Week 16

Liechtenstein was not a success!! We couldn’t find anywhere at all to park in the town. The campsite was so creepy and deserted the boys and I didn’t want to stay there and despite Gary’s apparent protestations that we were being silly and there was nothing wrong with it, I noticed that he said this as he was driving out! So, we only spent about an hour there and didn’t manage to get out of the motorhome, better luck next time hopefully.

That left us with needing somewhere to stay quite urgently so we drove back into Germany and stayed outside Lindau in a marvellous campsite that had a small children’s farm. There were some very exotic chickens and this furry one was one of our favourites. There was also a lake and when Rory and I went down to feed the ducks with some bread, the fish also piled in for a feed. Rory thought it would be a good place to fish, but I had a feeling the owners wouldn’t be too keen on their practically tame goldfish being lifted out of the water.

Whilst we were there we met some very pleasant Welsh people and it was a great night. The boys were overwhelmed to be given 5 euros pocket money. I can’t begin to describe the amount of Haribos that were bought! They were thrilled to bits.

Nearby were the castles of mad King Ludwig III (Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein) who spent such vast sums building Neuschwanstein that his government declared him insane and shipped him off to Munich where he and his psychiatrist were found dead in a lake two days later, “in mysterious circumstances”. It was a real hike up to Neuschwanstein (the blueprint for the Disney castle) so we got a pony and trap back down which the boys really loved.

We left just after lunch and thought that the escaped cows on the road would be the worst of our problems, but no…… as we were going along the autobahn Gary suddenly noticed that the engine was missing (no, it hadn’t fallen off!). Luckily, there was an exit coming up and a frantic search in the camping book showed that there was a stellplatz in Frasdorf just a few miles up the road. We limped there with the engine sounding worse and worse every moment.

The stellplatz was about a mile outside the village, so we walked in and found a small restaurant open. It was perfect. The owner spoke English – frankly we were all too hacked off to have wanted to try and speak German – the food he cooked was simple but out of this world – and suddenly life didn’t seem quite so bad. We told him what had happened and he told us where the best Fiat garage was – in Rosenheim – then produced a directory with a map so that we could get there. It was as if he was sent to help, and help he certainly did.

The restaurant is called the Osteria and if you are ever within driving distance of it, go, you will have the most superb food you have ever eaten.

Next morning we sent off with all our fingers crossed hoping to reach the garage without the engine seizing up altogether. Thankfully we were in luck and got there without a hitch. The problem turned out to be an injector connector which they replaced.

We decided to look round the town and found a lovely coffee shop that did Grandmother’s cake and cappuccino – delicious!!

Salzburg was our next stop and a camping site that was richly praised in the campsite guide book, usually indicating that we would find it dreadful! But no, Panorama Camping was fabulous! When we arrived, the owner was spit roasting chickens outside, it smelt delicious, so we immediately abandoned our plans to cook and booked for the restaurant.

It was stunningly good. We couldn’t believe our luck finding two excellent restaurants in less than a week.

Salzburg was a pretty town, but what struck Gary most was the sculpture of the saint with arrows stuck in him, so that is the picture we have chosen for the website, even if it is a bit hard to see.

Week 17

If we had known that Linz was famous for iron and chemical works, then we probably wouldn’t have stopped there.

But, we would then have missed one of the most stunning baroque towns of the trip. The centre is absolutely beautiful.

We noticed some men playing large scale chess on the pavement and when we walked back that way later a huge crowd of men had gathered to watch and mutter comments on the game among themselves. The odd thing was that there were no women involved in the proceedings.

That evening we stayed just outside the city and it again had a bar which we tried out. The owners had a son a bit younger than Rory so the boys played football outside together. We saw that they sold Sturm that we had seen advertised everywhere, so decided to try it. I went off on some domestic duty and when I came back saw that Gary had two glasses of a cloudy liquid that looked and tasted suspiciously like lemon squash. We agreed that something had gone wrong in the translation, but it wasn’t unpleasant, so we were drinking it. When the boys came in, we thought that we might get them one each for a change, so gave them a sip of ours. They really liked it. We were on the point of ordering one for them when we noticed a strange look on the owners face, yes, it was alcoholic and no, the boys couldn’t have one! Well, you could have fooled me. We decided to have a more traditional glass of wine (which wasn’t cloudy). Unfortunately, that was when the Sturm showed what it was made of. I don’t think I finished the glass before I had to go back to the motorhome and bed, I didn’t know anything more til the morning.

As always, the rule is Beware Cloudy Drinks!!

Our next destination was Vienna to meet up with my cousin and her daughters. I was really looking forward to it as I hadn’t seen Sara for years.

We planned to get to Vienna early, so we could shower and change and generally look presentable. But the motorway was shut and we were all directed off into the Austrian countryside. I couldn’t believe our luck it was the first time we had been really delayed getting anywhere and it was the one time I particularly wanted to arrive in good time. The only good thing about the diversion was that we saw these giant peaches on the roundabout, we didn’t know where we were, or what the significance was, but they were spectacular.

We arrived in Vienna in time to throw off our clothes, dive under a shower, throw on some clean clothes and out to get a bus and train. Thankfully they both ran on time and we arrived at Sara’s only five minutes late.

We had a brilliant evening in a traditional Austrian wine bar, (they have a particular name, but I can’t remember what it is) where we had water, wine and food. Her girls are lovely and I was so pleased to be able to meet up. At the beginning of the evening the children didn’t really know what to make of each other, but just as we were walking to the taxi stand the ice broke and they started getting on really well. They are coming over to England next summer and I hope that we will be able to meet up again.

Vienna is of course a stunning town. There were some amazing sculptures in the cathedral, St Stephens. My favourite was on a pulpit where the sculpture put himself peering out of a window. The picture may be a bit small, but I liked it so much, I’ve put it on the website anyway!

Next stop was Budapest, a long, long journey in driving rain and mist. But it was worth it as we were meeting friends from Newbury, who I had met through the NCT when Josh and Rory were babies.

Gary took the boys to the zoo whilst I had a day out with the girls.

We had a great time and nearly walked our socks off going around all the major sights. We “did” the Opera House, the Fine Arts Museum, Heroes Square, walked along the Danube and then up Gellert Hill for the most spectacular views of the city (but it was a real climb!).

The boys also had a pretty exciting time. There was an announcement given out; the only words that Gary understood were “Cheetah” “Escaped” and “Not Serious”. I cannot imagine what class of escaping cheetah could possibly be categorised as “not serious”, but the boys thought it was very exciting!

In the evening we all met up again and went for a meal.

A great day out!

Week 18

We left Budapest and went up to the Danube bend in the north of Hungary. It is one of the main tourist areas in Hungary and it is certainly very pretty, but unfortunately it had closed down for the winter and we couldn’t find anywhere to stay. In our quest to find a campsite we even inadvertently drove over the bridge into Slovakia! Luckily there was a place to turn round before we reached the border checkpoint and we were able to turn back again.

In theory, there is no reason why we shouldn’t wild camp, ie just pull off the road and stay there, but in practice a lay-by or car park doesn’t really appeal and I am sure that I wouldn’t sleep a wink wondering if the police would be knocking at the door to move us on. So, we drove all the way down to Lake Balaton.

It was dark when we arrived, but the campsite was brilliant. It looked as if it had been a back garden that had been opened up and there was a small shop and a bar. The shop and bar were the Hungarian equivalent of East Tisted Post Office, small in area but stocking (one of ) everything imaginable, it was like home from home. I felt so relaxed I thought I would try a Unicom Zwack which is advertised everywhere and comes in a beguiling black flask shaped bottle. The girl was surprised by the order and did check that really was what Gary meant; this should have been a big clue…. I was given a large one.

It is the foulest thing that I have ever tasted. It is indescribably awful. It is like the worst cough medicine imaginable. I just mention this in case you are ever tempted to try it, if you must, have a very small one, it will be plenty!

Our next stop was at Keszthely also on the Lake. The most momentous thing was that I had my hair cut very short as I was completely fed up with trying to dry it in the damp weather that is pretty much the norm now. It is possibly the most unflattering style that I have ever had and I am trying to work out how long it will be before it will be shoulder length again, by current estimations it will be Christmas 2006! Oh dear!

We headed on down south towards Pecs but stopped at Kaposvar a delightful town. The Tourist Information said that the nearest campsite that was open was at Patca, 11kms away.

It was the most amazing place. It is an activity farm with many rare breeds, particularly pigs, but there are sheep, ponies, chickens, goats and donkeys including a 10 day old foal. The owners are Janos and Eszter Hando, and by luck Janos was there when we arrived, normally the farm manager would have been there. He speaks excellent English having done an MBA in England.

I went to settle up for a one night stay and came back to the motorhome with some homemade cheese and homemade bread that was still warm. Just where we parked, a class of kindergarten children were being shown the rudiments of archery and sword fighting, by people dressed up as a monk and knight. The boys asked Janos if they could have a go with the bow and arrows. He asked the monk and knight, and yes, that would be fine, if they could wait ten minutes until the kindergarten session was finished so they waited and watched with eager anticipation.

I presumed they would be given bow each, a handful of arrows and that would be that, with the boys thrilled to bits that they had had a go.

But no, they got very thorough instruction in both archery and sword fighting. They must have shot over a hundred arrows each. After each shot they were given some advice on how to improve and it seemed to work, they really got better. It probably helped that whilst one was doing archery the other was doing sword fighting so there was no direct competition or infighting. The patience of the instructors was unfailing. When the light began to fade, after an hour or so, they couldn’t shoot or fight anymore.

So, the knight and monk took them into the conference centre and showed them all different types of Teutonic weaponry, the relative ages, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and who used them. I didn’t know that a bow used by a horseman has to be shorter at the bottom than the top to avoid fouling the horse.

They tried on chain mail, and learnt how to take it off. You lean forward, with one foot in front of the other and it sort of rolls off your back (just in case you ever need to know!) They also tried on helmets and armour and shields.

They were both wide eyed with how marvellous the afternoon had turned out.

As if that wasn’t enough, they were presented with an arrow (for Rory) and a sword (for Josh) as souvenirs, together with Teutonic colouring sheets.

You could see in their faces that they thought that they might have been dreaming and might just wake up at any moment.

The monk (Jozsef Gabor) and the knight (Peter) are members of the Order of the Black Crow which promotes learning medieval history through play. It certainly works, the boys were full of it all.

After supper, Janos knocked at the door and asked if the boys wanted to milk a cow and feed the animals….did they…..

One cow was brought out to a stand and each of the boys were able to milk her. The expression on their faces was priceless. They were thrilled to bits when they managed to produce some warm milk.

Janos showed them all the different types of animals, including some pigs which were as furry as sheep. The boys were given the job of giving water to each of the animals. They were a bit wary of going into the pens at first, but they got braver when they realised that the animals were even more wary of them!

The next day we went into Pecs, which was great, but didn’t compare to the farm and the boys couldn’t wait to get back. I’ve put in a couple of photos including the locks that are clipped to the railings as a form of memento.

That evening Janos and Eszter came to the motorhome for a glass of wine and brought Julia their two year old daughter. We had a great night, and it turned out that they were also very keen on travelling having taken 14 months out to go round the world in their 4x4.

It must have been the wine that made Janos offer to take the boys with him to work on the farm the following morning, provided they were ready and at the door at 7 o’clock.

Rory leaped out of bed as soon as the alarm went off, got dressed, forced down some breakfast, cleaned his teeth and sat and watched the clock until it clicked over to 7.00. Josh was a bit tired, but on the dot they raced over. A couple of minutes later Janos appeared looking a little jaded!

But true to his word, he took them to feed the animals and then went grass collecting with pitchforks, chased the sheep out of the meadow, fixed the electric fence and generally had a wonderful time.

As if the Order of the Black Crow had done enough for the boys, they arranged to come over and give them some more lessons in the afternoon.

They arrived at 3pm, with some two more members of the Order of the black Crow and for four hours, the boys did archery, pole fighting, sword fighting and wrestling with the lads. They had a magnificent time. We were treated to demonstrations by the experts and saw how it could be done with a lot of practice. They only gave up when it became too dark to see the target – a large haystack!

As soon as we finished the fighting, it was time to go and listen to Janos’ presentation of their world trip to AISEC students who were staying at the farm. AISEC promotes international fellowship and English is it language of communication, so we were able to talk to some of the students afterwards, including an engaging Ukrainian girl who was so enthusiastic about her country that we are now keen to go and visit for ourselves.

The evening ended with Eszter inviting us to share a delicious goat and pasta stew with them.

The boys went to bed and slept like logs!

We had a fantastic time at the farm and cannot recommend it highly enough. As you can see, we were treated with immense kindness and the boys had the time of their lives. If you were thinking of a different holiday, then I cannot recommend this campsite highly enough. It also has a tourist hotel, with basic accommodation. Their website is www.kalandpark.hu . They are building a fort for next year and the Order of the Black Crow will be there showing how it is done. Not to be missed!

Week 19

We reluctantly left the farm intending to go to Croatia, but saw some Thermal Baths advertised near the Slovenian border and changed our route. It is funny how things turn out and later in the week I was glad to be in Slovenia.

The baths were certainly very hot, but the water was not ever so clean. Maybe the bits that were floating in the water were naturally occurring….but may be they weren’t….. well, it was an experience, but I don’t think we will be going back.

We went into Slovenia and drove down to Prebold, not without incident as we were on a toll motorway and missed the turning and got to the next toll before realising. So, then we had to pay to go through the toll, do a U turn and pay to go back through the other way. Still, at least the lady on the toll booth explained how to get to Prebold!!

Prebold is a small village south of Celje, but it has all the basics. Camping Dolina is a privately owned site which shows as it is “cared for” rather than “run” by the family who own it and live on site. We saw mostly Tomaz and his son Primoz (who spoke perfect English) but could see that it was all hands to the deck for the day today running of the site. In the guide book it said that the loos could win the best loos in Slovenia award and it is certainly right, it was pristine. It was also the first campsite to be privately run in Yugoslavia. It was started by the family in the early sixties and the buildings were built by Tomaz’s grandfather.

We have seen lots of storks’ nests throughout the former Eastern bloc, but don’t seem to have put a picture on the website, so thought we would this week, as we actually saw a pair of storks in Slovenia and not just the nests!

Prebold is a major hop growing area and the landscape is full of hops. Gary was very impressed with the way they were staked out – it is done in exactly the same way as in Hampshire (i.e. properly!!). Sometimes, other crops such as sweet corn or cabbages were grown underneath to add to the efficiency, so just may be the Slovenians could teach the Hampshire farmers a trick or two!

The dreaded vaccinations loomed large again as it was four weeks from the first ones and the second shots were now due. Primoz said that every village had it’s own doctor’s surgery (which was really a mini medical centre complete with dentist) and we just had to turn up and we would be seen. So we did and were! The boys were not keen, to put it mildly, but it was all done eventually and we went and had lunch to celebrate. But there is a picture of Rory inspecting the damage!

It was a relief not to have to worry about the fridge failing and the vaccinations being ruined, any more. Also it is now a whole nine months before we have to have the next booster. Gary was so pleased, he went to the bar (pictured) that evening to celebrate. Primoz asked how we had got on and Gary was able to tell him all was well. They got talking about healthcare and apparently in Slovenia you are never more than five minutes away from a doctor. If it takes longer than that to drive, they send out the air ambulance as a matter of course. This sounded frankly too good to be true.

The next morning, about 7.15 Rory got up, went to the loo, fell over and couldn’t get up. Gary and I flew out of bed, bleary eyed, opened the blinds to have a look at him, whilst helping him up. He looked terrible. He was then a bit sick, but even though I was holding the bowl in front of him, he couldn’t see it. Then he asked why everything outside was blue. We decided he needed a doctor. He is never ill and it seemed to great a coincidence that he was ill the day after the vaccination.

Gary went up to the house and got poor Tomaz out of bed, he in turn got Primoz who rang the doctor. The doctor called again from the car asking various questions and she called the ambulance.

The doctor and English speaking nurse arrived at the motorhome with full equipment less than five minutes after the phone call. The ambulance was there may be two or three minutes later. So from Rory falling over to full medical back up took less than ten minutes.

The doctor checked him over and started giving him oxygen (I was trying to be positive and calm about this, but frankly was scared stiff). I asked if she thought it was a virus, but she said “No, he hasn’t got a virus” and didn’t say anymore. He was then put into the ambulance more checks, more oxygen and we were on our way.

Primoz wouldn’t call a taxi, insisting on taking Gary and Josh to the hospital himself.

At the hospital, a bay and two doctors and a nurse were standing by and we were seen immediately. One of the doctors spoke English so she took over consulting in Slovene with her colleague. The nurse also spoke excellent English. They ran a barrage of tests on him, and he did seem a lot better. All tests were negative, but they wanted to admit him to do further blood and other tests. They even gave him an ECG which scared us, but apparently it is absolutely routine and they couldn’t believe it wasn’t the case in England.

As the morning progressed, Rory got better and better, in fact if he hadn’t been obviously frightened by the situation, would have seemed back to normal.

He wasn’t the only one who was frightened.

Anyway, he had some lunch which he ate (soup, meatball and mashed potato, yoghurt and fruit juice) and seemed as right as rain.

He was discharged at 4pm, with the vaccination having been ruled out as a cause of his symptoms, it was purely coincidental. The bill which would have been about £370 (and worth every last halfpenny) was met by the production of his E111. Although we did hear that, in fact, it was a reciprocal relationship set up by Tito in the 60’s with the UK and we only would have needed our passports, but the E111 sufficed as it proved his citizenship, who knows which it was. I didn’t care as long as Rory was OK.

The quality and speed of the service was truly remarkable, we cannot think of any way in which the care Rory received could possibly have been improved upon. We are sure that he would not have got such a speedy response in Hampshire, where out of hours calls are dealt with by an agency.

The next day Josh spotted a woodpecker in the tree which cheered us all up. We had to take the photos through the motorhome window as we didn’t want to disturb it, but it was amazing.

We then went to the Roman Necropolis nearby, only to find that it was shut. The caretaker was mowing the grass, so kindly opened up just for us. The monuments of the rich were awesome, but it was the graves of the poor who had been buried in a pit, that survived best, justice in the end!

We went on to Celje and spent an enjoyable afternoon, it is a pleasant town, but the small village of Prebold was, on balance, the more interesting.

Also staying at the campsite (and every other hotel in the area) were some Scottish football supporters. Friday was their last night, so the bar was in full flow. Tomaz produced his home made schnapps and a great night was had by all. Gary was made an honorary member of the Tartan Army by Ally and has the badge to prove it. Ally also gave the boys a packet of crisps and a pack of Lunchables each, so he was also their best friend of the night!

Gary got back to the motorhome at about 11.30, but I think that the Scots partied until they had to go for their flight at 3.00am!

Message from Rory:-“If you are feeling ill, go to Slovenia!!”

Week 20

Ljubljana was a funny place. We knew that it was small and was renowned for it’s architecture but in an odd sort of way we never really found it!

We arrived on a local bus but missed the stop for the centre as we failed to recognise that it was the centre. The walk back took us past the marvellously sculpted Parliament building and many of the embassies which were, for the main part, magnificent buildings.

Then we saw a busy flea market along the banks of the river which actually consisted of a great deal of alleged Second World War memorabilia being sold at what seemed like very high prices. Although Ljubljana is not a particularly touristy place, it did seem geared for tourists.

We had a fabulous lunch in a small restaurant which cheered us up for an afternoon of sightseeing.

We found the museum and when the exhibits are in place, I am sure that it will be world class. However, at the moment is it practically empty but with tantalising glimpses of what it will become. For example, there were references to the 100 illegal children who were successfully hidden in the city for the duration of the war; there parents having been arrested for “crimes” by the Nazis. But no explanation or details. The girls at the desk didn’t know about them and there was no book. I keep meaning to search on the internet, but always forget when I am actually online.

There was a film area and Rory sat next to an extraordinary model of a green man. But who he was, or what he represented, we don’t know.

From Ljubljana, we travelled down to the coast. It was a very grey journey until, suddenly we emerged from a mountain tunnel and we met by the bluest of skies and the wonderful deep blue of the Adriatic. It was stunning.

The small town of Koper looked like an ideal spot to stay. There was some parking on the outside of the town, but we weren’t sure how far out it was and anyway wanted to go to the tourist information as we needed to find a campsite that was open.

“Turn down here, it looks about right” I said to Gary, who should have remembered Cologne, and ignored me, but didn’t.

A minute or two later we were wedged between two medieval streets, completely blocking the road and unable to move in any direction. I got out to survey the situation and so did a passing policeman!

Our position was not helped at all by various illegally parked cars which made the road even narrower, and the bollards blocking the Square which we could have backed into.

The policeman tried to help us do a three point turn, while Gary kept saying, “we’ll never make it, it’s too narrow”, in a rather uptight manner. He was right.

The only bit of luck we had was that Gary didn’t hit the woman who, seeing him backing towards the corner of a wall between the Square and the road, decided to “nip through the gap” at the last second. It nearly was her last second. As Gary had said earlier, he wasn’t sure if the pedestrians had the right of way or a death wish!!

When the three point turn idea failed miserably, the policeman closed the road and we (well, Gary) backed all the way up on to the main road. I thanked him for his help and nipped back into the motorhome pretty smartly, before he got any ideas about fining us!

We never did find the Tourist Information. When we went back the next day to go to the bank, it seemed a lovely town. But Gary and the boys stayed in a large car park (with no spaces but plenty of room) while I went into the town. For some reason, Gary couldn’t face trying to find a parking space again.

As parking the motorhome is never easy, we decided to head straight for Bergamo, where we are meeting Phil and Eunyoung, to sort out accommodation early as we were hoping to find a hotel where we could all stay and we could park the motorhome. Lucky we did as it turned out as after a morning driving around and around, there was only one that fitted the bill. We booked it and are really looking forward to staying there next week.

Venice was our next stop. The canals really are amazing and the city is really worth a visit, even though it is overrun with tourists. We splashed out on a gondola ride and the gondolier let the boys each have a turn. I don’t think they were ever so keen, because as it was high tide the boat had to tip over at an alarming angle to get through the bridges, but they did it.

The highlight for them was “Pigeon Square”. The guidebooks seem to refer to it as St Mark’s Square, but there was only one St Mark’s and there were thousands of pigeons!!

Apparently the islands were inhabited by different tribes who tended to build around a square, with a church (apparently mostly for burying the dead), a bell tower and each had to have its own well. This is why there are so many churches and bell towers and covered up wells!

We had another good lunch and I have included a picture of Rory and I in the restaurant so that the haircut can be seen in public for the first time. It is growing, but very slowly!!