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Balls To The Baltic - Latvia or Bust



Putting The Tree Back in the Attic

The van was almost buried in snow, so the first thing we did was borrow a shovel and some brushes from the car park attendants to dig the van out. The next thing we did was discover that the engine now completely refused to start. While Jonathan panicked about the fact that his entire engine block had frozen I tried to reassure him that it was more likely that the battery had died in the cold, and all we needed was to give the thing a jump. However, the van was parked against a railing and we couldn’t get anything else close enough to it to attach jump leads.

The car park attendants at this point suddenly grew small capes and flew in like super heroes. Mobile phones popped out of pockets, and within minutes someone turned up with a 4x4 to pull the van away from the railing. Cables were attached, and like a good little Frankenstein’s Monster the van burst into life as current was applied. 

And that was that. After thanking the caped crusading car park attendants, we were on our way home. It took us about 5 minutes to realise that the windscreen washer fluid had frozen completely solid, which was quite impressive given that it had been refilled a few days earlier with neat anti freeze. My own theory on this is that Jonathan drank the anti freeze and filled the washer bottle with snow, but I didn’t like to say anything. So, as we drove out of Poland we had to stop every twenty minutes to throw more snow at the windows to clean the freezing slush off. All the same, we were back traveling again, talking nonsense, checking out the scenery. Not checking out the scenery too intently in case we ended up back in a ditch.

Unfortunately, the gorilla’s batteries had also been somewhat diminished, so we started off this section of the journey to “oooooooooooooh leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey ooooooooooh leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee………..”.

We drove through the Polish German border without the slightest need for ‘auto passports’.

There were huge wind farms, there were hills, there were occasionally castles and steeples, but mostly there was road, and cars. Just to make it slightly more interesting we decided to make a wrong turn and head fifty miles or so out of our way to Frankfurt, so I can claim to have ‘done’ Frankfurt now too. We found our way back onto a road taking us back in the right direction, and then stopped for coffee at a service station for a brief interlude. As we sat and drank coffee, the snow started to come down once more.

I took a turn at driving when we headed off again, and the snow got progressively worse. I found myself slowing down to sixty, then fifty, and then forty miles an hour or less as the visibility dropped and the roads became less stable. There was very little other traffic now as it was getting quite late, which meant that the three lane motorway dropped to a one lane motorway as the outer two, not getting much use, simply filled up with snow. We were then overtaken by a black VW Golf which must have been doing about twice our speed. Ten minutes later we overtook a black VW Golf, while it sat on the hard shoulder, against the barrier, facing in the wrong direction, with the driver inside looking decidedly unhappy.

It was at about that time that we decided it was time to leave the motorway and find somewhere to stop for the night. What we hadn’t realised until we left the motorway, is that we were still quite high up. So I found myself driving as carefully as I could down snowy and icy winding mountain roads whilst we searched for the town that was right next to the motorway on the map. I was getting a distinct case of déjà vu. All it needed was for Jonathan to spot a castle on the hill …. It turned out the road between the town and the motorway had more folds than Japanese sword steel. So we slid through corner after corner at about five miles an hour, and Jonathan did his best to avoid actually panicking whilst obviously bricking himself. It would have been all to easy to leave the road again, and sometimes the ditches at the side of the road here had space for the van to actually start rolling if it came off the tarmac. Some people may have just stopped for the night where they were. It seems that we were braver than that, or to put it another way, too stupid.

Eventually we reached the town, and we followed signs for the town centre whilst searching out anything that looked like a hotel. Eventually we found the centre, but it had been pedestrianised, with bollards stopping us from driving through. Jonathan hopped out of the van, and went for a walk through to see what he could find. I turned the van round, and waited, and eventually he came back saying he’d found a hotel, but we’d have to drive around. So we drove back out, took a right, and headed back up a huge hill to get around the town centre. At the top of the hill we found a couple of lads standing on a corner so we asked them directions, and they happily pointed us down a road which we took, which soon headed down a hill, which got steeper and steeper, until the van was sliding and all I could do was pump the breaks and hope that we stopped before we reached the wall at the bottom.

We managed to stop, but we still had problems. Whilst it was true that the road led back to the town centre, it was also a dead end. There was no way that we were going back up the hill, and we weren’t going anywhere else either. It looked like we were finding the way to the hotel from here on foot. 

I parked the van at the side of the road, and we headed out into the night to search this little Germanic town for a place to stay.  Down a long flight of steps that lead down the cliff we would have gone over if the van hadn’t stopped sliding. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. As I said, there was a wall we could have crashed through first before sailing over the chasm and landing in someone’s house roof. At the bottom of the steps we found ourselves in a long, old, high sided street which whispered gently in the night “high, I’m a beautiful part of a picturesque old German village” (although it did it with a German accent). We headed out onto what looked like more of a main road, and found some people who we talked to and asked directions, and we found out that they were tourists and just as lost as we were. To be precise, we weren’t lost, we knew where we were. We just didn’t know where we were going. Heading further down the street, we found the mainstay of English and it appears German nightlife. The last thing that is always open on any given night in any town, The Kebab House.

It was shut.

Although locked up for the night, there were lights on and there was someone inside cleaning up. Jonathan tapped on the window and got her attention, and then started asking her where the hotel was from here. She didn’t seem to understand, but heh that didn’t stop him, he just asked her louder. It ended up with him shouting “HOTEL, HOTEL” at the window, or more to the point, trying to make sure the noise was getting through the window, and me trying to stop him from shouting because it wasn’t helping and I was concerned he’d scare the poor girl to death who was probably just as tired as he was. “I wasn’t shouting at her” he said “I was shouting to her”.

That evidently made a lot of difference, because when he shut up she came and unlocked the door and spoke to us. This is going to be good I thought. We’re going to get a Greek or Turkish girl giving us directions in German while we speak pure mime and loud English.

However, as she started giving directions, something clicked. “du gehst geradeaus, und dan du gehst rechts, un dan du gehst geradeaus”. Hang on I thought, I actually understand this. I can do directions to the hotel in German. It may have taken something like twenty years before the information became useful, but suddenly the German lessons I’d had at school came flooding back (ich heisse Glyn). “Go on” I was thinking, “tell us to go left, I’ll understand that too”. She didn’t, but still contented, we thanked her, and headed on our way, and sure enough, as we headed straight down the road, turned right, and then headed on a short way again, we found ourselves facing a hotel.

Some other people were just leaving as we arrived and we met the manager and his wife (Or the manageress and her husband) outside as they chatted with them. We did the introductions, and fortunately they had rooms to spare, but it turned out didn’t take credit cards, so Jonathan headed off to a cash machine under the managers guidance while I did the serious business of making sure the TV worked in the room. When Jonathan found his way back we continued to scan the channels to find that there was nothing on except a program in which the actresses had nothing on, so we had a laugh trying to decipher the plot in that for a while before giving in and calling it a nacht.



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