9 – 22 August: On the visa trail through Germany & after nearly 20 years with our old friends, the Muller’s, in the Schwartzwald

It was feeling great to be back on the road again, and they turned out to be pretty long days too. The bike was running well, which was a relief, as we were speeding along the German autobahn, at quite a pace to keep up with the traffic. It’s hectic and tiring. The first part of our next mission was to get our visa applications in for Iran and India. We’d done some background work while in the UK (waiting to get our Pakistan visa’s and passports back from Oz), so we already had printed application forms, passport photos. THE plan was stop over in Frankfurt, and try the Iran embassy there, then go onto Bern, for the Indian visa, knowing this would all take several days to weeks. We drove over 6 hrs the first day, and thankfully managed to get to the Mainkur Camp by the river on the outskirts of Frankfurt. We knew we’d be around at least a couple of nights, and it turned out to be a really nice spot to camp. But Stew was also feeling pretty rough, with a bad head cold coming on too.

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Next day was a real none event. Stew had been reading assiduously at various times over the past few weeks, different travel blogs on getting Iranian visa’s, and had kept saying we need to get an authorisation number from the Iran Ministry of Tourism first. Though I had read and noted one Horizon’s comment to the contrary. So we made our way to the Iranian Embassy about 15 km from where we camped….Stew’s face had that ‘I told you so’ look, when the first thing we were asked for was our authorisation number !! There was no way we could proceed without one, and we couldn’t get one quickly either – it involves emails, and application to an ‘approved travel provider’ for Iran, and then maybe 2 – 4 weeks for the process. BUT we did have a plan B, thinking this might happen – we’d also read other travellers, getting their Iran visa’s in Turkey. So that was the best we could do. We’d make the application for an authorisation code and arrange to apply for and pick up the visa in Ankara, Turkey.

Next, we still needed an Indian visa, and our route and online application had been made to do this in Bern. As we knew the passports would be held for around a week, we made a bee-line down to Bern the next day. It was too far to make it in one stretch, even with enjoying the passing scenery, including pretty Bavarian castles….

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So we did a short overnight stop. We reached Donaueschingen by 6pm, after 7 hours on the road, but then had quite a run round to try find a hotel that wasn’t too expensive. There were a couple of smaller gasthoff and zimmers, but there were no rooms available. In the end we took the smallish Concorde Airport hotel (Not too bad at 79 Eu, with breakfast). We were too tired to do anything, even make a meal – so we just had a beer and some snacks, and were both in bed by 9pm. We had to get moving pretty early in the morning. It was a Friday and the Indian Embassy in Bern closed for applications at 2pm. If we didn’t get them in today, we’d have another 3 day delay, before we could submit on Monday when they opened again. We drove the 180 km, having picked up the Swiss Vignette for driving on the motorways, at a garage stop, and then motorway all the way to Bern. I’d not checked the GPS soon enough, and found I had not yet updated to include Switzerland – so I was directing, mostly from memory of looking at a town plan yesterday, and following my nose, trying to keep track of where the city center was, as well as the river. Amazingly we did pretty well. I pulled us off the motorway, heading towards the centre, noting a signpost for the zoo and camping. We didn’t want to go too far, so Stew pulled into a side street, and I climbed off the bike to make a few enquiries, to a couple of pedestrians. It was midday, so we had a bit of time to go. The people weren’t sure, but said I could ask at a police box, just on the road behind where we had parked. How fortunate was that, and the officer spoke some English too. We had done pretty well, no more than 2 km from our destination at the visa application office. We were directed further towards the city, following the tram lines and then to look for a main ‘Helvetia plazza’, before crossing the river. With thanks we set off again, and drove along quite slowly. We had to ask again, but soon found ourselves at ‘Helvetia plazza’ by the bridge, and a huge impressive building holding the ‘Einstein Museum’. WE knew we were near, but had no idea where West Strasse was – we were crawling along, trying to read the road signs, when I finally spotted one that looked right. We drove nearer, and it was – amazing! Now parking was but of an issue, the roads were chock-a-bloc, but just by the side of the building we found a place just off the street where we could squeeze the bike in. YAY – we had made it 🙂

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BUT it still wasn’t all smooth going. Fortunately there wasn’t a queue and the assistants were really helpful. Initially we were told that we couldn’t make an application here, with our Australian passports!! But I said I’d emailed here, and had a reply saying that we could. He went off to check with a more senior person – Phew!, they would accept the application. We handed over the papers and our passports, but the photos we had with us were not approved. We needed to make news ones and there was a machine in the entrance hall. Heading there, we checked and it only took Swiss Francs and we didn’t have any!! And we couldn’t get anyone in the offices to swap some Euros. Time was running out, less than an hour before closing for the day. I asked where the nearest ATM was, and was directed a little way round the block to a post office. We were getting a bit hot and bothered, and Stew feeling that we just didn’t have enough time. But we went for it. We found the ATM, got the cash, and back to the Visa Centre. Now there was a (small) queue to use the photo machine, but all good – we got the new photos, and back to the application booth. Finally all good, papers and passports handed in, fees paid, and receipts given. It would be about a week before the passports would be ready.

So nothing more we could do for now, except go find the camp ground. We’d found ‘Camping Eichholz’ when looking online earlier. It was only a few kilometers from town, by the river, and would certainly do us for a couple of nights. We needed a day to relax and recover, and putting the tent up for one night is always a pain.

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It was a great place to camp, expensive at $45 AUD a night, but there was wifi and a camp kitchen, which is always a bonus. There was a small shopping plaza just up the road, so we managed to get a few supplies, and noted a post office too, so decided we’d send the old broken MacBook to Jason, to carry back to Perth for us, next time he visits. The next day it was so nice to relax, and just enjoy being tourists in a beautiful city on a beautiful day. We had been a bit disturbed through the night, with the camp being quite noisy at times, people packing up early, bicycles being moved, and even a hot air balloon, sounding like a fire breathing dragon, as we finally unzipped the tent around 9am.

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After brekkie we just went walk about for the day. There was a really great 30 min walk into the city along the Aare River. We saw people in the river all day, floating down on just about anything. It was quite a sight. Its years since I was in Bern with Opa and Oma, and Stew had never been so it was quite a treat. We climbed the steep stairs by one of the bridges that brought us up to ‘Helvetia Platz’, where we had been yesterday. We went to the Einstein Museum first – it was a free entry day (Otherwise 18 CHF each!). It was a magnificent building, showing us the history of Bern, all the Einstein connections, .and great views over the snow capped Alps. From there we crossed the bridge to the city and wandered round another couple of hours. The old buildings, plazas, tramways and water fountains were so pretty. We even found a second hand bookstore, so Stew was able to stock up with a few more paperbacks. We also picked up a few food and drink supplies for back at camp, and in the end decided we’d walk back too. The camp was quite busy, with a wedding party going on, so we just sat out for a drink before heading off to make our own dinner, and then another relaxing evening around camp.

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It was a Sunday morning when we packed up camp, and were heading north again; 280 km via Basel and Freiburg, to our old friends the Mullers, in Freudenstadt. It was amazing driving the Swiss-German autobahn on Sunday; no trucks allowed. They were all parked up in service stations or parking areas, so the driving was great, and the weather was really good too. At Appenweir we turned off the autobahn, and drove the gorgeous Schwartz Wald Strasse, driving high through the dense lush ‘Black Forest’, accompanied by quite a few other bikes on the road too….

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We arrived around 2.30pm and found only the cat home. But Mike and Carmen were only 10 mins away. They had been out on their motorbikes for the morning at a Flea Market in France. Mike pulled up the driveway first on his new Indian Enfield, soon followed by Carmen. There were huge hugs and welcomes, nearly 20 years since we had last seen each other! And now it felt like it was only last week. We had so much to talk about sitting out in the familiar back garden. Then John and Tracey arrived too (So grown up now), and there was also Tracey’s boyfriend, Sebastian, and his parents. They were over from East Germany on holidays and looking for wedding venues for next August. We had the first of many wonderful nights together, this one a treat at the local pizza place just down the road.

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And the next day we had the first of what turned out to be quite a few days in the Muller garage workshop. Stew had been getting a bit concerned that the top end tappets of the bike were getting noisy, even though he’d been adjusting them quite regularly. He was just cautious in trying to make sure everything would be OK for the long drive east, and he’d appreciate a second opinion. So next day we met up with everyone down at the Muller garage, and Mike’s brother Konrad, was happy to give a listening ear to our bike. In the past few years Konrad has been recovering from a serious bike accident (a car driver had pulled out on him), and his legs were seriously pinned, so he now walked with a limp. But he was in good spirits, and also showed us the incredible VW schwim-wagon that he had totally built from scratch, and we even got to go for a ride round the block in it.

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Konrad listened to our bike running, and was also of the opinion that it was most likely new bearings were needed. It had now done over 120000 km, without them being changed. The guys were so helpful, found the parts online, and said they could get them delivered, probably late the next day. So with that organised, we didn’t want to do much else. All the Mullers were working at the garage till after 6pm, so we were more than happy to do some food shopping and make dinner for everyone tonight – curry of course :), which went down well with everyone, even Mike’s mum, Hedy. Then as the bearings were not likely to be delivered early the next day, we’d arranged to borrow Mike and Carmen’s bicycles, and really enjoyed the cycle into the town centre for the day and calling off back at the garage again too.

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And in the evening when everyone was back from work we had a lovely family BBQ in the garden. With Konrad around this evening he showed us around his apartment, with another of his projects on the go – building an old Zundapp in his living room, as well as photos of the ‘nut’ bike he had built, which had featured in a magazine too. Then later on, as our conversation tends to with Mike, we were chatting about his military collection, and he got out his special medals and daggers. So incredible to see, and he had stories for each of them, often having talked to the soldiers who had been presented with them. So it ended up quite late before we got to bed.

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All the family were there working again and even Mum, Hedy, was behind the counter. Konrad was helping Stew as much as possible, while he and Florian were in charge of the main bike workshop. John was servicing cars, with the other mechanic in the upstairs workshop, while Mike was doing some concrete repairs on the workshop drainage system. Tracey was out getting a change of registration for her mum, who was swapping over from her older grey Forester, to a newer 2004 model, in blue (Like Lacey’s). Carmen, was cleaning her new car and swapping things over. So back in the workshop Stew began the job of putting the new pins and needle bearings in the rockers. It was only supposed to be about a 2 hr job – but it ended up taking most of the day! There was definitely wear on the old pins, some scaring and some of the old needles we in fact missing – so a good time to change them. But the new ones were not going back together so smoothly! – they were tight and not turning smoothly – Konrad was helping, using the lathe to polish the pins and also make a push die, to be able to push out the old bearings on the vice. It was turning out to be a pig of a job, but really not much I could do.

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Sometime later Stew was putting the last nuts and bolts back on the rockers and covers. By 3pm he was just about ready to start it up again, and see how the engine was sounding now. It was definitely better and so he went off for a test run, while I went to pay Mike for the parts they had delivered for us. When Stew was back I was looking at the engine, and could see some oil weeping, looked like from the air filter box on top of the gearbox. You do get a bit paranoid, but he thought he had better just check it over….It was definitely oily inside the filter box, but not much, and Stew reckoned it was from the engine breather, and expected with the old engine. So we finally got everything back together, said thanks and goodbyes and headed up the road. Just by the traffic lights the left carburetor flooded petrol all over – so we just had to stop again! Stew cleared out the float bowl, and soon had us going again, all good. Fingers crossed Fritz is now going to keep running well, till we are back in Perth !!

We found Carmen back at home, just finishing off some housework. We asked what to do about dinner, as we had eaten a big meal at lunch time. That was all fine, no one really wanted a big dinner, and everyone was just happy to have some salad and left overs from the fridge which was good. We had a cuppa and nattered a while. When Mike got home around 7pm he asked if we wanted to go out for a walk around a local ‘BarefusPark’. We were definitely up for it, and nice to get out around sunset. It was a gorgeous evening and pretty quiet round the park. It’s quite a place, a 3.5 km track through the forest, all to be walked bare foot, and every so often there are sections of bedded areas with different textures; wood chips, pine cones, stones, pebbles, mud and even glass! Little streams to walk through and some exercise benches en route too.

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Later that evening Mike even got us set up on Facebook. I set up a cover image, and started to get some ‘friend’ links, Mike being the first – then a load of their Indian contacts (it seemed the most sensible way to do this). It was taking a while, so Stew and Carmen headed off to bed – but we didn’t stay up much longer, as Mike had work in the morning again.

The next day we asked if it was OK to use the bikes again, and if they would like Stew to cook curry again for a last dinner. Carmen was more than happy for us to cook, as they would all be working till after 6pm again. And, yes no problem to borrow the bikes again. So we headed off this time taking the forest cycle lane, it was lovely and quite steep off road in places, and also much harder and longer than going by the main road we’d taken the other day. But it was great to get the exercise.

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Mike and Carmen were home around 7pm and they had brought us some lovely treats; The famous ‘Muller Honda’ t shirts, which we now have to travel with and take photos on our journey back home, and send them to Mike so he can put them on his Facebook page. He found a great Baden-Wurtenburg cloth police badge for Lacey (She’ll love it). We could eat anytime for dinner, it was all ready – and Mike said now was good. So Stew went to put on the rice, while me and Mike poured over the India map we spread out on the floor. He showed us their travel route, and I wrote some notes, of the places and the various contacts. Dinner was in the lounge today, it was cold and drizzling outside, so Stew spread the coffee table with a right Indian feast again, and very much appreciated. So we sat together for a last meal, which everyone enjoyed. Conversation continued as we swapped more stories and reminiscences, (And I got the English stories Mike had written on a SD card, so put them on the laptop). We also did a bit more of facebook, once we’d cleared off the food to the kitchen, adding in more of Mike and Carmen’s India contacts. By the time we’d finished it was getting on for 10.30pm – time to pack up for the night. But first Stew went to get the cards and small pressies we had got too. It was so nice, and they really liked the crazy plastic spider – that lit up different LED colours.

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So the next morning we breakfasted and got Fritz fully loaded, checking over the house and then driving off to the garage. Fortunately it  was a reasonably quiet time, with only a couple of customers – so we were able to see some of Mikes treasures (what he has in the back storage for floh markets and eBay)…its quite amazing really. We could have stayed for hours, and he was happy for us to pick some things whatever we liked. So Stew got a nice couple of tiny Hitler- fuhrer books, and I got a some postcards, and older German pin badges. We also had time to do a good photo session, trying to recreate the same photos we had taken together in 1989, when we were on the first overland drive to Oz. It was fun, and we all had the Honda Muller Freudenstadt T-shirts on. That done it was really time to go, and again we had plenty of time to get round everyone, with our thanks hugs, and wishes that we would see them again, hopefully in Australia. Then at last ready for off, Stew got on first and started the engine, so I could then climb on behind, and we headed off down the road waving as taking a last few pics as we went.

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The day wasn’t too warm, pretty good riding really, and a half overcast sky. The directions south were straightforwards, as we headed out of the Schwartzwald to the R18 autoban, south towards Singen. The motorway traffic was fast but not too crowded, so it was a mostly cruizy ride. There was a fair bit of traffic and road works in places, slowing us up a bit, but by 3pm we were on the country road between Konstanz and Romanshorn. It was kind of familiar, but there had been quite a lot of development in the past 20 years, and definitely a few new round-abouts. Amazingly we found our way to the turning into the Altnau bahnhoff and campsign. As soon as we got to the railway crossing we knew we were in the right place. Things had changed a bit – a new barn house, and toilet block, but it was still the familiar place we had camped at 20 years ago. We soon got checked in and set about making camp, in a pretty quiet corner, where we could also park up the bike pretty close.

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With camp all set, we thought we’d go walk about first, down to the Bodensee – it was so lovely, and quite busy with holiday makers. The marina was familiar but there was a long new jetty and small passenger ferry across to Germany. As we walked to the jetty I was amazed to spot a ‘Ralf Scheiwiller boot fahr schule’ sign on a small yacht. There was no sign of anyone around, but we snapped a couple of photos, as there was a phone number and website. We walked along the jetty, in the warm balmy afternoon sun. The waters were quite clear, and quite a few swimmers about. We even spotted a couple of zeppelins, and wondered if there was a service over the Bodensee (They were definitely moving!).

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So how could we try find Ralf?? – there was no wifi at the campsite, but we thought we’d go up to the reception, though none on site there was a computer/library room we could use. We said we were looking for an old friend ‘Ralf Scheiwiller’, and amazingly the woman (Erise) said she knew him!! But he was not here any more, even though the yacht was in the harbour. He had married a Thai woman and had been living in Thailand for about 3 years!! We thought we might as well just try the computer, check out the website and I also logged onto facebook, and did a search – It did come up with a Ralf Scheiwiller in Thailand, so I sent of a link to be friends. We’ll see what comes back….it would be amazing if we were able to see him in Thailand later (but at the moment its not clear if its still possible to take motorbikes into Thailand). So a small change in plans, but not much – We lounged an hour while I managed to get the days diary done, and then we went out for a walk round the harbour. There were a couple of places to eat and drink on the waterfront, but the one nearest the campsite – ‘zum schiff’, did look the cheaper with a self-serve canteen like counter. It was a gorgeous setting on the waterfront though, as we sat in the calm twilight. Drink finished we headed back up the lane. At the tent we made quite a yummy camp dinner of daal and rice, and finished off the evening Stew reading his book, and me trying to shrink some photos.

Well we’d set off intending to go to Bodensee camp a couple of nights, and then onto Bern to collect our passports – but Stew just wasn’t happy with the bikerunning noises from the tappets. One of the engine studs was definitely loose, and it really was better to go back to Mike and Carmen, and fix the problem there before going on!! It was so fortunate that Mike had insisted Facebook was a good way to go for all his India contacts, as I was now able to get hold on Mike on facebook too, from the camp office. He said no problem to come back, and they had a helicoil kit in the garage Stew could make use off. So one more night camp, and for the rest of the day we heading into Romanshorn and had a wander about.

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We walked under the bahnhoff to the harbour front, and again remembered being here for a picnic, with the pretty water fountain. The day was so calm, close and claggy – it was almost raining, just seeping out of the high humidity, but we did managed to get back to camp dry. Though rain did seem imminent, we decided to risk it and take our books and a beer down to the waterfront, and enjoy the view. We found a great spot on a bench under a big tree, by the public swimming beach. There were even swimming platforms out in the water. It was really lovely; the lake was like a glassy mill pond, and we were able to sit and read comfortably for an hour.

The evening ended up quite a mixed bag, as the rain was very hit and miss. We started reading and had to retreat under the canopy as the rain started, but then it baited again, and Stew managed to get the dinner cooked. It was really enjoyable camp food; roastie and wurst. I decided to wash up, so we’d have a clean pan to make tea in the morning, and then we were both able to read until it just got too dark. The wind was picking up a bit and by the time we’d zipped up and tucked in for the night the rain had already increased to a steady patter.

It rained so much during the night – the most we’ve had camping so far!! The wind grew, howling and buffeting the canopy, and we were woken quite a lot through the night. Eventually things quietened down, and we managed to sleep more deeply. Stew got up in the dark (He needed to pee), and found that the canopy had blown down at some point. No point fixing it up now. One of the front tent pegs had been pulled out too, so the tank saddle bags and contents were pretty soggy. By day break Stew unzipped to find a blanket of grey cloud but at least it wasn’t raining. We soon had the kettle on, and heading to the loo, I could see a small patch of blue, hopefully heading our way. We started the mop up, hanging out the canopy over the fence, and wiping over the tent, as well as all the soggy goods. Hopefully it would be drier by the time we were packing up. The caravan neighbours who had spoken to us yesterday, we quite concerned at our condition, and brought over their table and comfy chairs so we could have breakfast in luxury – so nice.

DSCN4955The rain was holding off, so we managed to get packed up pretty dry – though it did take a while, as we had a lot of soggy things to try dry off and pack up. So in the end we turned back north, having another great days drive back into the Black Forest.

The small roads heading into the Schwartz wald were so picturesque, small villages where the houses are decked with pink and red geranium boxes, and also on the bridges too. It was only 30 km but the best riding of the day, as we climbed and descended the valleys on the narrow switch back roads. As we climbed the temperature dropped and there were quite a few dark clouds blotching the blue sky. It felt like rain, on the edges of a storm, and just 5 km before our destination we got a downpour. We just kept going and managed to pretty much keep out of it. We were soon pulling back up on the drive on Freudenstadter Strasse – ‘deja Vu’, and Mike was soon out to greet us, a big smile and laughing all the way, saying ‘I told you BMW is shit’. We laughed too, and soon inside we greeted Carmen, Tracey and Sebastain too…..saying ‘Such a long time since we have seen you – Not 20 years but only 2 Days!!’. They were all having a nice lazy Sunday, and we were soon relaxing again and swapping more stories. Mike showed us some nice old B/W photos – a lot with old motorbikes, and they also found their guest book (Toilet book), and looking through Stew found that we had written on the last page of the book the last time we were visiting; 1999. Lacey and Sairha had also written their names – I’ll took a photo and send it to them, And I have to write something new from our latest visit.

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Carmen cooked us all a lovely Mexican Chilli dinner. The meal was delicious and a treat to be surrounded by good friends and conversation again, before we all headed off to bed. The next day Stew wanted to get to the garage pretty early, as you never know how long the jobs are going to take !! Definitley ‘deja vu’, as Stew put Fritz up on one of the workbenches again. He ended up working most of the day, with help from Konrad and Florian too. It was a pig of a job – the engine stud was a baffle. Getting the head, barrel and piston off, the stud just tightened up, where before it had been loose!! SO now he had to rebuild it……and once all together again the stud was loose ! Stew got Konrad to check, and the opinion was that, yes, the stud had to come out and needed heloicoiling!! Well that went all good, and with some lock-tight we had to leave it half an hour before putting back together. We went upstairs for a cuppa, and I saw Hedy behind the counter, and I commented on her beautiful quilting work that we see all round the garage and house. There were some small purses on the counter, and she said I could have one – so lovely.

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Back to the bike, the pig of the job was getting the exhaust system back together. That involved a lunch break, as Hedy had made another wonderful hearty and tasty lunch for the work crew, and some yummy yoghurt and kirch for dessert. By 2pm the bike was all back together and ready for a test start up. All looking good, so we went for a half hour rummage in Mike’s store room. There were so many interesting things, but we really couldn’t take anything big – so I just sorted out a few postcards and stamps. We really wanted to make some payment to Mike and Konrad for all the use of the facilities, and the helicoil gear and screws and a clamp for the exhaust, but they wouldn’t have any thing – what wonderful mates.

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We decided we really needed to do a bit of a test ride. We headed down into Dietersweiler, and onto Glatten following the small roads and valleys around the Schwartz wald. It all sounded pretty well, and after about 30 km, we managed to navigate our way (via a diversion), back to the house. We we both ready for a cuppa, and decided we’d get everything packed up on the bike, so we could make an early start in the morning.

Mike and Carmen didn’t get back till after 7pm. Tracey and John had gone to the gym, and we soon got everything set up outside for our deli meats meal. It was a gorgeous evening, and so nice to be sat out in the garden again for a last time. The spread was quite delicious and made a nice change. It was already getting late, so we ended up with a simple evening of conversation, still reminiscing of all the times we’d met and things we had done together; and more story telling. We stayed out until it was dropping too cool, and continued nattering in the lounge. Then as we were all getting up reasonably early, we wished each other good night. We slept well and were up early to see Mike and Carmen before they set off for work – 6.45am the earliest we’d been up for ages. Mike was surprised how quickly we were ready, after we’d had a morning brew, and I’d remembered to write in the visitors book (toilet book), for our two recent visits, leaving a travel card for them too. The packed bike was ready on the drive way, and both Mike and Carmen came down to wave us off…..again 🙂 So last hugs and thanks again. What a wonderful time we’d had with such amazing friends, and Mike said we were sure welcome to come back again if we had more trouble with the bike!! (hope not:)

So we headed up the road towards Freudenstadt and back on the road to Switzerland. It was a glorious morning, and promising to get warm, though right now it was pretty cold, and as we made our way down through the Schwartz wald, the sun hadn’t even climbed over the huge tree clad hills……

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