I was sat here thinking about lunch and I decided to make a lentil and rice dish, sort of similar to Jollof but with my own take on it all.
So i set it all away, got it boiling and then turned it down as low as the gas can go to simmer.
And therein lies my brow-furrowing problem. The simmer on my gas oven is too high!
I can’t seem to make it simmer less. It bubbles away like mad and the last 10 minutes of anything I simmer are spent stirring it madly in order to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Also of course there’s an excess of steam released into the van which can only mean more condensation.
I could maybe weld a 1 inch thick plate to the bottom of the pan but…as soon as it reaches max temp surely it’s still going to over simmer?
Maybe if I set up a strong fan so that it blows cold air over the pan as it’s cooking?
I could even cook on a small camp stove although that’s going to be no fun.
Any suggestions gratefully received!
Well nothing much has been happening here, but then everything has!
I spent some time up north with family and friends and it was a wonderful time. I think I value them more as I don’t see them every day and it’s bitter-sweet to leave. Popped in to see my friend in Ulverston as usual so I put the van into the garage there for it’s MOT so it won’t expire while away.
They had to replace the support strut that the radiator rests on due to corrosion and a tyre that had a split in and I’m unhappy about that, as it’s not long since I got new front tyres, and as there was 3 good ones left I asked the fitters to put the 2 best ones on the rear. Grrr.
Never mind the bill was £350 and the work all done although they now say the rocker cover gasket is not needing replacing so they didn’t do that. Everything else…apparently…is fine. Although it quickly became apparent that the engine was still using oil so clearly everything isn’t fine. *sigh*
It was suggested in a Facebook group that my cylinder head gasket may be to blame. So I’ve checked online numerous times in loads of places and I have not one single, solitary symptom of a blown head gasket. So off I popped across the channel to head for that Norway trip that I’ve long wanted to do.
A few days later I pulled in to a layby near Munster. The engine was rough, it was using oil still and when I got out the stench of hot rubber was strong. I checked the brand new rear tyre to find it was really hot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I think it’s just cheap rubbish. I wish I’d asked them to put Michelin Agilis on as they are excellent on the front.
Anyway I struggled but finally found a garage to look at the van in Munster. They were called Lowen Centrum.
After several hours their diagnosis was…blown cylinder head gasket. €2000 to replace it please! I was pretty stunned not just at the diagnosis but at the price! I said I’d best head back to the UK to get the work done there and he warned me the van might travel 100 or 100 km’s but then would surely fail and I would be in trouble. When I returned to the van I found it covered in greasy handprints both outside by the door, on the door, on the bumper, and the steering wheel was also filthy with dirty oil.. Yeah Peugeot main dealers charge more because of their higher standards eh? Well even 2 weeks later I can’t get these cleaned off!
I spent the next week trying to find another garage. I contacted 6 in total and only one contacted me back. I took it along and he did not even put it on the ramp. He said it sounds fine and he could see no smoke when I revved it and feel no air or other sign that the cylinder head gasket was gone. He found a perished vacuum tube which he replaced for free but I gave him a few Euros as a thank you and he said the turbo might have a problem which would explain the oil usage, but he wasn’t sure. I left there none the wiser and wondered at this fabled German efficiency which tbh I have seen no indication of whatsoever.
So, here I sit, near Fussen, wondering what the hell to do now. If I go on I risk catastrophic engine failure. If I come back to UK I risk yet more garages who have no clue what’s wrong or how to fix it, and waste my time on a fruitless exercise.
Oh the joys of motorhoming!
17th September and the other day I was coming down the motorway and realised that plumes of black smoke were coming out the exhaust. I stopped as soon as I could and took the vacuum pipe off the EGR valve which disabled the valve from working. As far as I know if it’s disabled it’s permanently closed and that cured the black smoke almost instantly. A few good revs at 3500 rpm and clouds of black smoke for a few seconds, then it drives nice and clean again.
Now, black smoke is a sure sign up unburned fuel. The injectors have just been professional refurbished and the fuel return pipes all replaced, those are things that might cause black smoke. I know what the EGR valve is for and what it does and how it works, yet I can’t find a rational explanation as to how disabling it would prevent black smoke, and yet it does.
So, I’ve given up totally on garages because not only are my brakes sticking, and they’ve now been supposedly overhauled 3 times, but there’s still excessive oil being used and black smoke coming out if I enable the EGR valve and no clarity of why in the year I’ve been visiting different garages including Peugeot dealers and independents.
I am now going to teach myself diesel mechanics, and try to find the solution myself.
So, last night I left Innsbruck after not really seeing anything. Why? Cos I booked my ferry ticket for Sunday night. So I have to get all the way to Calais and also get Jack sorted by a vet for the worming thing. By the way I used my Tesco vouchers for the first time for the ferry. I’d found the link somewhere ages ago so I logged on and used almost all of the ones I had to make up to £60 of credit. You can’t book online when using vouchers so I rang the lad and he had it sorted in a couple of minutes flat. In fact it took him longer to go through the legal stuff than it did to book the tickets!
I booked into the Calais sailing which I’ve ever use before. I’ve always travelled from Dunkirk. Not from preference, I just tend to use whatever is cheaper. I doubt the journey is any different anyway, it’s matterless to me.
I filled up, set the sat nav, and within a few miles was climbing the biggest bloody mountain ever. It honestly went on more than a Tory minister, and of course since Berchtesgaden I have a morbid fear of hills cos when you go up them you can guarantee you’ll be coming down them again and that’s when the brakes fail.
Now I’ll stop my story and explain something here that not may know. When your brakes fail it isn’t the actual brakes themselves. I learned about this when I first had brake failure going through the Brenner pass in Switzerland. What happens is everything gets hot and if there is any moisture at all in the brake fluid, it prevents it working properly, and the hotter the fluid gets the less it works. That’s basically brake fade.
What can also happen as well is if the rubber bits of the brake pipes are in poor condition, they swell, taking the pressure from the brakes.
Now, I’ve supposedly had mine done twice since I was in Italy, (once here and once here) but clearly they’ve not been done.
However, coming down the other side wasn’t as bad as I thought, certainly not steep enough to make me need to use the brakes loads. It was madly twisty which you can see on the map, although some of the bends are way worse than they appear on the map.
Also on Google map it doesn’t show that the whole journey was in deep forest. It’s actually a beautiful route to enjoy, perhaps I’ll do it again one time when I can actually rely on the brakes. When I get back to the UK I’m going to strip them all down and rebuild them properly that way I know it’s all done.
The rest of the journey into and then out of Switzerland was gorgeous. I went through Zurich and Basel and although I only saw them from the motorway I definitely want to visit them at some point in the future.
Vaguely in the back of my head as I drove, I remember a sign I’d seen and it was only just dawning on me now what it was. It was a reminder that to use the class 1 and 2 roads in Switzerland you must buy the vignette. It’s much like Austria’s except you can buy only 1 year which runs from December 1st til Jan 31st and it doesn’t matter when you buy it, it runs out then. Personally I can’t get my head round how this works. If it is valid between December 1st and Jan 31st of the following year, that’s 14 months. So what if you buy it in February? Does it then run out the following December? It’s a barmy system to be honest but the vignette is only €38 so it’s not worth missing it out.
Except I had. Oops. Let’s trust to luck that no cops stop me then!
The border guard
But come on, given my luck, we al know it was going to end in tears and sure enough I got to the Swiss/French border to find police active there and stopping all vehicles as they went through. Bugger.
It would not have mattered if I’d come off the motorway and taken a lesser route through, it’s only class 1 and 2 roads that the vignette is needed for. Unfortunately I was on a class 1 road, the motorway. And so they stopped me and instantly looked at my rear view mirror, which is the place the vignette is supposed to go.
I quickly started thinking of a story, so when he asked me where I’d come from I said Innsbruck and that I was heading for Calais. He instantly asked where my vignette was and I pointed to the Austrian one which was still valid. He said “No you are not in Austria now you are in Switzerland yes?” I nodded. “So you need a Swiss vignette yes?”
So I hung my head in shame and said “I am sorry, I saw the sign as I left Austria and it didn’t register and I then forgot about it.”
He nodded but smiled and said “You know the fine is 200 Francs?” (€185)
I said “Yes, I can pay you now if you have a card machine?”
Then the most curious thing happened. An angel came down from heaven and tapped the policeman on the shoulder, and whispered in his ear. The policeman smiled and looked at me and said “The angels are looking after you tonight, so I am not going to fine you, but please make sure you pay when you return.”
Now I know what you’re thinking…did angels really come down and whisper in his ear? Well my friend sometimes you just have to believe…
He waved me through and on I went and honestly, I don’t begrudge €38 so when I return I will indeed buy that vignette.
I was more tired than I thought I would be so I looked for the next stop on my route which turned out to be an aire in Thann. I got there about 1am and it was deserted so I found a spot in the massive car park, 4 other vans were already there. It looked nice enough but I just needed to be able to work the next day so I checked I had an internet signal and went to bed.
To be woken at 5am but screeching banshees from hell right outside my window.
Ok, a train going through the points, but it sounded like screeching banshees. Or how I imagine a screeching banshee would sound, because I’ve never heard one, but anyway it was bloody noisy. Jack of course decided it was a threat to us so he set off barking ferociously at it and I did have to have a chuckle when he coughed, made a massive yawn and then carried on barking for all he was worth. Bless him.
That was it. I managed to get back to sleep but another train came 15 minutes later, and another 15 minutes after that. Until about 6:30am which is 7:30 their time when doesn’t of yelping and screeching school kids wandered past on their way to class. I knew I had no hope so I took Jack out and we wandered around for a half hour. It turns out the railway is about 20 metres from the van and crosses the road and through the town. A bell rings whenever a train is due and once it’s passed the cars engines rev as they pull away. Noisy Nora!!
Anyway work was uneventful, the weather was incredibly hot and muggy, but I found a vet in Moosch about 3 miles up the road and rang to see if I could get an appointment after work that afternoon, to do the dog’s tablet for his passport. I was pleased I conducted the entire conversation in French and I thought everything was fine until she was saying something I simply could not grasp at all nor guess what she might have been wanting to say.
Eventually she got a colleague to come and talk to me and she simply wanted to know how long we’d been in France.
After work I found it no bother at all, parking out front, and the receptionist I spoke to answered in English so that helped.
What’s more difficult than not speaking much French is when people speak to you and you continually have to tell them that you don’t speak French. In my case the truth is my French is limited but passable but I can’t understand what they say. So the young woman who came in after me and sat beside me and tried to ask about Jack just smiled when I said “Je ne comprends pas, desole.” I hate having to continually say that but, learning to speak French is difficult enough, far more difficult than reading it, but listening to it is the worst.
I swear the French have a secret language that they only use between themselves!
The vet was very thorough though, Jack had a good going over and she asked relevant questions. She even confirmed that Frontline was no longer adequate protection for ticks in France and I should use Seresto instead. The collars are only about £20 and last for 8 months so it’s a much cheaper option than Frontline. France has a much bigger problem with fleas and ticks than the UK does so if Seresto is good enough for France then it’s good enough for my dog.
I was happy that the bill was only €42 as well, because that chat she had with me constituted a consultation and they always charge for that. Just for the tablet alone the vet near Calais charges €55.
So, all done, I set the satnav for Calais and headed off but we got about 200 miles short of Calais and I spotted a sign for an aire, the aire d’entrange so I decided that as I was working overtime today I’d pull in and get a decent nights sleep.
After work I got another half hours sleep, and then sat wasting time on the internet, just because I could.
I discovered Gois while I was waiting for my van in the garage in Wals. I dropped it off at 7:30am so I had the day to kill til 3pm which is when they said it would be ready.
Wals is tiny so it took me one hour to explore the village so I crossed the main road and set off for the foothills of the mountains I could see.
I walked through a group of a couple of dozen houses then came out the other side and could see more houses and a church about a mile away. Halfway there was a lone tree by a field, with a bench underneath and I thought to myself ‘That’s perfect for a sit in the shade to cool off. ‘
And sure enough it was. The sun was scorching at about 35 degrees that day so to get a little shade was great for me and for Jack.
So I took my pack off and gave him a drink and I also had one for the first time from the Bobble bottle I bought. I first saw them in Tesco: plastic 75ml bottles with a filter cartridge in the mouthpiece. You can buy replacement cartridges and I thought at the time what a brilliant idea! However Tesco wanted £14.99 per bottle and £8.99 per cartridge. Lol I was never going to pay that. The idea was excellent but the product is simple and cheap.
A couple of years later I saw them again one day in Tesco, very much the same price except for some weird reason the blue opaque ones were cheaper. £4.99 and £2.99 for a cartridge. Supposedly you get 300 fills from a cartridge so that’s not bad value at all. I love the idea of not needing to buy overly expensive bottled water, and not creating yet more waste for landfills. But come on Bobble, you’re not exactly using brand new highly developed technology so I don’t get the silly prices.
So I bought one anyway and 2 cartridges and had filled it from a public fountain in Wals. I’d watched the council come around at about 8am and fill about 40 litres of god knows what chemicals into the fountain: bleach? Most of these types of fountains are not mains fed they use the same water over and over so they need to keep it clean.
Anyway I filled my bottle more to try it out than anything, the water was warm, but sweet and fine so that was money well spent.
I note PC World of all places sell them too but they want about a tenner each pfft. Not that I would buy a thing from them ever again!
Anyway I digress. I was sitting minding my own business, watering the dog, making sure he was in the shade, checking his paws as we’d been on a hot pavement for a while, and answering the phone when suddenly this bloke comes out of nowhere and speaks in German to me.
I shrugged “No sprecken zie Deutsch.” and he says in lovely English “Do you mind if I sit with you?”
Well had this been the UK I’d have been suspicious and wondered if he was a dogger or scammer or something. But I noted the sandwich bag in his hand so I moved my stuff to make room and asked him to sit.
He of course had to fuss Jack a little, mainly cos Jack wasn’t going to let him get away without doing it. But he seemed happy to so I let him have his emotional fix and only intervened when Jack smelled the sandwich. The man sat and started eating it and Jack got bored and started digging a hole by the tree. He loves digging holes.
That sarnie looked mighty tasty so I said “Yum that looks nice!”
He laughed and said it was, although he’d have preferred chicken if they’d had it. And so we talked about sandwiches for about 15 minutes. Yes, 2 grown men, complete strangers, sitting in the shade of a single tree, in the middle of farmers fields, in blazing sunshine chatting about various sandwich fillings and then onto types of bread.
We agreed that Schwarzbrot is one of the best breads going and the American Max Super Soft sandwich bread which is all over Europe was about the worst.
Then I put my bag on and got the dog and said bye as he was finishing his sandwich and he waved as we walked away and you know what? I felt amazingly relaxed and content after having a completely unexpected but innocent and pleasant conversation about nothing more than bread and sandwich fillings!
How odd life can be!
So we continued down into Gois and the little church on the little hill was looking rather pretty so I decided to have a wander up and see if it was open. They usually are not I have found here and I don’t know why that is, as God’s house is always supposed to be open. Anyway I wanted to try but on the way I found some horses in stables. They were beautiful, obviously not your normal old nag, more your classy equine.
I stopped to feed them cos like, if you pass an animal you have to feed it right? I have no idea why, I just know it’s true. How many kids have grown up feeding the ducks before they can even say quack?
Of course Jack wanted in on it as soon as I started to feed them. He made a very good effort to get over the little concrete wall so he could give the horse a big slobbery terrier kiss, and then probably tease it into having a little playful run around. Cos that’s how Jack thinks and that’s what Jack does.
Ask me to see the videos of him and the lambs. Go on ask me…
Anyway, feeding time was over so we continued on to the church and as we got closer to the dozen or so houses that surrounded it an old lady hove into view holding the hand of a little girl about 3 years old. Her other hand was dragging a little kiddies trike along behind her and I felt a pang thinking yup. All parents have gone through that ha.
Well dogs are really popular for some reason over here so I know they’d come over to say hello and they did. And Jack licked the little girls hands and face cos he knows they taste of yummy sweet things.
And she thought it was fabulous and laughed and danced. And the old lady laughed, so not to be left out I did too. And Jack was grinning.
Now people say dogs can’t smile. Load of horseshit. Ask anyone who has a dog and they will tell you they smile all the time. And Jack was smiling cos we were all laughing and we were actually having a really nice day.
So I continued on to the church getting a couple of photos of it from the bottom of the hill, then walking up the steep grass to have a look inside.
The main doors were open but there was a very substantial metal grille which locked the entranceway. I have no idea if it is a result of crime or respect for God that they lock the churches.
I snapped a shot off and then the old lady was there again with the little girl.
I baptise thee in the name of the Lord
She spoke no English and I speak no German but she managed to indicate that the child was baptised here. Oddly the font was in the porch, before the metal grille so I mimed baptising the little girl and we all laughed again. Apart from Jack. He was outside digging a hole.
So I pointed inside the church and told the old lady that it reminded me of the Italian chapel on Orkney. She seemed to be surprised and then made a face as if to say “Why yes, now you’ve said that I see the resemblance.“ Of course she had no clue what I’d said.
Anyway that was fun chatting to someone who has no understanding at all of your language but making yourself understood anyway, so I rewarded her by calling Jack over and asking him to give a left paw, then a right one to the little girl, who thought that was the best thing ever. So good in fact that she dropped her dummy.
I stopped Jack of course before he slobbered all over it and waved to the little girl and said “Bye bye” and she said clearly and strongly “Bye bye” as she waved a hand. Awww. No language, but loads of communication.
My little visit had been nice to Gois but it was almost time to move on now. I walked down the hill and past some new apartments, built in traditional style but modern materials and each block had their own underground parking. How cool?
I found another tree with some seating underneath. The Austrian councils seem to actually care about their citizens unlike most UK councils. It was lovely once again sitting in the shade and cooling off.
I noticed a piece of artwork installed next to the seating. This is in the middle of agricultural land, with the nearest large town about 6 miles away. I was most impressed. A very small village but a beautiful one, some really do know how to live.
I spent a little longer watching the farmer set up some automatic sprinklers for his lettuce and then set off back to Wals. I’d finished the water so getting some more was my next priority.
Wals…a nickname for Wall-E from EVE? Nope, a small town in Salzburg, Austria as it happens. I found it by simply doing a google search for Peugeot dealers so that I could get my radiator repaired. And the back brakes. Anyway, I’d rung them and luckily they spoke English cos I speak no German at all and as it turns out later, not one of the other 4 garages I’d emailed around the Freilassing area replied.
Anyway, they said drop the van off at 7:30am which, because I’m running on UK time here was 6:30am to me * sigh * Never mind I’ll just be happy to get it sorted as I’ve wasted days now with not being able to move.
Anyway, he said it’ll be ready by 3pm which to me is 2pm so I have 6.5 hours to kill in a town that has a population of about 2,000. Hmmm.
I set off to walk around the town, it was already 22 degrees so I was slathered with 50 factor and I had a bottle of water and some food for the dog. Walking along the main road I spotted a nice little village a couple of miles away which I visited later. But my first stop was at a little shrine by a field of lettuce. As I’ve written before these shrines are everywhere and some are very elaborate. This one was quite substantial but had a bench next to it so it was nice to sit in the shade of the shrine and watch the sprinklers for ten minutes.
I’m always conscious of Jack’s paws when walking on tarmac or concrete. In that kind of heat they can get sore really quickly. I’m getting him some boots when I get back to UK. I know you can get some which are good for both summer and winter. I bet he hates them but…
The parish church of Wals, Walsberg, Austria
Anyway, so I find the little parish church in Wals. Beautifully kept, the most lovely gravestones every one of which was well cared for and some quite elaborate. Back in Stazi UK none of that would be allowed. Plain old boring nonsense for the Brits.
As usual the church was locked and a thing I’ve found over here is that many churches don’t appear to have a name. They’re simply known as the Parish Church. I noticed too that they chime in a different way to the UK. There’s a low, single note which denotes the hours, and a higher toned, single note which denotes 3 of the quarters of the hour. So 2 low, 3 high is 02:45am
I did spot something though I’ve never seen anywhere before. A candle vending machine! Yes for 1€ you can have a candle in a coloured plastic jar, or for 2€ you can have a candle in a coloured plastic jar that has a design on. Ingenious. There’s also the most perfect public loo here, cleaner than in most houses I dare say! And an outside sink with watering cans so you can tend to the graves easily. Everything is pristine and perfect and fairly new by the look of it.
There’s a lovely public fountain which was nice just to be beside and I did consider dunking Jack in but wondered if someone might complain: they wash their faces and hands in these fountains.
Kiss and Go
The thing that made me smile n this little square though was the sign saying “Kiss and Go”. It was the drop off point for the school. What council do you know would consider a sign saying Kiss and Go? I love the idea and I love the attitude.
Another thing that struck me was that sometimes it’s difficult to determine which buildings serve what function. From the shots I took you can see that a dairy farm, a horse farm, an apartment block and a normal house all look almost identical. I love the chalet type style that is predominant around Austria and even modern built properties still try to adhere to the same style. But my first wander around Wals left me with the impression there were no shops or other businesses.
My second trip around it showed a cafe, deli, bank, hotels, garage, garden centre, DIY store, restaurants, farms, plumber and a wide variety of other businesses.
I suppose I can be guilty sometimes of walking through a place quickly and thinking I’ve seen it all, whereas if I look harder or go through twice I might find hidden gems.
Anyway, I went back to face a bill of almost £730 for a radiator and 2 rear brake cylinders and a few feet of brake pipe. Absolutely massive bill for fairly simple jobs and that’s what I get for using main dealer. I do actually know better than to use dealers and to go to independents but sadly I have to go with what I can find out here as I don’t speak the language. As it turned out not one of the other 4 places replied to my emails so I suppose at least I got the work done and am back on the road now.
I pulled into Bratislava about 5:00 am. I was up early and decided to make the move to find an early parking spot. So right on the edge of town I parked near some houses and got out my phone to check a couple of parking apps.
I did notice a young girl walking past, partly because there was no-one around at that time of the morning and partly because apart from a long t shirt, she obviously wore nothing else: not even shoes. Odd for that time of the morning.
She was quite pretty and I idly wondered what she was up to as I went back to checking my apps. I realised after a moment though that she had stopped and turned and was heading back to where I was parked. I watched her out of the corner of my eye and sure enough she came up towards the van.
So obviously I checked my nostrils were clean, sucked my belly in and sat up straighter…as you do. 🙂
I opened the window as she got level with the van and said “Good morning.”
To which she replied by yanking up the T shirt to show her lady bits and saying in quite good English, “You can have it for €20.!” I vaguely wondered if she meant the lady garden or the T shirt…
I was very tempted to grab my camera but I decided not to and simply had a very good gawk before shrugging and saying…”€10?”
I actually was not interested really, because although I don’t see a problem with prostitution in general, I’ve no need nor inclination to take advantage of it myself. But I was really just being playful by bartering for what I’m sure would be a lovely time. Or maybe it would not be and it would be 10 minutes of digging into a diseased pit of germs and filth, you never really know do you and especially in the odd circumstances…
Anyway, clearly €10 was not enough to plant seeds in her cherished garden so she said something foreign that sounded incredibly like “Fuck you!” and dropped her T shirt.
I could not help but reply “You can for €10!” but she was walking away by then, barefoot, her lovely little bare bottom waving goodbye to me as she stomped off in search of the next mug.
Only the second time in my life that I’ve been propositioned by a prostitute, and it made my morning lol Don’t you just love odd experiences, especially when they’re unexpected? Anyway check this post out for my overall impression of Bratislava.
Sorry there’s no photo for this story, but as a consolation here’s a googled image just for gratuitous sexual content 🙂
I haven’t written anything about Vienna for some time, I’ve done other places first. That’s partly because I was busy, and partly cos I was thinking about what to write.
You see, and I know some trolls will castigate me for this but, I wasn’t that struck on Vienna.
Don’t get me wrong it’s a beautiful city, some of the buildings are amazing. But then so is Liverpool, and Newcastle on Tyne, and I think parts of London are way nicer than Vienna.
Admittedly I only spent one day there and there was lots I didn’t do, but really I didn’t do them because I wasn’t inspired to.
My overall impression being quite honest is that Vienna is trading on a name it had for being a top cosmopolitan European destination 100 years ago. It just doesn’t have that ‘now’ factor for me. Linz, Salzburg, even tiny villages such as Wals and Gois all have that ‘now’ factor and make you want to look round to see what they have to offer and go back repeatedly to enjoy it.
Vienna on the other hand made me not want to explore, I had to force myself. The most interesting thing I found here was that it costs €150 euros to park overnight in the Rathausplatze. Yes one hundred and fifty euros. Nuts eh?
I would probably go back at some point and go in some of the museums etc, but I’d want to see other places first and would only go back if I had spare time.
Motorways are great to get where you’re going and I paid the motorway vignette at the border with Slovakia which was I think €9.60 for 10 days.
However a large part of the journey was through a fairly flat rural type of landscape so I set off slowly down the back roads and enjoyed the drive.
There’s lots to see, pretty little villages just off the road side, large houses built on the top of hills and locals going about their business which for me, is the heart of travelling.
Stopping at some of these small villages to fill with diesel, buy a loaf, or let the dog out for a wee is great fun as you get to see and chat to real people living real lives in their own environment.
Saying that one thing I noticed is that I think less people speak English in Austria than maybe any other country I’ve been to. Luckily they’re very adept at body and sign language and I’ve not been stuck at all over here when trying to understand someone.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…European drivers in the main are much more considerate than British drivers. Oh dear…I expect a backlash for that especially from the pot-bellied sage who spends his life telling everyone how mental it is in France or Italy when in fact they’ve never been and are unlikely to ever go.
All of their wisdom is received rather than first hand and they can spend all day every day elucidating on all sorts of topics that they have no direct knowledge of but someone told them, or they read it somewhere, or there was a programme on TV, or perhaps they just think it…
In fact as long as you spend a short time familiarising yourself with the road signs, the driving rules and the way people behave you’ll find driving much more of a pleasurable experience. Roads in the main are better kept and better designed than the UK and you hardly ever experience gridlock.
Anyway, I was weary and wanted a shower and I know that the motorway service stations usually have them for €1 for 10 minutes so I joined the motorway and within 5 minutes had found a ‘Raststation’. No limits on length of stay or rip off charges like the UK so I was able to have my shower, make a sandwich and then watch a glorious sunset with my coffee. Oh what a life.
Arriving in Linz
I got to Linz fairly late but found the car park beside the river quickly so took Jack for a wee and a leg stretch and then had a cuppa and a quick check of the news before bed.
Bed was interrupted by the screeching tyres of small fast cars driven by small but loud young men. *sigh* It went on til 4am and I kept thinking “They’ll get bored soon…”
However the next day was beautiful, sunshiney but not too hot as it had been in Vienna, and not that sticky humid where you can’t move or breathe. We set off and it took less than 10 minutes to walk alongside the Danube, cross the bridge and reach the city proper.
Linz is the 3rd largest city in Austria and the capital of Upper Bavaria. Like many major European cities the Danube runs through it. Adolf Hitler spent most of his youth here, as did Adolf Eichmann and after the war the city spend decades shedding it’s links to these people.
Despite that dubious link I liked it instantly. I liked that the bridge was wide and allowed trams through, and there was barely any traffic around, and that almost the entirety of the city centre was pedestrianised. Vienna in parts was a mass of revving cars, snarling motorbikes and roaring buses. It really puts you off and given there’s tons of out of city parking there is no real need.
Like a lot of other European cities and towns many of the buildings were painted in pastel shades which are not only attractive but peaceful. Sadly there was still graffiti and tasteless advertising, it’s a shame we have to live with these two scourges.
I noticed global brands such as H&M and McD’s and 3 network shops, but there was a wealth of local chain type shops and independent ones so that was a pleasure to see. I almost had a McDonalds because most of the fast food was based around either croissants, bagels or sausages, none of which I fancied.
However just as I was about to give in and dine on the devil’s fare, I found a lovely little sandwich shop which sold a beautiful fried fish and salad sandwich. Who’s ever heard of one of those before! It was only €4 for the sandwich and a drink so much cheaper than a McDonalds, much tastier and just as filling.
I sat in a lovely little park of which there’s a few but I had to share the space with several homeless people. Homelessness is a global problem and it was apparent that most were suffering under the influence of something too.
Some of the public places reeked of stale urine. This was a huge shame for such a beautiful city especially when there are public toilets.
Most of the touristy bit of Linz is where I was on the south side of the Danube and consists of ancient areas including old Roman ruins, old squares and buildings dating back centuries, and modern buildings with glass and steel. Enormous pleasure boats dock here and testify to the amount of tourists who flock to the city. I actually prefer it to Vienna for several reasons: it’s smaller so easier to get around, it’s less expensive and it’s a more down to earth city where real people live.
There’re art installations and centres around the city, technological centres, museums and some beautifully kept parks. I’m staying here for a little while. Like Rouen and Amiens, it’s just one of those places that you want to stop and relax for a while.
As always here’s some pictures of my first day in Linz.
Tick. Ewww. Awful things. Remember when Jack’s face got covered with them? I’d never seen so many ticks!
Well there he was hanging out the window looking so sad, and feeling sorry for himself cos I would not let him out. Despite the fact he’d been out on the tether for an hour and sat in the direct sun the whole time until he was almost too hot to touch!
So finally I feel sorry for him and take a break from work and let him out. And he spends the whole 15 minutes digging holes in the ground. *sigh*
Anyway we come back in and he cleans himself up for a change, then comes and sits next to me while I was working.
I idly rubbed his ears and something felt ‘off’. So I looked and this is what I found…
The small tick is the type I normally find, they’re sort of ‘standard’. But the big one, never seen anything like it.
I put it next to the coin for scale.
I got them all out (there was 5) with the large tick puller and I squished the big one out of curiosity. It burst and the amount of blood that came out was amazing. Very thick and dark red too, almost purplish.
Jack gets Frontlined every month but clearly that isn’t putting ticks off so I may now have to find something different to treat him with. These things don’t tick my box!
Nova Bystrica was a lucky find like Breza. I was simply driving through Slovakia from Poland, heading roughly to Brno to see what it was like.
There was a brand new car park at the edge of the village with spaces for buses so I parked up just to see what was there.
Truth is there’s nothing there really, except the local shop which I took advantage of for some fresh salad, and a beautiful view of mountains and forests. Oh and the river Bystrica flowing through. Pretty much the basic stuff of life. I found out later that there’s also a post office and a department store there too. But sometimes less is more…
Across from the car park is what’s listed on the map as a local government office. A couple of times a day what sounded like a radio was playing from the large speakers on top of this office, and a little song was played each time which was very jaunty. The following day I also noticed a large group of youngsters doing some kind of physical exercises on the lawn in front. They were led by a tracksuit wearing ‘coach’ and after about 20 minutes of simple exercises on the lawn, in the 27 degree heat, they all went back inside.
Maybe there’s a school attached?
Anyway, another very peaceful night was had as there was not a sound after about 8pm so after work it was straight to bed and another sound night of sleep. Sometimes when you’re travelling it’s not famous sites that you want, nor culture or meeting odd characters. It’s just a beautiful location with some peace and quiet. Travelling is in my blood and I can’t imagine not doing it but sometimes you just need a physical and mental rest. It’s places like Nova Bystrica that offer that.
Breza was a stop I hadn’t intended to make. I was simply tired and spotted a new view so pulled into a layby for a cuppa and to enjoy that view. Of course whenever I stop no matter how long it is since Jack had a walk, he has to get out also and explore the new land. So I took my cup of tea with me and we went for a walk along the river.
We’d only gone about 400 yards when I spotted a building through the trees and that building turned out to be a pub of all things.
So I left my cup by a fence and we set off to investigate and it was actually a nice little town.
Firstly, it’s in the nicest location at the foot of mountains with forest all around and a river flowing past. It’s got a supermarket, a cafe, a pub and a post office. That pretty much sums up most peoples’ main needs?
Well OK given what my van is like, a garage would not have come amiss…
I’d seen a church from the main road so I set off to find it cos it looked nice. However I followed two likely routes both of which led to a very steep and deep gorge separating the village from the hill the church was on.
It seemed if I wanted to get to the church I would probably need to leave the village by road and come back a different way, there simply was no access I could find to get over the gorge.
I decided to leave it and just enjoy the village.
Anyway I had a walk around and had stopped to take a photo of the large building that was the coffee cafe and a little girl maybe 8 years old came out of the cafe and walked over and spoke to me.
I have no idea what language she was speaking, Slovak? But I knew from her gaze that she was talking about Jack. I gestured to him so she immediately knelt down and had a little stroke of his head and murmured something to him. Most likely the Slovak equivalent of “Oh you’re a lovely little puppy and I love you.” cos that’s the kind of things kids say to him.
Jack of course licked her mouth and hands cos he knows that that’s where all the nicest tastes are on humans, especially little humans who always taste of sugar and other exciting flavours.
She said something else to me that I could not guess so I had to say I didn’t speak her language. Her face was a picture when I spoke, as clearly she’d not been expecting a foreign voice. She said something else which sounded like “Bloody hell I nearly shit myself when you started speaking that weird language!” and then had another stroke of the dog.
I’m sure she didn’t really say that, but just like anthropomorphising animals, we tend to adultify kids don’t we. (Did I just make a word up!) You tend to imbue kids with attributes they probably don’t have cos they’re too young and yet they often to seem so wise for their years.
After their little pat and lick session was over I wandered on to finish my short tour of the village and she stayed with us the whole way, keeping about 20 feet away but always looking at Jack. I felt like going and buying her a puppy!
Anyway, I spent the night in the layby and it was incredibly peaceful with no passing traffic after about 8pm until the next morning. It was also pitch black so I had a very restful night and woke to bright sunshine, so I went down to the river with my coffee and furry face.
Time to move on, but what a nice little village Breza is.
I applied for a Revolut card when I came out this time. The Revolut card is a Mastercard and you can use it almost anywhere for purchases and ATM withdrawals and top it up from your bank account via an app on your phone.
It’s partly for security, as you need a pin to get into the app, and I only to it up £100 at a time so if it was ever stolen and they managed to get the pin I’d not lose much. The bank account linked to it is a second one that I don’t keep much cash in.
I love the way it works, you top it up however much you like and if you wish to convert to say…euros, you get the best rate going at that moment in time. The way I tend to use it though is I leave it in £’s, and when I pay for things it automatically converts enough £’s into that currency at the best rates.
I found it great for being in Poland because while some places do accept euros, they make up the conversion rate in their head so you can end up losing out. I also used it in Amsterdam to pay for the camp site as it was machine access out of hours.
You can also use the Revolut card in ATM’s for local currency and whichever way you use it you don’t pay any fees. You can pay micro fees such as for a coffee, it’s contactless and you can even pay other people who have a Revolut account using their mobile number! Definitely the card for a modern world.
If you lose it, you simply log into the app and disable the card, sorted. I have a backup phone that I use too if I am somewhere I’m unused to where there’s a lot of crime. I’m going to find out if you can have the app installed on more than one phone.
I dislike having to carry loads of cash in the van, and I like the security aspect of the Revolut card. it’s definitely my choice for use abroad even if you only ever go to countries with $’s or €’s.
I had parked in Wieliczka to see the salt mine and a friendly lady in an art gallery told me the train station was not far and it was quick to get into Krakow. It cost me about 400 Zloty in her place for things to take home for a friend so the info wasn’t cheap.
However I found the station easily and it was only a few euros into Krakow on a train that ran regularly. Happily I could not get lost either as Wieliczka is the last stop on that line. I decided to go in the next day but would leave Jack in the van if it wasn’t too hot.
And indeed it was only about 15 minutes into Krakow, and it’s a very pleasant and modern station with lots of terminals that were very fast and easy to use so I grabbed my return ticket while there.
Sadly the first thing I saw when I left the station proper was the graffiti. Europe seems plagued by it, I’ve even seen commercial vans covered in it and I know it costs councils millions a year to deal with. Such gross vandalism ought to attract heftier penalties I think, but the likes of Banksy doesn’t help.
I remember the streets of Rome being like this, and Paris, and Prague. Many of them are political comments but many are simply tags, the name these vandals put to the stylised nickname they use.
It’s one of my pet hates because it can so alter the look and feel of an environment and why should we all suffer because of a few selfish vandals?
The old town
Anyway, putting that aside the walk into the old town was short and pleasant. The streets are wide and clean, the crossings plentiful and well responded to, and a lovely young lady stopped me for a chat on my way asking if I was a tourist. I was on my belly taking a photo of a tram and felt slightly foolish! Her English was great and we chatted for 5 minutes and then she went her way. I thought what a pleasant place this is but I also checked that my wallet was still there…
The old town is beautiful. No doubt about it. Clean, free from clutter and mostly free from traffic. Beautifully clean carriages pulled by lovely well kept horses, and lots of colour around in street cafes, performers and tourists.
The main Cloth market is amazing and even though I’m not really a shopper, I had to have a wander through it. There’s dozens of little stalls inside all selling trinkets and scarves and all sorts of touristy type things.
Some had quite expensive jewellery and some had the normal tacky stuff you see everywhere but they were all doing great business. It was nice to walk through just to feel part of the hustle and bustle of it all.
There were lots of horse drawn carriages and they were far from simple traps, they were very elaborate and attractive carriages that could easily grace a wedding. I found out that there is no set price, you haggled with each driver but none of them gave you a commentary on your 35 minute tour.
I suspect they need to add that as part of the tour!
St Mary’s is a beautiful sight and has the mouth boggling name of Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. Apparently most people call it St Mary’s church.
Wawel Royal Castle
It’s a 10 minute walk out of town to get to the castle, but very well worth it. The walk up was fairly steep as the sun had come out and it was swelteringly hot. The views were great from the castle walls though and the place itself is quite impressive.
Apparently it now houses one of the largest collections of Flemish tapestries in it’s museum. Right.
From the walls I could see a lovely grassed promenade along the banks of the Vistula river below me so to escape the heat a little and to rest my hot feet I walked back down there and sat on the grass with an ice cream.
I must point out that the amarena cherry ice cream easily matched the quality of the ones in Linz and even Venice! Great price at €1.50 as well, nice to see they’re not ripping anyone off.
After my ice cream I decided to go back through town and head back to the van. I have air conditioning so I knew Jack would be fine. However I know that people get on their high horse and act emotionally if they see an animal in a vehicle on a hot day. I remember visiting a friend and the friends neighbour threatened to smash a window to get my dog out!
Everyone wants a drama, led by emotion, and to feel a ‘hero’ so they have a story to tell their friends. So despite he’s the most loved and well cared for dog I went back for him and took him over the park.
On a last note, there’s a large piece of grassed waste ground near the rail station so when I got back and got Jack we were playing on this land when a young man came over and told me I should have a ‘line’ on the dog because it’s not safe. I don’t know what it is about me and Jack but I looked pointedly at the other dogs running around with their owners off-leash, and looked back at him and he said he was scared of dogs and walked off!
Bizarre. I really am a fool magnet lol
Anyway, fantastic day in Krakow it’s a beautiful city and 2 days would have done it more justice. Here’s a few photos to whet your appetite.
I’d heard of the salt mine on a Facebook group but could not think how seeing a salt mine could be entertaining. Well how wrong I was.
After leaving Auschwitz I found Wieliczka easily enough and a car park where campers were allowed overnight. So bright and early the next morning I set off for the mine. It took a little to find the ticket office as the signs are unclear and once there none of the tape barriers were open, but they expected you to go through them. All very odd.
It opens on bang on 7:30 and not a second before and then you pay your Zloty which means about €20 which is in fact a very reasonable price for the 3 hour or so visit.
Wait in line for other English speakers to come along and then a guide introduced herself and took us into the mine. She absolutely failed to make a connection with the group at the start which showed very clearly later, and as she’s very experienced I was quite surprised. However we set off after establishing that there were people in the group from all over the world.
The big drop
Getting down into the mine was a heck of a walk down steep wood stairs that led down about 80 metres. This was a hell of a descent as the stairway is only wide enough for single file and there were 2 other groups ahead of us and they kept stopping and starting in order to allow time for slower people. Really the guide ought to have paced it differently so we went slower but without stopping but hey…it wasn’t my shout.
We got to the bottom anyway and were told a few facts about the mine. I was surprised to learn that it was first used in the 11th century. No wonder it has 350 kms of tunnels. Apparently there are only a few people living who know every corner of the mine.
It was apparent from the start that this was going to be a whirlwind trip. I guess there’s so much to see and we only see a small fraction of the mine. There are other groups you can join if you book such as the Miners group and the Pilgrims group. They both sound fascinating and are over 3 hours also. However I’d have loved an extra hour and would have paid more for that as it was very rushed.
What was apparent from early on and in contrast to the tiny staircase was the huge scale of the mine. Tunnels were quite large and very airy and lined and shored exclusively with wood as the salty environment is no good for steel. Some of the wood shoring has been there since the mine first opened in the 13th century although salt has been gathered from about the 11th century.
The salt deposits are almost 14 million years old and caused by a sea evaporating and leaving behind it’s salt and the mine is considered so important that Copernicus even visited. They carved a statue of him entirely from a salt block in honour of his visit.
The photos may not be what you are used to from me but firstly, we were very rushed. There were literally seconds to stand and take in sights such as Copernicus before we were moved on. Also there was no tripod allowed so everything was handheld and it was very dark mostly.
I’d love to go back with some lights or a tripod but I’d have to pay for a private tour for that and that’s mega bucks.
Some of the scenes they had set up were really nicely thought out and well lit. However in the most interesting places we were hard on the heels of the group in front, in fact our guide was constantly berating them shouting “Ladies and gentlemen please rejoin your own group!”
Also because we had so little time -there were groups hard on our heels too- it was difficult to get photos in. One family insisted on each individual having their photo taken in front of the sculptures, first the 2 kids, then Mam and Dad, then everyone together. Several people spoke to them about monopolising the scenes and even the guide asked them to move along but they simply ignored everything said to them.
The carvings were nothing short of amazing. There were numerous niches with religious figurines in, lots of scenes depicting miners at work and even the entrance to a tunnel seen at left, all carved from salt. The detail was beautiful and the finish was polished and almost like marble. But it was all salt.
Our guide stopped us at one place while we waited for the group in front to continue and said we were all allowed 2 kilos of salt to take from the mine for free. However we must take it by licking it from the walls! No-one took the bait but she repeated her joke later, perhaps some groups found it amusing?
I did but as I said she failed to connect with the group at the start and it showed for the whole duration of the tour which was marked by her becoming impatient and shouting at people to catch up.
Some of the chapels were extraordinary. Everything carved from salt. Even the chandeliers such as you see in this photo to the right, carved from salt.
It’s a truly amazing place and to think there are 350 kms of tunnels grabs your imagination.
The guide wasn’t that bad really
I seem to be a little negative about the guide and I am slightly, but also I guess she has time restrictions placed on her so she had little to work with. It’s only about €20 euros for the tour, I would much rather pay even as much as €10 more for the visit but get longer. There was very little information offered either, only the odd snippet here and there. I guess they want you to buy the books in the shop.
However, a fabulous visit, I’m so glad I’ve been and I would definitely return again. It’s a lot to take in and needs much more than just one visit. I’d love to try the other routes too, one of which allows you to work as a miner would have using their technologies etc.
Here’s some more photos of what proved to be a fantastic visit.
Birkenau was begun in 1941 because Auschwitz 1 simply could not cope with the influx of prisoners. It was begun for political prisoners but by 1942 Hitler had decided to exterminate the Jews so Birkenau was refocussed to the efforts of a labour camp and extermination camp.
4 crematoria were built as gas chambers and incinerators to kill as many people as was possible. The first one, Bunker 1, was called Red house. The second a little later Bunker 2, was called White house.
Crematorium 2 had been designed as a mortuary, but by installing gas tight doors and ventilation to remove the gas afterwards it was turned into a gas chamber. It already had ground level incinerators which were to become useful. Crematorium 3 was the same but 4 and 5 were built from the start as gassing chambers.
The Nazis chose Zyklon B as it was very fast acting and should have killed the prisoners in seconds. However that’s only in set circumstances and in some cases people took over a half hour to die.
There is a story about how several hundred gypsies -another ethnic group targeted by the Germans- had a rebellion and attacked the soldiers with makeshift weapons. 3 soldiers were killed but the rebellion was quashed and all involved later gassed.
Birkenau saw World War Two’s largest ever death march. The Germans fearing the advance of the allies set off from Birkenau in January 1945 headed for Loslau. The SS killed large numbers of prisoners by starvation before the marches, and shot many more dead both during and after for not being able to keep up with the pace.
We arrived in Oswiecim which is the village where Auschwitz museum is located about 2am Saturday morning. I found a car park and it was slightly confusing about the prices but eventually I sussed that the museum itself opens at 4am so I could park in there. It was €5 less than the tourist office car park too so as I was not staying for the evening it was better value to park at Auschwitz.
By the time me and the dog had stretched our legs a bit it was open so we had a chat with a really friendly security guard and parked up, then went for a wander in the grounds. The sun was coming up nicely but it was about 8am before I finally got in to the museum itself. This photo was taken before 5am so that shows what the sun was like.
Even looking through the fence before you enter you do get a small sense of foreboding. There are fences now to keep people out rather than in, and clearly there’s a need. The famous Arbeit macht frei sign was stolen some time ago but happily recovered.
We were forced to wait til just after 7:30 am for the ticket office to open. It’s free entry but they have to manage visitor flow and numbers of course. I would very, very much have liked to have had an audio guide available. I’d have paid more money for that. You can pay to join a group with what they call an educator, but tbh it’s not clear what you can do and how much it costs at first. Slick does not describe the management of the museum.
It is ironic to think I’d come so far to get into the place so many tried to get out of. More than 1 million lives were taken at this one place, most of them brutally, some in indescribably horrifying ways. It’s almost difficult to take in until you see the faces of the people and the place where they were tortured, the photographs that the
Germans themselves took and the accounts of the few who survived.
They’d come to this gate. Told they would be looked after well and fed and housed, put to work to keep them occupied. Some say that many knew what was going to happen but could not escape it.
Auschwitz was a former Polish army camp and so while austere, the place does have an attractiveness about it if you can see only the buildings. However you soon notice the watch towers, and the endless barbed wire which was electrified for part of the time.
The booted Gestapo who were based here took every opportunity to inflict misery and brutality on people for no good reason other than they enjoyed brutalising.
You’re pretty much left to your own devices when you enter the museum, so instead of heading through the main gates I decided to head left and go straight down.
The final escape
The first building I came to was the gas chamber where they gassed the helpless people who thought they were there to be showered.
They were using a poison called Zyklon B and dropped it through roof vents into the chamber below.
You can see on the wall the many scratches where desperate and agonised people tried to claw their way through solid concrete to escape the pain and suffering.
It’s difficult to think of how these people must have felt. In their dozens, some with family and other loved ones, others alone and afraid.
It’s an awful room because you can hear in your head the voices and the cries and the anguished wails of dying humans and the tearing of fingers as they scrabbled desperately at the walls. it’s an awful place and the point of the museum is that we never forget what humans did to fellow humans here.
The final ignominy of course was being loaded one by one into what were called the ovens. They weren’t ovens though, they were incinerators, designed to burn many bodies as quickly as possible.
I can’t imagine the mentality of the people who were tasked to work these infernal devices.
Block 11 is just indescribably sad. It was the base of the Gestapo and the centre of their cruel operations.
People would be brought to Block 11 for minor infractions of rules, or if they were thought to be plotting escape, or for a whole variety of reasons many of which might have been made up on the spot.
Some were locked in cells where they were simply left to starve to death. Some were placed in rooms that were so small they could not even sit down. Access was a small hatch at the bottom of the space. This must have been suffocating and claustrophobic for anyone and such a cruel and unusual way of causing misery and suffering.
A favourite punishment of the Gestapo was to tie the hands of a prisoner behind their backs, then suspend them by the wrists from poles in the ground. They were then simply left to die.
Others were summarily shot at the ‘shooting wall’.
It’s a very sobering experience coming to Auschwitz. I’ve read about it for years and seen stuff on the TV and watched movies but you can’t get the feel for the human cruelty and misery until you’re here. It’s a testament to human nature, a monument to the dead and an awful reminder that this could so easily happen again.
The site at Birkenau was opened when they found they could not cope with the sheer numbers at Auschwitz, so they opened a new camp to help kill more people. The camps are called Auschwitz 1 and 2 as Birkenau was opened as an annexe to Auschwitz, although they’re more popularly known as Auschwitz and Birkenau.
There’s a free bus every 10 minutes or so starting at about 10am from Auschwitz so I took that and spent an hour and a half at that camp. Here’s my feelings on Birkenau.
The bard said that. That’s what you’re all thinking isn’t it? But…he didn’t. For once it wasn’t Shakespear it was in fact Sir Walter Scott who said it. Anyway, this post isn’t about bards or poets it’s about caterpillars! I spotted this bush covered in what I thought at first were spider webs. On looking closer I could see tiny caterpillars, about an inch long and they were very active.
There were thousands of the little critters and I could not help thinking some bird was going to have a scrumptious breakfast for the next month or so.
I don’t know what they grow into, if indeed they grow into anything. It struck me that these tiny little creatures could produce such an enormous amount of web to cover a whole tree and the web was strong enough to not only hold their weight, but also resist the moving of the branches in the wind so that it didn’t tear.
That’s a purely organic process too as the caterpillars produced that web from their own bodies and they’re only tiny so can’t eat that much. It got me to thinking how come we can’t copy that organic process to make things for ourselves? Caterpillars can only eat other insects or plant material so all we have to do is figure out how they turn that into web and replicate the process.
Here’s some more photos of the industrious little creatures.
I left Keukenhof and randomly chose what some of us call aires, or stellplatz, or sostas. They’re dedicated parking areas for motorhomes all over the continent, Sometimes they have water and toilet emptying facilities, sometimes with electric, sometimes with absolutely nothing just a parking spot.
Some charge €2 and some charge up to €20, I never pay more than €5 because I mostly use them for water and emptying my toilet and I can fill my tanks pretty much anywhere, so a fiver is worth it to empty the toilet. Any more than that and I may as well pay for a full site.
The one I chose was only a few miles away and was a bare parking space in a town called Vlaardingen. It turned out to be a good choice as it’s a gorgeous little town with every amenity you could wish for. The parking spot was right next to the canal and there was some lovely boats on the water, many that people live in. It had a 48 hour limit on it which was fine and day 2 was 31 degrees!
Is this a giant! Or am I being Quixotic.
After work we went out for a good walk around and I spotted my very first windmill since coming to the Netherlands. I was a teeny bit excited and it was much bigger than I imagined them to be. It had been turned into a museum and was slap bang in the middle of a housing estate.
One thing I’ve noticed about the Netherlands is that pretty much everywhere you go is clean. The Dutch clearly take pride in where they live and they look after their own homes and the areas around them. It’s very nice to see.
On my last night in Vlaardingen I heard a loud bang and looked outside to see a blazing car. The bang must have been one of the tyres exploding. It was very well ablaze and right next to another car and a building.
Call the fire brigade!
I called the emergency services (113 in Europe) and was pleased to note they spoke English on request. They passed me through to the fire service who also spoke good English.
Another tyre exploded before they arrived but it was dealt with within 2 minutes. Nice to see services in another country in action just to see how they compare. They were very swift and competent.
Anyway that was the excitement over with and I’m leaving Vlaardingen tomorrow. It’s been a lovely visit but I’m moving off to Germany methinks.
This should be fun because there are many, many cities in Germany that disallow access to any vehicle below Euro 4. Mine’s Euro 3. I’m hoping there are plenty of Park and Rides around.
I am very much in support of controlling polluting vehicles but the simple act of banning them from cities and/or charging extra money to use them isn’t I think a great response. It’s a big swindle in fact if you ask me.
Develop better engines and cleaner fuels if you want to move on.
It’s been preying on my mind about A1 clutches. They can’t simply waste an entire day by saying “Come and get your van and take it away we don’t want to work on it.” Besides that I’ve got a 2 year warranty and I don’t want to feel crap about going in if I need to.
So I rang them and spoke to the owner Rick. I went through everything briefly with him and he was good about it, but sort of standing up for his staff, as you’d expect. We agreed that on return to the UK we’d meet up and talk about how to move forward.
Well after all this time of looking forward to Keukenhof tulip gardens, I get here to find I’ve made a horrible mistake.
The car park was easy enough to find but it was of course locked at 1am. So I found somewhere random to park for the night and set about cleaning lenses, charging batteries, formatting memory cards etc. I was all ready!
6:30am UK time (I live on UK time when abroad due to work) I was at the gates and got straight in, the first person in the car park. I had to wait for the gates opening but the sun was out by the time they did and it was a gorgeous day. I picked up a free map of the gardens and set off wandering.
At first all I could find was numerous flowerbeds with colourful flowers in. Lovely to look at but not the fields of tulips I’d come for. I can’t remember the exact moment that it dawned on me that when Keukenhof told me that yes, the tulips were still blooming, they actually meant the gardens, NOT the fields where they are all grown.
I found a viewpoint and saw all of the fields where the millions of tulips are grown…empty. Harvested. Dead til next year. I was totally dismayed.
You have to get over things quickly though. It was some fun just watching the mostly Asian tourists taking their selfies with great enthusiasm: hiding behind displays and popping up with a wild grin to get ‘that shot’, or standing by a display and pointing to it to ensure viewers see the huge flowers, or even posing as if to hug the whole bed of flowers. Total but simple enthusiasm and they were all at it and it was nice to watch. It matters not what you get pleasure from, only that you get pleasure.
Later I was to be seen running madly over the wooden stepping stones that allow you to cross the shallow lake. I was trying to see how fast I could go and not put a foot wrong or end up n the lake. Maybe the tourists might have looked at me and wondered why I wasn’t simply posing by the flower beds.
I call it a disaster but really it wasn’t, it was just a misunderstanding by me and it’s not the end of the world. There’s always next year and the gardens were pretty even though that’s not my thing. little setbacks happen constantly when you’re travelling, especially to new places that are unfamiliar and I’m used to it to some degree so I mostly put it down to experience and enjoy what I did get anyway.
Here’s a few more pictures I shot in the short time I was in Keukenhof:
Ahh I’ve so long wanted to come to Amsterdam. I remember when I was young enough to think it was the capital of Holland and that Holland was a country. Now I know better of course but the excitement still hasn’t left me.
I stayed at what could be called a campsite, Amsterdam City Camp, but really it’s just a decent parking ground for campers. Secure, and you can see from the photo just how secure the gates are, with water and toilet emptying facilities and something I’ve never seen before: the ability to pay per 24 hours.
Most sites allow you to arrive anywhere from 12 pm onwards and expect you to depart before 11 am the next day. However that means on arrival day and departure day you lose a large part of that day, which kind of goes against the grain of a holiday. With this one you pay at the electronic terminal, and you are allowed to stay for 24 hours from that time. It’s a smooth and seamless process and your ticket allows you entry and exit through the pedestrian gate, and exit form the site when you leave.
This without doubt is the way forward for campsites. It’s much better value, it doesn’t take any profit from the owner and it maximises the time you can enjoy your holiday. I mostly enjoy my days sight seeing and travel in the evenings as I’m less likely to be doing anything at that time so for me that method of charging is perfect.
You can see from the second photo just how large this space is. And when you come out it is about 5-10 minutes walk to a free ferry that takes about 10-15 minutes to dock at the amazing central station of Amsterdam.
The ubiquitous bicycles are very apparent everywhere you go. There’s literally thousands of them parked on the streets, in storage racks, in bays, and sometimes just left right by the side of the road. Considering some of these bikes sell for about €2000 I’m surprised people don’t take more care.
There are about 6 rows of these dual story cycle parks on the wharf at Amsterdam central station. These cycle parking stations appeared in several locations, thousands of cycles all safely stored. Some had clearly not been moved for years.
The 2014 movie The Fault in our Stars was about a couple named Hazel and Gus who are both cancer sufferers. A scene from the movie has them sitting on this exact bench in Amsterdam which has since become a shrine for lovers from all over the world. In the picture the young man is holding a leather hat, you can read about this if you follow the link David’s hat.
The canals are as beautiful as they always appear on TV and in photos. I was lucky in that the day I went was a scorcher of a day so I think I saw it at it’s best. you can find more photos in the album but they are only small size for the blog.
Currently in a service area just south of Amsterdam having some lunch and got a knock on the door. A young boy asks if I can help his family then gets back in the car. I go out and the man driving says he is Irish and disabled and has just now been robbed of everything from his car. He is trying to get back home to Ireland and can I help him out in some way. He has no money to get home.
I checked the car which was indeed Irish registered but said he ought to contact the police and the embassy as he was the third Irishman to tell me that story in the last 2 days. That was a fib, but his response was epic as he glibly replied “I think someone must hate the Irish and I don’t know why we’re all great people. “
As I went to get back into my van he spotted the slightly dented door lock which from 10 feet away was a superhuman feat, and said “Oh looks like someone tried to steal your van?” In other words he was checking my locks out.
BEWARE of these kinds of scams!! A handful of kids in the back and a fake disabled badge should not elicit sympathy from these people. Have a reply ready that you’re comfortable with but don’t be tempted to be aggressive because it’s likely there are more of them around.
Finished work, I can see the ferry from here, I will be on it at 10pm to sail to France. I can’t wait!
I get so excited like a big kid lol then I get to French passport control and I start to smile a lot. Then I reach British passport control and I start to laugh. Then we board and I start to calm down because I feel like I’m coming home. There is clearly something wrong with me cos I don’t hate the UK, quite the contrary. But there’s just something about roaming the continent and exploring new places.
Hopefully this visit I’ll get to do Amsterdam finally, and Auschwitz. That’s my two main things. I’d love to go back to Neuschwanstein too but it’s OK if I don’t manage it. The way I’ve worked it out I’ve got until about the end of June before I need to return, and that means I can make another 2 month trip toward the end of the year.
Well there’s a leading title statement. However it’s true in my experience. And if you dislike rants stop reading now and go and watch Tele tubbies or something.
I bought a computer from PC World / Currys back in mid February. It was always designed as a backup PC after the carry on I had in Venice a couple of years ago. It’s a Lenovo C20 which has a 19.5 inch screen, Pentium processor and only 4 gig of RAM despite running Windows 10. It was a relatively cheap machine at £350 but the thing I liked was that instead of the 6 amps that my monster machine uses, this one only uses about 3 amps. For the time I spend at work I don’t need the big one cos I am just in the work interface, so it will save me loads of power over time.
The screen isn’t fantastic but the sound is very good and the machine is very light in weight, so all is well and I am chuffed to bits. Until that is the DVD stops working.
I’ve actually only used the DVD twice, to copy some DVD’s to the hard drive and now it’s stopped working. Windows doesn’t even recognise it at boot stage so something is terminal about the player. I’m going off to the continent soon so I take it back to PC World at Gateshead’s Team Valley who have a KnowHow desk, where all their tech types work.
Except they don’t, because far from simply replacing the DVD it has to be sent off to someone who will do it. It won’t be back til Friday grr Never mind as long as I get it back on time that’s fine. Typical though…the backup fails lol
Anyway Friday comes and goes, so does Saturday, and I have an itinerary to keep so I rang them and said “I’m on my way to Cumbria, can the computer be rerouted?”
“Yes of course.” they say “It will arrive by Sunday at the latest.”
Excellent stuff so I set off to see my friend in Cumbria which I always do when I’m heading south. Sunday came and went and no PC. Monday came and went and no PC. I rang them and said “I have to be in Birmingham tomorrow because the van is booked into a garage. Can you re-route it a second time to the store I bought it from in Birmingham?”
“Yes of course.” they replied, “We’ll send you a text when it’s due to be delivered.”
No problem I thought. That’s what I get for thinking…
Know how…know nothing
So I get a text to say the computer has been delivered can I come and pick it up. I go there and it hasn’t been delivered at all. Many phone calls later it turns out it never did turn up at Cumbria, but was re-routed to Newark as that’s the main distribution centre. So someone ‘thought’ it should have been in Birmingham by now but it was probably en-route from Newark still.
I go away and wait a while and get another text a couple of days later: come and pick your PC up. So I go again and again it isn’t there. Lots of telephone calls by staff and I was on my phone for a couple of hours and it turns out it was never at Newark, it had gone back to Durham distribution centre and was waiting to be delivered down top Birmingham. I was bemused. But apparently the texts are sent by a machine and the machine doesn’t know what’s going on. Or something. But then neither do the staff it seems because at this point neither the store, nor customer services, nor KnowHow know exactly where the computer is.
I was quite irritated and a manager had come down to help deal with it and he said to me “If you would stop jetting around the country and wait for it to catch up with you all this could be avoided.”
I was stunned and explained that I’d waited for it now 3 times and waited at least one day over the date I was given to pick it up in each place. so this could hardly be my fault. I asked then for a refund and he said he was not authorised to give one out, I had to contact customer services. I gave him a piece of my mind and stormed out angry that I was wasting so much time for the sake of a faulty DVD.
It turns out that he lied because refunds are always handled at store level I was told later by customer services.
Leave this store!
Never mind, KnowHow machine knows where it is because it texted me again 2 days later saying it was there, at the same store. So I returned and thankfully the manager wasn’t there (it turns out he wasn’t a manager anyway he was a deputy manager) and I spoke to another deputy manager who said the computer was not there. I started looking around for a video camera in case I was being pranked for Youtube. But no, he was serious.
One of the staff gets on the phone, he gets on the phone, I get on the phone. A half hour later no-one knows where the PC is. I say right, it’s time to re-route it yet again down to Folkstone, which is the nearest store to Dover, as I am catching a ferry in 2 days.
“No it will be delivered tomorrow I am sure of it.” the deputy manager recites yet again. I am flustered with him and yet again show him all the texts I now have on my phone over the last 2 weeks saying that the computer had been delivered and was ready for pickup.
“Why should this time be any different?” I asked. Also, I haven’t got time now anyway. I’m getting on a ferry in 2 days. We end up in a row and I call him an incompetent which he is because he refuses to call the store manager to authorise a refund and he is adamant that the delivery will be tomorrow when I’ve been told it will be delivered ‘tomorrow’ for over 2 weeks. He told me to leave the store hahha
I was so angry I faced him squarely and told him I’d leave when I was good and fucking ready to leave. My Ire was high, I was not in proper control, and I saw in his face that he had not a clue what to do so I left the store.
I was so angry, at the fact it was only a damned DVD drive that failed, no-one knew what was going on, staff just weren’t helpful, and KnowHow is clearly atrociously badly organised. I decided to calm down and set off for Dover in the morning. I had no idea what my next step could be. As it happened I telephoned again later that evening and told the whole sorry tale for about the 5th time to another member of customer services who promised to call back.
Indeed he did call back an hour later and said they had something called Customer Empowerment. It was a scheme devised to help out customers who had experienced service far below the level they should. So, I would be in Dover tomorrow, I could pop into the Folkestone store and pick up a brand new computer to take to the continent with me. It won’t be exactly the same machine as they don’t have any but it will be similar spec and similar money but even if it’s slightly more expensive they’ll let me have it. The manager there has been briefed so it should be a smooth transaction.
Oh and by the way we’re going to refund you £10 for your distress and the diesel you’ve spent driving around shops and the hours of calls you’ve made. I told them to stuff their paltry £10 right up as far as it will go because that’s just insulting, but I was pleased that finally we had a resolution. As if…
So, I pop into the Folkestone store and speak to the manager who knows absolutely nothing about it lol No surprise there really…
He telephones someone about it and gets the details because he said he’d only ever dealt with maybe 3 customer empowerments in his long career with PC World. Sure enough he does not have the Lenovo C20 in, but he does have a few other all-in-ones. The HP was mentioned as being a candidate when the customer service rep spoke to me yesterday. However I can’t have that one I was told as it’s £150 more than the one I’d had.
“What if I pay a little extra? Or maybe we go halfies on the difference?”
“No sorry, I can’t do that, we can’t give discount at store level, there’s so little markup on PC’s as it is.”
I looked at him a little stunned and said “What about customer empowerment???”
He simply stared at the desk and said all he could do was refund me the original purchase price and that despite customer empowerment the store retained authority to make their own decision about what to do. (The deputy manager of Birmingham WAS lying then!) He wasn’t going to budge on this, so I gave my card and got my money back. First thing in the morning I go away still without a backup computer, but not for the want of trying.
You might recall when I had trouble with PC World in Inverness, quite what possessed me to go back again I don’t know but PC World and Currys are now anathema to me and I will not even look through their windows let alone buy from them.
I got to the garage and dropped the van off and me and Jack set off down that lovely canal again. Canals are fab places because there’s water which we’re all drawn to, straight walks away from traffic which most of us enjoy, and of course nature. Bizarrely as we walked a large heron decided to land on the opposite side to us and wait for fish. I know it was 15 feet away across the water but I never though for one minute they were bold enough to be that close to a dog.
Jack was pretty stunned too, he simply stopped and stared at it for ages, maybe waiting for it to do something? Maybe wondering what it would taste like? He’s taken on a herring gull and a goose before so he’s not afraid of large birds, but it sat there nonchalant so we walked on.
I found the same cafe as last time and got a nice cuppa and sat outside with it in the sunshine. When the weather is nice it makes so much difference. We continued our walk and as I randomly walked streets I found my van parked in a garage! Not A1 clutches, a random MOT centre, tucked right away in the side. Just sitting there. I was shocked and wondered if it had been stolen?
I went in and asked about it and apparently the MOT centre is part of the same group as A1 clutches and they had taken the van over their to work on it as it had a free bay. Grr I wish garages would tell you when they do this. This was about 11:30 am and I’d dropped the van off at 8 am so I asked if it had been looked at yet and the guy said he thought so.
Anyway I carried on and 15 minutes later received a phone call from Jaz who was the manager. He said they could not hear the clunking from the front wheel that I had mentioned, so could I come down and show them. I said if you can’t hear it driving then simply test the ball joint as I am convinced that’s what’s at fault. They said that’s not their way to test the ball joint with a lever. I was surprised as that’s how all garages test them because they’re simulating the joint being under load. But anyway he referred to the gas leak I’d mentioned and said the EGR valve was leaking. I replied it was a brand new EGR valve and I’d just had a new EGR tube fitted to the manifold too, but you can see that it’s not the EGR valve leaking, as the soot marks point upwards from below the EGR valve. When you rev the engine you can even see the soot blowing up from down the back of the engine.
So I moved it on and asked if the rear box of the exhaust had been done. he explained not but that it would be better if I attended and as the guys were going on lunch from 1 pm til 2 pm, 2 pm would be a good time. I pointed out that I’d dropped the van off at 8 am, so that would be 6 hours they’d had it by that time and nothing achieved, and I needed it back at 3 pm anyway for work.
At this point Jaz said “Mr Finnigan I resent you saying that we have done nothing to your van all day. Come and get your van. Pick it up and take it away we don’t want to work on it. You can get the work done elsewhere.” I was stunned! I was so stunned I simply said OK and hung up.
The truth is they had done nothing all day. They might have driven it forwards and backwards in what they apparently call a pendulum to recreate the noise I was hearing, but they’d not done the simple, definitive test that every single garage in the UK does, which is apply pressure to the ball joint to test for movement that indicates wear.
They may have decided that the gas leak was from the EGR valve, but if they had looked at the valve and revved the engine they would have instantly seen the soot that spurts up from below the valve, probably from a faulty manifold gasket, or a hole in the exhaust or something.
They may have done something, but it wasn’t much and it wasn’t right either. I did as asked and simply went and got the van and drove it away. An entire day completely wasted. I was too angry to say anything so I left it til another day.
Yes clutches, we’re back to that old chestnut. I need a new clutch yet again.
There’s a ‘fluttering’ noise coming from the clutch when I am in neutral and stationary. It’s not every time and when I depress the clutch the noise goes away. So I asked in one of the forums I’m in for recommendations and A1 Clutches came up. I called them on the phone and they seemed fine so I booked in for a visit.
When I got there it turns out they have a tropical fish tank in reception. I know from Swingbridge autos who also have one that Jack is fascinated by fish tanks. Perhaps he just wants to eat them? Yeah I think that’s it…he just wants to eat them. He wants to eat everything. Including vomit. I think I may do a post one day about nothing other than the things Jack eats.
Anyway, here’s Jack Finding Nemo. or more accurately, trying to eat Nemo. Please,if you have kids don’t let them read! (Disclaimer: no Nemo’s were hurt in the making of this post, I didn’t let Jack eat the fish.
A1 clutches are right next to a canal so I left the van and Jack and I had a lovely day walking along the canal. The sun was shining and there was a little breeze and we hadn’t had proper exercise for a few days so it was nice to look forward to a good walk. I even remembered my sun block!
A1 rang me and said the clutch was done but the clutch fork was very worn so they needed to replace that. The total cost would be about £450 so I said go ahead thinking that might explain why new clutches don’t seem to make much difference.
The job was done fairly quickly and I had the van back at about 1 pm. Interestingly they had added some advisories which I thought was a nice touch. They noted the gear selector was worn, (don’t even start me off about rip off Keldine Autos, or Ford Parts as he calls himself!) the handbrake was slightly high which I knew about and that’s something I’d fix myself later.
Slight engine and gearbox leaks and the gearbox oil was low so they topped that up, well, both leaks go back to shoddy work done by Premier engines when the engine was rebuilt and the gearbox when that was rebuilt by Ford parts/Keldine autos.
They also noted the exhaust was blowing and the rear box needed replacing again I was aware of that so that’s the next job. Crikey, it’s never ending! As I left I noted that the clutch juddered slightly as I let it out, and the bite was quite ferocious. Cross fingers it’s just cos it’s new and I have to get used to it. I’ve booked it in for same time next week to have that exhaust looked at and a couple of other things.
It’s been a very long time since my last post and as this is a sort of personal journal as well as a blog I thought it worth putting something up as a sort of quick update.
I’ve not really been anywhere til the last few weeks, trying to get my van fixed which is proving to be impossible now. Another Peugeot dealer says 2 crank case seals need to be replaced for £1200 and also the turbo for about £900. I took it elsewhere and they fitted a new crankcase breather valve and the oil leak has stopped. £140 as opposed to £2100 at the dealer lol.
I’ve also replace the mass air flow sensor and cleaned the EGR valve and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference at all. I also replaced all the glow plugs with brand new Bosch ones and put some refurbished injectors in, one of which failed so I had to take that back out again. More on that later. Premier engines in Glasgow refused to even answer my emails when I asked them about the leak. I’ve never in my life known such a poor company and Paul Eades is without doubt the most insulting and rude person I’ve ever spoken to.
Anyway, I had a rear wheel bearing replaced and a ball joint and took it back to the people who fitted the new calipers last year as one was binding. That’s all sorted now and I also bought a new water sensor for the fuel filter as the wiring had been damaged by someone at some point, however nothing has made any difference at all: apart from the odd inexplicable occasion I get 22 mpg or thereabouts instead of the 29 I used to get. I cheered myself up by fitting new high security locks on the cab doors.
One bit of cheery news from the last year was when I rang Safeguard to let them know my change of address. The guy I spoke to was ace and he not only changed that but was pedantic about checking details and it turns out I was due a £70 refund! Obviously this year’s premium will be cheaper too so that was a godsend.
Another bit of cheer is that I have just come back from a few weeks in France and Belgium. I managed to get away! I broke down in Belgium but that’s another story lol but I came back as my son is expecting his 3rd child so obviously I want to see that baby. After which…I’m offsky again and I also have some exciting news about that which I’ll share later.
Some more news and some photos of France and Belgium to follow…