Wednesday, 2nd of October – Friday, 4th of October
Day Sixty-Four – Day Sixty-Six: Prague (Czech Republic)
We woke up to a very rainy Wednesday morning. So instead of rushing out to see Prague as we had intended, we had a slow morning making and eating breakfast before getting ready to see the city. We took a bus into the centre, which was around 40 minutes away, and went into the heart of rainy Prague.
It was beautiful, but the rain was pretty heavy and spirit dampening, so we decided to head indoors to a pub, and the closest one we could find was an absinthe bar.
On Thursday, we went out for a bit more exploring, seeing the castle from a distance, walking across the footbridge and seeing the Lennon wall.
We met up with my friend, David, who lives in Prague at the national theatre at around 6pm and the beer crawl began! We had such a great night, one of the best on the trip, sampling different beers in many bars around Prague talking about work, history, music, football, British humour, TV, beer and a lot more. It’s safe to say Prague at night is great fun and Czech beer is good!
Saturday, 5th of October
Day Sixty-Seven: Prague (Czech Republic) – Krakow (Poland)
Oh, wait, no… Prague (Czech Republic) – Hranice (Czech Republic)
So, feeling good from a nice stay and catch up with David in Prague, we were on our way for another catch up with one of my close friends from Erasmus, Natalia, who lives in Krakow, Poland. So we packed up and jumped in our van. We booked what we thought would be our last Airbnb of the trip. It had parking and most importantly – it had a washing machine! We had planned to wash all our clothes and bedding in the van, give it a real good clean out and then get ourselves back into van life, heading towards Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary, exploring the beautiful lakes and waterfalls in Slovenia and then finally reaching the beautiful beaches in Croatia!!!
Or so we hoped.
Both of us were full of energy and excited talking about all the things we could do in Slovenia and Croatia as we were blasting (well more like trundling at 50mph) down the motorway when suddenly the van started vibrating like crazy. I laughed and told Reece to drive on the road and not on the rumbler.
He said he wasn’t even on the rumbler.
Oh, right, “well I’m sure it’s just the road”, I said, anxiously glancing over to the car overtaking us on the left which seemed to be gliding across the road perfectly smoothly.
Okay, that wasn’t the road. I slammed on the button for the hazards as Reece brought Papya the Bongo to a halt on the hard shoulder. Something had fallen off, and it sounded pretty big. We both got out into the pouring rain and luckily the big chunk of metal that had dropped off the van had rolled onto the hard shoulder. It was a big chunky part and now a dented part. It looked pretty important. Oh no, “Do you think this is it?” Reece said.
No, “we don’t necessarily need a van to travel!” I replied, half-jokingly.
But we did need a van to get us to Krakow. Instead, we stuck on the side of the road in the pouring rain with a van who had part of itself lying on the road next to it.
It wasn’t the best situation.
BUT, thankfully, we did take out European breakdown cover for this trip, and we had a phone signal and even 4G. Honestly, I have no idea what would have happened if we didn’t have these, it was hard enough to arrange anything even with these luxuries.
I quickly jumped up the step of the van, rummaged through the roof bag to find the breakdown kit, we only had one hi-vis jacket and a warning triangle, so we put the triangle out and decided to share the high vis between us depending on who was making a trip to the van. I also grabbed my hat and scarf which had also been hiding up in the roof bag, some thick socks and just hoped we would be picked up before too long as it was freezing cold and raining. We called our breakdown company. They told us to call their European partners. The European partners didn’t answer.
An hour later…
Still no news. Still no answer or call back. We keep calling our UK breakdown, who apparently can’t do anything.
We finally got in touch with the European Assistance. They were going to send someone out to pick us up. Or so we thought.
A Skoda Octavia arrives. An estate car. That wasn’t exactly going to tow our van, even if it is a tiny camper!
The mechanic got out the car, picked up the big chunk of metal that fell off our van, laughed, took pictures of it and finally invited us to sit in the warm car for 5 minutes before kicking us back out and saying a colleague would be back in an hour with a tow truck.
Five minutes later we got a text from him saying no truck was coming, we had to call the UK breakdown again.
Back to square one. By this time, we were getting desperate. We were soaked to the skin, freezing cold and it was misty and dark because of the looming clouds. Yet another forty-minutes passed with frantic calls to both the UK and European breakdown companies.
Now, our battery had also gone flat from leaving the hazards on as we were advised, so there was no way out of here. We decided to jump-start the car battery from the leisure battery in case we had to try to get to the next town before the night started to draw in. It worked.
We called the breakdown to say we had to go. We were getting scared. Not only were we getting colder and colder, but it was also starting to get dark. We just wanted their approval to try to crawl the van the six-minutes down the motorway to the next town. Otherwise, it would be a thirty-five-minute walk straight down the motorway and an exit road with just one high-vis between us. Finally, they said they had managed to arrange a tow truck and it would be there in twenty minutes. We left the engine running just in case.
The tow truck came, and at its wheel was one of the most unprofessional people I have met. We understood there was a language barrier, but we were armed with Google translate. But he was a young lad, completely uninterested and unsympathetic that we had just been stood on the side of the road in the rain for the past five hours. He didn’t ask what transmission the van was, well he didn’t ask anything actually, just attached some electric system to pull it onto the truck without doing anything to the gears. It didn’t work. Reece suggested maybe it needed the handbrake to be taken off and be put into neutral or drive rather than park as it was automatic? Oh yeah, maybe… Eventually, the van got onto the truck and was secured, though I’m not sure how well.
There were three seats in the cab, one of them was taken up by his girlfriend, which for some reason he had decided to bring along on the job, so that meant we had nowhere to sit. He didn’t seem bothered by this and just got in the driver’s seat. When we asked where we go, he shrugged his shoulders. I honestly thought he was going to just leave us there once again. Reece and I decided the only option we had was to get in our van on top of the tow truck. This was easier said than done, but we managed.
Worst. Car. Ride. Ever. If we weren’t being swung round corners swearing the van was going to just plop off the side with us in it, or fall off the back from his accelerating, we were definitely gonna die when his girlfriend nearly took away his ability to drive when she thought it would be great idea to lie over the steering wheel for a cuddle whilst he was towing a car. Oh no, wait, it was the time he went on his phone probably to text his mate and check some reviews on Google not looking at the road at all, maybe THAT was the most terrifying moment. Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, we made it to the depot alive. Well, I say depot, it was this guy’s back garden with a few ‘Global Assitant’ tow trucks in it and some smashed up cars. Whatever, I was relieved to be off the tow truck and on land. Papaya came off the tow truck, the guy called us a taxi, told us he would take us there in his truck, so we hurriedly got together a small bag of clothes and jumped in the truck. On the way there, some of his mates were blocking the road. They were messing around putting on sirens and flashing blue lights and laughing at each other. Omg, where on earth had we just left our van. Looking back it was pretty funny, but at the time we were mad and shocked at the complete incompetence of the entire ordeal. We were left at a bus shelter. The taxi arrived and it turns out we were just a five-minute drive away from a town with hotels and restaurants. So the taxi took us to the nearest hotel and we called our insurance to see what to do next, five hours after we originally broke down.
Our breakdown insurance/cover is supposed to put us up in a hotel with breakfast and arrange a rental car and any taxis we need. But that didn’t happen and this is where the ‘pay and claim’ saga began, where we pay for everything and just hope we can claim it back. But right then, we booked two nights in this hotel in Hranice and as soon as we got into the room, we were still freezing cold so we turned the radiators on to the highest setting and just sat in front of them. It was what we had been dreaming of the whole day. The heat was sooooo nice. After a hot shower, we realised that we were actually really hungry, and they had a Vietnamese restaurant downstairs, so we ate some lovely Pad Thai and fried bananas for dinner. After such a crazy day, we slept well.
Sunday, 6th of October – Tuesday, 8th of October
Day Sixty-Eight – Day Seventy: Hranice (Czech Republic) – Ostrava (Czech Republic)
It turned out Hranice was a pretty nice place. It has nice buildings, a quaint little square, nice little restaurants, sports bars and very cheap beer, 90p a pint! But it just wasn’t where we wanted to be.
So Monday came around, we were hoping to get answers.
By this time, I had been chatting to people on the Mazda Bongo and Vanlife groups on Facebook, as well as contacting different Bongo specialists by email to see which part had actually fallen off. It turned out it was part of the rear prop shaft. Just a £75 part and a thirty-minute job. Thank goodness. Or so we thought. The thing is, it’s a Mazda Bongo, and in this situation, that’s an issue as it’s an unusual van. And this particular part is specific to Bongos.
There was a lot of miscommunication and some confusion. We thought our van was still at the depot. The insurance was telling us they couldn’t find a garage to even LOOK at our van for another ten-days. We needed to get to the van to get some possessions. We didn’t even know where the van was, and no one could sort out a rental car for us, so we were pretty stuck.
It turns out Papaya had been moved to a Mazda dealer forty-minutes away, so on Tuesday, we got a taxi there. Totally different story. They had looked at the van, they knew exactly what was wrong and had even taken the broken part off, they just couldn’t source the rear prop shaft. Luckily, I could. But first of all, we had to weigh up our options. The insurance said if a part couldn’t be sourced by the garage, we did have the option to get Papaya sent home, and we could continue our travels on foot. But it was just a £75 part, and the garage was going to charge just £15 to fit it. We decided to go ahead and order it. It would just be a six-day wait to have it delivered and fitted. We could even go to Krakow on the bus for a few days to make the wait a little easier. Things were looking up.
Wednesday, 9th of October
Day Seventy-One: Ostrava (Czech Republic) – Krakow (Poland)
Yes, finally! It had been delayed twice now with the hospital stay and then the breakdown but we were on our way to Krakow, one of my favourite European cities and home to my lovely Polish friend, Natalia. We hopped on a bus at 15:30 and got there around 19:00. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole evening on the 9th of October, but it was nice to see the old buildings lit up in the dark reflecting in the shiny cobbled pave stones, even if it did make us a bit cold, wet and miserable. We also ate some pierogi, which was very tasty and if you go to Poland, you have to try it.
Day Seventy-Two: Krakow (Poland)
We had planned to go out around lunctime to see some more of Krakow before meeting up with Natalia, but the apartment was lovely, so lovely we stayed there until 17:00, oops… It had Netflix on the TV and a hob so we could finally cook!
But by the time we’d showered and got ready to go out, it was time to meet up with Natalia! We met her by the Eros Bendato head in the main square of Krakow.
We headed straight to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, and a vibrant and quirky district of Krakow. We began by going to a really cool vodka place, Wiśnioffka, where they distil their own vodkas and make very tasty cherry vodka which we had a couple of glasses of on their suspended tables, chatting about anything and everything.
Then, it was time for some €1 shots! You can find these €1 shots, well more like shooters, and wine and beer at Pijalnia. There’s a few around Krakow since it’s a chain, and although it doesn’t have the prettiest decor, it has a pretty cool vibe and is a great place to get some tasty shots. I had Kokosanka, a really tasty coconut and cream shooter, and Chupa Chups, which tastes like the lolly, but with a sprinkle of pepper on top for a twist.
Afterwards, we went to Alchemia (aka Narnia, because you walk through a wardrobe to get to the other room and it’s all magically lit by just candles and they have the best wheat beer ever!) We spent a long time there with the conversations getting deeper and the beers going down very nicely.
Then, it was of course time to get a zapiekanka from the street vendor! Which is like a pizza on a very long baguette (or an open faced sandwhich) with an array of different toppings and sauces. We walked with our zapiekankas to the beautiful Bernatek bridge, which looks amazing all lit up in the evening with the Olympic sculptures eerily strung up in the air.
We had planned to go back to Natalia’s apartment to meet her boyfriend and pick up our parcel which Natalia had been taking care of for us the last few weeks, but it had gotten so late so quickly, so we decided to just meet up tomorrow.
Day Seventy-Three: Krakow (Poland)
So on the Friday, we did actually get up and go out exploring the city. We wandered around the main square, into the market, around the multi-coloured cathedral and then we headed towards the castle, climbed all the stairs and took in the beautiful view of Krakow. We then looked in the cathedral on top of the hill which was beautifully ornate inside and then into the courtyard of the Wawel castle before heading down and into Kazimierz.
We were hoping to get a coffee at Cheder in Kazimierz, but we accidentally arrived at luntime so we couldn’t get a seat, which is a shame as the coffee there is traditionally Jewish and absolutely amazing. Hopefully, I will be able to take Reece there next time… We walked around the Jewish quarter for a little while, taking in all the old, almost untouched buildings of the ghettos.
After this, we went to meet Natalia at work, who had been looking after a parcel for us that my mum had sent over from England with some chocolate, food and things for the van. Goodbyes aren’t the nicest, but I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon!
Saturday, 12th of October
Day Seventy-Four – Seventy-Five: Krakow (Poland) – Ostrava (Czech Republic)
After getting up, making pancakes, watching more Netflix and cleaning the apartment, we headed back to the bus station. We had to get the bus back to Ostrava, a bus that happened to be delayed by two hours. Just our luck!
We had a pretty nice night in a hotel, with breakfast being delivered to our room. But I don’t know whether we’re just in the wrong part of Ostrava, but we can’t seem to find much to do here. It just seems to be very tall buildings, wide lanes and lots of cars kicking out fumes, unsmiling people and cheap beer which seems to be drunk at all hours in the day.
Day Seventy-Six: Ostrava (Czech Republic)
Monday rolled around, the day we were going to pick Papaya up!
But the part hadn’t arrived, so we had to wait until tomorrow.
Day Seventy-Seven – Seventy-Eight: Ostrava (Czech Republic)
Tuesday rolled around, the day we were going to pick Papaya up!
But Papaya’s alternator was lying on the floor in reception. Uh-oh. Not good.
The prop-shaft had been fitted, no problem, just £15.
The week prior, we asked for the battery to be replaced as it kept going flat. At the time they said Papaya didn’t need a new battery. They must have explored the battery issue and found out it was the alternator that had blown, that’s why our leisure battery hadn’t been charging and why the car battery was going flat. They had sourced us a new alternator, but it was very very pricey.
For some reason, it was ordered before we even agreed to it, so now we have no choice but to pay the 11,000 Czech korunas (or £400) for this new alternator. If we’d known before, we would have definitely got the van sent home when we had the choice. Now that choice has been taken away from us and we’re still stuck. Luckily, we’ve finally, after a lot of searching, found a hotel that has a small kitchenette so we can keep our costs down with cooking. Though at least we have been stuck in a place that is very cheap to eat out (approximately £3.50 each for a dish), we have missed being able to cook!
Day Seventy-Nine: Ostrava (Czech Republic)
So, that brings us to today, Thursday the 17th of October. Exactly eleven weeks into our trip.
We’ve had two weeks unexpectedly spent in Berlin for my surgery and £500 on unexpected Airbnb’s whilst I recovered.
Now, two weeks unexpectedly spent in Ostrava for the van breakdown and £500 on unexpected bills for Papaya to get fixed.
But I guess it’s all just an adventure, and I’m sure it will all turn out okay in the end. We’re so lucky to even be able to do this trip, and difficult times were always expected, but maybe not quite so crazy. Our plans have changed and we’re no longer able to go to Greece, but we still plan to see some of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Now, we’re looking into partaking in Workaways so we can stretch our time out on the road a little longer by working on some eco projects and house builds in exchange for all our meals and accommodation.
But we will see where this next stretch of our journey takes us…