6-9 September: A busy birthday weekend in Brighton and London

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton, East Sussex, and London, UK

Friday: We farewelled mainland Europe and after a four hour cruise from Dieppe to Newhaven were soon pulling up at the campground in Brighton, now very familiar being our third visit in Truffy.

Boarding the ferry at Dieppe

My sister Helen soon arrived with our niece and nephew for a visit, and presents were exchanged – a birthday gift for Elliot and a little something from Slovenia for Isabel. Our next stop was one of the many fish and chip shops along Brighton seafront, where a feast was purchased and taken to the Hilton Hotel. There we joined Mark’s daughter Hayley and her children Luke and James who’d travelled down to join us for the weekend. We munched on our goodies before helping put the kids to bed for the night.

Mr A excited to see Hayley as well as the ‘proper’ chip shop menu! ‘Mmm, curry sauce, pickled eggs, pickled gherkin, mushy peas….’
Sun’s going down on Friday
View from Hayley’s room
Brighton Pier looking vibrant on our walk back to camp

Mark and I strolled the 4km back to camp along the seafront, welcoming the chance to walk off the fish and chips and stretch our legs after a big day of travelling. We’ve gone back an hour on our journey across the English Channel too, and are feeling the jet lag!

Saturday morning we were off back to catch up with the family in Brighton.

Granddad Mark entertaining the boys

Mark joined Hayley, Luke and James on an open top bus tour, then I met them at Brighton Pier, soon to be joined by Helen, her fiancé Stu, and their kids. Officially I think we worked out these are step-second-cousins, but we decided to just call them cousins. They all got along just fine given it’s their first visit. We hope it isn’t the last.

Mr 8 is joined by Miss 5, Mr 7 and Mr 3 on the kids’ table
The English Channel looks almost tempting when the sun comes out

We had a lovely morning with them, and in the afternoon Mr A and I both had hair cuts to make ourselves more presentable!

Both a little more trimmed and tidy!

All this family action has not only been to welcome us back to old Blighty, but also to help celebrate Mr A’s birthday. We concluded our Saturday with a celebratory delicious curry and some fine wine with Helen and Stu.

Celebrating Mr A entering his 64th year (Helen had run out of number 3s!)

Sunday morning dawned clear and crisp, and Mr A was soon back on another open top bus with Hayley and the kids doing another tour of Brighton. I joined them later for a spot of lunch on the beach.

A fresh Autumnal morning near the old West Pier
Ice creams on the beach

It was great seeing the boys enjoying their time on the seafront. Having grown up near the beach just along the coast, I was able to share all the games and adventures Helen and I had enjoyed in our childhood, and soon had Luke and James hunting for sea glass amongst the pebbles.

Before long it was time for us all to catch the train up to London. Hayley, James and Luke were heading home to Milton Keynes, while Mr A and I had booked a hotel for the night and were meeting Zoe, Mark’s oldest daughter for a birthday eve dinner in Chinatown. We ate a delicious Vietnamese meal at VietFood, coupled with a bottle of French red. It was great to spend some time with Zoe minus children, lovely as they are.

Bustling streets of soho

It always amazes me how the streets of London are never quiet, even on a Sunday night. Especially around Leicester Square there were street artists, break dancers, buskers and many visitors, all vibrant and exciting. By the time we farewelled Zoe, however, we were exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel and crash.

Monday morning was Mr A’s birthday officially, and we were at the location of his chosen birthday gift bright and early. He’d chosen a Tudor watch – the sister company of Rolex. He’d been wanting a watch since his 60th birthday but it has taken until now to select the right one. The chosen option looks fabulous and makes for a very happy Mr A.

Hard to stop looking at your wrist when there’s something new there!
Happy birthday Mr A!

There followed a little browsing around the shops before meeting up with ‘best man’ Martin for a spot of lunch…

Pie, peas and mash times two please…Martin and Mark slip easily back into their old banter

Mark and I have not had cold weather for around four years, so do not own any suitable clothing for the dropping temperatures. We decided that wearing all our clothes at once was getting a little tiring and that we ought to invest in warmer coats. The streets around Carnaby Street helped us out there.

Get ready to sparkle in Carnaby Street London

After a successful afternoon’s shopping, we travelled back to Brighton, bidding farewell to Helen, Stu and the kids on our way back to Truffy.

5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

31 August – 1 September: Two more medieval walled cities ticked off our Brittany list!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Dinan, Léhon and Saint-Malo, Brittany, France

We realised we had very little time to explore Brittany and so decided to speed past a good chunk of the region, heading north towards the town of Dinan.

Dinan was created as a strategic town by combining three villages in the 1100s and much of the city from the past five or six hundred years still remains. The old fortified wall is still intact, stretching for 3km around the city and there are several half timbered houses remaining, carefully protected. Unlike Concarneau’s old town, Dinan is still a living city, with more than just provisions for tourists. There are several art studios around, as well as jewellers, sculptors and other crafts.

We parked up in a free motorhome camping area in the nearby village of Léhon, and strolled up to the city. It was fairly peaceful on Saturday lunchtime, with none of the crowds of Concarneau. Crepes (savoury pancakes) are a regional favourite with several restaurants around the town offering them for lunch…all heavily filled with dairy products, not suitable for me.

Our first glimpse of the town is peaceful
The only cat in Dinan was on this sign

We decided to stop at a burger joint for lunch, seemingly the only place to offer food I could eat. They also did an interesting French menu. Mr A bravely decided to go for the plât du jour, which the waitress described as ‘like sausage and chips’. It sounded harmless enough, but once Mr A had cut through the ‘sausage’ I could tell it was anything but! He struggled through a single bite, and offered it to me to smell. Utterly disgusting was the answer. We were soon enlightened by a French couple beside us – Mr A was in fact eating (or not eating) Andoilette – pigs intestines and colon. His face was so horrified the waitress took it away and served him up a chicken burger like mine for no extra charge!

We explored the cobbled streets of the town, enjoying the peace and quiet, and incredible views from the city walls, looking down over La Rance River.

Look at the depth of these walls…designed to protect the city’s occupants from attack
Quiet cobbled streets in all directions
Looking across the rooftops towards the cathedral…see the city walls
Beautiful gardens and houses everywhere
Completed in 1852 – Viaduc de Lanvallay has 10 arches and is pretty impressive, especially when seen from the city above
Looking down at the Port de Dinan alongside the River Rance
Loving the peace and quiet
The Château

The following morning we were in no hurry to rush off, and the sun was shining again after a showery evening, so we got out the bikes and went for a ride. It was Sunday morning and in France this means family day. Most of the shops are closed too, so people head to the countryside for some fresh air.

We found a shared cycle-walking path alongside the Rance River which started just a couple of minutes from where we were parked up. In no time at all we were riding through beautiful scenery calling out ‘bonjour’ to other cyclists, walkers and joggers as we headed towards Dinan marina and beyond. There is something so lovely about connecting with another human with not much more than just a smile and bidding one another ‘good day’ transcending all differences. This is something that is really missing in towns and cities when often people don’t even look at each other, and frequently are more focused on their phones than what is going on around them. I think people would be shocked in London or Sydney if I went around saying ‘good day’ to strangers!

A crisp fresh morning – the first day of Autumn and it feels like it!
Look at that happy couple skipping along behind Mr A!

We rode along through the port of Dinan, past people enjoying their crepes and coffees, yachts moored up for a day of exploring.

These days the port only sees leisure traffic heading for the restaurants and up to the walled city above
Looking up towards the viaduct and the walled city up on the hill on the right
Further down river at Port Sainte-Hubert

We rode as far as possible along the river until the path petered out by a railway bridge. Down here it seemed time had stood still for decades, with old fishing huts teetering on rotting planks and poles that nobody dare cross onto or repair. They look like strange sculptures hanging over the water.

Magnificent structure
Anyone fancy clambering along here to do some fishing?

We rode back to the village of Léhon following a path on the other side of the river. Léhon itself is well worth a visit, with its 12th century abbey and very pretty cottages.

Crossing the bridge into ‘our’ village
The 12th century abbey and its well cared for gardens
Mr A rides through the village

We even found an interestingly named restaurant – La Marmite de l’Abbaye…no Marmite on the menu though, sadly!

(Incidentally ‘marmite’ means cooking pot in French, not referring to the salty brewers yeast you spread on toast!)…

Mmm, marmite….oh…’The abbey cooking pot’…not quite as interesting

After a light lunch back at Truffy, we jumped back on the road, heading towards the coast and the town of Saint-Malo.

Saint-Malo sits on a strategically important location, with a settlement having been there since Roman times (around 1 BCE). After being the home of Saxons and people escaping troubles in England, it was inhabited by monks in the 6th century and became known as Saint-Malo.

Our first glimpse of the walled city…no scull and crossbones on the tall ship so we assume all is safe

During the Middle Ages the walled city became a stronghold for pirates, known as privateers (officially employed by the king of France). It became a very wealthy city from all the loot captured from around the world, and from (mostly English) ships which were forced to pay a ‘tribute’ for passing up the English Channel in safety.

The city looks quite imposing with its grey granite walls
Finally a no-smoking area in France…shame nobody was policing it (a couple of smokers were just the other side of the sign!)

Despite its history, Saint-Malo looks fairly modern today. This is due to the post World War II rebuilding that took place in the 1950s and 60s, using original stone but more modern techniques. It is also a city with money – attracting more than 7.6 million visitors per year with an average of 78,000 visitors a day.

Fort National – built in 1689 to protect the port

The city was certainly bustling on this Sunday afternoon, with the cobbled pedestrianised roadways full of boutiques, jewellers and restaurants. There was even a boulangerie open for business. Mr A popped in to purchase a Kouign-amann, a sugary, buttery layered pasty cake, native to Brittany. He approved, but tells me the weight of it suggests it had quite a few buttery calories!

Mr A cake shopping
Bustling streets full of shoppers…no ‘bonjours’ here!

We avoided the shops and explored the quieter backstreets, finding our way to the city walls. From there we could see for miles across the sandy beaches, past the fort and on the horizon the islands of Jersey, Guernesey and on to the south west of England…okay, so England was in our imaginations only, but it’s only a ferry ride away from Saint-Malo (just under 9 hours to Portsmouth and about £180 one way with a car and two passengers, in case you’re wondering!).

A really interesting coastline…we would like to have our sea kayak over here for an explore
Up on the battlements
Interesting rooftops with a lot of chimneys
Looking around the bay

We had a bit more of an explore and I ducked into the cathedral for a quick look. Built in 1146 on the site of an old church from the 6th century, it too has been restored in the past 50 years after WWII bombing damage. The late afternoon sunlight shone in through the stained glass windows and gave a magical light, showering the walls with rainbows. It was a fine conclusion to our visit as we farewelled Saint-Malo and returned to Truffy to find camp for the night.

Saint-Malo Cathedral
Beautiful light
A beautiful building, well restored.

26-28 August: Across in to north western France

Author: Mrs A

Location: Coulon, Parc regional du Marais Poitevin, and Borgneuf-en-Retz, France

We farewelled the eastern Loire Valley and continued on our way west, heading towards Brittany. We visited the Loire region extensively three years ago, and the memories of the beautiful chateaus and cycleways are still fresh in our memories – we don’t feel the need to renew them quite yet with so many places we have not seen.

After a brief overnight stop to tackle our washing, on Tuesday we arrived in the small town of Coulon, in the Marais Poitevin regional park. The regional park has quite a unique look and feel to it.

An intricate web of streams link up to more major arteries and canals

Looking at Google Maps you can see a web of waterways criss-crossing the countryside. The regional park stretches across 112,000 hectares all the way down to the coast, but we were here to explore the section around Coulon which comprises of two main areas – the dry marsh (which is used for agriculture) and the wet marsh (known as the ‘Green Venice’) which floods during winter. The park is important for migratory birds and rare wildlife such as the European otter and is France’s second largest wetland.

Five hundred years’ of work has gone into creating and managing this area, with the efforts of monks from five abbeys across the region responsible for the initial creating of the waterways in order to create viable land for farming and agriculture.

After setting up in the municipal campground, we jumped on our bikes for an explore. Coulon clearly does see itself as a Green Venice, with barques (a style of punting) and rowboats lining the waterways, but the tourist numbers on this Tuesday afternoon were not quite filling the capacity.

Plenty of boats for hire in Coulon and only a few rented out…this is the last week of the French summer school holidays so things are getting quieter

There is a good network of cycleways around the area, with well marked trails on boardwalks over the marshes and cycle paths off road and along quiet lanes into local villages. We did a short 20km circuit before returning for the night.

View of the canal from the village of La Garette

The following morning we decided it would be the ideal opportunity to inflate our pack rafts and head out for an explore by water. We launched from just in front of our campsite onto La Sevre Niortaise, the main waterway going through Coulon. But instead of heading into the throng of rowboats and tourists we turned right, and went into the quieter waters upstream, hoping to find some unsuspecting wildlife.

And we’re off….excited to be back on the water after a break
Heading off down one of the smaller streams

We found an opening in the river bank and set off down it, hoping we would find our way out of the maze at some point, but excited to see what was beyond.

Paddling quietly, hoping to see some furry otter action
Turn another corner and another watery pathway leads through the trees
Perfectly still reflections

And what a scene awaited us. The waterways are lined with poplars and ash trees, the still waters creating incredible reflections. Moreover, it was only about ten minutes into our paddle that we saw our first otter, swimming along the water’s edge and climbing out to retreat to safety. Our strategy had paid off!

After this magical experience of seeing a rare otter in the wild, we chalked it up as luck, until Mr A cried out again ‘look, is that a cat running along through that field?’. The answer was ‘no’! It was actually another otter bounding along through the grass. Are these things rare or what?

Ash and poplar trees line the waterways, cut back to short stumps to prevent them toppling over during winter storms
Back to the village of La Garotte where we explore back gardens leading to the waterways
There are more waterways than roads in these parts
Back in Coulon before heading off for a late lunch

We saw our third and final otter not long after, swimming across the channel in front of us, head held high. It seems we were very fortunate. We excitedly told a local boat guide what we had seen, and he said he very rarely has seen one, let alone three. I guess otters are not used to the stealth like approach of us on a pack raft compared to the chattering of tourists on rowboats or barques.

Over a late lunch we debated whether to stay another night or move on, and settled on the latter. More adventures await us! We hit the road and continued on our journey west, aiming for Brittany, the region of France closest to the south west of England. After our 8km paddle we had worked up a thirst, and thought a wine tasting and stay on a vineyard as part of our France Passion membership might be in order.

It was around 5pm that we pulled up at Martine and Gérard Padiou’s western Loire Valley vineyard ‘Domaine des Priés’. We entered the cellar, as is typical in France, situated below the main house.

Martine welcomed us and offered a degustation from the wide range of wines grown and produced on their property, including the grape typical of the Loire Valley region, grolleau. The name grolleau is derived from the French word for crow, and is said to describe the deep black hue of the grapes.

A wide selection of wines available for tasting
We bought a bottle of the Grolleau Gris which was dry and fruity, not acidic…it will be nice with a seafood entree one evening!

We purchased a couple of bottles of wine, both very reasonable (the Grolleau Gris at €3.80 and the Abouriou Grolleau at €3.40) and headed off to the vineyard for the night.

Catherine and Martine, working our way through the French language!

There we found ourselves a level parking spot between the rows of grapes and settled down for the night to listen to owls hooting and hunting among the vines.

Cosy in the vines for the night
Grapes are looking plump and almost ready for harvest
A fine conclusion to a fabulous day

24-25 August: The Loire Valley… and a break from Truffy

Author: Mr A

Location: Sancerre, Loire Valley, France

Saturday: We headed down from the Bourgogne region, dropping several hundred metres to the River Loire Valley, and watched the thermometer rise 16 degrees centigrade to the early 30s. The next few days forecast are even hotter. I suggested we look for some alternative accomodation to our hot tin box with no air conditioning. Given its high season and the Loire valley…we will need some luck.

Meanwhile we have some lovely wines from Sancerre to taste. Catherine had spotted this winery advertising on the France Passion scheme that we belong to where French producers (of wine or cheese, or honey..or pretty much anything!) will let a self contained motorhome park on their property for the night if they sample the goods. Not a bad deal. We arrived at the Eric Louis winery and were parked up with free power and water…sorted…how good is that?

Parked up by the tasting room

Next it was a quick 30 kilometre bike ride along the Canal Lateral a la Loire, which was built to provide an alternative route for navigation to the unreliable waters of the Loire river.

Oh how embarrassing. It isn’t until mid afternoon that we realise we are in team colours!

Then it was a visit to the hilltop village of Sancerre with its multitude of restaurants and wine shops. We soon worked up a thirst for a wine tasting!

An old railway viaduct now serves as a cycleway access up to the medieval hilltop village of Sancerre
A beautiful panorama from the top of the village
Many medieval buildings remain in the village adding much character to the winding streets
Mrs A heads down another quiet cobbled street
Every building has its own story to tell
Sancerre is surrounded by Sancerre grapes – commonly known as Sauvignon Blanc
The flinty soils add to they flavour of the grapes
Our route back to Truffy took us winding through the vines
Rows of grapevines are in all directions

This is, for us, one of the delights of travelling in France – to taste the local wines and try to better understand how the varying terroir impacts the flavour (counting both aroma and taste here). In this area, a mix of limestone and flint soils gave us a real long spectrum of flavours to juggle with. We prefer the flintier, more mineral characteristics, but it was good to do a taste check as the Sancerre sav blancs here are top class.

Caroline takes us through a good selection of wines

We were made to feel so welcome by Caroline, who thankfully spoke good English, which allowed us to get into a more in depth discussion than our halting French allows. I mentioned to her we were looking for somewhere to stay out of the motorhome and she said the winemaker was just opening up a place for accomodation not far away and called him for us. So we will check it out tomorrow! How’s that for friendly French service?

Sunday: Another glorious day dawned so it was off to explore the other direction down the Loire river.

The first part of our ride was along the towpath of the canal
Not all of the towpath was gravel…but the bikes still made it along the grassy banks
A nice cup of tea at the halfway mark

It was a fabulous cycleway, and we soon had 30km under our belt and arrived at the small town of La Charité-sur-Loire.

Crossing the Loire River onto one of the islands
The ever changing river, new islands appear and disappear with each flood

We had a quick poke about, admiring a 900 year old UNESCO listed church, but more importantly settled on a lunch venue with a view of the river.

Benedictine monastery, founded in 1059
Literally hundreds of years of history has passed these walls by
A mishmash of buildings over the centuries makes this corner look slightly awkward
Inside the Priory Church of Notre-Dame, a combination of 11th and 12th century architecture
Magnificent ceilings and walls built to last

Pizza “sans fromage” (no cheese) for madam and something super cheesy for me, a kind of a creamy penne pasta with a baked top. Apparently called a gratin. Well we did still have to ride back in 36 degrees centigrade in the sun…phew…needed those calories.

Looking back at La Charité-sur-Loire from our lunch spot on the island

We arrived back at Truffy a little hot and bothered but soon packed him up and pottered up to our accomodation for the night, a room in a newly restored house out in the sticks. We were warmly greeted by the host and settled in. We discovered we were sharing the house with other guests, and so had to close our door, and the AC was only in the shared area, so we were stifling. We opened the windows and there were no fly screens so the mossies attacked in force. At one stage during the night we seriously considered moving back into Truff, who was a little miffed I think we had abandoned him at the first sign of another heatwave.

Anyway…all a bit of miscommunication with no ill intent. So a not so good night’s sleep, but a decision made to use the next day as a driving day as it was going to be a another blaster. We just decided…lets go to Brittany!

15-18 August: Lurking around the outskirts of Zurich

Author: Mr A

Location: Greifensee and Zürich, Switzerland

While Mrs A was off getting her injections in London, I amused myself lurking around the outskirts of Zurich. I had three days to myself, always exciting when you haven’t been on your own for 6 weeks! So I set about exploring on two wheels (now there’s a surprise) the area around Greifensee, a lake to the east of Zurich, where we had found a nice little family owned campsite.

Lake Greifensee – finally spot the mountains after the cloud lifts

I rode into Zurich a couple of times and explored the eastern and western lakeshore, then up the river that flows though the middle of the city.

Zurich is a very picturesque city

Once again I felt so comfortable riding around, along with hundreds of other cyclists, with cars respectfully keeping their distance. I’m just about to clock up 2,000 kilometers (1,245 miles) on this bike and haven’t had one incident where I felt threatened by a car drivers behaviour. In Australia I’d be lucky to go down the local shops and back without some hoon cutting me up, pulling out in front or nearly brushing my elbow. There is just a different attitude here from drivers, not just to bikes but all other road users. Drivers thoughtfully pause to let you out from a side road, pull to the slower lane rather than hogging the fast lane, and generally behave a lot more thoughtfully. The accident rates for road users bear testament to how this reflects in fewer fatalities. Switzerland has one of the lowest vehicle mortality rates in the world (with the UK and Denmark leading the charge). Australia is interestingly on a par with Italy!

Zurich had few surprises as a city, though very unexpected were the hundreds of people floating down the CBD centric river clutching little flotation devices! The water was actually very clear and clean looking for the city centre – I was almost tempted until I toe tested the temperature. Yikes these Swiss are hardy folks!

Imagine people doing this down the River Thames?!
Zurich also has a surprising amount of green space

I had one day of perfect blue skies, on Sunday. It seemed half of Switzerland were out on their bikes riding around the lake side cycle paths of Greifensee.

It was once again lovely to see so many families out getting some exercise together without using a car. In fact lake side access for cars is almost non-existent, the only way to get there is by bike or a longish walk.

Clean air and peaceful – makes a change from a car park full of motor vehicles
Great to see so many bikes in use

It completely transforms the character of the area, making it quieter, cleaner and safer. People were calling out to one another and stopping for a chat, hard to do in a car. There were several groups of young people out cooking up a BBQ with friends, with a few beers on the go, but no gangs of drunken yobs staggering around either. Just all very clean Swiss family friendly fun.

Perfect blue skies, a pleasure to be riding around the local lake

Mrs A turned up late last night, just before another massive storm rumbled around the encircling hills and dumped yet more rain. But no complaints from us on that score, we are enjoying the cooler weather, and everywhere just looks so fresh and green.

12-14 August: A little taster of south-western Germany and into Switzerland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wangan im Allgäu, and Lottstetten, Germany, The Rhine Falls, Switzerland

Monday morning brought stormy skies and cool temperatures – struggling to reach 14°C by lunchtime. We farewelled Ottobeuren and drove west through Germany, heading to a town called Wangan. We parked up on a stellplatz (the German version of a parking area dedicated for motor homes, with electricity and services provided for self-contained vehicles) beside the river leading into town.

By early afternoon the rain had stopped so we ventured out for an explore. Wangan is an old medieval town with several well preserved buildings and some remains of the wall and towers which marked the entry points.

The River Argen is very full after the heavy rain, In the background, St Martin’s church which rings out the hour…

Clearly English speaking guests are a rarity in these parts, as the information centre, packed with leaflets, maps and posters was able to hand me only one single booklet in English, detailing a historical walk through the town. I asked about cycling but the response was vague and a German language map book with rides was handed to me, and two routes pointed out as suitable as day rides.

Mark and I had a wander around town, finding a few of the old buildings before heading back to camp before the next storm arrived.

The streets of the old town are all cobbled
Part of a lovely sculpture – St Anthony’s Fountain – named after the patron saint of domestic animals, sitting on the site where the weekly pig market was held for hundreds of years
The town hall – or Rathaus (I find this quite comical that it directly translates as the rat house!) dates back to the 1500s and incorporates the first fortifications
History is everywhere if we could only read the signs!
Coats of arms outside old pubs date back to times when few could read and pictures communicated who the publican was
Claimed to be ‘one of the most scenically attractive streets in South Germany’ murals cover the front of many buildings, dating back to the 1700s
The Women’s Gate – dating back to before 1472
Everywhere a colourful array of flowers
Check shirts are mandatory apparently…
A music shop selling dodgy Australian road signs and didgeridoos…surprising!

Tuesday was overcast but dry, so I used Google to try and plot out a circuit route using the map I’d been given. Our route ended up being 60km, so by the time we got back to camp we were starving. Other than the medieval town of Isny, the ride was unremarkable, following mostly quiet roads through farmland and bike paths parallel to busy lorry routes. I think the grey skies helped to dull our enthusiasm for the gently rolling hills and fields of crops.

Isny im Allgäu, another pretty medieval town with a lot of history
Is this how you make warm water…?
Heading off on our ride

Wednesday: We were woken at 7am by the chiming of the local church bells, and packed up and on our way within a couple of hours, having enjoyed fresh bread delivered to the stellplatz by a local baker for breakfast. Before long we were passing through into Switzerland, completely unplanned, having failed to purchase a vignette for the motorways! We exited the motorway as fast as possible and quickly bought one at a local garage, hoping we wouldn’t be penalised for those few kilometres we had driven without paying.

This is the downside of being able to easily pass from country to country – each border crossing comes with its own rules, with Switzerland joining Austria and Slovenia in their requirement for all vehicles to travel with a prepaid vignette attached to their windscreen. Of course Switzerland was the most expensive, at 40 Swiss Francs, around AU$61 (£34). At that price we will have to ensure we make use of it!

Our destination for the day was actually in Germany again, about 40 minutes drive north of Zurich, just across the Rhine River.

Lottstetten is a quiet little village with a handily located stellplatz an easy cycle away from the magnificent waterfalls on the Rhine.

The River Rhine near our camp

We found a cycleway and followed signs to Neuhaisen am Rhinefall, the location of the falls, actually back in Switzerland, just across the border. We weaved our way through paths along fields and railways passing through quiet villages….

Peaceful country lanes, the village of Lottstetten in the background
A little ginger kitten calls us over to give him strokes on our cycle past

The falls were created after the last ice age, and have huge volumes of water thundering over them. Today we were advised there are 479,000 litres per second moving past…we wouldn’t fancy white water rafting over them right now!

479 thousand litres per second roar over this drop on the Rhine River
Look carefully and you will see tiny tourists on the rock in the middle of the falls, and to the left…and of course the boat beneath the falls.
Laufen Castle behind us on the Zurich side of the river, dates back to the year 878

It turns out we were not the only people there to see the spectacle!

For the first time since Krka National Park in Croatia we saw rows of coaches, full car parks and crowds of people lining up for toilets, ice creams and boat trips. It was not really our scene, so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the magnificent falls (and really, the photos do not do them justice), the castle overlooking them and wondered at the sheer power of the river before heading back.

And so to our final night in Germany this evening, as tomorrow we will head into Switzerland again, making it officially our tenth country this year.

9-11 August: Bavaria – we’re back for bread, beer and barbecues

Author: Mr A

Location: Ottobeuren, Bavaria, Germany

Three years ago we came to the small market town of Ottobeuren in southern Bavaria in response to an invite from a friend of Catherine’s to come and visit. On our way to Zurich from Austria we were again invited to come and hang out in this small town that epitomises all things good about this corner of the world. Fields of potatoes and corn dominate the rolling countryside, interspersed with the brightest green fields of lush grass for the grazing beef and dairy cattle.

A beautiful area to explore by bike – quiet lanes and endless cycle ways

We have spent a delightful few days here, eating and drinking and chatting with Catherine’s friend Stefanie and her family.

The gorgeous Stefanie and her youngest, Luna
Lovely Luna

We even got to meet all the neighbours at a BBQ, it was just embarrassing to not speak German! A few beers and conversation seemed to flow pretty well anyway. We love hearing about people’s lives in other countries, and picking out what’s the same globally, and what’s specific to their country or region.

Street party BBQ – helps neighbours and visitors get to know one another better
Manu and Stefanie’s daughter Luna decides Mrs A is ok after all
Ottobeuren Market Square – looking picturesque late at night as we cycle back to camp
Ottobeuren’s Basilica, founded in the year 764

Bavaria seems a very family based culture, and again like Austria, very keen to preserve its culture and traditions. The town has a real buzz about it, with a central town square full of cafes, and empty of cars at weekends and now evenings for a trial period. Families can let their children play in relative safety. Cyclists are everywhere, whole families out to meet friends over an ice cream.

Banana and raspberry sorbet for Mrs A
Mr A’s choice of ice cream includes chocolate, nuts and a dash of rum
One happy little boy post ice-cream
Mr Three, Tristan, demonstrates the real use for the stream running through the centre of town
Miss 15 months, Luna, decides her dry shoes and socks would make good boats….
A bustling town centre on a Sunday afternoon

There is a very strong community spirit….oh…and the locally brewed beers…fantastic! A Bavarian tradition is to sink a couple of wheat beers with white sausage, sweet mustard and pretzels over a breakfast they call “weißwurstfrühstück”. Any culture that has beers for breakfast gets my vote!

Welcomed into a family breakfast
You need to clink the bottom of the glass!

Ottobeuren is maybe not on everyone’s list of holiday destination, but there is more than just ice cream here. It is home to Ottobeuren Abbey which was founded in the year 764 with a spectacular Basilica (completed in 1766) which has been described as one of the best examples of Baroque architecture worldwide. The interior is breathtaking, with every inch covered in carvings, sculptures, beautiful marble pillars and frescoes. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area – Stefanie and Manu were married here, and each of their three children baptised.

Ottobeuren Abbey overlooks the whole town, its twin towers visible for miles around
Gorgeous artworks everywhere
Really need a guide to help interpret the stories shown here
Some of the artwork incorporates sculpture to help the characters literally step out of the paintings

Ottobeuren also has a museum of contemporary art, which Catherine and Stefanie went along to see. It’s housed in a purpose built modern building just off the market square and is somewhat controversial among local residents, some of whom see it as a waste of public money.

It was the final fifteen minutes of the final day of an exhibition of works by Markus Lüpertz, a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist and writer – one of Germany’s best known contemporary artists. Due to the lateness of the day they were allowed in free of charge. Sadly information about the exhibition was only in German and offered little insight into his work – a range of compositions in watercolour, acrylics and oil pastel alongside prints and sculptures, many seemingly themed around star signs.

Works by Markus Lüpertz
A lovely space for artwork but one wonders whether it could not be used for charity dinner parties and suchlike
The light in the building is as much art in itself

Manu and I solved the problems of the world over a couple of beers while we waited.

Catherine and Stefanie

It’s been a great insight into life in small town Bavaria, where you needn’t lock up your garage, you know your neighbours, and cyclists say hello to other riders. We’ve loved it. Ok so the fact that things are changing more slowly here means that’s there’s no nod to the thousands of foreign tourists who visit the local basilica, with menus and other signage exclusively in German. We struggled to find dairy free options for Catherine, cash transactions are the norm again and cigarette smoke hangs over every outdoor seating area like the death pall it is. The latter is the only real negative for us, and that has applied all over mainland Europe.

It’s made us appreciate how Australia is moving faster than Europe in some areas such as banning smoking in public areas and making transactions much easier with a strong and innovative digital payments infrastructure. But to us the big attraction here in Europe is not having to jump in a car to get everywhere, but instead having the ability to safely cycle through towns and countryside, stopping when we want, parking with ease, and having nothing but courtesy from other road users.

….even in the pouring rain!

Dramatic skies approaching us on Sunday night

8 August: Venturing into Germany

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pfronten, Bavaria, Germany

What we love about travelling in Europe is the the ability to amend our plans on the fly, make decisions at short notice and even change countries – all a great challenge in Australia, where at busy times of the year campgrounds must be booked well in advance (restricting any spontaneity) and as for changing countries…well, that takes both funds and planning, and it would be very hard to take a vehicle.

It was a message from our friend Stefanie pointing out we were only a couple of hours away from her in Bavaria that prompted us into pointing Truffy’s nose north upon leaving Innsbruck and head into Germany. It was a spectacular drive, through mountains and following rivers, through alpine tunnels and past countless castles and fortifications.

Yet another fine view out of our windscreen as we wind through the Zugspitze – part of the Northern Limestone Alps

The language, food and scenery sounded and looked very similar to Austria, but in just over an hour’s driving we arrived in the town of Pfronten.

I would love to say it was some secret knowledge that brought us to this village en route to see Stefanie, but it wasn’t, just a site written up on an app with good reviews – and we really hit the jackpot in terms of location. It turned out that a tavern had added motorhome parking to its car park – thereby increasing customer numbers and earning a side income. It was so much cheaper than we had experienced of late too, a total of €14 (AU$23/£13) for the night including drinking water and electricity.

I sat down with Google maps and plotted out what I hoped might be a good circuit cycle ride, taking in a few sights on the way. The region is literally riddled with cycle and hiking paths, and we had spotted a few castles and lakes on our drive through.

The paths started right at our campground, car-free tracks heading across the countryside, amazing views in all directions.

Five minutes ride from camp and we cannot see another human

Our first point of interest was the castle of Eisenberg, built in 1313. It has been owned by Germans and Austrians, attacked by peasants, built up, renovated and raised to the ground again in its 706 years lifespan.

Castle Eisenberg
A commanding position…ensuring peasants all around can be reminded who is in charge
Looking back towards the main castle
Enjoying the lookout from the tower

In the 1980s there was significant restoration of the buildings and interesting finds have been stored in a museum in the nearby village of Zell (open at weekends only).

Setting off on another typical pathway towards another amazing view…not too busy either!

We set off next towards Hopfensee, a large lake surrounded by villages and walking tracks, skirting the edge of the lake through the village of Füssen towards another lake, Weissensee. All tracks were off road, cutting through woodland, old farm tracks along fields, or purpose built alongside the busier roads, but felt really safe at all times. There were plenty of other cyclists around, big smiles on their faces, enjoying the sunshine, perfect temperature and stunning scenery after several days of rain and cooler temperatures.

Weissensee Lake – popular for swimming, paddle boarding and fishing
Looking over to the lakeside village of Oberried
Do these birds appreciate their view? Looking down Weissensee lake from Oberkirch

Our 40km circuit ride finished back at our local tavern for a refreshing beverage. Other than potatoes and vegetables there was nothing on the menu that was dairy-free, so we settled for a beer and glass of Riesling before heading back to Truffy for showers and to cook dinner. An awesome day.

5 August: Castles, rivers, mountains and views – quintessential Austria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Zillertal Valley, Tirol, Austria

After the quiet of the past few days it surprised us how busy the traffic was this morning in the Zillertal Valley, the sounds of lorries, motorbikes and cars echoing loudly from the early hours. After a cup of tea, we set up the bikes and headed off for the day.

We picked up things for a picnic from a nearby supermarket and followed the valley until we reached the Inn River. This is the river which gives Innsbruck its name (brücke means bridge in German). It may not look so in the photos, but the river is known as ‘the green river’ due to the particles of limestone which reflect the light from the sun.

Fields of sweet corn line the pathway, overlooked by mountains

Alongside the river is the Inn River Cycleway which runs 520km from the river’s source in Swizerland, through the Tirol region of Austria and finishing up in Germany. We were doing a short section of the river ride to make up a 65km return trip from camp.

The first castle of our morning, Schloss Matzen, looking like a fairytale palace

Our destination for the day was Austria’s smallest town, the medieval settlement of Rattenberg. The town has just 400 permanent residents but that is substantially bolstered by visitors – long distance cyclists, people on day rides like us and day trippers. It’s famous for its well preserved medieval buildings as well as the craft of glass blowing – there are several shops there.

The ride was just lovely – the river route is set up for ebikers and manual cyclists alike, with several break areas offering charging facilities, picnic tables, water, and inner-tube vending machines. The route is very gently undulating – we barely moved off the ‘eco’ setting on our bikes all day.

It’s an interesting route too, with little chapels, castles and villages dotting the landscape as we rode, giving the opportunity for a change of scenery or a break at any stage.

Rattenberg sits in the shadow of Rat Mountain and receives no sunlight for much of the winter
Mr A riding along an apple tree lined pathway
Crossing the fast moving waters of the Inn River

We rode through the cobbled streets of Rattenberg, evidence of its medieval history evident on every corner.

Colourful houses with coats of arms
Unknown story told in art on a street corner

We saw a steep lane way leading up to the castle and powered on up for a look.

The castle these days is used as an outdoor theatre

The views from the castle ruins are fabulous. This building dates back to the 10th century and only one tower remains today.

Looking out over the town towards the river and mountains
The one remaining building, the Bienerturm Tower – named after Chancellor Biener who was beheaded there
A couple of happy cyclists

We enjoyed a drink in a cafe in the town square, before heading back to camp. Well worth a look around if you’re in the area, especially if you’re on two wheels!