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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 6, the end of the trip

Hello All,

Many thanks for bearing with me on this and the fact I had to take a break due to being busy and also the Tour of Pembrokeshire. Well, some, if not all of you will be glad to know that once this post is done and dusted, no longer will I be harking on about Germany or the fascinating places it holds and the volcanic history of the places I went. In fact, I shall be moving back to the UK and onto things you may more readily recognise…

Due to some feedback, I shall be condensing the last few visits I made around and Cologne and Koblenz and my trip to the Nurburgring to frighten myself silly. In fact, it’s no bother, I took way too may pictures anyway and, technically you aren’t allowed to film or take images near the circuit, so I didn’t, bar a few favourite cars I saw. Not that anyone takes any notice of that, as you can see from all the videos posted on YouTube. Anyhoo, more on that in turn with the other pictures (a few more this time).

Firstly, there was a trip to Cologne (Koln) Cathedral. Now, this is an impressive building. I live near a cathedral in Wales and that, sorry, doesn’t hold a candle to this building. When you walk into a building that is adorned with items such as the ones below, you know there is some real history there….

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It is a renowned monument of Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was added to World Heritage site list in 1996. Sadly, it was also in 2004  placed on the “World Heritage in Danger” list, as the only Western site in danger, due to plans to construct a high-rise building nearby, which would have visually impacted the site. The cathedral was removed from the List of In Danger Sites in 2006, following the authorities’ decision to limit the heights of buildings constructed near and around the cathedral. As an aside, it is the most visited landmark in Germany, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day! It also holds a record of being the tallest twin-spired church at 157 m (515 ft) tall and its two huge spires give the cathedral the largest façade of any church in the world.

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Some of you may also know that the recent history of this building is quite violent, the cathedral suffered fourteen hits by bombs during World War 2. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city, but in an unfortunate twist of fate, the twin spires were then an easily recognisable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.

Repairs were completed in 1956 but maintenance work is constantly being carried out in one or another section of the building, which is rarely completely free of scaffolding, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, established to build the cathedral and keep it in repair, is said to employ the best stonemasons of the Rhineland.

Whilst I was visiting, I couldn’t help notice that visitors can climb 533 stone steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 100 m (330 ft) above the ground. I love a good view, me…..

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I felt a bit short changed though, as there was still a good few feet above me!!

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Onward, well, downwards back to my usual haunts over in the Eifel. This time, I had some proper driving in mind, but the route I took took me through some of the richest vineyards in the region so I had to stop and look around for a while. If any of you are wondering, yes, I did have a grape or two. They were disgustingly sour. I’m no wine aficionado, so I don’t know if the process of wine-making sweetens things up and the grapes are always that sour, but I’d only use them as vinegar if it was given to me in that form!

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I was in a rush to get to the circuit for a certain time (the tourists are only allowed on the track certain days and times) so I thought to myself that I’d return at a point in the future for a few more relaxed shots, plus this was obviously a popular route on coach trips judging by the traffic (not seen here, thank god)…

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Anyway, I arrived for my slot at the track. I was very nervous. So nervous that I decided a while earlier that my little turbo hot hatch was going to be staying well and truly parked. I had toyed with the idea of taking my own car onto the track as I had figured that I had safety in power, but reason won the argument. That and the horror stories from fellow guest at hotels that I regularly shared beers with. Most will know that I am VERY protective of my cars, even going so far as to park significant distances away (to be measured in hundreds of yards or large fractions of miles) from destinations, mainly due to the fact that all the other people arriving won’t, so thereby reducing the risk of door dents and such. In this instance, not only was the risk of damage high and the insurance I held would be invalid, there was a very real risk that my inexperience could hurt me or someone else. Yes, I driven on tracks, but short tracks where people have similar cars. This was The Green Hell where cars vary from Ford Transits to hyper-cars capable of 200 mph and 2 people die or are seriously injured per week.

So, what did I opt to drive on this horror of tracks? That’s right, a Suzuki Swift Sport. In hindsight, not the best choice. However, it was all I could afford to pay the insurance excess on should I crash or be involved in an incident.  I think it wasn’t cheap even then, something like 6000 Euros. So, my dreams of flooring it in a fast beauty like these faded away…

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However, it was a blast. I felt like I was standing still when I was near 100 mph on the straights but it was still a great laugh. In all I did 4 laps in my little hatch but the effort was immense. I literally had to peel myself out of the seat afterwards. Strangely, I was not satisfied with my extended near death experience, so I decided to spend a little more money on the Ring Taxi, which was in my case a BMW M3 driven by a slightly unhinged man with no idea of what the word slow meant. Whilst I held on for dear life (to the point my hands sweated so much they went wrinkly) and we hurtled along at near 300 kmh, he calmly noted that it was beginning to rain!

As we arrived back at the gate with (and I’m not joking here) smoke pouring from the brakes, I considered that my time as a racing driver should be restricted to the odd track day in a small car or a kart….

On to more sensible pursuits, my last trips out before my holiday came to an end. I decided that it would be interesting to go a little further afield and ended up at a large fort and the confluence of two rivers in Koblenz. It started rainy, but cleared to a beautiful day in the end, which assisted me in find the place finally as it was truly hidden away, strangely enough for a fort. Set in wonderfully landscaped parkland, my first issue arose as I rounded the corner to park the car only to be met by a ticket operated barrier. Think about it. That’s right, I was the wrong side. However, the German people are helpful and a young lad saw my issue and ran over, took my ticket, popped it in the machine and I was through. Bless him, I stopped and shook his hand and he told me in pretty good English that he had raised this issue before with the staff and he was sorry. What a nice bloke!

Here we were, Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, backbone of the Prussian defences in the 1800s located on the eastern bank of the Rhine,  overlooking the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine. It is the northernmost point of the World Heritage Site I have mentioned before.

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It seems that I had arrived on a day of festivities, as there were ladies and gents in all sort of uniform as through there was a general re-enactment theme going on. Pretty cool. However, I wanted to get as many images of them as possible but there was always something modern in the background, so I got precious few pictures like that….

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During its years of active service, the fortress had never been attacked. It escaped being dismantled after the end of World War 1 as a result of its perceived historical and artistic value. The American General Henry Allen, convinced of its historical value as a premier 19th century fortress, prevented its intended destruction in 1922. It was occupied after 1919 by the US Army as their headquarters during the occupation of this area and then  after January 1923 it was occupied by the French. During World War 2 the fortress served as a place of safekeeping for archives and cultural objects. After this, it was used first by the French Army before it was handed over to the State when it served as a refugee camp and then, in the period of insufficient housing in the early 1950s, as residential housing into the 1960s. I bet it was blooming cold surrounded by all that concrete! Today, the fortress is fully open to visitors. It is connected to the town of Koblenz across the Rhine by a cable car which I had to take…..

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At the bottom of the cable car is Deutsches Eck (“German Corner”) where the Mosel river joins the Rhine, plus it is also home to a monumental statue of William I, the first German Emperor. In typical British understatement, it’s a pretty big statue.

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I can’t really post a picture of scale, but the pictures above show the size of the statue in comparison to the headland, as well as showing the confluence of the two rivers quite clearly. You are looking for the point of the headland where the darker water meets the lighter water, that is the merging of two great rivers. Quite subtle, unless you were looking for it! Believe me, once you went up to the water, apart from a little disturbance on the surface, it isn’t all that obvious. As well as that, most people come for the monument, so weren’t even looking at the water.

I had a quick wander around, picked up something to eat before they day was getting a little old, so it was time to pop back on the cable car back up to the fort and head off home. As I left, I was looking for my saviour yet again but, bless his cottons, he must have said something to the staff as there was a guy from the cafe actually waiting at the barrier on my side so I could hand him my ticket and get out! See, there are nice people in the world.

On the way home, I decided to take a detour via the vineyards again where I remembered that there was a picturesque ford in a lovely green valley, so, here endeth the German road trip…I thought this would be a nice picture to send you all off with.

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As of the next time I post, there will be more home grown posts, I promise. Maybe I shouldn’t take so many pictures on holiday? Not sure. But, if you are still reading, thanks a lot. I appreciate you sticking with it and hope to see you here in July. Good Lord. Where has the year gone?

Ta-ta for now!

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 5

Evening All,

I hope this latest post of the blog finds you well. I am keeping up with my monthly muse and hope that you are enjoying the pictures (although one of my subscribers said it was not the best for pictures, it was ironically the best blog ever for likes…my email was pinging like crazy). The weather here in south west wales has finally bottomed out, the sun is getting a bit warmer and the hedges and skies are becoming more interesting (for further info on the local loveliness and general pretty things, investigate my Instagram @lukegeoffreyjohnson, I’ll be happy to see you). I’m out on the bike more for the May Tour of Pembs and ventured far far away to Kilgetty on a training run lately. It was interesting. All I will say to those who overtake near cyclists is please, think. We are very light and cars hurt, so next time you overtake a cycling colleague, give them a bit more room 🙂

Anyway, the blog. For those who are concerned that there will be pictures of motor vehicles this month, fear not! No cars. This week, I am posting of the wonder of nature yet again. In fact, a Guinness World Record holding wonder of nature. Beat that. This visit is based in and around Andernach which is a lovely, although on the day I visited it was a bit dull.

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Andernach is situated on the River Rhine, 13 miles (21 km) north of Koblenz, a more industrial town I didn’t visit as the roads frightened me to death. A little way downstream of Andernach, the Rhine valley narrows from both sides forming the northern part of the romantic “middle Rhine”. In Roman times the place the narrow passage begins was named “Porta Antunnacensis” or Andernachian Gate, formed by two hills. Founded by the Romans in about 12 BC on the site of an old settlement, Andernach is one of the oldest towns in Germany. In addition to themedieval remnants of the old town fortifications as seen above, the city of is the location of several old industrial plants such as a huge malt mill, but now also to a large steel-mill to produce cold formed tin plate and companies manufacturing medicinal products, raw food materials, cast iron products, engines and engine parts. See, we are straying back to cars again! As I wandered the banks of the river, barges were frequently plying their way up and down…..

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However, the main reason for my visit was the geyser. No, not like out of Eastenders! A water based geyser which is a remnant of the volcanic region and quite unusual in as much that it is cold water and acts with force generated in a fashion similar to that in a shaken bottle of fizzy water..it is quite powerful, reaching up to 200 ft (60 m) but I suspect less height in the video I took and posted on YouTube. As you approach the geyser along the Rhine on a special boat (you cannot access the area directly by foot, so that’s a nice little earner), things actually look quite tame…

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However, every so often, usually every couple of hours, the geyser erupts, quite quietly at first, then up it goes! On 9 November 2008, the Andernach Geyser was officially recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest cold-water geyser in the world. See, these fantastic things you have on your doorstep. I had never heard of this place before I saw the leaflet….

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I was amused to read that this geyser was actually found, in a way, by mistake. Although a borehole was sunk to look for carbon dioxide, they just kind of did this one randomly due to someone thinking they saw bubbles rising in the waters of an old Rhine ox-bow lake. Boom. Geyser. Result. It was used for commercial reasons to begin with but then the was replaced by a more mechanised manner and the geyser has reverted to being a tourist attraction. Although, having seen the state of the drains and the iron showing in the water  and on the rocks, I’m none too sure I would have drunk the water fizzed by this geyser…

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On to the town itself. Lovely place. It is full of remnants of days gone by and tourists who also come to the region for the geyser and volcanology usually visit these, such as the 183 feet (56 m) tall “Round Tower” (“Der Runde Turm”) finished in 1453….

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One thing I liked was the fantastically preserved castle keep and wall that had been seemingly hijacked by the local allotment society. I walked past it a few times on my way around the museums and though that the flowers and plants looked a bit strange until, on closer inspection, I found that they consisted of a wide range of vegetables! Weird, but what a fantastic use of land that would normally be waste ground or just plain grass…

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In the distance behind this, was a very well looked after massive gate and gardens that you could tour at your leisure, in some areas you could even walk around on the parapet, although the view from here was not all that brilliant, just rooftops…

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Another item from its ancient industrial past is the “Old Crane” of Andernach situated outside the town downstream close to the river bank of the old harbour where it replaced an even older 14th century wooden floating tread-wheel crane. For 350 years it was in operation from 1561 to 1911. Two to four men were required to rotate the crane top which lifted and lowered the load—mainly millstones and tuff, some results of which were on show in the local museums in the form of these intricately carved columns…

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Well, there you have it. Who would have thought that there was record breaking cold water geyser a few hours away from you in Germany? I tell you, most people think of hot places and beaches for holidays, but the more I visit places closer to home, the more I realise there is much to be seen there…and Germany is a place I would love to return to. Perhaps not this exact area but Germany is a big place with a rich history.

Next time, we are off to Cologne where I test my lungs and legs to the extreme by stupidly ascending to the highest part of the cathedral…by foot! Was it worth it? Find out when you see the views!

Thanks for stopping by, see you all soon

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 4

Hello All,

How are we all? Well, I hope.

A few things of interest of late, it is now Spring (astronomically speaking, but not really reflected in the weather, unfortunately) and today is World Meteorological Day which may interest some of you with a love for clouds and an interest in the weather, such as myself. For those of you who may not be able to access the link  to the Cloud Appreciation Society for any reason, the text introducing this is “World Meteorological Day on Thursday 23 March is themed, this year, on ‘Understanding Clouds’. It marks the publication of the latest edition of the World Meteorological Organisation’s definitive reference work on cloud classification: the International Cloud Atlas. This official resource for cloudspotters includes, for the first time, the ‘Asperitas’ cloud. It is a new classification of cloud, with a chaotic, turbulent appearance, that was proposed by the Cloud Appreciation Society back in 2008, based on photographs sent to us from members all around the world. It is a classic example of citizen science, in which observations by the general public, enabled by the technology of smartphones and the Internet, have influenced the development this most official of classification systems“. Even if you have a passing interest in sunsets or the like, the pictures are pretty awesome. Have a look.

Lastly, a more pertinent matter regards blogging and stuff. I am on Instagram! Yes, I have broadened my electronic horizon. If you are a ‘grammer, look me up @lukegeoffreyjohnson and I will give you a “follow”…or something, whatever this is referred to.

Anyhow, continuing to the blog, we are now on part 4 where things get slightly less history and more petrol-ly. I’m not sure that’s a word, but bear with me here. Essentially, this part of the journey covers some hiking up a hill to another castle and the views, but this view includes a racetrack, the main reason I travelled to the area in the first place. Anyway, stick with me here. The day was loosely based around me undertaking a trip to the Nurburgring racing circuit. However, on finding the village of Nurburg, I didn’t realise you could hike up to a castle…..

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From here there was a commanding view. The castle stands within the famous North Loop, or Nordschleife, of the circuit on a volcanic basalt cone. The castle has had quite a chequered past and has not been well treated but was of significance to pretty much every group who lived here since the site was first mentioned in the records in 1166 as Noureberg or Mons Nore. Local historians say it is probable that it was already used as a signal station in Roman times to protect the important Roman road that ran through the Eifel.

In 1290, ownership of the castle was transferred to the local government, because there were no more descendants of the lords of Nürburg. As early as the 16th century the castle fell into a very poor condition, a situation which the officials complained about. As a result, restoration work was carried out several times. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, the castle was captured by the Swedes, who plundered and damaged it. In 1674, imperial troops re-occupied the castle. In 1689, French soldiers finally destroyed the place. Some surviving parts were also used  as a prison, but was no longer fit for that purpose after 1752. The castle was abandoned and used as a stone quarry. In 1818, local royalty had the castle restored because, with its height of 678 m above sea level, it would be able to act as a trigonometric point for creating maps. In 1949, ownership of the ruins was transferred to the German State Department for Conservation, who had work carried out several times in order to expose elements of the building that had been filled in, as well as to carry out safety and restoration work, which was still ongoing when I was there. What a view though…..

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Oh, and talking of views, what’s this? A racetrack? Actually, this is the view from just outside over the small village or Nurburg (which expands massively during racing season) towards the track. Those of you with an eagle eye, might be able to spot a small red car off to the left on the parking area. Yeah, I walked quite a way, not realising I could park at the bottom of the cone…

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However, the view from the top wasn’t just of the track, the beauty of the National Forest was obvious all around, as well as the fantastic field of vision. No wonder this place was fought over.

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Right, I will be talking cars now I’m afraid or more of the track and the surrounds, at least. There are quite a few garages owned by large organisations around the village that I noticed as I wandered around, including Bugatti, Audi, BMW M who all base a team here on occasion to test vehicles, which was the original purpose of the track. Nowadays, this is referred to as Industriefahrten. However, there are many new ventures for this area with the popularity of the area spreading, there are fairs, music festivals and all sorts of family activities hosted by the track but, the hardcore undercurrent is cars. On occasion, you see the odd private garage where people keep cars in the village just to go out and have a blast…..

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There is also a large visitors centre offering tours of the “ring°werk” museum and Grand Prix track behind the scenes, which was about all I could do as this was the German “off-season” and it seems that no-one visits Germany then. In a way it was nice, as there were plenty of parking spots, but not as you couldn’t experience a certain buzz that you get from places like this. There were many interesting exhibits and it was quite a place, but quiet wasn’t the word….

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I quite like a quiet spot, as I am quite happy with my own company, but as I left the museum after buying themed boxer shorts and the like from the fan-shop (no, I’m not joking and they are the most comfy things ever) I couldn’t help but be attracted by an advertising hoarding for drives on the track with this gorgeous Audi RS4 Super-Estate sat there doing nothing. Now, this won me over and got me thinking. Whilst, I couldn’t afford this kind of thing at 649 Euros, there must be a cheaper option…and should I use my own car. Hmmmm….

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On the way back, to aid my pondering, a lovely sunset over the forest. It seemed strange to have the two things in one place…a forest and a racetrack. They almost seem at odds with the current thinking but it is working and has worked for many years, nearly 100 years in fact. However, mine is not to reason why, just to enjoy the view once more as I left the circuit behind for the day..

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Hopefully the non-car people have not dropped off. I will try to minimise my car based musings in future posts but I can’t guarantee it! Thanks for dropping in and reading my blog as ever, it is much appreciated. Spread the word, Instagram me, ask for copies of pictures if you like them. I shall happily provide them.

Until next time though, take it easy and enjoy Spring!

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 3

Hello everyone…

Well, here we are, another post and it is nearly the month of March! Crazy stuff. Life is busy as ever and with the impending onset of the (admittedly, self-inflicted) training regime for the Tour of Pembrokeshire, it is set to get busier, I dare say. Apparently, it’s a 12 week improvement plan, or something. I shall let you know how it is going.

Anyway, for one thing, I hope the weather picks up some time soon. A little while ago, I may have mentioned the onset of the back end of Storm Doris (thanks to the US for sending that across) but it seems that was a false alarm and this is now the time for Doris to hit. According to one of my my little weather gadgets, it is set to rain…..

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For ease of reference, this little bulb, known in the lingo as a “Goethe Globe” is a weather  predictor in that, once filled with liquid, a pocket of sealed air with a constant pressure is created inside the device. As the atmospheric pressure changes outside the glass, it will affect this sealed air. A high atmospheric pressure system will push the liquid down the spout, as the outside air is heavier than the trapped air inside. Low pressure will cause the trapped air to be heavier than the outside air and will push the water up the spout. High atmospheric pressure or a “low reading” in the spout usually indicates fair weather, while a “high reading” in the spout usually forecasts poor weather or a low pressure system. In this instance, it seems that it should have been raining buckets indoors!

However, I digress. I seem to recall that I promised you all a castle, or in German “ein schloss”, so here we are. On the day in question, following the roads and my few euros worth of map, I happened upon Burresheim Castle. In so doing, I chose a unique place, as this castle, together with Eltz and Lissingen, is one of the few sites in the Eifel that have never been conquered or destroyed and have been able to withstand the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as numerous European upheavals since.

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That being the case is all well and good, I was just struck by the fact it was a pretty good looking building all in all. From the moment you entered the grounds, you could tell this was a mature and well established property (click the link for an old painting of the castle) and was especially taken by the lovely gardens to the side. The effort that goes into the maintenance of the pyramid bushes is pretty awesome in itself.

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Moving further in, a glance at the floor lets you know that this place has been around for a few years. In fact, the castle was built in the 12th century and Bürresheim was mentioned in documents for the first time in 1157 along with the owners at the time. You can see the age of the property by the visible ruts in the stone entrance way worn down by umpteen horses and carts transporting their wares ….

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How is this for an olde worlde kitchen too eh? OK, so I know that all of the equipment here is most likely not original, but I am sure there is an attempt to make the fixtures and fittings as close to authentic as possible. Imagine rustling up dinner using the rickety cupboard and stone fireplace…..by candlelight. Respect to the cooks!

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Talking of trying to be authentic, it is worth mentioning that what you see in the photos is not what you saw if you clicked on the link above to the original painting of the castle. The complex, which currently appears as a closed unit, has only been like this since the 15th century. Previously, they were two completely independent, non-connected and differently sized buildings. Once upon a time, the fortress of Bürresheim was secured by a few walls and drawbridges.  The latter are nowadays buried and only a few remains are left of the walls. On other matters though, get a load of this door….that there is a piece if fine architecture. Beats IKEA hands down…..

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It seems that this castle was so good, it even had a brief flutter with the movies. That’s right, Burresheim is famous, albeit under different names. A brief exterior shot of the castle can be seen in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade where it features as the fictitious Brunwald Castle on the German-Austrian border, where Professor Henry Jones Sr is held. Additionally, it has featured in German domestic films for children as a kings castle, an advert showed the baroque garden as well as the castle in the background and in May 2009 filming took place for a German language version of Rumpelstiltskin. So, in honour of a static building being more famous than I, a further picture of the lovely exterior inclusive of gardens is due!

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Onward now to a couple of water based images. On the way back from here, I stopped at what I thought was a pleasant lake for a leg stretch/walk. Judging by the large car park and numerous cafes, I thought it would be nice but it turned out to be very interesting too. What I had actually found was the Laacher See, an oval volcanic caldera lake around 1.5 miles in diameter up in the hills. It is part of the larger Eifel volcanic range and caldera features in the area, after an eruption formed the lake around 13,000 years ago. Since then it slowly filled with water but was expanded a bit in Roman times as the lava was quarried for millstones until the introduction of iron rollers for grinding corn. On the western side lies the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach. The lake has no natural outlet, but is drained by a tunnel dug before 1200 and rebuilt several times since. As you can see, the nature of the rock makes the water as clear as a bell, which probably accounts for the popularity with tourists.

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Having a Google, there are guesses of what this eruption might have appeared like at the time. SCIENCE ALERT! Much text about volcanoes now; please scroll down if you are likely to be bored easily or frightened by scales of the eruption in numbers! It is very interesting though, so please, hang on in there…..

So, for what seems a fairly small hole in the ground, the effects that it would have had were pretty far reaching and quite humbling. According to the scientific guff and in summary, volcanism in Germany can be traced back for millions of years, due to the collision between the African and Eurasian plates, but it has been concentrated in bursts associated with glacial advances and retreats. The initial blasts forming the Laacher See, which took place in late spring or early summer, flattened trees up to 3 miles away. The magma opened a route to the surface which erupted for about ten hours, with the plume probably reaching a height of 20 miles. Activity continued for weeks or maybe even months, with pyroclastic flows travelling 6 or 7 miles away covering the area with hot sticky mud. According the surveys, near the crater deposits are over 150 feet thick and even many miles distant, they are still 30 feet thick. In this eruption, all plants and animals for a distance of about 40 miles would most likely have been exterminated.

Unbelievably, the sticky mud actually seems to have dammed the Rhine River and created a lake! When this burst, the water flooded downstream and traces of this mud have found in Bonn, 50 miles away. Fallout effects have been recorded in an area of more than 120,000 square miles, covering from central France to northern Italy and from southern Sweden to Poland.

The wider effects of the eruption on weather were pretty harsh too, amounting to several years of cold summers and up to two decades of environmental disruption in Germany. However, the lives of the local population, known as the Federmesser, were massively disrupted. Before the eruption, they were a sparsely distributed people who existed by foraging and hunting, using both spears and bows and arrows. According to archaeologist Felix Riede, after the eruption the area most affected by the fallout (the area nearby occupied by the Federmesser) appears to have been largely depopulated and population shifted to southwest Germany and France. However, he states that these people seem had a lower level of toolmaking skills than the Federmesser and appear to have lost the bow and arrow technology. In Riede’s view the decline was a direct result from the disruption caused by the Laacher See volcano eruption. In essence, the eruption set the evolution of northern Europe back a little, which is pretty blooming scary when you consider the existing volcanoes and the population nearby in parts of Europe such as Naples.

Anyway, not that anything is likely to happen in our lifetimes, let us bask in the prettiness of the clear water and try and forget the geological time-bombs around the world!

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That was a little bit of a sobering note to end up on wasn’t it? Sorry about that. You have to admit that it is fascinating though isn’t it? The fact that surveys can find things like this out and a picture can be built up of what might have happened, is very interesting to me and I hope that it was for you too. Don’t worry, I don’t go all science all the time, there was a few easily accessible articles that had clear illustrations in, so I couldn’t help myself. Calm your fevered brows with a nice green landscape….

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You’re welcome. Next time, I shall avoid science, honest. Thanks for reading as ever, see you soon with a more light hearted blog, promise!

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 2

Hello,

Welcome back to the continuing saga that is my blog. It’s been a bit busy of late, many many things have been going doooown. I shan’t go into details, but bear with me if there are delays in my unofficial resolution of posting monthly!

Anyway, here I am. Ready to embark on the Eifel roadtrip, part deux. As I said last time, I will try to limit the posts to a couple of days at a time unless there’s something pretty awesome to share and, bear in mind, for the one picture you see, I’ve been through tens! Ah, the memories.

So, moving on from settling in Adenau, I decided that day trips were in order and I was spoilt for choice as to where to go, so I opted for the “buy a five euro map and see where it takes me” option. In essence, this next few images takes us through some lovely forest and architecture around the towns of Bad Münstereifel, a historical spa town (“bad” translates to “baths” in German), situated in the far south of the North Rhine-Westphalia. It was lovely and quiet when I went. Also featured is Mayen, often called ‘The Gateway to the Eifel’.

However, in the interests of my ridiculously nerdy car interests, I must post an arty shot of my ride for the holiday, my (since traded in, sadly) Ford Fiesta ST-2….

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Look at her. What a beauty. I know some will roll their eyes when I say this, but I still pine after that car. It was quick, fun, sounded awesome on turbo whistle and pop when you got things right and was surprisingly economical. In the drive over, cruising with cars double or treble the power at near 90/100 mph (legally) I returned over 40 mpg. Really impressive. However, reality then comes back to haunt me. Although the seats were super comfortable, if you were on a road of low quality or a traffic calmed area, you could wave goodbye to your fillings and lumbar health as the suspension was harder than Chuck Norris. It also hated being driven slowly. In fact, to maintain the engine, it had to be driven quite vigorously to stop carbon build up. This is a fact, check Google. So, I’m afraid it had to go, as I have a very short commute. But let us not go on, back to the pictures.

I arrived at Bad Münstereifel on an off day. The weather up until this point had been pretty good, but this day was an exception. I sat in the car for a while to wait for the rain to stop! When it did, or at least it stopped for a period of time, I found it was quite a quirky place…

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I’m sorry? A telephone box in Germany? Strange. I never did get to the bottom of this. All I know is that I saw a news item recently that said the going rate for one of these is £12,000 so if they paid that, I’d show it off too! The other buildings around the markt (market) were gorgeous old churches such as this one near the walls of the town (seen off to the left)…

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Also you could see original buildings made of wood, as you could in many other towns I visited, vividly and lovingly painted by the owners. Shame that a good portion of them were now lawyers or some business. Apparently, this town has a speciality in training the legal profession. Well, we all have our bad points, don’t we?!

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After copious use of my terrible German resulting in a double order of a pastry I didn’t actually want, I thought it best to stop sheltering from the showers and get a move on to somewhere else…after all, the cafe staff were look at me funny. Again, another fortuitous turn on to a fabulous road. I think I actually turned around and drove this a few times, it was so good, plus I had it all to myself.

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Not only did I find a nice road, but I stumbled upon, of all things a hydroelectric plant. What else? As I rumbled along, I suddenly realised I was on a dam and had to double take, as it wasn’t marked on the map…but then again, why would you? Not all tourists are nerds. Oh. Just me then. No stopping or turning on the dam, so a few quick maneuvers later I found a car park for a local holiday park and went to investigate. Unfortunately, I find that, on this occasion, I have omitted to make any note of the name of this dam like I usually do when I visit places, or it may not have even had one so apologies for that….

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Quite picturesque, don’t you think? I thought so. Now, I’m no engineer, but I am impressed by engineering. Think of me as Jeremy Clarkson without the pot belly and terrible fashion sense, he also loves cars and engineering but couldn’t build a dam, I’m sure. Wandering around, I stumbled upon a pretty big hole in the dam and took a peek inside…

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Good Lord. Now that is a hole and a half. I wonder what the heck you would put in there. Oh yes, I think I see what goes in there now….

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A turbine and a valve for the water the size of a truck, that’s what goes in there. I know that some people are left pretty cold by stuff like this, but think about the materials and thought that goes into stuff like this. Even just the valve at the front being made of the right metal to withstand so much pressure, not break and to regulate the flow reliably so we get the right amount of power. Pretty awe inspiring. I shan’t dwell though, so onward to Mayen, ‘The Gateway to the Eifel’.

In Roman times, Mayen, was an important economic centre. From the 3rd century  until the Middle Ages, potteries operated here and their products were traded and sold across Central Europe. In much earlier times (I refer to these as “the grunting years”), nearby quarries were the sources of basalt to make millstones and tuff used to make grave goods. Sadly, during the Second World War, in late 1944 and early 1945, approximately 90% of the town was destroyed. After the war and following a special referendum which addressed costs of rebuilding, the people voted to rebuild the town. This is why there are so few buildings of note standing and they look so new…

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However, I thought that those were standing were lovely examples of the local tall and towering architecture, especially this gate to the town that had been rebuilt from a few feet that was left standing after the bombing…

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So concludes this round of the Eifel tour for now. If you want to see more impressive buildings, keep this frequency clear, as I managed to find a nice picture perfect “schloss” or castle with some fantastic gardens for you. Think of the type you see on brochures and postcards hanging over the Rhine Valley and you aren’t far wrong!

See you soon and again, thanks for dropping by

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 1

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2017. Seems pretty much like 2016 to me so far but, there we are. I went for the first bike ride of the year today and whilst getting some exercise managed to freeze my feet so solid I had to stand on the central heating hot air vents at home! Mind you, it was a gorgeous day and if you weren’t outside, more fool you. Anyway, let me step back in time with you for my next few posts…

A while back, I verbalised a wish I had harboured for a while of visiting the Nurburgring in Germany. If you know nothing of this place, you can read of it here. Essentially, it is a 20 or so kilometre endurance race circuit in the Eifel National Forest that petrolheads from around the world (although mainly Europe) flock to to test their mettle as a driver. However, more of this later in other posts because I found, through research, that the track was located in the historically interesting and visually impressive Eifel National Park. Before you all say Eifel has too few “L”s in it, this is correct. The tower in Paris is not related in any way :).

Anyway, I set my mind to going and off I popped on the t’interweb making bookings in my bestest pigeon German (which I have a GCSE in, thank you very much for asking) and before I knew it, I had a hotel and the Eurotunnel booked. I don’t do flying. Anyway, what kind of car lover turns up at a race track in a taxi from the airport? But, never fear, these posts won’t be full of cars and discussions over torque figures as I found plenty besides in the local area to keep me amused, but I can’t promise 100% freedom from cars…

But, let’s start at the beginning. How was I going to get there? Where would I stop? I had planned this very well, even for me so there were only two legs to the entire journey where I was driving but they were pretty long. Essentially, I would drive along the M4 to Folkestone from Pembrokeshire, stay overnight, then get up ridiculously early to load my beloved Fiesta ST180 on the train, then scoot through northern france (avoiding the gendarmerie) to Germany. Easy. First hurdle to be greeted was the weather. Now, we shouldn’t complain about decent weather but it was HOT. It doesn’t get too hot in South Wales so, the closer I drove to the south-east to get to the hotel, the warmer it got, until we were pushing high 20’s in celsius on the display. As I say, not warm in most respects but warm enough when you have leather seats and minimal supermini air conditioning. Having fought my way around the madness that was the great London Orbital Car Park (otherwise known as the M25, renowned for awful drivers and delays) I arrived at my first stop, Folkestone, or more specifically, the Portland Hotel, Folkestone. Not having visited the area before, I was pleasantly surprised and the views evoked a Summery feel….

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The seafront was buzzing in the afternoon and it was very nice to stroll in the warm of the evening as the weather cooled off a little. I even had my dinner “al fresco”! Once it got dark, things got interesting. Due to the heat, some storms had formed in the English Channel and that night was the flashiest, bangiest, rainiest evening I recall in a long while. Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch the drama on my camera as I don’t have the proper bits and bobs, but, take my word for it, people instinctively retreated to cover to watch rather than be soaked!

Next morning, freshly rinsed car, it was sunny again so off I zipped to the train, making sure not to damage my expensive alloy wheels on the low sills in the carriages…nerve wracking stuff. However, the continent awaits! I cannot recommend Eurotunnel enough if you are up for a driving holiday to France or even that you wish to be a foot passenger in one of the cities they service. I have used it twice for big holidays I have taken and had no issues. Bear in mind too that I do not get commission, it really is good. Less than an hour later I was in northern France and the motorway speed limit was 80mph so, understandably being a Brit, I did at least 90mph on most occasions. Well, after all, you are bound to get away with a few mph if they try to clock you and you may as well get a decent fine for speeding….

A few hours further on from this and after a very scary circuit of the Brussels ring-road later (less said the better, blooming truck drivers), I was entering Germany and heading towards Cologne where I would then head south from the more industrial part and into the Eifel region. The warm weather continued and the roads were kind, well made, smooth and relatively empty so progress was easy, bar the odd coffee stop. I wasn’t too far from the end of my journey when I took this picture illustrating the lovely open tree-lined routes I was plying…

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As the train was very early morning, I arrived in good time to be able to explore a teeny bit before dinner and then have a rest in my final stop of Adenau. What a find. Shows you what a bit of research can do. Such a charming and historic place near an extinct volcano of all things! My hotel was quiet, I had my own parking spot (as things were not all that busy) and a supermarket spitting distance way for snacks and lunch supplies. Result.

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The following day, I decided just to peruse the local roads, to get my bearings in a way. The roads…awesome. It’s no wonder people came here, there were hairpins and smooth curved 100 kmh limit roads that were great fun to drive and that you ended up with views like this from….

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However, enough driving talk. I came here for the whole region, not just the track. On my early explore, I came across a car park in the middle of nowhere that seemed quite popular, so I decided to go in and see what the fuss was about. I didn’t see any signs that I could easily translate but saw that there was a path heading off so I just followed it…..

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Eventually saw signage relating to “Hohe Acht”. This meant not a great deal to me, other than my very literal GCSE translation of “high eight”. Judging by the constant upward incline of the path I was following, the former part of this translation seemed correct. But eight? Eight what? This muse kept me thinking as I trudged up the path further and further. Bear in mind that the weather was only just cooling down, so I’m not sure this was a wise decision at points, but I was committed now. Eventually I did get to the top to be greeted by….

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This I did not expect. The roads that you travel underneath the tower, so to speak, mean that you can’t see it apart from when you are a fair distance away. But, this was Hohe Acht, the summit of the eight highest tertiary volcano (at 747 metres) in the Eifel region, topped by the Emperor William Tower (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Turm), built in 1908…this will be where all the eights came from then! The tower was constructed for the silver wedding of Emperor William 2. The nationally protected tower is over 50 feet high and the walls are one metre thick at ground level (although if you go there you will be impressed by just the thickness of the doors alone which must have used a ridiculous amount of wood). The views from the top are pretty sweet….

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When you are atop the tower, you realise why the racing drivers call the track “The Green Hell”, due to all of the trees surrounding it. Even though this is high up on a volcano over a race track, I challenge any of you to see the tarmac. No? That’s possibly some of the most supreme camouflage on the planet, I think you will agree.

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To finish the day, I wandered back down the path and decided to zip off-piste with my trusty camera to take a few pictures. It seems that, even though the day was bright and warm, the Eifel is quite a damp place overall (as I would discover later) as the forest walks were bristling with some of the most spectacular examples of fungi I have ever seen..

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I have spared you many of the other pictures I took for these two, as I think you would have got very bored with all the permeations. I couldn’t let this one go past though, look at that chesnut colour! Spectacular.

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Moving on, it wasn’t long until I managed to get out of the forest path that I had entered….at completely the wrong end. I spent the next few minutes using my best cub scout tricks to try to guess which way I should be going and managed to find a path that looked familiar at last. Close run thing though, someone nearly had a free car! However, as you know me, I just took the opportunity to take some more pictures of different scenes….

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Eventually, I was reunited with my steed and headed off in a loop of the forest path I’d just taken past the viewpoint I posted earlier and down to a small shopping centre outside Adenau. Not very exciting I hear you say, but I noticed on my way in that there was a gorgeous little church perched halfway up a cliff on the river the opposite side, so I decided to stop and take a stroll over after a coffee at the bakery. You must try hard to imagine the struggles I had in ordering simple things like drinks and cake, having not used my GCSE for a good 20 years! It got a good giggle now and again, but I think they appreciated me trying and it was worth it for images like this…

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Unbelievably, this is only the end of the first day or two of my trip. I think in all it was ten days but I shall be condensing it as much as possible and I have a few videos to pass the time for you that I posted on my YouTube channel a while back. However, as ever, I shall be injecting a bit of history and now some petrolhead thoughts along the way, but I will try to keep this to a minimum. Maybe.

It’s been a hefty one for the first of the New Year but, thanks for reading it. I am going to try my best to post monthly, if not more often. Not exactly a New Years resolution, but more of a promise to myself to get off my bum and do more on here and with saved pictures, as well as getting more new ones! So, keep this frequency clear, I shall return for part two where we venture off to surrounding towns and villages and more gorgeous scenery.

Bye for now!

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Humpback Whale Awesomeness

Hello!

I couldn’t wait to share this one, so you’ll forgive me for the short blog this time. Just come back from a trip over to south-west Ireland and I was fortunate enough to go on a whale watching trip just off the coast near a place called Union Hall.

I was on the trip with my girlfriend and her Aunt and Uncle, who were cynical about seeing anything at all after a few quiet trips but, in the end, we saw a pair of humpbacks and I took a sweeet video of one feeding. You can see the video on my YouTube channel by clicking here.

What a day, it was so exciting we were all exhausted by the afternoon when we got back; saw Seals, Dolphins, Porpoise and Tuna too. In my opinion, it was worth twice the amount we paid and please, if you visit, or know of anyone likely to, seek the gent out (his name is Colin Barnes) and give him your cash! His website is here.

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Mixing it up a little with some animal life!

Hello everyone!

I hope this blog finds you well. It’s that monthly time (or kinda around that time) where I post a blog as I rumble through the photography archives.

The weather here is…wet. Mind you, we can’t complain of late. It’s been getting a lot warmer and all the Spring plants are emerging as the sun grows stronger. Dad has planted a plethora of snowdrops in the garden and our daffodils our beginning to cover the bank in front of the house….we have even undertaken the first lawn cut of the year! I have been able to get out in the car without having the windscreen wipers on constantly and also done 100 miles or so on the new bike. It’s still cold enough for me to have to wear a fleece and thicker tights (yes, tights) but we are getting there. I hope that things are moving on with you; at the very least you are appreciating the longer days!

Well, to the pictures. As I said, a little bit of a diversion from the norm here as I am posting some pictures of a visit I took when visiting Longleat (http://www.longleat.co.uk/) and Cheddar with an ex-girlfriend a while back. Now, apologies, I don’t usually get personal and mention that kind of stuff, but it’s only polite to acknowledge her, as she did buy the weekend as a birthday present for me and did all the driving (a significant distance from Pembrokeshire).

Anyway, moving on. This isn’t an exhaustive list of whats in the Park by the way, there is only so much room I can post pictures so I have chosen some of my favourites to share with you. Firstly, there is this cheeky monkey…who isn’t a monkey. I think everyone likes a lemur don’t they? Those mad prehensile tails and mischievous nature are quite a draw!

I wish I had a tail I could hang from branches with.....

I wish I had a tail I could hang from branches with…..

After the lemurs, there were larger paddock areas you could drive through; there were others breeds of lemurs and small mammals but the weather was a bit crap to be honest, so there was a certain amount of hibernation going on. Can’t say as I blame them, they are used to much warmer climes. In the first paddock, there was a certain amount of looking up to do…

Getting a good view from up there?

Getting a good view from up there?

As well as the giraffes, there were herds of deer that wandered about. You couldn’t drive much more than 5 mph really for fear of either frightening them or missing one that decided to cross the road in front of you. You could feed the deer too by buying these bags of pellets but I’m not into that kind of stuff, personally. I see these parks as a necessary evil, rather than an excuse to hand feed wild animals…plus the deer seemed fine mowing the lawns!

Talking of hand feeding, the next route headed into the monkey enclosure. This part was gated and there were many signs basically saying that a) if you cared about your car, think twice and b) don’t feed the monkeys, it only encourages destructive behaviour. Needless to say, most people ignored this and there were many monkeys attached to cars…one family even threw fruit onto their bonnet to get a closer look!

I don't know whether this little scamp expected milk form the nozzle or what....

I don’t know whether this little scamp expected milk from the nozzle or what….

Escaping from the monkeys (we sustained no damage, but had a close shave when a youngster used the underside of the car as a hiding place, frightening the crap out of both of us), we headed back to the paddock where we had a close encounter with a gorgeous mature rhino. No other option but to give way to this beast, it probably weighed more than the entire car!

By all means, you first...

By all means, you first…

Once you had cruised the paddock, you could park up and head indoors to see all kinds of creepy crawlies (if you are in to handling snakes, spiders and hissing cockroaches that is) as well as some penguins, complete with their own outdoor basking area, fibreglass cliff and underwater viewing panel. This one seemed to fascinates the children more than anything..

One more flash photo and I'll jump!!

One more flash photo and I’ll jump!!

Now, I like my butterflies, so I made sure I included a picture of the one that stayed still long enough for me to get an image of! There were many more around but they staff had recently put honey pots and oranges out for them to feed on, so it was a bit of a frenzy of fluttering wings….I guess this guy had just had enough.

A gorgeous iridescent butterfly resting away from the madding crowd

A gorgeous iridescent butterfly resting away from the madding crowd

Further on, there was a queue. Very mysterious. Eventually, we discovered this was for a boat, but…a boat to where? Well, it appears that Longleat have a family of gorillas. This family of gorillas, for reasons that probably include escape and all sorts of others risks, are housed on their own island in a huge lake on the property and this boat cruises around the island so you can get a view from all sides. I hope that they didn’t want any privacy. Anyway, to add the the journey, there are sealions in the lake! Yes, sealions! You can buy fish on the boat to feed them if you wish and boy, did they know it, performing for a meal as we chugged along…

Drop the darn fish! If I only had thumbs, I'd come up and get it!

Drop the darn fish! If I only had thumbs, I’d come up and get it!

The gorillas. Hmm, less into performing. I have only included the picture here of the younger and/or female members of the group as there was a silverback but he was uber grumpy. He had obviously become aware of the route of the boat and was sat in an area where all you saw was his back. Well, in the same situation I’d probably feel like that too, so no surprise. It was an very impressive silver back though.

The more "sociable" gorillas watch us pass

The more “sociable” gorillas watch us pass

On the way back, I managed to snap a nice panoramic view of the house with no crowds in it, so that was a bonus. There was a cafe nearby so that was the next stop. If I recall, the coffee was pretty decent. Expensive but decent. Me like coffee.

Longleat House

Longleat House

There were lovely gardens surrounding the property but again, due to the weather not being on our side and the season being all wrong for too much to be in flower, I shall only pop a single picture up. Come the Spring and Summer, this place would be awash with colour judging by what I saw and hopefully they have bee hives nearby to take advantage of all of it! Maybe I should suggest that….

A taste of the very nice gardening around the House

A taste of the very nice gardening around the House

In closing, the weather had got significantly worse so I could only get a few pictures of the Gorge at Cheddar. Lovely area but we were a little pushed for time so couldn’t stay long. A shame as I wouldn’t have minded having a bit of a climb or a rumble around the caves…however, such is life. You never know, I may pop back sometime.

I think I shall name this "The Long and Winding Road"

I think I shall name this “The Long and Winding Road”

Well, I hope you enjoyed the whistle-stop tour of South West Englands finest tourist spots?! No, seriously, it’s worth a visit if you are in that area any time, not enough people appreciate places such as the Cheddar Gorge as much as they should be appreciated for their geological wonder.

Thanks for dropping in again as ever and all the best to all my regulars readers (you know who you are). See you soon!

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A trip to Ghent (Part 2)….and some cool weather abroad!

Hello!

Must have a been a month or so since my last post so I thought I best get off my ample behind and write another post. Took me 5 minutes to get this far as WordPress keep changing buttons all over the place…it’s very annoying but I suspect I shouldn’t complain seeing this is all free and I can speak to my raft of fans (….cue tumbleweed….). Oh, Happy Valentines Day to all by the way. Hugs all round!!

Got the new bike the other week and it’s a flyer I can tell you. Who would have thought that a skinny tyre would make so much difference? So, if you’re around my area, don’t aim for the bike riders, one of them could be me. I’m also spending a bit of time souping up a fish-tank that I liberated from one of my work colleagues; had I known it was going to be so involved, I might not have. However, bits are slowly being cleaned, purchased and such…hopefully it will be filled and chugging away in the next couple of weeks. Bar that, all the news is work based so I shan’t bore you or risk being fired after ranting 🙂

Forward to the images!! As you can see, this is me finishing off the trip to Ghent, and in fact, the trip to Belgium entirely as, after this, we are back to boring old Wales. Not really. I shall try not to make it too boring…throwing in the odd interesting story as ever. Bar that, I could talk politics. Maybe not.

Anyway, here we go. First up are some pictures that I took when I went on the canal tour around Ghent. A lot of time was spent looking up as you can see. Interestingly, I swear that these canals were longer than those in Bruges but maybe it was that the tour was longer, who knows but I found it quite a lot more enjoyable than Bruges. First noticeable image in this set are the tops of some buildings we passed. I believe that the golden ship signifies that the inhabitant was a trader in goods from overseas or even a mater of a trading vessel (the nautical cues back this up). Whether that is real gold or not though is open to argument!

Does the top of a house need to be this fancy? I think not, but I suppose it was the thing back then...

Does the top of a house need to be this fancy? I think not, but I suppose it was the thing back then…

Next, we chugged along one of the longest buildings in Ghent where in days of old, merchants would store their goods. I seem to recall now hat it has gone the way of all old buildings like this, conversion in houses. But what a house you’d have, eh? Apologies for the man in the very bright jumper…the ability to take your time and use the art of composure is somewhat lacking when you have a moving target!

You! Metrosexual in the orange...tone it down!

You! Metrosexual in the orange…tone it down!

Around the corner past the square you got what I believe is the best view of the Gravensteen (mentioned in my last post) in the city. What an imposing building. That it got left to rack and ruin and was going to be used as a factory beggars belief. Should anyone be encouraged to visit this area of Europe after reading my posts, I sincerely recommend the few euros charge to get in.

Yes, it's that castle again (jarring chord)

Yes, it’s that castle again (jarring chord)

Further on, we came to a number of bridge and the canal started getting shallower and narrower by the minute…however, when you had lovely bridges such as this passing over your head, it wasn’t such a bad thing. I recall that this bridge is a recently restored one that makes up part of the University in Ghent.

One of the gates to the University of Ghent

One of the gates to the University of Ghent

All too soon, it was time to make an about turn at a very imposing and handsome gate (you can see, if you look through the bridge, that we could physically go no further as the canal has been dammed) but as we did, I also noticed some very large graffiti on the block of flats behind it…it appears to be someones cynical view of a treehouse if you look closely. Clever? Vandalism? I’m not sure…I find things like that quite appealing, I count myself as a Banksy fan.

Old and modern in one frame

Old and modern in one frame

My parting shot following disembarkation from our little boat and wandering to the train was this image of the archetypal curving and swooping frontages of shops and buildings that Bruges and Ghent are both famous for. Thank goodness for the rebuilding after the First World War.

A typical sweeping street facade

A typical sweeping street facade

Back in Bruges it appeared that interesting weather follows me. or maybe do I see it more than most as I can see what I am looking at better than some? I’m no Carol Kirkwood but as I arrived, it got very dark and then followed a hail storm with a hail core. Yay! I was lucky though, as my window faced in just the right direction, I was high up and the timing was right. Window open, camera at the ready….

The leading edge of the hail storm....

The leading edge of the hail storm….

I looked this up on Google and Wikipedia and it would appear the fact that we got hail was fairly rare, as these hail cores (feel free to do a Google image search, they look just like this) are quite rare at low levels and are usually seen at elevation where the stones are admittedly bigger. You can’t get lower than Belgium and its surrounding countries! However, the weather has been getting weirder of late, so anything is possible..

...you can now see the curve of the core and the rain and hail falling....

…you can now see the curve of the core and the rain and hail falling….

Just at the side, so no big hail. Damn. It was so dark, I expected lightning too. The pictures have been lightened slightly to bring out a bit of colour in the surrounding features…

...a little further on and the hail's still coming down....

…a little further on and the hail’s still coming down….

Then, just like that, it was all gone and we were left with a muddled sky, presumably all the turbulent stuff left behind by the wind.

...then, the turbulent skies to finish.

…then, the turbulent skies to finish.

Well, there we have it, a big finish for the last day of my Belgian exploration! Lovely place, very nice people, lovely food (all very reasonable if you stay away from the centre of the city), lots of beers, waffles and chocolate. What is there not to like? I should expect that I will go back, I found the place quite charming and educational. I hope you enjoyed the tours!

See you next time for some domestic scenery and weather, thanks for dropping in and enjoy the remainder of Valentines Day.

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A trip to Ghent (Part 1)….and some weird weather at home!

Hello and Happy 2015!

I know it’s a bit late but, I haven’t seen you. Looking good! Are you on an exercise program? Lost weight? Hehe…compliments over. Hopefully you all had a peaceful holiday and didn’t over indulge in mince pies and the like. I know I did but I am working on that. One of the steps is a new bike as mentioned before and seeing that will be soon, I am glad the near hurricane force winds that we had earlier in the week have passed us by. One night I had to park my car nose into the wind so I could get out without the door flying out of my grasp.

Also, some of you who reside in South Wales, or indeed the UK, may have experienced a fairly unique occurrence (well, to the UK anyway) in this last week. Thundersnow. No, it’s not a made up term (spellcheck thinks it is)…a quick explanation can be found by going to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-30814403. I could have pasted the Wikipedia link but it was waaaaay too scientific. OK, so over me, it wasn’t thundersnow over me but thunderhail and thundersleet (yes, these are also real things).

All I recall is getting wound up behind a guy who couldn’t see a green light for toffee, then an almighty flash, no thunder, then a sudden downpour of soft hail which made the drive home VERY interesting. Think wet snow and people being tarts by driving normally. Apparently, the flashes are brighter in thundersnow and such because the light reflects from the moisture and this also in turn muffles the thunder, which accounts for the fact that I heard nothing but my father 4 miles away though the world was ending. He very rightly rushed out to garage his car, although the hail here was soft….we have recently heard from a friend that in Roch, 10 miles distant, it was powerful enough to possibly write off 2 cars we know of, but I’m sure others my have been damaged by multiple dents. I still think this is what damaged my bumper last winter whilst pounding a motorway, but Ford deny that their paint job is shite, so I have to take that on the chin. Anyway, pretty cool stuff eh? The only bummer it all happened when I was “sans camera”, so best use your imagination for an image!

What you don’t need to use your mind’s eye for is my trot around Ghent, or Gent, depending on which language you choose to write it in. Again, a lovely town with history oozing from the brickwork (hopefully not like Verviers which seems to have been oozing radicals…current affair based sly dig there). First stop from the rail station was a huge square where this is the main feature, the Belfry of Ghent, otherwise known as Belfort Ghent. Standing at near 95 metres tall, this is a further building that is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Listed item, as is the centre of the city.

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

This building served a similar purpose to that of the Belfry in Bruges, in the first instance it was used for religion, then was converted to basically a look out tower and now is used as a landmark and holds bells that lend a unique chime to the city every hour. On to the next picture and couldn’t get over this…this building is not a church, nor a cathedral but, believe or not, is referred to as the Old Post Office. Pretty cool place to get your postcard sent from I’d say! Further on round the corner, you get a flavour of the “Old Town” also recognised by UNESCO.

The Old Post Office...come on, a post office? Seriously?

The Old Post Office and Old Town…come on, a post office? Seriously?

In amongst all the old buildings, there are always a smattering of news ones and I was quite taken by this one. From what I could see by snooping, it was a very nice restaurant for the well-heeled (judging by the prices) but I was amused by the signage you might be able to see at the right of the fence banning people from parking their motor cruisers outside! Possibly a Belgian nouveau riche thing….

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don't park in front of it in your boat!

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don’t park in front of it in your boat!

Now, to a castle with possibly the coolest name ever. The Gravensteen. Say it with a deep voice in a sentence involving torture and it sounds even better….”take him to the rack in The Gravesteen”. Mwuhaha! Alas, the translation is less spooky sounding, as it means “Castle of the Count”. Quite disappointing really. The castle you can see is from the 12th century but, apparently, a wooden version of the building has been here since 900 AD or so.

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it's not raining to add to the spook :)

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it’s not raining to add to the spook 🙂

The castle was as multifaceted as castles are; if anyone has the good fortune to live nearby a relatively intact castle you can explore, they get used for all sorts of stuff. This castle was used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory! At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished but the city bought it and renovated it for future generations.

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it's only people going to the cafe.....

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it’s only people going to the cafe…..

Part of the renovations added the museums within the walls and a fully renovated basement and crypt, which was pretty creepy and too dark to get decent pictures of, I’m afraid. Mind you, the stuff they had in the museum was awesome…not sure if it was from the renovations at all but still, all the exhibits added to the atmosphere. Very tasteful.

Fancy waering some of this armour? Not me, I'm a mere slip of a thing...I'd do my back in

Fancy wearing some of this armour? Not me, I’m a mere slip of a thing…I’d do my back in

Now this picture I really like, the curve of the walls in the inner sanctum of The Gravensteen. Mwuhaha! OK, enough of that, but it really does, if you squint and concentrate hard enough, look as though you were there. Ignore the modern trappings and such, imagine stray farm animals and wanderings serfs and it’d be authentic. In fact, the BBC liked this placed so much that a BBC drama series “The White Queen” used the inside of the castle squares for some scenes and the outside view of the castle with the moat was shown in some bits of the programme (with some airbrushing for obvious reasons). See, it’s not just me with a keen eye.

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

Anyway, I do leave the castle (under protest), so will show your some further images of Ghent next time. I believe there was nice bit of hail core action I took some pictures of when I got back to Bruges too…if not next time, then soon. I’m even taking images of weather on holiday! Sad, I know.

I shall keep you up to date with regards out freaky weather here. I hope it relents soon, I have a bike to ride to get under 12 stone! Until then, keep safe and thanks from dropping in.

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