Google+ Followers

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Please let it not be true!

Many months ago (I tried looking for the Post, but couldn't find it) I expressed the fear that I was becoming allergic to draught bitter. Unlikely you would think, after years of inoculation, bravely borne. But the odd thing was that over the years it seemed (but I couldn't prove) that I never appeared to have the allergies abroad that I suffered at home. Last year, in China, the stomach upset I had had for some months disappeared and then reappeared after returning to UK. Then, two weeks ago, when we were paying a hurried trip to Britain to sort out phones, teeth etc., I got a sudden and severe attack of allergy - this after a purposeful daily intake of bitter. When we left the country it cleared. It can't be alcohol as we are assiduously self-administering that in other forms.

Please let it not be true!


John decided on 'Ignis fatuus'.

Emily Dickinson says -
'Better an ignis fatuus than no belief at all.'

Who is 'foolish' and who is 'fire' we were asked. John immediately claimed to have the element of 'fire'. There is no question but that I am 'foolish' - why else travel with a 'will o' wisp' like John.

At Wedza, in Zimbabwe - a place you can only reach the 'day-after-tomorrow'- the vlei would light with greenish marsh fires on bitter winter nights and the indentured labourers tending the tobacco barns would run from the night spirits.

So here we are 'foolish fires' - lasting for a brief spell in the night.

Let us hope we tread lightly on the earth and do no great or permament damage to it.


At Vanomobil collecting the Wheely Cabin with leak repaire and pump replaced and a mildewed fridge - I had left the door ajar!

then to Tournai for a Belgian barbecque.

Then Douzy where there was a small lake with fish where I ruined my reel and caught nothing. Loads of French junior school kids with teachers and the loos and showers in glass boxes!

Liechenstein and camping under the mountain Sundial -

Next to a lovely riverside in the Italian Tirol that smelt of cowdung -
finally a 7 km tunnel under the Karavanken Mountains to Slovenia. Half way through the tunnel gets darker, narrower and has no giant fans or distance indicators!
We have arrived in the Balkans!


Here is T and her knives. T allowed us to stay in her lovely flat and garden but here she is explaining that all good things come to an end. Fish and guests stink after three days and she has been a good daughter long enough. Here is her garden where I spent my happy hours. Thanks again T. Here is R under her birthday present of suitable stars. Haloes don't keep the rain off so well. Here is R's veggie patch and here is the garden where we watched four rural fox cubs dancing in the moonlight - beautiful wild beasts.Lovely to see K too. I failed to get a photo of B and A who came to supper with prezies - thanks B for lunch in London. I miss you all!


Laika's leaks got worse and her pump started to fail from overwork even though it was seldom turned on. We took the wheely cabin/old dog back to Vanomobil in Wevelgem for repairs under warranty and headed off to repair teeth, phones, eyes and ears for ourselves and to collect the essential post. Accessing accounts turned out to both impossible and expensive on the first leg of our journey snd it was time to make things work. As you see John was the worse for our travels and needed civilising. He was also suffering from a diet of cows milk and was badly afflicted by hayfever resulting in time in the corner of the room for health reasons.

We had a week.
We had to hit it running the day we arrived to get the required result by the day we left. Good luck was essential but also the generosity of family ready to give us car, flat and their precious time. Thank you darlings! Old parents are hard work and you did us proud. We knew we couldn't manage to see friends but so appreciated those who could come out of their way to see us. Cheers dears! The rest of you we will see anon!
Here is a friend we can't do without - Makays of Cambridge! The most woman friendly and excellent hardware shop!

John's extensive and thorough research led us to hire a car in Belgium as the economic and most efficient travel from Wevelgem to England. Ridiculous but true. In fact we had averaged about 500km a week in our first three months. In England John drove 1000 miles in a week. In England this means hours and hours on the road. John spent 16 hours driving to family. I spent 16 hours happily gardening - an occupation I love. Another prespective is that we have driven from England to Slovenia in a week - about 800 miles but less time in the wheely cabin cab than John spent in England in the Suzuki!

Here is a photo of a thieving skolly bird for small T. That is a seagull T.
Skollies are thieves in Cape Town and gulls are also called skolly birds.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Two Jokes

Not something we do much of, jokes. But here goes. One of them is an old, but favourite joke, the other I made up tonight (C).

1. Q.) What is the difference between an encounter of a cockerel and a hen and a Live Sex Show in Amsterdam?
A.) One is all flapping and clucking and the other is all .......

2. Q.) What is the difference between a cockerel and a lawyer?
A.) A cockerel clucks defiance and a lawyer.......

Fiestas Folkloricas

Something that occurred to us recently was that, the weird ways Johnny Foreigner goes about things apart, we hadn't experienced much actual folk culture. This was all set to rights when, two nights ago, Ruth and I found ourselves dancing the polka on an alp in Liechtenstein to the sounds of a local accordionist and gunfire.

I must say that I had hoped to live the reality of ethnic cultures a little more intensely. Oh, how I had looked forward to the pleasures of Lapp Dancing and Pole Dancing. But, no, not a touch!

A Very Strange Place Indeed

1. In the middle of July, having visited 14 European countries, diverse in their geography, history, culture and language we came to the oddest place so far. A place where, for a start, no-one drove on the right (right) side of the road but on the wrong (left) side of the road. And they all thought it was normal. Just as they thought a distance-measuring system based on increments of 12, 3 and 1.760 units was normal. Just as they thought a volume-measuring system of 1/8th., 8 and 36 units was normal. Just as they thought it was a good idea to invent games which nobody else played, teach them how to do so and then let them do all the winning was normal.
2. But they weren’t entirely odd. By cannibalising a few of their neighbours’ languages, they synthesised a new one which they named after themselves. Then they refused to understand any of the languages they had made theirs up from and made it clear to their neighbours, either by shouting or appearing to be deaf, that they would only permit themselves to be communicated with in their made-up language.
3. They invented constitutional monarchy. But they refused to write down what the constitution was, because they said it would limit their freedom for manoeuvre.
4. They invented post offices. They invented postage stamps, but they refused to write the name of their country on the stamps because they said it was obvious where they had come from because they had invented them in the first place and, anyway, why would they wish to converse with foreigners? See (2) above.

There could have been lots more of this, but there is a body of opinion which says that my posts are too long! Cheek!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Horse Buckets

They come in yellow, too!

Thursday, 10 July 2008


We were thinking . . .

There is only one John and there will never be another.
There is only one Ruth and there will never be another.
This is the same for everyone else on the planet.
We were not made for each other.
No one is ever 'made' for anyone else either.
We are just like everyone else on the planet.


I am pure and untouched by commerce. I have become a money virgin!
I love it!
It won’t last. It can’t last!

To a degree, the modern west is a moneyless society. John and I, as pensioners, use as little money as possible. Food, campsites, sight-seeing is mostly on the ‘card’. Having left the Euro behind, we whipped from country to country changing currencies very fast. What we have to spend, we have to spend. It was simpler and quicker and less painful for John to hold the purse rather than us both to work out exchange rates and new coinage.
Instead of feeling disempowered, I have felt liberated. It has been a real treat to carry no money, do no sums, and not to fiddle with change that always includes a ‘wrong’ coin.
I still lug the camera, the only working phone, and the passports around in my still heavy bag, but being a money virgin is real heaven.
Thank you John for knowing about boring things like currencies and coins and the flags of different countries!


Thanks to J who provided us with scissors, I manage to cut John’s hair. I can’t cut my own however. S at Looks & Locks said I would have trouble getting a good haircut in Europe. I did not believe her and hoped to prove her wrong but when I reached Poland, I realised that an English speaking hairdresser might be hard to find. I started noticing how other women my age do their hair. In Poland as a general rule, it seems that women dye their hair rather than style it. Probably at home as it is cheaper. I quite fancy purple or orange hair but I still needed a cut and where were the hair salons?
In Lithuania hair salons specialise in bleaching hair not cutting it. By now I needed a haircut badly – what to do?
In Latvia we stayed on a car-park type of campsite but next door to a smart hotel. I remembered Zambia and the Intercontinental! Smart hotels have hairdressers and salon managers who speak English. An hotel would be expensive but Latvian expensive is affordable so I booked and all went well. My stylist was good and careful and had the most beautiful complexion and skin but it was a long hour without any conversation. I had my lashes and eyebrows done too and arrived back at camp with smart hair and rather dark Latvian eyebrows so I looked just like you B!
Once again though, my hair needs cutting!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


As of today we have done 6192 miles/9907 kilometres. They have not done us.

That might seem a long way, but we were in a bar today and saw a bit of the Tour de France on TV. As a sometime cyclist, that seems a lot further.

We are in Belgium.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


The location of campsites – lovely or convenient is one thing.
The conveniences of campsites is another entirely.
Above you see - the view - and the toilet block!
I have found the inconvenience of the loos and showers a real ordeal more than 50% of the time. They are too often badly designed, inefficient, miserable cold places left dirty by the last person to use them before you do. Okay – lets get things straight. I am a camper. I have been unable to get to the loo because there was a hippo in the way. I have ducked down just outside the tent because of the hyena noises nearby and I grew up with long drops and bucket loos at the bottom of the one acre garden. I am not shy about public loos or makeshift facilities but consistent bad design for essential functions renders a happy and more importantly a healthy life impossible.
I don’t much like the word toilet anyway as it has always seemed rather coy to me but after this trip I have to concede that it is the most universal word, most often understood, and spelt in an amazing variety of ways.
Toilet, WC, toaletty, toi toi, and so on as you wish.
The one thing that is impossible in a toilet block is a ‘toilette’ in the sense that you cleanse yourself and your hair and teeth and apply unguents and beauty treatments. There is nowhere to put your ‘toilet’ bag or towels, no mirror, no shelf, no hooks, no grab handle, nowhere to sit, nowhere to have dry clothes, no privacy and no time – there may be a queue both before and after you. To add to the experience, the convenience may be a great and inconvenient distance away. Some campers actually expect to cycle to the block. They must know half an hour ahead that their need will be urgent in half an hour. I don’t plan that far ahead – not after coffee and a glass or two of red wine!
The main thing is that I have managed and survived – I also no longer care if I don’t shower every day. I had decided that it was probably ecologically unethical anyway before I left home. A strip wash and a hand basin suffice when all else fails. There is no imperative to suffer cold or discomfort even to train ones soul for purgatory.

Some loo hand basins offer only cold water.
We have had to pay for hot water in the shower but found that the shower block was freezing anyway and no amount of paid for hot water warmed it up.
We have had showers that give a timed minute of hot or warmish water and leave you cold and wet with soap in your eyes and shampoo in your hair. We had coins that were refused, cards that didn’t work, water that was orange and smelt of iron and so on.

There have also been excellent conveniences that have been a delight to use. I hoped and expected that conveniences would be economic and ecological in their use of water. The worst were mean or wasteful. The best functioned. All that I hope for is a functioning convenience at each campsite. I keep hoping!

I reached the point where the best convenience ever was the wood-fired shower and rather smelly long drop at Grodki because it was functional in its own terms and designed for human use.

I have adapted. Sorry kids to tell you this – but I now walk across the campsite to the ‘convenience’ wearing – don’t give up on me please – a fluffy dark blue dressing gown.
You cannot dress yourself in jeans standing on one foot in cold water on a slippery floor without anything to hold on to except a swivelling tap that sprays you with colder water. After weeks of damp trouser legs I bought a Polish dressing gown and now stride across the campsite with those ‘older’ campers who don’t go to the block in pyjamas. I did plan to use my cotton kaftan and got John a cotton kurti for the purpose of reaching the ‘conveniences’. They were inadequate for the spring weather and as we both discovered – too late – they are split to the waist on each side and exposed private bits of us to the brisk winds.

Let me tell you about the good ‘conveniences’. Finland is great and provides saunas. Proper towels are essential for saunas– not microfibre.
Finland provided showerheads in every toilet and two or three in the showers. If a loo is built to Koranic standards of cleanliness it works and is great to use. Finland provides stainless steel public toilets that spray your hands with water and hot air and flush the loo when you open the door. I couldn’t work out how to lock it – apologies to the person who found that out!
Sweden had individual unisex shower cubicles, and loos, and wash cubicles. It worked better than separate blocks for men and women but left many non-Scandinavians in a state of panic. John and I saved money and presumably water, by showering together in Denmark with the same system. They also had sensibly, family rooms with every toilet facility for families. In Germany you can reserve at a cost, a family room! You realise how difficult camping is for Mums with small kids and no family rooms!

John thinks I overstate the problem. At the bottom of this there is a gender issue of course. Men don’t sit down as often in the loo and so don’t face – that’s the wrong word – don’t find the same problem as women do. In Scandinavia – loo seat cleaning fluid was an available standard and in Finland I found a urinal that could be used by a woman without sitting down. It worked.

My best public loo experience was at a fuel station in Germany. We paid .50 cents for the loo. As I stood up – the loo flushed itself and a section of the cistern extended over the loo seat, spun it round and cleaned it! I was thrilled to think I had actually started the loo experience with a clean seat! As good as home! I always make sure that I am the first to use the loo that I have just cleaned! Its purity and social hygiene isn’t it Thank you Mary Douglas!


I've got a really brilliant Post on the stocks about toilet rolls. Unfortunately I lost the first draft, but never fear, I am sure I can remember some of it. How you'll laugh!

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Bremen! Well, the name didn't fill me with pulse-racing anticipation and, although I had looked at the few details which our guidebook had shown (and we are beginning to find shortcomings with our jumbo every-country-you-have-ever-heard-of-guide - perhaps, now on our 14th. country, we are becoming experts) it didn't seem as though it was particularly going to be worth stopping for. But it was the requisite distance between Copenhagen and somewhere we'd never heard of which wasn't in the guidebook. It offered a decent-looking campsite, so we stopped there. Very gemuetlich it was too. The weather was a lot sunnier than our poor old readers in UK had been experiencing and we could get Radio 4, but the fact that it was on Long Wave and still carried the bloody cricket, slightly curtailed our enjoyment. We had a very pleasant time strolling around the streets in the Altstadt and alongside the river. The Beck's beer was better than I remember it, as well. In the cellar of the cathedral there are 8 mummified bodies from the 17 and 18th. centuries, preserved by the lead from the coffins in which they were placed. The private parts of the bodies were delicately screened from view by carefully placed cloths. A good thing, too! If I want to look at shrivelled up old private parts, I don't need to go to a church to see them! (But that's only a personal reflection.)

I'd never heard of the Musicians of Bremen, pictured above. Anyone interested in hearing about them?

Bremen has the Paula Modersohn-Becker museum so I got the chance to look closely at the work of this feminist icon. Her subject matter is narrow but she seems to look deep into it.


Crocs (TM), Hand-knitted Estonian slippers (NTM), bucket and washing-up liquid - a composition

Early on our trip, John and I made an unserious plan to conduct a survey of gender roles on campsites. I wanted to know if a change of lifestyle allowed retiring couples to adopt new and different roles with regard to housekeeping. We considered the idea because in the Wheely Cabin, I cook and John is washed up – no, washer-up!
Subsequent experience of the great variety of people and behaviour on campsites has blown any survey idea out of the dish water. It is too complex.
I think washing up is a horrible job on camp sites involving long walks, cold water, no sink plugs, dark areas, and knee high sinks, with drains full of food waste. Of course some kitchen areas are bright, clean, companionable, and have dreadful piped music . . . but all that is really John’s story. Apparently men often do the washing up on campsites. Nevertheless I am happy John does it but I worry that when he uses the ‘braai’/barbecue I may have to do the dishes.
By the way, D and H, those plastic buckets are fantastically useful!! Thank you so much!

Men it seems also are responsible for emptying the ‘shit’ cassettes though in Copenhagen I noticed that it was sometimes done by young women. . .
Handling (figuratively) that aspect of life is a gender issue.

I still clean the Wheely Cabin inside occasionally and I am responsible for how things are packed and stored. We are both responsible for its untidiness.
I stack the ‘hold’ however. I took over months ago when John’s back was bad and it appears that I get more things into it more efficiently more of the time. Perhaps though, you have noticed how inanimate objects can choose to alter their shape and volume from time to time so that THEY WILL NOT AND CANNOT BE MADE TO GO BACK WHERE THEY BELONG AND WHERE THEY FITTED YESTERDAY!


This was meant to be a picture of some school children in artists' smocks painting on the steps of Gothenburg's art gallery. In fact, it was quite windy day and what with Ruth's camera shaking and all of my clothes blowing away.....

Ruth took this photo with the camera upside-down. If you want to see it right side up, please invert your computer screen.

Now turn it back again.

This (above) is a ship in a drydock.

And this is me beneath a bridge in Gothenburg harbour demonstrating that there is not a lot of headroom.


Ruth had been trying to see bears somewhere in Europe ever since we left wherever it was we used to live. We found out that there were bears in south west Poland after we had moved on to south east Poland. We found out that the bears in north east Poland were looking after their new-born young and had moved to an inaccessible part of the national park. In Lithuania, the authorities had closed the park when they heard we were coming. But we were too clever for the Swedes. Although the bear park was hidden in the centre of Sweden and it was a lot further away than we were expecting so that we almost ran out of diesel on the way there and had to coast most of the way down the mountain to the nearest town on the way back, they hadn't managed to get all the bears out of sight. We saw them. We saw them pretty well, in detail and numbers. The only thing was the bears were too smart for us. Every time Ruth brought out her camera the bears held up pieces of expanded metal fencing or did this kind of trick where they went all sort-of blurry, or they shrank suddenly,so that the photos weren't quite as good as we hoped. We had to extemporise a bit. Pretty impressive, eh?

P.S. The last picture's a wolf. No, honestly.


Photograph of Bear #1 being shielded from view by Bear #2 holding panel of chainlink fencing.

Pretty neat place, hah?

If you look very carefully, you'll see a bear, centre left

All right. This is the real, real wolf.


Could one of our knowledgeable readers explain the following photos? We arrived in Sweden at the mid-summer festival at which you have to yell "Glad Sommar" at everyone and smile. Everywhere we went we saw these cross/maypoles. They're obviously symbolic, but what of? Any ideas?

Midnight Sun Reflections. This is long. Before reading, ensure you have a full glass beside you.

One of our objectives on this trip was to visit the North Cape in Norway on or around the 21st. June and experience the Midnight Sun. Before setting out, we had already decided that on or around the longest day would do, as we anticipated a bunfight of elderly travellers and the more adventurous spirits from Stonehenge. A mixture of Old Age and New Age, in fact. There wasn’t any particular need to be there on the longest day/shortest night as at the North Cape there is continuous daylight from late May to the end of July. Someone we met en route told us that they had been there in a period of 155 hours of continuous sunshine, without any cloud.

Time for a definition. At the Arctic Circle on 21st.June the Sun appears to touch, but does not sink below, the horizon. Since we all know that daylight lasts beyond sunset, it follows that 24-hour daylight exists below (but not that far below) the Arctic Circle. Also, the further North one goes, the longer will be the period of uninterrupted daylight – but not, of course, sunshine, as even in the Arctic summer there can be clouds. So, when we went on the two elk safaris and, on the second night, found two elks, 30 or so miles below the Arctic Circle it was still fully light when we went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. One night, a few days later (or was it one day, a few nights later?) when I got up at 2 in the morning to have a piss in the communal toilets of the campsite, I was little nonplussed to find that it was as light as it would have been at 9 a.m. (Don’t worry, I was fully clothed.) Anyway, to describe what the midnight sun is really like – although you may have seen the photos we took at Inari in Finnish Lapland elsewhere on the blog, which give a misleading impression since we took them into the sun and consequently everything which isn’t actually the sun is in shadow (well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?), in fact it was a bright, sunny “day”- you have to do what we did and watch it in action. I suppose we had our mesmerised eyes fixed on the sun from twenty to midnight to twenty past and watched the sun dip to about one apparent inch above the horizon and then, foreseeably but not foreseen by us, start to rise again. And nobody else on the site stood with us and watched! Just Ruth and I! It was what they expected. It was also what we “knew” but didn’t really “know” until we had been there. And it has happened every year since the Earth was formed. And always will.

The North Cape had to be visited. It is about 350 miles above the Arctic Circle. It is widely supposed to be the most northerly place in Europe and further north than all of Alaska and most of Siberia, although this is rather contentious since there is another headland on the same island a few feet further north than the North Cape, but it is not so dramatic, slinking gradually into the Arctic Ocean whereas the North Cape is a 1,000 foot cliff, which, like all sheer drops , is impossible to see from the top, unless you are falling from it, and then you don’t get the chance to tell anyone what it was like – or at least anyone mortal. Also the word “island” is a bit of a giveaway. There are other islands still in Europe which are further north, Spitsbergen, for example. But the North Cape is driveable by ox cart, car or motorhome whereas Knivskjellodden (the other headland - which is the headland shown in the last photo in the Post, "More North Cape") has to be hiked 9km. to and back again and is much harder to spell and pronounce. Another problem with the North Cape is that, being the height and latitude that it is, being “ à la limite de la terre et de la mer, à la limite du monde visible et invisible” - to refer to another place - and being a place at the junction of two seas, it is terribly subject to sudden changes of visibility. (There’s an awful convergence of language and symbolism here, which I am too simple a soul to wish to explore, but the Sami [Lapps] hold it in some reverence.) People we met who had visited it before said that they had been in bright sunshine one moment and been unable to see the caravan next to them the next. So we weren’t too bothered if, when Ruth and I got to the Cape, the weather conditions weren’t ideal. We were lucky that, when we arrived, there was bright light and when we left, there was a brief moment when the headlands for 20 – 30 miles in each direction could be seen.

What’s being at the North Cape like? Well, it’s a big car park at the top of a cliff that it costs £20 to park in. They actually give you two days as the weather is usually crap. It’s got about 50 or 60 motorhomes waiting for the weather to get better. It’s got luxury coaches from all over Europe filled with pensioners hoping to see the midnight sun before they die, and failing. It’s cold, windy and miserable (except when it’s heavenly).

That’s what it’s like when you’re there. When you are coming away you realise what you have seen. As you travel up from Norway or Finland, the trees get shorter, reindeer appear at the sides of the road and the trees peter out altogether. We didn’t see any trees in 24 hours’ driving. You arrive unexpectedly alongside the Porsangerfiord which was startlingly brightly lit by the sun and bordered by nets for drying fish. The hilltop crests were still crusted in late June with the greying remains of winter snows as were the dark valleys. There was still more than 50% snow cover. To get to MagerØya, the island which the North Cape is on, you have to drive through 4 tunnels. The first one is old, single carriageway (as are they all) quite dark and wet. I stopped, as I thought I had driven into a service area by mistake, but no, it was the main road. The other 3 were not so bad but the longest one is 6.78km. long and costs £50 to drive through, under the sea, both ways. They aren’t a lot of fun to drive through in a motorhome or, Ruth tells me, to be driven through. (That totals to nearly £130, for those who care about these things). A lot of money, but barely enough to buy two beers in Norway. (And a lot better than 2 Norwegian beers.)

When you’re watching TV and seeing pictures of crashing falls of water you see them as that; pictures. But they were there beside and around us, with us, and we with them. Oddly, since it was a place previously unknown to either of us, both Ruth and I felt deprived of something we could not name when we had separated ourselves from it and got back to what seemed more normal.

It’s getting a bit spiritual, isn’t it? If so, take it your own way.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Leaving Scandinavia (3) [and other places]

For the first time since entering the Czech Republic almost a lifetime ago, we are able to converse with people in their language, and not just mostly ours.


Leaving Scandinavia (2)

And in Bremen, the draught Beck's (whose home Bremen is) costs less than it does in Bedford and district!

Leaving Scandinavia

We drove from Middelfart in Denmark to Bremen in Germany today and thereby left Scandinavia, which we had been in for over a month, I think. It was wonderful and Ruth and I will be publishing our posts in bursts as internet access allows. Two initial thoughts:-

I never thought the day would come when Germany would seem low-priced.

Thanks to foresight and restraint we arrived in Germany with one can of Estonian beer, four bottles of iffy Spanish wine and two litres of Estonian vodka. Now we can afford to let rip. Cheers!

I don't believe it!

After all the trouble I had with my "3" phone and the bother I had to reinstall all the phone numbers which had been lost when I changed phones, I have now bloody lost the new phone, apparently in Copenhagen. So, will all our usual correspondents accept this in lieu of my usual text message:- "Bremen, Germany. John and Ruth"

I'd ask you to text me with your phone number, but I have nothing to text it to, so could you use Ruth's number. Thanks, John