Le dernier article (pour le moment)

Trundling along on our way to the Loire, checked the weather forecast and it showed heavy rain. Not fans of too much driving in the rain so we pulled off at Montmorillon, found the municipal campsite and settled in for 48 hours. As you would then expect we had about 25 minutes of rain! Never mind “tidy Friday” was completed, we had the campsite to ourselves and visited somewhere we had previously never heard of.

Montmorillon is is bi-famous (if that’s a word), firstly for macaroons – there is even a macaroon museum. For the sake of not missing we visited the oldest macaron bakery in town which was established in 1920, Maison Rannou-Métivier. There were some free samples, but not the coloured shinny ones a’la Mary Berry – these were like weird little cakey biscuits. At a price or €15 for 6 tiny cakes – we passed.

Secondly for books, it’s the Wigtown of France. Known as the Citie De L’Ecrit, there are more small bookshops than you could shake a feather quill at, surprisingly even one that specialises in English books.  The town is your typical medieval affair, old cobbled street up the hill at the top of which is an 11th century hospital come monastery.  One claim they don’t make is for giant sized objects, however we found a few including a fairly large pile of books and a massive bike.

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With just over a week left we were planning to spend most of the time around the Loire. We arrived at the white-town of Saumar, a place where everyone seems just a bit too cool and trendy when you have been travelling for 4 months and don’t own an iron! For us it’s the Lake District of France, so many lovely things to see which equals more people than you really want to see doing the same things as you. We did have a quick pit stop for lunch at the chateau, one of the iconic images of the area and worth battling with the crowds to park up outside and brew up.


Chateau at Saumur

We ended up a few km along the river at Turquant. More our style, a small village set just back off the Loire that contains a great number of troglodyte dwellings, many of which are now part of the arts and crafts village. By early evening the village was filling up fast, the small aire we were on was packed to overflowing with more motorhomes arriving late into the evening. The arty people were opening up for the season so a good few had demonstrations taking place in their gardens, their were bands and food-stalls booked for the main opening day, of course that was going to be the day after we left.

We moved off in the morning deciding that further along the Loire maybe quieter. on route we came across the village of Rochemenier, one of the most complete cave (troglodyte) villages in the Loire.  The museum is two former farms that were inhabited until the 1960’s. Fascinating to walk through the caves and see how people lived – and we loved that as the family grew the parents just carved out another nook in the limestone walls to place an extra bed. There is a constant temperature of 12 degrees in the caves, so no we wont be moving into one anytime soon :).

Les Ponts De Ce

We finally found somewhere that took our fancy just outside Angers, on a small island at the town of Les Ponts de Ce. The site had just opened for the season so we spread out and took advantage of having it to ourselves. From outside the gate more fabulous Voie Vert cycle paths,  on the first day we cycled along the Loire, miles of cycle path and quiet farm lanes, we hardly saw a soul. We stopped for lunch by a bridge and soaked up the sunshine, looks like the tourists don’t arrive in this area just yet as only us at the picnic area sitting watching the river rush by.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction, along the river for a few miles and then intending to head up and around Angers on the long loop back to camp. Just as we arrived outside the city the heavens opened, being prepared as always (never) we didn’t have any wet weather gear with us. Thus we needed to get back to camp and that meant the route straight through the city. There were cycle paths they but to the French they mean nothing in the city. Bendy-buses are going to win any disagreement over who owns the lane, cars nipping in and out of side streets are also not to be messed with. By the time we were back I was not at all worried about being soaked to the skin – more my nerves were in shreds and I needed a strong tipple to steady them after surviving the French road systems best attempts at taking me off my bike.

With just a couple of days left we hopped over to Brittany to catch up on the the attractions we missed in the fog on the way down.  Mont St. Michel has been high on our list to see for a long time, we pulled into the car-park, took the ticket from the barrier machine and were then just a little startled to see the price for parking ping up at €124!!! As we were both climbing back up off the van floor a lovely French mademoiselle came scurrying up on her bicycle to tell us we  had inadvertently entered the coach park and needed to move to the next car-park being the one for motorhomes. Even then it was €17.90 and we were sure we could find cheaper.

Mont St. Michel – absolutely worth the return visit

We drove a couple of km down the road to a Camperstop, €10.80 for the night all in – more our range. We took the bikes off and cycled back toward the causeway. We had been told there was a restriction on taking bikes over, but plenty were riding down so we followed suit. Sign of the times I guess, but we were a bit disappointed to see they have built a bridge over the causeway. We cycled over, mixing in with walkers, the local buses and horses and carts, with over 3 million visitors a year time and tide really doesn’t wait for man here – the bridge means its now a constant throng in each direction.

Last few days we have spent along the coast between St. Malo and Cancale, it has been a bit of a culture shock to see so many people. Cancale was packed to the rafters, bars and restaurants all fulled to overflowing with people eating and drinking and not a parking space to be seen. As its known as the oyster capital of France we didn’t feel we were missing out too much on the particular village. From the viewing point above the village we both felt Cancale could easily pass itself off as Tobermory if they used a few pastel paints and moved the church a few hundred yards. From there we drove right around the headland, but with only a couple of days we missed out on so many walks and cycle rides we have decided to go back in the autumn for a few weeks summer holiday.

cancale brittany


We left possibly our biggest surprise to the very last – St. Malo. Expecting just another port were were stunned at what a beautiful town it is. We hadn’t left enough time to see anything other than quick cursory glance around from the van – another reason to return. The weather has been amazingly kind to us this trip, we have counted less then 8 days rain in just under 4 months. Iain looks incredibly well for all the sun – I on the other hand am suffering from insisting on wearing sunglasses all the time, I bear more than a passing resemblance to Ronnie Racoon!


A picture of health 


And so another trip ends, but one always ends with plans for the next one. So it’s back to work, save some money and 2018 we plan to head for Russia, Finland and some more of the Baltics.


France – South West and middle bits

Not sure how or where but we arrived in France! We pulled off the main road and saw road-signs saying France was in 1km but nothing really happened, no border signs, nothing we were just suddenly there. We were on the coast looking back at San Sebastian – seemed very built up so we gave the coast a miss – probably not the best thing to do but we can always come again.

We fancied visiting Lourdes, somewhat surprised to find nearly 5 hours drive (it was only 6 hours from our starting point at Navarre in Spain?). Putting hands in pockets we paid the tolls and €18 and 2 and half hours later arrived in Lourdes. First thing, where were all the people? so quiet we could not believe it. We visited the grotto, literally us and five other people there. Inside the Basilicas it was very much the same, a few people milling around but no crowds anywhere.

Lourdes France (4)We thought we would try our luck and see what the queues were like for the baths. Iain was straight in – no queue for men. I waited 40 minutes which wasn’t too bad. We were both totally unaware of what this was going to entail. Basically, it’s skinny dipping with several other people you have never met, whilst praying, in the coldest water you can imagine.                                                                                    

 (not our photo – pinched from internet

You go into a bath area which looks like a hospital ward, strip off, whilst an assistant stands holding a cloak behind you. As you are called into the actual bath they wrap a wet sheet around you to preserve your modesty as they whip off your cloak. Two assistants walk you to the bath, you step in and walk forward, then as they say prayers they pull you backwards so you are sitting down up to your neck in water than less then 11 degrees i.e.. absolutely freezing.  So much so it took my breathe away, I couldn’t breathe or speak, I honestly thought I was going to be the first person who died in the baths instead of being cured 😦 :(.  The two assistants seemed to notice my inability to breathe or join in with the St Bernadette prayers and whisked me out fairly pronto. Once you are out they hold up a sheet and tell you to get dressed – no towels, only wimps get dried first – just pop on all your clothes whilst you are soaking wet – awesome.

It is an fascinating place to visit, the various churches and basilicas are in the main incredible to see, although the underground St. Pius did, to us, resemble a concrete car-park with seating for 25,000. There are more shops selling religious artifacts than you could ever imagine. Bernadette graces everything from pens to candles to jackets to jewellery, with prices from a few cents to upwards of thousands of Euro.  And to cap it off there is a castle dating from the 11th century right in the centre of town, perched high on a hill it gives wonderful views over the town and the Sanctuary.

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Lourdes – taken from  the castle

Winding our way up through France we happened upon Condom. It would be easy to be immature, I cannot believe there is a Brit who visits who doesn’t have a school-child snigger!! Ok, that aside, its actually a lovely place. It doesn’t seem to have a major claim to fame and therefore is low on the tourist trail rankings. The main street is the usual cobbled affair with shops dedicated to the local specialities of Armagnac and Foie Gras, alongside some tres chic boutiques and cafes. At the lower end of town the Baise river runs out through several miles of parkland, we found a beautiful free aire a few miles along and called that home.


The only other main claim to fame for Condom is its connection to D’Artagnan and his Three Musketeers.  He was born in a castle nearby and hence the town has a very large reminder of him placed firmly in the town square.

We were unaware of the number of Bastide towns in the South West of France, again our ignorance meant we thought there were one or two fortified medieval towns, and yet it seems there must be many more (we found out later over 500) as we passed one every few miles. Those we visited, including our favourite Vianne, were very un-touristy, just a few shops and a cafe or two in a small square, considering they date back to between 1200 and 1400 the walls are astonishingly complete.

Traversing the Midi Pyrenees we were aiming to find a decent canal path for a good bike ride. Our best bet looked to be the Canal Garonne, miles of towpath and not a road in sight.  We had a night at the start of the canal but decided to move on to an aire 15 km up the road to cycle from. As we neared the aire, literally 3 km away we hit a diversion. My French is way to poor too understand what it was about other than we were too wide and only 1 cm under the height restriction. Therefore we followed the yellow divertion signs, and followed them and followed them. We stopped at Tonneins for a lunch break and re-stock of the cupboards, then we got on the diversion trail again.


We finally arived, an hour later and over 35 km detoured. At this stage Iain convisgated my Sat Nav for a look.  Lets just say he wasn’t the most pleased he has ever been. The low bridge was about 1 km after the aire we were heading for – so we really didn’t need to take the detour at all! From my view adds to the trip – from his – adds to the fuel 🙂

The canal cycle ride was worth the minor skirmishes, mile after mile – all off road and not another soul to be seen barring our good selves. We planned for a stop for coffee and something cakey at the first cafe, not a great plan as we didn’t see an open cafe in over 40 miles of cycling. 

This region of France is challenging for campsites at this time of year. Open ones do not appear to exist. Sure we have found websites showing campsite, we arrive they aren’t open. It drives me mad. We went to Duras, purely to get a campsite and do some washing. The kindly British owner told us he wasn’t going to open for a few more weeks – then why advertise including a hoarding on the nearest roundabout saying open? On the upside Duras threw up a quick visit to the chateau and the lady on the information offered us a free night parking around the back!

Chateau Duras

It was then time for us to sample the delights on the famous Dordogne. We followed the river across and came across beautiful village after beautiful village. It does get a bit confusing though, some villages are “one of the most beautiful” others “one of the plus most” etc. etc. Suffice to say its all a bit over-whelming. Just when we thought we had seen the best of something, another one pops up ahead and its even better than the last.

The Dordogne

We ‘happened’ across Limeuil (wrong turn, not mine), apparently this one comes in the “Plus Beau” category, easy to see why to be fair. A steep walk up to the top of the village where every house would have looked perfect on next years kitchen calendar. We missed the one where  the exit of the latrine falls straight out to the path right below! It is hard to miss that so many of the voices your hear are English, in a small village I heard several people in gardens and around the lanes speaking English, a few German and even a couple of French :).  We have met several Brits living in France, at least half of whom tell us they don’t really speak French as they don’t need to. Must have badges if you live here then as we find most of the French want us to speak in French, although we are pretty sure its just for their own amusement.

Limeuil – Dordogne

After a final night in St. Cyprien we left the chocolate box land and headed into Limousin. Still any number of cutesy villages but it much less touristy.  We did stop off at Brantome, an island village totally surrounded by a river, unlucky for us we arrived on a Monday and nothing at all was open, so we had a quick scoot around and moved on. Driving around we saw more and more empty and derelict buildings, we were told its one of the cheapest areas in France to buy property, obviously we then visited a few estate agents 🙂 yup we can just about afford a shed and that would need some renovation.


For us we had two reasons to visit Limousin, first to ride the Voie Vert cycle path at Chalus, yet another old railway line, as it our addiction. Yet more perfect piste for cycling used by no-one other than us. The cyclist here seem to prefer the roads, although quiet they are mainly hills – whereas railway lines are fairly flat so we will stick with them.  Lucky for us the chateau at Chalus was closed, if not then I as an Englishwoman (Iain wouldn’t have felt obligated as a Welshman) would have needed to visit the place where Richard the Lionheart died – and more importantly where his entrails are still held – how yuck is that? (other parts are scattered around France).

The other reason was to visit Oradour Sur Glane, where 642 men, women and children were slaughtered by the SS in June 1944, the town was then pretty much destroyed.  A new town was built after the war but the original town was left as was as a memorial. The entrance is underground and leads through some exhibitions from where you are free to walk through to the memorial village. It really speaks for itself, buildings and cars left as they were after the massacre. Plaques on the remains of many of the houses just show the family name and the profession of the occupants.  At the church where the women and children were killed there are some very simple plaques and prayers, and along the streets are plaques that tell of people being tortured or bodies found in certain places, you cannot fail to be touched by the horrors that took place.

As usual we were lucky with the time of year we are visiting as very few people around. Although we had been told that taking photographs was prohibited at one time there was no restriction as the few people there were wandering around with cameras mainly observing the requests for silence.  We both felt very privileged to have been able to visit Oradour, I think it will stay with us for a long time to come.

Eleven more days for us before its time to head for the high seas. Forecast of storms tomorrow then good weather to see us through to the ferry – here’s hoping 🙂 🙂


France 2017

After a long stint back in the Salt Mines we are back out on the road for four months. Destination sunshine, but instead of the usual Santander crossing we took the Poole – Cherbourg route this time. Horrendous journey down to Poole, accidents galore and way too much traffic on the roads, 8 hours later we arrived at Poole where they kindly allow you to park up overnight on the dock for the princely sum of £5.

Next morning we were loaded on the Brittany ferry pronto and off, blue skies, calm seas and a fabulous breakfast saw us through the 4 hours and arrival at Cherbourg.


We headed off to the coast for a free stop at the Plage Sciotot  (N 49 30 2.1  W 1 50 50.4) A few hardy souls around but as night fell everyone left except us and a few surfer vans.  We congratulated ourselves on choosing to drive down through France, smug as bugs we were thinking of pottering around in a bit of winter sun for the next couple of weeks.


Typical Baxter plan, lasted all of 24 hours, then we hit fog. Really thick fog that was freezing, down to minus 5 in the daytime. We took cover at the aire at St. Nazaire (N 47 14 13  W 2 18 01 ) For aire, read small parking area no view, just fog and an eerie feel to the place. there were two motorhomes already there, after an hour we realised they weren’t inhabited – just kind of dumped.  We knew this was a blip and fully expected the sun to be back next day – nope!! Next morning it was worse, frost so deep it looked like a good layer of snow and for so dense we could see 50 metres from the van tops.


Ooooh fab – winter sun in France 

We rapidly agreed that France in fog and frost wasn’t going to so much fun. Digging deep in the budget we hit the toll roads and try and find clearer weather. By the time we reached Bordeaux the fog had cleared, still freezing though so we headed for the campsite on the ring road, Camping Beausoleil (N44 45 20 W 0 37 39 ) mainly as the tram / bus to the city runs from a few hundred metres outside the campsite. I went to book us in, met with a rather stern lady on reception so I decided to lighten the mode by giving her the benefit of my O’level standard spoken French – she remained stern looked askance and immediately re-started the conversation in English :).

New Years Day, wrapped up against the element we took the bus to meet the tram – (€3 each bargain). We love trams, our favourite mode of transport, maybe not so much after a whole city has been out celebrating until a few hours previously. Eau-de-puke and spilled beer was very prevalent, as were some puddle type areas on the floor we avoided as best we could! I would like to write a very detailed description of Bordeaux, suffice to say we loved the recently restored neoclassical architecture, the city appears to full of things to see and do – but quite honestly it was too cold for us do much more than wander around at a fairly rapid pace to prevent frostbite.

The biggest disappointment wasn’t the weather, it was the “Miroir d’Eau”, water wasn’t on so it was just a case of standing on a concrete slab remembering how it looked on Google pictures.


Back on tolls, still in fog and we crossed the border at Irun into Spain – 10 minutes later fog lifted, sun shone – hurray for Spain. We crossed in seconds, the traffic coming in from Spain was queuing back over 4 miles in two lanes. Lots of French checks going on with police and transport, think we will avoid that route going home, but that’s too far away to worry about for now it’s all going to be about Spain :).


  Viva L’Espania

And so it ends (well for this trip anyway!)

Our last post of call, before the call of the port so to speak, was Brugge. The one sure plan we have always had was a day in Brugge before we caught the ferry home. Quite frankly we were both fairly gobsmacked as to how we managed to arrive with such impeccable timing.

Brugge is said to be one of the world’s first tourist destinations, having set up a Tourist Information as far back as 1909, they have certainly had time to work out what the tourist wants and they have it with abundance – medieval architecture, lace and chocolate are  everywhere.  We find it hard to believe anyone leaves the city without purchasing chocolate, you need a steel brace to avert your eyes from the mouth watering displays.

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The Markt – Brugge

By luck or whatever Brugge remained relatively unscathed during the war and retains most of it’s medieval architecture. We struck lucky and both the Church of our Lady and St. Salvator’s Cathedral had their scaffolding removed recently, on the downside the insides of both buildings are being restored so we missed seeing the interiors.   It was be churlish to complain though when instead we visited the Burg Square, the Markt and several other areas containing some of the most sensational buildings we have seen anywhere.

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Burg Square

We popped in Sunday for a couple of hours and decided to go back for a full day Monday thinking it would be quieter. Not a bit, possibly busier on Monday – we stayed on the town aire next to the coach drop off and pick up, hundreds of buses in and out all day with at least half of them British and the other half school children.

Despite Brugge giving the impression of a a tranquil place to visit it really isn’t. The sheer numbers of tourist, the horses and carts clattering around the cobbles and the carillon of 48 bells, added to the bells of several other churches, meant at times it was difficult to hear yourself speak.  Surely though one of the highlights of Brugge is when the carillon in the Belfry of Brugge strikes up a ringing rendition of “It’s a long way to Tipperary” on the hour, every hour – truly amazing.

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When in Rome….so obviously when in Brugge chocolate is mandatory. I never thought it would be possible to say this but, there are too many chocolate shops. It is mind blowing, hundreds and hundreds of them on every street. I needed to shop for chocolate so left Iain to his own devices for a couple of hours whilst I perused. I then came to realise the benefits of so many shops – everyone I actually went in offered me a sample chocolate! On a roll I visited eight shops before purchasing :), now slightly sick of the taste of Belgian chocolate.

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Aside from chocolate we wanted to visit Brugge to see the canals. I am going to have to say it didn’t come across as the ‘Venice of the North’ to us, a fair few canals but mainly small with lots of dead-ends. That isn’t too take away from the charm of  the canals and their setting alongside 17th century warehouses and homes, it stands on it’s own merits without needing a  Venice type canal label.

We of course took the obligatory canal boat trip, forget sedate and flowing – think more pack ’em in and speed ’em round. Due to the low bridges there are just one type of boat and they fair nip around causing a few wakes as they go.

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There endeth the Grand Depart tour around Europe for us, Zeebrugge tonight and ferry home tomorrow.

We have had the absolute time of our lives, we have seen and done more than we thought possible – it has been everything we hoped it would be and so much more. In summary :31 border crossings, 20 countries, 19,000 miles, (passports checked just twice).

We are well under our budget, amazingly, but sure we will see a lot of that go with the 25 essential maintenance jobs on the list required for the van (thank the Lord for gaffer tape its all that’s holding us together right now).

There have been a few navigational related skirmishes, but trying to get us around Europe on a 1:3 200 000 atlas was always asking for a few headaches!

We would do it all again without a moments thought – well we did think we might like one of these to go with, but guess our van will have to do.

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The first question is always where we did like best? We didn’t, honestly, every country we visited we found amazing sights, lovely people and had fun. Whenever anyone asked that questions during the trip it was always the country we had just left.

Every day was an experience, things we had only read about previously were seen in the flesh : visiting Meteora, driving Trollstigen, flying in an Airship, crossing Millau Bridge, walking into Russia (ok only two steps but we did it). Others were stark reminders of how lucky we are: the ferry fire on the Norman Atlantic, Auschwitz, the WWI and WWII battle-grounds and the military cemetery.

Our lack of real planning and direction paid off more than we could have hoped mainly because Europe is stuffed full of incredible things to see – you would struggle to miss them – luckily for us!


In the words of the that famous 20th century commentator “That’s all folks”.

The Last Post (but not quite ours)

When we left home 11 months ago we said our destination was Belgium and we would take the longest route we could to get there. Just over 11 1/2 months, 17000 miles and 600 gallons of diesel later – we have arrived :).

belgium border

Belgium held out on us slightly on the weather front as 10 miles over the border we hit pea soup fog.  We agreed it was pointless to carry on driving as we weren’t seeing anything. I had noted down details of a little camperstop outside a castle, sounded like the best plan to sit out and wait for the sunshine to come back (misplaced optimism there!)

We arrived at Wegimont Chateau and it wasn’t quite as expected,  eight spots for motorhomes but also about 200 permanent pitches where the owners stretch out to the limits of their space, a bit like a canvas city.  Showers were only allowed at set times and bingo took place each afternoon in the community tent – not somewhere we were going to be staying too long at all!


Wegimont Chateau

On the upside there was a castle on the site – or Chateau –  a Louis XIV style building that was the only Lebensborn maternity home in Belgium. During WWII, these homes were state approved associations with the goal of raising the birth rate of Aryan children via extramarital relations of German men classed as racially pure and healthy with unmarried women. Known locally as an ‘Ayran Stud Farms’, the resultant children were then adopted by likewise “racially pure and healthy” parents, particularly SS members and their families.

A cold, wet and dull day we walked around the park – full winter gear out of the cupboards including gloves for the first time in nearly a year, we managed a full sweep of the arboretum and then a quick hike around town to stock up on a few bits then back to the van for a warm up. Each time it gets a bit colder I have used this as evidence to convince Iain we should head for Portugal for some winter sun – alas so far he is holding out for heading home.


We had planned for a few days around the Liege area, however waking to sleet on Wednesday scuppered that one. Instead we aimed West and left the sleet behind, instead we hit snow! Proper white flakes of the stuff, falling fairly rapidly but luckily not sticking enough to make driving a problem.

By the time we had arrived in Tournai all signs of snow had gone, replaced with rain and a promise of sunshine later.  Tournai is the oldest town in Belgium, we had never heard of it, not sure why as its very impressive. One of Belgium’s most culturally import towns, it is chock full of magnificent buildings, including the oldest cathedral in Belgium.

As is usual for us the cathedral was shrouded in scaffolding undergoing restoration. The ‘Grand Place’ town square is a mix of trendy shops, bars and several museums set around cobbled streets with a series of water fountains – all in all a great place to spend an afternoon – unless its freezing and damp which it was so we made do with a couple of hours whistle stop tour.



As we  started off last November with a visit to the Etaples military cemetery in France so decided our penultimate stop off point would be Ypres. I have never been before, for whatever reason I thought it was a village with the famous Menin Gate.

Somewhat surprised then to find a fairly substantial city, rebuilt post WWII with German reparation money. The main buildings in the city centre have been reconstructed as close to the original as possible, it is nearly impossible to believe these building were raised to the ground so recently.  The Cloth Hall was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages in Europe,  the new structure is the exact copy of the original medieval building.

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the Cloth Hall

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the best roof ever – anywhere

The main reason for visiting Ypres, for us as for many others, was to see the Menin Gate Memorial for the Missing. Over 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers from WWI that have no final resting place are commemorated here (with a further 35,000 names that wouldn’t fit on this memorial inscribed at the nearby Tyne Cot memorial).  We were told by a lady from the British Legion in town to be at the gate just after 7pm, even though the service is at 8pm.

We were amazed, when we arrived there were close on 1,000 people, and we were told this is the same every night of the week, every week of the year since 1928 (with a short break during WWII when Ypres was occupied). We stood with a group of Blackwatch Cadets who had travelled there for the weekend, the next night they were forming a guard of honour (the youngsters had all funded their own trips in order to stand for 10 minutes in honour of the dead).

When the three buglers from the local fire brigade sounded the Last Post, it was one of the most simple and moving events either of us have had the honour to attend.

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The Menin Gate

Quiet but not peaceful

After 20 countries we have to admit that sometimes places merge and we have to stop and think where we are. This week being in the “Little Switzerland” region of Luxembourg has been a tad confusing, as we never made Switzerland we will take it as a taster version.

We are both surprised at Luxembourg, it has been nothing that we expected. We thought such a small country would be very cramped with little outdoor space. We couldn’t have been further wrong, it’s like driving around one big parkland with the odd small village or town slotted in.  Whilst we have seen more than our fair share of forests in the last year we have never seen so many broad leaf woods. Hardly a pine or conifer in sight and being autumn the trees are magnificent it really felt as remote as Scandinavia as we drove up the German border.

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The benches come in big sizes here

As we drove through we were passing walking trails all the way, the forecast was for sunshine so we stopped for two nights at Kohnenhof so we could get out and do some walking.  Of course it rained fairly solidly all day, despite that we followed a trail up through the forests and then back down along the river. It pleases our sense of the adventure that we crossed over and back from Germany on the river footbridges twice, not even a sign that its a new country.

Language gets more confusing here all the time, we go into a shop and speak French, they respond in German – so we try a bit of German and they go to French! It seems natural to the people here to talk in both languages, we are now encountering more Dutch mixed in too. There is also a language called Luxembourgish, a French version of German but it seems not many people use that one – thankfully.


He stayed dry

Our last stop in Luxembourg has been Clervaux another postcard setting with a castle, historic church and even an Abbey on the hill. We rolled in Saturday morning looking for the crowds, nope just us then. Car-parks empty, hardly a soul around, Luxembourg feels deserted, it may be out of season but even so we have not seen a country this quiet before. The town centre consists of several shops, four good sized hotels and river running through. Anywhere else this would be a tourist magnet but for some reason not here.

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The castle, as with pretty much everything in Luxembourg, was destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge, now fully restored it houses the museum of the Battle of the Bulge, more a collection of thousands of war artifacts from guns and uniforms to cigarette tins and pieces of old crates. As with most of the country they have a U.S. Sherman tank that participated in WWII and a German 88 anti-aircraft gun, both  outside the castle walls.

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The combined ticket also took us into the model castle exhibition. A 1:100 model of every one of the 15 castles in Luxembourg including the surrounding villages,  they are well done but have to say after the third or fourth it felt like groundhog day.

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Every town and village has a tank they are rightly proud of

The castle towers house the world famous “Family of Man” photographic exhibition. First shown in 1955 in New York, it then toured the world for eight years, having shows in 37 countries and being seen by more than 9 million people.  The photographs focus on the shared  features of mankind and humanism, with over 500 photos it is a lot to take in, some sad, some funny and many thought provoking. We spent an hour walking through but could easily have spent a day to really see every photograph properly.

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from The Family of Man – one of my favourites

This morning dawned bright blue skies so we set off to for the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maurice on the hill above the town. The Neo-Romanesque structure was built in 1910 but looks much older, a footpath winds it way up through the trees and after half an hour we were at the gates. We arrived just as one of their services was finishing, from outside the church we could just hear the gentle singing of the monks, perfect voices in a perfect setting.

There was a small exhibition area we were allowed to visit which showed photographs of how the monks live such as one on a tractor, another on a computer etc. Other than that there was no admittance to the abbey as the monks live a very secluded life. They do make a slight exception from their retiring lives and open their gift shops for an hour a day 🙂 commerce doesn’t stop for even a Benedictine Monk.

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Church Saints Cosmas and Damian

As we are being blessed with a few days of Indian summer we have stayed put for the weekend, on an amazing little campsite just on the edge of town. Everything we need plus a pitch the size of our garden and joy of joys a washing machine and dryer – never realised how much I would miss our washing machine. Most weeks we do a hand-wash but as the budget looks good went mad and did two loads in the machine – woohoo.

We have spent the rest afternoon sat in the sunshine listening to the hundreds of motorbikes roaring around the country lanes vying for attention with the constant bell ringing every 15 minutes at the town church and the Abbey getting in on the act every half hour.  Sunshine forecast well into next week so the plan is to work out a plan to see as much as Belgium as we can before we head home.

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Relaxing reading for the final push North 🙂

so good they named it twice?

Sunday morning we shot through Belgium and arrived in Luxembourg (Belgium is being saved until last).  Our first impressions were so much space and a love of pink – in every hamlet and village pink paint abounds on houses, restaurants and even the odd garage. The other thing that struck us is we have hit autumn – in the space of a few hours drive the trees are in shedding leaves like there is no tomorrow.

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Our first stop was just outside Ettlebruck at Dietsch. A gigantic campsite next to the river but only five or six vans and a couple of caravans there so we had roughly 30 pitches of space each between us, or we should have. Not sure what’s with people who need to pitch next door, acres of space but three nights running vans came in and parked either side of us.


Chateau Berdorf

Monday morning dawned cold, damp and grey, we got the bikes out for a ride to on yet more brilliant cycle paths, all off road – so good that despite the cold we continued onto Colmar (home of a Goodyear factory – weirdly good smell) before retracing out steps into Ettlebruck for a warming coffee stop – they even gave us blankets at the pavement cafe.

Being slightly confused with what language we should be using we asked the waitress, she said any will do, people speak French, English, German or often Portuguese!

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The way ahead – blankets at all cafes

The town was liberted by the US in 1944 but re-taken by Germany in the December during the Battle of the Bulge. No less than General Patton himself led the the troops into retake the town again a couple of weeks later for the final liberation from the Nazi occupation. With so much fighting taking place the town has very few older buildings, lots of post war apartments, shops with the occasional ally-way of pre-war houses dotted around.


Pink painted buildings abound

Breaking a habit we went been to Luxembourg city for a day. We used the local train which  ran hourly, 40 minutes each way, a double decker train and €4 each – worth it for the journey alone.


Luxembourg Luxembourg (ie the city bit) is  ranked 1st in terms of safety out of 221 cities across the world. Not surprising in a lot of ways as its very small, most people seem to be office folk and maybe because it was raining cats and dogs there were very few tourists around.  That said there are more than enough historic buildings to visit, we saw the Ducal Palace but sadly the castle was under wraps as scaffold covers a large part.

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For a small city there is a fair bit of up and down hill to get around. There are two deep gorges running through the city, both over 230 ft deep, most of the city is built high on the cliffs each side leaving the bottom of the valleys at parkland and open green spaces. We braved the rain and headed for the Bock, a natural cliff at the edge the city that contains the ruins of a castle and miles of tunnels.

It is an easy city to walk in a few hours, the old town has a good shopping area with all the household names but the rain meant we weren’t really that interested. Wet through we gave up after a lunch stop and headed back to the campsite.

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We decided to move along to the border region and arrived in Echternach, a small town on the German border, literally – cross over a small foot bridge and you are in Germany – less than 20ft between them over a small river. The town was founded back in 698 AD by a Brit, none other than St. Wilibrord from Ripon (another Yorkshire man!).  An impressive Basilica stands in the centre of town where Wilibrords tomb is housed in the crypt. The town was very much what we thought all German towns would be more like, medieval walls with towers, cobbled streets and tall houses – most of the town was badly damaged in WWII but has since been completely restored.

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Another of the must see here is Vianden, a small village but with a whooper of a castle perched on the hillside.  Built in the 11th century it was left to fall into disrepair in the 1800’s. It was only recently in 1997 that the Grand Duke gave the castle to the state and restorations were completed.  The other main claim to fame is the annual ‘nut fair’  where local walnuts are on sale together with walnut cakes, walnut confectionary, walnut brandy and walnut liqueurs – it on this Sunday so we may go back.

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Vianden village

vianden castle

Vianden castle

Whilst in the village, joy of joys, we came across a chair lift which climbed over 450 ft up a sheer cliff. We did, as you do – bloody nightmare. It started off fine, then crossed the river, followed by the main road and if that wasn’t bad enough your feet are dangling in the tree canopy all the way. Strangely enough no people coming down, just seats with beer barrels and crates!


When we got to the top it was a bit of a let down, no views of the castle as the trees have grown way too high over the years. To use the loo they want another 50 cents of your money and for the photo they took of you terrified on the way up another €6. I was going to walk down it was that bad going up, to be fair the down trip wasn’t as bad.