2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks in Germany is surely not enough to absorb a country’s culture let alone navigate its compass points sufficient well. In truth though we were only passing through en route to Poland, so we knew that it would be ‘short and sweet’.  Although now into year three of our full-time travels, we have evolved our travel philosophy and rather than racing from A-B, we have come to appreciate the journey so much more and to stop along the way to smell the roses, or the Lime trees as we have come to enjoy here in Germany.  Every journey is precious and should never be taken for granted.

It’s a bit like Dorothy’s dance up the Yellow Brick Road. Without the path on the way to see the Wizard of Oz she would never have met the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin-man.  It feels the same for us now.

So with hopes high and anticipation strong inside Scoobie’s walls, we donned our leder-hosen and turned our wheels to the Fatherland. Myles had three years in Germany as a Force’s child, so we had the added advantage of his fluency as we coursed our way through the Germany countryside. So what would Germany teach us along the way – plenty we were sure of that.

Check out our Interactive Map that shows our route, Points of Interest and of course our Camping spots with co-ordinates.

I’ll be honest, our arrival into Germany wasn’t blessed as a joyous occasion as I was nursing sciatica so it made for an uncomfortable initiation. Well I say initiation, we have been to Germany in Scoobie before – as we visited Bavaria in 2016, although this year our entry point was from The Netherlands so it did feel like completely new territory.  Whether it was my state of mind I’m not sure, our first day didn’t bowl me over. What did interest me though was to see how the Dutch culture seemed to temporarily fuse with German, as we crossed the border.  For a good 50km, bicycles continued to be ever-present and traditional style windmills still speckled the flat landscape with their sails. We’ve seen it before with other border crossings, although on this particular trip it really hit home how cultures blend before claiming their own unique identity. I wonder if it will be the same in Poland?

Rees 

Rees was our first stop, on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly we didn’t get to explore the town; well nothing much more than Lidls, and I even say ‘we’ loosely. I saw it from my bed at least. We were told how nice Rees is as a town and the Promenade along the river, certainly seemed to have promise as we shimmied past it.   There was a well organised Stellplatz just five minutes from town for €8 including EHU (co-ordinates 51.76422, 6.38886)

Dülmen

Our next station stop was driven by the wet stuff – no not rain, water…. we love being by water of any kind, although Dülmen sadly fell short despite the blue patches on the map. Our overnighter was though by the river, which was some consolation although sadly no exploration was permitted until sciatica decided to ‘do one’. Still the Stellplatz was lovely and worth the short diversion for one the few freebies in Germany.  Hausdülmen Stellplatz – 51.8074, 7.24697 no services

Heading for the mountains

After the disappointment of far too many autobahns, an enormous volume of traffic that we are just not used to in Europe and an uninspiring landscape, I headed for our trusty, slightly disheveled map, in search for bumpy green bits. We don’t use paper maps very much with our digital resources, although on this occasion with a weak internet that plagues much of the country, the map was actually a great source of info that guided us eastwards.

I found mountains, I found ski stations and I found Natural Parks. Yeah, at last! This was more like it and our sort of landscape. Perhaps finally Germany was going to deliver. Our vista changed after we hit Meschede and we thankfully exited the painstaking movement from the caterpillar style autobahn. Rolling hills, forest and reservoirs had our hearts sighing with relief. These mountains were simply gorgeous.

With red kites flying overhead and fresh forest pines as our borders, the ride was just lovely. And this region’s houses were changing too. Characterful black and white Tudor style buildings welcomed you into the countryside. No more cities to bypass, no more industry, just warmly embracing villages that oozed charm and delight. We finally came upon Schmallenburg, a delightful spot that is just hugged by forests and mountains. Our stop for the night was Winkhausen, a lovely Stellplatz in someone’s back garden; for just €8 per night with EHU and water extra, payable with coins. Why not treat yourself to a discounted visit to the Spa, which for guest of the Stellplatz was only €8 from 1800-2200  (co-ordinates 51.16073, 8.34074).  With walks, lakes and a 5* Spa just next door, there is everything you could wish for, for an outdoor experience.  

Now on first glance, Winkhausen may seem like a backwater place, although come April and you will be treated to an annual musical festival that puts this place on the German map.  

Edersee

Riding high on our success at finding some wonderful countryside, our spirits were raised and our hopes soaring as we continued our path towards Poland. It was amazing to think though that we had been travelling four days and still we hadn’t reached half way across this great land. I don’t think either of us had realised quite how expansive Germany was.

So water was our calling yet again and as we wound through the beautiful countryside full of bountiful crops and quaint towns, we found our home for the weekend – Edersee. A man-made reservoir that is heaven on a water-sport lover’s plate.  With wildlife abound, especially the nightly chorus of frogs, we withstood some pretty full-on thunderstorms that gifted us some amazing lake-side views in their  aftermath.  We stayed at a great Stellplatz – Rehbach (co-ordinates 51.18388, 9.026714) for €6 per night and it was ideal. If you have yourself a kayak or bicycles, then this is the place for you.  

Sondershausen

We love getting off the beaten track and if we can find ‘home’ in the middle of nowhere, then that is what drives us (and water!!) Just off the A38 autobahn is Sondershausen which, like so many of its village neighbours has an oversized castle for the size of town. And the houses are just so incredibly ornate, stately even.  Yet just ten minutes outside of the town you will find dense forest, which offers shelter to an amazing Wildlife and Adventure Centre for kids. After what seems like miles driving through the pine-scented woodland we arrived at a huge clearing where they have created this Adventure Park and you are allowed to park there for €4 per day, although there are no services.  A super diversion. (co-ordinates 51.33821, 10.86295)

A bit of Modern and Ancient History coming up

I have to be honest that our trip to Colditz came completely out of the blue. Whilst looking for a sensible halfway point to the Kromlau Rhododendron Park, which was my border crossing aim, I found a church icon on Search for Sites.  It revealed the name Colditz. With a growing excitement about the World War 2 links and our desire to expand our knowledge of this period, it surely had to be our next station stop?  And indeed it was.  With a small ACSI campsite about 1 mile from the town (co-ordinates 51.1302 12.8308) whose silence was only punctured by the orchestra of birds, we made our way for a tour of this infamous Prisoner of War camp.  Read more about our exploration of this fabulous spot on our blog by clicking here – Escaping from Colditz.  The history, both old and new (relatively speaking) was exhilarating and I got an overwhelming sense of resilience, camaraderie and respect and not the War-time horror that we are taught to expect from camps such as these. It was a great trip that enriched us beyond belief and one that will most certainly stay in our memory banks.

Meißen

With our European travels we have come across many beautiful sights and some stunning cities and towns. We are fast accumulating our Top 10 lists of these stunners. And a new addition to the Medieval Towns compilation will be Meißen, famous for its porcelain – and so much more.  Poised on the edge of the Elbe river, this grand yet exquisite town will charm you and take away your breath. With its 12th century castle, its orange-roofed buildings and atmospheric square, you could almost have stepped into a scene from Pinocchio.  Scaling the heights to the castle to take in the river panorama will certainly impress; as will the descent to the hub of the market square, where horse and carts wait to escort you on a sedate tour. The chocolate-box houses with their brightly coloured facades draw you as if wanting you to be part of the cartoon animation waiting to be played out and all you can do is look and stare. So many different angles, shapes, colours – it truly is a feast for the eyes. And if you’re lucky a quick saunter over the bridge will give you a river reflective perspective of the castle as it states its regal place on the banks of the Elbe. 

We had a lovely, if not a tad noisy Stellplatz that was right on the river’s edge, with the castle as our back drop and our foreground the fast-flowing river. What a joy this place was and I think in truth two days would be perfect at this iconic town to really do it justice.  (co-ordinates 51.16767, 13.47332)

Not bad – Bad Muskau

Our final German destination was calling. Kromlau – a place that appealed to the photographer in me. This tiny hamlet may well be in one of the most remote places in Germany, right on the eastern border with Poland and certainly not on any tourist itinerary. Yet it was its Rhododendron Park and famous Devil’s Bridge that intrigued me.  And what a great shout it was too, although not for the reasons we expected. 

It was a really interesting drive here from Meißen as the landscape changed completely. We drove through a huge expanse of forest with not a car to be seen – not even a fast one! It was like we had entered the twilight zone. We found ourselves at Weißwasser, a place where we considered for overnighting, although throughout our whole German experience, it was the one place I felt the least safe. So needless to say we moved on. Bad Muskau in contrast, was a breath of fresh air and couldn’t have been more different from its neighbour. 

Bad Muskau is a delightful town that rubs shoulders with Poland – the border being in the middle of the river that dissects the two countries. Bad Muskau is full of goodies, each one with their own unique pleasure.  It has two churches, the most ostentatious castle I think I’ve ever seen, Russian War Memorials and gardens that serious put some of England’s Stately Parks to shame.  There are four official cycling paths that give you between 4-10km routes, each one allowing you to dip your toe into Polish water if you wish. Truly a delightful place that we would highly recommend.

Although what of Kromlau, the very reason we ventured this way, I hear you ask?  Well we knew that we would be too late for the Rhododendrons thanks to my back, although it was the iconic bridge that truly caught my eye. The Park is free to enter, you just pay €2 for a two hour car park, that leaves you free to wander around the grounds. Sadly even the bridge wasn’t presented at its best, as after 150 years, it has been fenced off for reconstruction so that it may be protected for generations to come. And much of the lake it spans has been drained in preparation for the work. So I did manage to get some shots, although not quite the iconic masterpiece I was hoping for. Still our joy at Bad Muskau completely made up for it, it has to be said.  We had a super Stellplatz run by Eric a fast-speaking Berliner who liked Myles’ fluency that he gave us free bread on our three day stay. It had all the facilities and was only a mile from this stunner of a town and all for €10.50 per night (or €10 if Eric has been out drinking the previous night and can’t be bothered to work out the detail!). Stellplatz Heideweg can be found at the following co-ordinates (51.53378, 14.71925).

What we’ve learned in Germany

So as we sit here with Poland reaching out its hand of friendship, what of our German experiences?  With memories of red kites soaring above us, a daily dawn chorus that made for a beautiful alarm call, mountains, lakes, castles and history, we will look back fondly at our two-week German route. 

The journey was seriously worth the ride and despite our initial disappointment, we came to love the country and all it has offered us. Interestingly it has been one of the places that we have planned the least and yet has given us some of the most memorable experiences – how often is this the case?  It seriously promotes the ‘travel loosely and let the plans evolve’ philosophy, which we will most certainly be adopting. This has been my most beautiful revelation on this trip.

Germany has many more insights, that we thought we would share as we close this blog.  We hope it helps and informs ready for your tour through Deutschland.

  1. Germany, much like its neighbour France, is very well set up for motorhomes. Stellplatz appear in almost every town and village we passed through. They are well signposted and many of them offer you electrical hook up as well. So never worry about having somewhere to stay. And it feels so very safe here. I never felt threatened in any way – except for Weißwasser.
  2. There’s not much wild camping here, although the Stellplatz are so cheap, it still makes for a great value trip. I think the most we spent on a Stellplatz overnighter was €10.50.
  3. You will not find many touring vans in Germany, especially once in the centre of the country. Most seem to head south to Bavaria, The Black Forest and The Romantic Route. Central to east Germany certainly we saw very few Brits – 2 to be exact. All the other vans were German. No Dutch, no French, just us and our German friends. 
  4. The autobahns are horrible. When you look at a map of Germany, the web of motorways connecting all the major industrial areas and cities are extensive and on every single one, you will always encounter a right lane caterpillar of lorries. It doesn’t make for pleasant driving. So if you can, avoid them.
  5. If however you do decide to take one, then they are toll free for any vehicle under 7.5T.  
  6. Do be aware that there is no universal speed limit on Germany motorways. Although there are guidelines of 81mph, no one sticks to them and speeding is not punishable. So do take care when overtaking as the road may look clear and before you know it, there will be someone royally up your bum flashing you.
  7. Sunday is a great day to travel on autobahns as lorries are forbidden to drive on them and there is a huge fine if they are caught doing so. It made a huge difference to our journey experience on the day we had to course through the country via autobahn.
  8. Take plenty of cash with you (münzen is coins in German). The Stellplatz often have automated machines that only take coins. Manned areas only take cash and in fact in many places we went, cash was preferred and sometimes our Caxton card didn’t work. We were fine in petrol stations and supermarkets though. 
  9. Due to the lack of Brits travelling through, surprisingly there was less  English spoken than I expected. Although with a few phrases you can certainly get by sufficiently. The Germans we met were lovely, warm and welcoming and of course it did help that Myles is fluent. 
  10. Deisel is, outside of the main cities, cheaper than its west European neighbours (@ June 2018). The cheapest we found was €1.239. LPG is freely available and we had no problems filling up. 
  11. Internet is very weak in Germany – we remembered this from our trip here in 2016. So just be prepared that connection may not be easy at all times. Strange how we come to rely on internet…..
  12. And just a little side note – I’ve heard more cuckoos here, in June than anywhere in UK ever! 

 

And so with the heady smells of the Lime tree blossom hanging in the air, we say auf Wiedersehen to Deutchland, and genuinely hope that more Brits head your way to indulge in your joys. We have loved this short and sweet road trip and know that we will back.  Tschüss.

 

 

Escaping from Colditz

Escaping from Colditz

The day that Colditz suddenly appeared on my radar was a delight and a surprise given that I had no idea where it was in Germany let alone the intriguing history that it would surely reveal to us.

One of the things I have come to enjoy most about travel, is the heart-beat that appears in-between our planned destinations. Research is great and creates a real anticipation, although for me nothing beats the moment when I find somewhere on the map that instantly changes our direction and takes us into new and unexpected territory. As I start to explore my amazing find, I feel in a surge of excitement rising up from my feet with the realisation that I have stumbled upon something special, unexpected and a priceless experience that will enrich our adventures. 

That was exactly what happened for us with our Colditz visit. Out of the blue, searching for a place to stay en route to Poland, I saw a castle icon. And with a mere click of the mouse it revealed its identity – Colditz. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind it rang a bell and then its war-time story started to connect as I started a little interaction with my mate Google. So our next destination was sealed and the next chapter of World War education could unfold. 

Colditz so much more than a prison 

Whilst Colditz Castle, infamous perhaps for its escapades from 1939-45, it is worth remembering that this is so much more than a prison  – and the town so much more than a poor relation ebbing to the flow of visitors destined for a Castle tour.  

Commercially renowned for the manufacture of ceramics, Colditz has a surprising tale to tell with its porcelain and stoneware production that date back centuries.  The mining of clay in the early 1700 put this little town, south east of Leipzig, on the map and changed its financial fortune forever. So when ‘dining’ turn your plate upside-down and if you see a small ‘cp’ mark on it, then you are eating off a piece of Colditz porcelain treasure.

The Castle

Ok, so back to the star of the show! The Colditz Castle is indeed the main draw here, it has to be said. This regal building has a rich history dating back almost 1000 years and has had more identities than Madonna; from a hunting lodge back in the Medieval days, to a psychiatric hospital, a State Poor House, a general hospital and, more recently a youth hostel. And that’s before two fires completely refigured it and it became the centre-piece for a War-based film. How can one building reinvent itself so many times and still remain intact and magnificent?

Built 30m up on a solid rock face, this impressive building packs an immediate punch as you approach the town from Grimma – which also looks like it’s worth a visit. With its recent cosmetic facelift, Colditz Castle maintains its integrity as an impenetrable and imposing watchtower across the Saxony land.  The once grey building now offers visitors a visual feast with its cream and yellow fortress walls and orange tiled roofs typical of this region.  You cannot fail to be instantly wowed by this initial view as you cross the river Zwickauer Mulde into the magnetic belly of the town’s historic centre.

Of course World War 2 tells many harrowing stories of Prisoner of War camps during its epoc and I set out with a mixture of anticipation and a desire to learn. Colditz is one of the many places during our war-torn history that symbolises bravery and a fight for freedom. Yet there was a twist to this story which we were about to experience as we entered the Whispering Gate of this High Security Prison.

The Extended Tour

Armed with an extended tour with Steffi, we immediately got access to the inner sanctum of the Castle, where we could throw ourselves into the lives of the guards, prisoners and life behind these imposing walls. The first thing to notice was the ‘guest list’ of this place. Whilst between 500-600 prisoners were imprisoned in Colditz at any one time; these were not just any old prisoners. These were high ranking officers who had a reputation for being serial escapees. A collection of some of the greatest, most creative and imaginative minds of the war all in one place! Engineers, designers and ingenious inventors – surely a recipe for some of the best bid for freedom stories of the war! And it is this fact that serves as the backdrop for the Colditz story.

Our exploration starts with an immediate sense of respect; these prisoners had something special about them and as we continued our tour, craning our necks to the lofty roof lines, you got the feeling that this Prison Camp was pretty unique. Getting access into prisoners’ quarters set out with a bed, wardrobe and a desk with views, this was not what I was expecting. And as our tour unfolds we heard stories of the fair treatment of the ‘inmates’ and how well fed they were and how, thanks to the Third Geneva Convention, their well-being was high on the priority list for their captives. A theatre where shows were masterminded (indeed perhaps even an escape or two planned), visits to the local pub, regular exercise outside the grounds of the castle were some such activities allowed for these prisoners of war. Let’s not forget though, that outside of these walls we are still talking about the ravage of war, battles and horrifying death. Although strangely as we walked through the castle’s gates, horror is not the first sensation that struck me; no sombre feeling that reaches deep into my soul demanding my tears. That I’m sure will come when we visit Auschwitz in Poland.

No, Colditz has a different vibe and even the staff portray a deep respect for the events that occurred here over that six year period. A respect for the prisoners’ fair treatment and the masterminded exploits of the imprisoned. And it is this theme of admiration and respect that emerges time and time again from our tour guide. Unlike so many other camps, there were no murders or intended deaths here. Only one man died. The Guards’ policy was not to ‘shoot to kill’, only to injury and yet in September 1944, British Officer Michael Sinclair was unintentionally killed when, after attempting to escape, he was shot in the elbow that then ricocheted into his heart.  He was subsequently buried with full military honours and a seven-gun salute. 

The Escape Stories

Colditz is immortalised by the tales of attempted and successful ‘Home Runs’ as they were called, each one captivating us during our tour  as we got the inside scoop on so many of the failed attempts and some of the 30+ successful ones.  The French, British and Dutch were the most successful, with the British attempting some 191 escapes; by far the most prolific activists. 

Some of the plans were hatched in the most ingenious ways, which goes to show the brilliance and resilience of the human spirit when faced with adversity how their determination is fuelled.  From tunnels, shafts, impersonating German guards and even dressing up as a woman; every method was a serious consideration conceived by genius minds, shared during furtive conversations and whispers in corridors.  

The escapees generally headed for the neutral territory of Switzerland, which alone was a journey full of hazard and danger. So not only did they have to get through the challenge of this high security prison, they still had to negotiate their onward journey to final freedom.

The Colditz Cock 

Bar far the most elaborate of them all though has to the epic Colditz Cock – where a team of British Officers designed and built a glider that they planned to launch from the roof behind the Clock Tower, that was hidden from guards’ view.  Such an elaborate plan brought together thanks to a book in the prison library on ‘how to build an aircraft’, constructed behind an artificial wall in a tiny space with tables at the ready for the temporary runway. Fortunately the gallant attempt was superseded by the end of the War and the surrender of the Colditz Prison to the Allied forces. Interestingly there is only one photograph of the constructed plane and all other evidence was destroyed – the reasoning behind which we can only imagine.  

Beyond the castle

Outside of the castle, which is the main reason for many people’s visit, the town itself is a beautiful and strangely serene place despite its master’s reputation. With a subtle market square with café bars, I was struck by the surprising lack of tourist tat that so often accompanies itinerary hot-spots such as these. Throughout the town, architecture as creative as the prison escape plans will feed your eyes and intrigue your soul as you inevitably walk towards the panoramic bridge viewing point. Here you will gaze in historical wonder at the yesteryears of this evolving masterpiece that has stood the test of time and will be forever immortalised in people’s memories and hearts. 

Get yourself to Colditz

Colditz was an intriguing experience. From the facade, this impenetrable building defies you to even think about escape let alone successfully complete what they called a ‘Home Run’.  Yet within its walls you get a strange fusion of bravery, ingeniousness, creativity, solidarity, resilience, craft and above all respect. This is the one thing I have been gifted from my visit. Whilst war is a terrifying and horrible waste of life, the Colditz story shares something more colourful and offers a sense of how strangers with differing beliefs, can not only live and work together they can also create a peaceful culture built on respect and compassion. Perhaps after all there is hope for humanity.

Some practicalities

  • There are two tours available. The first is one hour duration from 10.30am that is €8 per person. The second is called the Extended Tour which can take up to 2.5hrs, depending on the passion of your guide. If you get Steffi, then you will be blessed with the best ever tour host. This tour costs €18 per person and gets you into cellars, rooms and up staircases that the other tour will not. So in our opinion completely worth the investment.
  • From April to October, there are three Extended Tours available; 1030, 1300 and 1500. And November to March there are two; 1100 and 1430. 
  • You can get access to just the museum for €4 and then do a self-tour.
  • Colditz can be reached from either Leipzig in the west, Dresden in the east or Chemnitz in the south.
  • If you are camping, then Campingwald Colditz is a large site just a mile up hill from the castle which out of season costs €20 for a pitch and two people. You can get an ACSI discount if you have a card.
  • Parking for the town is generally limited to 2hrs and is chargeable, which can feel restrictive. We found a free parking area next door to Lidl supermarket, which accommodated our 7.5m motorhome, which is right in the shadow of the town. We parked here for over four hours without any problems. 
  • Tours for the castle get busy in high season, especially as this is on the Tour Itinerary from Berlin. So worth checking availability to avoid disappointment.
  • For more information, check out www.schloss-colditz.com  
Five reasons to visit Zeeland

Five reasons to visit Zeeland

Ever thought about a visit to Zeeland? Could you even pin-point where Zeeland is on the map? I’ll be honest I didn’t, so I promise I’m not being judgemental in any way. Isn’t that the amazing thing about travel – we learn every day… Although I implore you, visit Zeeland now!

For most of us crossing from UK to Europe via Calais we are given plenty of options. Heading south gives us access to the sunny climes of Provence and the Côte d’Azure or may be Spain is in our sights. Perhaps it’s Italy and beyond to Greece. Turning right (after a few hours of travel) offers us the joys of Normandy and Brittany and their incredible coastlines. Or there is left! Left passed Dunkirk, Bruges and Antwerp and there we will find the treasures of Zeeland. A series of islands and peninsulas that make up The Netherland’s Zeeland region.

As a traveller, I have held a slightly skewed view that travel must be curvaceous, mountainous and breathtaking in its presentation for it to feel memorable.  That picture-postcard vision that will have Instagram hearting all over the place. Although what living on the road for over two years has taught me is that beauty comes in many forms and it is not a mountain lake fringed with snow-covered tops that is the ultimate definition for a travelling student! I have come to appreciate the beauty in the flatter landscapes, as it too has charm in its formation and the creative story that goes on beneath its soil. Zeeland is for me, a perfect example of this type of beauty that has had me mesmerised from day 1.

Zeeland, translated as ‘Sea Land’ is The Netherland’s most westerly province that has the smallest population of its twelve regions. Tucked away just above Antwerp, this enormous delta landscape which is made up of 25% water from three different rivers, has had a tempestuous yet now commanding relationship with the sea. Throughout history the ocean was once Zeeland’s nemesis, with the North Sea reclaiming its lands with epic floods and high tides. Now, living by their moto ‘I struggle and emerge’  Zeeland has really taken charge and shaped their land to enable a sustainable life amidst the water that still tries to defeat them. After the last flood of 1953 where over 1,800 people were killed, Zeeland invested in the most incredible Delta Protection project that would see flood defences built between the islands to ensure the safety of their fragile existence. Today’s Zeeland landscape is a testimony to the inhabitants rising up to create a home that would no longer be challenged by nature and in fact would become its greatest income generator, through tourism.

 

With the context set. we can now begin to explore what this incredible landscape has to offer the humble traveller and how to while away a week or two enjoying the fruits of Zeeland’s historical labour.  Having an all too brief excursion around these parts, it is very clear to me how this region benefits the visitor and here are five reasons why turning left at Calais and taking a visit to Zeeland deserves its place on your travel agenda.

 

1. Water sports

If you love to take to the water, then Zeeland offers you plenty of options. In safe waters, whether it’s a Stand Up Paddle Board, Windsurf or Boat, this is a haven for water lubbers. With little islands to explore and interconnecting waterways you have plenty to explore under sail power. With so many marinas on Zeeland’s shores, you’ll be spoilt rotten and many campsites are attached to these marinas giving you a chance to get on board and get your feet wet!

 

2. Birdlife

If like me you are a twitcher, then this is a bird-lover’s paradise. From Oyster Catchers, Grebes and Geese to Harriers and Terns this region is rich in birdlife. Take your binoculars and be ready for a feast.  Especially great during the spring as the new-borns entertain with their investigative antics.

 

3. Beaches

For some reason, I never really pictured The Netherlands or Holland having a beach culture. I can’t tell you why – I guess windmills and clogs took up the space in my mind when it came to creating an impression of what the country had to offer. Well I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Zeeland has some of the nicest iconic sandy beaches we’ve seen since New Zealand – strangely enough. Miles of uninterrupted dunes and North Sea plages that have the crowds a-flocking when the sun comes out. And with the on-shore breezes don’t be surprised if you see a kite or surfer or three.

 

4. Cycling

One of the many things that The Netherlands and Holland are well known for is cycling. In fact I would go as far as to say that bikes rule! You give way to them on roundabouts, generally and they have their own dedicated road network and traffic light system. Ferries accommodate bicycles for free and every village, town centre is littered with racks and all shapes and sizes don the streets. I don’t know about 9 million bicycles in Beijing in Katie Melua’s 2005 song, I think The Netherlands is a serious contender for that record – if you pardon the pun. Bring your bike or easier still hire one from the many bike stores in every town and get to feel the province at a slower pace. Smell the air, really see the scenery and feel an integral part of Dutch culture, perhaps without the blue hair though!

 

5. Culture and History entwined

Zeeland in particular, although also its neighbour Holland, is steeped in culture and historical prowess. From the emergence of windmills in 15th century to assist with drainage of the dykes, to Zeeland’s more modern battle with Mother Nature’s elements and their trade routes to the rest of the world – this region has it all. To see the engineering feats of the Delta barriers, constructed following the 1953 floods just blow your mind and are strangely artistic in their design and their spirits. What saviours they are.

And come just a little further south-east to Rotterdam and Dordretch and you start to experience the importance of the Dutch mariner. Their barges sailed up through the North Sea and down through Europe by way of the rivers that converge at the Zeeland Delta connecting the whole world and facilitating global trading.

In fact Dordretch is Holland’s oldest town, which is easily seen in the architecture and the old quays that hold ancient mariners’ tales from their travels. There’s a real buzz during the last weekend in May when they hold their annual Steam Festival along the quay. Paddle steamers and boats of all shapes and sizes cruise up the river pipping their horns. And alongside their road vehicle compatriots steam is seriously the name of the game. Traditional costumes are everywhere as steam enthusiasts show off their prides and joy. Well worth a visit.  Check out their website here.

And on top of that the UNESCO site at Kinderdijk is a must see. 19 of the finest 15th century windmills I have ever seen line the dykes to protect the land from flooding and they were a major influence in securing the inhabitants’ livelihoods. Today they still operate although as museums giving them a new role in holding the integrity of the past showing how they shaped both history and the landscape over the last 740 years.  It is free to get into the site and walk or cycle the dykes or for a small fee you can gain access to the museum and the canal hop-on and hop-off canal boat ride. Check out their website for more details and even download their free app that shows you how to get the best from your visit.

You can reach Kinderdijk by waterbus from either Rotterdam or Dordretch on the 202 route. It takes only 30 minutes to get there and bicycles go free. For €8 per person return (from Dordretch) you start your unique experience with a water perspective of these important waterways that still buzz with the activity of tourism and trade.

 

So how does a visit to Zeeland stack up for you now? I genuinely hope that a place that was perhaps not even on your radar now is a consideration at least.  Whether you travel by plane to Antwerp, Rotterdam or Amsterdam, or come by camper, a visit to Zeeland will not disappoint. Its architecture, culture, landscape, natural beauty and its abundant outdoor pursuits will have you entertained plenty.

Camping in Zeeland is easy with each island littered with independent, ACSI sites and the odd Camperplatz thrown in for good measure. This interactive map will give you a sense of our highlights and camp sites, although you will not be disappointed or stuck for somewhere to stay.  Why not check out Search for Sites for a robust directory of options in this lovely area?

Maiden Solo Voyage

Maiden Solo Voyage

With our trip back to UK full of long To-Do-Lists and high priority actions that were more strategic than a plan for battle, having a weekend sojourn with my bestie was just the tonic I needed. Three years is a long time not to see your nearest and dearest and whilst I love the ability to Skype and FaceTime, it’s never quite as good as seeing someone in the flesh. So as one of our lovely followers aptly named our meeting – it was going to be a weekend of Gin-Wagging and two Birthday celebrations to boot.

I became starkly aware when my anticipation of the weekend had moved from purchasing a few bottles of Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and getting our meals pre-prepared, that actually this was my first solo trip without Mr Sunshine! Whilst I have driven Scoobie on my own, not for more than five minutes and both events resulted in a war wound. So as you can imagine my anxiety suddenly increased at the thought of 100 miles without my right-hand man.  Still our travel lifestyle has always been about confronting fears head on. Fear these days really doesn’t stop me, although it does make me just a little bit more mindful – which is no bad thing.

The day approached to embark on my maiden voyage to Bristol Airport to pick up my ‘bestie’. With the fridge packed, a full tank of LPG despite the UK shortage and all we needed for a fun-filled weekend of RnR, I headed off. And what a trip it was, save a small graze on the wing mirror when my battle was lost with an oversized tractor who thought he was king of the Somerset roads. Aside of that, all was well with Scoobie and my it was great to be back onboard our faithful chariot.

Here are our highlights should you decide to put North Somerset on your list.

Bristol Airport 

You can get into the drop off zone with your moho. Although you have to park across 2 parking spaces, getting in and out was doable. £1 for 10 mins.  For ease, there are a number of lay-bys about 10 minutes away, where you can pull in to wait for flight arrivals. This makes it slightly easier than waiting around in an expensive car park or trying to get into the short stay parking areas, which have limited parking options for 7.5m+ vans.

Stanton Drew – Druids Arms Inn – Motorhome Pub stopover

One of the things we have enjoyed about coming back to UK is experiencing the Pub Stopover scheme. I guess similar to France Passion, it has been lovely to camp out at a public establishment and enjoy their local tipple. The Druids Arms didn’t disappoint with its charming stone village houses, Standing Stones and narrow roads, there was plenty of charm. The car park is just past the pub on the left and is up on the upper tier. Although the ground is on a bit of a slope, nothing that a set of chocks won’t resolve. Talking to the owner, they have big plans to develop the car park to make it more attractive to motorhome visitors. For the moment, you are blessed with great views across the fields with the sound of church bells to gently rouse you in the morning and the prospect of fresh eggs from the hens all named after the pub’s staff. We arrived too late to sample their food, although I did promise that we would give them a great plug here in return for our free night’s stay. For more details click HERE.  Their co-ordinates are 51.365715  -2.579927

Bath Marina Campsite – A4 Bath

Bath is one of the most alluring Spa towns I know and it draws me back time and time again without hesitation. Its blend of history, architecture and natural beauty entice the humbled tourist to sample its offerings. And let’s not forget the shopping that presents unique boutiques as well as your brand name shops.  And what better way to enjoy Bath’s deliciousness than by stopping overnight at the Bath Marina Campsite. It is only 2 miles from Bath on the A4, which you can reach either on foot, by bike on the adjacent canal or by one of the many buses that pass by on the main road. For £2.50 you will arrive in the hub of Bath ready to walk your socks off.

The campsite is a fairly large site with 64 pitches and is open all year round, although I would advise booking, as it was really busy when we arrived. Large hard-standing pitches are available at a price of £28.40 per night (prices quoted at April 2018 for a 7.5m van plus two adults.) Each avenue of pitches has its own drinking water station and grey waste dump and the shower facilities, whilst look very basic are clean and efficient. Sometimes it is just worth paying a price for the location and accessibility. Parking in large towns and cities is so difficult for us motorhomies that having somewhere like the Bath Marina site is a bonus.

You can find out more by contacting them through their website at Bath Marina Campsite. Their co-ordinates are 51.388. -2.403617

Bath Spa

Iconic Bath where you can learn, discover, shop, eat, people watch, walk and rejuvenate. So many appeals to the mind, body and spirit. If it’s a walk around the historical studded town; The Pump Rooms with its World Heritage status shows off the most ancient religious spas of Northern Europe or perhaps Bath’s Cathedral would please you. The Royal Crescent will stop you in your tracks and through every street you will get a sense of history balanced with an elegant modern face that honours its past.

If you fancy being more in the now than the past then why not indulge in a spot of rest and relaxation. Bath’s natural thermal springs make this town a focal point for well-being and no better a place to visit than the modern twist on Roman baths at the Thermae Spa. This 21st Century building has history at its heart together with your well-being on their agenda. With two hour slots available you can enjoy three floors of relaxation delights; from an outdoor rooftop pool that overlooks Bath’s historical roofline to a heady bath in the basement with its lazy river flow that makes you feel weightless; or may be the Wellness Suite that gives you diverse range of multi-sensory experiences.  Why not commit to some personal well-being and check out this luxurious Spa although watch out for weekends when it is incredibly busy and you will have to share the space! Check out their website for more information; Thermae Bath Spa

Chew Valley Lakes

The home of Yeo Yoghurt this stunning rolling countryside is full of Somerset sumptuousness. Whilst the roads are narrow in places and tractors here are kings of the road or so they think. So driving with caution is necessary for your sanity to stay in tact. After leaving Bath, a trip to the Chew Valley Lakes is more than worthwhile. Although there looks to be no camping opportunities, for a day-time stopover, the Picnic areas on the lake are well worth a visit. Parking isn’t easy for motorhomes as you can see from the picture, although there are larger spots on the coach parking area if it’s too busy to park lengthways. 

The Chew Valley Lake is the 5th largest in UK and is renowned for great fishing. To park in the official car parks is £2 all day.

So as I look back at my Somerset road-trip I can feel proud of my solo efforts and joy of not only being able to share our home with my bestie, also being able to get to see a stunning part of the country. A triumph for my solo confidence and an elevation in my capabilities. And yet again proof that we can overcome our fears as they are only hidden in our minds and are so often not reality. Step out of your comfort zone and surprise yourself in how easy and joyful life can be. 

The journey back to Blighty

The journey back to Blighty

Here we are half way through our trip back to Blighty and I felt inspired to write down my thoughts as we navigate our way through this strange period of our nomadic lives.

Operation UK, as we have lovingly called it, has been a journey full of the usual texture and colour that we have come to expect from our adventurous lives. Although I must admit as we prepared for our temporary homecoming, it had an odd hue of grey around the edges as I struggled to get my head – and my heart around going back.

As I reflect back to December, when our plans became more real, I remember the deep sense of dread which seems to be a recurring pattern when we consider a trip back to UK. It’s a really strange sensation as I picture ‘the return’ which fills me with uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve never been quite sure what has driven this feeling for my homeland. Although I embrace it, as I have every other emotional response we’ve had since we hit the road two years ago.

Our first trip back was Christmas 2016 for a mere three weeks and it was a whirlwind visit to spend precious time with friends and family. As I recall, this ‘return’ had a more intense fear to it, as we had only intended to travel for a gap-year whilst we sold some property, although such was our love for our new lives that we decided to keep going. So this trip was filled with an anxiety that played out some very strange scenarios for me;

Would we want to  stay? 

Would we harbour deep-seated regrets for all we had left behind? 

Would there be a surprising desire to return to our roots and bricks and mortar?  

I think it was the anticipation of these questions and doubts that nibbled away on the inside of my ego.  Although thankfully none of them came to fruition and with a fervour in our heels, we hopped, skipped and jumped our way back to our new European homeland to seek out more life-enriching experiences.  Our trip had been affirming, comforting and full of lovely reconnections, yet nothing held us back from the happiness we have found as nomads.

So you could be forgiven for thinking that having done it once I could come back to UK with a certain degree of confidence in my soul. Although this latest trip was for longer…. This could be up to three months! How would I cope with that and what unexpected nuances would influence our travelling landscape?

Just before we set out on our epic route back through France, to quote the famed Mr King, ‘I had a dream’…  Said dream gave me an absolute clarity about our trip to UK and the role it played in our lives today and tomorrow. It wasn’t so much a ‘going back’ as an opportunity to consolidate a base on which more years of travel could be built on. That realisation brought me a resounding peace and in a flash of that waking moment, I said goodbye to dread and hello to positive purpose.

So often during the course of the last two years I have been reminded of my work as a life coach and the insights that clients and I create to heal their suffering. And here was yet another lovely lesson from my own story book… When things look difficult or tricky, hard or upsetting, then explore whether, within its fabric, is a positive purpose – a reason that that situation, interaction or person is in your life. Once we see this perspective, it makes our handling of it so much easier.

Added to this, an important conversation with a friend gave me the ‘ah-ha’ I sought to the source of my ‘RETURNING’ fear.  Because we decided to swap our corporate stress for a more fulfilling sense of happiness, adventure and simplicity, coming back had the shadow of historical ghosts that lined up ready to suck me back into the nightmare of our previous lives.  My fear was more about what the UK represented for me; a place where for too many years we struggled with stress, mental fatigue and people-pleasing traits that called the shots and that sent our lives into a seemingly uncontrollable spiral. A place that we chose to leave behind and one that we never want to return to, having found the enriching life of nomads.

With clarity of heart and mind we stepped on snowy UK shores with a determination that continues to drive us even into our second month. What was more interesting was that our arrival was exactly two years to the day that we had left for European shores. Was that a strange twist of fate or merely a co-incidence? I’ll leave this to your own imagination, as to ponder on its significance seems futile for us at this point. Perhaps it will become clearer at another junction of our lives, although for now we’ll put it down to co-incidence.

Intent on meaningful connections, productive selling, even more positive purchasing and a little milestone Birthday, we initiated our operation with the strategic character of a battle-field.  A busy month has had our feet not even touching the ground and our to-do-list reducing day by day.

With a bit of an April respite as we housesit back on home turf in Taunton, a place that we proudly called home for four years, we smile at the way we have reacted to being back on the farm where it all started. Our old house next-door is now occupied by new tenants and as they make it their home, our memories strangely don’t feature in any wistful recollections. We simply feel grateful for all that was and all that is right now. Having this stationery sojourn feels comforting and known as we complete the next set of tasks from our list.

One month on, we are making excellent progress on the financial foundation and the social reconnections are being beautifully restored and whilst we sit here on a wet and grey UK day feeling just a bit jaded from our exploits, we know that we are doing well and navigating our intense journey with teamwork. We must though during this next phase of housesitting, allow our bodies (and our livers if we’re honest), take a rest and whilst it is important to see all our lovely friends and family, we must not to fall foul to the old people-pleasing beasts that lurk in the wings of our life’s stage. We must ensure that we continue to put our well-being first so that we may live our lives with the same energy we have up until this point.

And don’t get me wrong, my wanderlust is rising up from my feet with the eagerness of wild horses ready to run through wilderness, although for now this is not where we are meant to be. Our travels will resume soon and in fact there is plenty of adventure to be had in this phase of our lives. It is just shaped by a purposeful need to get our house in order so that we may move forward with greater certainty and confidence.

What will the next chapter bring? That we don’t know, although what we do realise is that with our partnership, love and resilience we can navigate it all with the deftness of a coursing river.