Leaving Germany

A small spot at Ennery

We left Cologne shortly after 11am and filled our tank ready for a long journey. The roads in Germany are brilliant and the motorways are free. Our intention was to get to somewhere around Metz in France. This meant quite a lot of driving for the day, through Germany, Luxembourg and then France. We missed the Mosel valley, which was a pity, but the weather was not conducive to sightseeing, we were on a parallel motorway. We found a place in Ennery just north of Metz, using Parking4Night.com with a parking spot just big enough for our van overlooking the Mosel river. This was a good spot and we spent a quiet night here.

Empty car park near in Vesoul

In the morning we left with our target to get to Vesoul, I drove the first part of the journey up to lunch and then Lisa drove for the rest of the way. This works well for us because Lisa is not great at navigating so its better that I navigate at the end when we are trying to find our place for the night. The weather today included, wind rain and some sunshine. In the late afternoon we arrived at a very large car park in Saint-Valbert in Vesoul, this had a motorhome service point and only one motorhome – us! This car park is not very scenic – however it is next to a fairly large lake, about an hour’s walk around. The forecast told us it was going to rain very heavily and be very windy, so I took the dog out for a walk, but didn’t get all the way round the lake as the ominous clouds were drawing in. The rain lashed down just as we arrived back at the van.

The spot was quiet, unfortunately the weather wasn’t and again the wind gave us a less than restful night.

The Sauna

Today we went to the Sauna in Olpe, just me and Juergen. We left at 13:00 and arrived there about 30m later. They gave us locker keys and let us in, you pay on exit here, as you bill food and drinks to your locker tag. Not knowing the conventions here I followed Juergen’s example as best I could, I’ll document what I found here, dear reader, in case you are in Germany and want to got to one of these places. There are many around – just Google for “sauna” or “wellness” near where you are to find them, as you don’t need to be a member you can spend just a morning or afternoon pampering yourself. This post is devoid of photos – for obvious reasons!

My equipment: two towels, one bathrobe, flip-flops and shower gel.

We showered before entering the sauna area. If you have not experienced a Nordic or German sauna you may be surprised that it is mixed and everybody goes naked. It’s a very liberating experience.

This place had many saunas and was extremely busy with people of all complexions. We first went into a rose water sauna, which did have a smell of roses. Juergen said this is where you typically saw the prettiest women, but sadly there was only the two of us in there. Another piece of useful sauna etiquette is to make sure that whether you are lying or sitting you are always on your towel, even your feet. We spent about 15m in this one and then came out and went outside, here there was a small open-air heated pool that was oozing steam, not because it was particularly hot, but the weather outside was hostile, wet, cold and windy. We had a cold shower before we got in – this was unpleasant as I was not yet hot enough – so I made a dash for the pool where we spent 5 minutes slowly swimming back and forth. Then it was back inside to wait for Stefan and Philip – while waiting we gave our feet hot and cold baths, this is supposed to help the circulation – it only seemed to make my feet red. When Stefan and Philip arrived we went back in the rose water sauna – after about 15m we left, braved the weather outside and went into another sauna – the panorama sauna. This one was on the first floor, accessed up some steps and unusually, for a sauna, had windows which overlooked the lake, this is a big old lake but from the windows you could only see a small portion and the outside swimming pool, closed for the season as the weather was miserable so was the view. Then it was time for beer – how I love Germany!

We went to the restaurant, on the first floor of the main building, and 4 weiss beers were ordered. Stefan is not so comfortable with English so I spent most of my time talking with Philip, we talked about how the dental service works in the UK, children, his background in the Netherlands, beer, Brexit, etc.

After beer we went down for another sauna, this time it was a timed sauna, which was very full by the time we got in there, so we had to sit at the back – this is also the highest and hottest position. At the designated time a woman came in and she then poured scented water on the stones, after which she then used a towel in a windmill motion to circulate the moist hot air around. The air temperature drops a little and the humidity goes up a lot – and you really notice that it gets so much hotter. I believe that this is because humid air carries more heat – anyway its easy to feel. The process took her four minutes – she then repeated the process again, phew now it was getting really hot some people started to move downwards to the cooler parts. She did this again another two times – four in all, by the end I was feeling VERY hot. When it ended most people left quickly, but I stayed in with Philip – to finish having our eggs hard boiled – he is a hard man. We chatted for a bit, when we exited we went straight into an ice-cold plunge pool. I was still hot when I came out so I also had a cold shower (all of this was happening outside in the rain).

Now for some more beer – this time was also ordered food to go with the beer. Since we were due to be eating when we got back, Juergen and I shared a great salad which contained strips of beef, sautéed mushrooms and an excellent Balsamic dressing. Stefan and Philip both had calamari salads – ours looked much better and tasted lovely. The accompaniment was another four pints of Weiss Beer. By this point it was nearly time to leave so we decided one one more sauna – this last one was a Finnish wood fired sauna, it was drier than the others. There was one person in there when we got in and it was only after some time that I realised it was a woman – I had thought it was a man – strange how some people look with their clothes off. We exited the sauna after our designated 15 minutes – you time your sauna using one of the numerous sand-clocks dotted around the walls of the sauna, just chose one that has finished, flip it over and then keep an eye on it, it will be marked in five minute units.

After our last sauna, we had a proper shower, dressed, paid and headed out. We drove back, picking up some bread on the way and found that Becki and Lisa had cooked a wonderful lasagne with salad. What a wonderful day!

Cologne

In the afternoon Lisa, Becki and Juergen and I drove to Cologne which is about a 30 minute drive from Wiehl.  Juergen and I split up from the girls and went into the Cathedral, it was free to get in and of course it was packed, there are on average 20,000 visitors a day! The Dom (this is what they call it here) was pretty incredible both inside and out. The outside is still a filthy brown black from the industrial revolution. Juergen says they are not going to clean it, which is a shame as I think it would look incredible if were cleaned, much like the old buildings of London.

They have been repairing the building over the years by completely replacing whole sections of the building, in this photo you can see one of the stonemasons working on a replacement. These new sections are in the original light stone colour, so the building now looks a little patchwork. The flying buttresses were amazing as they had two levels and the two spires are higher by 30ft than the spire at Salisbury, but Salisbury only took 40 years to complete this building took more like 200! The inside is as spectacular, the Cathedral was originally built in order to house the relics of the Three Kings. There are huge expanses of glass and the “swallow’s nest” organ built into the gallery appears to hang magically half way up one of the walls – in all a true Gothic masterpiece.

Juergen, Carlos and some Cologne caviar

My photos of the Dom do not do it justice, hence I’ve not included any. We then looked at some of the Roman ruins, in an underground car park, it seems that everywhere they put up a new building they find Roman ruins. Cologne was established as a Roman Colonia (colony) by  Agrippina the Younger, Nero’s mother was born here. We walked down to the Rhine which is a big wide river here at Cologne and has in the past been prone to flooding. It originates in Lake Constance in Switzerland and comes out in the North Sea at Rotterdam and is one of Europe’s great rivers. After a while we headed back away from the river through a Christmas market, still doing business, and into a beer hall (http://www.gilden-im-zims.de/en/). This was a great place – the beer glasses were small and thin, once you emptied your glass, they would come round and just replace it with a freshly poured beer, so you just kept drinking and drinking! Juergen ordered a local speciality – Kölsche Kaviar – Cologne Caviar, a traditional food speciality consisting of blood sausage, served with onions, German mustard and a bread roll. In this case the sausage is combined with flour and is not black, but a reddish brown, with a few large white specks. In combination with the bread, onions and mustard and the beer, it was quite palatable, good even, but eating it on its own was difficult as it was way too rich.

Becki, Natalie and Lisa

On leaving we headed into the centre of Cologne to meet up with the girls. Natalie, Becki’s daughter, had joined them and after some discussion, we decided to head to a local Italian restaurant which Natalie had suggested.  Natalie and Juergen work in Cologne and Natalie now has a flat and lives there. At the Italian we sat at a high table, Becki needed an extra stool to stop her falling off the bench seat – she isn’t the world’s tallest person! Natalie and Lisa had Risotto, I had Penne Arrabiata, Juergen had a Pepperoni pizza and Becki who was not feeling hungry had a small starter. My dish was very good with plenty of Jalapeños and red chillis. Juergen and I drank more beer – something the Italian waiter was not impressed with, whereas the girls were cultured and had wine. At the end of the meal we asked for the bill, it was €90 and they only took cash (I hate these places – all too common in Germany) fortunately Lisa had cash on her.

Natalie went home and we drove back to Wiehl.  It was a lovely day.

 

New Year’s Eve

Got up late today, nearly 10am, but did go to bed late last night, well after 1pm. Had breakfast round the table with Becki, Juergen and Lisa. Then it was out for a dog walk, Archie as usual was filthy, the woods were very muddy and dark and broody as its Winter, but it was very mild.

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In the afternoon Juergen turned on his sauna, this will be my first time I have been in it. He spent time preparing the area, lighting candles and a fire in a brazier and created a wonderful atmospheric and calming scene. As the sauna is quite small (for two really lying down or six sitting!) we took turns with the girls going in first. They didn’t spend too long in there, particularly since Lisa forgot to take off her jewellery and burnt herself – all we heard was a lot of screaming! Needless to say the girls didn’t avail themselves to the cold shower either which Juergen has installed the garden, they just sat around the brazier with their glasses of wine dressed in dressing gowns & flip flops!

After the girls it was our turn in the sauna. It was perfect in there. The sauna is circular and made of Canadian Cedar. Juergen made the sauna himself out of a kit shipped from Canada – he is a dab hand at such things. The hardest part was removing the tree roots from the place where the sauna now resides.

We got ready for dinner which was an evening of meats cooked on a hot stone with steak, chicken, potatoes and salad. Juergen marinated the chicken with spiced curry and it was tastier than the steak. I provided two bottles of very good Claret and we had way too much too drink, specially me. We had a good laugh and at midnight went out to watch the fireworks. I was surprised by how many fireworks there were, given the small number of houses but the Germans always celebrate New Year at mid-night with fireworks.

I could not finish my Champagne and had to retire to bed at about 1am – party pooper!  Lisa and the others retired at 3am apparently!