Not all of our time is spent driving. Now that we are back in Europe we have travel friends we hope to catch up with and maintenance jobs to get done. We can’t just keep driving and ignore that our loyal truck does need attention now and then, and we have been saving these tasks for Germany.
We are now in Kiel & as we head towards a tiny seaside village to catch up with friends, we are on the lookout for a place to do a grease & oil change. Finally, John finds a now mainly disused warehouse where he can do it himself. All we have to do is get the oil. I have plenty to do on my laptop. And what a great way to spend a nasty wet day. Time to catch up with Renate & Andreas – a lovely German couple we kept bumping in to in Iceland & the Faroe Islands. We can camp on the waterfront beside their house, before we leave they take us for a tour of Kiel then we head towards Lubeck. Can’t resist another visit of this glorious Hanseatic town. There is even RV camping right beside the old town – free today as the pay machine has broken. The main drag is full of locals & tourists, but the other areas are pretty quiet. We end the day with a yummy dinner on the riverfront.
Next destination is Hamburg. We meander in the general direction, stopping at villages. As we get closer the motorway comes to a standstill. And it is Sunday. Stop, start all the way in to the city. There are razor topped fences erected everywhere, roads closed and a huge police presence for the G20 Conference, on here in a few days’ time. We won’t be staying long. I have found a camping Platz where we hope to park – but our hopes are dashed as there is a huge new building here instead – so much for our very old camping book! So, we park on the street & head off to explore. We stick mainly to the old harbour & canal area, finishing off with a visit to the new Opera House – an amazing glass building with free tours to the top deck for views of the city.
Time to race off as we are due to catch up with more friends – Wera & Friso who we travelled with in Peru & Bolivia. We set the GPS and head off along motorways. What is supposed to be a 3-hour drive turns to 4 with huge traffic jams outside of Bremen.
Eventually end up staying 2 nights as John can’t resist staying to help Friso build a deck. And as usual I enjoy Wifi – doing end of year financials (not exciting) & facetiming all the kids (much more exciting). We can’t resist a final outing with Wera & her 2 lovely kids (the same age as Toby & Emmie) to the scenic town of Leer, before moving on. We only get as far as the town of Sogel for the night – another free camp spot (and totally legal)
We are meandering south to meet more friends in a few days. So, time to slow down & explore. Lots of cute towns & back roads. At Bad Benthiem find a lovely Camping Platz beside the Schloss gardens & decide to stop early. A great old castle to explore & people to meet.
We are catching up with Bram & Anouk – more friends we travelled with in South America. But on our way, we find a Tyre shop to rotate our wheels. Another job crossed off our list. It is lovely to chat about past experiences and meet Anouk’s parents who take us out exploring when Anouk goes to work. On Saturday John & Bram spend the day doing work on GR2 – lots of those annoying little jobs that it is easier to do with 2 people.
On Sunday we head off, as we would like to find an Isuzu truck dealership – and it looks as if there will be lots in Spain. So, some big driving days interspersed with a bit of sightseeing. Sunday night we find a parking area in the little town of Munchweiler an der Rodalb. That way we can fill up with food & fuel before we leave Germany (supermarkets are not open on Sundays here)
Monday finds us heading in to France - & of course I can’t just let us drive straight through. We first head to Strasbourg – because until now we haven’t been there, & it doesn’t disappoint. Parking is hard to find, but we snag a spot on the street & set off. The Cathedral Notre Dame & surrounding square are staggering. And naturally surrounded by tourists. We find a queue, join it hoping it will go in to the church, but it is for the tower. Phew! But the climb is worth the view. The interior is closed for siesta! Then meander along the canal front to Petite France – a truly gorgeous area full of half-timbered houses. Must hurry back to GR2 before our parking meter runs out.
That is not all for the day. We also follow a chunk of the Route de Vin – an area naturally covered in vineyards & dotted with gorgeous little towns. The first town of Damach-la-Ville is the best, as it is relatively tourist free & we are still new to them. It has an old wall with 3 remaining towers, and better still lots of wine caves. We only sample one – a very good one! The next good town is Bergheim – bit more open & the half-timbered houses are even more colourful. We continue on to Ribeauville & Riquewihr (amongst others), but they are full of tourists & are well, a bit too over done! We are getting over it, so we finally stop for the night at our last – Turkheim, in an Aire.
Today is designated driving day. We head to the Toll Roads so I am not tempted to stop at every little town I see. Don’t even open the Lonely Planet (although I am tempted). And they make easy driving for John as we head south towards Spain. At lunch time, I see signs to Digoin, with pictures of a raised canal – perfect spot to have lunch. Then late in the day we again turn off the motorway for cheap diesel (naturally the stations on the motorway are expensive) & we discover not just cheap fuel but the totally gorgeous town of Donzenac. We squeeze through the side streets – it is a drive by as space is at a premium. I may have tried convincing John to go back after filling with fuel if he hadn’t met Regis at the station & been invited back to his house. End result we stay for a lovely dinner with Regis & Cindy his lovely wife & camp in their driveway overnight. John drools over all the cars Regis has collected and restored.
Back to the motorway for us. We are heading to Toulouse & the Pyrenees. But we start seeing signs about road closures for the Tour de France. I suggest that it would be fun to stumble across a stage! And then we see road closures for tomorrow on the road over the Pyrenees!! Well we really do have to stop. We camp right on the route & the next morning wait. Our Belgium neighbours have all the info – so we have lucked out there. At midday, the “caravan” rolls through – a truly amazing sight as there are loads of crazy floats. When the bikes do finally arrive, it is all over before we know it. It sure seems as if there are more support vehicles than bikes! Time to get out of here. We head back out as we don’t want to get tangled in traffic, & over to the next Pyrenees crossing. This turns out to be a steep winding road, continually squeezing through villages. Oh well – slow going, but incredibly pretty. The morning mist has finally cleared & we have awesome views of the mountains. By the time we reach the tunnel separating France & Spain GR2 is all hot & bothered and using water. We need to get to that workshop. The address of a workshop near Zaragoza is in our GPS so we head there. Wow it is an amazing drive – sections of it wide road, but mostly narrow & winding following a gorge. Great views, but absolutely nowhere to stop! Phew. Probably not the best for GR2.
Finally, on to the workshop. They will look at it tomorrow morning, so we camp outside. Well the weekend is nearly here, & GR2 is in the process of being pulled apart so we will be trapped here for a few days. Or maybe we should head off for a few days…….