Archive for August, 2010
We have made a surprising discovery. Germany seems to be allergic to visa. Shops don’t accept visa debit or credit cards. The petrol stations do, however, and you are able to draw cash out of some ATMs but not all of them. I think this is a nationwide aversion to the heavy charges that you have to pay when accepting cards of any sort. It does mean that we have to travel with a much larger sum of money than usual to cover grocery and beer bills.
We wound our way through the Black Forest to Gengenbach, a photogenic medieval town. It is like something straight out of a movie set with cuckoo clocks, black forest gateau in abundance and gabled roofs at every turn. Almost every town in the Black Forest follows this magical formula. We ventured on to Sasbachwalden to be greeted by the same imagery. A fantastic starting point for walks, we discovered hilly terrain crisscrossed with forests and vineyards. A steep climb led us up a tumbling waterfall shrouded by green leafy woods. At the top we were rewarded with seeing our very first reindeer.
Deutscheland! Quite often we’re not sure when we have crossed the border from one European country into another as there are no border posts. It became blindingly obvious though when our TomTom stopped showing a speed limit and BMWs flew past us at 200km/h – we were on the autobahn!
German efficiency was apparent to us right from the start. We arrived at the Stellplatz (the German version of camperstops), parked the van and walked across to the office. A minute later, as we were trying to work out what to do, the official arrived and asked us if we were the English owners of the van parked across the way. He had left a note on our windscreen asking us to come to the office to sort out payment!
Freiburg is Germany’s southern most city (apparently the most sunny too) and has excellent green credentials. It is famous for its Munster church, worth a visit as well as the square it sits, in which has a market every week day. We had our first Bratwurst, mine a hectic curry flavour and David’s a traditional grilled version.
We visited a wine festival in the main square and tried a Rielsing (heaven) and a very potent red which left a salty encrustation on the glass. Speaking to the wine buff we were told that very good red wines produce this calcium deposit. Clearly we have not been drinking enough very expensive wines then! Another worthwhile excursion in Freiburg is climbing the hill with the Schlossberg tower which gives a fine view of the excellent architecture in Freiburg.
Switzerland is expensive! We had been on holiday to Gruyere before so were prepared for the higher cost of living, or so we thought. Restaurants are pricey (20 Francs for a salad at the places we looked at) so we didn’t eat out, and a nights camping near Bern the capital cost a massive €40. We also had to pay road tax – €31 for a 2010 pass. However, don’t let the cost put you off visiting as there is a lot to see and do.
Bern (named after the brown bears which used to frequent the area) is a wonderful city perched high above a thunderous, fast flowing river of an incredible aquamarine colour. The main city bridge is covered with fences to protect sightseers from taking a nasty tumble (or drunken dare-dive) but they kindly leave one bit unprotected for taking photos. With many sights to see we settled for a stroll about the place after dark. The architecture and style of the town is impressive.
Driving through Switzerland is a lot slower than France with the limit on most roads set at 80km/h. The countryside is dotted with pretty little wooden houses which make the slower journey quite pleasant. Strangely though a lot of places looked quite run down which is not what we were expecting from a country housing some of the world’s wealthiest banks!
With our limited time and budget our visit to Switzerland was very short, really no more than a quick drive-through. Next time we will make more effort to sample some of Switzerlands delights. Mmm, cheese and chocolate! 🙂
Annency is famed for its crystal clear blue lake. We weren’t disappointed! Even in the pouring rain the lake still retains its magical colour. We dared to brave the downpour by walking in search of some local wine, but ended up rather sodden and had to resort to driving to a nearby supermarket. The next day the sun made an appearance and we could truly appreciate the beautiful landscapes.
The camping ground we stayed in was a municipal site (only 1 star) with extremely basic facilities. Incredibly they had so many wash basins that there was almost one per motorhome, but there was only one toilet for the entire site!
Although Annency is gorgeous it is also heaving with tourists in August. We found it difficult to navigate the hoards of cars, bikes and pedestrians after the relative quiet countryside we have experienced up to now. We decided to head up to the hills, and found an incredible free camping spot close to the border of Switzerland with spectacular views of Mt Blanc. Cows in the field next to us made an absolute racket as their bells clonked at different pitches, but quietened down after sunset when they went to sleep. Well, most of them anyway. One greedy critter stayed up until almost midnight munching and clonking her bell. Perhaps she had a secret stash of grass hidden away …
Needing to recover from a week of socialising (and almost constant drinking) we went in search of some quiet time, north of the Lot region, on our way towards Germany. By chance we ended up in a very picturesque medieval village called Estaing, perched on the side of a hill with a river running through it. The local municipal campsite charges only €8 per night which we happily took advantage of. Moments after setting up camp a thunderstorm came down, forcing us to stay in the van and catch up on some much needed sleep.