Graz, Thermal lakes, snakes and wine testing

Trip Start Apr 24, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Here we are, still alive I'm sure you're all greatly relieved to hear. ;) What have we been up to keeping us too busy to write the travel pod? Well, where shall I start....
Austria's as good a place as, that seems like so long ago now back in the deep dark mists of the past. We were in the dramatic Austrian Alps after having just come through the mountains from Slovenia, when our brakes failed...fortunately we were actually in a valley right by a fiat garage! Fate was most definitely on our side that day, we thanked our lucky stars again and again for that one, it happened just before 5pm, after the mechanic had a quick look he said it wasn't safe to drive but they could fix it the next day with any luck, so we had to camp outside the garage, had a magnificent view of the mountains though the floodlights maimed our view of the stars for the perseid meteor shower that night.
The next day fnumena was in the garage being worked on by 8:30, seems the Austrians share the Germans efficiency as well as their language. We went off for a walk and a look around Lienz. Lots of shops millions of bicycles and tonnes of cafes. Just about enough to keep us out of trouble. Sure enough we were back on the road before dark and off into the mountains again, though tentatively sticking to a low land campsite. Had a couple of great hikes up into luxurious alpine meadows awash with colour from so many wildflowers I've not even seen before, with stunning views of jaggedy peaks teasingly always in the distance.
Heading across country we ended up in the city of Klagenfurt coming up to 9 oclock having had no luck finding anywhere to live for the night, exhausted and famished we spotted a Chinese restaurant in a complex of other buildings (cinema, bar etc) with a huge car park. After trying (but failing miserably) to ask them if it was ok for us to park there overnight in mostly mime and a little broken European - a mixture of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian unfortunately not really any German. Another customer thankfully came to our rescue and translated for us with such ease it was embarrassing. So, with the knowledge that we had permission to stay we gratefully sat down and tucked into a delicious eat as much as you like buffet. Even managed to get a few bits of meat for the delighted Scruff. Went to sleep on a very happy, full stomach that night. It wasn't a very peaceful nights sleep with the noisiest cars and motorbikes sounding like they were driving through our heads. We discovered why the next day when listening to an English speaking radio station, strange after so long. It was a bank holiday, assumption of the virgin Mary, that explained why everywhere had been so busy! Also caught the news report about Russia attacking Atlanta, extremely alarming until we realised that it was a small country by Russia and not the American state. Still not good news at all mind. We had enjoyed the buffet so much went back for breakfast J the staff there were all so sweet and lovely, think they found it all very amusing...and to see us there again for breakfast!!
The city of Graz was such a treat, so unusual for us to find a park up so close in, we made the most of it, visiting the surreal 'friendly alien' - the Kunsthaus Graz which is the newest addition to the art galleries there. It's like a big blob of a building that looks to me like a lung or a heart, very cool indeed to see it there all rounded and alive in amongst all it's square, angular neighbours! The little island café in the middle of the fast flowing river was another world entirely, it felt like we were on a speedboat flying downriver at a rate of knots, but strangely not moving at all, we went in for a drink to take five, Aldous Huxley would approve of this place, doors of perception no doubt about it, a trip to the toilet involved enclosing yourself in a completely reflective pod, it was like peeing into infinity and getting lost on the way to the sink. I felt dizzy coming out of there.
A ride in the futuristic lift up the castle hill to take in the view cleared our heads. We felt like real tourists!
Oh I nearly forgot to mention the thunderstorm, never seen one quite like it, never mind been caught in the middle of it, the lightning crashing and flashing with such frequent regularity it felt unreal, almost like a heavenly light bulb was on it's way out, or the paparazzi had grown wings not to mention the thunder. Poor Mr Scruff wasn't impressed in the slightest though, he did the sensible thing and hid under the table til it was all over.
Next we flew into Hungary, seemed we'd just started getting the hang of the Germanic way in Austria now it was completely different again. We found ourselves by chance at lake Balaton which is apparently the largest thermal lake in Europe, second in the world! We were really excited to go for a swim in it but... after getting 'squirted' by a frog whilst walking Scruff, testing the water to find it felt only as warm as the lake in Bled then seeing a funny snakelike creature with a big round head and what looked suspiciously like a full set of teeth I decided against it. Lena went on to brave it all the same but didn't quite muster a swim, overcome by the 'deadly weeds'. Feeling quite ashamed of ourselves for being so chicken, even Scruff wasn't sure about swimming in there so maybe we're not so daft after all.
Had far too close an encounter with an overhead electric cable on the way to one campsite, it was strung so low along the side of the crumbling road that it well and truly dragged across the roof of the van, fortunately, we didn't get electrocuted, and no, that's not why my hair is sticking up! J It was a fantastic site with an amazing panoramic view of the lake, it had a great pool and a cold hot tub which we made use of, thankful for the lack of strange creatures lurking in the murk.
It was time to meet Cheryl at the airport in Budapest before we knew it, we'd driven through the city (on a Friday afternoon) in search of a campsite marked on our map, it was sign posted, then suddenly it wasn't. After hours driving through several lanes of traffic, with trams in the middle and funny electric busses with scary overhead cables that kept cutting us up, we had to disappointedly admit that it wasn't the best idea after all. We managed to find a site not too far from the airport for meeting Cheryl later on, it was seriously quirky and ever so cute, it had lots of little round 'houses' with thatched roofs (surprisingly a lot of houses in Hungary had thatched roofs, was almost like being back in Ireland). Apart from our Romanian neighbours we were the only campers there which made quite a refreshing change after so many 'high season' sites. We opted to go to Eger seeing as Budapest was such a traffic nightmare, found ourselves in a 'kemp site' round the corner from the annual wine festival. Of course we had to go and do some wine 'testing'. We couldn't call it tasting as you brought by the glass or jug and drank it, incredibly cheap at about 30c a glass. It was so cool, all the 'caves' were like railway arches or something, one place had traditional Hungarian musicians playing. Another was pumping out funky dance tunes. Needless to say we had a fun night.
Sensibly the next day found us going to a thermal spa. Was so stunningly amazing, could see the steam coming off the water as it flowed out of the ground down the snow white mountain. It's quite hard to describe, looked almost like the top of a bitten into vanilla ice cream cone the way it layered down. The spa was really posh, had all different pools at different temperatures with bubbly bits, massage jets and a really fun donut bit that swooshed you around so fast you felt like an Olympic swimmer, until you tried to get out!! The warmer pools had the same stink as the thermal pool in Italy (where Lena nearly lost her pants) but the cooler ones didn't seem to smell. Was funny being in there all 'civilized' and 'sanitised', seeing the water seized at source and manipulated to such an extent that it was barely the same water any more. Very enjoyable and rejuvenating all the same mind you. Set us up nicely for heading off to Slovakia the next day....
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