Time for a lie in

I’ve woken up to the sound of rain for the first time in over a week. I’m finally at a site with WiFi so I’ve decided to catch up with this. In the last couple of days there’s been some much more dramatic scenery as I’ve moved further into the Rhone valley. The first big climb for a few days felt really good! It’s surprising how much you can dread and enjoy hills at the same time! It must be the endorphins and the satisfaction when you reach the view. I was rewarded with this:

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This area is called the ‘Cirque de Ladoye’

Since then the views have continued to be refreshingly different and dramatic.

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First glimpse of ‘Lac de Voulgans’

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The massive dam that is the ‘Barrage de Volgans’

What doesn’t come out too much on the photo is the massiveness and the way that the water is a strange chalky blue-green colour that makes it look really unusual and striking.

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This photo is evidence that I have finally changed my shirt! 

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A viaduct always makes a valley look more impressive somehow!

So now I’m in Pont d’Ain. In another rubbish municipal campsite. But at least they have WiFi… A frustrating end to to day yesterday was running out of fuel half way through cooking dinner and having to eat it cold. I was prepared, I’d bought a new bottle of fuel which the Belgium couple had told me was the stuff I needed but my stove just won’t light. Or it will light but only with a massive unruly flame that goes out after a few seconds. I managed to make some tepid decaffeinated coffee by lighting the stove over and over again for about an hour. 

On the menu for dinner tonight is a sandwich and I’ll be lugging around a full box of couscous and vegetables until I can sort it out…

Gy

I had meant to explore Gy but there was some weird magnetic field between me and the bed which I just couldn’t overcome despite the fitness levels I’ve attained over the last week or so. So not much to say about it…

…apart from that I treated myself a lovely hostel 🙂

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It’s the building behind the fountain.

The ride was pretty, along the Saone river.


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With some impressive canals cut through hills.


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No idea what this was doing there but anyway at least I don’t need to cycle to Paris now 🙂

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I met these two guys when we were all trying to find an alternative way along the river- one section of it was blocked. So we cycled together for a bit. I thought I was really unfit as they zoomed up hills ahead of me with no effort. I had more luggage but I didn’t think I was that slow! When we stopped to eat I saw their bikes had little motors!


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They pointed out that a lot of the houses we were passing were empty. I had been wondering at the crumbling plaster, the sleepyness of the villages, the lack of shops and lack of any obvious places people could work except on farms. Some places have become holiday homes but most are just empty houses with people having moved to cities. Even the cities or rather large towns I’ve been through have a bit of a ghost town feel. It’s a bit of a strange place!

Two lovely days :)

Two days of beautiful woodlands and peaceful campsites ahh! Perfect to make up for the misery of municipal campsites and ‘leisure park’s. The first was cycling through a really beautiful deciduous woodland just outside Darney. Deep into the woods is a site with some historical interest too in the form of an old forge, chapel and farm. It’s been taken over hippies who I had been looking forward to meetIng. Unfortunately, by the time I climbed the massive-feeling hills to get there the only things on my mind were finding out where the toilets were, where the showers were and where I could put up my tent so I could finally get some dinner on.  However the lady I met, being oblivious to the fact I’d been on my bike for 8hrs, was full of inner peace and calm and wanted to take me though the procedure of signing in the the campsite v….e….r….y slowly! So I had a little wander around in the morning instead.

They have lots of people working on site who I think must live there too. They grow lots of food, keep goats to make cheese and make all sorts of natural beauty products that they sell in an unmanned shop with an honesty box.

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They obviously have a campsite, and they run classes in the busy months for visitors. Classes include things like mosaic making, organic agriculture and yoga. There’s also a gorgeous looking swimming pond but it wasn’t really the best time of year. 

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(there is more open bit of water around the corner with a platform to jump in off)

Mornings are so misty and beautiful!

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This shows the road leading down from the campsite. A lovely area.

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The next day though, I was really tired and only traveled about 30km.

My bike felt so heavy and my legs just didn’t warm up. So I chose a campsite not too far away near Amance and called it a day. I’m so glad I did because this has been the perfect sunny recovery afternoon! Finally a campsite that costs less than 5 euros and just lets you pitch wherever you want.

I was even allowed to help myself to plums and hazelnuts from the trees 🙂

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Peace and quiet. Not another camper here! Sometimes that’s exactly what I want!

Here are some pics en route: 

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I wanted to try to show some of the typical villages of the area. But these don’t quite show it. All the villages are very similar. Buff coloured houses with shutters and plaster falling off around the windows. A church which rings out every hour or more and if you’re very lucky there’ll be a shop. But it’ll be closed.

Sunshine! :)

The party went on till 2am last night and I was treated to musical delights such as the Macarena and that sickly song from Dirty Dancing that gets stuck in your head if I tell you which one you’ll be singing it for the rest of the day… 

…’I’ve had the time of my li-i-ife…’

Ugh! I should have asked for my money back really! 

Anyway all has been much better since then! Was a beautiful warm sunny blue sky

The warmest yet, I think it got to 25 degrees in the end. I decided to take it easy today and do a long day tomorrow to end up at a recommended campsite. So I took my time and enjoyed the weather 🙂 

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I thought crocuses came out in  Spring? Anyway what a beautiful field!

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While I was eating lunch here I met another couple going the other way. We chatted briefly. They were seasoned bike tourists and in the past took a year off to go through India, Cambodia and New Zealand! I’m quite jealous but inspired! They were both smoking rollies and eating cake! I have become so health conscious since starting all this cycling I was quite surprised. I’ve no idea how people who smoke can climb hills with a fully loaded bike! Anyway they seemed to managed just fine and I spent the rest of the afternoon seeking out a patisserie but it’s Sunday so everything is closed. I will definitely treat myself tomorrow. I’m now in town called Lunéville which has this grand building in the centre but is otherwise quite run down. (sorry for the bad photo! It was to bright to see the screen!)

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Believe it or not I am starting to enjoy myself 🙂

More sun!

Today is Tuesday and despite staying in the strange tiny campsite in Lunéville (which is just a couple of strips of grass at the edge of a park and they have the cheek to charge 14 Euros!) I managed to sleep enough to be up and on the road by 8.30! To be honest I was looking forward to getting on my way again. Another very misty and cold start but it felt lovely to be out in it. I could feel the mist soaking me but could just about see blue sky so I knew the sun was on it’s way and would dry me off. All the roads today have been so quiet and calm and since the sun came out it’s been really warm too, just a bit cooler in the shade but a perfect temperature for cycling.

I did treat myself to some patisserie and waited till I had I nice view to gorge on it 🙂


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I’m afraid I haven’t got anymore photos because I just cycled like crazy today! I didn’t mean to go so far, I’d missed out a whole page of map when I planned my stop!

Covering ground

Since I last wrote I have crossed the border into France. The first border with a sign declaring itself. Almost as soon as I was in France the weather became sunnier and the temperature warmer. Up till then I had sometimes been riding up hill with a feather jacket and a wooly hat. But now the weather is much more as I hoped it would be. The scenery has not been particularly special. Just lots and lots of farm land, very small villages and very few shops. These cooling towers are mentioned in the guide which gives you an idea of the lack of points of interest! Mind you the size of them was quite impressive when I was cycling right by them a bit further on.


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At the camp site that evening I met a couple who were also bike touring. Haans and Annie. We spotted each other straight away! They are following the same route as me but South to North. This was great as they tipped me off about a few campsites- ones that they recommended and ones that they’d found were closed.

They suggested I plan my stops carefully to make sure I could always find somewhere that was open and suggested staying in youth hostels later in the season. They were so friendly and helpful, Haans was servicing his bike so he offered to look at my bike too. He ended up cleaning the chain and replacing my brake pads for me! 

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They thought now was a good time as I had lots of hills coming up! 

Another great thing about today was that I reaped the benefit of traveling at this time of year! 

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Lots of wild hedge row fruit and it’s so delicious and free! Apples, pears and plums! Yum!

I’m now at a campsite in Vic Sur Seille. It’s probably the rowdiest campsite so far! Everyone around me is talking very loudly and enthusiastically and some bad music is drifting over from the party they’re having at the reception to celebrate the end of the camping season. Even the rooks that just came home to roost are making loads of noise. It is saturday night I suppose, so I bought myself a small beer. Just so I could join in instead of feeling bitter!

I would so much rather be in a quiet field or woodland somewhere. Annie had said that she wasn’t brave enough to camp wild and that some woodlands have wild boar roaming them! It turns out I’m not at all brave enough either which, now my beer is finished and the music is getting louder and worse, seems like a big shame.

A brief but lovely glimpse of Luxembourg

I cycled a long way yesterday! I set off from South Belgium at a record early time at 9.45am. The sun was only just burning off the mist.

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Because I’d rested for a day to sit out the rain I really wanted to make up for it and cover a lot of ground. 

On this ride I was, for once, aware of roughly where the border was, this is what it looked like:

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Nothing particularly momentous!

I had a huge climb up to and through the town of Wiltz which seems to have recently had a lantern festival. The lanterns were still hanging in the trees and the street lights were made to look like flowers

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A little further into North Luxembourg it was hilly, forested and beautiful. There were quite a few tough climbs but also one massive, long, zigzagging descent through the woods down to the valley and then along the Sûre river. This was the best bit of cycling on the trip so far.

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I pretty much followed this river all the way to the city.

There were lots of chalet type houses nestled in the trees on the steep sides of the valley, it looked like a really lovely, if quiet place to live. I haven’t got photos though because this road was really, really long and I was very pressed for time. I had arranged to stay with another warmshower host in Luxembourg . Getting lost in a city is bad enough, getting lost in a city in the dark is something I really wanted to avoid so I was really pushing myself to keep a good pace. I’d worked out roughly that I should just about make it in time.

I was so proud when got to the outskirts! It was only 6pm so I had two hours of daylight to find the house. I had a quick look online for a Google map of the address and realised she was right the other side of the city. Google thought it would take me an hour and a half. Google is always a bit optimistic! Just into the city things were beginning to get complicated and my Dutch instructions were getting very convoluted! I managed not to panic and tried to have faith that I was on track but just as I was being over taken by another cyclist I had the urge to check with him that I was on the right road. After an initial bit of confusion over which language we were going to be speaking we settled for English (no surprize!) I explained my route and by amazing coincidence it was exactly where he was heading! He offered to ride with me despite my slower speed- amazing! Just when I needed it! Unlike when I was in Rotterdam, I felt totally at ease accepting his help. I’ve obviously made a lot of progress in relaxing! I didn’t get his name and he didn’t tallk very much but he showed me the way and told me a bit about his life which was based in Belgium at the weekend with his family and Luxembourg during the week for work. Because he wasn’t around the city at weekends he said it was really hard to establish a social life, hence having lots of time for cycling. This was his daily commute to and from work. It took us on a whistle stop tour of the city. So I saw high city walls, attractive houses and flowery allotments and then finally a long stretch of cycle path through tall trees and along the river. He left me just two mins from my hosts house (and the municipal campground that I really hoped I wouldn’t need)

Christine hadn’t answered any messages or phone calls and I was slightly worried I might have the wrong number and would not find her house, the same old anxious feeling beginning to rise up.

But. I thought, I could try, and the worst is I camp again which is not ideal when it’s about to get dark and I’m really ready for food and a shower and a bed, but it’s not the end of the world either.

Just around the corner and I was ringing the doorbell to Christine’s house and there she was. All ready and expecting me. Her phone had been on silent since work and she hadn’t checked it, just waited for me to arrive. Phew! Just minutes before night fall. Everything was fine again.

Christine is a nurse in Luxembourg. She loves nature and she loves cycling. She has taken her bike to Sri Lanka and traveled around the island staying in guest houses and surprising everyone by climbing massive hills on her bike instead of catching the buses! She started me thinking about future trips…

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 A house and company was really good for boosting my morale and making the 110km (!) ride worth it. I was so relieved and pleased at the distance I covered. 6 pages of map! It had been my favourite day so far and I was closer to my goal of getting to the south and the part of the route everyone tells me is the highlight. The only thing left to worry about was whether I’d be able to walk in the morning!

Is this Germany now?

Not quite Germany, but I’m near the border, some signs are German, people speak it too as well as dutch I think, I can’t be sure. When I stopped to buy lunch earlier everyone was definitely speaking French in the shop and here at the campsite they definitely don’t speak French. It’s very confusing! Everyone can speak English though so I get to feel like an ignorant fool all over again!

Today has been characterised by rain and hills but improved by the fact I’m in the most beautiful countryside so far. I’m camping in a national park on the Ourthe river and it’s lovely but it’s chucking it down making it very unappealing to cook dinner. So I’m eating an apple…

Haven’t met anyone today just cycled. Maybe I’ll meet someone tomorrow. Meanwhile here are a couple of photos.

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These were in the sunny morning.

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this is now.

It’s now Wednesday and the rain hasn’t stopped and shows no sign of stopping so I’m having a rest day, I’d rather be cycling but my waterproofs aren’t waterproof enough so it would just be miserable. Hopefully I’ll be able to cycle a long way tomorrow after a good rest…

l think I must be in Belgium

People have started speaking French so I must have crossed the border from Holland into Belgium. It’s quite a relief that I might actually be able to speak a few words of the language! It’s also a relief to be back in landscape with hills! Even if it means I have to cycle up them. The views are of green rolling hills and woodland which makes up for it, so do the down hills. 

I had a fun time in Brussels with my friend Nico, who can think of nothing he enjoys more than to be my personal cycle-tour enabler and motivator. My guide to European trains and to Brussels 😉 he loves it! Here we are enjoying the sights and culture of the city:
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We have no idea what this parade was about but it was following us around the city!

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 Trying the local cuisine,

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I had to put in this photo because I’ve never been in such a trendy apartment! It was concrete-chic throughout and is where Nico’s friendly and hospitable friend, Julie lives and let us stay.
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After a lot of difficult decision making the train company decided for me that I couldn’t take my bike south on the TGV so I couldn’t fast-forward my trip to start near Lyon. I took the train to Maastricht instead and I’ll have to cycle the whole of the Groene Weg (the green route) to the south of France. Well, I’ll do as much of it as I can but apparently the best bit (and the best weather) is towards the end…

Arriving in Maastricht, I had feelings very similar to those when I first arrived in Holland and I wondered why I’d been convinced that cycle touring was a good idea. However I was pleased that I seemed to be capable of following a map for a change. I camped just outside Maastricht where I met Niels who is also on a journey. He is walking from Amsterdam to northern Spain following the pilgrim route to compostela! 


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This gave me so much encouragement! The reassurance of someone doing a similar (but maybe much more difficult!) trip at this time of year and being so relaxed about it was exactly what I needed. I finally felt more at ease with my plan and the tension that has been almost constantly present has faded.

We had a lovely evening chatting, sharing a bottle of wine and playing a couple of games of chess (we each won a game so we’ll have to have a rematch some day) and I finally had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in my tent. Despite the fact that I have to re-inflate my stupid roll mat every few hours.

Today I’ve cycled through 4 pages of my map. I’m somewhere near a place called Spa at an overpriced campsite. it’s been cold but sunny and the scenery has mostly been green rolling hills and woodlands. I hardly got lost at all which has given me a lot more faith that this might actually be possible. As long as I’ll be able to catch a plane home at the end, it’ll all be fine, Nico is on the case…

This is more like it…

After a day of relaxing and catching up on sleep it was time to move on. Karla and Rhein had told me that the area I was due to cycle in next was called the Green Heart of Holland, the countryside between the major citys – Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. I was relieved that I was going to travel through some typical postcard Holland. I saw a stoat and a polecat along here!
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I now had a good map and understood the knooppunt system and the scenery was such a relief. Green countryside and windmills – just what I had in mind when I first started. I was going to stay with a couple from warmshowers.com -couch surfing for cyclists. They have gone on lots of long distance tours on their rowing bikes and said they’d be happy to talk to me about potential routes. 

Haaneke and Maarten were very kind hosts feeding me and showing me their maps. The most helpful thing they told me about was a shop in Amsterdam specialising in bike touring and run by bike tourers. The route from their place to Amsterdam follows a river the whole way and barely uses any roads Phew! That made the next day’s plan fairly easy 🙂


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This was just after the sign saying I’d reached Amsterdam and too make up for the fact I hadn’t photographed the windmills on the way up. The bronze guy is Rembrandt. He’s standing in for me as I have no-one to take my picture!

The bike touring shop was great!

these are their details:

De Vakantiefietser

Westerstraat 216

1015 MS Amsterdam

020-6164091

They gave me cake! As well as selling me a book with a route through France all mapped out. However the directions are all in Dutch! Just to keep things difficult! First I’m meeting a friend in Brussels then I’m catching a train to Maastricht to get this show back on the road. Here are some pics from the last couple of days here:

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My massive face and some sculptures.
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A pretty street view.

Some very rude postcards!!
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A guy on a unicycle juggling knives

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I also went to the Van Gogh museum- lots of lovely paintings as you’d expect and the Anne Frank house – which is very sad as you would expect. 

Now I have my new map I’m itching to give it a try but it’ll have to wait for Sunday. I am still scared. There are big climbs.

First day in a new country…

An observer of yesterdays events would have seen a cycle tourer going successfully along the intended route, meeting helpful people at opportune moments to make the journey much easier and finally falling asleep in a beautiful and relaxing campsite after having been invited to share tea with some very kind fellow campers. Anyone would have thought that it had been a great start to a grand cycle tour of Europe. But anyone thinking that would have no idea of the level of stress inside my head yesterday. As soon as I was off the boat, after sleeping very little and rounding the first corner to be behind the shelter of a few trees, I burst into tears overwhelmed at the prospect of being in a new country on my own and with no idea if I could find my destination or any other place where i’d be able to put up a tent. Cycling to Rotterdam from the ferry is not a pretty route unless you enjoy a 20 mile stretch of oil refinerys, cargo cranes, motorways, dissused tramlines, it’s relentless scenery with nothing to soften it and makes you question why on earth anyone would choose to be cycling alone and tiny next to it.
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This photo doesn’t show the worst of it by a long way but it gives an idea of the tedium. Reaching the city brings no relief. The cycle paths are like miniature highways heavy with cycle and motorcycle traffic and with the same stress associated with people rushing about their daily lives land you being in their way. No time to pause at junctions and get your bearings just go go go and watch out for trams pedestrians and cars at crossings. I stopped to asked directions to the city centre when the path I was following  fizzled out at the foot of an enormous building that seemed to lead to the underground. ‘oh yes that’s very easy you just go round the back of the big orange building and take the lift.’ (lift?!!) ‘Go through the tunnel and use the lift on the other side’ this all seems very normal to the residents of Rotterdam and probably to other well traveled cyclists but I have never caught a lift to a city centre and everything by that point felt terrifying!

 It was world harbour day when I arrived which added to the commotion and when the doors of the lift opened I was in the thick of a military display with families queueing for rides in tanks and men posing holding massive guns. Celebrating the army fairground style is not my cup of tea. Luckily tho there were policemen around to ask directions from and one kindly gave me a tiny city plan to show the way to the tourist information centre.

Everything in Rotterdam is huge and intimidating including the tourist information centre which has helpful staff but suprisingly few cycle maps. I got the only one they had for 6 euros out of desperation and in the process of explaining my trip nearly burst into tears again at the counter. I bought some food in a nearby supermarket whilst imagining everything on my bike being stolen while I was away. It wasn’t. I ate, took some deep breaths, lots of them, and attempted to get out of the city as quickly as possible. Having the map was brilliant but I cycled off the edge of it after about 20 minutes. From there I tried to follow the signs and was feeling ok until the town I was heading for disappeared and I was lost all over again, trying to stay calm and get my bearings. I was standing with maps and Google print outs flapping all around me when my first miracle stranger appeared. Kees saw I was stressed and wanted to help. Kees likes libraries and cycling and people and places and showing people places. Not being able to convince me to come to the library with him or to come to his place to look at maps (i was far too stressed to trust a stranger that much) or to take a detour to his favourite town he finally convinced me to follow him out of the city on smaller roads to a place I could catch a bike-bus ferry over to the area I wanted to camp. The whole way he wanted to tell me all he knew of Rotterdam and the Netherlands. And the whole way I worried that he was leading me to somewhere where he could knock me out and nick all my stuff or worse! He didn’t. He had nothing other than a visit to the library on that day and he was happier to have a reason to visit Dordrecht and someone to go with. He explained how the signs worked and how to use the little green numbers to plan and follow a route and he left me to do the final stretch alone giving me his email address and asking me to send him photos when I reach interesting landmarks in far flung corners of Europe! I could have trusted him the whole time and would have had a much more pleasant day if I had. I finally found my way to another bikebus ferry – I was getting used to them by now and crossed towards Werkendam. Signs were much easier to follow now I was in the countryside and I was starting to feel the tiniest bit more confident. I was also thinking about wether I could get away with camping somewhere when a teepee caught my eye. A campsite. Thank God! While I was deciding wether to stop or push on a lovely couple stopped to see if I was ok. Karla and Rhein were my second miracles of the day. Helping me relax (i nearly burst into tears again as I was talking to them) and smile and feeding me bread, jam and tea. 
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They told me about their sons and their travels to lovely parts of the UK. And they  talked about their love for ancient historic sites like Stonehenge and New Grange. I love traveling like this for the people I meet. But the hardest thing about it is the night time and not knowing where you can safely sleep. Karla and agreed, camping wild is a different story when you are two people but the price you pay in worry when you are one is not worth it! ‘what’s the cost of feeling free?’ -Erin,  yes and being safe’ ‘freedom, safety it’s the same thing. It means the same’ – Erin. They have given me their map of the Netherlands, I am so grateful to them. I am embarrassed by their generosity when I have all this ridiculously expensive kit you would have thought of have a decent map. It’s a lesson learnt. I will buy a better one for Germany.

this campsite is a tonic. It’s so relaxing here. Next to a broad wetland the sound of birds is constant and soothing. I can only see one building which belongs to the site. I’m going to stay here another night.

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