The first months of 2016 have been a little bit of a blur! Littlehampton has become like a second or maybe third home given our camper is our current home in reality. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to new surroundings and burrow in. We really enjoyed our time in Littlehampton; everything from walking the Schnauzer Digby to day trips provided by friends Gerry and Margaret and the odd night at the pub! The small pubs tend to have a great ambience about them with such history and often cosy surrounds – I will miss that a little I think!
In preparation for the next leg of our journey, much time has been spent on Internet forums, such as Expedition Portal and The Hubb, in search of current info (in an attempt to stay ahead of bureaucracy) and travel tips from like-minded wanderers! Both sites generally provide a reliable database of current world info from travellers on the move and it’s surprising just how many travellers are out and about enjoying their own version of overlanding the world or parts there of…
Unfortunately, the existence of such forums has also spawned a group that I like to call “Keyboard Warriors!” From the confines of a dark room late at night and probably with a blanket over them – optic fibre connections allow them to add all sorts of useless suggestions and comments from a knowledge base of hot air! It does require a reasonable amount of effort to sort out the first hand and recent knowledge from the other! Anyway I digress – they do wind me up if you hadn’t noticed – hahaha.
The side effect of such forums is that you can connect with other travellers on the move and one such connection has been with fellow Aussie overlanders Kev and Em – www.kevandemgoglobal.com Anyway we have been intermittently in touch with them during their time on the road as they have made their way through South America!
A twist of fate saw our 2 paths converge in Littlehampton and so there it was, in the small enclave on the south coast of England, that 2 Nissan Patrols from Australia parked whilst we swapped stories of life on the road from an Aussie perspective! They will be making their way down toward Turkey before hitting North Africa on the road south so maybe we will see them back in Oz.
Distant lands were calling us and as our departure from the UK began accelerating toward us, I have to admit that I was pretty keen to get underway.
Our last night in Littlehampton was not a quiet affair spent in reflection of our time there but rather a huge bash in celebration of Anthony’s 60th birthday! (Anthony and Trina being our friends who have allowed us to enjoy their home over the last months whilst they were enjoying some downtime) Anthony actually only turned 15 as his birthday falls on the 29th February and only comes around every 4 years!!
With goodbyes said, we were back in the Patrol heading for one final crossing of the channel but not before stopping in the small town of Kemsing in Sevenoaks, Kent, where I have a distant relative buried. Joan Chapman has the oldest surviving headstone in that particular cemetery dated 1666! It was quite odd visiting the site really, hard to grasp the long distant connection.
The whole day was quite dismal actually – grey sky and fog with consistent rain for the journey all the way to Dover and Security only added to the grey flavour! After being stamped out of the UK we entered a security check area with the car where I was asked if I had a pepper spray, which I did! Well you’d think I was on Interpol’s watch list – “that is considered a firearms offence here in England” I was quickly advised as the officer’s eyes lit up! Finally he had a collar! Well that tiny pepper spray has been in the car for a year and a half and I don’t recall reading anything with regard to it not being allowed in the UK, but long story short, you are allowed to have them in Europe but not England! Guess it must have been written somewhere…
“Anyway you will have to park over here Sir, whilst we call the Police.”
“You’re kidding me right!”
“NO! You will have to wait and the police will deal with you!”
Ten minutes later the Policeman arrived – at that point I think the customs officials moment in the sun got a little overcast, as the Bobby was more interested in the Patrol and Camper than the apparent firearms offence! The short of it – Every truck departing Europe is carrying pepper spray as violence around Calais’s “jungle” camp has escalated beyond what is apparent on the media coverage! You are supposed to throw away your spray as you depart Europe and buy another one when you re-enter! Just another sign of the gap between European thinking and that of our English friends I suppose!
Given we had technically been stamped out of the UK however, it seemed odd that we were bothered at all! Ahhh well, it all makes for travel stories… so after opening up the camper and giving the curious officer a guided tour and having a brief discussion on traveling and cool destinations, we were again on our way.
Back on European soil and heading north back across Belgium, the refugee influx was once again front and centre. Police performing cursory checks for illegal people movements staffed all roads crossing the non-existent Schengen border between France and Belgium.
We spent the night in the Belgium town of Veurne, another example of grand architecture and character filled open spaces. The following day we arrived back at “Adventure Trucks” in the Netherlands and the beginning of a gluttonous couple of weeks requiring us to devour copious amounts of delicious food lovingly prepared by Erik and Mieke! I repaid them in full by passing on a nasty head cold that I didn’t know I had until I’d arrived…. I didn’t want to arrive empty handed…
In preparation for it’s voyage, we spent the next few days stripping and cleaning the Patrol. Removing accessories was also one of the tasks to be undertaken as the car will be shipped on what’s known as a RO-RO (roll on-roll off), which is where the shipping company loads your vehicle and unloads it. It’s generally a bit cheaper than containering and can be a little easier to organise, but the downside is handing over your keys and exposing your mobile home to the possibility of sticky fingers! However, lots of European RV’s head to America and there is a German company called “Seabridge” with a good reputation and hence my decision to ship in this manner.
So on the 7th March we dropped the car off in the port of Antwerp, Belgium and found ourselves car-less!! Big thanks to Erik driving the 200km round trip to pick us up!! When they finally make it back to Australia, payback will be huge!!! Hahaha…
As fortune would have it we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy the next weeks in Veghel where Jen has family. Rose-Marie and Jan travel each year to Portugal for a little warm weather during the northern winter and let us use their house during our stay. Enjoying some nice weather further south seems a good idea to me – we had snow and some intensely cold weather during our stay in their home – maybe we are just soft Aussies.
We filled our days with walking and exploring the region and, as always, a bit of trip planning and prep . A couple of weeks later and after a last lovely dinner with more of Jen’s relatives, Marian and Theo, we said our goodbyes to Erik and Mieke and headed for Amsterdam, still one of my favourite cities.
Arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the morning of the 22nd of March we were greeted with very heavy security. We are quite used to large amounts of obvious security by now, but this was a little different. Unbeknownst to us, there had been a terrorist attack on Belgium’s International Airport sparking the added measures. I’ll not go into my thoughts regarding these barbarous acts on top of so many other atrocities being committed under the cloak of religious righteousness’ other than to say that I see dark times ahead in the attempt to deal with this current scourge.
14 hours later and we arrived in Orlando, Florida to warm weather and a weird colour in the sky! I later realised it was blue – couldn’t remember what it was called as it had been so long since I’d seen it – hahaha
The 23rd saw us visit some friends who live just north of Orlando in a lovely home on a lake with alligators in it! Well, all the lakes have ‘gators in them apparently but it was still pretty cool! We finished off the day with a huge serve of Ribs and Pulled Pork, which was excellent. Thanks Barry and Karen!
The following day we drove out to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre (the prime purpose of our stop in Orlando) as it is somewhere I’d wanted to visit for a while. The whole experience was excellent overall, but the Shuttle Atlantis display really won the day! We moved on to the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo 14 Command module along with replica moon rover and of course the list goes on and on. By the end of the day we were feeling quite “spaced” out and wandered back to our accommodation and a nice cold Bud!
Next day back to the airport and on to Washington DC! As cities go I have to admit that I didn’t really have much of an expectation for Washington DC, but found it to be a fabulous destination. Jen had managed to find a reasonably priced hotel only 200m from the White House and just off the National Mall. We visited much of what DC has to offer – the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum occupied hours of our time! The Apollo 11 command module, a Lunar Lander and thousands of other incredible displays, including Buzz Aldrin’s father’s Beech Staggerwing (one of my favourite aircraft) and the original Wright Flyer!!!
At other museums, we managed a glimpse of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution before viewing a T-Rex skull. It’s hard to quantify the vast amount of antiquities available for you to visit for free throughout the Smithsonian museums – it really is fabulous. The downside, to be expected, is the queues that you may need to suffer to gain entry!
From the Capitol Building down to the Potomac and the Pentagon, the city is laid out with vast areas of public space and, as luck would have it, made all the more attractive as the cherry blossoms were in full swing.
Baltimore was next and we stayed by the inner harbour. A “light festival” being held around the harbour late into the evening brought out thousands of locals and tourists alike providing interesting versions of modern art through lighting and projection. Johnny Rockets Burgers for dinner!
Finally the day had arrived. We went to the port to retrieve the Patrol and due to diligent work by Seabridge and its affiliates, the process was very efficient and we had the car back promptly. Seeing our Patrol again and in perfect condition was quite a relief.
So the night of the 29th of March provided us with our first night back in the camper in a lovely National Park forest camp only 12 miles from the White House and with a campfire! It was a great culmination to a week of intense travel.
I found a company to perform a “ground force” wheel balance for me as I’d had new tyres fitted in France but wasn’t happy with the balance. I only mention it as in order to kill some time whilst the work was performed, we had a coffee with another customer also having some work performed. I couldn’t believe my ears when we ended up discussing occupations, I was having coffee with an SR71 Blackbird Pilot – if you know anything about aviation then your jaw should be hitting your chest about now!
With the wheel balance as it should be after great service from Pop’s and the guys at Goss’s Garage, we made west for the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum near Dulles International Airport, where there is an aforementioned SR71 on display! Everything from the “Enola Gay” to the Space Shuttle Discovery is mixed with every other kind of aircraft ever dreamt up to occupy this huge building.
Cross eyed after a few hours, we headed toward the town of Front Royal, the northern starting point for the Skyline Drive which travels south west through the Appalachian Mountains and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive said to be one of Americas best scenic drives. After some great scenery, we are currently camped in the forest enjoying a day off and getting ourselves up to date.
Back soon with soon with tales from the country where everything is supersized and so far the people are polite to a level that I struggle to comprehend!