Woke up around 7am and Bruce put on the espresso! It was showery overnight so the tent fly was slightly wet, so we laid them out to dry while we had breakfast (croissants and nutella which we bought at a supermarket in Prague!). Of course it showered a little during breakfast so we hustled and packed everything up still a little damp so we will try to dry it out later.
Successful wild camping expedition although the farmer went by in his tractor a couple of times and made our hearts race, although he didn’t stop, so it was all good. We wondered if we really were sneaky and not seen or seen and ignored… either way we still had a whole night, free, and without interruption so that was all good!
So off we went into the Czech Republic. Bumpy roads (pre-poured concrete slabs)made the ride hard going and kind of annoying.. although we realize that what we call “bumpy roads” now will feel like sweet velvet by the end of this trip. We are preparing every day for worse and worse road conditions but hoping to be surprised.
We almost got out of the Czech Rep. when a police car pull around us… we waved and smiled and thought nothing of it until the little LED sign in the back of the police car started flashing something in Czech… then in German… then in French … then finally… “Follow Me!!” scrolled across the sign. We were not perturbed thinking that they were just curious of the Big Blue Bus with stickers all over it, funny people waving at them, and Massachusetts plates… Until we pulled into a rest stop and the nice Czech Police officer explained that we needed a toll pass to use this road and that we would have to pay the fine since we did not have one…
Now we ACTUALLY didn’t know that the road we were on was a toll road… or at least we thought that there would have been toll booths if it was a toll road… well no… of course not.. we were supposed to have picked up a little ticket to display in our window at a post office or police station… which of course we didn’t do because we didn’t know…
The nice police officer with his nice translated brochure about just this type of offence said that the maximum fine was 5,000 Czech crowns… then 1,000 Czech crowns then we got out of the Bus and brought over the paperwork and passports and.. 2 Official Salem Police Patches … and the fine was 500 Czech crowns or 25 euros… (about $ 35) almost the same as if we had bought the pass in the first place. There were actually 2 police officers, a very nice a man and a woman, and said that they couldn’t let us off scot free because they had video surveillance in the police vehicle… they actually had a whole computer set up in the van and could have taken visa or mastercard if we had needed to give it… how the world has changed , no?
So finally they lets us go for 25 Euros and 2 police patches and a couple of laughs and then we were off into Slovakia… now realize that the nice policeman had told us that both Slovakia and Hungary (our next 2 countries) had toll roads very similar to Czech (meaning not much signage but a great deal of enforcement). So we tried to take the non-toll road through Slovakia… Well we went about 6km into Slovakia until we found the non-toll road (we were both on the lookout for police throughout the whole 6 km) and decided it would be better to hop over into Austria for a bit... So we did.
We took a tiny bridge over the River March and spent the next few hours meandering through beautiful Austrian agriculture and hillside. We had a bite to eat around 11am and then were offered help finding our way by a very nice Austrian driver who did not speak English but we appreciated his attempted help none-the-less. We re-crossed over the river Danube through an old castle gate and then we hopped back into Slovakia, attempting to stay on non-toll roads. We succeeded for awhile but ended up getting tossed onto the toll road around Bratislava and had to book it for the boarder before the Slovakian police took another bite out of our purse.
Thankfully and with a bit of speed … we made it to the Hungarian border. Hungary is a land to itself.
First of all, the Hungarian language is incredibly strange. Huge long words with accents going every which way make it actually impossible for the non-Hungarian speaker to even attempt to pronounce the words. Bruce and I started making up word for the places we were going because we actually could not put the letters together in any way that made sense… Finally we started laughing and saying “these are not words!” Now not only are their words confusing but their road signs look like a course in expert basket weaving. The roads loop and intersect and cross over in all manner of directions and the names of the locations are in Hungarian (enough said) and every road (of which there are usually 3 or 4 per sign) has two or three designations… meaning that the road we are on right now is The 4, The 42, and the E60. So you can imagine our confusion. To top it off, sometimes their signs lead you to places that aren’t even there. We tried following signs to a Tesco hypermarket and realized that it didn’t exist yet… or the Hungarians have mastered the art of invisibility. So we ended up at a McDonalds for the free Wifi and a cup of coffee and found a Lidl Market and grabbed some food for the next few meals.
Other impressions of Hungary:
1. Lots of Communist block style buildings painted in vivid colors
2. Land of Sunflowers… but no sun so they were all droopy…
3. Very agricultural – mostly sunflowers, some corn, very green
Finally it was getting late and we needed to find a place to camp. We were so successful the previous night wild camping that we thought we would find a little secluded spot and pitch the tent for the night again. Well, I did mention that Hungary was very agricultural and farms are usually very flat, thus high visibility places. We tried a back road and could not find a good hiding spot (the BBB is kind of conspicuous) and we thought we were going to have to turn around but Bruce had spotted a sign for a “Klubhotel” and we went to check it out. So we bumped down a random little road in a random little town in Hungary and found the Klubhotel and oddly enough a car with Choose Life Florida plates in the lot. Weird and a little disconcerting.
The place looked beautiful (and not much like a hotel and more like a timeshare resort) with little cabanas and houses on the property, tennis courts, pool, jungle gym. We saw people in a semi-open room being presented a powerpoint of something in English. Slightly disoriented, we went into reception and met a nice man named Steve (Translated) who didn’t speak much English. They were just closing up. So we asked for a room but there were no rooms because… wait for it… supposedly there was “California Baseball Club” staying at the hotel. Really strange. Then we asked if we could camp in their yard. With a little pleading in English/Acting out camping/Hungarian/Smiling and look pitiful… Steve said that we could camp in the yard. So we camped in the strange American filled resort in the back-end-of-nowhere, somewhere in Hungary.
In the evening, we were left to our own devices. The hotel staff had left and the people staying at the resort just looked at us strangely, but otherwise ignored us.
We set up the tent in the yard and then realized that we were on a slightly muddy area, which wouldn’t have been an issue if it hadn’t been crazy sticky Hungarian mud, the consistency of puppy poop. So we moved onto the asphalt parking lot and parked the van in front of the tent. Now on asphalt there aren’t many places to stick in the tent spikes to hold the rain fly away from the tent, so we improvised. We tied the tent off to a branch of a bush and to the wheels of the van with string. Then we pulled out our camp chairs and stove and made ourselves a perfect little sitting area and had dinner of mushroom, onion, and pepper scrambled eggs with brown bread, Hungarian wine, tea, and nutella for dessert. I love camping.
When we were done with dinner we needed to clean up. So of course in the spirit of adventure we snuck around a little and found that the hotel staff area was unlocked. We found a laundry room and a little kitchenette and a bathroom with a SHOWER!!! Under the cover of darkness we snuck into the kitchenette to wash out dinner dishes and took showers and brushed our teeth … it WAS unlocked and no one said not to… here’s to adventure during the Mongol Rally! Success!
Now back to our impressions of where we stayed: We noticed as we were sitting at dinner that there was a helicopter or helicopters making loops over our area. We heard the whirl of propellers 8-10 times over the course of an hour. Were we under watch or was Serbia invading? Also, why are Americans (adults and kids) with Florida pro-life license plates staying out in the middle of Hungary for California Baseball camp? Were we about to drink the cool-aid? Whatever that place was at least we had another successful free night of camping and a shower… but we both still wonder what we weren’t seeing… Here’s to adventure!
Tomorrow we are off to Romania, passing right through Transylvainia!!!! Dracula here we come!
As always Viva Mongolia!!!