Kiri and


Saved by a Slovak

June 26th, 2014 (by Steve)

What is it about us and water? Nearly every single issue that Bertha has faced is to do with water… damp problems in the habitation area, leaking water heater, leaks in the roof, missing water tank cap… and once again.

We’d planned to do a short drive from our campsite in Bratislava to Devin Castle, so we did the standard emptying of the loo and filling up with fresh water at the campsite before we left, then set off on our way. We were just lamenting not being able to stock up with food at Lidl on the way (they were charging 2 Euros per hour to park there!), when suddenly there was a big clunk, followed by the sound of something scraping along the road. With hazard lights flashing, we checked mirrors, then slowly drifted into the side of the road to investigate. Kiri was first out of the van, therefore she discovered the culprit first; one of the brackets holding our fresh water tank had snapped, leaving the tank perilously close to the ground (but still intact) and the bracket in intimate contact with the road surface. Now the tank has appeared to have been getting lower for a while, but not really knowing what we could do about it, we’d chosen to ignore it. Probably a bad call. We were now stuck by the side of the road, at a bit of a loss. We got out our warning triangle and hi-viz jackets and decided the best course of action would be to lighten the tank (by draining off water), then use duct tape to hold it off the ground.


We were in the process of draining the water when a police car passed us… and didn’t stop. We were just about to start the duct tape fix when a Landrover stopped in front of Bertha and a guy in a suit got out. Now I’ve never met an angel before, so I’m not sure whether this guy actually was an angel, or just an incredibly selfless, kind and loving person. He asked us what the problem was, so we explained our plan with the duct tape and that we’d try to get back to the campsite to re-assess, as we’d probably need to find someone to fashion a new bracket for us. He was having none of it and, giving us his phone number, he said he lived in the next village and he would get it fixed for us. We’d just finished our temporary fix with the duct tape (great stuff!) and were gingerly heading towards the village, when we received a text message:

“Three miles, village Devin, right turn follow main road, up hill, church, doublepark on right, ring me, wait one minute. Tools and parts ready. Eddie”

Upon arrival, we did as instructed and sure enough, Eddie turned up with wire, ratchet straps and a guy called Mickey who was doing some building work on his house. He then proceeded to instruct Mickey in securing the fresh water tank properly to the sound parts of the frame, ensuring that the sharp edges of the metal frame wouldn’t cause the straps to fray. Half an hour later, Bertha’s water tank was more securely slung under the chassis than it’s ever been in our ownership. As Eddie said, under the Communist regime, you couldn’t just take your car to a mechanic, so you learned to fix things with whatever you had. Refusing payment of any sort (although we did give him a tin of Earl Grey tea), he asked us if there was anything else he could help us with before waving us on our way.


So… that was that then. We were once more on our merry way! We were ravenous by the time we arrived at Devin Castle at about 2:30, so treated ourselves to a meal out before climbing up the hill. The castle offers incredible views from its strategic position where the Danube and Morava rivers meet and there are interesting remains of various fortifications from over the years at the top of the hill. I’m not sure that we appreciated it quite as much as it deserved though, because we were still a little bewildered from the events of the previous few hours.


After a noisy night in the castle car park (we were the victims of the noise, not the perpetrators), we set off up towards the Czech Republic, planning to stop in Malacky overnight en route. Sadly, the overnight stop wasn’t suitable so after stocking up on baked beans and mature cheddar at Lidl (it’s British week there apparently) we moved on to Austria. As you do. We’re getting quite used to having to improvise!

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Slovakia, we meet again

June 24th, 2014 (by Steve)

We didn’t really want to leave Lake Balaton, but we realised that as we wouldn’t be able to stay there forever, we should probably move on. Now as I may have mentioned before, you can’t go to Hungary without visiting a spa – it’s a bit like going to Serbia and not having pljeskavica. We’d already missed two opportunities and we weren’t going to miss a third. Well, actually, our third opportunity was the Heviz Thermal Lake, but as we’d been swimming for free in Lake Balaton for the previous few days, we didn’t really fancy paying to swim in a different lake. Instead, we headed up to the town of Papa where there’s a campsite with an adjoining (discounted for campers) thermal spa. Not just any spa though, this one has jacuzzis, rapids and flumes. Now that’s our type of spa!


After exhausting the flumes, it was time to say goodbye to Hungary and move back into Slovakia. We’d spent some quality time in rural Slovakia before Hungary, so this time we set sail for Bratislava to see what the urban side of the country is like. Our campsite was about a 20 minute tram ride out of the city on a low-key Butlins-type lakeside resort, which we would probably describe as at the rustic end of the spectrum. It was a good location for seeing the city though and we had a great time exploring the area of the old town. There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging when we arrive in a new city; we seek the high ground so that we can see the big picture; in this case it was the castle providing the vantage point. We didn’t go to any museums or sights particularly, but just enjoyed wandering around and noting the penchant the Bratislavans seem to have for bronze statues…


By mid-afternoon, we could feel the call of the lake back at our campsite and we didn’t resist it. As it’s part of a resort, there were all sorts of water sports going on at the lake including a cool wake-boarding / cable car mash-up, pedalo boats and kayaks, but we were more interested in some giant inflatables near the swimming area. They were obviously just setting up for the season, as we were asked to return to shore after about 5 minutes of playing on the inflatables and come back in an hour. At this stage, we got chatting to another couple who had been relegated to the beach area; Dan and El who are 3 weeks into a 4 week Interrailing adventure around Europe. As we’ve said before, it’s great talking to fellow travellers to appreciate other people’s viewpoints of the same places. An American girl joined in the conversation temporarily, but was obviously a little inebriated, offering gems of wisdom such as “Prague is totally my favourite city in like the whole of America” and lamenting “I’m from Florida, so don’t have a cute little accent like you guys”.


After returning to Bertha for dinner, we had a great evening with Dan + El next to their barbecue, chatting further about each others travels and aspirations for the future. It was hard to believe at times that they’re 10 years our junior and its further proof that age is just a number. When it was no longer light enough to see each other, we decamped to Bertha and played cards until well past all of our bedtimes.


We think we deserved our lie-in… in fact we might have stayed in bed a bit longer if we knew the challenges that we’d face today… but that story’s for another time!

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Snakes and ladders

June 12th, 2014 (by Steve)

What’s the best way to get down a mountain? Some might say on skis, or snowboards. Others might choose a more sedate option of a cable car. Others might suggest that legs are made for walking. And me? It has to be a toboggan run. Ever since the first time I went on a summer toboggan run in Dürrnberg, Austria a few years ago, I have questioned why these are not compulsory on every mountain. I tried to contain my excitement when I read that there was a summer toboggan run in Tatranská Lomnica… and I was wise to do so, as it’s just a self-contained loop rather than something that takes advantage of the mountain’s topography. However, at 3 Euros a pop, it had to be sampled (without touching the brakes obviously). Happy after a pleasant ride, it was time to leave the mountains and head a little deeper into Slovakia.


I felt a bit bad dragging Kiri away from the mountains she loves so much, but we were heading for a beautiful campsite in the Slovensky Raj national park. At 7.50 Euros per day, it’s not breaking the bank and it’s a small price to pay for facilities and security (police vehicles appeared to patrol the campsite at least twice a day!). We even had a view of the Tatra mountains that we’d left behind and on the sunny evening we arrived, it was ideal weather for a barbecue. We headed to the campsite shop to buy meat. No meat. No barbecue.


Our first full day at the campsite was a Sunday, but as all of the nearby churches seemed a little intimidating, we decided to worship God in His creation by going on one of the gorge walks that Slovensky Raj is famous for. The day promised to be another scorcher and with an early start under our belts, we headed for the shade of what was described as the quietest gorge of the park; Piecky. The free leaflet also suggested that we

Make a stop at the places where you feel the presence of depth and flow of time

We’re not sure what that means, but we kept it at the back of our minds as we entered the the gorge, accompanied only by the call of birds and the burbling of the crystal clear stream. We really are in a beautiful part of the world… but I couldn’t help but get a little sentimental as I thought back to a family member’s recent tweet; “foston flower festival. In the tea tent in the rain. #veryenglish“. Anyway, back to the gorge – we were guided along the stream by yellow markers painted onto the trees. At first, these weren’t really needed as the path was pretty clear, however after a while things got a bit trickier and it wasn’t clear which side of the stream we should be on. Should we listen to Abba or Ghostbusters? (“I’ll cross the stream” vs “Don’t cross the streams”). Sometimes it was just easier to walk in the stream! We then reached our first waterfall. With a long metal ladder. The only way was up (baby?). Now this is more like it! What followed from then onwards was a network of wooden and metal bridges, ladders, handholds and footholes as we navigated ever upwards to the top of the gorge. So much more fun than a normal walk!


Once we got to the top, the path joined with that of another gorge walk (Sucha Bela), from which hordes of tourists were pouring suddenly; we were glad we’d chosen the quiet route! After a quick spot of lunch, we faced the realisation that there was no cable car to get back down to the campsite. Or a toboggan. Walking it was then! After descending for an hour and a half (and seeing a snake… or maybe it was a slow worm?), the lump on my knee was the size of a golf ball and my hayfever, which had been bad all day, reached new heights of annoyance. The medicinal effects of icecream worked wonders on both though, sustaining us until we collapsed in the shade of Bertha 15.4km after leaving her that morning. It was here we remained until dinner time… ideal weather for a barbecue. We headed to the campsite shop to buy meat. No meat. No barbecue.


That’s twice now that we’ve been denied a barbecue by lack of meat, so the following day we made it our quest to find meat (besides, our other food was running a little low). We therefore set out on a lovely stroll to the nearby village of Hrabušice, where we found a little food shop. Our choice of meat was frozen chicken or unidentifiable frozen meat (bear? otter? who knows!) and as we didn’t fancy de-frosting stuff, we gave it a miss, instead just buying vegetables using the age-old method of pointing and hoping that the Slovakian numbers I said were correct. Laden with our 40 carrots (only joking!), we returned to the campsite and evaluated the rest of the day. We both would have loved to tackle another gorge, but the prospect of having to do another downhill made my Ibuprofen-laden knee wince, so we decided to make it a day off.

Dinner time came… ideal weather for a barbecue. We headed to the campsite shop to buy meat. You know the rest. Barbecued carrot anyone?

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Ah mountains, how we’ve missed you

June 6th, 2014 (by Steve)

Satnavs are never wrong. Ever. Points of interest that you’ve loaded into them are also never wrong. Ever. And routes chosen to get to said points of interest (in this case a campsite) are never wrong. Ever. And it is precisely for these reasons that we found ourselves on a narrow path which looked like it had been broken up by the result of some tectonic plate movements, whilst being brushed on all sides by trees. But we were definitely going the right way and there would definitely be a campsite at the end of it. There wasn’t. Hey, at least we didn’t have to go back the same way… oh, wait, yes we did!

What with both the campercontact POI and the TomTom POI for our planned campsite leading us to places which wouldn’t remotely look like campsites, even if you screwed up your eyes really tightly, we did what anyone in our position would do; retire to a Lidl car park to re-assess and get online. Alas, there was no internet signal, so we winged it and stopped at the first campsite we saw at the side of the road. The access to it was… ummm… a bit of a steep descent, but the price was right and after a conversation in a mix of Slovakian, German + English (conducted whilst stroking a lovely dog who gave us a very enthusiastic welcome), we realised that we had somehow landed ourselves on a beautiful terraced campsite next to a stunning reservoir. A great place to spend our first night in Slovakia. Spontaneity 1, planning 0!


The following morning, we soaked up the surroundings, topped up and emptied the necessaries and had a couple of slightly disappointing showers before trying to leave. Yes, I used the word “trying” there. Bertha doesn’t like going up hills. Especially when her engine’s not fully warmed up. On the first attempt, we got half way up the hill before stalling, so rolled back down to get a bit of a running start. The second time was better (with a little more choke), getting us up to the corner, where once again we stalled (this time, my bad clutch control after a bit of wheel spin). Back to the start (where the campsite team were watching this amusing spectator sport). This time, Kiri got out and ran ahead of Bertha, which seemed to be the motivation that Bertha was waiting for, as she made it all the way to the top, with no problems at all. We were on our way and boy, did we have some lovely views during the drive.


Our destination was the ski resort of Tatranska Lomnica, with the promise of a free car park. This time our trusty TomTom didn’t let us down and after a quiet night in the shadow of the mountain, it was time to explore. Now I’m not sure whether our previous blog posts, photos or videos of the trip so far have fully communicated how much Kiri loves mountains? It’s a lot and as we were so close to this one, there was no getting out of climbing it (not that I really wanted to get out of it). Ideally we wanted to get to the very top (Lomnický štít), but with no walking routes and at a cost of 26 Euros each to use the cable car from the 2nd station (Skalnaté Pleso) up to the peak, we decided instead that we could cope with just hiking up to the 2nd station.

It was a stunning walk and the weather was just right; a mix of sunshine and cloud (with the occasional spot of rain) ensured that we didn’t get too hot, but that it was nicely pleasant. Rather than taking the most direct route, we chose to walk across the mountain to Hrebienok, then up from there. This provided us with mainly forest walking throughout the 11km hike (it sounds more if you write it in kilometres rather than miles!) on a path reinforced with large boulders. There were some awesome, thundering waterfalls on the way and some cracking viewpoints from which we could (almost) spot Bertha hundreds of metres below us (898 to be precise once we were at the top). Actually, we didn’t make it to the “proper” top, but we did get to Skalnaté Pleso, which gave us some pretty good views up to the peak.


And here came our dilemma… we had to get back down. Now I’ve got a dodgy knee (after an accident with some Heelys 8 years ago… don’t ask!) and even with the use of walking poles, going downhill is quite painful. However, a single ticket on the cable cars down to the car park came to 13 Euros each. Should we walk, or be carried? Kiri (with her greater fitness level than me and lovely knees) was up for walking, whereas I was up for being carried. We toyed with the idea of a compromise of separate descents (I bet you thought the compromise was Kiri carrying me!), but I wasn’t happy about Kiri on her own on a mountainside. She had a point when she said she’d done the whole coast to coast on her own, therefore she would have been fine in this situation too, but in the end she saw sense (can I get away with saying that?!). 26 Euros later, we were sitting in Bertha, replenishing our salt levels with crisps and nuts and replenishing lost fluid with a lovely local beer (as well as water – don’t worry Mum!).


We really have missed the mountains – don’t get us wrong, the flatlands of northern Europe have been beautiful – but mountains are something else.

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