Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Heading home

St Malo wall Leigh
St Malo tower Marg
After our fabulous trip to Jersey we caught the ferry back to France with Anita & Denisa – they were headed to the Czech Republic to visit family, and we were headed back to our St Malo hilltop campsite and Vanni. We spent the next morning exploring the very attractive old walled city of St Malo, but as a storm was expected to come in from the Atlantic we decided to head inland to Paris the next day.

Maisons-Laffitte baguettes
Getting into Maisons-Laffitte, the town with the closest campsite to central Paris was a challenge – there were major street closures because it was their market day. We were diverted to very narrow one-way streets until we got to one that was very narrow but two-way. Unfortunately, it had market-goers cars parked along the street making it even narrower! Leigh had to resort to driving with Vanni half on the footpath, avoiding pedestrians & rubbish bins, to enable oncoming traffic to get through & us to move forward. It was very slow going but eventually we got through to open spaces.
Seine barge Marg
Our campground was situated on an island on the Seine River and surrounded by trees. We had a wonderful view of all the barges & other boating traffic going up & down the Seine to & from Paris to the coast. Some of the barges were immense, consisting of two long barges plus the engine, with one carrying huge loads of coal & gravel plus other things we could only guess at.

Montmarte Marg
The weather was not very kind to us while there & we experienced quite a bit of wet, cold, windy weather which restricted our movements a bit. Despite the weather we caught the train into Paris & had a great time wandering around Montmartre, stopping at a little café for lunch & taking the funicular up to Sacre Coeur.
Sacre Coeur Marg

Then the skies opened again & the rain set in with a vengeance! Luckily, being intrepid Kiwis, we had wet weather gear, so we rugged up & found our way to Galeries Lafayette (in a slightly wet condition) to have a wee look at their amazing shopping offers before heading back to Vanni.

One night, we heard a knock on Vanni’s door. It seems our NZ flag & stuff had been spotted by fellow Kiwis who were very excited to see us. We had a wonderful afternoon & an evening meal with Claire & Derek from Taupo/Auckland, who had been travelling around Europe for 4 months. We had a lot of laughs & shared some good French wine.

Colincamps Euston Rd Cemetery WW1-Marg
with her Uncles grave stone
Next morning, we drove up to Ameins & stayed the night there before heading across the Somme to the Euston Road WWI cemetery near the village of Colincamps. We were aiming to find the grave of Marg’s Dad’s oldest brother who was killed in May 1918. We stopped in Albert which had museum to the Somme battles & then navigated our way through little country roads to the cemetery. It was a sobering sight to see so many grave stones of mainly young men - line after line of them. The cemetery was a very well looked after place with lovely rose bushes & other plants around the graves.

We spent some time contemplating such a dreadful waste of so many lives, took photos & wrote in the visitor’s book before heading off.

Colincamps Euston Rd Cemetery
As we travelled across the Somme area we came upon so many memorials & graveyards for WWI for so many different countries – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, UK, France & more. We were quite blown away by the scale of it all & the never ending headstones & crosses.

It is something that is certainly not forgotten in this part of the world & everything is so well kept & maintained.

Reims cathedral Marg
We moved south from here to Reims, which is an attractive city with large impressive buildings and a spectacular cathedral that has beautiful stained glass windows, including one by Marc Chagall.

We could not find the advertised camping spot so ended up in the large car park of a sports stadium along with 3 other vans.

Considering we were in the middle of a city, it was surprisingly quiet in the night except for drunken singing & shouting at one stage. Whoever it was, set off a car alarm & that seemed to scare them away, thank goodness!

Clermont-en-Argonne swedes on side of road
As we drove around this area we found it interesting see heaps of root vegetables heaped up in large piles on the side of the road.

Moving on to Chalons en Champagne we found a small & peaceful camp ground were we stopped for a nice relaxing break - a little enforced by unkind wet weather. A real bonus was being able to get free wifi in Vanni! It has been quite difficult to access the web throughout most of this trip, so this was a bonus. We are now thinking more about heading home as our time in Europe is running out. Easy web access gave us a chance to check on bookings & make sure everything was organised to get to Prague & the plane home, on time.

Verdun Citadel Marg
Heading for the France/Germany border, we stopped at Verdun. This place became renown during WW1 due to the amazing tunnels that were built underneath the township and that became their fortress. In this fortress the French were able to withstand many German onslaughts over several years.

We visited the tunnels and were taken through on a small train. We were amazed at the displays & film footage that showed the appalling conditions that the inhabitants would have lived & fought in at the time – yet they survived.

Metz Porte des Allemands
Metz cathedral
After Verdun, we drove on to Metz to view its lovely compact and pedestrian-friendly old town and amazing cathedral. We have seen many cathedrals & churches during this trip, mainly because we like the different architecture and the amazing art that you can find in most major places of worship around the world. Metz also has wonderful portes, or entry gates to the township, that are just like little castles.

Drive to Germany-autumn colours
Romantic Rd-autumn colours
The countryside is looking so beautiful with all the autumn colours in the trees along the way.

We said farewell to France & crossed over the border into Germany where we stayed the night at a rural camp ground in Saarbrücken. It got very cold there & we awoke to a chilly morning with a heavy dew brrrr!!!

Heidelberg Neckar River campsite
Vanni & Leigh
We then drove on to Heidelberg & found a lovely campground at Neckargemund, right on the green grassy banks of the Neckar River. We looked across the river to hills covered in autumn coloured trees – autumn has presented us with some beautiful sights and we are constantly reminded of the magnificence Europe’s ‘natural’ attributes. We again had big but graceful barges going right past us, & even closer than they were in Paris! Awesome!

Neckargemund old house Leigh
We walked the short distance into Neckargemund to discover it is a most quaint & attractive old village consisting of houses from the 16th century onwards - so old & well preserved. One house on the river bank had marks from all major floods – the years and their water level. We were glad we had not been there in 1896!

Heidelberg old stone bridge Leigh
We caught the bus into Heidelberg which has a wonderful old city with cobbled streets & old, old buildings. It had a really nice feel to it even though there were a lot of tourists wandering around.

The old bridge across the river was very attractive & a favourite photo spot.
While the weather was fine, the overall temperature was not high & as the evening drew in, the temperatures dropped very quickly reminding us that winter is approaching! We are starting to think very much about getting to the warmer temperatures on our side of the world now!

Dinkelsbuhl street Leigh
From Heidelberg we drove towards what is called the ‘Romantic Road’, stopping in Dinkelsbuhl, a very cute & beautifully maintained medieval town. It has gorgeous old buildings all beautifully painted & with lots of flower boxes presenting a very pretty picture.

Rothenberg buildings Leigh
We then headed to Rothenberg on the Taber which is considered one of the best-preserved and authentic medieval towns in Germany. Here we visited many of the medieval buildings in the old town, and walked along the amazing city wall & gated towers that encircle the town.

In this area, we stopped at a little camping ground in Detwang, another very small attractive village. We walked around it before having an enjoyable meal in the local gasthaus along with several German tourists, in a very friendly & cheerful atmosphere.

Drive to Czech-Marg driving
The next day we trucked way up north to Bielefeld along the autostrada, along with hundreds of trucks, to check in for a few running repairs at the place we bought Vanni. We ended up staying two nights in the car park at the sales showroom. A bonus was that we had free electricity and internet but the traffic noise was very loud! After repairs, we travelled south to Nuremberg. When walking to the supermarket we passed the place where the Nazis held their big rallies in the 30’s & 40’s – still a daunting looking place!

 Klatovy cathedral
Czech Republic
 Klatovy cathedral inside
With time running out we headed on through smaller German towns & over the border to the Czech Republic. We passed through some beautiful old towns with lovely architecture & impressive buildings. They have so much character & history yet they are not major tourist attractions – they are simply places that people live and work on the land. We wished we had more time to stop explore them properly.

We eventually arrived at Klara’s place in Ceske Budejovice – we are very lucky that Klara will look after Vanni for us again. It was great to catch up her & especially to see how much Adam & Dominic have grown. Adam has a small quad bike & he took great delight in showing us how well he could speed around the grass paddock with Dominic on the back. He kindly allowed us both to have a ride & Leigh was very happy even though it wasn’t a motor bike! We packed, then parked Vanni and prepared her for storage for the next 6 months when we will return.

Next stop Prague, the airport, a large airplane & a long trip in front of us remembering the fantastic time we have had this year in Western Europe.

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