What an interesting (but tiring) weekend! I spent most of the weekend in the car, driving a total of 897.6 miles – the distance Germany and back – in the space of 3 days. It was all worth it, for the concert I went to – taking the rest of the family with me.
At the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen – home to the football team Schalke 04, the German rock band PUR were playing their only concert of 2017, on Saturday night. It was only a flying visit – not many days holiday left at work – but I think everyone enjoyed it!
Full photo gallery and a couple of videos of the concert below the text.
We left home at 06:30 on Friday morning, and after a clear run all along the M4 we were in Bracknell before too long. I looked in the rear view mirror – Dad was already fast asleep before we’d even done 50 miles so Mum and I decided to continue straight through and not stop – taking advantage of the so far light traffic. Joining the M25 at 07:55 I was expecting to be stuck in traffic. In fact we had a clear run all the way down to the Channel Tunnel, stopping at Maidstone Services for 30 minutes in order to delay our arrival so as not to arrive before check-in was due to open.
Certainly beats the 4.5 hour journey I had in Friday afternoon rush hour the last time I drove to Germany in May! We made good time so were able to get to our overnight stop in time for lunch. Ypres (or rather, Ieper, to use its Flemish name) is just under 90 minutes drive from the Calais Eurotunnel terminal. I tend to stay in a B&B the district of St. Jan, about 1km out of Ieper itself.The B&B Villa Vanilla is almost like staying in someone’s home, and the hospitality beats any hotel I’ve stayed in!
Each time I drive to Ypres – this is my 4th visit in the last 12 months – I discover new roads through the town, and after spending much of the last year using the car park at the railway station I’ve now discovered the Minneplein on-street parking, much closer in to the centre and a much easier drive round to St. Jan. I could always park in the Grote Markt itself, but that’s not free, and its scary at times (admittedly not as scary as Cirencester Market Place).
After lunch, Mum and Corrie went to wander round the museum and climb the bell tower. Dad doesn’t do museums, and I’ve done it twice already, so we drove to the B&B to get settled – I then drove back in to town to pick up the others later in the afternoon. In the evening, we all went in to town for the daily Last Post Ceremony. Take a look at the noticeboard next to the Menin Gate to see the schedule – who will be laying wreaths, whether any bands will be there (the first time I saw it last September, there was a marching band complete with kilts and bagpipes). After the ceremony we had dinner out in the Grote Markt – nothing too expensive, just something to fill us up.
I was woken early on Saturday morning. The sunshine of the previous day had been replaced by pouring rain, thunder and lightning. The rain had cleared by 06:30 and within an hour the sun was shining.
We had a good breakfast at the B&B – much needed for the long drive ahead! We left Dad at the B&B for the first part of the morning, while I went with Mum and Corrie to walk along the Ieper Ramparts. We started at the Menin Gate, and went as far as the Lille Gate: Only a short distance, but it was a good way of stretching our legs before spending the day in the car.
We returned to the B&B to pick Dad up – but before leaving there were a couple of places left to visit. First was a visit to the German war cemetary at Langemark; then it was on, via the Canadian monument, to the Commonwealth cemetary at Tyne Cot.
Then it was time to get on the road. Our final destination was the PUR concert in Gelsenkirchen, but we would first drive to our overnight hotel in Duisburg before getting the train and tram to the arena. I took the slightly longer Southern route – driving towards Ghent – then down towards Brussels, getting stuck in traffic as we joined the R0 Brussels Ring (Belgium’s version of the M25).
Then it was out towards Leuven – a stop for lunch at the services about 30km from Genk – passing North of Maastricht after crossing in to NL – a fuel stop at Nuth – then entering Germany on to the Autobahn A4 near Aachen – putting my foot down on unlimited stretches as we turned North towards Krefeld, following the A44, A61, A46 and A57 (with a brief drive round a supermarket car park in Neuss after the sat nav gave me duff info) – leaving the Autobahn at Krefeld and following the B288 over the Rhine in to Southern Duisburg, then a brief stretch of the A59 until we got to our hotel. It was only an ibis Budget – not the greatest standard of acommodation but cheap and close to the motorway junctions, so perfect for short stopovers and quick getaways the following morning!
The Concert Itself
It was 17:30 by the time we arrived in Duisburg so we had just a short amount of time before rushing out to the arena. We took the S2 line of the Rhein-Ruhr S-Bahn then the tram directly to the arena and made it to our seats just as the music started. Brilliant timing! PUR is a great band – they play their own instruments, they sing, and their songs are very catchy!
I’ll continue with my account of the weekend shortly – but now might be a good time for some Youtube videos. The top 2 are my own. The rest are courtesy of other concert-goers.
On the way back to the hotel in Duisburg, we played sardines on the tram and train as a whole stadium full of concert goes emptied in to the city!
The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) newspaper had a particularly good account of the concert. One of the more moving moments was the song lead singer Hartmut Engler’s wrote for his 90 year old mother, who passed away recently:
Emotional war der Moment als Engler den Song „Anni“ für seine verstorben Mutter anstimmte und ein Foto der beiden auf den Videowürfeln eingeblendet wurde. „Ich denke, sie hört uns von oben zu. Mama, ich weiß, dass es dir gefällt“, waren seine rührenden Worte Richtung Himmel. Setzte seine Stimme mal ein paar Zeilen gewollt aus, hörte man das textsichere Publikum umso lauter singen.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was a croissant from the bakery at the petrol station next door, and a hot chocolate from the vending machine in the hotel entrance: Cheaper than the hotel breakfast! We got in the car at 09:40 and started the drive back to Britain. Germany to Britain in one day: Our longest day on the road of the whole weekend!
I took the more Northern route out towards Venlo on the Dutch border, crossed the Netherlands on the A67 and then in to Belgium near Turnhout. It must have been Caravan Day in NL, there were loads of Dutch caravans on the roads! Sunday made it much quieter, very few HGVs on the roads which was nice.
As a sign Calais would be extremely busy on the last Sunday of school holidays, there was a constant stream of GB-plated cars with us all the way home from Duisburg. We were still several hundred miles from the Channel Tunnel and I would not normally expect to see more GB cars on the Autobahn than I have fingers on one hand, until approximately Bruges. (OK: Plenty of Brits drive to Germany and I saw loads in the Rheinland earlier in the year – but never before have I seen them all on the Autobahn at once)!
About 2 hours in to the journey and we were joining the Antwerp Ring. It is usually advisable to avoid Antwerp – being a port city there are loads of trucks round there – but as it was Sunday, I took a risk. Thankfully we had a clear run, even as we approached the Kennedy Tunnel which features so much on Belgian travel news (even if you don’t speak Dutch/Flemish, have a listen next time you’re in Belgium – you can still pick out their distinctive pronounciation of “Kennedy Tunnel”).
We stopped at the services just outside the Antwerp Ring – only a short stop. I counted 8 GB cars in the petrol station alone, and 2 more in the car park near where we’d parked up. Then there was another 90 minute journey to our lunch stop: De Panne on the France/Belgium border, by the coast. The weather was good so we sat outside, found a café for lunch, and as it was a long stop we had time for a paddle in the sea before returning for pudding: crêpes and Belgian waffles.
Watching other drivers on the roads while abroad can be entertaining. The British are just aggressive, the French are impatient, the Germans drive fast, while the Belgians are lethal. Belgian driving standards certainly leave a lot to be desired! Drivers in Belgium seem to be very prone to lane hopping, changing lanes at inappropriate times, not pulling over when the car behind wants to overtake…
We watched one Belgian pull out in front of a faster German, who wasn’t happy at all! The German was moving his car as far over to the left as possible, so as to be seen in the driver’s mirror. When the Belgian eventually got the message and pulled over, the German wasted no time at all and was overtaking at high speed while the Belgian was still in the process of changing lane!
Afterwards we returned to the car for the final 40 minute push towards Calais. We reached Calais in good time but it took us over an hour and a half to get from the motorway, through check-in and passport control, and in to the car park. Eventually our train departed at 19:20. Just before 19:00 UK time, and we were back on British soil, travelling up the M20. 14 hours after we left Duisburg, it reached 22:30 in the UK, and we arrived at home.
It was a long weekend but I’d do it all over again… though perhaps not terribly soon!
My next road trip to Germany will be next Summer at some point – I’ll be going up to Schleswig-Holstein to call in at Cirencester’s twin town (Itzehoe) while on the way to Norway – Compared to the distances involved in driving to Norway and back, Duisburg and back is nothing – but at least I’ll have 2 weeks for that: not 2 days!
Click the photos to view full size.