Rain. Rain. Huge rain. It took Liz and Ariel 5 and a half hours to reach me from the Forest of Dean. I watched TV turning the heating off and back on as their journey time increased. A pit stop and a transfer of interesting luggage (an axe and a bag seemingly full of footwear) from one Skoda Yeti to another and we were off into a wet time warp where for at least half the journey Google Maps told us it would take 3 hours and 22 minutes. If only. 5 soggy hours later we reached Church Cottage in Kyloe. Our landlords had kindly unpacked our Sainsbury’s delivery for us and left us a bottle of organic prosecco. Cheers.
Great to see our views across to Lindisfarne. We went shopping in Berwick. I managed to get run over by a car. My foot was trapped under its front wheel for a while but I came away completely unscathed, not even any bruising. I frightened myself and my friends and the driver for which I am truly sorry. I didn’t look before I crossed the road the second time because when I’d crossed it first I looked both ways, saw cars only going one way, saw cars parked facing the same way so made an incorrect assumption. I was lucky the driver was going slowly and that I was wearing new Doc Martens that are very rigid. Of course it was my left foot. But remarkably there is no damage. I have wanted to be dead but I don’t actually want to die. Not yet, not until I’ve finished sorting out the stuff in my house. And not then either. It was a salutary reminder that all it takes is one microsecond of inattention. I am walking around with so many dead loved ones I’m not that surprised it happened. After calming down from my idiocy we went to Cheswick and walked by the sea. Liz and I managed to walk in an area containing unexploded ordnance and quicksand! Back to gigli made by A. Yum. Started watching The Laundromat film with Meryl Streep about the Panama Papers.
My foot is none the worse. Remarkable boot. Not even a mark on the boot. From Craster we walked along by the sea to Dunstanburgh castle. At Greymare rock we sent Carol’s ashes off into the sea. A seal joined us while the crashing waves took the ashes away. Called in at Howick Hall for the slowest tea ever and an incorrectly delivered order then walked around the gardens. Back home along the lanes as the sun descended. Liz produced borscht, scrummy. We finished watching the Laundromat. Good movie.
Ariel and I walked a good part of the way up The Cheviot but decided not to try the summit as it was very boggy and cold on the dark side. Instead we stayed in the sun to descend and bimbled about in some woods. We got back to Liz, a blazing fire, delicious kedgeree and a really rubbish film, Call Me By My Name which Netflix told us included “strong sex”. Only if you are a peach. It was very boring IMO.
Billy Shiel’s boat from Seahouses around the Farne Islands. Good weather, a bit of bouncing on the waves, a lot of birds and a huge lot of seals, all sizes and ages. Only £15 for 90 minutes. Fab. Pit stop at the Ship Inn. To Ros Castle, a short steep climb for 360 views. Descended to magnificent burnt orange sunset. I made the green Thai curry, possibly the first time I’ve really cooked for other people since Carol died, and I enjoyed it. We tried to watch Capote movie but Liz and I fell asleep. Lovely day.
We drove to Lindisfarne across the causeway. Straight into Pilgrims’ Coffee which sold nice coffee but was short on competent staff. Up to the castle for a good look round including a history talk. Around Gertrude Jekyll’s garden, over to the priory, the parish church and back to the car to get across the causeway before the tide came in. Home for lunch, then A and I went out for walks in different directions. I stayed out until dark. Dinner and another terrible movie, Roma.
We did our own things during the day. I went to Lowick and bought bread, then to Doddington. I did a circular walk to find a hill fort, a stone circle and a cup and ring stone. The paths were very overgrown with bracken and gorse and indistinct for most of the walk. I had to micro navigate using a mix of old and new tools all the way round. I found everything, well I found the hill fort easily enough, I wasn’t sure about the cup and ring marks because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. The stone circle (rems of) only had a solitary stone in a swamp of bracken. There may have been more but I didn’t want to do any more bracken than I had to. I got back to the cottage. We dined out at The Black Bull in Lowick 2 miles away. We all had really nice dinners. Back at the cottage we moved away from awful films and played Bananagram, Liz was very good and I was delighted to have been able to use the word buggery.
Friday 1st November
We set off to have a look at Kielder Forest, as we drove we talked about coffee at the observatory. But unlucky for us the road was being resurfaced just at that point so we couldn’t get there. Instead we had a look in the Alpnhaus (why no ‘e’?) where there is a swish B&B and an Alpine shop, all feeling pretty remote. We carried on to Corbridge where we stopped for our coffee, by this time it was well into the afternoon. Eventually we rocked up at The Moorcock in Norland which is on my doorstep and ate very well in the pub. I can’t rate this place highly enough. Then back to mine to recover from yet another mammoth journey.
Travel all easy with easyJet from Manchester to Krakow. Made a new friend, Vicky on the flight. Eventually found the driver who took Cathy, Richard and me from the airport to the Vienna House Easy hotel. We missed the briefing but Remi the leader left us some notes. Had a Zywiec beer in the bar. Beer was ok, a bit gassy and I’m already that way inclined! Krakow is nice and dark, I like that, reminds me of the 70s. The driver took us through what looked like the fun part of the city.
Fabulous breakfast! I woke very early but didn’t hear drunken Graham and his partner who woke up the rest of our corridor so I was clearly fast asleep at that point. We are a group of 8. Plus Remi. Stowed our bags and went off for a walking tour of Krakow with Kasia, she was very good. A marathon was taking place so we dodged around it. Got cash and had lunch in a veggie and vegan cafe. Falafels, bulgur wheat, salad and mineral water for £5. Nice food but slow service. Returned to the hotel to collect 2 of the party who had already been round the city. Into a large minibus, I guess that makes it a maxibus. An hour and a half later we arrived in Zawoja to the Hotel Jawor. Straight out to hike up a little hill, very humid. Out to a local restaurant. I had beef goulash with pancake. This was a fried potato cake with a small amount of beef. It was tasty. Shared a side order of vegetables with Cathy. Bottle of beer. Whole lot for £7. I can see I’ll be ordering lots of sides of veg. Walked back in the dark. Very little going on here. Walked total of 12 km.
An eclectic breakfast. I’m finding the language hard so glad we have Remi the tour leader, nothing here is dual language, oh except for last night’s menu. Anna our mountain guide for today rocked up, lovely woman who works as a midwife with premature babies. Maxibus arrived (from Krakow) and took us a whole 15 minutes up the road to an entrance to the national park. It was damp and misty and no views but the route had been adjusted to avoid the risk of lightning. Walked to a mountain hut where we lunched. I had fried egg with 2 large scoops of mashed potatoes, lots of fresh herbs on them and a bucket load of sauerkraut. Couldn’t eat it all. Everything costs so little here that at first you think great, but then there is an uncomfortable feeling that you are not paying enough. Massive contrast with a couple of weeks ago in Switzerland. Then we trotted down all the way back to the hotel. Started to rain again but not as heavily as it is doing now. We saw 5 fire salamanders, I’ve never seen one before. Lovely. Dinner in the hotel was great. I had chicken with mashed potato which had a pea purée on top, ok mushy peas but so sweet and fresh plus salad. Then apple pie and ice cream. This was enough for an entire family and delicious. I had a beer which Remi recommended. Also good. Beer only comes in half litres so one is plenty. Stair rods, I’d forgotten about them but here they are still in fashion. Walked total of 11 km.
We packed up and left the hotel. We drove for about an hour south east into the Tatras to meet Justyna, today’s guide. From Siwa Polana we got on a little motor bus, called a train but not a train, hard seats, for a few kilometres. Then on foot up into the mountains, crossing quite fast flowing rivers which we helped each other over, guide did not check we were ok. Some of it was hard work and slippery and on which I was very careful. The high point was a col at 1459m so we climbed about 450m. From there down to a mountain hut for our lunch at Hali Ornak. Hard going down and then the hut was completely rammed. Sunny day, easy for people with pushchairs to reach from the other side. We queued for loos and food. I had a sausage with mustard and stale bread. Left the hut on an easy wide flat path following the roaring river. A quick nose into a gorgeous gorge then back on track to a shepherd selling smoked sheep’s cheese for 50p, actually pulling it off the fire, the guide set off before I had finished. We passed the sheep who were being milked. Our guide went fast a lot of the time, and then set off again soon after the slower ones had caught up which is not the way to do it IMO. So most of the day felt like a rush, no time to drink, blow nose, take photos. We got to the minibus that was waiting for us. The driver took us to Hotel Bel Ami in Zakopane. This was said to be a tired hotel but my room is less tired than the last place which had a mouldy shower, non draining washbasin and a cracked loo and something nibbled me in the night. Bel Ami has no mould or cracks and the water drains away. The shower fitting is loose and so is a fine balance to get it right and I had to move the fridge so it sticks out into the room in order to plug it in. But I have a balcony with a view and the room is ok. Wifi is pants. Out to dinner in fab resto, Barowo Zohylina, with people in traditional dress, a folk band and stuffed creatures (less good). Excellent food. I had pierogi (dumplings), mine were deep fried, like samosas without the spices. Shared a housewife salad (chicken) with Cathy. Good beer. Walked total of 14 km. Mountain kilometres.
My ankle and leg were a bit sore after yesterday’s walk so I decided not to go out with the group today. Had to sign a release form. Today’s walk was the longest and possibly quite hard, they had to get up and have breakfast at 6 too. So I had a lie in. Breakfast not great, instant coffee! I set off about 8.30 for the Tatra museum, quiet in the town. Had a not great coffee then went round the museum. Some set pieces of rustic interiors, some stuffed animals, a lot of rocks. Next to the Wladyslaw Hasior gallery. Interesting artist, at first I felt uncomfortable then got his sense of humour. Steampunk before it was invented. Back to hotel for a freshen up then out to veggie cafe. Had beetroot burgers in mushroom sauce with salads. Ok, sauce not quite right with the beetroot. Looked in the outdoor gear shops for bargains but don’t need anything. Back to hotel to change footwear and out again to Art Gallery at Oksza villa close to hotel. Nice leisurely day and have walked a good few kilometres but slowly and have also rested leg. Met up with the gang again. Out to Barowo Zohylina Niznio restaurant with a traditional band, this time embellished with dancers. A lively meal. Much vodka on the next table. I had potato cakes with fried potatoes and carrot salad followed by tinned fruit salad and ice cream. First course disappointing because I misordered and second because not fresh. A poor day overall for food but the restaurant was fun. 10 km.
Packed up and off by minibus to a crossing over the river Dunajec. After I’d used both the men’s and the women’s loos Louise and I did some mime and acquired our lifejackets which Remi had insisted upon. Onto the wooden raft with 8 Poles and 2 punters who punted us along the river for a couple of hours. Some slightly faster bits but a lovely gentle way to travel. A short walk to the “mountain” hut where I had a sandwich I’d made and I bought an apple pie and ice cream. Yum. Soon back to sugar free and salt free. The rest of our party turned up an hour later having walked the same route. A hot walk along the river and through the town of Szczawnica and up to Hotel Polaris which despite being an ex communist hotel is in a good location with lots of trees around. It’s been refurbished so isn’t grey. The loo wasn’t working in my room but a chap came up quickly and sorted it. He said he had been many times to do that so just as well it’s only one night here! Apart from that I like this hotel the most. Out to the bier Keller for pre dinner beer. Then across the square to smart restaurant, Cafe Helenka. Had large piece of local quiche with sausage and cheese in it and salad followed by crème brulée with mini meringues. And 50 cl beer. Fortunately only a short walk back up the very steep hill. 5 km.
We walked down the hill and along the river to a 3 minute ferry. First to Sokolica at 747m. Along interesting paths with some exposure but in the main with good handrails up the very steep parts. A popular area and a good lot of people out walking. I managed to keep up well and felt both my strength and my stamina returning. After a lunch break we carried on to 982m at the Three Crowns, a high point we had seen from the raft the day before. This was reached by a metal staircase with handrails that popped you out at a tiny platform with great views and a siege of flying ants, late here, we’ve already had ours. It was a tight fit on the platform so a quick photo and then off again because people came up behind, good however that up and down walkers were segregated. Felt like a good achievement for me and gave me back my confidence. Then down all the way to Kroscienko. Ice cream. Late minibus to Krakow. Quick shower and flooding of bathroom and out on foot to Kogel Mogel restaurant. Cabbage and truffles. Apple pie. Wheat beer. Very good food, very slow service. Getting up soon. Over 15 km.
Up at 5. This is 4am in UK. Cathy and I got straight onto the tour coach which quickly collected another 50 from various hotels. We arrived Auschwitz about 7.30. If you visit you may not eat or smoke and you are limited to a small size of bag, no rucksacks, belongings are security scanned. It would have been helpful to have had this information in advance and not just as we got off the bus. Time for a wee, then issued with headset, receiver and guide. Then we were divided up into smaller groups. The guide was the granddaughter of a local man who had died in Auschwitz. The first tour was around the Auschwitz complex. You walk round at a speed which means you don’t have time to read the displays of e.g. written evidence of the crimes. Many of the displays are harrowing, demonstrating the mechanisation of genocide. Returned the audio kit and there was enough time for a coffee in a restaurant just across the road, we were the only customers. Back onto the coach to drive the short distance to Birkenau. What is staggering is the immensity of the site. We viewed wooden huts, the selection area, the blown up gas chambers, the Soviet built memorial. We don’t have the words to express how awful it was but we must never forget especially these days when there are revisionists and the far right is growing in strength. Returned to Krakow near the main square. After putting my head in the cathedral and hearing the bugler I walked to the Jewish quarter and wandered around. Made my way back to the hotel bumping into Louise and Richard searching for an entrance to the botanical gardens. I tried to find a bakery and did find 2 but both shut. Over 11km. Remi appeared to say goodbye to those of us getting the airport transfer. Once at the airport I managed not to see any of the others again and didn’t get to say goodbye to them, for which I was sad. The flight was fine and I got home close to midnight, a very long day indeed. 2 days later I’m still tired. Over 11 km. I lasted an hour at home before missing Carol kicked in.
Train from Wengen to Kleine Scheidigg. From Kleine Scheidigg to the Jungfraujoch (the col below the summit). Nice new train. The train stopped at Eismeer station (3159m) in the tunnel so everyone could get out and look through the viewing windows to the Ischmeer glacier. This station is one up from Eigerwand which was the one connected with the 1936 tragedy. Since 2016 Eigerwand is no longer in use.
At the top, 3454m at Jungfraujoch you walk round on a signposted route. It was ok and we were lucky to see the views before the weather came in and obliterated everything. I didn’t go in the ice palace or out on the snow as I am still wary of slipping. I stamped my Jungfrau passport and had a horrible and expensive sandwich. Decided to go back down. The train does not stop for viewing on the way down but the ticket person gives you a small bar of chocolate, clearly something UK train operators need to adopt. I looked around Kleine Scheidigg. Cheapest postcards! Then I walked down to Wengernalp station, nice to leave the crowds and the selfie sticks. Caught the next train down from Wengernalp. Bought an almond croissant from the nice bakery in Wengen to make up for the sandwich and ate it near the church. Dinner of salads, vegetable (spinach) roll and veg, cheese and bread. The boys (Adrian and Mark) and I are going to eat out in a Swiss resto tomorrow but W the bigot asked if he could tag along and it was not easy to say no although I was very tempted. We have recruited some more to the party so I should be able to avoid the nasty old git. Why he wants to eat with 3 queers is beyond me. I have failed to shake him off at meals.
Today involved a great many types and changes of transport. Train to Lauterbrunnen, cable car to Grütschalp, train to Mürren. Mürren was delightful, traffic free, high. I fancy a holiday there. Walked through the village to the cable car to the Schilthorn (2970m). You go up most of the way to Birg and switch for the final 500m. Misty. I was 11 when On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came out and I’ve wanted to go to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn ever since so this was a dream come true for me. It’s all very silly but I loved it. Had a ristretto in the revolving restaurant. We stayed about an hour but it was much more relaxed than the Jungfrau so a pleasant visit. Back down in the cable cars to Mürren, ate my very nice cheese and tomato on whole-wheat sourdough sandwich from the baker’s in Wengen then a cable car to Stechelberg. Onto a bus to the Trümmelbach falls which is a touristy thing. I walked up the 140m of the falls. Ok but back with the pushing and shoving so not as enjoyable. Falls were pretty amazing, all inside the mountain. Took the lift some of the way back down. Onto bus then train to Wengen. Out to local restaurant with Adrian, Mark, Jim, Tony, Janet and Phil. I had a dark beer, rõsti, crème caramel. Janet and Tony shared fondue and Janet had a flaming ice cream. Good company and good fun. W the bigot had changed his mind about coming with us after all. Perhaps 3 really is 3 too many queers. He had to make a dig at me of course and referred to my “ostentatious hat”. When I haven’t got anything to do I’ll consider how to pimp my cap. Or not.
Cable car to Männlichen. Walked to Kleine Scheidigg, bumped into Chris and Linda going the other way round. Arrived at Kleine Scheidigg, sat in cafe and Jo and Mark pitched up going the same way round as me. I had an ice cream and some juice, back to no sugar on Sunday. Chatted with some Australians but they wanted to talk about Brexit and I just want to put my head in a bucket. Looked through the telescope at the north Face of the Eiger. I can’t imagine how Uli Steck climbed it in 2 hours and 22 minutes. Caught the train to Wengen with Jo and Mark. Shopping in co-op. Packing. A free farewell drink from the hotel (small beer for me, you can get beer in 20, 30 or 50 cl. amounts). A dinner with cheese in everything including cheese soup, reports of this were not great. I had salad starter, salad is just cold food really, nearly always cold omelette or quiche. Then further carb overload of cheesy pasta, potato, cheesy quiche, sauerkraut. Apfelstrudel and small choc meringue. Sat by the church with Jude and Chris. I have now walked the whole of the route between Männlichen and Wengen.
I woke at 2.37 which was rubbish because the alarm was set for 4.30 and of course I couldn’t get back to sleep. Switzerland is an hour ahead to make matters worse. I went down just before 5.30 to find members of the group sitting in the Poirot entrance hall in the dark waiting for the call to breakfast. It really looked like we were waiting for the dénouement. I didn’t think I’d want to eat but managed my usual breakfast and made a large cheese sandwich for later in the day. We trotted off to the station in the dark, the luggage and Olive went by milk float. Train to Lauterbrunnen, train to Interlaken, train to Basel, train to Gare de Lyon. On this train we had 32 reserved seats but some people had already sat in them and didn’t want to move, however we managed to sort this out without any fighting! The train did not have any guidance as to where the seat numbers were located on the outside of the carriage so unfortunately most of us were at the wrong end of the carriage which meant we had to do a lot of passing suitcases over people’s heads as basically the selfish seat stealers had created a total log jam. We all eventually got our seats. Bus to Gare du Nord, passing Place de la Bastille and Place de la République. Very hot in Paris, over 30 degrees. Eurostar to St. Pancras, at one point there was a call for a doctor, farewell to fellow travellers (I shook W the bigot’s hand very formally). Got onto train to Leeds at King’s Cross by a whisker to find Ruchi and her mother travelling to Peterborough. They were being helped by a Millwall fan, who also helped me with my bag, He was keen to demonstrate that not all Millwall fans are racists or homophobes and actually he was a nice man! Got to Leeds, straight into M&S to get a salad as part of reverting to my high veg diet. There was a large woman who was totally off her face struggling to adjust her bra. She asked the checkout guy to help her, so he tried to but unfortunately her large breasts escaped, all mightily unnecessary. Leeds station full of very drunk people, but also quite a lot of coppers. Got onto my train to Halifax, with only a few drunks on it. Arrived Halifax and got into my taxi and home just after 9.30. I had been awake for a very long time. I was looking forward to my lovely bed but I knew it would be hard to walk in the door to the empty house but actually it was even harder than I had imagined, just wanting Carol to be here. There is nothing I can do that makes it any better, the double grief is shit. I’ve fallen back to earth.
Carol and I had a few days away, staying at Cundall Lodge Farm B&B. This was a lovely place and Caroline welcomed us with Victoria sponge and tea.
On our first evening we ate at The Oak Tree pub in Helperby, just minutes down the road. Carol had leek tartlets and I had a burger and beer without a bun. Food was fine.
We went to Thirsk and Carol gave her new walking device a good pavement test. Cobbles, paving slabs and bumpy bits to assist blind people at road crossings are not great for it, but tarmac is fine. Despite these obstacles, C moved around well and covered much bigger distances than just using the walking stick. As we went back to the car, 2 women drove their cars into each other. Weirdly a police incident van saw it all happen and was definitely in the right place at the right time to sort it all out. Fortunately the drivers knew each other and it was all relatively friendly. I managed to get my car out of the way of it all.
In the afternoon we went to Shandy Hall in Coxwold, this was fairly bonkers. We thought we might be the only visitors to such a niche place of interest but there were nearly 30 people plus all their cars, for which there isn’t sufficient room. I ended up parking half on and half off the pavement which did not please me at all but I was asked to do this by the curator. The curator of the Laurence Sterne trust also lives in the hall which is named after the character in the book. He clearly loves Sterne a great deal and he gave us a good performance. I looked him up and he was once an actor. Laurence Sterne seemed really irritating and I have no wish at all to read the blasted book. But I still enjoyed looking round the house which was lovely. We both like going to places that aren’t sanitised. Speaking of which they had an outside loo which took me back to my childhood!
After the hall, we went in the church of which the adulterous Sterne had been the incumbent. It has an octagonal tower which was fab. Then, in a new move for us, we sent straight to the Fauconberg Arms for an early dinner (rather than going back to the B&B and out again which is what we usually do). This works much better for me as I don’t like eating late on. Carol had a half portion of fish and chips which still looked pretty big and I had chicken in a hunter sauce. Both fine.
In the morning we went to Helmsley, this was much better for Carol moving around with the walking machine because the pavements are made of tarmac.
The afternoon took us to Mount Grace Priory which is operated by English Heritage but owned by the National Trust. It’s a Carthusian priory and the monks had individual cells. In my head I thought this meant something of the size of a prison cell so small, cramped and not very nice but actually it means a house. Each monk had a bedroom, study, sitting room, huge workroom upstairs bigger than my sitting room, a garden and an outside loo.
As I walked down the very narrow, oddly pitched, weird riser height and somewhat polished wooden stairs, complete with a notice saying to go down backwards which I had wilfully ignored, I slipped and in the moment of trying not to fall, managed to hurt my leg, thumb and big toe. The leg and thumb recovered quickly but the big toe, which bent over on itself, is now black and blue.
The manor house was originally the monastery’s guest house but was done up 100 years ago or so in the Arts and Crafts style. There are only a few rooms to see and they’ve been restored very recently so don’t expect too much here.
We then headed to the Angel in Topcliffe, just minutes from the B&B, for our dinner. C had tomato soup and I had goat’s cheese and mediterranean veg tart. OK but not the best pub food.
Felt very tired so only walked from Widdop to Gorple reservoir and back round. I didn’t have enough light to go further plus I’d arranged to do the rest with Babs the next day. Chris and I have walked and cycled here many times. Back to weeping all the time.
B) Sun 5th Feb 2017, Gorple to Jack Bridge
We set off from the Pack Horse pub and walked to the New Delight pub and back. The New Delight name always makes me think of the Pure Drop pub in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
This is a lovely stretch of the walk, we climbed up to 380m which is quite high for this part of the world. Just as we got sight of the New Delight and started thinking about grub, the Mary Towneley Way whisked us away from it and took us a roundabout way to reach it. The pub itself was a bit of a let down and we had to wait ages for a bowl of soup and when it came it was disappointing, plus the staff were borderline rude. So no Delight to be had, won’t be going there again.
We returned via a quicker route. We didn’t get much sun as the day before but at least it didn’t rain on us. 8.4 miles, 13.5km.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.
All the trains behaved well. Sowerby Bridge to Leeds to King’s Cross to Hatton Cross tube about 4.5 hours. A woman on train talked to me whilst she sewed crocheted flowers onto a large white bra! Walked 6 mins to Hilton Garden hotel. It has very little garden. My room was surprisingly spacious but no free slippers!
I had some M&S salad, drank some beer and some wine. You can buy food and drink in the little shop at regular prices and put them in the ex-minibar fridge. Slept ok but the room only had air con and no opening windows so I was either too hot or too cold.
Despite my booking saying no breakfast I got a free one including real coffee. Walked back to the tube and got on a free bus to Terminal 4. Had a free coffee and then rather a lot of waiting. My trip through Security was extensive as usual. I did the walk through then a 360 degree all over body scanner then a full body pat down and lastly a footwear scan and bio sample, at least I think it was. You’ll be glad to know I was then in the clear.
Pootled about the shops and had a good goat’s cheese and beetroot salad in Carluccio’s as had spent no money up to that point!
At last I got on the Tarom plane, sitting with other Exodus passengers, Camilla and Julie and a Romanian woman, Adriana who works for the British Embassy. Talked with them all, didn’t even read my book. Smooth flight. I had the “special” meal which was a surprise as I’d forgotten I’d ordered veggie food. It was pasta in a white sauce and fruit washed down with Romanian bear beer.
Reached Bucharest at 6pm UK time. They are 2 hours ahead so we reached Villa Hermani in Magura at nearly midnight. Thomas the Exodus guide is ex German army. We got into a big minibus and drove for 3 hours. Felt terribly tired on arrival. but Herman gave us all a shot of fiery plum schnapps.
C and J and I have rooms in the annexe. There was an initial mix up with keys. They are now in the room with 2 beds and I am in one with one bed, I also have a balcony. At night there is a lot of dog barking because in the mountains every one keeps a dog and they all live outdoors. I will find out if they have kennels as it’s quite cold here. Lovely clean air.
Sun 15th May
Woke early when the sun came up. Read a bit then a lovely hot shower. The dogs live in kennels, unfortunately right outside my window! Villa Hermani has 4 dogs, I think.
Breakfast. Some slightly fizzy pale juice. Lots of coffee. Cinnamonny lemony dense porridge with fruit and yoghurt. Rye bread with very good butter straight from the churn. Lots of cheeses, cured meats and sweet things. Also houmous, fishy spread and salmon.
Made up sandwiches for lunch. Houmous and cheese on rye, separate.
Katherina did intros. She is German and Herman is Romanian. She is also an expert on large carnivores and previously did lots of research into them.
The group is:
Camilla and Julie who are in the annexe with me
Anne and George from Macclesfield
Marion from HK
Karin from Vancouver
Julia from London
Katy from Oz
Jackie from Dartford
Sue from E. Yorkshire
John from Glasgow
We set off. It was chilly in the wind and hot in the sun so quite a bit of on and off. Walked to Pestera along rutted roads and across meadows with Alpine flowers.
Stopped for lunch at the pub in Pestera. This was a large empty room with only one customer, very basic, more like a village hall. We ate outside. Some brave souls used the loo at the rear. Thomas warned us to be careful around wild dogs i.e. Those that work with shepherds.
We then went to the bat cave. This was a foul place because of the human detritus and we didn’t see any bats!
Bimbled our way back to the Villa Hermani. Passed a house from which some frantic folk music was coming out. Boot cleaning under the outdoor tap.
Having a little lie down. Can just hear the music of the cow bells.
Dinner of parsnip soup, celeriac fritter, braised carrots and rice. Had taste of chicken sauce but strong and heavy. I’m glad I opted veggie as simply not in the mood to eat meat every day. Pudding of stewed apple and set cold custard.
Palinca shot (strong plum schnapps).
Mon 16th May
Wet wet wet.
In the minibuses to the National Park info centre which was shut, as was the cafe opposite. I’d worked it up as an espresso possibility. Addiction denied.
We walked up to the orthodox monastery of Coitul Chilulor at 1134m. We were accompanied by a large shaggy brown dog for most of the walk. At the monastery we had herbal tea and marble cake. We continued up to a small shrine set in the rock. Back down to the monastery for our sandwich lunch. On the walk back down there were wild dogs roaming so we stayed together. Thomas spoke to them and they stayed away. Our shaggy friend helped to protect us.
Back to the road to be picked up by Katherina and Herman.
My room still had no heat despite the fact that everyone else was warm but finally it got sorted and I was able to warm up and dry off.
Early dinner at 3.30! Celeriac soup. Beef tomatoes stuffed with polenta. Apple cake.
4.30 into buses for drive to bear hide. Seems longer than an hour. A robust discussion about Rob and Helen in The Archers. Eventually stop and walk across the teeming, spouting stream to the hide.
Immediately we see a bear and over the course of 2 hours another 7 or so, possibly some repeats. Several young ones and some large. We are quite good at keeping quiet. The bears linger over the lure (biscuits and corn) for quite some time. Two cubs came along and one was a delight trying to get up onto a rock and falling back down like a toddler.
Very cold, damp and uncomfortable in the hide. Glad to be back in the warmth of the bus.
Neustadt beer and a shot of plum schnapps. The dogs are noisy tonight.
Fabulous day of Karst scenery on circular route. A bit over 14km. First part in buses then walked through the gorge passing where a scene from Cold Mountain was shot then up onto a plateau. Snow on the big tops. Lunch at La Table. Through mountain meadows. A bit damp at first and cold with a few snow flakes. Then warm in the sun on the way back to Magura. Lovely day on good paths. Height about 1450m.
Typical Romanian dinner of nettle soup, stuffed cabbage leaves with polenta and sliced tomatoes and sour cream, cake made with courgette and a little choc, very good.
Katherina showed us a 2001 BBC documentary about Transylvania and Living with Predators. She then talked about her work on the large carnivores research project and how things have changed since the film was made. She is responsible for the introduction of bear hides as responsible tourism and improving the welfare of the bears and the people of Brasov. All most impressive.
A couple of beers. Neumarkt and Bucegi.
Weds 18th May
Too much snow for the very high mountain. In buses to Poaina Brasov ski resort. Cable car to Postavanu at 1799m. Snowy and v cold. Down the path to Cabana Postavanu for fab choc and rum cake and an espresso at last! Nice old Alpine pub. Down a bit more to a flattish bit at Sub Teleferic for lunch (very short intervals between feeds!)
Down the red ski slope a bit more (this is a medium rating for skiers and steep enough for feet on grass) to another pub, the Rossignol. Home made lemonade very delicious. Back to the buses and home.
Cauli in batter with garlic sauce
Shortbread cake with plum purée therein.
Thurs 19th May
No sleep because of bloody dogs barking all night. The bugger had the cheek to be asleep when I got up. And then a very long day.
Left at 9.30 in the buses to Brasov. Thomas gave us a very informative tour of the town. Black church, Orthodox Church, synagogue, bullet holes from 1989 revolution.
Coffee with Thomas and Nick and Marion.
Got money with my prepaid card. Ate my lunch on a bench in the square. To market which was just a supermarket. Back to synagogue which was shut but not supposed to be.
To Art Nouveau cafe for a drink. George and Anne turned up. Had lovely lemonade. Thomas arrived.
Got more money.
Then it was 5.15 so we went to the buses, met Udo. Off to man made lakes to look at birds with Dan from Transylvania University. He is expert in ornithology amongst other things. Saw a marsh harrier and several types of heron.
Back to Brasov to Roata Norocului (Wheel of Fortune) restaurant. Too noisy the minute we walked in. Loud and modern. The live music was dire.
Karin had an amusing time in the loos. No need for signs on the doors here! Couple that with a wayward cleaner confusing the protocols!
Small creamed veg soup and bread.
Pork schnitzel with ham, cheese and mushroom. Cabbage salad. Chips. Ciuc beer. Light Silva beer. All for less than £9.
Too full and headachey from the awful racket. Bloody dogs better be quiet.
Some lovely singing on the way back with Udo from Julie and the girls!
Up early. In buses to Libearty the bear sanctuary. A rather short whiz round with guide. Terrible stories of cruelty.
Nice walk through the meadows to Vulcan where the priest gave us tea, coffee, schnapps and a sort of pancake made by putting the cake mix round a piece of wood and turning it slowly so it didn’t burn.
As we got back in the bus I slammed the door shut on Gary’s finger. A bit of blood but seemingly no bones broken or lasting damage. I couldn’t possibly have seen from where I was that there was a digit in the door.
Drive to Bran and went round castle. Nice castle but full of tourists and masses of tourist tat. Not very relaxing.
Into the horse drawn carriages to ride for just over an hour to the bottom of the long hill. It rained towards the end. Pleasant way to travel, even over the bumps.
In the buses to get up the hill.
Dinner of barbecued meats and salads. Asparagus for veggies. Ice cream. Thomas shocked to see me eating meat. He wore his full traditional gear, hand made by his grandmother. Very smart.
Settle up bills. I didn’t have enough money and got subs from Jackie and Sue.
On the minibus seeing further half finished but occupied buildings. Communist buildings, even a power plant returning to nature, not demolished.
We got to the airport and then had to get on with check in. Farewells to Karin, Anne and George and John who are all doing slightly different things.
No problems with security this time.
Not much time left to do any shopping after passport control so onto the plane, smooth flight but a somewhat bumpy landing.
Got straight onto the tube, remembered just at the right time that I had to go via Manchester on my ticket. Empty train from Euston but a bit chilly. Crossed Manc on the tram and home from Victoria. Carol had ordered me a taxi from Elland Cabs but stupid driver took me a really long and expensive way home so I won’t be using them again.
1 Footwear is as important as the tyres on a car, keep your boots clean and proofed and carry a spare pair of laces.
2 Water is more vital than food, think clean maybe use a filter bottle like Water2Go or a bladder. Keep bladder clean between trips by sterilising using e.g. Steradent tablets or Milton solution, rinse out thoroughly and keep in the freezer.
3 If it moves, tie it down. I’ve lost maps and poles by not having them properly attached. Fix your compass and map to your body/clothing using whatever works best for you, mini carabiner clips and bootlaces are good.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.
Smooth journey to Borth. Popped in to see lovely Chris. Arrived in Cardigan about 7.30. Found the very pink Llety Teifi guest house. Very clean with cafetière and ground coffee in the room. Straight out to Los Caballeros for beef chilli which was chunks of very tender meat, not minced, served with chips, salad and slaw. The veggie options were a bit too dull. I ate it all, washed down with San Miguel. Back to guest house for a bottle of Snowdon lager which is my current fave.