Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas on the River

For the first time for many years, we had found ourselves with no plans for Christmas.  I am sure my sister would have invited us, but we didn't want her to feel she had to, so we were pro-active and booked a lunch-time cruise on the Thames, leaving from Westminster Pier. 

On Christmas Day, of course, there is no public transport in London, but one can park, so we drove up to Westminster and found a parking-space behind Westminster Central Hall, about ten minutes' walk from the pier.  Boarding was supposed to start at 11:30, but when we arrived, about ten minutes earlier, they had already begun - and we were glad we had not been much later, since the queue behind us swelled to alarming proportions!  In fact, there were three boats making the cruise.

We had booked a window table, and, once our ticket had been checked, were escorted to it with a glass of sparkling wine.
  As soon as we sat down, our first course - a salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon and served with salad - was brought to us, but the boat did not leave its moorings until the scheduled time of noon.
The boat headed down river, under the bridges, past all the sights.  There was a singer-cum-commentator who did a fantastic job telling us where we were.  Many of the other people on the boat were tourists, from the United States and elsewhere.  We were able to spend time up on the deck, but it was too cold and dank to linger for long.  The next course was soup:
and once we had got past Tower Bridge
the main course of roast pork and all the trimmings (there was a vegetarian option, but we hadn't ordered it) was served, and then the pudding, which was some kind of straciatella cheesecake with a very nice fruit compote on the top. 

By this time, we were at Greenwich.  The boat paused at one of their piers, presumably to take on fuel, and went down the river nearly as far as the Thames Barrier.  Then it turned round and came back past the O2
 the Cutty Sark,
 the Shard
 Shakespeare's Globe,
 the Millennium Bridge
 Tate Britain,
 the Oxo Tower
 and, finally, the Houses of Parliament. 
Then the boat docked back at Westminster to end a most enjoyable cruise.  And then, because we could, we drove around part of Central London where one normally can't because of the Congestion Charge, and  saw the lights in Regent Street (we thought they were wasps at first, but it turned out to be angels!) and the big department stores.  And so home, and a much-needed nap!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

France, 20 December

I dashed into the Carrefour this morning to get a baguette for lunch and some yoghurts for supper, and thought, suddenly, while I was in there that all was not quite well inside.  Sadly, I was in for a tummy-upset, and by the time we got home (which we did, very quickly and easily), all I wanted was the loo and my bed, in that order!  So no Christmas concert for me, and probably no Christmas meal with the Daughter, either.  Ah well.  At the time of writing (21 December, evening) it is passing, but not the end to the holiday one would have hoped for!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

France (was Belgium), 19 December

So the big question was, what to do today?  We decided to pay a return visit to Cambrai, a town we had liked very much on a visit some years ago.
The Satnav took us straight there, although it was horribly foggy most of the way, and we were able to park just outside the Hotel de Ville, in a square where there was a Christmas market. This, however, was not open, but we saw from posters around the town that it would open at noon.  So we went for a walk, and found the Cathedral and the Porte de Paris, the big fortified gate that is all that remains of the city walls.
Then we walked back, stopping at a bakery to get bread and patisseries for lunch, and I bought some of the eponymous "bétises" (humbugs) for The Boy, who has just discovered Astérix and they are mentioned in Astérix and the Banquet.  I was robbed, actually, as they were half the price in Carrefour, but never mind that now!
Although it was well past noon, the Christmas market showed no signs of opening, so we went on.  We had hoped to park up by a canal to eat lunch, but when we got there, it was Authorised Vehicles Only, but we found an empty car park not far away.
Then it was quite a long drive back to Cité Europe, and after a cup of tea we did a huge shop, mostly Christmas shopping, and by the time that was put away, it was time to go and eat at the local Buffalo Grill. After which we drove round to see the Christmas lights in Calais, which are lovely - leave Oxford Street standing, never mind the ghastly eyeballs they have in Brixton. We got a bit lost on the way back, but the Satnav got us back ok!  And, such is the way of things, it is at least 10° milder now that the heating is working!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Belgium (now France), 18 December

What a difference a day makes!  This time yesterday, we were shivering in bed, clad in our warmest pyjamas, bedsocks, jerseys or bed-jackets and hot-water bottles, and taking what felt like forever to warm up (although once we had, we were very warm and snug!). Now we are sitting round the table in our day clothes, vaguely thinking of heading off to bed.  Yes, the heating has been fixed. It was, as we suspected, the thermostat, and the man showed us how to do a temporary fix should it happen again!

However, the place (recommended to us by the farmer's wife where we had spent the night) didn't open until 2, so we went into Sedan and did a bit of shopping and had lunch, and the SW went to have a quick look at the castle there - I found just walking round the supermarket reminded me too vividly of yesterday's fall - and we then had to think what to do next.

We could have resumed our itinerary and gone to Mons, as planned, but it would have been dark by the time we got there, so no point, really. So we came to the aire in Landrecies, where we have stayed before (the place where the fishermen talked all night, and where we stopped for lunch and found we'd forgotten the picnic table), and parked up for the night. Tomorrow we will revisit Cambrai before heading to Calais and a massive Christmas shop!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Belgium, 17 December

Not a good day!  We realised last night that the heating is kaput, and it is very, very cold here!  The hot water, thankfully, is still working - had it not been, we would have had to go to a hotel - but we were also low on water and seem to have spent much of the day searching for some.  Including one campsite which may or may not have been open, but it was the lunch hour so reception would have been been closed anyway.  I walked down a slope to see if I could see them, slipped on my way back up, and fell heavily. No real damage but it hurt and I was very shaken.  Grazed left palm and bruised right knee.
We have ended up back in France wrapped in rugs and hot-water bottles, at a France Passion place which was able to give us water, and now that we have eaten, we'll be getting into bed very soon. The trouble is, I want to knit, but my hands get just too cold!  I hope tomorrow we can find a service place and then can enjoy the last 48 hours of this holiday - I'd really rather be in a hotel right now. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Belgium (and Luxembourg), 16 December

We were very late indeed this morning, not helped by the Swan Whisperer's going for a run, so it was not far off lunch time by the time we set off. First stop was a small supermarket for the day's groceries, and then the SW wanted to visit a lake formed by a dammed river at Esch sur Sûre, so we went there first, and then came back to Martelange through a beautifully snowy landscape.
We got diesel at the Aral station at the Luxembourg price of €1.04 a litre. In fact, the whole of the Luxembourg side of the road was lined with petrol stations - at least 10 - all the same price, and many of them with off-licences attached (I assume booze is cheaper there, too).
We then decided to visit the abbey at Orval, which was lovely - you could only visit the ruined abbey, not the modern one, of course, but it was still well worth visiting.  There was a film about the life of the monks, but sadly I fell asleep and missed most of it!  Then we were getting cold - and, to be honest, one muddy green space surrounded by stone walls looks very much like another, even if one was meant to be the refectory and the next the chapter house.
One could buy both beer and cheese, but not taste them first, and from the video we saw of it being made, it looked a little "hoppy" for our taste, so we didn't.
Then a drive cross-country in the dusk to our parking place for tonight, where again there are two other motor homes. I thought there were services, but only a loo emptying place, no water or waste water. We have plenty for tomorrow, though.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Belgium, 15 December

The Swan Whisperer's 67th birthday. We had a very leisurely breakfast, and didn't set off until about 11:00.  We told the Satnav not to use motorways, a decision I, at any rate, soon regretted as it took us up over the hills on very twisty roads and a few hairpin bends. We changed our minds, and told it to take us on the most economical route, which does tend to avoid motorways.
The Swan Whisperer said he didn't think Belgian villages were as nice as French ones, but I thought we went through some very nice ones. We stopped in Aywailles to shop (me), including a couple of delicious mini buches de Noël to serve as birthday cake,
and have coffee (him), and then drive on over the hills to a little town called La Roche-en-Ardennes which the SW wanted to see. En route, we noticed the snow line was about 450 metres, but the weather was quite nice - until, that is, we parked up in La Roche-en-Ardennes for lunch, at which point it started to rain!
The SW, undaunted, went out for a walk while I had a nap, and then we drive on to Bastogne, at which point it started to snow. The last 20k were a bit of a nightmare, as the snow was settling fast and it was getting dark. We didn't quite dare to park up where we first thought, as it was down quite a steep slope, and how would we get up if it froze overnight?  But there was another one nearer the town which has no prohibitive notices, and does have a Christmas crib, so we have parked up there.
This meant we could walk into the town to eat, in a rather expensive restaurant on the Luxembourg side of the road, but very good. We had fizzy wine to start with, then he had salmon followed by chocolate mousse and I had petit salé aux lentilles followed by a sort of ice-cream sundae, with walnuts!  Very good.  And so, as Pepys would say, to bed, as it is far too cold to sit up although it has stopped snowing and I don't think it's freezing just now.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Belgium, 14 December

I did set the alarm for 7:30 am, but by the time we sat down to breakfast it was after 09:00. This was partly because we thought the visitor centre didn't open until 10:30, but in fact it opened at 09:30. Not that it mattered.  We were able to get reduced tickets as we are over 60, which was useful.
Definitely worth a visit!  It is quite difficult not to know at least a little about the Battle of Waterloo, but the museum explained it all with a variety of different displays, including one of the various soldiers in uniform, which I am sorry to say made me want to sing my grandmother's regrettable lyrics to "The British Grenadiers":
"There was a jolly Scotsman
At the Battle of Waterloo;
The wind blew up his trousers
And froze his doodle-doo!"
(I do hope I shall have taught my grandsons things like that and be remembered by them for it when they are in their 60s!). Be that as it may, we thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and the Panorama, although the lifts were out of action - I took the stairs slowly, and my lungs coped very well. Sadly, we missed out way to the to of the Lion Monument,
but it was so wet and cold that I'm not that sorry!
Our next port of call was the nearest supermarket for bread for lunch, and then we set off towards Liège, which we drove through but didn't stop in (we did see the Christmas market, though, and so to this little town called Blegny, where I gathered there was an aire in the car park of the mining museum. Which, indeed, there is - with services that work, and electricity!  And two other motor homes, so we are not the only people mad enough to tour in December!
We did have the heating on a bit this evening, as it really is cold. It is difficult to get it just right, between too hot and not warm enough!  Turned it off when I began cooking supper, though, and the van has stayed warm, and now I am snuggled down in bed with a hot water bottle and bedsocks, and if the last two nights are anything to go by, I shall sleep very warm and snug.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Belgium, 13 December

The Eurotunnel website had been saying, ominously, that there was a 6-hour delay for high vehicles. We decided to go, anyway - after all, it didn't actually matter which side of the Channel we slept on, and we could always sleep in the car park until it was time for our crossing. However, the delay was down to 2 hours when we left London, and when we checked in at Folkestone our crossing said "Please Proceed".  So we were pleased to proceed, and got through security quickly, and boarding started only a few minutes later. But then they did that thing of holding us at the top of the ramp for ages, getting colder and colder, and when we were allowed on, or was a long time before we set off. By the time we were parked in Cité Europe, with the gas on and the shutters closed, it was nearly 4:00 am, French time! 
So we didn't exactly wake up early, and by the time we had showered and dressed, and the Swan Whisperer had got a baguette, we decided it was lunch time!  Even if we did eat scrambled eggs and bread and jam.  I then went for a walk round Carrefour, making notes of what to buy people for Christmas, and buying one or two things for us, including ready meals so I don't have to cook.
It was about 2:30 when we headed off for our first stop on the tour, Waterloo.  It was not a pleasant journey, Belgian motorways are always busy and it was as wet as wet can be!  Snowy, in some places.  And then when we got here, we couldn't find the car park, not helped by it's being pitch dark!  Turns out the Satnav had sent us the wrong side, but a bit of work with Park4Night and Google navigation got us there at last. It is a horrible night!  I shall go to bed early and hope this blows past before tomorrow!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Heading off to Belgium

We are on our way to Belgium for a few days, as we haven't been away in the motor home for over two months!  It feels like a very long time.  The Swan Whisperer had a meeting tonight, so we are booked on the 01:23 crossing; however, the status is warning us that there is a 3 hour delay.  We have decided it doesn't actually matter on which side of the channel we sleep - as long as we know when we are due to cross, and can set an alarm to wake ourselves up 40 minutes earlier....  I'm going to go and get into pyjamas and cross in comfort, wrapped in rugs and soft slippers! 

Monday, 4 December 2017

A Railtour to Durham

So we decided we would do the Northern Belle Christmas special trip, as his Christmas present to me.  Mine to him will be reviewed after Christmas!  Anyway, this trip was to Durham and back, with brunch on the way there and a massive dinner on the way back.  While in Durham, we had the opportunity to visit the various Christmas and everyday markets, and to attend a carol service a the Cathedral.

The train left at 08:18 from King's Cross, which meant that for the second time this week we had to get up at sparrowfart (the first time was to blag a free breakfast from Pret à Manger, to celebrate the opening of its Brixton branch) to get there in time.  In fact, we had time to grab a coffee from the local Prets, before boarding the train.  We hadn't booked a private table, but when we sat down, the Swan Whisperer said to the woman opposite, "I know you, don't I?" and she turned out to be an old friend from Ice Dance Club, who hasn't actually been to our club since the old rink closed, and has since had two hip replacements, so she isn't quite sure when or whether she will skate again.  It was lovely to see her, and to meet her son, who had treated her to the trip.

The brunch, I have to say, was slightly spoilt by the fact that the scrambled egg with smoked salmon was rather cold - it was very nice, but would have been nicer had it been hotter!  The coffee, too, was not nearly as nice as Prets, although later when I had another cup it had got nicer (since I no longer had the taste of Pret coffee in my mouth!).  But that was the only disappointment.  There was fresh fruit salad to start with, and various pastries to finish.

We arrived in Durham on time, and there were coaches arranged to drop us nearer the cathedral.  We hadn't been to Durham before, and found it quite a long pull up the hill to get there, but once we were there, it was lovely.  There was a craft market in a marquee, and the entry fee was covered by our train fares, so we went in, and, incidentally, found the perfect Christmas present for my father!  That was the only thing we bought, though.  Then it was time to go into the Cathedral for the "Carols for All" service, which was excellent, although some people complained about the quality of the community choirs who were singing.  Nothing wrong with them, only a little uncertain, not helped by the organist having failed to read his service sheet....  An excellent talk by one of the Canons, and an offer of a free copy of St Luke's Gospel (I declined, on the grounds that after 25 years as a preacher, I really thought I might just be familiar with it!).  We then had a look round the Cathedral (I'm sorry I didn't take photographs, but my phone's battery only just held out as it was, and I knew it wouldn't if I tried), and then it was time to queue for the farmers' Christmas market in the Cloisters, which was lovely.  We didn't buy anything, although I'd have liked some of the cheese, as going home in a hot train.... not a plan!  I also tasted - was it there, or in the craft market? - some non-alcoholic ginger wine, which would have been lovely but was far, far too sweet for my taste!

Anyway, after a long look round, we found some loos, and then wandered back through the Cathedral and out into the main drag, deciding to go the other side past the marquee, which was a mistake as it meant we missed the mulled wine stall!  The main market didn't seem very Christmassy, and I'm not sure whether or not it was meant to be a Christmas market.  There were some Christmas-market type stalls, but not all.  And the indoor market is obviously there all year round.  There was a super wool shop, and I was really rather tempted....  but resisted!

We then decided to wander back towards where the buses would pick us up, as it was getting dark and we were tired, but it was awkward as we knew that if we went into a café we would want something to eat, but we didn't want to eat as we knew we were getting a huge dinner.  Ended up in a pub - a bit early to drink, but half a pint of what proved to be a simply delicious lager for me, and of cider for the Swan Whisperer, and we were able to sit out, although the SW felt a bit cold.  I was toasty warm - had been rather too hot all day!

So then we got back on to the coach and had to wait awhile at the station for our train.  The waiting area was all very well, but the automatic doors didn't shut properly, and opened every time a car moved they would open, so the poor Swan Whisperer got very cold indeed, and even I was glad to move and get on the train.

Going home, I got to sit by the window - big deal, as there was nothing to see by then - and we were heading forwards, which I do marginally prefer.  The meal was lovely - first there was a glass of champagne and nibbles, and then the starter, which was a trio of fish.  I chose not to have that, as really it didn't sound very nice, so I got offered, and accepted, ham hock terrine, which was lovely.  Then there was celeriac soup, but I declined that, too, and, having tasted the Swan Whisperer's, was rather glad I had as it didn't taste of anything much at all except a vague hint of cooked celery.  The main course was a 3-bird roast with a bit of partridge on the top (I wouldn't have known that was what it was, to be honest!), brussels sprout purée, red cabbage, roast parsnip and fondant potato.  It was very good, but I was so sleepy by then (I had fallen asleep between courses) that I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have done had I been wide awake.  Then there was a cheeseboard, and then pudding - an individual Christmas pudding with brandy custard, which was OK, but not the nicest (I gave half of mine to the SW), but also a bit of chocolate mousse cake, which was lush, and a scoop of cherry sorbet, ditto!  Then tea or coffee, if you wanted it, which I didn't, and a mince pie (I gave mine to the SW).  Our fare apparently included £24 worth of drinks, so we each ordered a glass of wine - red for him, rosé for me - some fizzy water and a fruit drink for him.  This was possibly a mistake, as we then didn't have a bill at the end, and those who did were taking the opportunity to tip the stewards quite heavily. 

By the time all this had happened, we were nearly at King's Cross, and after a lovely day, I was very tired indeed!  We were home just before 10:45 pm, after a lovely and memorable day!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 3 and 4 October 2017

Since we were parked up just opposite a McDonald's, we decided to treat ourselves to a McDonald's breakfast.  In Germany, they don't force feed you hash browns with your sausage and egg McMuffin, I was glad to find!  I do love them (sausage and egg McMuffins) but try not to eat them too often.

After that, it was a long and dreary drive to Calais.  Originally we had planned to break our journey somewhere in Belgium, but of course the extra day in Hungary put paid to that, and the long drive isn't impossible, just boring.  There had been a couple of bad crashes on the border - the only crashes we saw all holiday, thankfully - which held us up for a bit, but not too badly.  We stopped a couple of times for breaks and lunch, and arrived at Cité Europe at about 5:30.  After a cup of tea, I went shopping in the Carrefour there, and the SW went for a walk, and then we decided to visit one of the restaurants in the Cité Europe instead of going to the Buffalo Grill like we usually do.  Big mistake - the meal was foul.  The snails were okay, but one of them was so tightly stuck in its shell that I had to break it to get it out.  The duck was edible, I suppose, but its sauce was way, way too salty for my taste, and the potatoes that came with it were undercooked.  Plus the helping was too large.  Then I ordered crepes with jam for pudding - they were tepid, tough, and he'd sprinkled them with sugar and THEN expected me to put jam on them.  I did eat one, but really.... not good.  Won't be going to that restaurant again.

Sad to wake up this morning amid those motorhomes that were heading off on holiday as well as the ones coming home.  Wishing we were going in the other direction, we presented ourselves to Eurotunnel hoping for an earlier crossing.  Oh dear, disruptions, and a two hour delay.... but fortunately it caught up with itself and we crossed at our booked time of 11:20 - home in time for lunch, although then there were hassles with the builders who fill our car park each day and make it so impossible to come in and out.... sigh... how soon can we go away again?

Monday, 2 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 2 October 2017

Another wet day, alas. We set out from wherever it was we had spent the night, just outside Kitzbühel.  Our first port of call was Landau, a large ReWe where we did a Last Shop in Germany, and then we headed cross country, in the rain, towards Trier. We missed one services, where we had planned to stop briefly to put on jerseys, etc, but finally found one to do for lunch. We are parked up in the big park and ride car park - not 100% sure we are supposed to spend the night here, but people seem to. Certainly they did last year....

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 1 October 2017

It had stopped raining by the time we were ready to go out this morning. As it was Sunday, we assumed we'd be able to park in the street, and indeed, that turned out to be the case, and we could probably have parked even nearer to the town centre than we actually did.

We had a pleasant walk round the centre of Augsburg, and in the main square we came across a mass balloon-release - we have no idea what it was in aid of, and were rather surprised that Germany allows such a thing (so bad for the environment), but it was pretty!

After a cup of coffee, we found a bakery that was open and bought rolls for lunch, and then headed back to the motor home to head on north up the A8, only this turned out to be blocked, so the Satnav took us the pretty way, with such an attractive lay-by to park in for lunch!  Only an oxbow where they had straightened the road, but still!

Then on, and I fell asleep and didn't weaken until we arrived at the Aire here just north of Kitzbühel, I believe. Not where I had intended for us to stay, but the SW decided it was less off our route.

Beyond Vienna, 30 September 2017

One of the loveliest mornings of the holiday so far!  We decided to breakfast outside, and the picnic table was brought into use for that. Then we cleared up and said a sad farewell to the Alps, and headed off. Or first stop was a local ReWe, which was disappointing as it had a rather poor range of meat and sausages (but it did have Federweisse!) and we had to stop again later for meat.
The aire in Augsburg was very nearly full when we arrived; we were lucky to get place. The SW went for an explore and said the town centre was lovely, but shortly after supper the rain came, and hasn't really stopped since!

Friday, 29 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 29 September 2017

Today was one of those days when we visited three different countries in one day!  We started off in Slovenia, at Lake Bled, where after breakfast we tidied up and I made a quick dash to the supermarket for rolls and milk while the SW used the services and checked out.  The first bit of driving was down to Jesenice, where we were finally able to join the motorway in time to go through the Karawanken tunnel into Austria, and thus over Austrian motorways to Bad Reichenhall which, despite being a suburb of Salzburg is, in fact, in Germany!  We had one stop for the SW to drink coffee, and then turned aside in Salzburg to get diesel as it was cheaper there. Mind you, the last time we'd filled up had been in Hungary, and we have been in Croatia and Slovenia since then!

Bad Reichenhall is an old friend; we used to come here on ice dance courses back in the day, and after a hard morning's work at the rink, many of us used to spend our afternoons at the Rupertusbad, a wonderful spa baths the other side of town. Well, the motorhome park is just across the road from the spa, so guess where I headed after digesting our rather late lunch!  It was being upgraded the last year we were here, but that was some years ago now, and it is still great fun. There is now a public swimming pool as well as the spa area - if you buy a ticket for the late you can use the former, but not vice versa. I decided against a sauna, but spent my time in the indoor and outdoor salt baths with a mixture of jacuzzis, overhead water massage, as the circular current thing like they have in the baths in Budapest!  Great fun!

Meanwhile I was very impressed by the locker system. You got given a wristband as you went in - pink ones for the sauna and blue for the rest of it - and you undressed in the usual little cabin with a wet floor (which locked by bolts on the benches, not the doors, rather confusingly), and then you put your stuff in an open cupboard which you locked with the wristband!  And when you were near it, coming out, it flashed at you!  Much better than trying to have the right coin and remember your number (I can never read the labels on the keys without my spectacles).
I'd stupidly forgotten my flip-flops, since I'd been wearing them as slippers since Budapest, and in hindsight my towelling robe would have been nice, too, but you can't have everything.  And it was fun.

But we are definitely on the way home now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 28 September 2017

Feeling quite a lot better today, thankfully, so this morning we went for a potter around the lake. Sadly, my stupid lungs don't seem to like being at even this rather modest altitude (it's only about 500 metres - dammit, I've competed at much higher!).  So we didn't walk as far as we would have liked, but came back and had a coffee in the café here.

Then the SW learnt that he could use some practice ice at the rink here, so we got our act together and went into town on the little tourist train that runs round the lake for the purpose.
There was time for a sandwich in the rink café before the session started, so we had that, and then went into the rink to meet the coach and confirm it was ok. The first half hour was primary-school children, so the SW got some solid work in, and then he got off when the older, better skaters got on.  We had just missed a little train, so wandered down to the next stop, hoping to find the supermarket (there is one up here, but its range is somewhat limited), which we didn't, but we did find a place that sold ice cream, so had a delicious cone before the little train came along. 

After which, the SW insisted on going out on yet another walk, round some mountains, and I read quietly.  And am about to make an interesting supper of sausages and leftovers!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 27 September 2017

After yesterday's awful drive, I was really dreading today's. We started off by driving into Ljubljana, hoping to see some of the sights and sing en route at a supermarket for bread,, but when we got to the car park he'd chosen, the SW said the turn into it was too tight, so we decided to head on.  What we saw of the city looked pleasant and prosperous, although we didn't see the old town or the castle.
The drive to Bled turned out not to be too ghastly, after all. A lot of it was on a concrete road, which vibrated horribly, and there were some hairpins, but in the whole it was all right.  We arrived and set up on time for lunch, and then the SW went out to explore. I was very tired and not feeling great, so I slept almost all the afternoon. 

We are to spend a whole day here tomorrow, and tomorrow night, and I have no real plans to do much other than potter! 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 26 September 2017

This morning was All About Zagreb. After breakfast we bought day tickets and caught a tram into the town centre where we saw the various sights and took a funicular up to St Marks Church and the Greek Catholic cathedral.

We walked back down via the Stone Gate, and then caught a tram that went round the town a different way to get back to the van via a very large Kauffman store where we used up our currency on bread, cheese and fruit, and a bus for one stop to the end of our very long road!
After lunch and using the services, we headed on to Slovenia. I had decided I was to mean to pay for a vignette and we could go non-motorway. Big Mistake - the roads were horrible, all hairpin bends, roadworks, etc, even one faulty level crossing where we had to slither between the barriers (don't try this at home, boys and girls), as did most other people!

Slovenia is very pretty, more like Austria than like Croatia. The language is a bit different, too, which surprised us. School, for instance is "skola" in Croatian, but "šola" in Slovenian.  However, after that nightmare drive, I am rather out of love with it, and as it appears we may have to buy an Oyster card, or its equivalent, to use public transport here, I doubt we'll bother.

We are parked up in a restaurant car park where one may park for 24 hours if you eat there (they charge a small fee if you don't); we had a really delicious meal. I had squid grilled in garlic with a sort of bubble-and-squeak of spinach and potato, and the SW had a pork schnitzel with chips, followed by apfelstrudel with ice cream. I didn't have room for a pudding and, sadly, couldn't even finish my squid!  Oh, but it was delicious!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 24 and 25 September 2017

We were not really comfortable at the thought of travelling any distance without a spare tyre, so we spent yesterday at Tranquil Pines, too. This has put us a day behind ourselves, but we will catch up by spending only one night at Lake Bled instead of the two we had planned. Unless we drive straight to Cité Europe from Trier, instead of spending the night en route. We shall see....

So, anyway, we didn't do very much yesterday. In the morning we drove to the local town of Tamási and visited Lidl and located where the tyre repair place was, to which we had been recommended by Andrew, our host.  Then in the afternoon I rested while the Swan Whisperer went for a hike, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

This morning we made our farewells and headed off to the tyre place, which mended and replaced the tyre and put the spare wheel in its bin under the van, all for €23, which we thought was excellent.  Then a last shop in Hungary, and on to pastures new in the form of Croatia, where we had never been before.
We hadn't realised Croatia was not part of Schengen, so we had to show our passports and our vehicle registration documents, both on leaving Hungary and on entering Croatia.  However, we were not held up for long, and drove cross country (to avoid paying motorway tolls) to Zagreb. We are parked up in one of those secure parking for motor homes - not glamorous, and not very cheap, either, but safe and legal and there are services, and there would be WiFi if we had parked up nearer the entrance.  The Swan Whisperer has gone to get currency and to explore a bit, and I am making a chicken casserole. Sadly, what I thought was a cut up whole chicken turns out to be several chicken backs, probably designed for soup, but I expect it will be eatable even if there isn't much meat!
We rather like Croatia - no idea what its infrastructure is, apart from agrarian, but the villages are much tidier than their Hungarian equivalents, and the road are better.  One day we'd like to visit the Hungarian Great Plain, just because we can....

Meanwhile I suppose this is the furthest point of this holiday, and we will be homeward bound from now on. But we are only just over half way through!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 23 September 2017

Best laid plans, and all that...  We were just heading off from the camp site this morning when the guy behind us pointed out that we had a flat tyre.  Oh dear. Fortunately, we had a spare wheel and a jack - but the latter appeared not to with very well.  The Swan Whisperer went back into the camp site and found a very nice New Zealand guy who had a jack and who came and helped him change the wheel and pumped up the tyre for him - it has a screw in it, such is why it went flat.

However, by that time it was already noon, and we reckoned that the baths would be crowded out at that time on a Saturday, so we sadly decided not to use them, but to head on to this camp site I had heard of, in the heart of the country, run by an English couple.  It is very nice indeed; we are the only people here, and they gave us a beer on arrival and chatted until the rain came.

We may well stay here another night so we can check our tyres on Monday. The is a Lidl in the local town, and you can tell they use it, as lovely thick Lidl paper in the loo (I do hate the thin stuff we have to use in the van, but it can't be helped), and I am already looking forward to my shower tomorrow morning!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 22 September 2017

What a difference a night makes!  The rain stopped sometime during the night, and when we woke, it was to bright sunshine. Which has lasted all day.

So we did various domestic-type things like using the services and changing the gas bottle, which decided to run out on us just before breakfast.  Then the Swan Whisperer trotted up to the metro station to get me a day ticket (we were told he didn't need one, being over 65) and then we headed to the tram stop at the end of the road.  We changed trams when we got to the river, and ended up in the centre of Pest. 

After pottering about a bit and deciding not to go into the cathedral, we found somewhere to have a rather expensive cup of coffee, and then walked down the main shopping drag to get the SW a new pair of shoes, as his have demised and let in the rain. Mission accomplished - oh, you have never seen such a Euro high street with familiar brands from all over Europe, even Tiger - we decided to have a real tourist lunch - goulash soup, followed by chicken paprikash, followed by a pancake with jam. Very traditional, very predictable, very carb-heavy, and very delicious!

Then we walked back up the street to the metro station and caught the "Foldalatti" up to the park to check on the opening times of the baths there, and to see whether there was anywhere we could park nearby, as we thought we might do that before we head on tomorrow.  

The next hour or so was spent on buses heading over to the Buda side and back (the main tram terminus/interchange there is considerably posher than it was ten years ago, or whenever we were last here).

Then we found a tram that would take us to a big Tesco's, for shopping purposes, and thence back to the camp site. Now we (well, the Swan Whisperer) are doing a mid-holiday washing (it isn't quite half way through, but we can do another load later if we feel the need), and then it will be a light supper tonight!

I am tired but because I didn't run for any buses or trams, I don't feel unwell as I did after our day in Vienna, so I'm hoping not to flake out again.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 21 September 2017

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, and did I say rain? It has done nothing but rain the entire day, although it appears to have stopped for a moment at nearly 10.00 pm.

The Swan Whisperer went for a run this morning, in the rain. Then we drove from our overnight place on the Tihany peninsula to the town of Veszprem, where we went to the zoo, in the rain. 99.9% of the animals - all those that could - were sensibly indoors or if the rain so could not be seen, and the plan they gave us was not very accurate. And the café wouldn't take cards or euros, and we had no local currency. And it rained. I was exhausted.

So we drove to Budapest, in the rain. September is supposed to be the driest month here, so goodness knows what the rest of the year is like. Last time we were here it was October, and it was hot and sunny. Today, it has rained all day.

We arrived at the camp site, and haven't really left it, although the Swan Whisperer did go and find some currency. I cooked a delicious chickpea stew, and have been reading the new Jodi Taylor, which I commend to you.  It rained.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 20 September 2017

I felt much better this morning, but still took it easy, and after a late breakfast we finally set off to explore the city, if such it can be called. The tourist part, in the middle, is tiny, and only takes about ten minutes to walk round. We started, though, by taking a tram across the bridge, which dropped us off at the edge of the Old Town.  We wandered hither and yon, and ended up in a café for coffee - the SW had a huge brownie, too!  How he could, after a huge breakfast, I do not know!

After this, we walked back to the far end and, in order not to waste our day tickets, we took another tram up to the main railway station (which we had been through before, but never seen from outside - still a touch Communist-era), and then a trolley-bus down to the river again. This cleverly dropped us outside the other main shopping mall in the city, which also had a huge supermarket, so we did some more shopping, and then got a tram back across the bridge to the motor home.

It was lunch time, so we had that, including ice creams we had bought in the supermarket, and then we set off for Hungary.  I was tired, so wrapped myself in my mermaid sleeping-bag and went to sleep, waking to reprogram the Satnav at the border to tell it it was all right to use toll roads again (I had bought the e-vignette before we left home), and then not until we arrived here, on the Tehany peninsula on Lake Balaton.

The SW has, needless to say, gone for a walk, so I am going to sit and knit and watch the sun go down....

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 19 September 2017

Yesterday was the only day of our holiday so far when it didn't rain. And that didn't last - the rain came in the night and has barely stopped all day.

We hadn't far to go today - only to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia which is nearer both Austria and Hungary than anywhere else, and at one stage acted as the administrative capital of the latter.  We told the sat-nav not to take us on toll roads as it seemed hardly worth buying a Slovakian vignette for such a short distance.

The aire is lovely - beside the Danube looking across it to the old town. However, I overdid it so badly yesterday that I couldn't face much more walking, so my exercise was limited to going to the big supermarket about 500 metres away.  And even that was too much, really - so annoying!  The Swan Whisperer did explore a bit, and we are hoping to have a walk round the town tomorrow, taking a tram or two to get there.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 17 and 18 September 2017

Yesterday was a bit of a non-event, as far as I was concerned. I found I simply didn't have the energy to face walking round Passau, so stayed in the van and knitted while the SW went round on his own. We did drive a bit round it, to see the Inn and the Cathedral from a distance, but the town itself will have to wait for another time.  We then drove to Vienna, in the rain (as usual) stopping for lunch at a services (Landkreis, I think they call then, descendants of the old Marché restaurants we loved so much), and arrived at the camp site about 5:00 pm.

This morning we set off at about 10:30 and were in nice time to catch the bus that runs between the campsite and the nearest U-Bahn station.  We got as far as Praterstern, and the SW expressed a wish to revisit the theme park. I don't like theme parks, but I did want to go on the Riesenrad, the oldest Ferris wheel in the world, so we did that and also went on the little tourist train that takes you round the park.  Nothing appealed, although I thought their offer of 20 rides for €45 (€92 if bought individually) was great value.

However, we contented ourselves with the Riesenrad, which was fabulous, and great views all over Vienna.  Then we caught a tram into the city centre and found a random restaurant for a sausage lunch (the poor SW ordered the wrong thing, and ended up with a plate of luncheon meat!), and then we walked across the Rathausplatz to get a tram and then a tube down to Gasometer, the old gasholders that have been repurposed as a shopping mall. But the area has been redeveloped, and although the gas-holders are still there, you can't really see them in all their glory any more, so we came away, and got off the tube at the Stefansplatz, where we had a most enormous and delicious ice cream sundae each. And so back to the campsite, catching the bus by the skin of our teeth, and a small shop in the local garage which has a convenience store attached. I am exhausted now, and hope I will recover before tomorrow!

The SW, meanwhile, has crossed the city to have a quick look at the Schönbrunn palace, and had only just got back. It's a good thing neither of us really wants any supper, isn't it?

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 16 September 2011

When we were nearly ready to leave this morning, we found that someone had left what we thought at first was a bag of rubbish beside our van, but on closer investigation, it turned out to be three bread rolls!  I believe this is a thing on that campsite, and very nice of them, too.

Sadly, the water dispenser was broken and we could only get 10 litres at a time, for 10 cents each, and we only had 3 10c pieces between us. Still, 30 litres is 30 litres, and enough to do us until tomorrow, if we are careful.

Our first port of call was a supermarket, and then we continued down the A3, further and further, stopping once for lunch and then a diversion to Regensburg, which we wandered round in the rain, and have decided to visit properly next time we are in this part of the world, before or after Oberstdorf next year.

Then on, and our first glimpse of the Danube, or Donau as they call it in this part of the world - it will be our companion for the next few days, to Vienna and beyond.  We crossed it a couple of times coming to Passau, too, where we are spending the night in an aire just out of town.  Just beside the Danube - we can hear ducks!  And earlier today, on our way to the supermarket, we saw a red squirrel! 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 15 September 2017

It was a great deal lighter this morning at 07:30 than it had been the previous day, showing how the time zone works. Or something. The Swan Whisperer went for a run and came back and said that he had seen "people out jogging with their dogs, but no other serious runners!"

After breakfast we both went for walks in different directions - I don't know where he went, but I went down to the river and walked along there a bit, then back via the supermarket.

Then I made salad for lunch, and we set off shortly after noon. The rest of the day was spent driving down the A3, which took longer than it should have due to road works and rain. I slept most of the way once we had stopped for lunch.
We are now parked up in an aire provided by a motorhome factory just outside a place called Schlüsselfeld, which is very nice. Quite quiet, flat, there are services (badly needed, as the loo had somehow got displaced, and its cupboard needed a serious wash!) and there could be electricity, but for one night it's not worth it.  Risotto for supper!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 14 September 2017

There was really nothing to keep us in Ronquières - or in Belgium, for that matter - so we set off betimes and the Swan Whisperer drove across Belgium and Germany while I slept!  If there is one thing I like better than an afternoon nap,  it's a morning one!  Seriously, though, we made good time and arrived in Königswinter in time for lunch. We had a little trouble finding the motorhome parking we knew was there, but found it in the end.

After lunch, we went out to explore. I went to the Drachenfels on the little train that goes up and down - the oldest cog railway in Germany, apparently. I remember it from my stay here almost 50 years ago, but I am not sure we ever used it then, preferring to walk up and down the mountain.  I can't do that now, and was irritated to find that, when using my trekking poles, my legs coped better than my lungs. Still, it didn't matter.
On the train going to there were only me and another English couple, but up at the top there were loads of tourists of different nationalities.  The SW, who had elected to walk up, arrived fairly soon, and we wandered round the various viewpoints. Then he went off to walk down the other side of the hill and back along the river, while I caught the train back down and walked back along the main shopping drag.
Back to the van, and I was cold, so made tea and filled a Thermos for the SW so he could make his when he came in, but he wasn't long behind. Then we both read for awhile until it was time to go out for a meal. It was raining, and not a pleasant evening. We ended up in a sports café, but the food was delicious!  Still raining and rather cold, so an early night is called for!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 13 September 2017

Time for our long autumn road trip again, and this time we are heading - well, beyond Vienna! 
It has started with minor irritations - we put off leaving until this afternoon as I had a meeting scheduled for last night, and neither of us liked it when we crossed at 01:00.  So I paid a premium (on top of the fare is already paid) to cross in the early afternoon. Of course, last night's meeting was cancelled!  Had we known, we could have taken our normal 10:00 pm crossing. 

Then when we arrived at Folkestone, it was to learn that there was a 2.5 hour delay!  We didn't get away until 16:50, which was a serious pain when we had hoped to have arrived in France an hour before that I just hope they'll refund the premium I paid for a privilege I didn't receive, and have emailed them to this effect! 

So then we still had nearly 3-hour drive to our stop for the night, at the inclined place at Ronquières - we have stopped here before. It was 9:00 pm before we arrived, local time, and we hadn't eaten, but luckily is made a double portion of vegetable spaghetti yesterday, so it was only a matter of heating it up.  Not impressed, Eurotunnel; not impressed.

Monday, 11 September 2017

A long weekend in Scotland

This past weekend was the AGM  of the New Chalet Club, which took place in Stirling.  So I suggested that we go in our motor home, and pick up the Swan Whisperer's brother en route, so that they could enjoy a day's walking in the Trossachs while I was otherwise occupied.  All concerned thought this was a good idea, and, last Wednesday, we set off at about noon.

Scotland, even the Lowlands, is a lot further away than Brussels or Paris, so our first night was spent at a camp site near Knutsford.  We arrived at about 5:45 pm, and settled in, and when I posted a check-in on Facebook, a kind friend let me know that we were very near the Jodrell Bank telescope.  So the next morning, we headed off there to have a look. 
The Discovery Centre was excellent; informative without being too pedagogical.  There were plenty of interactive exhibits, so you could see how, for instance, a black hole eventually sucked everything into it.  The Jodrell Bank telescope itself was built well over 50 years ago, but is still very much in use, and is part of several clusters of telescopes - these, apparently, allow a much more detailed view of our galaxy than a single telescope would.

We decided to have lunch there, but it really wasn't very nice - you ordered something - a piece of quiche, for instance, or a sausage roll - and were offered a choice of chips or salad.  This was the "salad":

After this, we headed on and finally crossed into Scotland.  We spent that night in a hotel car park - one of the nice pubs that allow motorhomes under the BritStops scheme - in Leadhills, which was as beautiful as ever, and on Friday morning we arrived at the Swan Whisperer's brother's home in East Kilbride.  We went out to lunch with him and his wife and then set off to Stirling.

However, we decided to go via the new Forth crossing, as it had just opened.  This was a Big Mistake, as, instead of just adding one hour to our journey, as we had anticipated, it added a good two hours!  But it was worth waiting for:
We found the hotel in Stirling at about 5:30 pm, and I left the men to their own devices, and checked in.  There was about half an hour to relax and have a cup of tea before the first formal dinner of the weekend, which I duly did.  The food was good, and it was good to meet some old friends and some people I've only ever "met" on-line before.  However, after supper they laid on "progressive games", which are totally not my thing, so I went straight to bed and read!

The hotel did a really good breakfast, including haggis!  After this, we assembled into two coaches - we were asked to use the same coach all day, so they could be sure they weren't leaving anybody behind - and set off for Dunblane, where we saw the Cathedral:

The Leighton Library (which opened specially for our group - the librarian was brilliant and very informative):

and, of course, the Golden Pillar Box commemorating Olympic success:

After this, we piled back into the coaches and headed on to Loch Katrine, where we went on a steamship, the SS Sir Walter Scott.  This was a very pleasant journey and many of our number (not me!) enlivened it with hot chocolate with a shot of brandy in it, topped with "a featherbed of whipped cream". 

After the boat trip, the buses took us to the tourist town of Callander.  I had a look round the Callander Woollen Mill, vividly reminded of the very similar shop in Aviemore, where my mother and I used to spend far too much money on holidays gone by!  I also bought an ice-cream, but after that ran out of energy, so went back to the coach and dozed until it was time to head back to the hotel.

Our after-dinner speaker was the author Val McDermid, and very good she was, too!  I think everybody enjoyed her talk on how the Chalet School had influenced her life and writing. 
The next morning was the AGM itself, which didn't take long, and then we had a talk by Gill Simms, the author of the very popular Peter and Jane Facebook blog and whose first book is due out next month.  I think this was the first time she had been asked to speak, although I am very sure it won't be the last!
This ended the formal part of the weekend, but then there was a book sale and Sale of Work.  I was very, very, very strong-minded and didn't buy anything, but wandered round being tempted!  I'm not a collector, only a reader, so I don't actually mind what state my copies of various books are in, but 50p and £1 adds up when there are several of them!

By then, the weather - which had been glorious on the Saturday - had closed in again, and the Swan Whisperer and his brother had also run out of things to do, so they came and picked me up, and we headed on.  Because we were quite early, we decided to visit the Falkirk Wheel, which the SW and I had long wanted to see.  It was well worth the detour, especially as we were lucky enough to see it in action:

Then we took the SW's brother home, and headed south as far as just outside Wigan, where there was a canalside pub that allowed us to park up (Britstoppers, again), and we had dinner there.  The weather was dreadful, though - after dinner, I went straight back to the van, and was soaked to the skin.  The SW, however, had waited a few moments while making himself comfortable - and was bone dry!

That pattern of weather continued all day today as we drove south, but we got home about 5:00 pm, ready to sort out the van and do some washing before heading off again in 48 hours!