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Monday 2nd September sees our intrepid trio rise early and head for the border.

For those who can’t read French the sign says; “You are about to enter a country whose politicians are the laughing stock of Europe. Good luck” For those who can read French, shhh!

Within 3 hours of getting up this morning we are in bumper to bumper traffic courtesy of the UKs good old M20. Deep joy.

We are home at around 11am. The usual things assail our senses and inveigle our minds as we finally pull up at Chez Nous:

  • Lawn needs mowing
    Hedges need cutting
    How much post!?
    Why does this water taste so bad? (Thames Valley affliction)
    What’s for dinner?
    Do we really need to go shopping?
    Can’t we just have pizza?
    I have to get ready for work!!!
    Shall we unpack now or tomorrow?
    How much washing!?
    Is our neighbour still alive?

That last point may not be a universal but our lovely neighbour was extremely ill when we went away. We are overjoyed to see that he is considerably better and very much in the land of the living.

By way of procrastination we go for a walk.

The forest is dense. A dark tangle of branches, twigs and fallen leaves. Moss coats the floor and brambles tug at our clothes. We see an unprepossessing building through the gloom. Mrs P turns to Mr P and says, “You’re going to have to mow this lawn.”

The rest of the day sees Mrs P starting a big pile of washing and beginning to unpack Gandalf while Mr P tackles the jungle.

We’re back. It’s been a lovely holiday as always. The following few photos are an attempt to précis our trip.

From dinosaurs…

Good dinosaur. Nice dinosaur.

…and sport climbing in Nassereith, Austria…

Nice rock

…over the Reschen Pass…

The sunken bell tower on the Reschensee (Lake)

And into Italy.

It’s Italy so it must be Pizza time

We biked…

Cycling through Glurns in Austria

…and we climbed both snowy mountains…

The glaciers above Sulden en route to Monte Cevedale

…and rock.

Mr P. Rock star

We met up with old friends…

Mr & Mrs McD on the via Ferrata above Arco

…and some REALLY old friends.

Ötzi the Iceman. Bolzano museum. 5,000 years old and not getting any younger

We had tough days (there were no tough days). We had active days…

The summit of Monte Cevedale. A 9 hour round trip

…and lazy days.

Post pizza euphoria. Chilling out in Arco

We’ve seen some sights…

Medieval Festival, Schluderns, Italy

…and we’ve inflicted some sights…

Mr P takes his shirt off thereby breaking several international injunctions

…and through it all, despite all we put him through, Gandalf looked after us.

Gandalf, demonstrates his Tardis like capacity, Sulden, Italy

All in all, another great holiday.

Selfie at the Festival. Schluderns, Italy

Role on Gandalf’s next adventure

The home straight.

Sunday 1st and Monday 2nd September (yes, I know, I’m way behind) and we are on the home straight.

We leave Verdun carried in a lightly dented Gandalf. A bit less grumpy but somewhat melancholy as our trip draws to a close.

We should consider ourselves lucky as back in 1916 the battle of Verdun stopped 300,000 men from ever leaving this place. (Thus putting our minor problems into perspective.)

We are heading for Saint Omer. It’s not a great place to go, though I’m sure the tourist office would disagree, but it does place us within 40 minutes drive of Calais and Le Tunnel.

While Mrs P drives Mr P spends a fruitless hour tying to find a campsite. We swap driving and within 5 minutes Mrs P has found a spot.

4 km from the centre of town in the Marais of Audomarois or the Marshes of a saint Omer.

A great little campsite and only €15 a night

Way back in the 7th Century local monks here started carving channels through the sodden peaty soil for cultivation. A thriving market garden industry was in place by the 19th century and today, more than 50 vegetable varieties are grown there. Admittedly 49 of those varieties are cabbage but still…

The influence of cabbages can be felt, quite literally, when, following every harvest, fences across the region are blown down by mysterious winds seeming to emanate directly from the marshes.

Enough silliness. It is a beautiful place…

The lovely Marais Audomarois near Saint Omer

It’s a bit like parts of the Thames near Henley, though without the aeroplane noises, congestion and ocean going liners.

(Aside: Why do people buy ocean going vessels to noisily cruise up and down a 60 foot wide, 3 mile stretch of the Thames at Henley?)

All this loveliness is too much for us so we cycle into town to have an end of trip drink.

We don’t stay long. If we missed the crowds, noise and smells of the Thames then Saint Omer did its very best to make us feel right back at home.

After a quick drink, a dose of other people’s cigarette smoke and a vehicular assault on our ears we head back for the tranquility of the marshes.

Cabbage for dinner anyone?
Ah, calm again

Where Mrs P feeds the duck…

I hope zat is good French Baguette and not that pathetic Brexit Foreign bread.

…and Mr P tries out the very latest in aquatic turbo trainers.

Quick, turn on Strava

All followed by a lovely glass of French red.

A considerably less grumpy Mr P

Last year, at the end of our 4.5 month trip one the final photos was an image of our shadows on the beach in Spain. Whilst this is not quite the final blog post of the trip it is the final photo of this particular post, we thought we would do something similar…

Another trip draws to a close as the sun sinks low over France

Tomorrow, Le Tunnel

Least said soonest mended

Saturday 31st August and Sunday 1st September will be travel days to get us back within easy driving distance of Calais and the Channel Tunnel. Or, as the French call it; Le Place from which Le Stoopide Brexit people come. (Zoot Allors!) You think I’m joking? They’ve already changed the signs at customs, as follows:

  • EU Nationals ➡️
  • Roast Beef Eating Foreign types ➡️
Johnny Foreigner this way…

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Possibly because I am writing this in the tunnel between Calais and Folkestone.

So, dear reader, let’s go back in time, way way back to Saturday 31st August. We have a cunning plan. It’s a dreadful plan but, at this point it time, we are blissfully unaware of just how uncunning our cunning plan is.

It all starts well, a carefully plotted early morning flit from the campsite. No rations (read: breakfast and a cup of Rosie Lee), bypass the guards (read: ‘the people in the tent next door), avoid the searchlights and crash (read:,’raise‘) the barrier doing 98 (read: ‘quite slowly actually‘). Steve McQueen would’ve been proud (read: ‘ashamed‘).

Call that an exciting escape?

By 05.30hrs we are on the road and by 06.30 we have negotiated the 4th longest road tunnel in the world.

Are we there yet?

The Arlberg Tunnel is 16km long. The sun wasn’t quite up when we entered the tunnel but it certainly was when we came out the other end. Weird!

All good so far, but did I mention that the sun came up? That’s where the trouble really began.

It got hot…

A picture of it getting REALLY hot!

I should mention here that Gandalf has no air conditioning. His only concession to hot weather comfort is electric windows. There is also a thermometer inside the cab to rub your nose in the fact that we have no air conditioning.

The thermometer inside Gandalf reads 37.8 degrees C or, for our US readers, 100 degrees F.

“Open the windows!”

I hear you chorus.

This is not as good an idea as you might think. We are traveling on motorways and the noise with the windows when open is horrendous, besides that, any air that does rush by at deafening velocity is akin to that kicked out by your average hairdryer. So we opt for the stifling still heat as opposed to the deafeningly noisy heat.

To add to our woes we had decided to alternate 2 hour driving stints but, for some reason, had not considered any breaks. This was a mistake. It turns out that Mr P does not do well without his morning hot drink and a spot of food. In fact he can get quite grumpy so, when Mrs P misses the turn off the Autobahn adding a whole 15 minutes to the 6-7 hour journey, Mr P in his lack of hot drink, no breakfast and overheated state gets quite unnecessarily fractious.

Mrs P, being the saint that she is ignores him. Best way. He falls asleep.

Several million hours and a couple of driver changes later and the temperature in the van has at no point dropped below 6 billion degrees centigrade (about 42.8 billion degrees F for our US readers). We finally arrive on the outskirts of Verdun with just one simple task left before we can go to the campsite and break free of Gandalf’s searing, suffocatingly oppressive, oven like grip. Time to get fuel.

This is a mistake.

Fill up with fuel and pay. (Miraculous, since most French petrol stations refuse to employ human beings and then refuse to take our good old English bank card.)

Then, horror of horrors, Mr P fails to negotiate a carefully camouflaged bollard and does damage to our home, our friend, the van we all love, our very own Gandalf.

Poor Gandalf

This has the effect of turning Mr Ps already dark mood to inky black.

Nice campsite though

To précis the rest of the afternoon and evening I will simply say that Mrs P was very patient.

The evening was rescued to some extent by Mrs P taking a very grumpy Mr P out to dinner (Mrs P: “Can you believe it, he even complained about having to eat late!”).

Well, enough of my failings as a loving husband for now. I shall catch up on Sunday and Monday in my next post.

Spoiler alert: Mrs P’s patience is less tested as Mr P cheers up.

What to do, what to do…

…as Pooh Bear once said. Friday August 30th and it’s our last day in the mountains. Do we climb or do we go for a walk? Decisions, decisions.

Much as we would like to do both we eventually decide on a hike. And, since time is limited we are going to cheat.

Cheat

We take the chairlift up from Hoch-Imst at 1,000m to 2,050m. We only have a freebie map. It’s one of those horrible 3D affairs designed for people who can’t read maps. This kind of map is infuriating.

To cheap to buy a real map

I have this theory that we can walk from the top of the chairlift at 2,050m, over the Hinteres Alpjoch (2,425m), down to the Mutterkopfhutte (1,934m) and back up to the chair lift. However, the Hinteres Alpjoch is not marked on the map. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe it is the one have indicated. Maybe we should’ve bought a map! Maybe, maybe, maybe… However, it’s a stunningly beautiful day, we are wearing walking boots and have made sandwiches. Only one way to find out…

We quickly find a summit of sorts…

Summit number 1 of the day

…and stop to pose with the ubiquitous summit cross.

Mr P. Proud summiteer

From where we can see our possible route.

Slight pointy bit in centre of picture. That’s our summit… Maybe.

Time for a few flower pictures I think…

The common Dandelion. Alpine style
One of them butterfly things
A drop of water caught on a leaf. Leafius dampus

In the UK such a walk would be rammed but, there’s just us. This is because we have passed the magic, 20 minutes from the chairlift zone. Few users of such mechanical uplifts will go beyond this point without the imminent promise of a cup of tea or beer.

Near the summit Mr P encounters the prettiest Mountain Elf ever. Anywhere.

We found the top of the Hinteres Alpjoch (2,425m). Disappointingly there was no cross by which to pose. Just a small yellow, plastic sign so, I took a picture of the ground instead…

A pretty bit of ground near the summit

Anyway, lets go down to the Mutterkopfhutte. Where is it?

Do I smell coffee? There it is!

The sign says 1.5 hours but we are ‘ard and have gravity on our side. So, 45 minutes later…

Guess where?

I was going to suggest a coffee but, strangely, the word ‘beer‘ came out instead. Go figure!

Under the influence of ein kleines Bier, I decide to try a ruse on Mrs P. I tell her that I am taking a picture of the reflection in her sunglasses when really I am just after a close up. She’ll never know.

The prettiest mountain elf ever, part 2

She returned the favour…

Mr P after Mrs P discovered his ‘little ruse’

We finished it all off with a short but stiff (and rather Tolkienesque) walk back to the chairlift.

Is that you Bilbo?

The above picture is a vain attempted zoom in on the lone walker on the path. I hope he’s insured, I’m sure his wife was right behind him about 30 seconds ago!

A splendid last day in the mountains.

Back at the campsite…

Gandalf in Imst

…Gandalf is patiently waiting.

Tune in tomorrow for the tale of our, oh so hot, journey North.

Before you go blaming me…

Thursday 29th August 2019

If you are feeling under the weather what would you choose to do? Duvet day, raise at noon and spend the rest of the day reading books? Not Mrs P. The following is what Mrs P chose to do (of her own free will I might add) because she needed an ‘easy day’...

The rest will do me good.

This Via Ferrata (or Klettersteig in German) is in Nassereith, Austria and, while short (1.5 hrs) it is quite hard. Graded ‘D’, they only go up to ‘E.’

Basically this is cable pull ups for an hour and a half.

So not necessarily what Mr P may have considered the wisest of choices for the recovering Mrs P. but, we all know who’s in charge, so onward and upward.

Anyway, it seemed to work…

Mrs P with Nassereith and a bloomin’ great drop in the background

…and a great time was had by all.

Mr P showing off his not letting go skills
Stuff the climbing, check out the new trousers!
Mrs P on the other hand doesn’t need new trousers to look cool

It’s difficult to show the height of such a climb but the following photo attempts to do that by zooming in on a couple of climbers on the route.

If you look to the right of the zoomed image a 3rd climber is shown in real size.

There was even a fun bridge over a gentle abyss comprising only 3 cables. One for your feet, one for each hand. Got some good video but unfortunately the bandwidth here is not sufficient to load to the blog. Sorry.

Tomorrow, Friday 30th August, is our last day in the mountains before we begin the long, depressing drive home. Now I admit I am 24 hours behind with my updates but, tune in tomorrow to find out what we got up to.

Here’s a taster…

A taste of things to come.

See you tomorrow…

Life through a macro lens

Wednesday 28th August

When life slows you down, for whatever reason, and the journey focuses more on the minutiae of every step than on the summit in the distance, the focus of your eye readjusts and is drawn to such things as the beauty in a leaf.

Foliagus niceus

The delicacy of a butterfly (or maybe a moth? Who can tell?)

Butterfly Wingclipoffius

The myriad, and potentially poisonous, mushrooms.

The Probablykilluifuateit mushroom
The definitelykilluifuatit mushroom

Even the insects at work…

2 bees. (Or not 2 bees)

…and other things for which I have run out of adjectives…

The impressively named Coneubelieveitnoadjectivestodescribeit
That rarest of creatures Wifesansrucksackus

The walk on which we found all this carefully annotated and taxonomically accurate (yeah, right!) flora started and finished at this place…

The Marienberg Abbey, Schlinig, Italy

The Marienberg Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey founded in the 12th Century.

(Guess how many people live here. Go on, guess. You’ll never guess)

The whole place has undergone a massive renovation project that started in 2015 and continues today. I’d guess in the tens of millions of Euros and maybe as much as a hundred million.

(Did you guess yet? Go on, you know you want to.)

Mrs P asks the Big Man how many people live in the Abbey
Mrs P confessing that she now knows how many people live in the Abbey

It is a HUGE and very impressive building

How many?

It houses a new library containing 135,000 titles. It also has a very nice coffee shop with the poshest Art Deco tea spoons I have ever considered stealing (Heaven forfend!)

And you’ll never guess how many monks live there…

Ok, I’ll tell you…

11.

That’s ‘eleven!’ One more than 10. One less than 12. I say this simply to emphasise that I have not missed out a digit or two. Eleven monks.

That’s 12,272 books each! (And about the same number of rooms. Each!)

They should sell up. They’d make Russian Oligarchs look positively destitute.

But, back to the small, pleasures in life.

Happiness is a flat place to pitch Gandalf …

…and a cold beer shared with Mrs P

See you tomorrow…

What’s the furthest you would travel for pizza?

A very nice pizza but, was it worth the journey?

The answer, well, our answer is, round trip, 66 miles.

Now that may sound like a long way, and, don’t get me wrong, it is but, add in the fact that, to complete just one way (33 miles) of this trip took almost 2 hours and involved:

  • Leaving Italy
  • Going to Switzerland
  • Returning to a Italy
  • Going over the Umbrial Pass (2,501m)
  • Taking a minor detour to the Stelvio Pass (2,757m)
  • Tackling more than 90 hairpin bends
  • Ascending around 1,842m
  • Descending around 1,657m

I think you will agree that that is an insanely long way for pizza.

It does of course beg the question; ‘Why?’

Well, are you sitting comfortably? I shall take you back to my last post when I said…

“…We are off back into the mountains tomorrow. Going to climb the Ortler…”

We’re going to climb The Ortler… Oh no we are not…

Now you may remember that Mrs P has been a bit under the weather. The Ortler is graded PD+ (for a idea of a PD+ grade climb see our Allalinhorn trip last year). We decided that, discretion being the better part of valour, we would leave the Ortler for another day. We will definitely be back as it looks stunning.

Anyway, we are sat in our campsite wondering what to do instead…

Where’s Gandalf? (No prize but can you see him?)

…and we decide to go and climb the Monte Zebru (3,703m) from the Rifugio V. Alpini-Bertarelli. The guide book says; “… park in the big car park, (the other side of the Umbrial Pass), take a Jeep to the road head and then walk for a few hours to the hut.”

So…

Looking down towards Bormio from near the top of the Stelvio Pass

…over the Pass we go. Get to the big car park and…

…big!? Define ‘Big.’ There are already about 12 cars parked up. Practically on top of each other in true Italian style and literally (and I do mean ‘literally’) nowhere else to park within 10 km. Even then only about 5 of the spots were long enough to cater for the not very long Gandalf. We investigate alternatives but, sadly, it looks like a wasted journey. Only one thing to do (well, 3 actually):

  1. Find campsite
  2. Eat pizza
  3. Sulk.

So, that’s the story of Gandalf’s long quest over the misty mountains to do battle with Smaug get pizza. Tolkien would definitely have written a better story.

The following day we went all the way back over the pass (another 90+ hairpins). Don’t consider doing this in your white behemoth Campervan by the way. There is a 10m length restriction and in places the road is barely wide enough for a car.

How it was all meant to be…

So, back in the Val Venosta, as a consolation prize, we decide to go climb possibly the easiest glaciated peak in Italy, Piz Sesvenna, 3204m. What can go wrong? Well…

…It turns out that Mrs P may be a bit more ‘under the weather‘ than she has been admitting.

We set out from the van for our 2 hour, 600m climb to the Sesvenna Hütte. It’s a lovely day…

A picture of the day being lovely

But, Mrs P is struggling.

We stop for a rest…

Mr P admires the view (of his new trousers and laces).

…and a contemplate…

A rather fed up Mrs P failing to appreciate either Mr P’s new trousers or his new laces (she is obviously sick).

…we head back to the van

Poor Mrs P.

I think I’ll have a bit of a lie down now.

Will she pull through? Will our normally athletic, dynamo of a heroine return to her peak of fitness in time to partake of more daring adventures before we must begin the long journey back to Blighty?

Tune in next time to find out.

Possible spoiler alert. Should Mrs P fail to rally, I can assure you that she, and in fact I, will bravely undertake gentle scenic bimbles, heroically visit restaurants and cafés and, casting caution to the wind, finish of the day with schnitzel, chips and wine (distant relatives of Crystal, Tipps and Alistair).