Chapter 22 Heading North
Jacqueline was fit to travel, and we had a tight schedule to maintain if we were to reach the ferry in Norway, before it left. If we missed it...
David's shoes had not arrived although it was now three weeks since I had written to my neighbour asking her to post them. At nine am we were sadly saying goodbye to Auntie Gret and Uncle Willi. They had been very good to us, and our time in Bonndorf was peaceful. We were heading for many unfamiliar places, facing many unknown difficulties, currency problems, language misunderstandings, strange traffic regulations. After Jacqueline's mishap, I felt some trepidation about the whole project. I tried to keep too busy to think about it.
"I'll let you know when we get home," I promised.
"We won't rest easy until you do," they assured me. "But I guess you'll do what you have planned."
I started the engine.
"Wait a moment," said Uncle Willi. "Here comes the post."
Grandpa, Peter, Jacqueline, David
The first stop was Gottmadingen, where Grandpa was very glad to meet Jacqueline. Her leg was lightly bandaged, the scabs dry and clean, but she was not to walk until all the scabs had dropped off by themselves, so I had to carry her up to the attic flat, where Grandpa greeted us. He thought Jacqueline was beautiful, and that I was brave taking them so far, especially with Jacqueline incapacitated. He gave the boys a camera which he explained in sign language, and also a transistor (which we found later ate batteries at a phenomenal rate, until David investigated and found a loose wire) and he gave me 1000 DM toward our holiday and insisted that it was his pleasure to give something to his grandchildren, the only ones he will ever have. There were tears in his eyes as we left.
Uncle Willi had given me a list of roads to take to our destination for the night. It was away from the main highways. Autumn was beginning. Everywhere in the surrounding countryside, farmers were starting their harvest. It was often done by hand, with all members of the family helping to reap. If they were lucky, they carried the hay back to the towns where they lived, on a 'twenty kms an hour' tractor, along the main roads, quite oblivious of the 'hundred kms an hour' traffic behind. Apart from the tractors, the scene has changed little for hundreds of years.
Stein am Rhein
Stein am Rhein
This was the setting for the town of Rothenburg, on the 'Romantischestrasse'. A large part of the town including the camping area, has spread beyond the original wall and moat, but once you cross the drawbridge it is possible to step back in time to the Middle Ages.
Leaving the van in the parking area, we carried Jacqueline to the walls, up a long flight of wooden steps to the covered walkway near the top. The boys peered through the arrow slits used by the men when attacked and lifted their sister in a bosun's chair so that she could look too. Was that the enemy trying to hide behind the trees far below?
Then I gave them my bag to carry, while I struggled down the next flight of steps with her. They sat at the bottom, while I returned for the van. A well-grown nine-year-old was too heavy for me to carry far.
The streets were crooked and narrow, and although we had walked only a short distance on the wall, I had trouble getting there by road. Meanwhile the boys carried Jacqueline to the spot where I would be able to stop. Ten minutes after picking them up, when we stopped at the cathedral and I asked for my handbag, we came to the nasty conclusion that it was still sitting on the bottom step... we hoped. It contained all my money, travellers' cheques, passports....
The boys raced back in the general direction, while I drove the roundabout way imposed by traffic regulations. I took a wrong turning and came to a dead end, but knew that the steps we were interested in were nearby, so jumped out and ran through a reconstruction site to the amazement of the workmen. There was no sign of the bag or the boys. What now?
The boys appeared, having arrived at the wall, and returned to the cathedral, and come back again to the wall.... with the bag.
To celebrate, I bought some very expensive chocolate cake.
The town was a delight, full of quaint, crooked gabled houses, wrought iron signs hanging over doorways, lanterns, towers, fountains, an old blacksmith's shop and beautifully decorated facades.
We passed through the wall again by the little changed stone gateway, and found that the moat, now dry, contained a most original playground, gnarled trees used to create a huge dragon and three bears on which the children climbed. It was hard to get the children away to eat their lunch, but of course they could always finish the meal as I drove on.
We were heading for the coast, via Luxembourg and Belgium. On the way we stopped at a rest area and afterwards the van would not start - just nothing. A man, who pulled up behind me, rang the patrol service. It was very warm weather and we had been driving hard that afternoon, and the man explained to the boys (in German) that a part of the starter motor gets hot after a long drive, and expands and opens up but does not close until cooled for a long period. After a brief stop it can be closed by tapping from beneath. When we stopped later for petrol, David was able to demonstrate his mechanical ability, by gently tapping the right bit.
In the city of Luxembourg, the boys swam in the camping area pool, while Jacqueline sat on the edge and watched, and I prepared dinner. Nearby an Englishman and his daughter were playing shuttlecock. The cap kept coming off.
"We must get some Uhu," said the father.
"I've got some," I called out. "Would you like to borrow some and stick it together?"
"Thanks a lot. Very kind." They came toward the van while I opened the little cupboard containing such items. "Where are you heading?"
I said "We're going to see some of the castles in the country, then towards Brussels. What about you?"
"We're on our way home now. I have to get back to work. We've been to Yugoslavia this trip."
"Where do you live?"
"Kent. I work in London, as a medical officer, in charge of Commonwealth visitors."
"Really? I wonder if you would do something for me? My daughter got burnt a couple of weeks ago, and I wonder if she will have any scars."
"Well it could take a little time to heal completely. I scalded my wife on one camping trip, and she has only a small mark left. Hardly noticeable now. I was closing a curtain. Knocked over a pan of water."
"That makes me feel much better."
"Let me see her and I'll have a better idea."
"Good. Thanks a lot. She's at the pool now watching the boys."
He was able to reassure me that the scabs were drying out well, but confirmed the statement that she must not walk yet. This meant confining our sight seeing to things which did not require much footwork.
Luckily the country Luxembourg is good for driving round, interesting mountainous scenery with castles in various stages of decay, to be seen every few miles. We had been in enough castles not to feel too disappointed about seeing only the exterior. In fact the children were beginning to say 'not another castle' with groans.
The boys saw a mini golf course near the ruins of an eighth century castle, and could not be persuaded that the former was less exciting than the latter. So I let them have a game.
"But you realize I hope that we can't have too many stops for things like this. It all costs money and time, and we're short of both. You can play mini golf at home."
Brussels Grand Place
That night after we had settled down to sleep, I heard a strange noise like a drain glugging. After a while I realized that everyone was still awake and aware of the sound. On investigating the nearby ablution block and surroundings, I came to the conclusion that the noise came from the engine of the van. It was liquid being pumped, and the only liquid I knew of was in the petrol tank. I started the motor and the glugging stopped.
The next morning, ready to leave, the van would not start. The engine kicked over but would not keep going. The proprietress rang the touring service (in Belgium language) and I did some washing and wrote in my diary and the children played. The man finally arrived three hours later... the van started... and we left, very beetroot-faced, not being able to explain in Belgian about 'glugging noises'.
I knew we were short of petrol, and filled up at the first garage, wondering if our gremlins were really the reserve petrol tank not switching over properly. I will never know, but I do know that we ran out of petrol two days later, just as we were approaching the camping area in Amsterdam. The boys pushed and a young Canadian lent his weight. The speedo stayed at 66666 while the engine was not running. The petrol gauge showed a quarter full. The next morning it started and got as far as the first intersection before it stopped... and started as soon as the patrolman came of course. We got to the nearby garage and the van drank ten gallons, which meant it had been very thirsty, in spite of declaring it was still a quarter full.
In Amsterdam we parked in a multistorey parking area, and went on a one and a half-hour canal ride. The city has much to offer, but most of it involves walking, so we had to be content with what could be seen from the boat, that is about the same as could be seen from a car. The commentary came from a student, who spoke fluently in four languages. His English was so good I think he must have had at least one English-speaking parent. He pointed out a 'floating bank', a temporary structure in the canal which had been there for several years, the house boats getting free electricity by connecting directly to power lines instead of through the usual channels, the places where cars regularly plunged into the canals and were pulled out as a matter of course by the fire-brigade. The whole system of interlaced canals and the busy harbour is fresh water, as it is not directly connected to the ocean. Along the canals for mile after mile houseboats are permanently moored, the only home that many expect to own, in this land hungry country.
Arnhem can boast one of the best camping grounds we saw, and one of the best open-air museums, both with ample space and beautiful shady trees. It was great to camp in 'privacy' surrounded by greenery instead of other vehicles. The museum was ten acres of parkland on which had been rebuilt dozens of examples of old farms, dairies, town houses, windmills, representing many periods and styles. Each day some are working, demonstrating the making of paper or wooden shoes, or some other cottage industry. I had seen this before when Bill and I were in Europe, and wondered how I could show Jacqueline even a fraction of it. Probably we would have to take turns to sit with her while the other two explored. On arrival, we found that they supplied free wheelchairs. So we spent three well filled hours, the boys competing to be the pusher.
We were not so lucky at Kinderdyk, where twenty-four brick windmills still stand along a single canal. The second mill from the road was working, so with great effort and many rests the boys and I transported her to the mill. The sails turned slowly, then come to a halt, and the man removed the material from them and shut the gate, just as we arrived.
Madurodam was a highlight for the children, a miniature town with everything from cottages to churches, zoo, castles, airport, harbour, all working models with appropriate church or merry-go-round music, and real miniature trees in the gardens. I enquired about and got a wheelchair.
Holland up until now was a picture book country, as flat as they tell you at school, crossed with canals, dotted with windmills, with older people still proud to wear national costume and wooden shoes.
Further on, especially after we had crossed the twenty mile long Grand Dyke, the country was still flat, but much less picturesque, not so many canals, windmills, farms, barges.
From experience we had learned to spend all spare coins before leaving a country. You can exchange notes at the border, and of course lose the usual percentage with each exchange, but coins are not accepted. So we went to a market in Holland, and spent the last of our Dutch money on a current loaf, tomatoes, peaches, and finally some sweets. I put a handful of small coins into the lady's hand and pointed to inexpensive lollies, which she very obligingly counted out.
From Holland you cross back into Germany for a while before entering Denmark. Legoland was easily the most important feature of Denmark (to the children) and again we were lucky to get a wheelchair. There are dozens of imaginative scenes ranging from a Medieval town to Cape Kennedy, all made entirely from Lego building blocks, many containing thousands of pieces. When Peter was about three, Grandma in Germany had sent him a Lego set and I had regularly added to it, so the children had had quite a lot of experience with it and could appreciate what could be done with plenty of originality and plenty of pieces.
Denmark consists of a number of islands, with interesting old towns, Viking relics, modern bridges, and ultra efficient car ferries.
The daughter of a friend lived in Copenhagen with her husband and young son Daniel. Jill had been born in Australia, after her parents had migrated, and had gone back to Denmark when she was twenty to see the country. There she met and married her Danish husband who was studying, but they hoped when he qualified as an engineer that they could save enough to go to Australia. I had never met her, but when I knocked on her door and explained who I was, she was eager to entertain us. They were going out that evening, so Jill arranged to call for us at the camping ground in the morning. It was great, not to have to worry about driving in a strange city with unintelligible signs and unaccountable regulations. Jill knew where she was going and was familiar with the one way streets, knew how to behave at intersections and did not once try to drive into a pedestrian plaza. We could relax and look at the spires for which the city is famous.
After watching the changing of the guard at the Palace, and doing some very necessary but mundane washing at a laundry, we all went back to Jill's place for a real Danish lunch, a variety of cold meat, fish and salad dishes. We did not appreciate all the flavours, especially the spicy ones, but enjoyed most of them. Jill took us shopping in a store where strollers were available for children, not quite the right size for Jacqueline. We didn't buy very much, but enjoyed the experience of finding the right kind of shop and the right department without delay.
One of the amusement parks in the city was already closed. The 'season' was coming to a close. It was the last night for the Tivoli, one of the main features of Copenhagen, and thoroughly to be recommended, and as it was Peter's thirteenth birthday, we all went.
There was a variety show by a troupe of visiting Korean artists, for which you could buy tickets and get a seat, or which you could watch from outside of a roped off area for nothing. We chose the latter, sat Jacqueline on a post, and noted that some of the audience carried portable seats, obviously fans of such shows. The rest of the grounds were worth seeing for the originality used in combining water, both still and moving, with coloured lights. The variety of fountains, changing light effects and reflections is intriguing.
It was lovely to be able to chatter to another adult in English. We talked about Australia, and Jill's hopes that they would eventually settle there, about housing problems and the unsatisfactory conditions under which they lived and most important of all we discussed babies. Daniel was six months old, a delightful, gurgling baby, and all my children were taken with him. They watched his ablutions with avid interest and talked and played with him happily.
Hans Christian Anderson's house
"He's like David at the same age. You know David was born in Germany. We had come over to bring Peter to see his Grandma, and went back with two babies."
"However did you manage the travelling with a baby this age?"
"It was difficult. We certainly didn't do justice to the places we visited. We got as far as Amsterdam on our longest trip, so I have never seen any of Denmark or further north."
"You'll want to see the Little Mermaid on your way north. I'll explain how to find it from here."
"We wondered where it was. On the waterfront of course, but that is mighty big. We saw Hans Christian Anderson's house in Odense, and Jacqueline bought a Danish doll."
"What about Elsinore Castle?"
"Hamlet's castle? Where's that?"
"It's near where you get the ferry across to Sweden."
"We'll make a point of seeing it. We won't be able to see much of Sweden now; we're too late. We can't possibly get to Stockholm so we'll just go straight to Norway."
The Little Mermaid
To see Norway had been one of my major ambitions since schooldays, when a friend gave me a book 'Norway is my Country', a story of heroism during the German occupation. Before setting out in the van on our long summer trip, I had done plenty of homework. A book from the local library told of an exciting year, travelling right up to the land of the Midnight sun. All the tourist pamphlets described the fiords and the sparsely populated mountain areas.
Our hopes to get as far as Trondheim had been thwarted by Jacqueline's accident in Switzerland. It was now out of the question, and perhaps this was just as well, as the roads were very lonely for hundreds of miles. If we had not been so strictly limited for time, I know I would have been tempted.
The last car ferry back to England left on seventh September. It was already 31st August when we left Denmark, drove through part of Sweden and approached the Norwegian border.
Jacqueline was sitting in the back of the van, the boys in the front.
"My scab has come off," she cried suddenly.
"Keep it," begged Peter. "I want to take it home to Australia, and look at it under the microscope."
"That should get a prize for the most original souvenir."