Waking up from our long run in with the law with only 4-5 hours’ sleep wasn’t the greatest start to the day, but with hot showers and the “2014 Czech Republic best hotel” award decorating the hotel reception, we couldn’t really complain. Breakfast was dismissed as we had slept in over our leave time – the Huel space food came to the rescue instead.
Loket beckoned – a beautiful pre-Medeival fort-town 10 minutes from Karlovy Vary, complete with sweeping bridge into the centre, religiously ordained fountain, and castle rocking all manner of towers and fortifications made famous by James Bond – Casino Royale. It was stunningly beautiful; a pastel colour pallet of main buildings, traditional cafés and hotels, and the sprawling forests. Sadly, with time not on our side, Loket ended up being a drive through and back with 5 minutes in the centre. Sorry Mr Bond, Loket will need a follow up trip another time.
Onwards to Vienna – Oli took the reins for the majority of the trip, smashing through the estimate time of arrival, in the face of half of the Czech Republic’s EU highways project – it seemed as if half the country’s main roads had been shut for major expansion works. We pushed hard across the Czech countryside – finding some beautiful lakes and scenery, filling up with water and petrol where needed, keeping a strict eye on the time – we had to make it for the Vienna zoo and the pandas. Driving through Austria gave us sights and scenes that were breath taking, and the highways spare no time in launching (see – crawling) up mountain sides to provide you views over valleys and the surrounding countryside. The clock was ticking however, and the Pandas wouldn’t be waiting.
We made it to Vienna’s zoo in the Schobrunn Palace gardens. Rhys was driving this last leg; true to form he tried driving straight into the park, to be met with barriers and concerned looks from the security guard. Finding parking was nightmarish – driving up to the Science and Technology museum only to walk back towards the palace. We got there half an hour late, trying to wave down a staff member to just let us in for 5 minutes to see the pandas. As luck would have it, a catering assistant agreed to let us through to walk round to see the pen. This had a knock on effect of being locked into the zoo – and in effect a free tour. Dinner was found in a dusty Italian restaurant on the palace corner, and we aimed to secure accommodation (late admittedly) for Graz.
This was where decisions and serious discussion was required for continuing on. Mickey is simply too slow against the route we had chosen, and the hill climbs we were facing were eating into ETAs severely. We decided therefore to skip Croatia entirely – opening the way for a smooth transition across to Bucharest in Romania, via Belgrade, Serbia. We kicked Vienna in the bucket and headed for Graz, setting up a hotel booking on route for a Hostel Hotel in central Graz. A welcome relief to the hours and hours of driving we had pushed through.
Mickey remained resilient throughout, albeit struggling up the hills from a lack of horses under the bonnet. The tyres, after 1200 miles had maintained their pressure, the coolant had barely even moved from just above the max line, and the oil was resting on max. Onwards to Belgrade tomorrow!