Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199808 Poland Czech Germany Holland Belgium France England

Saturday 1 August 1998 Very warm humid day but without sun.  Walk to the salt mines and buy tickets for the 11.30am English tour (23.50PLZ each 10PLZ video camera).  Down over 300 steps and into the mine.  Fantastic caves 100 metres underground with chapels and statues carved into the rock salt by the miners.  St Kinga’s Chapel is 180ft long and 33ft high and was carved by 3 miners over 60 years.  It’s hard to believe that professional artists have not been involved it is all so spectacular.  UNESCO has declared it one of the 12 most priceless monuments in the world.   A working afternoon giving Charlie a bit of a clean up.  The soft tarmac on the roads has left lots of marks splattered up the sides of the van and it takes a lot of elbow grease to remove.  Will give him a big treat when we get back to England and buy some wax and chrome polish to give him a really good going over – when we have a free day!
Sunday 2 August 1998  Motel Camping Wieliczka –  Very hot all day and perfect for sunbathing and diving under the outdoor cold shower to cool off.
Monday 3 August  Hot again by 8.00am but some clouds on the horizon so we decide to head into Krakow.  About half the cars on the roads are modern western European models.  For the first time in Poland we see advertising hoardings.  The local mini bus at 2PLZ takes us to the main bus station a short walk through the Barbican (old city gate) to the main square.  At noon the altar in the cathedral opens to music to reveal 500 year old carved figures.  Hourly a trumpet is played in the tower but stops mid tune to signify an incident years ago when the musician was shot mid tune whilst warning of the subsequent invasion.  The main square is surrounded by beautiful buildings and musicians complete the atmosphere.  A cafe on the edge of town is recommended in the guide book and the owner has thoughtfully had the menu translated into English.  Old ladies can be seen in the back room preparing the pasta.  A cheap lunch – tomato and pasta soup followed by various types of fresh ravioli washed down with cans of pop for less than £2.  The castle district is by the river and the church here is where the current Pope used to be archbishop.  "Schindlers List" was filmed in the Jewish ghetto area of the town.  A beer in the square on our way back completes our tour.  Catch the last bit of sun when we arrive back at 4.00pm.
Tuesday 4 August  Rain thunder and lightening during the night.  We may have made a mistake going into Krakow yesterday to leave today free for sunbathing.   Perhaps this is not such a bad thing as I finally do a bit of work and type up two campsite reports which with a bit of luck will earn me £30 each.   A bit brighter late afternoon.  The site starts to fill up with lots of people in tents.
Wednesday 5 August  Leave early to visit Auschwitz only 47 miles away.  We see 3 separate accidents on the roads where vehicles seem to have skidded off.  Guess a lot of it is down to the poor tarmac still damp from the rain.  Mental note to travel even slower ourselves.  Manage to get lost and instead of going around Krakow we end up near the centre.  Pull over at a McDonalds to ask directions.  We have been collecting the Happy Meal Disney things for Daniel but accidentally got another left glove when we were in Krakow and now have an opportunity to change it for a right one and also get the Mickey Mouse Mask to complete the outfit.  Steve can’t believe we are eating Chicken Nuggets and Fries at 9.00am having had breakfast before we left.  Get direction but manage to get lost yet again as there is a diversion and we loose the signs.  Finally arrive at Auschwitz at 11.30am!   The site is free but we buy a guide book in English for 3 PLZ and pay 1.50 PLZ to see the film made by the Russians the day the prisoners were released.  A much more impressive site than Dachau with showcases holding thousands of pairs of shoes, suitcases, clothes, false limbs and personal goods taken from the prisoners.  There is even a case full of human hair which the Nazi’s sold to be used to make cloth.  A harrowing place and we both feel very glad that we are not German visitors and begin to think the Nazi’s were even crueller than the Japs.  Catch the 3.30pm bus to the nearby site of Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) which was the biggest concentration camp ever and another setting for Schindlers List.  The railroad entered here under the main tower and then the weaker people were taken from the railway ramp to the gas chambers and immediately killed.  Lots of brick and wooden huts remain and you can see where the gas chambers and crematoriums were only partially destroyed.  Back to Auschwitz 1 at 5.00pm and Steve goes back in alone to take in more of the museum sections where a block has been given over to each different country to show how they were affected.  He buys a book "How I Survived" written by one of  prisoners Polish addition 5 PLZ  20 PLZ for the English translation.   We now want to see "Sophies Choice" and "Schindlers List" again.    Head toward Czech Republic and stop near Cieszyn in the car park behind a 24 Hour Mr Hamburger.  Eat at the restaurant where Steve is a bit greedy and has two meals – well we’ve got to use the Polish Zlote up somehow!
Friday 7 August    Head towards the border planning to fill up on Diesel first.  We can’t find a station that will accept credit cards and actually arrive at the border and have to double back to the town of Cieszyn.  End up paying a little over the odds for Diesel (but still cheaper than Czech prices) and also spot a supermarket opposite that takes credit card.   Some things are incredibly cheap – large cauliflower for 20p, watermelons at 20p kilo and ice lollies for 8p.  Proceed again to the border and pass through very quickly into the CZECH REPUBLIC at 11.00am.  The roads are much better than in Poland but we must buy a sticker if we want to use any motorways and at £40 for a vehicle over 3.5tons it is a bit steep, the fact that it lasts for a year is not much use to us.  Next year you will be able to buy cheaper ones for shorter periods.  Approx. 50 KC/Koruny = £1 which should make conversion easy.  Diesel slightly dearer than Poland at around 17KC litre/34p.  A crash course in basic words reveals the confusing word for yes which is no and no is neh.  The majority of cars here are Skodas and we chuckle when we see one pass us with a the tow ball covered by a dolls head complete with hair.  Need to get some currency from an ATM and the first town is Hranice.  It seems like a nice town with an Autocamp on the outskirts.  Camping is cheap at £3.70 night and beers a bargain at 20p half litre.  We seem to have dropped from the most expensive beer in Norway at £4 to about the cheapest in a month.  Steve immediately takes a liking to Czech Republic – does this say something about our state of minds now a days!  A walk into town in the evening reveals a very un touristy town with nice buildings and cheap prices – 35p spaghetti in a restaurant, 8p soft ice cream cornet.   Back at the site a small Nissan camper arrives with Japanese plates.  A middle aged couple who have travelled from Tokyo in April by boat to India and then through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Eastern Europe.  They plan to winter in Morocco so small world that it is we will probably bump into them again.
Friday 7 August  The Mandarin fruit juice I bought yesterday turns out to be Carrot juice which we don’t like, good job I only brought two cartons.  The carton was orange and said "marchwiowy" so I thought I had made a good guess.  Up and away by 8.00am and parked up in Olomouc in time to see the astronomical clock strike 9.00am  The Russians changed the saints on the clock to steelworkers who pop out on the hour to strike the bell.  A fantastic town with lots baroque buildings, fountains, fancy stone columns and churches – second only to Prague for the historic buildings.  Just outside the town at Podebrady See is a Naturist beach.  We stop in the car park and walk round to the far side of the lake to reach the Naturist section, the rest is very busy with families.  Sunbathe and swim until 5.00pm then walk back round the longer side of the lake with lots of fishermen and come across an area with a couple of caravans and some tents.  Move onto the "campsite" and shortly after an elderly disabled lady arrives and drives her car by everyone’s pitch to collect the 40KC for 1 days camping plus 40KC for electric hook up, a bargain for a nice spot by the lakeside.  As it gets dark the glow of camp fires can be seen around the lake and the full moon makes a spectacular reflection – bliss.
Saturday 8 August  Another nice day so we walk around the longer side of the lake collecting a couple of cobs of corn en-route  from the farmers field.  (Something we wouldn’t normally do but judging by the number of husks we see it is regular practice.)   We pass many young people still curled up in sleeping bags by the lakeside.  Sunbathe, float on the airbed and swim (I actually make an effort and do some proper swimming) until around 5.00pm when we start to walk back the short route stopping for a beer at the bar en-route.  Eating tea we spot a swimmer going back and forwards across the lake and it reminds us of all the lake swims Claire used to do.  As darkness descends the fishermen appear followed by the sound of tom-tom drums.  There are two sets of drums on opposite sides of the lake and unfortunately they carry on until after 3.00am.
Sunday 9 August    Ditto but without the drums!
Monday 10 August   More of the same but return to the van around 4pm to allow ourselves plenty of time for our journey.  Stop for water at the nearby petrol station but have to get our own hose pipe out which takes quite some time.   Set off towards Kutna Hora but have to pull over shortly after when we here a strange noise coming from under the van.  One of the two metal straps that hold the sewage tank on has snapped.  Steve fastens some string around but we will need a proper job doing before long.  Dread to think what would have happened if the tank had fallen off.  Stop to phone Claire and find out that Daniel has just come out of hospital having had pneumonia, thankfully he’s all right now – it’s a good job we couldn’t get to a phone yesterday to make the call as they were all at the hospital.  Eventually arrive in Kutna Hora just as it is getting dark at 9.00pm and pull on to the first camp site signposted.  The site is by the local swimming pool and winter outdoor ice rink.  The showers and toilets are in the stadium building and leave a bit to be desired but it is nice and quiet with only one other motorhome and a tent and reasonably priced at 200KC all in.
Tuesday 11 August  A 2km walk takes us to the Kostnice "Bone Church".  Kutna Hora was a silver mining town in the 1300’s but when a plague hit 200 years later they ran out of space for all the bodies.  The interior of the church is decorated with the bones from over 40,000 people.  Very artistic with the alter, bells, shields and  a chandelier made using every single bone of the human body – the artist even spelt his name in bones!   Back to the old town with cobbled streets and unusual houses in every one.  The Italian Court used to be the Royal Mint and you can walk from here along a statue lined lane to the Cathedral of Santa Barbara.  All very impressive.  En route to the medieval fountain we spot a Chinese restaurant and sit in the garden for lunch.  65KC each for Salad, Chicken with vegetables in sauce, Rice and a Beer – can’t go far wrong at that.  About 100 yards beyond the fountain Steve spots a sign advertising beer at 13KC half litre so we have to make another detour.  Must do something about our fuel consumption at 200 yards to the half litre it is even worse than Charlie’s fuel consumption and we will have to sup around 5 litres to get back.  The butchers looks interesting and we pick up two large steaks for the BBQ for £1.80.  Wander back slowly and find the swimming baths heaving.  The pool is massive, the concrete is not painted and the water looks a bit murky but with the sun blazing we don’t care.  Steve has to have a beer from the bar as soon as we get back, followed by another and another… The Czech beer is said to be the best in the world and Pilsner originated from the town of Plzen near here.  Chat to some English people who have brought a coach load of Scouts and Rangers on holiday to Czech Republic.  A Dutch campervan pulls up and we invite Col and Marline to join us for a BBQ.   Enjoy our meal and interesting conversation until around midnight.
Wednesday 12 August  It seems to be getting hotter by the day.  Drive to Prague and manage to find the Naturist Beach at Hostivar Lake and sunbathe and swim most of the day.   Head towards the city centre early evening and spot a temperature gauge showing 37 degrees, wonder how hot it was in the middle of the afternoon.  Whilst looking for a recommended parking spot we see a 24 hour guarded car park opposite a tram stop and can’t believe the price of 60 KC for 24 Hours (£1.20).  Just get settled in when the skies turn black and a storm starts to brew.  Sit watching both fork and sheet lightening as numerous storms seem to surround the city.  The wind gets up followed shortly after by heavy rain, thunder and more lightening.  A very powerful storm but we rather enjoy it and even nip outside for a refreshing shower to cool us down.
Thursday 13 August    Dull morning but good enough for a spot of sight seeing.  12 KC for 60 minutes journey on the trams, buses or metro.  The tourist areas are broken in four distinct regions – the old town and new town on the Eastern bank of the river Vltava and the Lower town and Castle District on the West bank.  Head to Wenceslas Square to begin our assault on the East Bank.  Outstanding buildings that justify Prague being known as the most beautiful capital in Europe.  A mixture of Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco all mingle together in harmony.  Lots of spots with historical significance and a fabulous old town square.  Lunch at a Mexican restaurant (95KC 2 courses and beer) then up to the Jewish Quarter (with a stop at a beer cellar en route beer 13KC) then over the statue lined Charles Bridge to peak at the John Lennon memorial wall on the West Bank and suss out tomorrow’s route.  Lots of musical concerts in the churches ad art exhibitions.  Arrive back around 6.00pm pretty exhausted but very impressed by what we have seen.  This is the sort of city you could linger in and spend quite a number of days just ambling around although for Steves health reasons I think the sooner we can get out of Czech Republic with the cheap refreshing beer the better his swollen stomach will be!  Apparently Prague is not as cheap as it used to be but it is still one of the cheapest and definitely the nicest capital we have visited.  
Friday 14 August  Stay on the tram a little longer to cross to the West Bank of the River Vltava.  The funicular takes us to the hill top with a super view before we begin our serious walking tour.  The castle district is really a castle that has had other palaces added on and a Cathedral and houses built in the middle.  Lots of quirky stories like architects pinching bones and then dying and a statue of  baby Jesus in a church that has a different outfit for every day of the year and performs miracle cures.  There is a long queue for tickets so I send Steve.  He comes back and says we don’t need one for the cathedral (well you don’t just to peep in the entrance).   I end up queuing for over half an hour for the 100 KC combined ticket to visit the historic area of the cathedral, crypt, tower and other attractions in the castle district, Steve says he doesn’t want a ticket.  Having climbed the 285 steps to the bell tower for the view I reach the bottom and realise I have left the map and guide book at the top whilst juggling with the cameras.  Explain to the ticket man and Steve goes to get it but in the meantime two lads I had been chatting to bring the map down to me.  Steve finds an admission ticket on the floor and joins me for the rest of the attractions.  Interspersed around the district are lovely quiet gardens which make you forget how near you are to the city.  Finish our viewing programme and Steve decides he wants to go back to the Jewish District just across the River to buy an England football shirt (don’t know why he couldn’t have bought it whilst we were there yesterday?)   We need to get money from an ATM and buy some tram tickets.  The ATM’s are either the wrong type, out of order or out of money.  It is now quite warm and we have trailed through the Jewish District and past the shop, through the old town and into the new town looking for a machine.  Finally get some money but tempers are starting to fray.  Steve suggest a hamburger or snack and I order a hot dog but then they don’t have what Steve wants.  I sit down to eat it but he wants to get moving.  I want to buy the tram tickets whilst we are in the busy area but he wants to go straight back for the shirt.  I storm off to the metro station to buy the tickets and leave him sat on a street corner.  Debate whether to go back for him or catch the tram home but although he would get back OK he wouldn’t have his shirt as I have most of the money (the fact that he has the van keys also affects my decision).   Relent and pick him up for our slog back to the shirt shop.  Now he starts looking at restaurant menus but I have had enough with the big hot dog.  Well we finally get the shirt, wait at a tram stop for a connecting tram but it doesn’t come as the blue ones only run at night.  Walk back to the new town and arrive back silent and exhausted just before 7.00pm.  Steve goes out alone to find something to eat!  It is Friday the 14th and not the 13th isn’t it?  Well at least the weather has picked up again.
Saturday 15 August  Clear blue skies so we decide to head for Dzban Lake with a Naturist beach as it is North West of Prague and in the direction we want to leave.  The signs to Karlovy Vary take us on a very long detour around the town and the main road to Dzban Lake is closed.  Having seen how badly signposted everything is we think it is an omen and we should keep heading out of town.  Stop just before 12.00 at Jesenice where the German campsite books lists a good site with a lake only 200m away.  Amazingly the site have reduced their prices and for just over 200KC we get everything including free use of the twin tub washing machine.  The lake is very pleasant, shallow, warm and with no public pay areas.  With no coastline the Czech’s seem to make the most of their lakes.  Think we will stay another day if this glorious weather holds.
Sunday 16 August  Down to the lake again but it clouds over late afternoon and we return to the campsite.  I type up a campsite report and Steve takes the necessary photographs.  Stroll into the village in the evening and find that Daniel is still poorly and has been back in Hospital, will start to head back a little faster and phone more often.
Monday 17 August  Early drive to Karlovy Vary where we park on the edge of town for 70KC.  Find an ATM for cash and buy a phonecard to call Claire – Daniel is a bit better so we will review our route tomorrow.  Karlovy Vary is one of the 3 famous Bohemian Spa resorts set in a deep wooded valley with hot springs.  Most of the springs are along the river side and tucked under impressive classical colonnades.  You buy a porcelain mug with a drinking spout and get stuck in.  The only problem is that the numerous outlets all supply a different mixture in terms of temperature and mineral content and unless you pay to consult a physician you don’t know what it might do to you.  The lady in the information centre says number 6 is bottled and sold world-wide as a cure all so I try to take some but it tastes awful.  The Vridlo spring is the most impressive shooting hot water 30 feet into the air like a geyser.  A bit of shopping at the supermarket and a freshly cooked chicken from the spit for lunch before our next stop.  Marianske Lazne is higher up in a valley and the spa area is on the edge of the town in some gardens.  Free parking at the cemetery and a short walk which brings us just in time to catch the hourly musical fountain display.  39 cold springs but this time you turn on the tap for each one instead of it gushing out spontaneously.  All these resorts have had famous visitors including Beethoven, Goethe, Emperors Charles IV and Francis I.  The prices for consultations and treatments are reasonable but the suggested treatment programme for people in their 40’s sounds more like torture with 12 Gerovital injections, 6 gas injections, 5 underwater massages, 6 carbonated baths, 6 group remedial gymnastics sessions and 10 inhalation sessions using Forest Spring!    Nearby Cheb sounds very interesting in the book with a castle and houses on stilts.  Have difficulty finding a car park – the signs in Czech are starting to drive us crazy for example a sign showing "P" 500m and an arrow to the right could mean either turn right in 500m or turn right and the parking is in 500m or doesn’t exist.  A town full of market stalls, kids who pounce on the van the minute you stop and a Police force who deny the existence of the castle when asked directions.  Don’t feel at all comfortable so head a little further north to the 3rd spa town of Frantiskovy Lazne where we find 24 hour guarded parking for 100KC.  The town was named after Emperor Francis I visited and painted the town "kaisergelb" Yellow.  What a contrast to the other spas with very few tourists, a pedestrian only flower lined main street with all the houses still painted yellow – very much like the Magic Kingdom main street.   Stop for a beer at a pavement cafe and enjoy a spot of people watching.  By the fountain at the top of the street is a restaurant with a tea dance in session.  Daily menu of bean soup, goulash or pork steak, coffee and cake for 108K – obviously very popular as the tables are all full.  Partake but without the tea dance – maybe in another 10 years!
Tuesday 18 August   Back to the town to take some Video.  The waters here are said to be good for cardiac disorders, rheumatism and gynaecological problems.  You need to drink 3/4 litre a day for it to do any good which explains people walking round with lots of plastic bottles.  Most of the spas here surface in the woods and you see them gushing into aquariums and then a tap nearby, when there is more than one spa in close proximity a colonnade has been built over the top.  The 3 spa towns are all so different that it would be a shame not to visit them all.  In preparation for leaving Czech Republic we call at the Coop and cash in our empty beer bottles to replace them with full ones.  The beer costs 4.70KC a bottle (half litre) and you have to pay 3KC bottle deposit but at a total of 15p a bottle it is still worth us stocking up and abandoning the bottles later.  Misleading signs lead us onto the end of a motorway but we are facing the traffic and cannot get back down the slip road.  Have to drive through the road works to get back on the right side.  We certainly gave the workers a good laugh.  Fill up on Diesel and also buy big bottles with 2 1/2 litres of Coke at 50p.  Into GERMANY at 10.00am but have difficulty getting currency.  Most of the German banks have started to impose a commission charge of 2 % and a minimum of 10DM for using the ATM’s.  We put most things on the credit card and resent paying 10DM to draw 100DM.  End up changing some $ instead.  The exchange rate is now around 2.88DM = £1.   Near the town of Rehau is the BFKK Fichtelgebirge Naturist site.   For 25DM we can stay overnight with electric hook up and enjoy swimming in the natural pool filled with spring water.  It is hot all day and we sunbathe and chat to our Dutch neighbours.
Wednesday 19 August  A dull and hazy morning but Steve insists it will burn off!  By noon we give up and set off North to join the A4 motorway heading West.  By mid  afternoon it is hot and sunny so I spot a lake by the motorway and we pull off.  The lake has to be reached through a farmers field full of ruts so to be on the safe side we just park on the edge of the field  by the road.  As we leave we hear clanking that sounds like a  puncture.  Fortunately it is not a burst tyre but a rock jammed between the twin rear wheels.  Steve manages to chip away at it carefully and lets enough air out of the tyres to force the stone out.  Drive slowly to the garage to pump the tyres up and can’t see any permanent damage.  I see a nice cross country route that will take a corner off and so we head towards Rotenburg.  This has to be the most Motorhome welcoming town we have ever seen with signs all over offering parking for us.  Find a big pitch that is full with around 50 vans and looks noisy.  Head back to the edge of town and follow a special sign which takes us to a bar/restaurant where the very friendly English speaking owner says we are welcome to park free of charge.  We go in for a drink and learn about the town.  Nearby Bebra is twinned with Knaresborough and the bar owner has been there.  The town of Rotenburg has very little to offer other than lovely medieval houses and nice walking country nearby.  A few years ago some bright spark had an idea to turn it into the most Motorhome friendly place in Germany to attract business.  He asked anyone with parking to make it freely available and to put up a special sign and with luck they would get a bit of extra business from people buying drinks or meals.   It worked and has received awards from the German clubs every year since. 
Thursday 20 August  Drive into the town to stroll around.  Easy parking and good information from the tourist office.  This weekend there is a big national motorhome rally here which explains the number of vans already here.  Drive into Kassel where we park by Buga-See to use the Naturist Beach.  This was the site of the 1981 flower festival and the lake was created by diverting the river.  Read up about William’s Hill at the other side of town and drive over in the early evening.   Superb views from the top of the hill crowned by a huge statue of Hercules above cascading waterfalls.  All well and good except the water only flows through the park on Wednesday and Sunday afternoon and Bank Holidays.  None the less a super spot with the park area full of castles, bridges, an aqueduct and other interesting things. It’s nearly dark so will stay here overnight and walk around to take a close look at the castles tomorrow.  Then German van we parked behind (who said he was staying overnight) leaves. Not wanting to be alone we drive back around the park to see the castles close up before going back to Buga-See
 to park for the night.   
Friday 21 August  It starts raining early morning which puts paid to our sunbathing plans.  Drive around the garden festival area before leaving town to head towards Dortmund.  Most impressed with Kassel.    Stop at an out of town shopping centre at Mulheim where we eventually decide on which camera to buy and stock up on beer and wine.    Overnight just over the Germany/HOLLAND border ready for visiting our Dutch friends in the morning.
Saturday 22 August  We first met Susan and Gerban and Henk and Cony in Turkey last October and this morning we drive to visit Susan and Gerban.  They live in a chalet on a Naturist site at Elsendorp.  Every day they can swim, play tennis and use the other facilities.  Too bad the weather is not so good but we manage a walk and a swim in the indoor pool.  It is good to exchange information and travel ideas.  They plan to stay in Holland until after Christmas and then go to Spain to the same Naturist site we are planning to visit.  Stay overnight on the car park.
Sunday 23 August     A little further North near Beekbergen live our other friends Cony and Henk.  They also live on a caravan park but in a smaller caravan.  The weather has not improved but we manage a walk in the nearby forest with lots of purple heather to be seen.  Once again we have lots of information to exchange.  Following our chat they are going to give Sicily and Crete a go this winter.
Monday 24 August  Drive in our van to the national park of  Hoge Veluwe.  There are hundreds of white bicycles available free of charge so it’s on your bike time.  There is an unusual museum where you go underground to see the root system of a very old tree.  After a picnic we do some more cycling but get lost and end up covering about 30km.  My bottom is protesting strongly as are Steve’s legs.  Cony and Henk who are both a lot older than us have no problems at all!  Think we will carry on looking into the option of a motor scooter as that would solve both our problems.
Tuesday 25 August   Another miserable morning so time to move on.  Motorway South West  into BELGIUM and then down the coast to Calais in  FRANCE.  Bleriot Plage just south of the ferry port is like an English seaside town and we park up and take a walk along the beach.  The weather has now improved so we may have a final sunbathing day tomorrow.  We have a splendid view from the car park of the ferries and hovercraft coming and going.  Hope the hovercraft don’t sound so noisy in the night.  Get chatting to a young English couple in a old "Y" registration Dormobile.  Linden and Leighan have just spent 6 weeks touring in their motorhome having only bought it the week before they left.  They are now hooked and thinking of ways to pack in work and travel full time.  We have no problem inspiring them during our evening together eating and boozing.
Wednesday 26 August  So much for our day sunbathing.  The heavens have opened up so it’s the 11.15am Sea France ferry once again.  Amazingly the weather picks up during our crossing and the white cliffs of Dover look really spectacular.  Dock in ENGLAND at 11.45am local time.  We can’t help laughing when we pull up at a service area and spot an Italian motorhome trying to park, followed by another, and another.  Whenever we see Italians they are almost always in threes and communicating by CB and it has  become a standing joke for us that when we see one Italian we are always looking for the other two.  Arrive in Market Drayton just before 7pm and it’s great to see Mum and the Spooner family again.
Thursday 27 August  Up to Preston to visit Peter – Charlie’s consultant.   We are due a 30,000 mile service soon and we need to order quite a few parts.  The strap on the sewage tank gets soldered back on so at least we feel free to wee now without worrying about the weight.  Arrive at Claire’s late afternoon and notice a big change in Daniel.  He has really grown up but unfortunately after his hospital visit he has become very shy.  Will have to make plenty of time for him to get to know us again.  Stop for tea and then drive to Keighley to park on Sandra’s drive.  Steve joins his mates for ten pin bowling in the evening and I catch up on the latest news with Sandra.  It’s really nice and exciting coming back and seeing everyone but it would be even better if you could all visit us abroad instead.  Will buy a lottery ticket this weekend and if we are lucky we can pay for you all to visit so keep your fingers crossed.
Friday 28 August  Now where do you start on the jobs to do list when it stretches to 8 columns on A4 paper.  I get to go down town to sort a few things out whilst Steve orders the parts needed for Charlie.  The oven thermostat has broken and he is kept busy dismantling it to find the part number.  Pop up to Claire’s in the afternoon to help with the preparations for Daniel’s party.  Back home for tea but we have a problem.  When I start to light the oven pilot nothing happens.  I suggest we try to light the hob to see if that’s OK.  Instant FIRE.  It’s like an episode of faulty towers with us both trying to make the flames go down.  I rush outside and turn the gas off at the mains before any damage occurs.  When Steve was getting the part number he knocked the gas pipe out of the socket and we were leaking gas under the hob which we then lit.  Not content with doing it once we have to have 2 more attempts at "Manuel" before the pipe is firmly reconnected.  The gas level in the tank has visibly dropped.  We now wonder why neither of us went for the fire extinguisher.  I mean what is the point?
Saturday 29 August  I avail myself of Sandra’s offer of a bath whilst Steve starts preparing breakfast.  By the time I return from my long soak Steve is in the bathroom but the van is full of smoke and smelling heavily perfumed.  He has lit the grill and the heat has almost set the two packets of joss sticks alight that are on top of the hob cover.  I pull 40 smoking joss sticks out of the packets and am relieved that they then stop smoking.  Hope the old saying that things come in 3’s is not correct as I don’t fancy a third fire alert.  The ten pin bowling league  run an annual trip to Blackpool and we have timed our return well.  The coach leaves Keighley at 11.30am and drops us off at the bowling centre in Blackpool.  Egg and Bacon butties and a pint of beer go down well for a late breakfast.  Enjoy bowling once again with our buddies and have a good laugh.  Everyone splits up into different groups and we join the one going to the beach.  The weather is great and it is surprisingly not crowded.  A cheap kids cricket set provides us with equipment for cricket, rounders and French cricket.  Shortly after buying some cans of beer we are stopped and warned that it is now illegal to drink on the streets in Blackpool and we had better go over to the beach and drink up quickly!  On to the pier for some more food and drinks and a regroup with some of the others.  Most of us stay together to go to the pleasure beach.  The Pepsi Max Big One is great and we follow it up with some silly rides and a game of mini golf.  Our party now consists of Steve, myself, Rod & Nancy, Richard, Ray and Ken.  Call for a Chinese on the way back to round off a super fun day.  For the odd moment I wander why we go away – but then I figure we have been lucky today with the weather and also that our budget would not fund this type of day for very long.
Sunday 30 August  Daniel’s first Birthday and Claire has arranged an open house party.  We park near her house and help with the preparations.  The weather is good and the garden is full of chairs and tables.  Next door have lent a big blue plastic sheet for people to sit on and Pete wise cracks that when the sightseeing helicopter goes over they will think it is a swimming pool.   Almost all the family join us as well as both ours and Claire and Daz’s friends.  A small group break away to go to the pub to watch the football and all the Grandparents and Great Grandparents take it in turns trying to get an over excited Daniel to sleep but with no luck.   Lots of food and drink is consumed and a good time had by all.  Later Nanna Sheila has Daniel to stay overnight whilst Claire and Daz go for a night out chaperoned by Lauren.  Netty, Alan, Stacey and Stewart join us in the motorhome for the night and the van resounds with bottom burps and snores.
Monday 31 August  Having said our "Good-byes"  to the Keen family we are about to leave when Claire suggests we use the phone to make a couple of calls.  One call leads to another and we end up staying all day and making calls and plans.  We find out that to actually ship the van to the States can be arranged and completed in about 4 weeks and so after much discussion this is our new destination.  Back to Keighley parking spot on Sandra’s drive.

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