They’re at home. They’re probably right.
When the German driver doesn’t acknowledge your death defying manoeuvre that gives them easy passage.
When the French waitress is utterly unmoved by your tip.
When the Eastern European doesn’t smile back when you grin your very best.
Or when the Greek lights up a cigarette beside you in a restaurant.
It may irk.
But hey, they’re in their space. It’s what they do around here.
Travel is all about culture.
It’s probably why I was unmoved by Portugal last week. It was too British.
All culture can improve though, and I suspect the local habit of hacking phlegm from deep in a smoker’s lungs before gobbing it from a restaurant’s balcony may well become frowned upon in years to come. I do hope so.
And ZZ Top.
On Saturday we had our best/scariest cultural experience to date.
We’d walked the four miles down to Lecova.
We’d dined (very well, with ample lubrication).
And we were on our way back home.
It was only four miles. But it was all up hill.
En route we’d promised to stop at the Pension Hubert for a sharpener, and maybe a dessert.
There was some old style dancing going on inside.
There was some serious drinking going on too.
Outside we’d just sat down when there was sniggering behind me.
That’s not unusual when you look like a Santa from a child’s horror movie.
But these guys had balls.
The elder (Braces) came to address me. “Mr ZZ Top”.
He wanted a photo.
He wanted to buy me drinks (note: buy medrinks).
Within a few minutes we were sat together, exchanging the names of rock bands, understanding none of the words between the names of aging greats including Black Sabbath, Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, and interestingly, The Stones.
Limpbizkit? Queens of the Stone Age? Pearl Jam? No. They had no interest in bands with singers under 60.
They ordered shots. Slivovitz. Plum flavour.
We ordered shots.
They ordered beers.
We ordered shots.
They ordered in threes. The idea of the woman drinking being incomprehensible.
They twisted the ends of their strong cigarettes, as if they were spliffs.
We bantered at each other. Laughing. Hand shaking. Shot drinking. Understanding very little, but enjoying every minute.
Did I mention that these two were hardcore rednecks?
As a strange trust was established, the younger fellow (Younger) delved into his bag and pulled out a mean looking slingshot.
I was barely man enough to pull it back to my shoulder, but Younger was pleased when I sighted in an appropriate fashion.
I suggested to Minty that he’d have a gun in his rucksack too.
A bit later he revealed a set of darts, replete with a sharpener.
Next up he displayed his targets. These he demonstrated were for his knife throwing practise.
Younger didn’t let me down.
Within an hour, and after a few shots of strong spirits, Younger rummaged deep into his rucksack to pull out an old branded carrier bag with which he’d wrapped a well oiled handgun. A live .22.
Even his pistol wasn’t the greatest surprise.
Next came his picnic lunch.
Which he’d brought out for me to tuck into.
In the way of eating around these parts, Younger’s tray was full of fatty meat, and a few slices of bread. As an accompaniment he carried a jar of (fabulous) little fire ball chillies in oil.
Five a day? Fibre? Fruit? Nah. That’s all for the west.
Fired up by a few shots of super strong spirits I dug in, and wasn’t as horrified as I expected to be.
We had to break for the border.
Minty (wisely) told me I had to order her out like a man of old.
And so I did.
And we continued our stank up the road.
Laughing and re-enacting our mad experience.
How did it happen? It was all down to my rather full facial growth. And Braces’ and Younger’s passion for the American band ZZTop.
Most of our police stops have been here in Slovakia.
Paul and I were pulled over on our way to the vet this week, and given their propensity for stern glares it’s not something you look forward to.
This one was actually OK and the officer in his police polo shirt greeted me with a smile and a handshake. After a quick document check we were allowed on our way.
Commercial vans have to have an automatic road charge box fitted. Fortunately we had ArchieVan’s category updated by the DVLA after his conversion and our man was happy with the papers. We could carry on our way.
Last October was a hard one for us.
We spent some time in a house not so far from here.
And from there it was a tough hour’s walk to a bar with a view over the top of the world.
That bar was Hostinec Lipna.
It was simple. It was fabulous. And we reckoned we could get there again.
From our little chalet house in Lovocska Dolina the short route was an hour and twenty minutes of serious hard stanking. We started with a climb of the crazy steep ski slope, ripping through thick undergrowth, eaten alive by the beasties we disturbed. Before we’d topped the first hill the thunder started, followed by heavy rain.
We arrived, drenched, to a closed bar.
It’s only open on Saturday and Sunday at the moment.
On Sunday there was no chance of rain and we tried the longer one hour forty route. An hour and forty minutes of climbing through beautiful wildlife – including yellow foxgloves. Wild foxgloves seem to be yellow here.
It was hard, but it was absolutely worth it to soak in that view across the plains to Slovinsky Raj, the mountain range twenty miles to the south.
It’s our last day in the cottage today and we’ll do the climb again.
ArchieVan weigh in close to his 3.5 tonne limit. That combined with predominantly mountain driving takes its toll on the brakes.
When Terry in St Just did the MoT in April he suggested that the discs would need changing by the end of the year. With only 53,000 miles on his clock that’s early.
As it happened the rather cautious sensor set up started calling for replacements by the time we’d got to Germany in May.
I decided that we’d have the job done in Poprad when we’d be in the same place for a few days and so yesterday I went to the VW dealership to book the work.
I was surprised when the super helpful fellow told me there was a three week wait for servicing. Blimey.
He suggested we tried around the corner.
Around the corner we had a challenging conversation using Google translate and a lot of signalling. But here I am, in their office at 7.30 next morning. Hopefully the guy who drove the van away is changing the discs right now.
Four hours later my laptop battery had long since run out and I was getting short on patience, but then the van arrived back outside, with hopefully improved stopping ability.
Brakes cost a fortune, you don’t see them, but I do find that they’re rather important.
As the temperatures rise across central Europe we’re grateful to be in a house for a few days. There’s no escaping the temperature, but at least we can get shade indoors, and Polly Precious seems to be coping well.
Hyaluronic acid. Anti-aging the dog.
After the vet decided not to operate on Polly he suggested a course of hyaluronic acid. The drug is best known for its use in anti-aging creams, but initially it was used to help with joint disorders creating a cushion between affected bones. Polly is on a seven week course of injections that need to be administered by the vet. That will give us a new logistical challenge if we’re to move on from the Poprad area. We don’t have a solution yet.
It seems that the injections have the potential to relieve knee pain for as long as two years – though with the dog it’s hard to know how she feels as she just battles on whatever.
We like the vet and his colleagues, but now that we’re on to treatments that may or may not be effective I do wish we could have a full conversation about it.
I assumed that via ferrata was an Italian car that I haven’t yet heard of. Fell runner Paul put me right and explained that it is the correct term for crazy mountain footpaths that need a series of ladders, chains and hawsers to help you complete their course.
Neither Minty or I are that strong on heights, nor are we brave, but we’re up for a challenge and on Friday we had a proper go at one of the easier via ferrata routes in Slovenska Raj.
It’s called Sucha Bella, and when you’re not terrified it’s truly beautiful.
Although we’d been before, the previous time there was no one around and we only took the lower slopes before heading home for tea.
Yesterday it wasn’t crowded, but the queue at the first slippery steel ladder into the sky meant that once you’d started there was no going back. You had to continue to the top then take one of several other routes down.
Hard core via ferrata can involve crossing chasms on steel ropes and worse. This isn’t as mad, but it’s certainly not for the faint hearted.
Ladders of logs cross lower sections of the gorge, and after the first few nervous goes these become fun.
It’s the steel ladders climbing into the clouds that can mess with your mind.
At the top of one of these you step into space, hoping to land your foot on some distant steel step that’s suspended over a drop of certain death, with only a bit of chain to hold on to.
Doing it in your own time would be hard, but the pressure of a group of very foreign folk eager to progress was at times unpleasant.
Lunch back down in reality felt well earned after a hard three hours climbing and walking. My potato pancake filled with a pork goulash sounded pretty dreadful on the menu, but was such a treat that I’ll be back for another.
Although we’re not big meat eaters, we’re pretty easy going and if it’s there we’ll enjoy it.
Some strict veggies might be less amused at the vegetarian options on the menu that include bacon.
After ten nights in Tony’s chalet we’ll move on tomorrow.
It’s a sweet place at the bottom of a small but steep ski slope that he bought when he first heard of the intention to put in the ski facilities. He coaches the national women’s ski team and was in the know. I suspect that it doubles his income, and maintenance is low.
It’s comfortable for four, but sleeps ten. I reckon that’d be a squeeze and beyond my tolerance of proximity, even if the team included your own children.
Its curious features are its lack of any curtains or blinds, and its suicide staircase of steep risers and narrow goings. I find the stairs a challenge, anyone less able than me would be confined to the ground floor.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to the High Tatras, for one night of luxury before we return to full time van life.
June has been a month of high expense, the worse since Norway and disappointment with the dog after such expectation fear and the long build up. On the positive side our mileage has been low and we’ve had the chance to explore more of Austria and here in the Poprad region. My week of work in Portugal will help redress our budget deficit rather more quickly than the promises of either of our potential new prime ministers will do for the country.
Once we’ve agreed a plan for Polly’s care I’ll be keen to see new again. Carving ArchieVan through unknown territories.