Month: October 2016


After a good day of riding and another night at the same stopping place it was time to carry on. My aim for the night was Cologne – it would be my last big stop before the (still unbooked) ferry.

The drive was slow going, roadworks, traffic and the tricky part of not having enough power to overtake lorries on the dual carriageway motorways when you’ve got cars screaming past at 90mph, so I just plodded along. I stopped for a shower and a lunch break at a services, bit the bullet and booked a ferry home, and put in a drop of extortionately priced fuel as I hadn’t seen anywhere to top up at before I’d got onto the motorway, and eventually made it to the outskirts of Cologne.

Cologne has an Umwelt zone, a low emission dirty diesels unwelcome zone. An exception is made if you go straight to the Wohnmobilplatz (campervan park up) via a specific route and straight out again. I’m not sure how they police the zone but I had exact instructions of which route was allowed and I would be following it. I came to the motorway exit I needed – closed. I went past it and looked to see whether it was open in the other direction – also closed. After 5hrs of driving this isn’t what I particularly needed. I took the next junction and pulled in as soon as I could, it happened to be a Lidl car park so I went and got some food before deciding what to do. I’ve learnt a lot about calculated risks this year and I decided I’d just follow the route the satnav wanted to take me on and hope I didn’t get caught. Anyway, I think it was a justified reason to be deviating from the route (clearly my German language skills meant I’d be able explain this if needed)

With some slightly hairy driving through Cologne I made it to the Wohnmobilplaz. Even if you have a green light pedestrians have right of way, as do bikes and so do trams. Add in driving on the right, unfamiliar junctions and trying to look out for turnings when it’s starting to get dark, I find driving in cities here takes a huge amount of concentration.

I’d arrived later than planned and it didn’t wholly surprise me to find the wohnmobilplaz was full. The book said it had 60 places and it was the only one in the city. On a Saturday night with the campervan obsessed Germans that’s probably not enough space. There was a car park by the entrance to it which had a no campervans sign, but there were a couple of vans parked up there. I took another calculated risk and decided I’d spend the night in the car park. A few more vans arrived to find the same problem as me and also parked up, with safety in numbers I stealth cooked my dinner and went to bed.

I woke up to noise outside, I looked at my clock – 0453. Are these people heading home or heading into the city at this time of night? Then I could hear an engine running behind my van, I could see flashing lights so I got up and looked out the window. There was a police van and two police cars! A bit extreme just for people who have overflowed from the wohnmobilplatz I thought. Then I looked out the other window, 3 fire engines. Phew, probably not campervan related then. After a while, not before my bike rack had been walked into a couple of times which always makes me jump a mile, they packed up and left and I went back to sleep, glad of the extra hour in bed.

Things like this would have used to have bothered me but I’ve realised it’s just part of the adventure and find it annoying rather than anything to get too worried about. Having a day of wandering and riding round Cologne was worth it, so much so that me and Bertha are flouting the rules again tonight and staying put, hoping for no more dramas.


Almost hometime

My finger hovers over the ‘book now’ button on the DFDS ferry website.

I’d had a great few days in the Czech Republic, sightseeing in Prague and then a day in Kutna Hora a sleepy town with an even sleepier chapel. I’d then driven back into Germany to Nuremburg, a beautiful medieval town. But then I got stuck – so many places to go and potential routes, but which one to take? I had no idea, nothing really grabbed me. Was I just trying to drag out the last 10 days of my trip? The 7th is an absolute insurance deadline, the 8th is Mums birthday, there’s nothing to stop me booking a ferry for before that.

Maybe I was travelled out and it was time to go home. I Googled the shortest route and decided I’d head that way, having overnight stops where needed, and found somewhere an hour or so up the route for that night.

After a quick trip to the supermarket I got on the motorway and stopped at the first services I came to – I needed a shower. A long, untimed shower in the closest to a proper bathroom I’ve been in for 3 months, it was bliss.

I got to the campervan park up, and after some confusion with the man over whether they had much needed chemical waste disposal or not (the book said yes, he said nein, I said are you sure – chemikal? Nein he said, I walked away, then I went back to try again, he said he didn’t understand, I played charades, ahhh chemikal he said…ja we have)  I paid for the night.

The park up was on a river and cycle paths so before it got dark I went out for a ride. I got back to my van with a renewed energy, suddenly I definitely wasn’t travelled out and wanted to do some more exploring. I decided I’d stay there for the next day too so I could go out for a longer ride.

It turns out that all I needed was a shower and a bike ride. The ‘book now’ button is still unclicked,  I know it’s got to be done, I just can’t bring myself to do it quite yet.

Saxon Switzerland

This is my fourth night in the same place, Saxon Switzerland. No, I haven’t done a mammoth drive, Saxon Switzerland is actually nowhere near Switzerland but a national park which spans the German/Czech border, recommended by Paul and Linda who I met in Iceland as it’s where Linda comes from.

I’ve done some brilliant walking and biking whilst I’ve been here but have had one problem. Insects in the van. There are these little flying bugs, I have no idea what they are but it turns out they bite. I can tell which bits of me have been peeping out from the duvet in the night as I’ve been bitten on my forehead, hand and the soles of my feet.

Today my feet were really sore and itchy so I decided to go to the spa in the nearby town to have a soak.

The first issue was one that I’ve found over the last few days – the locals don’t speak any English. My pigeon German is improving but at a very slow rate, and most questions asked of me are met with a completely blank look. Eventually I had managed to pay for entry and had been given a little yellow token which I had no idea what to do with. I tried to put it in a slot by the entry turnstile, it got returned to me and nothing happened. Tried again, nothing. I pushed the turnstile without putting the token in and it opened.

On to the changing rooms. Just a bank of closed doors. After a bit of confusion it turns out they were Narnia changing cubicles, in the front and out the back. Essential to remember to lock both the in and out doors. Then through to the lockers where it now became apparent what the yellow token was for – you put it into a slot, turn the dial and it locks the token into a wrist band, which then looks like a watch – the strangest lockers I’ve ever come across.

The pools were nice, but they were no Icelandic hot pots, all of them needed to be a bit hotter. The darkened salt water floating room with mood lighting, under water music and people being dragged around the pool by others, then flapping and spluttering when they’ve drifted off to sleep was just weird.

And then there was the sauna and spa zone. Linda had joked on the ferry about how Germans get naked far too readily which is why there were signs by the sauna on the ferry telling you to keep your towel on. No such signs here!

Getting dressed was uneventful and I went to catch the last vintage tram of the night back to the campsite, with the tram driver convinced that if he kept repeating himself I’d understand him (he’d carry on past the stop to drop me at the campsite gate…that had me worried for a few seconds) my mind well and truly distracted from my bites.