Auf Wiedersehen, Pet

The dunes at Noordwijk

We’ve now been on the road for almost four weeks, and are pinging about all over the place. The original route’s gone to pot because of the awful weather most of western Europe is experiencing at the moment and we’re flying blind, so to speak.

Charlemagne in Aachen
Charlemagne in Aachen

Our ten-week plan was to visit family in the Netherlands (the unexpectedly beautiful dunes at Noordwijk in South Holland) then travel across Germany and Austria into Slovenia then Croatia. Lovely, except…the Netherlands are cold and grey with the exception of one day when the unexpected blistering sun gives us red faces for a week. Western Germany is pretty rubbish weather wise too, although we enjoy the thermal waters and Charlemagne’s tomb in Aachen (not at the same time, obviously.)

Things begin to look up when we reach Würzburg in Baden Würtemberg to start driving the Romantic Road, which isn’t actually a real road but a marketing tool which came into being in the ‘50s. The route is mainly on the B25 and B17, both just a tad too narrow for Gertie. We also realise that we’ve started at the wrong end.  We expect fairy-tale castles on hillsides with towering mountains in the distance but the first bit, pleasant enough in its way, is mainly flattish farmland. Then we get to Dinkelsbühl, quieter and less touristy than its famous neighbour Rothenburg. It’s beautiful and at night, when the visitors have gone, we go with the nightwatchman on his rounds of the town, drinking wine and beer at the tavern stops.  He also tells jokes and sings a little song but as we don’t speak German we just smile and nod…and sway a bit, what with all the wine and beer.

But it’s so cold. Far too cold for late May, and when it starts to rain on the Romantic Road and we see weather warnings of flash floods and thunder storms in Slovenia we decide to abandon Germany, change tack and head for the Cevennes in southern France instead where it’s a balmy 26 degrees and sunny. From there we will cross the Pyrenees into north-west Spain, wander around a bit then get the ferry home from Santander.

Several hundred kilometres and the Viaduc de Millau later we arrive in Florac and camp right alongside the tumbling Tarn.  It’s idyllic. We go to the market and buy olives and cheese and strawberries. We roll out the awning for shade and swim in the pool.  Next day it starts raining.  And the next. We get out the hot water bottles because the temperature at night plummets. Then, on 7 June, we read that Storm Miguel has overturned a rescue ship in the Bay of Biscay and the coast is battered by winds.  On the other hand, now the weather in Slovenia is beautiful.  Almost 30 degrees, cloudless.

Aigues-Mortes

Guess what?  We decide to head for Slovenia again, athough it’s quite possible we may never get there. Currently we are in Aigues Mortes in the Camargue and we plan to take a leisurely few weeks travelling in the south of France before crossing into Italy, stopping over in Venice and entering Slovenia from Trieste. Or maybe not. The weird thing is that we don’t really mind.  Oddly, we’re enjoying this peripatetic existence.  We’re in Gertie, we’re comfortable, and we’re enjoying the ride.  As they say, watch this space.

 

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Steam trains and silkworms

We are in the Cévennes, a place of  narrow, winding roads, tumbling, rocky rivers, green, craggy gorges and mountains. It’s not considered a number one holiday destination by the French or most other tourists for that matter and yet it’s completely glorious. It’s France as it used to be, with great little restaurants, proper markets, more locals than visitors and a pride in the place and its way of life that’s palpable.

We are staying in the village of Anduze and discover that there’s a steam train, the Train à Vapeur des Cévennes.  The track follows the course of the Gardon river to Saint-Jean-du-Gard, 13.2 kilometres away. How can we resist?   A puff of steam, a toot toot, a train guard’s whistle, slamming of doors and we’re off. It’s like being on the Hogwarts Express. I feel like Hermione Grainger. Except except now days look more like Professor McGonagle…

The route is picturesque in a wild, untamed sort of way, with old stone mills, enormous vistas of the river, glimpses of ancient terracing between the trees. It’s mostly over viaducts, the eleven arches of the Viaduc du Mescalou being the most spectacular with the best photo opportunities of the Gardon bubbling away below.

At St Jean we resist the market and head for the Musée des vallées cévenoles, housed in Maison Rouge, once a large spinning mill used in the production of silk, the principal industry in the Cévennes right up to the second World War. The area produced more silkworm cocoons than the rest of France put together, fed on the leaves of the four million mulberry trees planted in the region between 1554 and 1606. The museum sits in beautifully designed wildflower meadows and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.Wildflower meadows at Maison Rouge

We’ll be on the road again soon, usually something I relish, but this time part of me doesn’t want to leave. The peace, the wildlife, the river, the spirit of this place is very special and I know that one day I’ll be back.

Notes for campers: We stayed in Campsite Castel Rouge in Anduze, on the banks of the river Gardon.  Our pitch was right on the bank of the river and was very peaceful, although this was in May. It accepts the ACSI card.  There’s also a very good Aire de Camping Car in the village.