It wasn’t until we reached our next campsite deep into north-west Hungary that we realised we’d forgotten to check on the potential inmates of the Museum of the Revolution in Timisoara. “Too late now”, we thought and left them to what might or might not have been their fate. That evening’s stopover, the ‘Tranquil Pines’ campsite, was an oasis as it was (a) open all year round and (b) run by a British couple, who were as welcoming and friendly as you could wish. So much so that they gave us a box of Yorkshire Tea Bags to fuel our trip northwards to Lake Balaton. They also had a Rubber Throne.
Lake B turned out to be almost indistinguishable from the sky, thanks to a totally overcast cloudbase and some grizzly weather, so we examined it gloomily and moved on to a smaller version further north. This one was much more photogenic and we felt that we’d managed to pull one over on Balaton and its tourist beaches.
Continuing the theme of visiting places beginning with ‘B’ (and rather wishing we’d hit on that strategy as a guide for our entire odyssey) we set the controls of the satnav to take us to Bratislava. It managed this with some aplomb for a change, leading us to a parking area on the south bank of the Danube, with a view straight across to the Old Town.
And what a totally splendid town it was. The weather helped, of course, but the squares were filled with Christmas markets and the faintly anarchic vibe of some quarters was just the sort of thing we like best. Our Slovakian language skills are non-existent, but from the look of some of the guerrilla art installations around the older parts of the town it seemed that a campaign to highlight domestic violence against women was underway. Well done, the guerrilla artist.
Other parts of Bratislava that suffered our inquiring presence included the fortress (great pair of gates, outstandingly clear blue skies and sunshine, bronze statue of a Crazy Lady having a Bad Hair Day with crows),
an underground tea room in a Bomb Shelter (sadly closed when we called round),
and a Dog Cafe where the dogs came first (with an enormous choice of lovely-looking but stinky cakes and other treats) while people could have coffee or nothing.
We left the city reluctantly, the dog most of all, but an entertaining evening awaited us. No sooner had we parked up in the middle of nowhere, northern Slovakia, than Kate remembered that it was Krampus. Rather than admit my ignorance on that one I did the traditional husband thing of making an interested sounding noise while failing to engage further. This was merely a cover for some intense googling, which gave me the background I needed. “I thought Krampus was principally an Alpine tradition”, I remarked intelligently, “mainly observed in Switzerland, Southern Germany and Austria.” But Kate neatly skipped over my geographic trap and pointed out that Austria was only about 20 km away. There was nothing for it – we prepped the wagon for moving on and set off into the gathering night in search of Krampus*
Two towns and one international border later, we hadn’t found any sign of the legendary celebrations. This bit of Austria seemed as devoid of Alpine characteristics as the bit of Slovakia we’d just left, perhaps not surprisingly since both were as flat as pancakes. Since by now it was approaching late o’clock at night we hauled on the handbrake and got our heads down. Next day, to assuage Kate’s disappointment I sought help from the Atlas Obscura and sure enough it came up with the off-beat goods – 12km away lay the self-described ‘verrückte’ (German for mildly crazy) town of Herrnbaumgarten, and in its centre was the Nonseum – apparently the world’s largest collection of intentionally useless inventions. I couldn’t wait.
A quick recce on arrival revealed a large sign outside the Nonseum with lots of German writing on it. Homing in on the numbers, as they’re easier to translate, I announced to Kate that the place opened on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 11 am and 4 pm. We had two and half hours to wait, it turned out, so we took the dog for a long walk, had a cup of coffee or two, indulged in an over-long coffee break – and then, of a sudden, the town clock struck eleven. We hastened down to the museum door again. Oddly, it seemed to be still closed. I devoted more attention to the big sign and found that the opening hours I’d confidently quoted to Mrs H only applied between Palm Sunday and All Hallows. In other words, not in the winter. She did not look impressed.
Thinking on my feet I suggested we head over the border to the Czech Republic, where the splendidly named town of Znojmo boasted a campsite with showers that was reportedly open all year round. She thawed, but only slightly. “Znojmo is only about half an hour away”, I reported. The thaw gained momentum and by the time we had sidestepped the satnav’s latest jape of trying to send us under a bridge that was teasingly six inches too low she was positively buoyant. You can guess what we found. Yes, the campsite was shut. We turned around and headed back into Austria.
This time we used a municipal ‘wohnmobil’ parking area that was set up for people like us. An electricity outlet and a tap for fresh water had been laid on – great! We could heat the van and the shower water and enjoy a bit of luxury for a change. But yet again the fates were against us; the electricity supply was faulty and the water didn’t work. I gave the installation a mighty kick and like magic, the electricity supply came on. The water remained frustratingly unavailable. But by this stage nothing was going to come between me and a shower so grabbing a couple of buckets I set off in search of the public loos. The first small building I found turned out to be a big shrine with a larger than life statue of Jesus inside. Crossing the road I found a cemetery. That had more shrines but no water – then, tucked into the cemetery’s outside wall, next to the road, I found a door. Peering inside I saw – yes! The bogs!! And that is how the orderly citizens of the small Austrian town of Retz were treated to the sight of a grubby elderly man ferrying buckets of water out of the cemetery, across the road and into the gathering gloom of the car park for a good part of the evening.
The showers, in case you were wondering, were magnificent.
*Look it up, like I had to.