Bad Köstritz

Our fiends H&G were keen to know what we’d like to do during our visit. One thing that sprang to my mind, that I thought may feature j=high in the German psyche, was a visit to a Biergarten. I think that got a little misinterpreted and we ended up booked onto a tour of a Brauerei [brewery]. Noto so bad though, eh?

Hmm, well, we our tour would apparently not start until 17:00. H&G kindly collected us from our Pahna campsite and drove us the 45 minutes or so to Bad Köstritz, where the Köstritzer brewery was located. H parked in the visitors area just after 15:00 and we sauntered through the baking heat to register. We were somewhat flabbergasted to learn that the tour and tasting would last about 2½ hrs. Strewth! Somewhat daunted, we walked out of the beer factory – it didn’t really look like a brewery in the traditional sense – to the local park where, mercifully, there was some light relief. We came a cross a pond with some odonata life, one of which was our rarely seem Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) again.

  • Calopeteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Bluet)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Somatochlora metallica (Brilliant Emerald)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)

We returned to the brewery to face our punishment. With about 8 others, we were treated to something like a 30+ minute introduction, including a video, all in rapid, complex German. Finally being asked to done a white coverall and, if footwear was deemed inappropriate [open-toed sandals], blue plastic shoe covers, we were ushered out into the baking sun to sweat for a little more historical introduction, staring at the old factory building. We looked more like a CSI team than visitors on a brewery tour.

The threat of a coverall and overshoes, together with the joy of being subjected to 2½ hrs of rapid German was enough to put Francine off; she opted out and stayed behind to have a natter with G, who kept her company. The organisers weren’t happy though, concerned apparently about health and safety. Nonetheless they got away with it.

The stalwart remainder moved on lamentably slowly, slowed even further by one over-interested body that kept asking questions. I was about to ask H to tell him to stop asking questions when H asked one of his own. We did find the master brewer, an array of computer terminals, mercifully not resembling Windows 10 [“please restart to install beer into bottles”; “the fermentation has failed, OK?” NO, not OK!]. There wasn’t a warm body in sight, other than our own overheated bodies.

Finally, oh please finally, we were into the bottling plant which is where the plastic CSI overshoes were required. This was actually quite interesting; we were shown the biggest dishwasher I’ve ever seen, all the time containing 40,000 bottles. Clean, sterilised bottles issued forth to begin their journey through an automated check for cracks, finally to be filled and labelled at breakneck speed.

At last we could return to the tasting room for a drink. My ears certainly needed a drink. 50% of this brewery’s production was a dark bear, essentially a dark mild. Other offerings included a pils, as might be expected and an “English style“ pale ale, which might not be expected but which certainly tasted the part. Actually, at 7% ABV it tasted more than the part since I don’t know of any English pale ale brews getting anywhere close to that.

We bought a sampler pack since tour attendees got a discount and retired hoping that our ears would recover during what was left of the evening.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Schloss Colditz

… or Colditz castle, in the English-speaking world.

We are camped in our large, crowded, unappealing campsite about 30kms away from the notorious Colditz castle, which I’m sure was equally crowded and unappealing to its former inmates. It was used in WW II by the Nazis as a high security prison camp for Allied officers [officers only] who had escaped from other camps. In effect, the Nazis had put all their bad apples in one basket. As such it was the scene of many ingenious escape attempts, some of which were successful. Naturally, being so close, we were keen to see this iconic piece of history for ourselves.

Our German friends, H&G, raised their eyebrows a little, apparently not understanding our interest. It seems that they, I think in common with most Germans, know nothing of the castle’s story. Nonetheless, they offered to drive us to see it first hand.

J19_0491 Colditz CastleThe castle stands, as would be expected where castles are concerned, towering above the town of Colditz itself. There are understated road signs indicating the way to the castle, once you get within striking distance, but it is certainly downplayed; there are no advertising hoardings or any such promotional material on the outer roads. The approach to the castle itself is through a maze of residential streets and little is provided in the way of parking for visitors. H found a parking place by the roadside easily and we tipped out to walk the last hundred metres or so. This provided, I think, the most impressive view of the building.

There is little in the way of signage even in the entrance courtyard, save for a sign to a youth hostel which is now located in the buildings. [There’s an irony here: incarcerate the youths in a prisoner of war camp. Excellent – I could suggest a few inmates of my own.]

_19R7114Turning a corner and passing through a gateway, we learned of a piece of Colditz Castle’s history that was unknown to us as well as to H&G. Obsessed with human perfection, up to 1938, the Nazis had incarcerated some 84 “sub-standard” people and systematically sedated them and reduced their diet such that they eventually died either of starvation or of vitamin deficiencies. We came across a cellar set up as a memorial to those who died there. Two rooms artfully crafted mattresses cast out of cement. I didn’t count them all  but I’m guessing that there are 84 such rolls in total.

Back outside we found the entrance to museum to the prisoner of war history. For a modest 4€ each (3€ for H ‘cos he has a disability card), we gained access to a series of rooms detailing some of the more famous officer inmates and their escape attempts. In addition to the usual explanatory boards, cabinets showed items demonstrating the ingenuity and skills of the officers: handmade tools; a wooden sewing machine; buttons and insignia cast from compressed foil in plaster moulds; uniforms fashioned from bedding and dyed. There is also a reconstruction of the glider that the inmates were famously building in an attic but you only see this on one of the guided tours.

Our most famous Colditz inmate was probably Airey Neave who made the first successful British “ home run” in the company of a Dutch officer. It’s a sad irony that, having survived the Nazi regime, Airey Neave was eventually assassinated by the IRA. The French record at Colditz was particularly good with their 12 successful escape attempts (those which made it outside the castle) resulting in a 100% record of “home runs”. Bien fait!

Perhaps surprisingly, only one war prisoner was killed at Colditz, during an escape attempt; a much better record than those 84 poor souls who had been were completely unknow to us before our visit.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Reunification

It has been interesting listening to H talk about “in the DDR times”, when this eastern part of Germany was the GDR as we called it. We’d be driving with them along a road and he’d say, “in the DDR times there was accommodation for Russian soldiers here”. He seemed to remember his time working in the DDR fondly.

They were keen to show us around their main town of Altenburg, where they did used to live in a small flat overlooking the main square. We found a parking place and began a walk towards the town centre.

It seemed as though more than 50% of the shop units were empty. Some were still trading but many were not. There were some magnificent old pieces of architecture that were falling into disrepair, too. Altenburg was definitely a town in decline.

Altenburg dilapidatedH&G explained that since the reunification of Germany, many of the old former East German businesses had ceased trading mainly because they had been set up to supply Russian markets and those markets no longer existed, not to them, anyway. In essence, the financial rug had been yanked from beneath their feet. The population of Altenburg had been 60,000 but had now dropped to just 35,000. Most of those lost have been the younger people looking for work; the population is declining and aging, to boot. This is the no longer used and maybe no longer needed dancehall.

Altenburg SquareThe main square of Altenburg was charming, nonetheless, and we popped into a local watering hole for some local water. Fortunately the Altenburg brewery is still working well; so well that it produced the best lager I’d yet tasted in Germany. Our table right up against the bar was a interesting curiosity, too.

Another business that I was interested was just off the square in a side street. This was a senf [mustard] shop and I’m happy to report that this still seemed to be thriving, perhaps because the enterprising proprietor sold hot bratwurst which you could then slather in a huge array of different mustards varying to tame to fiery. Somehow I resisted  the temptation of a bratwurst and we restricted our purchases to a bottle of mustard with horseradish.

Altenburg hairdresserOne business that had failed had been an historic hairdressing salon. It had been closed down in the 60s. Heirs of the family, wanting to sell the building, had opened up the salon and discovered a treasure trove of historic hairdressing equipment, dating from early in the 20th century, much of which resembled instruments of torture. The machinery certainly didn’t seem as though it would pass any health and safety inspections today. It is now run as a fascinating museum … and it has the benefit of being a small museum.

ErfurtIn contrast to our walk around a rather saddened Altenburg, our personal guided tour around Erfurt had shown off a thriving town. It’s a university town with a large student population and, being the main town of the Thüringen region, receives a goodly amount of financial support. It was quite a stark contrast.

Not everything was great “in the DDR times”, though. Our friends had mentioned being unable to travel abroad, for example. Sounding extraordinary, they also said that folks could put their name down for a car and then might wait 10 or 15 years to get one … whichever colour and limited brand choice might eventually become available.

On balance, they thought reunification had been beneficial, just not all rosy.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Deutsche Küche

Visiting our friends H&G for almost a week just south of Leipzig, we have eaten out in a Biergarten or two which is rather more than we would normally have done. That’s because our friends’ habit is to eat more at lunchtime with a cold, lighter set of fare in the evening. Our habit is to cook in the evening as a form of entertainment.

Our first lunch out was in Erfurt, which is the main town of Thuringen, one of the regions of the former GDR, East Germany. I’m always interested to try local specialities and so was immediately attracted to Klöβe which, it was explained, was a form of dumpling. Normally they are not stuffed but this particular restaurant’s little twist was to serve them stuffed. I chose a stuffing composed of a mixture of two sausage types. Having placed my order, I was surprised to see a plate laden with not one but two huge Klöβe being delivered to another lady’s table. Yikes, look at all that food! They were pallid-looking with no hint of colour whatsoever. Frankly, they resembled a couple of breasts.

KlosseMy groaning plateful duly arrived and I had to find out exactly what they are. Potato is the answer. It seems that you boil some potatoes, presumably mash/rice them, then you mix in some more raw potato. Que? Yes, add raw potato to the already cooked potato and form the mixture into a ball which is them gently simmered for a second time. Thus it is no surprise to find that the dumplings taste of potato. It was pleasant enough though a helping of two was way too much for lunch – I left some and could still hardly move. What is less clear to me is why one would go to so much intricacy to complicate something that is still simply boiled potato. It was good to try, though, and the accompanying sauerkraut was excellent.

dunkel weizenMy next culinary experiment was on a cycle ride with H&G after a dragonfly hunt. We stopped at an intriguing little Biergarten in the village of Regis-Breitingen. Sipping a dark Weizen bier whilst reading the menu, I was now attracted to Tiegelwurst. We all know how popular wurst [sausage] is in Germany and this one, according to G’s explanation, sounded like a blood sausage so I was expecting something like a black pudding or a Spanish morcilla. Wrong. What I got was a wet mound that looked the right colour for blood sausage but that was nothing like any sausage in consistency. Using the fork like a spoon was necessary. It tasted fine but was not the most attractive meal on the planet. The sauerkraut was excellent, again.

A Tiegel is some kind of pan which this curious mixture is made in. G seemed a little embarrassed to tell us that its nickname translates as “dead grandmother”. Fair enough. Enjoy your meal. 😀 I did like it but then, with the exception of tofu, I enjoy most things.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Auf Wiedersehen Herr Wolf

This morning we bad farewell to Herr Wolf, the wonderfully genial host at our campingplatz near Montabaur for the last two nights. Heading to Erfurt, we had a 300kms drive ahead of us at the  good ol’ German towing speed limit of 80kph/50mph. You can get a certificate to do 100kph/60mph but that’s a bit difficult for an occasional foreign tourist. So, our journey would be something over 4 hours and, avoiding the accursed mittagsruhe, we decided to leave at approaching 11:00. That meant we could go shopping first.

We hit a local Aldi supermarkt in Montabaur, just 6kms away. This was a new experience, a German supermarket in Germany. It proved no better than the selection provided by Aldi stores in the UK. Well, no reason it should, I suppose. Stretching our imagination, we managed to buy two days worth of food not including sausages. We may be arrested. Oh, no we won’t, we did buy some bratwurst, too, just in case – emergency rations, don’t ya know? Next stop was a fuel station so we could start our journey with a full tank.

Finally we returned to store our purchases, hitch up and say goodbye, handing back the excellently produced (in English) information booklet. Herr Wolf has done so much with his campingplatz in the country. He has littered the site with literally hundreds of nesting boxes and created a walk around a couple of Biotopes, which is where we found our dragonflies on the day we arrived. He takes children out on guided tours, we were told. I think we’ll have trouble topping this site in Germany, though we can but hope.

Eventually we set off to head into former East Germany and the drive went smoothly. 50mph/80kph feels quite pedestrian but in reality I would only normally do 10kph/6mph more anyway – truck speed. Now I could sit back and relax and let the trucks all worry about overtaking me.

We stopped for a coffee break to burn some time. Then the satnav’s pathetically estimated arrival time worked its way beyond the magic 15:00. We actually found our prearranged campsite at about 15:20. It is prearranged not by a booking but by meeting our friends, H&G, tomorrow. We checked in.

It’s another somewhat large camping village. It is not, mercifully, as bad as the one we endured in Belgium. It does, though have a lot of static permanent caravans; caravans which couldn’t move if they wanted to because of the fixed extension structures built over and around them. It manages to avoid looking too much like a shanty town. Just.

We were directed to two touring pitch areas. The first was supposedly the “deluxe” serviced pitch area but it looked like Jaywick Sands – completely crummy. There was no grass to speak of and there were motorvans and caravans shoe-horned in to an area beside the lake. This latter was why it was supposedly the prime site. We didn’t want to be there.

We drove away from the lake to the second touring area which happily looked somewhat better, complete with grass and some trees. One pitch looked quite reasonable so we nabbed it and got pitched up. One German neighbour in a 30-year-old Eriba was friendly and chatted to Francine. The other neighbour was absent but was clearly Dutch. They returned, poured a beer and the gentleman began playing a classical guitar. I kid you not. We’d said it in the 60s and 70s – in every campsite there was always one that thinks they can play a guitar. We’ve pitched right next to the one on this site. Memories of Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch spring to mind. “Oh, no matter, I delight in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse.” Actually, to be fair, he’s playing classical music quite well and quite softly so maybe I can cope.

We’re beside big water so went for a look. It was nothing exciting but just for the record, this is what we found at Campingplatz Hohenfelden:

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)

“Will you please stop that bloody bazuki player!” 😀

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Limburg

We’re staying two nights in our delightful little rural campsite near Montabaur. Early morning brought a small sigh of relief when we saw father Sparrow back once again feeding his youngsters.

Francine wanted to see a town so we zoomed off 15 clicks or so to Limburg. There was a handy-dandy free parkplatz just outside the markt. We abandoned ship and took to Shanks’s pony to investigate. At the first main junction the altstadt [old town] was signed straight ahead so we kept on.

German architecture is very, well, gothic, I suppose. Here there were many half-timbered buildings with the wooden frames being painted in strong colours; dark red seemed popular. It’s a bit like Tudor architecture but different. We ended up at the Catholic cathedral at the high point of the town, overlooking the Lahn river, where the dark red theme was continued. Being Sunday, a service was in progress so I managed to avoid having to go inside.

We wandered further and came across a coffee roaster advertising eiscaffee. Nobody but nobody makes iced coffee like the Germans; all other efforts pale into insignificance. Well, it would have been rude not to give it a go so I popped in and ordered “zweimahl eiscaffe” in my best school German. The nice lady understood perfectly. Regrettably my rusty German did not understand perfectly her follow-up question. I think she wondered if I wanted anything else. All was well; eventually zweimahl eiscaffee were delivered to our table outside in the street and very good they were, too.

_19R6989Wandering yet further we inevitably ended up at the old bridge over the river. Whilst the views of the cathedral from the bridge were better – never get too close to impressive buildings – there were no views of any wildlife save for a few ducks. We knew Demoiselles were about, though, ‘cos we’d seen one fluttering around a street.

J19_0369 Anax imperatorLimburg – tick. We headed back to the car and out of town. We got close to the entrances of two lakes but in both cases an entrance fee induced a U-turn. Further down the road, though, we struck what I considered to be gold. There was a series, a sort of staircase, of ponds working their way down immediately beside the descending road. There were lily pads and reeds so these were worth investigating for an odo-nutter. A  handy pull in soon had us both, cameras in hand, finding damselflies. There was an Emperor Dragonfly/Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) cruising about, too. We notched up six damselfly species including Large Redeyes (Erythromma najas) doing what they do best, sitting on lily pads.

J19_0413 Somatochlora metallicaFrancine went to the next pond up while I stayed at the first. She yelled, though her yell was drowned by traffic noise. I eventually joined her to learn that she’d discovered an Emerald Dragonfly of some description zooming about. Patience eventually paid off and we got a decent in-flight shot. Our beauty was a Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) and this was only the second time we’d seen one, the first being in the Auvergne last year.  I was also surprised to see Blue Chasers/Scarce Chasers (Libellula fulva), being known mostly as a river species in the UK.  A teneral [freshly emerged] Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus) even popped up and landed nearby, though a bit obscured. It looks as though we are on the extreme eastern edge of its range.

What a splendid little site with 10 species in all that we could find:

  • Calopteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Bluet)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Erythromma najas (Large Redeye)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Libellula fulva (Blue Chaser)
  • Gomphus pulchellus (Western Clubtail)
  • Somatochlora metallica (Brilliant Emerald)

We returned for a late lunch and beer after a very successful long morning. It was relaxing watching the young Sparrows being fed.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Leaving Belgium Behind

Our dismal so-called campsite, L’Hirondelle/Capfun, in Belgium turned even more dismal overnight as rain started. We awoke to continuing rain. We’d be getting into Germany today and I was hoping things would get more civilized. I used to regard Belgium as an irritation to be driven through in order to get to Germany. Then I made some Belgian odo-nutter friends and moderated my opinion. Now, having looked for and failed to find a decent campsite, I think I’m back to my original frame of mind.

The early morning continued in the vein of yesterday evening as a small collection of Satan’s Little Disciples wandered passed us with music playing loudly while I set about packing up. I couldn’t wait to get away.

Being further on through Belgium than originally planned, courtesy of an earlier ferry and despite traffic disruption, Francine now had to re-plan our next stop. Once that was done, we could calculate our departure time. I know this sounds a bit odd but Germany presents an interesting difficulty – ruhigzeit or mittagsruhe. This is a traditional lunchtime lull when no vehicle movement on campsites is permitted. It’s usually two hours between 13:00 and 15:00. This is bothersome, to say the least. It forces you to time your arrival since bailing out in many places with a caravan hitched up varies between difficult and impossible. Francine found an interesting sounding campsite near Montabaur which would be about four hours driving, with comfort breaks. We braved the continuing rain and gleefully left our little slice of Hell at about 11:00.

The weather continued to be grubby for most of the journey. Stopping at a service area for a coffee, now in Germany, I couldn’t help but be tempted into a Bratwurst mit kartoffeln for lunch. Francine weakened and shared my bounty. Things were looking up, now I was in the land of real food: sausage and potatoes – forget the rabbit food trimmings.

Legally limited in Germany to 50mph/80kph towing a caravan, our arrival time continued to extend towards the magic 15:00. [Bloody silly Beemer satnav seems to assume you’ll do the limit when calculating arrival time. Duh!] We arrived shortly after and were greeted by mein host, Herr Wolf, speaking excellent English and cracking jokes- Herr Wolf not the big, bad wolf. I volunteered my rusty German and we switched. He asked if I’d learnt German in the army. Nein, im schule. Ahh. I  got that one wrong – in der Schule – but Herr Wolf forgave me. I never was very good at German and it was last used a very long time ago.

Both Herr Wolf and his campsite were revelations; he very pleasant and welcoming and the campsite a proper one with beautifully hedged pitches and full of proper campers as opposed to ghetto-blasting dickheads. Each hedged pitch has it’s own water point and waste disposal point and, of course, electricity, though a mere 6amps. There is a lattice of concrete with grass growing through so it is rather like a luxury hardstanding. We’ll have too be very careful with power since our kettle draws 4amps. How do I turn off the water heater in All New Guillaume? Yikes!

Adding to all this, Herr Wolf’s land includes a small lake/large pond fed by a tumbling woodland stream. I mentioned libellen [dragonflies] to Herr Wolf and he said “ja, blau Libellen”. In anticipation, we got All New Guillaume set up and went to look for Libellen. [German, incidentally, capitalizes all nouns.]

On a very relaxing wander around Her Wolf’s private little nature reserve, we found four damselfly species:

  • Calopteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)J19_0302 Beautiful Demoiselle female
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Damselfly)

J19_0326 Sparrow feeding chicksIn the tree beside Guillaume Sparrows are feeding youngsters. We see two little heads gaping at the nest box entrance at each feeding visit. This is interesting – our Bluetits at home enter the box to deliver food. These sparrows feed from the nest box entrance. They provided some relaxing early evening entertainment as both adults delivered beaks full of food in rapid succession. I became a little concerned later on when 10 successive feeding visits were made by the female alone; I was fearing for her male partner. Whatever had become of him?

Putting this wildlife concern aside, I was beginning not to need my “beam me up, Scotty” button. This place is like a breath of fresh air compared to last night’s apology for a campsite. We love it. We may not move. 😀

Posted in 2019 Germany

Early Ferry

Our stay on a ferry pitch at the Caravan Club site worked well. With our ferry being at 10:15, latest check-in would be 9:15. With only a 15-minute run to the port, our morning preparations were unhurried. We were ready in good time and ended up on the road heading for Dover East ferry terminal at about 08:15. A short wait in a queue saw us  checking in and being presented with boarding passes. We’d been put on the earlier ferry departing at 09:25. Bother!

Bother? Normally getting on an earlier ferry would’ve been just what we wanted. On this occasion, though, it really felt less than ideal. We had found and booked a site on the north side of Brussels for our first stop. The site manager’s return email said the booking was fine but that we would not be able to get to the site until 17:00 – it sounded as though there was a bike race closing some roads for a while. That had meant that we would already have had to kill an hour en route. Now, arriving in Calais almost an hour earlier than originally anticipated, we’d have to kill two hours which was going to be too much dangling around so we re-planned our route to head further into Belgium. I tried to send an apologetic email to Mr. Brussels.

Francine came up with another site, further south, and devised a plan to skirt Lille instead of heading to Brussels. The decision needed to be made on the boat because the dividing of the ways was immediately outside Calais.

All was fine until Satnav mayhem struck. A traffic warning showed. Reportedly, there was a blockage with a 1-hour delay skirting the south of Lille. We ummed and ahhed but continued to see if it cleared. The traffic report eventually vanished – maybe things had cleared up. We continued. A traffic report re-appeared, this time advertising a delay of 2 hours. Strewth! Sally Satnav came up with a diversion to the north of Lille.  This time we opted for it and dived off the autoroute, as instructed, while it was still flowing smoothly. No sooner had we turned off, than Sally then asked us to do a U-turn and get back onto the autoroute. A U-turn with a caravan in tow being less than easy, we continued a little further and Sally presented us with an alternative road back to the autoroute. We took it. Mercifully, the new route crossed the motorway before turning left onto the slip road. From the bridge over our target road we could see 2-lanes of solid, unmoving traffic, as far as the eye could see. OMG, keep going – we’ll work out our own way around this chaos. Primary Navigator Francine assumed control.

Francine found us a route via Lens and Mons. We still got snarled up in some roadworks delay but finally made it to our chosen campsite.

L’Hirondelle is in the ACSI book. It’s a HUGE campsite. Actually, it’s more of a holiday village. The place has about 150 touring pitches, some poorly arranged, but its main business is countless cabins/chalets etc, of which there must be about 1000. Friendly, welcoming staff wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the logo “Capfun” should be taken as a huge warning sign. However, time was marching on, there were no viable alternatives in the vicinity and we needed a place to sleep. Our receptionist offered a pitch “that would be easy to leave in the morning”.

We got Guillaume set up. We looked more closely at the pitch map and realized we were occupying two pitches. I got Guillaume unset-up and moved him a few metres to get him set-up again in just one pitch. We settled down with a beer or two; it wasn’t great but it seemed OK; unexciting but OK.

In the early evening 5 or 6 vehicles arrived on the square of four pitches directly behind us and discharged a gang of young studs who began unloading camping gear, including a gazebo, accompanied by an inconsiderately loud radio, all the time swigging from cans. This wasn’t going to be good. The reception was now technically closed but we managed to catch somebody locking up and asked to move. The lady understood saying that technically they shouldn’t make noise after 22:00 but they’d be drinking all night. We moved up to a completely different touring zone where there were still a few family encampments but it was much better. Mind you, a night on a motorway service area would’ve been better.

Hell part 1This was not our usual habitat. L’Hirondelle, a.k.a Capfun, fits perfectly my definition of hell and should be avoided at all costs  by discerning campers.

Something needs to start going right soon ‘cos at the moment I desperately need that magic “beam me up, Scotty” button.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Heading for Deutschland

We’re off to Germany with all new Guillaume. We haven’t been camping in Germany for more years than I can remember – 30 years, I should think. Our driving force behind going now is to visit friends, H&G near Leipzig, in what was former East Germany, which we have never visited. We met H&G on our 4-week tour of New Zealand in 2017 and have been invited to visit them. Originally we were going to fly from Stansted direct to Leipzig with Ryan-bloody-Air but after booking our seats Ryan-bloody-Air decided to cancel that route – not just the flight but the entire route. There being nothing in the way of decent alternatives, we’ve turned it into a caravan camping holiday.

We have a 10:15 ferry tomorrow [Friday] and we’re trying a new approach. Rather than our usual 0-dark-30 start with bleary eyes, we’ve found that a Caravan Club site on the outskirts of Folkestone has “ferry pitches” with 24hr access. These pitches are smaller, with no room for an awning [good] and are near the gate so that disturbance to other longer-term campers is minimized. Irresistible; we booked one. It’ll leave us a 15 minute run to Dover East in the morning.

Going down to the coast a day early also meant that we were not unduly troubled when the bloody jaM25 played one of its trump cards. Tis time we experienced a 45-minute delay ‘cos some inconsiderate bastards had an accident closing all three lanes while the wreckage was cleared “to a place of safety” and causing the resultant travel chaos. Nothing too insignificant, I hope. This is the 2nd time in succession our use of the jaM25 to get to a ferry have been plagued by an accident. It really does make you think that non-motorway routes would be preferable; certainly more predictable.

With no time pressure we simply turned off the engine and sat waiting to get on the move again. Eventually traffic began flowing again and we arrived to check in to our prearranged ferry pitch and unwind in the time honoured and alcoholic fashion.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Down Time

Our last full day in Sri Lanka wasn’t billed as down time but we chose to make it so. There was an optional whale watching boat trip but me and modestly sized boats do not get on well at the best of times and I suspect that, given the Indian Ocean rollers constantly crashing on Koggala beach, this would have been considerably worse than the best of times. This is one of the world’s premier locations for the mighty Blue Whale but, much as a sighting might’ve been exciting, nein danke. For those skipping the boat trip, there was talk of the stilt fishermen again, this time at sunrise, followed in the afternoon by a trip into the town of Galle. Some quiet time doing our own thing seemed more appealing.

_19R5297_19R5448We began our relaxed and leisurely morning attempting to capture those Indian Ocean rollers breaking and crashing onto the beach. I’d picked a high vantage point looking down from the grounds of the hotel, while Francine positioned herself on the beach itself. My long exposure attempts didn’t really convey any power so I think they’ll end up in the bin. Francine did somewhat better, with a mixture of slightly blurred movement and frozen breakers.

J18_4558 Indian Palm SquirrelJ18_4560 Indian Palm SquirrelThe hotel grounds were occasionally criss-crossed by chasing Indian Palm Squirrels (Funambulus palmarum). They were very cute little chaps and I reverted to type by abandoning landscape and trying to capture them. One of the wandering hotel security guards, seeing what I was doing, began spotting the squirrels in the palms and trees and pointing them out to me. With his help, I was able to get one shot that shows why the squirrel is also called the Three-striped Palm Squirrel, together with another close-up of one peeking out from behind a tree, which could be of almost any squirrel but I rather like it. What friendly people the Sri Lankans generally are.

We wandered along the front, eventually back to where we had been photographing the stilt fishermen on the previous evening and a little beyond, on the look out for any locations that might prove useful as sunset vantage points this evening. Try as we might, we really didn’t see anything that grabbed as foreground interest. So, rather than make life any more difficult, we ended up back in the hotel grounds trying sunset shots from there. Here’s an impression from each of us of Koggala sunset; these effectively marked the end of our trip to Sri Lanka since all that was left for the morning was a bus ride to the airport for our return flight.

J18_4602 Koggala sunset

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We don’t have a ridiculously early start tomorrow morning; it’s a 07:30 departure.

Posted in 2019 Sri Lanka