Friday, 30 August 2013

A walk round Namur

Namur is dominated by an immense citadel, perched on the cliff above the river Meuse.

There are extensive views up and down the river.
Its easy to see why, in this frequently war-torn part of central Europe,
that the King decided to build this immense fortress..

The old castle fortifications were swallowed up by Vauban's new ditches, tunnels and walls..
The citadel is so enormous that it took us a good 2 hours just to walk round the walls
and read all the information boards.
Eventually we made our way out onto a huge, cliff top parade ground.
This area was used by the military and the town for sports, royal visits and other
out door entertainments.
This stadium was built around the end of the 19th Century to give a commanding view over the arena.  I was fascinated by the building because it is basically a multi-purpose, dual faceted structure.  The other side was an outdoor theatre.  Sadly the whole building is suffering from age and neglect and it was difficult to take photos of the theatre side.  There's an auditorium of concrete steps and even some little gothic ticket booth and entrance gates.  I love this kind of quirky, unexpected stuff!
Beyond the parade ground complex there's a further palace - now a really beautiful hotel.
They have a really talented gardener who has been organising the grounds through scent, colour and mood.  It's a beautiful place and completely free to anyone who wants to wander round.

Eventually hunger got the better of us and, about 4 hours after we'd climbed up into the citadel, we walked back down into town.

Namur does street cafes and squares really well.  There was lots of choice for the starving explorers!

Two huge pizzas later, we had the energy to start exploring one of the churches of the town...
This ornate, Baroque church replaced an earlier medieval one (which had presumably suffered during one of the many periods of fighting in the region)

It was as spectacular on the inside, as it was on the outside.

The carving were heavy and detailed..

And the sunlight fell just right for me to be able to take this picture...

For me, this was probably the best photo of the holiday.
I am REALLY pleased with it!
(An hour or so later Mark received his 'best car compliment' of the holiday, when she was described by a Belgian Aston Martin owner as an 'objet d'art'.  He was SO chuffed!  All in all, a great day out!)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

When things were great AND terrible...

From the noise and action of the Nurburgring - to the peace of the Moselle Valley....
This was probably my favourite part of the trip.  We stayed for four nights in a Bed and Breakfast in a small village by the Moselle.  For us, it was the perfect location.  The village was really quiet but the busy, tourist town of Bernkastel was only a two mile walk down the tow path.  Effectively it gave us the best of both worlds.  We parked up the car and walked everywhere.
This was our base.  When the weather was good breakfast was served on the terrace.
The owner and the rest of his team were SO friendly and kind.
It was lovely...

This was the main square in a village just up the valley.
Away from the 'tourist traps' the area is very quiet and tranquil..

This old house in Bernkastel looks like it's defying gravity.
I was completely sober and vertical when I took this picture!

Mark did his best to eat his own body weight in puddings and ice-creams...

... while I couldn't resist this local dish
(Grilled pork steaks on toast with mushrooms and hollandaise sauce,
plus a generous salad)
"Now you see it...."

"... Now you don't!"

After a couple of days we learnt how to plan our routes so that we could climb up through the vines.
It gave us a fresh perspective on the area and made the walks a little more rigorous.
This is a view of our village during the walk that we did on the third day (about 11 miles long - which worked off some of the calories!!!)

At the end of the 19th Century many of the wine producers built big gothic mansions by the river.  These buildings still serve as a 'front' for the businesses (with offices, storage and beautiful homes).
This was one of our neighbours in the village..

I felt that we'd only just started to get to the know the region when our 'time was up' and we were on the road again.  This is definitely the down-side of touring. This photo was taken at the beginning of the most difficult day of the holiday...

The heat in the car was immense as we travelled away from the Moselle and through the hills to the Ardennes.  The exterior temperature was probably in the low 30s but all the engine heat came back into the cabin of the car, and we were cooking.  What should have been a pleasant and interesting drive became an exercise in managing heat exhaustion.  (We found out later that all the previous driving had simply broken a seal and Mark was able to fix everything with a roll of black sticky tape - but that was another day!)
We decided that the only logical thing to do was to keep moving and go straight to our hotel.
From the word "Go" this third hotel wasn't quite right...
I've written a Trip Advisor review that summed it all up nicely (if you're interested click here - I'm 'Gullymog1' from Worcester)
The holiday picked up again nicely after all of this, but I think we were thoroughly spoilt by the great food, country-side, walking, accommodation and general 'value for money' of the Moselle.
I'd have stayed there forever - seriously!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Our 'Big Adventure'..

We're back - and were 'safe and sound' until Mark disturbed a wasps nest in the garden on Friday!  Poor man.  He instinctively put his left arm up to shield his face.  It was badly stung and swelled up severely so he's now on antibiotics, lots of Piriton and painkillers.  It made him feel a bit rough for a few days but I think it's starting to get a bit better.

The holiday was a real experience, quite challenging at times and great fun.  We did 1,700 miles over two weeks (which is about as much as you'd want to do in a little car with limited suspension and no climate control!).  The car behaved herself beautifully and received lots of compliments and interest whenever we parked her up.  Mark was a very proud 'car parent'!!!!

Anyway, here are a few photos from the first phase of the trip.  On Day 1 we drove from Worcester to Harwich.  It's not a good journey, with lots of busy motorways AND the dreaded A14, so we gave ourselves plenty of time.  We arrived in Harwich with plenty of time to wander around and have a relaxed evening meal  before we had to book in at the port.

Here's Mark, enjoying his first ice-cream of the holiday and watching the world go by in Harwich...

Not long after our ferry went by - because the docks are further up river than the town...

I was delighted with our cabin and almost too excited to sleep...

There was plenty of space....

On Day 2 we drove round Rotterdam in the rush hour.  There's no SatNav in the car so I was navigating and the whole experience was pretty scary!  I was very relieved when we reached quieter roads and started the haul across Holland and down into Germany.  It took just over 4 hours of steady driving to get to the Nurburgring. 

We 'splashed out' for this part of the holiday and had booked ourselves into the hotel which is right by the circuit.  It was great to be able to pop the car into the hotel garage, take up our room, then get straight out into the event with minimal effort.  The first day of the 'Oldtimer Grand Prix' (the Ring's classic car event) was in full swing.

Here's Mark - posing with Fangio - at the front of the hotel!

The hotel from the stands on the north side of the circuit..

...and cars and people everywhere.

We absolutely loved the event.  We walked for miles round the circuit, selecting our favourite corners to watch the different groups of cars compete.  We ate dinner in the restaurant of the hotel on the Saturday evening then went back out onto the circuit to watch some beautiful 1960s cars racing into the dusk.

It was a perfect weekend for a couple of 'petrol heads' like us and a fabulous way to start the holiday.  I took this picture of Mark and the car on the morning that we left. 

Mark has taken an A4 copy of it into the office this week to remind himself of the reason for working!!!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

I've got that strange feeling that you get when you've been planning something big
for months and months..... and suddenly it's here!
I've cleaned the house and emptied the fridge..
Layered up the tinted moisturiser (so my legs aren't 'glow in the dark' white)..
Painted my nails and coloured my hair...
Bought all the maps and read the latest Trip Advisor posts...
Packed the 'capsule wardrobe'...
Tomorrow we are leaving on a big adventure..
We've NEVER done anything like this before in our lives..
We're taking our silver Marcos to Europe for two weeks!
I must confess that I even had a worry dream about it all last night....
Normally Mark and I head off to the Welsh borders and walk.
We stay in nice - but fairly cheap - self catering accommodation.
My main expectation of my summer holiday is that I come home a little fitter and a lot more chilled!
This time we're staying in proper hotels -
(at the Nurburgring, in a vineyard on the Moselle and in a chateau in the Ardennes)
It could be great - or it could be ghastly.......!
I can't remember the last time I was so nervous about going on holiday...
Anyway, the whole family are coming round this evening.  It's Mark's birthday and our 23rd Wedding Anniversary while we are away.   Normally I'd pop all our presents and cards into the car and open them during the holiday.  This time space is seriously at a premium, so we decided to celebrate and open everything with the family before we go. 
My family have given Mark Euros so that he can buy something to remember the trip - probably a cap from the Nurburgring or something similar.  His main present from me is a leather 'man bag' that he wanted for the trip.  I've also picked up some second hand books for him that he may want to take.  I found a book that analyses the tank battles in 1944 and 1945 in the Ardennes.  I also found him a couple of 50 year old Motoring Journals.  They are full of the quirky motoring information that he loves and I can't wait to see his face when I realises what they are!
Obviously things are going to be a little quiet here on my blog -
but I will be thinking of you all and hoping that you're having a good couple of weeks...
All the best,

Monday, 5 August 2013

An "ABC Tour..."

I come from a family of 'churchoholics'.  Dad jokingly calls our days out "ABC Tours" - short for "Another B*****y Church!".  Fortunately Mark has become infected with the same bug and happily tags along when my family are charging from the car park to the nearest church tower or steeple!
We found an absolute gem in the south Cotswold town of Malmesbury on Friday.
It's another Abbey Church which was taken over by the parish in the 1530s.
The grand west end of the building has largely disappeared - only the south-west tower remains.
Up close there's a hint of the fabulous carvings that must have surrounded the west door.
Incredibly, the south porch is completely intact and absolutely beautiful.
This is the outer part, which I believe tells the story of Christ's life..

Here are the carvings round the inner doorway...

With further carvings on the left...

and right.....

According to the guide book all these statues would have been painted (just like the porch in Lausanne that I posted about in April)  Even without its paint this is considered to be one of the best carved porches in Europe.
Here's the inside of the church - dating from 1180.....
There's no East Window because the current building is only a fragment of the original abbey.
The entire section from the steeple forward was made unsafe after the steeple was hit by lightening in 1497.  It's still a wonderfully imposing space...

Our eyes were drawn to this unusual little stone gallery...
Nobody is quite sure exactly what it was used for but there's a theory that it could have been used to 'keep an eye' on the huge number of pilgrims that used to visit.
A sort of Medieval CCTV!!!

This is the outside wall where the steeple once stood.

And here's a little of the ruined south transept..

The little market town that's grown up around the Abbey is also very pretty.
We walked down the hill, admiring the pretty stone cottages and tracing the path of the old town wall.  It's a great place to stop off and enjoy 'coffee and culture' for a couple of hours!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Time with Mum and Dad

This has been my bedroom for the last few days.  Mum, Dad and I have just had a little break in a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast near Shaftesbury.  'Rose Cottage' is tucked away down some seriously narrow country lanes and it's completely 'off the beaten track'.  With it's pale colours, vintage style and endless bookcases of well-read paperbacks - it's my idea of heaven....!
Shaftesbury is famous for the 'Gold Hill' - where a certain bread advert was filmed in the 1980s...

Until the Dissolution (in the late 1530s) there was a huge abbey on the hillside.  It must have looked very imposing to the pilgrims that approached it from the plain below.  Now the remains have been made into a garden and you can pay a small amount to visit.  There's an excellent 'walkie-talkie style' self guide provided which re-creates the beautiful buildings in your imagination.
(I learnt a lot about the Anglo Saxon Kings, politics and battles with the Danes on that afternoon!)
We also visited Stourhead and walked slowly round the Lake.  Mum and Dad enjoyed it very much.  Having stayed on the Estate for a few days in February, I enjoyed playing tour guide!

It was nice to see all the flowers and veg in the walled garden.  This part of the Estate had been very bleak during my last visit. Now it's really colourful..
On Thursday the weather turned much warmer.  We went over to Sherbourne to have a look round the town and Abbey.

The interior of the Abbey is as imposing as the exterior...

I was fascinated to read about the troubled relationship between the Abbey and the Town in the 15th Century.  This culminated in one of the townsfolk firing a burning arrow through the East window while some building work was taking place in the 1490s.  The wooden scaffolding caught fire and the intensity of the heat reddened the stone from the base of the tower to the high altar.  It can be clearly seen - even in the 21st Century.
At the Dissolution this Abbey was quickly taken over by the town.  It's a beautiful place with a huge amount of history in it's stones!
We also got out onto the hills around Shaftesbury.  This was the view from our picnic spot on Thursday evening.  Our Bed and Breakfast was about four miles away - right in the centre of the photo!!!!
I've loved the chance to spend more quality time with my family this holiday.  This year we've managed to be a little more co-ordinated with our holiday dates and everyone seems to have been in Worcester at the same time.  Tomorrow Mum, my sister and I are going over to Leicester.  I can't remember the last time the three of us went out on a day trip!!!