The Retirees go Abroad – Cologne –Back to Long Eaton via Monchau.

Next morning we arose with the alarm to finish packing and put the cases outside the cabin have breakfast and get on the bus. Thus far on this trip our bus drivers had got lost three times and our tour guide Jill was found wanting in her knowledge outside of the script given to her by Shearings. So it should not come as a surprise that Jill forgot to tell those of us waiting in the lounge to board the coach leading to a late scramble to board the bus. Derek our new driver from Lancashire seemed a bit more positive in his knowledge so when we ended up at Monchau and not the retail designer outlet village that had been a feature of our return journey, there was consternation in the camp – Kerry let him know her opinion and she was right; they had changed the itinerary without informing us.

After sharing our opinion with Derek, we went off to view the village and a pretty village it is. Established in the 12th century the village had its glory during the 18th century making fine quality clothe and some of the buildings evidence the wealth of the town. Most of the village is original as it was saved from damage through the Second World War probably because it no longer had any commercial importance or strategic value. Our walk took in the oldest church, and the river that runs through it a cafe where we enjoyed goulash soup and a strudel, the into the oldest part of the town where we found a family of coffee blenders and some chocolatiers making chocolate with mustard from the local mustard factory, the Red House (an impressive 18th century mansion now a museum which closes at lunch time of course) and lots of other quaint buildings.

We then had a wearisome drive to our hotel arriving at 7.30 pm because of traffic. After a good night rest (the first time in a bed larger than a ships bunk for 6 nights) we boarded the coach only to learn that the refugees had been rioting at Calais again. Despite this the bus driver insisted on stopping at a duty free store for all the addicts to stock up on nicotine (one woman had the habit so badly that even though the weather got mist and freezing winds , she would stand outside the hotel sucking on a ciggie chain smoking rather than forsake the ciggie and join us inside). Our worries about the ferry and delays proved unfounded but the French are taking it more seriously. Two police were posted at our hotel to stay with the bus overnight to ensure no illegals hid on the vehicle. We boarded the ferry on time and at this rate we expect to be at Long Eaton by 6.00pm tomorrow will be a busy day finishing the packing and moving out of our home for the last 18 months.

The Retirees go Abroad – Basel and the return to Nottingham

Saturday morning, we are packed and ready to leave our villa in the vines and Villeneuve. Our time here will be fondly remembered and never forgotten.

We are off to Basel to visit Angie and Urs who have hosted our fellow travellers David and Veronica for the last week. After two days with them we will drive to Troyes and then to Nottingham via Calais.

Our first day in Basel we visit the city just to stroll around and take in the sights. They have a great tram system with different coloured trams to help determine where you are going and coming from.

Our stroll took in a street side dance group, and the markets. Dotted around the city are various fountains and these were welcome as the hot weather had followed us to Basel. We walked to the Rhine and watch the party boat and the taxis and the river crossing boats that use no motor just the force of the river itself.

There was a wonderful variety of buildings and other sights to behold – Three kings, a cheeky bather, and Helvetia. Helvetia is the female national personification of Switzerland, officially Confœderatio Helvetica, the Swiss Confederation. The allegory is typically pictured in a flowing gown, with a spear and a shield emblazoned with the Swiss flag, and commonly with braided hair, commonly with a wreath as a symbol of confederation but here she is shown in a contemplative posture. Unlike the cheeky bather who is – well just cheeky.

We then made it into the old city (whilst Kerry and Veronica rested) to see the Munster and the old Abbey with its sculpture displays relating to their Carnival.

We had a treat for dinner. Angie and Urs prepared a raclette grill for dinner and invited Anastasia and Erich over to join us. It was great to see a genuine Swiss raclette in action and the dinner was most enjoyable. Anastasia prepared some traditional cakes (she is Slovakian so I don’t know if it was Swiss tradition or Slovakian tradition). Between raclette and cake Urs received a phone about a fire which apparently was getting out of control and as a member of the volunteers Urs was requested to join the fight. I heard him come home somewhere between 1.00 am and 3.00 am so he was a very tired boy the next day.

On the second day we visited “Schlossruine”. This is a ruin of a medieval castle overlooking the city and its borders with France and Germany. In fact the next day we would visit the point where the three borders intersect.

One of the interesting views was the Goetheanum. The Goetheanum, located in Dornach (near Basel), Switzerland, is the world centre for the anthroposophical movement. The building was designed by Rudolf Steiner and named after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It includes two performance halls (1500 seats), gallery and lecture spaces, a library, a bookstore, and administrative spaces for the Anthroposophical Society; neighbouring buildings house the Society’s research and educational facilities. Conferences focusing on themes of general interest or directed toward teachers, farmers, doctors, therapists, and other professionals are held at the centre throughout the year.

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It was a beautiful day with warm sunshine and a light breeze. Time for an ice cream and nearby is a hilltop restaurant with shady trees and fantastic vistas of Basel. We are not the only ones who know of this oasis. Here is an Aston Martin and a Tesla.

Not heard of a Tesla? Tesla Motors, Inc. is an American automotive and energy storage company that designs, manufactures, and sells electric cars, electric vehicle powertrain components, and battery products. Odd to see one in Switzerland. Along with the other “rich” people we had ice cream at our oasis and then went back home to prepare for the journey to Troyes Calais Dover and Nottingham.

As it was a Monday Angie and Urs were up early for work and we departed with Angie who showed us the way to the meeting point of the three countries before leaving us to travel on. Our trip to Troyes was the first time we encountered trouble with Thistle. It became pretty obvious that all the hill climbing in Italy, Austria and Switzerland had finished off our brake pads. So we had to call the RAC for road side assistance once we got to hotel. When a tow truck turned up at the hotel I got slightly nervous. The driver spoke little English but he soon determined that it was the brake pads and he let me know that there was a Hyundai dealership down the road and he would lead us to it.

Around a kilometre down the road and there it was. The driver introduce me to the Service Manager who spoke less English but made it known that we could have the brakes fixed that afternoon if we would like to wait. So David and I cooled our heels and within one and a half hours it was fixed. Whew we were going to make it to Calais.

So the next day started with a strong sense that we could overcome anything at all. We would be tested. We had heard and read about the strife at Calais and the traffic problem fir trucks crossing from the UK but we did not have the finer detail otherwise we would have not played cards along the way to kill some time. The wheels started to come off our plans when I noticed one of the overhead electronic signs say “ Calais Port – Ferme”, Calais Port is closed.

I immediately made a call to My Ferry with which we had booked our return passage. The Port was closed til Friday and My Ferry had ceased trading. Well, that threw a cat amongst our pigeons. I immediately tried to book passage from Dunquerke. I rang and waited in a queue for some time but could not speak to anyone to try and get a booking that day. We decided to try the Eurotunnel which we knew would be three times as expensive but if we had to stay overnight that cost would be eaten by the accommodation and meals we would have to buy.

I booked online using Kerry’s IPhone but I could not get a train before 4.50pm, so we decided to stop have lunch and play cards for a couple of hours. Wrong decision because as we approached the French terminal some French port workers were setting fire to tyres in the tunnel causing mayhem which delayed our likely departure til 10.00pm with a five hour wait in our car in blazing sun along with thousands of others and hundreds of cars. Not to mention the 10 kilometre long queue of trucks seeking passage to the UK.

We sat in our car with screen shade and umbrellas raised – the temperate was approaching 40C and no one knew how long we would be there. Motor Bike riders appeared to be pushing to the front of the line and some pretty hostile car travellers confronted them. The Austin Healy Club had returned from a tour on the continent and one in particular was having considerable trouble controlling the temperature of the car. David would end up pushing the car through the immigration gate. We also made acquaintance with a couple in a Ferarri which with its V12 motor found it hard to idle waiting for the booking gates to be opened. Then like pulling a plug in a bath everything started to move. We made it through relatively quickly only to find that with the luggage on the roof we were over the height limit for the double decker cars. So we lined up with the vans etc.

There was no space for us as we had not identified that our vehicle was higher than 1.85 metres when booking. So we pulled to one side unsure when we would get on the train. We decided to get out the remainder of the food supplies as that was going to be dinner. No sooner had we done that then we were called into line (2 hours earlier than our expected departure). On board the train we found the ride to be smooth and unexciting – 35 minutes later we were on the road to Nottingham and apart from a diversion on the M30 we made good time and arrived home at 0015 the following day.

Bishops Visit – France and More – Chantilly, the Duc and his horses

Calais is grey and wet but I have time to affix our “GB” sticker identifying our place of registration on Thistle under an umbrella outside of the hotel. We have an early start for Chantilly amidst continuous rain gusting wind and heavy trucks. By the time we reach Chantilly the rain has lessened to a constant drizzle but not enough to dampen our visit to this icon of French art and history – Chateau Chantilly and the Musee Conde. The chateau is a recent invention of the Duc d’Aumale combining two earlier chateaus after they had been destroyed by revolutionaries of the first republic. The Duc was the son of King Louis Philipe of France and served in the Foreign Legion until his father was dethroned by the third republic when he went into exile in the UK and started collecting. Once he was able to return to France, he selected this site because of its connection to Prince Conde the son of the Sun King Louis the XIV (and Dauphin of France) and he dedicated the art and library to this distant relative – Musee Conde.

This is grand as only the French can do grand. The library is second only in importance in France and the Art is second only to the Louvre so when the Duc in his Will left the estate and its treasures to the Institut de France he was gifting invaluable treasures of France’s history in manuscript and Art to the people of France plus a piece of his own history in the house, his taste, style and personal effects. Worth a visit. Check it out on http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Chantilly

Within the estate is the Musee Vivant du Cheval (Living Museum of the Horse) directly alongside the Chantilly Race track. This building is built in the same grand style as the Chateau and again by the Duc. In fact he could view the stables from his study window (across the moat and up the hill). Today the stables are a monument to the horse and its relationship with men through the centuries. On entering you are met by the sweet smell of horse poo as there are live animals in the stables representing some of the 52 recognised breeds in France.

The stables are built in a square with a large court yard in the middle. The museum meanders through the building giving you everything from the original breeds giving rise to the thoroughbreds we know today to the attire ladies wore when riding side saddle. Again well worth a visit and have a look at its history here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Museum_of_the_Horse

After the museums we retired to our rooms for a nanna nap before dinner. Dinner at the hotel was enjoyable as our host was a chirpy little Frenchman prepared to welcome the non-french speakers. The only other diners that evening was a table of 18 gendarmes some bearing their automatic weapons. They all had burgers and frites so it must be some outsourcing arrangement to feed the troops.

Bishops Visit – France and More – Calais

 

Calais has for many centuries been the gateway to France from England. Our arrival was without incident with Kerry very quickly adjusting to driving on the right hand side of the road (in fact I think she enjoyed being able to line up on the right hand white line). Tommy soon had us at our hotel. The Hotel Mercuire is behind the Musee de Belle Arts Calais and a very fine hotel it is. We actually parked in front of the front door of the hotel and parking is free. We unloaded Thistle greeted our French host then took a walk through the city square. The wind had subsided to occasional gusts but the showers persisted as we walked through the squares of the city. The Xmas lights made this damp atmosphere much brighter. There is a lighthouse shining its warning from inside the city, the remains of what appears an ancient lighthouse in the square and a cathedral obviously called Notre Dame Calais.

 

It was not really that pleasant weather so we retired to the hotel where we found the Bishops ensconced in the bar with the receptionists dog keeping them company. Doug had researched the history of the hotel by interrogating the receptionist/bar keeper. It had been damaged during WW2 and  rebuilt in the same style after 1945 so it appears an elegant turn of the century hotel. We were very comfortable and well rested by the next morning when we had breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a hot breakfast so very good value. Our goal today is to travel to Chantilly and the weather is not improving.

 

Bishops Visit – France and More – Battling the Dreaded M25

 

We set off this morning with the weather mild and sunny. Our planned route would take us through Northamptonshire and down to the M2 avoiding most of the dreaded M25. We have to use the Dartford Crossing and that is on the M25 – no avoiding it.

Our trip through Northamptonshire was very relaxing with little traffic and clear weather. “Tommy” predicted that we would have a trip of 4 hours to Canterbury and we were on target until coming close to London where we moved onto the M11 headed towards Docklands. Blue lights and sirens – a good indicator that things are not going to be smooth sailing. The traffic came to a stand still and for over an hour we crawled along the M11 until we reached the lorry stalled in the left hand lane blocking completely half of the freeway. At least we knew the cause. So often the blockage clears like stale water in the sink when the blockage is cleared and you never see the cause.

Even so the traffic jam had lost us 1 hour. We then moved along again with free flowing traffic until meeting the M25 and chaos. All we could see was red taillights to the horizon. This is the usual chaos at the Dartford Crossing so now we just had to be patient and navigate to Canterbury rather than any other one of a dozen destinations. We lost another hour finding our way through this chaos.

Having made the crossing we had the choice of the A2 (presently backed up to the M25) or the M25 which strangely cleared as traffic scurried like rats down other exits. The M25 is the obvious choice and our journey is underway again but we are still an hour from our hotel. Our expectation had been to arrive at sunset but these delays had changed our ETA to 1900 hours two hours after sunset.

Now I don’t know what Tommy had been smoking but from that point forward it seemed to find every narrow country lane and go around in circles until out of the blackness of the night a service station appears and Tommy says “you have reached your destination”. Our hotel is one of those freeway motels lurking behind a service station. Despite its location the hotel proves to be fine. The standard of the Holiday Inn Express has proven to be excellent everywhere we travel and we can recommend that chain.

Refreshed we are on the road to Dover early in the morning. No hassles getting to Dover where we visited the local museum with its 12,000 year old salvaged boat and its bronze age history then a quick trip to Deal (Yes a place called Deal and certain evidence of pre Aussie travellers) and back to line up for the ferry. Now a word of warning to all those intrepid travellers using their own car to travel through Europe – it has to be compliant but you can buy the kit on board the ship (Yeah right!). Well we bought the kit and now we are compliant – its not a gag.

 

The weather has turned decidedly grey and wet. We line up an hour before boarding and the wind picks up. The ferry is delayed by high winds in Calais so our departure is set back 1 and 1/2 hours meaning we arrive in Calais after sunset. Just makes driving a right hand drive car in the right hand lane a little more difficult. Although the crossing was not rough the ferry pitched sufficiently to cause Kerry some discomfort (not a good sailor).