There are things one never wants to hear when travelling with a vehicle like Georgie; I’m stuck, I left the sewerage tap open, and I’ve lost your car keys again (last time we found them sandwiched between two frying pans) are hot favourites. But ‘I’ve got no brakes’? I’VE GOT NO BRAKES’?!? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!?
48 HOURS EARLIER
We spend our last day in Holland doing a couple of the local sights. The campsite, at Valkenburg, is built over an old marl-stone mine, which has escape tunnels up to the ruined castle at the foot of the hill. So we take a guided tour around the mine, and have an English translation to fill us in on what the guy is saying. A helpful thing to hear, at this point, would be take a torch with you, or you won’t be able to read it.
There are the usual dinosaur jaws that have been dug up. Do we see them? Of course not – they are in a museum. What we do see is the artist’s imagining of the dinosaur, carved into the rock. Is is any good? Is it even remotely accurate? Hell, no.
But the paintings – wow! When, in 1853, the railroad came, so did the tourists and they wanted to explore the mines. To make it more attractive illustrations telling the story of a love triangle, that ended badly, were painted along the route. The walls were first coated with charcoal, then the artists rubbed it away until the details stood out. They are still perfect and absolutely beautiful.
Eventually, the guide sees me struggling to read my translation, points his torch in my direction, and starts to tell me what he can in English. For instance, every year they hold a massive Christmas Market down in the mines, and it is said to be when old Reginald (the loser in the love-triangle, driven to murder and fratricide by jealousy – see pic of dead bride, above) puts in an appearance. A lot of people claim to have seen him, ‘but first you must have a lot of wine,’ says the guide, tapping his nose.
The tour finishes at the castle, which you can wander around at leisure before exiting through a very nice, balconied cafe. They’ve got this sussed.
24 HOURS EARLIER
Before we left England I’d worked out a basic plan for our travels. I knew we would be likely to deviate (note the word and it’s meaning, Steve, it is not synonymous with totally ignore), and it would be dependant on, among other things, the political situations in the countries we were considering.
But I have found that if my husband is given too much choice, his blue-sky brain comes up with so many options it’s really difficult to pin him down. So instead of crossing straight over Germany to Vienna – as planned – I am now being asked to consider going to Prague, and then maybe up to Warsaw? Or did I want to go to Vienna first, and then around into Salzburg to do the Sound-of-music tour? Or Vienna first and then up to Prague? Or what about the Czech Republic, which isn’t even on our list and about which we know nothing?
So we choose the Czech Republic, of course.
We set off, leaving only a six foot long gauge in the road, and head to the motorway. Once there we find lots of roadworks, with new lane markings in bright yellow tape. I assume they are tape – rather than paint – because they have a tendency to veer off the road, up and across the grass verges, and then wibble back onto the road again. They also zig-zag outrageously, or just break off and curl around mid-lane.
Maybe this is why I encounter so many wanky-twat lorry drivers? They are perhaps suffering from lane-confusion (technical term). I meet quite a few lorry drivers these days, because they often comment to Steve about Georgie when we pull up at a truck stop. I saw one fellow stripped down to his vest, using his side mirrors to shave by. The guys from Poland often produce little stoves, protected from the wind by large cardboard boxes, on which they pile huge pans and cook collective meals. They unfold chairs from lockers underneath their rigs, and use an open bonnet as an awning.
In this habitat, they seem friendly and nice: but stick them behind the wheel and put them on the road behind me and they become wanky-twats again. They toot their horns, flash their lights, tail-gate me intimidatingly, and generally signal that they want me gone. I am a small woman in a very small car, and I can’t for the life of me work out what I’m doing that they find so utterly objectionable: I’m keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front and DRIVING AT THE SAME SPEED AS EVERY OTHER LORRY ON THE ROAD! Oh well.
We stop for the night at Rosi’s Autohof, where I am delighted to say I found more….
SERVICE STATION SHIT ……….for real.
You can actually buy cuddly shit. Not even joking. You know the doggy-do emoji? It comes in cushion form. And you have a choice – with or without sunglasses – because, you know, apparently some shit is cooler than other shit.
And who buys this? Wanky-twats.
AND THE NEXT DAY STARTED SO WELL
We drive across the lovely Danube. The sun is scorching down and the land around me is beautiful. Copper-coloured, onion-domed churches nestle in fairy-tale villages, and the hills are cloaked with vast and impressive forests. I drive, open-topped, past fields of rapeseed the size of Wales, the scent so strong I am close to becoming Dorothy succumbing to the enchanted poppies.
Everything is lovely. More roadworks delay us but that is ok, because the sun is shining, the hills are lovely, yar-de-yar-de-yar.
I think – get this! – I actually wonder what my next blog is going to be about because everything is perfect. Why haven’t I learnt by now?
More roadworks. More sun. More hills, lots of them, because we are now off the motorway and into the Czech Republic (which, incidentally, appears to be the dandelion capital of the world: I honestly thought it was snow on the mountains).
Everything’s getting a bit hot now, and taking a long time. More hills, which Georgie can manage, but very slowly. And the downhill roads aren’t the least bit straight, so lots of braking – really – lots.
And it is after we climb up one of the steepest hills, and have to follow a tractor with a trailer full of logs, going at 5 miles an hour all the way down; and after we’ve finally crested the next hill and are peeling off towards the next village below us: it is after this that the walkie-talkie crackles into life and Steve says, ‘I’ve got no brakes’.
And if you’re reading this, Simon (my brother-in-law), do you remember all those emails you sent us entitled ‘Ye be doomed’? Well, I suddenly thought, ‘Oh shit, he’s right’.
(pause for dramatic tension)
But we have emergency brakes, because Georgie is a big girl, and who wants her hurtling towards you, out of control? These brakes can stop Georgie, but you can’t drive with them like you would with normal brakes (I know stuff now). And you need them because the fluid in over-used brakes can get to boiling point and lose all its viscosity (see, I really do), and won’t, well, brake.
Somehow, Steve manages to safely manoeuvre Georgie down the hill, because he is an excellent driver in a crisis, and parks her on a grass verge. Right next to a ‘no waiting’ sign.
Leaving the brakes to cool, and hoping that they don’t warp or seize up or anything, we Google-translate a quick note for the windscreen, and head off to the campsite. Having appraised them of the situation we head back into the darkening night, hoping that the brakes are now functional. Steve checks them out and, yay – bit soft, but ok. Phew!
AND SO WE ARE NOW CAMPING AT CVALSINY, IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
We are planning to stop here for two or three weeks, so I’ve started cooking again. I make Imam Bayildi, adding feta cheese and sultanas. Then I poach some peaches in sugar syrup with white wine, vanilla, oranges and lemons. The smell is perfect heaven, so I call Steve in to have a whiff.
‘Oooh, bread!‘ he says. What? Are you mental? He sees the look on my face, and tries again. ‘Chicken?‘ Really, I despair.
I know that, since his heart bypass twenty years ago, he hasn’t been able to smell roses – all other flowers, just not roses. But now, it seems, that his sense of smell is getting much worse.
My Pollyanna brain perks up and says, this might be useful when we’re camping off-grid and water is a bit scarce for washing. I point out that MY sense of smell is perfectly all right.
She says, ‘oh yeah,’ and skulks back beneath my cerebellum.