Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak…
“Can’t you see the funny side?” I asked a rather grumpy Mark.
Children playing nicely can add to the ambience of a campsite. As we tucked into Frankie’s breakfast special on the terrace that morning, the sound of three toddlers enjoying the sandpit was a genuine pleasure. Kokořín had exceeded all expectations, although moving to a place called Český ráj – Bohemian Paradise had launched our hopes into the exosphere.
But we made a terrible mistake.
We pitched near a trampoline!
The campground sloped and a large swathe was cordoned off to accommodate a group. Our challenge was to find a flat pitch, within reach of an electricity bollard. There was a small trampoline which looked like it was privately owned. No-one was using it when we arrived, so we didn’t give it much thought.
By 7.30pm, however, it had been going like the bedsprings of an Elizabethan whore house for hours. The bouncing started shortly after we reached the critical point of set up: i.e. where we couldn’t be bothered to pack up and move.
As if to compensate for the bedsprings that evening, the gentle strumming of a guitar drifted through the fading sunlight. Then, we heard a noise that you should never hear on any campsite, anywhere.
A tone-deaf musician warmed up by blaring out discordant scales on a trumpet. Then, a flat rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In skirled across the campground. Having truly hit their stride, the follow-up I can only describe as a musical manifestation of a migraine. The lengthy cacophony made modern jazz sound like the melodic trill of angels. This new piece incorporated long pauses to accommodate a second part or accompaniment, which was gratefully absent.
Who brings a trumpet to a campsite?!
My advice is don’t, unless you’re a real expert. And even then, still don’t. Unless you want to risk a sharp crack to the cranium with your cornet.
The trampoline was not the start of the day’s problems. Although it was only a 60-mile hop from Kokořín to Český ráj, it took hours. Mark contradicted my claim that we had no food,
“You’ve forgotten that half a salami in the bottom of the fridge. It’s been there since France.”
As such, it was a bonus to find a huge, out-of-town supermarket en route, although our stop there was not without incident.
It is compulsory to use dipped headlights while driving in many European countries. I took so long to trawl the aisles then bail out of ordering K.F.C. due to language difficulties that Mark got through Joy Division and part of Marilyn Manson’s Greatest Hits before he remembered to switch off the headlamps. With the ignition on to power the iPod, perhaps Caravan Kismet was an additional drain on our van, Big Blue’s battery, but when we turned the key to continue our journey, nothing happened.
It is difficult to convey the sense of desolation aroused by being stranded with a caravan in the car park of a remote and isolated Czech supermarket.
What to do?
In desperation, I approached a man patrolling the car park in a high-visibility jacket. I think he was collecting trolleys, but he had a peaked cap and a walkie-talkie, so he looked official. Our only shared language was a smattering of German and, to explain what had happened to das Auto, I had to resort to sign language.
Our trip so far has cultivated my ability to deal with mechanical issues in foreign languages. ‘Jump leads’ entered my French vocabulary last October, when we left the caravan hitched overnight for a quick getaway. The following morning, Big Blue, refused to start. Sadly, this led to misplaced confidence that we wouldn’t be stupid enough to drain Big Blue’s battery again. My advice – don’t get complacent. And learn how to say câbles de démarrage or Starthilfekabel in a selection of languages!
Luckily, our Hi-Vis Hero was just the man to administer a hefty heave. With Big Blue unhitched, he and Mark propelled her across the tarmac as though taking part in a supercharged trolley dash. The pressure of responsibility to execute the jump start was all mine. I could have wept with relief when I dropped the clutch into second gear and Big Blue lurched and spluttered back into life.
We had narrowly avoided The Car Park – a version of The Terminal Tom Hanks film, featuring a couple trapped for eternity in a Bohemian supermarket.
Now, our only challenge was to reach our destination without stalling Big Blue before her battery re-charged.
At least I had picked up something to console us. Here’s my Connoisseur’s Guide to Czech Wine. Although the cellar section in the supermarket was full of Bordeaux and little Italian numbers, when in Česky… So, I deployed my oenological expertise to its utmost and did what I usually do – I bought something with a stupid name. In light of our stranding, Palava was annoyingly appropriate!
We rarely book campsites in case we don’t like our destination. Our first choice endorsed that strategy. Ruby, our water-loving pup, was ecstatic when she spotted the private lake. Autocamp Sedmihorky was central to all the sights in Český ráj and a short walk from a castle. However, it was huge, noisy and commercial. The young man guarding the gate told us it was full, which saved us from saying that we didn’t want to stay there anyway. He gave us a list of local campsites, but particularly recommended Autocamp Příhrazy,
“It’s in a forest. I would stay there if I came here on holiday!” he assured us.
Mark’s research had already highlighted Autocamp Příhrazy as a possibility. After a tight U-turn, we re-traced our route past the lake. We were relieved to retreat from the commotion of pot-bellies and inflatable watercraft that troubled its surface.
But Autocamp Prihrazy would not relinquish its secret easily – we couldn’t find it! I nipped into a Post Office near where we thought it was. All I found was a corridor, lined with blank doors, which looked like apartments. A few sported signs written in Czech, which was no help at all.
I approached a man parked outside and pointed at the name of the campground on the list. He stuck up two fingers. I was quite shocked until he said,
It was two kilometres to the turning, but the campsite was waaaay beyond that, down a long, winding forestry road. For once, check-in happened in English, which had pros and cons. It meant I understood only too well that payment was cash only, and they wanted it immediately, or sooner. We didn’t have enough currency, so Mark had to drive to the closest A.T.M., almost all the way back from whence we came.
By mid afternoon, shortly after we’d settled up for two nights, the brothel opened for business. The trampoline continued without rest or respite until 10.30pm.
“I know we’ve paid, but what do you think about moving on tomorrow?”
That was when I mocked Mark’s lack of humour,
“It’s more commercial and less natural here, but the dogs and I had a lovely walk while you set up. There are sandstone formations in the woods here, like Kokořín. I know there’s not a castle in walking distance, but we’re spoiled! This is ‘It’s not Ljubljana!’ all over again.”
“I s’pose there are a few castles and a palace to see,” Mark conceded, although the description of one of the highlights, Valdštejn Castle, did not reassure him. “It says it’s a ‘restored hilltop castle with a pub!’”
The U.S. special forces used heavy metal music to force Panama’s General Noriega out of sanctuary in the Vatican’s equivalent of an embassy. Delta Force threw everything at him, including Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses and The Clash. Was it music torture – or an epic line up at Glastonbury Festival? (You can listen to the Noriega playlist here on YouTube.) The opera-loving General held out for ten days.
Trial by trumpet and trampoline could have saved the Americans more than a week. By 8:24 a.m. the following morning, I joined Mark in a catastrophic sense of humour failure. The Elizabethan brothel had already been in action for an hour. The trampoline sealed our surrender; the tuneless trumpet was superfluous.
Despite the language barrier, it was easy to recognise that the bouncing babes were playing a counting game. It went something like;
Squeak, squeak, squeak… “Five thousand, four-hundred-and-twenty-four!” …squeak, squeak, squeak… “Oh! I’ve lost count! One, two…”
Squeak, squeak, squeak all the way through breakfast. Squeak, squeak, squeak as we drank our coffee. Squeak, squeak, squeak as we packed everything up and then realised that the witching hour of 10 a.m. had passed and campsite Reception had closed! To prevent theft by those who had not paid the electricity premium, The Management had locked our supply cable into the bollard. Our desperate attempt to pick the lock failed.
What to do?
Mark found a note in Czech, with a phone number, pinned to the Reception door. A couple of teenage lads were hanging around nearby, so he asked them,
“Do you speak English?”
“I do a little,” said one of them.
“Can you tell me what this note says?”
Despite our predicament, Mark was almost crying with laughter when he returned to the caravan. Without the slightest hint of humour or irony, the boy read out the note in Czech.
Our Czech SIM card from Tesco’s, with its free calls and data, saved the day. With very little hope, we called the telephone number and were shocked to get through to someone sensible. They divulged, in English, the location of the keys for the electric bollard, hidden under some tourist leaflets.
At last. We were free! But we couldn’t leave because the caravan brakes had locked again.
Squeak, squeak, squeak, CLANG.
The trampoline provided all the motivation he needed. Mark shot beneath the caravan like a meerkat fleeing a hawk. With his torque wrench, he delivered the restorative whack to the freins de caravane (another phrase I had to learn!) Within seconds, we had pulled away. Other than on the occasion of our eviction, I don’t think I have ever been more delighted to high tail it from a campsite.
Maybe it is unfair to rename Český ráj ‘Bohemian Crapsody’. Clearly, it appeals to the masses, but it really wasn’t for us.
What to do?
We decided to hit the Road to Hel.
Next stop – Poland!