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  • Day20

    The Eagle's Nest

    June 23 in Germany

    As I emerged from the Munich S-Bahn at Marienplatz, I had a feeling of déjà vu. I remembered having been at this exact spot with Mum and Dad during our trip to Germany many, many years ago. We sat outside under an umbrella in the square opposite the famous glockenspiel Clock Tower enjoying a German beer. Mum was so taken with the fine lager glasses that she put two in her handbag and I believe still has them. Munich was busy with Friday night revellers, but I resisted, and had an early night at the comfortable Blauer Bock Hotel nearby.

    This morning I set out on a trip to visit the Eagle’s Nest - part of Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Berghof. After a pleasant train journey from Munich, I arrived at the charming town of Berchtesgaden. From there a bus took us to Obersalzberg location of the now demolished Berghof, which in the 1930s became, surprisingly, the 2nd seat of the Nazi government after Berlin. Then a further specially constructed bus to cope with the steep climb up the mountain to Kehlsteinhaus (The Eagle’s Nest), where, with its panoramic views, Hitler entertained special guests. It is virtually the only building not to have been bombed or demolished, and now serves as a restaurant / bar.

    To reach the summit you had to walk through a long tunnel constructed in 1938 and take a beautiful copper decorated lift to the top. What fabulous 360 degree views over the Bavarian Alps and Lake Konigsee. It is hard to imagine in this idyllic mountain setting that Hitler and his followers made world shattering decisions on war, persecution and genocide.

    I enjoyed bockwurst and potato salad and a cool, German lager in the main reception room, featuring a marble fireplace gifted by Mussolini, although it was a bit unsettling to see photographs of Nazi leaders and dignatories pictured in the same room. The excellent museum Dokumentation Obersalzberg provided a great insight into the Nazi takeover of this hitherto quiet mountain community.

    I did contemplate making the very short train journey over the border to Salzburg, Austria for some pink lemonade. Some light relief in The Sound of Music city would have been welcome. However I headed back to Munich for dinner and to get ready for the next part of my trip - the overnight sleeper train to Hamburg. Another very special day, sobering in part, but with breathtaking scenery.
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  • Day28

    Are we nearly there yet?!

    July 20 in Germany

    Good morning from just north of Nuremberg!

    It's been an absolute joy so far, everyone has managed to get a good 8-hour's sleep without too much fuss, the cooked breakfast on the coach was very welcome and the fresh pot of coffee has really helped get the morning off to a positive start...

    ...and then reality kicks in as the coach goes over a bump on the motorway which jolts you awake and you realise that it's only 03.45, and only 26 minutes has elapsed since the last time you managed to twist your body into a vaguely comfortable position in your coach seat (utilising skills that a GB Olympic gymnast would be proud of) and drift off to sleep, and you start the process all over again, hoping that sleep will stay with you for more than half an hour stints!

    We stopped for a late night "toilet & teeth" break in Belgium at around midnight. The coach drivers ambitiously anticipated a quick pit stop of around 15 minutes; however getting 119 students through a small service station toilet wasn't going to happen quickly (it took us an hour!), but did give us a chance to demonstrate how much the British love a good queue, I just felt sorry for the poor German lady who rounded the corner at 00.45 to find about 40 students waiting patiently for the toilet!!

    It's a bit quieter on the coach at the moment; Rick Astley mercifully seems to have disappeared from the airwaves and we are hoping for a breakfast stop soon. The next anticipated issues from the staff will be the depleted battery life on tablets/phones/iPads (how will we cope?!?!) and the constant worry looming over us that someone on the coach will suggest putting on their 'High School Musical' DVD collection...

    After that it will only be a few hundred miles more before we arrive in sunny Olomouc, easy!
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  • Day34

    Quiz Update from Mr K!

    July 26 in Germany

    As we make our way across Germany (and of the 17+ countries I've been to this is one of my favourites!) I should mention that I'm looking forward to seeing my cats (even if I'd also like a dog as well) and going away in the caravan to a campsite when I get home. 

    I think I may also need an Indian curry soon, as long as my size-11s don't wear out before reaching the restaurant, at least it wouldn't involve swimming more than 100m, although I'd run there if needed, even at my age having been born in the 70s!

    Also looking forward to a bacon & sausage sandwich over the summer, eaten using my right hand and with brown sauce, if there's too much sauce I'd need to use my knife and fork (but could leave the spoon), and I could wash it down with a nice cup of coffee. 

    The karaoke at the back has just broken into "Don't Stop Me Now" which is great, just wondering if they could add in a little 'vocalise' or the theme tune to the Onedin Line too maybe? If music was also their fave subject at school it shouldn't be too hard?!

    Must also get back on the golf course asap as I have withdrawal symptoms, I could catch up on the Radio 5 sports news whilst I'm at it, and following a round perhaps a G&T or a real ale, or mint choc chip ice cream?

    Have heard that Daniel Craig is going to do one more Bond film which is great, although hope he doesn't follow in another previous Bond's footsteps and start appearing in musicals as I don't see him as a lead in West Side Story, similarly don't see him as a Gryffindor in a Harry Potter movie either; maybe he could branch out into Sci-Fi and do either Star Wars or Star Trek, that would be brilliant!

    New Bake-Off should be on soon which will be great; think it has the potential to run for at least as long as I've been working for NMPAT, so 17-20 for sure. Noel Fielding does a pretty good job, although I'd say he's a league down from the "big guns" of comedy like Billy Connolly; I'm sure Chandler from Friends would have a witty one-liner to say about "big guns"...

    Hope I haven't said too much? 😂😂😂😂
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  • Day34

    Staff Blog - Mr Spinner

    July 26 in Germany

    Years ago, a friend of mine (the super talented Northamptonshire based composer and multi instrumentalist Philip Bass) said to me, "The symphony orchestra is one of our greatest inventions".
    It certainly is, and this tour has seen two remarkable groups of people sing and play some very difficult music amazingly well.
    We've been faced with numerous challenges along the way - just one of them being the need to lift the harp up a lengthy staircase in the Archbishop's Palace. Recognising our need for help, a team of student volunteers immediately assembled to help lift our heavy and valuable harp so carefully, it was as if as if they had paid for it themselves.
    I jumped at the chance to be a part of this tour, and I'm so glad I did. The team spirit across the entire group of young people and teachers has made this tour an absolute pleasure. A huge thank you to all of the students and staff for all of the unforgettable musical moments from our amazing choir and symphony orchestra. The standing ovations at our concerts say it all.
    Bravo. Encore!

    Jon Spinner
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  • Day25


    June 28 in Germany

    Another loud American guy at breakfast (sorry, Sadie, I know not all Americans are loud, but there are a few!). He was big, heavy guy with a grey beard who was holding up the queue, eating as he was going. ‘Mmm… these bread rolls are so fresh and delicious, you must bake them on the premises.’ ‘Nein’ said the expressionless waitress, ‘I gets them from ze Lidl’.

    My train trip this morning from Cologne left from the main station in the shadow of the huge, gothic Cologne Cathedral. I remember making Mum and Dad climb to the very top of it. Not sure if even I could do it now. Pleased to see the station has still the same advert for 4711 Eau de Cologne which I first saw on a school trip in the 1960s. Had a lovely train journey down the Rhine valley passing castles and pleasure boats, the Lorelei Rock and charming riverside towns. On the way I thought I’d read some guest reviews of my next hotel. One said: ‘The staff are so friendly. I had an unexpected early visit from Aunt Flo, and the staff gave me some free sanitary products.’ Now, I didn’t know who Aunt Flo was, but I do now, and all I can say is ‘TOO MUCH INFORMATION!’

    Before I knew it, I had arrived at today’s destination - Heidelberg. I remember Sadie and Christine were here. It was just like The Student Prince with students drink, drink, drinking beer - only Kathy was missing. Did a 2 hour walking tour of the Old Town as suggested in my guide, which was hard going in the sweltering heat. Took the funicular railway up to the top of the mountain and visited the castle on the way back. The guide suggested another walk on the opposite bank of the River Neckar - the Philosopher’s Way - where lecturers used to walk up and down. It was so steep it nearly killed me, but you did get a good view over to the castle. Tonight I attended a classical concert in the lovely Stadthalle. No less than 90 musicians in the philharmonic orchestra - what a fabulous sound, and not bad for 20 Euros for the front circle.

    Well the carousing in the town has gone strangely quiet tonight now that Germany has been put out of the World Cup. Anyway, after all that walking I’m sure I’ll sleep tonight…zzzz...
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  • Day732

    Shüttorf Freibad, Germany

    June 28 in Germany

    Making an earlier start than yesterday, we stuck to the motorway, passing out of Belgium and into The Netherlands, where we stopped for lunch at a rest area. We needed fuel, but bought just €20 worth as it was an average of €1.45 here compared to €1.20 in Germany. An hour or so later we crossed the border where a search of all cars was being carried out. We don't know what they were looking for but were relieved when they waved us through with the lorries.

    Our destination was the freibad (open air swimming pool) in Shüttorf. It had van facilities and a car park whose leafy Plane trees offered much needed shade. We sat with the windows and door open to try and keep the van as cool as possible for Poppy. As the day's heat began to subside, Will escaped to the pool, set within grassy grounds and Vicky later followed when she was sure Poppy was comfortable. It was only €3 each and the price dropped to €2.50 after 5pm. There were a lot of people in there but it didn't feel crowded because the pool was large and there was so much space to sit or lay around it with a towel. The water was a refreshing 26°C and it felt great to relax in the warm evening air. We even had a few goes on the wide metal slide! Back in the UK Vicky had bought a Soul Cap online. It is a swim cap designed specifically for people with lots of hair, including dreadlocks. She was really pleased with how well it worked and is looking forward to swimming lots more places now that she doesn't need to worry about rinsing and drying her locks!

    Later on, once Vicky was in bed, Will had a stroll around town, with its Aldi, Lidl, butchers and bakers. We planned to stay 2 nights so when he returned, he moved the van to what would be the shadiest spot on the car park. In the morning, Will had a lie in while Vicky went for a dip. During the day, she finally completed the cover for the seat cushion - yey! It had been a long slog and it isn't perfect but it is useable and not bad for a first attempt!

    After 5pm we enjoyed another hour in the freibad, then settled down happily to pizza and a bit of Chianti Classico in the van.
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  • Day736

    Wadden Sea National Park

    July 2 in Germany

    Today we are enjoying our second day on a free grassy pitch at Südwesthörn, within the Wadden Sea World Heritage site, just 14km away from the Danish border. Aided by the constant wind at this coastal spot, the temperature has cooled to a comfortable level for Poppy, never rising above 23°C in the van.

    The 80km journey here was shorter than the ones we'd made on previous days, but nearing our destination country of Denmark, we felt we could slow down a little and enjoy soaking up the sights that go towards defining Germany. For us, the following epitomise this part of the country: getränkehausen (drinks supermarkets that are stacked high with crates of beer), an abundance of high quality, interconnected cycle paths, flyers advertising flohmarkts (flee markets), flat fields growing sweetcorn and grain, arrays of wind turbines, well maintained parks and roadsides, as well as freibads (open air swimming complexes) in towns and signs directing you to badestelle (wild swimming spots) on rivers, lakes and at the coast.

    After several kilometres on a narrow rural lane, past tractors harvesting hay, we arrived at Südwesthörn. Four vans were already occupying the dedicated 'grasscrete' pitches but we pulled up alongside, front on to some sort of water processing building and facing away from the 5m high dyke separating the site from the North Sea.

    We took a wander up the steps and peaked over to find a sloping grass bank with large white wicker boxes that folded out to provide sheltered seaside seating. We'd previously seen them for hire at resorts but here they appeared to be free for anyone to use. The tide was out a long way, exposing an extensive area of mudflats, that were sectioned off by wooden fences into 'fields'. This was part of the conservation element of the Heritage Site; providing habitats for wading birds who came from the far north and south. Further along, these mud fields had been colonised by grass, the salt water draining out via straight sided channels dug into the earth, the more mature areas were grazed by flocks of sturdy looking sheep.

    Vicky was pretty tired so spent the afternoon reading while Will repurposed a couple of strips of leatherette from the old bench cushion, sewing them together to make a container for our awning straps and pegs, before getting to work fixing the bathroom door handle that was a bit loose. Maybe Vicky should relax more often 😉

    Later on we had a short wander and ate sild und brötchen (pickled herring on a bread roll) and eis (ice cream) at the little imbiss nearby. When the tide came in Will joined a few others for a dip in the small estuary where bathing facilities had been provided. The following day we rode the tandem along the good quality concrete cycle track and walkway that ran adjacent to the dyke. We managed nearly 9km before deciding to turn back, but if we had carried on for another 5km, we would have reached Denmark! Because the track ran one side of the dyke or the other, we either got a view of the fields of crops inland or the mudflats and reclaimed sheep fields to the seaward side. Looking past these there was a far off sea with grey silhouettes of an island archipelago, reflected in the water. Greylag geese flew overhead while small flocks of Starlings fed amongst the sheep. Striking black and white Oyster Catchers called out with their bright orange beaks and we eventually remembered the name of the Lapwings that strutted regally at a safe distance, occasionally taking to flight and exposing the white underside of their wings. After a rest back at the van, Will once again enjoyed a swim, then got to work making summer fruits jam with goosberries, redcurrants and strawberries.

    Because both of us have had appointments with the doctor in the UK, we've needed to change our travel plans and have spent a lot of time looking forward, thinking about where would be best to visit, so much so in fact, that the 2nd anniversary of us leaving our home in Netherton completely passed us by! It was the 27th June 2016 when we posted the keys back through our letterbox and we've been on the road ever since! We can't quite believe the time has gone so quickly, but would certainly agree with the saying 'time flies when you are having fun'! We feel very lucky to be able to live the life we do and hope to enjoy the next three years touring, just as much as the last two!
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  • Day781

    For tonight's stopover we have found ourselves a grassy parkplatz in Northern Germany. 8 weeks ago
    Will was referred for a colonoscopy, so we altered our original itinerary (which would have seen us in Estonia now) and instead chose a country closer to the UK. After making several phonecalls to various hospital employees, we found out this morning that there was an appointment available on the 25th, in 9 days. We did a quick distance check (750 miles between us and Orpington) and accepted the slot. After a last wild swim in Denmark we ate lunch and hit the motorway. As things stand, we are planning just a few days in Orpington before returning to Denmark and exploring Funen and Zealand, the large islands to the east of the Jutlandic peninsula we've enjoyed exploring so much.

    Arriving at the parkplatz in the late afternoon, there wasn't another car in sight and with the exception of two short-stay visitors, it has remained that way since. Over the road is Arenholzer See bathing area. The lake had a small amount of blue green algae, but needless to say Will enjoyed a swim, as well as brushing up on his German with the locals!
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  • Day798

    Bramsche swimming baths

    September 2 in Germany

    Summer is letting us know it isn't ready to go just yet, with an evening temperature of 24°C. Not quite the intense heat we endured early and mid season, but enough to open the windows and pull up the reflective blinds. Continuing our journey north to Denmark we pulled into the paved car park of Bramsche swimming baths in the late afternoon. The establishment provides a small amount of space for vans, as well as electric, filling and emptying facilities.

    We'd already been swimming earlier in the day so were planning to wait and see whether we felt like a dip the following morning. The place looked interesting with two pools heated to 30°C and 32°C, a sauna, a salt cave and outdoors there was access to a natural lake. Unfortunately Mondays were the only day they were closed, so we instead planned an early set-off.

    The night was quiet enough, then from 7:30am walking trains of middle school children came marching down the highstreet and over the car park, brimming with energy on what we assume was their first day back after the long holidays. It is at times like this we remind ourselves how very fortunate we are to have the freedom to continue travelling.
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  • Day800

    Now this is more like it! While the 6 places we've stayed since setting foot back on the continent have all been good, we feel we've really connected with this spot, on the shore of See im Großen Moor, a lake near Meckelfeld. Parked up beside a single track dead end road, the layby of hard packed earth we are in is plenty big enough for the van, but not so big that other cars can pull in along with us. Through the trees to our left we can see a grassy field and to our right, a narrow path has been cleared between the foliage and leads from our door, over a walkway and to the water's edge just 15m away. Whilst the area feels very rural and has a sense of peace, it is in close proximity to Machen rail terminus, comprising over 100 train tracks and surrounded by many urban areas, not to mention Hamburg just to the north.

    The sun was shining brightly when we arrived so Will soon joined the other people splashing about and cooling down in the lake. The bed was sandy with a few large rocks at the edges and it became deep quickly so it was ideal for wild swimmimg. He returned later with his snorkle, exploring the fronds of yellowy green weed and the fallen trees, their submerged trunks reaching out branches like fingers. Vicky waited until late afternoon before getting her cossie on. Although it felt cold, it was in fact warmer than the freibad we swam at a few days ago and she soon acclimatised. We swam nearly 400m to the opposite bank, then around the head of the lake and back to our little entry point. Immature Perch darted along beneath us while Coots and the occasional Great Crested Grebe bobbed on the surface. We were pleased to see two other pairs of swimmers making their way up the lake. Vicky watched in awe as one pair passed by in front crawl, their face immersed for several strokes before they drew breath. She was used to doing this in heated pools but found the breath went out of her when in cold water, forcing her to take the air every stroke. She spent some time practicing and found that after 20 minutes she was able to swim as they had been, albeit over a much shorter distance!

    As the light began to fade, Will spotted a few hares in the field opposite. From the cover of the van we were able to watch them quite naturally lying down, their long ears pinned back, almost reaching their tails. Evening brought an intense sunset over the water. Rich warm hues backlit the woodland skyline, transitioning to cool blues in the higher echelons of the atmosphere before being capped with inky blackness. Once darkness fell and Vicky had gone to bed, Will went for a quick dip under the twinkling stars.

    Morning light revealed dense mist blanketing the area, turning the world black, white and shades of grey. The air and water were still and Vicky took her yoga mat to a small wooden platform on the lake shore for her morning session. All was calm, but for the occasional 'Splosh' from a large fish jumping above the surface and creating concentric circles of ripples. It was a relaxing 30 minutes.

    Before leaving we took the 2.4km track around the lake, coming close to the train tracks at one end. The sound of metal on metal as engines screeched to a halt, wrenched the air like some sound effect from a horror movie, but in contrast, the 3 people we met along the way were remarkably friendly, with one even having a good natured laugh and joke about Will's kilt, which of course Will loved!

    We have been on this tour for 800 days now. The time has whizzed by! Our health issues have meant we've needed to be flexible with our itinerary in the past 8 months in order to attend UK based appointments but this in turn has meant we've enjoyed more time with family and friends. Many of our plans have worked out and we've clocked up a total of 56,200km; that's 1.4 times around the world! We've visited 20 countries and toured 15. Vanlife isn't without its challenges but we are having a blast living the lives we do! Thank you to everyone who travels vicariously with us and who like and comment on this blog, it is wonderful to have your company on the road.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

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