On the road again
On this trip we decided to use the Channel Tunnel instead of a ferry, paying for our ticket with those very useful Tesco vouchers. As our crossing was booked for 7.50 am on Wednesday May 18 we left home on Tuesday afternoon and spent the night at the Black Horse Farm campsite at Densole, near Folkstone, which is very conveniently organised for cross-channel travellers, having a separate area for late arrivals/early departures. It's a pleasant site, with a population of friendly rabbits and melodious birds. Not so melodious, however, when they woke us up at five in the morning, but we needed to be up early anyway! After weeks of no rain and unseasonably warm weather, it was a little dispiriting to wake on the first morning of our holiday to chilly drizzle.
We set off for the Tunnel terminal, a little nervous about the idea of driving a car and caravan onto a train, but to our relief found the whole procedure very easy and efficient. Forty minutes
later we were in Calais, where it was also grey and drizzling. In fact, Northern France always is, in our experience! But travelling in France is a joy – the roads are beautifully smooth and the coffee is excellent, even in motorway services
(both of which are in complete contrast to the UK).
We were heading for Luxembourg, so before long we crossed into Belgium, where the road surfaces were worse but at least the sun came out. We reached our campsite in Luxembourg in late afternoon – Camping Bon Accueil, in Alzingen. After setting up, we went to a nearby supermarket to stock up on essentials – beer, cheap ciggies for John and a big bag of Haribo sweeties for tomorrow’s journey! – and filled up with Europe’s cheapest fuel, at 1.14 euros per litre for diesel. Then we sat outside in the warm evening sunshine, eating a curry that we had made and frozen before leaving home. This is a very pleasant site with excellent facilities and a relaxing atmosphere. We've got the biggest pitch we've ever had, and all for only 11 euros a night, using our good old ACSI card.
During the evening John spent a frustrating hour or two on the computer. A couple of months ago he had bought an upgrade to his Tom-Tom, updating all the Western Europe road maps. Unfortunately the size of the new file is such that one cannot fit it all into the Tom-Tom at once, so we had set off with UK, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, but not Germany and Austria. These were saved on the laptop, and John had e-mailed instructions from the people at Tom-Tom explaining how to switch the maps. Of course nothing is as easy as it seems. Following the instructions, Tom-Tom told him it could not find any other files. They were there on the system, but wherever John moved them, Tom-Tom could not find them. The air was a bit blue, as you can imagine.
So on Thursday morning when we set off at 9.30 we had to find our way by the good old fashioned method of maps and road signs! After a few more miles of Luxembourg’s neat, pleasant countryside we crossed the border into Germany. The road was good, the scenery consisted of green rolling hills, but became more industrial as we approached Saarbrucken. Sadly there was a distinct lack of services or even "aires", and by 11am we needed to find a place to stop, to consult the map, and – most important – have a coffee. So at Sarreguemines, just over the French border, we decided not to take the scenic route through the Vosges as planned, but to take the autoroute. We soon came across some services, and then continued as far as Strasbourg – well worth the 9 euros toll, just for the convenience.
At Strasbourg we crossed the Rhine into Germany and made a short detour to the Burstner service centre in Kehl to buy a few parts for the caravan. By now the sun was extremely hot so we found a shady layby to eat our sandwiches in, then continued towards the northern Black Forest, through typical scenery – wooded hills and picturesque villages of chalet-style houses with flower-decked balconies. The road climbed steeply up the Braunberg and down the other side to Freudenstadt, and a couple of kilometres further on we arrived at Hohencamping Konigskanzel at Dornstetten. By this time the sun had disappeared and the sky was black and threatening! We had time to settle in and brew a cuppa before the rain started, accompanied by plenty of “donner und blitzen”. As always, it was cosy sitting in the van while the storm raged outside. Fortunately the camp had WiFi and John was able to log on to the Tom-Tom home page and upgrade his navigational equipment - what a relief!
After this we ventured as far as the campsite restaurant for wurst, schnitzel and chips, not the healthiest of meals, but very tasty, especially when washed down with plenty of German beer. Later the sky cleared and it was a calm, clear evening with a beautiful red sunset.
Friday dawned sunny and warm. As we set off there was the distant sound of someone playing an alpenhorn across the valley – very atmospheric! We were soon bowling along the autobahn at a most sedate pace (caravans are limited to 80kph on German roads unless a special MOT has been carried out on the caravan), but by mid-morning the rain had returned. We stopped at some services for coffee, and returning to the car I slipped on the wet surface and fell flat on my face. I hurt my hands and knees, but worse than that I got mud all over my brand new Per Una crop jeans!! However, I was OK, if a little shaken.
We drove on towards Lake Constance, aka the Bodensee. The sun came out again and it was very warm. The scenery was lovely, with vineyards and chateaux, neat fruit farms and views of the lake. We stopped in a lay-by for a sandwich lunch (ham with enormous pickled gherkins) and continued as far as the Austrian border, where we had to buy a vignette.
Snow-capped mountains began to appear, and the road went through numerous tunnels, including the longest one we have ever been through, the Arlberg Tunnel, 15 kilometres long and a toll of 8.50 euros. Soon after this we arrived at our chosen campsite, Panoramacamping Arlberg.
It’s small and rural – we have cows 10 feet from the caravan – but with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains all round. Unfortunately there is also a view of the motorway and railway line, with appropriate sound effects, but you can’t have everything! Like a lot of campsites in this part of the world it's open all year round, and is popular with winter sports enthusiasts. Hence all the facilities - bar, washing-up sinks, showers and loos - are very much indoors and well protected from the weather.It's not a site I'd want to spend a lot of time in, but for an overnight halt it's fine. In a repeat of last night, the thunder storm arrived not long after we’d settled in, and we were deafened by rain and hail beating on the roof. It was at this point that we realised we'd left our big umbrella in the restaurant at last night's campsite!!
However, some good food and cheap wine (2 bottles for 5 euros!) cheered us up and we settled down for the night in our cosy tin tent, which is now in its fourteenth country (unless you count England, Wales and Scotland, in which case the tally is 17!)