Dave the motorhome is in a lay bye alongside the A81 near HeilBronn. We pulled in here on our way to our friends in Stuttgart, to grab a bite to eat. As we pulled in we found a Polish lorry driver had, for some reason, decided to park in the slip road. Cars and lorries pulled in behind as we honked Dave’s timid horn a couple of times before the chap came running back to his lorry and parked it up. Weird.
Ju woke at about 5am this morning in agony. Not funny agony. She half fell from the bed onto the floor, double-up in pain, hardly able to speak and tell me what was happening. She’d a sudden, intense, biting abdominal pain. It was so strong she was clearly close to passing out, mumbling about her face being numb. Fighting panic, I got the van heating on, covered her in a blanket and managed to get her symptoms into the NHS Direct website which said ‘go to A&E’. I translated ‘A&E’ into German and found the nearest hospital, all the time Ju was bent double on the floor. I considered dialling 112, calling German-speaking friends or just driving straight to hospital. In the end the pain slowly eased as Ju’s ever-the-lady body burped out a gut-full of pain inducing trapped gas – thank goodness it didn’t come out the other end! Funny, it wasn’t, we were both too shaken to sleep much after that. What caused it, we have no idea as we ate the same things, but it could have been a sudden increase in the amount of vegetables we’re eating, in an ironic effort to be more healthy.
Finally getting on the road about 10am, 2 hours after we should have started paying for parking again (we’re getting a bit naughty in our 40s), we pointed Dave in the direction of the Neckar river. Our map showed a dotted line which means it’s a themed tourist route, one of the many which run across Germany. This one turned out to be the start of the Burgenstrasse, the Castle Route, which flows across from here in south-west Germany all the way to Prague.
Before finding our way to the Castle Route, a tempting sign popped up along the route: Hockenheim Race Track, a Formula 1 circuit. Neither of us are massive F1 fans, although Ju loved sleeping to the noise of the races when we used to have a telly. All the same, the track was only a few km away, we had to go have a look-see. Through chance we found our way to the road which leads to the pits, but were halted by a cowboy-hatted guard before we got in. Looking more the fan than the professional guard, he pointed us back along the road in the direction of the track museum. This turned out to be quite a small affair, packed with rows of gleaming old race bikes, but at €6 a pop (in my world that’s 12 pints of Lidl beer), we decided against it.
An open gate leading up to the track gave us a good opportunity to leg it up for a look around, and a mini race circuit outside gave a good opportunity for a bit of fun; we expected to get shouted at for both but no-one bothered.
Back on the Castle Road, we flowed alongside the Neckar, a mere tributary of the Rhine, but fat enough to hold huge barges nevertheless. The river is chopped into sections by 27 huge locks, prior to which steam boats would pull themselves up the river on a 96 mile long chain. The locks allow barges to traverse in both directions, each of which is capable of carrying the same load as 82 lorries. The locks serve other functions, preventing flooding, generating electricity, and acting as foot-bridges: clever, these Germans. Charlie and I took advantage of one of them (a bridge, not a German) to cross over, get told off by an official for being in a verboten area watching a coal barge, and to pocket a bag full of spiky horse chestnuts in the woods on the other side (yeah! more free food!).
The Neckar valley was a lovely, wooded place, providing the requisite number of castles to be a fully paid-up member of the Burgenstrasse. Each town and village looked a sleepy place, a kind of backwater hiding place compared with the half-timbered glory of the towns along the Rhine. The almost complete lack of vineyards seems to detract from the scenery, just a few terraced affairs feature until you pop out the other end around Heilbronn into a lush carpet of vine-braided hillsides.
Our travels today were again shared with US Army radio, heavily featuring a discussion about the complex tax situations expat soldiers and retirees face over here. The quality of DJing was a little questionable, somewhat rivalling my ability to, say, play the Ukulele. The phones were down, the chap running the show seemed to think he had plenty of time for radio silence while he worked out what to say next, people were writing in asking questions about things the folks had to sullenly explain they knew nothing about. We loved it.
In contrast, we passed a few of the bastions of the German economy, an enormous SAP head quarters and an grey-block world of an Audi factory, with an army of white-wrapped brand new cars parked outside. We also passed a nuclear power plant on the opposite bank of the river. There used to be two operational nuclear plants, but one was mothballed following the Fukushima disaster; we’re not sure whether the one we saw was working.
Tonight we’re off into Stuttgart to meet Marc and Jacqui again, who we last saw in Seville, many months ago. Since then they’ve successfully completed their year on the road, including making it up into Scandinavia. It’ll be fascinating to catch up with them, and to ask them a whole bunch of questions we’re storing up about Germany!