A group of friends had arranged to go to L Garda in Italy and although we were otherwise engaged at the start of their 'Italian Job' we were able to join them and as the group broke up we moved away from L Garda to explore Venice, L Iseo and the Alps on our way home.
We had arranged to go to Amsterdam for my daughter's birthday boat party but having a few days to spare went shopping in Ganzenhoef for more 'bling' which was the party theme. Then later for a meal in the Jordaan and next day went to Harlaam (where we got lost) and Ijmiuden, where we failed to park next to the sea. The party was one of her best with a bunch of her Salisbury friends flying out specially. There was a music group on the boat for her 40th and she managed to get them back together for this occasion.
It was a great day even if we went to the wrong pub afterwards and had to get a taxi half way across Amsterdam to say goodbye to her.
One problem we had before and after Italy was with phones and the internet. We had a mifi with 12GB of data allowance on the 3 network. This worked fine in Italy, Austria and France but couldn't be persuaded to work in Holland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Doreen's iphone would work everywhere but was expensive outside of the 'feels like home area' which doesn't include Holland Germany Belgium and Luxembourg. Unbeknown by me somewhere on the outward crossing my iPad sim had become loose so the 15GB per month was not accessed again until Salisbury where some teenager took the sim out and put it back in again fixing it. My daughter had provided me with a Dutch phone last year but its PAYG credit and its Sim died because I had failed to use it in the intermediate 8 months. The upshot of this was that on the journey up and down to Italy we were only able to make communication and find routes to campsites etc by using Doreen's phone on data roaming. My campsite application, Camper Contact, found the campsites offline but couldn't download the associated map. Anyway we managed but a lesson learnt. Our other technical fail was my camera charger. It was broken wouldn't work on mains or 12V and although I had three batteries with me only one was fully charged, I would have to ration the camera's use to big occasions.
Leaving Amsterdam on Sunday the 24th April by 11am we made good time to a lunch stop, 180km down the motorway, shortly before crossing into Germany near Aachen We crossed the Moselle then went parallel to the Rhine valley for a while to our eventual night stop a stellplatz in Stromberg (428km).
This had everything we wanted and included electricity for €5. For most of the journey we were in sun but had passed through heavy sleet showers early on. Next day we continued on to Fussen, just before the Austrian border, by a happy coincidence, not by planning, that was a nearly identical distance (427km) for the day. We encountered heavy road works between Stuttgart and Ulm and also snow showers which were to persist almost to Fussen.
We later found out they had snow in the south of England as well on this, the 25th of April!
We stayed at a stellplatz in Fussen, this cost €16.50, but had the best showers ever.
On Monday we left Fussen, crossed into Austria displaying our vignette in the windscreen. Below 3500Kg this is what you need to travel on motorways and expressways, above that you need a 'go box'. The vignette is available at garages near the border although we bought ours off the internet before leaving and it cost us €8 for 10 days. We crossed the first hills over the Fern Pass, this then brought us down to the motorway to Innsbruck. After 35km the motorway branched towards Italy. We paid a toll of €9 on the Austrian side and stopped high up on the Brenner Pass for lunch. Travelling on the motorway toll road isolates you from some of the experience of the Brenner as you are often perched on the mountainside on stilts. The first thing we noticed on entering Italy was all the Armco was either rusty or painted brown. One of the second things we noticed was how expensive the fuel was, nobody warned us. We could have topped up in Austria for 30 eurocents a litre cheaper. As it was we had to buy some on the motorway to ensure we reached our destination, Peschiera del Garda, after 370km of driving and €15.7 of further tolls. We got to Camping Cappuccini and found a pitch next to the others at the front of the site overlooking the lake.
Our friends were amazed, they had booked their pitches in September 2015 and we just lucked into one. Our six day stay was to cost €130 including tourist tax. Our thanks to Russell who organised the whole thing.
Two of our friends Ali and Dave went off to Verona by train and we took over their dog Zoe for the day. Zoe is an older dog and moves at a leisurely pace. We wandered into town, admired the scenery, recced the boat trips etc had lunch and by a long and hilly route found the Lidl. The tourist information office girl was rubbish, she gave us a rubbish route to Lidl and also wrong information for the train to Verona which was to have implications later. Doreen and Zoe very tired.
That night we were entertained by Pat and Neil in what can only be described as their truck. A German army lorry extensively converted as a go anywhere vehicle in which they intend to tour the globe.
Doreen had a rest day, we went out of the camp onto the beach path and had gelato at the nearby cafe, then later I walked to the Lidl by a shorter route and also visited the next door, Simply store. We sat out in the evening by Jock and Rita's motorhome.
Went on the bus to Verona, it should have been the train but the information that the train was hourly was incorrect and there wasn't one due for a few hours. I don't know if it is true everywhere in Italy but here you really should buy your bus ticket before you board, you get them at newsagents etc. Because catching the bus was a last minute thing we hadn't bought tickets. So then a 30 minute ride to Verona where we first of all bought hats. We always leave something back in Salisbury, this time hats were forgotten. We did the touristy thing ie went to the Romeo and Juliet balcony. If any thing was contrived as a tourist scam this must be it. This is a legend dramatised by Shakespeare, there is little evidence that Romeo and Juliet existed, let alone used this balcony The house was once owned by the Capello family so they must be the Capulets, yes right.
On that basis Verona has a nice little earner, Still Verona is a pretty place which gets nicer once you move away from the very centre, we walked along the river bank which encircles the old part.
Came back by train to find that the taxi rank was empty and it didn't fill up, so we had to walk back, we stopped twice so that Doreen could rest. Spent the evening outside our van, topics of conversation included the most important issues of the day ... which as I recall centred around boxed sets.
Lake Garda has a network of boat routes and you can buy an all day ticket for about €24 each and hop on and off at your leisure, assuming you have interpreted the timetable correctly. So today, Saturday 31st April, we bought tickets and first of all went to Sirmione. This was a very nice place and we liked it best of our L Garda destinations. It shared features however with all the other resorts, lots of cafes and restaurants, ice cream kiosks and shoe and handbag shops. It did have a castle and instead of sitting down for coffee and then rushing off to the next destination we could have stayed longer.
Lazise was the next stop and we had been told that it was the best place on the lake but truth to tell I can't remember anything about it other than the same shops and tourist things that we had seen at Sirmione. For a change our next boat was a catamaran and we went to Bardolino, the only thing that made this different was that we had a meal there, it couldn't have been outstanding because we don't really remember it. We came back to Peschiera harbour and were met by Pat and Neil and Zoe (Ali and Dave had gone to Venice). That evening it turned cold.
May 1st there had been a lot of rain in the night which continued into the morning, we spent the day in and around the site and in the evening went for a farewell meal, as that was the last day the whole group had planned to be there. To say I was disappointed with my meal was an understatement. I had ordered an expensive starter of fried green tomatoes then pike for my main. The starter was very oily and the pike was almost non-existant, two fork-fulls, all around people were tucking into great mounds of pasta. We did our evening 'thing' between Russell's and Dave's motorhomes.
The last night between the motorhomes
Doreen had brought back a number of travel leaflets and one was about a bike ride to a place called Mantova so I looked up Mantova and it was a world heritage site so we went there. I was using the Camper Contact App so found two free sites near the centre. As we drove into the city following other vehicles I came upon a red light. It was not a standard traffic light and at that time I had little option but to go through it as other vehicles before me had done. I certainly couldn't read all the notice about it first, Italian traffic can be impatient. Anyway our night stop, a sosta, was nearby on a crowded car park so we were able to go back and look at it. I'm not sure what it was for, pollution control perhaps. It had a camera but from the way locals were ignoring it I guess they know it had no film.
That light now green
That afternoon we walked to the other sosta and it was much emptier and near the Palazzo Te. We thought we would go to that one but it suffered one drawback it was also close to the football stadium so you would have to pick your day! In the event we never did go to that one or visit the Palazzo Te. That evening we walked in the opposite direction into the town centre and got our bearings. The next morning we retraced our steps to the town centre visited the Rotunda, got shopping but I couldn't really go into the basilica as I was wearing shorts. Went to the tourist office. We then moved to the new site which was just outside the city and its lakes but within walking distance across a causeway. This was an unattended campsite, you got a ticket as you went in and paid as you left. All the normal facilities including electric for €15 a night. We stayed three nights, I don't know when the toilet block was attended to but it stared running out of toilet paper and started to look messy by the time we left. It was blossom time for some of the trees, we think poplars, and great quantities of 'fluff' lay on the ground like snow.
On the 4th May in brilliant sunshine walked over the causeway into Mantova, visited the cathedral (not as good as the basilica) we had lunch, I ate donkey meat in a ravioli, we got pamphlets for boat trips and generally explored. The tourist information place here very good, excellent English and really helpful even gave an impromptu Italian lesson so we now know when to say 'prego'. This is basically all the time as it means 'not at all' 'don't mention it' 'please do'. Waiters say it to mean 'what would you like' it literally means I pray. If someone asks you if a seat is free the response is of course 'prego', unless it isn't of course. When we got back to the campsite the fluff was worse. Opposite the campsite was a road leading to a large carpark and as we discovered it has a free shuttle bus into town.
Next day we went by shuttle bus. There was a market and we bought a couple of items and I bought some plimsoles (or sneakers perhaps). I was in need of them because I had forgotten to include a shoe that was up to much walking. I had been looking, as mentioned there are no shortages of shoe shops in Italy but no or very few size 46 (UK 11). Doreen bought a nice jacket to go with the 4 or 5 she had managed to bring! We then went on a boat trip for €9 each which we shared with lots of school children who were mostly kept in check by their teachers. There are number of artificial lakes around Montova and we went south through them and part way to the river Po.
We then visited the Basilica and a couple of sneeky photographs were taken. We considered going into the Ducal Palace but it looked a hassle and was also full of children so we found a quiet place to have our sandwiches and after looking around some more returned on the bus.
Not supposed to use cameras inside but we were discrete, no flash
We were in contact with two of our friends from Garda, Pat and Neil, and they were interested in coming here so we carefully looked at what was a slightly awkward entrance and proclaimed it ok for their truck, just. We weren't destined to meet them here as we were moving off the next morning.
When we read about Montova being a world heritage site it mentioned that Sabbioneta nearby was jointly awarded the accolade with Montova and, as there was free camping/parking there, that is where we headed next. Leaving the Montava campsite should have been easy I parked near the exit collected my change went and read the instructions on how to pay, only for another camper to go in front of me at the barrier. The driver then failed to make his ticket work, didn't have the right money and was blocking the exit while his wife shouted instructions, he eventually went to the board that explained everything and managed to understand it and make his exit. Germans I hear you say, you would be wrong...Italians!
The car park for campers at Sabbioneta had water and a chemical toilet dump but unemptied and inadequate rubbish bins. It was only a shortish walk into the town which is in the centre of a fort. We paid it a visit on the afternoon we arrived and found the main attractions, there was a combined ticket to these but we waited until the next day to buy it, however we managed to buy an excellent icecream each. So when the next day dawned we went by the shorter route we had discovered into the fort bought our ticket and visited the The Garden Palace and Gallery, the Theatre, the Ducal Palace and the Synagogue.
The theatre is a 'must see'. It was the first permanent theatre of the modern era in Europe, largely reconstructed, it still retains some of the features dating from 1590 which is when Sabbioneta gained its outer walls. The Ducal palace has become a place for exhibitions with very few original contents. Knowing very little about the Jewish religion the synagogue was very interesting for us, as well as the actual place of worship there was a small museum.
Our plan was to head towards Venice to be there for Doreen's birthday. Using Camper Contact we were able to find at Castlemassa a sosta overlooking the river Po. It was a Saturday afternoon and when we walked into the small town very little was open but from about 4pm all the shops reopened and people started promenading around. The sosta had a few picnic tables and benches and was popular with locals as a resting place after walking or cycling alongside the Po. A small child from a family group came up to us and asked us for water so we gave him some, for some reason the tap on site had been blanked off. His older brother then came up and asked for a coke!
River Po at Castlemassa
An Irish internet friend, Nora, told us that Choggia was like a miniature Venice, but cheaper, so on Sunday we headed there. It was Mother's Day and it was rammed full. We couldn't find the campsite we wanted, checked out a couple of others but in the end went to a carpark attached to the Bus Garage where for 7€ we could park all night. This was a very good place as the port was now only a short walk away and there was a flea market in the centre, people were in their Sunday best with all the mums being walked around carrying flowers.
We needed a campsite and as the one we were going to near Venice was expensive and we had a day in hand we went to an agriturismo (farm holiday) campsite that had a restaurant. When we arrived around 12 it was deserted but shortly afterwards the restaurant was full of farmworkers. The small campsite looked a little worn but had everything we needed for €18 plus donkeys and peacocks. That night we went to the restuarant but the fact that I was feeling slightly guilty about having eaten donkey didn't stop me eating horse!
So then to the Serenissima campsite often used by visitors as there is a frequent bus service to Venice from right outside the camp. it is moderately expensive at €30 but is well run and has all the facilities you need. We completed our clothes washing, started at the agriturismo site, chatted to some people from NI who gave us some Venice tips and we generally lazed around. We had wifi and electricity included in the price, so I wasn't bothered that we were under trees. We bought tickets to allow 'free' transport to and from Venice on the bus and the Venice buses, the Vaporetti.
The next day, on Doreen's birthday, in the rain we caught the bus into Venice. We knew the forecast was dire but Doreen is one for thinking dates are important so it had to be Venice on her birthday. At first the weather wasn't too bad and it was dry after we got off our vaporetto near the Rialto bridge (which was under repair) and walked to St Marks square which we both thought smaller than expected.
After putting our rucksack into storage we visited the Basilica, to our eyes not as spendid as the one in Mantova and of course crammed with tourists. It is free to enter but there are parts you have to pay for, you are also asked to be silent out of respect, that doesn't stop tour guides jabbering away though. One bit we did pay to see was the golden rood screen which is rotated away from sight until required for special services. We had already made the decision not to have a gondala ride, the few brave souls who did were hanging on to the boats and their umbrellas in the choppy waters, so after leaving the Basilica and taking the obligatory photograph at the bridge of sighs we went on a vaporetto to Murano, an island famous for its glass.
Apparently after devestating fires in the wooden buildings of Venice caused by the glass ovens the glass industry was expelled to this nearby island. One tip we got was the price of glass from Murano quadruples if you buy it in the tourist areas near St Marks square! We looked at some glass before heading to lunch. What did Doreen want for her birthday lunch? Pizza! Well it was day 22 of our trip and we hadn't eaten pizza yet. Whilst we were in the restaurant the heaven's opened. So we waited until there was a bit of a break and scurried to a glass shop that we had looked at earlier. Doreen selected a milliflora necklace and earrings in black, white and clear glass for her birthday present and some baubles for the christmas tree.
With the rain still coming down heavily we went back to Venice getting off our vaporetto at the bridge by the university, Ponte dell' Accadamia, and going straight into a cafe basically to use their loos but ordering a coffee as well. We had been warned not to take a table in Venice because of cover charges, locals drink standing at the counter, but we needed to sit on something that wasn't bouncing about. In the event there was no cover charge but the coffees came to a hefty €9.
So as I've just brought the subjects up together some words about coffee and the loos in Italy. Coffee in Italy is normally expresso which is served in tiny cups, only half full, and if you ask for Americano you get the same thing with slightly more water which is often served seperately in a rapidly cooling jug. As I like my coffee 'grande' this was difficult to get used to but eventually I learned to sip it. Of course it is much the same elsewhere in Europe, Amsterdam for instance, but at least there there is a Starbucks at Centraal station. Doreen would have a latte or cappuccino but found often that they had used cold or only slightly warmed milk so the drink was luke warm. I think there was only one place that served it up to her satisfaction and from memory that could have been in Germany on our way home. There are few public toilets in Italy (there is one just near the Ponte Rialto in Venice) so you do what Italians do and go into bars and cafes. Don't be surprised though if the loo is basically a ceramic hole in the ground, eastern or middle eastern style. I am well practised in the art of using them though and I have read that squatting is better than sitting for the bowels. I do wish though that there was a grab handle for getting back up again.
In Venice it was still raining but less hard, so we crossed the Ponte dell'Accadamia and wandered back to the vaporetto stop just before Rialto and from there back to the bus station for our trip back to camp. When we got there we found that the heavy downpour had brought blossom and small leaves down and the van was covered. I'm still finding bits of it on the van two months later. Well our trip to Venice was not a complete wash out but with the campsite charges the day cost around €200 It would have been double that with a gondala ride but it was still disappointing not to have had one.
As you might expect the next day was sunny! One tip we received was that Lake Iseo was perhaps nicer than L Garda so we went west on the motorway for a long boring drive to Iseo. If you look on the map you will see that our criss crossing was not the most efficient way of getting about northern Italy. We had an idea that we might eventually go to Livignio in the western Italian alps which is a tax free part of Italy, there was talk of fuel less than 50 eurocents a litre and tax free iPads, so going west was not a bad plan at this point. Anyway we came off the Venice to Milan autostrada at Brescia and made our way to Iseo, which is accessed via an unexpected tunnel. There was a free sosta at a lorry park but it was rather disgusting and the other one nearby was in the middle of roadworks, there was a further one marked nearer the town but all we found there was a tiny carpark, perhaps we missed it. Anyway venturing down a road looking for a place to turn we found some campsites on the lakeshore, giving up on free camping we went in and parked up as directed. It was a beautifully laid out site but our pitch was €32.50 and in high season the pitches near the water were over €50! There was also no toilet paper in the loos and check out time was 10.30am. We walked along the shore to the town which was very quaint, did a little shopping went back to the van had a BBQ and secretly fed the birds (which was banned as one of the many rules on this site).
In the morning we made as much use of the facilities as we could before moving to the lorry park and walking back to the town to visit the Friday market which filled most of the town. We didn't buy very much except some fish and chips I didn't realise that the chips were sold by weight so got rather a lot but we found that when reheated in our double skillet they were still nice. I'm not sure what the fish was but certainly cod like, but you could have had all sorts of cooked fish and shell fish at the stall.
That car was parked!
We then drove around the south of the lake and a little up the western side to Tavernola to a quite unusual overnight park. The hills go steeply right down to the lake but at this point there was a flat area containing the road, a narrow carpark and a bus stop.There were a couple of spaces deep enough for a small motor caravan like ours, even if the rear was nearly hanging over the lake. Just after we parked a mobile fruit and veg stall turned up so we were able to buy the stuff we had forgotten to do at the market earlier. It was an easy and pleasant walk into the village, which we did in the late afternoon. We stayed two nights.
The next day we walked into Tavernola to go on a lake boat trip, we were on a mission to check out our next campsite so we caught the boat to Monte Isola, the island in the middle, then another one to Sulzano which is back on the eastern shore where we hoped to stay on Sunday night. On the way over we had noticed a strange white beach with people working on it on near the tiny island of San Paolo to south of Monte Isola. We found out it wasn't a beach at all but the start of a causeway made of 1 metre cubes of plastic that were going to link the islands with Sulzano as part of the art project 'The Floating Piers'. As the pictures now show https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/jun/18/the-floating-piers it is covered in orange sheeting and people can walk across it. It will be open for 16 days before being taken apart.
At Sulzano we laboured our way up the hill to the campsite which we checked over and whilst not luxurious would certainly do. Back down the hill and back across to Monte Isola, where we explored the village of Peschiera Maraglio. It included some steep steps but we didn't attempt to walk up to the church which dominates the island. We had a lunch time drink but clearly the owner was a bit put out that we didn't want lunch. The boat trip back to Tavernalo goes most of the way around Monte Isola first so we were able to get an impression of the whole island. Back at Tavernola we had a coffee before exploring the village a little more. That evening we were treated to dramatic skies and thunder and lightning which was in the hills some way away.
On Sunday we retraced our route around the south of the lake through Sarnico and via a Lidl before going to Sulzano, the main road passed through a tunnel and went over a viaduct before we took an exit and plunged down a steep road to the campsite. The campsite was nearly full so after getting into place, (there were no marked pitches), we took a leisurely walk down the hill to the village and had a wander around before climbing back up to the campsite and a BBQ. That evening we looked at some alternatives for the route home. Our friends Pat and Neil, with the truck were now in the mountains somewhere to the east of the Brenner pass in the Dolomites and judging from their facebook photos they were in beautiful surroundings we decided to try and meet up with them in a day or two.
Next morning we headed towards the mountains. We didn't start by getting back up the very steep hill to the main road, deciding to follow the lake shore instead and managed, by not following the sat nav properly, to go wrong twice but eventually we were on the SS42 at the top of the lake going to Ponte Di Legno and over the Tonale pass, a lovely route. We reached 1883 meters before the brake warming descent.
Once we were lower down nearing Messolombardio we looked for somewhere to stop but it was a downhill single carriageway and we were holding up large lorries right behind us. If we slowed too much, we could hear their airbrakes from time to time. So although we saw suitable places on the opposite side of the road when we pulled over to investigate places on our side they proved unsuitable. Eventually we drove much further than we planned to a spot near Cavelso next to Torrente Avisio in the Dolomites. We were not that far from where Pat and Neil were but could drive no more, especially when you consider they were up the Giau pass in the snow. We agreed to meet them the next day in Cortina d'Ampezzo.
It looked a simple enough journey on the map but after passing Moena we soon realised that we were no longer on the SS48 but had been diverted by the GPS to the SS346 and the route was now over the Giau pass. I can recommend the route, but even before getting to the pass there were some narrow sections especially the descent into Falcade. We also passed San Pelligrina, of bottled water fame. The Giau pass, officially the SP638, has 29 hairpins on the route up the mountain from the south and they are numbered. There are a lot more corners than that though and I don't know what criteria they used to decide which ones were to be numbered. Anyway we passed where we assume Pat and Neil had wild camped (we were wrong) and headed the last few bends to the top. Just before we got there we saw a rodent like mammal which Neil had prepared us for so we knew it was a Marmot. We stayed at the top a while, 2233 metres, before going down the much easier but still twisty road to Cortina where we met up with Pat and Neil in a carpark. Shopped in the local Co-op then had a happy afternoon comparing notes, we both have to leave Italy soon.
Got up, cleaned blossom off solar panel, which act was immediately put on facebook, stuck our new Austrian vignette on, shopped some more, said our goodbyes and headed for Austria via Dobbaico. As we came down towards Austria the scenary changed and 10km further on we crossed the border and fuel prices became cheaper by 20 eurocents per litre. At Lienz I had intended to go over the mountain pass to Zell but due to a misunderstanding between me, the navigator and the GPS, went instead by way of the Felbertauern tunnel, €11 toll.
When we came through and started to descend from the pass we could really see 'Sound of Music' country with green meadows bursting with wild flowers. Our site at Zell am See was the aptly named Panorama campsite. We had intended to visit Salzburg then cross over into Germany from there but bad weather was forecast for tomorrow. Wandering around Salzburg in the rain was not in our plan. Worse we heard from a Brit on a neighbouring pitch that Germans were randomly setting up border controls here and there and the border near Salzburg had been singled out. When he came through, the trafic into Germany was being stopped, the occupants of cars photographed and lorries searched. Later the campsite owner had also seen a similar delay, almost stationary trafic for two hours. This was probably tit for tat after the Austrians said that they were limiting the free movement of people and there had been riot police at the Austrian /Italian border a couple of weeks earlier. So we changed our plans and Salzburg put on hold.
It rained as forecast. We drove in the rain towards Innsbruck and when we stopped at a rest platz and had lunch we both fell asleep afterwards for a few hours making our plan to go to L Constance/Bodensee unworkable and we couldn't see a suitable night stop so we went back over the Fern Pass and stopped on the Austrian side at Bichlbach by a railway and cable car station.
Next morning it was sunny and we crossed into Germany, then after Fussen went on a scenic drive past Nesselwang and eventually to Bodensee and Lindau. There we stopped at a motorhome stopover, €3, and got the free shuttle bus on to the island which is the old part of Lindau. We bought some bread wandered around this very picturesque place and settled for coffee and Black Forest gateau or rather Doreen did.
Returning to the motorhome we drove along the length of the Bodensee then headed across to Titisee. Here two of the possible Camper Contact parking places had signs saying no motor caravans. While we were at Titisee we saw motorhomes trying to ignore these signs. We found good free carmping at the nearby sports hall/swimming pool and if you didn't mind paying, the railway station also allowed camping. It was an easy walk down to the tourist area and lakeside but very very touristy. We did get a half decent sized cup of coffee and I bought an end of range gilet for 7€! We also managed to buy that elusive souvenir of our holiday for the grand kids, two Minion baseball hats. Yes well, they love them. The hat charmingly modelled by Doreen is what they wear hereabouts when in their finery
A drive through the black forest was our main aim next day and we did just that, sticking for the most part to minor roads until we got to the autobahn just south of Karlsruhe. At some point before then we found a place to buy water and dump our waste all for the princely sum of 1€. We didn't however find a genuine Schwarzwald Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau to you and I) When we reached Karlsruhe we swung west, avoiding France, and headed to a night stop at Pirmasens. We saw some good wild camp possibilities before then but there was always a notice prohibiting camping or overnight stops. The site we ended up at was deep in the woods and was by a large restaurant, when we found someone in authority and explained that we would like to stay overnight it was all smiles and 'of course you can'. We had a beer and went back to the van which we moved to a quieter and more level spot at the far end of their car park.
As we moved off the next morning the fuel low level light flickered on which would give us 80km more before running out. A hurried search of the map didn't show a fuel stop on the A8 and it was Sunday so we came off fairly soon, at I think Zweibrucken and found our way to a fuel station. It was a card only unattended one but also you needed a sort of loyalty card to use it. We asked the lady who was refuelling next to us and she explained it. She offered to let us follow her to a normally manned one that would be open. Then she said have you euros we said yes, so she then said wait until I have finished filling up mine and then I'll put what you want in yours with my card and you can pay me. I only wanted a splash to get us to Luxembourg so thats what we did, how kind was that? Plus, she reached into the back of her vehicle and gave us a big bunch of fresh mint, which we used to make mint tea. We then continued to Luxembourg city which we drove around without finding a parking place but we got the flavour of it. Then we refilled our fuel tank at 93.3 eurocents per litre much cheaper than the motorway. We drove on in Belgium on the A4 E411 now heading for Namur where we took another big left heading now towards Mons. We stopped at a rest area looked in our camping app for somewhere to stay but couldn't see anywhere that we hadn't already passed or was in the wrong direction so pushed on, by now in the rain. We had made our mind up to stop before Mons so pulled into another rest area somewhere near Charleroi on the A15 E42 to settle for the night, however after we had been there 20 minutes or so decided that we must look for somewhere else. I found a parking area with my app at Thieu that was in the right direction and not too far from the motorway. This was a nice stopover by a river and canal system with boat lifts old and new which might be worth exploring more if we are back this way. We walked up to the pond beneath one of the old boat lifts and found a boat from Bristol of all places. So we had a chat with the owners until the rain drove us away.
Gravelines was where we were heading for an overnight stop before our Calais ferry, but that is in France and mindful of the fact that the French were having strikes about new employment laws that were being imposed and reading of delays on the motorway electronic signs, we approached this part of the journey with some apprehension. At a mid-morning stop for coffee we saw three men hiding in the long grass migrants we thought. There was no hold up at the border near Lille, but of more concern was the state of the road surface in Belgium and northern France and the traffic, quite scary in places. We were only sipping our cheap fuel but noticed that many places had none as a result of strikes at the refineries and depots. At Gravelines we drove first to a motorhome service area, where we dumped our waste and then to a Lidl, the petrol station nearby had no fuel either. We found a row of motorhomes at the parking place but couldn't make the card only machine give us our ticket. People who were parked variously said it was free, or that no one checked but we carried on trying and eventually it accepted my card and charged us €7 for the night. We strolled into the old town centre later and found it a charming place. Next morning it was just a short drive into Calais and we got one about an hour before we had booked. we noticed that the big refugee camp had largely been dispersed but apart from extra police as we went into the port there was no sign of the mayhem that we had been led to expect.
We got into the wrong lane at Dover and found ourselves going north so we turned around at the roundabout at the top of the hill and went back into Dover. Mistake as we were then into a traffic jam which took a fair while to get through but then had an uneventful trip back to Salisbury.
Well that was the furthest south that we have taken the camper. I don't rule out returning to the area, but probably not L Garda