Monday, 26 October 2015

Customs and traditions observed

It's become apparent that we are all different in so many ways within each country.  I have put together some observations, good and bad, that we have come across within each country we have travelled.

Well what can I say, we all know our traditions and customs but I will say that we are not as abrupt as other nations but maybe it's our stiff upper lip.  One of the reasons we have left Blighty is I'm concerned about the cost of living and the hold that the supermarkets have over the price we pay for food.  We feel that to get to the age we are now and still keep getting up to work every day is a tad monotonous and with the odd medical problem in the past - life is too short.  So that's why we up sticks, sold up and moved off!  Mad fools!  On doing this adventure we started in the UK and although all the campsites had good amenities, they tended to be away from any towns. With a big vehicle like ours, we'd prefer to be just on the outskirts so we could walk in, however we do have good taxi services in the UK (so GJ says) and we made use of them.

Another advantage to Blighty is that we have a full eclectic range of eating establishments so we generally know what we are ordering and unless it's fine dining, generally dogs are allowed.  People who know me know that I am a big foodie and even that is very expensive now in Britain to fulfil one of my passions.

One thing I did notice about France is that the women do seem to always walk around in pairs, huddled together chattering.  There is a big Café Society which gets started about 11.30 in the morning but other things we came across were equally present in the UK,  shoplifting.  GJ and I were outside a store discussing our shopping needs when a young girl came running out with a lot of security guys right behind her.  She managed to shake them but for some reason we just weren't expecting it in a high end resort like La Rochelle and it fair shocked us.

We also came across a few beggars, (no different to our big cities then).  One even had a dog with him that was the spit of Bracken (though not so well fed).  I didn't like to photograph him - not the British thing you know. Needless to say, I had a word with Bracken to tell him just how lucky he was.  The other side of France that is different to the UK is the agriculture.  None of there fields have boundaries and as we go further into Europe we discover other countries don't either.
 Fields in Padstow as an example, with hedges all around...
and fields in France for example, and the rest of Europe with no boundaries.
There is a lot more to say about the difference between us and the French but to harp on about food (for which the French think they serve the best), our experiences were not altogether indicative of the French cuisine.  I did have veal (eeek for the ethics but when in France!) and GJ did have a good duck dish but other than that our choices were limited to burgers, pizzas, fish and steak and when I chose a typical moules mariniere, they were not available. 
The Germans are all mad about sauna's, sausages, sauerkraut and motor homing.  They are generally a breed of big women but like the Brits these days, a lot can be seen out jogging at all hours.  Our trip on the Autobahn was fun.  We found our that when there has been an accident, the Germans completely close the road so all the drivers move into the hard shoulder to have a pee or a little walk around and chat to fellow motorists.  This then prevents the emergency services getting through so we wait a bit longer.... When ever scrap of debris is cleared up, we then start to move but we were perplexed as to why the first (slow) lane was not moving.  When we got to the front, the first driver in his truck was completely asleep so you can imagine the scene from the drivers behind him.  First time I've ever made a cup of tea on an autobahn.  Now technically, I think that schnitzel belongs to the Austrians but the general food in Germany is any kind of meat pounded out and bread crumbed and then called either 'Flesch', 'Swine' or 'Hun' Schnitzel. - Beef, Pork or Chicken.  And don't forget the Wurst.

Wurst sandwich made on the autobahn
and hunschnitzel at a service station.

is a very clean country who even offer special doggy poop boxes at various intervals along a street.  The staff at the place we stayed were very precise and very knowledgeable.  Much more training than I think we get in UK. The scenery is beautiful and they make the most of promoting it but other than the dog bins, the one thing we noticed was the lack of litter bins.  They seem to have trained the citizens to take all rubbish to one place along with their recycling. Very difficult for an occasional traveller but we found recycling at the motorway service stations - got to have somewhere for the wine bottles.  Its very expensive to drive on the motorways as explained in the rest of my blog but what you do find is empty roads
My kind of motorway.

Some examples of the scenery - much like the Lakes really.
All the houses seem to be detached chalets with boxes of bright red geraniums adorning the verandas.  Just like I remember as a child doing a jigsaw puzzle of a Swiss/Austrian chalet.
A very hospitable nation taking advantage of the government grants to repair the roads - two things that spring to mind when I think of the Hungarians.  We accidentally drove through the centre of Budapest during rush hour no less.  Nearly every street was having major road works done but the traffic kept flowing somehow.
This road doesn't actually have road works but we were concentrating so hard on our way though that I forgot to take any pictures.
They also seem to have an awful lot of public transport which is probably the best and safest way to travel through the city.  The health and safety system out here seems to be non existent.  Road workers leaning down holes in the middle of the busy roads, no hard hats, hi-vis shirts etc. and that goes for motorways as well.  Around every corner there was a police presence and it would seem, several incidents going on across town - we were glad to get out. 
The people we were in contact with while in the country were very helpful and generous.  Arrival drinks and bottle of wine on departure - do we look like winos?
What  can I say about the driving of the Romanians - see a space, and put your vehicle in it.  90% of vehicles are articulated lorries and the way they fly up the mountain passes while on the phone or texting, beggars belief. 
This road actually happened to have some cars on it!
We were confronted at the border by guards with guns (didn't take any pictures) but for some reason, we didn't feel particularly safe in Romania.  There were a lot of wild dogs on the streets, abandoned and having to fend for themselves.  Being a dog lover, this was painful to see. 
They just sleep in the sunshine - in this case, on the forecourt of a service station.
They are a short race, the Romanians and the women wave down vehicles for a lift but as soon as they see a British motorhome, they retract their arm.  They obviously know us snooty British.  We first start to see the Gypsies here but I couldn't get photos while moving....
Yes, there was a horse at the front of this cart.
The Gypsies came up to the Kevin when we had to stop at traffic lights or road works trying to sell us things like drinks (goodness knows what), and walnuts (they grow all over).  On the side of the road you could stop and buy cheeses and fruit, sometimes vegetables and we even went through a village that had about 20 shops selling the same souvenir stuff you could find a Harry Sharp's in Windermere.  All the shops were next to each other and all sold the same things so if you did stop, how would you choose?
Sorry about the quality
The houses are usually little and square and all lined up along the only street in the village, they all have very good roofs but are a bit ramshackle below that.  There are a lot of hotels (for truckers) but all look a bit dubious (probably where those women go).  The wine is cheap and good - I got a really nice box of wine for just under £2 (or the equivalent).  We had to spend 2 nights in Romania which I will show on another blog but because we felt a little unsafe, decided to hurtle on to Bulgaria.
Helen, GJ and Bracken

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Austian Laidahosen and Hungarian Hospitality...

Into Austria and OMG! Had a hair raising journey to Zell am See. 
There's snow on them there hills!

Sat nav took us up a mountain pass road it being the quickest route.  About 6km in, foot to the floor and gears in low there was absolutely nowhere to turn.  Thankfully, half way up, the road closed and we were able to turn around at an also closed restaurant car park.  Back down again (brakes and gears being tested) and we decided to try and go around the mountain in the hope that the sat nav woman would recalculate but for miles she wanted us to turn around.  We did the old fashioned thing and followed the signs for Zell am See and after going through the same tunnel three times, going the wrong way and the sat nav lady taking us to two different bridges that were too low, arrived at the site in the dark, got hooked up and checked in.  We decided to stay 2 nights to let both GJ & Kevin have a rest.  At this point, our Go Box,
The Go Box (licence to print money)

...which is the toll system we had to have for our size of vehicle, had not made a bleeping sound which it is supposed to when it goes through a toll camera. Because of this, we knew that we still had 75 euros in credit.  We showered (spotless Austrian conveniences), I made a simple meal and the next day we planned the rest of our route to Bulgaria with the next stop being in Graz, still in Austria.
Kevin at Graz (pictures not quite running with the story...but keep up!)
 That night we had a typical Austrian meal at the hotel that was part of the camping complex.  I had Liver in a piquant sauce with rice - very nice.
  GJ had steak cooked in a red wine sauce with spetzell noodles.  Equally good considering we used a pin to choose what to have.
Both looked very similar but tasted completely different.
Nice little table decoration it being pumpkin and conker time.  
On to Graz next day again arriving quite late in the day so I cooked some meatballs and spaghetti and we watched a film.  The tolls started to register on the Go Box and by the end of the day it was bleeping twice.  This meant we were paying the tolls but that we should get it topped up as we only  had 30 euros left.
That damn go box
The next day we decided to make a run for it.  We only had 50 kms to go in Austria and if we had topped up the Go Box it would have been another 75 euros minimum.  So we plodded along counting the double bleeps and made it into Slovenia. We hadn't intended to go into Slovenia but the road signs were a bit confusing and the sat nav woman didn't tell us we were approaching a border area.  At least we got through Austria with only 75 euros of tolls.  We had another 2 tolls to pay in Slovenia and then we were into Hungary and had a 10 day vignette.  The campsite we picked mentioned Bucharest but I didn't think we would be travelling straight through the centre. 

OMG! GJ was having palpitations but Kevin coped admirably.  We found our spot which was up a kind of track and into an old disused tram station. 
The people who ran this old tram station were very proud of it and when we arrived, they asked us to park up and join them for a welcome drink so they could tell us all about it.  Elizabeth also gave us a map of the town centre and a bus route map etc.  She insisted we had a beer.  The old station is converted into a restaurant but for some reason it was like walking into their house.  We left promising to have dinner there later.  We walked over at about 7.15 after a 15 minute look around for GJs reading glasses (I'm going to get him a chain) and we were offered another drink and the menu.  Of the 5 things on the menu, I picked the pork chop (gypsy style) and GJ picked the beef stew and dumplings (similar to stroganoff).  10 minutes later and its arrived. GJs dumplings were actually spetzell again and my pork chop was actually a fried pork steak with dried herbs and uncooked garlic on top.  Both were served with chunky potatoes boiled with herbs and tossed in some fat or other.  It was all very Hungarian but very nice.  It took us 10 minutes to eat and we were back at the Kevin to watch a film.  As we were the only people in the restaurant and there was no background music it was a quick eat and run (hence no pictures).  The price included breakfast so we duly re-entered the empty restaurant again the next morning to find a big spread of sweet and savoury goodies.  They seem to specialize in pancakes because two mountains of them came in so we had to oblige.  I must admit I am missing fruit and veg.  When GJ went to pay he was given a bottle of local wine.  They are so nice the Hungarians. 

Kevin in the Tram Station
Unfortunately the sat nav lady, who is not as nice, took s back through Budapest town centre again even though we had tried to confuse her into taking us around the outskirts.  It’s amazing that every road had either some road works, a diversion or a police blockage on it.
We ventured on to Romania…

Miles travelled?  Forgot to check again.
H, GJ & Bracs (and Kevin the Kontiki) 

Monday, 19 October 2015

Le French to De Germans.......

Sorry I haven't been able to get a blog done for a while folks, it's difficult when you are on the move.  Anyway here goes France to Austria.
First off,  we had to get Kevin turned around.
from this...

to this.
Mission accomplished. We then set off to travel a bit over France quite quickly because we were losing the light at the end of the day and the heat.  We travelled along the motorways but incurred a lot in tolls.  In total it cost us Euro 122  to get across but I will say that the roads were very good.  Now there were no tolls in Germany but that was reflected in the state of the autobahns which were very bad and poor Kevin was buffeted about cracking and squeaking and we even found a screw on the floor and we don't know where it came from.
 This was our first stop in France, next to the Loire but we had an unfortunate situation with a loose dog from another camper van that kept wanting us to throw a stick for it.  It was a nice dog but because we have had a problem in the past with Border Collies (pre castration) and our Braken, we didn't give B too much excercise. 
 Me and the black dog - best I'm taken from afar!
The Loire
 We're on the road again...
 The next stop was one of our favourites.  Further along the Loire Valley, nothing there but a herb garden that we were asked to  help ourselves to.  While we were there though, we had a right giggle at a German van that turned up.  Huge thing towing a smart car.  The owner stoped at three different points before he satisfactorily got a signal on his automatic sky dish.  But it was funny to see this dish going round and round and this German man getting more and more cross.  When he  found the signal, both occupants sat down and just watched TV all night.  What's the point!
This was the first time that we were able to give Bracken some exercise off the lead.
 Just thought I would show you the exercise recommendations on the French motorways.  They even give you an exercise bench.
 Into Germany now and we saw more wine vines here than we ever saw in France. We had crossed the border clutching our passports ready to show them,  dog muzzled but blink and we missed it.  Only a police station to mark the crossing.
 We stayed just outside a town called Bad Durkheim and went for a walk into the town in the afernoon.  We thought we would come back in at night and have a meal here......
 Don't know if you can zoom in but we didn't understand a thing.  By the time it had gone dark and the wind was extremely cold - we decided not to venture out.  So no photos of food here.
 More of the pretty town.
 When we were on the autobahn, we kept coming across shrink wrapped cars.  We actually saw a load of Masaratties but didn't have time to photograph them.  GJ commented that "theres a few thousand quid there"  These were actually Audi's.
 We had to stop for about 1 and a half hours because there was an accident.  You wouldn't believe it but people started getting out of their cars and going for a pee at the side of the road. So I got up and made a sandwich and a cup of coffee whilst GJ got out to talk to the English trucker whose name was Honest Bob - it said that on his window.  They completely closed the motorway.  We had to laugh because this vehicle in front squeezed past us all to try and help.  Typical of the US army, always come in at the end!
 Our only typical German meal experience in a motorway cafe where we had to purchase our Go Box so we could travel across Austria.  Knackwurst und Katoffle.

And I had my first Veinna Snitzel.

Milage to date - Lots.  Will try harder next time.
GJ, H and Bracken x

Monday, 12 October 2015

Chilling, Sorting & Riding a bike!

After we arrived at GJs Cousins house.....
...we decided to chill a bit and catch up with washing (in the background - only did 5 loads)!
 Mission control around the dining table
and a warning to Bracken not to go near the white sofas.
The action end of the house.
After we had rested for a day and caught up with all the jobs we had to do, we decided to use the amenities i.e. Elspeth and Steve's bicycles.  We needed some supplies and the nearest shops were 7km away in the neighbouring town.
 Oh don't we look the part - bear in mind we haven't sat on a bike since we were on our honeymoon some 26 years ago.  Lack of balance and saddle sore comes to mind while I write this - ooooo!  Anyway, off we wobbled towards Surgères with empty panniers and ruck sacks.  The ride there for the most part is on a peaceful track (til you hit the bumps) but as you reach the town outskirts GJs GPS thingy was a great help.  We dismounted in the town square and I'm sure we both started walking like John Wayne when he got off his horse but we were safe in the knowledge that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!  Onwards and upwards - now we had burnt off the calories, we needed to take more in.
 GJ went very French with Magret du Cunard (Duck)
 and although I was going to have the Moulles, they were not available so I plumped for a Filet de Poulet (Chicken fillet burger with all the trimmings).
Me posing outside Leclerc (French Lidl) with a few provisions before the long trek back.
So we set off for our journey back and before we got out of Surgères, GJ decided to fall over - from a standing position, not even on the bike.  The problem is Steve is very tall so consequently his bike is quite big and even though we had adjusted the saddle, GJ had to be very careful with the cross bar - if you know what I mean. 
An awful lot of blood appeared but I don't think he needed stitches.
When we got back to the house, I decided to clean the wound with surgical spirit just to be on the safe side.  GJ was seen jumping around the courtyard shouting obscenities - but I thought he liked a burning sensation - he certainly likes chillies.  On closer inspection the label on the surgical spirit said "for use on animals". Uh Oh!
I would just like to add to this blog, that the team I was working with at Impact International had a lot of cyclists in it and I'm sure they would be proud on me managing 14km's in my first session.
That's all for now, next few days (Sunday/Monday) will be spent researching all the peagé/tolls/vignettes etc. that we need for Kevin.
GJ, H & Bracken