27 December Oxford
Having had a brilliant week with Brian & Heike we finally said our goodbyes and headed for Dunkirk.
The weather had finally broken and having had a couple of days of rain the roads were safe enough for us to attempt the nine hour journey to the ferry port. We were booked on the midnight ferry so gave ourselves plenty of time to get there.
We made good time and arrived at the port at 8pm so got the 10pm ferry. It was a bit of a bumpy ride but we made it to England about 11.30pm at night. This is where our troubles began…
Due to England have an irrational fear of ‘travellers’ everywhere either has a height barrier or a time restriction. Every service station we stopped at only allowed us to stop for two hours at a time or we had to £20 for the privilege of parking.
Therefore we ended up with broken sleep throughout the night and woke up with frozen toes the first time, feeling rougher than when we went to sleep! To cut a long story short we ended up in the Heyford Hill Sainsbury’s car park (Oxford) at 6am, waiting for the shop to open…at 9.30 as it was a Bank Holiday.
Provisions were bought and we pitched up at Oxford C&CC at 10am. We were allowed on at this time as when we booked we explained our predicament, and they kindly said we could come onto the site earlier than usual.
25 December Christmas Day
Today was a very relaxed day with a leisurely breakfast. We exchanged gifts then just pottered about until we had to get ready for the evening. Friends of Brian & Heike came to share Christmas dinner and it was a great success with everyone chipping in and helping out.
The meal was lovely and we ended the day playing games – a great idea with the language barrier! It was a bit of a mammoth session so we were all pleased to retire to bed at the end of the day.
23 December Hamburg
We went by train to Hamburg today for some last minute Christmas shopping with Heike. Brian was unable to come as he’d spent too long in Hamburg on the Monday and his knee was giving him a lot of pain.
The train station in Hamburg was very well decorated which made for a lovely atmosphere.
Once the important shopping was out the way we headed for the Christmas Market and sampled our last glass of Heidelbeer/Gluhwein for 2009! We saw Father Christmas flying across the market with his reindeer and listened to the story of Rudolph.
The entrance to one ofthe many markets was all lit up with rope lights as can be seen below.
By the time we got back home it was quite late so we went via the Chinese restaurant and ordered a takeaway. Perfect end to a perfect day!
21 December Brian & Heike’s!!
We kept changing our minds on what to do, whether to stick it out, try and move to their house or make towards the ferry port. The decision we made to try and head for the port quickly turned out to be the wrong one, as the next morning Germany was in near shutdown due to heavy snow and ice so we followed Heike’s advice and limped round to their house….after settling the campsite bill (150 Euro’s) which included an 86 euro bill for electric alone for four days!!!
The exit off the campsite was fairly straightforward (as Dean was driving) and the main roads had all been gritted, but the fun began when we got to the house’s approach road. The house is on a hill, albeit a very small one, but we weigh about 4.5 tonne with the scooter and trailer. We managed to get onto the road and got to within 50m of their home when we lost grip. We were both willing Robyn to keep going and Dean dropped her down into second gear and we just managed to crawl into the parking bay opposite the house.
We had to shovel snow from the drive before Dean could attempt to get on it. Another heart-stopping moment while the wheels skidded but he managed to get on eventually. We then had a well-earned cup of tea once we had sorted out the essentials – electric, washing, heating!
Dean seemed to manage to find the time to make a snowman, and some of our vegetables (they had been fresh vegetables in the front cab of the ‘van but had frozen) were used for the face. The dogs looked too keen to demolish it so we wouldn’t let them outside until Brian & Heike had seen it.
20 December Heber
We left Berlin on the 15th and headed for Braunschweig as a half way point on the way to Schneverdingen. As we had been there before we knew the site so we pitched up and wandered into the town to see their Christmas Market.
On the 17th we moved onto Heber to be ‘just round the corner’ from Brian & Heike where we were staying for the Christmas holiday. No sooner had we arrived then it started snowing! Looking back on the pictures the amount of snow doesn’t look that bad but the temperatures were unbelievable. For the next four days while we were on site the daily temperature didn’t get above minus 6 degrees C and the lowest it got one night was minus 18…with the inside temperature only reaching 8 degrees!
The condensation on the windows inside had frozen and the mattress (where it was up against the sides of the ‘van) was slowly freezing! All of the water system had frozen up so we had no running water, which meant walking out in freezing temperatures to wash up, shower etc. Also our vegetables that were in the front cab of the van had frozen!
Heike came and collected us a few times from the campsite to take us back to their house, where we were fed and warmed up! Luckily they’re used to these types of weather conditions so there was no trouble driving around. Sadly on one of the journeys back to our van a deer tried to take its own life by running out in front of the car causing some damage. The law in Germany requires you to call the local police and Jägermeister (Hunter).
The area is fairly rural with lots of deer and wild boar roaming freely, so it was inevitable really but still sad to have happen. The local Jägermeister was busy so we waited for the police to arrive and dispatch the deer, to our surprise as the police officer got their torch out to look at the poor animal the deer got up and legged it! Hopefully it survived…
14 December Berlin
Dean scootered out to the Berlin War Graves Cemetery he spotted the other day. Over 3,000 people are buried there from WW2 conflicts from many allied countries, over 2,500 of them British. Amongst all of the headstones he spotted some from a local regiment back home that we have a link with, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
13 December Berlin
We woke up this morning to a hard frost so thermals were the order of the day! Dean did not bother wearing his thermal bottoms and soon regretted it. Although Angela wore hers, she was still cold (no surprise there then).
Back we went into the City today and headed for the Berlin City Bus Tour. We’d picked up a leaflet the day before and realised it took us to the main places we wanted to see.
First stop was Checkpoint Charlie. Dean had to have a picture taken with the two American Servicemen on duty. I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were not real! It is now a massive tourist spot but it was still interesting to see as there was a lot of information there explaining the split of Berlin and why it happened. Sadly it pointed out that no sooner than one conflict had ended another one began between USA and Russia.
The tour also took us past the place where the SS and Gestapo Headquarters used to be where they are now in the process of building a new museum called the Topography of Terror.
We passed the Jewish memorial on the route also and while we were driving round the guide gave us lots of information, the most interesting being whether we had crossed into the old ‘East’ or ‘West’…and even the ‘neutral’ area!
The Brandenburg Gate was an impressive structure with the four horses on the top. Again, it is a main tourist spot and we got hassled by a few beggars who were obviously targeting English speaking tourists. Dean got rid of them rather quickly!!
We only had a ten minute stop so it was a quick exercise in taking lots of photographs as you can see below…
Once back on the Bus we continued the tour and the next famous building we passed was the Reichstag. The Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and is one of Berlin’s most historical landmarks. It is close to the Brandenburger Tor and before the unification it was right next to the wall.
On the route back we passed the government buildings where Angela Merkel’s party resides. She seems to be a revered figure and even the tour guide suggested the building had been unofficially renamed the ‘Palace of Angela’.
Today was even colder than yesterday so once the tour was over we headed home to thaw out.
12 December Berlin
We finally made it to Berlin and stayed on a campsite about 15km from the centre. Having done all the domestic chores (clothes washing…in a ‘van and no tumble dryer…think Widow Twanky!) yesterday we wrapped up warm and got the bus into the centre. It was really convenient as the bus stop is right outside the entrance.
The bus took us into the far west of the centre where a Christmas Market was taking place around the ruined Church of Kaiser Wilhelm. The original Church suffered extensive damage after being bombed in November 1943. It was ‘partially restored’ as a memorial to peace and reconciliation with the central tower made safe. Most of the Church has been demolished and the tower is the only part that remains.
We spent ages in here as there was a link to the Coventry Cathedral that was bombed in WW2 as they have exchanged symbolic crosses as part of the reconciliation process. The Coventry Cross is made up of three iron nails that were recovered from the remains.
Once we left here we found out that we were in the wrong area of Berlin for visiting the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie etc. and it was too far to walk (and way too cold!) so we decided to visit these tomorrow.
Instead we made our way around the Christmas Market and as time went on it started to snow! We headed for a Gluhwein stall that just happened to be next to a pizza stall so we combined the two!
By now the snow was getting heavier and lovely though it was it was freezing so we headed home…to a cold ‘van.
10 December Dresden
Our plan was to visit Colditz but the weather was absolutely diabolical so we kicked that idea into touch and headed for Dresden. We arrived at the site about 1pm and set ourselves up where we liked as the owners had left a message saying they were open from 7-8pm! Very relaxed…
As the weather was so dire we hopped on a bus into the Centre. We will definitely come back to visit Dresden as the buildings and architecture we saw (albeit way too briefly) were stunning. We want to find out more about the history of the place as a lot of restoration has been undertaken, but the weather was so dire we had to leave early before one of us caught flu!
It was so miserable we ducked into a KFC and shared a feast! We managed to dry out a bit before we went back for the bus and miraculously one was at the stop so we jumped straight on. However, it ended up taking us in completely the opposite direction!
Although the number was the same, we found out later that there were three different bus routes on the ‘66’ line. We ended up coming back to where we started and then finding the right one!
When we got back the heating went straight on, Dean went to pay as it was now after 7pm and when he came back I was wrapped up in warm clothes, and sleeping bag and a woolly blanket…it still took three hours to warm up!
9 December Leipzig
We didn’t get to see much of this city as we were on a bit of a tight schedule, but we managed to scooter in and park up at the Bahnhof.
Across the road we encountered the beginning of their Christmas Market. Leipzig allegedly has the largest Advent Calendar against the side of a building, and a different community organisation had the privilege of opening a door each day.
We did go inside one church (Nikolai Kirche) to have a look around and the interior was beautifully decorated. We had a good look around and then went back outside.
The more Christmas Markets we see you begin to see the same sort of things for sale, but every now and then you come across something special. One of the sections here was the Altstadt Markt where artists were selling their products, among them bows and arrows, baskets that were being made on site, candle making and beautiful pottery.
Another gem we found was a stall for a company called Huss who are world famous for making….CHECK WEBSITE LINK. www.juergen-huss.de. Anyone who knows us well know we love using incense sticks and oil burners, so we treated ourselves to a stove that does everything! Check it out below!
The main train station is the largest in Europe so we visited it before getting back on bike. It was something of a disappointment as it may be the largest complex in which a train station is, but it did not look like the largest we’ve seen!
7 December Wernigerode
Both of us loved this town so much we decided to come back! We had a heart-stopping moment when the sat-nav tried to take us right into the Market Place. Luckily we realised we did NOT want to go there so we took a left turn along old cobbled streets and finally got back out onto the main road.
That was a bit close for comfort, but we eventually made it to the stellplätz right next to the old steam train station. Then we headed straight into town (sampled the Gluhwein, of the Heidelbeer variety for Ang, and with Rumkirschen for Dean) and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Having met some lovely people on the way, Denmark and Norway keep coming up as favourites….
5 December Goslar
We’d been staying in the Harz Mountains at a place called Bad Harzburg since the 3rd and as the journey was about five hours long we did not do much for the next couple of days.
On Friday we went for a walk into the nearest village ‘exploring’ but we did have to don the old waterproofs.
Today, we unhooked the scooter and tried out our new jackets for the first time. What a difference – the only thing that freezes now are our knees! We travelled about 15 minutes into the town of Goslar that is famous for having the largest collection of half-timbered houses in Germany.
The town is wonderfully picturesque and the houses are really prettily decorated. It was full of tourists on guided walks and as the Market was on we had plenty to see and drink. We sampled the Gluhwein again and wandered off around the town.
Having spent a couple of hours enjoying this beautiful town we started to think which stall we were going to visit to get some food. Alas, our plans were thwarted as we then received notification from our alarm company that the ‘van alarm had been activated.
Well, panic set in! We headed straight back (getting slightly lost on the way…) only to find as it was so windy the curtain had been blown about setting the sensors off. We always wondered if they really worked – now we know they do!
2 December Köln
The City has seven Christmas Markets spread throughout the centre, so the last few days were spent wandering round most of them. We bought some presents for people for Christmas, and ate some wonderful food and drank more wine!
We listened to a traditional German musician…whilst drinking some Weihnachts beer! So many stalls had something different to offer you didn’t get bored, the problem was remembering where you saw things so you could go back and buy them.
Even the walk back to the ‘van was an enjoyable part of the day. As it got dark all the lights came on so you could look out across the river and it was lit up by them and the moonlight.
It really has been a brilliant few days, and any other Market will have a lot to live up to for it to beat Köln.