Road tripping to Summer – Part 2

So, we were sitting in the car, checking out possibilities to include some extra loops to our road trip. The planning was hindered a bit by the absence of internet connection and we had to drive off from the hills and the buzzing meadows, towards the German border and Rhine valley.

Half on hour or so down the road we finally met a village and internet. Quickly we booked a hotel for the following night, as it was going to rain heavily and started to browse around google to find some Alsacean vineyards. We were well in time to visit one or two, before they would close their doors and it seemed like the most obvious thing to do, since we were in the region of great viticulture.

The task of finding a vineyard proved surprisingly difficult. Not because there weren’t any, rather because they were too plentiful. Every tiny village in the lower hills of the Vosges, over looking the river Rihne, were completely overcome by them. I more or less randomly picked a house with good reviews there and another here, research a little on which grapes they put into bottles and landed on one that, on paper, was pretty nice. Jean Sipp was our first destination.

Normally we tend to visit very small wine houses, as we do in Champagne, but as this was an exploration less planned, we had to trust google. All in all, it was a success. The domain was located in a small village of Ribeauvillé and when we arrived, it looked like there was nothing much else to the town than the house of Sipp.

We parked our car, and waddled into the beautiful, tasting area, smelling of earth and minerals and requested for a tasting. In no time we had two glasses and a menu in front of us. The house was rewarded for their white wines, but we wanted to go for the sparkling.

A drink with slightly pink tone in its golden bubbles was poured and a flowery scent visited our noses. The familiar power of the Pinot Noir grapes was to follow with the first sips. A bottle or few had found their new home. We also had a taste of their Rosé, it was perfectly fine too, a little bit sweet to my taste, but the acid of Pinot Noir keeps it enjoyable.

After the sipping we were ready to explore the village a bit more. As it turned out, there was more to it than just the Jean Sipp house. Firstly, the people are absolutely shameless. I guess they have the best possible version of identity crisis one can have. They don’t seem to know whether they are German or French, so they decide to live the both cultures with full blast.

The crossing identity can be appreciated the easiest in the buildings. They are shameless splashes of color, coming at you in blues, green, reds and purples. And the cherry on top is of course the German style timber-frames on the facades.

It was a lot to take in. We wandered around a bit and happened upon another, tiny little thing of a vineyard, in the heart of the town. They had a small sign at the door declaring that they, Domaine Schneider, had won a price or two with their wines, quick googling confirmed this. We walked in to their court yard, only to find it empty.

As we were wondering if anyone was home, there was a head of an old lady poking through an upstairs window.  Waffle asked if it would be possible to sit down and taste a bit of wine. The reply as a little bit hesitant Bien sûr, so we entered the cellar. It was a small welcoming space, with giant wine barrels on the walls and bottles scattered around the corners. We were sat at a table made form a barrel, and selected the wines we would like to taste. Their sparkling was a slightly aged variant, full of character and prunes in the taste. Still remarkably balanced. We would have loved to buy a few boxes of it, but our car was so full, that we had to contain ourselves and just go home with two.

As our car was bursting from its seams, we were forced to stop shopping for wine. So instead, we resulted to sightseeing, first admiring the shameless prettiness of the town’s buildings and atmosphere. Nature going people as we are, it didn’t take us long to gaze up to the surrounding hills.

The town of Ribeauvillé is looked over by three castle ruins, we saw those and decided that there sure must be a trail up to them. And there was. We were strolling it up in no time, passing by lush greenery of the rows of wines, slowly climbing up above the town.

It took us about 30 minutes to reach the Château de Saint-Ulrich, built in the 11th century. The ruin is beautifully renovated, so visitors can still enjoy the true character of it without breaking legs or getting hit by falling stones. We walked around it and stopped to enjoy the view over the vast Rhine valley, it is quite easy to understand why the castle was once built right there.  The two other castle ruins are on the same hillside, but we didn’t really have time to visit them, since it was getting dark and I was getting hungry. As Waffle has a healthy portion of survival instinct he wanted to get me down and eating sooner rather than later.

So we returned to town. Finding it lit by most divine sunshine, boosted into golden hue by approaching thunder. We strolled up and down the main street and found a charming little restaurant, perching under a large growth of wine.

We found a table on the terrace and sat down. Happily forgetting about the dark clouds looming over the hills in the background. The thunder wouldn’t have our ignorance and promptly moistened the atmosphere a little. Thankfully we were placed to a new table inside, and got to enjoy our food while it was still dry.

The next day rose on us somewhere not far from Strasbourg. From there we headed off to our last stop in the central Europe; Munich. We crossed the Rhine and headed to the hills of the Black Forest. I had always had this weird urge to go and hike the Black Forest, somehow it’s been this thing to aim for for me. So I was quite happy to finally get a peek at it.

The world was soaked that morning. A heavy rain had been pounding the land throughout the night and the Black Forest was still shrouded in dark clouds and the tall forest looked mysterious. The road we took followed a river up the valley, before leaving it to begin the climb up to the top of the hill range. Before we knew it, we had reached almost a kilometer of altitude and poked through the forest. Landscape was still swallowed by a thick fog.

I definitely still want to come back to that area. Now we had to pass it rather swiftly, since we were flying to Finland the following day and there were still a distance between us and Munich.

Down from the hills we drove and onto the Deutsche Autobahn. And got stuck in the traffic jams, as is customary in Germany. We reached the Munich ring way in the afternoon and decided to visit the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, since it was practically on our way.

The entry to the museum is free and it is truly a shocking site to see and worth visiting, if you can say so about such a grim monument. It is not the biggest of the camps nor the most notorious, but nevertheless it sends the chills down your spine.

We spent the night somewhere south of Munich, in a charming countryside hotel, looking at the Alps in the horizon. That was the closest we got to those mountains this time. Hopefully one day we’ll end up climbing one or two of the peaks. Now we just had to admire them through our window, before taking to the sky and to Finland!

But that will be another story. Hang on until then!












Road tripping to Summer

July came and went. And with it the beginning of the Finnish Presidency of the EU. Busy times for short. I was anxious to go on holiday, both eager to go, and worried about the tasks piling on while I would be gone. On a Friday I took a big breath and closed the door behind me. I shook a bit of stress off of my shoulder and proceeded to promptly forget my password. Holiday was ready to start!

We had bought our flights from Munich to Helsinki for the Thursday of the following week. The plan was to take a little road trip and climb a mountain or two in the Alps, (I had been browsing the Tyrolean trails with great passion!).  For various reasons the Alps didn’t really happen, we seem to excel at avoiding them.

This time we were slow to leave  and only managed to hit the road on Saturday afternoon. The first stop was be in Luxembourg, at the shores of the Lac de la Haute Sure, where we knew a perfect spot to camp which we visit every so often. And a perfect spot to test out our new toy.

We had been dreaming of a new type of tent for quite some time, and finally the stars aligned, the price was right and we got it! We now are the perplexed owners of a Tentsile tree tent! We bought the Stealth, which they say is a sturdier model and suitable for 4 seasons, and were fairly excited to get it out and hanging.

We wobbled the usual trail down to the lake and found our spot calm and pristine as always. We looked around to find a suitable triangle of trees which we could fix our tent to. The bright green base was spread out and the orange straps followed and were pulled to the chosen trees. We checked the height of all the connection points, and tightened the thing to place and found out that we had created a floating trampoline, with a shaded view to the lake. We rewarded ourselves with a quick dip in the lake before enjoying the bouncing tent.

Soon we got some company; a group of lads, who had been fishing and climbed now up to the woods right to us. Apparently they were as surprised to find us there as we were to see them. It was the first time any of us had met anyone else at that spot. Luckily they turned out to be rather nice people and we spent the evening together sharing the fire, before Waffle and I headed to our Tentsile to sleep.

Sleeping in the Tentsile was… different. A soft cocoony feeling. At first I was thrilled, floating in the air, wrapping softly in the hug of the Tentsile. But then the chill of the night arrived. We had been stupid enough to not bring mattresses and the cold air got directly through the tent and our sleeping bags, allowing us to peacefully freeze.

Not surprisingly, we were not especially fresh in the morning. Neither of us had rested very well, and the excitement about the new tent was fading.  We would have to get some mattress game going and hope that would sort it out.

Tentsile, Nature, Luxembourg

We left Luxembourg and headed south to France, towards the Vosges. The weather would remain good there for the following days. As usual, we had no clue where to sleep at. Since it was hot and our tent needed trees, we were setting our hopes to finding a lake with some forest around it. Lac de Pierre-Percée cought our attention. It was a artificial lake, said to be a small piece of Canada in the middle of France, just the thing we were looking for.

We drove deep to the forest, found a small trail to the lakeside and set up the camp. It was a beautiful place, among tall spruces and pines, and a spot above the lake, great for cooking a meal looking over the still water. Slowly the holiday feeling was creeping into my head.

The sun was setting and we bounced up to our tent. We had left the rain cover off and there was only the mosquito mesh separating us from the outside world. The trees framed a view to the stars and soon we started to hear animals rustling about, going down to the water to drink, I suppose, and owls calling up in the trees.

The next day we dedicated for the enjoyment of the lake and the forest. We wobbled up and down the lakeside and eventually stopped by a sandy spot at the shore, to take a dive in the warm water.

The Pierre-Percée lake will definitely be a destination for us in the future as well. The location is good for sleeping on the go, while we head somewhere further to the south or east! In the afternoon we started our final approach to the Vosges.

The Vosges are special to us; it was the first mountain area where we went to together. Plus they are such lovely, easy mountains to wander around. And there are bilberries and cows with bells roaming around. This time in early august there were also flocks of tourists. But we managed to find our way around them and locate a nice corner in a forest, where we could hang for the night.

It was just a small walk away from one of the mountain roads zigzagging the area. We arrived a few hours before sunset, and found a small abri at a col in the forest and a small lake close by, plenty of hiking trails leading to the Le Hohneck too. After a bit of hustle, our tent was up and we were ready to sleep.

Sleeping in a forest is never a very lonely experience, there is always creatures keeping you company. The forests over there are full of wildlife; this time over there were owls again and what sounded like a wild party of foxes, too!

We still hadn’t found the perfect setting for the Tentsile, one or the other of us was sliding of bending or just otherwise moving to wrong corners. We weren’t sure whether the tent was just crap or if we were doing something wrong. Some research would be needed. But at that moment there was no time for that.

The sun was gently touching the world around us as we were sliding out of our sleeping bags, and the heather meadows up on the flanks of the Vosges were waiting. Quickly we ate a breakfast, headed to our car and aimed for the parking above the Lac Vert. From there we searched our way to the east on the GR5 out to the soft, round ridges of the Tanet-Gazon du Faing Nature reserve.

Once the trail took to the meadows, we heard it. A massive hum was sounding all across the plains. There were thousands and thousands of honeybees flying from flowering heather to another, the purple hillside felt so alive! No more reminders were needed to why I had been missing this place. The beauty there is immense.

We modified a walk from Wikiloc , shortening it to about 15 km. We walked through the buzzing fields, settling down every now and then to pick the bilberries from the bushes and enjoying the sunshine and view to the surrounding peaks, before starting to descent down to the lakes. At the ending part of the trail we stopped at one of the Auberges and enjoyed the bilberries in a pie. What a wonderful summer day we were having!

It wasn’t very as we climbed up, back to the car. We had plenty of time to plan the rest of the route. Turned out, we could quite easily shift the route an inch to the south and drive through the Alsace wine region in France as well as Black Forest in Germany. How could we say no to that!

But now I am going to be kind to and cut this post here, as I see the word count running far beyond something of a quick read. So exploring Alsace and some bits of Germany you’ll need to wait for until the next post!

















Road trip through Scotland – Part 3

The leaving part of Applecross was surprisingly beautiful. We took the road, that follows the coast form Apple cross to the north, all the way around the peninsula. The views are again magnificent! A perfectly balanced combination of sea, beaches, hills and mountains, dotted with some beautiful, hairy highland cows. There the nature seemes to have had a particularly good eye on the colors, creating a landscape almost pretty enough to cry over. Later I found, that what we were looking at was Wester Ross, one of the National Scenic Areas in Britain.

We entered some tiny, cute seaside villages, explored some Wikiloc and eventually bought a map. We had found a very recommended hike up to Beinn Eighe, one of the peaks of the famous Torridon hills. That would be some 19 kilometers of hill walking. 

To get to the start of the hike, we drove from Torridon toward Kinlochewe and parked at the Beinn Eighe car park. Since it was already afternoon, we packed the camping gear with us. 19 kilometers in rough terrain would have been far too rough for us to do in just a few hours, so camping on the way was the plan.

The first part of the trail was beautifully maintained stone path, cleanly passing the dozens of small streams running down the mountain side, to the bigger river in the valley. We wobbled on for a few kilometers, through the glen next to Beinn Eighe. Already in those kilometers we got to see a herd of deer, grazing at the hillside. Then it started raining.

Luckily right there we happened upon a perfect looking camping spot. On closer inspection it turned out to be just that; perfect. There was a flat grassy spot for our tent, a small stream of fresh water right next to it and a superb view over to the neighboring peaks and the lake dotted valley to the west. All of it promising quite a spectacular sunset.

We huddled in our tent, waiting for the rain to pass. That gave us time to dive into the map and see where in the world we actually were. The trail on Beinn Eighe would actually climb three peaks; Ruadh-stac Mòr being the tallest at 1010 meters, the next one, under which we were sitting, called Còinneach Mhòr at 902 meters and  the last peak of 977 meters was Spidean Coire nan Clach. Should there be anybody out there who can guide me in pronouncing these names, I would be very grateful!

The rain was over and we started our evening routine. We filtered water form the stream and cooked. In the meanwhile the sun was preparing for the evening show; lighting up the lakes underneath us and the clouds above, casting playful shadows in the glen and changing the colors of the mountain peaks around us. Not a bad setting to have your evening meal in, I think.

We stayed out until quite late, looking at the landscape changing with the dimming light and listening to the rustling of the wild animals in the surrounding shrubbery. The darkness forced us to bed around 10 pm, so we had plenty of time to drool on our pillows before the hike on the following day.

We woke up fresh and started the hike with spring in our steps as we headed further to the north, in order to reach the approach trail to the peaks. The landscape continued being pretty, with small lakes dotting the glen. The actual climb started at the side of a beautiful water fall and then winding up to a bigger lake, nestled beneath the peaks. The skies were clear all the way, but the wind was quickly picking up in the higher ground. The gusts were beating down the sides of the mountain, and even throwing up water when they hit the lake surface.

With that wind in our backs, we commenced the first steep ascend, to the saddle between the Ruadh-stac Mòr and Còinneach Mhòr. The trail disappeared for a bit, and we found our own way between the small lakes on the way up to the rocky and gravely slope, which would bring us to the saddle. We were fist hopping from stone to stone, before reaching something like a serpentine trail up to the narrow gap between two boulders.

Up there in the ridge, the wind was downright violent. We made our way to the peak on all fours at times, while the gusts tried to beat us off of the hill. Slowly we made our way to the peak, took quick photos while desperately hanging onto rocks, before crawling back the same way to the saddle. The climb to the next peak was luckily sheltered from the worst of the wind, and although steep, we managed to move a little faster.

After the second climb, we faced a long grassy ridge walk, those lovely ones where you can imagine you are in the opening scene of  The Sound of Music and just want to go frolicking about. The wind was back again though, so much so, that it was difficult to breathe at times. I had to trap my hat to my head by otherwise needless sunglasses.

The ridge ended to yet another wind beaten and rocky climb. After all the climbing and frolicking I was getting pretty tired in my legs. And naggy, if you ask Waffle, bless him. But up was the only way forward, so that’s where we went. And a small hour or so later we were at the last cross point and on our last peak, looking at our final descent back to the road where we came from.

As often, the way down proved to be rougher than expected. It was brutally steep and for the large part, there was a river of melt water running on it. The descent itself took a good hour. The distance wasn’t great, but the steepness and wetness took its toll on our speed; it was tough going. I often dislike downhills. They tend to be painful, dreary and too long, but still, without them, there would be no climbs either.

We made it to the car and started to figure out where to next. Some browsing of our beloved park4night -app happened. We weren’t extremely impressed by any of the spots close by, so we ended up driving to the east coast, to the town of Cromarty and up to the cliffs a little way out of town. We camped there, between some Germans and their vans, happily looking forward to the last bit of our trip, before leaving the island.

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