Updated: Jun 21
The Ultimate Scotland Experience
Our Swiss weather is now really a big misery. Although we seem to have only just escaped a drought, the weeks after Easter feel much more like a Scottish winter. Ironically, a look at the weather map shows us that Scotland almost always has much nicer weather at this time than we do. If that's not enough of a reason to finally get back on the road after six weeks in the "home office".
As always, when the final destination (Scotland) is far away, you think about what you want to experience on the long way there. For us, it is very clear that the first night must be in nature again. The Black Forest offers itself for this formally. After the obligatory procurement of an EU SIM card and a few additional errands at DM and Kaufland, we enjoy the great ride across Germany's largest forest area. At the end of today's almost 300 kilometer long route we climb the 900 meter high Teufelsberg south of Loffenau and park right next to an observatory. That promises little light pollution and thus also absolute peace. Oh we are happy to be on the road again. Already the very first overnight stay place is topp and it confirms us again that traveling with an expedition vehicle has indeed great advantages.
Day two brings us to the origin of our FRAME. There, where we saw it for the first time in the fire-red paint on the yard of Merex. We are here in the birthplace of the Unimogs in Gaggenau. Yes, I think there are also kitchens to look at, but a visit to the Unimog Museum is ten times better for us ;-). Impressive, what our jack-of-all-trades Unimog has for a history. It's a pity that exactly our model, the U1550, was forgotten on the published family tree. We draw the attention of the museum people to the lapse and are assured that this will be corrected at the next opportunity. Herewith we increase the pressure on Gaggenau. Guys, the U1550 has to go on the Unimog family chronicle!!!
With the permission of the museum, we pose briefly with FRAME next to a few museum exhibits. He is just the most beautiful in the family, we were later told by friends about this family photo. Of course, we believe our friends only too gladly.
After Gaggenau, we take a short detour to Saarland. Good friends from our time in Mongolia live here idyllically in the countryside, not far from the French border. But first we start sweating just a bit. We hoped to get to Luxembourg without refueling, because there you can get diesel for Euro 1.40! However, we are slowly but surely running empty, which finally forces us to drive off the highway and fill up a few liters in reserve.
In time for the apero we arrive at Rita and Manfred's house. We are allowed to park in the middle of the freshly mowed field next to their house. A bed in the cornfield, as one could not wish for more romantic. They spoil us with an excellent dinner, which we can enjoy in the garden for the very first time this season. Thanks be to holy St. Petrus!
above: Creativity in person: Rita Walle in front of her artist's studio in Blieskastel.
below: Believed to be the oldest tobacco store in the world, discovered by chance.... in Blieskastel
The bad weather seems to be really over now. The next day also welcomes us with a clear blue sky. To Luxembourg it is actually still about a hundred kilometers and we are glad not to have to constantly look at the fuel gauge. In Schengen, just behind the border stone between Germany, France and Luxembourg we drive to the first available gas station. In Switzerland, we usually avoid gas stations near the border because we think they don't offer the best prices. In Luxembourg, however, there is a uniform price throughout the country, whether on the highway or right at the border. Today it is Euro 1.414, compared to our diesel price of CHF 1.96 a bargain.
It is time to put our new gas caps to the test. In Morocco, we often lost a little fuel off-road through the somewhat leaky caps. Nothing bad, but it just didn't look nice at times, as dust and sand always stuck to the damp tanks. During our pit stop in Switzerland, we have now organized new lids and now our two tanks, which together hold over 400 liters, are finally filled to the brim once again.
The city of Luxembourg is only bypassed by us today. On the recommendation of our friends from the Saarland, we drive directly to little Switzerland of Luxembourg instead of the capital. The Mullerthal is supposed to have similarities with Switzerland, which gave it this name. Who can judge that better than us Swiss ;-)
Indeed, the area is quite beautiful, but so was the Saarland yesterday and the Black Forest the day before. Finally, we drive down into the valley to a designated parking lot, which also serves as a starting point for several hiking and biking trails. Thus, we are not the only ones here who are looking for recreation in Luxembourgish Switzerland on this Pentecost weekend in the most beautiful weather. Beautiful, but also quite crowded is our assessment of this area. Although we would still have a spare day available until our appointment with the box builder in Cologne, we go on Sunday morning yet again.
Today's stage takes us back to Germany to the shores of the Rursee. We are amazed at how much space there still is here in Germany. After the Black Forest and the Saarland, we also find the Eifel large and empty. The forests here look far less healthy than in the south, but we still enjoy being able to stand in a forest outside the municipality of Schmidt. Yes, read correctly, here actually not only the people are called Schmidt, but entire villages.
In order to be at Orangework in Cologne at nine o'clock on Tuesday morning as arranged, we looked for a Park4Night site as close to the city as possible for the overnight stay from Monday to Tuesday. And as luck would have it, we ended up at the private address of Sabine and Achim in Rösrath. The two are not only building their dream vehicle, but have also recently started selling suitable bed systems for mobile homes and expedition vehicles throughout Northern Europe. There is of course tons to talk about and also a generous Prawn Pasta Dinner with a fine drop of our favorite wine. We come on this holiday as customers on this Park4Night and leave the next morning very fond of new friends.
The rest of this week now belongs to the Schmidt brothers and their team of specialists at Orangework to further optimize our house on wheels after a year of testing. We quickly feel part of the Orangework family on the factory premises and can hardly wait to get our FRAME rid of its teething troubles. All the small and tiny jobs are done in time and already on Friday noon we are released "into the wild" again.
above: Refrigerator is removed and checked through. Patient waiting is the order of the day
below left: A visit to Cologne always includes a get-together with our Overlander-to-be friends Martina & Bernhard.
below right: German small & large characters with a touch of FRAME green. XXS Trabi in front of XXL Unimog
There is not enough time today until our next destination in Kaatsheuvel in the south of Holland, so we take the shortened route to the Hambach open-cast mine northwest of Cologne. The people here are extremely friendly and talkative. Of course, they are not all of the same opinion about this open pit mine or the energy transition as such. Fact is, Hambach is Europe's largest lignite plant and according to a decision a few years ago, it will be shut down in 2030 and the entire site will be returned to nature. Whether this can ever do justice to the loss of the former oak forest and the numerous villages that were razed to the ground here, I may strongly doubt. There remains only to hope that the new energy forms for Germany come now at the right time and in the correct speed. Allegedly, villages have already been desettled here, which will not fall victim to the excavators after all. Thus ghost towns developed in vain due to insufficient planning and - once again - financed by the taxpayers. It is to be wished that in politics the same responsibility applies, as in the private economy. This would not only be much more favorable to the taxpayers, but would probably also increase the quality of the politicians immensely.
A short tour on our fatbikes gives us insight into the size of this ground hole. Surprisingly, only a fraction of the devastation is interspersed with lignite. You can see the dark parts of the coal fields quite well with the naked eye. We meet some locals who mingle with the tourists here and probably observe the area with a lot of melancholy and listen to the conversations. Some mourn the destroyed nature, others regret the soon lost jobs and still others are afraid of the uncertain energy future.
Pure nature only a few hundred meters from the open pit
Without fear but with much anticipation we continue today afternoon to our twelfth country, Holland. It's rather boring freeway stalling but thankfully with little traffic. Our destination for the day is Kaatsheuvel in the south of the Netherlands, a drive of three hours and just under 180 kilometers. We are expected today by Marleen and her daughter Liselotte, whom we last saw sixteen years ago at our stop in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. Arriving in the little town, we feel like we are in the Truman Show. Knupers houses, blue sky and incredibly nice people who greet us enthusiastically. Of course we are a bit conspicuous with our vehicle. Fortunately, our hosts direct us to the private parking lot of the neighbor, where we are allowed to spend a quiet night. Yet again we spend a great evening in the fairy-tale garden of our dear faithful friends. How quickly time has passed and how happy we are that this friendship has lasted all these years. A dinner prepared with a lot of love, exciting topics of conversation and warm friends around you, What is there any better! Thank you dears!
Whenever happiness seems to be unrestricted, as on this evening, then a damper comes from somewhere. It has begun the evening before and can now probably no longer be avoided. We have to go back to Cologne tomorrow, 220 kilometers in the opposite direction from Scotland because... our refrigerator still has the same quirks as ever. Nothing helps, neither complaining nor praying. The good fridge cools reasonably well, albeit slowly, but this only with much reluctance, say growling and rattling. The Italian is supposed to be the refrigerator of the king class and also enjoys a large market share in yachts. But as is perhaps usual with temperamental Italians, this doesn't really work with ours without a hitch. For fun, we congratulate ourselves that we did not choose an Italian Iveco as our vehicle, but rather our Unimog. There we simply appreciate the German craftsmanship.
With the promise of Orangework to get it done next week, we drive back to the mining area today to make an appointment with the refrigerator service specialist at short notice next morning.
The joy of seeing our dear colleagues in Cologne again so soon is somewhat subdued. We all didn't think we would be back that quickly. The diagnosis this time is overheating due to poor air circulation. Quickly, the compressor is channeled with plywood and a small fan is installed. It all looks very professional. But will it really solve the problem? The following night we stay once again on Orangework's premises to deliver a first analysis of the new installation the next morning. The refrigerator was busy cooling down the night. So it was running continuously anyway, but at least it didn't turn on and off all the time. We decide to continue the trip despite the rather meaningless conclusion.
We drive on the direct way to Amsterdam, because we have only a few days time until departure of the ferry, which should bring us from Hoek van Holland (The Hague) to Harwick. In the big cities we often like to stay on a camping or parking site. But at the moment this seems to be impossible in the Dutch capital. It is "hell" going on in Amsterdam and all places are fully booked. As always, we have a backup option for such cases. The only disadvantage - at first sight - is the distance to the city center. But this soon turns out to be a big advantage. We are vis-a-vis the island Marken in the nature we prefer so much. Amsterdam has a lot of noise from the Schipol hub on all sides of the city. Not so in the north, where it is quiet and idyllic. The ride on the fatbike to the Venice of the North also becomes an experience of its own. The way leads over fields and bridges, past beautiful farms, which for us quite unusually are not behind fences or walls, but thanks to the approximately two-meter-wide canal system completely open and inviting. Ducks, geese and birds rejoice, mostly with a handful of young ones in tow. After about an hour we reach the city. The ring road of the A10 highway is, so to speak, the gateway to the city. Once we pass under the highway, it becomes more and more hectic on the huge network of bicycle paths. It reminds us of Beijing 25 years back. There we also drove in the stream of cyclists through China's capital, only at that time without an e-bike and with our daughter on the child seat. Taking pictures, navigating, observing (and translating) Dutch traffic rules and still seeing something of the city: The adventure Amsterdam is exciting but also exhausting. By the evening we are battered, but happy. It was a great day.
above: Fatbike trip to the Marken island
below: idyllic ride over the countryside to the city of Amsterdam
The ferry leaves the day after tomorrow. The ride goes again briefly to the south, to The Hague. There, after more than 28 years, we can once again embrace our dear friend Andrea. Since our Cameroon adventure we have not seen each other. Back then we were even still single and oh so young! Our journey to Scotland is now really almost a nostalgia trip, so many longtime friends we may see again here. But with all the joy about the beautiful past we must not lose sight of the future. After all, we still have a mission: The ultimate Scotland experience. Tomorrow we will be one big step closer to our goal. Tomorrow we will take the Stena Line ferry to the Big Island!
Next blog: 3.2 All the way across England