European Road Trip 2013 (In the MX5)  
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Videos:  Rather than space the videos out throughout web pages as I usually do, I thought this time we'd have a change so the links to the vids are all here lumped into one group for those folks who just want to look at moving pictures instead of reading my waffle.  The videos are all in chronological order and there are still a couple to add when I get around to editing them.

    From the ferry at Calais to Gudmont, in the Champagne region, France and then on to Titsee in Germany

    Titisee to Tasch and Zermatt in Switzerland

    Tasch to Livigno in Italy part 1

    Tasch to Livigno in Italy part 2

    Day out from Livigno to the Stelvio Pass. Part 1, The Munt la Schera Tunnel

    Part 1 The Stelvio Pass 

    Part 2 The Stevio Pass

              More Videos to follow

The Waffle and the still photos........



Early evening somewhere in the Black Forest, Germany. We're sitting in a pavement cafe drinking ice cold Leffe, It's humid and sticky here so the cold beers are going down well. The entertainment is a balding fella with a guitar and lots of backing tapes. He's performing covers of old American and British pop songs, mostly in English with a strong German accent. He sounds like someone doing a bad Marlene Deitrich impression - Danny la Rue keeps popping into my head for some reason. As he finishes each song the applause is polite and restrained. Then he performs a few in his native tongue which provokes a more rapturous response, there are whistles and some banging of table tops. Nationalistic pride is apparently alive and well, and living in Germany. Listening to him sing these well known old songs in a different language illustrates a peculiar phenomenon: when I hear an old song, even though I've not heard it for years, I can still remember enough of the words to sing along with it. Yet, If I hear another equally well known song being performed in a foreign language it sounds familiar but for the life of me I can't even recall what the damned title is! It's driving me nuts. Maybe I'm just getting old......

Halfway through our second Leffe (plus complimentary crisps and nuts) a group of special needs adults enter and take up a table adjacent to ours. With them are a couple of minders who obviously care for them very well, helping them order food & drinks etc and then assisting with writing some postcards home which they all think is great fun. This is all done with compassion and a great deal of laughter between them. It was humbling to watch the rapport between them all, but I couldn't help think that just 70 short years ago these unfortunate natives of the "Fatherland" would have been subjected to a very different level of treatment. It's nice to see that sometimes lessons are learned and that good can prevail.

Onwards, welcome to our little journey...........  




January 2013

"Well, Wee Jim. What do you fancy doing for our summer trip this year my little swampduck?"
"Not sure, Dewi me old trout. I'll do what I usually do and leave it all for you to arrange, like I usually do" 

And so it came to pass that the making of plans for this years road trip were embarked upon by St. Dewi of Wigan and his trusty Google maps.

It's a grey January
afternoon and it's freezing cold, the central heating's gone into overdrive and it's bucketing down with rain outside, I know this because it's battering against my office window. Just as the newly arrived hailstones begin to take the noise to a higher level I close the blinds and return to the job in hand, which is planning a route for this year's summer road trip to Europe. It's just Wee Jim and me this time so we can take off whenever we like, we decide on mid June.  Booking Dot Com is fired up and I make a start on getting the hotels booked - by early February everything including the ferries is done and dusted, all we have to do now is sit and wait for June.  The basic route is to be: south through France from Calais, then into Germany and the Black Forest followed by Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. The final leg home will be via Bavaria, France and Belgium. Sorted!   

Early June 2013

It's raining in Eastern Europe. No! It's more than that........... Eastern Europe is flooded to biblical proportions, caused by a combination of snow melt on the mountains and a sudden torrential downpour that saw 2 months worth of rain fall in just 2 days.  The worst deluge in living history has befallen parts of The Czech Republic, Austria and Bavaria as the Danube and other major rivers burst their banks, swamping towns and villages for hundreds of miles along their length. The situation looks serious and given that most of the areas we had planned going to are now underwater or at least under threat of being so, I decide it may be wise to find out exactly what and where along our route has been affected.

The TV news footage doesn't look good but given their tendencies to exaggerate the truth I find an online live video webcam at Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic where we've a hotel booked. The Vltava River looks to be about 8 feet up the walls of the riverside buildings and it's running fast!  Even if it subsides before we go it's going to take lots of time to clean the place up and it's going to stink there. Regrettably, I cancel the hotels in the affected areas and hurriedly plan a new route down into Italy, returning via Western Germany. It's a shame because the original was a great route which took ages to plan and we were really looking forward to visiting The Czech Republic, I've even arranged an international driving permit for there. Still, these things happen and we've been to Italy before - Italy's good.... We like Italy. 


The Hurriedly Put Together Final Route



Sunday 16th June. Lancashire to Elham

Departure day finally arrives, the car has been fettled, everything's been checked over and all the oils have been changed. The only concern now is whether it'll make it onto the ferries ok with its lowered suspension. It manages to scrape its belly on most of the speed bumps locally so it's become a bit of a worry about getting it on and off the boats. Loaded up with all of our luggage it's now even lower which intensifies my concerns, but with hope in our hearts we leave home under cloudy grey skies and make our way south to the Midlands. I've suggested we stop off there for an hour on the way south so that Wee Jim can visit her Mum..... and I get to watch the MotoGP .. I may look daft but... :o)

We'll be spending our first night at the Rose and Crown Inn at Elham, which is about 15 miles from the ferry port at Dover. From Wolverhampton it's going to be a non-stop run to get down there because the plan is to eat at the hotel tonight, so by the time we pull into the hotel car park at around 5pm the hunger pangs are in an advanced stage of development. By now the sun is shining, it's a lovely afternoon and all is good with the world..... That kind of changes a bit when the manager informs us that they don't serve food on Sundays. Which is ironic really because we'd already cancelled another nearby hotel after we discovered that they don't do Sunday meals either - do people in Kent not eat on a Sunday?   The manager suggests a nearby pub called The Kings Arms where they may still be serving meals, so we toddle off in eager anticipation to find it....

"Have you booked?" ...   "Erm, no, sorry"  ... "We may be able to fit you in, wait a minute"  I look around as mien hostess disappears behind  the bar, the place is almost empty apart from one family sitting at a table which is partly blocking access to the lavs, and another sitting opposite.  She returns, "Yes, we can serve you" she says, and points us towards a table near the bar and hands over a menu. The choice is Chicken Tikka or Roast dinner.  I put my hand under the chair to pull it forward and my fingers squelch into something soft and squishy which is stuck to the underside of it. I haven't a clue what it is but it's brown, it smells bad and I really don't want to know.  I squeeze past the lav family to go and decontaminate my hands. 10 mins of scrubbing later and I'm seated back at the table in a different chair, the underside of which remains blissfully unexplored. Miss Charming comes back to take our order,  "I'll have the Chicken Tikka please."  Wee Jim asks for the same, "Tikka's off" we're told.  So, we end up with two roast dinners which when they arrive turn out to be heated to destruction and absolutely tasteless.  We think they must have been reheated at least five times since their creation approximately 3 weeks ago and now finally microwaved to finish them off for good. The vegetables are so limp that even a double dose of viagra and a picture of Cheryl in a mucky skin flick mag wouldn't bring them back to life. The meat looks like pieces of slimy wet cardboard and tastes about the same, it's horrible but we're hungry so we reluctantly eat a bit of it - until the nausea kicks in. God knows what foreigners must think when they come to the UK and get served trash like this. We get ourselves out of there, but I have to go and give my hands a final wash before we leave just to make sure all traces of the mystery brown stuff are removed. I've not bitten my fingernails since though, so every cloud etc...............

It's a nice summer evening so we take a stroll around Elham and discover a very pretty little place, typical southern counties village but with a Royston Vasey feel to it. The Rose and Crown bar is still open when we arrive back so we settle in, chatting to the manager over a few drinks and a bag of ready salted crisps. He's a nice enough fella who seems to enjoy telling us his tales of when him and his wife ran a bar in Greece.


First overnight stop of the trip, the Mazda parked up at the Rose & Crown Inn at Elham


Monday 17th June, Calais to Gudmont Villers

A dull wet morning greets us as we throw back the curtains to let in the new day at Elham, so before setting foot outside we grab our breakfast of yoghurt, orange juice & croissant. Because we're leaving to catch an earlyish ferry the bill was paid last night and our breakfast had been left in the room by the time we arrived back there after drinking in the bar. So, what we actually have now is warm yoghurt and orange juice and a very dried up croissant. Food doesn't figure too highly on their list of priorities in Elham, evidently!  The car is loaded up and we set off for the ferry port at Dover. Sat Nav Man wants us to go in the opposite direction but we ignore him, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the trip if he's already gone into a sulk.  By the time we've fuelled up the car with just enough to get us to a petrol station in France (we need to keep some weight off it in case it bottoms out on the ferry) and we find the ferry terminal, it's absolutely tanking down with rain. We get stuck behind a coach going through passport control which takes an age to clear, a couple of lads on motorbikes behind it are soaked but customs officials rush for no man. Thankfully the car manages to get on the boat ok without scraping any of its underneath bits so we lock it up and go up on deck to while away an hour and a half with an expensive cup of Costa coffee, which is so hot it lasts for almost the entire voyage.

Eventually the French coastline looms into view, half an hour later the boat is docking and we're soon on our way. The weather here is a bit grey but at least it's dry. Sat Nav Man immediately decides to put us on the wrong motorway and it's a good while before I realise he's not going to bring us off the thing and we're heading in completely the wrong direction - towards Paris!  Wee Jim (who has the trusty map book on her knee) did mention it was the wrong road when we turned on to it but I assumed Sat Nav Man knew what he was doing - he didn't!  I take the next exit, find a lay-by and spend a few minutes sorting it out. We don't want a repeat performance not with so many miles to cover today, we've already added about 20 miles to our days journey and we've not even cleared the Pas de Calais yet.  I default it then reset the route and from there on it's fine, it takes us straight to our hotel with no problems at all. He gets a bit sulky sometimes does Sat Nav Man, he just needs a good slap when he goes into one of his belligerent moods and he's usually ok afterwards. It's a love / hate thing between us!


Our first stop on foreign soil at the isolated but very peaceful La Source Bleue Hotel at Gudmont



Our hotel for the night is, La Source Bleue near Gudmont Villiers, in the Champagne region.  It's a beautifully restored old paper mill on the side of a river, the surrounding area takes it's name from it, "La Paperterie".  By the time we arrive after the 300 mile drive it's a lovely afternoon. We've covered most of today's route on motorways to get us here at a reasonable time and to dispense with the boring bits of France, but the last 60 miles or so have been on superb scenic 'N' & 'D' roads with the final stretch leading to the hotel being the icing on the cake. It's still quite early, and a while yet until we eat so we dump the bags in our room and set off to explore a bit of the nearby countryside on foot.  There's a canal and a river running side by side surrounded by fields & gentle rolling hills. This is a really isolated part of rural France but all the nicer for it. At the back of the hotel is a small lake, at one end of which is a spring of vivid blue water that rises from deep below, this is from where the hotel gets its name, "La Source Bleue" 




The important bit - outside bar


We make our way back to the hotel and sit on the patio outside the restaurant with a couple of cold beers. We're welcomed by Alice a permanent resident of the hotel, she's a Burmese Mountain Dog and just about as soft natured as any dog can get. She's a real sweetheart and sits by us in the shade of our table while we sip our drinks, quite happy to have her ears tickled now and then. It's a truly idyllic place - wish we'd booked a couple more nights here. 

Alice, the hotel dogess



The blue spring from where La Source Bleue takes its name



The hotel used to be a paper mill, this is where the power came from


Dinnertime, so we head over to the restaurant. We're all squeaky clean now after a shower and donning our posh frocks....well, clean T shirts at least.  Food is typical French fare - escargot, duck livers etc, which we sidestep and try to find something less vomit inducing. The staff and owners here speak very little English and our French isn't good enough to decipher the menu, they try their best to help but we still don't really know what we've ordered. Still, we like surprises so we wait to see what arrives and it's not too bad, we don't delve too deeply into what it is we're eating though -  sometimes it's simply best not to know. We wash it all down with a couple of overpriced bottles of Cotes du Rhone - hell, the whole meal is overpriced but this is a belated anniversary dinner so it's nice to push the boat out a bit and give the old girl a bit of TLC. It's well after 11pm by the time we finish eating - as is the French way - but after dinner we take an amble around to shoot some night photos of the hotel as it's all nicely illuminated, but too much wine and no tripod guarantees the predictable blurred shots.    


There's lots of poppies in France



Wee Jim's puddin'

Tomorrow the road trip proper starts as we leave the motorways behind, hit the back roads of rural France and head for the German Border but right now it's time for bed - it's been a long day and I'm pretty fair knackered. 


Tuesday 18th June. Gudmont Villiers to Titisee, Germany

We wake to a bright, warm and sunny morning at La Source Bleue, and decide to forego breakfast due to last night's late meal still lying a tad heavy. We pack up, pay up and say our goodbyes to the lovely people who run this delightful little hotel. Pretty soon afterwards we're driving some of the stunning roads this part of France excels at, the car in roofless mode of course. We pass through some beautiful scenery and little villages as we move east through the Lorraine and Alsace regions with their gentle rolling hills and mile after mile of farmland.  The sat nav has been set to avoid motorways so progress is slow as we wind our way along country lanes towards the German border, stopping only at a small French town for a coffee and to buy a sandwich and cake which are eaten later in a leafy lay-by on a country road.  Life doesn't get much better than this! 

Shortly after passing through the outskirts of Colmar, we cross the German border at an unmanned crossing over the Rhine. It's all a bit flat and featureless here, the Rhine valley makes quite an austere and dreary landscape in contrast to what we've just passed through. There's another coffee stop at a corner cafe in a small German town before we enter the busy city of Freiburg. By now the temps have risen to the point where we're getting quite sunburned so it's time to cover up and break out the daft hats. 

Cake & butty stop in a leafy lay-by somewhere in France



Just across the border at the Rhine near Colmar, I can't believe she lets me go out looking like this! 
Oh, and I have more than one of these T shirts just in case anyone thinks I keep wearing the same one day after day



The Rhine


At around 4pm we land at the little lakeside town of Titisee in the Black Forest where a lot of Germans come for days out and holidays - It's kind of like a teutonic version of Ambleside but more modern and with a lot less character to it. This is a busy little place even in mid June before the summer holiday season has got fully under way. We find our hotel, the "Sonnenek" which is quite close to the town centre with its bars and cafes etc.  The car park is chokka block full so they tell us to go and park at the train station, which we passed on the way into town about half a mile away. The hotel runs a restaurant here where the diners are allowed to park in the hotel car park. This leaves paying guests to bugger off and find somewhere else if there are no spaces left which doesn't seem quite right to me, so I drive into the car park and put the Mazda in front of a couple of garage doors and leave it there. 

Showered and a change of clothes later we're sat in a pavement bar chilling and supping our much needed cold beers, it's getting hot and humid here now. Beers finished we take a walk to the lake and the rest of the night is spent eating and drinking, we eventually roll into bed tired and ever so slightly squiffy!  I decide Germany is really quite boring and that Germans have a strange idea of fun.  I've tried several times to like it here but something about it just doesn't gel with me, it's all just a bit ..... dull,  with no real sense of character to it. There's just something lacking that I can't quite put my finger on.


Titisee, clean but totally lacking in character 











Ultimate graffiti?


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