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Please contact us on this address from now on.

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Mike and Margaret
Alexandria Apartments

Camping at Baie des Voiles - very Australian scene

Mr Gato has performed admirably but is tired and in recognition we spurned the quick route over the mountains in favour of the pass through northern Slovenia at Kranjska Gora and into Italy at Ratece. It is hot and tiring and we are headed for Bibione on the coast north of Venice. Italian schools are still on holiday so Camping Il Tridente is full. The region reminds us of Surfers Paradise with the same style apartment blocks, mostly tasteful, and streets laid out along the beach front. Biblione is quaint and quiet and pleasant.

Il Tridente is a family campground set amongst pine trees, very nice but a little officious. We must wear purple bracelets at all times (20 euro charge if lost) and we run foul of the guard at the gate even before we have pitched camp by not displaying our camp card in the proper place when we enter. The guard patrols the campground on a motor scooter with a beady eye out for miscreants not wearing their bracelets and seems to keep a special look for us as he idles past. When we check in the receptionist tells us they had a New Zealander staying in the hotel last month. “Perhaps you know him?” Oh yeah! “He was Mr Lomu”.

The beach is nice but is the usual Italian mass of blue umbrellas and loungers attached to the hotels and laid out in grids

Corsica is famous for its charcuterie - lots of sanglier meat

down to the water and that one must rent if you want a spot on the sand. Not quite true as there is a five metre wide strip between road and beach “retained” for day visitors. I read somewhere that about two thirds of Italy’s tourist coastline is privatised like this and there is a movement by Italians to reclaim their beaches. One sees Italian corruption at work here as no doubt there is money in this system for someone.

We traverse Italy past Bologna and have a night at Camping Riva del Setta in the Setta Valley which obviously used to be attractive but now has a motorway through its middle and then continue on for two nights at Camping Lago di Tamarici, a small campground in a nature reserve about ten kms from Pisa. We get in some walking and kayaking around the lake before driving to Livorno where the ferries depart for Corsica. We leave camp to catch the 2 o’clock sailing without our awning courtesy of a huge gust of wind and my forgetting to peg it down. The ferry to Bastia takes four hours and is simple to board with the other cars and campervans though only half full as the summer holidays are over for most Europeans. An hour south of Bastia on Corsica’s Costa Verde on the east coast is Moriani Plage and Camping Mirandella. We think we have hit the jackpot as we settle Mr Gato

The beach at Ghisonaccia on the Costa Verde leads to the mountains

into his spot five metres from the beach and 30 metres from the water. Most of Corsica’s east is a coastal strip about five kms between sea and rugged mountains. The beaches are narrow but are white sand and blue sea with tasteful Mediterranean style apartments and hotels at intervals along the coast. Moriani Plage is one km from the campground, touristy but also with the village traiteur, boulangerie and chacuterie, all the things we were used to in France and have missed. The sea is warm and the weather hot and sunny. We arrive on Sunday evening and stroll to the campground bar on the beach. The young brothers and their cousin who run the campground are settling in over a drink and they tell us it is the last night of the bar before closing for summer. We have free drinks all night and we hear the workers still going strong at 3 a.m.

One planned day here becomes five – of reading, walking and swimming. Oh, and watching the NZ v Tonga World Cup opener in the local bar/pizzeria.

One hundred and fifty kms south on the coast is Porto Vecchio and we find Camping Baie de Voiles and again we set up on a terrace beneath large eucalyptus trees and overlooking the beach 30 metres away. We are 6kms from the town on the Golfe de Porto Vecchio which is some 30kms from Corsica’s southern tip at Bonafacio. We can easily bike into town which is the usual mix of old town on the hill overlooking the more modern port and bars and restaurants at the head of the bay.

Early morning swim at Bodri Beach - like liquid glass

Porto Vecchio is lively but we are here for R and R after a long trip and settle down at the beach.

We have decided to visit Corte, the university town in the centre of the island but are nervous about driving there. Corsica is a very mountainous island with a very rugged centre. While the east coast and the northern tip are beautiful sandy beaches the south and west are rocky coasts with narrow winding road access. We are told that there will be no problem taking Mr Gato through Corte in the centre to Calvi in the north. In the end the trip is not difficult as Corte lies in a mountain pass and although it is necessary to climb a little we make the trip without problem ending at Ile Rousse and Camping Bodri on the northern tip of Corsica.

Ile Rousse named after the red outcropping that encircles the harbour is a small fishing port that caters for locals and tourists. But it has a tranquility about it that is enticing. We can sit in the platane sipping a rose in the shade looking out over the water. Or more particularly at the boulistes as the Premier International Paoli L’Isula-Rossa 2011 is on. It is the first Corsica international boules championship and the world champion is here so we enjoy watching some scintillating boules. I

Boulistes at Ile Rousse - a serious business

mean these guys are seriously good and every boule hits its mark. It is worlds apart from the camp ground championships MTC and I play.

Camping Bodri is a hop and a skip from Bodri Beach. This is Hahei in miniature except the sea is warm and calm. The water is a sparkling turquoise and swimming is like gliding through liquid glass. As Dave Dobbin said “it’s a slice of heaven”.

Calvi is just 25kms along the coast from Ile Rousse but the relationship between the two towns is like Auckland and the rest of NZ. We are told that when the Genovese attacked Corsica in 1347 the people of Ile Rousse secured their fort and prepared for a fight. The Calvists welcomed them with open arms. Relations have been sour ever since.

Camping La Pinede incongruously set under eucalypts is a 100 metre stroll to the beach and 20 minute walk to Calvi centre. Calvi is the classic Mediterranean town with the old town and fort on the promontory overlooking the port and

Calvi and the beach

tourist part below. It is all soft yellows and ochre and red roofs with the bay stretching out to the east. They say the beach is the best in Europe. Debatable but it is a top tenner. The 2nd Foreign Legion Regiment is based here too and we see a lot of very large and scary men running in the morning and parachutists exercising in the afternoon.

Again we lie about, read and swim for four days before catching the ferry to Nice and Malemort du Comtat to collect our bags, say goodbye and head for London and home. Home? After nearly ten years in Europe we have a little debate as to where home is. Well if it is where the heart is – then, of course there is Pippa, Seb and little Josh. And all the rest of you to catch up with of course.

I can only hope that it will also soon be the home of the Rugby World Cup. Jeez I’m nervous.

We were advised by the girl in the Tourist Information Office at Ptuj to go to Lake Bohinj rather than Lake Bled in the north as Bled is very touristy and crowded. Bohinj is only a further 20 kms on but tranquil. Camping Danica is beside the small village of Bohinjstra Bistica, the largest of the villages here after Bled. We are very fortunate to find a place beside the river

The Office - Camping Danica, Lake Bohinj

as the campground is quite full. We are camped beside a delightful Slovenian couple, Nico, Nina and their son Jakob and they of course speak perfect English. This is the best campground we have stayed at. It is beside a river, 5kms by cycle path to Lake Bohinj, good clean facilities and a backdrop of Mt Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak. And warm, sunny weather. Bliss. We are already mentally tacking on a few more days to our stay here.

Nina and Nico tell us that they saw some NZ rowers training at Lake Bohinj. We cycle alongside the river through open pasture and forest to the lake. No NZ rowers but we do see a trailer and a chair

Lake Bohinj from the funicular - 1500 metres up

with the NZ flag woven onto it. At the edge of the lake sits a man in a towelling hat hunched over a notebook. “Are you with the NZ rowers” we say. Grunt. “We have heard there are NZ rowers here” we ask. Grunt. He turns out to be Dick, a coach with the NZ team and (like extracting teeth) he tells us that the World Rowing Champs are on at Lake Bled starting Sunday. Dick opens up a little when he accepts that we are not there for trade secrets or a cutting quote and we chat with him and Seah, the masseuse, before the rowers return. First Emma Twigg then the women’s four and then the mens double rowers. MTC wobbles a little at the knees as she photographs the hunky (her words not mine) Eric Murray and Hamish Bond carrying their boat up from the lake.

At the camp I google Dick and find he is in fact Richard Tonks, Head Coach and International Coach of the Year twice including 2010. “A man of few words” says his profile but we found him warm and interesting and obviously passionate.

Dick Tonks and Emma Twigg - training on Lake Bohinj

And, given the success of NZ Rowing over the last 20 years a big part of that success. In fact I was thinking that with the Rugby World Cup looming and the number of world championships won by the All Blacks v the NZ rowers over the years perhaps we should stick to rowing.

We hire kayaks and kayak the seven kms down the Bohinjska River for three hours through rapids and over weirs. Embarrassingly I tip out twice. MTC at under 50 kgs bobs along like a natural. It is heaven here but the patriotic call of watching NZ compete in sport is strong so move camp to Camping Bled at the head of the lake and just metres from the rowing centre and finish line.

Sunday night is the opening ceremony and entry is free so we find a seat in the back of the stands at the side of the main grandstand beside a Slovenic couple whose son is carrying the South African flag in the march past. Now Lake Bled is stunningly beautiful with its island church and 1,000 year old castle high up above the water but it is even more so at night with the lights of Bled twinkling at the lake end. Naneid, a physed teacher,

Lake Bled - the island and castle

keeps us entertained all evening. When we cannot see the entertainers in front of the main stand he says “We are a piece of shit up here”. When the male host introduces “my beautiful co-host” he says “she thinks so” etc. He also rails against the corruption and political mismanagement in Slovenia but when the National Anthem plays and the Slovenian team is called there is no one more upright and patriotic. The opening ceremony is a credit to the hosts. The highlight is the arrival of Milena Moraca the Slovenian opera singer accompanied by her violin playing husband floating across the floodlit lake on a traditional lake gondola. The fireworks display is oarsome as well.

Camping Bled is tops, up there with Bohinj. While Bohinj was rustic, Bled has the trees and parkland but with a thriving bar and restaurant and the little matter of a rowing world champs on its doorstep.

The lake is gorgeous and we swim to the island, lunch on grilled octopus and risotto and cycle the six kms around the shoreline past rowers training, the startline, the boatcentre and the finish. Rowing is an easy sport to watch with the competitors mingling with spectators and family as they train or just rest up. The big screen TV set up at the finish makes it simple to watch the race and follow it as well.

We come across a little NZ success story in the form of Greg Sowden and Takacats. Greg supplied the inflatable catamarans

Training on Lake Bled

for the 2010 champs at Karapiro and the 2011 organisers were impressed enough to engage him here. The boats are used for security, TV and the referees on the the water. We also meet several parents including the very congenial Mick and Mary Strack whose daughter Lucy is in the women’s lightweight sculls and Mrs. Cohen whose son Nathan is in the men’s double sculls and a current world champ. We also chat with the delightful Hannah and Alice the Australian Women’s lightweight scullers over coffee. They take the time to explain a bit of the ins and outs of rowing and the training involved. They were also very complimentary of the organisation at Karapiro for last year’s world champs. “But look where you are staying” we say pointing at the impressive Hotel Bled overlooking the lake and thinking of Hamilton. “Oh we were ok in NZ. We stayed at the Hamilton Airport Inn”. Wry smiles.

We would love to stay for the finals but after two days of watching time is pressing and Corsica calling.

I FEEL SLOVENIA. And we do. This is a truly stunning country albeit beste with some political problems (its coalition government is splitting apart over pension reform – what else!) and economic times are hard. In Ljubljana we meet Aljaz, a design student posing as a 19thcentury postman for the Tourist Board during his holidays. He tells us it is hard for

Aljaz the postman, student and political commentator

young people to get a job and many move to other countries. Others tell us that the Slovenian dream of independence has been tarnished a little by corruption and the emergence of a super rich class. All Slovenians are not treated equal they say. Welcome to capitalism I say. But the tourists are returning and many shopkeepers say it has been a very good season. Slovenia it is very attractive to tourists, winter and summer – with lovely towns, a growing wine industry, hiking, tramping and rafting in summer and all the winter sports. And all this in a spectacular setting.

This is also the first European country we have visited where there is an obvious absence of black immigrants. There is a whiff of the far right here as well notably in some of the graffiti. Nevertheless the people are welcoming, very pleasant and approachable and speak great English.

And yes, it has to be said – the girls are the most attractive in Europe – blond, slim, tanned and pretty.

Slovenia is a green country in each sense of the word. It is the second most forested country in Europe (58% covered) with a strong environmental programme. Over a third is protected national park, not surprising as tourism, particularly

Ptuj from across the River Drava

adventure tourism, is a big feature. Wine is also a growing industry with three significant wine growing regions.

It is a small country wedged between Croatia and Austria with Hungary and Italy on its eastern and western borders. The people will talk openly of the Balkans war and describe their country as young – “we are only 20 years old” they say.

First we stop in Ptuj, Slovenia’s oldest town just an hour’s drive from the border with Hungary. It has one of the more than 20 thermal/wellness centres in Slovenia. Camping Terme Ptuj is part of the aquatic park and spa resort. We get free entry and indulge ourselves each day with a swim, sauna and spa massage. The thermal region was discovered in the late 19th century about the same time as electricity if you ask me. Rotorua this is not. Not a whiff of hydrogen sulphide in a modern pool and spa complex.

Ptuj itself is an attractive, once Roman town with modern features. The village is all white stone and red tile roofs on the Drava River with the requisite castle overlooking the town. It is not far from the wine regions of Jeruzalem and Maribor (which boasts the world’s oldest vine at 400 years) and is built on a network of old wine cellars. After three days pampering we head for the capital Ljubljana.

Preseren Square with Slovenia's famous poet Franz Preseren's statue

We are staying at Camping Ljubljana Resort, a fancy name for a poorly managed campsite. It is a large campground perhaps the largest we have stayed in but has only one sanitary block. Consequently it is very difficult to find a free shower cubicle or toilet. The plumbing is overtaxed and for three days two of the three urinals are out of order. The individual sites are big but the campground is overcrowded and campers are constantly coming and going late into the night because it is a transit camp between Italy, Austria and northern Europe. People arrive for one night stays visit the city and move on. We watch with sardonic smiles as the Americans and Belgians on the two sites opposite arrive back in the evening to find a British family have wedged their tent between their two campervans and are stretched out a metre from each doorstep. Quite rude really and lazy as there are spare sites in the tent area further on.

We cycle the five kms into central Ljubljana along a well formed cycle path but it is hot, very hot at 36C. Ljubljana is all about the River Ljubljanica which cuts the town centre in half. It is a small city (pop. 280,000) and combines its historic heritage nicely with a modern city lifestyle. The old but attractive university on the edge of the city centre adds to this with its small cafes and bars full of students just enjoying life.

Ljubljana’s city symbol is a dragon and legend is that Jason, fleeing with his Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, fought and

Along the Ljubljanica River

killed the monster and established Ljubljana before returning to Greece. The small historic centre is small and easily walked around beneath the imposing Ljubljana Castle. Everywhere are examples of the work of Slovenia’s best known architect Joze Plecnik. We stand on Cobbler’s Bridge a wide square bridge designed as a “square above water”. It works. Everywhere there are wide attractive squares but most notable are Kongresni Trg square with its plane trees and park and university buildings and Trg Republika square with its Monument to Revolution and the Slovenian Parliament. The surrounding suburbs are all gardens and and parks and small open bars and cafes. We could live here.

We had intended moving on to Italy but are advised to go north to see the mountains and Lakes Bled and Bohinj. Just like New Zealand the Slovenians say. So we do.

For the most part of the 20thcentury Hungary suffered under right wing dictatorships, world war and occupation and Soviet/communist rule. Allied with Germany for the early part of WW2 then occupied by the Germans the country suffered badly not least the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were deported to concentration camps. So called relief arrived in the form of the Russians and another terror campaign instigated to satisfy the paranoiac and psychotic Stalin. However

Is this the best parliament site in the world? Parliament Building in Budapest on the banks of the Danube

following the 1956 revolution (ruthlessly crushed but a warning heeded by the Soviets) a more liberal form of communism existed. This is all set out in stark detail in the Terror Haza (House of Terror) in central Budapest. The house is really a three storey stone building on the open and tree lined Andrassy Boulevard. It is now a museum but was once the Hungarian Nazi Party (the Arrow Cross ) HQ and then between 1945 and 1956 the home of the dreaded communist secret police organisations, the AVO then AVH. The museum shows the suffering that can and does occur under terrorist dictatorships. The walls of photographs of the victims and the perpetrators “Wall of Shame” is particularly poignant as is the film clips of weeping elderly men and woman recounting their suffering or family losses. Visit if in Budapest.

We find the Hungarian people to be closed with an air of sadness – certainly what appears to be a suspicion of strangers. Language is a difficulty as Hungarian is unlike any other language except apparently Finnish and other than tourist outlet operators there is limited English spoken. But as always when difficulties

Enjoying a wine tasting at Borbaratok without understanding a word - after a delicious fried goose liver lunch

arise people are not what they seem. We struggle to buy a ticket for the bus because no one will accept our large denomination notes. Immediately several locals crowd around attempting to advise and help. Elderly commuters with walking sticks gesticulate keeping up a stream of incomprehensible Hungarian. Eventually one old man leads us into a seedy bar and arranges for the barman to see us right with a smile and a warm handshake. Who are the real Hungarians? Frankly it is hard to tell.

Budapest is a mish mash of a city situated as it is on the west and east banks of the Danube. The tram and bus systems are superb and any part of the city is very easily accessed. The city is exciting and throbs with activity as the locals hurry about their business alongside tourists. The atmosphere is slightly Asian with restaurant and shop touts calling and cajoling along the main streets. The streets are wide and tree lined, boulevards really and always, always there is the river nearby crisscrossed by four impressive bridges all rebuilt after being destroyed by the Germans in their retreat. Four and five storey brown stone apartment buildings overlook the boulevards alongside modern department and fashion stores, cafes, pubs and restaurants housed in impressive stone buildings.

Our campsite at Camping Venus on Lake Balaton

On the Buda side are several large baths, a legacy of the Turkish occupation. MTC is desperate for a foot massage but decides it could never be as good as Tehruna’s. There is the fabulous Opera House and the Parliament Buildings, the National Museum and a city park all overlooked by the castle and the green hills of Buda. Budapest is a marvellous city, vibrant and a little exotic and we are so pleased we decided to visit. It is also apparently the party capital of Europe but we decline its invitation and return to camp. Tomorrow we head for Lake Balaton, “the Hungarian Sea” and the country’s playground.

Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe. Most of the bigger towns on its northern and southern shores are very popular tourist spots with resorts,apartment buildings, large campgrounds and monstrous aquaparks pushing down to the lake’s edge. But we find Camping Venus, a small campsite on the north side beside the small village of Balatonszepzed where we spend 4 days lazing, reading, swimming and cycling the path along the lake’s edge. Our site is on the water and we watch the many campers who have come for the fishing pull in large carp, pike and bream. It is quiet and relaxing and thankfully the weather has turned. The days dawn bright and clear and we swim in 25-30C each day.

To relax the muscles even more we go to Heviz at the western end of the lake. Heviz is the Rotorua of Hungary and Hevizi

Taking the waters at Heviz Gyogyto - the thermal lake

Gyogyto (the curative lake of Heviz) is the largest biologically active, natural, peat mud, thermal lake in the world (which name starts with H)! No really. It is 4.4 hectares of mildly bubbling water fed by springs and chock full of minerals and other good things to help muscular, vascular and gynaecological problems. We lie about with hundreds of others soaking up the goodness. I arrive with a sore shoulder and after an hour and a half we leave feeling relaxed and energised. The next day I have two sore shoulders and a bad back. Who knows?

MTC though is ecstatic and glowing.

There is of course so much more to Hungary – traditional villages, beautiful national parks and history. It is the home of Franz Liszt, Erno Rubik of the cube, Laszlo Biro and the ballpoint pen and Ferenc Puskos arguably one of the world’s best ever footballers. There are many others and emigrating Hungarian families have produced Jerry Seinfeld, Tony Curtis and Paul Simon amongst others.

On our way back to the camp in Heviz we stop to watch a large balloon being inflated and start chatting to one of the operators of Balaton Ballooning. He tells us he has a brother who operated a balloon company in Christchurch but is now operating their business in Dubai. It is a small world.

And we are now preparing to go to a small country, Slovenia which we are told packs in so much.

About one hour from Vienna we arrive at the border with western Hungary. There is no passport control but it is necessary to stop at the parking area before entering the motorway to buy a vignette – the sticker that is the equivalent of a motorway toll. Here it is only 13 euros for a year’s driving. The purchase is made in a little wooden hut on the edge of the parking lot and we tourists all line up with our vehicle rego papers. Apparently the registration number is entered into a computer system and your progress can be followed along the Hungarian motorways forever. I also want to change some

Waiting for the No. 6 tram outside Nagy railway station in Budapest

money for florints, the Hungarian currency – about 250 to the euro – and I grunt some French and English and wave my hands about to indicate what I want. The severe looking lady hands me my vignette and cash and replies with a pitying little smile in perfect English. We set off for Budapest with 80,000 florints in our pockets and anticipation in our hearts.

Hungary, like all central European countries has a rich and long history of occupation and renaissance. Associated with Attila the Hun (hence the name) the modern Hungarian people are in fact the descendants of the Magyar tribes who migrated from the east in the 9th century. The country also has had a Christian tradition since 1000 AD when the Magyar Kings ruled.

At various times attacked by the Mongols, the Turks (in the 16th century) and the Habsburgs the Hungarians seemed to repel or survive each invasion. I am surprised anyone tried to take them on at all as the men are built like squat brick shithouses with a bit more muscle thrown in for good measure. If rugby was played only by frontrow forwards then Hungary would have won every Rugby World Cup since inception beating Georgia in each final (the women would have fared well too I think!).

The modern history since WW1 until the breakdown of the Soviet Bloc in the 1990’s has been particularly sad but more of that later.

We drive towards Budapest across flat country covered in maize fields and pass the industrial town of Gyor belching

The Chain Bridge across the Danube in central Budapest - we crossed it from our side Buda to Pest

smoke and faithfully following our GPS before fetching up at an empty construction site on the outskirts of Budapest. Our Tom Tom has been great up to now (MTC calls it a marriage saver) but as they say GIGO. We try to reprogram, get told to “turn around as soon as possible” on the dusty site, turn it off and try to ask some locals. A bit of arm waving, head shaking and complete incomprehension follows so we hit the highway again and 20 minutes later get lucky with a campground sign. We arrive at Camping Fortuna in the small town of Torokbalint some 15 kms from Budapest centre to be greeted by Mr. Szucs. His family had land confiscated under the communist regime and were compensated with this land after the Russian troops left in 1990. Mr Szucs had the bright idea of setting up a camping ground and they have created a lovely medium size campground on the outskirts of Budapest. We are told by another camper that ten years ago you needed a booking to get in. Sadly now with the financial crisis and other campgrounds opening nearer the city it has been a little let go. Mr Szucs tells us that he cannot sell as no one has money and the banks won’t lend. It struggles on a third full at the season’s height. The upside is we have a large pitch under shady trees with no neighbours.

Finally a genuine goulash soup after tourist fare

We settle in but not before a full half hour lecture on the state of camping, Hungary, the world, the English language, the Hungarian language and the British supermarket chain Tescos (who are well established in Hungary). We sit silent (as any response is dismissed airily with the wave of a huge hand). But best of all we have ten minutes on the transport system in Budapest which includes buses, trams and a metro (the oldest on the continent – London I say- not on the continent he says). We leave with a city map marked with routes, tram and bus numbers and sights to see and it turns out to be a godsend. Thank you so much Mr Szucs.

The next day it pours with rain, our bus breaks down halfway into the city and we wait in the teeming rain for a replacement. We arrive in the city and avoid the rain in the first reasonable looking restaurant we see and enjoy an overpriced and very average tourist meal.

Really, our Budapest experience will begin tomorrow.

Our campground in Klosterneuberg is 14 kms along the Donauweg (Danube way) cyclepath to Vienna. It is raining hard the day we arrive so we take the train into Vienna and, umbrellas held high, slosh around in the glistening sodden squares with the few other tourists before returning to camp. However not before we have sussed out the city and visited the fine arts museum, standing drooling over the finest collection of Peter Bruegel (the Elder and Younger) paintings in Europe plus some rather decent Rembrandt portraits. The next day is sunny and we take the cycle path. Nearing the historic city centre the path runs below a series of spaghetti junctions and bridges. It feels a bit like entering the city by stealth through its cement underbelly.

The golden boy - Johann Strauss

We arrive through Stadt Park waving to the golden statue of Johann Strauss II that sits in the centre of the park on the edge of the old city centre. The park is just off the Ringstrasse which circles and defines the old city. Built in the mid 19th century it is a wide circular boulevard that allows traffic and trams to circle the city centre without disrupting its activity. Forethought is a great thing. We walk up Karntnerstrasse the pedestrian street that bisects the centre mingling with the hundreds of tourists who walk past the Starbucks, McDs, and international shops that line the street. If this is “old” Vienna you can have it. But it is a matter of a few dozen metres off this street to find the real boulevards and squares each with its own church, fountain, statue or green space that makes this such a wondrous city.

The centrepiece is the Hofburg, the huge palace that grew over six centuries as the imperial court of Austria and which is an impressive series of palaces and courtyards and gardens. The surrounding streets are lined with smaller palaces as competing noble families built to be near the Hofburg. Another impressive Mozart statue sits in the Burggarten. The Spanish Riding School is housed in the

Part of the Hofburg and one of its several courtyards - horse and trap rides offered

Hofburg complex. Unfortunately the Lipizzaner horse shows are closed for the summer but we see their huge handsome white heads bobbing up and down as they circle around on the exercise machine. The Vienna boys choir are also on vacation but never mind I tell MTC as I saw them at the Regent in PN with my parents when a lad.

In Stephensplatz is the impressive Stephansdom with a magnificent glazed tile roof and along the street is the Vienna State Opera House or Staatsoper. It was partly destroyed by bombing in 1945 but reopened in 1955 with a new auditorium. The Staatsoper is lined with bewigged and robed music and dance students hawking tickets to that evenings shows. We chat with a ballet student from Kosovo who has arrived in Vienna to pursue his dream and sells tickets by day and dances by night.

The impressive tiled dome roof of Stephansdom in Stephanplatz

Aside from the history the streets are lined with airy tearooms and quaint restaurants and bars on every corner. Just outside the Ringstrasse is the Nichtmarkt, a one km long stretch of restaurants and market stalls more reminiscent of an Asian city than central Europe. It is lively and throbbing even in the early afternoon. We settle for what appears to be an authentic Greek cafe around the corner and enjoy a lunch of calamari and spinach pie.

MTC and I agree (unusual in itself) that Vienna is the most attractive city after Paris (and without the skyline) we have visited. It has many tourists but doesn’t seem crowded, there is history and music and art mixed with pleasant bars and cafes and green space to allow a quiet respite from touristing.

Back at the campground we have become McDonalds addicts. The cheeseburgers are good but it is the free WIFI that really attracts!

Tomorrow we leave for Hungary and Budapest. This is the turning point in our trip. It is the furthest east we will go and we think our travels may become more challenging.

Austria is the sixth country,including France, into which we have been safely delivered by Mr Gato. It turns out to be one of the most beautiful. Austria has existed for less than one hundred years as a country in its own right but it has a rich

View over Salzburg from the castle Festung Hohensalzburg

history as part of the Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires. It is landlocked, bordered by Germany and Switzerland in the north and west and the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia to the east and south and is shaped a little like a squashed pumpkin. Nevertheless it is a Cinderella. The terrain is varied with the Alps in the west and south west and green and lush plains and rolling hills to the east topped off by the Danube River which flows across the top of Austria for 360 kms from the northeast into Hungary.

Not far after crossing the border with Germany we arrive at Camping Nord Sam, seven kms from central Salzburg. The bad weather has followed us so despite a lovely cycle path along the river we take the bus into Salzburg old town and drip drip our way around before giving up and returning to camp. The next day we cycle in sunshine and not for the first time discover that what appears as a dreary old city in the rain turns out to be a delight. Medieval Salzburg is not big and is centred either side of the River Salzach. On the north bank (the tourist part) is a series of narrow lanes and bright open squares. Salzburg is of course the birthplace of Wolfgang A. Mozart and Mozartplatz is

The great man overlooks Mozartplatz

dominated by a statue of the great man. Overlooking the the old city is the 11th century medieval fortress Festung Hohensalzburg and we pay the exorbitant cost to take the 200 metre funicular up to it rather than walk. There are also many fine churches and the Benedictine Monastery (c. AD 700) around which the city grew up. The south side is more apartments and shops but there are many fine churches and buildings here also.

Being the birthplace of Mozart there is a strong musical tradition and we arrive at the start of the Salzburger Festspiele, a week’s outdoor festival of opera, classical music and concerts. The tickets are free but because of the weather much of it is cancelled and we cannot get tickets to what is left. In compensation we eat at the pizzeria near the campground having the largest pizza we have ever encountered. Ironic given Austria is famous for its cakes and pastries.

We have a lovely day before we leave and cycle up to Seekirchen on Lake Wallesee in the hills behind Salzburg through what can only be the typical Austrian rural scenes. Cows grazing in meadows alongside shapely chalets and large barns for wintering. The scene is delightful and we can easily believe we have been transported along with Julie Andrews into “The Sound of Music” as we stand in the meadows gazing at the misty alps in the distance..

View of Grein on a bend in the Danube from the bridge

We head north east to the small town of Grein. Camping Grein is on the left bank of the Danube 500 metres from the town centre and is a popular overnight stop for cyclists doing a week to ten days ride between Passau in Germany and Vienna. The campground is empty by 9 am each morning but from mid afternoon fills up with the tents of bedraggled and dripping cycling groups (yes its raining again) and families. We are surprised at the number of family groups,

French family leave camp for another days cycling

usually German or Dutch doing the ride. One Italian group arrives and I stand in wonder as with much arm waving and shouting they change sites three times while the children ring bicycle bells non-stop and turn the water taps on and off. The sun shines long enough for us to do two 40 km rides. The cycle path on either side of the river is very good and we go one day down river to Ybbs and the next up river to Waldensee and back. The towns are situated on the cycle path and all benefit from the numbers of cyclists many of whom stay in the guesthouses which are regularly spaced along the route. We stop at the Gasthaus Parlament for lunch and after having a stab at the German menu end up with not the sausage and sauerkraut we thought we’d ordered but two polonies in a goulash soup. Not bad actually with home made cider.

The Danube is brown and fast flowing after all the rain and we learn that there is to be an exercise Saturday night to erect

Erecting the flood barriers against the Danube in Grein

the flood barriers. The town has erected a kind of low sea wall onto which bolt three metre metal poles between which slot aluminium panels to give a four metre high barrier along the town front. Everyone is out to watch eating ice-creams as the firebrigade and local civil defence time themselves putting up the poles and panels. We are pleased to hear they are taking it all down again. I ask someone if they think it will work. He says meaningfully “it is really only to save Vienna”.

To which we waltz off the next day.

We are at the Camping Gorham am See on the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The Bodensee which is one Europe’s largest alpine lakes shares its boundaries between Germany (about one half), Austria and Switzerland. From the German side we can sit on the pebble strewn beach and gaze across at the Swiss and Austrian Alps in the misty distance. The lake is a tourist haven particularly for German holidaymakers and is still relatively unspoiled. There is little high rise and green fields and vines meander down between the old towns on the lake’s edge. A cycle path runs around most of the lake and

Ferry on the Bodensee with Switzerland in the background

cycling and camping holidays are popular. It takes about two weeks of solid cycling to circle the lake.

For us there are several comfortable rides from the campground. We are 15kms from the small island of Lindau, the largest of the lake islands. The cycle path continues across one of the two bridges and we find ourselves in the centre of the small town. There is a tight jumble of traffic free cobbled streets full of tourists and a mix of medieval and baroque buildings and restaurants. The harbour is guarded by the huge Lion of Bavaria and a more modern lighthouse.

To the east we cycle to Friedrichshafen to catch the ferry to Konstanz, the lake’s largest town. Friedrichshaven was where Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin based his great airships before WWII. There is a Zeppelin museum and a large zeppelin airship giving rides around the lake.

The very colourful Rathaus on Lindau Island

The ferry meanders its way around the lake for two hours stopping at the old towns of Landau and Meersburg and the island of Mainau. Konstanz is tourist city but a typical German town with its narrow streets, churches and squares. We take the quick (45 minutes) catamaran back to Friedrichshafen as MTC is keen to get back to her new birthday netbook for a play.

The campground runs along the lake’s edge and is set in an area of apple orchards so the little cycle rides and walks we take are perfumed by the sweet cidery smell of fallen apples. We test the lake’s waters during a brief period of sunshine. Brigette calls with a great surprise – she has booked us a couple of nights in Hotel Exqisit (I kid you not) in Munich so we head for Camping Municipal Munchen, park up and head into the city.


Hotel Exqisit is all the name promises and five minutes walk to the old town centre and Rathaus.

Siegetor (Victory) Gate on the edge of Munich old town - still showing some war damage

If you are planning a European or German trip include Munich. It is truly a wonderful city. Munich’s charms include an inner city, Innenstadt, of old world squares and gothic architecture enveloped by the university district, a huge English style park seven kms long and modern and attractive suburbs. There are also many attractive streets of modern shopping. Munich is the capital of Bavaria and the people consider themselves Bavarian first and German second. But with its proximity to the southern states of Europe Munich has become a melting pot and its shops and restaurants give it a particularly Italian, Greek and Turkish flavour. It is very well served by a slick and clean underground system which makes exploring the city so simple.

The centre of the old town is Marienplatz, a bustling square where we listen to the bells of the decorative Alte Rathaus (old

Dancing to the bells on the tower of the Alte Rathaus in Munich

town hall) at midday along with a carousel of knights and dancers high up in the tower. Around the corner we stroll through the Hofbrauhaus, the famous ex brewery and now beer hall where all young Kiwis and Aussies visit to oom pah pah and get rat-faced on the litre steins of beer served by the classic buxom Munich waitresses. The Hofbrauhaus is also famous for the Battle of the Hofbrauhaus when Adolf Hitler and his stormtroops stormed the building in 1921 to interrupt the political meeting taking place at the time. In fact Munich still bears the scars of Hitler’s architectural obsessions with several bunker like block buildings still standing.

We are lucky and get one lovely sunny day (in what is becoming a joke of a summer) and visit the 1972 Olympics Stadium. It is very impressive with its sail like aluminium and perspex roof surrounded by green hills and lakes. We ascend the Olympic tower to 450 metres and get a view over the city that includes Bayern Munich FC stadium and the BMW factory (huge).

Much of Munich was bombed and destroyed during WWII. The rebuilding has faithfully restored most buildings to their original quality but has also left the city with a modern open look.

The two days in Munich have recharged us and we return (in the rain) to our campsite and a bedraggled looking Mr Gato before setting off east with a few damp splutters to Austria and Salzburg.

Switzerland – we came, we saw, we left…… lighter in the wallet.

Having lived in France for six years we were well used to the “peage” system of toll motorways. French peage is expensive – for example a 3 hour journey from Malemort to Nice on the A7/A8 costs around fifteen euros. We are pleasantly

Milking the Zurich (cash) cow?

surprised then on arriving in Switzerland a vignette (essential) that covers 12 months of driving is only 40 euros. This was about the only thing pleasantly surprising in Switzerland. We had planned a few days around Interlaken at the foot of the Alps then on to Lucerne and Zurich. But the weather was not good and the forecast was for worse so we head directly to Lucerne. Although starting badly, a three hour wait for the camp ground to open and bad mannered staff and a site that was sodden the day improves with some warm sun and a swim in the lake. We are not permitted onto the site we want but are squeezed into a small place along with all the other “foreigners” where we can shake hands with our neighbours as we sit cramped up beside them. Our neighbours are a pleasant Dutch couple on their way to Italy so the chat is good. Not that it matters as the thunderstorms arrive early evening. They are still raging two days later when we leave. “You’re on the wrong side of the Alps” our Dutch neighbours chuckled.

In between we take the bus to Lucerne (a 12 km cycle abandoned) and the train to Zurich. On a fine day I’ll bet Zurich is a

St Peters Church from across the Limmat River, Zurich.

picture. The town centre sitting at the head of Lake Lucerne is pretty and should be bustling. On a wet windy day it is miserable. Even the bankers in their dark suits and modern winklepicker shoes looked pissed off as they stand drinking coffee under the dripping cafe umbrellas. To be fair it does stop raining for a couple of hours in the afternoon so we wander around taking in the medieval town and the myriad bars and cafes which line its snaking streets. The town is split by the Limmet River which flows from the lake and gives it a more tranquil air. We enjoy a visit to St Peter’s church where there are some stunning modern stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall. The main street through town, the Banhofstrasse, is lined with shops selling hugely expensive watches, some up to 20,000 euros. I mean what does a watch do? They are not the only things overpriced as a beer, coffee and sandwich cost the same as a small watch. I reckon the cost of living in Switzerland is over 1.5 times that of France or Germany. The flip side of high wages and low taxes I suppose but offputting for the tourist.

Maybe that is the idea. I find the people a touch arrogant and, limited experience I accept, but let us say, difficult. We had been warned.

After two days we pack up in the rain and head north around Lake Zurich (stunning) to the German part of Lake Konstance or the Bodensee.

We never see the Alps – covered in mist – and our planned trip by boat to the cog wheel railway up Mt Pilatus and down by funicular for an unrivalled view of the Alps is cancelled. Nevertheless the countryside we drive through to Germany is beautiful and what we guess as typical Swiss with attractive chalets and grass covered meadows and crystal clear lakes.

Unfortunately our short visit gives little time for experiencing the Swiss culture and food (cheeses etc.) but so far? Unimpressed. Yes. Must go back. I suppose. But not until the Swiss Franc falls out of bed!