magnificent 14th cent Rathaus, with an ultra modern library and meeting house beside.

 

We were especially taken with the 1445 Catholic church, high above the rest of the town, the interior had been completely  modernised in 2011, and was really impressive. Simple wooden furniture, new stained glass windows with vivid colours, ultra modern stations of the cross which were most effective, the result was harmonious and pleasing. 

During the afternoon I went back into town and drew a picture of the attractive roof tops from outside the church sitting in the warm sunshine, first we’ve had! On my return I was interested in a lorry which was drawn up, where fishermen were unloading their catch. One man drew a net into one of the holding tanks and drew out the largest and ugliest fish I had ever seen, enormous! Followed by a second. Apparently they were monkfish, which have been increasing in European rivers and eat all other fish! They grow to over 3 metres long and live up to 90 years!!  The fishermen had also caught some handsome  fish which were obviously more sought after…by us! 

In the distance I could see the locks adjacent to a weir, so  as the sun was still warm at 5 o’clock walked along to it. I could not get close to the lock itself, but the length  was amazing,  it could accommodate at least 2 of the average barges with plenty of room to spare. 

The house built into a tower is a holiday cottage for 1-3.

Thursday, Friday 28th,29th.  We spent a couple of pleasant days at Dettlebach, painting and wandering. We had a very good Italian meal In Le Strada, and enjoyed sitting in the warm sunshine on Thursday. It dawned rather wet on Friday, but when it eventually stopped I found a lovely walk through the vineyards above the town. It was a shame it was so misty as there were spectacular back towards the town and the aire.

After lunch I caught the small ferry across the Main, I had hoped for a view of the town to paint but it was shrouded by trees, and the village though very old in foundation was not very interesting so I came back to sit in the sun again. 

Look for Andy waving beside the van!

To Berlin……..via Leeds. 3

12th September. We took the short route south to Potsdam and stopped in a convenient aire.

I was very keen to visit Potsdam as I have long been interested in the life of Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest child, and her husband Frederick. Vicky and her mother kept up an intense correspondence which gave a very interesting window on her life, she and Frederick were very liberal, and often at considerable odds with the Prussian court. They attended services at synagogues to support Jews during periods of persecution, and opposed much that Bismark stood for. They wanted to restrict the power of the chancellor and introduce a British style cabinet system.  Europe’s fate would have been so different if Frederick had not died from throat cancer just few months after becoming Emperor.

The Royal park is vast, and open to wander in. Much was initially built by Frederick the Great, who hated Berlin, and subsequently other palaces and buildings were added. Firstly we passed the orangery, then on to the Sansouci palace, a sumptuous baroque building that sits on top of a series of terraces. We wandered though the grounds to the Chinese Tea house, a fantastic imaginative building, much decorated with gold. 

I wanted to visit the church where Victoria and her husband were buried with two sons who died in infancy, but sadly  there was no admittance into the mausoleum. However the sacristy which had become a side chapel was much used by Victoria after Frederick’s death and decorated by her pictures.

We walked into town through the Brandenburg Gate, but after lunch it soon it came on to rain so we  saw little of the town before returning through the park. 

Wednesday 13th. A wet morning so we played with our toys. After lunch I set off for the Neu Palace, where I understood Frederick and Victoria had lived for quite a bit of their lives. It was a considerable walk along the central avenue, the palace was totally vast, and behind it two more palaces which apparently were service quarters. 

The whole palace was designed by Frederick the Great, and over the top Rococco! Most impressive room was probably the Shell Ballrom, decorated by thousands of shells to produce patterns and pictures. 

I spent time in the room where Frederick died, there were lovely pictures of him and Victoria. 


Also impressive was the marble ballroom , with a most amazing inlaid marble floor. Sadly this room has been little used over the centuries as the joists struggled to cope with the 18 tons of flooring! 


Kaiser Wilhelm was the last royal to use the palace, and several rooms illustrated his life there, where he introduced mod cons such as bathrooms and electricity.  Much of the furniture  had been shipped off to join him in excile in Holland.

Once out of the palace I decide I was too tired to walk back so tried to catch a bus!!! The first one that came, I asked the driver if it went to the town, he replied no, when I asked where it went to he just shouted No, no, no. I asked a passerby who told me I needed to be the other side of the road, really counter intuitive. When the next bus came I tried to pay the driver, as we had done in Berlin and was rudely directed to a large ticket machine!, There was a list of small instructions, A4 size, above my head,and about 16 buttons to choose from. All this with a lurching crowded bus, holding on for grim death, trying to find unfamiliar coins. It seemed that I had to say how many stops I wanted to go for!!!!! As far as I was concerned the bus was going in the wrong direction,  and I had no idea of where I was going. I just pressed a button at random, I think I might have paid for 4 and must have been on the bus for 16 stops?! Germans  confonted with the machine did not seem to fare much better.

I got off in the town centre,  and after a quick look round the town, through a toy town gate, an attractive Dutch quarter, and pleasant but unexceptional shops, I walked back through the park. I was caught in a very heavy rain burst as I climbed the terraces up to the Sansouci palace but there was no way I was going to tackle another bus! 
Thursday 14th. Left the very pleasant aire, and drove due East towards Frankfurt an Oder, then South to get a brief view of surrounding countryside. We were much bothered with road closures, and for lots of the time roads were lined with the typical heavy German forests, but were rewarded by several really large birds of prey and some interesting villages. Many older buildings were left to moulder and new builds were obviously preferèd but we did see quite a few of the typical Saxon village houses, at right angles to the street, with barns and outhouse to the rear, just the same as in the Saxon area of Romania! We entered an area where all the signs were in two languages, apparently Germany’s only indigenous minority, who settled in the area in the 5th cent, much persecuted by the Prussians and Nazis but currently having a revival. 

Eventually we reached the campsite outside of Bautzen, in heavy rain.

Friday,15th. We were up promptly to catch the irregular bus, i.e. nothing between 9 and 11 o’clock. We fell at the first hurdle as could not find the bus stop, we asked a very kind man who took us in his van closer to the town centre for a better service. We were confused when  the bus dropped us off but eventually found the attractive town centre. Lots of well preserved buildings, despite having been in the centre of lots of conflicts, most notably the Thirty Years war. 

The St Petri dom as impressive, light and airy, a toddler group were getting ready to sing harvest festival hymns. However the most interesting feature was a waist high barrier ( 4 m till 1952) that divided the  nave, used by the Protestants and the choir, by the Catholics. The church was divided amicably after the Reformation . There were many other interesting buildings, and 17 towers remaining of the towns fortifications.

 

The town was reputed to be on a cliff overlooking the River Spree, which we were rather doubtful about having seen flat countryside for 100s of miles, but had to admit that the town as on a bit of a buff above the river, There were several buildings dedicated to Sorb culture. 

We had a pleasant lunch of soup in town, then attempted to catch a bus once more. It was foolish to try to catch one as the schools emptied, it was definitely every young person for themselves, elbows at the ready, and an elderly disabled lady had to fight for a seat! Not impressed! We passed the infamous yellow prison that had been famous for abuse, and is still in use, not a landmark to walk out to see. 

Quite cold all day, really should not have looked up the weather in Italy! 

Saturday 16th. Drove the short distance to Gorlitz, via an uninspiring Aldi supermarket. We got a place in a tiny private aire only a kilometre from the town. A very entrepreneural man had established an aire around his house at the end of Goethestrassa. Gorlitz has not suffered any damage during the world wars and is stuffed with historic buildings, 3,500 of note! The inner town is full of 16th century decorated houses, and a little further out so many wonderful 19th, and early 20th century buildings. Everywhere there are decorated doorways, windows and details calling for attention. 

We had read that the Kaufhaus department store had a very impressive Art Deco interior, it is at present being renovated and we were allowed to go in the shell of the building to admire the staircases, chandeliers  (originals taken by the Soviet authorities) and amazing glass roof.

 The buildings round the Obermarkt were stuffed with detail, and nearby the Rathaus had a never ending supply of brides and wedding parties. One memorable one left in an armoured car with Harley Davison outsiders. 

The town owed its wealth to being on an important trading post. In communist times its richness was acknowledged though little money spent  but a lot has been invested since reunification. It’s unspoilt nature has meant it has been used for many films, standing in as Paris and even New York! It was also an important point on the route from the east to Santiago De Compostella. I do enjoy finding these spots all over Europe. It interest me that it has been considered much more important to go there rather than Rome, and the Italians are struggling to get a similar route even recognised today! 

The city was divided in two when the border was put down the centre of the Neisse  River in 1945, and we crossed the pedestrian bridge into Poland, which had no sign of a border. The suburbs across the River were definitely rather sad, and ugly flats stood on the skyline staring back at the elegant German sister. One of the houses in the street leading down to the river, the Biblisches Haus has a facade like a bible carved in sandstone.  A really impressive town!

Sunday 17th. We decided to spend another day here, as the town was so impressive, and the sun at last shining. I wandered in, discovered the impressive railway station, then into town. I found one street where a row of buildings had been ‘unimproved’ and could see just how grey the town had been under communist rule, before the buildings were restored and painted with such beautiful pastel shades. 

I decided to go to visit the Helliges Grab, supposedly a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built 500 years ago by a local mayor in attonment for his behavior with a neighbour’s daughter when young! It was interesting but for the wrong reasons, I’m sure we got much better an idea when we visited the underground cities in Anatolia. There we found caves with beds carved out of the rock, and most impressively doors that were stone circles that rolled. However the graffiti was fascinating, I saw several dating from the 17th century! 

I then continued to wander till I met Andy for lunch, and later an ice cream, not a patch on Italian ones and must stop having them. However we did sort out the origin of the funny groaning/ growling we could hear on the quarter hours, apparently it’s the lion above the town hall clock. We went into a store that sold Xmas decorations, most especially those that turn with candle power. Amazing carving, and prices! Later I went into Schlesisches Museum zu Gorltz, explaining the history of Silesia. I really struggled to follow the history time line, as power went from one kingdom to another. However it did bring home the terrible time the people had firstly with the Nazis, then fleeing before the Russians. I had not fully understood the levels of citizenship enforced by the Nazis, nor that Gorlitz was  cut off by the arbitory border from the rest of its cultural identity. 

I wandered home and found an interesting path between the Zoo, with glimpses of the animals, and a collection of allotments / dashas where people had erected quite elaborate garden pavilions surrounded by mini gardens. 

To Berlin…….via Leeds. 2.

Friday 8th September. We caught the M45 bus from just round the corner, then with a lot of confusion, as did not understand the system, caught the overground train, S5 to the Zoological Gardens. This system proved so useful, as it was always easy to find the overground as it’s usually on stilts above the city streets, so easy to make for!  (1935). We then got on the number 100 bus, which gives an simple run  past most of the major city sites and gives you a feel for the place! 

We passed the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Staatsoper and Museum Island, ending up the far side of the town. We had a coffee before we went to see the East Side Gallery, a 3/4 mile section on the Berlin Wall, preserved with murals painted when the wall fell. I was surprise by how much of it there was, as had heard that it had mostly been torn down in understandable haste.

 

We then found a sushi bar before searching for Checkpoint Charlie, again using the overground. Nearby the checkpoint are lots of explanitary boards. 

We passed the memorial to Peter Flechter, who symbolised those who lost their lives trying to cross the wall. My mind kept going back to the Green line we had seen in Cyprus in 2001, and the grey no mans land in between the two lines. The wall today is marked by a blue pipe that runs along the pavements above people’s heads. 

We found another unadorned section of the wall, complete with the holes that people had chiseled out to get momentoes. Adjacent to the wall, and near the site where many of the offices where the Nazis planned the worst excesses, and the SS had their headquarters, were a series of pictures and texts, explaining the history from the 1930’s onward. There were no excuses made and it was being read in quite shocked silence. I heard one American, about my age, point to what happened to the gypsies, and saying, ‘I didn’t know anything about that, we were never told!’ We found the spot where the family came across the wall on a wire and harness, I’m sure I can remember that happening in 1965.

We walked down to the facade of the Anhalter Bahnhof, once Berlin’s largest railway station, and from where Germany’s most gifted intellectuals including Einstein caught the ‘last train to freedom’. Once the border was sealed after the wall was erected the station became redundant. 

We then headed up the Friedrichstrasse looking at the modern shopping centre built in the once Eastern Berlin section. We were a bit underwhelmed by this area, but eventually found a welcome loo and coffee in the new French department store, Galeries Lafayette, and then made our way back to the S5, overground, which took us right back to Spandau. 

Saturday 9th. Rain again. We had a brief look at Spandau whilst waiting for the tourist office to open, to buy a 3 day passes for Museum Island and transport. Then S5 th the Zooalogical Gardens again and down the Tauentzienstrasse  to look at Kaufhaus does Westerns, KaDeWe, largest department store in Europe, beginning with the food department on the 6th floor. This claimed to be the best and biggest in the world, and I can believe it. It lacked the style of Harrods foodhall, though of course may have had it before being severely bombed in the war, but the quality and style was impressive. After a coffee we explored the housewares floor, Joseph Joseph was very well represented, and then the toys. I picked up one tiny teddy with a KaDeWe tee shirt…… 19€! We then returned to the food hall for lunch, eateries of every description scattered throughout the floor. 

Around the corner was the restored neoclassical U-bahn station, dating from 1910, complete with old style billboards and ticket counters.

We retraced our steps and caught the 100 bus to the Reichstag, taking pictures from all angles in the rain! Police very much in evidence putting up barriers ahead of a march against Angela Merkel. Andy offered to swap her for Mrs May, but no takers. Nearby were memorials to those killed nearby, with claims that they were still being persecuted. We moved on to the Brandenburg Gate, it is striking how close the wall was to this iconic monument, and what an impressive avenue in both directions, that had been cut by the wall. 

Nearby are many embassies, and round the corner the monument to the Jewish Holocaust victims, blocks of concrete set on an undulating surface. We were upset that the other victims were not included but also upset by people climbing on the monument. When Andy tried to explain the young man just did not understand. He said they were not tombs, to which I replied it was all the people had! It was very chilling looking down the rows of the blocks and hearing the shouts and seeing the flags of the demonstration going by. 

We retraced our steps back to the Unter den Linden, where there was work on a new underground line, with colourful hoardings, and had a cup of hot chocolate in the Cafe Einstein,  before finding the overland train back once more. The sun came out as we got back to the van! 

Sunday 10th. We got into the city centre in plenty of time, and after a coffee popped into to the Alte Nationalģalerie,  dedicated to 19th century art, for a short while until our time slot. 

We then went into the Neaus Museum, showcasing ancient history, where there were surprisingly few people, having bothered to book a slot. (We are still remembering Florence). We went straight to the star attraction, who was Nefertiti, well presented in a domed room. I was very interested to see another picture of her, this time with her husband and 3 daughter’s, still with that iconic profile! 

The museum had been much damaged in the war and restored to reflect its history. I was interested to see Heirich Schliemann was praised as an archaeologist despite his controversial methods of digging through other important layers to reach what he considered to be ancient Troy. I had understood that the magnificent necklace his wife displayed in a famous picture had shortly afterwards mysteriously disappeared, but it appeared to be displayed in the adjacent case.

 We were amused by several statements throughout the museum, complaining that the Russians continued to display items looted from this and the other museums, when most of the artifacts on display have come from other places throughout the world, by various means, as controversial as the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum!

I was very impressed by the display of bronze and iron age finds, and had never hepard of the Bronze Age ceremonial  Berlin Gold Hat, which purports to give a luner calender for 19 years. 

I then moved in to the Bode Museum, which held a variety of sculptures  throughout the ages, and was surprisingly interesting, bearing in mind I was developing museum fatigue by now! 

There was a magnificent tiled apse from Ravenna, amongst other things. 

The highlight here was undoublably Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna, from Florence (!) hard to believe it was 600 years old as looked so modern!

I then wandered along beside the river in the sunshine, lots of people in deckchairs and in one place people were dancing. I visited the Hackesche Hofe, a series of courtyards built in 1906, housing mainly Jews and their workshops. Nearby was the central synagogue, I was shocked to see it needed a permanent police presence with police box. The historic Neue Synagoge inpired by the Alhambra, was attacked on Kristallnacht, and only saved by the intervention of a local police officer. The building however was largely destroyed during the war, and just the iconic front and dome has been resurrected. 

I caught the ‘usual’ overground train back but was a little alarmed when it stopped at the Olympic stadium station, all the lights out and only me on the train. I did get out and was told to go over to the platform full of very armoured policemen with enormous helmets, and then I heard the roar from a crowd some distance away and the penny dropped! Rest of the journey without incident! 

Monday 11th. Into town to see the Pergamonmuseum, There was time to have a coffee in Oxymoron in the Hackesche Hofe beforehand. 

We were very disappointed that development works prevented us from seeing the Pergamon Altar, we had seen the base in Turkey and had looked forward to seeing the rest in Berlin. However there was still a lot to see! 

The Ishatar Gate gate of Babylon is really stunning, and was bought  back in pieces and reassembled as seen. The scale is unbelievable.

In the following room was the Market place from Miletus, which reminded us of the library at Ephesus.

Much of what we saw would have subsequently been damaged or destroyed, some very recently, but some here didn’t do too well in WW2! There were some fragments of Pergamon to be seen, and a film of the reconstruction going on, and what the Pèrgamon Altar will look like! Save us rushing back in 2020! 

Upstairs was devoted to Islamic Art, which I really love. I can’t get my head around the various periods and caliphates, but could see the development. 

Glass from Raqqa, c. AD 800, 1mm thich

The walls of the desert palace of Mshatta, near Amman, AD 746,  were vast in size and incredibly ornate. 

Going into the Aleppo room, wonderfully preserved, belonging to a Christian family, was very moving.  The house has recently been damaged. 

There was also a display of pictures and book showing Christian biblical figures in Muslim scriptures. 

Also a display of ancient text belonging to the various branches of Christianity , some unbelievably old! 

Coptic, Egypt, 4th cent. Lost civilisation of Nubia, 10th cent. Syriac from Egypt, 5th cent.Armenian.

There was no restaurant in the Pergamonmuseum and Andy had long since given up on me, so I went back into the adjacent Neue Museum for lunch. Then I walked along the Inter des Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. There a gentleman in tattered uniform was roundly abusing the police on guard, who ignored him, and a hurdy-gurdy man was cheerfully playing. I revisited the Reichstag before walking through the Tiergarten. I would have walked further but after reading scraps of a monument to more victims, it began to rain so I jumped on a 200 bus. 

I caught a number 100 bus back to the Zoological Gardens and after taking structure of the gate, caught the train and bus home! 

To Berlin……..via Leeds! 

1. Thursday 31st August. After a busy summer, we set off on a very circuitous route towards Berlin, our eventual destination. However we wanted to go to see a potential new campervan, that I had been eyeing up for a couple of years, and now thanks to Dad’s generosity had the means to buy. The van, a Vantage Neo, is made by a small builder who only makes 50 quality vans a year, and only shows his vans at 2 motor home shows, apart from outside the factory in Leeds, not a trivial trip.

We had been drawn to panel vans as all the coachbuilts are now too wide for our storage spot beside the garage, and this particular manufacturer adds a proper door instead of the dreaded sliding one which I find too heavy and noisy. We got to Leeds early afternoon, and spent the afternoon in and out of a Neo, discussing details with Richard. We were so pleased that we were offered part exchange on our present van, value tomorrow.  This takes all the worry out of the sale and more unusual these days.

Later we walked into Leeds along a canal which started off pretty seedily, but improved near the city centre, which turned out to be so impressive, with monumental decorated Victorian buildings. And the most beautiful arcades! The Art Deco arcade rivaled the one in Turin! We spent the night next to the factory.

Friday 1st September. We met Richard again at 10, who offered us a fair price for Tilly, we obviously would have liked more, but as we negotiated lots of things were included, so we signed on the dotted line! Collection in November, the factory is quiet as they gear up to the show in October.  We were able add lots of adjustments to the basic design as each van is individually made; including a larger fridge, which had been my main concern.  After lunch the weather turned wet, so we made our way to a CCC ‘sites for holidays’ just outside York.

Saturday 2nd. We caught the bus into York and had an easy day just wandering around. We were surprised by just how busy it was, especially with Japanese tourists.  The Shambles, which was really busy, featured in Harry Potter as Diagon Alley, and one of the shops was named ” The shop that cannot be named”, selling Potter merchandise. The queue to get in was enormous.


Sunday 3rd. We visited Castle Howard, very impressed by the house and most especially the room guides, who were so informative and interesting. The house by Vanbrugh, a smaller Blenheim, and also influenced by St Paul’s. 


It had the first large dome on a house, which sadly collapsed during a major fire in 1940. It has since been rebuilt, and other gutted rooms have been used to good effect for filming, especially Brideshead Revisited, which I admit I have not read.


We especially liked the Arts and Crafts chapel, decorated by William Morris, a family friend. So many references to Florence, right down to the wild boar we had last seen in the market place, did not imagine him turning up like this when we rubbed his snout! 



We spent the night at the Windmill Inn, Linton, where we had an evening meal. A very nice friendly pub with excellent food. 

Monday 4th. We  got to the Vantage factory in good time, and spent an interesting morning with Dan, who was able to answer any remaining questions. And lots more ideas! So we have ended up with 4 leisure batteries, so no problems being away from campsites, and increased the size of one of the cupboards so I’m sure I will have more storage than ever before. We tried a few items in the cupboards and they just swallowed them up.

Eventually we got to Hull, the visit did not start well as the large vehicle park was a building site. We found on the road parking round the corner, but mistakenly turned the wrong way in our search for a late lunch, and came on a very sad area, and difficulty finding anything. Eventually we found a more pleasant area, with splendid Victorian architecture. We also went into an impressive art gallery,  which Andy  most unfairly said he preferred to the Ufizzi in Florence. We only  had a short visit but based on what we saw I was more impressed with Leeds, and we think all the restaurants have fled to York, which was stuffed with them.

We loaded on to the ferry 4 hours before sailing was due! And sat in the lounge with picture windows waiting for sailing time!

Tuesday 5th. After a poor night we were working at 6 o’clock, I am glad we have spent our money on a motor caravan and not on cruises because we really are not keen on any aspect of sea travel! I know this was an economy cabin, and I did enjoy seeing all the ships with their lights as we came up to the lounge, I counted 16! Means to an end! I like looking at boats but not travelling on them.

We disembarked about 9 oclock, and drove on easy motor ways to Diventer, which I had identified as interesting. Hoever parking proved challenging, and we did not try the municipal site, so drove on towards Zwolle. This smaller road was on a dyke, which proved to be part of the Ijssel Line, a Cold War defence that was complete with gun emplacemets  and would have involved large-scale flooding of the Ijssel water basin. Here all the farmhouses were thatched and we saw storks and windmills. 

We  found the designated parking spot in Zwolle, and after lunch I set off for town, a short distance across a couple of canals.  The town proved to be a large shopping  centre but with interesting older buildings mixed in with the new. Only in Holland would you see a sex shop right in front of the large Catholic Cathedral.  (Think even I  might be a bit churched out after Italy).  


I stopped to draw a a statue of Adam by Rodin, in front of the new Stadhaus. I was considerably put off by a friendly man who came to watch before I had even put in a pencil stroke, and came to check on progress every 3 minutes. Results not great. There was lots of interest to see but all the information boards were totally in Dutch, whereas in the shops so much was in English! ‘Back to school, Today is the day to be happy, Coffee and chat! Health and beauty. ‘I got back to the van just as the heavens opened!

During an evening walk we found much more appealing areas along by the canal that surounds the central town, and also the area toward the one remaining gate. Even a Lego shop which had some pretty impressive Lego in display! 

Wednesday 6th. Rain. We were woken rudely at before 7.30 as they are demolishing part of a water tower and turning the rest into flats. Dont think they should inflict that level of constant noise on flats and a school for commercial gain! We drovevhrough the rain and rather boring scenery to Bourtange, a tiny defensive border village set within a 5 pointed star shaped wall and moat.

It was raining hard with strong wind as I walked to the village, far from perfect, but could see the viļage was charming even if very done up for tourists. It centred on a circular village ‘square’ with roads radiating out. I did not go into the museums but the synagogue had lost all 60 members of its congregation, a large number out of a population of perhaps 500 at most! The intriguing red building up the steps on the ramparts proved to be the toilet! And also a small distance away from the village was the powder store. 

We then drove on through the rain to Bremen, and when the rain stopped walked over the river into town. The central square is in front of the very spectacular Rathaus, where stands Roland, facing the similarly magnificent cathedral, to protect the citizens against the might of the church. A demonstration came round the corner, stronger on sound than numbers , from what we could make out concerned about the country of Togo, a former German dependency. Some of the ladies costumes were really magnificent!  Tucked in round the corner is the statue that everyone remembers, the Musicians of Bremen. 



The town is also famous for the charming 1930s arcade, Bottcherstasser, miraculously saved from the Nazis and also the Schnoor area, which feels like collection of village streets and is really charming. The tiny lanes were constructed in the back gardens of grander houses, much like some of the terraces in the old town of Hastings!



Thursday 7th. We had a very good night in the quiet aire, and then set off for Berlin. Many German motorways are incredibly boring, straight and endlessly treelined, so I got out my knitting to pass the time! The countryside became a little more undulating with more glimpses of the outside world once we passed what had been the East / West divide and the motor ways were a bit younger. 

We headed for an aire very conveniently set near the city centre and should not have been surprised to find, again, it was a building site. So headed back out of town and eventually reached one that was adjacent to the old British barracks at Spandeau, unfortunately under the airport flight path, but quiet apart from that. In the city every lamppost is adorned with advertising for the coming election, I just hope that they are a bit more sensible than in recent elections. I really don’t like the look of the man standing against Mrs Merkel. Lots of Islamaphobic signs. 


NDY in Italy…..again. 8.

Monday 27th. We would certainly use the aire at Mont again, it would make a good base, but not bother with the town. Eventually left the lovely Val D’Orcia and drove past Sienna and then west towards Pisa, preparing for the trip into Provence. We usually go over the Alps, but Andy is finding the gear box difficult, especially into 1st and 3rd, so we are going to use the motorway along the coastal strip, avoiding the busy hotspots. 

We spent the night at an Agrotourism site between Livorno and Pisa. It is situated on a lake, within a nature reserve. We have a prime spot beside the lake, but sadly there was no wildlife to be seen on the water and it appeared a bit dead, and there was nowhere to walk from the site so just one night. There was a low hum from a nearby motorway, and planes taking off from Galileo Airport which rather spoilt the peaceful effect. We have been very surprised by the lack of statics on Italian sites, makes such a difference to the appearance of a site! In Iberia, and sometimes France, the rows of tired statics look so dismal! 

Tuesday 28th. We were woken at 5am by the people behind us packing up their caravan and leaving, closely followed by the people, nothing to do with them but adjacent. We later found they were trying to get across one of the passes before it closed for daily road works. Could they not have pulled up to near the entrance during the previous evening? Then there was a thunderstorm but with surprisingly little rain. 

So we did not leave quite as promptly as might have hoped but easily found the motorway and headed round coast, from Pisa to Nice, past the sunflowers of the Arno river estuary, marble mountains around Carrolla ,  and then innumerable tunnels through Liguria, there may have been been more than 100, large and small. In between there were steep tree covered hillsides and glimpses of a hectic coastal strip. No wonder Liguria has so few campsites, there is hardly any room at all! We were very relieved at the cost of €46 for the trip, mostly through Italy. We then turned up inland at Nice. A spectacular road up a gorge, there were a heritage line at Puget Theniers, but there were lots of sadly neglected carriages that would have been loved in England. 

Wednesday 29th.   A largely wet day so stayed on site to make plans for visiting lavender fields,  and trip home. 

Thursday 30th. We continued to drive up the spectacular road, through gorges, and past impressive strata of rock, that had so clearly been twisted and lifted. We passed  Entrevaux, a Vaubun town with a castle high on the hill above, and town accessed by  gated bridge over the river. needs exploring next time. We were following a small train track for a lot of the way, did not see any trains, or evidence of them, but the line still looked used. I found later that the line was planned at the end of the 19th century,  and finished in 1911. It runs from Digne les Bains to Nice, although the old steam trains only pull a fraction of that. It would be a spectacular ride.

We then started following a route from a guide book purporting to be a day of lavender, we were very disappointed.  There were the occasional fields,  and quite a few recently planted, others full of weeds, but nowhere the heart stopping pictures we have seen. The trouble is, a picture needs to have more of a subject, as well as just lavender.  We ended up  at Abbey de Salagon. We were far from impressed with the admittance staff, one chewed incessantly with her mouth open, the man appeared to do nothing, and the woman who served spent her time talking to the other two, and  was most rude. 

The garden was interesting, set round about a medieval monastery, showcasing plants from different parts of the world, those with scents, medicinal plants and many others, all labeled. We did at last discover the difference between Lavender and Lavendin, the last is a hybrid and is more productive and now more generally grown. 

We spent the night at  Neuvoville just to the south, nice aire but rather poor tiny hill top town, with rather messy tiny streets and lots of one on one houses, some in quite poor repair. Why do Italian crumbling houses look romantic whereas french ones just look a mess! Weather quite a bit cooler today, and at times cold, what at shock! Interesting war memorial. 

Friday 30th. We continued the Grand Search for lavender today, with a little more success! We concentrated on the roads south of Apt after a scenic drive along the N100, a lot of which was lined with avenues. We called in on the attractive little hill top villages of Saignon, where there seemed to be a police investigation in progress, it did look rather like a game of Cluedo. There was a ruined castle on the top, with views over the Luberon hills. 

There were more lavender fields around where we drove, though not quite in the intensity I had fondly imagined. We have also come to the conclusion that there is probably only one or two really photogenic spots taken over and over, but it’s good to know that the essence probably doesn’t all come from China, as we had begun to suspect! We ended up at Rustrel, where we stayed last time, not an official aire but an interesting little place with sweet little streets and loads of cats! However last October it was nice and warm, it was really chilly for our evening stroll and even an English cardigan was not enough!
Saturday 1st July. A much better Lavender Hunt today, saw a great deal more between  Rustrel and Sault, and more on the road to Banon, where we stopped. It was the sort of concentration I had been expecting, also interesting the different colours. Always in the distance  was the white top of Mt Venteux. We stopped in the town in time to have a Plat de Jour, at the Les Voyagers,  and later Andy followed a fix sent by fellow motorhome, Ian which may have eased the gear problem. I must stop saying grazie for thankyou, it’s not as if I know more than half a dozen Italian words but it seems to have stuck! 

During the afternoon I sketched the bookshop in the town called Le Bleuet  which I was informed was the second most famous bookshop in France.  Forgot to ask which was the most famous but expect it’s ‘Shakespeare and Company’ in Paris. After a lavender ice-cream I climbed up to the top of the old village perched above the new one, largely built from stone from the chateau which was demolished after the Revolution. The village was most remarkable for its display of hollyhocks, which were growing in every nook and cranny possible.


Sunday 2nd. A most wonderful day at a village Fete de la Lavende, Ferrassières.  It is a small village, I was told only 80 inhabitants, but they had created a really lovely atmosphere. The area obviously had plenty of wealthy farmers as every road or track in was blocked by large new tractors,  with some to spare. There were stalls selling everything to do with lavender as well as pony rides for children, carriage rides. Activities in the village hall included making lavender bags, and a smelling test. We joined an hour walk through the lavender fields with about 100 other people!  In fact there were other organised walks, and other people just wandering through the fields. There were about 12, most elderly ladies in costume, long skirts with apron, white blouse gathered at the neck,  waistcoat , essential shawl and a white bonnet.

The whole of the day was marked with very strong winds, which did get a bit warmer during the day. Investigation proved it was the Mistral, which also accounts for the clear conditions and quality of the light. It’s so different to Tuscany,  where there was always a heat haze, and usually a pleasant breeze but by no means a cold wind. Mt Venteux was visible in the distance and on its summit the Mistral blows for 50% of the year! We bought some cherries which were enormous. We have been eating a very large number of cherries, but these were at least twice the normal size. Apparently they were grown on the  slopes of Mt Venteux, that mountain must definitely have magical powers. 

We were too late to buy tickets for the 3 course lunch but instead were offered the children’s option, which was an excellent lasagne and ice cream, of course lavender flavoured! Washed down with red wine of course. Andy said it was very shambolic as he collected the food, but in the nicest way! We enjoyed the band, called Le Musicians de Condor, would not have sounded out of place in Lord of the Rings. The main musicians played a 3? hole whistle, whilst beating a large drum with their left hand. There were also guitar players, bag pipes which provided a drone and a type of harsh trumpet. Each piece started with the whistle and drums and gradually built up. 

One gentleman was painting a picture from scratch, and worked frantically with acrylics to create a local landscape complete with Mt Ventoux in the background, and poppies and lavender in the foreground, in less than an hour.  Andy moved the van to the top of the hill, adjacent to the cemetery overlooking the village to join the many other vans, a wonderful view. Fields around the village, 70% lavender. I went back into the village, watched a demonstration of cutting lavender and was given yet another bunch when we had already bought several, better than artificial air fresheners! I then found the band in the packed tiny church, (similar size to Enmore Green) it sounded amazing! They finished with ‘Amazing Grace’  and as an encore ‘ The Water is Wide’ a Scottish folk song,  which we all hummed along to, quite moving. 

We had a wonderful view during tea, and I enjoyed painting from the van, a bit chilly to sit outside. Have found the lavender at last! We must come back to this wonderful spot! I went out at bed time to see the stars, but the moon was as bright as day. There was still a red line of sunset around Mt Ventoux.

Monday 3rd. Wonderful views over breakfast,  then left such  a lovely spot, we must return. We drove via Montbrun les Bains, which I had noted as being interesting, but in fact turned out to be disappointing, there was no access to the ruined chateau on the sky line, we were not the only people who climbed up to be disappointed. We drove over the Col de Macuegne, where we stopped for a breezy lunch, lovely views. 

Later the Gorge du Mouge was very spectacular, with pillars of stone, arches and cliff edges. Later there was a series of wild bathing places that were obviously very popular,  the river had created a series of waterfalls and rock pools, some safer than others. We did not try as access seemed rather perilous.  

 We spent the night at a popular aire at Laragne Montegin, attached to a rather sad town. Really hot and stuffy.

Tuesday 4th. Lovely drive through valleys, then a more gentle landscape and into the Jura.  We stopped for the night up a deep valley, into a cirque with limestone waterfalls, same as we had seen at the Plitvici park in Croatia. In the evening walked down to the village which was full of interesting buildings and lovely gardens centred round a Cluny Abbey, founded in the 10th century. It was obviously severely  slighted during the Revolution but had interesting buildings around it. Wonderful gardens in the village. 

Wednesday 5th. We drove north, lovely countryside most of the way. We noted several roads about to be closed due to the Tour de France. It was interesting to note that the driving in Italy was so much less aggressive than France,  and much better than the Benalux counties!  I’ve also noticed how much cleaner Italian towns were than the French ones, they always clean up after their animals and we saw road signs in many towns saying that the street would be cleaned for example in the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month between 8.30 and 10.30, thus no parking at those times. I don’t know if it happens or not but we are lucky to  get a road cleaner once a year! Also have noticed that the Italian male has a much stronger bladder than his french counterpart, or at least is much more responsible! 

However both countries have provided some excellent aires. This one in St Hubert in Belgium is free, places from three vans, each with their own picnic table under shady trees, with disposal area nearby. We followed the signs to the town, there was a cute gate, we walked beside an impressive church, and came into a large town square with impressive buildings and restaurants, a surprise. The rest of the town centre was average, but they also had such an impressive leisure park with large sports centre, tennis courts, nice indoor and outdoor  swimming pools, music academy and large wood and lake with black swans. Apparently one inhabitant, Nestor Martin  had been very philanthropic and had established schools etc as well as as large factories. When they closed in 1930’s the town declined, there were many ex industrial buildings about the town.

Thursday 6th. The usual rather boring drive through, enlivened by some heavy rain, during which one of the windscreen wipes shot off! Fortunately the remaining piece had not scratched the windscreen when we found a place to stop. We had trouble getting into our usual hypermarket, they usually open the height bar after asking over the intercom, but in the end we saw a van going the other way and dashed in. Fortunately we got out more easily. 

We spent the night at the aire at Hondschoot ( in France!) beside a windmill, it was reconstructed in 1993 to mark the anniversary of a battle between the defending french gendarmes, and the English and Hanovarians, who were trying to reintroduce the monarchy?? After a considerable thunderstorm I walked into town. There was an enormous church, the size of Salisbury cathedral, surrounded by a closed funfair, and absolutely no one about at all. I noticed the 16th century town hall had its door open, so crept inside and peeped into the Grand council chamber, really surprising a man who emerged. After letting me take a picture the building was closed, there really was nothing open, not a bar, restaurant, or fast food outlets.  When I saw a car with a radio blaring, almost welcomed the excitement!

Friday 7th. Up in good time to board the 10 am sailing from Dunkirk. The port had been reorganised and flowed smoothly with so many checks. It was when we reached England the trouble began. Sally sat nav took us up the A2, and down Bluebell hill, , we came off the A25 and ended up on the Hogs back in Hampshire,  then eventually through Wilton.  A journey that should have taken just over 3 hours took over 5.5! Andy said the traffic round Turin faded into insignificance! 

If you have been,  thankyou for reading my diary!  

NDY in Italy…… again, 7.

Monday 19th June. We caught the 8.45 bus into Sienna, even during the week there are only 3 buses a day. It was great to get there while the town was quiet and fresh, and we were amongst the first people into the Duomo, which was wonderful because we saw it before it was full of crowds. The front is an amazing confection of white, pink and dark (green that looks black) marble.

 The bands of dark marble continue inside, which is remarkable for the inlaid floor, with biblical and historical pictures, made over 200 years from the 14th century. Some of them only see the light of day in late August till early October, but there were plenty to see and admire.  

I was disappointed that the famous pulpit, with detailed carved scenes, was being restored,  but you do get used to that in Italy, there is always something sheathed in scaffolding!  The ceiling was also very rich with dark blue sky and gold stars. We also enjoyed the library, which has vividly coloured pictures from 1500, telling a story and full of interesting details of individuals and scenery. 

A start had been made on an extension to the cathedral, which would have resulted in the biggest church in Italy, but the plague , which killed 2/3rd of the city’s inhabitants stopped the building, but the soaring frontage remains. One gentleman was explaining to his friends that the building had been destroyed by bombing. I stopped briefly to explain, the man frowned deeply, and as I walked away said to his friend I was obviously wrong, and he could see it had been bombed! In fact Sienna suffered very little if any bombing, which is why the medieval streets are now a UNESCO heritage sight, it was Florence that was much destroyed.  

We then wandered round the city, admired the stately fortified houses of rival families, the Tolomeis and the Salimbenis, you can see where Shakespeare got his ideas from. We looked into the Santiago di St Caterina, St Catherine is a fellow patron Saint of Italy, along with St Francis. And then had lunch in a nearby wine bar, usual Tuscany cold cuts and cheese, for which we have developed quite a taste. 

We had a wonderful panorama  of the Duomo in its hill from the path up to St Dominico, an austere church but with bright if rather naive stained glass windows. A shame this was the only place we have visited in Italy where we haven’t been able to take photos. 

We then wandered back to the Piazza del Campo,  the famous square where the house race takes place each year. The square which is on the place of the Roman market place, has a considerable slope and is divided into nine segments to reflect the nine  members of the ruling council. We were most amused to see pigeons drinking from the water spouting from the fountain. On one side is the impressive 14th Palazzo Communal .  We made our way  back to the bus for the bumpy ride home. First time we have heard cicadas during the evening,  Andy said he preferred frogs.

Tuesday 20th. We drove south to San Quirico D’Orcia where the aire turned out to be free. The town had celebrated the Festival del Barbarossa during the weekend, Barbarossa had met the Pope here on his way to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1155. Amongst other events the town had held an archery competition between the quarters of the town, lots of towns have such competitions, and the town was awash with the quarters’ flags. 

The town’s other claim to fame was that it was on the Via Francigena, I love the way maps show an arrow North to Canterbury, and another south to Rome. There are obvious efforts to revive the route,  perhaps they are zealous of the success of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. There was the first hostel we had seen for the route, behind the Collegiata Church which has 3 magnificent doorways. However as they are recommending 30 km a day for each leg and most are described as strenuous, and some very strenuous, I don’t think I’m attempting any time soon in this heat, which incidentally is less than England again today! 

Wandered into town for painting this afternoon, and sat in the headquarters of the Barga quartiere  to paint their well and flag. (Black and white check with red lion)  I’ve worked out that we are camping in the Prato quartiere, ( green and white flag) and painted more flags beside the attractive church. Castello, (red and white). Interesting how the town is divided up and would love to know more details. The Viandance  quartiere seems to be beyond the original walls. (think Hogwarts houses). Had a solidarity moment with a grandmother pushing a pushchair and cooing over a baby about Alex’s age, she  came to chat everytime she passed. The breeze in the town has been considerable this afternoon and sure we are cooler than most of the rest of Europe. 

There is a pleasant large garden here, given to the town in 1575, when the walls were being developed.  Apparently Lioni was great friends with Michelangelo. We had an explore during the evening, as well as looking at the walls which are almost complete. We watched the elderly key keeper lock up the garden, over a Prosecco or two at the central bar, it’s more refreshing than wine! He waited to see if he’d locked anyone inside! The ice cream shop up the road closes for dinner, then reopens 9pm till 11.30! It was delicious! 

Wednesday 21st. After a short shop up,  we went the short distance to Bango Vignol in the valley below. I had read that there was a thermal spring and free access, read elsewhere that the historic pool took the place of the village square. We parked and hopefully changed into our swimmers, and after a 400m walk in hot unshaded sun came across the village. The description was correct except that there was no bathing in the pool! A shame, but had been popular in the past by many historic figures including St Catherine and Lorenzo the Magnificent. On the plus side I had at last walked upon a tiny bit of the Via Francigena, and no, I  won’t be doing any more.

It was only a few miles onto the hilltop town of Castelioni D’ Orcia, the aire had after spectacular view 1 ,8000 ft. and we  left the van to explore. We wound our way though unspoilt charming streets, this place was definitely not touristy!  We eventually found our way the the historic main square below the castle, more grass than paving stones, quite charming. We never found the way to the castle, there must be a way as there is a large crane rebuilding it! We then found a Trattoria which we decided to return to in the evening, and then a few more businesses onto road through, but definitely an unspoilt place. 

I spent the afternoon sketching in the old central square of   and we returned in the evening to eat at the Trattoria Il Casserole,  the owner spoke little English but we got by very well. The menu was in English, after a fashion, and we swapped pictures of grandchildren! 

Thursday 22nd.  We went south  to see the UNESCO countryside and also to visit another place with thermal springs, Bagni S. Fillipi. The spring was there but a jungle of concrete and undergrowth.  I would have gone into the proper pool, but we had not parked in a very safe place, so retraced our steps and headed for Montipulçiano. The countryside was imperssive all the way, wide open views , rolling hills and patchwork of large cereal fields, often harvested, and green woodlands. We had hoped the market would have finished in Montipulçiano when we got the here,  but had to wait for them to tidy up. 

I wandered up into town,  we had visited before but I had forgotten details and also how very far it was to walk up to the top Grande Piazza. Once I saw the square I remembered it, and also noted that a bus that has left the bus station below had arrived here, so that would save me future climbs. I settled to draw on the church steps,  and noticed a green sports car pull into the square, supposedly only public vehicles. A smartly dressed young lady in a big hat got out, took a picture of the car and partner  then the car sped away again!

In the evening we caught the bus up to the central piazza, I can’t think of a better use of a euro! The views were most impressive, highlighted by the setting sun! I know we ate out only yesterday but talking to a charming Chinese/ Canadian baby, and her grandmother led us to talk to about the extremely lively and tiny Osteria behind her. She said we had to book, and when the gentleman came out snd offered us a card, saying there were 2 sittings but had to book as always full, we booked for 7.30. I explained that 9.15 is too late for us English. I thought we might learn a lot about Italian food there, as popular with the locals. Down the main street are many Palazzo,  one, the Palazzo Bocelli, was decorated with Etruscan and Roman inscriptions. Nearby the town clock tower was crowned with Pulcinella, who struck the hours.

We were surprised how quiet the streets were by 9 o’clock,  in Castelioni the shops were still open and so many people about, here it was dead! 

Friday 23rd. We caught the bus us the hill and climbed up to the terrace on the Town hall, purpose built with a Florentine lion on the front,  to mark their triumph over the Siennese. The view was impressive and in the distance I could see Montipulçiano lake, which I suspect is a reservoir. It was wonderful being up with the swallows we had been watching everywhere we went.  

I then spent the bulk of the day happily drawing, and eating a tiny lunch to prepare for the evening! I must chose my spot well, as it’s interesting how often people have to stand right in front of me, not even an inch to one side, to take a series of pictures. Also  learnt how small a repertoire the average busker has, just one tune with the cello player yesterday, but as most people are moving through they don’t realise! Two young people arrived in the car park at about 5 o’clock to do their evening drumming practice, mediaeval pagents are really big in Tuscany,  as is flag throwing and archery. Later lots of younger children arrived and started to hurl flags about, most impressive. 

We were in plenty of time to catch the bus  up as it had been impressed on us the importance of being at the Osteria at 7.30. The bus then hurled off in the opposite direction and did an amazing tour of the wider town,  turning into impossible side streets where you would have thought twice about taking a bicycle.  He eventually turned into the town, relief ,  as usual flattening people against walls, and taking a run at one city arch which he cleared with less than an inch each side, quite an experience, the bus appeared quite a community,  but why it is not more used by the general public I have no idea.

There was a considerable crowd outside the Osteria Aquacheta when we arrived, which increased as time went past 7.30, everyone flattening against the wall as cars and the bus passed. There was consternation when some people realised they would not get in as they had no reservation, and a rugby scrum when the door opened and our names checked! We were sat between an interesting American couple and an English one. The American offered to swap Trump for May, but we declined. They had booked their place in April!  

We ordered, at the back of the restaurant were enormous  cuts of beef and a roaring wood oven. The food we had was good, but knew we would not be able to manage the steaks for which the place was famous, 3-5 cm thick and size of a large dinner plate, would feed us for a week! The American said it was the best steak he had ever tasted, average cost of just the steak was 45€! Our meal was more reasonable as we had opted for the pasta followed by sausage ( too salty) and salad. However the evening was an experience and would not have missed it, pure theatre by the pony tailed owner. 

We wandered down the hill amongst children playing, and had our ice cream, they definitely taste better after 10 pm,  it just seemed so civilised.  

Saturday 24th. We drove the short 10 miles to Pienza, a much smaller town, with a poor aire that was very convenient for the tiny town. Pienza is special, a UNESCO world heritage site, because it was the home town of Pope Pius II, who in 1459 remodelled the centre of his home town in 4 years,  and it has remained much the same ever since. The Duomo has also remained almost totally unaltered and I think it’s the loveliest church we have seen this holiday,  and I’ve been in quite a few! It also had its nativity scene on display, ornate nativity scenes are popular in this region. The town wears it’s popularity well, but it must be standing room only in the height of the summer.

During the afternoon,  while I was sketching in the Piazza, a wedding took place in the church. The bride and  her father arrived in an Ape, a small 3 wheeled vehicle much derided and used about towns and in the countryside for manual work. It really looked fun, and a surprise for quite a posh wedding. The other surprise was that apart from the bride’s parents, all the other guests seemed about the same age, early 30s. No older family or children at all, surprising when the Italians are such a family orientated society.  

We had an evening wander and a glass of Prosecco at a bar on the walls, looking out at the countryside. The swifts and swallows were putting on a magnificent display, so many of them in Tuscany. I noticed that one of the town gates had been destroyed in 1944, and rebuilt in 1955. Research revealed that it was bombed by Spitfires,  who had been aiming at a German position adjacent. Apparently in 1944 the Germans had pulled back to what was termed the Gothic line, though this area.  Looking more closely we could see lots of bullet holes in the church. 

Sunday 25th. We set out before breakfast to get some views without the haze but no luck there. Before leaving we went back in to buy and oil painting of local scenery, the lady had sold the painting we had admired the day before so had done another for us, we much prefer oils to acrylic. She had captured the rolling hills covered in cereals, and farms on hill tops which makes this area so different to other areas of Tuscany. We have also noticed how much less forested this area of Tuscany is compared with further north. 

It is interesting to note that the roads are generally very good, of a consistent surface. Especailly in comparison with England. It would be easy to say that the weather is so much better, so the roads do not deteriorate so easily, but everywhere there are notices to tell us to use snow chains or studded tyres when it snows so cannot be that unusual an occurrence. 

We then set off through most attractive countryside to Montalcino, but were not pleased to find the aire set up a considerable hill above the town, we had got so used to popping in and out of town. The fortress looked an old fashioned toy fort, but after that our efforts to find the town centre were frustrated by dismal uninspiring streets and a semi derelict church. However eventually we dropped down and found the central piazza, town hall and a more interesting area. However it was not the highlight that we had wanted to end on, especially compared with Pienza.


I was interested as had read Isabel Duri’s account of setting in the town. Eventually I found the Pianolla quartiere that she described and also the headquarters she spoke of funds raising for, I like a reason to wander round little streets looking for something interesting.  Eventually we had a pizza before the long climb up the hill. The aire is really nice, if you don’t want to walk to town, and it’s out of the question to bring back any of the Barollo wine that the town is famous for! However I did try a Barollo ice cream, a sort of water ice, unusual. The town was also noted for retaining its loyalty to Sienna, long after the rest of the area had fallen to Florence. So the symbol of Sienna’s she-Wolf suckling Romulus  and Remus, (which they share with Rome,)  is in pride of place in the square, whereas Cosimo in delegated to the back of the town Loggia!