Trip Start Apr 24, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We accidentally sneaked down a back road into Slovakia which was really surreal, even though there's no borders in Europe any more, it's somehow reassuring to your head to see the signpost saying 'welcome to Slovakia'. Rather than just being aware that suddenly whilst driving down a decrepit road across a railway line scarily lacking in lights or barriers (not the first, or the last) things are somehow very different.
And boy were they different!! Seems as Cheryl so aptly pointed out, two words kept cropping up to describe Slovakia... beautiful and derelict. The first night we searched in vain for campsites for hours and miles, there was a serious lack of signposts both to towns and campsites, then finding the sites to be either non existent or closed down dilapidated. Stunning mountain woodland scenery passed the miles with ease. We discovered a little gathering of campervans by a lake, nestled into the foot of one of them, we gratefully joined them. The next day, following the advice of a local we set off to Tatranska Lomnica in the High Tatras national park (not far from Poland) and the 'best campsite in the area'. Thankfully we found it no bother, there were two, we opted for the least derelict communist concentration camp looking one (no offence intended just trying to describe it- big old white wash peeling square block buildings, rusty metal troughs for washing in, loudspeakers strung around, you get the picture?). They were both pretty deserted too. We'd decided not to be driving so long and didn't want to risk wasting the day in search of non existent sites either so we stayed.
Myself Cheryl and Scruff had a fun walk up the mountains, seeing a derelict ski lift and exploring a seriously dilapidated old swimming pool building. Then we all went off into town for dinner, it was quite late and the place was closing so they really hurried us along, was still tasty food. Felt like a long walk back to camp, in the cold and dark, being careful not to step on frogs. As we neared our pitch Cheryl exclaimed that her tent was unzipped, my heart sank into my stomach and did a double back flip. In fact I'm sure we all had a similar reaction. I made straight for the van hearing Cheryl over my shoulder saying that the inner tent was unzipped too, I could barely breathe opening the door, couldn't believe it was even still locked. It was to my utmost relief that Scruff's little head appeared followed by his wiggly bum. It was unfortunately short lived as I took in the open cupboards and the scattered debris everywhere. All hell broke loose as it was discovered what had been taken - Both of Cheryl's rucksacks were gone (we had foolishly just left them on the seat in the back of the van) with everything (including her passport) but what she was wearing and her purse and camera. Both mine and Lena's camera's gone, (sorry folks no more photo's) Lena's purse, make up bag, shorts and a few bits. We couldn't believe it, we'd barely been gone two hours! People had been sitting out nearby around little campfires when we'd left, surely someone must've seen or heard something.
Cheryl went storming off up the field to report it, swiftly followed by Lena stomping through the tents shouting blue murder that we know your out there thieves, you won't get away with this! I was left with the unsettling task of minding the van and what seemed to be a rather traumatised dog.
By all accounts the guy in reception wasn't very sympathetic at all, even smirking at the news. Not really interested in helping until Lena threatened to tell the ASCI (a book that has recommended campsites in) people about it. It wasn't too long before a big four wheel drive with two burley and very surly police officers swung up to our door. They were all hustle bustle not really interested in what we had to say, there was quite a bit of communication trouble, but some things definitely speak louder than words. They vaguely asked us what was taken, though I didn't see anyone noting it down really, then took off for a look, they (much to Cheryl's quiet embarrassment) found her little net underwear bag in the long grass behind the van. After telling us to stay put they disappeared into the darkness, we could hear them calling to each other for a few minutes before they returned indicating their soggy trouser bottoms saying they had probably taken off down the river. Making it clear that was it, they could do no more. Cheryl was whisked off to the station to make a report and get a letter for a passport, Lena went off to cancel her credit cards in the camp site office and I stayed to guard the van - we moved it first to right up by the office as it felt so unsafe to stay in the spot it happened, knowing that they could get in so easily any time they chose. They'd come in through the big side window (just above scruff's bed) Popped it open somehow without even breaking the locks!?? The next day (after a pretty sleepless night for us all) we got up and in a daze went about getting ready for the long fast drive down to Bratislava to get Cheryl to the British embassy to get her passport sorted in time for her flight. I was taking Cheryl's tent down (we'd just abandoned it the night before) and decided to go off looking in the long grass while it dried off. I couldn't believe it, there was her big rucksack just lying there, found a stray jumper too. The joy of finding it spurred on further searching for discarded spoils. Nothing else to be found though not even in the bins. Amazingly we made it down to the capital city that evening, not too late at all. We were disappointed and unnerved to see signs posted warning to not leave valuables unattended. A trip to tesco's (yes unfortunately tesco's seems to be everywhere) nicely finished mine and Lena's nerves off. The stickers in the window saying 'no smoking', 'no dogs', 'no helmets', 'no guns'.....that's right, no guns!!! It spun us right out, never expected that in Europe, especially not in tesco's!!!
Cheryl had big adventures for herself. looking for passport pictures and dealing with the embassy, we all met up in the tranquil pretty city with it's cobbled streets, castle, humongous churches and fun art installations. It took a mental half hour tram ride to get in, very higgledy piggledy and surprisingly fast. Scruff wasn't too keen at all but reckon he preferred that to being left home alone again. The rather expensive temporary passport paper safely secured we had a stroll around, enjoying the mellow vibe and fun statues.
Getting back to camp that night we were all a bag of nerves holding our breaths as we approached the van. All was safe and sound to our communal sigh of relief, we enjoyed a bubbly evening sitting talking under the stars.
Sadly the next day, after a quick refreshing dip in the lake we had to take Cheryl to catch her plane. The poor thing, what a holiday!! (sorry darling, we'll understand if u never wanna meet up with us again) Fair play to her though for taking it all so well and in her stride.
Once we'd seen her safely checked in we set off in search of a nice safe peaceful campsite to take stock and breathe for a second before taking on a new country. It wasn't to be, we found where the first place was supposed to be, ha ha ha. Then discovered we had a puncture! It felt like a really cruel joke, we were exhausted from 3 sleepless nights and just wanted to chill out. Pumped it up with the foot pump and set off in search of the 'other' site hoping we'd find another campervan with a jack.(ours unbelievably was only 800kg-way too small to even attempt it) found it no problem, looked like a great site, only trouble was it also looked like it's been closed down a year or two!! Feeling the desperation growing as the darkness was falling, suffering communication difficulties everywhere, rapidly running out of options for ways to sort the tyre or anywhere to stay the night. We were driving round in ever decreasing circles the tyre holding onto less air each time, found ourselves back at the first garage we'd stopped at, where two obliging truck drivers not only lent us a jack but changed the wheel too! Such an unbelievable sense of relief seeing them lowering fnumena onto the spare tyre and holding the air. Needless to say we bolted, got way out of dodge, didn't pass go or bother with the 200 quid. Made for the Austrian border which was only a few miles from where we were, down another back road. It was really atmospheric with the whole scenario, bolting for the border in the middle of the night, across a very narrow bridge and onto a gravel track! Once we finally hit the first Austrian village it was totally clear we were in a new country, you couldn't miss it. Strange to witness such a drastic change within such a short distance. Suddenly it was sleepy villages instead of bustling ghetto like towns. Didn't take too long before we found a nice safe spot in a quiet town. Feeling like we'd had a lucky escape.
Now we're in the Czech republic which is different again, so many subtle and very obvious things seem to go together to make the difference between one country and the next. Seems a lot safer here I'm sure you'll all be relieved to hear J went to see Cesky Krumlov yesterday which really is like a mini Prague, lovely cobbled streets with old buildings so intricate it leaves you feeling small. Seems we're homeward bound now, time is swiftly running out. So I'm sure we'll see you'll at some point soon.
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