Saturday, 24 November 2018

Back on the road again


I started writing this latest blog and suddenly realised that it was terminally boring so had to scrap it all and, whilst Rachel was doing her online teaching in the van, rewrite it all by hand. Consequently, my glamorous life finds me sitting in a disused car park in Poland next to a dilapidated sign for ‘Rio Disco Dancing’ – The sign has two scantily clad Brazilian beauties captured mid-gyrate. Their big smiles and bigger still bosoms luring Polish country women away from the turnip fields to sway their hips to that Calypso beat and a better life. I love misguided aspirational advertising!

Once again we are afoot in the world (or should I say a-van). We have bought a small motorhome - or is it a camper? I am never sure what to call it. Camper suggests middle class pretensions, with Thule top boxes, ideas of stealth camping and money to burn on branded cramped living. Motorhomes, on the other hand, conjures up the idea of people with matching Northface walking jackets, electric bikes and a tendency to flaunt the copious amount of living space they are driving around. Just the other day I saw a camper van the size of a coach towing a 4-wheel drive jeep. How mental is that. Anyway, by the time I had finished that previous sentence I decided to refer to it as our “van” – sun newspaper, fag packets and sandwich boxes and a tattooed arm sticking out of the window.

So, we have this “van” (which, from now on, I will stop saying in a way that demands speech marks) and we have put on winter tyres in preparation for the freezing and copious amounts of winter snow we are supposed to see over the ensuing months we will be using it to toodle around Europe and work in Slovakia. And, to ensure a constant source of fuel (You can’t get Calor Gas in mainland Europe) have fitted an LPG tank for cooking and heating water. A task that was, quite honestly, a little scary - cutting holes in one’s vehicle and fitting a potential bomb under your front seats.

Plainly the bomb didn’t detonate when we eventually came to fill the tank and make a cup of tea. But just in case I did retire a few metres away for a while to see what would happen. Anyway, here we are many hot showers and cups of tea later and still alive. And after 2 weeks on the road life in the van is “Saul Goodman” (Full explanation available by watching ‘Better Call Saul’.


80 miles of France passed in a blur. Belgium, a natural continuance of the same countryside with it’s excellent motorways, does the same until we reach Mons. One of those nice towns that isn’t quite enough to be a great tourist draw but is nonetheless charming. The old town centre has a big beamed Hotel de Ville sitting in a large cobbled square which is surrounded with café seating, umbrellas and gas heaters. All standard faire but made more interesting by the various sculptures dotted around the city – especially those of Niki de Saint-Phalle whose work is visually stunning being somewhat fantastical in proportions and covered with multi-coloured ceramics.



Luxembourg (What a lovely sounding country). Essentially the place is forest – One huge forest. All showing off its autumnal colours of golds, russet and brown. Luxembourg City appears at the end of the motorway – A little like the Emerald City all roads in the country lead here. It must be the magnetic pull of money because the place reeks of old cash. Everyone we passed (apart from the not infrequent beggars) had an aroma of Jo Malone soap and Chanel No 9 perfume about them. They all looked like they were heading to meeting in any one of numerous solid looking buildings before nipping out and doing lunch. Its probably a super place to live and work but its leafy suburbs and efficient municipal style was not for us.



Germany is calling and at 75mph that ain’t gonna take long. OK, its only 50% of what some cars go by us at but, for us, 75mph is greased lightning.  So far, our nights have been spent in picturesque settings that Rachel has found on one of her many websites – mists on lakes swaying trees, and burbling rivers have all been the back drop to our evening meals and when the light goes we close up the shutters and sleep like babies in our cosy capsule.


The Mosel is a delightful river and meanders through steep sided vineyards which are periodically dotted with little villages that are visited not only by motorists but by river cruises ships that chug up and to Koblenz and the Rhine (that’s from memory so any pedants out there who can prove me wrong can just bugger off). It is along this river’s shores that Bernkastel Kews lays and it is here we enjoy the slight change of scenery. It is so Hansel and Gretally that you could be tempted to poke your fingers into the walls of the buildings to check for marzipan. It fairly busy but in a gentle ‘middle of a wine region so everybody’s laid back and drinking’ sort of way. The little squares are cobbled and lined with alternating wine bars, gift shops and….. well, more gift shops and sell the sort of shit that elderly river cruising types like to litter their shelves with back home in their own countries.


However, lovely as it was, we had two days in a comfy bed to look forward to so we upped sticks and headed off to stay with our friends Alan and Petra. A cool, and I hate to admit any of this, trendy couple (same age as me so that just proves I am not unique) who enjoy their digital employment in a very nice, spacious penthouse flat a short jaunt from Frankfurt.
We have been here before and there always seems to be plenty to do. This time they have organised for us to sightsee around the old part of Frankfurt en Mainz on bikes; to eat well both at the flat and at some restaurants. To see a Ba’hai temple and take a walk through a huge vineyard with them and some friends of theirs we met on our last visit, Then to sit and drink that particular chateaux’s wine in the warm autumn sun overlooking the vineyards. Finally we get to watch some bands in a chilled café overlooking the river. A place with a really eclectic clientele and some tame (as opposed to feral) sheep wandering through the crowds.


On leaving we are given a list of some ‘must see places’ along our route. The first is Rothenburg. Ever heard of it? Neither had I. Given what the place looks like I am somewhat shocked by our collective ignorance. Imagine Carcassonne (assuming you know of that particular little French gem) that has been taking steroids for some years and there you have Rothenburg. It’s old, preserved, beamed, protected, cared for and beautiful. All enclosed in a high wall with slitted windows from where, in the olden days, they could shoot tourists. Yes, there are too many gift shops. But if you squint or head off into the less peopled routes it is easy to be taken back a few hundred years. We ambled for some time exploring alleys and narrow byways (truth be told we got lost for about 30 minutes but it was still jolly interesting).


Bamburg in ‘Little Switzerland’ is probably not the best of towns and the scenery not actually a patch on ‘Big real Switzerland’ but if you are passing by then do drop in. It’s pleasant enough. There are some good parks, a small river and they sell a smoked beer that tastes of bacon.. More of a breakfast beer one supposes. It’s a leap of the old grey matter to imagine that it tastes good. Mainly because in it doesn’t. But that’s not to say it tastes bad either. It just tastes. And, with enough of them in your belly, I guess you could develop a taste for the stuff. But then thinking on the subject. Many things take on a new reality when you drink a lot of beer – driving skills, putting traffic cones on your head and fighting big men or lippy women spring to mind.

Enough of that. Before we speed on towards another biggie of the tourist route – Prague, let me leave you with a rather funny story about a biggie of another kind. So. Rachel was teaching and I decided to go for a bike ride around the lake where we were camping. Can’t remember where. Anyway, after about 30 minutes biking, and when I was nearly back at the van, I found myself wanting a poo. It was quite …. pressing and since Rachel was mid lesson I knew I couldn’t use the van but neither could I wait. So, I pulled over to the side of the deserted path. Looked out across the narrow neck of the lake and up and down the path to ensure the coast was clear. Placing myself between two trees (which screened me from the road) I dropped my trousers and set about wrestling out a monster turd on the shoreline of the lake. My thinking being it would be washed away by the slight waves. Flash forward to 30 minutes later. Bright biking clothes removed and bike loaded on the back of the van we drive off along a road on the opposite bank of the lake to where I had shat. Suddenly my eye catches a movement and there, just 50 metres across the water from where I had merrily defecated are dozens of fishermen who were obviously in some kind of angling competition. Fishing as you will know ain't that entertaining so I have no doubt that a brightly clad cyclist pedalling on the opposite bank drew their attention. Further that their attention would have been even more focused and quickly turned to horrified as I exposed by arse and gave them a HD shot of a full on stealth poo. Like all fishermen I bet they exaggerated the actual size when they told their wives that night.

You know what. I think we will leave Prague and Poland, with the beautiful car park I wrote this all in for next time. Bye for now.

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