Motorway tolls. What a headache. Generally speaking we avoid motorways with tolls as we are in no rush but sometimes they can make life so much easier depending on where we are going. In such cases we don’t mind paying for the stretch of motorway we have used. Equally, we are happy to cough up if we inadvertently end up on the motorway by mistake. Simples. But it’s not quite that simple. Nothing ever is.
Going into the Czech Republic two weeks ago was the first headache. Looking at the map and where we wanted to go we decided that using the motorways would be the wise choice, especially negotiating a city like Prague. You’d think you could just pay a human at a toll booth on the motorway but no. It’s all much more high tec than that. There are rules. Different rules for different classes of vehicles.
If you are under 3.5 tonnes then it’s fairly straight forward – buy a sticker (or vignette as it is also known) at a petrol station or post office which covers the vehicle for the duration of ten days, a month or a year. Stick the sticker to your windscreen. Job done. Nothing else to do.
If you are over 3.5 tonnes then it’s a different story. Now, our van Ollie is over 3.5 tonnes. He was under 3.5 tonnes when we bought him but long story short – several years ago we had air ride suspension put on and upgraded him, via DVLA, to 3850kg to increase his payload. In other words we could cram him with more crap and still remain legal. He was beefed up. That was great whilst we toured about in the UK but the downside now is we have the headache of being in a different category regarding motorway tolls in this part of Europe. In the Czech Republic that means paying a deposit for a ‘premid onboard unit’ which is basically a little box equipped with an onboard tolling unit. You can get them from a ‘premid point distribution centre’ which are generally located at selected border crossings, along tolled roads or in their vicinity. Then, the toll amount for each segment of highway is deducted when your vehicle passes under a toll gantry. So far, so good. But there’s a but. But……..it’s not easy to find out information on how much you will be charged as the toll rates of any segment depend on roadway class, section length, day of the week, number of vehicle axles, vehicle emission category and which colour underpants the driver is wearing at the time. Seriously it did our heads in trying to gather all the information together. Even more annoyingly if you want your deposit back on the premid unit you have to find a ‘premid point distribution centre’ just before you exit the country. That’s all very well if you are exiting from a motorway but not great if you are nowhere near one.
Once we knew where we were headed in the Czech Republic we tried to get the ‘premid unit’ but the first garage didn’t do them and the second one only had the stickers (vignettes). So, we bought the sticker, stuck it to the windscreen and hoped for the best.
The headache isn’t over though as the countries we intend to visit (Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia) all have similar systems with equally confusing websites which have also done our heads in. The up shot of it all is that after the Czech Republic we intended on avoiding the motorways. However, avoiding the motorways is fine but sometimes, just sometimes, you can end up on them without meaning to, like when someone forgets to program the satnav to avoid toll roads, for instance. To make matters a little more stressful we discovered on entering the Czech Republic that our satnav didn’t have the maps loaded on it for any country east of Germany. A slight over sight only discovered the day we crossed the border. Not ones to make life easy for ourselves by just paying the £70 to upgrade our satnav with the maps we need we are currently using an app that Tim downloaded for free. It being free I don’t, as yet, fully trust it but it seems to be holding its own and got us to the campsite in Prague and out again with no problems. We’re sticking with it for now.
Heading towards Bratislava in Slovakia on the motorway we stopped at the last service station a few kilometres before the border to ask if we would be alright taking the first exit off the motorway on the Slovakian side without paying a toll as from there we could easily pick up a minor road to get us to our destination. The conversation with the man behind his glass window went something like this:
Me: Can we leave the motorway at Exit 5 without having to buy an OBU (onboard unit). Him: No, you have to turn around and go back to Breclav. Me: But we’ll be leaving at the first….. Him: No, you have to turn around and go back to Breclav. Me: So, we can’t just….. Him: No, you have to turn around and go back to Breclav. Me: Oh, Ok. Thank you. Him: Welcome to Slovakia.
Obviously he didn’t actually say that last bit I just imagined it in my head. We really didn’t want to buy an OBU as we were only planning on visiting Bratislava which is right on the edge of Slovakia before going into Hungary. So we did as instructed and turned around and went back to Breclav. We breathed a sigh of relief arriving at a huge carpark on the banks of the Danube in Bratislava which was to be our free camp for the night. From our parking spot we had a splendid view of the castle sitting on top of the hill above the river.
Despite being in the capital of Slovakia it was just a ten minute walk to the old town which had a very relaxed cafe culture feel to it. After Prague it felt positively deserted.
Bratislava is just a stone’s throw from Budapest in Hungary but we couldn’t face another city and needed to get back to the countryside. We settled then on driving to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe and popular holiday destination for the Hungarians in summer.
Swinging out of Bratislava the free satnav app tried to take us onto the motorway. Nooooo. Fortunately, being the control freak that I am, I always follow where we are going on the Maps.Me app for such occasions. Disaster narrowly avoided we took a slip road which then took us over the border into Austria where we were greeted by the police waving us to a stop. Satisfied that we weren’t harbouring any fugitives they let us go again. At the next available garage we stopped, reprogrammed the satnav to avoid toll roads and headed back to Slovakia.
The 180km drive across Hungary was flat and pretty dull with the only highlight being stopped by the police, again. Twice in one day. Same thing, making sure we weren’t secreting any illegals. One cursory glance through the window and we were on our way. We must look like criminals.
After a quick pitstop at a cashpoint to pick up some Hungarian cash we arrived at Lake Balaton and we have been staying at Tomaj Camping, a very friendly little campsite right on the lakeside.
We are in holiday mode.
Tim is currently in the sick bay as regards to cycling as he has an elbow injury still causing problems after all the fence post banging in he did at Alpaca HQ so we’ve been out walking instead.
The village has been celebrating the wine harvest this weekend.
Winemakers, folk dancers and musicians paraded through the streets passing out free samples of wine.
It was only 10.30am but we didn’t want to offend anyone by not accepting their kind offers. It was a smaller, more rustic and interactive affair than the one we had experienced last month in Germany. We followed the procession out of the village, along the main highway, to the next village on the lakeside where we ate out lunch watching the pleasure boats coming and going whilst people cooled down paddling their feet.
Today, being a Monday, is Lidl day. After the weeks shop we’ll head further along the lake to Tihany, a little peninsular on the northern side of the lake and said to be a pearl of not only the region or the country but of Europe. Lets hope it lives up to it.