Kiri and


Homeward bound

August 1st, 2014 (by Steve)

Walked barefoot in the Black Forest? Tick. Eaten its namesake gateau? Tick. Ticks? Nope (thank goodness)! Now how do you match that? Well, our plan was to see some of the stunning Pfälzer Wald; a low mountain region with great walks through beautiful woodland, rocky outcrops and lakes. What did we end up seeing? Well, something along the lines of this:


As the torrential rain laid siege to Bertha we re-evaluated. We could hang around and hope that the rain would clear, or we could move on. But then we would miss out on seeing something beautiful. It’s a situation we’ve been in so many times on this trip; with a limited number of days and a limited amount of money, we’ve had to miss out some “must-see” places. We’re also getting to the point where we’re so used to seeing new places and having new experiences, that our understanding of “normal” is probably skewed with unnaturally high expectations. Maybe a kind of cultural indigestion (thanks to Uncle Richard for coining that phrase). This is also coupled with a sense of guilt that we’re not making the most of the privilege of travelling. So, to soothe the inner battle, we did as we’ve done many times before and promised ourselves that we’ll just have to come back at some other time, when we can fully appreciate it.

Luxembourg beckoned as our final unique country of this trip. We crossed the border from a cloudy Germany and immediately entered a long tunnel, before emerging into sunny Luxembourg. Now I didn’t think that weather respected borders… but I’m willing to be proven wrong! In fact, the sun remained for the whole of our time in Luxembourg (apart from at night obviously). Our first stop was quite urban, in the town of Dudelange where the motorhome parking was situated between a skate park and a boule court (pitch? green? piste?) – an interesting clash of cultures! The second was in Redange after a gorgeous drive winding through woodland and along tree-lined arrow-straight Roman roads.


It was here, in Redange that thoughts turned to the UK. To home. Well, actually, we’ve been thinking about this for a while (our ferry tickets back to the UK are already booked), but as I filled in my first job application it suddenly felt real. We’re on our way home. In our home. It’s all a bit twisted… what does “home” actually mean? Bertha’s our home. Wherever Kiri and I are together, that’s home. But also the UK is our home. St. Mark’s Kennington (the church we worshipped at in London) is our home. Before we left for the trip, several people warned us that we might find a place that we like so much that we’d end up settling there, but it’s family that draws us back to the UK. They’re home too. There’s no single place or group of people that can represent the concept in its entirety.

After a couple of nights in Luxembourg, we removed a cricket which had taken up residence in one of our roof vents (we’re willing to open our home to others, but not if you’re going to chirrup throughout the night!) and took advantage of the cheap petrol on the border.

And look at that – we’re back in Belgium! We might be homeward bound, but we’re still going to appreciate the view on the journey.

Posted in KIST 2EU | 5 Comments »

Barefoot in the Black Forest

July 31st, 2014 (by Steve)

There is no doubt that Bertha is a miracle on wheels. How else could a 24 year old motorhome make it so far through Europe? However, occasionally her performance is a little sub-optimal and so it was with her brake lights. During our weekly checks, we noticed to our horror that they weren’t working. Nada. Zilch. Kein licht (as they say in Germany). So, we checked the fuse first… intact. Next was a bulb check (although strange that 4 bulbs would go at once)… all fine. Finally I dug out the wiring diagram and followed wires for a while. I found plenty of loose wires… but then they’ve always been like that (we guess previous owners liked to play with electrics!), but multimeter readings at various points in the circuit showed no voltage.

This is the point at which we were pleased we were due to visit family near Stuttgart; they’re German speaking and they arranged for us to visit a mechanic nearby. In the meantime, we adapted our driving style to be smoother as well as making occasional use of rear fog lights when braking (well, you’ve got to improvise). It’s not as if we brake much in Bertha anyway; “slow” is her preferred speed setting.

Prior to seeing Catherine, Michael + Jessica, we parked up for the night in the beautiful town of Esslingen, up by the castle. This location afforded us stunning aerial views of the vineyard and town in the evening light and we added a brief interlude to our twilight stroll to watch locals playing boule. This is the life!


And then to Böblingen. We had barely stepped through the door when our clothes were in the washing machine and we were being treated to a traditional Schwäbisch dinner of maultaschen and spätzle coupled with a tasty local Schönbuch beer. Correction from earlier… THIS is the life! Happily replete after such a warm welcome and with the promise of the first proper bed and non-campsite shower in over 3 months we settled in for a great weekend.

Whilst it can sometimes be difficult to get out of Bertha’s bed due to headroom and the ladder, it’s even harder to get out of a proper bed… but for different reasons! Having dropped Bertha off at the mechanics we were introduced to the first of many riches that this part of Germany has to offer. Chocolate. More precisely, the Ritter Sport chocolate factory where we had a free wander around the museum before stocking up in the outlet shop. Upon our return to the house, we got stuck into a bit of gardening in the afternoon… well, actually it was Kiri doing most of the work. Then in the evening we all ventured to Schlemmen am See; one of many “fests” happening in the area with local restaurants providing tasty offerings, accompanied by good music. Enough to make you want to dance (well, some people anyway!)


The following morning, a guided tour of some nearby woods was punctuated by a call from the mechanic; Bertha was fixed. The problem was the switch above the brake pedal; whilst the original part is no longer manufactured (quelle surprise… oh wait, that’s French!) the mechanic had found a Renault switch that worked just as well (ooh, that’s French too!) and had fitted it; all for £25 or so. Bargain!


Sadly, as has happened so often in Germany on this trip, the rain arrived for the day, stubbonly refusing to move on. Nevertheless we ventured to a local organic farm which was having an open day, refusing to let the weather put a dampener on proceedings. As well as livestock, we appreciated seeing old farm vehicles, including cars that had been adapted to run off wood burners during the war when petrol was scarce. But the highlight for us was the chainsaw carving. Now I’m not sure how to word this to avoid making Kiri sound scary, but she loves chainsaws. I’m not quite so passionate about power tools, but I was still transfixed by the guy carving stuff out of wood (he was in the early stages of sculpting a frog, we think).


After offering hospitality in the only way possible we know with Bertha (i.e. a cup of tea!) we were treated to another local dish for dinner; a thick lentil soup with sausages. So tasty! This was followed by another treat; watching the film “About Time“, which made us nostalgic for the UK and, slightly surprisingly, London (considering that we had previously vowed that we wouldn’t return there after this trip).

It was impossible to be this close to the Black Forest without venturing there, so for the first time in Germany we got to experience what it’s like to be in a normal car on the autobahn. It’s such a different feeling being in a car that’s overtaking slow motorhomes rather than driving your home on the inside lane, struggling to reach 90kph! Our destination was the Barfusspark (or barefoot park) in Dornstetten. With naked feet, we set out on a 2km trail through woodland (and a little bit of meadow) that took our exposed tootsies over gravel, pebbles, water, bark, pine cones, glass beads and mud. Now that’s a novel way to experience the Black Forest – it was great fun and my feet felt very invigorated as I washed and scrubbed them (with a patriotic brush!) at the end.


After a leisurely picnic (during which a large dragonfly landed on my head) we meandered our way through the Black Forest to Nagold where a local delicacy awaited. Yes. Black Forest Gateau. In the Black Forest. It would be rude not to! So much tastier than any reproduction we’ve had in the UK. By chance, there was a classic car rally there at the same time, providing unexpected entertainment as we munched. According to their definition, Bertha only has 6 more years to go before she qualifies as classic… the label of “vintage” (as applied by the 2014 Summer Special of Practical Motorhome magazine) will have to suffice for now.


Sadly we had to say farewell the following morning, but Catherine softened the blow by arming us with half of the contents of their fridge. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and it was great to explore an area with local people who could point out hidden gems.

So here we are. Day 227 in the Big Bertha household. Kiri has a revelation:

Steve? We live in a van. I’ve only just noticed. It’s so weird

Do you think it’s time we made our way back to the UK? Maybe.

Posted in KIST 2EU | 4 Comments »

Ups and downs in Bavaria

July 24th, 2014 (by Steve)

We like mountains. We also like toboggan runs. So when we heard that if we ventured a little further south of our planned route we could go down the longest summer toboggan run in Germany, we were there like a shot. Well, maybe not quite that fast; we hadn’t consulted Bertha about going back to the mountains and she obviously wanted to take her time. Alpsee Bergwelt was our destination; a short distance from Immenstadt.

After our rather tame experience of a toboggan run in Slovakia, we didn’t want to get our hopes up too much. Sitting in the car park at the bottom, we noted that lots of toboggans were being held up by people in front of them, so realistically, we probably wouldn’t be able to go that fast. After our chair lift ascent (yes, we could have walked, but the chair lift looked more fun!) we waited in a queue for an hour for our opportunity to weave our way down the mountain, hoping that we wouldn’t be stuck behind someone slow.


And then it was our turn. Our game plan was to both be in the same toboggan (higher mass leading to higher velocity) and not to use the brakes. Our briefing on how to use the brakes (we listened politely) bought us extra space between us and the toboggan in front. We were off. Now our thinking was that health and safety would dictate that it must be possible to do the whole run without touching the brakes (unless we caught up with the person in front). That worked out pretty well for us until the 4th corner. It’s simple physics really – an object will continue to travel in the same direction unless a force directs it otherwise (Newton’s first law of motion para-phrased). Well, the track guided the toboggan around to the left. We were leaning forward, with our seatbelts loose. It’s fun trying to brake when you’re hanging out of the right of a toboggan, travelling at speed around a left-hand corner, held only by a loose seatbelt. But, technially we didn’t actually fully fall out! We still maintain that it is possible to go down that course without braking… you just have to lean perfectly into every corner. Nevertheless, we touched the brakes a little in addition to our leaning for the rest of the corners on the 3km course. At 10.50 Euros each (including chair lift) it was a little too expensive for us to do it again immediately, but we wanted to!


After a night in Immenstadt, we chose to venture along to Lake Constance. Now we’d previously read about Ju + Jay’s experience of the German Alpine Road and as a result had decided to avoid Bad Tolz and the south east of Germany. We might like mountains, but Bertha’s not a fan, so the Deutsche Alpenstrasse wasn’t on our agenda… until we saw this sign:


Sorry Bertha. We hoped that the western end of it wouldn’t be too punishing and that we would have patient drivers behind us. Let’s say we had patient drivers behind us. In good weather I’m sure the views are even more stunning than they were in the rain. At least we had plenty of time to see them as Bertha puffed and wheezed up and down the winding roads. One part was even like the toboggan run in the way it wound downwards, hugging the hillside… only experienced at a much slower pace!


The rain didn’t clear up… in fact it intensified and only Kiri was brave enough to venture the kilometre or so to the lake from our next overnight stop location. I stayed with Bertha because I wanted to keep dry make sure she was ok after a stressful couple of days.

After a very wet night (it just didn’t stop falling!) we headed straight up the main roads towards Ulm. Just as we were approaching, we saw signs warning us that the “umwelt zone” started in 3km. Those two words have been tinged with bitterness for Bertha ever since we received a letter from Germany in October last year informing us that “Unforunately [sic] no environmental badge can be issued for your vehicle”. And here we were, heading straight into the forbidden land. I immediately panicked and pulled off the road at the next exit, at which point Kiri pointed out that the satnav was bringing us off the main road in 2.4km.

Suddenly we swapped places (not physically, as that would have been tricky whilst driving) and I was keen to carry on (there were sure to be more signs) whilst Kiri was keen to stop and look up the extent of the low emission zone online. I was in the driving seat, so I won the brief conflab and we ventured on. We only saw one more sign on the dual carriageway, which I interpreted to mean “warning, parts of Ulm are a low emission zone”. After that, no more signs and we happily pulled into our stop for the next few nights amongst motorhomes young and old. Kiri went for a little explore whilst I double-checked the extent of the umwelt zone online. Oops. We’d driven slap bang through the middle of it and were now parked inside its limits. Time to move on!

It’s quite hard to drive whilst you’re kicking yourself, but I somehow managed it as we hurriedly and sheepishly left Ulm. I didn’t really want to climb the highest church tower in Europe anyway. No matter what spin I try to put on it, I goofed. I should have done the research that I’d done for all of the other German cities – there’s even handy information online (overall map and detailed maps). It doesn’t matter that when you put it into perspective a 40 Euro fine is comparative to some of the tolls we’ve paid in other countries…. and we’ve had to pay no tolls in Germany and we’ve been able to drive as fast as we want(!!!) on some of the best quality roads in Europe. We’ll await the letter in the post with a German postmark. Never have I been so happy to see a road sign in my life:


And then I looked in the rear view mirror to see that we’d left the bathroom window open. Not having a good day!

I was going to write “hopefully there won’t be too much more drama”, but in all honesty, it’s the drama that makes this trip interesting. This trip isn’t the 100m; it’s not even the steeplechase; it’s an obstacle race. And that’s so much more entertaining to run.

Posted in KIST 2EU | 3 Comments »

Melting in Munich

July 19th, 2014 (by Steve)

So this is what it feels like to be in a country when it wins the World Cup. You know, it’s quite a good feeling… England should try it. And we were there when it happened. By “there”, I’m talking about a proper locals bar, where everyone knew each other and there was only space for us on bar stools at the back. During the match we got chatting to a lovely German lady… mainly about England actually. Her choice of subjects included Maiden Castle, Red Dwarf, Monty Python and the war (she mentioned it once, but I think she got away with it). We could hardly get a word in edgeways and it certainly provided a surreal backdrop to the events on the big screen. Add in the free schnapps for every goal (apparently the semi-finals had gotten a bit messy!) and the least passionate swinging of a football rattle that we’ve ever seen and you’ve got a great evening, topped off with the result we were all after.


From Cadolzburg, we headed down towards Munich via overnight stops in Weissenburg and Neuburg an der Donau. So many “burgs”; each being a pretty walled town and each celebrating the World Cup win in some way or another! The further south we ventured, the sunnier and warmer the weather became and the more wild and wacky the other motorhomes became (not that we’re jealous or anything!).


Our stop in Munich was a farm to the south of the city, so we ended up taking in most of the sights of the ring road during our circumnavigation. It was worth it though as we parked up in a lovely rural spot with a few other motorhomes, a couple of friendly dogs and everything else you’d expect from a working farm.

After an afternoon of planning and an early night, we headed in to a city of chiming bells and lederhosen. With no fixed agenda (aside from avoiding the scorching heat as much as possible), we casually wandered around the city taking in the endless stalls of cherries and the countless human statues. We stopped for a while by the synagogue, marvelling at the monumental stone cladding before moving on once again. Even with the sustenance of a cool icecream, the heat was too much by 3pm and we retired back to the farm, to find Bertha moonlighting as an oven. Not really what we needed, but quite handy when it came to cooking our München weißwurst for dinner.


Day 2 in Munich got off to a bit of a slower start due to our need to hand-wash some clothes, however we were rubbing shoulders with the rest of the crowds in the centre by lunchtime. Having taken in a lot of the city in our previous wandering, we took more time out to people-watch and appreciate buskers. As with all cities, you get such a mix of talent; concert-hall standard string players within a coin’s toss of people with squeaky devices in their mouths just doing it for the money. After spending a bit of time listening to a group of Spanish musicians, we ventured inside Heilig-Geist-Kirche where a “Garden of Eden” exhibition was being set up. The church was being adorned with trees, branches and other assorted foliage, whilst overhead a flock of origami birds hung, suspended in mid-flight towards the altar. A great use of the space!


Back out in the main street, we became aware of an increasing police presence. In Athens we kind of expected that level of policing due to the almost daily protests, but not in Munich. It was only when we walked on a little further that we realised the reason. Behind crowd barriers was a gazebo over a table and display stand. Next to it was a stage with a public address system. And all around were placards protesting against a proposed Islamic centre in the city; labelling all Muslims as terrorists. I’m not surprised there was a large police presence. Several passers-by asked the police why they were just standing there whilst the speaker on stage shouted and gestured wildly. I guess it’s about free speech, but is that level of extremism and hatred acceptable? Not in my eyes. Why can’t people live together in harmony, embracing diversity?

Once again an icecream called – possibly the best icecream of our trip so far (yes, that is a big claim). As you leave the Hofbräuhaus (because obviously you would be in there if you visited Munich!), turn to your right and walk for maybe 50 yards (sorry, metres) and you will see “Schuhbeck’s Eissalon & Joghurteria”. I had a fiery ginger icrecream, whilst Kiri opted for chilli chocolate, which we munched on whilst watching a professional human statue interacting with and entertaining the crowds.


It had been ordained that dinner would be currywurst and chips, so at 6pm we headed to a stall in Viktualienmarkt, where we’d seen them advertised. Well, it was 6:02pm actually. Guess what time they shut? What followed shall be forever known as “The great currywurst hunt of 2014”. Maybe that’s a little unfair – it was easy to find currywurst… just not with chips. Maybe in Munich it’s more traditional to have it “mit semmel”, but we like it with chips! Having traversed most of the city, we finally located a stand by the Hauptbahnhof, where we not only found it with chips; we had a choice of “rot” or “weiss” sausage and heat of curry sauce. So, against the idyllic backdrop of the station taxi rank we sat and ate. Nom nom!

As we venture onwards, I will leave Munich a changed man. I can’t say that I expected the city to change my outlook on life, but I’ve seen things that have opened my eyes. Yes, I now believe that I could probably rock the lederhosen look.


That could be me…! I’ll leave you imagining that…

Posted in KIST 2EU | No Comments »

Fußball und Achterbahnen

July 14th, 2014 (by Steve)

We’ve crossed a lot of borders in Bertha within the last year. Some crossings have been totally uneventful; you can hardly tell that you’re in a different country. Others have been a little more fun (for example Serbia to Macedonia!), whilst the crossings of other borders have elicited certain feelings, despite no visible boundaries. The move from the Czech Republic back into Germany falls into the latter category; we drove straight past the borders that 15 years ago I had waited at for 4 hours in sweltering temperatures, yet emotions were stirred. On the one hand we were back into familiar territory; it felt a bit like a homecoming, but on the other hand we were sad to be leaving the eastern European cultures.

We stopped just over the border for a quiet night at an aire with free facilities (a rarity in eastern Europe) and had a lie-in until 10am (again a rarity, but this time not location-specific!). And then on to Nürnberg… well, Fürth to be more precise, where we parked up and planned to walk into the centre to watch Germany vs Brazil on a big screen in the central square. It’s not only in England that the best laid plans of mice and men fall apart due to rain… the heavens opened and we didn’t really fancy venturing out. With no TV in Bertha and limited internet data allowance, we couldn’t watch the match, unless…


Yes, that is a neighbouring motorhome, whose owners kindly left the curtains and blinds open and if you squint, you can just about make out a bright rectangle which is their TV. From our vantage point it was impossible to see details of the match (the rain-smeared windows of Bertha and her neighbour making it a vaguely psychedelic experience), but we got the gist once we realised they weren’t just doing multiple replays of one goal. Fürth motorhome neighbours, we thank you.

The following day Kiri was not particularly well, so after I’d been to Lidl to stock our cupboards a little, we decided to cancel our dinner reservation for the evening (ooh, get us… a dinner reservation! More on that later). Instead, we had a short (and soggy) wander around the beautiful old town of Fürth, stopping to stock up on some more tapes for the video camera and treating ourselves to a DVD, which we watched in the evening. The rain conspired against us once again as we ventured into Fürth the following morning, with the main highlight being a council worker killing weeds between cobbles with a flamethrower… und why not?!


Our need for facilities caused us to move 12km down the road to another beautiful town; Cadolzburg where we planned to park up for a few days to do some web design work. By this stage I too had succumbed to the cold, but as we still had our appetites, we decided to venture out to dinner, having made another reservation. Now we haven’t eaten out much on the road (apart from street food) in order to keep costs down, but we’d been given some money by some close friends to spend on a meal on the trip. We wanted to spend the money wisely, so when we found a restaurant where your meal arrives at the table via a rollercoaster, we were sold. Kiri did very well at managing my excitement to make sure that it wouldn’t be an anticlimax when we got there, but even she was excited by the time we stepped through the doors.

Upon arrival, we were given a tablet (of the computer variety, not of the Matrix “red pill” or “blue pill” variety) and an A4 page of instructions and told to find table 5. Once seated, we ordered our drinks via a well-designed user interface on the tablet and within a few minutes, they had whizzed down the rollercoaster track to our table. Very cool. Having ordered our food in the same way, we spent the next 15 minutes open-mouthed as we watched food and drink speed along over our heads to other tables. When our food arrived, we dispensed it from the pots (the delivery mechanism) onto our plates and tucked in, still entertained by the delivery mechanism to other tables. The temptation to order more food and drinks (just so we could see them being delivered) was very strong, but we somehow resisted, taking our tablet to the till to pay before departing with huge smiles etched on our faces.


We shared the aire with another British motorhoming couple overnight and planned to invite them around for drinks the following evening, but sadly they were moving on. Instead, for the first time in nearly a year I settled down to do a bit of paid web design work… and it felt good. I hadn’t realised quite how much I’d missed a task-centric way of life until I started planning out the job in hand; it bodes well for our return to a slightly more conventional way of life when we get back to the UK. I’m learning a lot on this trip from living life in a way that doesn’t come naturally to me and I’ve embraced the chance to experience life at a different pace and in a different style. I’m not sure that I could cope with full-time motorhoming indefinitely though.

Perhaps it’s the crossing back into Germany, or perhaps it’s the addition of some work into our routine, but it feels like the winding up of our adventure has begun. It’s a similar feeling to the one that we had when we crossed into Portugal near the end of the first loop; the finish line was in sight. But whilst there are still teabags in the cupboard, tread on Bertha’s tyres and new beers to taste we’re still having an adventure. We’re not finished yet.

Posted in KIST 2EU | No Comments »

Just another brick in the wall

May 26th, 2014 (by Steve)

What’s the first thing that most people do when they get to Berlin? Well, I’m sure it’s not hand-washing 78 socks and a selection of other undies! Despite teamwork, we both ended up with minor blisters, and all because the washing machine at the campsite was only open during office hours. But hey, we had a lot of walking to do in the next couple of days, so those clean socks would come in handy. The following morning, we caught the U-bahn to the centre of Berlin (48 hour pass for 16.90 Euros each which also gave us several touristy discounts) and 20 minutes later we stepped, blinking, into the city streets. The map suggested that we walked along the Berlin Wall (or part of it) as it was the 25th anniversary of its fall. 10 hours later we were glad we’d done it, but quite exhausted!

Both of us are too young to really remember the events of 1989, however we were keen to expand our knowledge and one of the best places to begin was at the Berlin Wall memorial near Nordbahnhof. This is an area of the “death strip” that has been preserved, with not only “The Wall” (the 12 foot high concrete blockade on the border), but also the patrol area on the East Berlin side with markings where the various other barriers were to stop people escaping to West Berlin. Yet in this solemn environment and against a soundscape of names being read out (of those people who had died at The Wall) people were posing for “selfies”. I’m not against selfies in general, but it didn’t seem an appropriate place.


After seeing several hundred motorbikes drive past as we tried to cross the road (not sure what that was about!) we followed a path alongside existing sections of the wall that took us through a memorial meadow. Where the original wall had been removed, in its place, throughout the city, a double row of paving bricks marked its presence; a subtle scar to remind people of a divided city and a different time. This physical line etched through Berlin took us past the Bundestag (the parliament buildings, which are now symbolically linked by a bridge across river) and down to the Brandenburg Gate where various demonstrations were taking place on the eve of the European elections.


Just past the Brandenburg gate, we took some time to take in the memorial to the murdered Jews; a square packed with what initially appear to be uniform blocks of concrete on a grid. You think you have the measure of it from the outside, where the stones are at waist height, but as you start to walk between them, soon they tower above you and you lose your bearings as the undulating ground between these monoliths stops any form of regular footstep. What got me the most though was that due to the density of the towering blocks, it’s impossible to know whether there’s one other person in this maze or several hundred. This seems to be a very fitting memorial to those who were murdered… and very moving too.


Potsdamer Platz thrust us back into the 21st century with a huge advert for the iPhone 5C on what would have been the East Berlin side of the square, dwarfing parts of The Wall which provided yet more historical information. There’s not really any need to visit a museum in Berlin, when information is so available and public on the city’s broken past. The next part of the tour took us via the “Topography of Terror” that read through from 1933(ish) to 1989, covering the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, followed by the fall and the division of Berlin, through the rise of the Wall, followed by the fall. To go off on a slight tangent, Kiri and I are currently reading through the book of Romans in the bible and have just covered the first part of Romans 13; all about submission to authorities. Not sure how that sits against the backdrop of Berlin’s recent history…

With our wallets helping us to resist the temptation to go on a “Trabi Safari“, where you get to drive a Trabant through the streets of Berlin (well, we’re already driving a museum piece around the whole of Europe!), we moved on to Checkpoint Charlie, where you could pay to pose with someone dressed as an American soldier. I was a bit disappointed that such a key location in the Cold War conflict could be reduced to this for the sake of tourists… but then again the other tourists seemed to be loving it, so who am I to judge?

The final part of the suggested walk (you can see why it took us 10 hours to make it round!) was to the East Side Gallery; a part of The Wall where artists were invited to paint murals in 1990. As we were flagging a little by this stage, we caught the U-bahn to the nearest station and refueled with a doner kebab. We’d been told that in Germany, kebabs aren’t things only to be sampled at 2am, after a heavy night. Sam was right… a delicacy to almost rival Serbia’s pjeskavica… with probably similar Turkish origins. Replete, we viewed 5 years worth of grafitti on top of the murals which had been re-painted in 2009 whilst musing on whether the grafitti was disrespectful to the artists, or just the way things are when it comes to street art… which provides a nice segway to the next day (no, we didn’t go on a segway tour); a street art tour.

But, as it was a Sunday, church came first. This trip has really been an education for us in the different ways that people “do” church. The church we chose this week met in the large Cinemaxx building in Potsdamer Platz and it was really welcoming. The service was a slick multimedia production, full of energy and zeal, but not much depth and time for contemplation. The part of the service which grated a little for both Kiri and me was a song with the repeated words “Speak Lord”. If God had been wanting to speak during that song, I’m not sure He would have got a word in edgeways.

After church we grabbed a pretzel to accompany our cheese, meats and salad before setting off on the alternative walking tour of Berlin; a walk promising street art and visits to skate parks, artists’ squats and abandoned warehouses. The tour started with a clarification on the difference between grafitti and street art. The former is about getting your name “out there”, often through tagging. The latter is a protest against those with money getting to choose what people see on the streets; it’s about reclaiming city space for art. Sadly, there were no squats, skaters or warehouses, but there was plenty of street art and soon we got to recognise the different artists and “crews” around the city. We also passed an extremely cool “flea market” (although it was more like a festival) that happens every Sunday.


Matt, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the street art scene, but it was in chatting about politics that we really got value for money (in my opinion). It was fascinating to hear him talk about his parents’ life in East Berlin (Matt was only 1 when the wall fell) and his current interest in European politics (he’s doing a Masters in some form of European relations). Who would have thought that it would be a region of former West Berlin where there were riots recently when a McDonalds opened? The tour finished at the site of the Berlin air drop; Tempelhof airfield where that very day a referendum was being held about whether apartments would be built there. With the tour over, we planned to return to the flea market, but (rather uncharacteristically of me), we couldn’t remember which U-bahn stop it was near, so we headed to a shop dedicated to the former East Germany traffic lights, before having another kebab.


There is way too much in Berlin to see in just 2 days (and probably way too much to try to cram into a single blog post), so we’re glad that it’s only a couple of days drive away from the UK (in a vehicle other than Bertha!) so that we can explore more of it in another season of our lives. But for now, it’s “au revoir” (or something like that!)… heads we turn back towards the UK, tails we head further east. Well, actually, as it’s me, it’s slightly more scientific than that… but the outcome is the same as if it we’d flipped tails… Poland here we come!

Posted in KIST 2EU | 2 Comments »

Speeding in the sunshine

May 21st, 2014 (by Steve)

Life is full of uncertainties, as is this trip. In fact, one of life’s certainties was crushed for us in the last few days. You may remember that the last blog post we wrote was from an IKEA car park? Once complete, we headed towards IKEA with 8 Euros in our pockets (we’re the last of the big spenders). An hour and a half later we wandered out of IKEA, scratching our heads as to why we still had 8 Euros in our pockets. How is it possible to visit IKEA and not buy anything at all? This trip really is life-changing!


We thought that we’d had the last of the rain by the time we hit Hamburg, but as we headed toward the island of Rügen in north-eastern Germany, the rain came pouring down once again. We spent a bit of an anxious night in a park and ride car park outside Rostock (there was nothing to say that we couldn’t stay there… but we made sure we were out of it by 8am just in case). We could have stuck to the motorway from there, but considering the speed limits on the normal roads are out of Bertha’s reach, there was nothing to lose by going the scenic route, with pretty views, cars overtaking us and wait… what was that flash? Please tell me that speed camera got the car in front of us rather than us. Bertha, speeding? Surely that’s not possible. We don’t think that it was us… but if by some miracle we do get a speeding ticket, we’re going to frame it and mount it inside Bertha (after paying our dues obviously).

By the time we arrived onto Rügen, along roads flanked by forests and glowing fields of yellow the rain was but a distant memory and the sun once more did shine. And another rainbow… this time in the form of Camp Regenbogen.


Have you ever been on a campsite which has its own woodland? Its own bakeries (yes, that is plural)? Its own supermarket? Its own bar? Its own sauna? Its own private beach? It’s no wonder that some people had booked to stay there in their caravans for the whole season. The white sandy beach lured us immediately and we spent a happy afternoon playing by the sea. Whilst I did a bit of wood carving, Kiri reproduced my face in the sand with pebbles and wood shavings, then we played “catch” with a tennis ball for a while. You know what, I even showed my legs by wearing shorts.


We retired to Bertha for dinner and a glass of wine (thanks Jeff), before once more venturing to the beach at dusk for a romantic wander. We can be forgiven (I hope) for being secretly happy that the washing machine rooms were locked… our main reason for staying on a campsite in the first place. This was well worth it though; a truly cracking campsite.


One of the key draws of Rügen was the opportunity to see a 1930s architectural wonder; a holiday camp at Prora. This was one of several seaside resorts planned by the Nazi party to be accessible and affordable for everyone. In typical German efficiency, the resort was planned and built so that every room had a sea view, resulting in a huge building stretching a kilometre along the seafront. A little different from Butlins. Due to WW2, it was never finished and, having had many uses over the last 80 years, several bits of it have now been sold off to private parties. It’s a fascinating structure; you could say that it was ahead of its time in its almost Brutalist style… or as Kiri says, you could say that it looks like a prison.


As there was nowhere free to stay on Rügen in Bertha, we decided to move on towards Berlin. A rather uninspiring location of a supermarket car park (in the shadow of a petrol station offering unleaded fuel at 1.519 Euros per litre) provided a backdrop for what can only be described as a marriage-strengthening heated discussion that evening. Everything was happily resolved and by morning the sun was bright in the sky, it was obviously going to be a scorcher of a day and all was well with the world… apart from the unleaded fuel having risen to 1.569 Euros per litre. So those rumours about petrol in Germany being cheaper on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday may have some grounding after all!

With our plan being to arrive in Berlin for the weekend (sadly a little too early for the Kill It Kid concert there on the 29th) we’re having a couple of rest days on the way. The thermometer has stayed permanently above 30 degrees today inside Bertha, so there’s not really much else we can do but sit back and appreciate our surroundings. Oh, and remain bemused as to how a 24 year old, underpowered, chugging motorhome (sorry Bertha) might have a speed ticket waiting for her back in the UK.

Posted in KIST 2EU | 2 Comments »

Little people in Hamburg

May 17th, 2014 (by Steve)

The open road. A stretch of autobahn with no speed limit. No restrictions. You can almost feel the wind in your hair. Apart from the fact that you’re in a 24 year old motorhome who is already aerodynamically lacking without opening any windows. And thus, we found ourselves pootling along at 90kph, being overtaken by cars going literally twice as fast. We did manage to hit 100kph at one point, going slightly downhill with a back-wind, but that obviously scared Bertha as she started trembling. We eased off.

From Osnabrück, we didn’t want to go straight to Hamburg, so we meandered around a little, taking in the German way of life. In the rain. Let’s say the highlights on the way to Hamburg were:

  • A strategic dinner of beans on toast (chosen because it would produce the least condensation of any hot meal; we couldn’t open the vents due to the rain)
  • An awesome double rainbow in Oldenburg – I know that it’s just raindrops refracting light to split it into its component colours, but rainbows still really excite and amaze me.
  • A request for an interview from a finance company (we politely declined, as we don’t want to be inadvertently endorsing a company or product we know nothing about)
  • Browsing the web using Lynx and the “view-source:” in Chrome to use less bandwidth

As we were living through these thrilling events, we passed the 4 week mark of this second leg and chose to mark it by having a brief confab about progress and a rough route plan. Kiri’s conclusion was that we needed to “get a wriggle on”. I got excited, then realised that she meant we needed to travel longer distances each day.


So, Hamburg. Why did we choose to go to Hamburg? Our route through Germany has largely been dictated by the concept of umweltzones; low emission zones. As you can imagine, Bertha is not the most efficient vehicle and therefore her punishment is that she’s not allowed inside many of the cities in Germany, so Hannover was out of the question, as was Bremen… but Hamburg doesn’t have a low emission zone (we guess because it’s an industrial hub), so we headed there. Upon arrival, we parked up and wandered to the Miniatur Wunderland. Now we’re little people. We like other little people. Therefore, the prospect of seeing a little model world with lots of people excited us. Jason and Julie had raved about it, so we knew it would be worthwhile. And we weren’t disappointed.

We got there 2.5 hours before it shut for the day, thinking that this would be plenty of time to see everything; after all, it’s just a model railway with a few added extras, right? Wrong. It’s not possible to fully describe in words the level of detail that has gone into this model world. It’s impressive at both the micro and macro levels and it’s most definitely not just about the trains. There’s a fully functional airport with planes that take off and land, there’s a music festival with hundreds of miniature fans, all doing different things, there’s a petrol station with a price board that reflects the current price of fuel and there are hundreds of little cameo scenes; bank heists, inappropriate activities in bushes, murder scenes etc. Oh, and the whole thing cycles between day and night every 15 minutes, where the headlights, brake lights and indicators on every vehicle come into their own. The whole thing is controlled from a command room that wouldn’t look out of place as a city traffic control centre. We saw about half of it in 2.5 hours and definitely intend to return at some point.


Yesterday we decided the best way to view the full-sized city of Hamburg would be to do a free walking tour (like we’d done in Amsterdam). Our guide this time had a very different style to the passionate and charismatic Robbert, but he was extremely knowledgeable and informative in talking through the history of his city. He spoke particularly sensitively about the city and its place within World War 2, drawing special attention to stumbling stones and speaking highly of the anti-war memorial of St. Nikolai church; a church that’s part of Coventry Cathedral’s cross of nails network.

The merchants’ quarter formed part of the tour, as did a church with an organ played by Bach and the new harbour development, featuring the under-construction symphony hall. But most interestingly (maybe a slight exaggeration!), we found out that in the early days of the city, it was the brewers who basically ran Hamburg, due to their pioneering use of a “secret” ingredient in the brewing process. Hops. Well, the first brewing of beer with hops may have started in Germany, but so far on the “beer loop” of our tour (as this second leg has been named by Pig and Porter), Belgium is still winning in terms of taste.


With the Holsten Stark and Astra Urtyp sampled, we felt we’d had a good taste of Hamburg, so it was time to hit the road once again. Now this was the point in the second loop that we were going to head north into Scandinavia, but sadly we’ve realised that time and budget wouldn’t stretch to that. So, as a compromise, we set sail for Lübeck, to stay at the motorhome point in the IKEA car park! Ah, Sweden!

Posted in KIST 2EU | 3 Comments »

Currywurst with a side of pondering

May 14th, 2014 (by Steve)

I like to try to live a purposeful life. Now this shouldn’t be mixed up with the concept of a porpoise-full life; that would be way wetter and more complicated. I don’t think I’m alone in this; for centuries people have been trying to fathom the meaning of life. It’s no wonder that throughout this travelling then, I’m pondering on the purpose of it all. In the first loop, it was possible to see the fruits of our travels as we helped out at different projects and put our skills to good use, but the purpose seems to be a little more subtle in this loop.

We’ve now crossed from the Netherlands into Germany where it has rained incessantly. It might be that it’s trying to be welcoming and remind us of the UK, but we don’t really feel like we need to be reminded too much. Aside from being mesmerised by a bread-slicing machine in Lidl (the best thing since… ummm… well… maybe it is just the original best thing!), we’ve mainly been sitting inside Bertha, sheltering from the rain. Due to the wonders of Sikaflex (which we picked up more of in a camping shop), the rain has remained outside. Get in! Or not.

In the midst of the rain, we had a lovely interlude from our sheltering in Bertha; we met up with Judith in Osnabrück; a girl that Kiri was on community with at Lee Abbey (Judith that is; Osnabrück is a city). After having a cup of coffee and a biscuit inside Bertha with her on Friday, she showed us round the city before we chilled at her flat, catching up with her. We then ventured out again into the city (in the rain) where it was the start of Mai Woche (or “May Week” to you and we… you and us…? Hmmm, not sure of that one). Basically, despite the rain, the Germans were having a bit of a knees-up in the town, with live music, street bars and good food. One of our shelters from the rain happened to be a bratwurst marquee, where we were treated (by Judith) to currywurst and chips. Sehr tasty!


Back in Bertha, the rain continued, providing us with a lot of time to read, ponder and have meta-conversations that end up confusing both of us. What do I mean by meta-conversation? Well, I guess a conversation that soon starts to be about itself; a self-examining conversation… a recursive conversation. You start having a conversation about one thing, then it turns into talking about the conversation itself, then talking about how we’re talking about the conversation, down to many layers. A bit like Inception, but even more complicated.

It’s a strange situation to be in; most of the time in “real life” (yes, I know that what we’re doing is real life, but it’s not exactly normal!) you start to have a deep conversation or a deep pondering, then you’re dragged away by the reality… you’ve got to get back to work, there’s someone at the door, the washing needs to be hung up… you get the picture. It’s not like that for us at the moment though. It feels a bit like we’re living in a temporary, privileged bubble where we have time. We have time to wrestle with challenging bits in the bible. We have time to grapple with aspects of our personalities that may be sub-optimal. We have time to examine the intricacies of our marriage; working out how to strengthen the bits that are weak and at the same time marvelling at the bits that just work, even though they may make no logical sense. I guess you could say we’re growing.

So in one respect, the purpose of this trip can be seen in this growth, but despite my Lenten endeavours to focus on fruitfulness, I still like to see tangible outcomes. All of this talking without any action points hurts my head. Abstract is good for a short while, but I like concrete implementations (an analogy for the techies maybe?). We have no concrete plan as we float around Europe… aside from returning to the UK before we run out of teabags (very complicated maths has been used to calculate when this may be). Can you be purposeful without a plan? I’m learning (slowly and reluctantly) that maybe you can.

What is the meaning of this trip? What is the meaning of life? I don’t know, but I do know that taking time to grapple with these questions (and other, deeper questions) is strangely rewarding. The more pertinent question though is whether we’ll be able to build time into our post-trip lives to continue the wrestling. Especially when kids (or porpoises?) might start arriving on the scene at some point after our return to the UK. But that’s something to think about at some other time.

Posted in KIST 2EU | No Comments »