Thursday 18th May 2018
The sun is slowly setting behind us, casting fingers of shadows across the lake towards the island church that is glowing in the dusk. We are sitting at a table on the deck outside the Camping Bled Bar enjoying a well-earned glass of local wine and making the most of a memorable moment.
The day was not always as tranquil as it is now.
Every motorhomer has his or her own routine for striking camp, packing up and getting on the road. Wendy perfected her system last year, when I was cycling through France so I have fallen in with her way in my never-ending pursuit of domestic harmony. This morning, as part of our cunning plan to shake off my over friendly rain clouds we were heading south to Bled in Slovenia so we moved into action straight after breakfast.
Wash and dry up, stuff a towel into the crockery cupboard to stop the mugs and plates rattling, lock the fridge, put anything else away that might roll around, shut the fanlights, strap Alf into his harness, unplug the electrics and stow the cable, pick up the doormat, raise the step, drive to the waste point, empty the toilet cassette, empty the grey water, put the red and white board on the back of the bike rack, wave good bye to the camp staff and on to the motorway.
It was only 0930 and the roads were pretty clear and we could see that it was brighter ahead, very soon we entered a long tunnel and the other side found ourselves well and truly in the Alps. The mountains were rising up steeply either side of us and for long stretches we were travelling along viaducts, as there wasn’t enough flat land for a motorway in these valleys. The Go Box was merrily chirping away and Wendy had even managed to ignore it as we enjoyed the Tyrolean scenery.
I don’t like to have much less than half a tank of diesel if I don’t know when the next filling station will be and now that the arrow was pointing to the left, as we passed a couple of service stations, Wendy and I discussed when it was going to be best to stop. In the end we stopped about 45 minutes into our journey and I jumped out to fill up. As I started the pump, Wendy stuck her head through the window and said;
“We haven’t got the dog!”
True enough, there on his chair his harness was bare. There aren’t that many places in our van that Alf could be hiding and it only took a couple of seconds to check them all three times to convince us that Alf wasn’t with us. We remembered Wendy strapping him in, so the only possibility was that he must have wriggled free and slunk out while we were emptying the wastewater.
As I headed the van back to Salzburg, Wendy was on the phone to the campsite to ask if they had found him. They hadn’t, but said that they would go a look. The 44 miles back were probably the longest of our lives. By the time we got back Alf would have been free for an hour and a half, where could he have got to? We formulated the bones of a plan, as the miles crawled by.
Back at the campsite we ran in to the reception to see if they had found him. They hadn’t. But the receptionist had scoured the site and been over to the Aldi to see if he had revisited his morning dog walk. She had also rung the local community dog warden and the police, but no luck. Wendy and I split up; she was off to search the site and I ran off to retrace the path beyond the Aldi that went out into the countryside, whistling and calling as I went which wasn’t easy as it was all uphill and breath was fast becoming a valuable commodity.
Just as I got to a main road my phone rang; Wendy had got him!
She had toured the campsite whistling and calling and was just walking up towards the dog park when Alf came trotting around the corner of the reception block, in that jaunty, ‘up on his toes’ walk he has, wagging his tail and appearing completely unconcerned. As she was nearest, the receptionist was the first to smother him with fuss, closely followed by Wendy and then a couple of German women with a Labrador who had just been asked to look out for him. After making his bolt for freedom he must have found a cosy corner to make a ‘nest’ and had a snooze just has he does in the garden at home.
I got back to the site only slightly slower than I had run out and I too ‘was pleased to see him!’
After copious thanks to the Receptionist for her marvellous help, it was back in the van. This time (and from now on) it will be ‘belt and braces’. The harness straps were tightened so that there was no play at all in them, and his lead was clipped to his collar and secured around the seat belt pillar, but slack enough so that the harness would take his full weight in an emergency stop rather than his neck.
Two hours after we had originally done so we left Salzburg again.
Just as we joined the motorway the Go Box began to double bleep, a sign that the money we had charged it with was starting to run out. An hour after we passed the fateful services where we had discovered our loss the Go Box began to quadruple bleep, a sign that it was now very cross with us and it needed topping up immediately if not sooner. The first two services we pulled into didn’t deal with Go Boxes, the third did and we put another €100 on to be on the safe side.
Then it was into the Karawanks Tunnel, a five-mile tunnel under the border between Austria and Slovenia and we were almost at our destination and the sun was out! It had only taken 150 miles and eight tunnels to lose those clouds. Now it was the turn of the satnav to demand some attention as it led us on a satnav adventure down some roads that were slightly too narrow for us and into some ‘Mexican standoffs’ with Slovenian motorists who all took it in a better humour than I was feeling.
Suddenly it was all worthwhile, we popped out on the shores of Lake Bled, which has to be one of the most picturesque places in the world, and our campsite was just next-door.
We parked the van and it was off for a stroll around the lake. The lake path is about six kilometres and every step produces another stunning view of the church on the island or the castle on the hill or the secluded mansions or the quaint villages. It is also the home to the Slovenian rowing team and an international rowing regatta venue and the rowers training and the traditional gondolas ferrying tourists out to the church added to the spectacle. The bar and restaurant of Camping Bled overlook all this so we just had to stop and ‘drink’ it all in!