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Day 334 to 338 – Božanov

This really is just a cursory visit to the Czech Republic. The place we really wanted to see was Prague, and springtime is, apparently, the best time of year to visit Prague. But we learned early on in our adventure, in Copenhagen, that cities do not work well for us. Traipsing about with a dog in a big city doesn’t work well, with exceptions: Oporto and Dubrovnik were two such exceptions; and the boys are not particularly interested in cities. So with Prague off our wish list, we have just dipped into Czechia.

Our campsite is just the Czech side of the Polish/Czech border, almost due south of Walbrzych in Poland where we spent a night in a hotel after a Polish driver rolled his van backwards into Amarillo last August. The campsite is run by a very friendly Dutch couple, and the site feels like a bit of The Netherlands dumped into Czechia, complete with flood defences.

One afternoon we had a violent thunderstorm. A wall of water gushed towards the campsite, was caught by the ditch to the north, transported west, then southward downhill, then east in another ditch just below our pitch. The ditches were highly effective at moving water around the campsite.

The area used to be populated by Germans, they were expelled after the Second World War, but their houses and statues of Jesus remain. There is one such statue on the campsite which provided the boys with entertainment when a crane came to remove it for restoration.

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Extended families live in the houses, grandparents, parents and grandchildren. It is the same with Clare’s friend Barbera in Unna. Her parents live on the ground floor, Barbera and her family on the first floor and Barbera’s sister and her family on the second floor. These are big houses. We saw a pair of such houses, one restored and the other with a new roof.

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But it seems to me that these long houses with windows at the front but none along the side above the first floor must be part barn.

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At the poolside we chatted to a Czech family. They told us that Czechia had nearly full employment; the unemployment rate is only 2.3%. I quipped that Czechia could take some of Italy’s unwanted migrants. Apparently there are more anti immigrant members of the republic’s parliament than migrants: the figures being 22 and 12 respectively. I checked this out: 12 Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in Czechia; there are 22 SPD MPs, the SPD being the far right anti immigrant party. Perhaps the Dutch campsite owners are not considered migrants.

We tried migrating – we got on our bikes and rode for Poland. And we made it.

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On Sunday the only shop in the village was shut, so we cycled to the nearest open supermarket which was in Poland. It was good that we did, Polish grocery prices are 62% of the EU average, the Czech Republic’s are 81%; the UK does well with prices just below average, but I expect that is because most food in the UK is VAT free. Food prices in Switzerland are close to being three times more expensive than Poland. See chart here.

Tomorrow we return to Poland, refuel before entering Germany, and camp somewhere outside of Dresden.

Day 333 – Belá to Božanov

Belá is close to the Czech, Pole, Slovak border tripoint. After leaving Slovakia, our long drive along the Czech-Polish border was nearly all in Poland, only the last few minutes were in our 32nd and final country of this tour.

We stopped for supplies at a Tesco in Slovakia, and wished we had gone to Lidl instead. Tesco in Krásno nad Kysucou was the worst organised supermarket we have visited in Europe. Lidl, in contrast, is uniform wherever we have been. Some products might vary from country to country, but you learn the layout of the shop, breakfast cereals in Lidl, Tarifa, are in the same area of the shop as in Lidl, Balchik, the opposite side of the Union.

Although the bread is good, I really don’t like shopping in Lidl in the UK, but for us on this trip, Lidl has given us a consistent feel of familiarity. It was this we hoped for in Tesco, but all we found was chaos.

Day 330 to 332 – Belá

They are holding the 2018 European Championships of endurance mountain biking here on 3 June. A family from the Isle of Man turned up on Sunday, the father taking part in the race, expecting to complete about 40 laps of the course. Curious, I took Meg for a walk of the route. The uphill section was a bit steep, but I reckoned I could get my Brompton up it. The downhill sections had some very sharp bends, but again I reckoned I could do it on a non MTB folding bike. And then we were back at the campsite 55 minutes later. That wasn’t hard… I could manage 40 laps over 24 hours on my Brompton!

I spoke to the competitor about this and was distressed to learn that I’d just walked the small loop of a 9.5 Km figure of eight. The bigger loop goes up, up, up, up, up into the Nízke Tatry hills, apparently. I decided then that I wouldn’t enter the race on my Brompton.

We are almost back to Bulgarian prices now. We ate out on Saturday night, for the four of us (the boys splitting an adult meal) the bill came to 14.60 Euros including drinks for Clare and me. I had goulash and dumplings, Clare had sausage and lentil soup and the boys shared pork schnitzel with chips. I had a beer and Clare’s wine was aweful. In comparison, Jack’s two course birthday meal in Bulgaria came to 15 Euros, so that was better value.

We spent most of Sunday trying to hunt down Slovakia’s highest waterfall. We drove for miles across the mountain range, but failed to locate it. Instead we settled for number two, the second highest waterfall.

Clare, Ben and Jack were fed up with me for hauling them up a mountain trail in our failed search for #1, so it was down to Meg and me. After an hour trudging up a damp mountain trail we found it, but it wasn’t really a waterfall, it was more of a water drip. With a volume of an average 3 litres per second, it wasn’t quite the scale of the Ystradfellte falls (I wasn’t expecting Niagara). But at 55 metres high, the Brankovský Vodopád drip beats Niagara by 4 metres.

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This is the photo of the drip from a Slovak tourism website.

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I think my photo represents what the drip is really like much better than the website’s photo.

We like the feeling of this campsite. There are various covered areas for camp fires and BBQs, with tables and benches. A group of female colleagues spent all day at one, sizzling sausages and getting sozzled, protected from the occasional thunder showers.

The boys spent their time playing in the river.

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And we found the most enormous tick on Meg, right next to a nipple.

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Ticks on dogs are expected, but with spot on treatment we rarely had to deal with them. With this collar we use on her now we keep on finding ticks. We have probably extracted 20 over the year, compared with perhaps four over the previous four years.

Campsite fees were 12 Euros per night plus 30 cents per shower. Ticks were free.

Day 329 – Klosterneuburg to Belá

Slovakia, our 31st European, country within a year, took twice as long to reach than it should have taken because of terrible traffic around Vienna. And after spending 10 Euros on a motorway vignette, things didn’t improve much around Bratislava! A three and a half hour drive ended up taking six and a quarter hours! It was worth it – this is a lovely campsite in the Mala Fatra mountains, located alongside a river.

Day 328 – Klosterneuburg

A well ordered campsite, more segregated than 1980s South Africa, with different zones for caravans, motorhomes, cyclists, backpackers and cars with tents. We come under the category of a car with tent, and were placed with similar vans. The campsite shop is about the worst stocked shop we have encountered, and prices Norwegians would be familiar with.

The river is well within cycling distance, and we cycled a bit along it. The houses facing the river are built on concrete stilts, one of which had flood height markers, perfectly demonstrating why they are built on stilts. Another is named “Kamikaze”.

The first day on the site we had our driveaway awning up, but with heavy rain forecast we took it down on the second day so we wouldn’t have to pack it away wet. Just as we got it packed into the bag the heavens opened and the rain fell.

After very nearly a year in the van we have managed to improve the way we pack the boot while camping. Under the lower bed is a massive cavity, probably 150cm deep, 150cm wide and 50cm high. Packed carefully, this is sufficiently large to take most of our luggage, and the boys’ child seats. Two crates can be stowed on the passenger seat – so apart from cooking and dining gear, there is not so much now that needs to go in the driveaway awning. With the driveaway awning down, cooking and dining gear fit under the wind out awning with side panels, the biggest remaining problem is stowing the packed tent. It was like this that we spent a soggy evening on the site, but at least there was no soggy tent to pack the following morning.

Day 327 – Inzell to Klosterneuburg

Completing our trip west to east across Austria we more or less followed the course of the Danube towards Vienna. The final bit was on a tiny ferry over the river where the boatman tried to charge us an inflated price as a campervan. When we pointed out that Amarillo has no kitchen he agreed to charge us the lower price of eight Euros to cross.

Day 324 to 326 – Inzell

We first visited this campsite on the eighth day of our marriage, 31 July 2011. We loved the tiny hamlet of Inzell then and we love it today.

This is a cyclists’ campsite, set up for people cycling along the incredible Danube cycle path.

We had already crossed the Danube twice, one on a ferry in Romania, shortly after we drove across the border from Bulgaria into Romania, at the point where the Danube ceased to mark the border between the two countries; then again by ferry in Hungary, shortly before we drove across the border from Hungary into Croatia.

Here the Danube is much younger, some 40 Km downstream of the triple confluence of three rivers at Passau. The river here includes tight meanders, and it is at the end of a great S meander where we are located.

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Note that the map is orientated to the south east, the river flow is from the right to the bottom.

Facing us on the far bank is a great escarpment of deciduous woodland, rising to 150 metres above the river, the trees displaying every hue of green. I have tried and failed to capture the scale of this vertical forest. In this photo Jack is on a playground swing above the campsite, the river is not visible, but the towering far bank of dense woodland is beyond.

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The pristine cycle path is filled with leisure cyclists on bikes of all descriptions, tandems, recumbents, electric bikes gently humming, low weight high carbon racing bikes, parents hauling children in trailers, bikes laden with four panniers and a tent, and of course our two Bromptons.

Tuesday was Clare’s birthday, the sixth birthday we have celebrated away from home: Ben and me in December, Amarillo and Meg in March, Jack in April and now Clare. We cycled upstream, crossing the Danube by ferry for the third time, Meg and the boys for free, until after 12 Km we found an open cafe. We ate frankfurters served with potato salad.

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We returned home by the same route having completed 25 Km, Ben on his own bike and Meg deserving the extra food we gave to her.

Back at the campsite, Ben pushed the metal gate open too hard, it bounced back into his head and knocked him flat onto his back. He now has a bruise and massive lump on his forehead.

We ate birthday dinner at the campsite restaurant and shared the birthday cake I had ordered for Clare with other diners.

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