In the Black Forest, Germany, 10th August 2007.

I passed by a lake, it seemed pretty.

I was heading on towards Munster, I was hoping to meet up with an old friend and long time balloonist, Arno Sieger. I had some problems finding his house. First, some nearby police, after satisfying themselves that I was not an undercover terrorist, or some such, could not have been more helpful, and gave me detailed instructions how to find his house, after phoning the local police for better directions.

But as usually happens with such detailed directions, I went wrong at one point. Note, I am being kind to the policemen, I say that I went wrong at one point. Anyway I finished up on the autobahn with no exit for miles and miles and miles. I took an autobahn junction and finished up in a rest area. They had maps for sale and I looked at them. I was only a couple of miles from his house! But I was on the autobahn with no exit near. However there was a track behind the rest area, with a prohibited sign by it. I felt no one was looking so I took the track, and continued over a field until I reached a road.

After I reached safety I reached for my map to check the final detail of my route. it was missing, I must have left it in the rest area. OK, I thought, that's another 15.95 Euros down the drain. Then I thought, no, dammit, I'll go get it. So I did. I went back and parked my van by the rest area, but just before the end of the track, so that I did not have to drive past the prohibited sign too often. Of course there was no map. I checked round my van again, it was under the cloth I use to hide the laptop from prying eyes.

Have you ever done a dumb thing like that?

I found Arno's house and it was not good news. I rang the bell, and heard Arno's voice, David, I'm ill in bed. Then he said, wait a minute. he came down in dressing gown, we talked about old times, Arno said he was sorry not to be able to swap the 20 beers we usually did when we met. He has just had his fourth heart bypass operation, and is now awaiting a serious and difficult and essential risky operation in connection with his stomach and intestine.

After what seemed like 10 minutes but was maybe 15 we said goodbye, see you later.

Unfortunately his wife Barbara was not home, otherwise she would have probably kept him in bed. I just hope that my calling and causing him to get out of bed, did not cause his condition to be any worse.

All my kids knew Arno from balloon meets, they all loved and remember him. He has been a balloon pilot something like 60 years gas and hot air. Several of the members of my little list are friends of Arno too, I know they will join me in wishing him a successful operation. Arno is getting on for 80 so it is a very delicate age for such things.

Whilst near Dresden I had met the Schafers, they had said, call by. They only lived about 30 miles from Arno, and en route to my next planned call, so I called in to see them. What a welcome! Talk about killing the fatted calf! They organised a barbeque, with son Paul and his girlfriend, Georg's brother and his girl friend, and Christina's sister and her husband. Not forgetting their youngest son Leon of course, who I also met near Dresden.

George and Christina work together, he is the architect, she the graphic artist, they design homes, mostly.

Next day was rainy, Christina took me on a tour of Oer-Erkenschwick. Yep, that it's what it's really called. Just think of having to consult a crib sheet every time someone asks, where do you come from? It's even worse than Barry's town, Uwchland.

Now, this family are travellers. I think there is a strong chance I'll see them at my home in the Gers.

Markus, my next call, though, has already made his visit to my house in France, this was my return. He only travels by bike and my house is about 2000 km away so I am expecting a pause before his next visit, especially since French Rail won't carry bicycles on their trains. That didn't cut down his hospitality though, we went to a super Chinese restaurant atop a high rise for dinner.

Actually you normally say Mila and Markus in the same breath, but Mila is away cycling in Canada. I met them in Mexico, when they were spending two years cycling from Canada to Peru, then they paused at my home in France during their return through Europe.

Next day, after I arrived, I visited the shipping museum. Which was hardly more than a beautifully well made set of models of local ships through the fairly recent ages.

Markus returned home early - he's on flexi time - and he took me to the industrial park. There used to be heavy industry here, coal mines, steel mills and iron foundries. The city fathers in their wisdom have kept the iron mills and converted them into a park. Wow! Trees are growing everywhere in amongst the old foundry.

This used to be all heavy industry, now there are trees.

We climbed 70 metres above ground level. This next photo is not the top.

It started raining at the park, was raining when we walked to the pub for dinner, and was raining when I left next day. Obviously it doesn't rain all the time here, otherwise so many people wouldn't come. This was only half of a camp site that I could see in Koblenz. Write to me privately if you are desperate to see my photo of the other half.

I think this is looking back at Koblenz.

With all the rain there was not a lot to see. The Rhine Valley south of Bonn is reputedly very beautiful with lots of castles. But if it's misty and raining you can't see them. Here's one peering through the mist and rain.

Here's another.

Here's a Black Forest town.

I went to the Unimog museum. Unimogs can get where other vehicles can't.

The can do, and climb, about anything. This one can cut grass. Note the power take-off on the front, there is one on the back too.

Oh gosh. Here's another Black Forest town.

Now before I came here I thought the Black Forest was all flat. All forest, gloomy and dark, and all flat. But it's bumpy. Severely bumpy. And sometimes it rains.

I went to the tourist office in Freudenstadt. They have to win my award for the most efficient Tourist Office ever. I'd hardly finished saying, I'm looking for the prettiest roads going south and places to see than a map and highlighter appeared out of nowhere and roads and places were highlighted, with running commentary, look at the glass blowing here, look at the village museum there, etc.

I'd hardly finished saying camping car parking for the night than a town map appeared and a parking place was highlighted. So that's where I went.

Best regards

David Barker
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