Autobahn. ArchieVan

Kraftwerk soundtrack as ArchieVan heads south on the Autobahn.

The van will do a hundred, but that’s not comfortable. I try for sixty five, or thereabouts. Thirst then isn’t too bad and progress, while leisurely, is steady.

Besides Kraftwerk, Spotify’s selection includes Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus as today’s standout bands. It’s too sunny for such gothic greats, but nonetheless Polly and I bounce around in our seats in a pale imitation of the swinging arms dancing that would be appropriate.

A catch up.

We took to the road on Tuesday 29th August and made Brighton for our first stop for dinner with wordsmith Mr James Clarke of Hove.

Next morning a painless EuroTunnel crossing and suddenly Polly and I were whooping for joy as we emerged in France.

The first mega high viaduct, with a meagre barrier, way below Archie’s cab, had my heart in my mouth. Strange how quickly you get used to such things.

The peage booths were fun. Pull up. Hand brake. Crawl over the seats. Lean out the window. Slot your card in as it’s almost wiped clean by the painfully expensive French motorways. Crawl back. Onward. Accompanied by the horns of those not gifted with right hand drive.

The financial pain increased buying fuel – for the first time ever diesel is more expensive in France than at home, and how so?

Continental hailstorms had Polly desperate to hide as gravel sized ice rocks dashed the van (so much noisier than in a car) and the Autoroute slowed to 30 mph, yet still that was too fast.

Paris:

Although we haven’t tackled many challenging roads yet, the drive into Paris at rush hour after too many miles was hard. I felt we’d earned a beer on arrival, but Polly wasn’t interested.

Camping Indigo is a beauty and it’ll have spoilt us – too good for the first stop. OK, it was expensive and a pint at its bar was €6, but it’s clean, friendly and wonderfully located. It even has a shuttle bus to the Metro in case you don’t fancy the beautiful walk across the Bois du Bologne.

La Defence across the Seine – I think Jonny Depp and his pirate friends live on that barge…

My wonderful guide and host was the talented musician and English teacher Tantely Z. We combined touristic favourites including Monmartre with underground hangouts such as a disused hospital that resembles Redruth’s Krowji as a hangout for artists and those determined to avoid the mores of society.

TZ and KC Monmartre.

Parisian driving doesn’t improve and I recommend a hot hatch rather than a motorised wardrobe. Nonetheless ArchieVan only attracted horn blowing of appreciation rather than anger.

Wall art at the hospital project.

Eating out? Blimey. In a good but basic cous cous restaurant a 50cl carafe of red set us back €18 and the food a heck of a lot more. I was then embarrassed by my card not working and my host picking up the bill. Come to Cornwall Tantely – we’ll look after you.

There were many high points to 36 hours in Paris – how could there not be? In particular I remember:

  • Ambling along the Seine with Polly in the morning, sun glistening off the river and the towering offices of La Defence.
  • Walking through La Defence and the daunting feeling of scale from the buildings, similar to emerging for the first time at Canary Wharf station.
  • The simple elegance of so many beautiful people.
  • A loosely guided tour of the lesser known spots.
  • And of course looking out over the city from the Sacre Coeur.
Aachen:

I have been so lucky to run a business that I truly enjoy, especially as I have met many great people, a few of whom have become friends too. Among them I count Marlon and Silke in Aachen.

We met in falling light to wander around the town centre, taking in Charlemagne’s magnificent town hall and cathedral (Dom) before being drawn into one of the ancient drinking houses. A simple but tasty dinner of sausage and mash German style, with a couple of tasty beers too.

Borrowed photo of Aachen Dom.

The Aachen campsite is convenient rather than special, but at just €17 a night it’s a bargain and a good base to explore from.

Despite my natural gravitation towards the edgy, the less polished and the seedy, I love Germany and its sense of order. Not only that but almost everywhere welcomes dogs. Polly joined us for a fabulous breakfast in a lovely restaurant – and she didn’t even embarrass me.

Thank you Marlon and Silke for your time and hospitality. Your house is the coolest I have visited in a very long time.

Bonn:

Marko Doberschultz you funny man.

Despite plenty of notice I arrive to find my creative friend Marko in a panicked frenzy of cleaning to try to bring his hovel back to a resemblance of the fine flat he took on a few years ago.

That’s OK. Polly and I go stroll the huge park that separates his area from Bonn proper, then later we go to Whalstock – a great party in a tree nursery owned by friends out of town. I’m too tired to enter into the spirit, but it’s fun anyway.

The Rhine area was THE romantic holiday destination for decades and it’s easy to see why. High rolling volcanic hills plunge, vine laden, to the Rhine with castles both showy and crumbling. Restaurants a plenty and everyone looks so smart.

Looking across the Rhine from a walk in the woods.
Beauty spot? Great – let’s have a beer garden. And perfect it was too.
Three Rhine views, this one from the ferry.
Directions:

Our adventures abroad have always been feats of map reading prowess, largely of Amanda’s making. This time there’s just me and a pretty inefficient Polly so I’m grateful for the help of the lady at Google Maps who patiently guides me to my destinations.

Useless secretary, useless at map reading, great companion.

Tomorrow I intend to explore having deselected the autobahn – it could take a while, but I’ve done 1000 miles already and I want to slow down and take in more than just service stations and gasping at 150mph 911s.

Google Maps is without doubt brilliant but I miss the delightful surprise of the road less travelled. I’ll have more time, less deadline, from tomorrow. Let’s take it slow(er).

Wachenheim:

Too small to appear on my European map this village is on the edge of the Pfalz and of serious Reisling country.

The pleasant but basic camp site is a mile or so out of town, an easy walk through the woods.

Getting there at 5.30 I saw so many closed restaurants and wineries. Depressing when you’re keen to eat and dying to pee.

The castle looked a hard climb and I couldn’t work out where to start.

Then a quick check on Google revealed that signs reading ‘ab 18.00’ means open ‘from 18.00’.

Great. Another walk around and the café I favoured had opened.

Cafe Shellack.

Cafe Shellack, Wachenheim.

Whoa! excellent. The good young waiter selected a couple of Reislings for me, and this local speciality tart. Super thin crisp base, onion, bacon, spring onion and sour cream top. Perfect.

Dinner for a king (of the road).

And Polly curled behind my chair without a peep.

Now back in the van, full of joy and feeling very fortunate to be on tour. I know I’m in the glow of the new – but long may it last, I’m loving this.

Next morning.

Our Polly walk was an adventure into the woods, climbing ever higher until we emerged at the castle ruins. Views that take the eye for many miles.

Great sky from the Schloss.

I love the way that the Germans see a beauty spot as a good reason for a café, or beer garden – and why not. Not surprisingly at 7.30am on a working Tuesday this one was closed – don’t they know it’s my birthday?

The best croissant and grosse milkecaffee of the trip so far in a bakery in Wachenheim. €3.20. Thank you!

Archie at Wachenheim campingplatz.

On the way back to site I wandered through a new housing estate exercising my love of architecture big and small. These are seemingly normal houses, yet each is detached, beautiful, with good south facing glazing, and decent outside spaces. The Germans must think we’re so quaint living in our little boxes. Even Marko’s one bed flat in Bonn could have had three beds at home.

Now it’s time for a sweep out of the van while Polly pushes her breakfast around, a study of the map, and then the road is ours once more.

Road food no longer refers to McDonald’s!

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