This week in bigger pics
Monday 26th August 2013, Germany, Week 114
There was a book, or was it a film? perhaps both, called Around the World in Eighty Days. I mention it only because, coincidently, that's how long it's taken us to tramp through most of Scandinavian and the Baltic states. I thought, therefore, it might be a good idea to recap, go over the bullet points as it were. So come with me now on a mini tour and sample the ups and downs -mostly the downs- of the last eighty days. If you’ve not read any of my diary entries for this period then the following might not make a whole lotta sense. (Does it ever? Ed). Careful.
We started off in Denmark, a country populated with twice the number of pigs as people and yet, oddly, we didn’t see a single one.,pig that is. Whose every inch of countryside is given over to farming and quite frankly, with the best will in the world, there’s only so many fields of spuds you can see in one life time. But the memory that will be with me forever, and one I still wake up at nights in a cold sweat over, is being charged a budget busting £175 for two two bridge tolls.
Those bridges ushered us into our second country, that of animal loving Sweden, literally. In my book there are only two reasons why anyone would want to go to there. They either have a pathological tree fetish or a desire to return to the seventies! which is the currant date in Sweden. Having said that, I might have been able, at a push, to put up with the monotonous scenery but not with a government that runs all liqueur stores and employs armed guards in them?. That’s simply wrong on so many counts I wouldn't know where to start. Safe to say I shan’t be going back any time soon.
This, the 4x3 picture inside the ladies showers at our present camp site! The mens? well we have a picture of Dresden Cathedral, obviously
Finland next. A vast empty country sparsely occupied by baseball cap wearing, wife tossing, cigarette smoking, fruit machine playing Finnish petrol heads all seemingly happy to live with a climate of extremes. It freezes everything for eight months of the year and is either annoyingly light for twenty hours of the day, or dark for six months. But for me the deal breaker is the absolutely ridiculous number of speed cameras it has. And you have to ask why? In a country that’s so thinly populated you could drive the entire time on pavements and still not knock someone over. No, for that reason alone they get a thumbs down.
From there we moved to Estonia. Years ago I once saw a Marks brothers film. I believe it was supposed to be shot in Estonia. I have little recollection of it other than it was in black and white obviously and featured a women with enormously large bosoms, who Groucho fell in love with. I clearly remember it had an insane military band which played every tune in double quick time and slightly out of key. I tell you this only because I was hoping it would still be like that, interesting. Regretfully it wasn't. It was amazingly normal. So much so, and I've tried to avoid mentioning this, we actually found ourselves at a dog show while we were there. God! I feel better for coming clean and getting that one off my chest.
Latvia next, home of the stolen BMW. A country in dire need of a lick of paint, was, and is still, behind the times as you might expect. It can however proudly boast to having the fastest internet download speeds in Europe. (That’s official. Ed) I can actually attest to this, it's phenomenally quick. If you were the type of chap who downloaded say films, it would take only 6 minutes to download a feature film.....apparently.... so I'm told. Interestingly the wifi was free in all Baltic states. They take the internet seriously, it's why large international companies like Barclays has an IT presence there. They seem less fixated on the porn and concentrate far more on it's commercial applications. They see information technology as a way forward for their country.
Lithuania was a delight and I found little to dislike or take the Micky out of. Coming from Latvia the differences were startling. It felt like a European country. And after some of the tortuous roads we had used, driving along a Lithuanian motorway brought a nostalgic lump to my throat and for that I will be eternally grateful. Then into Poland, perhaps the only country out of them all I'd be happy to visit again. A country whose small prices are matched only by the hem line of some of it's many attractive occupants.
Tuesday 27th August 2103 Germany Week 114.
Now I had something mildly interesting to chat about today but I've decided to shove that on the back burner. Not because it was boring, oh no, but because it all got rather serious and I don’t feel in that kinda mood this morning. Also, something far more interesting has been brought to my attention. So this morning I want to talk seriously about Fucking. No......!. not that kind of fucking the other kind. Fucking, the small town on the German border with the same name. Now can I, through my little web diary, make a plea on behalf of the population of Fucking, or the Fuckingers as I believe they are correctly known. Could we please stop nicking the town's name plaque. It's not a souvenir! It costs them 300 Euros each time a Brit steals it. It's got so bad they have even considered changing the town's name, but at the eleventh hour decided against it. The local tourist brochure makes this rather barbed and pithy comment on the topic. And I quote:
The German visitors all want to see Mozart's house. The Americans want to see where The Sound of Music was filmed. The Japanese want to see Hitler's birthplace, but for the British it's all about Fucking.
Now that’s just plain embarrassing right? as a nation, to be singled out for being, lets face it, juvenile vandals.
In an interview Fran Lindlbauer, the manager of a local guest-house, is reported as saying: “We have many lakes, forests, and vistas worth visiting but there's an obsession with Fucking”. She went on to say: “I often have to tell the British tourist sorry, there are no Fucking postcards”. However Herr Juergen Stoll, the operator of another guest-house at Wank, also close to the Austrian-German border, (seriously I've not made any of this up) stated that the residents of Fucking should be cashing in on it's name. An enterprising teenager from the town did start selling T-shirts on line, but gave up because townsfolk would shout at him in the street. So please no more fucking with the Fucking sign, OK? And while on the subject here's some other village names which, when translated, are perhaps unfortunate. These include. Monkey Village, Putrid Butter, Kingdom of Heaven, Cat Brain, Stupid, Raincoat, Slave House and Warts, and I thought Newport Pagnell was bad.
Yep I know its a rude word but not for the locals
Now I want to talk briefly about German service and efficiency and to do that I want to remind you of an experience I had here last year. First let me set the scene. I was trying, as one occasionally does, to listen in on a phone conversation some chap was having. I'll not go into why I was evesdropping on him, suffice it to say, I had a jolly good reason. In an effort to look less obvious I pretended to inspect the caravan. -Now I've just re-read those sentences and I admit they do make me sound slightly bonkers, I'm not, seriously, ask anyone who knows me- (lets not take a vote on it, move on. Ed). During my fake inspection I discovered to my surprise and horror a vital piece of the hitch was missing. I instantly slipped out of spy mode and into concerned caravan owner mode. I made some hasty enquiries at reception and was given directions to a caravan spares shop. When we arrived it turned out to be a swanky, all glass and chrome, Subaru dealership. On entering we nervously approached the reception desk and asked about spares, we were directed to the spares department downstairs. There, I jokingly asked, eager to blame the camp-site reception staff for their foolish advice, if they stocked a British caravan spare, expecting them to blankly look at me and wonder about the sanity of the British. But no, off he went and reappeared five minutes later with the correct spare.
Now walk into say, your local Ford dealer, and ask for a caravan spare and they will laugh in your face and throw you in the river. It's happened several times. I know cos a bloke told me it has. For that matter ask for a throttle return spring for a 1988 Ford Sierra and the same fate will befall you. Germans seem to understand service in a way which being British I've not really experienced before. In Germany you can expect good service and it's not just a sales ethos either, it's in their psyche.
Wednesday 28th August 2013 Germany, week 114
Telling the time isn't easy you know.
Anyone who reads my ramblings regularly will know that the MOD, better known as the Ministry of Defence, and I, rarely see eye to eye. Well that’s probably an over statement, I doubt, they're even aware of my existence but I frequently have a pop at them. What gets under my skin is why we, the beleaguered British tax payer, are expected to maintain it's ranking as the fourth richest armed organisation in the world, especially when you consider we are such a small country. See my dilemma? And this while we watch the decimation of our health system, face more years of austerity measures and longer working lives. So it's a recurring theme which I make no apologies for. Right, now, I want you to try and imagine this scene.
It's approaching dawn on a blood stained battle field. A group of English army officers are poring over maps in a dimly lit tent. A plan of attack is worked out and the Major says: “Synchronise watches gentlemen. It's 03:00 hours we'll mobilise at 05:00”. It's a pretty familiar scene right? Problem is, of course, being the British army none of them have the faintest idea what the time is, that's why they kept having to synchronise their watches. Now you're thinking: 'what the hell is he rabbiting on about?' (Good I'm not alone then. Ed).
Let me explain. You may have seen the recent report that highlighted the MOD had spent a not insignificant £40,000 ringing the speaking clock*. That represents a staggering 130,000 phone calls. Ok, so the question any sane person should now ask is: why, unlike just about everyone reading this, don’t they have access to clocks, watches, mobile phones or even a sodding micro wave, or for that matter any one of a thousand other devices that come with a digital clock incorporated? In fact you're hard pressed these days to buy something doesn't have a clock attached and that doesn’t give you wind speed and air temperature. Thankfully the MOD, embarrassed by all this, has introduced a ban on ringing the speaking clock and has issued a memo highlighting other ways soldiers can tell the time. -why anyone you would need a memo to do that is quite frankly scary-. Great you're thinking, long overdue. Well not really because since the ban they’ve carried on ringing it to the tune of £18,000. So much for military discipline.
The Swiss tackle this problem head on. This replacing the standard issue Swiss army knife.
Now you're thinking I'm just trying to be mischievous and poke fun at them. I'm not. No. Well hang on.... I am actually, but at the same time I'm worried. You'll remember it was only a couple of years ago when it came to light, (no pun intended) that the MOD was paying £22 for a light bulb that you or I would pay 65 pence for. Recently someone within the MOD paid £102 for bolts needed to repair a Land rover. Bolts that you or I would have paid £2.60 for. So you see I have every right to be concerned and so do you.
It's reported that the MOD spends time, effort and more of your hard earnt cash on storing bombing equipment. Well now, surely that’s money well spent you ask?. Well no because the equipment in question is for a model of aircraft they decommissioned four years ago.
There is no doubt in my mind, because of the way the MOD is structured, this is merely the tip of a massive over spending iceberg. It's worth remembering these guys are soldiers, not accountants nor are they financial managers. I reckon if we knew just how much they wasted we all would be shocked. We would be demanding our MPs actually earnt their salaries and did something about it. Trouble is the governments mobile phone bill is 8.5 million and I can't help wondering how much of that bill was generated , by them ringing the speaking clock?.
*For any non UK readers, and yes I have some. The speaking clock is a telephone service which you ring to find out the time.
Thursday 29th August 2013 Germany, week 114
Lost in translation & Danger in the woods
The last few days we have been staying at a camp-site in Ortrand which is a small provincial town just off the A13 motorway. If I described it as sleepy I'd be doing it a favour, comatose is a much more fitting description. But we are good with that. Too much excitement can be fatal. The camp-site is typically German. I'll not describe it, I'll let them do that. Here’s the advert from their camping brochure which explains everything far clearer than I ever could.
The newly designed motor home port in the eye catcher of the camping site. Or rent a mobile home. These are more generous in the floor and are suitable at most six persons. The swimming pool invites to take a sunbath or to jump in water. Children of all ages will cover there expenses at the slide park. And whoever does not want only to spoil his mind and soul, can keep his body fit through a wide course or sportive activities. For children are two playgrounds which allow the children’s hearts to beat faster. The well being of parents is also important to us so you may stay for a conversion or that like.
Well I think that says it all. Hope I didn't leave anything out. I reckon they must have used google translator and just cut and pasted their result. Still it's kinda charming. (They gave us a goody bag with drinks and sweets when we left! Ed.)We have since moved on from there on the recommendation of a reader into Swiss Saxony but more of that tomorrow.
They don't call them wild animals for nothing!
On our last day at Ortrand we decided to get some exercise and go for a hike through the woods. It was forecast to be a nice day and what better way to spend it than a stroll through the German countryside. Now I like the countryside but at heart I'm a city slicker. I was born in north London, so I never really feel totally at home dicking around in the woods, I always feel a little out of my depth. Hazel, however, can spend the whole time taking photographs of practically anything, moss, rotting logs, plants or odd rock formations. She'll also pick up leaves, nuts or stones to paint or draw, or simply clutter up the van with. I spend most of my time making sure I don’t tread in anything yucky or accidentally touch anything that might be living.
The walk we were on was a recognised local hike, and the path, in most places, fairly worn. We’d been out about an hour, I was in the lead but please don't take that as an indication I knew where I was going, even with a map I can get completely lost once outside my natural habitat. I'm no hiker, woodsman or frontiersman but it strikes me that if you could number trees, it would simplify life no end for amateurs like me. Anyway the track we were following brought us out into a large meadow which we had to cross to pick up the trail the other side. Hazel had stopped to photograph something dead I think, so I started out across the meadow. I'd got about a hundred yards when, in the far corner, I spotted a stag and a female deer. I dropped onto my haunches and licked my finger to wet it and then held it up to check wind direction. Was I upwind or downwind? Fuck knows! I couldn't tell.......... can anyone?. Without giving my position away I called to Hazel as silently as I could. I told her to “Get down”. She hustled over bent double as if avoiding a roof top sniper. We watched silently in awe for a moment before the thought occurred to me: could we possibly be in imminent danger?. I mean, what do I know about wild stags? bugger all as it turns out. I ask ranger Hazel if the stag was likely to be dangerous. They both appeared to be looking our way as they had since I entered the meadow, perhaps sensing our presence. “Not unless it's rutting season” she said in a whisper. “Why what happens in rutting season?” I ask. “Well it might want to protect it's female, in which case it might see us a threat!”. On hearing this I looked around for an escape route should the stag take me for a suitor, there wasn't one. “Hang on” Hazel adds. “I think rutting season is over, or do they have two rutting seasons?” she muses. I point out that I'm so the wrong person to ask.
It's about then I notice neither has moved, I mean at all, Not even flicked an annoying fly from their ears. Are they real? I ask. Hazel pushes the camera zoom to maximum. Urm no she says.
Phew! another disaster averted.
Friday 30th August 2013, Germany. Week 114
Something different to finish the week on. One of the benefits of having an online diary, as I prefer to call it, is occasionally, I get recommendations from readers. Some write and tell me just where I can go! in a nice way of course. This happened the other day. We were advised to head to a National park in an area called Swiss Saxony and we're glad we did, it's quite spectacular.
I'm also asked, occasionally, why I don't post more photos?. The reason is two fold. Firstly I have to limit photos to one a day, or maybe two at a push, simply because my online diary is getting close to it's maximum allowed size. And secondly, and more importantly, because I love the sound, even on paper, of my own voice. (Yep! I'll vouch for that one. Ed)
The other day we spent the morning in the wonderfully picturesque town of Hohnstein with it's Schloss or castle and then moved onto the National Park. So, for the first time since I've been writing my diary, I'm going to say nothing and let the pictures work their magic.
Before I go this week, for those amongst you that drop in regularly to catch up with my musings you’ll know I'm not the type of chap to shy away from contentious issues. So now might be a good time to tell you I am heading for deep controversial waters next week. I'll try and upset as few people as possible. But these things have to be said by someone, right?.
If the railings gave way that really would be one for utube.
Who wouldn't want to live here?
It could be another plannet, if it wasn't for the breathable atmosphere, the people and the bride, so, nothing like another plannet really.
Yep I know, but I couldn't resist includung this. It's evey Christmas card I've ever recieved.