May 14-17, 2015
2015 Horizons Unlimited – Germany Meeting
I like to travel and I like to ride my motorcycle. Fortunately, the two go very well together. And while it is interesting to take the bike to nearby countries to see what mysteries they hold, I really embrace the idea of going further abroad and deeper into the unknown. Therefore when I realized that the worldwide overland travel group Horizons Unlimited was going to host a meeting just a few hours from our house I couldn’t pass up the chance to go.
Thursday was a holiday and Friday was, well, not worth coming to work for, so Dan [That’s me! I have square brackets now!] and I had a nice four day weekend ahead of us. There really should be more four day weekends throughout the year…
All packed up the night before
The morning was overcast but dry. We didn’t hit the road until 10 am as we headed north through France towards Strassburg. There is nothing remarkable about this stretch of motorway other than the occasional castle ruin sitting high on an outcropping of the Vosges Mountains, or the vineyards that run up the foothills. We were lucky with the weather: Evidence of a passing rain shower was still visible on the road surface and the clouds were thick and black to the east.
View of Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg (way up on top of the hill) in the Vosges
It was just a couple of hours until we left the motorway and joined smaller roads into the French countryside.
One of many French villages we passed through
French cows. Le Moo.
Dan was getting antsy and I was getting hungry. Fortunately for us both, this happened just outside the village of Bitche, France. Bitche (pronounced “Bitch”) had been on my watchlist since I learned about it last spring. It is known for the large citadel that sits high above the village. What a better way to spend some time off the bikes than exploring this monument of history? We entered the town, which was fairly quiet because of the holiday and perhaps even the weather. We saw signs for a garden and headed there first. Handily, we could buy tickets for both the garden and the citadel at the same place and we proceeded to walk through the garden.
Welcome to Bitche
The gardens were more about sculpture and art then flowers, but the plants that they did have made for a nice setting. The gardens were part way up the hill, so we also got a shallow view of the village. We took a break on one of the benches for our lunch and were immediately joined by a skinny grey cat. It looked healthy enough so as not to cause concern, but I didn’t hesitate to offer it a bit of ham. The cat took the morsel gently enough, but was quick with the claws when it thought it could grab some more out of my hand. Ouch! [It was indeed a savage beast, and would have eaten us too, given the chance.]
Looking at Bitche over the garden walls
Dan tries to keep the cat out of the food
Rhodies and Azaleas in full bloom
One more shot of the cat with wicked-sharp claws
We found the cobblestone approach to the citadel above us and trudged up the uneven stones in our motorcycle boots. I hate walking around in motorcycle boots, but our normal footwear was packed deep in the bikes’ panniers. As we came around a bend in the walled road we saw a parking lot – doh! We could have ridden up here! There were few cars in the lot and we entered the citadel gates, walking up the long, easily-defended entrance ramp. [We found the defenses minimal on this particular day. The ticket office was not match for our might.]
Looking back down the entrance ramp
Tunnel through the citadel walls
A demonstration [a show, not a protest] of sorts was planned in the afternoon, but it wasn’t clear what would be involved. From the activity I did see, it appeared it would be just a small tilting/jousting event, as there were a couple of women working with their horses in a dirt paddock. The saddles were interesting to see and the care with which the horse’s mane was braided was impressive.
The view from the top of the citadel was expansive and offered nice scenery from all sides. We explored the surface buildings and then took the 25 minute tour that explored the hollowed out rooms and hallways below. Everything was done via headphones with location sensors on them, which meant that we could go at our own pace. It was also nice that it was just the two of us on the tour – not another person in sight for the entire time. Imagine our surprise when we came back out into the sunlight only see two dozen people waiting for the next tour to start! [The audio-visual tour within the citadel was impressive. The motion activated video told the story of the siege in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. It was a no-holds-barred critique of the French and Prussian political and military leadership of the time. One particular scene showed a blood soaked naked woman running from marauding Prussian soldiers. No glorification of war here. Keeping in mind that 2015 marked the centenary of the First World War, just imagine that the centenary of the Franco-Prussian war was in 1970.]
View of Bitche
Chapel in the citadel
It was time to move on. It was just an hour and half to Sippersfeld, Germany but it was already 2 pm. The weather was barely cooperating and the last thing I wanted to do was set our tent up in the rain. We returned to our bikes and headed back into the countryside.
Traffic was almost non-existent but I still managed to find an idiot who sat at the cross road until I was almost upon him and then chose that time to pull out ahead of me. It wasn’t anything dramatic and I flashed my lights at him in irritation. Take THAT, you stupid driver! I really do get spoiled around here, with very little wildlife to threaten me, very good drivers who (mostly) look out for other vehicles (and signal!) and fantastically-engineered roads.
Not surprising, we did see a fair amount of motorcycles today
We were in US military space. Well, not the entire space, but there are a lot of bases in the area. In fact, my nephew was recently stationed at one nearby and we’d be joining him for dinner Friday night. We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary though. No great display of tanks or planes or even uniformed people. Just a lot more McDonalds and pick-up trucks.
We arrived in the tiny village of Sippersfeld, Germany and then traveled a couple more kilometers into the countryside to Campingplatz Pfrimmetal. We had arrived! We were also much later in our arrival than the 100 or so other people who were already milling about the campground. A kind soul gave us site suggestions and we crawled our way through the campground, fighting with the deep, loose gravel while onlookers gave us thumbs ups as we plowed through. We found an appropriate place and parked the bikes. We pulled out the bare essentials and set up the tent, changed out of our moto gear and began The Tour of the Campground.
Road to Campingplatz Pfrimmetal
Lake on the premises
There was a tractor gathering there, too.
It was estimated that just under 200 people had come to the HU-Germany meeting but they packed themselves well into the green spaces of the campground and it did not seem overwhelming. I enjoyed looking at the variety of not just motorcycles, but each person’s camp set up. The variety of tents (although green seemed to be the most popular color), chairs and cooking set ups was fascinating and educational. The bikes were interesting too, especially the little details that people add to indicate their interests and experiences.