Arcade, Pontevedra

Well I left Santiago for 2 main reasons. Firstly I could not find a garage that could do my van, and secondly because I am heartily sick of the non stop rain!

So I got to a little place called Arcade near Pontevedra. It’s a nice enough little town although quite run down with empty and derelict shops and houses. It’s got everything I need, but the main street is a little depressing.

Gungum
Gungum

At least the exhaust bandage held til I got here that FibreFix is a lifesaver. However on the first fine day we had without rain -which was a full week after I got here- I jacked the van up to find that the bandage was drying out and starting to crumble. I’ve got some gun gum so I used that to smear all over the exposed parts of the bandage. Gun Gum is pretty good gear so I am hoping it’s enough to seal the bandage properly until I get the cat replaced. 

Sadly that’s been difficult so far. I checked for garages around this area and could find none that would take a 3.5 ton van. I even visited 2 but they said no. (Thanks Google translate!) I also joined an ex pats forum online and put a shout out in there to ask for help. I was very surprised and quite disappointed when the only replies I got were “learn the language”, “find a translator and pay them to help you” and “Do a google search for mecanicos”. I was so disheartened by this and I spoke to the group owner and expressed my sadness that there was virtually no interest in helping me out. I left the group, so much for friendly, helpful Brits eh?

More bad news. 
After slathering the bandage with Gun gum I started the engine to heat it up and noticed quite a lot of dripping from the front. It turns out the water pump is leaking! *sigh* I would definitely say this van has been a pig on a poke for me, it’s cost me an awful lot of money from day one and being ripped off by garages, even the dealer I always used in the early days means I’ve probably spent more fixing it than I did buying it in the first place. I doubt I’ll ever own another Peugeot again, or indeed an Elddis as the van has had a massive amount of problems as well as the engine. 

I have found one truck garage and emailed them so hopefully even if they can’t speak English they can read the email (Google translated into Spanish) and reply. Most garages don’t reply to emails though but it’s not far so I can pop over there with stuff written down in advance.
However this evening I got a PM from a friend who is near Malaga right now. She is a member of a Spanish motorhome forum and had asked for help in there for me. A guy called Paulo who speaks good English and lives about 5 miles from where I am agreed to help so we spoke on the phone and he is going to check garages out for me. So at least there’s 2 potential solutions. A very positive result given the negativity so far.

 

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Update from Santiago

The weather hasn’t been very good since I got here, so apart from walking the dog and getting my bearings I’ve not really walked anywhere. It’s about 40 minutes into the old town from here and because the rain is on and off I decided to leave it for now. I’ve got tons of photography work to be going on with especially due to managing the change of not using Lightroom and moving over to other software. *groan* 

Broken exhaust
Broken exhaust

Anyway, I looked under the van to find out what’s going on with the exhaust and spotted that there was a clean break in the front part of it. It’s where the front pipe connects to the catalytic converter and the weld has just completely sheared, almost as if it’s been cut.

I wondered if it had as years ago I heard of people cutting cats off cars because they were worth so much money, but it feels as though the break is quite rough and although I can see clean metal most of it is dirty so nothing suggests that it has been cut with anything and thinking back it’s been a while since the van was last left long enough for anyone to do it. Also by the look of it there’s not tons of gas marks, so I suspect it hasn’t been broken long. One thought was I wondered if this could be the culprit for my excessive fuel consumption but again due to lack of gas marks which suggest a long term leak I doubt this has been a real problem. I suppose it’s worth finding out though if a faulty cat can cause other problems?

Anyway I was thinking of what I might be able to repair it with. The break is clean so I can’t use gungum, which may be too flimsy anyway as it’s more of a sealant than an adhesive. Exhaust bandages aren’t much good in my experience and I don’t have one anyway, but I found something I’d bought ages ago to try out called Fiberfix. It’s some kind of tape that you activate in water and then wrap around whatever and it apparently seals hard enough to be able to be used to fix garden fork handles! It actually states it can also be used for exhausts so I tried it out. 

Bandaged exhaust
Bandaged exhaust

They were right too, after 5 seconds in water I started wrapping it around the joint and I could feel it curing n my hand. I was forced to use pliers to get the plastic core loose as when I got to the end it was sticking so strongly that I could not tear it free with my fingers. Bloody amazing stuff. 

I checked it next morning and it appears to be as hard as steel. Whether it’ll be enough to seal the gases in and hold the two parts together when driving is another question. As you can see it’s not the neatest job in the world, the very end is curled over somewhat and that’s where it was curing as I worked so I could not flatten down the last half inch. As I said it was curing in my hand as I worked so from opening the packet to it curing in my hand I’d say it cured in about 3-4 minutes. To the touch it is very hard and at least it looks as though I’ve managed to get enough overlap of each segment of pipe. 

I ran the engine for well over an hour and for the first time in ages my exhaust smelled *bleachy*. That’s a dead giveaway that the cat is working now, so I know it hasn’t been for some time as the exhaust has smelled awful for weeks. It’s still running and although there was quite a bit of smoke in the first 20 minutes, that seems to have disappeared now, so I;m hoping that was burn-off from the cat. This Fiberfix is a minor miracle! Although I still need a garage to sort it out properly.
Cat’s aren’t stupid money anymore now though, I’ve seen them anywhere from £60 to £160 and this one is the original from 2004 when I bought the van so if that’s what’s needed then so be it. Now it just remains to find an English speaking garage near Santiago…

 

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All the way to Spain

Arriving in France

I stayed at Rouen for about a week and it rained every day…I mean every single, solitary day, and most days it rained non stop too. I’ve never seen the river so high there. Anyway, I was wasting my time off work so I decided to do work in between the rain. I finally got the new engine coolant sensor fitted despite it being a 5 hour job because of the rain, and because it’s so difficult to get to. I changed the air filter while I was there and checked the EGR valve solenoid which is working fine, and the valve itself appears to be working. Nevertheless I disabled the valve as it is causing all sorts of smoke and consumption issues. The steel seal seems to have worked in that there is no more smoke coming from the exhaust, but it is still using water and oil much more than it should. I am beginning to believe that the head gasket is gone.

I also got the radiator brackets fitted  and generally tidied up a few things. I did a test drive for an hour and everything was working brilliantly, the temperature gauge is showing the correct temperature finally after a year of being wrong. However unknown to me if you go through a toll booth, turn round after 330 miles and come back through the same plaza, they don’t know what to charge you so they charge you any old thing, in my case €78 lol I emailed them and within a couple of days they had replied and said that this was normal practice and they would refund me most of the money but I should not do that again. Sure enough I got all but €7 back eventually so that turned out OK. 

I was so confident that everything was ok I took off having spent a week in Rouen and now wanting to move on. I headed for Santiago di Compostella which is a town in Spain I’ve long wanted to visit, planning to stay there a day or two then move on to Portugal. The van was returning 22 mpg as if it was a religion so clearly I’m no further forward to finding out why that is. 
The drive down was awful too. I split it over 3 nights in the end because the weather was so bad. The rain continued all the way ranging from really bad to torrential, and the wind started getting really bad. By the time I got to Bordeaux the wind was so bad I had to pull in again and I had to pull in twice more over the next 2 days in Spain for the same reason. It’s really no fun driving in such weather when you’ve got so far to go: it’s tiring and frustrating and when there’s always somewhere to park it’s unnecessary.

Anyway I got to Santiago on Friday afternoon and the van had driven perfectly albeit at 22 mpg as usual (Grr!) and as I pulled into the car park near Santiago I realised the revs were stuck at 1000 rpm. *sigh!* What now! I got out and the engine sounded awful and I could hear a rattling. Looking underneath it seemed that the exhaust was barely hanging on! I’m parked now for a day or two so I’ll have a closer look later.

Portsmouth to Santander
Portsmouth to Santander

Anyway, if I measure my entire journey from Portsmouth, through Rouen and down to Santander in Spain, it’s 857 miles. At 22 mpg that’s 39 gallons of diesel which is 177 litres at roughly €1.32 per litre (because motorway fuel stations overcharge the same way as British ones do) comes out at €233.64 plus the ferry at €117.29 is €350.93
ViaMichelin says the entire journey should be €97.55 in tolls. That’s a total of €448.46. Now I haven’t counted up but I think the tolls amount to much more than €97.55, I’d hazard a guess at around €160 which means a total of €510.93 to get from Portsmouth to Santander. Of course that’s 17 hours of driving too split over 3 days if you want to enjoy the journey and of course there’s wear and tear on the van. 

Now, the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander is £304.50 and takes about 6 1/2 hours. Potentially that’s over €200 cheaper than driving, and if you include driving breaks it’s 2 days faster. It also saves the wear and tear on the vehicle so if you’re not touring for the sake of it, it’s the most sensible route to go. So when I return to the UK, that’s the route I’m taking. 

 

 

 

Arriving in Spain

San Sebastian to Bilbao
San Sebastian to Bilbao

Fresh from the rattle of toll booths leaving France, I faced the same in Spain. A brief flurry of 3-4 booths left me a dozen euros lighter and I wondered if it was going to be this way all the way to Portugal. I reset my satnav to avoid all toll roads from now on, I was paying small sums but every few miles and it was all adding up. 
Added to that was my despondency generally as Spain was not what I expected. Granted of course my view was simply from the road, but it was non stop industrial areas, graffiti everywhere and a general run down feel about it. Everything seemed grey and dirty and old and when I came off the motorway to avoid tolls it was worse. I got to San Sebastian as planned to find the aire was seriously jammed, so no staying there overnight. But the journey through town left me almost pleased that this was the case. It was a run down area, old dilapidated buildings, graffiti covering almost everything in sight including vehicles, and empty and boarded up buildings. There was no feel good at all about this place and I decided tired as I was I was going to head on further to Bilbao. I let the dog out for a wee and I made a cuppa and off we went.

Near Bilbao
Near Bilbao

Some time later I decided to go back onto the motorway. The weather was awful and the roads were as windy and steep as any I’ve encountered in Switzerland or Austria. I was already tired and really couldn’t enjoy it so I decided the motorway was the way to go even if it cost me. In fact the next few hours to Bilbao cost me only one toll of about €3 despite ViaMichelin telling me it would cost about €13.  Anyway I found the aire at Cobaron just outside of Bilbao and it was a car park right above the beach, so I swiftly got my head down for some much needed sleep, of which I got plenty 🙂

This was my view the next morning. I heard the waves last night and I could even feel them thumping against the shore, despite being about 30 metres above the sea level!

There was loads of people about and the sun was out so it was a lovely change, the first time there was no rain for about 9 days. Jack and me made the most of it of course, including Jack having a sniff of the 4 horses that someone was feeding in the picnic area. 
So far the only resource I’ve used to find somewhere to park for the night has been searchforsites.co.uk. I have others but have not needed them yet. I’ve used SFS to find somewhere to park near Santiago di Compostella. I’ve wanted to go there for years so although I’m heading for Portugal, Santiago is definitely my next stop.

 

Tolls and banks and mechanical problems

So I don’t hit another toll booth until I’m almost at Santiago, and it’s only €5.30 so I go to pay and *shock* my Monzo card is declined! Now I know I have about £150 on it so maybe it’s the magstripe? I hand over my main bank account debit card which I’ve had to do from time to time, *horror* it’s declined! WTF?

So in desperation as I’ve got no cash at all, I hand over my Tesco credit card. *surprise* it works! Well that I just don’t get. So I rang the bank and said not only was it declined, but I can’t log in online and I can’t login via the app. After 40 minutes of being online a techie informed the agent that for some weird reason my account did not exist on the system lol Could only happen to me eh? They’ll ring me when they get it sorted. 
As I’m stuck if I don’t get some money, I tried my Monzo card and luckily it was able to top it up, so I put a few hundred on to it just in case the bank can’t sort everything out in a timely manner. Oddly my Revolut card said it could not authorise a deduction from that card, yet Monzo did? I wonder if Monzo sort of ‘trust’ you and allow the transaction until it can go through properly?

Anyway, I found the parking spot in Santiago, or about a mile outside of the old town, and as I went to park I noticed that the engine would not drop below 1000 rpm. It’s supposed to idly at 750 and always has. I stopped and got out to have a look and the engine sounded odd, and there was a whiff of exhaust gas. I went to the exhaust and heard it rattling slightly so I looked underneath and it’s proper rattling as if it’s not even attached! So, that’s another problem to resolve in the morning!

Time for a little light entertainment methinks….*goes to put a film on*

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December update

Yet more dodgy garages…

I decided to get the coolant changed as I’d used K seal thinking it might help if there were minor head gasket problems. As it happened the K seal did absolutely nothing but at least I tried. When I was getting the coolant changed in Barrow the mechanic there spotted a gouge in one of the hoses. He said it looked at though it had touched something hot and melted a furrow into the rubber. I also noticed as he worked, smearing grease all over the front of my van from his overalls, that the radiator was loose. The brand new one I just got fitted in Germany! There’s 2 mounts to hold it to the top crossbar and one was completely missing while the rubber bush on the other was destroyed. So much for German efficiency eh?
Anyway we could not fathom how the gouge got there and I could not fathom how he’d spotted it, but I got a new one from Guy Perry in Barrow along with 2 new radiator mounts. I could not get the bolts for the mounts as they were only sold in packs of 5 and 10 apparently so 4 bolts would cost me over £40 lol.
The mechanic also spotted that the accessory belt was ‘shiny and should not be’. So I also got a new belt from EK in Barrow and guess what? It’s shiny in the exact same way the existing one is. Hmmm.
The main thing was the coolant was drained (right onto the tarmac of the car park) and the system flushed and that was what I’d gone for. However I’d not go back to that garage again, they’re unprofessional and I think they deliberately damaged the hose. I got it replaced in Wales and you can clearly see it’s not melted, it’s been cut. Besides, there is nothing at all that could possibly melt it. Also I don’t think I needed a new accessory belt at all. I think they’re simply touting for work.

Next stop the Midlands at Best Turbos. The point here was to get the turbo assessed by specialists to eliminate it as a problem. They did their diagnostic and after a few hours determined that the turbo was absolutely fine but the EGR needed blanking as they felt that was causing a problem. He’d used a 2p piece to blank it off and so the clip could not fit properly around the pipes. *Sigh* Are there ANY professional garages at all!?

Some jobs to do
Some jobs to do

Wales and putty

Anyway from Ulverston to Walsall the van got 28 miles per gallon. First time in ages it’s done that. I had disabled the battery to battery charger til I got new fuses for it so I wondered if that had a bearing. From Walsall to Cardiff I got the same mileage again so I was ecstatic. Sadly the next day I drove an hour to get to Ridds Ramps in Aberdare and I was right back to 21 mpg. Grr. I bought some Steel Seal as it is supposed to be the very best product for minor head gasket problems which I was beginning to think I might have. 
So the underseal went OK. Cheap at £95 but I only got what I paid for, it’s not the most professional job ever. No worries, for that price I got what I expected and at least it helps. The last MOT mentioned corrosion as an advisory so it was worth doing. The lads at Ridds Ramps couldn’t have been nicer but they need to sort out their customer area. Currently it’s an old greasy leather sofa which is right at the entrance to the unit. When a car drove in I instinctively put my foot out to ward it off as it was so close. Still the job was done and that’s the main thing.

I found a motor factor place in Aberdare too and he had the exact exhaust extension I needed and at a brilliant price of £8.25! The skirt on the offside is corroded partly due to the brand new exhaust not being long enough to clear the underside edge of the van. I’ll get this fitted later on.

While I was there I went to put the new radiator hose on but it had these odd clips that I could not get off. I found a random garage who said they’d take it off and put the new one on for a tenner. I put the Steel Seal in though and wonder of wonders, I found that it reduced the smoke from the exhaust considerable. I’ve no idea what that means except there must have been some slight leak and that has now been fixed. 1 small step closer to getting sorted? 
I popped to the garage to get the new hose on and he agreed the old one had not melted, partly because there simply is nothing whatsoever near it that could possibly have melted it.  Once it was off it was very clear it was not a melt mark but a cut. 

Now at the garage this guy Rob, he was draining the coolant out and used an old washing up bowl to collect it. I liked that for a start as the other garage had simply dumped it in the car park. He chatted to me as he worked and it turns out he knows these engines inside out! He showed me where the engine temp sensor fits and a couple of other things I didn’t know but he surprised me the most when he picked the bowl of coolant up and smelled it and said it had Kseal in. He could not possibly have known that, he said he could smell it as it smelled like putty. I liked this guy, for one here was a mechanic who was uninterested in diagnostic codes, but knew engines. He told me the EGR system was likely to be my main problem and these engines are renowned as reliable and efficient. Anyway, hose changed, tons of info given, and we agreed when I came back in spring I’d pay him to sort the engine out whatever was needed. 

Cantering to Canterbury

He’d lifted my spirits so much I decided to book a ferry! Last minute through the Caravan and Motorhome Club but despite being christmas eve-eve it was only £105 for me and Jack. I found a garage in Canterbury near the ferry port who would sell me the bolts for the radiator mounts for only £4. Better than Guy Perry’s. I also got more coolant, some oil, and a few other things while there. I had noticed by now that for some reason I had 25 amp fuses in the battery to battery charger. It puts 50 amps out so no wonder the fuses were melting! Technically they should have just blown though, otherwise they could have started a fire. 

The oil filter is so tight it feels like it was put on by the Tory party, so I got a chain filter wrench in Halfords for a fiver, and got a few new fuses for the battery to battery charger. The biggest standard spade type fuses they had were 40 amps so that will have to do for now until I make some 50 amp ones.

While here I went to asda and also managed to find some 00 grade flour for making pasta. Good find! Boxing day will be home made tagliatelli with creamy mushroom and bacon sauce, a delicious recipe courtesy of my Italian friend. 

Last stop Dover to get the van washed and wait for the ferry. I’m a little bit excited!

Damaged water hose
Damaged water hose

PS: Doesn’t look melted to me, it looks to me like it’s been cut. What do you all think?

 

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Jack enjoys a fountain

We stayed in St Venant for about a week. It’s a free aire just on the edge of a small town in France, right by a canal. The walks along the canal were lovely and we went for miles one day. I hadn’t taken any lunch or water or anything so Jack was OK slurping out of the canal, but I was a bit thirsty and hungry when we got back after about 5 hours. 

Never mind we loved our walk and the weather was great most of the time.  The parking area was right next to what looked like a tiny park. There were 3 chestnut trees there and hundreds of some of the biggest conkers I’ve ever seen all over the ground. I picked a dozen up for the grandson so I could teach him how to play when I get back to the UK. 

Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.
Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.

Anyway, the first morning I awoke to several voices all happy and obviously bantering but I could make out little of what was said. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of the steel balls of petanque. I looked out and sure enough, there they were, all merrily playing their game amongst the conkers.  I love the whole idea of what they do because the community comes together to play a social game, they chatter and banter together, men and women – young and old. I’d seen this at the Boulodrome in Estaires and took a photo there too as it happens. 

As it turns out these people met every morning briefly and every afternoon to play their game. There were also many who like me, simply sat and watched them play because it was relaxing and fun to watch others enjoying themselves.

Anyway so in St Venant there’s a lovely Boulangerie and Patisserie that I frequented. I bought a loaf called Allouette and she cut it into slices for me and it was delicious, like real proper bread should taste, not the doughy, sticky crap we get at home. Sure Warburtons make some nice loaves as do Hovis, but they cost a stupid price. This large loaf was handmade, exceptionally tasty, bigger than a standard Warburtons loaf and only €1.20. And don’t get me started on the cakes….

So on the way to the bakers is a council office with some fountains outside and as it was a hot day I let Jack at the water to see what he would do.  Here’s some videos of him playing… 

 He only really learned how to do this in Salzburg. Prior to that he was always a bit shy of going into moving water, although seas and rivers didn’t bother him. But he got the taste for it in Salzburg and now he can’t get enough!

This is what life is about. Nice places, nice people, nice memories.

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First World Problems

My pan...over-simmering
My pan…over-simmering

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!

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Germany, an update.

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.

Greasy streaks left on my door
Greasy streaks left on my door

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! 

 

 

Update: 

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. 

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Border guards, squealing trains and ticks!

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. 

Steep bit
Steep bit

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.

Squealing trains

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!

Ticks

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. 

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Gois, Austria

Gois from Wals
Gois is a couple of miles distant from Wals but can be seen clearly over the flat farmland.

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!

Sandwiches anyone?

Shade
On a day of 35 degrees I had been walking for hours when I spotted this lone tree shading a small bench. A perfect respite from the scorching heat. The village of Gois is in the background.

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?

Jack says hello
Jack really cannot contain himself when there’re other animals to greet. The horse was unsure about going for a full blown kiss but had Jack been 6 inches taller he’d have been over the wall.

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?

Unexpected art
Another bench in the shade, another rest for me and my dog. And there almost in the middle of nowhere is an art structure. Talk about unexpected.

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.

 

 

 

 

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Wals, Austria

This tiny village sits at the foot of the mountains in Walsberg Austria.

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…

Church of no name
Many churches in Austria appear to have no specific name, this one even on it’s website being called the Parish Church of Walsberg. It was the cemetery I’d come to see with it’s very elaborate and well kept graves.

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
I loved this official school drop off point which indicates in the nicest possible way that there’s no waiting.

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.

Hello Innsbruck, I’m coming to see you!

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What do you do for ten dollar….

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 🙂

Blonde in T shirt
Blonde in T shirt
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Vienna, Austria

The Kunsthistorisches Museum
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is an art museum in Vienna, Austria.

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.

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Linz, Austria

Rural village
Nestled at the foot of some hills in the Austrian countryside this village looks as quaint as can be.

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.

House on a hill
This looks like it could be a monastery sited on a hill above a small village. I never did find out what it was.

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.

Framed sunset
During the journey from Vienna to Linz I stopped at a motorway service station and managed to catch this sunset.

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…”

Chain man
I found this odd looking statue by a boat on the river. He must be the captain of the ship.

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. 

Dining out…

The Ubiquitous McD's
It doesn’t matter where you go in the world you’ll find a McDonalds.

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.

Pleasure cruise
When you look at the peaceful view across the Danube it’s hard to believe that Adolf Hitler spent his youth here and always considered Linz as his home.

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.

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Tick that box, and that ear!

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. 

The biggest tick I've ever seen.
A normal sized tick and a huge one that I got out of Jack’s ears.

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!

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Nova Bystrica, Slovakia

The view
Just as you enter Nova Bystrica, this must be one of the best views I’ve ever seen anywhere.

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. 

Slovakia is good to me 🙂

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Breza, Slovakia

High Tatras
As you leave Poland and enter Slovakia you’re treated to this view of the High Tatras mountains in the distance.

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.

Coffee bar
Mid day the village is deserted. I wondered if this was the hub of the village at night time.

Being followed

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.

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Revolut…money revolution?

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.

Revolut card
Revolut card

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. 

 

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Krakow

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. 

Painted wall
It doesn’t seem to matter where you go in the world there is always graffiti. Krakow

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…

Browsing in the market
The Cloth hall has dozens of small stalls inside and is a major draw for tourists.

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. 

Tourist trap

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. 

Vistula river from Wawel hill
The Vistula river goes through the heart of Krakow and is a large draw for people wanting to escape the heat of the day.

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. 

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Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow

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. 

Stairway to heaven
The staircase drops a dizzying 80 meters and this gap goes all the way from the top to the bottom. It’s quite disorienting looking down and it’s very narrow.

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. 

Wood support
Because of the corrosive environment all of the supports are made of wood, which is not affected by salt.

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. 

Copernicus
One of the most famous sons of Poland, Copernicus is revered and that’s reflected in this statue of him which has been carved out of salt.

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.

Salty characters
The level of detail in some of the sculptures is amazing. The raw salt is very hard but easy to work with.

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!”

Pushy family

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. 

Stairs
Some areas of the mine have decorative entrances for no other reason than it can be done.

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? 

Chapel of salt
This amazing chapel is constructed entirely from salt. The Polish are mostly Roman Catholics, about 90% apparently, so religious idolatry is everywhere.

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. 

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Birkenau death camp – Auschwitz 2

Entrance to Birkenau
This famous view was long thought to be of Auschwitz 1. However it is the entrance to Auschwitz 2, Birkenau which was built in 1944.

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.

Here’s some more photos of Birkenau

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Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps – Auschwitz 1

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.

Early sunrise at Auschwitz
It wasn’t even 5am but the sun shone magnificently through the trees at the edge of 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.

Aging buildings
The buildings of Auschwitz are now more than 80 years old, it’s accepted that they are going to show major signs of ageing and wear.

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

Work makes you free
Even as they were brought into the camp the Nazis pretended they would be given jobs and cared for. They were however worked and tortured to death.

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. 

Chain link security
Chain link fencing keeps people from getting into Auschwitz now, rather than for keeping them from escaping.

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.

Ceiling vents
The vent in the ceiling was there the gas was dropped into the chambers. The scratches on the far walls are allegedly those of the prisoners trying to escape in their agony.

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. 

Production line of death
Two of the four incinerators used to burn the dead. The Germans almost had a ‘production line’ mentality to killing and disposal.

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

Through the spyhole
Below ground, these cells would be filled with people who were simply locked away to die of starvation.

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. 

Bleak sunshine at Auschwitz
The bright sunshine belies the bleak and dark history this death camp had for millions of souls

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

As ever here’s a few more photos of my visit. 

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Oh what a tangled web we weave…

Tree covered in websThe 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.

Caterpillar harvesting?

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. 

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Vlaardingen, Netherlands

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.

A windmill
The first windmill I’ve seen since I come to the Netherlands.

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. A car on fire

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. 

Environmentally friendly

The Dutch fire service dealing with a burning carI 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.

Here’s a few photos from the town of Vlaardingen.

 

 

 

 

 

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A1 clutches part 2a

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. 

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Keukenhof…the disaster

Keukenhof gardens
Keukenhof gardens

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Lisse, Netherlands

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. 

Red tulips at Keukenhof gardens
Red tulips at Keukenhof gardens

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. 

Moving on…

White flowers at Keukenhof
White flowers at Keukenhof

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:

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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. 

 Amsterdam City CampI 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.

Amsterdam City CampThis 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. Bicycle parking

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.

David's hatThe 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. 

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