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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Dusseldorf Trip 2012 – The way home

1st September.
We could easily have stayed another day - we hadn’t tried out the electric bikes, or indeed the “Segways”, or indulged a few fantasies about a luxury megahome, but to be honest our feet and legs were wearing out and needed a break.

By common consent we decided to head back to Venlo via Kempen, a charming little town we had discovered on the way to Dusseldorf. At its centre is an old walled town, which goes back to the 13th Century and was once a centre of textile manufacturing. We had another stock up of essentials in the Edeka supermarket just outside the old walls - good quality, a wide selection and a good open car park!
GPS: 51.3619 N, 06.4177 E

Back at Venlo Jachthaven, Grey Herons could be glimpsed at the entrance to the marina, and large white geese wandered happily amongst the motorhomes. The geese give humans a wide berth, but when they squabble amongst themselves the noise is extraordinary and startling until you acclimatise.

If you wonder what the racket is - it's the geese!

We met up with Liz and Roger in the Brasserie de Admiral situated above a grassy bank above the marina. This bar/restaurant is replete with model yachts and nautical nick knacks, but the atmosphere is well crafted and welcoming. The patron is the local jester - don't ask him to take a photograph of your table! The menu was standard fare but well presented and we all ate well.

2nd September
We lingered another day at Venlo. As other vans left we shuffled ourselves over to the best corner by the picnic tables. A day for chilling out, I fitted our new cycle racks in warm, windless sunshine.

Picnic tables and BBQ included, along with excellent washrooms

We did not however visit the Floriade – Sue was disappointed when she later found out that this major exhibition of flowers and gardening is only held once every ten years, and changes its venue – like chancing upon Oberammergau in the right year of the decade and not seeing the passion play!

3rd September
We decided to head north and visit the ancient but small German town of Xanten.
Xanten’s main attraction is the relic of the Roman metropolis of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The site is now an "archeological park", mostly covered by grass and shrubs, but with a re-created temple, amphitheatre, towers and baths on their original sites. The replicas are as near as possible to the original - indeed more are planned to help create the “feel” of Roman city life.

More in the present day, Xanten has a very pretty medieval town centre with an imposing cathedral, museums and two large man made lakes with a lido. In the summer it hosts a two week long classical music festival and even the annual German sandcastle building championships! 

The Wohnmobil Park is just five minutes walk from the pedestrianised centre of the town. It is more akin to a campsite than a stellplatz, situated in a gently sloping field on the edge of farmland, with an office, heated lounge, BBQ patio and kiddies play area. They (the town council) have plans to build a wellness spa and sauna on the site as well, though the charming and friendly manager assured me that the charges (10 euro + 2 for electric hookup) would remain the same...Hmm. You can also reserve a pitch in advance – tempted to put our names down for Christmas!

A handy and friendly place to stay in Xanten

GPS: 51.6541 N, 06.4632 E

Morning bread ordered and enjoying the produce of a visiting ice cream van, we walked into the town. It’s cute alright with a lovely central square surrounded by cafes, bars and restaurants, plus an organic bakery tucked inside a working windmill. After a beer and a pizza we called it a day.

The Gothic coffee shop on the square in Xanten

4th September
I went down early morning to the Reineke cycle shop, where a dear old guy changed both my cycle tyres for top of the range Schwalbe Marathon rubber and inner tubes for 77 euros – all done by midday as promised!

Mr Reineke gives a good service!

We had a look at the Roman metropolis and enjoyed a pedal around the lake. On one of the cycle paths is a plaque commemorating the bravery of two British RAF pilots who crashed near a village near by. A surprising find in Germany you might think, but this event happened after the war in 1971, when an RAF Canberra fighter bomber stalled over Luttingen. Foregoing the opportunity to use ejector seats the pilot heaved the aircraft away from the village, thus avoiding a major disaster, but giving up his own life and that of his navigator. The pilot was Keith Roland Holmes, the navigator Christopher King.

The memorial plaque to two RAF flyers

At the lido, we came across something we had never seen before, but I thought was brilliant. “Electric” water skiing might sound a bit risky but is in fact like a pommel ski lift that tows the skiers around a circuit of the lake. A group of young people on an organised outing were trying it out, some obviously for the first time, but a few were extremely accomplished, particularly on the boards, and made it look fabulous fun.

Water skiing the environmentally friendly way!

After all that activity and excitement we downed a couple of beers at the Vecchio Teatro, an Italian restaurant with a lovely ornate interior. The food looked excellent.

5th September
Still heading north we visited Anholt Castle at Wasserburg, a stately Baroque residence set in the middle of a lake surrounded by ornate gardens and landscaped parkland. Luckily for us we were the only visitors on our late morning tour, even luckier our guide spoke perfect English!

The restored Anholt Castle

The original castle was built in the 12th century in the then boggy area of the Rhine Delta, and then developed into a Baroque palace in the 1700’s. Virtually destroyed in the Second World War bombing, it has been painstaking restored over a period of 40 years at a cost of 8 million euros. The original castle now features lavish and remarkable furniture and artworks including a Rembrandt, that had presciently been stored in a shell proof mine before the bombing started. The castle extension and stables are now a 30 room hotel with 3 restaurants, and by the look of the tea time pastries, offer grub of a high culinary standard.

GPS: 51.8445 N, 06.4265 E
www.wasserburg-anholt.de (in German and French)

An overnight stop at Kleve

For our overnight stop we headed for the town of Kleve, where there is an aire on disused land opposite the rail station and in easy walking distance of the centre. It was fairly well occupied by Dutch and Germans when we arrived but we slotted into a place and soon found ourselves in deep discussion with a Dutchman on the subject of electric bikes!
4 euros per night plus 50c per Kwh on the electric meter. 
GPS:  51.7905 N, 06.1457 E

A totally different experience from the twee and prosperous Xanten, Kleve is undergoing a period of extensive regeneration. Opposite the aire, a huge old chemical factory complex is being torn down, and across the newly rebuilt bridge over the river a new hotel is rising.

Kleve on 13th February 1945

A wonderful bronze on the streets of Kleve today

Kleve has quite a history however, until the 1930’s it used to be spelled with “c” and if Cleve rings a bell, it should do because it is the birthplace of Anne of Cleves, wife to Henry the VIII. The town has been the capital of a county since the 11th Century and is dominated by a steep hill on which is perched the Schwanenburg, or Swan's Castle.

We crossed the rail bridge and wandered up the steadily rising shopping streets towards the towering castle. Apart from doing a circuit of the perimeter walls there is not much else to see as the building now houses Law courts and public offices.

The Zur Post Hotel and restaurant

As is now our habit, we had a beer on the street and then an excellent pork steak and chips at the “Zur Post” Hotel restaurant – though they gave us the wrong bill and forgot the change!
GPS: N 51.7851, 06.1355 E

6th September
Starting the trek home, we crossed the Rhine at Nijmegen and made our way into Belgium.

Now for somewhere to stay for the night….  Imagine rolling along a country lane in the late afternoon, long shadows in the lush green fields, a family of goats chewing contentedly and young ponies chasing around a paddock just for the joy of it. Suddenly there is the scent of wood smoke in the air and you think... wouldn't it be great to stop for the night around here, maybe grab a bite to eat from a farmhouse?
And there is the 't Brigandje, an unprepossessing, single storey painted brick farmhouse with a large carpark, and a broken, battered sign advertising beer.

What you won't expect as you pass inside is a pristine rural idyll of solid wooden beamed ceilings, exposed brick and stone fireplaces and dark stone flagged floors, all beautifully and elegantly decorated with evocative paintings and even some medieval stained glass probably rescued from a church. 

There is warm chatter and laughter mingling with the nostril-twitching smell of fresh meat roasting on a wood grill, that long day on the road seems about to come to a perfect end…

The beautiful and evocative decor of  't Brigandje

Actually it didn't quite happen like that, we plucked the location of 't Brigandje from the Camperstop guide, but the joy of finding such a superb and atmospheric restaurant in the middle of the Belgian countryside was undiminished, particularly as we thought our sat-nav was throwing a wobbler, taking us out on a wild goose chase!

Oak beams and stone flags...

After saying hello and a wash and brush up, we relaxed with a gin and tonic and settled on a T bone steak (Côte-à l'os) with fries and a pepper sauce, washed down with a bottle of Montepulciano. Despite the steaks overhanging the edge of a large dinner plate, Sue squeezed in some mouth watering passion fruit sorbet and I had a wonderfully light and cinnamon rich apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

The bill for this indulgence came to a very reasonable 77 euro. Considering the quality of the perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, and that we were in Belgium, we thought it was bargain. You might get a shock if you order the pork ribs - ready yourself for half the ribcage of a small pig! (you have to cut the ribs yourself).

We retired with the scent of new mown grass flowing through our open window and slept the sleep of the over indulged and privileged.
GPS:  51.1681 N, 03.4722 E

The perfect end to a perfect meal

7th September
A beautiful and peaceful night was not marred by the new day either, it dawned fine, warm and sunny and we continued our trek back to Dunkerque. We stopped off at Gravelines again, pumped and dumped at the new service aire (credit cards only) and had a brief nap before catching the DFDS Seaways ferry at 23.59

8th September
It was an uneventful passage, and we got some well needed sleep in the usual place on Dover seafront. Another fine sunny morning, stopping off at Fleet services on the M3. This time we didn’t make the same mistake as we did at MOTO services M5 Exeter on the way out…

Waiting on the doormat when we got home was a payment demand of £90 or 113 euros for overstaying our 2 hour welcome at Moto Exeter!!  (Number plate recognition camera shots included). So much for “Take a break – tiredness kills! 

I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with such a money making scam when it’s so obviously counter to safety advice. The charge was reduced to £50 or 63 euros for coughing up within 14 days, but it didn’t alleviate the pain much. Imagine if we had been caught unknown on the way out for a long trip - by the time we returned the bailiffs would have been at the door for unpaid fines! You (as they say) have been warned!

The Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam

Our pitch for the night was the Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam, Somerton. This is actually a Caravan Club CL, but in good stopover fashion the Landlord waived the £3.50 fee when we said we were coming in for a meal. There is a large gravel car park and a grassed area, but we pitched at the far end of the gravel.  We had an excellent dinner of duck, and a quiet night.
GPS: 51.0572 N, 02.6557 W

9th September
Oh what a beautiful morning – clear skies, crisp air, cool sunshine, sparkling dew on the grass. I walked around this lovely little village, taking photographs, chatting to the solitary horsewoman enjoying the same early morning peace.

Sunday morning gossip.....

The quintessential Somerset village

Our last stop of the trip was Dawlish, to meet up with Sue’s family at Teignmouth. This time we stayed at Lockwood House, a Camping and Caravanning Club Certificated Site. This was handy for the bus into Teignmouth, but apart from one flat piece of hardstanding is a fairly sloping site and we struggled to get flat on our blocks, even with the aid of some wood planks we were offered. 
GPS: 50.6042 N, 03.4651 W

10th September
A pleasant day in Teignmouth. We had lunch at Drakes restaurant, then got the little ferryboat across to Shaldon on the other side of this natural harbour formed at the river’s mouth. Then a walk back over the bridge to the car park, before picking up some scones and cream at The Co-op, for our own cream tea back at the family’s holiday flat.

The little ferry across the mouth of the river Teign

11th September
Another night at Lockwood house, before driving home via Plymouth.

All in all a great trip – we look forward to doing the Dusseldorf show again, there was so much to see that we didn’t manage to and the atmosphere generated by so many motorhomers from all over the continent was something to enjoy. Hopefully, we can get away soon, even back to Germany for Christmas!


Wendy Holmes said...

Hello Ian and Sue

We found your website by chance today and I wanted to say thank you for including the photo and background information about the memorial at Xanten. The RAF pilot, Keith Holmes, was my brother and I only found out about this memorial a couple of years ago. My husband, Dave, and I, along with Pat and Lorna, two sisters of Chris King (Keith's navigator), were in Xanten in early September this year to unveil this new memorial which now shows photos of the boys. We also met the gentleman who was responsible for the creation of the memorial, Ludger Rodermond, who was a six year old pupil at village school on the day of the accident. We also met other villagers who remembered that day and they were all extremely kind to us.

Dave and I were in the middle of a bike tour through Europe and Xanten was the main focus of our trip. If you are interested, you can find our journal on www.crazyguyonabike.com under the name "Spare Tires head for England and Europe".

I will forward the link to your blog to Ludger, Pat and Lorna, as I know they will be pleased to see the memorial has already aroused interest in others.

Thanks again.

Wendy Holmes
BC, Canada

Ian and Sue said...


Thank you for your comment, and taking the time to let us know the story behind it. Quite extraordinary how people can be linked together by the internet… (it still is to me anyhow).

Lovely to see that the memorial now has the pictures of the crew that it sadly lacked before – it is even more arresting and thought provoking to gaze into the faces of men who have given their lives so selflessly.

Ian and Sue