Saturday, June 27, 2009


The sleeping pill finally started wearing off at about 06:00 just in time for breakfast and the landing at 07:00. When we got to immigration there was a queue of at least 200 people waiting patiently to be processed which doesn't go down well after a night of broken sleep. I thought that either the computers were off-line or there weren't enough staff on duty but this time I can't fault the airports company or the immigration authorities; it was the passengers themselves that were causing the queues. Instead of looking at all the available immigration agents they would wait for one of the 5 or 6 that were directly in front of them to become available leaving the remaining 10 totally under-utilised and it wasn't as if there wasn't electronic indicators to indicate when the next passenger could come forward; it was plain stupidity on behalf of the passengers.

We moved on through to the baggage claim area and waited and waited until the bags eventually came through after about 30 minutes. When the one arrived the others all arrived at the same time and then it was simply a walk out the entrance of the airport and Kim picked us up from there. The end of a holiday and the start of normal life again. I can't believe that it has gone so quickly.

I know that there have been a number of people who have been following our travels around Europe so I hope that you have enjoyed the trip with us and some of the experiences that we have had. I also need to thank my editor, Caron, and refer any complaints about punctuation, grammar and anything else people would like to complain about to her. After managing to write up our experiences I think I may be taking a short break of a week or two before starting blogging again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

We have lift off

Caron had arranged to have lunch with one of her customers in the UK so we thought that we had the morning free but before we knew it, it was time to go so we did a final sweep of the house to make sure that we hadn't left anything behind and jumped in the ice-cream van for the last journey and completely forgot to check that the back doors of the van were closed. They weren't and it was only after we had done about 30km that a car pulled up next to us on the motorway and told us that the doors were open. We were on the M25 which is akin to saying that one is in a parking lot which moves occasionally so Caron jumped out and closed them noting that our two suit cases were missing. There wasn't anything of great value in them but we couldn't believe that we had been stupid enough to leave the doors open. 3 months of camping and 14500 kilometres of driving (@6.5l/100km and a cost of about 900EUR) and we lose our first items on the way to the airport on the way home. Anyway there wasn't anything we could do about it other than feel like complete idiots; we didn't have time to go back and look and even if we did, the chances of actually finding them were minimal so we just wrote it off to stupidity.

Lunch was very enjoyable and passed far too quickly. Neil and Cathy could barely hide their amusement at what we had managed to do with our baggage. Come to think of it, once we had got over that 'how could I have been so stupid' feeling there is a definitely a lot of humour in the situation.

We moved back onto the M25 parking lot and took 2 hours to get to Heathrow and had just parked when John phoned to politely inquire if we were perhaps missing two pieces of maroon luggage. The bags had fallen out in front of his neighbours house so now we have the luggage located but we have to work out a way of getting them back to South Africa.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow has a bit of a jinxed existence because there always seems to be something going wrong but we checked in and went through the security, which is getting just a tad ridiculous, and went to wait in the duty free without a problem. I left Caron in front of a TV and went looking for some kind of a toy because, thus far, Caron has been the happy recipient of all the souvenirs. Not that there are a lot of them but it would be nice to have at least one. This trip just isn't mine for souvenirs and I found a another great one for Caron but nothing for me. She is now the proud owner of a Sony eBook reader; something I have been trying for ages to get her mostly because of enlightened self interest. Each eBook that she reads means one less dead tree cluttering up our house and no pressure to build yet more bookcases. To get to our boarding ramp we had to go via tube to section B, they have two tubes in case one breaks down. They should have had three because both of them had broken down so we ended up walking all the way to section B. The jinx continues!

The flight back was completely full and Caron and I ended up sitting behind each other so i asked the person next to me if he would mind swapping with Caron. Grumble, grumble, 'this always happens to me!', long face but he kindly did the swap.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Out and about in the UK

By the time we had woken up both Rhys and John had gone to work. Rhys leaves at 05:00 and John at 06:30 so it wasn't any surprise that we missed both of them. The only thing that we really had to do was to put the remaining money from our trip, not a whole lot as one can imagine, into an account. Doesn't sound too difficult but then I hadn't counted on the British way of banking which is especially difficult at the moment. The first bank we approached had effectively bought the actual bank into whose accounts we wanted to deposit but they couldn't help us but they were very helpful and pointed us across the way to the 'bought bank'. After waiting for some time in the queue we were eventually helped but the teller didn't know what to do because the account numbers, although correct, weren't compatible with his system. He phoned up his call desk for some help and they answered the call but refused to speak to him; 3 times in a row. Eventually we were holding up other customers so we were palmed off to a supervisor who also tried only to find out that in order to do a deposit we would have to make a deposit into a competing banks account and then it would arrive at the correct bank and into the correct account. This sounds very backwards to me but when we went to the competitor they didn't blink and promptly performed the transaction. I'm curious as to whether the money will actually arrive!

Having completed the only thing we had to do during the morning we went for coffee and I was halfway through coffee when I realised that we were a few minutes over the hour for the 'pay and display' parking so I rushed back to feed the meter only to find that the meter maid had beaten me to it. A 60GBP fine for 10 minutes saw an instantaneous rise in the blood pressure so I went back finished my coffee and then drove out thinking of how I could exact revenge. While we were driving out Caron happened to notice that the fine had been issued during the validity period of the pay and display ticket so the meter maid hadn't actually even looked at it, he had just issued a fine. On the way out we collared another meter maid who explained what we needed to do to get it rescinded which we proceeded to do. Phew, that was 60GBP close!

During the afternoon we drove around to Epsom Downs where Lane, Williams daughter, lives and had afternoon tea with her and her two children, anneke and william. We thoroughly enjoyed the visit and before we knew it, we had to rush back to John and Julies for supper. We were going to go out but everyone was quite knackered so we ended up just having some take-aways at home which turned out to be much better than expected. The TV happened to be on when the first reports started coming through that MJ had died which was really bad news for Julie because there were 50 concerts coming up in which she was involved that now wouldn't be taking place.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

London, here we come!

Eish! Our holiday is all but dead, it feels like there is little left but to get on the plane and fly back home. Both Caron and I were a little quiet and introspective during the drive up to London.

The day started off a bit awkwardly because the reception was still closed at 8:30 and we were told that it would only open at 10:30 which was far too late to make it to the chunnel on time. Fortunately they didn't give us too much trouble and opened up especially for us and with that done, it was only a couple of hours before we found ourselves at Calais. We checked in, bought some coffee and tried to spend our last few remaining euros before driving onto the train. We had just a little bit of excitement when we went through passport control because as of 1 July all South Africans have to have visas in order to enter the UK. Even though we should have been fine, there is always a chance that they have changed the rules or we were told an incorrect date which would have been a real problem. As it turned out we needn't have worried. An hour later we emerged into the English sunshine and having to remember that one has to drive on the left. It took some getting used to, much more than I would have expected.

We arrived at John and Julies at about midday and spent the afternoon unpacking and repacking everything ready to go into the plane on Friday. Not a whole lot else to write about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Although it sounds fancy to prononounce Brugges as 'brooge' it should actually be pronounced as 'brug' as in Afrikaans for bridge with an extra 'ge' tacked on the end. We have been told by absolutely everyone that Brugge is awesome so we went into the day with high expectations and expecting to be disappointed but our expectations were vindicated; it really is a very photogenic town. A sort of Venice without the decay!

Brugge has been sensible about parking and there are several large multi-storey car parks to choose from so that was our first destination and from there we walked to the town square which looks like below.

We walked over to the information centre and then had coffee at a small cafe off the main thoroughfare where the waiter was a spitting image of my ex brother-in-law. Thereafter we took a canal boat trip which we thoroughly enjoyed in technicolour language. First Flemish then English followed by French, we could pretty much get the gist of it from the Flemish and then get a confirmation in English.

The town planners have sensibly refrained from the temptation to build high-rise buildings which means that the town itself has kept it's quaintness intact so it was a little bit of a surprise to find a permanent exhibition of Salvador Dali's paintings, drawings and scupture housed in the town hall. We missed seeing the bulk of Dali's work at the Dali Museum in Spain because we were a little pressed for time (can one believe it in a 3 month journey) at that particular point so I was really please to be able to take in some here. To say that Dali flirted with the boundary between art and pornography would not be true; he obliterated it entirely. There is something quite peculiar psychologically about purposefully drawing, in great detail, one's wife's genitals for public consumption. Not only that but Gala, his wife, willingly went along with it so I choose to conclude that they, both of them, were simply trying to shock the public. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that there is somehow a difference between the nameless pornography available in every fuel station shop and what Dali and Gala did. One lacks, due to its anonymity, a persona whereas Dali and Gala, specifically because it is not anonymous, somehow has persona.

We had to have some lunch to get over Dali's paintings before we decided to finish the day by going to the Groeninge Museum which was a great disappointment. They have a special exhibition on about 'Charles the Bold' so we missed almost all the paintings by the Flemish masters which, we were assured, were still on display. All one of them!

So it was a little bit of a sour taste in the mouth that we bid our farewell to Brugge and have to agree with everyone who recommended it that it really is worthwhile making the effort to go and see it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Farewell to Eindhoven, hello Zeebrugge

We had a leisurely start to the morning because we actually didn't have too far to travel and said our fond farewells to the Whitwards and we hope to see them the next time that they're in South Africa which isn't too far in the future. I forgot to get a photograph of the whole Whitward clan so I think that I'm going to be in trouble when I get back. The drive was very uneventful other than mabel getting us lost in Ghent for about 20 minutes. We were actually wanting to camp in Brugge but there are no campsites in Brugge and the one's that used to exist have closed down so we ended up in a campsite south of Zeebrugge which proved to be a very viable alternative.

The afternoon was spent lounging around and reading, I've become hooked by a novel and I have to finish it before I can continue with life. Nevertheless, at about 18:00 Caron dragged me out of my cave to go and have a look at the seaside; it looks just like Brighton according to Caron.

There are hundreds of wooden huts on the beach which look like changeing rooms but since they have names on them I suspect that some people block book them and then rent them out piecemeal; how else would a 'beach' attract the name of 'Jerome'?

Back at the campsite we had pasta and pesto for supper before a nice long hot shower and then lights out. Of course the sun only actually goes down after 22:00 and even Caron is starting to complain that this is just too much daylight; the days ought to get shorter. Well, in a few days time her wish will become reality when we land in Johannesburg in the middle of winter when they have the shortest of their days.

We are starting to get into "last time we'll do this more" and the larder is starting to look a bit bare as we run everything down for when we arrive in the UK. It does lead to some unusual meals but so far we have avoided having anything like sardines and condensed milk.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

To Heusden and back

While Nita was watching Sabine doing ballet, Bill, Caron and myself headed out to Heusden which is a fortified village; one of 13 in Holland. Heusden is besides the Maas river and the fortifications take the form of several alternating rings of canal and earthen walls set in the same pattern as that of the castle in Cape Town. On the way there we took several detours due to roadworks, it seems that the cold weather in winter really plays havoc with the road system here and they need to effect repairs every summer depending on how severe the previous winter was. Last winter was very cold so there are road works going on all over the place.

Arriving at Heusden we happened to get really lucky and hit it on the one weekend that, every 18 months, the whole town dresses up and puts on a medieval pageant. Bill was totally taken by surprise, he's been here at least 20 times with various visitors and never seen it so it turned out to be a bit of a novelty for Bill as well.

The town had it's militia doing exercises which, if this had been real life, would have meant that the town was doomed. It was more like organised rabble rather than an actual militia. We also had the canon being fired as well as volleys of musket fire. I have to admit that it was quite difficult to remember to click the shutter while being attacked by the pressure wave generated by the gun. I wonder if they actually hit whatever they were aiming for, there's probably some rabbit out there thinking that using a canon just isn't fair!

On our way to the harbour we walked past the foot of one of the the windmills and had to go around the front where the blades were moving. It was perfectly safe but it really didn't look that safe and it wasn't so easy to nonchalantly walk though the dodgy bit, that is to say we all bent double and gapped it as quickly as we could. It took a bit of time for Caron to join us on the other side.

The medieval harbour was tiny but it had what would have been fishing boats moored in it as well as some larger freight carriers. We had some lunch at the restaurant looking over the harbour and in spite of our agreement, Bill tried several times to pay the bill but fortunately Caron was wide awake and neatly intercepted it. It wasn't that much as lunches go but it seemed to break the ice a bit and Bill was far more willing to let us pay for little things afterwards.

While we were busy with lunch there was a mock trial conducted and the two villains thrown into the water which can only be described as freezing. It may be summer here but the water is still very cold.

From lunch we wandered around looking at all the townspeople who had been commandeered into acting as urchins or women of easy virtue or blacksmiths or some other occupation that would have been relevant.

There were even a couple of ensembles, Bills impression was that there were more children in Heusden that could play the violin (sort of) than in the whole of Eindhoven. Methinks that he was joking!

Walking past a herring merchant Bill and I couldn't resist some more haring eaten in the traditional way. The fishmonger was preparing the fish right in front of us and it literally takes him about 30 seconds to gut, behead, skin and debone the fish ready for eating; it was quite amazing to watch.
I really enjoyed getting to know Bill because, strange as it may seem, this is the first time that I have ever actually spent any real time with him. The similarities between him and me are quite remarkable, even our handwriting looks vaguely similar; I feel a bit like a quieter more reserved version of him in a lot of ways.

We went home and changed to go out to a favourite restaurant of Bill and Nita's which just happens to have a Michelin star, I'm not 100% sure exactly what that means but it seems to be a big thing and the restaurant was certainly a cut above anything I've ever been to and I've been to some pretty good restaurants. The meal consisted of seven or eight courses but each course isn't more than a snack so by the end of the evening one hasn't got the "Oh No! I've overeaten again" feeling, just pleasantly full. Not all the courses were fantastic but some of them were just amazing; if the wok last night and this one are representative of the average quality of restaurants, South African restaurants are in the dark ages. I suspect that these are probably above average though, even for here. The topics of discussion ranged from business to politics to culture, religion and technology and even periodically touched on family life and I loved it. I think that of everything that I miss, this is what I missed most during our 3 months away; the interaction with people and discussion of ideas. It's like we have been living in a little cocoon for 3 months and I've suddenly been let out to the real world again. Pumpkin hour came and went which, for us, is a bit of novelty these days and we finally went to sleep at about 00:30 or 01:00. I don't know what the final bill was but I am sure it was VERY expensive, think several hundreds of euros; needless to say I didn't fight Bill on this one and just graciously accepted his generosity!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eindhoven and the back of the beyond

I met Jeroen at 09:30 and we left for what turned out be a 50km real ride. Holland, since it doesn't have any real mountains, makes up for this by having no downhills and therefore no places where one can get a bit of a rest before the next spurt of energy. This makes for a really hard ride, not because of the terrain, but simply because there just isn't a break, any break. The ride itself was great fun in and around the forests because it is slightly technical but not so much so that one really needs to take it very slowly. We passed many people out rowing, riding or running and I was surprised at how quickly one could get out of the city and into the countryside.

On the way back we climbed the one and only mountain around, an old rubbish dump which has been covered with soil and grass and vegetation encouraged to grow on it so it doesn't look unsightly. We made it back to Bill and Nitas in time for lunch and before we knew it, it was time for the first test between the Lions and the Springboks which we have been looking forward to since it was our first taste of rugby for over 3 months. Although the Boks won, it was the Lions that looked the more dangerous and it had Bill on the edge of his seat because he has an English son-in-law who, he knew, would *have* to phone to rub some salt in if the Lions won. Not that Bill refrained from doing likewise! Nothing like a little family niggle to keep relationships going. We had a bottle of real champagne to celebrate which went down a treat!

To celebrate the win we all went out to a local chinese restaurant which was fantastic; we could really do with a couple of these back in South Africa. It wasn't only the food that was great, the service was good, relaxed and friendly - a restaurant I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. Duelling Bill about paying for the meal is like duelling Barry because they're both very generous and both very forceful so we made an accommodation that he would pay for the wok and I would pay for lunch tomorrow.

I was glad to get to bed because the the ride, although only a few hours long, had drained me but it's a great feeling to go to bed really tired and having had a great meal.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Driving down to Eindhoven

We had some time on our hands so we decided to drive a little way up the eastern edge of Ijslmeer just to see what there is and had a really enjoyable detour. There isn't a whole lot there but we got to drive on top of the dyke and look at the yachts sailing on Ijslmeer, the wind was pumping so Caron was very happy to be on dry land.

Windmills have been synonymous with Holland for a long time but during our trip a new kind of windmill has made it's presence felt and are a common feature on the skyline.

Driving past a lock through the dyke I had to take a photograph to try and show what a substantial drop there was between Ijslmeer and the canals; we found out later that it was 2.6m below sea level. That is quite a bit of water waiting to flow into Holland. Apparently, water is continuously being pumped out because if it isn't, it will just seep back in even though a dyke hasn't been breached. A power failure here would be a real national disaster.

Once we had turned off we set course for Eindhoven but only after we had fortified ourselves with an 'Uitsmuiter' at a very nice roadside restaurant. The road down to Eindhoven lived up to it's reputation, we found out later, of having traffic jams pretty much the whole way. It was only the second time that we have actually been in a real traffic jam, the first having been in Naples.

Thanks to mabel finding Bill and Nita's place was dead easy and we received a warm welcome from Bill and Nita and it wasn't too long before we were up and off to go out for supper to Sally-Anne and Jeroen and their two children, Sabine and Max. This was where I was introduced to a great dutch tradition of eating raw fish, 'haring'. The dutch word for herring, it was delicious but I couldn't get Caron to have any, much to my disappointment. The way one eats it is to grab it by it's slimy tail and to lower it into one's mouth head first and bite off a mouthful, although this sounds a bit odd it really is delicious. It has thankfully been beheaded, gutted and skinnned just in case you were thinking that one ate the head first.
We had a great meal before retiring fat and happy to real beds after a real bath. Not like the one in the campground in Amsterdam which turned off after 5 minutes. It turns out that Jeroen also rides so we have agreed to go for a bit of a ride tomorrow which I am really looking forward to.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Zaanse Schans

We couldn't really say that we had been to Holland without actually seeing a windmill and at least some dykes and canals. The canals in Amsterdam don't count; they're more like Venice comes to northern europe. Thus we found ourselves at Zaanse Schans which turned out to be a fascinating day. They have restored to working order a half dozen windmills so we were able to go in and atctually see one in action.

The one we chose to go in to see happened to be a manufacturer of pigments for oil paints but there were others that produced oil or lumber. I found it fascinating to see how they actually worked because most of the windmill is made of wood including the gears and actually seeing it operating one got a feeling of just how much power was actually derived from the wind. At one stage there were 1000 windmills in Zaanse Schans and it was considered to be a major industrial centre.

We wandered around a bit and had a bite to eat at real tourist prices. 9EUR for a pancake was just a little over the top so we contented ourselves with a cup of coffee and some excellent apple pie. I have been putting off having Dutch cheese for some unknown reason and they had a cheese factory where I could taste a whole variety and I have to say that my reluctance was misplaced; they were quite delicious. Caron came down with a headache about an hour later so we suspect that there is some food die used in their manufacture but other than this, they really tasted great.

The road bridge over from the main road was undergoing repairs so we had to use a ferry and in boarding it Caron accidentally stepped in front of a woman on her bicycle. Realising this, she turned around and apologised to which the response was "You should be!". Caron was so taken aback by the rudeness that she was speechless; the Dutch, it seems, are not renown for their politeness.

The tiny shed on the right is the outhouse and it discharges straight into the canal. Methinks that Holland must have hummed a fair deal when these were common and in use. Not the sort of water one would like to fall into.

We moved on north to see the afsluitdijk between north holland and friesland. It is about 30km long and keeps the north sea from flooding holland and was built pretty much by hand during the 1930's. During the last two years of it's construction there were 5000 labourers working on it every day and seeing the size of it, one can understand why. It's a huge amount of earthworks and it looks like the water level inland is at least a metre below that of the north sea.

This is actually the sea wall near Den Helder but it looks about the same size and to finish the day off I caught the Dutch showing everyone else how one ought to climb hills. Close your eyes and get someone else to push!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Asterdam Day 2

We rose slowly, me trying time reading 'Anathem' which started out quite slow but is building up a good head of steam. The campsite has it's own flock of ducks which go about begging from campers; these are the two youngest of the beggars.

They get quite precosious and one has to be careful to keep the tent door closed otherwise they would be inside having a gander at our food.

We caught the graffiti train into Amsterdam and then the same tram as yesterday but got off at the next stop because I wanted to go and have a look at the Van Gogh museum. Caron wasn't particularly keen so she went and found a coffee shop while I ambled around. I loved it, there is something about his work which I really like. I think that it is the simplicity and the colours because it certainly isn't his ability with perspective. Anyway, whatever it is or was I really enjoyed seeing so many and seeing his development over the 10 years or so that he painted.

The other gallery that I wanted to see was the FOAM gallery where, the advertising said, I could see examples of great phtographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson but the advertising was misleading (isn't it always; it must be the aim of advertisers that they get it right so often; else they're just incompetent) and I ended up seeing an exhibition of a South African artist. All the way to Amsterdam to see pictures taken not 20km from where I live. 7.50EUR of not funny! Once again, Caron waited patiently outside the gallery but this time not for so long.

We managed to find a coffee company which had free internet as long as you bought some coffee; we didn't need any second invitation and spent a good hour and a half posting and catching up with email. This is the kind of place I could get used to, we sat at a window and watched the boats going up and down the canal while we each downloaded email and sorted our internet lives out.

Our final outing for the day was to go on a cruise around the canals which takes about an hour and although it is totally canned, touristy and the driver wasn't so hot at getting around some corners, it was definitely worthwhile.

We also got to see Heerengracht street from the water instead of on the land. At the end of the tour the canned announcement made a plea for a tip for the captain for treating us all so well but the plea was nullified by the captain driving into a dock about 30 seconds later so, no tip. Anyway, what is the captain doing with a British accent.

Back home I dived back into Anathem in between supper and coffee and watching three teenage english girls setting up camp a little way off complete with two cases of beer. People seem to drink quite a bit here.

Didn't finish Anathem but I'm hopeful for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


It's raining again so it took us a while to pluck up our courage to venture outside. I really love the sound of the rain on the tent from inside of the tent; from outside the tent I don't find it anywhere near as pleasant. Not knowing what the weather is doing is a bit of a pain so we tend to just ignore it and get on with whatever we need to; this usually works out fine as it did today.

After buying our metro tickets 11.50EUR for 48hours each we took the metro in to Amsterdam central going past some pretty non-descript, depressing housing estates on the way. First stop for us was the Rijksmuseum which is being renovated so there were only a couple of hundred exhibits being shown but it turned out quite well being only shown the cream of the crop as it were. Both Caron and I have been amazed at the Rembrandt's as well as the Vermeer's; they are really quite exceptional. The museum doesn't only contain art but other exhibits and it we enjoyed getting a bit of background on Dutch history which we can now, sort of, fit together with the rest of the European history.

Feeling a bit peckish we had a small bite to eat at the Bulldog pub which Caron visited the first time she was here more than 20 years ago. It's actually more than just a pub because it also houses a dope smoking den and the smell of dope wafts up to where we were eating every now and then. A couple sat down in front of us and lit up joints because it isn't illegal to use drugs here. It's not entirely a free-for-all because one can only buy a limited amount and one can't just smoke anywhere and there is an age limit so there seems to be a nice balance between freedom and rules - at least as far as drugs are concerned. Walking back towards the station we came across the store below.

I think that one of the cigar and whisky evenings we have on a monthly basis we should change the format slightly and have a cannabis and champagne evening!

My father's comment regarding Dutch architecture came to mind when looking around at the canals around Heernegracht street; what architecture?

And to add insult to injury, there has been some decidedly dodgy foundation laying. If something strikes you as odd in the following photographs, it's not your eyes playing tricks on you; the buildings really are skew.

It's amazing that they are still standing.

Going further towards the station we wandered up and down the red-light district which was very different and not entirely what I had expected. In amongst all the sex shops, live shows and prostitutes there are plain ordinary shops like a corner cafe or a classical music school. The prostitutes rent little rooms like a cupboard and then parade in them waiting for customers to ring their bell. Right in the middle of the red-light district is a church called oude-kerk and there are prostitutes not 5m away from it's walls; a bit ironic I would say. We caught up with mellman having a peek into one of the windows; note the reflection!

Like drugs, there seem to be a fair number of rules about the sex trade so while it is legal it isn't welcome anywhere other than in the red-light district. Seems pretty sensible to me.

On a lighter note, walking along the canals there was a long line of small dinghys tied up with this in what would have been a dinghy parking bay.

Last visit of the day was to the 'sex museum' which was a bit of an eye-opener to put it mildly - not for the faint of heart but it elicited loads of nervous giggles from most of the people, both men and women, who visited it. Unfortunately, Caron, who normally has a photographic memory, swears that she can't remember anything! Damn!

From there it was back on the metro and we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and reading again; I could really get used to this!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The long drive to Amsterdam

Well, what do you know; it was raining cats and dogs again! That means that it must be travel day. Neither of us slept really well last night, I don't know why but we just don't sleep well in hotels, so we were a little frazzled around the edges when we left. We didn't have coffee or breakfast at the hotel mainly because their coffee was so awful that I refuse to knowingly punish my body by subjecting it to that stuff; I can't even call it coffee.

The first hour was marked by the swish of the wiper blades and the occasional snore from my comatose passenger. The second hour, the rain abated so all I had to listen to was the occasional snore. Just before we went over the French/Belgian border we stopped at a onestop which didn't looks so great but we ordered the coffee and some croissants which were awesome; really fresh croissants with good coffee. I think that sometimes one's future expectations of an event have a lot to do with the remembered experience of that same event in an inverse sort of way.

Driving straight through Belgium our subjective experience was that Belgium really needs to get it's act together; it's roads are worse than South Africa's and everything is grimy. Some of the signboards along the motorways are so covered with industrial grime that one can hardly read them at all so moving over the border and into Holland was a welcome change. The trip, on the whole, was quite uneventful and we arrived at a very nice campsite called Gaasperplaas which looks like below.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent reading, drinking wine and chilling because I didn't feel like actually doing any sightseeing after driving the 500km from Rheims to Amsterdam.

We did however find what happened to one of the mosquitoes that had been bugging Caron while she was reading in the black forest ...

... killed by Anathem!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Champagne region

My general opinion of Champagne to date has been formed, mostly, by the 'sparkling wine' we get in South Africa and I am very happy to have found that real 'champagne' is nothing like what I've had before; it was delicious and I'm thankful that we're flying back and have a weight allowance because otherwise Caron would have bankrupted us.

The morning didn't start so well because some miserable revellers decided to have motorbike races or something at 01:00 so it was a very broken and restless night for both of us. The first order of the day was to get some real coffee down our throats, the French may be experts in all sorts of food but coffee is not one of them. Generally the standard of the coffee in France is about that of Starbucks, that is to say; atrocious.

We drove to the start of the Champagne route and then found a very pleasant park where we made ourselves some coffee and had some breakfast. The scenery in Champagne is much like other wine growing regions except that one comes across names that one actually has heard of:


but other than that it looks like this.

We had a very pleasant amble through the small villages which make up the region before ending up in Epernay which seems to be like the spiritual home of Champagne. We walked up and down Avenue de Champagne admiring the houses of the great estates before we went to a Champagne bar. I wasn't expecting much and was really surprised at how good it actually tasted. There really is a difference between 'sparkling wine' and 'Champagne' and we ended up buying 3 bottles of the stuff which I am sure that we'll enjoy with someone although I can't quite see how our weight allowance is going to stretch to taking it home with us.

We had a bit of an afternoon brunch when we got back to Reims before retreating into the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon and the evening. When we walked into the restaurant the one elderly couple gave us such a look of contempt like we were cockroaches escaping from the kitchen. I'm not sure why, I think that they were just jealous that they were so wrinkly and we're not; at least by comparison. One of the nice things about hotels is that they normally come with good internet access so I'm actually completely up to date; until tomorrow that is!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beaune to Rheims

Something I forgot to mention about Nuit St. Georges was that many vineyards are owned by collectives, in one particular case a vineyard of 50 hectares is owned jointly by 83 individuals so each individual may own only a couple of rows of vines. Apparently, this is a result of inheritance laws and death duties.

We had an unusual day in that it didn't pour with rain while we drove but we are both getting to the end of drives feeling quite exhausted so I think that either the sheer amount of driving is finally getting to us or, more likely, the suspension of the ice-cream van is really poor and that is making us more tired than we ought to be. Either way, it isn't that far to go now and we'll be back in decent motorcars with real suspension and comfortable seats.

The rest areas on the side of the motorways are something that the french have really got right. There is a picnic area with toilets on a regular basis and, in addition to this, petrol stops which also have a picnic area attached. It was in one of these picnic areas that we stopped and had a lunch of fresh vegetables on boule-pain which was delicious.

The countryside is intensively farmed and it is just kilo after kilo of fields but, unlike South Africa, there is a wide variety of vegetables farmed. One just doesn't get the same crop for mile after mile like one does in the Free State.

Our last stop in France is Rheims which is in the Champagne region and doesn't have a campsite as far as we can tell from the rough guide, DK, AA camping guide and the GPS camping guide so we checked into a hotel for a couple of nights. We've been camping for about 2 weeks constantly so we're due a couple of nights to remind us why we don't like hotels.

The one we're at was built in 1920 at the same time as the whole of Reims was built after it was destroyed during the first world war, the French are still a little bit bitter and twisted about it, and has a very nice courtyard. The rooms are small but reasonable, the bathrooms good but for some reason Caron and I just don't feel comfortable in hotels.

We went for a walk down what I think is the main drag in the town which has been pedestrianised and there were loads of stag and hen parties going on. It has bars and restaurants all the way down and Caron and I engaged in a game of 'what do you want to eat? - I don't mind, what do you want to eat?' which seems to be our default when we get tired and don't want to actually make any decisions.

One of the unfortunates having to fish rubber ducks out of the fountain with a goldfish net which was way too small.

We eventually decided on a restaurant and Caron had a salmon taglietelle and I had a vegetarian hamburger. Yes, they actually had vegetarian on the menu, in France I must add. The world is changing!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Burgundy wine route

The real reason for coming to Beaune was that it is a major centre within the Burgundy wine region as well as that it is very close to Dijon which is interesting in it's own right.

Starting out in Dijon, we parked and walked into the centre of town past the notre dame.

Legend has it that if you touch the owls foot on the Notre Dame it will bring you luck so I just had to do it. The owl is actually one of the gargoyles and the locals seem to take the legend seriously; we saw other people who were clearly not tourists walk past and have a quick touch.

We happened to arrive on market day and had a great time wandering around buying the odd bag of cherries or some pate,roquefort but mostly just watching the life of the town. Looking at the vegetables on sale it isn't just tomatoes and beans, there are are 6 different varieties of tomato and 10 different varieties of beans not to mention untold types of exotic vegetables; Laurel would be in her element her. We stopped and had coffee and watched the passersby while we listened to some very good guitarists play at the restaurant next door. We even had a display of lewd behaviour from a drunk black guy; sometimes it is better to not know what people are saying. We later saw him sitting next to an ensemble of two violins and a cello who were exceptionally good; even I enjoyed them. The market day is like a mixture of a flea market and a fresh produce market and I spotted Caron taking an interest in a particular table; she just can't keep away from the shiny stuff!

Walking past a shop we had to stop and buy some ginger bread since Dijon is where ginger bread originated from; or so they claim. In the shop I spotted this which is, can you believe it, all mustard.

This photo illustrates a big difference between Europe and South Africa; whereas in South Africa one would find maybe 10 different mustards, here there is a choice of several hundred and it is a combination of having a market that is big enough to support hundreds of varieties as well as customers that have the sophistication to want the variety.

Although there weren't many tourists it wasn't as if there were none and we spotted a worrying sight; just imagine if it became a general trend that tour groups went around on these ...

Can you imagine this in Italy with hordes of Japanese trying to manage these at the same time as their cameras, what a menace!

On the way back to Beaune we took the old road which winds throught the vineyards of the region and stopped in the town of Nuit St. Georges and went to Dufouleur Pere & Fils for some wine tasting. It wasn't very busy so we had the proprietor to ourselves which was great because it was more like a converstation rather than a lecture. The grapes that they grow here are only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay although some blends are Pinot Noir mostly with some Pinot Blanc and Gamay (Beaujolais) thrown in for good measure. The red wines are light and fruity in comparison to the Cabernet wines of Bordeaux but I'm not sure that I prefer one or the other; I think I'll have to drink a lot more to decide.

Now, this is what a cellar should look like!

Back at the shack we spent the remainder of the afternoon reading, drinking wine and eating cheese or pate snacks; how very civilised! What a great day, it more or less made up for yesterday.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The road to Beaune

I tried to get Caron to write up todays blog but she refuses to put here literary skills on show so this will be a short day; nothing of interest happened!

We hopped on the highway and 300km later we hopped off the highway, set up camp and then went into town. I was feeling out of sorts and just wanted to sit quietly and read a book but instead we went to the wine museum (in the duc de Burgundy House) which was interesting even though it was all in french. We did a bit of shopping (bought a loaf of bread called a 'pain boule' - it looks like small rolls stuck together) before retiring to the campsite where I retreated to my corner of the campsite and demolished copious amounts of cheese and wine.

I felt better after a couple of hours but by then it was supper time so that was it, the end of another day.

Caron has reminded me that I missed out the part about going through the valley of Doubs and crossing the river of Doubs as well as passing the town of Dole. We looked hard for the fields of marijuana in the val de Doub but was unable to spot any, nor were we able to spot any inhabitants of Dole smoking the stuff since they haven't got anything else to do. Caron also reminded me, again, that I was a misery to live with today.

Crossing from Germany into France is quite a contrast, Germany feels very well to do and the houses and buildings and roads are all clean and in good repair; not so France. France is more like an artists study in elegant decay but not in the same way that Italy is; in Italy it really is just decay!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stuffin' about in Staufen

Rest day, well at least for Caron. Seeing as we don't have too much time pressure we decided to stay an extra day in Staufen. The campsite is pretty good, there is good internet access for a very reasonable 2EUR and the weather seems to be reasonable. Added to this I thought I would like to have a ride in the black forest and along the Rhine so Caron kindly bought a 1:50 000 map for me and I traced a route into the forest, around and down to the Rhine and then back to Staufen.

Starting off riding up the valley the first problem was to get onto one of the cycle paths which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be but after a couple of false starts following cycle-path signs and ending up going the wrong way I eventually found it. They have an annoying habit of disappearing or turning left or right with only the faintest, sometimes hidden, sign and you only know that you're not on it anymore when you haven't seen any signs for a few kilometres. I rode past several houses with wood piles like this; they don't bugger about with small stacks of wood for the winter here and this is before they really start laying it on before the onset of winter in August.

After about and hour of an hour and a half of continuous climbing the 800m high 15km long hill I found melmann lurking in the black forest. Jason, I can highly recommend the black forest for training.

Of course going down the hill on the other side was great fun but I was a little worried a couple of times that my tires were going to roll off the rims.

I stopped for a rest in the town just before the river called Neuenburg am Rhein where I had a cup of coffee, some cold tea and of course, a very tasty pastry. To keep my energy levels up; or so I told myself.

Continuing down to the Rhine itself, the path is flat, flat, flat and all just a little downhill and I could just see the Rhine itself through the trees every now and then.

I eventually came to a ford on the Rhine; hard to believe but there it was and this, ladies and gentlemen is the Rhine!

I promise you that I'm not lying, it genuinely is the Rhine. Of course most of the water that should be there is in the canal about 500m to the west but technically, that really is the Rhine. Up on the river bank was a whole lot of police cars next to a police caravan doing what police do best; having a lunch time braai! I thought that they may have been apprehending illegal immigrant frenchies but, no, that wasn't the case. Some things just don't change do they!

The ford was paved using cobblestones but the water has worn the cobbles and the grouting quite badly so it was quite tricky to ride on. I hope the photograph gives some idea what it was like.

It took me a while and I missed the path several times before I finally made it back, pretty knackered, to the campsite 5 hours after starting. I went past several cyclists who had decided that the cherries on the trees next to the cycle paths looked too good and had just stopped and were picking and eating away.

We had a quick lunch of tuna mayonnaise with lettuce, olives, cheese, green peppers and carrots. It was fantastic; we've both realised that we are really missing fresh fruit and vegetables. Just to make my mom feel better, the green pepper was about R8 for one.

The rest of the day we did pretty much nothing except relax and read. Caron has set a record by finishing Neil Stephensons' Anathema within a day. That is just short of 1000 pages in 24 hours less sleeping and eating of course. We had a quiet supper and went to bed quite early at about 21:00 listening to the faint sounds of an oompah band clattering away and the not so faint sounds of the trains going by about 3m from our tent. What is it with campgrounds and railway lines? They seem to put them next to each other far too often for it to be a co-incidence but fortunately the trains stop running at about 20:00 so it hasn't actually been a problem.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Although it sounds like a porn convention, it is not! Titisee is glacial lake in the middle of the black forest which is on the south western edge of Germany next to the border with France.

The lake is very picturesque but well on the beaten track for hordes of old age tour groups which really took some of the joy out of it.

Getting away from the tour groups we did an hours walk around in the black forest beside the lake before escaping but not before buying some really delicious chips from a fast food stall.

The black forest is a bit of a misnomer because it really isn't black; it's the same colour as most other forests and it also isn't a continuous forest. There are fields and towns everywhere with bits of forest separating them but the combination of fields, forest, hills and towns does make for a very pretty countryside.

The ice-cream vans list of ailments has grown by one. In addition to a VERY ANNOYING high pitched squeal when it is cold or wet and a very uncomfortable jerking motion when the gas isn't on hard; we now have the shakes every time we brake. We hope it doesn't deteriorate any more until we get back to England.

We had read about the biggest cuckoo clock in the world and decided to go and have a look even though it really is something that was created purely and simply to attract visitors. A relic! Having steeled myself for kitsch I got more than even I bargained for. The clock, below, is genuinely huge and built with wooden gears but the merchandising section through which one had to walk to get to the exit was much, much bigger and filled with the kitschest souvenirs that only the desperate would buy.

This wasn't the only annoying thing about the clock, there was an audio presentation which we paid but 1/4 of the way through a huge group of Dutch tourists filed in and the proprietor stopped ours and started one in Nederlands which had both of our noses instantly out of joint. She said that she would restart ours but never reappeared to do so and we eventually thought, fag it. That was when we had to walk through the merchandising section.

Driving back to Stauffen, this is what we saw.

Yup, our own little thunderstorm above our campsite. It just made Caron's day!

Going a little bit back, to Titisee; this is what happens when people have way too much time on their hands during the winter months, not to mention chainsaws.

How is this for a sign to a restaurant, need I say more!

I wonder if there is some kind of link between the severity of weather and innovation. Where the weather is really bleak there is little innovation because everyone is trying so hard just to stay alive; where the weather is uncomfortable but not quite so harsh people actually have time and motivation to try and think up ways to be more comfortable. Where the weather is benign, why innovate when one can live quite comfortably without any of this thinking and development. Just a thought.