We were also thrilled to meet John and Irene who flew in to Frankfurt from Edmonton then took the train to Bremen. They arrived early enough for us to take them on a tour of that beautiful city and though the narrow streets of the Schnoor district. After that long journey for them, I think they really appreciated a good, icy cold German beer at one of the sidewalk cafes before we drove back to introduce to our “life in Hooksiel” for a few days.
Then we packed up the car, and a cooler, for a trip down through Germany and then across to Salies de Béarn in SW France near Biarritz. The first night we stopped at Koblenz that is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, and at the confluence of three low mountain ranges (the Hunsruck, the Eifel and the Westerwald) so it was interesting to see the change in landscape from flat and agricultural to rolling hills and evergreen trees. Once settled in our B and B Hotel (that is what they chain is called) located right over the highway and busy rail line (God Bless sound proof windows!), we walked up to big square where the rivers meet, dominated by an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhellm 1 on horseback, described in Lonely Planet as “in the bombastic style of the late 19th Century”! Irene was keen on a “traditional German meal” so we found a dark, old fashioned restaurant with service by a dour, middle aged woman. We had a meat intensive meal, each serving twice what any normal person could eat. It was the cause of sleepless nights for most of us so we vowed not to do that again!
Anyone who has been to France will understand that to describe it without superlatives is impossible. This time of year the purple Wisteria drips from old stone buildings; lilacs in deep purple, mauve or white bloom in most gardens; rolling, freshly plowed fields alternate with the lemon yellow rapeseed and the brilliant green grasses; ancient walled cities tower over pretty rivers; outdoor cafes host happy people enjoying the wonderful French cuisine and local wines.
We had limited success with our desire to have picnics along the way: rest stops had tables but no toilets, or toilets with no tables (and some of the toilets were of the old French style “in the floor”) so we made do with park benches – and at one lake, had a tailgate picnic whilst arguing with an irate swan who waddled out of the water trying to hiss us out of his/her territory.
Salies de Béarn is a delightful, small village known for its salt water baths – and salt products. Irene and John were to stay in an apartment above a traditional French restaurant: the apartment boasted 12 foot ceilings, furnished with antiques (but modern kitchen and bathrooms), doors leading out to tiny patios with wrought iron railings – all very French and absolutely delightful. We spent a few days there with them, touring the neighbouring small villages, trying out the local cuisine, shopping for dinners at home in the apartment (overwhelmed with aisles and aisles of cheeses at the supermarket). The weather was sunny and hot and absolutely perfect – which was good given we managed to leave both our windbreakers at one of the hotels along the way:-(
We left John and Irene to drive to the middle of France, to the Indres area (near Limoges) to visit old friends, Stephan and Christine, who we met in Turkey in 2005. They live in a very old, very rural area in an ancient mill they have rebuilt after a fire some years ago. They own acres and acres of land so we stayed in this old stone structure, looking out over brilliant green meadowland, listening to nothing but birds chirping all around the property. Unfortunately, even after weeks of morning French lessons, we had difficulty communicating with Christine, whose English is about the same as our French. It is such a challenge when you have so much to say and are unable to say it. Poor Stephan, 80 years old, spent the day translating for all of us.
The drive back to Hooksiel was long and boring once we got to Germany and the autobahns (and the constant roadworks). However, before that we enjoyed beautiful rural landscapes, the lovely old Troyes with its Medieval half-timbered houses, lunch in the walled city of Sancerre in a restaurant operated by a local winery. We stopped on the Mosel on our way back and had a reprieve from the long hours in the car by walking on the bike path along the river, then sitting on the patio of the hotel sipping icy cold local wine.
Back home now to piles of laundry, lawn a foot high, and an empty fridge. We are home and alone for the next two weeks unless the lure of the motorhome overwhelms us and we take off camping for a few days.