Thursday 11th May
… but I don’t drink any less. Actually, sometimes I do drink more and embarrass myself totally – sorry Michelle and Paul. We’ll get to that later.
It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t blogged for 10 days, the other reason being lack of internet and too many hangovers.
We left our campsite at Saarburg and headed for a free place at Dudelange. Fairly decent aire, everything is free including electricity but apart from that, there were few redeeming features. The town is a bit of a dive, we did see a nice Adams Family house and there was a monument to Lord Baden Powell, patron Saint of the Scouting movement. It is also at the start of almost 100%, continuous motorway all the way to Dunkirk. There was also something else, what was it, yes, we are just inside Luxembourg which means diesel at 89.2¢ per litre. Almost worth driving round and round just so you can get a bit more in the tank.
Next day and we are back on the Vicarious books “Road Trip Europe” route and have landed in Bastogne. It’s a small aire taking just 8 units and I was getting a bit nervous about finding a space free. On the way we saw another motorhome ambling along and breathed a huge sigh of relief as we overtook thinking that we won’t be getting the last space now. When we arrived, there was loads of space, and within minutes the other motorhome had arrived and we introduced ourselves to them, Michelle and Paul, well into their first week of a ten month adventure of a life time.
I was so excited to have the chance to share all our knowledge so I invited them over in the evening.
Bastogne was a major event in the Second World War. The Allies invaded at Normandy and within six months were knocking on the doors of Germany. Hitler decided to mount a counter attack and managed to get two pincers to converge on the city. The American forces headed by General McAuliffe were cut off from all help for 10 days and suffered considerable losses. Eventually, General Patton, depicted above, and his 4th Armoured Division relieved the town and eventually thwarted the German advance.
In the main square is one of the American battle tanks. On the side to the right of the star is the tanks name “Barracuda” and just to the right of that is a 3” round circle, that’s where an anti tank gun knocked out this particular tank. It’s inconceivable what it would have been like to have been inside at the time.
On a hill just outside of Bastogne is a monument to the men lost during the battle of the Bulge. 19,000 US lives were lost, many more were wounded.
Outside the museum was this huge statue, we would have visited the museum but it was €14 each.
Instead, we went and found a bar. Our first efforts were very dismal, I got a tiny glass of Pills, Lucy had a Leffe which if it had been English would have been sent back as being off, I think this one was meant to taste sour. Second round and a chance to peruse the menu gave us a much better choice. Chimay and The Horn of the Haging Woods.
After that little bit of pre drinks, Michelle and Paul came over and sorry to say, I started slurring very early on. I would like to give my apologies to both of them.
Next morning, they had left before we got up (which wasn’t early). My breathalyser said I was dangerously over the limit and it wasn’t until well after lunch that it calmed down a bit and said I was OK to go.
Bastogne is in Belgium, just in case you’re not sure. The motorways here are free and worth every penny. We were following a lorry for 60 odd miles, scared to overtake because the Audis and BMW’s still think they are on the autobahns in Germany and can drive as fast as they like. The lorry in front of us is doing a pretty good impression of a slalom skier and it’s not hard to see why – the potholes are large enough to swallow a small car. We thought we were back in Italy for a moment. The last ting we need with a bed held up with ratchet straps is a big hole so there was no alternative but to join in with the slalom.
Our next stop was at Thieu, a free aire by the side of the Centre Canal. Built in 1882, it links the Meuse to the Scheldt, not a long canal by canal standards (7km) but there is a change of height of over 66m. In the distance we can see a huge megastructure, can’t work out what it is, so we go for a ramble along the canal banks.
Can you see what is yet? This is one of four boat lifts. The boat sails into a large water tank which is sealed off each end and then lifted (or lowered). To the left the tank is at the top, to the right the tank is at the bottom.This all looks very interesting so we sit down and wait for the lifts to do something. Does one lift go up while the other side goes dewn, or are they independent? We sat waiting for an hour and half and nothing moved.
I did have a Eureka moment though. I realised that it doesn’t matter how large a boat goes into the lift, the tank will always weigh the same. Imagine, the tank holds 500 tonnes of water. If you sail a boat weighing 300 tonnes into the tank at first you would think that water and boat would weigh 800 tonnes but the boat is actually displacing 300 tonnes of that water so it will still weigh 500 tonnes. If you don’t understand that, go and sit at the back of the class.
After an hour and half we walked back and nearly back at Frankie, the left hand tank started descending. It’s totally separate from the right hand tank.
If you do stay here cross over the canal and walk along the bank. It looks like there is a visitor centre, there were certainly coaches and pleasure boats accessible from the other side.
This is the old boat raising mechanism, we couldn’t get close enough o see how it worked but the lifts were much shorter.
Next stop, Iepers and the Menin Gate. There is an aire outside the town, brand new, €8 per night including electric and just 15 minutes walk away (if you don’t use our non short cut route).
Inscribed on this monument are the names of 54,000 men killed and missing in action, bodies never recovered. There is another monument at Tyne Cot with another 35,000 names. What is hard to grasp is that the whole area is surrounded by war graves, they are the guys who were recovered (not necessarily identified), this monument (and Tyne Cot) is for those who were never found, but not only that, it is for those men lost in this area of the Iepers Salient, a short part of the 500 mile long front line.
I hadn’t realised that Iepers was a walled, defensive town, with a moat. This is a view to the left of the Menin gate, the view to the right was similar.
Iepers was completely flattened during the First World War, everything you see has been rebuilt. In the building in front of you is the “In Flanders Museum”. You are given a bracelet which you give some details and you are given a personalised tour. We spent a good couple of very interesting hours seeing some of the conditions and equipment used during e war.
I took the trip up the bell tower. Very steep and very spirally. Up near the top were a whole set of bells (called a Carillion), just under here was a glass box with a chap playing old songs and carols.
I bet you can’t guess what we accidentally found. The Kazematten brewery is only open to the public for 2 hours a week and absolutely and unplanned we happened to find it 10 minutes before the last tour.
I might have been to a couple of breweries before, this is the smallest although facing stiff competition from the Blue Boar in Maldon.
Two facts that I never knew – 1. Wheat is used for bread because humans can digest the wheat husk. We can’t digest barley husks and since is isn’t very easy to separate the husk from the germ barley is predominantly used in beer production (I worked in a Maltings for over a year and never picked up that simple fact).
2. About 500 years ago hops were introduced into brewing, previously herbs and spices were used. Hops have a natural antiseptic quality which helps in long term storage however they are bitter. Apparently Northern humans have a far better tolerance for bitter tastes because food is harder to obtain and is less likely to go off in the cooler climate. In Southern climates food is more likely to spoil due to elevated temperatures so they avoid bitter tastes (might explain why Spanish beer tastes of very little).
No brewery tour would be worth a dime without a tasting. Number one.
And number four by which time a male voice choir had turned up, and whilst I could appreciate that they could sing nicely, they weren’t singing songs that anyone with a love for their ears would want to listen to for long – time to make our exit.
Found this barbecue on a pitch next to us when we got back, thought it was an interesting variation on the old B&Q BBQ.
Back on the road and following the “Road Trip Europe” route we found the Island of Ireland Peace Park…
…and Plug Street Memorial. Once again the monument lists names of the missing. We have this cemetery, there is another similar size cemetery the other side of the monument, a third across the road to the right, a fourth 100 yards beyond the monument.
We went for a walk through Plug Street woods past three cemeteries and found this one, Mud Corner Cemetery. On the ridge line is Prowse Point Cemetery. Every single cemetery is immaculate.
This is to the right of Prowse Point Cemetery (Mud Corner cross is to the right of centre in the distance). Here is where (allegedly) a game of football was played by the Germans and British on Christmas Eve 1914
We had two more nights away before our ferry on the ninth, one night at Richebourg and one in Gravelines. There are two aires in Gravelines, one near the harbour at €7 per night and the other, just 6 miles from the ferry terminal which was free and rather nice. Very large plots on grass, if it had any services (even a bin would have been nice) it would have been perfect.
We tried getting on the ferry a day early but they wanted an extra €88
Today, Thursday has been a good, productive day. Our bed completely broke two weeks ago and has been unusable since then. I ordered some parts off Ebay (Total bill about £18) and with the help of my son in law, David, seem to have fixed it. First step was to screw in some angle brackets to reinforce everything so we could lower the bed. Access was a bit tight and we wore out some tools but managed to get the bed down without incident.
I used the ratchet strap that had been holding the bed up to support the weight of the bed and it promptly snapped. It has been sun damaged where we’ve used it as a tie down strap for the awning, my second strap promptly snapped as well – we are so lucky it didn’t snap as we were driving. Once the angle was removed the problem becomes obvious.The arm has cracked from left to right and just a small section on the right is holding things together.
Look what we did. We have a 3mm mild steel plate either side, all bolted through and the arm has been straightened (might not look like it in the photo but in real life life it looks better than I had hoped for).
We’ve now fixed both sides, the bed is now sitting in very nearly the right position. Now all I have to do is the brakes, the rear lights, the step, the list goes on.
25th May we are off to Lea Meadow Farm in Dorset, we are stewarding a Temporary Holiday Site for East Essex DA of the Camping and Caravanning Club. Home for a week and off for another THS, and again, and again. We won’t be off travelling proper until October so there won’t be much news, if anything happens, I’ll let you know.