The weather in July has been stunning! There was hardly a drop of rain and it was hot and sunny. In fact, sometimes it was VERY hot! So much so that we decided to squeeze in a bit of a summer holiday in our favourite Charente- Maritime places, before we headed north to Germany.
We started with a visit to our home base of Jarnac for the Cognac Blues Passion. This is similar to the Byron Bay Blues festival and is held across 5 days and across the main towns of the Grand Cognac region. Jarnac hosts the opening night in the park opposite Thomas Hardy’s lock-keeper’s cottage (Maison de L’Ecluse) so Thomas has front-row seats on his terrace and holds a Blues Passion party every year. We have never been in Jarnac to attend before, so were very excited to experience it this year.
There were 30 guests, some of whom we knew very well and others who we met for the first time. After a great bbq dinner we settled in to watch the acts. There were four and our favourites were The Crossborder Blues and Thomas Dutronic. The weather was balmy and we all had a fabulous night.
There is a lot of infrastructure put in place for just one night – barriers, security, toilets, VIP tents and catering, stages and sound systems etc. And it was all gone within 48 hours! In Adelaide we complain about the setting up and packing away for the Clipsal car race but in Europe they do this all the time, and especially at the beginning and end of every summer. They just do it faster!
Jarnac was as beautiful and relaxing as always. We’re so well known in the campsite now, that when we phone them to say we’re coming they save our favourite pitch for us!
We couldn’t believe how dry France was! It hasn’t rained in Jarnac (and many other places) for nearly a month and this is classed as a drought. It will be interesting to see what the grape harvest is like because they aren’t permitted to irrigate. The harvest in general is early and as we drove by the farmers were busy cutting hay.
The weather was really heating up so we decided to head to Les Mathes on the coast about 90km away and see our friends there. While it was very busy, it wasn’t yet as manic as it can be in August. We did some lovely bike rides through the forest and along the coast and found some restaurants we hadn’t noticed before. A lot of time was spent in and around the pool and we enjoyed sharing meals with our friends.
Eventually we got ourselves back on track and focused on tourism. We had a brief stop in Jarnac to do some banking business and to say goodbye to Thomas.
We couldn’t believe how fast Jarnac’s goslings had grown! A week before they had been little grey fluffy things, now they were nearly white and so much bigger.
We had a lovely lunch with Marcia and Willie, our Scottish friends. Their house is on the edge of town not far from the river and it was stunning. It’s dog-proof with a really large garden, so Grubie loved being able to run about off-lead trying to find a lizard. After a delicious lunch and great company we enjoyed the shady walk back along the river path.
Before we left Jarnac our friend Liam Higgins (Higgins Cartoons) presented us with a fantastic cartoon of the three of us in our van on our European adventures. He really captured the fun we‘re having!
Eventually it was time to go to Germany and see some of the rest of Europe!
It had been amazingly hot. In France and Germany the heat wave broke all records since they have been kept. In Jarnac it got to 42o one day, after being over 35o for several days in a row. The first really hot day we drove from Jarnac to Moulins, which is basically in middle-of-nowhere France. We stayed in an aire by the river and were there early, so we were able to get a spot with power and could use our air conditioner. Hardly any camping cars/caravans in Europe have air conditioning and they are crazy! After a good night’s sleep we travelled on to Germany, stopping at Freiburg in the Baden-Wurttemberg region. We hadn’t booked any accommodation in Germany, even though it’s the busy season and we were lucky to get in to a camping ground about a 3km tram ride into the old town.
Freiburg is a fascinating place. Grubie loved it because all the streets have tiny little ‘canals’ or channels running down them like a big paved gutter. She decided to walk in those to keep her paws cool. Little kids tow toy boats along the canals and office workers come out at lunchtime to soak their feet while they eat and chat. We spent a couple of days wandering around the town, catching a tram into the city each day.
After a few days in Freiburg we decided to head for the Bodensee (Lake Constance) as it was going to get even hotter and we wanted somewhere cooler where we could swim. It was a beautiful drive there, some of it through a part of the Black Forest.
We hadn’t booked anything and it was now deep in family holiday season so we had a bit of trouble finding somewhere to stay. Eventually we found a nice little camping ground in Konstanz right on the lake. The lake is HUGE and super clear. The edge is mostly little pebble beaches with trees so there’s lots of shade in which to lie between dips. It is wonderfully refreshing and Sue bought a pool noodle so she could relax and just float around. We spent the first two days just enjoying the lake to keep cool, as the weather was still so hot.
Sometimes we’re very lucky. Grubie had been doing a lot of butt-licking and we thought perhaps she had a blocked anal gland so we booked into the vet a mere 200M up the road. Heinrich Preiss was an excellent vet as well as being convenient. He said it was indeed a blocked anal gland but the blockage was caused by a large cancerous tumor. She had to have an operation to remove it, another fatty growth not cancerous, as well has having the whole anal gland removed. It’s a very complex operation and the wound was large. Also, because of where it is, the risk of infection was high. Grubie came through the operation OK and we were going back to the vet every two days for examination and injections of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The vet was very confident he had removed the entire cancerous tumor. After so many visits he and Michael were good mates and even exchanged wines.
It becomes obvious now why we hate booking camping grounds in advance - something always happens to derail the plans! Fortunately we hadn’t made any bookings this time. Still, we were lucky to be in such a beautiful place and near a good vet. While Grubie was recuperating and needed TLC Michael and Sue took it in turns to go into the gorgeous town of Konstanz to do ‘touristing’. Michael did a wine and schnapps tasting and improved his understanding of the wines and distillers in the area.
On Sunday we caught the bus to Konstanz city and then had a 2-hour ferry ride along the Switzerland side of the lake, stopping at all the villages and eventually getting off in Stein am Rhein. It was beautiful! We did hardly any walking so Grubie coped quite well. Switzerland is over the top expensive but very lush, green and beautiful.
On Monday we caught the ferry to Meersburg, which is still in Germany and just a 30-minute ferry hop across from our campsite. It’s a very steep town and amazingly pretty. We had lunch next to the lake and then walked up the steep steps and around the old town. It was just as interesting as the lakeside villages of Switzerland - it even had a Zeppelin Museum!
We were amazed by the public transport system in the area, especially the ferries. They were back and forth between all the villages around the lake and connected with the buses and trains like clockwork. The ferries docked and took off again within minutes, loading and unloading buses, trucks, cars, camping cars, pedestrians and bikes.
After one last visit to the vet we took off from Konstanz, heading for Stuttgart. We were to visit our friends Waldemar and Moni who we had seen over the last two years in Peniscola, Spain. They live in a heritage area in a village called Schonaich, near Boblingen and about 15km from the centre of Stuttgart. Their house is over 220 years old and used to have 2 cows living in the cellar in the ‘olden days’.
We parked in a stellplatz (like a French aire) halfway between Boblingen and Schonaich. In Germany it seems that camping grounds are for camping holidays and are often quite a way outside the town. Stellplatz are areas for motorhomes to stay in and are in the towns but they differ widely in services. Some are basically just parking places and others have all the services such as electricity, showers etc.
The stellplatz we stayed in near Schonaich was very quiet but had few services. It didn’t matter because we spent most of our time with our friends.
The first day they picked us up from the stellplatz and took us back to their home for a lovely lunch of weisswurst, a white sausage made from pork and veal. It was served with sweet and spicy chutney. Then Michael and Waldemar went to get our umweltplakket which is a sticker for your car that allows you into the green zone cities, of which there are more than 30 in Germany. Moni and I took Grubie for a walk in the countryside and past the allotments, where we were given some sweet ripe cherry tomatoes to eat as we walked.
We had a wonderful dinner that night, joined by their daughter Nadine and granddaughter Linda, who both spoke excellent English. We had a meal of ground and spiced pork wrapped in noodle dough and cooked in a bone broth. It was then topped with fried onions and served with potato salad. Delicious! It was great fun to chat with three generations of German people about politics, economics, holidays, work, education and life in general.
Next morning we were picked up at 9am and taken to Moni and Waldemar’s house for a “second breakfast” – in Australia we would term it a brunch. The first breakfast would only be coffee and a small pastry. This brunch was wonderful – a selection of breads, smoked salmon, sausage, tomato/mozzarella/basil stacks and lots of accompaniments such as horseradish crème and chutneys. Wonderful coffees and juices and we were set for the rest of the day! Sorry, France but Germany definitely has the best range of breads we’ve had so far in Europe.
While Moni looked after Grubie at their home, Waldemar drove us around Stuttgart and to see the Mercedes Benz Museum. What a fantastic place! The design principles of Mercedes were evident throughout the building design and all the displays. This year is the Mercedes-Benz 125th anniversary.
We began on the top floor at the start of the history of the motorized vehicle and worked our way down 8 levels to the modern day vehicle. The three-pronged star that is the Mercedes logo was designed to represent land, air and water – the three ways of transport.
After a drive around Stuttgart we had a light lunch of bruschetta and then returned to our camping car for a nap before going out to dinner at the local Biergarten. It was a beautiful balmy night and we sat outside eating a schnitzel for Michel and a roast pork leg (Sue) that could have fed the entire table. It has fantastic crunchy crackling, moist pork and a great onion jus. The leftovers were enjoyed for days! Things are big in Germany – the beer steins are enormous and the red wine glasses often even have a handle.
We were grateful to Moni and Waldemar for being such generous hosts and explaining lots about life in their part of Germany. It was good to visit them fairly soon after arriving in Germany as they could answer lots of our questions. We always enjoy a country more when we have friends to explain things to us.