Thursday, 28 April 2011

First Week on the Road

France, somewhere in the countryside, on our way to Mr Harley
Day 8
Weather: Warm, dry light wind
Total distance: 960km

Hey people,

First week of our journey and we’re somewhere in rural France. We’ve just stopped by the side of this back country road. It’s picnic time and we have piles of cheese, crusty fresh bread, juicy cherry tomatoes – which I’ve been snacking on most of the way to here – locally made yogurt, honey and beautiful pieces of ham from the farm we came across this morning. It’s now midday, it’s sunny and it’s a good time for reflecting.

Back in time, 7 days ago.

Day 1, Journey started

We befriended a bottle of champagne on the ferry therefore our first evening away from home wasn’t very memorable. Then on the second evening we went out in Amsterdam. The streets were packed with tourists and jammed with the heavy traffic of bachelor parties. It was somehow amusing to see how some people don’t get the horrific concoction of mixing tonnes of marijuana with gallons of vodka. Indeed Amsterdam that evening wasn’t exactly that chilled out city I remembered from my youth. Luckily though we’ve also had the best company we could have hoped for which made the experience much more enjoyable. Thanks Suus, Maurice, Nathalie, Doreen and Andy the-man!

Day 2 – 4, Alkmaar, North Holland

The next 3 days have been spent in Alkmaar with Suus & Denis. At a typical holiday pace – rather than an overland expedition – we smelt millions of flowers, took an afternoon stroll through a quaint marina town, tried a pair of Clogs and visited a charming operational windmill, where Denis’ dad used to live.

Denis’s dad: the winner of the ‘Noam’s fortunate-man of the week’ award. Mazal Tov!

It was a chilled-out opening chord for our adventurous journey, it was wonderful to start it among dear friends and excellent hosts. Thanks Suus & Denis!

On the fifth day we took to the road. We drove through the flat highways of the Nederland and entered Belgium. We immediately got bored so we’ve made three ‘rules’: (1) no highways, (2) no over-driving and (3) we must stop anywhere that looks like the sort of place that would never get into the Lonely Planet guides.

Our first rule immediately worked. Dull cities, mazes of concrete and irritating-but-apathetic local drivers were replaced by peaceful farmland and scenic calm roads – the way we prefer it. By the evening we’d made it to the edge of the Ardennes, a hilly and forested national park right at the bottom corner of Belgium. And bottom it was.

Conclusion of the day: Test the stove burner (or any other piece of gear, ESPECIALLY if it’s Coleman!) before taking off or be prepared to use your inferior backup.

Day 6:

We fell into a trap. La-Roche-an-Ardennes is published as the best hiker’s gate away to explore the Ardennes; interesting? Well, no. In reality it’s a little unattractive town, surrounded by heavy quarrying industry and dead-ends that’s been marketed to attract – and entrap – helpless tourists. We were greeted by the same irritating-but-apathetic attitude in the tourist information (and hey, we WERE tourists in need of information) and later had to follow our footsteps as the ‘hiking’ trail was closed. Yes Lonely Planet, what a hiker’s paradise it is.
Remember this people, from now on we shall strictly apply our 3rd rule too: avoid the Lonely Planet attractions.

Back in the car we decided to take a detour and satisfy our sweet tooth in Oberhausen, the famous pancake house on the border with Luxembourg.

We’ve been driving through narrow roads, winding between hills and pastures and finally arriving to the famous pancake house; a tiny farm, little old fashion hotel and not a soul around. The sign on the door taught us that the place is closed between 12:00 to 18:00 and also on every Wednesdays. Now it’s 14:00. Today is Wednesday. I think it was at that moment that we agreed that Belgium is not the best place for us to hang around. So we turned towards Luxembourg and left Belgium behind.

The 2 mistakes of the day: (1) reaching our camping location too late, hungry, in the dark and (2) entering Belgium. Lesson learnt.
The highlight of the day: leaving Belgium. (And driving through shiny, well-maintained Luxemburg. Wish we’ve had the opportunity to explore it a little longer)

Oberhausen, the famous (deserted) pancake house

Day 7:   

A week on the road and a beautiful new day; the Belgium (tasteless) experience has been left behind as we’ve driven into rural France. Back roads, often unmarked, led us through Lorraine, Champagne and Limosin. Scenery of open hills dotted with spring colours, long lanes of mighty cherry trees in full blossom and rustic sleepy villages. Quiet and pretty – the perfect drive.

Towards the end of the day, when we’ve had enough of that laidback atmosphere, we stopped in an ancient Abbey (with a tribute to Ware, Herts, UK!), visited a forgotten pleasant town and set camp in the ideal location, a wide grassy clearance hidden in the heart of the forest.

16:30, stationary, relaxed, laying the table with wine and cheese and chilling out in the sun.

Day 8:

I’m getting to like this frogy land. I like those distinctive outer window shutters with their specific regional colour code, I like the scenic quiet roads that one could fall asleep on with no harm and I especially like that feeling, that nothing really happens anyway so why bother with pace. A few miles from the UK and a completely different world. 

Anyway, that’s it for now. Here we are, setting up a little picnic by fields of rye, enjoying the best products of the French countryside. In a few hours we’ll get to Cussac and meet John, where we’ll spend the next week. I can’t wait. It will be entertaining, filling and relaxing – a great continuity to our journey so far and an excellent last (super-comfortable) stop before we start ascending to the Alps.

Until then, take care and keep in touch.
Jen & Noam
PS Nadia, we love you and we understand it better now!

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