I love it when (not having) a plan comes together

I love it when (not having) a plan comes together

Any regular reader of my Blog will know that I love planning and that I get almost as much pleasure from arranging our trips as I do from enjoying them. Alison is always trying to encourage me to be more laid back and spontaneous, as far as holidays in Absinthe are concerned, so for our 3 week September trip to Europe I made a real effort. Obviously, the ferries still had to be booked and we picked the site for our first week but, after that, everything was fluid.

Hull to Zeebrugge

In another first, we avoided the long haul down to Portsmouth by getting the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. The drive from home to Hull via the M62 was almost pleasurable, despite rain for most of the way and we arrived at the P&O Terminal in good time for the overnight ferry. As always, we were stopped at the entry and the customs guys asked to see inside the trailer. No problem of course, until we realised that I’d left the trailer keys in my coat, when I’d be hitching up in the rain at home. Fortunately, and again for the first time, we’d taken the spare keys with us, although we couldn’t immediately remember where we’d hidden them. We eventually found them and everything was ok (apart from our obvious embarrassment).

The ferry crossing was smooth and we had a good meal in the buffet restaurant – we’d managed to upgrade to a bigger cabin so we had a good night’s rest before landing in Zeebrugge on Sunday morning.

Our first destination was Colmar in Alsace in France, close to the German border. Alsace isn’t an area we’d visited before so we didn’t really know what to expect. It’s 400 miles from the port to the site and Alison, as always, drove all the way, with a couple of drink and fuel stops to break the journey. The Belgian and French motorways were fantastic and we only had one brief hold up during the whole journey.

Colmar

There was queue to get into the site at Colmar but we were soon allocated our pitch and ready to set up camp for the week. We’d paid a little extra for a pitch right next to the River Ill and we were glad that we had. The only downside was that the washing block in that area is due a refurb and was looking a bit tired, but as a location on the site it was ace.

We’d sold our two Brompton bikes on Ebay, before we left, to fund the purchase of two Raleigh foldable electric ones, which was a great decision. We used them most days to cycle into Colmar and farther afield to the wonderful wine villages in the area. It took us a while to find our way to Eguisheim but, boy, was it worth it. We had no idea how great this area was before we arrived; the villages along the Alsace wine route are straight from a fairy tale with architecture more like Germany than France.

Colmar itself was beautiful with an area called Little Venice, with restaurants, bars and boat rides. We’d definitely go back again.

On one rare grey day, we cycled to the station in Colmar and caught the train to Strasbourg. We had a great day exploring the city and took a boat trip which took in the European parliament building and also included a commentary on Strasbourg’s history.

We kept one day free for fishing, as I’d brought a couple of poles and some tackle with us. Permits for the river Ill were available on site and we had a great few hours catching Roach, Dace and Bullheads. There were some massive fish in the river which would have broken our gear but, fortunately, they were very wary of our sweetcorn bait.

We followed the wine route in Absinthe one day and visited quite a few of the villages. They all have their own highlights but all rely on wine (and tourism) to survive. As well as Eguisheim, we visited Ammerschwihr, Riquewihr, Kayersburg and Ingersheim and had a great day.

The area is very proud that they have managed to re-introduce storks back after they were all gone from Alsace and we were lucky enough to see one atop its nest in the village.

Sierck-les-Bains

Alsace, then, was a huge success but where to head to next? We studied the map (and the weather forecasts) and opted for a site beside the Moselle river in Sierck-les-Bains, again in France, but close to the German and Luxembourg borders. And when I say close, I mean very close…

The drive there wasn’t bad at all, but as we left the motorway and began to get near to our destination, we both had a sinking feeling that we’d made a mistake. The scenery seemed a bit drab and there were few signs of any tourist attractions. We drove into Sierck and stopped beside the river to eat a picnic lunch. The town seemed small with most places closed and we genuinely thought of moving on somewhere else. We decided to have a look at the campsite and we were glad we did. It took a while to check in as there was a very strange woman ahead of us in the queue. She had to check everything with her husband which involved her going backwards and forwards to their motorhome. She couldn’t decide whether they wanted electricity and when she finally came back she wouldn’t accept the pitch she’d been allocated because he’d told her to get pitch 15. The receptionist was very patient and moved bookings around to accommodate them.

Alison had emailed ahead to book a pitch and we’d got a corker – right next to the river with this view:

We used the bikes to ride into Sierck and up to the Chateau, where we were rewarded with more fantastic views down the river.

I mentioned that we were close to the borders of Germany and Luxembourg – close enough that we could cycle through all three to get to Schengen. We chilled by the river and had a beer in the visitor centre before cycling back along the opposite bank of the river Moselle. A great day in glorious sunshine.

It would be crazy to be so close to other countries without visiting them, so we had a couple of days driving to Luxembourg and Germany. A friend suggested Vianden in Lux so we headed there for the day. It’s a lovely place with a castle and a cable car, which Alison persuaded me to go on, despite my fear of heights. You’ll see from the photo that I wasn’t happy on the way up…

We had a lovely meal by the river and a walk from the top of the cable car to the Chateau. A good day out and we took the opportunity to stop for a photo opportunity at the meeting of the three borders on the way back.

We met some great people on our trip, including this family who were parked near us in Sierck. They’ll help you settle abroad if you need help with the arrangements. They’re currently touring Europe in their Motor Home and you can catch up with them here: Worldtowning or take a look at their YouTube Channel. Jessica, Will, Avalon and Largo seemed to have escaped the humdrum – if only we could all do it.

Our next day out was to Germany and the historic town of Saarburg. It was only 30 minutes away but a closed road gave us a diversion through the hills and added another 20 minutes to our journey. It was well worth it though.

 

 

Weather wise, it had been great so far, with only some overnight rain once, which cleaned the event shelter after a flock of birds took aim on it on our first day in Colmar.

I don’t know what they were but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t these two.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms were due at the weekend, so where to go next? Unknown to Alison, I’d had a quick look at the Center Parcs website and got us a cheap deal from Friday to Monday at their site in the Ardennes. She seemed pleased so we set off there on Friday morning.

Center Parcs

It took us about 2 and a half hours to get to Vielsalm in Belgium where this particular Center Parcs is sited, just in time to check in to the cottage I’d booked. Parking wasn’t easy (no, the trailer still isn’t reverse-able), but we managed to sneak on to a space quite close to the cottage which was handy for unloading our stuff. We unloaded the bikes, too, envisaging lovely rides through the woods. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any woodland rides, the site was built on a massive hill and it rained for most of the weekend as forecast. Still, we were dry, had proper beds and a roomy shower.

At least they’d colour co-ordinated the outside table and chairs for Absinthe.

The site was a huge disappointment. Only one of the restaurants was open and we had to queue for 15 minutes for that one,  even though we’d booked the night before, none of the activities seemed to be open and the site was tiny. I’ve only been to Center Parcs at Whinfell in Cumbria before, so this one was quite a shock. We won’t be going there again…

We left on Monday to head to Gent. Alison had found a site that was within cycling distance of the town and it was brilliant.

Gent

It was a relatively short drive to Gent and we were early for check in, so parked around the corner. The campsite is adjacent to a huge sports complex, has a shop, bar and restaurant and the most helpful reception staff we’ve ever encountered. We were allocated a pitch, self-contained by low boundary hedges, which was perfect for us.

We spent our few days in the area cycling into the city which was a massively pleasant place to spend some time.

The architecture was fantastic and there was such a friendly vibe, that we’d wished we had more time there.

Gent is a wonderful place and we were very sad to leave but also looking forward to a few days in Brugge before catching the ferry back to England.

Brugge

Our last destination was one of our favourite cities. We’ve been to Bruges a few times before but never in Absinthe. In fact our very first trip abroad together was a treat from Alison, when she booked for us to have a weekend break there in 1998, for my birthday. There’s a lot of water gone down the canal since then…

The campsite was perfect, with self-check in and even beer in the vending machine. It was within cycling distance of the city centre and also close to plenty of shops and supermarkets. We really enjoyed our few days in Bruges but have both decided we’ve probably visited enough for now.

On our last day we decided to cycle a bit further afield, to the small town of Damme. The bike ride beside the canal and past the windmills was great, as was the town. We happened upon an art expo in the centre and visited quite a few of the exhibitions, although some of it was a bit dark, particularly in the disused hospital, which had a real spooky feel to it.

We finished our day with a fantastic meal at the Soetkin Damme Restaurant and rode back to the campsite.

We paid an extra 3 Euros to have a late check out from the site so on Saturday morning we could chill, before indulging Alison’s shopping habit at the local outdoor store (in reality, it was more like a clothes shop…).

A short drive to Zeebrugge saw us in the line with a whole bunch of Motor Homes and caravans and on board a full half hour before our scheduled sailing time. We booked a meal and had a bottle of fizz to round off the trip.

After a good night’s sleep and an early arrival into Hull, we were hopeful of being home by 11am. No such luck, though, as once off the boat we were all kept in a holding area for an hour, possibly because another bigger boat from Rotterdam had just docked too. In the end we were back home for 12 after one of our best trips.

Things we’ve learned

It can be very chilly at night even though it’s been warm during the day – we need more blankets (or another cosy schnauzer)

Not planning everything can be quite liberating

Luxembourg is a beautiful country (who knew?)

Belgian beer is ace

Fishing is part of the future

When Alison retires next year, the world is our oyster

 

There’s a full set of photos here: Flickr

 

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. wheatypete

    Ah Martin and Alison, you just did what we used to do on our drives back and forth from Slovakia to UK – except you did it in a lot more depth with your bikes and time there. I am so envious! Luxembourg had some fab campsites and living in Bratislava we could do the depth you did here in a different area being less than 2 hours from Poland, Czech, Austria and Hungary. A 4 hour drive would be Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. So there’s an idea for the trip when Alison retires. Head for the ex Yugoslav republics. A socialist like you would love that. But DO drive the Vrsic pass in Slovenia if you do that trip.
    Colmar is beautiful isn’t it? I must say that your photos are stunning in this post (as usual) and totally do your trip justice. I want to talk about Brexit and what this will do for the likes of us Europhiles… but we could be here for a while so I won’t go there. In the end this is a great blog, very evocative and well-written with some fantastic photography – no change there then. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    1. Martin Bellamy

      One day Pete, our paths will cross; beers will be drunk and we’ll put the world to rights.

      Reply

      1. pete

        This, my friends, is an excellent plan!

        Reply

  2. wheatypete

    PS Yes free the inner control freak and follow the sun – that’s what we have always done in Europe. A loose plan and a weather forecast is the way forward!

    Reply

  3. pete

    PS Yes free the inner control freak and follow the sun – that’s what we have always done in Europe. A loose plan and a weather forecast is the way forward!

    Reply

  4. Tim Marsden

    Always puts a smile on my face when I’m reading your blogs, maybe it’s because I know the man behind the pen (on the keyboard), or maybe it’s just that I think I do🤔. And to say your Mr organised, you normally make your travels look laid back and off the cuff.
    Yet again amazing photos of places visited…and food!
    Not too sure I’d be too keen to visit the art expo now I’ve seen the photos, having said that everything else you’d seen and visited made me feel really well jell and think they’re now on our wish list.
    Still don’t know why no one’s picked up on you as a travel writer yet.
    Thank you for sharing…😊
    Ps looks like I’ve missed the 130k…😒

    Reply

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