Thursday, 28 August 2014

Thank you For Your Voice

We are now back on British soil and staying in Deal for a few days to spend time with our friends Suzi and Scott Roberts who run the Dining Club here. Last night we went to Broadstairs and popped in to a Pub that happened to be holding a folk night. There were several furtive glances in Graham's direction and after a while a woman came up to him, shook his hand and said 'thanks for your voice'. 

Now Graham has been known to sing the odd ditty or two but we presume it was a case of mistaken identity. The Fluffster became a tad stressed and urged us to leave quite quickly in case he was asked to sing and disappointed an entire room of eager Folkies.

So who does Graham look like? What an amusing night. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Giants, Devils and Pussies

Sunday morning began at 7am with a roman legion, a group of pirates, and a marching band filing past Dickie. It should have felt weird but after the last couple of days of giants, devils and burning underpants it felt somehow normal. The parade started at 945am so we walked our five minutes into town and found a great spot at the start of the action by 9 o'clock.
brave children

By 1215 we had seen:
a two headed eagle ridden by a three year old bespectacled child with a red feather in his cap;
a giant horse propelled by 16 men hidden in its skirt and ridden by 4 more three year olds this time wearing faux armour;
A number of beautifully decorated floral floats complete with people of various ages wearing costumes from different eras;
several brass bands complete with twirling baton girls;
and five more giants;
....oh and the devil and a savage were there too.
What a hoot!

In true Mr Fluffy form, he was approached by a Belgian radio presenter to do an on air interview about his thoughts on the parade. Quickly mentioning he didn't speak French, the interviewer continued in English and we presume the Fluffster has been beamed live into the radios of several Belgian households spouting forth about the fabulousness of our stay in Ath. He was very excited to learn we had come especially to see Les Geants. The people of Ath are, rightly, very proud of their tradition.

Several times during the parade we were amused to note that a kitten had an even better view of the proceedings than we did. Its owners held it at the window above the action and it stared in awe as the giants twirled around, their hair swinging out almost close enough for it to touch. It's face was a picture.

Fond memories of Ath and its wonderful Geants will stay with us. Thanks to Julia Bovey and Martin Dean who, via Facebook, alerted us to it. It was great to see you all.

Not yet having our fill of strange creatures we headed off to Ellezelles, apparently the birth place of Hercule Poirot no less. I read in the tourist brochures that this town holds a witches' sabbat every June and that there is a 'Sentiers de L'Etrange' (Strange Walk) in the area. A local folklorist and artist, Watkyne, had set up this walk many years ago and has placed strange artworks related to local folklore along the way. It was a very cool walk through some lovely countryside, dotted with a devil playing a violin and numerous other forest fairy folk. The whole town was devoted to a 'sorciere' theme with many shops sporting witches in their windows. The church even had a giant topiary witch, complete with black cat, out the front.

Giant in the museum and me with bad hair

Mrs Goliath at her wedding

The Archer  being 'attended to'.

Victory watched by a pussy in the window

........................

For the last two days we have been heading back to Calais for the ferry home on Wednesday. It's been pouring with rain but it's been nice to snuggle down in Dickie and listen to the rain pelt down on the roof. We are now at the Aire by the ferry port and watching some rather dodgy characters eyeing up the vans. Or Maybe it's just me being paranoid.


Monday, 25 August 2014

The Ball in the Hole

Saturday 23rd August was the day of the marriage of Goliath and Mrs Goliath and also the birthday of Mr Fluffy. We awoke to the sound of beating drums and had seen 3 rats before 11am. That's what we get for parking next to a canal. The day was looking good so far. In the morning we took a two hour walk along the tow path and the rain came in on our way back. Happily, we were just passing an old birdwatchers' hut so were able to shelter there. We had a lovely view of a lake with ducks swimming and the rain dropping on the water.
view through a hut
We were back in time for the wedding at 3pm. One of the locals told us that it is treated as a real marriage and several dignitaries were there to attend the ceremony in the church. The giants (which weigh around 130 kilos) were paraded and danced along the street by a series of very strong chaps dressed in white. When the giants kiss the whole crowd erupts in screams of delight and enthusiastic applause.
Mrs Goliath
To view a video of the Giants' kiss click here.
Mr and Mrs Goliath
 We had to stand for a long time and a very tall chap came and stood in front of at one point. 'I think I'm standing behind the tallest person here' I said. 'Not quite' said Graham pointing to Goliath.

A little after the wedding a small boy is selected to play 'David' and to challenge the giant then attempt to throw a ball into the hole of his skirt. If the ball goes in it is considered very lucky for the town and, of course, the boy. Tension mounted as the he took aim and 'hoorah' the whole crowd exploded in applause when the ball went in. 'David' was carried on the shoulders of the attendants and some people were in tears at the spectacle. It was very moving actually and bodes well, especially for Mr Fluffy on his birthday. 
the Devil character walks in the procession

Just remembered that I embarrassed my self earlier in the day when chatting in franglais to a very lovely local chap. I had meant to say 'Ici' (meaning 'here') but managed to do my best Hercule Poirot impersonation saying 'eeeer' instead. How embarrassing...luckily he didn't seem to notice my faux pas and I managed to hide my red face and tittering behind a carefully placed hand. Must work on my French.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Burning of the Underpants

After experiencing the Brotherhood of the Warm Sausage in the Matisse Gallery we felt it was only right that we should attend the burning of the giant's underpants in Ath. Graham's disappointment was palpable as we were banned from entering Lens Louvre because he was carrying a Swiss Army knife, so we headed off to a car park in Ath to attend the Ducasse ( a festival of giants which dates back to the 16th century if not earlier).
at the Museum des Geants
After a bit of looking around we found a nice parking spot tucked away in the corner of the car park by the Gare (train station) which was, of course, free. Some friends of ours, who had tipped us off about the giants, pulled up a few bays across from us so it was great to run across the car park to say hi.  It was a massive 5 minute walk into town where we visited the Museum of Giants and had a stroll around the strangely quiet town. It was not to remain quiet for long as our video will show - click here for burning undies.
prepare for the burning 

It was rather a long wait for the underpants to appear in the Esplanade. We managed to get a great spot where the aforementioned garment was carried in to the excitement of the awaiting crowd. While we waited the police were called to a contre temps between a few 14(ish) year old girls across the way which was a little amusing. It was a little disconcerting to note that the firemen all kissed each other in greeting as did the police. All these burly chaps pecking each other on the cheek was rather unusual. We could not imagine that happening in the UK. All in all it was a violence free, if a little kissy, event and the burning got underway in an orderly manner.
'what big legs you have M Le Geant'

I thought the pants were sponsored by the local brewery as the word 'Gouyasse' was written on them but apparently it is the Belgian word for Goliath, the main giant. It is a apparently a tradition in Belgium that the groom's underpants are burned on the night before the wedding. We returned to Dickie to prepare for the next day's event which included the marriage of Goliath and his bride, and await Graham's birthday.
Mr Fluffy with floating giant at the museum



Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Brotherhood of the Warm Sausage

Well, we have heard of Freemasons and 'Buffalos' but had no idea there was a 'Brotherhood of the Warm Sausage'. We had arrived in Le Cateau-Cambresis and decided to go to the Matisse Gallery (Graham loves his art). The first room had a very interesting display of local residents' favourite items, and a little bit about their lives. Along with a pigeon fancier, a farmer and a restaurateur we were excited to see the robes of a member of the 'warm sausage brigade.' Of course it led to great tittering on my part and a small twinkle in the eye of Mr Fluffy which was a bit naughty as I'm sure they take it very seriously.
robe et chapeau de la Confrerie D'Andouille Chaude
The town itself was nothing spectacular but the gallery was fabulous. Along with a large collection of Matisse pieces (he was born in the town) there were Chagalls, Legers and, a new discovery for me, Auguste Hubin. Loved his colourful art and stained glass windows. A very attractive Giacommetti stands in the front courtyard as well.

listening


Auguste Hubin window
We tried to go to Arras but the aire was full and not particularly attractive so we are now in Lens which has an out shoot of The Louvre so we may pop in there this morning (if I can drag Graham kicking and screaming along). Having just heard that Les Geants will be in Ath in Belgium this weekend we will be heading over there later today. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Pooh Pooh P'Dooh

After a night spent next to a dog's toilet in Nismes near the French border in Belgium, we had a lovely walk to the appropriately named Foundry des Chiens. Really, there was this one chap who separately walked three different dogs to the grass verge next to Dickie and each of them performed An extremely large ablution just outside the door. The aroma of steaming dog doodie wafted through the windows for the entire evening. Such a shame as the town is very pleasant and the aire is free.
No poos up here

We were expecting quite a strenuous walk this morning as the chap in the visitor's centre used the word 'uphill' quite frequently when describing it, but there were only a few small inclines and it took just over an hour. Amusement prevailed as, at one stage, we were overtaken by a little tourist train full of French tourists who exclaimed we were very brave to go 'a pieds' (on foot) in the drizzle and up these (not very) steep hills.
le petit train


The red squirrel population here is thriving as we saw several scampering around the trees. They have black stripes on their backs which look a bit weird.
                                              ................
Dickie in Landrecies

We've been looking up a bit of history of the place we stumbled upon to stay tonight. Landrecies was the site of a major battle on 25th August 1914 and there is a British cemetery here which we will visit tomorrow. There are several monuments commemorating the war in the town, the church took a direct hit by a bomb, and on a lighter note they've placed a lovely aire by the canal. I just read something on the internet that said this town is where the horse that influenced the writing of WarHorse came from....how interesting.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Graham’s trip statistics

We have now spent 93 days and nights in Dickie on this trip and have driven 7781 miles through Scandinavia and Europe.

On this trip we have averaged 31mpg so far and have spent £ 442 on campsite/overnight stop fees – an average of less than £5 per night.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Nude Shocker, Flagrant Francophilia, and Dish Disaster.

What is it with men and their love of leaving doors open?

Can you imagine the shock on the face of those in the van next to us when I opened our bathroom door (directly opposite our back door) after a lovely warm shower only to find Mr Fluffy had left our back door wide open to display my nudity to the great unwashed. My face showed equal mortification but, determined to get Mr F back for his faux pas, I opened the toilet hatch so that he could be swathed in the aromas of the SOG unit as he ferreted in the satellite drawer. Ha! 

Le Meuse at Montherme
After recovering from my 'naturist accidentalis' experience we left Luxembourg and the pouring rain and headed off to the Ardennes. Mr Fluffy's face was a picture, no not at the memories of my nudity, but at the excitement of French bread and jars of magnifique Blanquettes de some sort of viande, cassoulets, and of course ........the fromage! His little eyes lit up and his cheeks flushed as we entered the Le Clerc supermarche. Several bottles of wine and lumps of stinky cheese later we have ended up at our current location by the Meuse River at Montherme. 
font face
How gorge is this? We are by the marina with several lovely boats moored up. A 22km cycle along the river started the day off nicely then back to Dickie, and excitement followed as Mr F managed to get the BBC on the satellite for the first time in weeks. As I thrilled to Tim Wonacott and his familiar Bargain Hunt delivery, I concentrated on making a rowan and red thread charm. But alas, our televisual euphoria was shortlived as a gust of wind blew the satellite dish over and snapped the wires.
success
Mr F now has his tongue firmly positioned in the correct oral area for major concentration and is hoping to fix the dish so that we have a hope in hell of watching British tv tonight. Speaking of hell we are just up the road from a town called Deville. Quite amusing.

wooden window treatment
There are a couple of interesting churches in the village, one with a particularly ancient font,  and I have been looking up property prices as it is such a beautiful place. Mr F's pile envy has reached new heights (that's wood pile not haemorrhoids) as we even saw wood filling empty window spaces. 

Further along the Ardennes tomorrow.

Friday, 15 August 2014

"May I suggest prawns for desert?"

view from the casements
We had just finished a superb meal at Le Jardin Gourmand in Luxembourg when the waiter enthusiastically recommended the Pain Perdue with prawns. Our faces must have registered extreme shock as the very posh waiter went on to describe the round berries contained within the aforementioned sweet. Eventually it turned out he meant prunes so we happily agreed to his recommendation. What turned up was covered in mirabelles, those little orange round things with leaves that no one ever knows the name of. Not exactly prunes but delicious all the same. If you are in Luxembourg we heartily recommend a meal here if you get the chance.
fuzzy tunnel action

Today was spent lying in as it was pouring with rain until late. Mr Fluffy had left one of our hatches open as it was a little warm, despite the massive rainfall, so my shoes were full of water. The camp site is a little out of town so I got the bus while Mr F walked the hour into the centre. It's a public holiday today, Friday, so most of the shops were closed - annoyingly.
Black Madonna of Luxembourg City

Luxembourg has a series of ancient tunnels called Casements which we walked through on our way to the old town and the St John's church which houses a beautiful 14th century Black Madonna. She is rather fabulous! After a disappointing panini at Scott's Pub by the river we continued our walk around the city and are now back in Dickie awaiting the next downpour.
disappointing panini but nice view


France tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Wine country

Wherever we look there are vineyards covering the steep mountainsides.
loving the flowers
The Mosel Wine Route is particularly stunning with pretty villages and wine tasting outlets everywhere. The road follows the wide and winding river through the countryside and into these small old towns that are all about wine. We follow ancient tractors towing trailers with various wine growing  paraphernalia but apart from the agricultural vehicles the roads are fairly quiet unlike the towns which are heaving with tourists (like us). It’s a mystery how they all get there without crowding the roads.
Mosel Valley rush hour
Germany, like most European countries, caters for motorhomes very well with well signed, dedicated parking places and ‘stellplatz’ for overnight stays.  These are usually free of charge or cost less than £5 per 24 hours. The Mosel Valley is a bit more expensive due to its popularity – we actually paid 8 euros (£6) last night.  If only the UK would learn from Europe…….
I must say the UK does do ‘better restaurant’ than Germany. As we can now afford to eat here, unlike Scandinavia where we couldn’t afford to dine out, we have had a few meals out but if I see another schnitzel or stroganoff with noodles and little else I will scream. The food is ok but extremely dull. I’m looking forward to France and a crepe or two.
Graham doesn’t drink white wine so I have been doing the sampling……not a massive fan of German wines but I have had one or two trocken (dry) Rieslings which aren't too bad.  Heading to Trier and hopefully some wee fee tomorrow.

.......
Mr Soggy at the Ponta Nigra
Ugggh! We are now in Trier and it is totally pouring! I don't know if it is the weather but we're not loving it here. It is very interesting as it is in ancient Roman town with some very intriguing churches and maybe if the rain stopped it would be nicer. The woman in the Tourist office was 'lovely' - on asking her a question she replied with 'WHAT?' 
The stellplatz has the most confusing instructions in the world - the minuscule info on how to enter and pay for the site is around 100 metres from the entrance where it would, perhaps, have been more useful. 
Luxemburg tomorrow.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Brocken to Wernigerode Narrow Gauge Railway

Couldn't resist a quick video of the train for rail enthusiasts click here
pootling along in the fog

for number enthusiasts

Up the Brocken

After huffily accusing Mr Fluffy of taking the wrong path I had to eventually concede that I was wrong and we had, indeed, entered the walkway to the Brocken mountain. Having been given the choice of either an easy walk beside the track for the railway or a steep rocky ascent, guess which one Graham chose? Harumph!
heading off
We drove to Shierke this morning and he managed to persuade me to join him in the 2 hour (ish) hike up the mysterious and witchy mountain.
spooky forest
The initial confusion on the trek was due to a distinct lack of proper signage but after some help from the tourist information centre we trudged up the Brocken through ancient forests, hearing the occasional distant whistle from the steam trains reminding us of that easier alternative route. As we neared the top, just 1 km from the summit, there was a lovely clearing and the sight of a flat-ish road to continue our upward journey. At the exact moment we entered the clearing the clouds burst forth and totally peed it down. ‘Get the waterproofs out of the rucksack - quickly’!
is that a witch I see flying there?
Too late – it hit us before we could get the jackets out or run to the trees for cover – the sunny morning instantly turned into a freezing winter scene. Drenched and cold we carried on to the popular summit to fight with 100s of other tourists for shelter.
stone on the Brocken
We eventually managed to get a bowl of hot goulash and a rather dubious bratwurst based noodle dish in an extremely busy café full of soggy steamy people. This managed to warm the cockles as we took amusing witchy based photos and watched dense fog encircle the famous viewpoint.
inappropriate outfit to climb a mountain 
We decided to take the narrow gauge railway back to Shierke and as the train left the station the sun started to shine again. Typical! It’s a bit of a train aficionado’s delight with people coming from all over the world to ride on them.
A bit bedraggled

Mr F loved the powerful steam engines, the noise, the smell, the vibration, everything about them – it’s a boy thing. I just liked not having to walk. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Wernigerode Antics

amusing pottery pussy from the schloss
The town of Wernigerode is overshadowed by a gigantic schloss which we decided to visit yesterday. It's an imposing castle with a close association with Kaiser Wilhelm. The many portraits of him on the walls were a far cry from our depiction of him as a voodoo style pin cushion in the Museum of Witchcraft. Mr Fluffy was thrilled (not) to arrive just as the Hexenuhr was happening - a gigantic witch popped out of a cuckoo style clock to cackle the midday hour. I think he is getting all witched out.
The Hexenuhr

We walked through the forest around the schloss and came across a small zoo which we could freely walk around. The cutest were the little tiny wild boar children who came out as a blur on my camera as they were whizzing around the yard merrily. Second cutest were the deer and racoons. We noticed at the end that this was next to a schusenhaus (hunting house) so we are hoping they were not being bred for a spot of schusen (although we did eat 'meat of a stag' for dinner last night at Ins kleine Paradis).
what's up dick?

loving the foot draped over the edge
Off to The Brocken today.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Witches, Witches and More Witches

‘Zis is MY Karte!!’ The high pitched words of the panic stricken tourist information attendant screeched through the visitor’s centre as I circled the points of interest he’d mentioned on a map (which I presumed was a freebie) with a pen that was conveniently located within my reach. ‘Don’t panic I will buy the karte.’ Five euros later I noticed the information was all conveniently in German (which I don’t speak) but he seemed so distressed I felt the need to allay his stress before he had a heart attack.
a hint of witchy overload

Our night in Quedlinburg was filled with half timbered medieval houses, schlosses, and shops selling infinite varieties of witch puppets. Some of the houses are carved with protection symbols like pentacles and six pointed stars, daisy wheels and other familiar symbols. We visited St Wipiti’s church this morning, more for its amusing name than anything else, and discovered a real treasure despite the fact the 10th century church had been restored in the 1950s. The standing stones in the grounds suggested a much more ancient history.
St Wipiti
We are in the Harz mountains, a place famed for witchy goings on, Faust, and Walpugisnacht celebrations. A drive up to Hexentanzplatz outside Thale proved amusing as we discovered an almost witch-theme park location with shops selling endless witch puppets and a Hexenmuseum which was a little bit more like a cross dressing enthusiast’s plaything. I will let the photos speak for themselves. We wonder if some German visitors are reluctant to enter the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft as they may have been here and were somewhat put off.
crushed velvet clad wiccan priestess in medieval wisewoman's tableau
a divination scene
The mountains themselves are rather lovely and very atmospheric despite the tacky commercial surroundings.


Our stop tonight is Wernigerode which is a very attractive medieval town with a very large schoss (castle) and a very small house (the only two things the tourist office said was of interest.
a novel use for a washing line
We may get the steam train up to the Brocken tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Prozzies and Pagan Murderers

The ancient looking campervan had the sign sexnord.de written on one side.

'That's weird, wouldn't it be funny if that was a naughty website?' I ejaculated in a Sherlock Holmes fashion.
Prozzie van

As we drove further south on the road towards Hamburg it transpired that it was not only a naughty website but it must have been an advertisement for a gaggle of ladies in various camper vans and caravans who provided 'services' to gentlemen as they drove the lonely road. The vans were painted with hearts presumably to indicate the 'love' that lay within. Some had 'Sexy Girls' or 'Girls, Girls' written on the front just so there would be no confusion. Funnily enough the vans were all fairly old and run down, not very appealing at all. Some had guests but we saw others sitting in the windows with red fairy lights sparkling enticingly. I must remember not to light my red fairy lights tonight!

Every time we see an old van now we are checking for hearts on the door, and we advise drivers of older motor homes to think twice before using lay-bys around Hamburg or you might get an unexpected knock on the door from an amorous chap in the middle of the night.
murderous signage

We got stuck behind a truck for quite a while so I decided to look up what his signage meant. I have a translating app on my ipad and the words 'Ihr Heideschlachter' can mean 'Your pagan murderer'. This was a little disconcerting due to our witchy leanings but I think it's more likely to mean 'your local butcher'.
 
facade of a house in Celle
Celle is our chosen destination today as we head towards the Harz mountains. The stellplatz is very busy but very close to town. The Aldstadt (Old Town) has some beautiful 16th and 17th century half timbered houses, most of which have been restored to their former glory.