A Travellerspoint blog

Driving to Graz in time for Glockenspiel @ 6 p.m.

A scenic motorway day - don't forget to purchase a vignette

sunny 25 °C

Day 4 Sunday, May 28 2017
Landsberg am Lech to Graz 475 km

  • Today we are heading via Munich to Salzburg and then to Graz. There is no sightseeing arranged until we reach Graz where SG takes over the agenda. AG controls the car and driving, SG the accommodation, food and tourism.
  • SG is still getting to grips with the truck systems. Every nook & cranny within the truck interior is filled with something essential. Where have we packed .....? for instance washing liquid, clothes line & pegs? The dirty laundry bag is filling quickly and fine warm evenings permit a small laundry session overnight.
  • As for our daily routine before setting off to a new destination - well a full tank of diesel helps, bottles filled with water & juice, snacks easily accessible and a picnic lunch ready in the truck fridge. German supermarkets are closed Sundays so we stocked up with some basic provisions yesterday evening before checking into our hotel.
  • Then using 2 different satnavs we input the various coordinates of the day's journey ahead. This has been part of AG's preparation. He has verified coordinates of all accommodation booked, of places of interest en route and major junctions where there is a crucial turning to make. We also have, for visual reference and verification, good old paper maps. Our entire intended route across Europe, Turkey and into Georgia Armenia & Georgia has been marked up in highlight pen by AG. Really how can navigator lose her way?!
  • The nature of our road adventures means that we can explore pittoresque, significant and historic routes. Unintentionally we find that we are now at a point on the so called Romantic Route / Romantische Straße. This is a 350 km route that winds its way through the forests and mountains of Baden- Würtemberg and Bavaria. A very lovely part of Germany. Würzburg marks the start and Füssen in the Alps it's end point. It might be a nice road to drive in a small group of classic cars. We make a mental note for a future plan.
  • It's good to have plans - some never happen, some need to be changed and some like this truck trip to Georgia only take place because there was a plan in the first place.
  • Landsberg am Lech has some historical significance too. It was an important point on the Via Claudia Augusta, a Roman trade route that connected Italy to Augsburg in Germany. And it's why a bridge was first built here in 12 century to span the River Lech.
  • This town also has a certain 20 century notoriety. After a trial lasting almost a month Adolf Hitler was sentenced to 5 years incarceration in the Landsberg prison for his involvement in the violent Munich Putsch in November 1923. His crime? Treason. For some reason he was released within 9 months ( good behaviour?! ) but he had time to write Mein Kamf whilst in prison here. As the Nazi movement developed and as Hitler's National Socialist party grew in power and influence, Lansberg am Lech was regarded as destination for Nazi pilgrimage & the party faithful. The only concentration camp to be located on German soil was built on the outskirts of Landsberg am Lech towards the end of World War 2.
  • Wow, a seemingly insignificant place but with such history, good & bad. You just never know. And certainly when AG selected it as a stop over he had no idea. Only the knowledge that it sits near the confluence of several major motorways and had a room at an inn.
  • We may be travelling motorway today but it is a very scenic stretch that leads from Munich via Salzburg to Graz. Alpine pastures, stunning villages & churches, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Oh and the beautiful Chiemsee where there is much sailing activity this fine holiday weekend.
  • Crossing the German Austrian border just before Salzburg is not seamless despite Schengen. There is much traffic queuing to enter Germany - not sure why. Lorries are parked up roadside in a long line. SG suspects that there is a curfew on HGV travel on Sundays in this part of Europe. How sensible to enforce one day when cars have the roads to themselves.
  • There is also a sign announcing the sale of Vignettes for the Austrian road system. Germany has been free but not so Austria. After our experience on our London - Sydney trip when through ignorance & lack of language knowledge we failed to do so in Hungary, we are careful not to infringe national laws. In Hungary we were confronted with first a bribe of 250 euros and later a fine of 100 euros. An expensive mistake.
  • We purchase the cheapest available vignette of 10 euros which allows us travel on Austrian roads for 10 consecutive days. Actually we are only spending one night in Graz and on our return end July one night in Innsbruck. But there is no offer for 2 days driving.
  • And we discover the vignette is not the end of the charging story. We later pay 5 euros to travel through a series of tunnels - on the motorway! And further on yet another tunnel toll of 8.50 Euros. Bring lots of euro cash if you come to Austria.
  • Not for the first time SG wonders why on earth we cannot charge foreign vehicles arriving at a British port a vignette of a certain amount to help fund our roads. It would dispel the very real sense of injustice that we must pay abroad but those coming to Britain by road, drive for free at the British taxpayer's expense.
  • Comfort stops are expensive in Austria too. AG and I have to pay 1 euro for the pleasure!
  • We end up seeing more of Austria than we intend and drive more km than estimated. We get lost. A joint effort. Satnavs, both of them instruct departure from the A8 but the blue motorway signs for Graz contradict. Mistrusting the satnavs, we follow the signs. And then annoyingly the signage runs out. No more mention of Graz. It is evident we should have listened to satnav. We cannot turn around because of the traffic queues in the other direction. There's nothing for it but to follow an alternative but longer route. The paper map comes in handy in giving us a visual perspective to our mistake. We decide to follow satnav in future dilemmas, especially when both are indicating the same route. Never mind about road signs for goodness sake.
  • We arrive in Graz around 4. The modern outskirts of this city are nothing to write home about. So SG won't! We locate our hotel in the old town area thanks to a very large elevated sign - so prominent we wonder how it was approved by Unesco World Heritage officials.
  • However the Kunsthotel is owned by influential people - Red Bull as in the energy drink & Formula 1 Racing Team. It's name 'Art Hotel' is self evident as soon as you enter the hotel. There are original pieces of art hung on every available bare wall. Apparently the collection is not permanent - the owner(s) rotates the artwork between his numerous houses, offices & hotels.
  • We unload the truck and then entrust it to the parking skills of the concierge. It's expensive to bring a vehicle into old town - parking for the night is 18 euros. The truck is too high to fit in most underground carparks. The concierge has a compromise solution. But since we're paying 18 euros, we know it's legal.
  • We plan to do a self guided walking tour tomorrow morning before leaving for Zagreb. This evening we wish to watch the 18.00 performance of the Graz Glockenspiel ( other performance times are @ 11 a.m. & 3 p.m). Then we plan an aperitif in a good place to watch the world go by, followed by a steak supper at El Gaucho. Fearing the quality of cuisine further down the road, we figure it a good idea to build up some nutritional reserves now.
  • The Glockenspiel is somewhat underwhelming. At 6 p.m , 2 figures clad in traditional costume dance to 3 different bell melodies. But their scope of movement is limited and the show a little tedious. We have been better examples of Glockenspiel in Munich & Prague.
  • On the other hand our steak experience at El Gaucho is excellent. Argentinian beef is simply the best!
  • Back at the hotel our room is quiet because it does indeed overlook a brick wall. Management have noted our request. Then we realise we can hear church bells chiming on the half hour. There's just no escape from noise in a city environment. We'd better find our ear plugs.

Graz Glockenspiel @ 6 p.m.

Graz Glockenspiel @ 6 p.m.

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Graz Glockenspiel in Motion & in Tune

Buskers Hope to Complement the Glockenspiel Show

Buskers Hope to Complement the Glockenspiel Show

AG Drinks a Well Earnt Glass of Local Beer

AG Drinks a Well Earnt Glass of Local Beer

Kunst Hotel has a Lovely  Roof Garden w Amazing Views

Kunst Hotel has a Lovely Roof Garden w Amazing Views

Graz Supplies Free Water to Tourists

Graz Supplies Free Water to Tourists

Our Truck is Not Easy to Park

Our Truck is Not Easy to Park

Posted by sagbucks 07:50 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Route des Vins d'Alsace

One of our favourite forms of sightseeing

sunny 25 °C
View A Truck Trip, Still With No Name, But With Lots of Destinations on sagbucks's travel map.

Day 2 Friday 26 May 2017
Freyming to Xonrupt - Longemer / 230 km

  • Fine, sunny & cloudless blue sky - no really! We are so lucky.
  • Despite earplugs and eye blinds we are woken early by the persistent squawking of a crow or two. There must be a nest or a meeting perch just outside our velux window. Each type of bird has its moment of glory during the dawn chorus - it would seem the crow has its turn first. What a nasty bird, and how ugly its call.
  • Jean Pierre, the B & B owner and as we discover trained masseur, ( he is a big strong man with large hands! ) has already been to the local bakery. We enjoy delicious fresh rolls & croissants at breakfast.
  • It would be music to the ears of many a classic rally navigator - JP kindly allows us to make our picnic lunch direct from his breakfast table. No surreptitious food pilfering is necessary in this establishment. What a star!
  • We leave Freyming around 9. It's evidently white asparagus season - roadside stalls are selling this tasty vegetable along our route.
  • AG has planned today's journey. For the first 70 km we travel along a minor motorway until we reach the start of the Route des Vins d'Alsace. Wine routes - one of our favourite kind of sightseeing. This route des vins meanders some 120 km along the eastern foothills of the Vosges, a range of small mountains or rather big hills.
  • We are not alone - today is the start of the Ascension weekend and France is having a 4 day break. There's a lot of leisure activity going on. The roads are busy with motorcyclists, cyclists and cars alike, but the infrastructure can cope and we experience no traffic jams.
  • We're not driving the whole route, just a short section which leads us through typical Alsacien villages & towns such as Obernai, Mittelbergheim and Dambach la Ville. All offer great examples of half timbered houses, flower boxes full of flowering geraniums and quaint public fountains. And vineyards.
  • The name of tonight's destination, Xonrupt Longemer is obviously of Alsacien origin. Alsatian / elsaessisch is an alemannic dialect of German, similar to that spoken in nearby German regions and Switzerland. But it has no written form & Interpretative spelling on menus etc is a rather ad hoc affair. Apparently pronunciation varies greatly.
  • Language & politics do not necessarily respect the same geographical borders. This is true the world over. Although we are in France, true locals of this area also speak an Alsacien dialect. When SG overhears some local women conversing in the street, she understands not a word despite being pretty conversant in both French and German. Really names are linguistically very interesting in this part of the world. Earlier today for example we stopped for fuel at "Aire de Katzenkopf". The first two words being obviously French and the latter having firm German roots.
  • We pass within 30 km of Strasbourg. It is the capital of Alsace and a fairly significant centre of various European institutions: European Parliament, Council of Europe, & the European Court of Human Rights. Given Alsace's frequent & enforced change of ownership, it is not surprising that after World War 2, it became the symbol of hope for future Franco German relations and of pan European projects.
  • We have booked a table at L'Hors du temps in a nearby town called Gerardmer. We are looking forward to sampling some Alsacien wine with our meal. We have noted that the Sylvaner grape is grown around such wine villages as Mittelbergheim - of grand cru quality. But the region also produces fine Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer wines. We will take advice.
  • We choose a bottle of Pinot Gris, which is a bit sweet for our palate. Not syrupy sweet, fruity sweet. But it goes well with AG's first course of Foie Gras.

If you happen to be in this part of world we recommend both our Chambres d' Hote ( L' Eden de Floridylle ) and the L'hors du temps restaurant. An appropriate name since we always seem to be out of time!

Local Asparagus for Sale by the Roadside

Local Asparagus for Sale by the Roadside

We're Driving This Today

We're Driving This Today

Vineyards as far as the eye can see - glorious

Vineyards as far as the eye can see - glorious

Our Truck stragically parked

Our Truck stragically parked

Some of our favourite scenery - Vineyards

Some of our favourite scenery - Vineyards

A Typical a Half Timbered Building in Alsacien Town

A Typical a Half Timbered Building in Alsacien Town

Alsacien building with Typical Half Timber Construction

Alsacien building with Typical Half Timber Construction

A Typical Public Fountain in Old Town Square

A Typical Public Fountain in Old Town Square

Our Meal for Tonight @ L'Hors du Temps

Our Meal for Tonight @ L'Hors du Temps

out of time!

Posted by sagbucks 09:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

Departure Day

sunny 23 °C
View A Truck Trip, Still With No Name, But With Lots of Destinations on sagbucks's travel map.

Day 1 Thursday 25 May 2017 Amersham / Freyming ( Lorraine, France )
517 km in Europe plus Amersham to Dover Mileage

  • Departure day dawns and it is a glorious early summer's morning. We know because we are up with the birds & on the road by 5.30 am heading down to Dover. We manage to catch an earlier ferry than anticipated. That's a bonus - every hour hanging around is wasted time and tiring for a the driver.
  • AG is determined to drive all the way. His decision is based on his firm belief that SG's driving ability is dismal. Neither worth the risk nor stress. SG has no say in the matter but benefits from better views as a passenger & so does not complain. She does however take her driving license, just in case.
  • At border control UK, we are asked why we went to Iran in 2014. We have visa stamps in our passport which tell the story. It caused us hassle and extra expense to travel to the USA last year. And now again our visit is flagged up. The British and American authorities really have a thing or two about Iran. And yet SG cannot recall that any recent terrorist attack has been linked directly to an Iranian citizen. Actually more Brits should go and see Iran for themselves and meet with its people. Dialogue between normal folk and not just politicians might be the key to future relationships.
  • The English Channel is like a millpond. Even SG does not bother with seasickness medication.
  • Deck 5, Green stairs, Bay 64 - remember it well. It's where we park the truck on the ferry. Just prior to arrival in Calais, AG heads down below deck while SG goes for a comfort stop ( such a polite American expression ) . But trying to find the truck and AG almost gives SG her first panic attack. Images of AG having to drive off the ferry without his navigator, still hopelessly lost in the bowels of the ferry, spring uncomfortably to mind. AG would not be impressed with his navigator losing the way so soon - albeit her own.

We had been one of the first trucks to park in the first line on deck. The number signs and smaller vehicles are now obliterated from view by HGV's, campervans and coaches.

  • As we drive through the ferry exit onto terra firma we get that delicious feeling of an imminent adventure. Our favourite type - a road adventure to far flung places.
  • It's a gorgeous day this side of the channel too.
  • AG has 507 km of French motorway driving today. It is also a long weekend in Europe. Near to Calais, traffic is heavy heading north to the UK. Not sure why. Fortunately we are on an easterly trajectory and it is still only Thursday. As is usually the case, our route in France is empty and clear. Almost a pleasure to drive. It would be difficult to feel the same about our English motorways, especially this Bank Holiday weekend.
  • We drive a familiar route until just after Reims. Familiar because every year we drive it once or twice to head to the French Alps. Skiing is a family passion.
  • After Reims we turn off our 'normal road' to head on the A4 towards Metz and beyond to our destination for the night - Freyming, a little town literally downhill from the German border and close to the city of Saarbrucken. Actually less of a physical border, more imaginary line.
  • There are no stops scheduled today, no sightseeing envisaged. SG is not sure why AG picked this little place to overnight - probably because in mileage terms it represents the end of his driving day. For sure we could never comfortably contemplate such mileage on UK roads.
  • On the motorway we begin to pass by historically notable names. Verdun, for ever associated with brutal trench warfare between the French and Germans during World War 1. It was only with the help of American forces that France was finally able to push back German troops in September 1918. During a 2 year period over 800000 soldiers were killed in and around Verdun.
  • The well marked route amongst the Verdun battlefields must surely be a similar pilgrimage as are the Normandy locations for the Brits. And to think that De Gaulle later withdrew from NATO after World War 2. Ungrateful or what?!
  • The next major city signposted is Metz, annexed by Germany in 1871 and not returned until the end of World War 1. Apparently it is a 'dignified city' with a Gothic Cathedral that was built between 1220 & 1522 ( major projects like cathedrals used to take centuries to finish ) which boasts some of the finest stained glass windows in France. AG obviously did not consider this to be a sufficiently enticing pull factor.
  • Our B & B for the night is owned by Jean Pierre, a man of French / Polish origin. His parents came from Poland after World War 2 to work in the nearby coal mines. He speaks French, German, English & Polish. His massage parlour downstairs is apparently closed Thursdays. Rooms are comfortable and en suite and there are shared kitchen facilities.

But we opt to dine out and Jean Pierre recommends us a local pizzeria - with a difference. L'Estaminet as the restaurant is called, specialises not only in pizza but also quiche & savoury tarts. The pastry bases are made in house and are deliciously thin and crispy. It turns out to be a little gem that is evidently well known in town. By the time we leave, it is full. During summer months ( and whoopee that includes end of May) customers eat outside in the covered garden. It is wonderful to be dining outdoors again.

  • Quiche Lorraine now takes on a new significance for SG. The folk of Lorraine may have thought up that most famous combination of cream, cheese onion and bacon, but quiche is actually a French variant of a German recipe dating back to the 16 century. It began as a bread dough crust filled with left over ingredients, the basis of which was eggs and cream.
  • Real men don't eat quiche. But SG does - one that is served with spinach and hard boiled eggs. AG chooses pizza, a very large one, which he manages to polish off.
  • It's been a long day and we retire early. Our room has a velux window which must be left open this warm balmy evening. We both decide to wear eye blinds which must look very attractive! SG also wears ear plugs to escape the inevitable dawn chorus. AG simply has to sleep on his good ear. It is surely the only advantage of being deaf in one ear.

We are sailing.... across the Channel

We are sailing.... across the Channel

A sign of the future - Tesla recharging at BP fuel station in France

A sign of the future - Tesla recharging at BP fuel station in France

L'Estaminet - a little gem in Freyming

L'Estaminet - a little gem in Freyming

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Before Pizza is eaten at L'Estaminet

Before Pizza is eaten at L'Estaminet

After Pizza - a clean plate

After Pizza - a clean plate

Franco German border just uphill from our B & B

Franco German border just uphill from our B & B

SG is pleased with her luggage volume

SG is pleased with her luggage volume

Posted by sagbucks 07:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

Prelude to our Second Major Truck Trip

Last Minute Preparations

Wednesday 24 May 2017

  • It's been a stressful week. We seem to be doing lots of things last minute. Packing, that most troublesome of chores for SG is taking place early evening. AG has set a deadline. SG works best under pressure but not necessarily in the best of moods. AG s deadline is based around his desire to watch Man Utd play Ajax in the Europa League Cup final in Stockholm. Loading of the car has to be finished by 7.30 p.m. Fortunately Man Utd win.
  • Packing light is the issue. Taking everything suitable from her wardrope and a few 'just in case' items would be a much easier option. Fortunately the weather should be consistently warm, becoming hotter as we progress east. We are taking minimal rain gear and only few extra layers for some altitude driving and sightseeing. We both confine our clothing to 3 Eagle Creek zip around cubes. AG has slightly less volume and certainly fewer shoes. But SG, all things consideried, and most of all because she has those extra female needs, feels she has not done badly. However that most vital of accessories, the hairdryer, is not on board. SG must prepare for some bad hair days.

SG is also packing part of her Iran kit - clothing she took to wear to Iran back in 2014 - baggy trousers, long sleeved tunic tops and a headscarf. This is primarily as a precaution as we travel through Turkey. Since Erdogan's arrival on the political scene, ( some would say power grab ) Turkey is becoming a much more conservative Muslim country to visit. Plus on our outward journey we are travelling during the holy month of Ramadan, when it might be wise to respect local cultural standards of dress. SG remembers well how the further east you travel in Turkey, the more black robed women you see - with heads fully covered. Best to be inconspicuous.

  • Turkey is actually the country we worry most about. We watched with interest and not a little concern the results of the recent referendum to increase presidential powers . So far so good. Or bad depending on your viewpoint. Erdogan has increased his power and status and crushed opposition. For now at least. We feel at any stage Turkey might erupt into a less than orderly state and we'd rather not be there. For this reason our route avoids Istanbul & Ankara and other no go Kurdish areas.
  • Our other slight concern is getting the truck into Azerbaijan where there is a ban on pre 2004 diesel vehicles. Now our Landcruiser was manufactured in 2006. AG has read on the Hub forum that older vehicles are being turned back at the border or extortionate fees are being demanded ( $10000) . For a visit of 4-5 days we are not prepared to pay such a price, so we will turn round and simply stay longer in Georgia. We are therefore hoping that the 2 year age difference will suffice to enable us to enter Azerbaijan.
  • As on previous classic rally trips and our London to Sydney epic journey in 2014 we have planned our route meticulously. Through Booking.com we have pre booked a variety of accommodation on a 24hr free cancellation policy. This gives us cost free flexibility. But we also have a destination every evening, a place to sleep and equally importantly in some of the European cities, a place to park the truck. Looking for suitable accommodation ( whatever type that may be ) is such a waste of time at the end of a long day on the road.
  • And our journey to Georgia, Azerbaijan & Armenia is pretty full on. About 12000 km with a rest day scheduled roughly every 5 days. As on previous trips the rest days are rarely restful in the normal sense. The truck may have to be serviced, certainly there will be sightseeing to do ( we usually choose rest stops because there is something to do or see) . Rest days are also the stretch points of our trip and will be cancelled if we experience delays to our schedule elsewhere in the itinerary.
  • We are not taking the roof tent on this trip. AG judges it to be too cumbersome and heavy for a journey during which we do not envisage camping very often. Sleeping under canvas in June / July in countries as hot as Turkey does not appeal. A good night's sleep is essential if we are to drive the planned distances. We are packing with us a 2 man tent just in case we cannot get to our scheduled accommodation and we are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Or in case the Booking.com option turns out to be so awful that sleeping under stars is preferable . As a precaution we are taking small pillows and cotton sheet cocoons in case the accommodation is neither comfortable nor clean. Bed bugs are irritating to say the very least.
  • In fact our truck trip, just a week ago a 70 day odyssey, has already been changed during a frantic re- assessment of our plans. We are now travelling a mere 62 days, Our house went under offer last weekend. We thought about cancelling, but were reluctant to do so because of the time and money spent over the last year to make this particular dream a reality. And what if the chain collapses and the move is postponed or even cancelled...
  • So the last week has been a bit hectic with providing solicitors the necessary info and authority to exchange contracts on our behalf. We have nowhere to move to and we still have a lot of stuff to pack and take with us, wherever we go. The tentative plan is to rent a property down in Sussex / Surrey area with a view of then doing some serious property search for our next home.
  • Although feeling somewhat rushed by all the extra issues we have had to deal with pre departure, we are coping - just about. Maybe the ups and downs of our London to Sydney journey 2014 have given us the necessary experience and a more relaxed attitude. If there is a problem, just fix it!
  • In any case this our second major truck trip (and one still without an appropriate name) is considerably less complex than London to Oz and half the duration. We also have fewer visas to apply, no flights to book and no shipping of the truck to organise.
  • Our route is essentially circular. A truck trip with no name but plenty of destinations:

We are driving across Europe ( through countries that are the metaphoric hinterland of the EU - countries that are EU members but which are still queuing to join the eurozone. Countries that participate in, and indeed often win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Once through northern France, Germany and Austria we will be visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria en route to Turkey. 6 days across Turkey taking a northern route along the Black Sea coast. Into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. But not in that exact order since relationships between Armenia and Azerbaijan are not friendly and the border is closed.

On our return journey we again must travel through Turkey picking up a different more central route across this vast country. Into Greece, followed by Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia until we again find ourselves in the more familiar countries of Austria, Germany & Belgium.

Posted by sagbucks 07:13 Comments (0)

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