After leaving the Hymer museum we drove south to Lake Constance, a glacial lake at the foot of the Swiss Alps. We stayed in a commercial campground there for a couple of days, which was inhabited entirely by Germans instead of the usual international mixture – summer’s over, and it’s just the locals now. I got some inquiries about my strange campervan and chatted up the people I could find who knew some English.
Lake Constance (called the Bodensee by the Germans) is where the Rhine gets its muscle. The Upper Rhine starts out in the Swiss Alps and is more or less a mountain stream as it goes over the Rhine Falls and into Lake Constance. It exits the lake as a real river, and heads west and then north. We have stayed on the Rhine way down right before it goes into the Netherlands, near Dusseldorf, and along the Rhine Gorge near Wiesbaden, but here we are waaay upstream (south) from all that.
The interesting thing is how the drainages changed as Europe thawed out from the last Ice Age – the Upper Rhine used to be a tributary of the Danube, the upper reaches of which is heading east just south of present Lake Constance, on past Vienna and Budapest to the Black Sea. The lower Rhine, which drains into the North Sea, kept extending southward through the process of erosion until it captured the Upper Rhine, which increased its size substantially.
From Lake Costance we drove west through the Black Forest, coming out at Kehl, a German town across the Rhine from Strasbourg, France. In this southern section, the Rhine is the national border. It looked like the same old Rhine to me – a big river with giant freighters and tankers operating on it. A Viking River Cruises ship, which is basically a long narrow floating apartment building, was docked in Kehl when we were there. We stayed at a commercial riverfront campground there, again entirely German, and headed out Sunday morning, which meant traffic was light enough to attempt an urban assault vehicle run on Strasbourg. We went right downtown in the Roadtrek, Sharon saw the sights, I avoided getting run over by the trolleys, and we headed southwest out of town and into France.
We left France months ago on our way across Italy, up into Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, and Germany. It was nice to be back for me – my meager foreign language skills are entirely French, I love the food, and I love the French countryside. Sharon admitted as much, although she didn’t express much regret about dragging me all over eastern Europe.
Best of all, France has a charming custom- the municipal aire du camping. In many small towns there’s a place where you can overnight legally, for little or no money. The rationale is that they know RVers spend money, so these are bait to get you to hang around, sort of like American casino’s generous boondocking arrangements. You literally see them as you drive along, and on our first night in France we spotted one in a tiny town named Bucey-les-Gy and pulled in for the night. It was a pleasant – and inexpensive – way to get some dinner and rest before heading out the next day.
We stopped at a second aire in Precy Sous Thil after three hours and a hundred miles or so – this time I knew what to look for, a sign with a stylized RV. Following the signs, we ended up behind city hall in a beautiful campground with water, a dump, hot showers, electricity if you need it (we didn’t) – all for 9.60 euros. It was quiet, dark enough to sleep, and kitty friendly. Fiona was out for a half dozen walks, exploring all the sights, sounds, and smells.
Another arduous three hour, 100 mile drive today through the beautiful French countryside, and we are at Vezelay, a town absolutely full of charm which has a 12th century Benedictine abbey church they launched the Crusades from. It’s sort of a tourist trap, and all the parking in town is paid parking (they didn’t plan for much parking when the Romans laid the town out two millenia ago, so it’s kinda scarce), but the paid parking is also overnight parking. Five euros. We are here with a couple of other RVs and we’re looking out one window over the rolling fields and up at the church on top of the hill out the other window as the sun goes down. We’re cooking French sausages and have fresh baguettes and French sea salt butter. Life is good.