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Picking up the Carnet

We made it. Our first destination. And also our penultimate one. We arrived in Munich to collect the Carnet de Passages, the two weeks we’d set ourselves to get across Europe thinking it was plenty in the end proving to be about spot on. A load lifted that I hadn’t realised was there. We’d made it by the date set, and whilst I always knew it was a flexible date, its achievement bolstered confidence. The odd goal can be good every now and again if applied properly. I now realised, after having gone through the process and spoken face to face with the supremely helpful people at ADAC that we needn’t have applied so early. But renewal isn’t a problem so probably better to have it all done and dusted – the road is a bad place to organise form filling. Mickey and I are both in a restful mood, despite the fact we need to hotfoot it to Berlin, our last destination or at least, our last time-dependent one. We stayed the night just outside Munich, having identified the campsite using the internet the night before. Riding to a destination without GPS for the 2nd time that day wasn’t enjoyable and I resolved never to fix my destination on this trip again – a resolution that I’m pretty certain isn’t achievable! (The first destination of the day, ADAC, was relatively easy thanks to the fact it was signed throughout Munich).

The campsite had the look of a travellers site, and the reception/bar area was done up as a Wild West saloon complete with dressed mannequins, model horses and wagons. A lot of care had clearly gone into it. Ringing the buzzer brought forth a guy who was clearly a bit of a character although we shared no language. After asking me something about the bikes and checking whether I had a man (Mickey was waiting with the bikes around the corner) he showed us to a site that looked like an afterthought, nestled between two permanent caravans and left us to it. Later, having pitched the ten he showed us every aspect of the facilities in bemusing detail. With his slightly slapstick manner, our lack of German and the Wild West backdrop it made for a surreal experience. We ate a good cheap meal at the bar and then left the locals to it. We had a feeling we were intruding slightly, whilst everyone was polite to us, it was clear that the residents were a close knit bunch. Besides the events of the last few days had left us wanting an early night.

After the best night’s sleep yet – 12 hours solid, we hit the road at 9:30 to comply with the unusually early checkout time. We made good ground that day, settling in to the navigation well by now and we arrived in Burglengensfeld early in the afternoon. Having searched for campsites through the last 4 villages, we were at the point of resigning ourselves to another hotel stay. However, on asking at one gasthaus whether they had a room free, I was given an abrupt frowning no so we carried on. Happily a few miles down the road, out of the corner of my eye as I passed it, I caught a Campingplatz sign. We U turned and followed its directions to an old restaurant building situated in a blissfully quiet spot by a peaceful river. A girl watering flowers outside directed us to an out of the way site telling us her mother would sort out payment with us later.

Heading out for a short walk to find food we ended up on a 5 km hike thanks to a mystical restaurant that seemed to be signed incorrectly. We eventually made it to Burglengensfeld – the town we’d initially disregarded as being too far away! – and located a restaurant serving local food. Not caring by this point and ravenous with hunger we ordered blindly from the German menu and ended up with the best meal we’ve had to date. We later found out Mickey had liver, meltingly tender with apples and potatoes and I had chosen wild boar with dumplings and cranberries. Delicious! And no more money than we’d paid previously despite the worringly upmarket appearance of the place.

Sleepy and satisfied we headed back to the campsite, with a resolution to stay another night, on the more direct route we should have taken in the first place (but if we’d done this we no doubt would have missed out on the meal – funny how things work out).

The following day we would again take on a monster hike by accident but it felt good to be walking with nowhere to go in the sunshine and tranquil countryside. More reason to feel lucky materialised as we neared the campsite not a moment too soon. In the distance was the tell-take black line of a storm coming in so we upped the pace. Grabbing the washing off the line and pitching the tarp to give extra shelter we jumped into the ten just as torrential rain arrived, brought in by strong winds. Congratulating ourselves on our good fortune the rain happily passed quickly and we were bathed in sunshine again after an hour or so.

That night, relaxed as I was, I had an unexpectedly bad night’s sleep. I think some part of me knew we had to move on and wanted to stay in this lovely spot. But Berlin has become another destination after having found out just prior to leaving the UK that my visa code has a 30 day expiry period. Lack of sleep undoubtedly colours my days and so, Mickey’s too. The more tired I am, the more anxious I become, disrupting sleep further. I’m learning to prioritise sleep now though, even if it means retiring at 6:30.

As we packed up the tent the old couple in the caravan across the way called us over for a coffee. Having seen Mickey making it the day before they’d told us to bring the stuff over to them, rather than lighting up the fire especially for it. This morning though, they’d gone one further and made it all for us, delivering it with some delicious baked cheesecake – a good breakfast! We ate it gratefully, touched by their hospitality. Between a spattering of German words on our part and a smattering of English on their part that came from time spent working in Sydney, Australia 50 years prior we conversed on a surprisingly diverse array of topics. The weather, our destination, their plans for the day, our methods of finding a campsite and where and what we had eaten the night before. They furnished us with the details of what it was we’d eaten as we were still none the wiser to anything other than that it was delicious.

We hit the road and had to deal with probably the worst driving we’ve come into contact with. Perhaps it is because I’m a little tired that I tolerate it less well and I’m sure the tiredness opens the door to the worry that comes: if this is challenging me, what of driving in other parts of the world? Inevitably though that line of thinking gets me nowhere. For the umpteenth time this trip I shut down, no point in thinking about it, I’ll deal with it when I have to.

We make it to Hof in good time – we’re eating the km each day now which is good for the confidence and gives us a bit more breathing space to stay a while in places we enjoy. We begin to look for places to stay but the city is big and ugly and I don’t like the feel of it so we decide to ride on. We pass a few hotels and gasthaus as we leave but nothing grabs me. Further down the road through a couple of small towns I see a Pension sign by the side of the road – Pension Juchhoh. It appears closed but we stop anyway to investigate. I ring the buzzer and an upstairs window opens.

The girl comes down and opens the garage for us to shelter our bikes in. The price is a bargain and includes breakfast so we agree immediately. The room is pristine and has a balcony and a little living area with good quality old fashioned furniture that reminds me of another time and tickles long forgotten memories giving me a warm feeling of nostalgia. I feel lucky to have found this gem as it begins to rain outside. Rain that will continue hard well into the following and prompt us to stay another night here.

Little pensions like this bolster a dream that we have to live a simple life one day, hosting travellers and guests in a quiet part of the world. The quality of life seems good. With the restaurant open to the public only in mornings and catering for guests only in the evening. Much of small town Germany seems to have this pattern, with shops and businesses being open only a handful of days a week or only a handful of hours a day. It gives places a sleepy laid back feel – a sharp and welcome contrast to the speed and rushing of the main roads. People here have the time to attend to the things that matter it feels, always time to smile or speak. Perhaps the ones rushing from A to B via the roads aren’t missing anything at all. Perhaps they’re just rushing back to this life, unwilling to spend more time than necessary outside it.

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