Category Archives: Road Signs

The hunt for heat

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After thirty years of being with Steve, I have become less of a stick-up-the-arse, I-know-how-it-should-be control freak, and more of a roll-with-the-punches, take-it-as-it-comes kind of gal. Which is just as well considering how the next stage of our journey turned out.

CROATIA AGAIN

Croatia had been a beacon of hope to me all the way up through Albania. But as I drove, shivering, from one town to another, and totally failed to source a new thermostat for the iceberg on wheels I was stuck in, that beacon dimmed a snidge, it must be said.

Driving ever northwards, perhaps Split would come up with the goods, or failing that Zadar? And, if not, surely Rijeka would tick the box? Well, no, nothing, nada. And not much we could do other than keep on with our journey and keep looking.

The coast road was proving far too wibbly for Georgie, who was having her own problems after Albania. Ever since we’d bought fuel there, she’d developed an alarming tendancy to suddenly lose all power (including to the steering and part of the braking systems) and grind to a halt. So we took a road through Slovenia, hoping that Trieste, on the other side, would be a large enough town to help cure our automotive ills.

SLOVENIA

This, of course, is where I, in my misted up and unheated car, drove headlong into a Beast from the East blizzard. Rolling with the punches? I was practically rotating. My first line of defence was to mainline Jaffa Cakes, which is the one single thing we’ve found in every European country so far. Jaffa Cakes – whatever they are called – are a universal language.

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I kept telling myself that the cold was doing wonders for my immune system, which was probably one cocky shit by now. I measured my fortitude against the lengths of the icicles hanging off Georgie’s downpipes.

Also, the road signs helped to take my mind off things: at one place (thanks, I suspect, to the joy that is Google Translate) I was offered the chance to appreciate ‘a honey cheese water toilet’.

Further on there was a sign telling us to watch out for wolves and bears. WOLVES AND BEARS! I’ve literally never been so excited. I could feel myself spontaneously heating up with the anticipation. Then my husband, Mr McKilljoy, kindly pointed out that it was winter and they’d all be hibernating. So, yeah, thanks for that.

We stopped for the night in a snow-clad town and went out to eat. We had two huge pizzas (half left for the next day), with chips, and mayo, and four glasses of wine. Pizza was as good as any we’d had in Naples, and the whole lot came to €13. Brilliant. Helped me to forget that the only shoes I currently own are backless or made of cloth.

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SAT-NAVS

When we were still in Greece, Deirdre the sat-nav slut had developed quite a crush on Steve. Whenever he drove down roads with long names she’d try and impress him with her pronunciation (always wrong). But when I got in the car, and we drove down the exact same road, she’d affect an icy silence. She’d also got into the habit of warning him about slow traffic conditions that would turn out to be a farmer, on a dirt road, spreading his nets to pick olives.

But despite her obvious devotion, my husband (the heart-breaker) had decided to give other sat-nav voices a go. First he tried Pritti, the Indian lady, and then he moved on to Sheila from Oz. Sheila had a way of going completely wrong, but in such a reassuring manner that you knew she was probably only detouring to the nearest pub, no worries. He went back to Deirdre for a while, but some hearts can’t be mended, and so he was following shonky Sheila all through Slovenia.

I WAS TIRED, ALL RIGHT?

As we drove on towards Trieste, I started to get hopeful that some of our problems might find solutions. The snow was starting to melt, and the roads were more down than up hill. But Steve was obeying the instructions of death-before-toll-roads Sheila, and I was listening to just-fling-money-at-it-and-leave-me-alone Deirdre. Ergo, when some kind of checkpoint turned up in the road, Dierdre directed me right to it, whilst Steve and Sheila  scooted off the other way.

Now, previously, he’d studied the map and assured me that there were no more tolls on our route. Consequently, we’d spent all our Kuna at the last petrol station (I needed more Jaffa Cakes, ok?) So when I pulled up to the booth, I whipped out my bank cards.

How much for the toll? No toll, she said. Oh, my mistake. I looked again, and considered the idea that it was a really flash looking border crossing. I gave her my passport. No, she said, politely handing it back. It was at this point that I heard sniggering from the cars behind me. Turns out it was a sort-of toll booth, but I had to pay for a weekly ticket to go on the motorway.

€15.

I didn’t have €15 (I’d eaten at least that in orangey chocolate). And her machine wouldn’t accept any of my cards. What I did have was a massive queue behind me, no way to back up or turn around, and a husband who’d gone right when I’d gone left, and was now way out of walkie-talkie range.

But I have an emergency technique that I’ve learnt to deploy in these kind of situations: I ask the other person what they think I should do, and then I smile. A lot. I’ve found this to be very effective now that I’m edging towards little-old-lady status, far more so than it ever did when I was young and hot. Plus it has the added advantage of making everything their problem. So I smiled at the girl in the booth, and waited.

In the end it was decided that I could go onto the motorway but I’d have to pull in at the first service station and pay there instead. So I set off, found the service station, pulled in – and then paused, because that’s how I roll. First I checked the map: the next exit was really close. If – instead of forking out €15 for seven sodding minutes on the road – I took that exit, what was the worst they could do? I still had no cash or a card that their machine would accept. I still had a smile or two up my sleeve.

So that’s what I did, and there was no gate, booth, or person at the other exit anyway. But I think I should add that the initial confusion of route arose because there was a diversion, so it was NOT MY FAULT.

ITALY

I caught up with Steve (which was so much easier now that Georgie was breaking down all the time), and we got to Trieste in time to locate a Mercedes garage. Yes, they could get me a thermostat (hooray) but it would take until Friday (this was Monday. Boo!).

We looked at the weather forecast for the next week. If we stayed here until Friday we’d get snowed in. So that meant, you guessed it, more frigging freezing in my stupid little Tupperware of a car, with Steve breaking down every six steps as we limped off across Italy.

My glamorous life, not.

NEXT TIME – I’ll tell you about Ferrara, how not to buy pasta, and the man who claimed he was a weapon. Thanks for reading xxxx ciao.

 

 

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The best driver in the world

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It’s me. I’m the best driver in the world. Or I was, for at least one day.

It all began quite normally: Steve and I set off to drive back up from Greece to Croatia, crossing Albania and Montenegro on the way. Travellers be warned: I have found the original road that is paved with good intentions, and it is the A5 north out of Patras. It is advertised as having plenty of service stations, but they are actually all still in construction. Ergo, the look of panic on most of the motorists’ faces, as their fuel dials drop precipitously low, is so common here it counts as local colour.

The first place you can get off the motorway and fuel up is at Amfilochia, a little town on the shores of a sheltered inlet. They say that all journeys begin with a single step, but ours frequently seem to start with a handy restaurant, a table of locals taking us under their wing, and some lovely old drunk bloke giving Steve a hug.

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This chap was the husband of a friend of Costas’ mother (stay with me here), and all four of them adopted us when we stopped at Amfilochia and went to find somewhere to eat. Costas is an interior designer of the calibre that is required in super-swanky hotels all around the world.

Being a nice Greek boy, he takes his mum on trips all around the world too. He showed me pictures of the two of them everywhere from Bali, to Dubai, to Graceland. The drunk fella chatted away to us quite happily, regardless of the fact that we couldn’t understand each other, and bought us another jug of wine. The mum and her friend just smiled and nodded and laughed. Good times.

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Now, I’d had a problem with my windscreen wipers, but Steve had bought me a new one, so that was sorted. And we’d also discovered that my heating had stopped working on the drive up. Steve reckoned it needed a new heat sensor, so we kept our eyes open for a likely place to get a new one, fuelled up, and headed off up to Albania.

Albania. A place that even Google Translate can’t cope with: when we stopped at a café it told me I was eating ‘connection specs’.

At this point I’d like to say that I’m sure the coastline is beautiful (we didn’t see it), and I’m sure it has lovely cities (again, didn’t go near them), and that the people are as nice as it’s possible to be (didn’t actually meet any).

But we drove straight up the middle, in winter, in the pouring rain. And it was even more of a grim and unrewarding experience than the first time, because it was daylight, and I could see more.

For a start, they have a significant rubbish problem, as two-fifths of the country’s waste is never collected. And because the land alongside the rivers is free, that is where two-fifths of the population go to get rid of it.

We saw them doing it as we drove through, just parking up and lobbing bags of the stuff into the river. Recent flooding had scattered it all, so that the land was covered for about twenty metres on each side, and the trees and bushes that bordered it were totally festooned with plastic. I’ve never seen anything like it.

(I couldn’t stop to take a pic so I’ve borrowed one from another site. It gives you a slight idea of what it was like, just imagine it on a much bigger scale.)

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And I have to mention the potholes. Because you know those holes so deep that Chinamen pop out of them in American cartoons? They were that sort, but full of rain (I’m sure I mentioned the eternal sodding rain), so you couldn’t see how bad they were until after you’d lurched to one side with a sickening crunch of your tyres. I spent the whole day apologising to my own car.

And then, of course, there were the drivers themselves, who like to overtake you on single carriageway roads – on both sides at the same time! – horns blaring, and never indicating or using their lights, even (or especially) at night.

In towns, it is just a big free-for-all at any junction, and there are no lights at all in the tunnels.

What with the endless rubbish, the awful weather, and the nightmare drivers, my preferred descriptor – Albania, the armpit of Europe – seemed appropriate. When we passed a village called Puke, it didn’t surprise me in the least.

And of course, there were the technical problems that added to the experience. My windscreen wiper (my DRIVER’S SIDE windscreen wiper) wasn’t fixed by getting a new one. So that was … challenging. Georgie kept losing all power (including the power steering) and grinding to a halt, after being filled with Albanian diesel. And then Steve’s phone cut out (with the sat-nav on it).

So, to recap: it is winter and I am in a soft-top car with no heating. I am wearing woolly tights, jeans and leg-warmers. I have on a vest, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a really thick, hooded sweatshirt and a body-warmer. I have shoved my legs down the sleeves of Steve’s padded coat to simulate salopettes, and have buttoned it up to my waist. I also have on gloves and a scarf, and I can barely move. Later, I add joggers, another jumper, and a hot-water bottle, just to stop me shaking.

Also: it is pouring with rain, and I have to duck down and to the right to see out of my window every time the wiper cuts out. The traffic is coming at me from all sides, and there are no road signs or markings that either make sense or are adhered to. My windows are misted up due to the lack of heating, and the only way to clear them is to open the side window until I turn a fetching shade of lavender.

Furthermore, I am desperately trying to avoid the potholes, as well as the dogs, children, donkeys, mopeds, and little old ladies that just march in front of me with some kind of mad, Albanian death-wish. And now Steve is several cars in front of me and he’s asking me to give him directions through the town, because his sat-nav has gone bye-bye. WTAF?

My visibility is shit, my life-expectancy – either from hypothermia or multi-car pile up – is on the low side, and I’m having to work out what instructions he needs before it even appears on my phone screen.

Major driving skills and endurance? Yes, I think so.

By the time we get to Montenegro I am long past all rational thought. We get a ferry over the river, and I am halfway across before I notice that Steve and Georgie aren’t even on board. They put him on the next one, thankfully, and I wait in a layby for him to disembark.

But the cold, and the long drive, and thinking I’d lost him freaks me out so much that I forget to turn on my lights, and immediately get stopped by the police. Steve is unaware of this and has already gone ahead. By the time I’ve worked out what the cop is saying, Steve is well out of range of the walkie-talkies.

The fine is thirty euros, but Steve has all the cash, and his phone died in the middle of Albania. I have nothing on me, apart from all the clothes that I own and a rather stupified smile. After a long discussion the cop says I have a week to pay, but I point out that I’ll only be in his country for another half an hour. Eventually he gives up and lets me off with a warning.

So, considering I got pulled over, why do I claim I’m the best driver in the world?

Because I drove like that, from the freezing pre-dawn darkness, through the wet, grey and terrifying day, and back into darkness again, FOR THIRTEEN HOURS!

THIRTEEN HOURS!

Who’s the fucking Man?

I am, that’s who.

I absolutely dare you to disagree.

 

Greek Moments

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I spend my life shouting at the telly, which I find it quite therapeutic. I am particularly vocal during films where medieval castles are getting bombarded (I have sons – I’ve had to watch a lot of these) and all the equipment the invaders needed were a selection of big ladders. I mean, for God’s sake, stick some spikes out of the wall why don’t you, or cover the gaps in the battlements with a sodding wrought-iron fence. If all the baddies have to do is climb up and climb in – well just do something, ok? (I’d personally favour a trench full of alligators.)

But the Palamidi Fortress in Nafplio (our local town where we over-wintered in Greece) has actually nailed it, in my opinion. Big strong walls – tick, plenty of bastions surrounding the heart of the fortress – tick, high on a hilltop where you can see the invaders at least a week before they reach you – tick. In fact so high up it has 999 steps that trudge up to it. I’ll say that again: 999 steps.

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In Vienna we’d climbed to the top of the tower in St. Stephan’s cathedral, but that was a mere 343 steps. I remember how my thighs complained (as my muscle tone is on a par with my gran’s old knicker elastic), and so before attempting the Palamidi, I did some training. By which I mean I used the stairs whenever I could (but probably no more than 20 at a time) and walked a bit more than usual. So, not that trained, really.

I also waited until Joe came to visit, so he could climb the steps with me. Steve’s medical history includes a quad bypass, two stents and a stroke, so he was getting sent up the long way around, by car, no arguments. But my son Joe is a bit of a mountain goat anyway. As a child he used to shimmy up the walls of the hallway and wait, arms crossed, until you walked below him. Then he’d drop to the ground behind you, giggling hysterically, while you double-checked to see if you’d actually peed yourself.

So, the pair of us set off and, to be frank, my legs were aching on the short walk up the hill just to reach the steps. At about halfway I made Joe stop and come back down a step, so that when we got to the top, we’d actually have done a thousand steps (this is what passes for fun in my head). I had to sit down a lot on the way up, but I could see the walls of the castle getting nearer and nearer and it felt do-able.

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And this is where I think the Palamidi architects were so clever, because I reached those walls (having paced myself accordingly) and then found it was merely a bastion – and only two thirds of the way up. Still, literally, hundreds more to do. But I pushed on, got to the gate, paid our entrance fees, and turned a corner only to find … lots more steps. The Palamidi is not flat, it seems.

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But it was a stunning view, once blood had returned to my brain. From the top we could see the Bourtzi (which is another fortress, built on a rocky outcrop in the bay, and reachable only by boat). Honestly, these Nafplions knew what they were doing.

Nafplio itself is rather lovely. It was a major stronghold of the Ottoman Empire until the Greek War of Independence, and then it became the capital of Greece (until King Otto decided Athens was everything, and moved there instead). We sat at a café and watched sea bream swimming around by the quayside, and then walked through the narrow streets of the Old Town.

In the main square is a stone lion, which is worth a look, because over the years, children have happily filled the holes that delineate his whiskers with BB gun pellets. And there is another lion carved into a rock face just behind the local Lidl. He’s the Lion of Bavaria and commemorates the sad death of Bavarian soldiers in a typhoid epidemic. However, the locals believed it was death by cucumber (the Bavarians are said to have eaten too many) and consequently call the statue Agouroon (which means cucumber in Ancient Greek).

We visited the Archaeological Museum and I found some more nipple-tweakers and a shocked-looking lady saying, ‘talk to the hand’. Feeling you, sister.

But my favourite was the Folklore Museum, which is a gem of a place – full of wonderful costumes, fabulous painted furniture, and traditional dolls.

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I would have killed for this blouse, it had so much detail on it.

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And there was this pair of twin dolls in their natty knitted gear. I like to think of them as representing my grandkids, Kit and Sky, if Satan was their dad instead of Laurence.

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And that was it for our time in Greece, as we needed to make our way back to the UK to MOT our vehicles, and catch up with family. This meant driving through Albania again and – now that I’d got over the shock of that – I was prepared to review my opinion of the place. Next time I’ll let you know whether or not I did.

P.S. I found so many things about Greece to be brilliantly bonkers that I posted them on Facebook, under the title Greek Moments. If you haven’t seen them, I’ve reproduced a few of them here. I hope they make you smile the way they did me. Ciao xxxx

GREEK MOMENTS:

When you ask, ‘I wonder what’s on at the big screen?’ but this is the size of the cinema…

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When even the furniture makes you feel fat…

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When the Virgin Mary has had all she can take…

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In case you’re not sure which bit of a house the roof goes on…

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When the local DIY store caters for all your goat-herding needs…

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And the local hardware shop also sells …. yes, it’s wine…

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Bit harsh – what’s wrong with the naughty step?

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And, finally,

the chap with the impressive arse is painting his own yellow lines on the road.

Cos, why not?

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‘Patience, wonder and vigilance’

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We have now driven Georgie 7,845 miles, (which sound even better as 12,626 km). During that time we’ve seen changes in landscape, signage, and architecture, as we expected. Less predictable was the naked-from-the-waist-down gentleman struggling to get into a wrestler’s jock strap, at a cafe by a shopping mall. Or this rather buxom lady made of concrete, gazing out at us as we stopped to let a build-up of traffic pass by Georgie.

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This was me on the walkie-talkie: ‘Did you see her? on the left?’

Steve’s reply: ‘Why do you think I stopped?’

In the middle of nowhere we parked by a cafe, because it was a hot day and Georgie’s brakes needed to cool. Around the corner we found a strange little petting zoo in someone’s front garden.  You could wander around the enclosures of kiwis and ostriches, turkeys, goats and pigs, and then leave a donation when you left. It was both sweet and rather sad.

At another roadside coffee stop, a few guys got out of a van and produced a piano accordion. One smiley chap proceeded to play loud, jolly folk songs to the delight of his mates. Other people at the stop were not so pleased and one chap started yelling at him to be quiet. So he played louder. The other chap went up to him and they were nose to nose as he shouted. We thought it was all gonna kick off, but the musician simply raised the accordion and played it very loudly in the man’s face, then started chasing him around with it. Poor guy was furious but I was rather entertained – I’d never seen accordion music used as an offensive weapon before.

One of the van mates had now found a traffic cone and was playing that like a kazoo. The angry man, realising he was both out-numbered and surrounded, backed away pretending that he’d won that round (in the way that cats pretend they meant to fall off that chair). The accordion player finished his songs to much applause, got in the van (with the purloined traffic cone) and off they went.

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It was the roads in Montenegro that first induced Steve to utter the advice, ‘patience, wonder and vigilance’ over the walkie-talkie. They were covered in potholes the depth of Ben Nevis, and petered off alarmingly at the edges. It was mountainous, with seemingly endless hairpin bends, around which herds of sheep or cows would suddenly appear.

This phrase was to become less of a mantra and more of a prayer when we entered Albania, five hours later. Steve tells me that there were no cars in Albania until fifteen years ago, which goes some small way to explaining the way they drive.

We arrived just after sunset and no-one, I repeat, no-one had lights on their bicycles and everyone was wearing black. No-one on a motorbike had a helmet either, and most had at least two passengers, one of which was a child (at the front). They often couldn’t be bothered with lights either. There was no right of way, and no road markings apart from the central white line, which they took absolutely no notice of. I was a jibbering wreck by the time we parked up and went to look for something to eat.

Settled in a restaurant, I used Google Translate to work out what the toppings on the pizzas were. I wanted to check Sallam Pikant, which I was fairly sure would turn out to be salami, but as we were in a new country I thought it better not to make assumptions. So I started typing and good old Google started translating ….

s = s

sa = how

sal = sal

sall = hall

salla = Hall

sallam = sausage

sallam p = salve p

sallam pi = I drink more

sallam pik = I have a pic

sallam pika = I give it a point

sallam pikan = I’m gonna drink

and, finally….

sallam pikant = I’m salty

So, sort of salami, then.

Unable to find a single campsite, we woke up the next day to find we’d parked in the school bus stop. As it was practically opposite the pole-dancing club, in a grim little shanty town, circa Morocco in 1986, we’d thought we were tucked away. Not so. We set off, nervous about the driving, but excited to see what Albania looked like in daylight.

First we drove along past slag heaps and rubbish dumps, stay dogs, and titty bars, but then we hit the road to Golem. The buildings now were all variations on a theme, the theme being, ‘what can we do with concrete?’ (We’d already spotted that the Croatians like a bit of concrete too, but there they’ve decided that greige is the new black.) Albanians prefer to use a packet of refreshers as their starting point, and I particularly liked the ever-popular mint and salmon combo.

Then we got onto the motorway. Well, Google Maps called it a motorway, but I called it a fairly crappy, pot-holed dual carriageway. It had a rather variable hard-shoulder which,  it turns, is absolutely the place to be. There were lots of loitering men, numerous donkey carts and eleventy billion guys on bicycles, some with as many as ten planks of wood balanced across their handlebars. There were wizened little old ladies, in white headscarves, waiting for lifts, or buses or, possibly, death. There were loose chickens, and cows and goat-herders. Goat-herders! There were men who waved plastic bags of something brown at me, and another who waved flowers. At one junction a man had parked his motorbike in the middle of the road and was standing there, bag on the road, no helmet, just waiting. And there were lots and lots of things like this.

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We stopped for coffee and petrol at a garage called Kastrati. Its logo was a petrol pump filling up, um, a UFO? And when we looked to see if they had wifi we found it under ‘Shyti petrol’.

There is simply no explanation for Albania.

 

The road masquerading as a motorway had two solid white lines painted down the centre which, to the average Albanian, is the thing he likes to drive along best. His favourite place to overtake is, of course, a blind corner.

If he overtakes you, he will drive as far as is feasibly possible on the other side of the road, for as long as he can (even if there is an empty over-taking lane to the left of you). When he sees the on-coming traffic, he will wait until the very last second before skidding in front of you. If you brake and swerve he knows he has done it right.

However, if the vehicle heading straight towards him is wide – a lorry, coach or bus, say – then he will attempt to hold his ground over the central lines and see if he can fit in the gap between the on-coming lorry and you. If he succeeds without killing anyone then he knows he is a God amongst men.

They learn this early on, I think. In one town I witnessed a young lad pushing a baby in a pushchair along the road – and several feet out from a totally empty pavement. He was coming towards me.

As for signage – that was … variable. Off a roundabout in the busy town of Fier, Steve attempted to follow the sat-nav instructions and all the other cars down a turning. Oh no, people said, jumping in the way and signalling to him to back out again. Now, we were already a bit frazzled at this point. Double-parking in single lane roads is a thing here, and manoeuvring Georgie around them had taken every bit of Steve’s considerable driving skill. There were people parked on the sodding roundabout, for God’s sake.

As I drove round and round while I waited to see what Steve was gonna do, I saw people stop their cars halfway around, get out, leaving the door open, buy a coffee, and get back in and drive off. So I pulled in behind Steve while they sorted out getting him to reverse back onto the roundabout. Oh no, no, no, they said, in mad but obvious gestures. I had to reverse back onto the roundabout, with all view of me hidden from oncoming traffic by the idiot white van that had parked there! And I had to do it three times because they kept changing their minds about where they were going to let us go!

Eventually we got into the south of the country and headed off through the mountains towards Greece. Here Albania was beautiful but, it’s got to be said, that it’s Mother Nature that’s done most of the heavy lifting. Where the actual Albanians have been involved…. I’d like to say that it’s merely a bit run down, but I’m not sure if it was ever run up in the first place.

We reached the customs on the border into Greece and, boy, were they thorough. Nibbles is only a tiny car and you can see everything through the windows. It is impossible to smuggle using a Smart car, but those guys took no chances – they even had my carpet up.

There was a family of beggars working the queue of cars. I genuinely had no money on me at all, which really got their goat. They sent in the big guns, by which I mean the little girl. All I had was a banana, which I offered apologetically. They looked disgusted, but took it anyway. The little girl endeavoured (quite successfully) to eat it with as much scornful disdain as she could muster. I wished my car was bigger so I’d have somewhere to hide.

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And then we were on our way and driving down the mountains, into Greece and the Shirley Valentine moment I’d been waiting for since 1989. I’ll tell you all about that next time. Until then, thanks for reading, and big hugs to you all. Ciao.

 

 

 

Every parents’ worst nightmare

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We were totally blessed when both of Steve’s daughters had twins within three months of each other. Four babies – just like that (well, not for the mums, obviously).

And you know how you don’t care what sex they are (a boy and a girl, and two girls, since you ask), as long as they are happy and healthy? Well, one of them was not as healthy he first appeared. Little Kit (Rosie and Laurence’s boy) was only three months old when he started having fits and was very quickly hospitalised.

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Naturally, his parents were worried sick. Naturally, they both wanted to be in the ICU ward together when the doctors came round. A rota of friends and relatives took it in turns to look after his sister, Sky, and, naturally, I bagsied a chance, too.

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As did my youngest son, their Uncle Sam. He’d never looked after a baby – or even a small child – before, but he dropped everything and went up to London for his turn to be exhausted in a way he didn’t know was humanly possible. Did a fantastic job, too.

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Kit was diagnosed with Epilepsy and given medication that – when the right type and dosage was found – did the job. Phew. Crisis – not exactly over – but manageable.

In the months that followed, Kit had regular check ups. Although the dosage frequently needed changing in line with his increasing body weight, things were stable (-ish) for the family. There was even some suggestion that he might outgrow the condition as he reached the age of two.

And then, the last time we were in England, something new came out of one of those check ups.

They found a brain tumour.

Yup.

There it is. Every parents’ worst nightmare.

I remember getting the news whilst waiting in the car for Steve. He was organising getting the windows sorted on Georgie, and I stumbled up to him, told him the cold, bare facts, and burst into tears. Horrible, awful, scary.

Rosie and Laurence coped extraordinarily well considering the circumstances; there were no news reports that night of screaming maniacs disturbing the peace in Bromley. But they had to wait weeks for an appointment to see a specialist who could give them the info they needed and answer their questions.

The day before we left for our second journey, the meeting happened. We looked after Sky, and tried not to be anxious. But the news was good: the tumour was benign, it was in an easily accessible place, they could be pretty certain they’d cause no damage when they removed it, and it was highly likely that it was the reason for the seizures.

We offered to stay until after the op, but they said it could be several months away. We could always fly back when the time came.

So off we went. To France, then Belgium, Holland, and Germany, into eastern Europe, did two Anglovilles, had Dory to stay, moved on down into Slovakia, and then we got a phone call.

It was Monday 7th August, and they had just been told that Kit could be operated on that Thursday morning. It was too expensive for both of us to go home, and someone needed to stay with the van anyway. As I can’t drive Georgie, the logical person to stay was Steve.

So the next day, I flew Wizz Air to Luton. Which was certainly whizzy, if a bit crap in the comfort department. The air crew girls were incredibly nice and stunningly beautiful – I felt I’d gone back in time to the days of ‘Catch me if you can’.

And hadn’t Sky grown!

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I had a wonderful week with her – which went much more smoothly once I figured out that she didn’t actually sleep in her own bed. You can’t imagine the indignation from her when I first tried that (for indignation, read ‘screaming’). But once that was sorted, we settled into a nice routine and I got to be a very spoilt nana.

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And little Kit – who is incredible brave and a total sweetie – had his operation and it all went perfectly. Thank all the Gods.

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They didn’t remove the whole thing (which is best practice, apparently), so he may have to have a further op, sometime in the distant future. They have hinged a tiny piece of his skull so they can go back in again if they need to, with much less stress and trauma. How brilliant is that?

After the op, he was groggy, and in pain, and off his food, not surprisingly. He developed an impressive black eye, and his throat was sore from the anaesthetic. He is the most active child I have ever encountered, so his parents did an amazing job keeping him occupied whilst in bed and wired up to stuff.

He was discharged on Sunday 13th August. And look at him now.

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Awwww. Bless.

Next time I’ll catch up a bit more (been very off-grid) and tell you about the cities we’ve been visiting. But to keep you happy for now, here are my two new favourite road signs, spotted in Budapest (I loves me a good road sign).

And – while I’m doing silly photos – how about this leaflet for Haemorrhoids from a pharmacy in Zagreb, and the ice-cream that Steve just bought me.

Thanks for reading xxxxx.

 

 

Oh Vienna

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A WORD ABOUT ROAD SIGNS

In Portugal the road signs were fairly familiar: they were just applied in surprising ways. Don’t graze your cattle on the motorway, was a good example.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia they were the old-fashioned kind, with more detail than in the UK. The trains still showed great clouds of steam and the bicycles were practically perfect. The men depicted were always natty gents in suits, sporting trilbies, and holding skipping children by the hand. The girls had huge bows in their hair and the boys wore those girly coats that only the Royal family still favour.

In Austria, the flashing signs on the pelican crossing depicted two people holding hands, with a heart between them. Even Steve thought that was cute.

But in Poland the signs changed again. The first one I noticed was the cow – he was made out of rectangles, as if an impatient person had cut him out of black paper and stuck him down. I imagined the justification:-

‘What your problem? You can see is cow, is good enough. Now I go home.’

After a while I noticed that all the illustrations were angular, apart from the round, football-shaped heads which floated – dismembered – above pointy-footed bodies. There was also a crazily-smiling, pig-tailed girl, wielding a head-sized lollipop in the manner of a hatchet. She appeared near zebra crossings and was really quite freaky.

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BUT BACK TO AUSTRIA

After Barry let us down on our Helpx placement we had some time free for ourselves. We decided to go and see Vienna, as I’ve never been and it’s, well, Vienna.

So we fetched up at a suburb just north of the city, called Klosterneuberg. It’s on the Danube and has a spectacular monastery overlooking the campsite. We went for a quick walk around and it was beautiful. The tiles on the roof formed a pattern that turned into pure, sparkling, silver in the setting sun.

Inside, the various sections were all decorated to the nines, with different colour schemes in each room, and every vaulted facet beautifully painted.

It was just as well that the monastery was so nice, because then we found a café to have a late lunch in. OK, I know it was Sunday, but after Czechia it was still a bit of a shock. I think we were charged about 600 euros for a tiny slice of French bread with some sort of vinegary egg on it. Oh, the horror.

Back at the campsite bar that evening, we met our next-caravan-neighbour, Rudi. We’d hoped to have a meal there (as we were too tired to cook) but had arrived too late. Rudi kept insisting he had food, he would cook for us, no trouble. But we couldn’t be bothered even with that, so instead we had cake, and wine, and a nice chat.

We invited him for dinner the next night (he bought beer, wine and schnapps – good man) and we talked about volunteering. Apparently, he has done A LOT of fund-raising, and almost single-handedly paid for a school in Tibet (principally because he fancied the blonde who was volunteering there. I’m not judging).

He got a bit over-happy on the schnapps, started talking only to me, and told Steve to watch out because – and I quote – I was dangerous. It seems I have a mysterious allure, but I’ve noticed it only works on blokes over seventy.

The next day we went to look at Vienna. I nearly killed Steve by encouraging him to climb the 343 steps up the bell tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once up there, we saw a guy wandering along the ridge of the incredibly pitched roof, doing some repair work. Don’t care if he had a rope around him – still an idiot. Also saw a cute couple of pigeons doing some family planning.

The view of the city is certainly impressive. I think everyone here lives in an amazing building, even the dustmen, because every house is stunning.

Sadly, we’d arrived in Vienna too late to see the snow-coloured, dancing, Lipizzaner horses, which had gone to the country for the summer. But we did see lots of carriage horses, so that was nice.

We passed a church that had beautiful choral music wafting out. An American choir was on tour with a famous-and-important-composer, so we sat in on the rehearsal. Afterwards, I told the famous-and-important-composer how much I’d enjoyed it and he kissed my hand. Honestly, I am catnip to these old guys.

HUNTING FOR WOOL

When my CFS makes things difficult I do needlepoint tapestries, and I’d nearly finished my second one when I ran out of a particular blue wool. So Steve Googled wool shops for me, and we set off to spend at least a euro. And found nothing. Nada. Nil. Plenty of weird crocheted things and frankly terrifying lace objects, but no blue wool. Back at the campsite we were told, ‘Go to Muller, they have everything’, and they were not wrong.

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Muller is a big warehouse that mostly stocks fabric and thread, lace, ribbons and buttons. Also, a million other things that I can’t imagine anybody wanting to have. They had shelves full of the kind of thing that doesn’t even sell in a charity shop, and you only consider buying – as a joke present – for someone you hate (or is that just me?). They had a real of tan-coloured yarn that a mouse had eaten into, and it was still for sale!

There were whole walls of buttons – mostly brown, it must be said – and aisles of ribbons. It covered two floors, spilled out onto the street (for which read dirt-road car park), and surrounded some steps, open to the air, on one side.

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Tidiness was not a priority.

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Nor was service. But it was incredibly cheap, and I found a good match for my wool in a massive bin that I had to dive down. Sorted.

ARTY STUFF

We went to the Wien Museum to see the Klimts, and were promptly distracted by a fascinating exhibition showing the history of the city as depicted by maps and relief models.

Then it was on to the Hundertwasser Museum and house. Hundertwasser was an architect who believed that the curves and undulations in nature produced a more natural way to live. So none of the floors are flat. Even in the café.

He also wanted every building to have a ‘tree tenant’, so they are built into the structures and given priority over other things. But it’s his sense of joyous, abundant colour that really did it for me. And, although none of his paintings are quite my style, the effect of seeing so many works of rich exuberance was food for my soul.

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The museum also housed an exhibition by celebrated photographer, Edward Burtynsky, on the subject of water in all its glorious forms. Marvellous, dramatic, thoughtful, inspiring. Good day out, that was.

P.S.

I know this post is both out of date and rather short, but I am struggling to find good WiFi in my particular part of Poland. Will tell you all about the festival in Trencin, teaching English through Angloville, finding Dory, and the now famous ‘Food Revolution’ as soon as I can. In the meantime, take care, love to all, and thanks for reading. xxxxx