This week in bigger pics
Monday 5th August 2013 Lithuania Week 111
I joked during our visit to Luxembourg many months ago, by way of illustration, that once a road is laid there, an official rolls a marble up it's centre. If the marble comes to rest, still central on the road, he passes it. But if it deviates they have to start all over again, such are the roads in Luxembourg. They are a delight to use. Of course Luxembourg, one of the riches countries in Europe, can afford well made and well maintained roads. Latvia, on the other hand, can't.
The road from our camp-site to the Lithuanian boarder was reminiscent of the Somme battle field. The last time I swooped, dipped and plunged quite so vigorously was on a roller-coaster at Alton towers. The road was a patchwork of ageing repairs which themselves had been repaired. Inside the van screws started to unwind as they do in horror films. Suction cups slid down mirrors. Stuff that was velcroed into position became unvelcroed. Things that could rattle, rattled, and things that shouldn’t rattle, rattled, like the cushions. And it's only now have my eyes balls finally stopped wobbling in their sockets. Previous to that they were like those joke glasses you buy with eyeballs attached on springs, a weird sensation.
Never a cheery welcome but now abandoned.
But as we drove through the deserted boarder crossing into Lithuanian the road instantly improved, and dramatically. At this point I should own up, as I've been doing a lot recently, and say Lithuania is as big a mystery to me as is Quantum physics, so I was happy to discover that not only did the road improve but so but everything else. A few miles in we came across Palanga airport. Very impressive. We sailed past the modern terminal building. A monument to what architects can do with glass and chrome. The tyres whispered on. Hazel suggested the road may only be this good because of the airport. I instantly thought she had a point, and any minute now we are going to be tossed around like flotsam on a cresting wave. We weren’t. The road was fine and so was the town of Palanga. We saw houses, and lots of them. Colourful shops, Busy streets. Lot of smiling people going about their day purposefully. Mums strapping toddlers in car seats. People walking their dogs. Satellite dishes on peoples homes. Coaches depositing people at shopping outlets. It was, in a word, not what I'd expected. (That’s four. Ed). Sorry I'm excited. And then, as we came out the other side of Palanga we beheld a most a wondrous sight. A vision. A marvel of modern civil engineering. Our faces lit up. A broad smile crossed my face. It was a motorway, the A1! A finer motorway you'd be hard pressed to find and the first we'd seen in weeks. Along it's course were bright cheerful fuel stops. Charming small eateries. Proper road signage. The kind of crash barriers you really wouldn’t mind slamming into occasionally. To our left and right more houses. Nice houses, well designed, modern, detached. Built on rolling low rise hills. The motorway cut through rich colourful farmland. Wheat, corn and fields of yellow mustard decorated the undulating countryside. Frankly, it was like being in another country. (We were, Lithuania you twit. Ed) I know, I mean that in it's figurative sense. And finally a tear welled up in my eye for it meant (hopefully) no more bloody pine forest. I'm maxed out on trees.
Motorway and NO trees. Who'd have thought I could get so emotional.
What a difference between two countries. You know me by now I hope. I'm not the one to sugar the pill, but I was quite blown away. Lithuania looks impressive. And as if all that wasn't enough excitement for one day we were heading for -I really think a drum roll is called for here- Honey Valley camping resort. Now come on, what a name. It's got to be a slice of camping heaven surely, and it was. A little gem in the heat of the Lithuania countryside, pretty as a picture and practically empty. The young lass gave us a mini tour of the site. The showers were the best we had seen, I'd say, since Denmark.
And the coup-de-grace was that it's the cheapest we've stayed in since leaving the UK, complete with free Wifi which positively hums with efficiency.
Tuesday 6th August 2013 Lithuania, week 111.
We went grocery shopping in the small town of Jurbarkus just a few kilometres up the road. A town of 16k souls. Home, once, to the ancient German medieval military order, The Catholic Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Not a name that exactly trips off the tongue or have sewn onto your flag standard so it was shortened to the Teutonic Knights. They still exist today. These were the guys who were depicted in medieval films wearing long white tunics which featured a large black cross. As fascinating as that is, that’s enough history.
One of the older streets in town.
Before I carry on, that reminds me. I was chatting to a baseball-cap-wearing chap the other day when he described the local town as being: “just a few clicks up the road from the camp site”. Whoa... hang on there, matey. A few clicks?.... What?, I'm suddenly in an Vietnam war film? I have absolutely no idea how far a single click is, let alone a few. Nor, I expect does he. I wanted to press him and ask him: and how far is a click?. But I'm far too polite to deliberately embarrass anyone. But don’t you ever get the urge to stop suffering fools quite so gladly? Although, had he been wearing his baseball cap back to front I would have felt duty bound to poke him in the eye, some thing’s are just too much to bear.
As far as I know it isn't a recognised distance. The term click refers to sighting a telescope on a rifle not hauling a 3.5 ton motor home around Europe.
Right, ok, back to my grocery shopping. And before you exclaim Phil! grocery shopping?. I'd have to say that’s it's indepth detail like this that some people find interesting. Remember I bring you the stuff other people wouldn't lower themselves to write about, I'm not proud.
The bill was, excluding tax, £38. Our shopping included a Kilo of beef mince, a whole chicken, pork chops, basically meat for a week. A Bottle of Gin (That's Hazels, keeps her quiet), four bottles of wine (keeps me quiet) plus a dozen other items, bread, milk, veg etc?. The booze portion of the bill was £16. Tax was an additional tenner (21%). Food is cheap.
Interestingly, cigarettes are amongst the cheapest we've seen at £2 a pack. So you'd imagine everyone chain smoked, right? Wrong. According to the people who collate this kind of information Lithuania comes 65th in the world smoking league, a mere eight above the UK. So the next time a British politician says the reason we have extremely high tax revenues on smoking products is to dissuade people from smoking, do me a favour, shove a carton of two hundred up their bottoms. There is, and never has been, a correlation between price and the uptake of smoking. But this has never stopped any government from pretending it has, and they wonder why so few people bother to vote any more.
Now last year I did a full 'in-depth' report on how the Euro could be salvaged. I studied all the financial indicators: trends, forecasts, interest rates, borrowing, gold reserves amongst others. After all that I came to a shuddering truth. The Euros biggest problem is that, without a shred of doubt, it's has to be the ugliest set of bank notes in the entire world. Monopoly money is only marginally less attractive.
Some, thought I was being flippant. I wasn't. There was serious thought and consideration that went into that argument. The basis of it being: If you create something that looks cheap and tacky we don't attribute any intrinsic value to it. If the neighbours wife looked a dog, would you covet her? Exactly. (And that's a point made? Ed) You betcha..
Let me prove it.
Here’s a picture of four Lithuanian bank notes. They are simply wonderful. Beautifully engraved on thick weighty paper. Meaningful designs. Luscious colours. Bank notes that have evolved over time. Each one tells a story of some famous event, person or discovery. This is in stark contrast to the Euro, which is small, grubby, and mind numbingly dull. The designs, I'm sure, were taken from the winning entries from a: Design a bank note competition, for the under fives. Until they are changed, I promise you, no one is going to take them seriously. End of....
Wednesday 7th August 2013 week 111.
This and that..
The camp site emptied yesterday. I get the impression, Lithuanian's are not big campers. The few we do see have use tents which explains why there are so few camping pitches with power. The only others you see are Germans, even the intrepid Dutch shy away. We are now the only ones here and can't help feeling a tad sorry for the owner. He's a charming chap who stops us every opportunity he gets to tell us about some place we really should go and visit. I want to explain we are not tourists, just a couple of wandering minstrels living a nomadic life till we get bored. However, I doubt it's a concept he'd understand because I'm not sure I do myself. He saw me faffing about on the van roof the other day and marched over because he thought I had a problem he might be able to help with.
Its us. just us and only us..
We did visit Russia on the scooter. Well, as close as one can get without being shot at.
The river Nemunas acts as a natural border between Lithuania, on its south western side, and Russia. Russia still controls a large geographical outpost on the Baltic which contains the City of Kaliningrad. We rode twenty miles up river and got within 150 meters of Russia. I was cheered up no end when I saw it was covered in trees, hardly worth a visit then. There were several distant high metal towers on the Russian side. These I took to be communication towers rather than Russia sniper positions. Along the river, mid stream, were a row of buoys to show the exact position, in the river, where the two countries meet, such is someone’s paranoia.
Just in case you forget which bit of water belongs to whom.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania once covered an area much larger than it does now. Presently it's as big as Ireland with half the population. Six hundred years ago it covered what is now Belarus, Ukraine and chunks of Poland. It had borders on both the Baltic and Black sea and was then the biggest country in mainland Europe and a formidable force. Unfortunately, as things are apt to do, it all went a tad pear shaped for them after the rise of The Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Right enough of all that...
Like most inhabitants of Baltic states that have lived under communist rule, their humour seems to revolve around potatoes and soldiers taking advantage of their family. This, in a nut shell, is the downside of Communism. It does tend to suck the humour out of people, turn them sour faced and make them all terribly serious. It's the best reason I know why you should never vote communist.
I looked for ten amusing Lithuanian facts to entertain you with and came up with ten reasons why someone would throw themselves under a local bus. However, they do have some interesting customs. The oddest of which may be this: What do you do on Palm Sunday? Not much I bet. Here, however, it's a laugh a minute. Those that returned home with consecrated palms from the church whip those who stayed at home to watch the football. Not aggressively you understand, it's just a symbolic act. You whip the backs of those who stayed home and sing......
I am not the one striking,
The Palm is striking,
You are not in pain,
The Palm is in pain,
Soon it will be Easter.'
Honestly, its worth moving here just so you can join in. And on Christmas eve, after dinner, you don’t put anything away. Traditionally you just leave the table. This enables your dead relatives, should they visit in the night, to have a bite to eat. Nothing like the thought of dead family to throw a damp squib over the Yule tide festivities I always say
The oddest fact I found was this: Lithuania has more hot air balloons per resident than any other country in the world. (Get away!. Ed)
Thursday 8th August 2103. Lithuania, week 111
Slow news day
The weather is getting to us. It's thirty something and I've taken to walking around in my underpants. (Is that legal? fortunately the site is practically empty and they do look like swimming shorts. Ed.) True, but I'm sure I packed a thong and before you say anything, if wrinkly arsed Peter Stringfellow can wear one, and he's like a 100 - I'm bloody sure I can. Us British are temperate climate creatures and as such tend to thrive on a temperature somewhere between 61 and 67 anything above or below those 'extremes' and, quite frankly, we're buggered. We enjoy the first twenty minutes of summer then spend the rest of it complaining it's too hot. Like most Brits I'm happiest when it's neither raining, windy nor cold, everything in between is just gravy.
It was this or me in my pants...
Anyway... the upshot being we did nothing yesterday except try and keep cool. Hazel attempts this by shoving her feet in a bucket of water and reading. I look for a draft to sit in butt naked save for the aforementioned small and take the opportunity to catch up with world news, something I rarely do. This because I much prefer the slightly euphoric state of ignorance over enlightenment. If a meteorite were on a collision course with Earth I would really rather not know about for three weeks before it arrives, I'd only worry. I would much prefer to innocently throw back my curtains one morning and say: “Fuck! that looks like a giant meteo...........agggghhhhh.”
Ok so what did I find in the news. Well this. A report by Interpol which highlighted the fact that there has been two recent prison breakouts. One in Pakistan and the other, at the infamous, Abu Ghraid prison in Iraq. A total of one thousand six hundred men escaped under the cover of darkness. Nope the numbers correct, 1600. This makes the previous mass breakout of seventy six POWs from Stalag 3 in 1944 look pathetic! and they made a film about that called: The Great Escape. Whose got egg on their faces now?.
I know people escape from prison all the time. According to our Government a staggering 650 unofficially walk out of our prisons each year. I also know you can't make them escape proof. The Germans tried that with Colditz Castle. The SS proudly warned POWs “Dis ist escape proof u Englisher swine hund ”. No sooner had that sentence stopped ringing in their ears, over a hundred had already legged it.
Now if two old lags jump the wall I can understand that, it's to be expected. However to move that number of men from point A to point B is something of a logistical nightmare and is therefore highly suspicious. It was reported that in one prison so many had escaped they had to cancel the five aside footy match scheduled for the next day.
We all know that, with patience, a prisoner can scrape away at the mortar in his cell until finally he can remove a brick. Takes about a year. Over the next few months he can remove a second and then a third until finally he’s removed enough bricks to squeeze out and make his escape. If 1,600 men choose that method it surely wouldn't have gone unnoticed. A guard, or cleaner at the very least, would have noticed that most of B-wing had somehow vanished.
It's also been known for inmates to fashion clothes from mail bags and bedding, dress as guards, visitors, staff or even ladies (although those that dress as ladies often don't bother with the escaping bit) and simply stroll through the open gates. It's also been known for prisoners to cling to the underside of a laundry van to make their escape but 1,600 men clambering over a Transit might, just, have raised suspicions.
They could have dug tunnels, but again, that many the prisoners, that many tunnels, the place would have collapsed around their ears before anyone left their cells. No in truth 1,600 men don't escape from anywhere, at least not without the prisons turning a blind eye to all those legging it across the courtyard., some of whom, apparently, are convicted terrorists.
Friday 9th August 2013, Lithuanian week 111.
Dogs and Cats.
Here's an email that turned up in my post bag recently.
Hi Phil & Hazel, I've been reading about your European exploits (Exploits, good choice of word there, Bob) for a few weeks. I typed 'European adventures' into google and your site popped up. I've been reading it in my lunch break. It's something I would really love to do when I retire, alas I'm only 33, with two kids and a mortgage, so's not likely to be any time soon. So I'm living my dream through you. I have a question though. You started off in a caravan and you're now in a motor-home which do you find better? Cheers Bob.
Thanks Bob. Now I don't wish to throw a damp squib on your future plans but if our the Government keep moving the retirement goal post, you'll actually never reach retirement age so the question is perhaps a little academic. (Well that’s rained on his parade. Ed). Sorry.
The Hill of crosses 200k of them.
Now this is the public info-mercial side of my 'web Diary'. It serves a real purpose. I know people think I just waffle on about nothing in particular half the time.... and. (Oh get on with it Bobs' only got a hour. Ed)
Well it's a good question Bob, and not a simple one to answer. It' a little like, say... comparing a dog to a cat in terms of the kinds of pets they make. They perform the same basic function, keep you company and smell equally as bad, only in quite different ways. In fact there are many parallels you can draw between choosing a pet and choosing a vehicle to undertake this type of trip in. (I think Bobs after the shortened version Luv. Ed) Possibly.
OK, well, one of the obvious pluses and one that makes motor-homes so popular is you're not dragging something the size of a bungalow (as we were) behind you, although in practice it's rarely a problem. Having never towed anything before, starting our Exploits I was a tad nervous. And it didn't help my fledgling confidence when, on pulling into our very first French camp site, I demolished the gate and did £400 worth of damage to the van. That evening I seriously questioned the sanity of what we were doing. Hazel did as-well, only she never voiced it.
Our motor-home, with the bike trailer attached, isn't that much shorter than the caravan but there is a psychological element to it. You're in the vehicle. It's one vehicle and not two. I used to be quiet anal, and meticulously plan our route using Google earth to visibly check the access to the next camp-site, I don’t bother any more. In a nut shell the motor home seems easier to manage on the road. This is perhaps born out by the number of women you see driving them as opposed to towing caravans.
Mobility can be a major drawback to motor-home ownership. When you arrive at your chosen destination not having a car at your disposal, unlike a caravan owner, can be restrictive But if you are the adventurous type you hop on a bus or train and immerse yourself in the hussle and bustle of local life. But trust me, trying to work out an Estonian bus time table without the help of an Engima decoder is nigh impossible. You could hire a car, plenty do. Or take a scooter along with you. Ours has worked out a treat and has been a real ice breaker in many a supermarket car park.
In terms of room, there's no difference. You’ll not swing a cat, nor dog, in either. Generally speaking motor-homes have less floor space and narrower gangways. But you can buy large motor-homes just as easy as you can buy small caravans. However while a caravan can be the size of a bungalow large motor-homes are actually the price of a bungalow.
Wild camping is possible in a motor-home, not that we have done any for security reasons.
So to sum up: each has it's advantages and it's weaknesses. Neither one is better at what it does than the other. The biggest factor is how you intend to spend your time in each and your purse. Motor-homes are more fashionable, there’s no doubt about that. Some see them as the next generation of recreational vehicles, But I suspect that if it were not for the affluence of the retired, todays motor-homes would have stayed on the drawing board.