A cruise? A bus trip? Sightseeing on an organised tour must be exhausting.
After several days absorbing the beauty of the Dolomites, the Sud Tyrol and then southern Bavaria I needed to rest my eyes and my mind.
A wander around a simple lake, pretty in itself, but unremarkable, was ideal respite from all the grand vistas.
It gave me the chance to take in the Germanness of Germany.
Instruction signs are fairly subtle, but they are everywhere. On the lakeside this one is a beauty – “Dogs over 50cm at the shoulder with brown hair and with a passion for boxing must be on a lead.” I exaggerate but the precision of the instruction is the point of interest.
There seems a curious obsession with the humble toilet brush – every public loo has a sign that implores you to use it, even explaining how. It seems to work, all I have visited have been exceptionally clean.
Camping National Park. Spiegelau.
Fatigue kicked in hard on Saturday.
We knew your journalist needed a rest, and when rest is needed a campsite is the best solution.
Great. But at the Bavarian Forest National Park camping ground there was no room at the inn.
What? It’s mid-September. And the place is huge. But sure enough it was packed.
Minty must have worn her most imploring look as the guy at reception went off and found us a gravel patch we could use for the night at only €10 against the usual fee of €27. The German couple who pulled in behind us were sent off to another site.
It’s perfect. We’ll stay two nights, and maybe three.
ArchieVan sort of blocks the path to the woods so we’re always saying hello to dog walkers and folk carrying their baskets of freshly picked mushrooms from the forest.
I was at first intrigued and then delighted to see people heading back into the forest taking bags of mushroom scraps. These they distribute along their favourite paths. I learned that this is an ideal method of propagating new mushrooms, and that it even works with those we buy from the shops. Apparently shitake do well on moist coffee grounds.
I spend ages doing this. I have scribbled notes since my first adventures. First in notebooks, now online.
George Orwell had four motives for writing. Using license to twist his words I find that his motives suit me just fine. Here are George’s interpreted for our more simple message.
1). Ego. There can be no doubt that spending hours committing thought to print is an exercise of the ego. As the blog has become a regular exercise I have moved away from social media. I abandoned Facebook a couple of years ago and only occasionally post on Instagram, although I still like that medium. Linkedin is handy now and then to find old contacts, but I engage rarely. Instead I take the wonderful opportunity to make sense of our lives’ narrative through this story that unfolds weekly. I hope it helps some readers, I hope it inspires.
2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. I love design, but I’m unlikely to get involved in serious creative works beyond our interiors and landscape. I love music but I have proven pretty dreadful with most instruments, and I’m hardly any better with my voice. I enjoy words that fit well to tell a story, whether that’s a legal document, directions, or a work of fiction. It’s a little thing that I can do.
3) Historical Impulse. Recording and learning. It’s my version of our truth. Just as important, I have learned so much more about what we have seen and experienced through the research that helps me write each week’s tale. We already look back over posts and chortle. I hope we’ll continue to do so.
4) Political purpose. George had strong political purpose. I do not. I am not politically driven. Rather I feel a need to behave humanely towards the folk that share the space I enjoy. That leaves me a little more liberal and a darker shade of green, but nonetheless cantankerous and intolerant of stupidity, especially my own.
The two nights at the forest campsite were good, We rested, but I needed more.
Near Cham we pulled into a village run stelplatz.
Many European nations do this so well. Whether it’s called an aire (France), sosta (Italy) or stelplatz (Germany) it’s a purpose built motorhome facility for a few vans. Most offer electricity, fresh water and drainage. Some charge for everything, on others everything is free (in Italy that even includes electricity in some places).
Meanwhile councils in Britain do all they can to make visiting towns difficult.
Ours would have been perfect on some days, but yesterday it wasn’t what we needed. We forged on another 12kms and found a little space from heaven.
Eixendorfer See is an irregular shaped reservoir of 15kms circumference with this shady flat spot that couldn’t have been better if we’d designed it.
After all the huge scenery it’s calming to look out across a simple symphony in green.
Where there are mountains, raging torrents, beautiful villages and dark forests they have to be explored.
When you sit alongside a reservoir there’s little to miss, you can see it all from your chair. For the first time in a while we have done very little (OK a we read a book each, there were ten miles walked and a couple of swims swum. To me that’s a rest).
Right now a rowing boat with one creaky oar makes slow progress up the lake. It’s half a mile away, but each creak sounds close across the water. When the oarsman’s phone rang we both looked up, even though ours have no signal.
Ah yes. Phone signal.
Throughout Scandinavia, The Baltics, Eastern Europe, Greece, Italy and the Balkans phone signal has been excellent and pretty near constant.
Only in the supposedly advanced nations of Britain and Germany has it faltered.
Right now we have none, and that’s actually good. When signal is intermittent it’s hard not to keep checking your phone like a teenager. When there’s none you can simply put it away and forget it.
Sitting in another stelplatz on the edge of Freystadt has led me to think about our two countries.
Here there are spaces for 15 vans. Room for everyone to sit out. Green space for exercise and dog walking. Every space is full. Everyone shops in the town.
The town isn’t big, with a population of c.8500 it’s less than double the size of St Just. Yet it supports lots of good restaurants, two fantastic bakerys, several smart shops, a car dealership and more. It is immaculate. There are cycle lanes. There are areas given over to wilding. And everyone has so much space.
Space. What a difference.
In Bavaria massive fields carpet the landscape without a hedge in sight. Yet that landscape is peppered by stands of trees big enough to be referred to as small woods in their own right.
Woods? The Bavarian Forest and its Bohemian continuation over the Czech border is the largest woodland in Europe. Rivers are well maintained, reservoirs are places of recreation where water sports are encouraged rather than banned. There are thousands of beavers, think of that! Wolves are returning. Large birds of prey too.
Space. 432 v 227.
England’s population density is 432 people per square kilometre, Germany’s is just 227.
That solves a part of the puzzle.
Germany’s economy is considerably stronger than Britain’s, yet still we sit next to each at fourth and fifth places on the GDP charts. In Britain that picture is skewed by the incredible wealth of the City of London. Without London Britain would be a poor cousin.
But how does Germany manage to be so smart, so clean, so ordered? That has to be down to the national psyche.
I admire it. I enjoy it. But it doesn’t tempt me to live here. They’re probably relieved.
Friday. Birthday girl.
From one silly name to another.
In Fuckedwanging (Feuchtwangen) Minty woke a year older.
At the Red Cross charity shop in the old town we bought a set of the gorgeous green stemmed glasses that we’ve always liked. Not essential for vanlife, but handy for home should we ever get there.
In Detwang we met up with our lockdown buddies Gisi and Werner. They’d arrived the day before in the Penthouse that we spent the 12 weeks of Cretan lockdown next to. We laughed. We told tales of the road.
In the forest Polly and I followed a track that led nowhere, then detoured to another track that led nowhere.
I knew where we were, and I knew where we had to get to, but I had no idea how to cross the forest from one point to the other. We’d already been out an hour when I decided that we had to back track. An hour is the most Polly has walked since her accident two years ago. She wasn’t flagging. Yet.
The backtrack was hardly more successful.
Scrambling up river beds I fell. I fell again.
I tore through brambles and head-high stinging nettles. The nettles have lost the viciousness of spring, but still delivered a significant tingle. The cumulative effect of a few thousand left my legs inappropriate for my next catwalk show.
Thankfully my messages back to base didn’t send. The first suggested that I’d be an extra half an hour. An hour later when it did send it was reasonably accurate.
Polly managed two hours in the afternoon, on top of her hour in the morning.
She slept well.
I didn’t. There was too much burning from the stings.
Birthday Girl. Celebrations.
There was no time for a shower. We are in Germany and the celebrations were scheduled for 4.30pm and so at 4.30pm they began. A bottle of fizz disappeared, and then we were on our bikes. Mere humans versus the electrified Gisis and Werner on a ride through the woods to the truly excellent Gasthof Alte Schreinerai.
Cordon Bleu schnitzel, tender slivers of beef in a horseradish sauce, beef in a sour sauce, a steak in onion relish. Salads. Spatzelen, Dumplings. Roast potatoes. Chips, a mountain of chips. Oh blimey we ate well. Traditional fare certainly isn’t for everyday as it’s so rich, but as an occasional treat this is truly special.
A ride home in the dark and the sleep of the dead. When eventually the stinging stopped.
In a week we’ll have crossed the Channel. This 30 month adventure will draw to a close.
Neither of us feel good about stopping.
Radio 4 does little to make us feel good about home.
But Cornwall. Cornwall awaits.