Move the scenery instead…

Whilst we’re back (however temporarily) in sunny Blighty, it seems like a good idea to set the site’s header pic to a random rotation through all the old images we’ve used whilst on the trip.

If you’re wondering where any of them are, just have a look at the page acting as an archive of them all – click on Header Pics above.

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Answers to some frequently asked questions

By way of an initial reflection on our year and a half on the road, here are some answers to the questions we were most often asked on the road.

What is your favourite place?
This is the question that is asked more often than any other and is the most difficult to answer. There are just so many places that we’ve loved, for different reasons.

Familiar and undiscovered areas of France, ancient Spanish cities with tapas bars galore, Portugal’s culture and landscape, but we didn’t have long enough there. Italy for its Renaissance treasures and for its food, we fell for Sicily and spent the longest time there. Tunisia, especially the southern desert mountain areas, with the mystical ksour (see image above). We were captivated by the quirkiness of Albania with its dilapidated roads, the people of Macedonia, the gorges and views of Montenegro, the coast and islands of Croatia, untouristy and friendly Serbia, delectable Slovenia, battle-scarred yet resilient Bosnia, the rural folk painted joy of Romania, just a taste of Slovakia and Poland that leaves us wanting much much more, and a longer time in the Czech Republic too would be welcomed. A dash through Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands just gave us a taste for more too. The thirst for travel will never be quenched. The more you see the more you want to see – it feeds itself.

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
There is very little we would change, the trip unfolded as we travelled and we adapted ourselves to the circumstances we faced and made a lot of the plans and choices on a day-to-day basis. We originally planned to do most of Western and Eastern Europe in one summer, and realised quite quickly that this was a ridiculous plan. Even after a year and a half, we’ve still only scratched the surface. There is still a lot to see and it would be good to spend more time walking and cycling in a particular region next time, a different pace of travel that brings you closer to the landscape and the people.

Have your travels affected your relationship?
We are still together, and still speaking, sometimes even in a normal tone of voice after spending nearly 18 months on the road in a small campervan.

We were living life more intensely and being together in such a small space it becomes a microcosm. The good times are magnified but so are the bad ones. There are so many highs you have to learn how to cope with the lull days, when nothing much happens. And the times when events are out of your control. You learn to face challenges and sometimes it’s the bigger challenges that we can deal with easily, while something insignificant gets blown up out of all proportion.

Although we’ve been together for 16 years, there were times when the stresses and strains of living so cooped up have become too much and we would have gladly gone our separate ways. Times like when a full bottle of red has been spilt into the food cupboards late at night necessitating a full springclean… Luckily those moments blow over quickly. Still, it’s difficult to build in extra physical and mental space and we were rarely able to spend more than two hours apart. Sharing so much so closely means that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate one’s own thoughts and feelings aside from the relationship. The trip has taught us to value our own time as well as cherishing the time spent sharing experiences. We have become even closer if that’s possible and are ready to face the future together.

Have you had any problems with the van?
Yes, an old van means of course we’ve had our fair share of issues. Our major breakdown came in the summer of 2011 with our driveshafts, something that threatened to end our trip before it had begun in earnest. Thanks to John and Steve Gallimore, our rescuing knights in shining armour we were back on the road again before too long, fortified and ready to face the fray. Other more minor matters have been dealt with relatively easily thanks to Adrian’s mechanical prowess, some Googling, the 80-90 online forum for VW T25s (T3s), and Louis Barbour’s generous assistance and garage space in Croatia.

Weren’t you scared?
Before leaving I had slight pangs of fear – mostly around the feeling of being vulnerable in a van with all our stuff in. Once on the road we have virtually never felt unsafe, anywhere. We avoid known dodgy areas and take all the normal precautions you would take as a city dweller – care over locking the van, removing valuables where possible.

I would feel less safe in many parts of the UK than we ever did in perceived unsafe areas such as southern Italy, Albania, Romania or Tunisia.

You trust that you will always find somewhere to camp, somewhere to stay and if you breakdown somehow things will work out. So far they always have, even at the blackest moments.

What have you got out of the trip personally?
We have become more adaptable, flexible, tolerant, more outgoing. Living in a small space has meant strict discipline and we’ve become tidier and more minimalist. We’ve learned to appreciate the simple things and the small details, from a hot shower and clean clothes to good fresh food gathered in the market and cooked on our two-ring stove.

We have pushed boundaries within us as well as crossing many physical borders. We first really felt we were doing this when we travelled in Tunisia – we’d changed from being tourists and felt like real travellers for the first time.

We have learnt more than we ever did at school. We have improved our languages (French (improved), Italian (from scratch), German (dusted off) and a smattering of words and phrases in at least 10 other tongues from Arabic to Polish), history (ancient and modern), art (from caves to installations), architecture, geography, geology, conservation and restoration, natural history,  crafts and traditions, religions, and the ability to instantly convert from and to a number of currencies.

We’ve been inspired by how different civilisations and empires have shaped the regions we’ve visited – and how they’ve influenced everything from religion to home furnishings. Travelling slowly means you notice the continuum of language, foods, architecture and people as you move from place to place.

Other things we’ve learned:
– The more challenging the country, the more rewarding it is.
– The poorer the country, the friendlier and more generous the people.
– Meeting or knowing people in a country enriches your experience one hundred per cent.
– The best time to travel nearly anywhere in Europe is the ‘shoulder’ season: May, June and September (plus a week or so either side of these) – when things are open, but before it gets too hot, too crowded and too expensive.
– There is more likely to be bickering in and around the van if one or more of us is hungry.

We’ve both lost a significant amount of weight and reached fitness levels previously unknown to us. This has happened through a change in eating habits, much more exercise – cycling, swimming, walking, simply being on the move a lot more. We hope to keep this up in spite of all the tempting food in UK shops, and those welcoming pints.

Most important of all: we’ve learned to value every day like it’s our last one on earth, never to take things for granted, and to live in the precious present moment.

What do you miss from home?
We missed very little from home (apart from family and friends), especially after the first few months. We did miss having an oven (pies, roasts …), a grill, a bigger fridge, and regular predictable access to a washing machine. These were very slight ‘misses’ compared to all that we gained though.

What will you miss about travelling?
Our thirst for more travel is tangible and we know we will find it hard to settle down. We’ll miss the sounds of the evening dog chorus – part of the aural scenery in southern Europe and North Africa.

As are: unoiled donkeys, dawn cockerels, the miaou of the latest camping cat, cows mooing (sometimes even sounding like bears), church bells, mosque calls to prayer, unfamiliar languages spoken at speed, rattling trams, buzzing mopeds, waves crashing, and there’s always a boy with a ball.

The sights and smells of markets, forests, olive groves, fresh mountain air, the tastes of new foods and drinks, trying new things from slacklining and grape stirring to cycling up hills. Seeing eagles and vultures soaring and lizards fleeing.

The constant new impressions and experiences, the joys of discovery and of never knowing where we’re going to be. The awe-inspiring views of a snow-peaked Etna to the rare sight of the floor of Siena’s cathedral.

From the columns of ancient civilisations to dramatic new masterpieces.

The adventures of camel riding, wild horse round-ups, giant burning torches, getting stuck in the mud… or the sand.

The reward of our first steps inside an orthodox church having first having overcome language barriers to find the key. Wild swimming in rivers, the sea and lakes, and into caves.

Joy and laughter with new and old travelling friends and above all… the freedom of going wherever the road goes.

…only being shackled to the road could ever I be free” from the song ‘The Road’ by Frank Turner

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Trying to see with fresh eyes

Why have we headed back to the UK now when winter’s approaching fast? You’re asking. We’re asking ourselves the same question! We were planning this return in late autumn for several reasons (finances, not wanting to spend another winter in the confines of a small van, sorting the MOT, post and of course catching up with family and friends). When a friend texted us to invite us to her wedding by Loch Lomond in late October it gave us a date to aim for and plan around. It took a few days, back in Romania, to get our heads around having a set end date for our travels in mainland Europe, but once we had mulled it over, it felt good to have something so joyous to come back for.

T S Eliot wrote “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I had this quote very much in mind as we arrived back in the UK to low thick clouds and rain, and the overwhelming sense of the familiarity of everything threatened to wipe out the last year and a half of travelling from our thoughts quickly. After the initial shock of arriving back, we have been looking at our country with fresh eyes. Trying to anyway. On entering every new country on the trip our eyes are open to all the new things about that country, the people, the scenery, the things in the shops. The people have been very friendly so far – is this just a language thing? I don’t know, but most people have been surprisingly upbeat – Andy at Campershack, the MOT tester, the tyre courier, the waitresses where we had our first fry up, people in shops and on trains. Our friends and family have been pleased to see us too, in spite of us turning up at little or no notice. It’s relaxing to not have to worry about what language to use, how to ask for things. We know the shops, we know they will more than likely have exactly what we expect them to have. If we ask for six slices of salami, we won’t get 600g (there was a week in Serbia where our sandwiches did get quite boring after a while). Is this all much too predictable though?

After a few days of sorting ourselves and the van out, swapping summer stuff for winter stuff and digging wedding clothes out of storage, we were ready to hit the road again, northwards en route for Loch Lomond and Claire and Stephen’s wedding.

What a location and what a wedding. Who would believe that you could have the ceremony outside above the Loch in late October, with the bride’s grand entrance… whizzing in by speed boat, in her warm furry hooded white cloak over her dress.

The food and company were great, and the dancing went on until the early hours when the brilliant band rounded off with a rock rendition of the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. The Cruin venue kindly let us overnight in their car park. The rain set in though and the view next morning wasn’t what it might have been. We then headed on to Inverness to visit my cousin and his family for another warm welcome – it has been too long and new babies are suddenly five years old.

The journey north was a timely reminder that however far you may travel, the landscapes of the British Isles will still take your breath away. Scotland’s lonely cloud-shrouded moody mountains, the incredible orange moorlands and purple hills. Gushing waterfalls and rivers, distant snow dusted tops, deep mossy bark forests. Our eyes were opened once again to how much this country has to enthrall us, in spite of the weather.

Our time up here is short, most campsites will close in a few days’ time, and we have other things on our return to the UK to do list…but we vow to come back and enjoy Scotland in more depth. It is hard not to stop and explore the back roads like we’ve been doing for so long, and instead keep to the boring, but time-saving, old motorways.

A pigeon struck our high top window cracking both sides of the plastic double-glazed pane. With a £100 excess, this is an extra expense to add to our growing van parts shopping list. We were just relieved not to find the remains of the culprit embedded in the window, and were glad it wasn’t one of the many birds of prey we’ve seen soaring close to roads on our travels.

I made a brief visit to London to surprise my book club meeting. They nearly fell off their chairs and there was, just as before I went away, a long evening of wine, cocktail sausages, stories and laughter.

I thought I knew London by heart, but after a time away, your memory lapses and I found myself on the Jubilee line which hasn’t stopped at Charing Cross for decades now. I got off at Waterloo and walked back across Hungerford Bridge. The heart of London. I paused to remember the great cities we’ve been to of late. How does London compare?

Nothing can really take its place in my heart as I listened to the sounds of the river, the traffic, the steel drum busker, and the cityscape emerged before my eyes in the misty late afternoon sunlight. This was the first time I had been apart from Adrian for more than two hours in seventeen months, and time spent alone has become as precious as the time we’ve spent together.

Our travels go on. More catching up with family and friends around the country. We don’t have a home – it’s still rented out to friends for the time being. We still don’t know what we’re going to do next. We’re determined not to fall back into the old ruts we made our escape from. We know more clearly what we don’t want to do. But we don’t yet hear the call to what we want to devote the next part of lives to. Yet. Except that it must include more travelling. We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re definitely on our way.

Posted in By Country - UK, Personal stuff, Wildlife stuff | 7 Comments

Full circle

On arrival at Harwich, the slowly retreating night revealed a very cold, damp and misty morning. The roads contained far heavier traffic than we’d seen for ages, and everybody seemed to be in a hurry. We had a plan and an appointment, the outcome of which would dictate our next few days at the very least.

One question we’ve been asked several times is what we’ve done about the van’s MOT. The answer’s simple. Nothing. We got the van tested just before we left, in May 2011. So, of course, it expired in May 2012, whilst we were in Montenegro. There’s not many garages issuing UK MOTs there. So our first stop was near Grantham, to see Andy Simmons of Campershack. Once we’d found his workshop in a farm unit, been handed a steaming mug of tea, and had a good natter about travelling round Eastern Europe (Andy used to drive coaches to Hungary, Czech, Poland and other places almost as soon as the Iron Curtain fell), he started to have a good check over. Our breath was firmly held.

Before long, a verdict was pronounced – “Looks good to me”. An exhalation of breath didn’t last long – the upper ball joint on both sides needed the rubber dust cover replacing. The first side went well, with the actual joint in good condition, but a shortage of time meant we had to leave the other untouched in time to go for the test itself. After a short walk around Grantham town centre, we returned to the garage to get the news – PASS! However, we would need to replace that second ball joint. Back at Andy’s, a good used joint was liberated from a scrap van. Eventually, a somewhat swamped courier arrived with the new tyres we’d also ordered, since we’d worn out the ones fitted in Sarran last summer – but there wasn’t enough time to do anything with them. Into the back they went, to be fitted elsewhere, elsewhen. We were free to head back to Chorleywood, to see our lodgers and friends, Matt and Beri, and to figure out what to do next.

The trip might be over, for the moment, but we’ll continue to blog. Posts might not be quite so frequent, reflecting on our travels and our next steps – and viewing the UK through refreshed eyes. Please continue to read – if you’re not already subscribed to receive new posts by email or RSS reader, now’s probably a good time to do that. We don’t know what or where we’ll be, but whether we settle down again or turn around and head straight back off to somewhere warmer, we’d love you to stay in the van with us.

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Final steps

After (finally) leaving České Budějovice, we had no real alternative but a full-fat hack up through Germany. The route out of Czech took us past a stretch of the Vltava river, dammed by a hydroelectric plant, and thick with campsites… From here, over the border, and on towards the autobahn, we were heading through forest – the same one both sides, but (as ever) with different names – Šumava (Bohemian Forest) in Czech, Bayerischer Wald (Bavarian Forest) in Germany. Whatever, it looked stunning – a gorgeous day, with sun and blue sky on the rich autumn colours and rolling hills.

Once we hit the autobahn, it was just a long and steady grind north through Germany. A quick overnight break near to Würzburg was our only real stop. The campsite was nice, although it certainly felt more than a bit organised after spending six months in ex-Communist countries… The belching chimney from a factory the other side of the Main river was a little at odds with the otherwise peaceful setting, it has to be said.

Another long day of kilometre-killing found us eventually arriving in Dusseldorf at Philipp & Melanie’s flat, almost exactly a year after meeting them at the campsite at Pompei. It’s amazing how compressed friendships get when you’re on a trip like this – we’d known them for precisely three evenings, yet when we arrived on their doorstep, we were greeted as if we were their longest-standing friends. Philipp’s a superb cook, and effortlessly knocked up several utterly delicious tapas-style dishes (including mouth-wateringly gorgeous Brussel Sprouts. No, really…) whilst we all watched the vivid green wild parrots in the trees behind their flat, chatted and disposed of a few more bottles of wine before hitting the sack on a leaky airbed on Philipp’s studio floor. Their ancient cats, Moritz and Felix, meandered around the flat, averaging out to be a pair of fairly rotund moggies. That average was a bit skewed, however, since Felix is very skinny…

The morning eventually dawned, and we headed off for a wander round Dusseldorf. It’s a lovely town – the old town has some gems of buildings, and the “power consumption” clock/sculpture underneath the landmark TV tower is interesting – a series of concentric bases underneath steel triangles, each ring rotates to show how much electricity, heating, water the city’s using… It’s not a big city, but over the course of the day I think we must have wandered most of it – through the park, to meet Philipp’s father and have a little lust over his Alvis convertible; back into the city centre to meet with some friends then off to the “beach” – a sandy stretch of Rhine riverbank – to have a crack at “slacklining”. Basically, it’s tightrope walking on a ratchet strap. Philipp’s friend Jan has the kit, and showed us how it should be done. The 50mm wide flat strap’s tight between trees, but has enough give in it to sag and stretch under your weight. One foot on, the other foot on, and fix your gaze on the far end. That’s the theory.

The reality is, of course, somewhat different. After an hour or so, we’d got to the stage that we could reasonably comfortably walk ten or so slow paces, steading yourself against the shoulder of a friend walking next to you. If you removed that steadying hand, mad flailing around followed, with an ignominious sprawl in the sand not far behind. Of the three of us, Ellie took to it most quickly, with a fixed stare almost willing the strap to misbehave.

The evening wrapped up back at the flat of Philipp’s friends Ulf & Anya, slap bang in the town centre, and looking fresh out of the pages of a glossy magazine. Ulf had got some Texan beef, which was quickly cut into thick and sublimely tender steaks. On the barbecue for almost no time, they were perhaps the best steaks we’ve ever eaten, positively melting in the mouth as we sat on the terrace in t-shirt sleeves under a starry sky. Washed down with a local microbrewery beer, another very pleasant evening passed far too quickly.

Our final stop of the whole trip was Antwerp, to see an old 2cv friend, Joke, and meet her 20 month old daughter, Rosa. We were instantly charmed by Rosa, her infectious laughter and blond curls impossible for even me to resist. Even the third member of the family, Cookie, was utterly upstaged. Antwerp’s another city that’s new to us, so another guided tour was in order. In deference to Rosa, we split it into an afternoon around the newer side of the town centre, with the wonderfully updated central railway station, then – after a substantial meal at a Turkish fish restaurant – a morning in the old town and around the river, including a view over the city from the panorama floor on top of the MAS tower.

And, after 17 months and two days, twenty countries, and somewhere around 50-60,000 km, that was it. Off to the Hoek of Holland for a boat back to Blighty. A quick detour to find an Indonesian restaurant, meticulously researched beforehand, failed miserably when we just couldn’t quite find where it actually was in the pretty little town of Vlaardingen. Still, we didn’t board the boat with empty stomachs – the entrance to the port boasts a small hut housing a very tasty fish and chip shop… Yep, seriously. Battered cod fillet and chips. With mayonnaise.

Posted in By Country - Belgium, By Country - Germany, Food stuff, Travel stuff | 8 Comments

Spannering in the rain

Wandering around Český Krumlov, I couldn’t help but cogitate over the noises from the van’s engine bay. Checking them out isn’t as easy as it could be – the price to pay for the huge benefits in interior-space-vs-exterior-length that our van gives us compared to the more normal later ones. I really didn’t want to be unloading the bikes and rear load space in the car park, especially at that hourly rate! So we limped back to the previous night’s campsite in České Budějovice, trying to ignore the washing machine rumblings from the back end.

As soon as I got the engine bay open, the cause was clear – the pulley for the water pump was way out of line with the crankshaft pulley next to it, and there was another fine spray of water everywhere. The bearing in the pump had collapsed. Nothing else to do, but replace the pump – now. If we risked onward travel, we might be OK, but it might seize, leaving us with no cooling at all, probably in the least convenient place possible, with a fairly high risk of completely killing the engine.

Unlike the level sensor we’d managed to locate in Kraków, the pump isn’t the same as that on any other vehicles, just vans like ours with the exact same (and not particularly common) engine. I could spend time cycling, phoning and generally running around town to draw a blank, or I could just get one delivered from a specialist supplier. A few emails and a lot of googling came up with a couple of Czech websites, and Michal of http://www.syncro.cz was quick to reply with a suggested online supplier in Prague, http://www.vwbusshop.cz. However, they didn’t seem to list it on their website! Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Tomas replied that he had a good quality pump in stock, and could get it to me the next day.

We’d barely finished breakfast when the courier’s van pulled up right next to us, with a box being handed over in exchange for a wad of cash – Tomas didn’t take credit cards, so the pump was sent cash-on-delivery.

Braving the rain whilst Ellie headed to reception for warmth and internet access to play catch-up with blog posts, it was time for me to get the overalls, freshly laundered in the free machines at Budapest, back to their normal filthy state. Getting the old pump off wasn’t easy – there’s a lot of plumbing needing removing, and some very hidden bolts. But it eventually came out, showing that the diagnosis was spot-on. The old bearing was utterly toast, allowing the impeller to wobble around badly. Getting the new one in was a bit easier, since there was no more trial-and-error of what I’d need to shift. Of course, I managed to drop the one tool which would allow me to tighten the most hidden bolt of the lot, and it promptly hid in a dark corner for twenty minutes, whilst I grovelled around in wet grass wondering if it’d made it all the way down.

With everything back together, the engine running and warmed up, it was finally time for lunch and a well deserved beer.

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Going back to Český Krumlov

I first visited Český Krumlov on a chilly spring weekend in the early 90s with a friend who was teaching in Prague at the time. We fell for its fairytale atmosphere, zany painted tower, the uneven windy cobbled lanes, crumbly aura, cosy bars and the Vltava river in spate. It wasn’t so long after the Velvet Revolution and it was still very much a locals’ town. We sat in a bar and got talking to a bunch of soldiers taking a break from their national service. There were just a handful of restaurants and bed and breakfasts, the odd hotel, a few shops and stalls I suppose too. The real gem was the ‘sausage place’, where you walked off the street into a small white washed cavern-like room with wooden benches and a fire in one corner, over which a very tall narrow white blonde woman tended the grill, and you drank wine out of pottery cups. Of such things are memories made, and as much as I wanted to go back to Český Krumlov and to show Adrian one of my most favourite towns in Europe, I was very torn. We’d met people, who had been recently, who told us it was totally spoiled, very touristy. High season then though…maybe.

Our route westwards was taking us across Southern Bohemia towards the German border, so we had to go there even at the risk of my memories crumbling. I’d been pleasantly surprised with the return visit to České Budějovice, which being quite a sizeable town carries its tourism well. So we took the plunge, and on a perfect clear sunny autumn Sunday. We drove the 25km south to Český Krumlov. On the edge of town there were always a few brightly coloured paneláky (Communist era apartment blocks), but now they were joined by German and British out-of-town supermarket giants. We descended the hill and caught our first glimpse of the tower and castle basking in sunlight… they were more dramatic than I’d remembered and brought a tear to my eye. We parked up on the edge of the old town outside the castle walls (expensive parking in relation to other pricing), and walked under a spectacular galleried bridge structure, which I didn’t remember. There was work in progress on part of the river, improving the bank defences – there were bad floods back in 2002.

We crossed over to the town, although early it was already busy, and explored its streets. Every frontage is now primarily a tourism-related business, whether a shop, a restaurant or a pension. Fair play, you have a town that is beautiful and sought after by visitors, and you want to make the most of the opportunities this presents. Perhaps there are tourists who would visit the wax works, the mirror labyrinth, the torture museum and the umpteen gift shops, but Český Krumlov has an ‘oh wow’ view round every corner, as well as its churches and castle, isn’t this more than enough? Walk along the few off-the-main-drag streets and you start to feel the old ambiance.

As the morning went by, we walked down and up every tiny street, looking at everything, trying to find places I remembered. Much of it has been restored, mostly sympathetically, which is great because there are some lovely painted buildings and there are still some that need attention. There is always a thin line between saving old buildings, and destroying their character with perfectly even render and pristine paint jobs.

Eventually we came to the main square which was lovelier than I remembered, and just off it, up a narrow side lane I found what I knew to be the ‘sausage place’. I had thought I’d found it on the internet and expected it to have moved or expanded if that were possible. There was a curtain across the door so I thought it was closed. I glimpsed through and saw the flames from the grill – on a different side of the room from what I remembered. Just then, a Japanese lady pulled the curtain aside and ushered her tour group inside to ready set tables for lunch. It was only just after eleven o’clock. We passed by again later, and saw a throng of people, as a massive group descended. It must have been substantially expanded inside then, but we didn’t see further than the doorway. No longer a ‘quaint’ locals’ eatery that could have retained its charm, it is now a stop on the tour circuit. No locals and no independent travellers would find a place inside.

We had thought of spending the whole day and evening in the vicinity, but in general, although there are quite a few attractive looking restaurants, everything felt very touristy. We chose our lunch place carefully, but the first place, in attractively restored surroundings didn’t seem interested in serving us, even after we’d got our own menus and chosen. We walked out of there to our second choice, the Travellers’ Restaurant, part of a hostel complex, with the tables in not overly restored stables. Much more to our liking, with delicious food…and beer, of course, at very reasonable prices and with better service.

When we had come into our parking spot earlier in the day, we’d noticed a rather unsettling noise from the engine. Loath to take a more in depth look as this involves taking the bikes off, and the things we store behind the seats/on the bed out, we’d decided to see the town first. During the day though it preyed on our minds, well more Adrian’s really as he ran through all the things that might be causing the untoward sounds. Instead of heading for a nearby campsite, we decided to return to  České Budějovice as that would be a better base should we need to source parts.

We both wanted to have a closer look at the tower and castle first though, and made our way up. You cross a bridge below which a couple of bored looking bears live. Real big brown teddy bears several metres below, with lots of tourists climbing on the wall to have a closer look in spite of signs warning against this.

There was a museum and the tower first off, and we opted to climb the tower. There were wooden and stone staircases and wonderful views from the top across the town. There were only a few people, but as we left, we managed to dodge a huge incoming tour group of youngsters on their way up. I can only imagine how they would have fitted up there and how much they would have clogged up the stairway. What a lucky escape.

There was a separate entrance fee for the interior of the castle itself and although appealing, it was quite pricey at over £10 a head. We walked from painted courtyard to painted courtyard through gateways and passageways, expecting any moment to be stopped for our non-existent ticket. We managed to walk right the way through the exterior areas and over the galleried bridge without having to pay, and that was all we really wanted to do anyway. More incredible views were taken in while dodging walls of Japanese tourists taking pictures of each other in every conceivable corner.

I’m pleased to say though, that in spite of the mass tourism, Adrian also fell in love with Český Krumlov. As he put it ‘the town rises above’ the tourism that’s become a part of it. It is always a risk to go back to places you’ve loved, and I’ve satisfied my curiosity on this one, but there is a tinge of disappointment too.

A gradual meandering back down through the town was followed by a steady drive back to the campsite at České Budějovice with the van still sounding rough. Adrian was in overalls straightaway on our return, and one of his surmises proved correct. The waterpump bearing wasn’t doing its job, so the pulley where one of the belts sits was moving all over the place. This called for a replacement waterpump. Not just any waterpump, it needed to be specific to our petrol model of T25. We now have a deadline to get to Hoek van Holland for our ferry in a week’s time… will we find the part? Will we make it? How will we make it?

Posted in Art & Culture stuff, By Country - Czech Republic, Travel stuff, Van stuff | Leave a comment