Author Archives: Jen

Onward We Go!

Keeping posts coming with the regularity that you, our valued readers, deserve can be quite difficult at times. In my defense (Rebecca), we’ve been on the road consistently for the last few weeks and have been drinking and relaxing on the Med with friends, which is quite taxing! As such, the rigors of travel haven’t provided me with the space and time needed to dictate my thoughts and hence this post will be a long one to get things up to date! But I have included an intermission!!

Boo Hoo I hear you say!! Swanning around Europe and can’t find the time to keep your extended family of followers in the loop! Fair comment – but Jen takes an awful lot of looking after! So here goes….

We were keen on spending some time travelling west through the Alps but first on the list was a stop at Berchtesgaden – the home of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” and it afforded us a lovely drive into these incredible mountains.

Hitler’s 50th Birthday present was built in 3 years atop a mountain precipice with jaw dropping views across the Alps and, on a clear day, as far as Salzburg.

Eagles Nest

Eagles Nest

Left untouched by the Allied bombing campaign, the only real damage was inflicted by the troops liberating the country after the fall of the Nazi Regime. Chunks of a red marble fireplace installed in the building as a gift from megalomaniac Mussolini to his megalomaniac associate were popular souvenirs.

Mussolini"s Marble Fireplace

Mussolini”s Marble Fireplace

It’s a rather simple almost unimpressive structure not exuding the level of grandeur you might expect. Certainly an incredible feat of engineering, the building now finds itself purposed as a restaurant and although I’d expected more of a museum experience with the usual dissection of Nazi ideals, the structure has been given a new life beyond it’s dark reasons for existing which in many ways have saved it from being another example of tyranny.

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

Hitler"s Brass Elevator

Hitler”s Brass Elevator

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Making west, it’s easy to find your jaw hurting a little as every road and km really provides splendid jaw dropping scenery.

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Crossing into Italy, the Dolomites made an appearance on the GPS screen and I expected to see a continuation of the same type of mountain topography as that throughout Austria. Singularly unique, the Dolomites certainly have their very own character – colours, formations and appeal, placing themselves well apart from the Alps in character almost as if they want to be different.

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Pass

Dolomites Pass

This whole region is as visually stunning as anywhere else that I’ve had the fortune to visit. An autumn visit also has it’s positives – great hiking trails and a lack of closed roads along with the missing tourists that would no doubt patronise this area during ski season.

The Stelvio Pass is a mandatory drive with its 48 hairpin turns up and 40 hairpin turns down depending on your direction of travel. You can share the drive with Ferrari’s and Porsche’s and every kind of motorbike sporting want-to-be Casey Stoners perched on them. Some of them may have actually been stoners given their lack of adherence to any form of road rules. They seem to feel a sense of entitlement when on these powerful machines and get angry at the fact they have to share the road! Following a heavy Nissan Patrol wasn’t what they had in mind when they plastered on their saddle cream and strapped on their leathers in anticipation of a record fast ascent to boast about over a pizza and beer later that day.

48 Switchbacks up...

48 Switchbacks up…

And 40 Switchbacks down

And 40 Switchbacks down

Beer and Pizza

Pizza and Beer!

Let’s also not forget the supercars that hammer up the straights only to find they need to take the hairpin corners slower than we do! When the hairpins are close together as with Stelvio, it would seem that “made in Japan” and a top speed of 140km an hour down hill with a tail wind is just as fast on hill climbs as all of those stallions!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

I found it all rather amusing really!

Out of Italy and through Saint Moritz in Switzerland, it was the first time we’d encountered a re-activated border checkpoint within the Eurozone. Later we discovered that most Schengen borders were now, once again, manned in an attempt to stem the Syrian Refugee flow, along with the sudden exodus of people from Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and so on, in search of a slice of Germany’s economic generosity whilst Mrs. Merkel remains at the helm and in charge of the cheque book.

Back into Italy and a look at the famous Lake Como but unfortunately it rained incessantly all day. Views of the lake were still lovely but gloomy and with a distinct lack of visibility and complete loss of vibrancy.

Lake Como

Lake Como

The wet theme continued as we travelled via Lake Lugano, venturing back into Switzerland before once again entering Italy on our way to France. You’ll need a map to follow that lot!

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano, Switzerland

Trippy Tunnel!!

Trippy Tunnel!!

 

Bormio, Italy

Bormio, Italy

Beautiful Bormio by night

Beautiful Bormio by night

Montiglio Monferrato

Montiglio Monferrato, Italy

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

Village Scenery enroute

Village Scenery enroute

A night spent in the French town of Sospel deserves a mention – a classic example of a French village, as the pictures will display. Nestled amongst large mountains and sporting beautiful scenery along with character loaded buildings hundreds of years old, it’s affordable and a real taste of village life in France, yet your only 20km from Monaco!

Sospel

Sospel

 

Historic Bridge in Sospel

Historic Bridge in Sospel

More Sospel

More Sospel

We’d had a date booked in for some time to meet up with friends from Perth who were staying near Saint Tropez as guests for a wedding.

So onward through Nice, as we thought it would be good to have a look at the area and see if any memories were jogged as we’d stayed there in 2005. In the end, it was worth the detour but the traffic was diabolical and slowed us down to a snails pace. We managed our rendezvous  though, after submitting to the use of French toll roads in order to pick up the pace.

Friends Mick and Sue met us as we entered the village of Cogolin and Sue’s brother Chris led us out of the town via small roads and tracks to the place he calls home with wife Julie.

One minute you’re in the hustle and bustle that is life on the Med and a mere 10 minutes later, it’s peace and quite amongst vineyards and cork trees interspersed with sporadic dwellings – such a contrast.

St Tropez - Home of the Beautiful People!!

St Tropez – Home of the Plastic People!!

St Tropez

St Tropez

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

With such a relaxing, peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle but with such convenient access to the sparkle and glitter of Saint Tropez and the beautiful haven of Port Grimaud, it was easy to see the appeal.

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Ample supplies of beer and wine left over from Chris and Julie’s daughter’s wedding just days earlier, made our stay even more enjoyable! The stun juice flowed endlessly and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste!

Drinks with old and new friends!

Drinks with old and new friends!

With Chris displaying exemplary skills in both fire making and BBQ techniques combined with Julie’s continuous supply of tasty treats we left indebted to these great people and hope to see them again should our paths cross.

Chris's Swedish Candle?

Chris’s Swedish Candle?

Catching up With Mick and Sue was a great distraction from life on the road. So nice to meet up with friends from home and speak some Australian for a few days.

Intermission – Time to grab a coffee or go back to work!!

Pernes les Fontaines was the town in our sights now after an invitation arrived in our inbox from Philip and Bianca (whom we’d been so fortunate to spend time with in Germany) to join them for dinner. On offer was a restaurant with a highly regarded menu of quality produce, a waiting list for reservations and overnight camper van parking! “Would we be able to join them as a space could be made available for us?”

Well, we like our food and it can be a real challenge finding a venue that will live up to your expectations and budget when you have very limited language skills. Wow! It was worth the effort! Outstanding food along with emotive and full-bodied conversation, we’d had yet another sensational interlude with 2 of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. It was over all too quickly for my liking. The following morning with hopeful plans of future interludes in place, we departed in opposite directions.

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Sommieres

Sommieres

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres River

Sommieres River

A poignant reminder...

A poignant reminder…

Roman ruins and ancient villages rolling by, we found our way a few days later to Narbonne in the South of France. Back in Turkey, we’d met some avid travellers who had invited us to visit en-route to Morocco along with offering the use of their factory should we need to perform any maintenance. Not just a factory, but a 4×4 specialist camper building facility! Being on the same page as these guys made life very easy for me.

Globe Camper

Globe Camper

Mecca Engineering and Globe Camper combine to build custom camper units along with all of the upgrades to the 4×4 that you could ever require. Skander and Dave have one of those unique working relationships that just works, not to mention Skander’s wife Veronique TIG welding in the background whilst Dave’s wife Monica fits a Webasto heater and plumbs it up. 2 great couples combining to build high quality campers ready for Morocco’s High Atlas or anywhere else you’d like to venture sums these dynamos up.

Skander and Veronique at work

Skander and Veronique at work

From the moment we entered the factory it was like being with family! Nothing was too much trouble and work was instantly put on hold to provide us with what ever we needed.

First on the agenda were replacement tyres! At the end of this post there is a little more about the tyre situation for those who are interested.

With tyres ordered, I now had time to service the Patrol whilst Jen tinted the passenger’s side window! The replacement window that I’d fitted after it was shot with an air rifle in the UK wasn’t tinted and she was complaining of getting burnt – the little petal!

Over the next couple of days we ticked off numerous other little jobs that we hadn’t had the time or a suitable venue to sort out. It was incredibly nice having a fully functioning factory to perform such tasks as opposed to what had become the standard – a paddock or car park! I cannot over-emphasise how grateful we were to have unlimited use of their factory, equipment and knowledge.  Big THANKS guys!!!

Being treated to a lovely Tapas lunch in Narbonne was totally unexpected especially since we knew these guys were under pressure to get a camper delivered in a couple of days but still they made time to ensure our stay was outstanding.

We did eventually leave them to get back on with their lives but not before they’d made sure we had track files for the Pyrenees and Morocco and anything else we required had been taken care of. Cant’ thank them enough! Hopefully we can convince them to join us for a tour of WA sometime in the future.

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

With days slipping by it was into the Pyrenees via the unusual little country of Andorra with its tax-free cigarettes and alcohol along with much cheaper fuel. It is an odd little place full of fancy ski resorts and not overly appealing other than the standard mountain views that are always welcome. It does however have some great off road trails meandering thorough its countryside.

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Carcassone, France, enroute to Andorra

Andorra

Andorra

We managed to depart Andorra via a well-known trail aptly called the Smuggler’s Route due to the trafficking of tax-free goods over the mountains and into Spain. It must be fact, as after a long low range descent and now finding ourselves within Spain’s’ borders, we were stopped for a cursory check and questioning as to whether we were carrying any of those cheap Andorran products via the local Police! Another visit to the Pyrenees without the time pressure of a dwindling Schengen Visa would be welcome as without doubt these lovely mountains offer some great camping and off road driving.

Smuggler's Route Terrain

Smuggler’s Route Terrain

Great Pyrenees Scenery

Great Pyrenees Scenery

We pretty much hit the highway at this point and put in 1100km over the next 2 days. We did manage a few side detours and interesting visits along the way however, probably one of the most notable being Toledo.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Jen had visited previously and remembered it to be worth the effort! It all went a bit pear shaped as we decided that we would break our own rule and drive near to the centre rather than a long walk, as time was an issue.

Passing the maximum width 2m sign, I already knew I’d made a mistake. I’ve been caught before but it would seem I’m a slow learner. (PS. We are exactly 2 mtrs wide!)

Well about 20 minutes of extremely stressful navigation amongst throngs of goggle eyed tourists along cobbled very narrow lane ways ensued! Wing mirrors grazing buildings as you idle by and tourists gasping as you just miss historic brickwork in order to make ridiculously tight corners is a give away that you shouldn’t be there! I even had to park up for a while after it was all over to settle the nerves! But the town was pretty nice!!!

Anyway it’s all on the car camera so I’ll see how it looks and put it up for all to see and as a warning to others! PARK OUTSIDE the CENTRE and walk in rather than thinking it’ll be OK!

The Spanish countryside along the South East is rather dull and uninteresting with km after km of flat and uninteresting terrain reminiscent of central Queensland I thought. The odd visit to a village made the journey seem less rushed and broke the monotony of the highway.

Castles and windmills in Spain

Castles and windmills in Spain

Gibraltar appeared and we arranged our ferry tickets from an agent in Algeciras recommended by Dave from Globe Camper. Good thing too as it was much cheaper than the internet and others!! A quick stock up with shopping including a reasonable selection of alcoholic beverages and it was onto the ferry. We hit the North African coast at the port of Tanger Med.

Ferry to Morocco

Ferry to Morocco

Stay tuned for the next instalment!

Cheers – Justin.

Tyre Update for those interested.

We’ve had a few problems with the Cooper ST MAXX tyres as some of you may know but were hopeful of continuing on the current set through to the USA as Cooper Australia had indicated to me some time ago that they may be able to sort something out with Cooper Head Office in the USA for our onward journey – an offer of which I am very appreciative.

As such, with intermittent visits to tire shops for rebalancing as best they could and one tyre losing air via splitting around the bead I was left with only 1 reliable spare but I’d still persisted with the vision of stretching their lifespan a little longer.

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It had come to the point however that I felt the possibility of a blowout or other high-speed incident was likely with really bad splits developing around the beads and a lot of delamination between the white lettering and black rubber.

Delamination

Delamination

The prospect of thousands of kms of harsh terrain in Morocco made the decision for me – they had to come off.

I’ve had numerous sets of Cooper STT’s prior to this version and found them to be a thoroughly reliable tyre, albeit with a low km lifespan as expected from a mud profile tyre. The ST MAXX’s have now travelled an admirable 56000km with plenty of tread remaining and if it weren’t for the presence of these faults, would have met the task required of them and fulfilled their life expectancy.

Still plenty of tread

Still plenty of tread

Uneven wear

Uneven wear

Vertical splits on the sidewall and lateral splitting around the bead however, of which there are many reports on the Internet, would seem to be an issue with this version. Maybe they’ve sorted it out with newer models but I can only go on my own experience. With 2 complete failures and all the others indicating similar areas of concern, it was an easy decision.

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

 

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Reluctant to find myself in the same situation again, I replaced them with BFG Ko2’s, which are BFGoodrich’s latest offering and competitor to the Cooper ST MAXX. I’ll see how these go over the next months and hopefully report back with all positives.

New Boots!

New Boots!

Captains Log – Stardate August 2015

This one is from Jen!  Sorry for the slow updates – Internet can be tricky when you are moving through countries quite quickly and they all require a different SIM card!

Due to the much scorned Schengen Visa restrictions, Justin was not in possession of enough remaining days to allow us to visit Greece – a country that I’m sure would have been grateful for our tourist dollars!! Well done Schengen Masters!!!

So Bulgaria again, but this time we were armed with a waypoint from photographer Chris, who camped with us in Cappadocia, that became a must see after viewing his photos!

Buzludzha Monument is one of those communist hangovers that just beggars belief!

Starship Enterprise

Starship Enterprise

Built atop a peak of 1441mtrs at a cost in excess of 14,000,000 Bulgarian Lev, it was opened in 1981 and used as Bulgarian Communist Party Headquarters.  Clearly, and rather ironically, the architect must have had a thing for the Starship Enterprise, as the resemblance is striking!

Of course, when communism fell in the early ‘90s, the monument was abandoned for what it symbolised and fell into disrepair. Locals raided whatever lavish building materials could be salvaged and the government officially closed the site due to safety concerns.  Creative graffiti now adorns the structure but there is a crawl hole that with a bit of bodily contortion allows access.

The crawl hole

The crawl hole

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Inside is like a Pandora’s Box! Stepping over rubble, you climb the once marble paved staircase and enter the central amphitheatre whose circular walls are covered with the remains of a mosaic depiction of Communist history. The domed ceiling no longer prevents the elements from entering and the wind rattles the rusted rafters but a mosaic hammer and sickle still proudly looks down upon the decay.  The outer plaza has more mosaic depictions and panoramic views although the chill wind penetrates the now absent windows. The before and after photos are staggering!

Opening Day

Opening Day

Now...

Now…

Before...

Before…

After...

After…

Before...

Before…

After...

After…

Before...

Before…

After...

After…

Mosaics

Mosaics

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Not for the claustrophobic, acrophobic or scotophobic, our next challenge lay in climbing to the red star.  Navigating through construction littered corridors, an underground passage and a prised open steel door; we found the steps that led 65mtrs to the top.  Without torches we would have been in complete darkness as we ascended the extremely steep, rounded edge ladder stairs with questionable welding quality. Finally natural light penetrated the darkness, and we emerged onto the levels with the fractured glass red star.  In its heyday, this was illuminated at night but now only sheds tears down the exterior concrete.  Further up the ladders and out through a hatch, we were atop the tower.

Climbing the dodgy staircase/ladder

Climbing the dodgy staircase/ladder

Through the looking glass...

Through the looking glass…

Now just red tears...

Now just red tears…

Atop the tower

Atop the tower

Despite all the decay, this is without doubt one of the most incredible things I have seen.  If the “Trekkies” of the world were to unite for a busy bee, this could be an amazing Star Trek Convention venue.

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Bulgaria also provided a few other sights…

MiGS on sticks are popular in Bulgaria...

MiGS on sticks are popular…

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So are tanks!

So are tanks!

Rilski Monastery

Rilski Monastery

Croatia was ultimately our next destination, so we started to head through the former Yugoslav States.  Trying to identify things to see in Macedonia was interesting and what was even more interesting was trying to find them.  Google produced a few results on our path which led us to the stone town of Kuklica. Not the least bit as interesting as the description, driving around in circles to find it did provide us with a campsite for the night.  Another attempt to find an archaeological site proved pointless.

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Kuklica

Kuklica

The Republic of Kosovo deemed fit to not trust the European Green Card Insurance accepted by every other country in the region and insisted upon the purchase of a specific insurance policy at 15Euros for 2 weeks.  98 Kms and 1 ½ hours later we had transited Kosovo and entered Albania.

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Not sure where all the ball gowns are being used but there were certainly a lot of shops selling them!

Not sure where all the ball gowns are being used but there were certainly a lot of shops selling them!

Always looking for the interesting drive rather than the motorway led us to the SH5 route through the top of Albania. Well worth the effort with great mountain switchback scenery although this was not to be unique to Albania as we would soon discover.

Scenic SH5

Scenic SH5

Montenegro’s transit led us to the Ostrog Monastery, built into a sheer cliff face.  Switchback roads were beginning to be a quite common occurrence and I suppose the absence of such terrain at home makes this scenery all the more appealing.

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Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog Monastery

Bosnia also presented some amazing scenery as soon as we crossed the border and it was whilst stopping to take it in that we met Aussie cyclist Ken.  Not only was he from Australia but he had lived less than 5kms from us!

Aussie Ken

Aussie Ken

Bosnian Scenery

Bosnian Scenery

Bosnia was unique for us as it was the first country where we needed to consider the prospect of landmines when we were looking for a night’s camp.  Not straying too far from the well worn track was the best strategy but signs did remind us of the danger!

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MInes!!!

MInes!!!

Not far into Croatia and we were able to see the clear blue water and coastline the country is famous for.  The walled “old town” of Dubrovnik appeared as we rounded a bend and that is probably the best that it looked.  I say this because, once we eventually found parking and walked into the walled city, we discovered that there is little there that is not designed to withdraw cash from the tourist.  Justin made the analogy that we are just walking ATM’s!! The tourist numbers were overwhelming as we shuffled along the polished pedestrian streets that reflected and magnified the midday heat.  Souvenir shops, restaurants, every house with “rooms available” signs and “Game of Thrones” walking tours– it seems that UNESCO funds were used to rebuild historic Dubrovnik after the war into an upmarket tourist destination for the rich and trendy.  No denying that the buildings and city were very attractive but it was difficult to appreciate it amongst the overt commercialism.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

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Local Musicians

Local Musicians

The rich and trendy?

The rich and trendy?

What we could appreciate however, was the beautiful Adriatic Sea. Camped just north of Dubrovnik, we were lucky to relocate to a just vacated site with uninterrupted panoramic views over the sea and islands so a one night stop turned into three! It is also where we met fellow Australian Jarrah and his Canadian girlfriend Danni and shared a few drinks and a meal together admiring the sunset.  Croatia has strict rules against wild camping and although we would probably have got away with it, the threat of a 400Euro fine just wasn’t worth the bother.  A short walk down the hill led to a small local pebble beach with some of the most crystal clear blue water.  A daily swim was mandatory and there were even some small swim-through grottoes beneath the cliffs.  Nature wins every time!

The beautiful Adriatic

The beautiful Adriatic

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Not a bad Camp!

Not a bad Camp!

Perfect Sunset Viewing

Perfect Sunset Viewing

Jarrah - The Quintessential Aussie!

Jarrah – The Quintessential Aussie!

Loathe to leave, we headed north to the Peljesac Peninsula and the little town of Ston.  Complete with its own version of the Great Wall, it was an interesting stop before once again we aimed for a beachside camp!  Different from our previous camp, this beach had a white sand base and was only metres from our car!

Ston Traders

Ston Traders

The Great Wall of Ston

The Great Wall of Ston

IMG_2816Fortuitously, we ended up camped next to Nick and Ivanka from Brighton who, a few years previously, had completed the Pan American Drive from Alaska to Cape Horn.  Given this is our intent for next year, we had lots to discuss.  Pawing over maps with these guys is already on the agenda one evening once we return to the UK for winter!

Ivanka

Ivanka and  daughter

The war in Bosnia has led to most people having heard of Sarajevo and it and Mostar were our next destinations.  There is something quite sobering about seeing buildings with the obvious scars of a war that I can remember seeing on the news. Standing in places so recently war-torn but now recovered, stands in complete contrast to any life I could imagine.

War Damage

War Damage

Mostar, with its cobbled streets and rebuilt old bridge was lovely to walk around and the river clearly defines a line between Christianity and Islam.

Mostar

Mostar

Mostar's Stari Most (Old Bridge)

Mostar’s Stari Most (Old Bridge)

IMG_2860 IMG_2855The drive from Mostar passed through a spectacular river valley before arriving in Sarajevo and once again we were met with buildings with shrapnel damage and bullet holes.

The drive between Mostar and Sarajevo

The drive between Mostar and Sarajevo

Signs of War...

Signs of War…

The old and new

The old and new

IMG_2881Heading north, we were now aiming for Plitvice National Park back in Croatia but not before an overnight stopover at National Park Una in Bosnia.

Strbacki Falls

Strbacki Falls

Plitvice is way up there on the list of tourist destinations in Croatia and the numbers we saw there supported that!  Tourist hoards are usually enough to put us off but we persevered through the line to get tickets and I’m so glad we did.  The lakes and waterfalls in this park are surreal and good infrastructure connects them with lovely walking trails which serve to dissipate the crowds. Fortunately, the powers that be recognised the special nature of this place from early times and so it was preserved in its original state rather than being glitzed up with resorts, cafes and plunge pools!

Plitvice National Park

Plitvice National Park

Nice Walkways

Nice Walkways

Crystal Clear Water

Crystal Clear Water

IMG_3026 IMG_3036The Istrian Peninsula was our last stop in Croatia having drawn us in with the promise of superb cuisine and hill top villages.  We were not disappointed.  Hum, touted as the smallest town in the world, saw us trying Biska – a locally produced mistletoe liqueur – and various truffle related products as Istria is famous for its truffle production.

Hum

Hum – Smallest town in the world?

Hum Truffle Merchants

Hum Truffle and Biska Merchants

IMG_3069Of course, this led on to having to partake in some sort of truffle dish for dinner and just outside the small village of Vizinada was an amazing local restaurant “Jadruhi”.  I will preface this with the comment that any time I have ever had a truffle dish previously; it has only had small specs of actual truffle and mostly infused with truffle oil.  Not here. With white truffle having only just come into season, we were fortunate to be able to order both black truffle pasta and white! Each pasta dish was laden with inch diameter slivers of the gastronomic delight and we savoured every mouthful.  Soup entrée’s, crusty home baked bread, truffle pasta, a litre of house wine and complimentary petit fours and Biska to finish all for the extremely reasonable price of 44Euros!!! ($AUD70).

Tempting as it was to stay another night in order to partake in the delights of this restaurant yet again, we had other things to see and so re-entered the dreaded Schengen Zone by crossing into Slovenia.

With the clock running again, leisurely strolling about was less of an option and Slovenia was certainly a place that we could have spent a lot more time.  Ljubljana was a lovely small city and the landscape to the north-west of the country was just so beautiful and scattered with walking trails that beckoned to be explored.  Small mountain roads were stunningly picturesque and we started to get our first views of Alpine scenery.

Ljubljana in the rain

Ljubljana in the rain

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Check out the shoes

Check out the shoes

Ljubljana's Dragon

Ljubljana’s Dragon

Great Slovenian Scenery

Great Slovenian Scenery

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Captain Jen – Out

It’s all a fairytale!!

Turning our backs on the coast, we made east for Pamukkale – famous for an amazing series of tiered lakes on the slopes of a mineral rich hillside and Roman ruins.

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The famous tiered lakes of Pamukkale

The famous tiered lakes of Pamukkale

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Ruins of Heiropolis at Pamukkale

Ruins of Heiropolis at Pamukkale

My cynical side bubbles to the surface quite often when visiting major tourist attractions such as these lakes.  You feel like you’re just a mobile ATM machine that talks back! An arid and unimpressive location other than the main attraction has been made a lot less attractive with the investment in cheesy hotels offering bright blue swimming pools nestled amongst palm trees so that you forget where you are!

Walking ATM's

Walking ATM’s

These ancient lakes are a geological anomaly that provided the catalyst for settlement to bloom around this area.

As usual, we were met with a throng of tourists – acceptance is the key! They are also entitled to be on holiday and enjoying such locations – apparently!

Undies, Undies, Undies and ...still Undies!

Undies, Undies, Undies and …still Undies!

Keeping to cardinal east on the compass and via some stunning mountain driving and inland lakes, a few days later we arrived in the locality of Cappadocia. From the first moment, this collection of geological and man made oddities has you intrigued!

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Cappadocia

Cappadocia

River gorges and limestone mountains have eroded into the most amazing structures and for millennia humans have carved everything from small food cellars to churches into this relatively soft rock culminating in complete underground settlements that could support up to 20 000 people for 6 months during siege or disaster!

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Underground Cities - Kaymakli and Derinkuyu

Underground Cities – Kaymakli and Derinkuyu

The whole region is just plain weird and fantastic!

Travelling this area, you really feel like your somewhere other than Earth (Tatooine maybe?)  –  Staggeringly eye catching from every angle!

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Uchisar Fortress

Uchisar Fortress

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Amazing landscape

Amazing landscape

Arriving in the area of Goreme, we didn’t just find a campsite, we found THE campsite. With elevation on our side we were perched above magnificent columns of sandstone with our own private excavations to explore along with surreal views of Uchisar at sunset.

Uchisar Sunset

Uchisar Sunset

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Alone for a little while, our camper gave us away! An Austrian in a ‘60’ series LandCruiser spotted us! With such exquisite views we camped together and relaxed into easy conversation with Chris and again swapped travel details with the like minded.

Chris and his trusty steed

Chris and his trusty steed

Hot air ballooning is ridiculously popular here.  With cool solid air and landscape from somewhere outside the Milky Way, it’s easy to see why.

Just on daybreak, we were awakened by the loud roar of numerous fans inflating their balloons in readiness for their journey aloft. Exiting our home, we were greeted with a truly stunning sight, the landscape coming alive as it receives those first touches of morning sun.

IMG_1786 IMG_1793 IMG_1798As if they were themselves alive, these fabric monoliths began to blink randomly all across the valley floor like giant one million watt light globes being flicked on and off! Slowly they began to defy gravity and head skyward! I’ve never seen anything like it; the sheer quantity and magnitude of these floating orbs was unbelievable!

IMG_1807 IMG_1827 IMG_1838The sun’s rays making their presence more strongly now, the colours of early morning blending into each other, the cool desert air, the roar and brilliance of the flames.  The complete spectacle was one of those memories that burns its way into your mind and stays perfectly clear for evermore! Beautiful…

By mid morning, the landscape had become less inviting – the colours dissolved, replaced with the shimmer of heat and call of the air conditioner.

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"Love" Valley

“Love” Valley

We had seen what we came to see and been fully rewarded.

Istanbul enter, enter! GPS loaded, we had made it as far east that this stage of our journey would take us.

Northwest via Ankara was an incredible sprawl of urbaneness surrounded by large hills sporting scrubby bush and pale rocks. Concrete and apartment living are the modern Turkish vision here! Yes, there are the individual residences and suburbs, but extremely high-density living is in full swing.

Istanbul announces herself well before you can consider yourself within her environs.  Hectic traffic and concentration required, you seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in heavy traffic with the usual irrational lane changing and pushing, whilst creeping along the motorway at 2km per hour!

The Bosphorous Straight

The Bosphorous Straight

All in all, I found the drive into this metropolis not all that bad. Maybe I’m becoming a little more conditioned to using my vehicle’s size to force little Renaults to be courteous! Urban sprawl continues for many kms enroute to the area of main interest for tourists -the Sultan Ahmet District.

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Anything Goes

Anything Goes

RV parks and campgrounds appear non-existent within close proximity to the Old City.  As such, Jen had found a fantastically well-located guesthouse with street parking right in the centre of the old city!

It would be advisable, however, to use one of the campgrounds concentrated to the north on the Black Sea and accept the local transit implications that come with that decision if your vehicle is any larger than our Patrol otherwise a dent or 2 or getting stuck in a narrow street is a real possibility!

Entering the Old City is really just a maze of very skinny one-way streets, crawling with pedestrians and all manner of products loaded onto carts enroute to their retail outlets.

At one point, we were up on the kerb with our bull bar literally touching a building forward of us, whilst a Mercedes people mover squeezed past with mm to spare! You have to get used to it – that’s just the way it is!

With hotel located, we were again met with that Turkish hospitality! 2 of the hotel staff had parked their cars on the street right outside in order to keep a location large enough for us to park! Where else would that occur? Settled in, we began our explorations of this interesting city.

Pop star parking!

Pop star parking!

The city is massive and could probably replace the dictionary definition of “urban sprawl”. It is hemmed in to the North and South by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara respectively and the population has exploded east into Asia and west into Europe along the available land.

Having a portion of the urban jungle on either side of the Bosphorous Straight has afforded Istanbul the reputation of being the location where “East meets West” and it’s certainly true. The Sultan Ahmet District is without doubt worth a wander.

Istanbul

Istanbul

From underground Roman Cisterns to Egyptian antiquities relocated here throughout the ages, the largest and certainly one of the oldest undercover markets in the world, famous mosques and simply the colours, food and it’s people make Istanbul an intriguing destination.

Ayasofia

Ayasofia

Egyptian Obelisk

Egyptian Obelisk

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Ayasofia

Ayasofia

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Whirling Dervish

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Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

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Medusa heads

Medusa heads

Not sure how traditional this is???

Not sure how traditional this is???

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Call to Prayer Schedule

Call to Prayer Schedule

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

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Turks enjoying a BBQ and a swim!

Turks enjoying a BBQ and a swim!

Relaxed and happy with our visitation to Turkey we made west for Bulgaria over the next days with some interesting sights to come!

Cheers Justin.

Turkish Delight

Departing what seems like 18th century road construction techniques, all of a sudden you’re in the modern era! That’s how it feels entering Turkey!

The first thing that happens is that you remember you have a fifth gear.  Now I love driving on tracks and wandering about the countryside, but poor bitumen roads are the pits! Not to spin the idea to far in the direction of modern infrastructure however, as Turkey persists with its share of bad roads on most fronts other than its motorways and toll roads connecting major centers! Nonetheless, it proved to be a nice if not short break for a very shaken Patrol!

With the Turkish rumored to be some of the friendliest people on the planet, we were keen to find out for ourselves. From the moment we stopped for fuel and were greeted with smiles and helpful advice along with a hand to get the Patrol cleaned up in the truck wash, to the day we crossed out, we were the recipients of that rumored hospitality.

It had been a while since we’d travelled in a country with a relatively large conservative Muslim population and daily life in rural Turkey provides images that are repeated village after village – generally few women around and teahouses loaded with men drinking tea and playing Mahjong!

Mosque by the beach!

Mosque by the beach!

All heads are guaranteed to turn in our direction as our unusual vehicle idles by, usually because idling in a low gear is about as fast as we can transit the bumps!

Generally however if you initiate a wave, you’re sure to be met in kind.  Most teahouses are strictly men only but there are a few that allow both sexes and the best way to locate them is to observe the clientele. If you’re used to patronising any and all establishments without considering whether your X or Y, then it takes a little getting used to.

As we descended south, the temperature was increasing rapidly. Most days pushed 40 degrees, never a pleasant temperature for travelling. We were heading toward the Gallipoli Peninsula, but with quite a few kms still to travel, we received our first view of the Aegean Sea.  It was so inviting, that a camp had to be found forthwith. We wandered around coastal roads and tracks for a while before locating a great site, slightly elevated, granting us views over the sea toward the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Quite a Moonrise...

Quite a Moonrise…

Camping Bliss!

Camping Bliss! The Aegean Sea..

I was saddened immediately, however, to see that other than in the tourist areas, we were back to a landscape littered with refuse. The same lack of regard for the environment that we continually come into contact with in many far eastern countries and it continues all the way to the Bering Straight.  I can’t understand how you can pollute your countryside with refuse and then sit amongst the decay whilst camping and swimming as if it’s normal behavior! It’s not normal behavior.

IMG_1023 Anyway, enough of the negative, it was a Friday night when we camped and it was obviously a locals camping area so we weren’t really surprised when we were all but inundated with locals the following day. What did surprise us however was that they started arriving at around 4:30am! Headlights darting around and voices carrying in the cool morning air as hopeful campers sought out a cosy site.

Now we’ve experienced call to prayer numerous times, but whilst camped was a first for us. 5am and our new camp buddies were performing their duties alongside their tent. Fortunately, the singing that always accompanies these rituals was pleasing to the ear and whoever the singer was, had the voice for it. It’s certainly not always the case.  There have been times when I’ve been sure that a cat was being strangled with it’s little face pressed to a microphone.

A steady influx of locals persisted the whole of Saturday.  I felt a little guilty a few times when keen campers wandered over to our nicely concealed spot, hoping to secure their favourite and best campsite, only to find a foreigner in it!

However with inquisitive Turks making conversation with us, we soon felt at home.  Shortly, we were being offered coffee and with maps laid out, our journey was being planned for us by proud locals.

3 nights drifted by before we acquiesced to the urge to move on.  Feeling thoroughly relaxed but requiring some new stimuli, we made for Gallipoli!

IMG_1030As such a focal point for Australians and New Zealanders, it’s one of those places that will pull at your heartstrings and we were no different!

Famous Sphinx Landmark at North Beach

Famous Sphinx landmark at North Beach

Ari Burnu Cemetary

Ari Burnu Cemetery

Getting ready for the 100yr Remembrance at Lone Pine Memorial

Preparations for the 100yr remembrance at Lone Pine Memorial on 6th August

Interesting story on the plaque...

Interesting story on the plaque…

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Anzac Cove

Anzac Cove

What to make of it all – there are many facets to the conflict and a lot of research is required in an attempt to understand the events of 100 years ago. From the challenges of navigation with the technology available a century ago to the operational decisions that would consummate the outcome for so many allied and Turkish troops. The list of obstacles goes on and eventually became insurmountable.

Terrain above Anzac Cove and North Beach

Terrain above Anzac Cove and North Beach

I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to delve into the horrible events that sculpted the Gallipoli saga and dig to a depth that suits your appetite.

Our campsite looking across the bay to Anzac Cove

Our campsite looking across the bay to Anzac Cove

Leaving the Gallipoli Peninsula, we boarded a car ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara, where a young girl, her family spurring her on and watching from a distance, approached Jen!  She gave us some lovely fruit whilst sporting a nervous smile before striding back to her family!  Jen sought her out later in the voyage and presented her with a small gift from Australia.  It would be the same welcome for us at every stop!

We were now in the town of Canukkale with its hustle and bustle, colours and smells! Manic traffic and road rules I’m still no closer to understanding.  But teamed with a very warm and relaxed atmosphere, we were starting to really appreciate Turkey and knew we would be staying a while…

Troia (Troy) Archaeological site

Troia (Troy) Archaeological site

We made a visit to the archaeological site of Troy (Troia) and a wander here provided our first taste of Roman ruins. Whilst a very old Roman site boasting history back to 3000BC, the site generally is very much a site of Roman “ruins” compared to other sites in Turkey, which have either survived in a more intact state or had a considerable amount of restoration work carried out.IMG_1115 IMG_1126

There is also a tendency to push the Trojan horse story which is a complete myth, but if it gets the punters in, then why not!

Just a myth!!

The Original????

Upon returning to the Patrol, we found a Land Rover 90 and trailer parked alongside with, would you believe, New Zealand plates!

We waited a while until Ray emerged from his visit to the site. He had travelled up from Singapore and across China into Kyrgyzstan so we had a lot to chat about.  We headed off together in search of a campsite and eventually found a reasonable site by the Aegean where we were again the focus of local inquisition. All eyes were upon us both as we made our way in and out of the local’s camps looking for a suitable location.

Ray fro NZ!

Ray from NZ!

The larger challenge was finding a spot not completely paved with wet wipes and nappies! Yep – it can be as much fun as it sounds at times, this overlanding caper!!

IMG_1155 Eventually with a suitable site located and roof popped, we had our first visitor! After the first brave local had enjoyed a brief tour of the camper and returned to his kin uninjured, others rapidly descended upon us in order to satisfy their curiosity!

Another family passed by and an invitation via their daughter, whom spoke English very well, was delivered.  “Would we join them for some tea?” – an invitation eagerly accepted!

After a quick swim to cool off, we wandered over for some Turkish hospitality, and it was all of that. Tea was quickly dispensed and tasty treats served for us to enjoy. And tasty they were – Sarna, which are like Greek dolmates, and a dessert that I have no idea how to describe other than to say it was delicious. We spent some time chatting about our travels and Australia whilst delving into Turkish life!

Lovely Hospitality

Lovely Hospitality

Suddenly, as is often the case when you’re engrossed in your surrounds, the day began to wither and it was getting a little dark.  The swarming mosquitoes descended upon us in numbers rarely experienced and only then did we find out these people had a 100km drive back to their village! Presented with some melons we departed company to waves and smiles as these lovely people set off on the long drive home.

After a late night swapping travel stories and munching on massive, locally grown tomatoes, which were just unbelievably good, we said our farewells to Ray.  He was heading north for a rendezvous in Budapest whilst we were to continue our exploration of this country.

Travelling Turkey’s south and west coast, you rapidly find yourself amongst resorts and hotels.  A little like Bulgaria’s Black Sea tourist strip but sporting lovely blue waters in contrast to the rather cloudy estuary that is the Black Sea. Amazing tourist complexes fall over each other in pursuit of your patronage, touts pushing brochures through your windows at every set of traffic lights. Private beach after private beach loaded with umbrellas and deck chairs, the package holiday is no doubt King along this coast!

Giant heads are always popular!!

Giant heads are always popular!!

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Campsites were harder to obtain along this section but with a little map reading and perseverance; we always managed a reasonable site. The official campsites along this coastal strip leave little to be desired.  I’d rather sleep in the cab than partake in a cramped site with all but no sanitation.

No doubt Turkey is a popular destination and transit route for avid overlanders, the first give away being that we are now seeing some form of 4×4 camper on an almost daily basis, not to mention motorcycle travellers, of which there are many.  One of our camps found us alongside the sea within a grove of ancient olive trees overlooking a kite surfing club and as I was coming to the end of my first beer I heard a vehicle approaching from behind.  A quick snap of the head and there sat a Land Rover 130 with distinctive French license plates! Doesn’t seem to matter where you’re from, if you’ve a passion for 4×4 travel, then we seem to use the same powers of deduction in order to locate a home for the night.

Skander and Veronique

Skander and Veronique

Skander, Veronique and children were coming toward the end of a 5 week journey and we soon learnt that Skander is a camper manufacturer in France making for some great discussions regarding styles in Europe and so on.

Although camping by themselves, they were expecting to be joined by a friend later on that evening.  That turned out to be about 11:30pm. I think their friend may have become a little lost – he also got a little bogged on the muddy beach.  Fortunately there was no real tidal movement, as he stayed where he was, vacuumed into the mud, until mid-morning when with help from Skander they extricated the stricken Hilux.  I offered some assistance in the form of watching and taking photos, which I think, was appreciated!

IMG_1190Hopefully we will have more to say about these adventurous travellers in the near future, as we hope to meet them again at their home near Narbonne in the South of France.

With a list of Roman sites of world renown, Turkey has been gifted some outstanding attractions. The following days were spent visiting some of these sites. The majesty of these cities, created with such vision and outstanding craftsmanship really has the capacity to leave you grasping for answers as to how they managed it all.

IMG_1172The Pergamon Acropolis was first, closely followed by the nearby Asklepieion, an ancient Roman Hospital and place of healing – just amazing.

Pergamon

Pergamon

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Early Roman Hospital Ruins

Early Roman Hospital Ruins

Circular Healing Centre

Circular Healing Centre

Maybe worried she might catch some ancient disease??

Maybe worried she might catch some ancient disease??

Ephesus (Efes) was next and without doubt the stand out! A true insight into what a grand vision the Romans had and the engineering they managed to accomplish so long ago.

Celsus Library at Ephesus

Celsus Library at Ephesus

Roman Road

Roman Road

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Everybody loves a toilet photo

Everybody loves a toilet photo

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Roman Amphitheatres are everywhere

Terrace Houses Complex

Terrace Houses Complex

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Incredible mosaics

Incredible mosaics

Preparing to leave the Ephesus car park, we spotted four French 4×4’s! A quick chat regarding any campsite locations they may know of close by, didn’t reveal anything.

Fortunately, we had a location in mind that Skander had used and had it loaded into the GPS. We quickly fell into convoy with the French 4×4’s although purely by chance, as, slowly it appeared as if we were more than likely making for the same area! I’d have loved to have heard their UHF chatter as they were being followed by some Australians around every corner and bend!

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Yes – we ended up at the same location with wall to wall locals parked along a stretch of beach! If only I could transport the smells, charcoal smoke, the music mosquitos and fireworks. The squatting in the bush and not to forget the ever-friendly smiles and waves! AHHHH Turkey.

Camping Turkish Style!

Camping Turkish Style!

 

Cheers Justin.

Turning Back the Clock!

As expected, the driving standard began its inevitable decline as it does the further southeast that you travel in Europe – manic overtaking that I won’t even attempt to describe – you really have to experience the driving idiocy to believe it.  It’s always a good idea to have horse drawn carts and 1930’s style, 2 stroke carts sporting top speeds of maybe 30kph on skinny highways that almost seem as if they were designed with suspension repair specialists in mind. With more craters in some of these roads than on the surface of the moon and speed limits of 130kph at times, it’s difficult to understand why accidents happen!

Road Hazards

Road Hazards

Hmmm... Nice

Hmmm…

Quality Roads

Quality Roads

Making our way off the very poorly maintained and dilapidated blacktop and away from the local kamikaze drivers for a spell, we hit the dirt and by late afternoon we found our way up a lovely and heavily forested valley into a campsite right alongside a small creek where we spent 2 nights decompressing after the fairly consistent road travel of the last few weeks.

Our lovely Creek Camp

Our lovely Creek Camp

Romania laid it on for us over the coming days – beautiful mountains with lovely panoramic views and snaking dirt roads with a few, very overgrown tracks requiring 4×4 and some persistence in order to do a little exploring.

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Mountain Panorama from our camp

What you'll do for a level camp when the view is that good!!!

What you’ll do for a level camp when the view is that good!!!

Smiles and waves were again the order of the day and it reminded us of the friendliness shown to us by the people of the “Stan’s”. Well, other than the traffic police in Kazakhstan that is!  So reminiscent of Central Asia in so many ways… The people just seem to have such a friendly nature about them and will react quickly with a friendly greeting, a theme that was set to continue for some time.

Friendly Local, Burtic Gheorge, played some music

Friendly Local, Burtic Gheorge, played some music

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Finding campsites isn’t all that difficult, but even when you crawl along an overgrown track in low range that doesn’t look as if it’s been driven in ten years, your unlikely to be alone. Of the ten or so nights we spent camped in Romania, only 2 campsites were free of local visitation.

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Usually beginning with the faint sound of a cowbell, before culminating in a herd of cows or flock of sheep along with a lonely shepherd wandering up to our car for a chat and handshake.

Regular Visitors

Regular Visitors

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At our first nights camp in Romania, a horse drawn cart passed within meters of us at 1am on a moonless night.  You couldn’t even see your own nose it was so dark! But we could hear the singing reins-man along with the distinct noise of his steed’s shoes and cart’s timber wheels as he trundled by.  Had it not been for the small creek between his path and our camp, we’d have definitely found ourselves enjoying an encounter with a very confused local.

Another night, we wandered along a disused track and then deviated onto a feint set of wheel tracks into a nicely forested area but still managed to have a vehicle’s headlights and hand-held green spotlight sweep across our camp around midnight. After a while we no longer bothered trying to camp incognito, when we camped within view of a village on one occasion, no one came near us!  Maybe we need a rethink!

Happy Campers

Happy Campers

Feeling quite relaxed!

Feeling quite relaxed!

Continuing through the Apuseni National Park we managed to stumble across a tourist information building containing some really helpful Ranger folk! We were very excited, as finding tourist information on the run can be all but impossible.

Park Rangers

Really Helpful Park Rangers

Anyway we were keen to have a look at some of the caves in the area, as they are reportedly some of the best in Europe, although every country seems more than happy to portray itself as the region of greatest natural beauty and generally being blessed to such a degree that you’ve no real need to visit any other country anywhere else on Earth… but we will visit them anyway!

Anyway, we gleaned some info and finally a small tourist map and set off in the direction of the Ice Cave, which is apparently on the Romanian must do list.

I’ll not even going to attempt to describe the experience other than to point out that it was our only visit to an official site in the area.

Hopefully some of the photos will put you there with us.

A one man show! After waiting 35mins, Indiana Jones emerged from the cave to sell the waiting crowd tickets then accompany us all into the cave, waited while we looked then followed us out!

A one man show! After waiting 35mins, Indiana Jones emerged from the cave to sell the waiting crowd tickets then accompany us all into the cave, waited while we looked then followed us out!

Not really that spectacular but cooler than above ground!

Not really that spectacular but colder than above ground!

Infrastructure way past it's use by date!

Infrastructure way past it’s use by date!

A nearby hotel trying to attract Australian customers perhaps??

A nearby hotel trying to attract Australian customers perhaps??

The drive out however was stunning; it’s a loop road and travels out through a long narrow gorge!

Gorge Drive in Apuseni National park

Fantastic Gorge Drive in Apuseni National park

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We then made for Sighisoira, where, upon our arrival, we found parking to be all but impossible due to the annual medieval festival.  With a little tenacity from Jen who sweet-talked a parking attendant, we managed to park right in the centre in a fenced off area.

A standout town in Romania and birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the oldest part is perched along the side of a hill, which makes for lots of quite steep, cobbled stone steps. The whole setting provides interesting vistas across sections of the old and new city from varying levels.

Sighisoira

Sighisoira

Medieval Festival Talent

Medieval Festival Talent

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A stage had been erected in the main town square and whilst the band was in preparation mode, the background music they had playing was excellent so Jen set herself another task – find out what it was?  She located the sound-mixing guy and he told her it was his own iPod mix and if she had a thumb drive, he could copy it.  Ever efficient, Jen produced a thumb drive from her Aladdin’s cave bag to the stunned looks of the music guy and myself and ten minutes later and we departed with his complete collection of Romanian Folk music.

Very helpful sound engineer

Very helpful sound engineer

A few hours later and a few kilograms lighter due to the oppressive heat, we were back in the aircon and on the road.   It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and that certainly applies to me! Finding a track on the map that looked as if it would get us further south we persisted well past the point of no return and ended up camped in a small pocket of forest amidst some small farms and logging communities. I only mention it as the following morning we were visited by one of the confused locals who wanted to point out that we weren’t allowed to camp in the area, as it is “Protected Area Naturale!” He was most friendly and more interested in the Patrol than pushing the point but I had to laugh as once again we find ourselves in an area being heavily logged and bombarded with livestock whilst sporting a nice selection of rubbish and yet to the locals its all about nature! Now I’m the confused one….

The following day saw us visit Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) amongst other destinations. I guess you can’t really visit this country without paying homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I think the castle may be pulling in a good portion of Romania’s GDP given the amount of tourists. It was nice, however, to see China getting it’s fair share in form of remuneration for all of the amazing plastic junk that you can produce and apparently sell to tourists. Too much for us though, so we quickly had the blood sucker’s home in our rear view mirror.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle

Tourist trap!

Tourist trap!

Demand for stuffed bears at Dracula's Castle was obviously peaking!!

Demand for stuffed bears at Dracula’s Castle was obviously peaking!! Or should that be Peking??

 

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Viscri Fortified Church – well worth the detour!

Not so sure about the Hollywood style signage - tourist tack!!

Not so sure about the Hollywood style signage at Rasnov Fortress – tourist tack!!

Peles Castle

Peles Castle

Like the security seal on the Door?

Interesting security seal on the Door…

Now finding ourselves caught in a massive traffic jam, I’d eventually had enough and cold beer and a campsite were calling.  We darted off the highway and up a valley that looked as if it had potential and were suddenly met with a toll-booth and an enthusiastic attendant. “Welcome – Area Naturale” spilled forth! Here we go again, but we’d had enough of driving, so a few dollars parted with and we began our run up the valley where apparently you can camp anywhere you like for the next 4 km! He forgot to mention that the next 4 km had a camping population density of 1 person per square metre. It was unbelievable and really had us laughing as we cruised past all manner of humpy structures through to caravans and tents coated in a nice layer of dust from the continuous stream of speeding cars.

Area Naturale!!!!

Area Naturale!!!!

Thank God for 4×4!  Up into the forest and we managed a reasonable camp perched high above the throng of locals.  It did the job and was an experience – wild/feral dogs included!

They kept promising Bears but none were delivered!!

They kept promising Bears but none were delivered!!

Onward through Bucharest, we headed for the Bulgarian border, where we paid a 6 Euro toll to cross a bridge over the Danube in order to enter Bulgaria – a bridge that I drove across in low range.  Should give you an idea of how bumpy it was and how slow the traffic was moving!

Tight fit for some!

Tight fit for some!

IMG_0994A consistent decline in the standard of infrastructure was now even more apparent as we made our way through open farmland and from small village to small village.  If Romania reminded us of the “Stan’s”, then Bulgaria was parts of Eastern Russia!  Even down to the return of Cyrillic characters and a 90% Russian language.  Soviet style apartment blocks in varying states of decay, farmers still using horses and carts and locals collecting water at the town well.

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I’m sure this looked good when it was built….

Serious Decay

Serious Decay

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Collecting water like the locals

Collecting water like the locals

A candidate for Grand Designs Bulgaria!

A candidate for Grand Designs Bulgaria!

Very hot temperatures had helped us choose a course and a swim in the Black Sea was extremely alluring.  The reality of Bulgaria doesn’t exist along this coast. With an airport at either end of the tourist strip and a sudden dramatic improvement in both road and general infrastructure, hotels and theme parks are the God’s here. Tourists enjoying a spot of relaxation and spending their days in the small towns that only exist to serve their every need and remove a little currency from them, of course.

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Restaurants…

Costa Bulgaria!!

Costa Bulgaria!!

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Historic Nesebar

Historic Nesebar

The average traveller in this area could be forgiven for having no real understanding of this country and is actually blinkered into a false experience by its very design. But if you’re after a few cheap days by the sea it certainly has that in store for you.

Coastal Camping Bulgarian Style

Coastal Camping Bulgarian Style outside the tourist zone

Somehow we managed to locate a great campsite right between 2 resorts, which allowed magnificent views along the coast and over the sea. With a little bit of mountain climbing we were able to enjoy our first salt water swim for some time and it was marvellous. Nothing quite like soaking in the sea to help bring down your core temperature.

View from our Camp

View from our Camp

Black Sea Sunset from another camp

Black Sea Sunset from another camp

Continuing south and not more than a few kms past the most southern airport exit along the resort strip, the nice black top again morphed into the style of dilapidated road that we are so accustomed to.  At one point during our journey toward the Turkish border I considered the fact that we may be on the wrong road even though I knew this not to be the case.  It was hard to believe that this overgrown strip of bumps and potholes could possibly lead to an international border crossing.

Cheers – Justin

Ps: every time we publish a post I find myself waiting with baited breath and tingling with excitement at the prospect of opening my email and finding I’ve been blessed with another witty retort from Rebecca! Truly Bec, I enjoy your mind-bending responses almost as much as I enjoy writing these posts! Keep ‘em coming.

Berlin and Beyond

Before I get into this update, I realised that “Tales from the Fjords” lacked one anecdote that we thought was worth a mention.

Whilst wild-camping in Norway is well accepted, it seems some locals felt that our presence with Erik and Mieke in the forest on one occasion, was damaging their calm!  It would seem that while we were sleeping, an industrious local took it upon himself to break out his tractor and drag a heavy log across our exit path.  Of course this provided us with much amusement and made good use of the recovery gear that we have been toting all over the world.  Erik left a nice note and we went on our way.

Recovery Gear getting some use!

Recovery Gear getting some use!

IMG_9545 2So now back to Denmark…….

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Another ferry and we were back in Denmark. With rapidly warming weather it seemed the Danish population, starved for a dose of UV, had descended on the coast like a swarm of midges.

Mind you the noticeable lack of clothing on some of the sun, sea and sand-seeking participants quickly dissolved any thoughts of annoying traffic and too many people.

Meandering south we made our way into Copenhagen.  The following day we were rewarded with a leisurely stroll around the lovely city whilst soaking in it’s atmosphere.  Certainly one of the highlights was Nyhaven – similar in character to the old waterfront of Bergen in Norway.

Nyhaven

Nyhaven

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Gotta Love the Selfish Stick!

Gotta Love the Selfish Stick!

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No prize for guessing what this is!

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Apparently they have priority seating for Astronauts on Copenhagen buses????

Gedser on the southeastern tip of Denmark was our next destination, where we would catch yet another car ferry back to Germany. We made a slight detour for lunch and were fortunate to meet a lovely German couple also partaking in a snack. As it turned out they’d spotted our Patrol earlier in the day and couldn’t resist saying hello now that we’d ended up in the same rest stop. Phillip and Bianca were also heading for the car ferry for the return journey to their home in Berlin. We ended up spending most of the 2 hour crossing in their company enjoying some great conversation.

Issued with an invitation to stay with them for a few days in Berlin we couldn’t believe our luck once again. With plans in motion to meet up the following day we both went our separate ways.

The ideology of staying off the motorways where possible was again reinforced on our run toward the capital. Small villages pepper the former East German countryside and the opportunity to soak up a little of the landscape provided us with a rewarding day of travel and a great campsite. It was here that we spotted an unusual animal, which, to us, looked a little like a mongoose and appeared to be about a meter long from tip to tail. As we found out later it’s known as a Pine Marten and they are relatively common.  Like possums, they apparently invade roof spaces but also have a taste for car brake lines!

Pine Marten

Pine Marten (Courtesy of the internet)

Camping in the German Forest

Camping in the German Forest

We also saw the three little wild pigs!

We also saw the three little wild pigs!

Many of the smaller German villages are well worth the detour; Plou am See was an outstanding example. Canal boats waiting their turn to navigate the lochs in order to continue their onward water born explorations and lovely little shops and restaurants nestled along cobbled streets amongst historic buildings.

Plou am See Canal

Plou am See Canal

Cobbled Streets

Cobbled Streets

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Some a little more run down

Some a little more run down…

IMG_0047It has to be said though, that all villages obviously don’t share the same level of loving care.  There is no shortage of villages with abandoned buildings and terribly run down relics from a time gone by.

After navigating the maze of traffic into Berlin, we arrived at our new friend’s address and were immediately rewarded with a cold glass of Champagne and a marvellous home cooked meal prepared by Bianca.  Phillip has a love of red wine and this proved to be fortunate as Jen and I were finally able to glean some insight into what labels to look for as we keep our camper cellar stocked. (Yes we have a small wine storage area – keeps us liking each other….)

interesting reaction when violet syrup is mixed with champagne - no more purple!

interesting reaction when violet syrup is mixed with champagne – no more purple!

Berlin, as with all cities, has it’s own character.  It’s very flat and quite vast – a mix of modern and contemporary buildings, attractive suburban green areas mixed with some drab, depressing urban landscapes.   To me it didn’t really feel as if it had a centre where you could connect with its pulse. It felt more like a city comprised of a composite of styles and ideas.

Reichstad

Reichstad Building

German Parliament

German Parliament

Train station

Train station in a wealthier area

Near Alexanderplatz

Near Alexanderplatz

Berlin Skyline

Berlin Skyline

But history is the obvious and overwhelming factor in a visit to this metropolis and on this front it definitely has a story to tell.

The famous East German Car for the people - the Trabant

The famous East German Car for the people – the Trabant

From the Brandenburg gate to Checkpoint Charlie along with everything in-between, we hit the pavement and the trains, ending the day feeling quite content with our explorations of Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Original Section of the Berlin Wall

Original Section of the Berlin Wall

East Berlin side of the WallEast Berlin side of the Wall

"The Lipstick" Church all but destroyed during the war and left as a silent monument

“The Lipstick” Church all but destroyed during the war and left as a silent monument

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We were very fortunate to meet such a lovely couple and departed their wonderful hospitality feeling rejuvenated and with a much deeper understanding of Germany, it’s people and it’s history.

Arriving in Dresden we were struck by the graceful architecture of the old city.  You’re constantly met by interesting views along streets and into open spaces and strangely, we seemed to have the roads almost to ourselves! We noticed lots of barriers along the roadside with people beginning to queue along the sidewalk. Something was obviously about to happen!

Somehow we managed pop star parking and exited the Patrol just as the roads were closed and the excitement began.  It turned out that an American Car Club was parading along those same streets that we’d just driven. Standing and watching with some locals we were expecting to see Barack Obama with the level of interest on display from the spectators. A long convoy of vehicles of all shapes and sizes began to drift past in the company of a police escort; some wonderfully restored American classics mixed with some very average streetcars! All in all, I wasn’t overly taken with the spectacle but nonetheless the vibe along the street was outstanding.

Where is Obama?

Where is Obama?

Apparently size matters!!

Apparently size matters!!

Dresden Architecture

Dresden Architecture

Interesting sights everywhere

Interesting sights everywhere

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Dresden had been fairly well razed to the ground during WW2 before being completely rebuilt and it’s interesting to note that many of the buildings were rebuilt using the original materials where possible. With the discolouration and damage to the old sections standing right alongside the replacement pieces it’s quite breathtaking realising the amount of work that has gone into recreating this city.

IMG_0163Of course, its also another somber insight into mans failings. The futility in destroying such beautiful creations only to rebuild them then let time pass by and forget why it happened at all. Once enough time passes and we forget completely we proceed in doing it all again….

Slovakia next for a rendezvous at Terry’s house where the previous year we’d spent a few days. The drive was surprisingly picturesque as we followed the course of the River Elbe across the Czech Republic and passed long stretches of exposed cliffs jutting skyward through the intense green of the forest. Detouring here and there away from the river whilst looking for a campsite you quickly realise that the river is the lifeblood of the area.

Travelling the river Elbe

Travelling the river Elbe

The moment you find yourself a few km’s from the rivers course, you’re met with small villages that really seem to be doing it tough.  Obviously constructed during the Socialist years, we’ve seen identical examples of these buildings all across Eastern Europe and right across Russia. Whenever you choose the road less travelled you’ll be in the company of such structures throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. Broken windows and failing structures that don’t appear to have seen any form of maintenance since the day they were erected, often appearing as if they are long past being condemned and yet for the most part they are still occupied. Potholed and damaged roads are the norm; pretty much completely dilapidated infrastructure.

Dilapidated but still lived in...

Dilapidated but still lived in…

Dilapidated but still worked in…

But the church is always magnificent!

But the church is always magnificent!

Arriving back in Slovakia it was to be a short but very relaxing 2 night stay at Terry’s as the ever mounting Schengen Visa pressure meant that I really needed to exit the zone fairly soon.

Clean linen and clothing on board (it’s the little things that get us excited), we headed toward Hungary.  Crossing over the Danube at Esztergom it was easy to see why the Danube cruise boats stop at this town. With its interesting old city and stunning Basilica overlooking the goings on below from its rocky perch, it was a nice introduction to this country.

Basilica in Esztergom

Basilica in Esztergom

Old town EsztergomOld town Esztergom

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The drive from the border was not one of the most attractive to date with long stretches of pale dusty landscape, the odd swathe of scrubby trees and large acreage under farm management.  It was rather easy to while away the km’s in the air-conditioned comfort listening to the stereo!

Arriving at Camping Haller in central Budapest, we hoped to find a space as I’d had enough of the city traffic. Fortunately they were able to fit us in; obviously we weren’t the only ones that they were just able to fit in as it was absolutely packed.

Camping Haller

Camping Haller

With close access to the city and very hot weather, we decided to spend the cool of the early evening taking in the sights. Very picturesque and easy pedestrian exploration made for an enjoyable visit.  The relaxed locals and lovely green open spaces give the whole place a relaxed and friendly feel.

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Hungarian Parliament Building by day

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Time passed easily as we enjoyed the city’s change in character as the sun slid below the horizon and it morphed from daytime to night and everything seemed to come alive.

Hungarian Parliament Buildings

Hungarian Parliament Buildings by night

Whilst at the campground, we met a couple that had shipped their Toyota Prado from South Africa. They’d been exploring Southern Europe and were now heading toward Nord Capp before turning around and making the long run south via the West Africa route back to their home near Durban. It was nice chatting to some like-minded travellers, as it had been quite a while since we’d met anyone on a similar journey as ourselves. Their website is cape2nordkapp.blogspot.com if you feel like checking out what they are up to. It’s in Dutch though, just to make it a challenge for us English speakers!!

IMG_0347 IMG_0345A late morning departure and with more hot weather soaking a flat and uninteresting landscape, it once again made it easy to get up a few km’s.  By 4pm we had driven into Oradea and out of the Schengen Zone and negotiated our first border crossing for a long time to find ourselves in Romania.

Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey coming soon.

Justin and Jen.

 

 

 

 

 

Tales from the Fjords

Watching Denmark slip away as the ferry departed for Norway, you could have been forgiven for mistakenly thinking you were off the South West coast of Western Australia – long stretches of beach sand with low scrubby vegetation sporting all the same greyish salt drenched colours.

Departing Hirtshals, Denmark

Departing Hirtshals, Denmark

Arriving in Kristiansand in Norway, however, was an entirely different matter. It was pretty obvious straight up that the topography had changed dramatically. Rough granite fingers slipping into the sea and rapidly disappearing beneath the inky dark waters was an indicator of the grandeur to come.

Arriving Kristiansand, Norway 3.5 hours later

Arriving Kristiansand, Norway 3.5 hours later

Norway is unique in so many ways and it’s very expensive! But you’re aware of that and prepared for it before you arrive. The savvy shopper can exit the supermarket with a reasonably priced hoard of treats but fill your basket willy-nilly and I guarantee you’ll need a Valium at the checkout when you do the conversion! (Erik)

On the bright side however you’re able to free camp all over the country, although some effort may be required to find a suitable location at times. Fuel is also reasonably priced compared to the UK but dearer than the rest of the EU.

River Camping

River Camping

One of our free campsites - waterfall included!!!

One of our free campsites – waterfall included!!!

In short if you have your own car and accommodation in the form of a motorhome, along with cooking facilities, Norway can be very affordable. If you fly in and pay for a hire car along with accommodation and all of your meals, be them purchased from a street café or restaurant, then make sure your VISA card is ready for a hard workout! After a fish market serve of fish and chips at $AUD28 each and small coffees at  $AUD7 each, you will find you’re eating less!! Not to mention cans of beer at the supermarket costing an average of $AUD5 each!!

Coffee Menu

Coffee Menu (Divide By 6 for $AUD)

For me however this country is unique in the fact that it delivers the moment you hit the ground, you don’t have to drive any distance at all and you’re in the thick of it.

Off the ferry and you’re into dense green forest before meeting your first fjord.

10 mins from the ferry!

10 mins from the ferry!

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First waterfall sightings!

Powerful waterfalls

Powerful waterfalls

Traditional Architecture

Traditional Architecture

The grandeur of these amazing waterways is difficult to describe in a manner that could even remotely convey their beauty. The panorama before you is so vast and expansive with mountains shooting skywards in excess of a 1000mtrs then changing to lush green forest from the stark white of snow laden ridges on each side of a narrow dark fjord as it snakes it’s way toward the ocean!! You can only marvel at the immensity of it all.

Awesome Scenery

Awesome Scenery

The picture is so grand and overwhelming that it appears to shrink away, becoming like a post card in some ways! I guess it’s the only way that you’re brain can take in such a vast kaleidoscope of scenery.

Postcard Style

Postcard Style

We spent 3 weeks in Norway and managed a free camp every night, generally next to a waterfall or on the banks of a Fjord or some other stunning location. We did however have 1 very average camp along the side of a main road; we weren’t alone however as 2 others shared the roadside bay with us! But it was still on a Fjord!!!

Desperation Camp

Desperation Camp

Days spent driving high up over snow covered mountain passes void of trees and loaded with snow at times up to 7m high along the roadside only to descend back below the freeze into another valley containing pristine waterways and spectacular scenery.

A bit of Snow!!!

A bit of Snow!!!

More Snow

More Snow

and some more....

and some more….

Waterfalls descending hundreds of feet from reservoirs of snowmelt litter the mountains.  Often there are so many of these natural beauties that it is all but impossible to count how many you may see in a 5-minute period.

Voringfossen Waterfalls

Voringfossen Waterfalls

These don't even have names!!

These don’t even have names!!

and yet another waterfall!!!

and yet another waterfall!!!

The Norwegians have a talent for engineering and conquering nature with rough-hewn tunnels through amazing mountain ranges in order to facilitate free movement between small villages that would otherwise be totally isolated from each other.

Tunnels

TunnelsTunnels...Tunnels…

and more tunnels...

and more tunnels…

We’ve driven the longest land tunnel in the world at some 24.5km in length. Thinking of the 1500mtrs of solid granite above you as you pass through it’s belly makes you hope for a continuation of stable geology which Norway is obviously blessed with.  They have even constructed roundabouts in some of the tunnels and Y junctions in others just to prove they can, Amazing!

Laerdals Tunnel

Laerdals Tunnel

There are however a lot of tourists! Should you target the obvious scenic routes, then you need to be prepared to share with a plethora of others.  I don’t tend to enjoy spending time amongst hoards of tourists but a necessary evil it is for us; after all we are also tourists wanting to enjoy the spectacle of such natural beauty so it’s a little rich to expect an individual experience!

Tourists everywhere!!

Tourists everywhere!!

I do however love watching different nationalities behave in different ways when in groups or on a time limit. I just love it when someone walks in front of me wearing a mask and Darth Vader style sun bonnet just as I’m taking an obvious photo!  The glazed look in their eyes as they hold their selfie stick(also known as a selfish stick! haha) and record themselves for prosperity does get the better of me after a while!

Darth Vader?

Darth Vader?

????

???? The Picture says it really!

Timing has a lot to do with how your experience plays out at many of the promoted sights, if your fortunate enough to slip in between tour coach visits then it’s a far more relaxing experience.

Arriving in Geiranger, we managed a camp just out of town. It was a disused quarry and not overly attractive but in a great location. Quite often we can find a campsite within an area already inundated with motorhomes as there is generally a free campsite that is only accessible to either 4×4 or high clearance vehicles almost as if it’s been prepared and left vacant just for us!

Geiranger RV Park

Geiranger RV Park

Our Geiranger Camp

Our Geiranger Camp

That's our quarry spot at the base of the hill right on the Geiranger Fjord

That’s our quarry spot at the base of the hill right on the Geiranger Fjord

The following morning we were greeted with the spectacle of 2 cruise liners moored within the harbour disembarking somewhere in the order of 3000 visitors, at a guess, into the tiny hamlet. Tour coaches and souvenir shops moving into melt down phase as they make hay whilst the sun shines so to speak! A great boost to the local economy no doubt!

Cruise Ships in Port

Cruise Ships in Port

 

Geiranger Fjord

Geiranger Fjord (you can still spot our camp!)

The more we see of this country the less we are bothered with planning.  It doesn’t seem to matter in which direction you point yourself – it’s unbelievable.

Mountain Scenery

Mountain Scenery

Pretty Buildings at 3AM

Pretty Buildings at 3AM

Old Church in Hov

Old Church in Hov

Viking Boats

Viking Boats

View from Camp

View from Camp

Gorges

Gorges

Sailing Ships

Sailing Ships

Rivers

Rivers

Snow Camps

Snow Camps

Forest Camps

Forest Camps

Old Timber Church in Lom

Old Timber Church in Lom

Carving on Church

Carving on Church

Midnight Sunsets

Midnight Sunsets

But No Moose!!! :((

But No Moose!!! :((

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Clear Water

Amazing Roads

Amazing Roads

We try and frequent the smaller roads as much as feasibly possible.  The scenery isn’t limited to the tourist drives but travelling the minor roads makes it yours, alone.

IMG_9587Whilst camped in the town of Kinsarvik, we spotted a Toyota Camry with Chinese number plates!  The occupants approached us with iPhone ready and Google translate loaded! They were looking for the car ferry loading area and, with the use of hand signals and our world map, we gleaned that they had driven north out of China in the trusty Camry and across Russia before entering Norway in the far north east, now heading onward south through Europe to the Mediterranean and back to China!

Chinese Overlanders

Chinese Overlanders

We’d just met our first Chinese overlanders!

We were really impressed!  A doona and some pillows on the back seat and a couple of suitcases in the boot seemed to be all these people had with them. I would like to have had a longer discussion with them but the language barrier along with imminent arrival of the car ferry wrapped up our interlude rather quickly. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo of them, just their car!

After seeing our journey on our map they indicated that we should come to China. For a foreign car to enter China you need a registered guide with you in you car and our first quote from a Chinese company providing this service was $AUD10,000 for 30 days + the guides expenses! You can shop it out or travel with other vehicles, which can reduce the fee dramatically, but it was outside our budget.

These Chinese overlanders, however, were unaware of this hurdle to international travellers and beyond language constraints to explain to them! It would seem that they have free unobstructed movement! Hmmm… not really sure why it’s all China’s way on this issue??? Hopefully the situation will become more equitable in the future and maybe we can put China on the list.

The city of Bergen was on our agenda and we arrived to find it just as stunning as we’d hoped, managing to street park only 100mtrs from the old Hanseatic Wharf which is the real highlight.

Old Hanseatic Wharf

Old Hanseatic Wharf

Bergen Harbour

 

Famous Bergen Fish Market

Famous Bergen Fish Market

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Bergen Streetview

Bergen Streetview

Incredible timber buildings resisting gravity and age by leaning on each other, small alleyways here and there beckoning you to explore them and little café’s and shops made wandering around rather relaxing. Harbour towns always seem to have a certain appeal….

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Bergen

Bergen

Since hitting the ground way back in Vladivostok we’ve not travelled with anyone else at any stage.  We have met like-minded travellers sporadically along the way but ours has been a solo effort.

Visiting Horses

Visiting Horses

IMG_9500For a few days in Norway however, we were keen to travel in convoy with Erik and Mieke from Adventure Trucks.  We’d been keeping in touch, as they were making their way north from the Netherlands via Kristiansand for a few weeks holiday.

Having travelled half way around the world it would seem that we have met 2 like-minded souls – Dutch versions of ourselves! We really had an awesome time with them, not to mention following another vehicle for a few days and not having to navigate, which provided us with a really nice break. After some very late nights, which are easily confused with days, as it doesn’t even get remotely dark at this time of year, we went our own ways – they to the south and our journey continued to the east. Hopefully we will meet up again and share some more travel experiences in the future.

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Erik and Mieke arriving in Vestnes!

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Awesome Mercedes 4×4 Camper!

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Still Daylight!!!

Still Daylight!!! No Flash Photography Here!!

Bockwurst sausages at 1AM

Bockwurst sausages at 1AM

Seriously we took this photo at 2AM - No Flash!!!

Seriously we took this photo at 2:12AM – No Flash!!!

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Twins!

Inside their camper

Inside their camper, Awesome fit out!

Famous Atlantic Highway

Famous Atlantic Highway

The best view of the Atlantic Highway but I can't take credit for it. It was in a tourist brochure and you have to be in a helicopter to see it!

The best view of the Atlantic Highway but I can’t take credit for it. It was in a tourist brochure and you have to be in a helicopter to see it!

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

Heading east toward Sweden and suddenly the mountains vanish, just like that! It really flattens out and more substantial farming becomes present. The weather is improving and I’ve even managed shorts, well only because my jeans were in the wash but I’ll claim it!

We pushed on and arrived in Stockholm in a couple of days, wow! A lovely City nestled amongst an archipelago of some 30,000 islands. Unfortunately we had to break our run of bush camps and campfire cooking and settled in for a couple of nights in a campground, nothing like noisy children and stereo’s to remind us why we like to camp on our own!

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Stockholm

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Nordisk Museum

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Old Town Stockholm - Tourist Central

Old Town Stockholm – Tourist Central

Justin the Viking

Justin the Viking

A little quieter

A little quieter…

There is a lot to see and do in this City, the old town is lovely with it’s cobbled streets and relaxed atmosphere and island location, but the must do is the Vasa Museum! A complete 17th Century war ship is the highlight, and it’s absolutely amazing! For me I’d have to say it’s the best Museum piece I’ve ever seen and it will be very hard to beat.

The "Vasa" built in 1628

The “Vasa” built in 1628

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With a myriad of back roads plotted into the sat-nav, we left Stockholm heading roughly for Copenhagen. The centre of Sweden is a camper’s paradise. Norway is by far the more stunning, but Sweden offers much more in the way of accessible forested areas due to its flatness, so if your vehicle based it’s relatively easy to find a suitable location.

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European Adder/Viper near camp

European Adder/Viper near camp

Much of Sweden is peppered with lakes from large to small. We spent 2 nights in a relaxing campsite on the banks of the massive fresh water Lake Vattern with the other side of the lake just a shimmer on the horizon. Boats and yachts were enjoying a dose of watersports for the weather has suddenly turned it on. As one Swedish girl remarked to Jen, summer has arrived like a bomb! An unusually long lasting spell of cold temperatures has certainly come to an abrupt end.

Our idyllic Lake Vattern Campsite

Our idyllic Lake Vattern Campsite

So we’ve been soaking up some sunshine whilst catching up on some maintenance on both the Patrol and ourselves.  And just for a laugh one evening we had ABBA playing on the iPod as we watched the moonrise!

Throughout both countries we’ve encountered amazingly well kept and picturesque villages.  In Norway, earth and grass is commonly used as a roofing material as it apparently provides excellent insulation and it gives a unique feel to the buildings there.

Hairy Hoose!!

Hairy Hoose!!

We’ve also encountered a few towns that are obviously suffering from a lack of maintenance and people for that matter, with broken windows and graffiti along with failing concrete infrastructure. There is just as large a contrast between socio-economic groups in these wealthy Scandinavian countries as anywhere else on planet Earth.  I suppose one of the most notable differences between the two countries, leaving out the topography for a moment is the friendliness of the people!

Not quite up with the Dutch, the Swedish were nearly always willing to engage. Sometimes just curious regarding our vehicle and travels or fortunately for us quite willing to help when we find ourselves totally confused in the supermarket or trying to buy fuel from a card only machine with no English.

The Norwegians on the other hand, well I’m not sure what they are like. Except for 2 bikers from Alesund who were really friendly, hardly anyone would engage with us! Quite unusual, maybe not unfriendly, but definitely standoffish!

 

Copenhagen and the run south next, until then!

 

 

 

Hollands Best Bloemstylist!

Arrival back in Europe

Arrival back in Europe

The overnight ferry slipped in past Hoek van Holland and we were back on European soil! How time flies!  It only seemed like yesterday that we’d departed. Heading north we observed amazing house after amazing house north of Den Haag, no shortage of money in that area. We had settled on Edam as our destination and spent a couple of nights in the area. If cheese is your thing, this part of Holland is the grail. Not to mention a gorgeous town to stroll about!

Cheese Shops

Cheese Shops

Canals

Canals

Clogs

Clogs

The historic fishing village of Volendam is only a few Kms away but 200 tour buses in the car park along with quantities of tourists following little coloured umbrellas around in numbers equaling that of a full blown colony of fire ants, took the edge off the charm a little.  Further along, Marken Island is advertised as where you can observe clogs being made in the traditional method! Hmmm, a fully automated modern CNC wood lathe wasn’t quite what I had in mind! Both places interesting but Edam took the prize! IMG_8610 2 Nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit, although I’d have to say much of it was spent people watching, rather than soaking up the locations! Amsterdam.  Well, if you’ve been then you know what it’s all about. A fascinating mix of old buildings slowly and steadily sinking into the soil, angled windows and twisted facades, it really is a one of a kind. A city criss-crossed with Canals  and of course the coffee shops!

Iconic Amsterdam

Iconic Amsterdam

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So many Bicycles!!!

So many Bicycles!!!Clog BikeClog Bike

Smoke bellowing out of any small crack or window in plumes reminiscent of ground zero during the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Seriously there were a couple of moments when I thought I was in a Cheech and Chong movie – people walking around with their chosen variety of plant rolled into something reminiscent of a cone of kitchen towel!  They were all smiling and the odd one looked rather dazed so maybe they have the right idea, hmmm? IMG_8661 2 IMG_8669 2 IMG_8691 2

What happens when you lose a bet!!

What happens when you lose a bet!!

As the clock ticked into the late afternoon the windows were filled with the ladies of the night, beckoning you forward should you make eye contact with the lure of their scantily clad bodies and no doubt skillful emptying of your wallet! Wandering around this metropolis really is something I suggest you submit yourself too at some stage if you’ve not already.

Ahhh - Tulips!

Ahhh – Tulips!

I can’t think of another country that is so law abiding, clean to the point of being fastidiously so, with lovely little towns filled with neat well kept homes and gardens! And yet has an alter ego that is so polar opposite! That is how Amsterdam feels compared to what we’ve seen of the remainder of the Netherlands! I guess any people with a native tongue that calls a shopping trolley a winklewagen and has a TV show called “Holland’s Best Bloemstylist” sporting very well groomed men competing in the art of flower arranging has to have a sense of humor and a flair for the unusual, that’s the Dutch. Another visit with Jen’s family in Veghel and we managed a full repack of the Patrol and camper. We also picked up our new Froli bed system from Eric at Adventure Trucks and installed it. Basically turns a foam mattress into an innerspring version without the weight – love the Germans for design! And yes it’s sensational – they will be in every camper we either build or own from now on!

Installing the Froli bed system

Installing the Froli bed system

Now that we are back in Europe and I’m eating into my 3 month Schengen visa again, we were keen to hit the road for Norway.  After a lovely few days with Jen’s family, we spent our last night with Eric and Mieke from the above mentioned Adventure Trucks as they’d kindly invited us to dinner.  We were keen to spend some time with them and peruse maps of Norway and other destinations as they’ve travelled extensively and are very much like minded!

Back at Adventure Trucks!

Back at Adventure Trucks!

They shipped an 80 series Land Cruiser from the Netherlands to Oz in 2004 for the big lap over 7 months and having looked at their route and photo’s, there is no doubt they’ve seen more of Oz than a lot of locals! They are also heading toward the land of the Viking in June and we hope to catch up with them again somewhere.  We had a great night and a 3am finish will tip you off to how our evening went! Recycling bins need to be larger in the Netherlands! Hahaha! With a tip from Eric we headed northeast toward Germany and made for a campsite where you could apparently have a campfire and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered! Camped in a small pocket of forest and indeed with a campfire, we were able to relax back into life on the road.

Forest camp with campfire!!!

Forest camp with campfire!!!

Look closely.....

Look closely…..

Surprise!!

Surprise!!

Into Germany and a night was spent in Bremen.  We were surprised by just how lovely this town is. A majestic central square with magnificent old buildings supporting an old town on the surrounds full of small lanes with cobbled streets. It’s always nice when you’re not expecting to be surprised.

Beautiful Bremen

Beautiful Bremen

Full of surprises!!

Full of surprises!!

Nair does work!!

Nair does work!!Old Town BremenOld Town Bremen

IMG_8777We decided to avoid Hamburg and head north to Bremerhaven, I’d heard the old harbour was worth a visit and we were fairly sure there was a German U boat there. The harbour was definitely worth the visit, sporting many examples of old time sailing vessels along with numerous other maritime marvels. But for me the real attraction was indeed the only surviving U boat of it’s type, a complete vessel unlike one in the UK that has been cut and made into a form of theme park! For us it was an interesting visit, obviously a symbol of tyranny and dark times but also of technological advancement.

Bremerhaven

Bremerhaven

German U Boat

German U Boat

IMG_8797IMG_8801 Onward Ho, another ferry across to Gluckstadt and we made a fairly straight run through Denmark to Hirtshals in order to catch the ferry to Kristiansand, Norway and what we hope will be the jewel in the crown of the Scandanavian countries.

Another Ferry!

Another Ferry!

Not often you see a tank speed limit....

Not often you see a tank speed limit….

Pretty Danish Town

Pretty Danish Town

Lovely Cobbled Streets

Lovely Cobbled Streets

 

Men at Sea Memorial

Men at Sea Memorial – Esbjerg, Denmark

More friendly Dutchies...

More friendly Dutchies…

Tales from the fjords to follow!

Rather have a Panda than a Prince!

Back in 2008, a group of us ventured into the central deserts of Western Australia for a couple of weeks of solitude! Well not quite solitude as Jen and I were providing the support vehicles for 3 friends on KTM motorbikes as they bonded with each other (boys will be boys) in a ride of a thousand or more ass smacking KM’s on rough tracks!

Anyway, one of those intrepid adventurers was John who at the time was living in Norway and made the journey to Western Australia for a Desert experience.  Now with a family and responsibility, John finds himself just south of Aberdeen with his lovely wife Katharine and daughters Sophie and Abigail.

John and Family

John and Family

Having stayed in contact, John had kindly issued us with an invitation before our journey began to stay a few days should we find ourselves in his neck of the woods.

So with a few days before our auspicious reunion, we had a pleasant enough amount of time to make our way south. Loch Ness was loaded into the Sat-Nav and soon enough the tourist mecca filled our windscreen, well the parts of it that you could see between the tour buses is probably more accurate!

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Box ticked is all I have to say regarding our quick visit before we departed for Inverness. From our campsite we were afforded a lovely walk along the River Ness crossing small footbridges between islands separating the fast flowing and very dark tannin filled waters. Really nice!

Many of the RV Parks often have a small food van or mobile fish and chippy on site over the weekends and there was one such van on this site at Inverness.  The lure of a bacon buttie was too great and whilst awaiting our order we were discussing the general feeling in Scotland regarding their English overlords! The chef told us that at the time Princess Kate was in labour with her first royal baby, there was also an expectant Scottish public awaiting the arrival of a baby Panda at Edinburgh Zoo. There happened to be a soccer match taking place between Scotland and England and those chants that we hear coming from bellowing fans at such events was on this occasion heard to announce “We’d rather have a Panda than a Prince” I guess that makes some of the feeling quite clear.

Whisky, an acquired taste! And I acquired it a very long time ago.

So finding yourself in Scotland is like walking across the Middle East to the Waling Wall, assuming you’re into such things!

Refurbishing Bourbon Barrels for Whisky Production

Refurbishing Bourbon Barrels for Whisky Production

However, due to the taxation of alcohol in the UK, Scotch Whisky is certainly not cheaper in Scotland and in fact is far cheaper in Germany and even Australia. Similar to winery cellar door sales in Margaret River, neither is it a better deal at the distillery. However a tour and tasting had to be on the agenda. We chose Glenlivet as it’s one of the oldest whisky distillers and we enjoyed a great afternoon observing single malt production and most definitely tasting some of their finest. First £200 bottle I’ve ever tasted and probably the last also, sadly!

Departing the distillery, I was definitely unable to operate vehicles or any other form of machinery.  Luckily, I had a chauffeur.

A drive through Aberdeen on our way to Stonehaven and we found ourselves in the entrance of a lovely home overlooking the North Sea!  Purchased as a run down ruin a few years ago, John and Katharine certainly had vision, saving the dilapidated house on site and finishing the whole build off to a level that might even cause Kevin McLeod to struggle for words!

BBQ Scottish Style

BBQ Scottish Style

Lovely house by the Sea

Lovely house by the Sea

Dunnotar Castle

Dunnotar Castle

Sculpture in Stonehaven

Sculpture in Stonehaven

Out of our 3m square box and into our digs, we considered squatting and forcing John to seek legal advice in order to extricate us!

Whilst Jen had been researching her family history, she had found that just south of Stonehaven is the tiny village of Caterline, the base for a coast guard station in which one of her distant relatives served as a boatman. Ever efficient, John treated us to a tour of the area and, would you believe, managed to jag Jen a ride on a replica of one of the boats used by the coastguard back in the day.

Caterline Coast Guard

Caterline Coast Guard

We departed this Oasis with hopes of returning to once again enjoy some Scottish hospitality and as it turns out, there may be another chapter involving John, as it would seem that we might be meeting up again in Utah next year! – More to come on that front hopefully.

St Andrews was our next stop and it started with an impromptu drive (legally) across the 18th hole of the Old Course! Stunning place full of tourists trying to battle the age old first world problem of deciding whether the golf equipment they intend to purchase should have St Andrews emblazoned on it or not? Aside from golf, it is a pretty place to visit and the ruins of the cathedral are quite amazing.

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Where Kate Met Wills (Apparently)

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Edinburgh! a must visit destination, and beautiful! The photos will suffice, I’m sure.

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Blackfriars Bobby

Blackfriars Bobby

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Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

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Back in England and we headed along the “Castle Coast” to Cragside Estate, listed in our National Trust Guide and sounding interesting.   Wow!! What an amazing Estate. It was the first house in the Victorian era to have hydroelectric power.  This provided lighting and many other modern conveniences that we take for granted. The whole estate was absolutely amazing and worth a Google if your bored!

Preston Mill

Preston Mill

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

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Interesting Geology

Interesting Geology

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

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Cragside Estate

Cragside Estate

We were approaching a bank holiday weekend in the UK and the ferry prices were timed to increase with the extra demand, not to mention the battle that lay ahead in finding the ever necessary RV park for the long weekend.  Knowing full well they are all filled to capacity with sun seeking Brits we decided enough was enough and managed to beat the price rise and depart Old Blighty for Holland just in time to avoid the holiday madness!

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Jam Packed

Jam Packed

Cheers for now – another update soon!

Pay and Display!

With a slow but steady improvement in the weather our sojourn of England continued.

Lydford Gorge provided an opportunity to stretch the legs, with a couple of hours spent wandering along walk trails, all the while being treated to the graceful spectacle of countless crystal clear streams making their way down into the base of the gorge.  Following that, we visited the Finch Foundry (the last functioning water driven forge in England), saved from destruction by a savvy friend of the previous owners whom recognised it’s historic value.

Lydford Gorge

Lydford Gorge

Lydford Gorge

Loaded with castles and all things old is probably a fair description of this country.  As we travel more widely and visit more and more castles, estates, historic properties and beautiful gardens, we have come to understand the Brits a little better. There really isn’t very much land, if any, that isn’t privately owned with restrictions on access.

We keep entering National Parks expecting to see native forest and a lack of buildings and development, as we would at home, only to find houses, farms, caravan parks, car parks in random, isolated locations with “Pay and Display” parking meters and the usual “no overnight camping” signs!  Is revenue really that sought out by council’s that it’s worth running power to a car park on a country lane and having someone on wages heading out to collect the bounty? I guess it must be. Gates and fences prevent you wandering freely and is an industry that must generate more wealth in this country than owning a McDonald’s Franchise!  For a country that is a tiny 1300km long it seems to have found use for more fencing wire than we could ever dream of in Australia, quite astounding! And if you’d like to go fishing, get out your VISA card and let the fun begin!

Pay and Display! Check out the price for fishing!

Pay and Display! Check out the price for fishing! Times that by 2 for $AU

A cynical view I know!

Having said that, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, just not what we are used to, that’s all! So to our English friends – don’t be offended!

With Easter looming we were quite keen to be off the road.  It’s a frantic rush to have a few days off at home and it’s the same over here – lots of people moving about and very heavy traffic. We made our way via sites such as Glastonbury Tor and Cheddar Gorge to the village of Keynsham between Bristol and Bath.

Easter Traffic

Easter Traffic

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

Gotta Love Stoned Adults on Trikes!

Gotta Love Stoned Adults on Trikes! I’m Not Kidding!

Catherine and Simon, whom we’d crossed paths with back in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic (whilst on their own overland journey – Malaysia to the UK), had put us in contact with a family friend in this village where Catherine had grown up.

Peter, Gill and Justin

Peter, Gill and Justin

Peter and his wife Gill are designing a tray replacement hard sided popup camper unit on the back of their Navara and we’d been discussing different roof lifting mechanisms over the net. With an offer of somewhere to park up for a couple of nights should we be near his home town and now finding ourselves close by, we made our way to Peter’s and were soaked in hospitality once again.

Peter's Pride and Joy

Peter’s Pride and Joy

Some of the internal electric set-up

Some of the internal electric set-up

Peter treated us to a guided tour of Bristol and Bath and hit all of the highlights – I think he’s missed his calling!  Gill and their daughter Larissa made sure we were fed and watered and all in all we were struggling to find a reason to leave!

With the locals back at work, we hit the road and made for Wales. I had big expectations for this part of the UK and we weren’t disappointed. It still amazes me that you can cross a line on a map and have such a distinction between people. Not only the interesting gibberish that is the Welsh language, but a feeling of a little more in the way of open spaces.

Wild camping at it's best!

Wild camping at it’s best!

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Heading northward through Wales with lovely warm days and blue skies we found a great campsite on a creek within Brecon Beacons National Park. The following day we hiked to the 886mtr summit of Pen y Fan and Corn Du for staggeringly beautiful views across the Welsh countryside.

View from Pen y Fan 886mtrs

View from Pen y Fan 886mtrs

Panorama of the Welsh Landscape

Panorama of the Welsh Landscape

With ongoing family tree research, Jen had traced a part of my family to a tiny village called Llanegwad.  It was one of many small villages that we visited on similar pursuits with some fruitful and others not so! This one was a great visit, as it appears to be where my surname originates. We wandered around an old churchyard and cemetery without any luck really, but fortunately the Pastor arrived and was more than happy to open up the old building and unlock the safe  for us. Here we were able to view copies of the parish records, which added some fodder to Jen’s research, but it’s a very difficult pursuit. Probably another dead (pardon the pun) end – we shall see!

St Egwads Church in LLanegwad

St Egwads Church in LLanegwad

The friendly Reverend Rhobert Pattinson

The friendly Reverend Rhobert Pattinson

Meandering onwards we enjoyed forested undulating scenery along with quite drizzly conditions, late in the day and the never-ending search began! Finding a location for a nights respite can either go smoothly or drag on to the point where you don’t care anymore and anything will do!

Ready for a Welsh Gold Mining Tour

Ready for a Welsh Gold Mining Tour

A couple of options presented themselves but the winds were up and they were quite exposed and blustery, we rounded into a rural car park for a perusal of the map when we noticed a sign, British Cross Country Championship – Marches 4×4 Event and a quick Google revealed free onsite camping! Hmmm, so we wandered down the marked forestry track until we came across a couple of vehicles camped in the spectator area.  Some friendly responses resulted in us spending the next 2 nights there.

Marches 4X4 Event

Marches 4X4 Event

What The??

What The??

Spectating the event the following day was very interesting.  It is more of a rally style event with a couple of short quite rough sections rather than the more aggressive 4×4 events that we have in Australia like the Outback Challenge. All in all, we had a great time, met some nice people and were fortunate to stumble across the event.

Snowdonia in Northern Wales, which sounds more like a Castle in a fantasy movie than an actual place, is very real, mountainous and wild with meandering roads in and around the dramatic terrain. With fairly consistent rain once again and the high concentration of slate stone, the area makes you feel like you are playing a part in a black and white movie. The colours are basic and striking.  Soaked in the clean mountain air it feels very raw and rugged and is the type of experience that keeps us travelling! You never know what’s next.

Weather rolling in

Weather rolling in

Another brilliant Wild Camp

Another brilliant Wild Camp

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But it was cold in the morning -2.5C

But it was cold in the morning -2.5C

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

The historic sites that I mentioned earlier, which are generally castles and estates, provide an eye opening insight into the staggering lifestyle enjoyed by an aristocratic slice of English society! The pictures will shed some light on the physical beauty along with the ostentatious display of wealth that in many cases was the only reason these creations were conceived and constructed.

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle

These faces were everywhere in this castle

These faces were everywhere in this castle

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Look at the detail and you'll see the faces!

Look at the detail and you’ll see the faces!

Many such as the one above were used only for a period of weeks during hunting and fishing season and then left to lay dormant until the next opportunity to display one’s position in society to their peers.  Family’s gluttonous with wealth and in possession of numerous castles and large manicured acreage could never have envisaged that their estates would ultimately end up in the hands of the public!

Wearing pants like these he deserved to have his property taken from him!!!

Wearing pants like these he deserved to have his property taken from him!!!

From accruing a fortune through businesses such as slate quarrying, slave running and importing sugar; labour strikes and the gradual move into a more equitable world (apparently) were to see those staggering bank accounts diminish quite quickly.  Relatives inheriting such vast stone empires found themselves on the end of death duties bills that were, at the time, in the order of 70%. Many were quite simply unable to financially remain in possession of these newly acquired assets or maintain them and as such, they were offered to the National Trust.  This avoided the death duty and ensured the continuation of such amazing establishments.

Those whom have had to relinquish their hold on these monoliths may have been quite happy to see these maintenance hungry goliaths gone from the family slate! These examples of status were rarely the only castle in the family, so they were not necessarily short of suitable digs after relinquishing ownership!

Nonetheless, the situation has meant that these properties are now open to the public and provide breathtaking insights into the lifestyles of the wealthy along with majestic locations for a picnic or wander amongst the manicured gardens.

Driving through Conwy

Driving through Conwy

The Duke of Lancaster

The Duke of Lancaster

We also came across a ship seen on BBC’s Coast Program, which hasn’t seen the open ocean in quite some time but is an interesting story to Google if you have some time.  Some of the most amazing graffiti we have seen!!

The Captain??

The Captain??

Continuing on to The Lake District in England and our next destination was Lake Windermere.  As lovely as the descriptions we’d heard and time easily passed as we soaked up our peaceful surrounds. The area is a tourist mecca and prices reflect it! The thought of isolated camping on the shores of these lakes in a vehicle is unheard of although the hikes in the area were plentiful.

Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere

We aren’t against RV parks and use them regularly; we just enjoy wild isolated camping a lot more and appreciate the added benefit that it provides to our budget.  RV Parks are all much the same and in the UK range from $AU30 – $AU50 per night, tending towards the higher end as the weather improves.  We prefer to get a feel for an area and it’s geography by soaking in it rather than looking at the Caravan next to us or rather looking at the people looking back at us from the caravan next to us.

Ahhh much better!

Ahhh much better!

After a great drive through Wrynose and Hardknott passes to the western side of the Lake District, we spotted a good gravel track and managed to find a great campsite on a private fishing lake.  We drove in and found a few fishermen casting fly’s onto the lake. We asked about camping and no one seemed bothered – that was enough for us and up went the roof.

Boat Shed

Boat Shed

Our camp for the night at a private fishing lake

Our camp for the night at a private fishing lake

IMG_7659 IMG_1378A funny story was relayed to us here. One of the locals was telling us that we were now in the less touristy part of the Lake District and hence the lack of Pay and Display parking meters and keep out signs.  He said that in some of the villages out in this more isolated area, if you kick one person they all limp! That had us laughing.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

Ruins of Housteads Roman Fort at Hadrian's Wall

Ruins of Housteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall

A bit more family history hunting and a quick visit to Hadrian’s Wall before Scotland beckoned.  This is what the crowd came to see!

A quick National Trust Visit to Culzean Castle for the most incredible way to display weaponry I have seen not to mention the sheer numbers of flint lock pistols (about 700) – have a good look at the photos!

Putting an offer in on this one!! Hahaha

Culzean Castle – Putting an offer in on this one!! Hahaha

Another cool sundial

Another interesting sundial

Look closely!

Look closely!

Flint lock pistols with flint in place!

Flint lock pistols with flint in place!

Inscription from propellor in previous picture

Inscription from propellor mounted to the ceiling in earlier picture

Scotland is far more liberally minded with regards to wild camping and you’re able to free camp for a couple of nights legally! So we can finally free camp unhindered and we end up spending the next 2 nights in an RV park on Loch Lomond – Hahaha… I hear you laughing!  (You can’t free camp on the eastern side of the loch in peak season and must use registered locations) It was a really beautiful area with many walk trails and as with many of the locations that have stood out for us, it was the people we met that made it all the more enjoyable! Sunny blue skies and even a bit of warmth on the Loch shore with cold drinks and good conversation!

Loch Lomond Twilight

Loch Lomond Twilight

Drinks with new friends Adam and Lisa

Drinks with new friends Adam and Lisa

Loch Lomond from our campsite

Loch Lomond from our campsite

The weather was sensational but not forecast to last.  Our fellow campers pointed out the best places to visit on our onward journey and we decided to make for the Isle of Mull in the hope of seeing Puffins! Spending most of their lives at sea, they generally only make landfall in early May so we were crossing our fingers that they hadn’t checked their calendar!

We joined a tour boat for the 6-mile journey from the South Western end of the Isle out to Staffa Island.  The crew had seen puffins at sea but weren’t sure if they were nesting on the island yet.  In any event, the island itself was promoted as being quite spectacular with it’s basalt columns and caves and would make for a great day out.

Seals Enroute to Staffa Island

Seals Enroute to Staffa Island

Incredible Basalt Columns

The Incredible Basalt Columns of Staffa Island

It would seem that fortune was with us however; we managed to have a sensational encounter with these exceptional little seafarers on the last day of reasonable weather before it degenerated back into arctic conditions.

Puffins!!!

Puffins!!!

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It’s lucky they are good at seafaring because their landing skills on Terrafirma could best be described as a controlled crash. Fortunately the island as with most of the terrain around the area is covered with a thick bounty of long grass, providing the little Puffins with a mattress to absorb the shock as they crash into it, body dropping below their wings and feet splayed they hope for the best! Some come close to going end over end and others bounce off the grass and go head first down their burrows, it was exceptionally entertaining!

Controlled Crash!

Controlled Crash!

Amazing scenery describes Mull, stark and eerie with treeless rolling hills and a layer of water sodden peat iced over the island!

Ben Nevis came next, the highest peak in Scotland and then onto the Isle of Skye. Another fix of stark and aggressive scenery with beautiful bays and cliffs, even a dinosaur footprint or two presented but the temperature was descending rapidly and with it came our first serious snow since northern Mongolia.

Driving in the Snow

Driving in the Snow

Brrrrr!!

Brrrrr!!

Kilt Rock and Waterfall

Kilt Rock and Waterfall on Skye

Dinosaur Footprint 180 million years old

Dinosaur Footprint 180 million years old

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Parked on the side of the road at “The Storr” in the Trotternish Range on Skye, a van parked behind us and “Hello Fremantle” came from its driver! (Our Fremantle number plates) A family from Tasmania on a 1-day visit to Skye as part of a 6-week holiday was behind us. We had a chat about travelling before parting company – you never know whom you might meet!

"The Storr" used during filming of "Prometheus"

“The Storr” used during filming of “Prometheus”

Back on the mainland, we were hoping to drive one of the highest roads in the UK, Bealach na Ba, and as we ascended through the snow line, heavy sleet and snow began and slowly everything began to white out. At the beginning of this road there is a large sign stating this road may be impassable in wintery conditions, not suitable for caravans or large vehicles, single lane and a 1 in 5 gradient at times with hairpin bends! I would describe the conditions as Antarctic Blizzard so I think that would definitely count as wintery!

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I was a little surprised then when we rounded an icy hairpin bend to find a VW Passat wagon sliding down the next section of road backwards! He would drive forward until all that could be seen was the blur of the spokes on his rims and as traction faded he would begin his involuntary descent!

Bealach na Ba

Bealach na Ba

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At this point I had to reverse to allow him some extra room and as I applied the brakes we slid a little before coming to a halt.  What he was thinking attempting this road in a 2WD I don’t really know! Fortunately there was a passing place close by and were able to get around him.  I’m not sure how he got on as I don’t think an out of control reverse around hair pin bends on ice was going to end well! We continued on into the white, coming across one other small front wheel drive car coming in the opposite direction, wheels spinning and with looks of concentration on their faces! Upon passing them you could see where they’d been sliding all over the road! Maybe they can’t read.

Again we got out of the way!

Coming from the opposite direction is easier, but you still have to go down the other side.

Dropping below the snow line around 15km later we descended into the town of Applecross where we were met by a snow plough and grit truck heading up to clear the road of snow and probably also VW’s and the like!

Red Deer

Red Deer

AKA Highland Cattle

AKA Highland Cattle

Hairy Coos

Hairy Coos

Doesn’t matter in what direction I look through this section of Scotland, it’s just fabulous scenery everywhere. Deceptive it is though, for the rolling hills that look so inviting are not so pleasant once you begin walking upon them.  Grass tussocks hide large lumps and dips along with undulations of black peat soup that is eager to invade your nice hiking boots! Water lays within pools all over the ground just ready to sprout life into the apparent swarm of midgies that are due to arrive in this deceptive paradise within a month or so.

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A walker’s dream is not an understatement, however you really need to stick to listed walks due to the reasons in the previous paragraph. It’s difficult at times to choose a walk as the options are endless. We’ve enjoyed many forays along trails and all have been worth the effort, but one of the best so far, I think, was a walk near one of our overnight camps up a mountain known as Stac Pollaidh.  It is a sandstone structure that is slowly suffering the effects of freeze and thaw as it atrophies back into non-existence. A fabulous few hours that reminded me just how insignificant everything really is. Anyway enough of that!

Stac Pollaidh Walk

Stac Pollaidh Walk

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Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave

Ardvreck Castle Ruins

Ardvreck Castle Ruins

Scotland's Northern Coastal Scenery

Scotland’s Northern Coastal Scenery

Dunnet Head, the northern most point of Scotland and the UK mainland was reached and provided us with incredible views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkney’s. The following day we reached the location known as John O’Groats which, for some reason that I still can’t understand, receives all of the notoriety associated with being the most northerly point even though it’s some 3.5km short of Dunnet Head’s northerly latitude. Nonetheless we’ve managed to drive from Lizard Point being the most southerly point in the UK to the most northerly point and although 1300km will see you achieve the journey in the most direct fashion, we’ve managed to cover over 4000km making the trip. Guess we can’t be accused of not having had a reasonable look around now can we!

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

View of the Orkneys

View of the Orkneys

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Adam again, this time with a friend on a motorbike trip

Adam again, this time with a friend on a motorbike trip

The weather has remained quite rough. Our Webasto diesel camper heater has become our best friend! I couldn’t imagine travelling again without one! I respect that I’m from a land of sun and rather warm temperatures, at times quite uncomfortably so, but hey! It’s spring here and the seals are scared to go swimming it’s that cold!  Jen has been trying to spot an Otter but I think they’ve all frozen to death! Beautiful and absolutely majestic is Scotland, a must see destination on your bucket list! Make sure you’re here in summer….

Oh Sooo Cold!

Ohh Sooo Cold!  Sorry Bec – promise some warm weather photos soon!!

 

More to come – Justin..