Week 11

Breakfast in Slovakia was a real experience! We stopped at the first roadside café as the food is always good. Gary stayed in the motorhome sorting something out and the boys and I bowled into the café.

We were starving and we picked up the menu with eager anticipation that lasted only as long as it took us to realise that we couldn’t understand a single word! This came as a bit of a shock as we had thought that we had menus cracked and although we didn’t understand all of it could make out enough to get a meal. But no. It might as well have been in Chinese. I didn’t know even what section of the menu I was in. Eventually I made out cappuchino and ordered two. Then I thought I recognised chocolate, so hoping it was a hot chocolate drink ordered two of those. The boys then wanted cream on top; I said if it turns out to be a drink at all be grateful. By now it had become apparent to the owner that she had some real hopeless cases on her hands and she made a few suggestions, or at least I think that was what she was doing, it could have been “Brits go home”.

It seemed that all was lost on the food front, but then the waitress went past with some bread rolls. I pointed to them and held up four fingers. A lorry driver came in who spoke a few words of English, luckily they included “sausage” so again, I held up four fingers. Gary then came in expecting a meal on the table and couldn’t believe that we hadn’t even ordered anything. He then made chicken signs and breaking eggs signs ( I could have sold tickets for the performance!!), but the lady wanted to know how we wanted the eggs prepared….. frankly as long as they were cooked I would have been happy! So I shrugged and again held up four fingers.

We went and sat down. The cappuchinos arrived sprinkled with cinnamon, Gary’s least favourite spice, and the hot chocolates arrived topped with cream (how lucky was that!). Then four sausages arrived on two plates and four eggs (fried) on one plate with some rolls in a basket. So we had four sausages, four eggs and three plates, so Gary pointed to the plate and asked for another plate. It took ages to arrive and when it did, it had four eggs on it….

We travelled as far as Trencin, a beautiful spa town. Slovakia has many hot springs and spas and promotes these as health spas. The town was spotless and really could not have been nicer. The fact that the campsite had a washing machine was an added bonus. However, we had been hoping to go to a thermal bath and there wasn’t one in the town.

We were told that Piestany was the place to go. The whole town is based around spa cures, and there were many people on crutches and in wheelchairs who were seemingly there to take advantage of the hot pools, curative mud and other treatments. In some places the facilities were more geared to beauty type treatments, but others were medical facilities where a doctor would examine the patients and prescribe a course of treatment that would be monitored for effectiveness. Certainly there was a calm and caring air about the place. We only went to the thermal baths which were lovely and warm. The pool was full and most people were just taking the water rather than swimming. The water was green and quite thick. The general odour was sulphurous.

Bratislava was our next stop. Although it is the capital, it is a very manageable size and is easy to navigate on foot. There is also an abundance of sculpture of all different types and sizes. There were cows that had been customised by different artists and these were dotted all over town. There must have been at least fifty of them. Also, there were some quirky pieces like the one of the soldier with his hands under his chin. This was placed without ceremony in a square. It would make a good place to visit for a long weekend, and Vienna is only a short train ride away.

We got stuck in the mud leaving the campsite and were ably assisted by some strong Italians and a tractor. It had rained a lot that week!

We crossed into the Czech Republic, expecting to stay in Brno, but couldn’t find a campsite or any place to park. This is often a problem because of the length and width of the vehicle, standard parking isn’t big enough.

We headed on to Velke Mezirici a small town, but lovely. Sorry if I sound like a scratched record, but the towns are really nice, small, clean and friendly. We had one of the best meals to date in a small hotel, so have included a picture, (the menu was in English which helped!). Sadly there was no room at the hotel and no campsite, so we moved on to Trebic, just a few miles away. The town, though just as lovely as all the others, was shut and there was no one about to ask where the alleged campsite was. I decided to walk about to find someone and landed up at the police station just as two pc’s were getting out of their police car. They didn’t speak English, so we had to manage in German, I don’t actually speak German, but can pretend quite well when the chips are down, and they were down! The upshot was that the next time Gary saw me, I was in the back of the police car being driven up the road. His face was a picture! Anyway, they very kindly took us to the campsite, me in the car and Gary and the boys following in the motorhome. The boys were very envious!

The next day we were driving up to Prague and stopped for lunch in Brnice, a tiny village where we stopped for lunch in the Buffet, which looked dilapidated from the outside, but inside was very bright and clean. It was full of working men all tucking in to home cooked food. So we decided to stay, even though there were the usual language problems. The owner took pity on us and explained the whole menu to us……in German. We ended up with our fall back of pointing to what someone else had and having the same, the boys had huge schnitzels and chips and Gary and I had what we thought were meat balls, but in the middle had a hard boiled egg, sausage and a green vegetable, possibly courgette, (think along the lines of a scotch egg) what a surprise! We have put a few pictures of the village on to this page, mostly because we were back the next day as Gary left the diesel cap at the petrol station. It was just 250 kms round trip that took six hours, we got horribly lost in the hills! It had to happen.

Week 12

Prague. It grew on me, after a rather inauspicious start. We were to meet Nick, Sue and their son Luke there, so we arrived early to make sure that we were staying somewhere where we could easily get into the city centre. At first we had delusions of staying in the same five star hotel as them, but that didn’t last long. The first campsite we tried was brilliant but it took an hour to get into the centre and the bus/tram was irregular. Then we stayed on an island campsite just a mile or to outside the centre. The view of the church on the cliff was the view across the river from the motorhome.

Once we were settled we went into town and couldn’t get into the massive Old Town Square as it was full of English tourists, most of whom appeared to be on hen/stag weekends. You can see what I mean by inauspicious. I had been so looking forward to it and was very disappointed. But it got much better.

We met up with Sue and Nick on Monday (22nd August) and the crowds had gone home. It was still quite busy but the sights were there to be seen and no-one felt the need to be draped in a Union Jack.

It was the start of a great week. It was so good that when I was writing my diary up, I am sure that I got the days muddled as to what we did when.

I know that the first day Nick and Gary over indulged on Czech beer testing out the unlikely theory that you can drink as much as you like and don’t get a hangover. It must have been a coincidence that the next day they didn’t feel so well and drank far less!

On Wednesday we had a day outside Prague and went to Terezin that was a Nazi concentration camp (as opposed to a death camp). For many it was a transit camp and that meant in transit for a death camp, but for those who were imprisoned there, there was only a death rate of about 20%. I doubt that only is an appropriate word, but I meant in comparison with the death camps. However, in April, May and June 1945 there was an outbreak of typhoid which the Nazis did nothing to contain and many lives were lost just before liberation. There is a rose garden to the victims of the camp and I have put a picture on the site. It was also interesting to see the town which is quite a typical small Czech town, quite different to Prague.

Buying tickets for the trams was not easy. In theory they are available from newsagents, but none that we went into sold them. It didn’t bother Gary and Nick at all, but Sue and I were concerned about ticket inspectors. Eventually Nick found out that we could buy three day tickets at the underground station……if you had a lot of change that is. To celebrate the moment, there is a picture of the occasion.

Speaking of the trams and trains has reminded me of the business opportunity waiting exploited in the Czech Republic. Underarm deodorant. My goodness me is there a need for it. The people are clean, but obviously are oblivious to the benefits of a quick squirt after the morning shower. The problem is really apparent on the trams and trains as the bars for holding on are quite high. One man was stood next to me and the smell was really bad, so I was trying to sidle away but the more I sidled, the closer he came until at one point his armpit was millimetres away from my shoulder… yeuch! So the entrepreneurs among you - get marketing!

We also went to the National Technological Museum which had an amazing collection of old cars, motorbikes, bicycles air balloons planes and you get the picture. It was really interesting and not at all crowded. We (well Nick actually) found a brilliant place for lunch. It was in a quiet street and seven of us ate and drank (including six pints of beer) for less than £18. It is great when you just hit upon somewhere just by chance.

The real highlight of the week though was spending the week with Nick Sue and Luke. Just being able to chat without thinking was a real treat. It took us out of ourselves as sometimes I feel that we can get a bit insular. They also kindly brought over some things from home, including books for the boys that weighed a ton. As if that wasn’t enough, they even lugged it all from the hotel to the campsite for us, what lazy friends they have!

The boys also enjoyed having Luke to play with and talk to, as you can see from the photo.

So Nick Sue and Luke could see life in the motorhome, they had a barbecue with us one night. The only problem was that they had to get the 9pm ferry back across to the mainland. We missed it one night and it was a long walk to the bridge (mostly because we got off the tram and walked the wrong way!)

Week 13

The week started with Sue Nick and Luke going home and we all felt very down once we had said goodbye. Hopefully we will see them later in the trip.

We started the week nearly drowning in dirty washing, so headed back to the other campsite outside Prague and spent the whole day washing and drying. The boys had a great time playing in the wooden playground and playing volleyball. Gary and I were relaying on sorting, washing, drying, hanging out to air and folding. It was a real relief to get it all done. Washing the clothes is something else that is quite difficult. Well, not so much the washing as the drying. A spell of wet weather gives us a real problem.

We had also been having some minor snagging problems with the motorhome and decided to had back to Sprendlingen to get it sorted. So we were then back in Germany.

We stopped at Nuremburg and went to the Terror and Fascination exhibition that dealt with Hitler’s rise to power and how he managed to subjugate individualism and use that to maximum, horrific advantage. I won’t dwell on it, but it really was frightening what one social misfit could achieve when circumstances allowed it. Nuremberg is now the City of Human Rights. If you are ever there, this exhibition is well worth seeing.

Once we had seen the exhibition, we successfully logged on to the internet and picked up the email saying that the motorhome had been booked in for service on Thursday (ie the next day). So we then started the long journey to Sprendlingen and arrived just after seven. We went to the excellent Italian restaurant for a meal. Two spag bol, two spag carbonara and one salad. Well they were very busy and we only got one of the carbonaras – but were just glad to have something to eat.

On Thursday, as promised, the motorhome was sorted out and very quickly. They do give a very good service.

The next night Gary and Josh were there for a coke and a beer, when the owner came up to Gary and was all over him and talking nineteen to the dozen, Gary wondered what was up. A waitress who spoke English came over and said that when we had eaten there the previous night we had been charged for two carbonaras, but had only had one, so they owed us the cost of one meal. The beer and coke were free and they gave the difference to Gary in cash. Amazingly honest. We had no idea, as the bill is not itemised you just get asked for a sum of money and pay.

At the weekend we went to Bad Sobernheim a small town 20 kms from Sprendlingen. It has an outdoor museum of different types of houses from different regions, mostly from the period 1650 – 1850. The houses have been identified in situ and then are moved to the museum. Each dwelling then houses a different type of museum, toys, a school, costumes, eating habits over the centuries etc etc. The setting is superb in a wooded area.

There is also the Barefoot Park. You take your shoes off and walk through different substances, for example cold mud, across a shallow river, through grass, bark, and a lot of wooden frames, large pebbles, small pebbles. The whole walk takes about two hours and is great fun. There are a couple of photos of us there.

That evening, there was a fiesta in the market square, with lots of drinks and food stands. Being totally unoriginal, we chose the goulash (we will soon look like goulash!) and met a very nice German couple who spoke enough English to explain the peculiarities of the system whereby you paid a deposit for each plate and glass. Rory got the job of getting the deposits back and did very well, much to the amusement of the barman.

The German man whose name we never did learn, despite hearing their life story, introduced Gary to a speciality drink that was basically brandy and coke; this was a mistake! We had a great evening. The children were thrilled to be allowed candy floss and went off to but it themselves – I am sure that smaller sizes were sold, despite their protestations to the contrary!!

Week 14

After the excesses of the previous evening, we delayed our return to Sprendlingen until Monday (5th September – just so you know where we are in time). Of course, Gary felt fine etc etc, but that was probably still the local fire water talking and he did have to take to his bed later in the afternoon!

The parcel that was being sent from England still hadn’t arrived, despite being sent Airsure, apparently guaranteeing delivery a day earlier than standard airmail, in return for a large sum of money. It was sent on the previous Wednesday but Royal Mail were very keen to deny any responsibility for it once it had left England and in any event, the customer service woman was pleased to tell me they didn’t consider it late until 20 days had elapsed – for heaven’s sake you could walk it from Alton to Sprendlingen in that time!!

Thankfully the package finally arrived on Tuesday morning and we were able to leave Sprendlingen.

We had decided to go to the Black Forest and make Heidelberg the starting point. Amazingly, we found a parking spot near the centre of town and were able to walk in. It is very pretty, but very touristy. The chain stores are well represented and there were plenty of American and Japanese tour groups. It was just like being at home, so we admired the buildings and moved on.

We stayed at a small town called Schonau. In Sprendlingen, we had seen posters about tick borne encephalitis which showed the Black Forest all marked in red, which seemed rather ominous, but on the other hand the poster was produced by the drug company who made the vaccine so…..we decided to take some local medical advice. The upshot being that within an hour of arriving in the town we had all received our first dose (of three) of the vaccination. Welcome to Schonau!!

Schonau was a good place to visit other towns and we went to Triberg and Hornberg. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.

Another place we visited was Saint Georgen which has a phonographic museum which was fascinating. It even had a working Wurlitzer. What was strange was that although the boys recognised the old phonograms with the large trumpet speakers, they had no idea what the Wurlitzer was for – we soon showed them!

That evening we ate out and chose dish solely because it had mashed potato with it and not chips. It was delicious – meatballs made out of, or containing – not sure which – liver. A real treat.

We rounded the week off outside Freiburg at a campsite chosen because it had washing machines and tumble dryers and we had a huge pile of washing to do. It also had a super indoor swimming pool with a glass roof and glass sides which was a real bonus as it was boiling hot.

Week 15

11th September we crossed into Switzerland and it couldn’t have been easier, they didn’t even open our passports, just waved us through into Basel. It was a bit of a culture shock after the magnificent Black Forest and our anticipation of chocolate box houses, to find ourselves immediately in a heavily industrialised petro-chemical area. We didn’t stop.

Instead we went on to Weggis and stayed on a farm at the bottom of Riga. It was a glorious location just beside Lake Lucerne and we decided to take a walk along the lake before going to get something to eat. That was until the farmer’s wife said, no restaurants were open because it was Sunday, the garage five miles away might be open and might have something but she didn’t really know. Well, at least I think that was the gist of it, but as she spoke Swiss German which when spoken seems to bear little relation to German, it was hard to be sure. So beautiful scenery but no dinner, the boys were not convinced that this was a good thing.

As we had spaghetti, a jar of tomato pasta sauce and some tinned tuna fish, Gary decided to make spaghetti with a spicy tuna and tomato sauce, how inventive was that. Given that we were very hungry, it tasted really good!

The following day we went to Lucerne and found a campsite within very easy cycling distance of the town which was a real bonus. Gary and I treated ourselves to Swiss Military watches - waterproof with luminous hands. I was thrilled to bits with mine. They were surprisingly reasonable, particularly as everything else is so expensive. We had four drinks in a café and it cost £10, the boys having the smallest cokes you could ever imagine. I know that the two are not directly comparable, but in Poland we were having a full meal with drinks for the same money. It was Rory’s turn to cook the meal and he chose home made hamburgers, which he generously allowed Gary and I to cook as he wanted to go to the playground!

Just up from the campsite was a Transport Museum, so the following day we thought we would spend a couple of hours there. We ended up staying until nearly closing time. It was absolutely brilliant. Although it was a transport museum, the name gives no clue as to the wonders inside. The boys were able to drive a train – using a simulator, have a go flying a large model plane, try out a flying machine putting their arms through the wings and being hoisted up to try and make it turn, do circuits on quad bikes (there were only the two of them as the place was nearly empty) went in a helicopter, went in a 60’s jet plane, to mention just a few of the highlights. For a small extra charge they had a bob sleigh ride in a simulator and as it was being installed by some guys from Scotland, they were given tokens for a free go, which they were really chuffed about!

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a planetarium show included in the ticket price and it was about two children who went around the solar system in a cardboard rocket – it was brilliant.

From there we went on to Interlaken. The views from the road were amazing, terrifying but amazing. Interlaken itself is very touristy. The American and Japanese are welcomed to the point that unless you are either American or Japanese it is very hard to get served in some shops. Gary’s treasured Raybans has met with an unfortunate accident and he had to buy another pair of sunglasses. He found a pair he liked the look of, but the shop assistants wouldn’t serve him, preferring to seek out an American/Japanese customer!

We went up to Grindelwald (at the foot of the Eiger) and saw the snow covered Eiger and Jungfrau, We then went on to Lauterbrunnen where we saw an amazing waterfall coming down the side of the mountain, just near the car park.

Our next stop was by the side of Lake Thun and the boys were able to do some fishing. The highlight was meeting Peter and Barbel who were camping next to us. They were great company and the evening was made even more entertaining by trying to guess what the other was saying. The highlight was Peter explaining to Gary that Barbel kept animals – ziege – instead of using the dictionary that was on the table, they did it by the noise of the animal and using their hands to explain the ears/horns. Not sheep, horses, pigs or cows but goats! The significance of the animal was that she made goat’s cheese and she brought some out for us to try, it was delicious.

Bern was the next port of call and we went and saw the bears in the bear pit which were great. I had know idea just how big they are and how big their claws are, they are not at all cuddly.

There was also an Einstein exhibition on, which was really interesting. His family moved to Switzerland when he was 15 and later renounced their German citizenship and remained in Switzerland taking Swiss nationality.

Zurich was our last destination in Switzerland. It is great for designer shops, but didn’t seem to have much else to offer. To be fair, I should say that the weather was cold and damp which always influences the way we see places.