Sunday, 1 January 2012

Waiting for the ferry...

At Dunkirk, getting ferry tomorrow morning. Will fill in today's properly sometime but just wante3d to say that I've just filled in some gaps such as Iran until the 24th Nov and the missing day where we first tried to lea=ve bulgaria as well as the last few. Still lots of Iran's ones to write- will keep me busy into an I'm sure! To ALex's folk's tomorrow and back to Scotland on the 8th after seeing mine.

Into 2012, not in a castle

Today's first treat was shopping! We went past Frankfurrt then stopped at a HUGE out of town retail park and had a fun time selecting salamis, beer and chocolates for our dinner tonight and to take home. I was frustrated to find the McDonnald's wi fi doesn't seem to be working in Germany as I have days of blog to upload.

We headed on up to the Rhine Gorge between Bingen and Koblens- a reportedly beautiful stretch with two youth hostels in castels if we decided we wanted to stay there. The rain didn't enthuse me about exploring the gorge much on foot. so I'm afraid we did most of it from the car but it's a really lovely area ful of disgustingly well kept cute vilages with nicely decorated half timber buildings and pointy churches. The churches here are no longer the fiddly shape of Austria's ones but no nonsence stright and sharp and more colourfully embellished than those in the UK. THere were also grape vines lining the few bits of slope which were south facing when the river curved. I was staggered at how closely they were planted on JUST these areas, no matter how steap the drop- it seemed almost sheer in parts.

We found lots of nice parking up spots and lots of Youth Hostels. Although it was only 1pm we asked the availability in all of them including the gorgeous castle ones but they were all fully booked. We dithered whether there was enough to do in the gorge to fill up the time until the evening so we could use a parking up spot and go to a pub but we decided that actually the asthetic benefits of the area were only relivant in the day time and in this weather all we'd see at night was either the inside of the car or of a pub so we enjoyed the views and headed onwards in the general direction of Calais. We'd picked a national park on the German-Belguim border as a vauge area to try but came across a swimming pool car park on the outskirts of a small town that allowed caravan parking for up to three days before that. It was ok, it wan't lovely and certainly wasn't sociable like the hostels would have been but we'd be in the car and asleep by ten anyway. Alex coked a nice sausage based dinner and we played cards until bedtime.

At midnight , despite a heads up from my German friend, we were indeed woken by a far more widespread and long display of fireworks than I would have ever expected of such a small town. I watched some of it from within the car but it was all small, private displays and after the end of Edinburgh Festival fireworks, visable for miles around and choriagraphed to fit the accompanying classical orchestra it takes a lot for me to get excited by frreworks I so only watched a bit! Alex chose sleep. They went on for ages though- maybe fifteen minutes of solid bangs. The only other distrurbances were two groups of folk racing their cars about the car park-one when we first turned in and another at 4.30am. To be fair, the carpark is laid out like a race track amd there really was NOTHING else going on in town, (we took a drive through earlier), I'm only suprised there were so few of them!

Friday, 30 December 2011

German Sausages

I awoke feeling even better but was still cautious with food. We packed up, paid up and headed on- through the few inches of snow on the hills that fell least night where we were and into the clear green fields below. It was funny driving about two meters below the snow line, seeing it on anything higher than us while below was clear. It was nice to see the attracive Bavarian countryside we had missed in the dark the night before although the damp skies didn't lend it's self to photos. We headed to Regansburg, an attractive and historic town north of Munich. I was astounded at the number of tour groups being led around but it is a pretty place with the first secured crossing cross the Danube in it's time. We seem to be forever crossing back and forth over the Danube since we first encounted it getting over into Romania, it's a very windey, long river. It was a nice place and Alex bought himself his second treat all holiday- a beautiful drinking horn.

We had lunch at the Historische Wurstkuchl, the sausage kitchen orgionally built for the bridge workers. I was disappointed how weedy the sausages looked after the big knoberly ones you get in Turkey and Iran and opted for potato soup instead. It was really nice to be able to just wander about a place and not feel a sense of urgency to get away to be somewhere else by a certain time. When we left we continued our broadly NWW bearing, heading towards a national park area. It was pitch dark by the time we got there and rough camping seemed a little less appealing. The first two campsites the Sat Nav found us weren't open for business so we tried one of the perfect looking tarmac roads that disappeared up into the wood with no car signs on. A wee way up the track we came to a barrier and a militairy sign and Alex twigged that some unusual speed limit signs he'd been seeing in the area were for tanks and jeeps. We headed back to the road, and didn't investigate any more- such a shame, all this perfect free camping land and the militairy had already clalimed it.

I had given up and we headed on to another campsite when just outside of the village we found the perfect place- a small carpark in the woods. We made a note of the place then decided to head into the next town for a tasty resturant meal before we came back here to sleep. It wasn't nearly as cold as many temperatures we've camped in but for one thing we've gone soft and for another it's the pervading dampness in the air that seeps right into you in the way that a healthy mountain cold never does. Neither of us wanted to cook. I managed some proper food tonight, all be it a child's portion!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Motorway Day

I awoke after a good night's sleep to feel magically healed athough when I started moving about I found I wasn't one hundred percent better but I still managed a delicious scrambled egg for breakfast. We took some time to look around the town with it's colourful and very Austrian style buildings. Everyone spoke German as well as Hungarian and asked if we'd prefer to pay in Euros or Florens- they're so used to lots of Austrains poping accross the border for a nice cheap holiday and wine that they've become very adaptable. We bought some groceries and cheap alcohol, some paprika and some goulash paste. Then, after filling up the car and all our cans with the slightly cheaper fuel here, headed on over into Austria, through the unmnned barriers.

We had thought about Slovakia and even the Czech Republic but in the end this was the most direct route. I realised in Austria that these were the first green fields I had seen in a while. We bought a vignette and got onto the motorway. The soundproof barriers ment that we saw little of the country except the occasioanal hill top castle but we made very good progress. Just a few hours later we crossed into Germany- Alex announced we have now travelled over 20,000km or 12,000 miles on our trip. It confirmed to me that has we headed north to the other counrties we wouldn't really hve seen much of them anyway.

The German motoway seemed slightly mad- it was one of the ones with no speed restrictions so while lorries are chugging away slowly in one lane cars a darting past them at umpteen kilometers and hour and with us going a speed somewhere in the middle we sometimes had to overtake in the fast lane. Alex didn't seem daunted though. Being Germany there are lots of campsites and we had ther pleasure once more of calling them up on the st nav and getting us to take us there. I rememberd how when we hit Iran the complete lack of roads on sat nav really threw us but since them we have learnt to rely so much more on paper maps in guidebooks that I'd forgoten the pleasure of being taken there with no effort at all!

The first campsite appeared to be a building site but the second is great. It's bursting at the seams with caravaners- largely of the silver haired variety going by the folk in the very nice looking resturant and bar. It looks full and jolly in there- Alex is just cooking us some food, (since I'm still on small amount of simple food it seemed best) and we shall head in there for some social interaction later.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

27th and 28th Dec Ill

In the end, a long lie in (interupted only by getting up early to put money in the meter then back to bed) and a tasty breakfast included by the hostel meant we didn't get any time at all to look around Cluj-Napoc but oh well, I feel like I've seen a lot of places already! I realised I had totally neglected my exploration of cake in this country too but I didn't really feel like ant right now. As we got closer to Hungary, the buildings were changing- the churches had the attractive in and out spires so commen over Austria as opposed to the large orthodox domes. The buildings became a lot less embelished with 'twiddly' bits, the decorations becoming simpe and blocky and the colours more muted beiges, browns and creams. There was also loads of big bunches of mistletoe growing in many trees

We passed lots of hitchers on our way, as we had throughout Romania, but didn't pick any of them up. The chair took up room in the back plus the fact we had't slept in the car in so long ment other debry had accumilated. They'd have to be quite a relaxed person to want to ride in than and we'd have to trust them quite a lot not to walk away with any of our free floating stuff. The closest we had come to giving someone a lift in Romania was in the dark on CHristmas eve- there was a guy I regretted not picking up so when we saw the next one we went about a minute down the road and then turned around and came back for him. By the time we had however, he was already gone so I didn't feel so bad about not picking up the other guy after all. There were people of all ages, with and without shopping and baggage hitching each day so I think it's a fairly normal way to get about. It's a great way for us to meet people so it's a shame we didn't take anyone but various factors always combined to make us less keen.

When we got to the border the Romanian guards checked our passports and waved us through and we spent a short time waiting for the other foot to drop- where was the Hungarian border? Was that it? Are we here already? Yes, it appeared that we were, no more formalised borders for us to cross now until the channel, weird but also a relief after recent experiences. I checked things like the national holidays and opening hours in thie guidebook for this and the remaining countries to come and they were all unexotically just like the UK. It barely seems like being away at all I caught my self thinking- then remembered how I was freaked out by having to communicate with French people at the beging of the trip! I wander how long my new found relaxed attitude will last- a life time or only until the next time I leave the UK again?

Hungary didn't sell it's self much- despite choosing to avoid the motorways to see more of the country the endless flat plains, some farmed, some not, were less dramatically exciting than we expected- especially when covered in drizzle and mist. I worked on some songs and typed stuff up instead. It took longer than we hoped due to fog and I suggested we turn south and go to the attractive sounding Kecskemet instead of Szentendre- still a good two hours away. Unfortunately it didn't turn out to be a quick option but oh well. The smaller road to the town was more heavily shrouded in fog and when we reached it. all the reccomended pensions were shut. We found two larger hotels but they wanted about 60 Euros. Happily we found a Mc Donalds and Alex made excellent use of the free wifi in the car park looking up all the options. He found a nice sounding camp site attached to Thermal baths- it was 25km away but was definatly open so we went for it. The sound of the baths sounded great- my insides had felt a bit wrong for a week now and today it had suddely got a lot worse wth occasional stomach cramps just below my ribs by this time. We arrived and all was well- camping included free access to the baths and there was a nice attached resturant too. I left Alex ordering food and went straight to the baths.

They were not quite what I hoped- there was a normal temperature swimming pool, a kiddy pool and one large juccisi style pool with no bubbles but hot spring water instead but it was at a disappointing 31 degrees. I sat in it and shivered. I'd been really wanting a swim for a while now but there was no way I could manage it- my stomach cramps were really reguar and painful now. I still don't understand how everyone else in the complex seemed warm enough to wander about in their bikinis and sit about on loungers and in the cafe and resturant areas between dips. I was freezing- which turned out to be a temperature but even Alex didn't think it was that warm there, I stayed in the hot showers a good long time. By the time I returned to Alex he had thankfully eaten- the smell of food made me nausious and I had to make a dash to the loos. We bought a bottle of water for me then he walked me back around to the car and patiently delt with the chair and all the extra stuff we'd been dumping in th back recently to make it possible to sleep in. I was sick again and looked about for somewhere to fill up more waterbottles but the water semed to be off- low season I guessed. I crawled into bed.

I didn't feel I slept at all- I felt paranoid, in that dreamy illl state you get, that I would some how suffocate if I dropped off- I was so thirsty, we only had one small bottle of water and I eaked it out to last all night. I fantasised about emptying the front passenger seat so that I could get out the cooking water from behind it and the stove and boil it up until sterile but I didn't want to do it in the night because it was still drizzling and I'd wake Alex. I got him up before seven in the end- I should have woke him earlier- not only did he have another wee bottle of water in his coat but he found there was an open and indeed nice shower block after all with tasty dinking water. Things are never as bad by the light of day and my cramps had diminished considerably.

Even so, I started to put the car straight while he was in the shower but soon stoped for a little lie down as it tired me so much. Although I continued to improve throughout the day I spent a lot of it napping whiole Alex drove so I'm afraid I saw very little of Hungary.

We came across an interesting looking fort on the banks of the Danube overlooking Slovakia in the late afternoon and I felt motvated enough to come and look at it with him- it would probably be shut anyway. It wasn't although it was free entry because of the holidays. Fort Monostori is unlike any other I've seen. It was built in the late 1800s and later utilised by the Soviets as a munitions store too but since then has been lovingly preserved and opened to the public by a large group of enthusiasts. It felt like a stange blend of the castles of North Wales and the modern Austrian Bunker museum we went to. Being built when it was, the design was to withstand cannon fire, (hasn't warfare moved on horrifically fast?). It is a large enclosed area but there are steeply sloping mounds of soil surrounding the outside walls so you can't shoot a cannon at them, then a deep wide ditch- too far for a reasonable length plank to bridge and the soldiers manning the insides of the inner walls below would pick off men through the small peep holes anyway. Earth is also packed against most inner walls, sloping into the large central area. Overall a very simple and extremely clever design. The stone work is polygonal blocks- presumably inspred by the famous super stable polygonal wall at Delphi that has withstood numerous earthquakes. The rest is brick work- the rest of the wall holds up even if holes are blown in some areas. The extensive network of rooms and corridors running within the inner wall is almost all open for you to wander about freely. one or two have some demonstrative bunks or radio stations recreated within but most are open and empty. The roofs are all pleasantly high and the windows carefully positioned so that it is all well lit with natural light- so different to the Bunker Musem- built quickly for a possible immediate war with emphasis on invisibility so all in cramped, dark, underground corridors. This fort was built for long term strategic defence. The Soviets even added rails upstairs in one building for easy carting of munitions. I managed about two thirds of the way around but left Alex to drool over the big trucks, tanks and guns by himself. I slept well in the car after this.

\We had decided on the attractive sounding town of Sopron near the Austrian boarder and were absolutely astounded to find the most reccomended place stright away; not only was it was open but it had parking just outside. It was a little more expensive than usual but seemed worth the price. Alex dusted off his German and we settled ourslves in our room with the free wifi. A little later we went down to dine- this place was two thirds resturant, and highly reccomeded it came too. I was already starving having only managed plain yoghurt and Rivita all day but smelling the cooking I was sure I could manage lots! I was controlled however and just had most of a very tasty soup and then a lighter mashed potato and spinach dish. I was disappointed that I could only manage about quarter of the latter but my cramps had almost gone and I didn't want to push it. I went up and had a relaxing hot bath then snuggled into bed sleepily watching a Jackie Chan film in Hungarian!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Such a Perfect Day...

Today has been a great day. I woke early so caught up on yesterday's blog before Alex awoke then breakfasted together. When we headed to the car I heard some really beautiful choir music from the extravagantly decorated church of yesterday, just up the street. While we packed the car, (it's amazing how much seems necessary to take in with you, especially if you're cooking), all the other churches in the area began striking their bells for services, a beautiful cacophony. We wandered down to the singing for about fifteen minutes before heading off. Like yesterday there was a general flow of people in and out the church so we didn't feel awkward. It was wonderful to be bathed in the vibrations of the sound waves- I think I've really been missing music from my life lately and made a point this evening to ignore the fact that the whole, if fairly empty, hostel could probably hear me and played fiddle for about an hour which made me feel fantastic!

We set off for Sighisoara- a pretty town in the hills where Vlad the Impaler was actually born although, thankfully for them, he did not return to that town after his imprisonment and torture by the Turks in his tender years which is generally believed to have had a very strong influence on his later life. On the way we passed signs to other castles and fortified churched so deviated to see these too. They weren't open, being Boxing day, but we could appreciate them from the outside. This may be the last day we have time to sight-see so we were making the most of it.

Sighisoara was indeed very pretty with an ancient, richly decorated and fortified clock tower, churches, attractive old covered wooden walkway and old buildings and graveyards. It's a very touristy place, and despite the date there were a fair few other tourists and souvenir shops open but they weren't too detracting. While I was looking at crafts Alex managed to find an unexpectedly low key place to eat- just our cup of tea- the Burgh Hostel. We each had a traditional Romanian dish which was very simple but utterly delicious and only about 6 GB pounds in all for two courses and a drink each. Much better prices than Bulgaria- it's almost a shame we already had tasty chicken stock for soup for dinner tonight.

We moved on, the rest of the drive taking a boringly long time due to the constant stream of villages that occupy Romania's road's although there's always plenty to look at here- so many brightly colored houses. We got to our pre-booked hostel in Cluj-Napoca easily, even finding a parking space near by. The chicken soup WAS delicious- I serenaded Alex on the house guitar, (I've missed my guitar), while he cooked. Since then we've been playing music or on the free Internet. I don't feel too bad about not looking about the city- we'll have a wee look at Castle Hill tomorrow but only a quick one as we're heading for Szentendre, just north of Budapest tomorrow in Hungary- about six hours drive and a border to cross.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Morning

Awoke still quite early, at 8.15 to find a fresh layer of snow on the previously un snowy town. Just enough to make it really pretty without making getting about awkward, perfect. Caught up on blog until 9.45 when the chacophany of bells from various churches motivated me to go to a service- I've been before but this was very much going with the same perspective as to the mosque in the Imman Hussein ceremonies. The one I happened to choose happened to be an 'Evangelical ' one- I don't know my way around churches but apparently they have most forms of Christian faith here and all the churches and beautiful and ancient, this one was no exception. I think the frescos were covered up with wooden scaffolding while it was being renovated but what I could see was nice and the austere plain stone walls were a real contrast to all the tiled mosques I've seen. Unexpectedly the service was in German, although I still couldn't follow it but enjoyed humming along to all the hymns.
I returned to the hostel for breakfast and Alex, (our grand suit is the two right hand windows on the grey building), then we took a stroll about the attractive old town which seemed to to be waking up with the Christmas Market, bars and some attractions opening for business, We came across a impressively built stripy church with people poring out of it. There were kids dressed up in Morris man type outfits, (white with colourful hankies attached and odd hats), doing some sort of ongoing performance outside and people seemed to be flowing both in and out like there wasn't enough room for everybody so they all took turns- the ceremony, with a gorgeous sounding choir was still going on inside. There was a tv camera and the sound of the service was being relayed through speakers out front.
I flowed inside with everyone else and was incredibly impressed by the paintwork inside- absolutely every surface was brightly painted with scenes from the bible, angels, and filler decorations. REALLY impressive and cheerful. There were also some relics folk were queuing up to kiss and shortly after I entered the holy leader and his retinue processed outside- he had an impressively golden, bulbous hat. We continued around the town and found remains of the attractive town wall- each tower paid for by a different guild as a free town. All the buildings are also so attractive, all painted colourful pastel shades with even more detail than the rural ones, there's just not room for enough photos here.
We went back to the hostel for lunch- Alex in particular managed to have all his favourite things- his first cup of Yorkshire tea with milk in a very long time, cup a soup, (yes I know, I hate it too!), sandwiches and left over macaroni cheese! After lunch we cooked up some of the roadside home brew wine with the mulled wine sachets we had and played games. We shared it with the hostel staff and would have with guests too but they were all absent. We decided we should get a little more exercise so headed out around town again. I though I had spotted the Clock tower open from which there are great views according to the guidebook. It turned out to be another, very different church but an elderly lady was just coming out as we peered in and she gestured us inside and gave us a whispered tour of the saints
in the portraits and beautiful stained glass windows. We stopped by the car on the way back to pick up the things for our Christmas dinner. After more mulled wine and games Alex put it all on, with no help from me and we played games while it cooked and then sat down, with the different member of the hostel staff now on for a delicious roast chicken. Afterwards we boiled up the bones for soup while we played more games. We were both getting a little sleepy by then but I persuaded Alex to accompany me to the live music venue I had failed to go to the night before. It turned out that the concert was just about to begin and we got prime seats in the bar. It was a fantastic jazz singer doing classic cabaret numbers to a rather poor musac backing track on a computer but she was very good and it was great to be in such a different atmosphere. We wandered back through the Christmas lights of the town after a contented and restful day.