Blog

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.

IMG_1811.PNG

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.

IMG_1789

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.

IMG_1794

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.

IMG_1804

IMG_1808

 

Day 323 – Hopfgarten im Brixental to Inzell

Inzell is a tiny hamlet on the inside of a great tight meander in the Danube, about halfway between Passau and Linz. It has a tiny campsite that we first stumbled across on honeymoon in July 2011. This was our destination.

We were slow to set off, leaving the campsite at 12.30 after a final walk with Meg. The local bakery was closed, so we bought food for lunch at a Spar. Finding a route for our journey avoiding Germany was a bit of a challenge, but we managed it, and we enjoyed the lush spring alpine countryside of Austria.

Days 321 & 322 – Hopfgarten im Brixental

The campsite is in a beautiful location right next to a raging torrent of a river. The playground is the very best we have seen and there is a banked bicycle circuit. But… the campsite wardens are unwelcoming, pitches contain caravans which never move, awnings attached that will never be unattached, and signs everywhere telling you what not to do.

The wash block includes a child and parent room, it was locked, and the warden refused us access saying it was for babies only. Ben and Jack cope well with adult loos, but without holding on with their hands they would fold in two and fall down the pan bottom first.

This was our last camp in high mountains and enjoyed it with several long walks in alpine pasture.

 

 

Day 320 – Chur to Hopfgarten im Brixental

We walked with our friend to the campsite to collect our refund for not having stayed, and then set off for Liechtenstein, avoiding the Swiss toll roads. To use Swiss motorways you must buy a full year Swiss vignette for 40 CHF. For a year’s use, this is a reasonable fee, but not for the short section of motorway between Chur and Liechtenstein’s only campsite. We stayed off the motorway and within 30 minutes we were at the campsite. I had a good look around for the friends we had made on Sicily at Christmas, but there was no sign of them. The campsite was uninspiring, mostly sad looking caravans built into wooden shacks, presumably to avoid property taxes. We decided not to stay and move on. Confident that we’d left Switzerland, I set the Sat Nav for Austria, where I would buy a ten day motorway pass, clicked off the “avoid toll roads” selection as there are no toll roads in Liechtenstein, and off we went. The sat nav took us over the Rhine and swept us onto a Swiss motorway! Hoping no cameras or drones were tracking us, I left at the next junction, recrossed the Rhine and we became fugitives in Liechtenstein.

Once in Austria we stopped at the first petrol station and bought an Austrian motorway vignette, 9 Euros for 10 days; a bargain when compared to the cost of using French motorways.

I reset the sat nav and off we went – towards Germany! Fat fingers had made me select Hopfensee instead of Hopfengarten, two towns 200Km apart and in different countries.

I reset the navigation, and we were on the correct road, pre-paid with nothing to pay, until we were stung for a ten Euro toll after using Arlberg Straßentunnel. I think that that is naughty. Making you pay for a motorway vignette then separately tolling a section of the motorway.

We arrived at the correct campsite without further charges, and it has rained ever since.

This is our final stop in the Alps, we intend to stay for two or three nights before moving on to a site by the Danube visited by us on honeymoon seven years ago.

Day 319 – Müstair to Chur

IMG_1760

An amazing drive, crossing two high passes, Pass dal Fuorn (2149m) and Flüelapass (2383m).

The road over Pass dal Fuorn, Ofenpass, goes through the Swiss National Park, the only “strict nature reserve” in the Alps: no marking of paths, no fires, no sleeping (except in the mountain hut), no dogs (even on a lead), no disturbing animals or plants, no removing anything. Alone on the road, we drove slowly through the park, but did not stop, Meg’s walk would have to wait.

IMG_1764

The Flüelapass was very different, until recently it was open throughout the year, but now there is a railway tunnel below the pass. You can pay to drive onto the train and be taken to the other side. But why would you!?

We stopped on the summit for the boys to play until their hands became so cold they could play no more.

IMG_1759

We stopped again further down so Meg could have her run.

We arrived in Chur at about 3.30, and went to the campsite which was right next to the motorway. We paid for one night then went off to exchange our two empty 907 gas cylinders. We had last exchanged them on 6 February in Brindisi, along with our large 908 cylinder. The 909 is nearly depleted, so we have used something under 10.8 Kg of gas in 12 weeks (we spent two weeks in houses), the equivalent of one 907 cylinder every 3 weeks of regular use, eating out perhaps twice a week.

We were in Chur to visit friends we had made on a Croatian campsite. They suggested another campsite further down the Rhine valley, we drove towards it, but a phone call revealed it was 60 CHF per night. We abandoned that plan and drove back towards Chur. Our friend then suggested we stay with her, and we readily agreed. Treated like royalty, we were fed and slept well.

Day 318 – Müstair

This is a very pretty campsite in a high valley on the Swiss-Italian border. Everything is well-ordered with a Swiss quality wash block and a cafe with typically wallet-depleting prices.

IMG_5355

First thing I took Ben to the nearby bike shop for a new tyre for his bicycle. I asked for a 16″ tyre which they promptly produced from a high rack at the rear of the showroom. Oops- wrong size, Ben needed a 12″ tyre. The assistant shuffled back to the rear of the showroom, replaced the 16″, then shuffled off to fetch the 12″. Oops again! We needed a 14″ tyre and the shop didn’t have one, but they could order it in, and it would be with them by 9am tomorrow. We ordered it and bought a bell for Ben’s bike 9.90 CHF (£7.30), £2.31 more than Jack’s bell cost.

We all went to the waterfall, Clare and I walking, and the boys on their bikes, ringing their bells in annoying disharmony, and drowning out the more somber sound of the cow bells.

The waterfall was dramatic, thundering down some 50 metres onto a jumble of rocks below.

IMG_1730

After oooing and arrring for a while, Clare and Jack turned back while Ben and I, with Meg, followed the twisty and winding path up the crag alongside the waterfall. Far below we could make out our van.

IMG_1743

With dusk came the rain and we ate in the van with the heater on: pizzas were baked on the Cadac and salad prepared inside.

IMG_1728

Day 317 – Rasen-Antholz to Müstair

In 1976 my parents, three brothers and I visited this part of the Alps on a camping holiday. We camped in Naturns near Meran but I recognised nothing as we passed through. The town was very busy with tourists and traffic as we passed through.

We had a bit of a shock today. We had last filled up with diesel in Croatia at €1.28 per litre. Today the fuel in Italy was €1.88! And we had managed only 32 mpg from the last tank. We have been getting over 40 mpg from previous tanks. 16 cents per Km on mountainous roads with Italian fuel compared with 8 cents per Km with Croatian fuel.

There were light border checks crossing into Switzerland. No passports required but we were asked if we had anything to declare. I suspect they were really looking for migrants…

Switzerland is not part of the Customs Union, but accepts free movement of people and most EU law. It contributes 130 Euros per person to the EU compared to 149 Euros per person from the British (net contribution). It is a model the UK could adopt outside the Customs Union if the British are willing to accept free movement of people, most EU law and substantial contributions to the EU budget as a compromise.

Müstair is a Romansh speaking part of Switzerland. The country has four official languages (others are German, French and Italian), and Romansh is spoken by just 0.6% of the population. Although it is an official language, it is only the 10th most widely spoken: as well as German, French and Italian- English, Portuguese, Albanian, Croatian, Spanish and Turkish are the mother toungue to more people living in Switzerland than Romansh.

Müstair is high. At an elevation of 1273 metres it is higher than all but four mountains in the UK. This makes it chilly. But it is amazingly bueatiful, surrounded by snow capped mountains.

IMG_1725IMG_1728IMG_1731