Thunderstorms were coming!
We wanted to make good progress south to avoid the adverse weather, so we got up before 7am (eeek!) to pack up.
By 8am, we had ten children in the caravan!
Younos had brought along a friend whom we hadn’t even met to have a look around the caravan. They seemed fascinated with the blinds and as fast as I was opening them, they closed them all with a satisfying click. We had to usher them all out and lock the caravan doors. Then, we found Younos in the front seat of the van with his friend, pretending to drive!
Marco wanted a photo of us all together. We assembled various family members and dogs and said the German equivalent of ‘Cheese’ – ‘Armeisenscheisse’. “Doesn’t that mean ‘shit’?” I asked Jenny. “Yes” she said “but you have to smile when you say it!”
Then there was the photo of Anna’s painting hanging in our caravan. Then we had all the little girls, Sophie, Emalie and Isabelle wanting to hold a dog and have their picture taken, all while we were trying to hitch! Younos followed Mark around, examining the method of retraction of corner steadies and the process of hitching up. Younos leapt into Mark’s arms and everyone kissed us goodbye – Ayesha, Fatima, Younos, Abu and Hamza. We got a massive hug from Willy, lots of kisses from Anna and a formal, dignified handshake from Otto.
We nearly drove off without removing the levelling ramp and chocks and as we departed, Jenny ran after us waving our caravan step in the air, shouting “Don’t forget this!”
It is funny how you can meet people for such a short time, but know that they will be in your heart for ever.
We had been really looking forward to visiting the Czech side of the Saxon Swiss National Park, but we decided that it would not be much fun in the persistent rain and thunderstorms in the forecast.
We wound down the hairpins from Hohnstein, which seemed an unlikely route for a caravan! We remembered to buy our Vignette at the Czech border; it cost around €12 for 10 days on the Czech motorways. Marco had warned us to be careful of the speed limits in the Czech Republic. He said that sometimes instead of numbers, they are written as long words that you can’t understand and if you are stopped by the police, they impose large fines in Euros. Thankfully, we have the Sat Nav as a backup, which is very helpful, although its speed limits are not always up to date…! Nevertheless, we had no problems.
Our plans changed massively en-route. We had been heading for Austria in general, then decided on Salzburg. We stopped to change over at the wheel and had a brief moment of internet connectivity from our MiFi, which hasn’t worked since Bacharach on the Rhine. Mark realised that we would pass Český Krumlov, one of the stops that we had bypassed because we had stayed longer than planned in Saxony. So we decided to go there!
That is one of the things that I love about our lifestyle. On a whim, instead of turning right, we can take a left to a whole different adventure!
Camping Paradijs – Český Krumlov
My stint at the wheel on an unplanned route which had incorporated a sudden change of destination gave me the pleasure of narrow country roads with adverse cambers, hairpins and potholes like you wouldn’t believe! It is fair to say that it proved quite testing. I definitely earned my Yorkie bar!
Remarkably, we managed to fill up the LPG with our second adapter. It cost a whole €8! We felt quite pleased with ourselves, although stupidly, we had forgotten that the Czech Republic is not in the Euro zone! The currency is still Czech Crowns (Koruna). Most places do accept Euros, although don’t expect the best exchange rate. The most interesting experience was buying a coffee in the motorway services. It cost €3.33. I had the exact change but they would not accept cents. By pleading ignorance and language issues, I managed to foist €3.50 on them instead of €4 – but they insisted on giving me small change in Crowns!
Camping Paradijs at Český Krumlov is quite simply one of the most beautiful campsites that I have ever seen. It was deep in the woods, surrounded by wildflower meadows and bordered by the river Vltava. We found a pitch right next to the river. As I was out walking the dogs, I met Florian, an Austrian chap with his Greek wife Aleka. I chatted with them for ages and then later, found that they were camped right next to us! They spoke perfect English and invited us for a beer with them around their campfire. Most campsites don’t allow camp fires. Camping Paradijs has fire pits all around the campsite, which invite you to enjoy this primal camping pleasure.
To reciprocate, we got out the red wine that Lars and Anka had given us.
Florian worked for an international company and we discussed how national stereotypes work to an extent. “I love you English. You are so polite! My English colleague is ALWAYS apologising. My Spanish colleague takes ages to get through small talk before he comes to the point, while the Germans and Austrians just launch straight in with no niceties!”
Florian had lived for a while in Glasgow, an experience which helped me more than he could know with my German pronunciation. He had been ridiculed when he went into a bar to ask for a pint of Mc Ayvans (Mc Ewans!) I mean, how else would you pronounce it?
Aleka said that she had been accused of being rude but it is just the Greek way. She did say that she didn’t agree with the advice she had been given on a business seminar; “Never apologise. It is a sign of WEAKNESS!”
I told them that they should read the brilliant book “Travels as a Brussels Scout” in which Nick Middleton investigates the truth behind European national stereotypes with frightening accuracy and wonderfully acerbic humour!*
Aleka seemed genuinely heartbroken about Brexit. “Europe is France, Germany and Britain!” she lamented. We told them that while we think that Brussels is in no way perfect and needs to change, personally, we thought that Britain’s fortunes would be better in Europe and had voted to stay.
We said that we didn’t rule out another referendum; the Brexit campaign had been based on obfuscation and untruth, while the impact is so complex that most Britons – including the Politicians – had no idea of the ramifications when they voted.
We told them that many had just voted ‘out’ as a protest against the government (“I voted ‘out’ – but I NEVER thought it would ACTUALLY happen!” Dur!); on the single, narrow subject of immigration (“All these immigrants in full employment, doing crap jobs we don’t want to do and paying their taxes are a DRAIN on the British economy!”); or nostalgia for ‘the good old days’. You know, ‘When Britain was Great’. (When was that? When the rich got richer on slavery? During Empire when we subjugated half the world? When every century was punctuated by savage wars – or how about the 1970s? We were not in Europe then and had record unemployment, record inflation, power cuts and the 3-day week!)
We said that now, we think that the harsh reality of giving up 60% of our export market with no alternative in mind and having to be allies with Trump because we’ve turned our back on Europe is starting to dawn.
Aleka and Florian loved the term “Bucket List.” They had not heard it before and I explained that it meant that they had to go to the Saxon Swiss National Park before they kicked the bucket!
We chatted as darkness fell with the river tinkling by, the fire crackling and the primal smell of woodsmoke curling into the clear starry sky. Our hearts were warmed.
Just another run-of-the-mill day in the life of a traveller!
* Nick’s superb book ‘The Last Disco in Outer Mongolia’ is also a vastly entertaining read about Mongolia in the interesting period jut before and just after the fall of Communism.
Join us next time as we Czech out the marvellous, medieval gem of Český Krumlov; ‘Prague in Miniature’ – another GOB (Get Onyer Bucketlist!)
There is also a little bonus blog coming; another example of us turning left instead of going straight on, although this time we ended up in Romania instead of Spain!