Cat Air

Beer, Wine and Cider 9: Au Revoir

Monday 26th August

Our hosts made us a round of ham sandwiches and waved us off, and we began the long journey back to Dunkirk and the 6pm ferry.

There was a small detour to visit a Breguet Deux-Ponts in the grounds of an airfield. It's in use as a café, though sadly wasn't open this morning. Instead, a caretaker greeted us, apologised for not speaking English and offered a glass of ice water, which we gratefully accepted.

Time to make for the main roads and rack up some serious miles. We sat in a layby to eat our sandwiches ("Bon appetit!" said a passing walker), and made one final stop at a supermarket for petrol and supplies. Looking at my haul of biscuits, grenadine, sardines and tins of lentils with sausages, I realised I had inadvertently created a Brexit stockpile.

We made the ferry in plenty of time and sat on deck until falling temperatures drove us in to the lounge.

Docked at Dover, we emerged into a golden evening that made me fall in love with my home country again, as always happens after a holiday spent falling in love with other people's countries.

Miles: 368.7
Total miles: 1732

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Cross stitch

Beer, Wine and Cider 8: Party Time

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th August

I woke at 7.30 to the sounds of clattering metal and French voices. This turned out to be the French side of the family setting up a huge barbeque on which they would roast a lamb, a pig and a chicken, the juices dripping down onto big trays of potatoes.

More friends and relatives arrived for breakfast - some from guest rooms or the attic, some from lodgings in the village, others fetched from hotels or the station in the nearest town.

Among the guests were two dogs, bouviers Suisses named Cuddy and Polo. Polo's nickname is Polo the Miserable because he always looks sad ("Comme le chien de Columbo," someone commented), but he's fine really.

The feast was ready by mid-afternoon (the children present had been given ham sandwiches to keep them going, and I had managed to sneak one too). We sat down at long tables, French and English together, passing each other bread and salad.

Later I was persuaded into the paddling-pool with the kids (I did not need much persuading). I slid down the slide, straight through the pool and into a bush, to the amusement of all onlookers.

And suddenly it was late. After darkness fell there was a birthday croquembouche, held together with caramel, topped with nougatine and washed down with fizzy wine.

The party split into small groups, chatting and drinking under the trees. Howard went to bed. A small boy dragged me off to play billiards, and beat me. An elderly French neighbour described seeing American soldiers march through the village in 1944, when he was eleven. Around 1am rhum agricole started to circulate, and after some of that I decided to call it a night.

Sunday was a quiet day. Guests departed, while those of us staying another night lounged about. There were plenty of leftovers to eat and drink. The most energetic thing we did all day was go on a walk to find the Biggest Tree in the Village. Polo and Cuddy departed, which meant that our host's sweet little cat, who had been lying low, put in an appearance for stroking and fuss.

The day ended, again, with a communal meal. I went to bed at midnight to the sound of owls hooting.

Miles: 0

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The Spy Who Loved Me

Beer, Wine and Cider 7: Closely Inclined Planes

Friday 23rd August

Today we were heading deeper into France, to the little village where our friends' party would be held the following day. I managed one last swim before checkout.

Our first stop was the Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller, a lift that allows canal boats passage through the Vosges Mountains, replacing 17 locks. We were lucky enough to see it in action, raising a boatload of tourists before our very eyes.

After coffee, it was time to press on. We chose to avoid tolls, so the route was a mix of motorway, dual carriageway and straight, almost empty country roads. My fly-by treat for the day was a Mirage 2000 fighter, spotted near a French air base.

"No, when was that?" said Howard when I asked later if he'd seen it.

"When I slowed down for no apparent reason."

"I should remember to check the sky when that happens."

We arrived at half-past five, precisely when we'd said we would. Our friends had very kindly offered us a room, and I was allowed to unpack and change before their daughter whisked me off to inspect her treehouse.

Other guests had arrived, or were arriving. We had a tour of the village, which took about 20 minutes, then ate pizzas outside in the dusk before bed.

Miles: 293.4

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The Spy Who Loved Me

Cary Grant Fest, Part 3

More from the BFI's Cary Grant season. Last night I attended a talk, 'Shadows and Light: Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant', about the four films they made together and the several they didn't for one reason or another. Grant was perhaps the only actor with whom Hitchcock had a genuine friendship, allegedly because at the time they met they were the only two people in Hollywood who knew what Liquorice Allsorts were.

After the talk, I had 45 minutes before a screening of one of the four Hitchcock/Grant movies: To Catch a Thief. My friend Matt, who was coming with me, met me outside the BFI bearing a currywurst so I wouldn't starve to death, since I'd come to the talk straight from work.

The film, in which Grant plays a reformed cat burglar trying to clear his name, was new to both of us, and we enjoyed it a great deal. It's just the kind of 1960s caper I like: shot in the glamorous, sun-drenched setting of the French Riviera, with a comedy car chase, fun characters and a real cat.

"I bet there's a Remington Steele episode that references this," I thought. (There is, and I have watched it.)

Biggest laugh of the evening: Grant as John Robie introduces insurance agent Hughson to quiche Lorraine.

I'm never sure whether I prefer young, lissome, monochrome Cary or the grey-templed Technicolor version. He certainly looks very good here, with his tan and his collection of stripey tops worn with neckerchiefs.

I've seen North by Northwest a number of times, and Notorious as part of the current season, which leaves only Suspicion of the quartet to view. Maybe I'll see if it's still playing...
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Beer, Wine and Cider 6: Black Forest High Street

Thusday 22nd August

I started my day with a swim in the hotel pool, followed by an expedition to the local supermarket to sort lunch, dinner and the next day's breakfast.

We headed to the old town in the centre of Strasbourg, just to take a look, finding the old houses and cathedral pretty but not worth stopping for.

It turns out it can be tricky to leave the centre of Strasbourg once you're in it, but eventually we exited the one-way system and found ourselves heading back across the Rhine to Germany.

Our objective was the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, a scenic driving route high up, as the name suggests, in the Black Forest.

It's just thirty miles long, but gorgeous: straights and curves flickering in and out of pine forests, with panoramic views over the mountains.

We stopped at the Mummelsee, a deep lake nestled in the woods. It's a popular tourist destination, with a hotel, souvenir shops and pedalo hire, and we ate our sandwiches at a picnic table before setting off around the lake.

Luckily, Howard had perused the route in advance and advised me to take my swimming-costume. Nobody else was in the water, except in a pedalo, and we looked for a sign to find out whether it was allowed, finding one that warned the water could be deceptively cold and you swam at your own risk. Obviously whoever wrote it had never been to Brighton.

I waded in, watched with interest from the bank by other tourists.

"Ist kalt? Ist kalt," one observed as I found a steep bit and was forcibly immersed.

It was lovely, of course. I swam up and down within a safe distance of the bank, filling my senses with the surroundings so I'd remember it afterwards.

Once I'd dried off and bought a couple of postcards, we continued until the route's end in picturesque Freudenstadt. Here Howard had a slice of Black Forest gâteau that was mostly cream and I had a ridiculous ice cream with pineapple wedges and an actual leaf stuck in it.

I had time for another swim in the hotel pool before our dinner of bread and cheese.

Miles: 163.9

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Beer, Wine and Cider 5: Tintin In Wine Country

Wednesday 21st August

I'm not saying I engineered this entire trip so I could go to a Tintin exhibition at the Château de Malbrouck, but...I totally did.

We had a lot of miles to cover, but we found time for lunch in the market square, and a look at the waterfall, in Saarburg.

Mid-afternoon found us in the middle of nowhere, staring perplexedly at the sat nav, but it recalculated and sent us into a town, up a hill and into the castle grounds.

The exhibition, celebrating Hergé's life and his influence by, and on, twentieth century art, was spread out across a number of rooms, halls and towers in the castle, making it a voyage of discovery. Tintin flags flew from the parapet, and a moon rocket had landed in the grounds. The final stop on the tour was Tintin's flat, where you could sit in his chair next to a (sadly empty) dog basket.

I've seen a number of Tintin exhibitions in my time, but I always learn, and see, something new. And because the Fondation Hergé curates everything connected with the name very carefully, you'll always see high quality exhibits and correct fonts.

By the time I'd seen it all, bought the exhibition guide and had a mirabelle ice cream, it was getting late. We wandered between France and Germany, in a confusing borderland where the town names were very German but written on French signs.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Strasbourg the reception was closed for the night. Nobody answered the phone, and we were eyeing up the Ibis over the road when I received a series of helpful texts telling me how to get in and retrieve my room key. Even the welcoming cockroach on Howard's bedside table didn't dampen our joy.

Miles: 240.2

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Beer, Wine and Cider 4: Avgeek Heaven and Green Hell

Tuesday 20th August

I was eager to visit the Fliegausstellung Peter Junior at Hermeskeil, as it boasted one of my favourite aircraft (the Saab Viggen) plus the opportunity to eat lunch on board Concorde.

Luckily, there were some fantastic roads between us and our destination. We wound down into the Mosel valley, past green vineyards sloping down to the river, and crossed the Rhine, waving at cruise ships.

The museum surpassed my highest expectations, featuring not just one but four of my favourites: a Viggen, Antonov AN-2, Junkers Ju-52 and Fokker Dr1. There were four halls and a large outside area, all packed, and plenty of interesting Soviet stuff I hadn't seen before, including a Kamov Ka-26 'Hoodlum' and a Mil Mi-8 'Hip'.

Halfway round we had our Concorde lunch break, consuming käsebrot and coffee at an altitude of zero feet.

A lot of people got postcards from the gift shop.

Back at the guest house, we rested for an hour before setting off to do something rather special and scary.

The Nordschleife, the Nürburgring's 'Green Hell', is one of the world's most famous and dangerous race tracks. Today most of the professional action has moved to the Grand Prix circuit, but for a price you can ride or drive pretty much anything around the historic track. It's a notorious free-for-all, with bikes and cars of all kinds, piloted by people of wildly varying ability, sharing the road.

Howard and I had visited in 2007, but both our bikes broke down on the way. I went round on my dad's pillion, which was a special experience I will always treasure. Now it was time to do it under my own steam.

There's a long list of regulations outside the ticket office, warning that you'll need to show a driving licence and proof of insurance, but all they really want to see is the colour of your credit card. We paid up and were presented with our tickets. Easy as that.

We drank some water and had a snack, and were just psyching ourselves up to put our helmets on and do it when the track closed to clear away an accident. It's open for 2 hours on weekday summer evenings, and it's entirely possible that you won't get a chance to go on.

But we did. The track reopened, after an anxious wait. We presented our tickets at the barrier and were let loose on twelve miles of racetrack.

We stuck to the righthand side so faster vehicles could overtake us. I thought I'd be frightened by the whizzing sports cars, but they all overtook safely. The smell of hot brake dust hung in the air as we negotiated the straights and corners, deep in concentration. I had no idea how much time had passed when we entered the final straight and slowed for the exit.

Thrilled and triumphant, we headed to the Fan Shop to buy our hard-won stickers for bragging rights. Five minutes later, the track closed again.

Safely back in Kliding, I wound down by watching two Tornadoes, visible only by their navigation lights, performing touch and go landings in the dark distance.

Miles: 165.7

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Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Beer, Wine and Cider 3: Coffee and Fighter Jets

Monday 19th August

I woke to a sunny morning that promised to turn out hot, and went outside to find the hotel proprietor deadheading the geraniums.

Our next stop, in Germany, wasn't too far, so we looked for something to do along the way.

This turned out to be a visit to the Mardasson Memorial, dedicated to the American soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. It's shaped like a star and set in pretty woodland, the Bois de la Paix, with beautiful views from the top. The engraved text makes it clear how grateful Belgium is to those who fought so fiercely for a country not their own.

Over the border, we went through Trier so we could experience the Roman Bridge, the oldest bridge in Germany and the oldest bridge north of the Alps still in use for vehicle traffic. We also found some cheap petrol and a LIDL, where we stocked up on supplies as the next few nights would be self-catering.

Our guest house was tucked away in the village of Kliding, in the Mosel. The owner welcomed us in German and showed us around. (The next day she would compliment me on my German, which pleased me even though she initially thought we were Belgian.)

She offered to make us coffee, and we accepted gratefully. I discovered that I had accidentally booked us a place five miles from Büchel Air Base, which meant that every few minutes I had to drop whatever I was doing and run out to look at passing Tornadoes.

Miles: 180.7

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Beer, Wine and Cider 2: At the Sign of the Little Wolf

Sunday 18th August

A leisurely start, in which we wandered into Bruges for a breakfast of Nutella waffles and coffee. As the carillon played Bohemian Rhapsody, we climbed into a canal boat for a low-level tour of the city.

The guide did a very good job of pointing out the sights in English, French and German. At one point I thought he was showing us some 'typical 17th-century gay bars', but to my disappointment Howard corrected me to 'gables'.

The previous evening, I'd spotted a cavernous souvenir shop promising a 'Tintin Chapel' on the 2nd floor, so I went in to pay my respects and purchase a couple of postcards. Then it was time to load up the bikes and head off.

We paid a quick visit to the outskirts of Brussels so Howard could see the Atomium, then left the motorways for smaller country roads. At one point we trundled across a level crossing, then over a bridge into a town so picturesque I felt quite spoilt. In the early evening, we arrived at our destination: Bovigny, in the district of Gouvy.

On a day trip to Brussels with @wardy a couple of years ago, we spotted and admired a tin sign advertising Lupulus beer. (Lupulus is the Latin name for hops, but also means 'little wolf'; cf 'homunculus'.) Quixotically, I added the brewery to the To Visit list. This trip, it made sense to stay in a nearby hotel on our way east.

It turned out to be an excellent pick. Our hotel, chosen because it was within walking distance of the brewery, was charming, with a friendly proprietor, geraniums in the window-boxes, and two soft-looking deer in a grassy enclosure. There was even a bath, and I took grateful advantage of it, since the later stages of the journey had been a little cold and wet.

The timing of our trip didn't make a brewery tour feasible, but we walked to the Lupulus brasserie, where I had an outstanding meal of salmon in a sauce made with their Blonde beer, and a sorbet made from their fruit beer. This came with a Lupulus-branded cocktail umbrella, which I pocketed, along with a beermat or two.

The bill was a little high, but then we did buy a T-shirt each.

Miles: 175.4

(Wolf: model's own. Her name is Ingrid Bergwolf.)

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Cat Air

Beer, Wine and Cider 1: In Bruges

Saturday 17th August

When a friend kindly invited us to a summer party at her mum's house in France, Howard and I accepted with delight and immediately started planning a road trip. Our journey would take us through Belgium, into Germany's Mosel Valley, and back out into cider country.

We took the Dover to Dunkirk ferry and made our way to the first stop, Bruges, via a supermarket to buy sausage rolls (all they had left) for a late lunch.

The centre of Bruges is car-free and the surrounding streets are narrow, cobbled, and mostly one-way. When I asked our AirBnB host about motorcycle parking, he said we'd have to use the public car park ten minutes' walk away. We parked outside the AirBnB and climbed the steep stairs with our luggage before riding off in search of parking.

When we found the car park, it didn't allow motorcycles. We asked a moped rider delivering pizza, but he didn't know the parking rules either. After going round the one-way system a couple of times we found the only official motorcycle bay we saw in the whole of Bruges, outside the chip museum. (I suspect we could have parked anywhere and got away with it, to be honest.)

We'd booked a small room at the top of a house, but the location couldn't have been better: right beside one of the canals, a few minutes' walk from the city centre. By coincidence, it was also close to a supervised swimming area with decking and lifeguards.

It was a cool evening with a threat of rain, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance like this. I got changed and swam up and down a short stretch of bright green water, watched with interest by my fellow-tourists.

Once I'd dried and showered, we headed into Bruges. Although the city was crowded, it felt very quiet and relaxed, perhaps because there were few cars. We had beers outside a bar, watching horse-drawn carriages trot past and listening to the bells of the clock tower, then repaired to a restaurant recommended by the AirBnB host for the best shrimp croquettes I have ever had (and I consider myself an expert in these matters).

Miles: 144.1



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