Trouble at t’ mill

The main attraction of the Brezno area for us was  its proximity to the Low Tatras mountains, we didn’t plan to climb the mountains but instead climb the hills behind the site and view the mountains. We may as well have gone for the mountain, the climb up was vertical for over 30 minutes, it was a very hot day and possibly our lack of fitness contributed in making it one hell of a hike. One of those fun outings when no conversation takes place, just looks that say “who’s stupid idea was this”. Saving energy by not talking we did make the top – the views to the mountains took away most, but not all, of the pain. On one side the Low Tatras and on the other across the valley to Brezno and beyond.

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Low Tatras mountains

We walked along the ridge following the ‘blue walk’, we had a basic map and there were signs painted on trees and rocks. It was guaranteed these signs would stop – and they did. We continued for a few miles and actually found the route on the map back down through the villages and meadows. The village of Rohanza is another that time forgot, the houses come from picture books, the people takes things slowly and it feels a million miles from civilization. Yet the main town of Brezno is just over 6 km away and there is a train service through the village. There is a lot of building work going on, mainly new houses all in the traditional Slovak style. Three hours and just over 10km later, fairly proud of the effort and totally knackered we retired back to the van for an afternoon.

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Route back via the valley

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Rohanza shabby chic des’ res’

It’s safe to say the nearby town of Brezno is not at all on the tourist trail. We used the local bus service and took the ‘wait till everyone else gets off’ approach and found ourselves in the town square. It could have been the rain, but for the first time we felt it was a little bit black and white, Eastern bloc and in need of some colour. The majority of people wore tracksuits and shell suits, the women wore these with incredibly high stiletto shoes – seriously 4-5 inch sandals with socks and jogging bottoms, the men went for the builders bum look with tracksuit bottoms as low as they dared.

We went to a cafe ordered coffee and then asked for a panini, as advertised on the wall, the woman basically said no you can go to the hotel next door if you want food! There were lots of gypsies around, they lived in shacks on the edge of town, houses without roofs or just a few sheets of corrugated iron bodged together.  It all felt like we thought an Eastern Bloc country would feel, that’s the first time we have come across it. Our day out in Brezno came to an early end as we tried to find the bus stop we neeed to get home, not a hope. We got on and off at least three buses being told it was the wrong one, so we gave up and treated ourselves to a taxi.

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 Martin Razus – politician, writer, priest, all round good Brezno chap

Later on a peaceful afternoon was somewhat spoiled by the latest van problem – water gushing out from under the cooker – no not the sink the cooker! Basically everything was very wet, including Iain (he was actually wet and very annoyed as he had his head in the cupboard under the cooker with water pouring all over him). Iain can best describe all the technical stuff, so here is his contribution to the Blog, written whilst he was wet, cold and way annoyed with everything 🙂

Me thinks the trails and tribulations of travelling across 2 countries (Bulgaria, Romania) and one not much better (Hungary) – with what must be the worst roads in Europe (AND they charge extortionate tolls to use ’em what’s more!!), are now beginning to take their toll on the campervan. The kitchen sink waste has worked loose and dripped copious amounts of waste water over the insulation and cabling to the oven unit, the kitchen sink combo tap is now split and leaking in three places, one of the fresh water feed pipes, again to the kitchen sink, is happily spewing MORE water over the oven unit, which in turn has now shorted out and blown a fuse feeding both the oven and hob units ignition circuits. Fuse replaced, ignition still not working.Pulled everything apart last night to sort out the leaks (as I thought) (over 3 hours of cursing & swearing), only to find out tonight that the ignition circuit has gone off again and there is still a water leak somewhere.

More cursing expected from about 10am tomorrow morning! Add to this the loo door is working loose and merrily jamming frequently.  The loo cassette dismounted itself from its fixing bracket a couple of days ago, and disemboweled itself all over the dedicated cupboard (fortunately the cupboard is sealed from the rest of the van!!!)Interior led light strip has thrown a wobbler and is annoyingly flashing away quite merrily.At least I’m fairly handy with a screwdriver, pliers, mop & bucket, multimeter and, if all else fails, a bloody big hammer! Happy days, happy holidays, happy life. Like the boss keeps telling me, you’re a long time dead. ENJOY THE ALTERNATIVE;-)

I think this adequately demonstrates Iain was just a bit pee’d off with the situation? to the degree of looking for a new van on the internet 🙂 . The scenario was made better by assistance from Dion who owned the campsite, a man after my own heart – if it doesn’t work spray it with WD40 and leave it 10 minutes. That actually worked – for half an hour, worth the try though.

Anyway, not being able to face another day of leaks and sour looks we agreed to go to Poland. It seems the sensible plan to be in the country known for DIY, builders and fixing stuff. Plus, if all else fails, there is a motorhome service and repair shop in the centre of Krakow so we have a fail-safe back up to get the van glued and screwed back to how it should be.

The last few weeks have felt a little bit “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium” as we have skipped through the Balkans, Hungary and Slovakia, even though we only drive every third or fourth day the change of country name gives the impression of moving faster than we would like.  We intend to slow even further for the next few weeks as we intend to take at least three weeks to potter through Poland, through choice or just to prevent more bits falling off 🙂

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Bright and breezy this morning we pointed the van North and set coordinates for the polish border. Our original plan had always been Zakopane for a few nights, reading up last night I kept coming across reviews that said it a very busy village, queues for the chair lifts and more tourist shops than Skegness. With that in mind we took the Western route around the High Tatras via Poprad and the E50 motorway. Incredibly good road, and we were on the edge of the Tatras for lunch, as we climbed snow started falling and has done so on and off ever since. Not sticking too much and melting in between showers so we hope no panic, in the last half an hour its got a bit wilder – its not all sunshine and picnics this motorhome lark 😦 .

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We are pitched up on a campsite 50 metres over the border at Niedzica. On the border crossing – not a soul, just a shed and the sign was the smallest country sign to date. There is a castle on a lake, a hydro electric plant and a few cable cars up into the mountains here, our plan is to stay for a few days and see the sights whilst trying to do some repairs on the Explora before she collapses into a total heap.

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Slovakia – land of castles and mines

Although we were Slovakia bound on Monday we made a detour to Egerszalok to see the famous ‘salt hill’ before we left Hungary. Another thermal spa but this one is similar to only two others in the world (Turkey and Yellowstone in USA) in that the water contains minerals which are deposited on the hillside being known as a salt mountain. Along the side of the valley were several salt hills, the natural beauty is a little undermined by the gigantic Salaris spa hotel which makes use of the thermal waters and charges for admission, not to be thwarted we found a walk way behind the hills. The hotel does employ a guy who spends most of his day sculpting the salt so the thermal waters form pools as the drop down over the hills, worth the detour just a shame we didn’t get to ‘take the waters’.

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Egerszalok Salt Hills

At the border for Slovakia, we were ready with all sorts of paperwork the AA state will be needed – it isn’t. We crossed at Balassagyarmat which was an unmanned crossing. We assume they are all Schengen so our information must be well out of date. We were over and into country number eight before we really had chance to spot the Slovakia sign, another blurred effort for the scrapbook. The only things on the border were a TESCO Extra one side and a garage the other, there was a couple of old sheds that Customs must have used once but it was never a busy crossing judging by the roads. We needed yet another vignette, this time €10 for 10 days, a lady in the garage sold it to us and even changed our Forint into Euro, no idea on the exchange rate she gave us but there wasn’t an exchange bureau or anything else so we took the money and headed for the hills, literally.

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First stop was Slowakije Camping, a good few miles off a proper road but worth the hassle for the end result – views for hundreds of miles in all directions; herds of 30-40 deer passed through each morning; an old Russian truck passed several times and the Slovakian air-force were doing maneuvers for two days giving us our very own little airshow.

We were invited by Mark and Betty for welcome drink of the local Slivovitz plum drink – similar to schnapps and just as powerful. The evening read like the start of a joke – there was a Dutchman, Slovakian, Austrian, German, American, Welshman and a me, all with tales of travels made and routes still to come. Three of the visitors were on the WorkAway scheme, we keep coming across this and we are seriously considering giving it a try in the future. Payment for half a days work 4-5 days of the week is three meals a day, bed and board (or in our case electric and showers).

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Making swift work of the lack of a road

Slovakia is another country of which our knowledge is lacking, severely so as we really only both knew it used to be part of Czechoslovakia and that was it. We decided the best plan would be to head for a town marked on the map as UNESCO to find something worth seeing. That wasn’t too necessary as there is something to see around every corner we didn’t have to search anything out at all. In the towns we were surprised to see the old concrete apartment blocks are always painted Tobermory style, pinks, blues, greens, turquoise and canary yellow – 20 odd storey blocks and each one using a different colour wash. The sun has been shining so everywhere looks bright anyway but this painting of the old blocks really does mean you need sunglasses.

Driving through the countryside we came across castles, manor houses, old fashioned villages and stunning views. In Svaty Anton we found what we thought was a monastery but it turned out to be a manor house set in miles parkland. Probably because we are out of season there wasn’t anyone there charging entry fees, even if there was it would have been worth the money. We stuck to minor roads so we could see the villages, the roads were pretty well perfect and as we always seems to find fairly quiet. 

svaty anton (1)Litvin Castle

svaty antonShrine in Svaty Anton

When we got to our UNESCO listed town of Banska Stiavnica it was without a doubt the most jaw-dropping town we have seen to date on this trip. It’s in the centre of an extinct volcano and was known for many years as Silver Town due to the extensive mining.  A completely preserved medieval town  there is an old castle and a new castle plus a Calvary on a hill which looks pretty much like a third castle. The town square has a monumental baroque plague column and is surrounded by rich burghers houses.

There were over 60 man-made reservoirs set around the upper parts of town which were used in the silver ore mining, only 24 remain  and are used in summer for swimming and winter for skating. The buildings are amazingly well preserved and as they are set up the side of the hill there are fabulous views down through the roof tops. In olden days the miners were called to work by a wooden block being knocked in a tower above the town which also housed the treasury, now its a tea house with views from its terrace over the old town and the mines.

StiavnicaBanska Stiavnica town hall

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Town square and Holy Trinity Plague

Banska Stiavnica (4)St. Catherine’s church

We tore ourselves away from Stiavnica and took the main road East for our campsite which is just a few miles outside Brezno.  More castles, villages and in Brezno town the biggest pile of scrap metal we have ever seen, it went on for about a mile and more was being delivered by the train load. We had emailed the campsite last week to check they were open and said we might visit this week – it was lovely to see the welcome chalked up to us as we arrived :). It might be another country but yet again the campsite is Dutch owned. There is a real lack of campsites in Slovakia, not just ones that are open – any at all.

Until last week the campsite was still snow covered so we are still running just about as close to avoiding the snow as we can. We will stay here until the end of the week as we plan to cross into Poland by the Tatras mountains so want to leave as long as possible to make sure we don’t get snowbound yet again.

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