"Bulgaria: an adventure too far"
Tues 26th July
Left home at 18.30, having just installed Tyre Seal in the rear 2 tyres. It only arrived this morning, necessitating a rush around in the rain to install. Dover in 4 hours, caught 2350 Sea France, and spent night in ferry car park in Calais. MSF 187
Wed 27th July
left Calais at 0900. For the 1st time ever, we drove via Lille, Mons, Charleroi, Namur, Luxembourg (cheap petrol here) Saarbrucken, Landau to aire de CC at Germersheim (where we stopped last year). Very hot here. After a meal we took a stroll down to the Rhine barge watching - still a favourite occupation. MSF 596. Tilly went over 70,000 miles
Thurs 28th July.
Woken during the night by noisy owl, but woke to the alarm at 0600, and left at 0700, to breakfast on the road 3 hours later. The intention was to get a good distance before it got too hot. And it got too hot exactly on midday. Drove via Karlsruhe, Ulm, Munich, crossing into Austria at Saltzburg, (MSF 895). Petrol here is noticeably cheaper than in Germany. Typical - I topped up in Germany when I bought the Austrian motorway vignette. We reached Insel Camping at Unterach am Attersee for a late lunch. (MSF 930). The site is beside Attersee, so we went for a very refreshing swim - a patchwork of hot and cold chunks of water.
Fri 29th July.
Left the site at about 0800. Saw our 1st snow near Bad Osee (MSF 970). Big traffic jams at Leisen. There is a new tunnel, 8.5 Km, which cost €7.5, but it does cut off a large loop. Through Graz, then crossed into Hungary at Szentgotthard, at 1520 and MSF 1128, and changed cash. There are currently 330 Forints to the pound. We followed the A8 avoiding Lake Balaton (with its ladies in lay-bys). At last we have seen storks in nests with their young - now we know we are really in Hungary. We had hoped to press on, but weariness and heat got the better of the driver, whose aches in arms, legs and neck were beginning to take precedent over road safety, so we spent the night a pleasant shady site at Akja, still on the A8/E66. MSF 1199. The site is close to a large 24 hour Tesco. We didn't use it, but it would be useful to bear in mind for the future. (I generally avoid Tesco like the plague, being the grocery version of Microsoft, and which demolished the only good building (The Castle Hotel) in my native town of Hastings. But any port in a storm, as they say.)
Sat 30th July.
Left the Akja site at 0830, or so, and followed the A8 via Veszprem, to Szekesfehervar, then joined the A62 to Dunaujvaros, then A6 to Dunafoldvar, A53 to Soltvadkert, & Szeged. From here it was a short hop to the Romanian border between Kiszombor and Sannicolau Mare. This is where the fun began. It is not a good idea to cross complicated borders on a Saturday afternoon in late July - the whole World wants to cross at the same time.(Well, it seemed like it!) 15 minutes got us out of Hungary, but getting into Romania was another matter. Over an hour of queuing, with Germans and Italians trying to jump the queue all the time. We discovered that there is now a requirement to buy Romanian road tax, and present vehicle documents to get it. There was no sign saying this was required, only our curiosity as to why people were queuing (well, not actually queuing!) at a small booth. This was not a requirement last year. Most of the German cars seemed to contain Turks on their way home. Surprisingly we only saw one Dutch vehicle. And when we got to International Camping at Timisoara, about 60 Km from the border, there were French German Italian, Slovak and Romanian, but no Dutch. This is unusual! This is the site we visited last year - large walled pitches, with their own lighting, water and electricity, a nice bar & restaurant, stacks of shade - and almost empty. However, it is rather noisy, being sandwiched between a main road and a railway. It took us a while to work out the cost - the Romanians revalued the Lei 10,000 fold, which means the end of the confusing array of noughts that made it impossible to work out the real price. It is the only camp site in Timisoara, which is a lovely city, and where the revolution that overthrew Ceausescu began. MSF 1448. Interesting email from Bobby - "House status report #1" (but that was the only one we got!).
Sun 31st July.
Left the site mid morning - all except the Italians had left before us - and took the road to Lugoj. (We discovered later that our clocks were an hour slow, because we had not changed to Eastern European Time!). We came this way last year, and the road was pretty dreadful. A year on, and the road is still pretty dreadful! And now Romanians have more powerful cars, and their driving is even worse - overtaking on blind bends appears to be a speciality. After Lugoj we took the E70 via Carnsebes to Baile Herculane, where we lunched in the old bit of the town. This place was described in Lonely Planet as “..a delicious spa resort..” In fact, there are a few Austro-Hungarian buildings, some in an advanced state of dilapidation (through one missing window we could see that floors and ceilings had collapsed) but at one time it must have been splendid. Then there is a very long strip of very tacky resort, going on for miles, with people parking all over, and tents pitched in lay-bys. The 2 advertised campsites looked appalling, and we could not have got Tilly in anyway. After much to-ing and fro-ing we ended up in a farmers field about 10 Km away, where a number of Romanians had small tents pitched, and camp fires burning. We were charged 700 Lei for this, but the jury is still out on whether we were seen off or not. We immediately became the centre of attention, all eyes focused on the motor caravan amidst all the small tents and beat up Dacias. As we settled down to a beer 4 boys of various ages came to try out their English and see what we were about. 3 were quite pleasant, and charming but the 4th was a real pain, into everything, and continually touching us to get our attention. I tried to teach them juggling, and the older one started to get it. A Moldavian guy came over to show he could juggle too. The children brought us a drank of "broga"?? A sort of powdery drink. Not unpleasant, but I've no idea what it really was. We sent them back with glasses of Rosemary's elderflower cordial, and cranberry squash.
We have taken to having cold showers in the evening, because the water in the tank gets quite tepid. Tonight, however, because we are in the hills, the water was quite cold, leading to squeals and oaths in equal measure. The Blackberry has been struggling to get a signal here, too.
Mon 1st August.
We awoke early, and left the field at about 8 pm. We could have made it earlier, but there were tents where the occupants had not yet stirred. We retraced our steps back to the main road and discovered that, contrary to our map, there was a road that did not entail dragging through the resorts. (It also avoided the 1.5 tonne limit bridge that we had inadvertently crossed). At 0845 we joined the Danube, at Orsava. I always felt there was something romantic about the Danube, but "blue" it isn't, although it might have been in Strauss's day. There are shipyards at Orsava, and the Danube here is vast. We soon discovered that the Danube has been dammed, with ship sized locks. (The "Iron Gates"). Over the water is Yugoslavia.
As we followed the Danube we passed 3 horse drawn wagons, heavily occupied by Roma families. So far this trip we have not seen many Roma or horses & carts, but we saw more as we neared the Bulgarian border.We also came across the salutation "drum bun", apparently similar to "bon voyage", and literally "good road" (Not a salutation to be used lightly in Romania, given current road conditions!)
At Calarat, right in the south west corner of Romania, we shelled out money to all sorts of people to leave Romania and enter Bulgaria. All crossings to Bulgaria except one are by ferry. We paid 350,000 old Lei in taxes to enter the port. Then 46 Euros, and she wouldn't take Lei, for the ferry crossing (makes even the Isle of Wight rip off seem cheap!). Then the other side, as one Romanian lady said, it was "pay, pay, pay". It was 10 Bulgarian Lev (at about 3 Lev to the £) to be "disinfected", (actually a meagre shower of particles that would not have disinfected a cabbage, never mind a motor caravan.), then 8 Lev for road tax, 20 Lev for "environmental tax" (I had to ask for a receipt for this, otherwise it might have disappeared!), and 20 Lev for something else. (The Romanian couple in front paid the same for insurance. We waved our Green Card at her in vain, despite the fact it had already been examined at passport control. In fact, at passport control they took away our passports, and our vehicle registration document, for about 20 minutes. So far, our impression of Bulgaria is not good - it's "pay, pay, pay!" And all of these "fees" were demanded in Euros, although they all accepted Lev reluctantly when we said we had no Euros.
So finally we were out of the mercenary port area, and on our way. MSF 1673 at the border. Roads, we discovered, were as bad as Romanian roads in some places, but considerable improvements had been, and were being made, in other areas.
We went straight to Vidin, the nearest town, with the intention of lunching by the Danube, but of course, we got lost. As we scratched our heads, a motorist stopped, ascertained where we trying to go, and led us there. Some of the blocks of flats we saw were as grim as any we have seen in Eastern Europe. There was a park by the Danube, in communist times, with rugged statues – the “Mother Bulgaria memorial”. Now the parks are unkempt and overgrown, and the statues daubed with graffiti. So after a quick lunch, we pressed onward to Belogradcic, up in the hills. Here there is a Turkish castle on a granite outcrop. That's for tomorrow. Today we just found our way to Madonna Camping. Here we found a French camper van, a Dutch caravan, and a very friendly puppy. A night here cost 20 Lev, about £7.50. The owner spoke some French.
Tues 2nd Aug
We awoke fairly early, to find the French had already left. So having emptied and filled appropriate tanks, we left too, to visit the citadel before moving on. The citadel is fascinating, built amongst rather than on the rocks. Cost 10.5 Lev in total (inc 2 for photography and 3.5 for a colour booklet.) The views are magnificent, and there was a good cool breeze too. After a fair bit of clambering, we headed back to the town for some shopping, and change some Sterling. Whilst waiting in the bank we noticed a clock that said 11.30. This is interesting only because our watches reckoned it was 10.30! It seems we are now in Eastern European Time, and we were still on Central European Time. And, upon investigation, we discovered Romania was also on EET. That means we were an hour late during all last year's trip to Romania! One shop window also had an electronic display showing current radioactivity levels, not too encouraging.
We left Belogradcic at about mid-day, and wound our way down a good road towards the main Sofia road. As we descended we passed charcoal burning, which we haven't seen before. We remarked how green and rolling the countryside was, not all a Mediterranean countryside. We joined the road, the ???, and discovered it in an appalling condition. It is in the process of being refurbished, which seems to entail digging great holes in it for some distance, then a 2 inch step up onto the new bit of road. There is no ramp up, no warning, just the effect of hitting a house brick. Similarly, when it stops, with no warning, you just drop onto the unsurfaced road. These are all at intervals varying from a few yards to hundreds of yards. Progress was erratic and slow. Luckily, after a a mile or so we encountered a British van coming the other way. We stopped and talked (interesting how we Brits only converse with each other when we're abroad!), and he strongly advised we found another way, because it got even worse. They diverted you off onto dirt tracks, then neglected to divert you back. He also asked us if we were registering with the police every night, this being a Bulgarian requirement. Well this was the first we had heard of that, but we searched Lonely Planet, and found he was right, and that you were expected to be able to prove where you had stayed every night when you left the country. We certainly hadn't done that last night, indeed the site owner wanted no identification at all. All rather concerning. See his website on www.homepage.mac.com/gdn. Anyway, we heeded his advice about the road, turned about and retraced our steps a mere 4 miles, and took the back road to Montana. However, after only a mile on this road the valve on the front offside (ie right hand side) developed a fast leak. That cost us 20 minutes, as we put on the spare. I always feel rather vulnerable without a spare tyre, especially in a strange country, so we kept an eye open for somewhere to replace the valve. Luckily we came across one in Montana. Replacing the valve was easy, but rebalancing the wheel caused a trauma, because the tyre sealant we had inside caused it to give inconsistent readings. He insisted on taking the tyre off, washing out the sealant, drying it, and then balancing it. All this came to 8 Lev, - under £3. The guy who did it was a huge bear of a man, and actually spoke pretty good English. To show our appreciation we gave him a bottle of English ale, Charles Wells' Bombardier. We found that the OMV filling stations take credit cards - all the others looked unlikely. They also had an ATM on the forecourt, useful to know.
At Montana we rejoined the main Sofia road, which was now not too awful. Just after Montana, in a village, we bought 1 Kg of raspberries and 1 Kg blackberries for 2 Lev (60p) each from individuals standing outside their houses. This area specialised in raspberries, other areas it was honey, and another a strange looking white substance in a jar. After a mountain pass (good wide road, not too steep) we dropped down to the Sofia ring road, at rush hour (MSF 1842). We have been surprised by the numbers of dead dogs on Bulgarian roads, and the occasional cat. On the map it all looked fairly easy, but we managed to take the wrong turning, which led us onto a bouncy dual carriageway, with no way off for several miles. Eventually we managed to turn round and bounce back down the return carriageway. Again we took a wrong turn (sign posting here is not good!), and found ourselves on several miles of cobbled street, running parallel to the road we really wanted (the E79 and to Yugoslavia). We eventually managed to get onto it, and this road was by far the best we have been on in Bulgaria. This has been funded by the EU, so I have a personal investment in it! We had considered wild camping, but the information about the police, and the lack of any suitable sites, put us off, and we pressed on to our intended destination, Camping Zodiac, just past the Rila monastery, in the Rila mountains. We finally rolled in there just as the sun was setting, at about 9 pm. There were just a couple of tents, an Italian car with a tent on its roof, and a big Spanish car that they slept in. It is decidedly colder here in the mountains than around Sofia, and we'll need more than just a sheet tonight. MSF 1931. That was a long and hectic day, and I'm hot, sticky and knackered!
Wed 3rd August.
The Italian left early. We walked down the valley to the monastery. Rila is the prime Bulgarian monastery, and has been here for over 1000 years. Not the same one, of course, because the Turkish occupiers burnt it down several times. The present one was built in the early 19th century after an accidental fire. It costs nothing to go in, photography is no problem, and is spectacular. It is a very popular tourist destination, and was getting quite busy at midday when we left. It is the burial place of the last King, allegedly poisoned on Hitler’s orders a week after they met during the war. Weekends must be really crowded. Following a beer and snack of cold cucumber and yoghurt soup, and a chat to a couple of Finnish and Canadian girls (the Canadian had spent a month in Belgrade, and found it very hostile and threatening.) we ambled back to the site to find it overrun with large German motorhomes. They are all part of an organised tour - should make eating at the camp restaurant tonight interesting!
In fact the arrival of an organised tour was a useful lesson to us. these were German, but they could have been any nationality and they would have behaved the same. They all kept in one group, not unfriendly, but insular. As they travel in convoys they obviously have to follow identical itineraries. Part of the fun, in fact much of the fun, comes from meeting other campers, and fine tuning plans as we get more experience of local conditions. We had been considering joining such a tour, but now will avoid it unless that is the only safe way to get somewhere (and Russia springs to mind).
Anyway, the arrival of the German convoy sparked a relationship between us and the neighbouring Spanish couple, and we swapped notes. Later we ate together in the site restaurant, and continued chatting until everybody else had gone. The Germans all ate together in a self contained group, obviously enjoying their own company, but not mixing at all.
Thurs 4th Aug.
The Spanish couple left, heading for Sofia. They promised to let us know what it is like. Meanwhile, we caught up on the washing, and started to hang it out just as a thunderstorm broke overhead. Torrential rain for an hour or so, then we could start again. We had planned to spend the day walking in the Rila mountains, and had bought a footpath map, In the event, we didn't start until 2 pm, then didn't get much beyond Rila Meadow, about 4 miles away, before rumbles of thunder brought us home again. Footpaths are very well marked, and the walking very pleasant. Shortly after we got back, the heavens opened again -and the washing is still wet!
We also paid for our stay, at only 10 Lev (about £3.20) per night including electricity, and asked for, and got, the mysterious form to give to the police on leaving Bulgaria. On the back, in English and other languages, it says:
In accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Bulgaria, after your arriving in the country you are obliged to declare in 48 hours your address of stay and every change of the address. It must be done at the local service for administrative control of foreigners. The address registration can be done by juridical or physical person, who gave you accommodation.
Please keep the registration card until leaving the Republic of Bulgaria."
What nonsense! This may be a relic of the Communist era, but it can have no place in a modern Europe. The country would benefit massively from tourists, and treating tourists like criminals will not encourage them to come and spend Euros "to be disinfected".
We ate at the camp restaurant again. Seating is all outside, in individual pavilions or under large umbrellas. this evening it was cold and wet - cold even for England. The secret seems to be to have one of the more complete salads, with bread, we also had an excellent trout between us. the bill, including 2 large lagers, and tip, came to 20 Lev ~ £7.
Fri 5th Aug.
More rain. Left the site at 0800, to get away before the German convoy started manoeuvres. Returning to the main Sofia road, we headed towards Sophia, before turning right along the A62 to Samokov, Dolna Banja and Kostenec. We dropped in on the ski resort of Borovec as we passed, but this was too awful for words. At Kostenec (where we got lost because Cyrillic signs are largely meaningless) we joined the A8 Sophia-Plovdiv road. At various points along this road, which follows the river Maritsa, we could see that the deluge in the mountains was causing problems in the plain. Firemen were pumping out a petrol station, and the yellow torrent of a river smelt very oily. Many trees had been uprooted.
We found the camp site at Plovdiv at about 2 pm, where we seemed to be the only people on the site. We weren’t too happy about the location, as it looked as if we could have trouble getting out if it got wet (little did we know). After a quick lunch we paid, collected our police pass (this time we didn't have to ask for it) and caught a bus into Plovdiv. A number of buses run into the town from quite close to the site (Nos 3, 4, 18, 44, 222), and cost only 50 Ban (1/2 Lev, about 16p) each to get into the centre. We missed several, but even then didn't have to wait long.
In town we again got lost - Cyrillic alphabet is a real pain!, but a kind lady walked us quite a distance to the main shopping and social area (that was easier than trying to explain).
The authorities are making great efforts to create a pleasant pedestrianised centre. All the shops are small, and specialised. In the middle of this long street is a Roman arena, and this is partly visible. Some buildings have been built over it, but it remains visible (but not accessible). There is a mosque at one end, which we visited briefly. The imam was delighted (really) to see us, and showed us round.
What else have we noticed here? In the city at least the ladies are extremely attractively and stylishly dressed. There are beggars, but they do seem to be deserving cases. We reckoned the price of a loaf, about 50 Ban, was about right. We found an Internet cafe, to catch up on emails, before heading back to Tilly. We had expected to be joined by other campers, but remained on our own.
Sat 6th August - not a good day
Back into Plovdiv by bus. This time we visited the old town, very clean, with enormous cobblestones, and charming houses. Some are set up as house museums, and we visited one. Plovdiv is quite a charming city. In the afternoon the heavens opened, with a violent thunderstorm. It was obvious that no one was prepared for this, as the girls were wearing the flimsiest of dresses. We took shelter under an umbrella in a street cafe, until the worst of it eased. Being Brits, we had brought our nylon waterproofs, so ventured forth to find everyone staring at a rising river Maritsa. On the bus back to the site we encountered puddles 18 inches deep, and with a sinking heart, arrived at the site to find it completely under water. We couldn't get close to Tilly, but could glimpse that the water was up to the level of the side windows. Total shock and horror. Now what? Several people told us the Maritsa has not burst its banks at Plovdiv since 1957. In reply to anyone who says "what do you expect? Going to Bulgaria!" we could counter with " it was even worse at Boscastle in Devon last year!"
So with only the clothes we stood up in, we were escorted to the Hotel Leipzig, back in Plovdiv. Apparently it is owned by the same people that own the campsite, and we were put up free. The Leipzig is a real throw back to the Communist days, even down to the complete absence of sink plug! The lift was remarkable. The only door was the door in the lift lobbies, the lift itself had no door. As you went up you could touch the walls and doors as they went past. When it stopped, there was a 2 inch step up or step down (it varied) to get in or out. The restaurant was fairly dismal, and we didn't feel like eating much. However, the food we did order was very well cooked, and quite tasty. The room itself was fairly dismal, too. Two single beds placed end to end, no air conditioning, so we had to have windows open, to let in incredible noise from the road, and mosquitoes. All through the night there was a an intermittent very loud roar from a nearby compressor, so not a lot of sleep was undertaken. On top of that, I'm not convinced there weren't bed bugs, judging by the numbers of bites that didn't look like mozzy bites. And to make matters worse, the whole town's water supply was cut off, meaning no water to flush loos, wash etc.
We needed to get in touch with our travel insurance, the Caravan Club's Red Pennant. However we found we didn't have the direct number for this, and calls to the Caravan Club were met with a message "The Caravan Club is closed until Monday morning". Similarly, Direct Line vehicle insurance. VERY helpful! Many calls to Bobby, and other caravanning friends, only succeeded when Bobby rang the chairman of Wiltshire DA. When finally we got through to Red Pennant, they couldn't find us on the system because we didn't have our RP number (the documents are in Tilly) and they didn't recognise our Caravan Club number. Eventually they located us, and we were told they couldn't do anything until we had got into the vehicle to see if it was drivable - and it obviously wasn't!
Sunday 7th August.
Rosemary's birthday. We decided to put this on hold! We checked out of Hotel Leipzig, deciding there had to be something better. The only charge was the phone bill, over £14. Given the numbers of phone calls to UK that wasn't bad, but I don't think the receptionist had ever seen a phone bill that high. Lonely Planet gave a number of recommendations, and we went for Hotel Avion. This was quite convenient for the city, was very pleasant and clean, and all the staff spoke excellent English. It had an attached restaurant - Cafe Rose. We had a nice room with air conditioning on 5th floor, unfortunately the lift was out of order because of the floods.
Another visit to the campsite - and the water is still too deep to get to Tilly. So we are still wearing the clothes we stood up in yesterday.
Monday 8th August
Hotel Avion is an easy walk into Plovdiv, so we took in some more sightseeing. The city is completely unthreatening, at any time of day or night. There are several Internet cafes, only 50 ban for an hour (15p).
Tuesday 9th August
Red Pennant organised us a local hire car, which was useful. We bought various supplies at a large, new DIY store, including wellies, overalls, suitcases. Late afternoon the water had subsided sufficiently to be able to wade out to Tilly, and reclaim some clothes and other items, although the water still came over my wellies. The water had reached the level of the seat cushions. Everything was covered with an oily silt. Doors were jammed where the wood had swollen. The fridge and food lockers were full of rotten food. The new laptop computer was still under water, as was the vehicle documentation and Red Pennant information. Not a good experience! Luckily, clothes were dry, and even the wardrobe clothes were dry. Boots and shoes were sodden and ruined, but at least my walking sandals were salvageable after a good hose down.
Wednesday 10th August
We had hoped to get out and about in the hire car, but we needed to keep going to the campsite to sort things out. Eventually we got to a monastery at Bachkovo , very pleasant, but we were called back to the site by a text, a salvage vehicle had arrived to pick up Tilly. The salvage driver extricated Tilly from the mud with some difficulty, but we had to admire his skill. After an hour so, she was on the back of a low loader, and leaving the site. I wept. She has been a faithful friend for 11 years, and taken us and our children round almost all of Europe.
Thursday 11th August
Checked out of Hotel Avion, and took taxi to Sofia Airport. Having got through airline check-in, we got to Customs. Here they demanded to know where our motor caravan was. "You came in with a vehicle, you must go out with a vehicle!" Photographic evidence of the vehicle in 4 feet of water, and on the back of a transporter, cut no ice. Our luggage was retrieved from the plane, and we found ourselves back in the airport lounge, (A brand new airport, and there were just 2 small toilets!) A phone call to Red Pennant, who said they would arrange a hotel, and sort out how to handle the situation, which was new to them, and they would call back. Several hours later we were still waiting for news of the hotel. On ringing Red Pennant, our contact had gone home, and would we find our own hotel. They could have said that hours ago! Meanwhile, we have to collect Tilly on a low loader, and deliver her to Customs at Sofia Airport! Austrian Airlines have kindly rearranged our flight for 1730 tomorrow. So a taxi ride back to Sofia, and a trawl around hotels to find one with room. We ended up at a Soviet style "Hotel Serdika”, complete with no sink plug. Moderately grim, but adequate.
Fri 12th Aug
Picked up by a young man in a car at 0745. We drove for about an hour to be met by a low loader, with driver and mate. We all squeezed in, with our luggage, and chugged off to Plovdiv. Here we located the storage compound and loaded Tilly. Then quickly back on the Sofia road - luckily this is one of the reasonable roads. By 4pm we were back in Sofia airport, trying to find where to take Tilly. Luckily, we were met by Simeon, a young man from Bulgarian Assistance who spoke very good English. He also knew his way round Customs. There followed a circuitous route around various offices, obtaining papers here, depositing them there. Then getting Tilly checked into a customs compound, obtaining more papers, reclaiming my passport which now has some handwritten Bulgarian in it removing Tilly. Then we were free to check in for our flight, now retimed to 1805. Rosemary danced a little jig after we made it through Customs control! I said to wait until we were out of Bulgarian airspace!
Then we were in the air, arriving in Vienna less than 2 hours later. At the accommodation bureau we sought a cheap hotel within the Vienna ring road, with parking. Pension Reidl sounded nice, at €80 per night, and indeed it was nice. Our hire car was a diesel Skoda estate, my first ever left hand drive car - and I never did get used to LH drive cars, even after 1000 miles. That has settled the question of whether to buy a LH drive motor caravan.
Pension Reidl is just inside the Ring, near the Danube canal. It's on the 5th floor of an apartment/office block, with a tiny lift set about with interlocks to stop you touching the wall as you go past. It is run by a very nice elderly landlady, Maria, and her sister. I think they are Hungarian. The room is small and cosy, and breakfast is taken in the room, at a small table. And we discovered we could pick up email again on the Blackberry.
Sat 13th Aug.
Walk into Vienna, only a few minutes. This really is a lovely city. Mainly, we just walked, taking in the sights. We did buy a kettle, and various electrical items, so we could make a decent cup of tea, repair my Jornada charger, and convert my Blackberry charger to use continental sockets. We ate at a bar recommended in Lonely Planet, a bit of a walk from the centre. The clientele was all locals, or foreigners clutching Lonely Planet! On the walk home we caught the end of a free open air film show of a Simon Rattle concert, and planned to go there again on Sunday evening for a film of Verdi's Othello.
Sun 14th Aug
Weather not so nice. Visited the Sisi museum - she was a remarkable lady, the wife of emperor Franz-Josef. Ankle length hair that took all day to wash using egg white and cognac!
We ate at the film festival - there are many food stalls of various nationalities, and the food was delicious. We settled down to watch Othello, just as the heavens opened. So we sought shelter instead.
Mon 15th Aug
Checked out of Pension Reidl, and headed east for Wildalpen. We came through here some years ago and determined to return. It nestles in a deep valley, and is frequented mainly by Austrian and German kayakers and walkers. We found a likely looking "zimmer frei", Gasthaus Baumann , settled in, then went for a meal at the local cafe. We were pleased to find they could produce an English menu. Later, the owner came to talk to us, saying her daughter in law was English, and lived next door to our pension. It is obvious the cafe is widely used by locals.
Tues 16th Aug
Walked up the mountain road in the rain, wearing sandals (boots are still in Bulgaria) and got quite wet. At the tourist office a young lady with perfect English faxed our Bulgarian Tilly receipt to Direct Line, free of charge.
Wed 17th Aug
Visited the open cast mine at Eisenerz. There were two tours, one underground in a show mine, and one overground on an ENORMOUS dumper truck, fitted out for passengers. Confortable, it wasn’t! It was quite interesting, but I’m not sure I’d do it again – and it wasn’t cheap.
Thurs 18th Aug
Left Wildalpen, and drove on to “Alpengasthof Birgkarhaus”, (www.birgkarhaus.at/) a lovely traditional auberge between Muhlbach and Dienten. The weather improved, and we had a lovely walk up the mountain. We came a cross a farmer who called his small herd of cows, and horses, to him from quite a large distance. They all came, very impressive. He selected one cow to take down to the valley, gave the others a lick of salt (we presumed), and they went their own way again.
Fri 19th Aug
We left this lovely spot, and headed west out of Austria. Austrian fuel was the cheapest we had seen (bar Luxembourg, which is a special case), so we filled up. We also attempted to change the last of our sterling into Euros, in a bank. The cashier checked all 11 £10 notes under a UV light. 10 were fine, the last was dud. So we had to wait while the police were called. Then we had to go to the police station (a 5 minute walk), then spend an hour and a half making statements. Fortunately the policeman involved was very pleasant and good humoured, a very likeable fellow. There is a special department in this small town police station set up to deal with forged bank notes, it seems there are many dud Euro notes in circulation. - So that delayed our journey, somewhat.
As it began to get dark, we were struggling to find somewhere to stay. We found a lovely hotel at Bad Wildbad, the Alte Linde, and very reasonably priced (but then, compared to English prices, everything is reasonable).
Sat 20th Aug.
Long drive to Luxembourg. Luxembourg has thrived on the EU, - fat, smug, comfortable, but pleasant. We found an auberge overlooking the river Moselle. There is a very pleasant promenade running right along the river, and we walked into the adjoining town for dinner. There are occasional barges, river cruisers, water skis and jet skis, and mosquitoes (not so occasional). Fuel here is dirt cheap.
Sun 21st Aug.
As we left we drove briefly back into Germany to investigate the campsites we could see from the auberge, then a long drive to Bruges, in Belgium. Here we drove into the city, unaware of what we were driving into - we've only ever been in the evening previously. The narrow cobbled streets were awash with tourists, and horse drawn carriages. Many of the streets are one way, so following a map was a nightmare. Cars are parked all over the place, and finding somewhere to stop, never mind park, was almost impossible. We couldn't see how we would ever get to find a hotel. However, we did find an unloading bay outside a hotel, quite by chance, and stopped. That hotel didn't have a car park, but one next door did (€20 extra), so we dived into that (Oudeburg Grande Hotel). The room was on the ground floor, with bars at the full length window. Walking into town, we discovered we were right in the centre, by the belfry, and right in amongst the best buildings. That was convenient! There was an interesting smell of drains competing with the smell of horse droppings. The architecture here is simply glorious, but everything is aimed at extracting money from tourists. Masses of restaurants, but all very expensive. Avoid the stews – they sit there all day stewing.
Mon 22nd Aug.
Drove to the Channel Tunnel, to collect our new car from Hertz. Contrary to what Red Pennant said, (that Budget was nearby), we had to transfer our luggage, then drive the previous car to the ferry terminal to drop off the hire car at Budget Car Hire. Being after 12.00 in France, the place was deserted. We then had to catch a taxi back to Hertz, so we could continue our journey. Also contrary to what we had been told, a tunnel ticket was not included. A one way ticket on the shuttle for a small car cost more than the 2 way ticket for a motor caravan on the ferry. And it turned out to be no quicker. Very few shuttles were running, and we had to wait nearly 2 hours. (The last time we used it you could turn up, get on a shuttle within 20 minutes, and be in France within the hour.) We won't be using the tunnel again.
So, back in England, and home by late afternoon, to a lawn that needed mowing and hedges that needed trimming, and a mountain of paperwork to reclaim insurance expenses.
So during or after this holiday we have had to deal with 3 insurance companies, the caravan Club, and the Camping Club ("the friendly one"). How did they all perform? What could they do better? What would we do different. A report onthis will appear here when the full story is known, but currently Lloyds-TSB is not looking good. What good is an insurance company that won't cover floods?
www.pippins.me.uk Page Last updated: 29 December 2007