Wednesday, 13 March 2013

That’s not all folks.

So once again, huge apologies for the massive delay in getting these entries written and posted.  We arrived back in Blighty and in an attempt to quash the post travel blues we threw ourselves wholeheartedly into getting ourselves a slice of normalcy sorted.  I think we succeeded through as in less than a month we found ourselves a flat in Nottingham, moved and in have mostly furnished it.  We’ve also both started exciting new jobs.  And last but not least we’ve sold our beloved Van Diesel.  I won’t deny that it was a hugely sad day to say the least.  For the moment at least though we need our feet on the ground and save up some money for the next madcap scheme!

I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to read our blog and to those who got in touch, your kind words meant so very much.  This won’t be the last of the blog, I hope to get some content up every now and then with things we’ve learnt and any experience we can pass on to other travellers.  I must of course also thank my partner in traveling crime for keeping the wheels rolling with patience and humour and for giving me the confidence to hit the road on this crazy adventure in the first place.   

I hope you all enjoyed the ride.

Homeward bound.

Day 126 15.02.13 Dunkirk to Dover

We’re up bright and early to give me plenty of time to stress about getting to the port on time!  So much so we arrive very early and get put onto the ferry before our scheduled one.  We get Van Diesel on board and head up to the top deck.  I can get rather ill on the ferry journeys so the trip consists of utilising the onboard wifi in the lounge and then nipping outside into the freezing sea air to brush off the nausea!  It’s quite smooth a trip though thankfully and the bright sunshine over the sea cheers me up.   We arrive in good time and after the initial traffic snarl up on the way out of the port are on the road back to Chris’ mums and then end of our trip.  I must say it was nice to sit down on a plush sofa in a toasty warm living room and wrap my hands round a big mug of tea!

Belgian Goose alarm clock

Day 125 14.03.13 Ostend and Dunkirk

We’re woken up early by the riverside Geese, one of whom is particularly feisty!  We’re up and on the road sharpish as there’s a long drive ahead.  We’re aiming to get close to the ports to minimise the amount of travel and therefore Ali stress likely to occur before the ferry home!  We plot a course for Ostend where we spent our first night on this trip.  The drive gets very hectic around the major cities and some discarded bits of wood(?) lying on the jam-packed ringroad around Brussels make for a hair-raising experience!

We make it in one piece and pull up alongside a row of campers in the park beside town.  It’s a great spot and much busier this time around.  Ostend is however brutally cold!  The bitter sea air has frozen everything in sight, even droplets of rain on cars has frozen into an icy layer.  The morning dew freezing around the plant stems makes for a very attractive sight.  We walk into town and grab some lunch.  Some very bizarrely dressed men from a local tourist scheme give us a single red rose for Chris to give me as its Valentine’s Day.  How very lovely!  I get lots of jealous looks from female passers-by who clearly think I have a super romantic boyfriend (how little do they know haha ;-p).  We get rid of some of the last of the euros on ingredients for a nice dinner, nothing too spectacular but in comparison to our usual tight budget it’s practically haut cuisine!

After reminding ourselves of the town’s sights we head back to the van to defrost!  Looking up the distance to Dunkirk shows we still have a 50 minute drive to the port so we decide to move a bit closer and get to Dunkirk itself.  We park up in an aire beside the beach.  There are a couple of campervans there already including one I assume is there permanently and belongs to an elderly man and his two cats who leap in and out of the camper and scamper around in the sand.

We secure the van and head onto the beach front for a walk.  It’s nowhere near as cold as Ostend and the sun setting has turned the clouds beautiful shades of orange, pink and red.  It’s a gorgeous spot for an early evening stroll and a wonderfully romantic end to a chilly Valentine’s Day.

We settle down to a wonderfully filling dinner and some films for our last night in Van Diesel.  It’s a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions today! 

The long road home

Day 214 13.02.13 Namur

As the road tax is reaching its end and we’re more than a little fed up of being cold we decide to head back to Blighty.  This was the plan all along we’re just a couple of days ahead of schedule.  To break down the trip to the ports we plan a stop off in Namur, Belgium.  The drive is relatively easy and we get parked up along the riverside next to some rather noise Geese.

It’s a beautiful day with a brilliant blue sky and gleaming sun that makes us doubt whether our plan was the right one!  The spot we’ve parked up in is alongside some flats where one kind person has left their wifi unlocked.  We take the opportunity to get online and book ourselves some ferry tickets for two days’ time.  After a bit of online catch up time and lunch we head into town for a look around.

The walk along the riverside is very pleasant and the views up to the fort on the hill overlooking the town are very impressive.  The town itself is relatively plain but busy and the streets are filled with the glorious smell of waffles from the rows of street vendors (it’s almost like they heard we might leave!).  We get the ferry confirmations printed off at an internet cafĂ© and enjoy a stroll around the town.  There’s a nice church and a tall clock tower but not a great deal more.

With not a lot else to see we opt to walk to an apparently nearby (read 40 minute walk) supermarket to grab a few bits of food and drink for the last few days of the trip.  Along the way we walk along the comically named ‘Dave Road’ which gives us a chuckle!  After trekking the shopping back we settle into some internet time and watch some UK tv on catch up.  I have to admit we’re both very sad that our trip is coming to an end but it will be nice to have some of the luxuries of electricity, central heating and internet available 24/7!
Massive apologies for the big wait for entries.  We're back in the UK and throwing ourselves into getting a life back together in Nottingham.  More on that later though, here's what we got up to after Luxembourg!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Fortress of brrrrrrr

Day 213 12.02.13 Luxembourg

Well that was a chilly one!  We give the van a blast through with the heating before either of us dare venturing out from under the covers!  After wrapping up warm we set out on the long walk to the city centre.  It’s probably the coldest it has been so far and our faces are quickly red from the biting wind.  We find the centre relatively easy though and pick ourselves up a free map and city guide from the tourist information office.

We walk to the Palais Grand-Ducal which is a little underwhelming for a ‘palace’ but does have some chilly looking guards with guns outside parading back and forth.  We walk through the main square ‘Place Guillame II’ with its large statue and some buildings of note.  Following the very helpful street signs we make our way up to the ‘Three towers’ and the start of the city’s fortifications.  The towers are quite nice although sadly graffiti ridden.  The rest of the Bock promontory is where the real interest lies.  The UNESCO protected fortress walls are mightily impressive indeed.  Built up from the natural defence of the surrounding valley these powerful ramparts offer spectacular views over the town.  Sadly the Casemates underground tunnels through the rocky foundations of the city are currently closed.  We take a while enjoying the lovely view of the abbey, river and colourful houses from our lofty standpoint.  Wandering back through town we make our way to the square with the town hall and all the cities eateries.  It’s too far to walk back to the van for lunch and in the absence of any supermarkets or mini-markets to grab food we end up in good old McD’s although the wifi is locked and nobody seems to know the password *sigh*.  It’s cheaper than in France at least and Chris’ ‘Bigger Big Mac’ is quite the feast! 

After some more pottering about town we walk down to the Constitution Square and Gelle Fra memorial.  This amazing viewpoint offers just awesome views over the deep, snowy valley of the Adolphe bridge and Place de Metz on the other side.  It’s a wonderful sight, probably the finest in the city.  Looking down the steep fortress walls to the valley below there looks to be plenty of kids using the fortifications to launch pretty epic snowball fights!  In summer I bet this place is a wonderful, green park.  In fact I should mention that there are lots of huge green spaces in and around the city with some fantastic play areas for kids.  We spotted a massive pirate ship play area that I would have ended up in myself had it not been covered in snow!  The parks are very well looked after even in this weather so no doubt in summer they must be blissful.

We take a walk over the long Adolphe bridge high above the valley.  On the other side we find a fair few grand buildings including the very attractive ArcelorMittal Headquarters, a fancy baroque affair.  That’s the last of the sights according to our map and I must say we’re freezing!  Its mediateque time!  We settle in to the toasty warm Mediateque in the late afternoon and get some writing done whilst thawing! 

I’ve been quite surprised by how small Luxembourg actually is.  There are some very lovely views afforded by the surrounding valleys but otherwise not a great deal of attractions.  There’s clearly a lot of money in the city as the locals are all impeccably dressed and the majority of shops are very high end labels.  It’s a quirky little place but I hoped it would have a little more to offer.  Perhaps we visited at the wrong time; I’m sure in summer I’d fall for the enormous parks and come away with a much more favourable opinion!

If it aint broke, fix it anyway.

Day 212 11.02.13 Metz to Luxembourg

We wake up to find around 5 inches of snow has fallen overnight and Van Diesel is covered!  A few of the other campers are attempting to dig their way out of their parking spots and taking several attempts to drive up the slippery and steep exit ramp out of the car park.  I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere for a little while!  Instead we enjoy a lazy lie in.

Hunger gets the better of us eventually and we venture out all bundled up in clothes to fetch a fresh baguette for lunch.  Brrrrrr it’s chilly to say the least!  With full bellies we head out again to see some of the further reaches of the centre.  The town looks so different covered in a thick blanket of crunchy white snow.  We find our way over to the brand new Pompidou centre with its funky undulating roof.  Sadly covered in snow, the effect of its architectural quirkiness isn’t quite as dramatic as I’d hoped.  The nearby train station offers some lovely, more traditional architecture although once again much of the view is obstructed by barriers and diggers due to the tramway construction. 

We have a walk around some of the bits of town we’d missed yesterday but there’s not a huge amount left.  The slushy, icy pavement doesn’t make for too enjoyable a stroll and so we find ourselves running for mediateque shaped cover.  Unfortunately it’s closed and we’re stuck out in the cold! 

We head back to the van instead and discover some council workers out gritting the paths and removing some snow from the carpark.  Fearing another snowy deluge overnight we decide to get on the road while we can and head for our next destination of Luxembourg.  It’s a relatively direct drive into Luxembourg and we head to a Lidl store on the outskirts of the city where we can stock uo and then hopefully park up for the night as it’s getting late.  It’s unfortunately closed for a refurb (seriously France, leave things alone!!!) which is a major pain as we’re getting low on a few things and really needed a stock up.  

Instead we have to leave with fingers crossed that our first city parking plan works out as we’re rapidly losing light, the Luxembourg road system is a little ‘anything goes’ and it’s still bloody snowing!  Thankfully we find the park and ride carpark easily and it is, as we’d hoped, free.  We spot a height barrier on the entrance though and feel hope slipping away.  As we drive on past the rest of the carpark though we spot some transit vans parked inside which look to be a similar height to Van Diesel and so we loop back around.  There are no signs to say what height the barrier is set at so we have a rather worrying slow drive up to them and discover that we can mercifully fit underneath, huzzah!  It’s too late for any venturing around so aside from a short walk to see what’s on offer in the very nearby area (answer: nothing) we settle down for the night.