Finally

Charleville-Mézières
Beautiful Charleville-Mézières sunset on our way north

And finally… the sun sets on this summer’s big tour of Belgium, Germany and France. It actually set several weeks ago – ahem – but this time I have valid reasons for the delay. Unlike the last time I missed my final post of a trip. Five months has to be a record, right? No, this time it’s because of a technical issue. Our web-hosting service recently promised a quick, painless transition to a new system. It might have been painless to them, but it’s taken me weeks of emails and head-scratching to get it all up & running as it should be. The emails didn’t work. Then the security certificates couldn’t be transferred. Then the nameservers – whatever they are – had to be changed, causing more issues.

I’m just a retired fat bloke on his holidays, it’s all a mystery to me. To add to the fun I was mostly sorting it out on an iPhone in a tent at night as I’m just back from an Alps tour on the motorcycle! That’s a story I’ll save for another day, but there are some pics on Vince’s Instagram if you click here. So finally here I am with a website working exactly as it did before. Except now we pay double the monthly fee. Plus an annual fee for security certificates which I used to download for free. Funny how ‘improved technology’ only seems to benefit the supplier rather than the humble end user… I hope it’s worth it; I don’t make a penny from these ramblings, I just do it for the fun and the feedback so get recommending me to your travelling friends!

Right. Enough of that. We left you last time, saying we had a tiny bit of Germany left before journeying back north through France. That tiny bit of Germany turned out to be about 7.5m of grass back in Bad Dürkheim. As we’d been there on our way south, and as it was so hot, we simply parked overnight there on our way past, ate, chilled and slept. No exploring was done that day.

As the heatwave was predicted to really get into its stride over the next few days, we looked online for a shady campsite with a pool and headed straight for Camping les Breuils in Verdun. It’s been a while since we had a satnav hiccup, and to be fair it wasn’t entirely the satnav’s fault but when we arrived in Verdun after a few hours driving, the road was closed. We could see the campsite entrance, just over there – but the man in the hi-vis he say “Non” 🙁
It took over five miles of country lanes to get to the other end of a 100yd road closure grrrr.

Finally
Verdun

Shade and pool we were promised; and shade and pool we got. We stayed for four nights on a pitch enclosed by hedges and sheltered from wind and sun by tall poplars. Our bikes came into their own while we were in Verdun as the area is pretty flat and easy to explore. We decided to throw some sandwiches into a bag and have lunch a few km along the river. No cold rosé in the flask this time; not wise when cycling along the river bank!

Verdun is well-known for its connection to the First and Second World Wars. Indeed we’d visited the area’s war graves before, though not the town itself. We made a point therefore of stopping off to pay our respects at La Nécropole Nationale de Verdun Faubourg-Pavé, a small war-grave cemetery right in the heart of the town. Immaculately looked-after, as these sites always are, we had a very peaceful and thoughtful interlude isolated from the hustle and bustle of the town’s morning activity. In a coincidence which sent shivers down our spines, the first grave we saw was that of Marcellin Rouillencourt. His grave doesn’t give his age, just the date of his tragic death: 17/6/1940. We were there on 17/6/2022. And the 17th of June is Gill’s birthday. We left some wild flowers on his headstone.

Verdun Cemetery
A poignant sight

I’d recommend a visit to Verdun, not just for its history and war memorials, it’s a pretty town in its own right with flower-bedecked bridges and riverside bars where you can sit and watch the boats sail by. Coincidentally we stopped off for a night there on the motorcycle tour I mentioned above. But of course, the heathens I ride with were only interested in beer and the inside of the Buffalo Grill beside our hotel. To be fair, after a long hot ride there from Germany, I was gasping for a beer or two myself!

Following our few days in Verdun we found a gem of a stopover in Dun-sur-Meuse. The town provided a tiny aire right beside the wide river. To our surprise, it offered electricity, and a small converted tourist office with showers, toilets and an ancient washing machine. Needless to say we took full advantage of these great facilities. It was so calm and serene, with wildfowl gliding by on the river, and dedicated anglers catching lots of fish on the opposite bank.

The town itself was a little run-down but again there were many reminders of the area’s history. On a cycle down the river we came across a number of broken bridges, with their buttresses intact but no span across the river. These had been blown up during WWII and never repaired. We also came across our first war cemetery where fallen German soldiers rest. It was just as peaceful and well-maintained as every other site we’ve visited, but with the striking difference of black crosses used as grave markers.

Dun-sur-Meuse
A rare cloudy day in Dun-sur-Meuse

We followed the Meuse north in much the same way as we followed the Nantes-Brest Canal in October last year. There’s something really charming and peaceful about staying in little towns and villages along a waterway. In Stenay however, not so much.

The town was on a loser right from the start when the barrier to their motorhome aire wouldn’t lift, despite charging us and printing off a QR code which was supposed to make the barrier open. (Technology again!) I’m afraid I got a bit tetchy with the several Dutch motorhomers who came over to help by saying “You need to get closher to the barrier, no closher – closher…” (Sorry about my accent). If I’d got any closer, it would have gone up Vince’s blinkin’ noshtril! Unsurprisingly we had to pay a second time and this time the QR code decided to let us in. Our score for a rainy Stenay: 6 out of 10, unremarkable.

Things looked up a little further along the road home when we stopped at Charleville-Mézières, although we had a déja-vu moment at yet another recalcitrant barrier. This time the touch-screen got its knickers in a twist by freezing, then running through all our earlier keystrokes at 100mph. Amazingly it actually worked after relieving us of €15 or so.

Sunset
More sunset!

Charleville-Mézières is a proper city so we had a long stroll into town through a park and along busy shopping streets to see their immaculate town hall and their shabby but internally gorgeous cathedral. We were lucky enough to arrive while the organist was practising, so we relaxed to the deep bass notes as we watched the coloured sunbeams lancing down from the high stained glass windows. A memorable afternoon. It was one of those sweltering, humid days when you can sense a change in the weather. A spectacular sunset was followed by a huge deluge and thunderstorm. Luckily we were all snug in Vince when it kicked off and fell asleep to the sound of the rain on his roof. Lovely.

Our final riverside stop was in Bohan in Belgium. Another tiny village boasting broken bridges, it had a lovely little square with a supermarket and four or five cafés and bars. It was certainly very lively as we were there at the weekend. The bikes had a good workout as the campsite was a couple of kilometers downriver. We had planned to do a proper cycle on the Sunday but the endless steep hill out of town defeated us. We turned around and freewheeled 5k all the way back to the bar!

Broken bridge
Broken bridge

And here endeth the trip. What did we learn? North Germany is too UK-like for us, it didn’t really feel as though we were away. Southern Germany has some very beautiful towns and amazing castles, particularly when you get into the mountains and lakes. But it ain’t cheap. In a funny kind of way we sighed with relief when we crossed back into France; it felt like coming home. That’s probably only because we’re very familiar with the country, and have a smattering of the language. Don’t let me put you off visiting Germany – go find out for yourself. Many of our friends and fellow travellers absolutely adore touring there.

Thanks as always for following our tales of mayhem and disaster, even if we leave you hanging for a little while now and again. We don’t have any more long trips abroad planned for this year but we do aim to hit the road north in the UK in August/September so watch this space. In the meantime… we’re missing you already.

Chat soon 🙂 xx

Dun-sur-Meuse sunset drinks!
Dun-sur-Meuse sunset drinks!
Magnificent Town Hall in Charleville-Mézières
Verdun
The bullet-riddled facade of St Nicolas Chapel Verdun
Charleville Cathedral
Cathedral across the Meuse, Charleville-Mézières
About Ken Tomlinson 207 Articles
Semi-retired biker, blogger and world’s best grandad. Doesn’t take life too seriously. Discovered motorhoming in 2015, sold up and downsized to fund more travels. Now with added Yorkshire.

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