Christine is a ‘Tough Girl’

Tough Girl Podcast! Today it is Christine


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Rude Words!

23/8/17. And lots of them!

While walking a stretch of the Welsh coast path this morning we received a phone call from our estate agent who spoke with our tenants last night. They informed her that they will NOT be leaving our house on Friday despite the Possession Order from the Court. This means we will have to apply for bailiffs to be appointed to evict them.

What a mess!

Back in Blighty Again

22/8/17. The ferry trip was yet another one of mill pond calmness (thank goodness says Christine) but otherwise unexciting. We had booked the campsite a couple of weeks beforehand and it was only 3 or 4 km from the ferry port, albeit via what must be one of the very few hills in Essex. It was located in the garden of a pub and was extremely busy – when a group of 5 Dutch motorcyclists turned up at about 10 o’clock it was starting to get “cosy”.

On Sunday morning Christine reverted to her normal travelling-by-train mode to ensure we caught our train from Paddington to Taunton (with mandatory bike reservations) at 2 pm. This required us to get up at 6.30 a.m. to arrive at Harwich station nearly an hour before the first train to London left to ensure we had enough time to cycle across London (because we might get lost in the Big Smoke!). As a result we had a two hour wait at Paddington! Which at least gave us time to get lunch!

Taunton is where Christine’s parents live and where our car was waiting for us. So we had a very pleasant couple of nights with them before heading up to north Wales to see Conal and Tamsin (our son and daughter in law) who were back from Bahrain for a couple of weeks. They were staying at the Rees-Jones family holiday home and it was lovely to see her parents, Diana and Hywel, again too. We were joined by Alaric and Annabelle too.

While we were there we were delighted to receive an email from our solicitor with a copy of the Possession Order from the High Court requiring our tenants to vacate our house by this coming Friday! That will “only” be 4 months after the lease officially ended! We are just hoping that they have enough common sense to realize that “the game” is up now and that they do, indeed, get out. (They seem to have a sense of entitlement that the world exists to fit in around their needs and everyone else will adjust to accommodate them.)

Last weekend was spent back in our old haunt of Southampton meeting some of the many friends and relatives in the area while joining a golden wedding celebration.

On Sunday afternoon we headed back to north Wales as Diana and Hywel have very kindly said we can use the house (which is on the lovely Lleyn Peninsula near Criccieth and Porthmadog) for the week where we are keeping our fingers crossed that we get our house back.

Homeward Bound!

12/8/17. Train ticket pricing meant that it made sense to break or our journey from Koblenz to the Hook of Holland close to the German/Dutch border (German railways have an excellent value “deal” for two people travelling together that applies across Germany but not on international services). So on Tuesday, after cycling into Koblenz, we caught the train as far as Emmerich – on the Rhine and 7 km ride from the border.

There we found another excellent campsite which was really just a field on what appeared to be a working farm but with very good sanitation facilities. Again there were no registration formalities so that is another €12 that will, we suspect, escape the German tax system!

The next morning we rode the short distance to Zevenaar station. Crossing the border was, of course, low key (marked by a restaurant of all things) but we both felt a change in “atmosphere”. Maybe it was the windmill, maybe it was the even better cycling infrastructure, maybe it was that it appeared more populated and built up. Probably it was a continuation of all of these things.

Just on the cycling infrastructure – it was a fairly narrow road, just wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic. In Britain we would paint a dotted white line down the middle to keep vehicles travelling in opposite directions apart. That is NOT what they do in Holland! They have two lanes of different coloured tarmac 1½ metres wide on each side for bikes and a single wide lane down the middle for motorised traffic. If two cars going in opposite directions happen to meet then, provided there are no bikes nearby, the cars can encroach into the cycle lanes to pass without slowing too much. The entitlement of bikes to use their lanes is reinforced by very short stretches of bollards between the cycle lanes and the vehicle lane every few hundred metres.

How sensible is that? Please can we have it in the UK?

From Zevenaar two changes of train took us to Rotterdam Central where we alighted and rode the 30 km to Hook of Holland alongside the last stretch of the Rhine. There we checked into the campsite at which we stayed last year when riding along the North Sea coast to Dieppe.

We booked the ferry to Harwich several weeks ago while we were in Finland so that we could meet up with our son and daughter-in-law when they are in the UK (summer holidays from Bahrain). As a result, we had two days to “spare” in Hook of Holland. On Thursday Stephen took the opportunity to ride to the Intertek office nearby to meet with Cornell which was good fun.  Christine spent the day in The Hague which was not a huge success as it took longer to get there than expected and it was not full of canals and pretty buildings.

Friday was much better for sight seeing as we both went to Delft which was both closer and prettier. A trip is heartily recommended!

Saturday morning passed slowly waiting for the tent to dry after the overnight rain and then for boarding on the ferry to start just after midday.

Rhine Ride Replete

8/8/17. The northern part of Worms which we passed through the next morning was less attractive than the centre – not surprisingly really and the city presumably cannot live on the back of tourism alone. That’s not too to say it was heavily industrialised but there were commercial developments and small factories along the busy road that we rode beside (thankfully on a separate cycle path).

Once out of the city we reached pleasant pastoral land seemingly devoted to growing the whole world’s supply of onions. There were fields and fields of them! It was easy cycling even if Christine was still not really enjoying it. Ahead we could see a few hills but were not worried as we knew that the cycle path followed the river closely.

As we approached Nierstein the onion fields started to give way to vines and once we entered the town there was much evidence of the wine responsible for its main claim to fame. We passed through without stopping to try the local produce following a bizarrely zig zag route which led us to a small track through vineyards clinging to the slopes of the hills which started immediately after the town. These hills sloped right down to the river leaving little room for the cycle track, the main road, and the railway all tightly squeezed together.

As we entered Mainz the hills levelled out and we crossed the river to the campsite which was located on a small island behind locked gates. As we stood there trying to work out if it was open to the public or a private site for permanent caravans a car drove up and the driver said we should go in behind him. We needed to go to a “small, white house and see Mr Grossman”.

We followed him in and cycled up to the house but there was no reply when we knocked. Reading an adjacent noticeboard, there was a phone number to call so we tried that. Again no reply.

Somewhat puzzled we decided that, as it was about 6 o’clock, we would cook dinner on a piece of grass on which were stood two caravans (mobile ones) and wait for Mr Grossman to return. This done, we tried the phone – again without success – and had just decided to find a hotel when we saw two people emerge from the house and drive off. However, as they were not the ones who shut the door it was clear that there was someone else inside, so Christine tried ringing the doorbell again.

Success! Mr Grossman proved to be a very affable man whose phone was broken! He said we were welcome to stay where we had cooked dinner or there was an area which was more sheltered and the cost was €10 which went straight in his back pocket without any formal registration as at most other sites. We doubt that the German taxman will hear about that income!

Anyway, we were sorted for the night!

The next morning, being Sunday, Christine headed for Mainz cathedral to take in a service while Stephen watched the bikes and drank coffee at a cafe across the square.

Duties done, we set off and again encountered some difficulty leaving a city because of confusing signposting and construction work but eventually made our way into the right path and had a pleasant 30 km cycle to the next campsite in Bingen. We arrived there shortly after lunch and were pleasantly surprised that it cost only €12.50 despite being very busy and located right on the river. The Ladies’ toilets and showers were again a Portacabin (again with urinals!) because the permanent ones were being refurbished. The Gents’ upgrade had been completed and looked very impressive. Stephen was a little disconcerted in the morning to find several women wandering into the shower area to avail themselves of the superior facilities.

As we had almost the whole afternoon “free” we went our separate ways with Christine walking into town (not particularly inspiring but she found a decent ice cream parlour) while Stephen decided to take advantage of leaving the luggage in the tent and went for a ride in the hills around that were simply covered in vineyards.

Between Bingen and Koblenz the Rhine passes through a very famous and picturesque gorge about 70 km long which is busy with cruise ships going both ways. It is also the site of the Lorelei rock which is a fundamental part of German folklore.

We did not complete the ride through the gorge in a day stopping at a campsite just after the village of Boppard about 50 km. Although it was located with great views right on the river bank it was rather noisy because the main road passed within a few yards and the (extremely busy) railway was also very close.

The spell of very pleasant weather came to an end overnight with short sharp showers throughout the morning. As we were going to be catching the train from Koblenz anyway, we contemplated giving the last stretch of the gorge a miss but decided that the lack of staff in the small stations would make finding a reasonable deal to get us close to our into Holland difficult or expensive. So we pressed on sheltering whenever the rain got heavy and reached Koblenz main station about 12 o’clock completing our cycle trip along the Rhine.

Lost: One Cycling Mojo

5/8/17. The last few days have been trying for us. Christine has completely lost all enthusiasm for cycling at the moment and, as a result, is finding any time on the bike a chore. This, of course, is meaning that Stephen is not enjoying things either (although he has not lost his enthusiasm!)

It started on our first day back in Germany. When we left the municipal campsite near Seltz the weather was quite cloudy but it looked as though it was going to get better. By the time we crossed the border after about 20 km the sun was blazing down and the temperature was climbing into the low 30”s. Christine does not function well in these sort of temperatures, particularly if she is exerting herself physically, and she started to wilt. To make matters worse there was a dearth of campsites on this stretch of the river and it was after 92k and nearly 7 o’clock when we rolled into the campsite in Speyer at the second attempt. The first place we had tried turned out to be a private place for permanent mobile homes.

En route Christine felt her rear tyre go flat for the second time in recent days (the first one was when we were border hopping between Germany and Switzerland). Again it was not because something sharp penetrated the tyre – this time it was an old repair patch whereas the previous time was a split along the seam/join of the inner tube. Remarkably these were the first flats either of us had experienced since we were riding through Holland along the North Sea coast last August in which time we have ridden between 13 and 14,000 km combined. That is one heck of a testament to the puncture resistance of Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyres!

The campsite had a certain charm but was expensive for what it was – €22, the toilets and showers were in two containers (with the Ladies even having urinals!) and the only place to wash up was using a stand pipe. It was a real disappointment after the three sites we had stayed at in France which were much more reasonable at €12 or 13 and with better facilities (although it must be said their Ladies did not have the urinals!)

The campsite did not improve Christine’s demeanour and nor did the heavy rain and thunder during the night. By the time morning came the last thing she wanted to do was get back on the bike. On the other hand staying at the expensive campsite was not an attractive proposition either so, being a real trooper, she just “got on with it”.

By 12 o’clock we had covered 25 km and were on the edge of Ludwigshafen, a largish city across the river from Mannheim. With Christine’s funk continuing or worsening, we decided to find a hotel, there being no campsites in the vicinity. The nearest one looked rather nice but a bit pricey. Stephen decided to give it a go but was put off by the price which started at €100 but which came down by 20% when he pulled a face. However, the lady caught sight of a baleful looking Christine outside and made a final offer of €60 which we gratefully accepted!

While Christine applied her stock remedy for all ailments, namely bed and a couple of hours sleep, Stephen took himself off to Mannheim by bike – just to see what there was too see. Not much was the answer but that view was coloured by him getting hopelessly confused by the one way system and the aggravating cycle route signs which only showed Mannheim Centre on about one sign in two. He will not be rushing back!

After a good breakfast (included in the price) Christine felt a little better so we set off for Worms with the idea that she could have a look round the city which, as you may well know, is very significant in the development of the Protestant faith (Martin Luther, the Diet of Worms and all that). Just as we approached the city, we found the canoe club campsite and got ourselves set up there.

Christine walked into town where she looked round the (surprisingly) Catholic cathedral and saw the monument to Luther before indulging in an ice cream from a cafe offering 80 different flavours. Stephen followed later by bike meeting with her briefly before turning to camp as his knee still gives him some “gyp” if he walks any distance.

Thoughts on Finland

16/7/17. We have been reflecting on our time in Finland- a period of about 5 weeks. We have really enjoyed ourselves and feel that we have had a really good look at the country but it is now time to move on. Although we have had a few moans about things (principally the drivers in the south and the mosquitoes) they are heavily outweighed by the plus points.

Things We Liked

  • Lapland. It was definitely the highlight – so remote and unspoiled and beautiful.
  • The trees and the lakes. If you don’t like these, do NOT come to Finland!
  • The campsites. Almost every one was in a stunning location, generally on the shores of a beautiful lake.
  • The long evenings and extremely short nights. It was always daylight when we went to bed and it was interesting to wake at 11.30 or 3.00 and find the sun still shining. We haven’t seen real darkness since we left the UK.
  • The reindeer, although we didn’t see any with red noses.
  • The Finnish people. They can appear quite dour and reserved but their nature is to let other people get on with their lives without interference. Underneath it they are friendly and helpful.

Things We Didn’t Like

  • Some of the drivers in southern Finland came far too close at high speed.
  • The mosquitoes and other insects were insufferable on a couple of occasions when wild camping. At “formal” campsites they were much less of an issue.
  • There were many times when the undulating roads were unrelenting. We would crest a rise to be faced with a series of two or three more small ups and downs going off into the distance.

Ambling Across Alsace

1/8/17. We are back in Alsace, our favourite part of France – an area that Christine first visited more years ago than she cares to remember when she worked here for eight months while at university. It was also the site of our second cycling holiday together straight after we finished our accountancy exams in 19mumble,mumble.

It has become more French over the years that we have been visiting (it was part of Germany during the war and for 50 years until the end of WW1). When Christine worked here many of the old people still spoke Alsatian, a  dialect of German, but that seems to have died out although it looks as though efforts are being made to preserve it with it being used on some road signs.

However, it looks more prosperous than much of rural France that we cycled across 2 years ago which appeared rather “ run down” and neglected. Alsace is more similar to Germany in this respect at least.

From Huningue we followed a cycle path parted from the Rhine or, rather, the wide canal used by barges by a large dyke. It was only after about 10 km that we found our way to the smaller, disused canal alongside which we had cycled previously. This was very busy with cyclists – both touring and recreational – and briefly forms part of three Eurovelo routes – EV5 from London to Rome, EV6 from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and EV15 along the Rhine from source to sea.

The heat of the sun must have got to Stephen because not long after lunch as we approached the town of Neuf Brisach where there were signs to two campsites he voted to stop for the night. His excuse was that he looked at his bike computer for the time. He saw the figures 16.30 and, because the next campsite was some way past the town, figured it was better to stop rather than have a really grumpy wife! About an hour later he realised his mistake when he again looked at the time and saw 15.25. The first time he had been looking at his average speed! (You will notice that Christine raised no objection to calling a halt to proceedings so early!)

However, the positive side was that it was a lovely little campsite run by a couple who took pride in offering a pretty and relaxing place for their guests with a large area for cycling campers complete with a large gazebo/tent with tables and chairs exclusively for their use. And all for an extremely reasonable €13.50. Bargain!

On Monday the route initially took us on paved farm tracks through large fields mainly filled with tall sweetcorn. It had been very sunny first thing but some high cloud blew in on the helpful tailwind which took the edge off the heat, thank goodness. Then we joined the towpath beside an almost dead straight canal which had long stretches under the shade of large trees.

We made excellent progress along the canal with the kilometres to Strasbourg on the many signposts coming down fast. With about 25 km to go we stopped for lunch and while munching, we heard a couple of rumbles of thunder from the direction of the Vosges mountains off to the west, the tips tops of which were in the dark clouds.

Soon the rain started and we dashed for cover under the eaves waves of a nearby building. We were joined by a French couple, Christine and Richard, out for a ride from Strasbourg, who were fascinated by the story of our adventures (or at least they were polite enough to appear fascinated!) It was interesting to see the look of shock on their faces when we told them we well will not receive our state pensions until we are 67. In France the retirement age is 62!

The rain did not last long and we made our way into Strasbourg. The last few kilometres seemed to drag even though they were mostly along the towpath. Perhaps we were not looking forward to being in a big city – even one with as attractive a centre as Strasbourg’s.

Stephen had reserved a room at a hotel recommended by Derek and Linda, the couple cycling to India and beyond who we meet in Waldshut. €48 for the night in a room with a small kitchen area and including breakfast 10 minutes walk from the cathedral was just our sort of place! The man on reception could found no trace of the booking and Stephen, when checking the confirmation email, noticed that he had booked it for the previous night! Oops! Luckily there was still “room at the inn”.

After showering, a little laundry and a quick blast on the internet we wandered into the centre where Christine was extremely disappointed to find we had faffed around too much so that we arrived at her favorite tea shop in the whole world (which offers about 10 different kinds of hot chocolate) just as it was closing at 6 o’clock!

It was nearly 11 by the time we left the next morning with Stephen having been on a shopping expedition to buy more gas for cooking while Christine had her “pill day”. We thrashed around a bit heading vaguely north east towards the “European Institutions” until we found the signs for EV15. These pointed us through a lovely wooded area on the Piste des Forts although we didn’t see a fort.


We spent most of the day on off road cycle paths with the on road sections being, strangely, mainly in towns and villages. It was all rather lovely. We have cycled the length of the Rhine, in stages, before but apart from the wooded area just after Strasbourg it did not look familiar. We decided that this was because previously we had been using a guide book which took us along the river bank whereas now (with the guide book collecting dust in our loft) we are following the cycle route signs which are not the same.

Border Hopping

29/7/17. Our departure from Lake Constance was delayed by our reluctance to head off into the rain that was falling on Thursday morning. Having checked out of the campsite, we “hid” in the local cafe hoping for the promised better weather.

Eventually the sky started to look a little brighter and we set off towards the ferry in Meersburg to take us to the city of Constance itself. (A mighty pretty place it is too.) After stocking up on provisions at the last supermarket in Germany we crossed into the land of the banking “gnomes” and the famously high prices through a deserted border post.

The route along the southern shore of the Untersee (the smaller part of Lake Constance) took us through villages that had a different feel to their German counterparts, more rural and less touristy, and even the clang of cowbell, and led us to the picture postcard pretty town of Stein am Rhein. Ignoring the cycle route signs we went along the main street thronged with tourists and passed out through the western town gate to find ourselves back on the bike path which obviously took the long and not so pretty route round the less busy ring road.

On the northern bank of the river we soon crossed back into Germany, and then back into Switzerland. It was a taste of things to come!

We were aiming for a campsite that appeared on Stephen’s Garmin but when we arrived it appeared to have only permanent caravans despite several road signs with a tent. We pressed on crossing the river and back into Germany for another campsite. This one accepted tents but there were big signs everywhere saying “Private Campground for the Canoe Club only”.

We moved on. The road signs changed again although there was no other indication of a border crossing. It was now heading towards 7 o’clock so when we saw a sign for a B&B and temptation got the better of us. As we entered the village it still looked like Switzerland but turning up the side road to the farm where the B&B was Christine noticed that all the cars had German number plates.

Once we were booked in we asked “Are we in Germany or Switzerland?” The lady laughed and said it was an enclave of Germany completely surrounded by Switzerland. “We are politically German but economically Swiss”. We noticed this in the prices – €70 for the room and another €20 for breakfast which we declined figuring we could buy some bread rolls at a shop in the village in the morning.

Well! We chose 4 nice looking but smallish rolls and we’re staggered to be told that, once converted from Swiss francs, that they cost €5.40 – say £4.50! Definitely Swiss prices!

Friday was spent battling against a westerly wind on the northern bank, mainly in Germany but with a couple of forays into Switzerland. The route veered away from the river taking a shorter but hillier path through the minor foothills of the Black Forest. We had been hoping to get reasonably close to Basel by the evening but the wind, the heat (the rain clouds having gradually disappeared over the last two days) and the hills meant that we reached the town of Waldshut (Germany, in case you’re wondering) where we had stayed just over two years ago when we were aiming for the Black Sea. So we made for the same campsite. The area for tents was “free form” in that there were were no marked out spaces so, because we were there quite early, we could choose almost anywhere. As more and more people arrived it became more and more crowded.

Looking back at what we wrote last time we stayed here Stephen was annoyed at the cost €17 plus €1 for 4 minutes in the shower. This was after a couple of weeks in France. This time round it didn’t feel as extortionate after time in Finland where we occasionally paid close to €30 albeit with “free” showers, sauna and kitchen. It all depends on your perspective!

We had good chats to two separate British couples – Derek and Linda who were 4 weeks into a similar trip to us heading for the Black Sea, India and points east so we were able to share some of our experiences – and Carrie and (Sorry! We’ve forgotten your name!! How embarrassing!!!) who were driving down to Lake Constance to meet their son and who told us about a really interesting museum in Neanderthal.

On Saturday morning the tent was very wet from free and condensation so we were even slower than usual in getting going. The first part of the day was through pretty German towns on the north bank looking over at equally picturesque towns on the Swiss side and we found a lovely shaded spot for lunch on the old walls high above the river.

The last 20 km into Basel were as uninspiring as leaving the city had been two years ago but eventually we made our way through the suburbs, crossing briefly into Switzerland for the last time before hitting the French border for the last 2 km to another previously visited campsite in Huningue. This was at the more basic end of campsites but it’s price more than reflected this at €12 for the two of us for one night – and, amazingly for a campsite in France, there were toilet seats!

It has been interesting revisiting these two campsites after 2 years as, for both of us, it feels a bit like “completing the circle” of our trip.

Becalmed Beside the Bodensee

25/7/17. The absence of updates is an indication that not much has been happening in our lives in the last week or so. We have been waiting for Stephen’s back to recover and we’re pleased to report that it is much improved. One morning it took him the best part of 10 minutes to get out of the tent amid much grimacing and swearing under his breath but the last couple of evenings have seen it almost as good as new (it seems to regress during the night and then improve as the day goes on). He didn’t leave the campsite for the first two days – which was not too much of a problem as it is in such a lovely location – and he has hardly been on his bike the whole time which shows how much he has been suffering! However, with it just about recovered we should be making a move in the next day or two – assuming the weather improves. He will, of course, take things very carefully at first.

Friday and Saturday were glorious although there were spectacular electric storms both nights (with a group of young lads “next door” having to vacate their tents for the sanitation block at 1 in the morning because everything was soaked). Since then, though, the weather has been much less friendly with frequent heavy showers and strong gusts of wind.

We have enjoyed watching a family of mallards that periodically leave the lake to wander around the campsite. The mother is doing a phenomenal job of shepherding her 17 (yes! Seventeen!!) ducklings around and they are growing fast. There is a family of swans with 4 cygnets and one of the adults takes exception to the ducklings whenever they stay too close to his/her family chasing them away with much hissing and flapping.

On Monday evening we had a blow out at a favourite restaurant of ours, spending two days’ budget on the meal. But it was worth it! Especially Christine’s most favourite dessert – the Grosse Dessertteller or “Big Pudding Plate” which is a selection of 8 different dishes all served on the one plate. She has been told on previous occasions that people normally share it but she offers Stephen only a mouthful or two! [Photo to follow]

She found cycling the 3 km back to the campsite a bit of a struggle.