Author Archives: Jen

Move along, nothing to see here!

We are on the move again!

We said our goodbyes to friends and with Littlehampton disappearing in the rear view mirror, we set the sat-nav for Stonehenge.

Saying Goodbye!

Saying Goodbye!

Jen and Gerry!

Jen and Gerry!

There are plans afoot to sink the nearby highway to the iconic rock structure and this will apparently make the visitation experience much more pleasant by removing the visual and audible pollution of the highway! At near £15 a head to enter the site and limited to just over 7500 visitors a day – (you do the math) it just might kick the gate numbers along as well when you’re unable to see it from your car – a very popular way of visiting currently. Undaunted we spotted a few vehicles on a local by-way and managed to park a couple of hundred meters away from the prehistoric masterpiece! We wandered around taking a few pictures and learnt from security personnel at the main gate that if wandered a little further down the road and made our way through the farmer’s paddock we could get quite close and have a better look.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

We followed the instructions and ended up within about 30 meters of the main event! It would have been nice to wander amongst the stones but $AU60 for the 2 of us (exchange rate allowed for) seemed a little steep. Whilst taking in the view, we noticed a couple of vans a little further along the by-way and they were obviously camping. We headed for their location and camped about 300m from the Stones!! Of all the places I would have expected to find some free camping, within view of Stonehenge certainly wasn’t one of them!! So all in all it was a great day!

Camped Within View!

Camped Within View!

Stonehenge Selfie!

Stonehenge Selfie!

Next stop was Lyme Regis; a lovely little village nestled in an amazing section of geography known as the Jurassic Coast. After a wander around town, we headed west a couple of miles and found a campground in the town of Charmouth, located smack in the middle of a World Heritage fossil finding location.

Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis

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Lyme Regis with Ammonite inspired street lights

Lyme Regis with Ammonite inspired street lights

The Brits love their Beach Huts!

The Brits love their Beach Huts!

With low tide being touted as the best time for fossil hunting and Jen quite keen on rocks, she was out the door at 7:30am and off into the sleet and cold and down the trail to the beach.  I, however, am not as intrigued by the fossil hunting pastime and slept in through the sleet, only emerging once the sun had risen and warmed the whole area. If you have ever spent time in high mountains or areas with lots of snow and wind then you will relate to the temperature differentials that we are currently experiencing. When protected from the wind and the sun is beaming on you directly, it’s T-shirts, cold beer and the clean crisp colours of blue water and green fields! The very moment a cloud interrupts the sun’s rays and their attempt to reach you, and it’s anoraks, beanies and hot drinks. It’s just like flicking a switch! Definitely 4 seasons in 1 day!

Jurassic Coast at Charmouth

Jurassic Coast at Charmouth

Charmouth Waterfront

Charmouth Waterfront

Over the course of the day, we found quite a few nice fossilized ammonite specimens, all the while listening to the sounds of erosion and collapsing earth from the cliffs behind the beach. Serious erosion is constant along this coast and with the rich hoard of fossils hidden away in the silt, there is a constant renewal of interesting creatures revealing themselves for the first time in millions of years.

Ammonite Fossil

Ammonite Fossil

Justin's Rock Balancing!

Justin’s Rock Balancing!

 

Fossil Hunting

Fossil Hunting

Ammonite in the silt

Ammonite in the silt

Ammonite Graveyard

Ammonite Graveyard

180 Million Years Old

180 Million Years Old

Continuing along the Cornish Coast, we parked up for a short time in the town of Teignmouth to discuss our options for the night’s accommodation. We were trying to find a free site somewhere! As fortune would have it, a motorhome made it’s way through the car park and stopped right alongside us. I said hello through the window and inquired as to whether they knew of any free-camping sites locally. They had just purchased their new house on wheels and were out for a test drive.  Luckily for us, they were well versed on the area and pointed us in the direction of a lay-by on the Teign river which proved to be a great stop for the night.

Our First Free Camp in the UK!!

Our First Free Camp in the UK!!

They also told us about a “wildcamping” website in the UK that we have since joined which has lots of overnight stops listed. With our fairly consistent use of the site since, we’ve found it quite good and although many of the sites aren’t the sort of location that we would normally attempt to find, some have led us to really scenic spots that we would have missed otherwise.   So while it takes a little getting used to –  parking for the night in carparks and other quite public locations – they certainly are a great budget saving backup to paid camping.   I also have to add that as we are in a pop-up camper, we are quite obvious when camped as opposed to a hard side motorhome where you may be able to appear simply parked as opposed to camped!

The lack of public open space that’s accessible is such a contrast to that of Australia, everything here is owned by someone or it’s been bought back by, or donated to, a trust such as the National Trust. You head for a nature reserve with expectations of forested areas of wilderness only to find farmland and open fields! There just isn’t really much left that’s escaped the touch of man!

We have had a few mixed comments about being in the 4×4, such as “that looks like it would be good for pushing things over in the desert!!” Mind you those types of comments generally come from the more challenged of the population with not much idea of what the world has to offer other than what they see on the BBC! “Generally deserts don’t have a lot of things to push over hence the term desert, you moron”- that would have been the appropriate response but not really a helpful one…

Polperro was our next target. Many locals had recommended this village as a must see and I’m glad to have taken their advice. I’ll let the pictures of this Historic Fishing Port tell the tale.

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Polperro High Tide

Polperro Low Tide

Polperro Low Tide

Polperro High Tide

Driving in and around the back roads of Cornwall is an unusual experience, even after some of the countries that we have traversed! Once off the highway and on the more interesting back roads, they are all quite skinny single lane roads with slightly wider sections here and there for passing. Many of the smaller roads are limited to vehicles of width no more than 6 feet and although we are a little wider, we haven’t come unstuck –  yet. We have been on sections where both wing mirrors have been in constant contact with the leafy embankment, which really makes you concentrate on your steering!

Hedge Driving!

Hedge Driving!

Speaking of embankments, nearly all of the roads are bordered both sides with ancient stone walls or hedges covered in tangles of vines that are usually around 5 to 8 feet high. You can’t see anything of the countryside once in the maze and have to constantly wait for a low section to provide a vista of your surrounds. It’s a little annoying actually but it’s also the character of Cornwall and possibly a lot of the UK. Oncoming traffic is always met at the most inconvenient of times. If I had a pound for every time I’ve had to reverse to find the nearest section that provides a little more clearance for passing then we’d have a much larger travel budget than we are currently on!

Luxulyan and the Treffry Viaduct sounded interesting and we arrived in the area late in the afternoon. The beauty of the countryside amazed us!! Built in the late 1800’s, the centerpiece of the area is a 30-meter high dual-purpose viaduct that carried steam driven machinery and water for mining. The whole area was fascinating and easily consumed the rest of the afternoon. We ended up camping in the car park, as it seemed like an OK option late in the day, reasonably remote and quiet, well almost – other than some illicit substance smoking locals at 1am whom parked no more than a meter from us and then proceeded to blast their horn as they left in order to get a rise out of us! Seems they are a little short of Friday night activities to engage in around here! Doesn’t help if you haven’t got any teeth and can’t read!

Treffry Viaduct

Treffry Viaduct

Luxulyan Valley

Luxulyan Valley

On top of the Viaduct

On top of the Viaduct

Amazing Engineering!

Amazing Engineering!

We make our way from village to village and I’d have to say that most of them are lovely, some with more character than others, but all with something of interest.

Roche Rock appeared in the film "Omen III"

Roche Rock and it’s 14th century chapel appeared in the horror film “Omen III”

Roche Rock

Roche Rock

Charlestown where the "Onedin Line" was filmed

Charlestown where the “Onedin Line” was filmed

Charlestown

Charlestown

Historic Cider Press

Historic Cider Press

Pentewan Sands was our next stop and provided us nice blue skies for the next couple of days.

It may be sunny but....

It may be sunny but….

A walk along a section of the coastal path that traverses much of the Southern England Coast was fantastic – majestic views of rugged coastline with carpets of green fields capping the cliffs, really stunning stuff!

South-west Coastal Path

South-west Coastal Path

Coast Path

Coast Path

Mevagissey Harbour

Mevagissey Harbour

St Mawes Castle built by King Henry VIII

St Mawes Castle built by King Henry VIII at the mouth of the River Fal

Using the King Harry Ferry for 300mtrs of travel saves 20 Kms!

Using the King Harry Ferry for a 300mtr crossing of the River Fal saves 20 Kms of driving!

D!affodils are everywhere

Daffodils are everywhere!

Continuing our travels, we arrived at Lizard Point, the most southerly point of the UK. Freezing cold and windy but also spectacular and picturesque!

The Lizard, The UK's Southermost Point

The Lizard, The UK’s Southermost Point

Kynance Cove

Kynance Cove famous for it’s serpentine rock and idyllic beach

When in Cornwall have a Cornish Pasty

When in Cornwall have a Cornish Pasty

Marconi Monument

Marconi Monument at Poldhu Cove

Site of the first Wireless Radio Communication

Site of the first Wireless Radio Communication by Marconi

Mobile Fishmonger!

Mobile Fishmonger!

St Michael’s Mount was on our must do list, England’s version of Mont San Michel (and historically related) and it proved to be a really enjoyable visit. Firstly, we camped in a pub car park that was listed on the website that I spoke of earlier. It was obvious to us that you couldn’t camp there but with no signs to say otherwise, we decided to play the dumb Aussie card and waited until quite late to pop the roof up! As locals wandered past observing the rather strange Australian vehicle we felt as though we should direct them to “move along, nothing to see here!!”

Camped Near St Michael's Mount

Camped Near St Michael’s Mount – spot the Aussie!

Well, we got away with it but received the knock on the back door as we were packing up the following morning. No motorhomes allowed! The security guy was easy going however and not really bothered by our presence, so we drove off down the road a couple of hundred meters and parked in the designated car park for the day for a few pounds! You can’t stay overnight in any of these car parks, lots of signs telling you to go away politely! The local caravan park was charging £24 for the night as it has a captive market! Ahhhhh tourism, have to love it! Anyway the castle was fantastic, I enjoyed the visit immensely. It’s still lived in by the St Aubyn family whose hands it’s been in since 1659 which I thought made it feel more real than the now tourism based plethora of castles that have become Museum pieces open to receive the tourists dollar elsewhere the World over. It’s small as castles go but oh what a piece of real estate!

Castle upon St Michael's Mount

Castle upon St Michael’s Mount

Incredibly thick walls!

Incredibly thick walls!

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Love a good sundial!

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One of the methods of transport to the Island

One of the methods of transport to the Island

St Michael's Mount

St Michael’s Mount

Have to love religious imagery in churches!

Have to love religious imagery in churches!

IMG_6912 We have since joined the National Trust (£99 for 2 Adults, 12 months), which provides free parking and entry to a host of sites around England, including St Michael’s Mount, along with access via a reciprocal agreement to sites in some other countries including Australia. The Boroloola Post Office, in Australia’s Northern Territory, was on the list (Hmmmm don’t quite know what to make of that one!) For those wondering what I’m talking about, Google it and see if you can find the similarities between St Michaels Mount in Cornwall and the Post Office in Boroloola and let me know what I’m missing. Linda ask Deb what her memories are of Boroloola – hahaha.

3000 y.o. Men-an-Tol stones

3000 y.o. Men-an-Tol stones – smaller than you think

Crawling through the stone ring is meant to have healing powers!

Crawling through the Men-an-Tol stone ring is meant to have healing powers! 

Merry Maiden Standing Stone Circle

Merry Maiden Standing Stone Circle

We headed for “Lands End”, the most westerly point of England. After entering the car park and seeing the theme park with the “Shaun the Sheep 3D Experience” we exited the other side of the car park and headed for Cape Cornwall with it’s wild, woolly and less commercialized coastline. The entire coast along here is awe-inspiring, beautiful little coves between rough vertical cliffs with ancient stone walls crisscrossing the countryside above. Small villages with tiny roads, farmhouses and barns with ancient build dates smattered all over the area. It really feels as if time has stopped in some of these areas – sensational.   Levant mine was the next attraction, with the only remaining operational Cornish Beam Engine. It was an eye opening experience, mining for copper and tin a mile out to see but 2000 feet below the waves!. Photo opportunities galore present along the coast here, stunning in every direction.

Remnants of Cornwall's Tin and Copper Mining Days at Botallack

Remnants of Cornwall’s Tin and Copper Mining Days at Botallack

IMG_1259 IMG_6971 IMG_6960 We spent the next few nights in the town of Botallack hoping to see the return of pleasant skies. What began as a one night stay extended as the weather went slowly and then more rapidly from nice blue skies upon our arrival to drenching rain with freezing gale force winds, capped off with visibility of less than 100 metres. What to do but go to the Pub!

Local weather phenomena known as "mizzle"

Local weather phenomena known as “mizzle”

The local drinking houses in the UK really are an attraction in themselves – I love them! Quaint little centuries old buildings with real ale pumped by hand from the keg! If you like your beer, it really is paradise! With a bit of effort, you’re generally able to strike up a conversation with some locals or the bar keep and have a great local experience!

On two occasions now, I’ve observed gents in these small pub’s that could easily have been having a night off before heading back to Biggin Hill ready for an early morning air-raid in their Spitfire’s or Hurricane’s! The quaffed hair, scarves and swagger along with long leather coats, has them only missing the classic MG in the car park and the forlorn sound of an Air Raid Siren!

Our last night in Botallack could probably be compared to a Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race – it was so windy that it felt like we were tacking our way across the Atlantic! Enough was enough by morning and with deplorable weather still showing its ugly little face, we began the journey north. I won’t go on about the beautiful Cornish Coast, just get there and have a look if you haven’t already!

Beach at Perranporth

Old Mining Shafts on the beach at Perranporth

Bedruthan Steps

Bedruthan Steps

Bedruthan Steps down to the beach

Bedruthan Steps down to the beach

Old Tintagel Post Office

Old Tintagel Post Office

Remnants of Tintagel Castle - rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur

Remnants of Tintagel Castle – rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur with Merlin’s Cave below!

You can park overnight but just don't go to sleep!

24hr parking allowed but just don’t go to sleep!

Entry to Boscastle Harbour

Entry to Boscastle Harbour

View of Boscastle

View of Boscastle – site of a devastating flood in 2004

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The Iconic British Phone Booth!

Cheers

Justin

Living in the UK

Our home for the last few months has been a lovely guesthouse on the seafront in West Sussex that we have been looking after whilst it’s owners are sunning themselves in warm and toasty Australia – quite ironic!! It’s been a lovely respite from the vigor’s of living on the road with the oven receiving a thorough workout with Jen cooking many roasts and rediscovering her culinary cake baking skills.   Digby, the resident Miniature Schnauzer in our care, has also been the recipient of many home baked doggy biscuits, not to mention his very own 7th Birthday Party with many of his doggy friends!

Digby can't wait for cake!

Digby can’t wait for his cake!

I'm 7!!

I’m 7 today!!

Party Goers!!

Party Goers!!

The novelty of a nice hot shower on demand with no setup required has seen a dramatic improvement in our personal grooming!  Makes life on the road sound a little less appealing when I read back that last paragraph but it couldn’t be further from the truth!

We’ve been relaxing through the cold months of winter and whilst enjoying some lovely sunny days from our balcony overlooking the sea, you are soon reminded of just how far north you are when as you leave the house, you’re smacked in the face with the freezing breath of the northern winter.

Pretty Cold!

Pretty Cold!

Always rugged up!!

Always rugged up!!

Our temporary home!

Our temporary home!

Some lovely sunny days

Some lovely sunny days

Due to our location just south of the range of hills known as the South Downs, we are protected from the worst of the Northern Winter with our own little micro-climate* and despite news reports suggesting that the whole of the UK has been blanketed in thick snow, we have only received one day (well more like a few hours!) of snow and, whilst only a light coating, there was enough for a little snowman and I can loosely claim a white Christmas (albeit a month late!) Frosty mornings are common and the frozen beach sand was a novelty!!

(*Info provided by the locals we meet during our dog walking duties)

SNOW!!!! at least for a couple of hours

SNOW!!!! at least for a couple of hours

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Overnight Frosts

Overnight Frosts

Ice as the temperature drops below zero at night

Ice as the temperature drops below zero at night

Hence our location has proven fortunate, as we’ve not found the winter to be oppressive in any way and have enjoyed numerous day trips around our local area taking in the history and scenery that is southern England!

Local Pub

Local Pub

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle – Home of the Duke of Norfolk

Arun River

Arun River

Foggy Drives

Foggy Drives

Beach Huts

Beach Huts

Mind you, not having to exit a warm bed in the dark and transit to a workplace followed by returning in the frozen darkness probably gives us a false reality of life through a British winter.  Our primary concern has been the amusement of a small canine with his primary concern being food!!! Visit’s to the local High Street shops, dog walking and grocery shopping round out our days!

Walking the High Street

Walking the High Street

Whilst on our temporary hiatus, Jen has also been beavering away furiously on family tree research and, with thanks to our friend Karen back in Australia, has traced both our families back to around 1500!  Amongst things discovered are an ancestor’s headstone dated 1666, which is amongst the oldest in Britain, a boot maker that stole a pair of boots resulting in his passage to Australia being one of my ancestors and Jen having a couple of convicts that were transported to the colonies on the second and third fleets!

So with Christmas looming, we received a lovely invitation to join our second family in Kent for the traditional British Christmas Dinner so with Digby packed into the Volvo (included with looking after the house!) we headed for Broadstairs and our first Christmas outside of Aus!  After a couple of nights spent in serious pursuit of over eating and drinking and now feeling quite at home here in England, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Littlehampton.

Xmas Cooking

Xmas Cooking

I can’t resist making an observation at this point….

Back when we first entered the UK, we stayed in a small RV park in Ramsgate, which is around 200km east of us here in Littlehampton. I asked the RV park owner if he could recommend any parks near Brighton en route to Littlehampton and he replied that he’d never been to Brighton! Moving on, Jen mentioned to a fellow dog walker that we were heading “up the road” to Broadstairs for a few days over Christmas and was met with the comment – “I love you Aussie’s, a 100miles and you think nothing of it!” I could go on and on but I’ll finish this little observation with the latest comment.  Whilst once again trotting Digby along the seafront, Jen spoke to a regular dog walker and mentioned our forward plans for Cornwall, the Lakes District and Scotland – the gentleman’s response was to confess that in his 65 years he’s never been to any of them!

So it seems we Aussie’s do think of distance in a very different way to many other peoples of the world, however I’ve also met English with extensive travel resumes and very well used passports. It’s just interesting meeting people who have lived somewhere their whole life and never been further afield than 100kms

Life in this quiet little hamlet is not always what it seems and we have had some memorable moments whilst living here.  Inevitably, when you sit still long enough, you begin to notice all the little facets of life that generally go unnoticed when you are always on the move!

To date we’ve had 3 helicopters land on the park opposite the guesthouse, each with it’s own reason for doing so, but one story is a stand out so here it goes!

The scene – about 9:30pm and with few glasses of red consumed, we hear the sound of a nearby helicopter! A look out of the window and we see it landing across the road!  Now earlier that evening, we’d noticed a few boys in blue and an ambulance make their way past but hadn’t thought a lot about it since.

Air Ambulance opposite our accommodation

Air Ambulance opposite our accommodation

With a helicopter in the mix, the bait was too strong, so grabbing Digby we wandered out into the cold blackness and strolled west a couple of streets to where emergency services lights were glinting!

Bright Lights

Bright Lights

Incident Response Units

Incident Response Units

After asking some other interested locals, we weren’t really left much the wiser and had to wait until the next morning to catch up on the gossip! So, not too far from us (in our 4 star guesthouse overlooking the sea) there is a half way house for ex-cons as it turns out! Seems the English have a similar ideology to Australian’s, which is, if you mix people up from all walks of life they will inevitably get on!!!! Bit of sarcasm there in case you missed it!

Anyway during his stint in the local half way house, one of the newly re-entering society residents decided life was easier back inside and devised a crafty scheme to achieve his desired goal!

He set fire to his top floor apartment, climbed out onto the roof and started throwing roof tiles at locals and the subsequently arriving fire and emergency services!

Anyway he eventually retreated to street level; well actually he fell through the burning roof and was chauffeured to his new accommodation by heavily armed riot police.  Oh, he did also receive a band-aid for a cut!

Headline News!

Headline News!

Result – 11 cars damaged, one person injured with a minor graze to his stomach after being hit with a flying roof tile and one burnt apartment.

So a very expensive helicopter along with a few ambulances, 2 large riot police vans, a few pursuit cars and several fire trucks!  Not sure if that’s overkill for one tile wielding bandit but I guess it’s lucky he fell through the roof before the SAS were activated.

After all of that excitement, we had our own little introduction to life in suburban England.

The following morning we were greeted by the first malicious damage to our Patrol so far! We had our vehicle parked on the street within view of our accommodation, as does nearly everyone else in Britain. The old saying – “a rolling stone gathers no moss.” Once you park up for a while you are noticed.

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So with a nice 8mm bullet hole through the now shattered passenger’s window we decided it was time to move the Patrol into secure parking where it still is!

The window remained in place thanks to the window tinting and fortunately no one had broken into the cab.  Jen called the local Plod and they suggested it was most likely a BB gun or air rifle received as a Christmas present – you’re able to have .19 caliber air rifles here unlicensed!

Whatever!!

The Police were rather embarrassed when we enlightened them to the fact that we’d just traversed 1000km along the Afghanistan border along with travels through nearly every other of the Stan countries and hadn’t been the recipients of anything other than waves thrown at us! (left out the rifle shots in the Wakhan valley as I didn’t want to take the edge off my story!)

Luckily a replacement window was found at a wrecker so £50 and a couple of hours and all was back as it should be!

New Window Installed

New Window Installed

Sadly we missed the Russian heavy bombers flying down the English Channel!!!

I don’t wish to put a grey shadow over our stay here. These sort of random incidents can occur anywhere! We’ve met so many lovely people here who could not have made us feel more welcome and we have had an outstanding time.  It’s easy to settle in and I love the English sense of humor. Maybe all of those generations of my family that had their roots here have somehow crossed over at a cellular level!

Friends

Friends

Fireworks

Fireworks

Seaside

Seaside

Seafront Pier

Seafront Pier

Littlehampton Harbour

Littlehampton Harbour

Seaside Park in front of the guesthouse

Seaside Park in front of the guesthouse

View from the Balcony

View from the Balcony – more helicopters!!

And we found the StarGate….

The Stargate

The Stargate

The Patrol has just received a full service and a thorough clean of the camper so we are ready to hit the road again soon and start filling our posts with fresh stories.

We aren’t really sure how this year will pan out! At this stage it’s a lap of the UK and Scotland before heading back to Holland and then Norway.  After that, we’ll head towards Turkey and around the Mediterranean before crossing to Morocco.  It will then be back to the UK for Christmas.

Morocco Planning

Morocco Planning

Our original plans have changed quite a bit and we don’t feel we’ve quite quenched our desire to see Europe primarily due to the Schengen visa restrictions so intend on a little further investigation. We were going to cross to Egypt and head for Cape Town at some stage this year, however there are some difficulties in the current environment with regard to getting the Patrol to Egypt.

There are quite a few vehicles still making the crossing and it is possible but shipping appears a little hit and miss at the moment.  One of the biggest factors, however, in our change of plans is that if we cross to Africa we have around 10 to 15000 km to Cape Town and the end of our journey and we aren’t quite ready to consider an end date at the moment.

So we hope to finish this year back here in the UK and then head for Canada, maybe Alaska and then make the big run to Ushuaia in South America. Well that‘s the rough new plan and should the budget hold out that little bit longer we may still be able to offload in South Africa on our way back to the best country I’ve visited so far – Australia.

It’s a rough guide and as usual it comes with a caveat – plans are very fluid!

I will, however, miss English TV:

To Fat To Work – Benefits

17 Kids – Benefits

Cant Work, Won’t Work – Benefits

Immigration Street

Can’t Pay – We’ll take it away

The list goes on! hahaha…

On that note, we are excited, energized and can’t wait to get back into it, all the best to you all and thanks to the wonderful people of Littlehampton for making us feel part of their community!!

Digby!!

Digby!!

Cheers for now

Justin.

Happy New Year!

Just yesterday our website clocked up 10,000 hits and has 65 regular subscribers, something we are quite proud of.  Admittedly Justin’s folks have probably driven that number up by reading our site 15 times a day but we’ll take the cudo’s.

So along those lines I thought I would bore you with some “Observations and Statistics for 2014” but if you are hoping to see how much this has cost so far, then you will be out of luck as that’s not something we want to think about lest we end up in the corner of the room in the foetal position wondering “what were we thinking???” Some creative math with some of the figures will give you an idea…

So here we go…..

Boat ride to boat ride the car has travelled 31088kms and consumed 4293 litres of diesel.

We have taken 6,916 photographs.

We have been travelling 266 days so that’s an average of 26 photos per day, more when I have been drinking! (and better strangely enough!)

Our first night wild camped in Siberia!

Our first night wild-camping in Russia

Our first night wild-camping in Russia

The French seem to have an aversion to putting seats on their toilets.

Some cultures seem to have a problem knowing what the flush button is for on western toilets.

In the airport in Seoul, South Korea they had a special tiny toilet for kids? or maybe really small people.

Tiny Toilet

Tiny Toilet

In Central Asia it was common to see shoe prints on the seat of a western toilet when there was no squat option – clearly sitting down is too difficult compared to climbing up on to and balancing upon the pedestal.

I have never been in a country before where the sun sets at 4pm. (UK)

I can now read Cyrillic – doesn’t mean I understand it but at least I can figure out where we are going!

Lucky I can read Cyrillic

Lucky I can read Cyrillic

Sometimes it’s face value is confusing in English

Lost in translation

Lost in translation

The most expensive diesel we have bought was in the UK at $2.30 per litre.

Cheapest diesel we have bought was in Kazakhstan at $0.70 per litre.

Cheapest Vodka was in Kygyzstan at $2.50 per 700ml bottle (it wasn’t Smirnoff but still good for mixing!)

Vodka!

Vodka!

I now know what a genuine molehill looks like but have yet to see it’s creator. Next time I plan to make a mountain out of a molehill, I’ll know how much work I have ahead of me.

Molehill but no Mole!

Molehill but no Mole!

in fact when it comes to wildlife, foxes and squirrels seem to be the only regulars! There were many road signs promising moose in Russia but none appreared and sadly the only bears seen were in cages.  The best wildlife we have seen were some amazing owls that were part of a display by a rescue group here in the UK so not really wild or free but spectacular nonetheless!

Check out those Eyes!

Check out those Eyes!

Despite the fact that no-one drinks Fosters in Australia it is quite popular in the UK. I met a band called the Bohica’s on the Calais – Dover Ferry drinking Fosters!! Cool guys! ( and yes that is most likely Foster’s spilt on his t-shirt!)

The Bohica's. Dominic to my right and Brendan to my left.

The Bohica’s. Dominic to my right and Brendan to my left.

Hottest temperature experienced on trip: 46C – Uzbekistan

Coldest temperature experienced on trip: -10C – Siberia

I have never seen so many motorhomes being used as I saw in Germany.

Soooo many Motorhomes!

Soooo many Motorhomes!

The British have very specific rules for parking in caravan parks

Strict rules!!

Strict rules!!

Number of different countries visited on trip: 19.

Countries with English as a first language: 1

Different currencies used: 12

The Dutch call a shopping trolly a winkelwagen (still makes us laugh!!!)

The French have interesting rules on swimming attire…

Read the Fine Print!

Read the Fine Print!

Paris is still as beautiful as ever but I should choose more appropriate footwear! 3 visits to Paris over the years and a toenail lost on two of those visits!

Poor Shoe Selection

Poor Shoe Selection

In Mongolia a cosmetics shop was selling snail mucus hand cream!

Real holly grows everywhere in the UK and Northern Europe at Christmas time – quite a novelty

Fireworks are legal to buy in the UK, even at supermarkets – another novelty we’ll be trying out tonight!

Happy New Year and thank you for following us!

Cheers

Jen

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We find ourselves hunkered down in Sussex on the southern coast of cold old England for the next few months, out of the Patrol and into a house for the winter!

Very civilised!

Next year holds the allure of new destinations and more adventures as we continue our travels throughout the UK and back to Europe, still a few experiences to be had on the continent before we will be happy to move on!

It’s been an incredible experience to date and has only made us thirstier for more!

Thanks to all of our family, friends, supporters and followers for your warm wishes and comments and we absolutely wish you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year!

Get out there and stay safe!

We will be back soon with another post and hope to keep you all wondering where we might end up!

For those with some spare time, we have just uploaded a new video to You tube, covering some highlights of our journey from Vladivostok to Tajikistan, it’s really part 1 of our travels.

It covers a lot of ground and I’ve done my best to keep it short, however you will definitely need a coffee and a Tim Tam along with a comfy chair.

Part 2 was the Pamir Hwy video we shared some time ago.

There was a lot of sorting out required for this latest production, that’s my excuse for releasing it later than Part 2.  Some will say it’s just because I’m a little backward or maybe I’m just following in the footsteps of George Lucas and “Star Wars”

Link to You tube:            http://youtu.be/pDVLRPUWzyE

Cheers Justin and Jen.

Au Revoir!

This post is a little longer, just for you Bec!

Cap Blanc Nez provided us with majestic views across the Channel, a lovely reward after a long drive! We’d been awfully lucky with the weather lately and although very windy along the coast it was pleasant.

Views Across the Channel

Views Across the Channel

Our first over sea sunset in a long while!

Our first over-sea sunset in a long while!

France is well equipped for motorhomes with short term stopping areas called “aires” and while these are cheaper than an RV Park they generally have no facilities other than a toilet drop and water supply. Generally the aires are within walking distance of the town centres in which they are located and as such the lack of facilities is made up for by location!  These areas provide affordable stops for campers and as such motorhomes (or camping cars as they are known in France) are restricted from many other parking areas.

Parking Forbidden for Camping Cars

Parking Forbidden for Camping Cars

No Motorhomes!

No Motorhomes! Go away..

Slowly we headed south finding an aire at Boulogne sur Mer with a lovely view across the channel from our site. Not far into France at this stage, we were still amazed at the differences between European countries given there are no borders! You just cross a line on the map and find not only a different language, but also quite often a completely different way of doing things! It’s a little bazaar really.

View from the camper

View from the camper

We spent 2 nights camped here relaxing and enjoying long walks along the beach.  In the morning we realised just how lucky we had been seeing the cliffs of Dover with such clarity the previous day.  Now there was nothing but a swelling ocean of white caps and haze making visibility less than poor.  That afternoon, the winds really started to pick up and darkness brought with it gale force winds which were unrelenting for the next few days.

Sea wall at Boulogne sur Mer

Sea wall at Boulogne sur Mer, the winds were picking up!

We’ve all heard of the quirks that the French are well known for, particularly their dislike of the English! Well, whilst at this camp, we wandered off for a stroll and as we passed an RV we were greeted by a jovial French man looking to converse. When he realised that we spoke English he turned the other way and walked off which we found quite amusing! Upon returning to our camper we heard a knock at the door and our jovial Frenchman was standing there with maps in hand and said “Australie?” It would seem that he had realised we were Aussies whilst we were off walking and that had made all the difference! So the stories are true!  I wondered how he’d have felt if I’d pointed out that fact he’d have been German without those folk on the other side of the channel but I let that one go!!

Friendly local (once he realised we weren't English!)

Friendly local (once he realised we weren’t English!)

With new locations marked on the map we’d just been given, we were again the recipients of friendly assistance! The drive south provided fantastic scenery but with very heavy buffeting from the wind.  Sticking to the back roads, we ambled along at slow speeds and found our way through a myriad of very skinny roads that crisscross the French countryside.  The reward was not only a more relaxing journey but a consistent parade of unbelievable scenery.

Aire at St Aubin sur Mer

Aire at St Aubin sur Mer

Continuing south we managed a reasonably protected aire behind a seawall in the town of St Aubin sur Mer.  Duck shooting is a very popular pass time and it’s not at all unusual to here shot gun shells being released in the evenings and early mornings. I was a little surprised however to be camped within 50m of a pair of duck shooting hopefuls and within 100m of the local town site, the rules are certainly a little more relaxed than what I’m used to. The coast is subject to quite extreme tidal movements, like being in Western Australia’s Kimberley Region. The beaches, which are more mud than sand, have a very gentle gradient and as such the tide recedes a great distance before returning quite quickly.

Boats left high and dry with tidal movements

Boats left high and dry with tidal movements

A day's sailing needs to be planned carefully!

A day’s sailing needs to be planned carefully!

The attractiveness of the coast is very different depending on whether it is high or low tide. I think if you were selling a property along the Western coast of France you’d certainly pick your moment for a home open! As we made our way along the coast, we were continually seeing the remains of German coastal fortifications from WWII.  It’s hard to believe that the Nazi’s managed to put such regular and well constructed bunkers, known as the Atlantic Wall, along the coast from Norway to the Spanish Border.

 

German Fortifications

German Fortifications

Coastal Bunker

Part of the Atlantic Wall

More Bunkers

More Bunkers

This German gun received a direct hit from allied ships in the lead up to the D-day landings.

This German gun received a direct hit from allied ships in the lead up to the D-day landings.

Pock marked earth from bombing

Pock marked earth from bombing

The town of Fécamp proved to be a lovely place and we wandered around looking at some of the architecture, particularly the Benedictine Palace! This is the home of Dom Benedictine Liqueur for those of you whom partake! (That’s you Graham) but we didn’t realise this fact until later and may have spent a little more time there had we known. It’s quite hard being on top of the many attractions as you travel. The tourist bureaus are very good but only ever carry information for their immediate area so this means you end up having to visit them consistently and that can become a little tedious! So we do tend to just wing it a little!

Cliffs at Etretat

Cliffs at Etretat

Windswept Coastline at Etretat

Windswept Coastline at Etretat

D&G

D&G

Benedictine Le Palais -Home of Dom Benedictine

Benedictine Le Palais -Home of Dom Benedictine

We headed inland for a camp in the hope of avoiding some of the blustery winds, as it was becoming a little tedious being buffeted all night. My birthday looming, we were in search of a nice restaurant and with the aid of our Passion France guide we found just what we were looking for! (Passion France is a guide that has locations of overnight stops for self-contained motorhomes at no cost!) We camped at L’Assiette des Mondes, which is home to a family run restaurant! We were more than fortunate for it was a Tuesday and the restaurant is not normally open, however they had a private function in one section and hence were operating.

Les Assiettes du Mondes

L’Assiette des Mondes

L'Assiete des Mondes

L’Assiette des Mondes

A fantastic 4 course meal followed and at the end of the evening, feeling absolutely gluttonous we made the 20m dash back to our camper! I say dash, as the weather was deteriorating further. Fatima and her husband Yves, whom own the restaurant, told us that they were expecting a large storm to pass later that evening. After what was a very blustery night, I’d have to say that no further testing of our camper design with regard to wind resistance is required. It turned out we’d just caught the tail end of a hurricane! It was a seriously nasty night, but more for Jen than I. With earplugs in, I counted sheep and was thankful for the extra couple of glasses of red with dinner.

Stunning town of Honfleur

Stunning town of Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

The following day was calm and that was quite a relief.  After wandering the lovely streets of  nearby Honfleur, we began moving along the Normandy Coast and were quickly made aware of just how strong the winds had been! Large piles of beach sand piled up against houses, earth moving equipment working furiously in an attempt to clear beach access and roads. We were pretty happy that we’d moved away from the coast the previous day!

Sand everywhere after the storms.  The building in this photo is one seen in many famous D-Day photographs

Sand everywhere after the storms. The building in this photo is one seen in many famous D-Day photographs

We planned the next week around the D-day landings and made the pilgrimage along the beautiful coast while being in complete awe of what had taken place all those years ago. Visiting the landing beaches was quite moving, with so many memorials. In places the land has been left as it was after the landings – bomb crater upon bomb crater is a horrible reminder of what took place.

Bomb Craters

Bomb Craters

The town of Arromanches is the location of a circular cinema in which they screen a short film giving an overview of WW2.  It was very moving and Jen was close to tears! There is a museum and other displays also, all perched above the British landing site of Gold Beach, and is also the location of Winston Churchill Harbour. This was a floating harbor constructed by the Allies and towed across the channel for the landings and ongoing resupply. Some of the harbour remains to this day. It’s worth reading about if you’re interested….

Churchill Harbour

Churchill Harbour

IMG_5535 IMG_5559

First house liberated by the Allies

First house liberated by the Allies at Pegasus Bridge

Dakota Aircraft used during the D-Day Landings

Actual Dakota Aircraft used during the D-Day Landings

Old Bunkers

Old German Bunkers

D-Day Landings Map

D-Day Landings Map

Landing boat used in the filming of "Saving Private Ryan"

Original D-Day Landing boat that was also used in the filming of “Saving Private Ryan”

German Grand Bunker in Ouistreham

German “Grand Bunker” in the coastal town of Ouistreham, it commands ocean views and was built behind a string of houses for added camoflage.

German carving in concrete bunker

German carving in the concrete foundations of a gun emplacement, of unmistakeable origin!

We spent a lot of time along the Normandy coast and departed feeling truly fortunate to be able to enjoy the lifestyle we have today and very grateful to those whom lost their lives to ensure it. The outcome of those dark days was very much on a knife-edge and much more tenuous than I was previously aware.

The gave their tomorrow so we could have our today...

..for their tomorrow, we gave our today…

Omaha Beach Cemetery.

A tiny section of the American cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Our only real dislike along the Normandy Coast was the total commercialisation of the war, taking place at many of the historic sites and all of the towns.  Gift shops sell anything from WWII soldier fridge magnets, coasters, aprons, stickers and coffee mugs to replica weapons coupled with any other WWII gimmick they think they can sell! It became quite disheartening to think that so many people lost their lives to now have people profit from their incredible sacrifice with such meaningless junk.  Seemed a little disrespectful…

I must point out, however, that practically every house has a mixture of allied nation flags displayed. There is no doubt that a strong feeling of gratitude and respect along this part of France still exists to this day. The monuments and cemeteries are maintained beautifully and receive many thousands of visitors annually.

Acknowledgement of the past

Gratitude still being shown…

Ready to move on to Bretagne (Brittany) and lighten the mood, we made for another Passion France destination.  The chosen venue was a small volume organic cider distillery. A few tastings inside the 200 year old villa and with a case tucked away in the Patrol we had enjoyed some more lovely French hospitality.

French Organic Cidery

French Organic Cidery

How's this for a French cat!!!

How’s this for a French cat!!!

Onward and Mont St Michel came into view. What an amazing site! However the local council knows how to make money with €20 to park your camper van in the official car park, and you’re still 1 km from the site, but there is a free shuttle bus.  Alternatively it’s €16 to camp in the RV park with all facilities but it’s 2km away! That was an easy decision! There is also an aire that’s even cheaper!

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel Fortifictions

Mont St Michel Fortifications at low tide.

IMG_5697We opted to walk the 2 km out to the Abbey from the RV Park as the walk is lovely and the bus is €3 each way per person for a1 km journey, which then links you with the free shuttle bus if you wish to join the queue for the last km! So it’s not surprising to find that most people opt for the RV Park or aire coupled with the on-foot option!

An amazing feat of engineering, built on a small island not far off the mainland. Completely surrounded by water at high tide, it really is a remarkable spectacle. I wasn’t sure what to expect once inside the walls of the Abbey, and was a little surprised to find a complete village filling the lower levels. Beautiful stonework adorns the buildings, lovely views provided by walkways all around the site. From any angle the Abbey is magnificent.

Within the walls

Within the walls

I have never seen so many restaurants in my life, wall to wall in every nook and cranny along with the obligatory souvenir shops selling anything that China can produce in order to remind you of your visit! I know I’m cynical but it’s a little overdone.

Restaurants

Restaurants

IMG_5689 Travelling west along the Bretagne coast with remarkable scenery and lovely little villages possessing that old world charm, it can be difficult to make any distance as we keep getting side tracked with sites that we just can’t drive past.

Paimpol

Paimpol

It’s all but impossible to bush camp around this area.  Towns are so close together and aires so frequent and inexpensive (or free) that it’s not even worth trying.  Really makes you appreciate the freedom we are able to experience in Australia. I’d kill for a campfire in a bush setting! At one of our overnight camping sites, there was about 300mm between us and the next camper on one side and 500mm on the other, just enough room for the door to open!! 15 places available and they were all taken. We watched a consistent stream of hopeful occupants entering and departing whilst we were there.

Tight Squeeze

Tight Squeeze

We often end up in conversation with other travellers but it’s almost impossible to describe our journey to them when asked. First they are amazed that we are still alive, (we can probably thank media mistruths regarding the world in general for those questions), then they are amazed at the distance we’ve travelled! One thing that really sticks out for me as markedly different is what we might expect from a camping or touring trip in Australia, compared to Europe. The discussion here is always about which towns to visit and where the best aires with toilet drop facilities are! The thought of heading down a remote track and camping by yourself with no facilities, not to mention no access to a patisserie is a completely alien concept to the European motor-homer! Let alone what 4×4 is used for! How can you camp alone – aren’t you frightened of being attacked?

I could go on but you get the idea!!

Continuing our tour of Bretagne, we entered a section known as the Cote de Granit Rose, really magnificent! A rough coastline covered with granite boulders, many larger than a suburban house!

Huge granite boulders dot the coastline

Easy to see why it is called the Granite Coast.

St Jacut de la Mer was the target for the days travel.  We found a good aire with plenty of space between sites whilst being located near the beach.  It was a nice respite from the close proximity camps that make up most of the locations where you can stop. Wandering through the small village, I’m once again mystified at how the French actually make any money? Most small villages are basically ghost towns for the better part of the day.  They open for a couple of hours in the morning followed by a long siesta before coming alive for a few hours in the late afternoon. It obviously works for them but I’m getting the impression they are rather lazy! (I make that comment as I get out of bed at 10am and am unable to find a patisserie that’s still open so that I can start the day with a croissant – very distressing!)

Aire at St Jacut Du la Mer

Aire at St Jacut Du la Mer

With blue skies and unseasonably high temperatures making T-shirts and shorts once again the clothing of choice, it was a lovely few days. If you persevere you’re generally able to drive right along the coast, avoiding the motorways, but it does necessitate a lot of slow negotiation of small villages along the way.  However these villages invariably become the highlight of the drive and more than compensate for the slower pace.

We were approached 3 times by locals during our passage of this section, as they were surprised to see foreign tourists in the area, let alone an Australian vehicle! Apparently it’s not as popular as the southern part of Bretagne and receives very little in the way of international tourism. I was really surprised by that as it turned out to be one of the prettiest areas geographically that we’ve encountered along the French coast.

Again following the coast and winding our way along tiny little sealed roads we were stunned by the amount of chateaus that are encountered! When I say chateaus, I mean massive majestic buildings that are usually hundreds of years old, hidden behind large groves of trees and manicured hedges! It’s autumn here and as such the foliage of the forests is morphing into a splendor of orange and brown, creating luminescent colours as the sun manages to pass through the canopy.  It’s really beautiful. The downside on many of the smaller roads is the amount of leaf litter that accumulates and then becomes a soggy trap for rain and mist due to not receiving any sunlight, resulting in some very, very slippery roads!!

Yep I’m speaking from experience.

The Tregastel area and the Plumonac’h Lighthouse are without doubt a must see in this area – the pictures will tell the story!

Plutonac'h Lighthouse

Plutonac’h Lighthouse

Whilst camped at the town of St Pol de Leon we were reminded of the fact that we all have different travelling styles.

Aire at St Pol de Leon

Aire at St Pol de Leon

2 people in each??

2 people in each??

The RV above, is the holiday home for not 12 people but 2!! Complete with a quad bike in the rear garage! No doubt you’d need an alternate form of transport if travelling in a large RV as the small roads and villages just can’t handle them whilst many of the campsites have entry locations inaccessible to such monolithic motor homes. Having said that however, the fit out in these vehicles is amazing – more rooms than the average house and very comfortable for the European winter. They are a choice that I understand works to a degree in these countries, as going off-road is generally not possible and is not even considered by most.

The Crozon Peninsula is one of the furthest points west that you can travel along the coast. Freezing cold winds and seas whipped into confused masses of waves made for a great reminder of mother nature and her power, after a quick walk amongst the elements we made for the Patrol and the heater before beginning our transit east.

Crozon Peninsula

Crozon Peninsula, a freezing wind made our stay rather short.

Iveco's copy of a Land Rover with leaf springs!

Iveco’s copy of a Land Rover with leaf springs spotted on the Crozon Peninsula! hmmmm….

We found a nicely protected aire after a short drive and nestled amongst a multitude of motor homes.  Many of the RV’s here seemed to be quite settled which isn’t something we’d previously seen. We soon worked out that they were all heading off with buckets at low tide in the pursuit of oysters.  Returning with buckets brimming, they would spend the rest of the day cooking and eating them whilst enjoying a couple of drinks – repeating the process day after day!

Oystering

Oystering

Unlike those camping trips at home where we might spend a week or so fishing and swimming on a beach somewhere, campfire burning and gazing over the ocean, these guys retire to a bitumen car park surrounded by houses and roads! Very different way of doing things! I guess it’s all about what your used too!!

Morgat

Morgat

Next on our agenda was the village of Rochfort en Terre.  Jen had heard that it was quite a historical old town and worth a detour. All that I can say about this little place is – Wow!

Rochefort en Terre

Rochefort en Terre

Rochefort en Terre

Rochefort en Terre

The beginnings of this town stretch back to somewhere around the tenth century. Cobbled streets and old stone stairways, displaying indents eroded into them from the millions of footsteps that have been laid upon them over the centuries. Loaded with character, I’d have to say this town has made it close to the top of our list of favourites so far.

Although not as stunning as the beautiful scenery that surrounded the Rhine and Mosel Rivers in Germany, Amboise proved itself to be a stopover worth the effort. After arriving late in the afternoon, we were met by a myriad of tiny one-way streets enroute to the local aire, which seems to be commonplace in France. The aire we chose was well located on an island in the middle of the Loire River and we were fortunate to meet John and Mary from the UK there.

John and Mary

John and Mary

Should probable check the spelling before you put a monument up...

I am sure that’s supposed to be Leonardo da Vinci – Must be a french thing?

Seasoned European travellers with their motorhome, we were once again able to top up with useful tips on things to see – one being the house in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived in during his last years and located close to the edge of the town. Now a dedicated museum to Da Vinci and his life’s work, it contained a collection of models and life size working displays of his myriad of ideas and concepts and was an historic site that I’m glad we didn’t miss.

Da Vinci's Last Residence

Da Vinci’s Last Residence

The region is loaded with chateaus and some of them, such as Chenonceau, are not only amazing architectural structures, but just flat out jaw droppingly stunning.  Apparently when in it’s hey day, you could enter on one side of this chateau and be in occupied France before exiting at the other end of the building across the river to find yourself in Free France.  It was this passage that enabled many to escape the Nazis during the War.

Chateau du Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chateau du Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau

An overnight stop enroute to Paris and then we were met with the vista of an icon that we all know.  Our first view of the Eiffel Tower from the motorway was a fantastic moment. Although we’ve been in France a month or so, all of sudden hit with the majestic silhouette of such an alluring structure it began to sink in – Just how far we have travelled and what a fantastic adventure we’ve had to date.First View of Eiffel Tower

First View of Eiffel Tower
Paris Signage

Paris motorway.

White vans just off the motorway are prostitutes waiting for customers!!

White vans just off the motorway are prostitutes waiting for customers!! I’m not kidding..

We made the drive to the Indigo RV park which is sensationally located on the banks of the Seine and only about 4km from the Arc de Triomphe as the crow flies. The thought of Parisian traffic was making me a little nervous, as I’d read that the park was in a great location but required driving near the city centre. Which is known to be a nightmare. As it turned out, it was easily reached on good roads and as such we were more than happy with our choice.

Not often you see this on your SATNAV

Not often you see this on your SATNAV

The campsite provides a shuttle bus with a regular timetable into the city centre for a small fee, which made transiting into Paris really easy.  Its secondary benefit (or maybe the primary one as far as the RV park is concerned) is that it also ensures that you don’t inadvertently stray into the large park between you and the “Arc” that is home to many ladies of the night!

Paris is just one of those cities, with such amazing sights as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral that it really is a must visit. It has a character all of it’s own and strolling around the city is an easy way to make hours seem like minutes. We have visited Paris previously and this really worked in our favour as we only had a few must do things on our list unlike our last visit, which was fairly intense.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower, doesn’t really need a caption does it?

Selfie at the Eiffel Tower

Selfie at the Eiffel Tower

First was the Eiffel Tower and another excursion to the top of this amazing structure. Requiring some patience, as you won’t be alone in this aspiration, large queues of eager visitors are part and parcel of travel to such destinations. But what visit to Paris would be complete without such an ascent, the majestic views across the Parisian landscape from the 300m+ structure are just breathtaking.

Can't take credit for this one (Photo of a Photo)

Can’t take credit for this one (Photo of a Photo)

Glass platform on the first level of the Eiffel Tower

Glass platform on the first level of the Eiffel Tower

Top Floor!

Top Floor!

Amazing Architecture!

Amazing Architecture!

View of the Arc de Triomphe

View of the Arc de Triomphe

More Views

More Views

Engineering Mastery!

Engineering Mastery!

IMG_6016 A few hours later and we made our way back to ground level, finding we’d spent most of the day doing nothing but enjoying our surrounds.

Paris Sculptures adorn the City!!

Paris Sculptures adorn the City!! He is a big boy..

We just wandered along the River Seine and around the grounds of the Louvre, slowly making our way back toward the campground via the Arc de Triomphe. As we approached this amazing monument, we found our timing was impeccable. The following day would be the 11th of the 11th and Armistice Day would require the transformation of this majestic monument for the purpose of remembrance. A huge French flag was suspended from the arch and with a light breeze keeping it partially unfurled; it was a truly grand sight. With military bands rehearsing, we were once again reminded of wartime history and the cost of freedom.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs Elysee

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs Elysee

IMG_6044 We departed Paris on the 11th and made north toward the Somme River. We attempted a detour through Paris with the aim of driving to the Basilica de Sacre Coeur, but ended up bailing on that idea.  Nissan Patrols and central Paris don’t really mix all that well, and I was beginning to find the drive, well, a little stressful! You can only dodge so many little Renaults and Fiats before you’ve had enough, and I’d had enough!

Heading north we stuck to our usual game plan of remaining off the motorways where convenient and adopted the principles of “pin the tale on the donkey” to choose a destination. The town of Conty was our target, once within a few kms of this little precinct we began noticing cars parked all along the road verge! The quantity of cars increased as we closed in on the town until it was literally, wall to wall with not a space to be found anywhere. It turned out that the Conty Community Fair day was in full swing (the 11th of the 11th is a public holiday)

We continued following our GPS, which was navigating us to an aire in the centre of town and right amongst the festivities. Feeling rather doubtful that we’d be able to make it all the way to the waypoint, let alone have parking present itself. Undeterred and with a steady stream of French eyeballs upon us we continued to our destination, upon seeing the motorhome parking sign we pulled in and were surprised to find an acre on which we could park.  It would seem that the locals had left the parking area relatively free for its intended use. A 50m walk and we spent a couple of hours digging amongst the numerous French stalls, selling anything from escargot to antiques.  Jen was in heaven!

Conty Community Fair

Conty Community Fair

After a relaxing day and having the good fortune of stumbling upon this quaint little town brimming with atmosphere, we found ourselves nestled back inside our camper in the darkness of the campsite preparing dinner.

Spicy eyes!

Spicy eyes!

That’s when we heard the familiar rumble of an arriving motorhome. Now to put you in the picture, there is one other RV parked up and it’s some 30m away (it was parked up when we arrived!), there is a grass area to park on easily 100m long. With predictability as solid as that which tells us the sun will rise tomorrow, our new arrival camped no more than 10feet from us! They are so conditioned to camping on top of each other that even when they have an acre to choose from they will gravitate to any other camper like a fly in your coffee floats to the edge!

Aire at Conty

Aire at Conty, not much room so we will stick close together!!

Next we headed for Villers-Bretonneux – rather central to the area in which the Battle of the Somme was fought. It’s one the areas in which Australian troops fought and died in large numbers during WW1. I won’t go on about the battles; the pictures below show many of the sights if you wish to take a look.

Australian memorial at Villers Brettoneaux

Australian memorial at Villers Bretonneux, a very moving site.

IMG_6087 IMG_6093  

Red Baron Crash Site

The site where the Red Baron met his end as a result of Australian ground fire.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial with the names of 72,000 servicemen whose resting places are unknown

IMG_6161

Windmill Memorial Site at Pozieres

Windmill Memorial Site at Pozieres, the site of heavy engagement for the Australian forces.

Trenches at Beaumont-Hamel

Trenches at Beaumont-Hamel, Newfoundland troops (later they became part of Canada) fought furiously here in conditions that we can’t even fathom.

IMG_6178 With only a few days left before my 3 months in the EU was due to expire; we made for Calais and the Channel crossing. A rainy afternoon was spent in transit, culminating in our arrival at the port of Calais where we set up camp adjacent to the ferry departure point. With tickets booked we spent the next day cleaning and preparing before wandering around Calais and enjoying our last afternoon on European soil.

Aire at Calais Harbour

Aire at Calais Harbour

Calais Town Hall

Calais Town Hall

Calais Beach

Calais Beach

Decorated WWII Bunker

Decorated WWII Bunker, these things are everywhere.

Arriving at the port the following day, we made our way through French customs and proceeded to UK customs where a little bit of extra time was spent. I had to convince customs that I was not going to overstay my maximum 6 months in the UK. I’m glad that I had observed the Schengen zone rules for I was now under a little scrutiny! Because we were entering with our own vehicle and no onward tickets of any kind I wasn’t surprised at having to explain the situation! A short time later and we were back in the vehicle queue and on our way.

Boarding the ferry

Boarding the ferry

View of the Aire from the ferry port

View of the Aire from the ferry port

31000km since landing in Vladivostok and just over 7 months later, the Patrol once again found itself at sea. The old cliché applies here – time really has flown!

Back soon with tales from the motherland..

Cya – Justin.

PS: We are now happily camped in Ramsgate just north of Dover, clocks again adjusted and it’s completely dark by 4:30pm! What the..?..?

White Cliffs of Dover..

I’ve enjoyed being the epitome of the lazy tourist for a few weeks, the consequence being that I’m behind with our blog!

Now I know a lot of you out there are keen on reading about the more difficult to visit destinations such as the “Stans”- after all Europe isn’t quite as confronting and it’s mostly black top and RV parks, but some of the scenery really is jaw dropping!

I’ll try and keep you smiling until we manage to get ourselves back into some of the less travelled regions of Earth. We are enjoying our sabbatical, but the desire for more remote destinations is building and it will need to be quenched at some stage…

Stunning Bavarian Vista

Stunning Bavarian Vista

West through stunning Bavarian scenery sporting a skyline of continuous mountain peaks made for an easy transit toward Garmisch. Approaching the outskirts of this village you’re met by the spectacle of a ski ramp rising skyward from an Olympic stadium of the 1930’s. The ramp is of modern standard after numerous reconstructions over the decades but really is quite imposing.

Olympic Ski Ramp

Olympic Ski Ramp

Tourist information in English, in these less “foreign” touristed areas, has proved as difficult to obtain as genuine photos of the Yeti! We knew that Partnach Gorge was a highlight of any visit to this town but do you think there were any signs or information to point us in the right direction??? Finally after a considerable amount of time had passed and numerous discussions in the cab had been had! a stop at a local sports store yielded a result and we discovered that the entrance was via the Olympic Stadium.  Anyway that’s another story.

An amazingly beautiful, fast flowing river has obviously been toiling away over a millennia to create this stunning spectacle. A passage along one of the sheer cliffs containing the river was originally carved out by hunters for the purpose of obtaining access to the valley beyond before later providing loggers an easy yet treacherous mode of delivering freshly felled timber from distant forests.

Partnach Gorge

Partnach Gorge

Partnach Gorge

Partnach Gorge

Partnach Gorge

Partnach Gorge

Open to tourists since the early 1900’s it’s a marvelous addition to an already spoilt for natural beauty region of Germany.

Onward to Füssen and the location of Neuschwanstein Castle.  Looking like something straight from a fairy tale, this is a fairly young castle by European Standards, constructed in the 1800’s. It’s design and creation by King Ludwig III reveal stories of treachery and monarchy gone mad. Who’d have thought!!

As with many must see natural and man-made marvels the world over, you will certainly not be alone whilst enjoying the view! Even at the time of our visit in off season, we had to visit 2 RV parks before we could find a site, the park we ended up in had just shy of 800 bays….

Our first night in the park saw me rather irritated as the space next to us was filled quite late in the evening by a couple with a small child travelling in a VW van.  The child hardly made a noise whilst it’s most ignorant parents quickly reminded me why I vary rarely camp in built up areas at home in Aus! The sliding door on the side of the van was definitely in need of servicing by morning as it had been opened and slammed every ten minutes for the previous 8 hours with no regard for those neighbouring their site. Watching them depart in the morning was almost spiritual for me, but was replaced by dread at the thought of what may park next to us the following evening.  So we moved the Patrol to a location without a spare space alongside! It was a good plan but unfortunately our new neighbours soon packed up and departed leaving us again vulnerable.

(maybe it’s me, the beer drinking Aussie!)

Now a little savvier to the German way, we obtained our campsite guest cards, which provided us with free public transport to Neuschwanstein Castle. You can only enter the castle itself by joining a tour, however it was well organised and worth the entry fee. I will let the photo’s speak for themselves..

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Castle visit over and feeling a little forlorn about what may await us back at the campground, we headed for our little house and found our adjoining space filled by Uwe and Roswitha, another lovely German couple travelling in their RV for a couple of weeks relaxation. I was greatly relieved and shortly found myself enjoying a cold beer with Uwe as the clouds once again crowded out the sun and the rain started.

Uwe and Roswitha

Uwe and Roswitha

An invitation to dinner was quickly forthcoming and so it was that the 4 of us enjoyed a lovely meal in a restaurant located in the campground. Campground restaurant I hear you snort, well there were 2 restaurants and a Pizzeria along with a beer garden and supermarket and all was well above the standard you’d expect in your local area back in Aus!

Numerous tasty dishes were ordered along with a consistent stream of fantastic beer, each one generally followed by a shooter of Schnapps! The Germans certainly have a few habits that I’d readily take on board. The evening came to a close and it became apparent that the bill had been taken care of! How’s that for generosity.

A little under the weather we retired for the evening before saying goodbye the following morning to our latest friends whom we’ve added to our now very long list.

It’s become complicated to plan a route through Europe as we are finding that we change our minds all of the time as there are so many sites warranting a visit. Choosing a direction and destination in a location as varied as Europe is quite difficult. “Tough life” I hear you say!! Whilst Jen has previously visited Berlin, I haven’t and I’m rather keen to explore the capital of Germany. But with travelling through such majestic scenery as that of Bavaria we now found ourselves a stones throw from The Rhine and Mosel rivers! Decision taken and Berlin will wait a little longer as it’s just too nice where we are to dash northeast, well for now anyway!

Misty Bush Camp

Misty Bush Camp

Continuing northwest and staying off the motorway for most of the drive toward Heidelberg, we even managed a bush camp up a muddy track on the side of a hill! Rain has been sporadic with nice stretches of blue sky, and lovely misty mornings but it’s obvious that Autumn is showing it’s face. With beautiful burnt colours appearing amongst the leaves as the sun slowly shifts southward, we can almost see winter approaching!

On the autobahn for a spell and you really have to be careful when you overtake (which admittedly is not very often for us!!!) as cars in the fast lane appear as a speck in the rear view mirror and the next second they pass in a blur so pulling out really has to be taken seriously.

IMG_5257

The town of Sinsheim came into view, home to an amazing museum brimming with exhibits. From an actual Air France Concorde and it’s Russian counterpart through to amazing mechanised displays, vintage cars, fashion, trains and F1 racing there were displays to meet every taste and age.  Hours were expunged as we wandered around the massive complex until you just reach overload and enough is enough.

Concorde!

Concorde!

Sinsheim Display

Sinsheim Display

Sinsheim Technical Museum

Sinsheim Technical Museum

Amazing Displays

Amazing Displays

Scooters!!!

Scooters!!!

Sinsheim Display

Sinsheim Display

 

Proof we were there!

Proof we were there!

Heidelberg is another majestic little enclave, with it’s own partly ruined castle as the centerpiece, the Neckar River on one side and large hills the other make it an obvious location for a townsite.

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Onward toward the Rhine River and camp was had in a campground adjacent to the town of Bacharach. We were given a spot right on the banks of the Rhine under the shade of a fully laden walnut tree and watched the passing parade of Rhine boats and APT river cruises! I’ll not bore you with hours of descriptions of old towns with cobbled streets, ancient forts surrounded by motes and high buttress walls of stunning beauty, because just about every village encountered has the same stunning appeal.

View From Our Campsite

View From Our Campsite

Random Castle

Random Castle

Visiting Swans

Visiting Swans

Townsite opposite

Townsite opposite

Another view from our campsite

Another view from our campsite

Our slightly eccentric neighbour Andy swimming in the Rhine

Our slightly eccentric neighbour Andy swimming in the Rhine

Andy's Camper!

Andy’s Camper!

 

Another neighbour with genuine Clogs!

Another neighbour with genuine Clogs!

Watching the cruise boats slip along the river then dock at the various towns whilst their guests disembark for a spell of shopping, you quickly work out that avoiding those periods or spending more time in the villages where these floating hotels don’t visit will be a lot easier on your wallet!

There is always a campsite adjacent to the villages and specifically for those fitting the description of a motorhome you’re able to use sites known in Germany as stellplatz.  These are designed more for short-term stops and don’t make provision for spreading out and settling in as a campsite/RV park does.

Generally not much in the way of bathroom facilities but a whole lot cheaper and usually located within walking distance of the village center, hence we generally head for one of these.

Continuing along the Rhine to the junction of the Mosel River and a quick visit to the town of Koblenz, a graceful central area loaded with sculptures and ornate architecture. Koblenz is one of only a few German towns that wasn’t bombed by the allied forces during WWII. Apparently Churchill felt it was such a beautiful city that it wasn’t to feel the brunt of bombardment.

The local RV park here is situated in a great part of the city and they obviously know it as they were charging as if they were a Hotel and not a campsite, enough old forts for now so we made for the Mosel River and kept our Euro’s.

Our cat Rajah enjoying a wine also

Our cat Rajah enjoying a wine also

The Mosel proved to be equally if not more stunning than the Rhine, a smaller river once again loaded with ruined forts, castles and buildings reinforces just how long this area has been inhabited. We found a few locations along here where we could have bush camped quite easily but as we want to spend time wandering the old villages we stuck to camping in the stellplatz sites instead.

Who's the odd one out?

Who’s the odd one out?

So many RV's!!!!

So many RV’s!!!!

Camping Companions - Laurent and Els

Camping Companions – Laurent and Els

Graham and Sue

Graham and Sue

Graham and Sue's RV

Graham and Sue’s RV

Our last stop along the Mosel was the city of Trier, one of the oldest cities in Germany. Peppered throughout the town are various types of Roman ruins, from baths to castle walls, again an area so rich in diverse history it’s just fantastic.

Trier

Trier

Bernkastel

Bernkastel

Dog parking

Dog parking

Typical Stellplatz

Typical Stellplatz

David and Rosie

David and Rosie

Suddenly it’s early October and we are parking in the driveway of Jen’s relatives in Veghel, Holland.  I can’t quite believe we’ve been on the road for 6 months and have about 30,000km behind us! A lovely reunion awaited us, as we were last were here in 2005 – it seemed like yesterday!

The Family!

The Family!

Jan and Rosemary spent the next 10 days making sure that we were not to want for anything, and a relaxing spell from the rigours of touring (it’s tough!) was enjoyed!

s'Hertogenbosch

s’Hertogenbosch

IMG_5286 IMG_5289 IMG_5308

Whilst here we met up with Eric from Adventure Trucks, (www.adventuretrucks.com) who manufactures 4×4 truck based expedition campers of fantastic quality! You never quite know how a visit to a company overseas will go, as a few emails were the only background to go on and it was really a snap decision to visit. The result was that we managed to put Eric back a day on his schedule as we drank coffee and swapped travel stories like old friends. Along with his wife they had shipped an 80 series Landcruiser to Australia and spent 7 months doing the lap a few years ago.

Erik from Adventure Trucks

Erik from Adventure Trucks

Safe to say that the overland community is an eclectic mix of travellers, sharing a definite passion for something different.

It’s probably a good time to mention our onward journey and our change in plans!  Our original rough concept was to travel across to the UK before returning to Europe and then down to Morocco prior to heading around the Mediterranean to Turkey and south through Africa. It was never fixed in stone and was always likely to suffer review.

I’d hoped to obtain an extended visa for the EU in Holland and avoid the ridiculous rule of only being able to stay in any of the combined schenghen zone countries for 3 months in any 6, but it was not to be, so a change of plan is in order!

Anyway I won’t bother going into the visa nitty gritty. There is a lot of talk around on how you can avoid the 3 month rule via different entry and exit points and all sorts of other suggestions.  I know many people have managed to stay longer without any problems. But if you’re caught it doesn’t bode well for any future visits to the EU and can have other consequences so abide by the rules I shall!

There is discussion of the restrictions being lifted in the next couple of years but of course the wheels of progress turn ever so slowly…

So instead of Portugal for Christmas, we will cross the Channel by the middle of November and hopefully spend 6 months (the maximum time allowed for an Aussie of my vintage) in the UK during which time we hope to explore England’s corners, including heading north to Aberdeen and visiting John and family! Yep that’s right John we are coming your way!!

From there, the plan is to re-enter Europe with a fresh 3 months and make for Norway. When we work out the next bit I will let you know!

The more we see of Europe the more we want to see and although the camping is regulated and getting off the road is difficult we hope to see as much as we can before our journey ends!

Whether it will include North Africa is up for debate at the moment! We have some irons in the fire though and should our budget hold out, we intend to hold out along with it!

Departing Hotel Jan and Rose-Marie, we made for Bergen Op Zoom and another long spell without smelling the ocean was broken, continuing south saw us depart the Netherlands and we made for Bruges in Belgium. Met with a night of constant rain in the campground we were fortunate to have perfect conditions the following day as we wandered around the eye-catching old town site.

Saying Goodbye is never easy!

Saying Goodbye is never easy!

Street View Veghel

Street View Veghel

On almost every corner you’ll find a chocolate confectionary shop producing famous Belgium chocolates in forms that can only be described as pure art!

Chocolate Tools!

Chocolate Tools!

A couple of days later and we headed for the coast of Belgium – very different to what I’d expected. The old villages inland gave way to a section of coast that is obviously a summer resort; Blankenberge is Belgium’s “Gold Coast” but on a much smaller scale. Wall to wall apartments blocks are just behind the sand dunes with a beachfront promenade of café’s and shops making up the tourist strip.

Blankenberge

Blankenberge

Belgium Pier

Belgium Pier

Inland and southeast to Ypres, we wanted to revisit some of the sites of the battles of WWI. In 2005 we had spent a day on a tour of Flanders Fields and surrounds but now with our own transport we were able to spend a little more time at the sites of particular interest to us as Australians. Our visit to the area coincides with ongoing commemorations for the 100-year anniversaries of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Memorable to visit during this time, but also difficult as many sites are loaded with tourists, this fact along with many specific events planned at locations such as Tyne-Cot Cemetery made visiting quite a challenge.

Tyn-Cot is the final resting place for many Australian Diggers and really makes for a sobering visit. Belgium is peppered with War Cemeteries and memorial sites, throughout villages and towns, they are just everywhere.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

IMG_5385 IMG_5390 IMG_5389 IMG_5396 IMG_5401

Since 1928 in Ypres, the Last Post is played every evening at 8pm come rain, hail or shine at the Menin Gate. It is an enormous sign of respect by the City of Ypres to all the servicemen whose names appear on the walls of the gate and who gave their lives to ensure the freedom of Belgium. We found it very moving.

Menin Gate

Menin Gate

Last Post

Last Post

Menin Gate

Menin Gate

Ypres has one RV Park and we managed to jag the last bay for our first night but found ourselves parked along the street with a multitude of different motorhomes the following night as the RV Park was booked out.  Talking to the staff at the RV Park, they said it’s only been since April this year with all the 100yr commemorations that they are fully booked most nights – a situation unheard of at this time of the year normally.  It would seem that with no official alternatives, local Police are turning a blind eye to overnight street camping.

Street Camping

Street Camping

A few days later and we skirted Dunkerque and hit the French coast just south of Calais; Crystal clear conditions provided us with majestic views of the white cliffs of Dover. It was so clear the English cliffs appeared almost luminous as they were bathed in sunshine and capped with blue sky.

The UK In Sight

The UK In Sight

White Cliffs Of Dover

White Cliffs Of Dover

 

It was truly sensational seeing England appear across the channel, shortly we will be over there for a very cold Christmas!!

Au revoire!!   Justin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABC Another Beautiful City!!

NB.  This is a fairly long one so get a coffee!!!

The word had been that Krakow was well worth the stopover and disappointed we were not!

After setting up in the RV Park early in the afternoon we found ourselves indulging in a favorite combination, Blue Costello Cheese and a glass (or 2) of red! A fantastic smell wafted past, my tongue fell out of my mouth reminiscent of a thirsty dog slobbering after a run on the beach!

I mentioned to Jen that if we could locate the RV emitting the alluring fragrance we might be able to sneak in and obtain a taste! Shortly after this we were approached by Daniel, one of 2 operators of a whirlwind 2-week history tour from Sweden with a group of school students and teachers.  They were travelling in a large pink bus.

The Pink Bus

The Pink Bus

A little while later and we realised it was Daniel’s cooking emitting the aroma that we were finding so pleasant so we wandered over with the intention of finding out what smelled so good and were greeted by a huge Paella dish loaded with a concoction of ingredients.

Swedish Paella!

Swedish Paella!

After obtaining an idea of what was in the dish we began wandering back to our camp, from behind came Daniels’ voice! Bring your plates we’ve got plenty to go around!!

An invitation that didn’t need to be repeated, we had dinner in the company of the students and teachers with Jen spending much of her time answering questions about our travels. And yes – it tasted as delightful as it’s aroma!

Students on the Pink Bus

Students on the Pink Bus

The blue sky again morphed into grey depressive drizzle during the night and our freshly washed clothes now found themselves hanging under the awning.

Blackness slowly lifting as morning approached, we lay snuggled beneath the doona with the Webasto heater idling in the background whilst listening to the constant pitter-patter of drizzle on the roof! Looking out the window at the saturated tent in the next campsite we were suitably happy with our decision to build our camper for this journey. After some 3 weeks of consistent and at times torrential rain I’m positive we would not have found ourselves in such an upbeat mood if our accommodations and gear were all soaking wet.

So a day of grey skies and rain in Krakow was in store for us. We didn’t have to force ourselves to do nothing; the weather did it for us!

Now that we’ve been on the road for a while we are finding that we need to have the odd day that pretty well consists of doing absolutely nothing, just relaxing and recharging, so a grey day provides an excuse to be still!

After doing nothing for most of the day other than warming a camp chair and enjoying free Wi-Fi, we found ourselves suitably relaxed and ready for our next history laden tour of an historic city! Our tenting neighbors arrived back from their day’s expedition of Krakow and were more than happy enlightening us with regards what to visit and the like! They were heading home to Normandy over the next couple of days and with details swapped we hope to see them there!

Our French neighbour Angelique

Our French neighbour Angelique

Krakow has a stunning central square surrounded by facades of ornate design with spires reaching hundreds of feet skyward! As well as the obligatory castle of course.

Castle

Castle Spires

Castle

Krakow

Krakow

Krakow Main Square

Krakow

Krakow

Cafe where we had coffee

Cafe where we had coffee

Streetscape Krakow

Streetscape Krakow

Krakow

Krakow

We even caught a glimpse of another celebrity – Colonel Sanders on tour!!

Colonel Sanders!!!!

Colonel Sanders!!!!

Heading off again we made for the town of Zacopane, nestled in the mountains along the Slovak border. On the advice of our friend Terry, whose house it was we were heading for in Slovakia, Zacopane proved to be a lovely detour. Most of Poland is very flat, but quickly gives rise to majestic mountain vista’s as you make headway toward the southern border with Slovakia. Nestled amongst these picturesque peaks Zacopane provides the visitor with the quintessential Alpine ski resort vista!

Orava Castle enroute to Terry's

Orava Castle enroute to Terry’s

We had dinner plans with Terry and his daughter Bridget at 7pm and as we were a little late departing Krakow, ended up cutting it a little fine, arriving at Terry’s at 6:40pm! The house is nestled in the town of Hrabicov in the north of Slovakia in a delightful valley.

A fabulous meal was enjoyed as we caught up with Terry and Bridget. Returning to Terry’s, we enjoyed some cheese and wine before retiring for the evening!

Terry's Kitchen

Terry’s Kitchen

Terry's House

Terry’s House

Terry's House

Terry’s House

After a morning of relaxation we were all heading for Vienna airport, tasked with ensuring that Bridget made her flight to London and the beginning of a stint working in the old country!

Now Terry is a little bit of a wine buff.  Well maybe more than a little bit as he has a vineyard in the south west of Western Australia. So when he suggested a slight detour enroute to the airport for a little wine tasting, we didn’t really have any objections! So it was just inside the Austrian border that we found ourselves indulging in some lovely wines whilst enjoying the warmth of a sunny afternoon.

Austrian Wine Tasting

Austrian Wine Tasting

Austrian Wine Cellars

Austrian Wine Cellars

Austrian Wine Cellars

Austrian Wine Cellars

Post Bridget’s exodus, we stopped in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava for a wander around the old city and a bite to eat, another amazing old town with cobblestone streets and buildings that ooze history and charisma.

Again - Bratislava by Night

Bratislava by Night

Man at work!

Man at work!

Bratislava by Night

Again – Bratislava by Night

Speedway is a national pastime in this country and as such we were soon invited to the local racetrack for a few drinks whilst watching a live race meet occurring in Poland on the big screen, late into the evening we were introduced to the local  Russian Style 9 pin bowling alley with marionette style pins, balls with no finger holes and all around 40 years old!!

9 Pin Bowling!

9 Pin Bowling!

Marionette Style!

Marionette Style!

All suffering slightly diminished motor skills at this point (must be the water), it was Jen that nailed the only strike of the evening and she made sure we were all aware of the fact!!

Sunday saw us back at the track for a local meet where we had a sensational day mixing with the Slovakian people and watching them cheer and scream as their local rider and third best in Poland came through with the win!

Slovakian Speedway

Slovakian Speedway

Slovakian Speedway

Slovakian Speedway

With lovely restaurants and day trips to medieval ruined castles we were quickly and easily becoming settled.

Post Speedway!

Post Speedway! Terry, Branislav and Jen

Restaurant beneath Hrad Reviste

Restaurant beneath Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

Hrad Reviste

 

Farewell to our new Slovakian Friends

Farewell to our new Slovakian Friends

After nearly a week of thorough relaxation we departed Slovakia and made for the Czech Republic, enroute to the town of Valtice. The Moravian Region of the Czech Republic is renowned for it’s quality wines so a stop was without doubt going to deserve a waypoint in the sat-nav. I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever seen Jen enter a waypoint come to think of it!

We are still having good success in locating bush camps and this night’s was exactly what we needed – deep ruts full of rain sodden black mud that lasted only about 50m and then onto an old disused road and a lovely camp.  Back in Krakow we’d been amazed when after one nights rain we were treated to the spectacle of watching not one but three moderately sized motorhomes unable to move off the lawn on which they were parked due to the lack traction combined with excessive throttle depression! I was surprised to see most drivers just sitting in the cab, holding the accelerator down with no real idea what the problem was!  50m of muddy ruts is never going to be on their agenda so once you are off the main road you are on your own!

Bush Camp

Bush Camp

Hopefully our luck holds and we can manage to mix paid with unpaid camps and keep the budget healthy!

Many of the campsites we’ve used of late have been in locations near Hunters Hide’s. Some even sporting drums of oats that the Hunters will sprinkle within view of the Hide over the days prior to using the site. After we realized just how frequent these towers are we have taken to having a really good look around our chosen camps to assess whether any are nearby and if they are, do they show signs of recent use. We don’t really have a desire to hear rifle fire whilst camped again!

Hunters Hide

Hunters Hide

We arrived in Valtice and headed straight into the main town square and our first tasting venue at the Podzemi (Valtice Underground) a series of underground cellars that played host to our first evening and make for an interesting wander through the labyrinth of tunnels.

Valtice Podzemi

Valtice Podzemi

The following day was devoted to “Salon Vin” – another underground cellar beneath the old castle containing what have been voted the top 100 Czech wines for the year available for tasting. As Salon Vin had been a recommendation from Terry we had a short list for tasting, and taste we did! Everything around and including those recommendations saw us suitably impressed with the afternoon’s indulgence!

Salon Vin

Salon Vin

Salon Vin Selection

Salon Vin Selection

September in this part of the world see’s a local favorite beverage on the menu, known as Burčak, possibly one of the most dangerous beverages in the Czech Republic…. It’s partially fermented wine from fresh grape juice, surprisingly easy to drink and can really pack a punch! Apparently the alcohol content continues to rise after consumption and from my experience that is probably true…..

Burcak

Burcak

A Burčak festival was in full swing as we departed our tasting session and the rest of our day was consumed listing to live music and enjoying the local favourite.

Too many restaurants and the waistline was suffering, so back into the scrub for a few days! Staying to the back roads we found our way to Punka Caves and the Macocha Abyss where we were treated to views of the entrance to a massive cave system.  Jen proved to be as arsy as ever by managing to obtain the last two tickets for the days cave walk and underground boat trip.  It’s all easy access with lots of tourists, but it was really well managed and well worth the visit whilst providing some well needed exercise.

Punka Caves

Punka Caves

Punka Caves

Punka Caves

Macocha Abyss

Macocha Abyss

Punka Caves Boat ride

Punka Caves Boat ride

Again majestic towns are one after the other, to the point where you just can’t stop in all of them so after a few days we arrived in Prague.  We couldn’t find the entrance to the RV park we were looking for due to some major roadwork and ended up stopping at a kayaking club that also had parking available. No sooner had we parked than the heavens opened and torrential is the description. We settled in for the night and as the only camper’s on site, it was certainly quiet!

The famed romantic city of Prague occupied all of the following day, a stunning central square surrounded by a mixture of architectural wonders and buildings of old! It really is a stunning centerpiece for the Czech Republic but it would seem that a few other people had also heard of it’s allure for shoulder to shoulder tourists is not an unfair description of our time spent there.

Street View

Street View

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Prague Vista

Prague Vista

Charles Bridge Traffic

Charles Bridge Traffic

Not a Place for Motorhomes!

Not a Place for Motorhomes!

A new take on being towed!

A new take on being towed!

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Astronomical Clock Prague

Astronomical Clock Prague

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Prague Castle by Night

Prague Castle by Night

Church By Night

Church By Night

One evening a large RV entered the camp ground, we knew they were probably looking for the campsite we’d originally been targeting and so as they stopped I decided to wander over and help them with some directions, the door opens and I spluttered out – English? To be met with an unadulterated Aussie reply of yep! And where are you from?

A German registered Motorhome with a family of 6 Aussies on board were now the only other residents of the camp! We certainly couldn’t believe it and the camp owner was more than bemused to have 2 loads of Aussies on his turf!

Aussies Abroad!

Aussies Abroad!

Jeff, his wife Jutta, sister in law Leanne, Megan, Matthew and Aaron were well into the type of holiday many dream of! Hiring a motorhome in Hamburg they’d been north to Norway before heading south through Berlin and Dresden to find themselves parked next to us! Their onward plans including Austria and Slovakia along with many other stunning localities that are so easily reached once you’re in this part of the World, It was lovely meeting them and we wish them well for their continuing travels.

Four nights had left our thirst for Prague sufficiently quenched and it was time to depart. In the meantime we’d been liaising via email with another intrepid Aussie couple who had just driven from Malaysia through China, the Stans and Iran then onward to Turkey and the list goes on! We were going to catch up in the city of Cesky Krumlov in the south of the Czech Republic. I’d first heard of their plans when we made contact via “The Hubb” chat forum whilst we were all in the planning stage! Only to find they reside a stones throw from our home in Fremantle. 6 degrees of separation!!

Sticking to the back roads we headed south through stunning scenery, with roads meandering along deep dark rivers interspersed with eye catching towns and all the while hemmed in by majestic tall dark forests!  Really sensational.

We managed one of our nicest overnight stops so far, dark forest with undulating hills provided an almost fairytale like feel to the terrain. Littered with mushrooms of all sorts, shapes, colours and sizes, many exceeding 200mm in height it was an extra ordinary camp.

Don't eat this one!!

Don’t eat this one!!

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Mushroom Camp

Mushroom Camp

Jen now with her new iPhone App on mushroom identification spent hours out amongst the undergrowth attempting to discern the tasty from the deadly. Mushroom picking here is a huge and well patronaged pastime. Everywhere there are cars parked with locals wandering along carrying wicker baskets brimming with tasty fungi. Jen has been quite adept at identifying many of the fungi to date however we’ve steered shy of actually ingesting any so far, not quite that brave just yet!

Cesky Krumlov came into view through the blur of sweeping windscreen wipers and we camped in a tour bus drop off area that has a section set aside for motor homes, no facilities but really cheap and 200m from the center of the old city!

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Into the city square we ventured and sent an email into the ether alerting Catherine and Simon of our arrival. A little while later and we were all swapping stories and destroying plates of local cuisine whilst ensuring the restaurant would need to reorder beer the following day! Meeting for coffee the following morning we again spent some time wandering the cobbled streets and seeing the sights before we eventually went our separate ways having had another lovely time with Aussies in a far away land.  On the road now 8 months these guys will be back in Perth with their trusty Prado for Christmas Day turkey!

Catherine and Simon

Catherine and Simon

West and into Germany and our first night of free camping in Germany proved a little hard to find. They obviously have a large sign making industry and plenty of those signs say no entry and find their way onto the entrance of every track! Not deterred however, we were finally successful.

Meandering at the now slow pace we are enjoying saw us pull into an RV park late in the afternoon in Kesselberg.  Fortune it would seem was again smiling upon us for we were shown to a great campsite on the lakes edge. Wandering into the restaurant for a relaxing drink we found ourselves sitting next to our neighbours in the campground! Manfred and Ute (pronounced Uta) quickly took us under their wing and we found ourselves receiving translations of the menu, which we sorely needed!

The following day they were taking a cable car journey from our current elevation of 800m to 1780m and had we not met these intrepid Germans we’d have had no show in organizing this day out as tourist info in English in these more out of the way villages hasn’t been all that easy to obtain so far. We were soon invited along and the following day was planned out!

Manfred had organised free bus tickets for us, provided to guests of the Park if you know how to go about it. We woke the next morning to heavy fog in the campsite but as the sun rose above the mountains, it soon receded and we were met with a beautiful warm sunny day perfect for our day’s plans. We climbed aboard the extremely modern public bus before enjoying the cable car ride that soon deposited us amongst magnificent views of the Bavarian Alps along the Austrian Border

Morning Fog

Morning Fog

Justin, Manfred and Ute

Justin, Manfred and Ute

Stunning Bavarian Vistas

Stunning Bavarian Vistas

Bavarian Vistas

Our Camp Below

On top of the World!!

On top of the World!!

Camp in the Sunshine

Camp in the Sunshine

Sunset on the Lake

Sunset on the Lake

We had a lovely lunch at the mountain restaurant before Manfred suggested we take the 2.5-hour walk down rather than the cable car.  Majestic views combined with blue sky made the descent more than memorable. (Although the calves and shins were complaining a little in the following days.)

Manfred and Ute's RV

Manfred and Ute’s RV

RV’s are really popular throughout Europe and Manfred and Ute’s was more like a 5 star hotel than a Motorhome, parquetry flooring to boot!!

Anyway they can fairly move along on the highway, some of them cruising at over 140km’s an hour!  The autobahn helps make their transit around Germany fast and smooth.

We don’t have the lavish space and comfort they offer and at times it would certainly be nice, but when we slip into 4×4 and navigate the dark sloppy soil’s of the forest tracks and find peace and seclusion only minutes off the main thoroughfare, we quickly embrace our vehicle selection! Not to mention the savings to date in not paying for camp grounds in Europe.

With some sadness, we departed from our new friends and headed towards more striking Bavarian scenery.  Garmisch and Fussen were on the itinerary!

Back soon with tales from beyond!!

Justin

 

 

 

 

You Tube Videos

Hello All!  Just a quick update from the beautiful city of Prague, there is another post on it’s way shortly but in the meantime….

We have loaded a couple more YouTube videos – a quick one of Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan and the other is of some sections of the Pamir Highway and Wakhan valley in Tajikistan. Most of it is looking into Afghanistan and it has some great scenery. I know it’s of interest to some of our followers so we thought we’d get the links up on the site.

Link to Charyn Canyon video          http://youtu.be/bH3u2oePPCQ

Link to Pamir/Wakhan video          http://youtu.be/T5QrM2tuNI8 

All the best and back soon – Justin and Jen..

ARB Moscow

Like most who love their 4×4, I have always personalised my vehicles to suit my needs and I’m not at all shy in pushing ARB products.  I’ve been using their gear long enough to appreciate that it’s well designed, user friendly and high quality.

By the way, it should be stated that I’m not affiliated with them in any way other than the fact I’m Australian!

So when some months ago we were contacted by ARB Moscow and offered the use of their facilities should we require any assistance whilst on our journey, we responded with a definite “yes thanks” and we would be in touch.

We advised Dmitriy from ARB of our arrival in Moscow and 30 minutes later Dmitriy arrived at the RV Park, ready to escort us into their facilities for a look around! I was keen to use the workshop for a service and was in need of a replacement tyre! One of our Cooper ST Maxx’s had developed a large vertical split in the sidewall of unknown origin that was obviously spreading and fast becoming a candidate for a blow out. This is my third set of Coopers and the first to have any issues but I am aware of other Cooper tyres failing in the same way so I’ll keep an eye on them.

Cooper Tyre Kaput!!

Cooper Tyre Kaput!!

Cooper Tyre Kaput!!

Cooper Tyre Kaput!!

It’s now early Thursday afternoon and hence I was thinking we were to have a look around ARB and meet the staff whilst organizing a time for me to perform a service. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

ARB Moscow

ARB Moscow

Following Dmitriy across the city to ARB made the drive much easier and upon arrival we were greeted by another Dmitriy whom is head of engineering.  The 2 Dmitriy’s had a conversation that eluded me and subsequently I handed over my keys to Dimitri number 2.  For the first time since leaving Australia I wasn’t in control of my Patrol!

It was brought in and placed on a hoist whilst I was being asked what oil I would like and is there anything else that requires attention? Well yes actually! I needed to adjust one of the rear coil spring rubbers and in addition to the aforementioned tyre, needed a rebalance of all the others as we had a consistent run of lost wheel weights.

Patrol being pampered

Patrol being pampered

Slowly the penny dropped! I wasn’t even going to get dirty; these guys were looking after everything. I couldn’t believe it!

ARB Mechanics

ARB Mechanics

Patrol being pampered!

Patrol being pampered!

Leaving the mechanics to it, we wandered upstairs and had a look at all of the products; it was a little like dejavu wandering around the showroom! Photo’s of Australian 4×4’s and the exact feel that an ARB store in Australia has! The obvious change from Latin to Cyrillic the only real give away that we were on the other side of the globe.

ARB Showroom

ARB Showroom

ARB Cafe

ARB Cafe

After a look around we were directed to the in store ARB café overlooking the showroom and would you believe, treated to a 4-course meal prepared by an actual chef! Patrol being serviced we spend our time chatting with Dmitriy and enjoying a range of sensational food, does it get any better? I learnt here that ARB were also doing specific products to suit the Russian market, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised but I hadn’t really thought about it.

Apparently the local market was keen for ARB to produce an air locker to suit their old faithful, the UAZ, and ARB responded by doing just that! I think that’s fantastic, no doubt an expensive exercise for the company but to me that shows commitment to your consumer!

During our time in the café we were fortunate to meet the CEO from ARB Moscow and express our gratitude for all they were doing for us! We really felt like royalty.

ARB Staff and us

ARB Moscow

Dmitriy number 2 arrives at our table; service complete, spring rubber re-seated, wheels balanced and our new tire will arrive tomorrow! Just too efficient!

We truly cannot express our gratitude to ARB Moscow strongly enough. Not only did we have someone to assist us when we were really at the mercy of a language barrier but also an organization that knows what we required and bent over backwards to assist.  But wait, there’s more….

The following morning saw us arrive at the Metro for our first visit to Red Square and the Kremlin, but we weren’t going alone! Dmitriy #1 met us at the Metro and was now our personal Moscow guide.

Moscow Metro

Moscow Metro

Red Square, St Basils Cathedral and the Kremlin were to be our first points of interest. Just sensational to be standing in Red Square in front of such iconic buildings!

St Basil's Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral

Us in Red Square!

Us in Red Square!

 

Kremlin Cathedral Spires

Kremlin Cathedral Spires

More Red Square

More Red Square

The whole experience was made even more memorable by the guidance provided by Dmitriy whose knowledge of the city and warm persona were again characteristic of the warm Russian welcome that was again being lavished upon us!

Ugly Wedding Cars in Red Square

Ugly Wedding Cars in Red Square

A visit to the Armoury at the Kremlin was an amazing experience, it’s easy to quickly become museummed out, so to speak, but the collection available here for your perusal is truly phenomenal, if you visit Moscow then include it on your itinerary!

As with any experience revolving around good company, the day was quickly dissipating and as the evening loomed, we met up with Dmitriy’s partner Nadya who was just lovely.  After a fantastic meal in central Moscow we wandered along the Moskva River and looked at too many sights to list.

Nice Shot thanks to Nadya!

Nice Shot thanks to Nadya!

Moskva River

Moskva River

Love Locks!

Love Locks!

Late in the evening, we walked into a little bar and with the easy flow of conversation filling the air, we all managed to slightly over indulge! We all had a wonderful time and that was easily expressed by the fact that we fell into a cab at somewhere between 3 and 4am for the trip back the campground!

Drinking with friends

Drinking with friends

Late Night!

Late Night!

Half a dozen Danish RV’s were now on site but I was a little underwhelmed with the 24 hour security as we crashed our way to the camper in the darkness without challenge! Anyway that’s another story!

Surprisingly fit and able the following day albeit arising quite late(proves practice is important!) we checked out before again being met by Dmitriy and led back to ARB where we picked up our replacement tyre.

From there we headed to the VVC Exhibition Centre and parked the vehicle before heading into the amazing landscaped grounds, which contain a multitude of pavilions from Soviet times.  Each one was used to display the achievements of the soviet states and we wandered amongst the incredible fountains and generally had a lazy day enjoying the sun and fresh air.

Soyuz Rocket Display

Soyuz Rocket Display at VVC Centre

VVC Park Fountains

VVC Park Fountains

VVC Centre Fountains

VVC Centre Fountains

The Russians made some really strange vehicles!!

The Russians made some really strange vehicles!!

We’d been invited to spend the night at Dmitriy #2’s Dacha (weekender), an invitation that had to be accepted!  Again following Dmitriy we headed southeast around the MKAD ring road and about an hour later saw us in lovely forest around a fire with beer in hand. (Dmitriy’s beer! It seems whatever we arrive with we also leave with! Russian hospitality!)

Dmitriy's Dacha

Dmitriy’s Dacha

Our Parking Spot

Our Parking Spot

The cat who came to visit

The cat who came to visit

We met Dmitriy #2’s wife Julia and over the time we spent there found her always smiling face to be intoxicating, she is just one of those lovely people!

Dmitriy and Julia

Dmitriy and Julia

There were 17 people at the house that weekend; apparently that’s a regular occurrence! The previous night with Dmitriy #1 had seen us wind up at around 4am, now I’m in the company of Dmitriy #1 and #2 and it was going take some stamina!

Jen managed to slide off to bed unnoticed and the rest of us must have had some great discussions as it was a 5am finish this time! What’s happening to me??

A sleep in was required and enjoyed, we wasted the day sitting around chatting and drinking coffee before heading off late in the afternoon to take some photo’s of the Patrol for Dmitriy. As a press attaché he will be putting together an article on our travels.

Photo Shoot

Photo ShootPhoto Shoot

We’d originally planned to leave Moscow that afternoon but time had gotten away from us as we’d been enjoying ourselves way too much, I asked Dmitriy #2 if it would be OK to spend another night and leave in the morning? His response was – I have a full fridge! That made me smile.

Most of the 17 weekend inhabitants had, at this point, departed as it was Sunday and work called.  That meant an earlier night of about 1:30am !!!! Oh those Russians!!!!

Busy night for international relations

Busy night for international relations

Again we had trouble saying goodbye in the morning, I’ve had family members do less for me than these people who were mere strangers a few days ago!  Words fail me.

Dmitriy and Julia spend a lot of their time travelling and being like minded, had given us some great advice on travel destinations and varying routes.  It would seem our plans really are fluid as we are being strongly drawn in new directions. You will have to stay tuned and see where we end up!

Russian Driving

Russian Driving

We parked up just outside the MKAD ring road and caught the Metro back into Moscow central.  We just wanted to have another wander around Red Square and soak it up a little more!

The whole area was fenced off as it would seem there had been a parade of some sort over the weekend.  Lucky we’d visited previously as that would have spoilt the experience.

Wandering into the famous and very expensive shopping plaza, GUM, which runs along the side of Red Square, we were intrigued to see a queue of around 40m in length terminating at a small shopping stall in the middle of the Plaza. There were large TV style cameras and people sporting microphones, we thought it was possibly an appearance by some one rather famous or a book signing or the like!

When close enough I was a little lost for words, Putin certainly has strong support here and I was left in no doubt just how popular! The queue of people were attempting to purchase there own T-shirt sporting a characterized Putin in different settings such as wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sporting the caption “greetings from Crimea!” Make your own judgment on that one.

Greetings from Crimea!

Greetings from Crimea!

Putin

Putin

Once we’d had enough we departed toward Volgograd and after around 100km found a camp along a forestry track. Definitely an early night!

The next few days saw us visit towns such as Rostov and Yaroslav before turning West at Volgograd for St Petersburg. It’s always nice to arrive in a city and see the sights but it’s also exhilarating to wander the countryside.  Finding hidden bush camps in such foreign lands is a challenge that I thoroughly enjoy!

Rostov

Rostov

Jen located an RV park to the west of St Petersburg and that suited our needs perfectly.  Sat-Nav loaded we departed the ring road and arrived at the park located on the gulf of Finland! It was the first time we’d seen ocean water in 23000km and the sight and smell was nothing short of tantalizing. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy living by the sea!

Baltic PARKind

Baltic PARKing

Baltic PARKing

Baltic PARKing

The park was a little unusual, basically a car park next to a Government Conference center. Showers and amenities were inside the main building and were absolutely first class, whilst a restaurant occupied the second level. All of the staff were super friendly and more than keen to be of assistance.

It was easy to pick a spot as we were the only residents! Wandering in to the restaurant for dinner was interesting – a flashy affair exuding fine dining and silver service and once again we were the only inhabitants. It was actually quite simple food such as shashlik with ketchup and we couldn’t quite work out the silver service connection to the meal! Anyway it was tasty and I didn’t have to prepare it.

Russian hospitality was again about to burst forth in all its splendor! Ivan and his wife Natalia had contacted us via email after a mutual connection with Vitali and Galena whom had looked after us way back in Khabarovsk! Ivan had offered us an apartment in St Petersburg – can you believe that!! Anyway we’d ended up staying at the campground as it was a little easier with the Patrol and saved any unpacking and finding secure parking.

Now on Ivan’s home turf we were to be treated to a tour of this amazing city once again by strangers soon to become friends.  But first we would meet for dinner the following evening.

Bus and Metro delivered us to down town St Petersburg and we spent the day trying to take it all in, an impossible feat.  It has to be said that St Petersburg’s Metro is an artistic gem with Avtovo station the highlight.  The city itself is magnificent, home to the Hierarchy in times gone and absolutely no expense has been spared in making sure it fulfilled all of their desires. Today it’s a masterpiece of architecture and a plethora of tourists.

Avtovo Metro Station

Avtovo Metro Station

Church of our Savior on Spilt Blood

Church of our Savior on Spilt Blood

IMG_3967

Hermitage

Hermitage

We really have slipped from expedition mode into tourist mode quite suddenly!

Evening approached and we met Ivan and Natalia. Easy conversation ensued and we soon found ourselves submitting to Ivan’s charms as he ordered a host of tasty treats! The restaurant even had a resident piglet that was walked around on a lead!! The evening rapidly slipped away and we found ourselves back in the camper at around 11:30pm totally satisfied and with tentative plans for the next day.

Wasting the morning in the relentless pursuit of chores we eventually made our way back into the city and met Ivan and Natalia.  A boat cruise of the local canal’s and waterways was the plan and we were fortunate again to be in the company of such knowledgeable locals. The tour that Ivan found for us to enjoy was not even worth comparing to the brochures and information we had, it was fantastic and about an hour after setting sail, had an extra 1000 photo’s to sort through!

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

Beautiful Bridge Support

Beautiful Bridge Support

Dinner at Zoom café, number 1 on Trip Advisor was quirky and really Kruto!!

We’d been treated to another wonderful day and were now being chauffeured back to the camp ground.

Arriving at the campground we were excited to see 2 RV’s parked near us. We had some company!  Those who know us will realise we’d generally avoid crowds for the solitude of the bush but in this case we were hoping for a conversation in English. After months of struggling with language you really do long for an easy chat!

Ivan and Natalia had a look over our little home and after another round of goodbyes they departed, more people that we can’t thank enough for their hospitality! Hope to repay them one day when they visit us in Perth…. Thanks guys!!

Us, Ivan and Natalia

Us, Ivan and Natalia

So 2 RV’s were parked along side us. One with English plates. The closer of the 2 whilst proudly sporting Netherland plates was however occupied by Tom and Pam from Brisbane!

Tom & Pam

Tom & Pam

Tom & Pam's Camper

Tom & Pam’s Camper

What were the odds of that, 4 and a half months on the road from Vladivostok and our neighbour’s in St Petersburg are Aussies! We could once again sport our own version of the Kings English along with all of the slang and sarcasm that we love to use.

Apparently a similar reaction had occurred in their cab as they realized our vehicle was Australian registered!

Purchasing their motorhome in Holland, these intrepid travellers had spent a couple of stints of around 6 months each touring Europe and were on their last leg and heading via Moscow back to Holland were the already sold RV was to meet it’s new owners! These guys had some serious travel destinations ticked off and a long list of locations still to pursue. A couple of nights in their company and we departed St Petersburg, once again with a lot less red wine than we’d arrived with!  Great people to meet and hope to see them again.

An uneventful run to the border and a large queue met our gaze as we approached the crossing into Estonia, Jen tried to obtain compulsory third party European insurance here but was met with cold disdain from the Russian working the insurance booth and so we gave up for the moment.

Border Queue

Border Queue

Fortunately the line was reasonably fast moving and around an hour saw as at the front! It rapidly slowed down for us at that point as all manner of confusion broke out amongst the border control staff as to how to process us. They thought our vehicle registration document was fake and we moved the vehicle off to one side and waited around an hour for them to confirm the validity of our registration. Why they thought we’d drive from Vladivostok via all the other countries and try and cross into Estonia with fake rego is beyond me but whatever!

Finally we were free to go! Yay….  We headed into the Town of Narva as we’d been told where we could buy the compulsory third party insurance for Europe. Fortunately it’s only about 1km from the border, long story short and neither of the 2 companies would sell us insurance! Now we had a problem.

In the end we gave up for the day as it was nearly 8pm and made our way north and found a bush camp a few km’s from the town. We had to get insurance immediately and discussed our options!

Another Cat Visitor

Another Cat Visitor

 

The following morning we headed back into town and found some WiFi.  We emailed the Dutch company, Alessie, whom we knew would provide Green Card insurance and asked for a quote along with also emailing the head office of one of the previously approached insurers in an effort to find out if they could insure us?

Of course this was all going to take time and we would also need to provide digital signatures and the like to the Dutch company before we would have a valid printable policy.

It was all getting really tricky so we parked the Patrol about 500m from the border where we’d previously crossed and went in on foot.  After explaining the situation they were astonished on 2 points! Firstly, we shouldn’t have been let out of border control without the required TPL insurance and secondly that the local companies were refusing to cover us.

Anyway upon realising that we had tried to obtain the TPL insurance on the Russian side without success, because the sales woman couldn’t be bothered dealing with foreigners, and again tried in town before returning to the border they had quickly decided we were doing the right thing and did all they could to assist us.

They couldn’t understand why the local companies were refusing however!

We returned the vehicle to the border control area and they organised a one month policy for us, which they did with great efficiency and we were on our way.

Narva

Narva

Narva Fortress

Narva Fortress

Ivangorod Fortress

Ivangorod Fortress

IMG_4192

A few days later and we had a response from the local companies main management saying there was no problem and they would be more than happy to take our money, just go into a local office! Work that out…. The Dutch company by contrast responded within hours…

Estonia, what a change! How is it possible to cross a river and enter another country and it be so different.  We loved our time in Estonia and especially enjoyed the city of Tallinn. I had no expectations of this country and hence found it all the more enjoyable.

Tallinn

Tallinn

Tallinn

Tallinn

Tallian Bastion Walls

Tallian Bastion Walls

No problem finding free camping, driving through quaint little town after quaint little town filled with the ruins of medieval forts along with lovely café’s amongst forest settings! We really are tourists now…

Padise Klooster

Padise Klooster

After a few days we headed south toward Latvia and our first border crossing that only required us to drive across and keep going, I can’t tell you how nice that was after 10 very and at times invasive crossings that actually totalled 19 border experiences. When you leave one country you have to enter the next so it’s always twice the fun!!

Estonia Latvia Border

Estonia Latvia Border

Latvia proved just as enjoyable to the eye as Estonia. We stayed true to our likes and, where we could, travelled the back roads. Again the smattering of ruined castles persisted and the scenery remained stunning. One night’s camp saw us deep in a National Park where there were a few locals camped.  Upon running into one of the locals whilst walking along a river, he asked how we had found this place? He’d lived in Latvia for 37 years and had only just discovered it! To say he was amazed to see our foreign Patrol would be an understatement.

Cesis Castle

Cesis Castle

South and into Lithuania, not much time spent here as it was continual rain and the terrain had flattened. We ended up crossing this tiny county in something like 4 hours. It was late in the day when we crossed into Poland and it took some effort finding a campsite.  After being told by one obnoxious local that there were no free camps in Poland we managed to find one about 500m from where we’d received that gem of information!

As we’ve travelled south from Estonia there is an obvious regression back to the more Russian style of driving, in Estonia it is very ordered and more like you’d expect in Western Europe! There is a general slide in the quality of infrastructure and the like as well, I don’t want to talk it down it’s just that it’s obvious that there is more money in the north!

We decided not to bother with a visit to Warsaw, instead heading for Krakow. The further south we travel, the previous slide in quality of infrastructure and the like has halted and once again things are on the up! We are now in an RV park in Krakow and again seeing quizzical looks on faces as they see our number plates and try and work our where we are from. We even have people taking photo’s of our vehicle through the nearest fence!

The following should make you laugh!

Our clothes storage area was looking rather spartan when we reached Moscow, every piece of clothing we owned was sporting some sort of erroneous smell generally combined with a stain of some sort.  We had worn everything we had available to the point of it being rather feral! So finally in the campground in Moscow we had an opportunity to wash some clothes and advantage of the washing machine we took!

Now with all our clothing soaking wet as tumble dryers seem to have slipped off the requirement list for RV parks we strung numerous ropes around our camper and hung everything out to dry in the nice sunny conditions!!

We’d been doing the odd hand wash along the way but you never really get that clean feeling do you? As for Laundromats, it would seem they just don’t have them in Russia!

So with everything hanging out to dry we headed off for our initial meeting with ARB in Moscow.  Following was pretty much 3 solid days of rain and our clothes never even came close to drying! So when we left we were back to a few basics that we were able to dry along with what resembled a wet dog in a rubbish bag!

St Petersburg included a nice session of thunderstorms everyday we were there and so didn’t prove to be our clothing savior.  I had actually bought some new clothes at this point! I can’t stand that wet dog smell..

With enough to get us through to our friend Terry’s house in Slovakia in a couple of weeks, we decided that was the easiest option. We would avail him of his washing machine and all would be good!

Arriving in Krakow yesterday we were greeted with warm and sunny blue skies, something we’ve not seen for a while. So sunny in fact that we decided to do all the washing here so as not to bother having to use Terry’s machine.  We hung it out yesterday afternoon whilst wearing shorts and T’s and during the night the clear skies gave way to solid cloud and it’s rained pretty much ever since!

This could be Noah's Ark!!!

This could be Noah’s Ark!!!

There is really something weird going on with the weather and us!!

 

Uzbek Super Dog

Emir B&B in Samarkand ticked all the boxes for us with a great location that provided us easy access to the City’s treats. Meeting other travellers here was a real bonus for us as we generally only have each other to converse with.  The opportunity to chat to others about their travels has become an experience that we relish when it presents!

Uzbek Bread

Uzbek Bread

Shah-i-Zinda

Shah-i-Zinda

Registan

Registan

 

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

We crossed paths here with an American family on an Uzbekistan holiday and we couldn’t help but laugh when they recalled the reactions they had received from friends at home upon telling them their intended travel destination. – One comment was “why do you want to go to a country you can’t pronounce the name of and is at war?”….

Fellow travellers from the US

Fellow travellers from the US

We shared dinner with the Americans at a local outdoor restaurant and, due to being sold out of most other things, an Uzbek Super Dog was the favoured meal choice.  Whilst looking for all intents and purposes like a true American hot dog in the pictures, it actually consisted of a pita bread pocket filled with carrot, egg, and a frankfurt along with a litre of ketchup! More ketchup was brought to the table just in case we didn’t have enough and it was an interesting take on the classic.

Obtaining a tasty alcoholic beverage, however, proved challenging as Ramadan was still in progress, but Jen came into her own and obtained the required beverages on the sly from a restaurant! For a minute it looked like a dry night and we couldn’t have that, could we??!!

It was fantastic to meet such well-travelled people with the most amazing stories that pretty much covered the globe – Africa to China and everything in between!

On the road and we eventually reached Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital.  A bit of a nightmare navigating our way in as none of the major roads are marked with any sort of street names and incorrect information from the local police didn’t help, but eventually we found Hotel Safar and, with pop star parking, we settled in.  We had dinner across the road from the hotel at El Cascada, which was expensive by Uzbek standards but seemed an easy option! A late start the next day as we enjoyed chatting with the consistent stream of locals peering inside the camper as we prepared to leave! We were in a really nice part of the city and surrounded by some lovely homes. Uzbekistan to my eye appears to be quite affluent as compared to other “stans” – the usual mixture of mud brick homes in the country areas but the cities are very modern!

I can’t really describe the driving skills here – chaotic and idiotic might be a start but we are becoming more than used to the style now and that makes it a lot easier!

We departed for the border crossing at Chernyaevka and after an hour we arrived only to find we couldn’t cross at the location shown on all the maps and many websites as it was for foot traffic only! (or so we were told by locals)  A little confused we were directed by locals to a vehicle border crossing and with a friendly local leading the way we soon arrived at the border.

However, we couldn’t cross here either, as this one was only for locals and would have to travel back 60km south of Tashkent to make the crossing! Somewhat confused and frustrated at this point, and feeling like idiots as we pride ourselves on preparedness, we checked our information and according to our info the first crossing we were trying to use had been open for 3 years and was currently active! Anyway it’s hard to argue with border control so south we headed. It was all a little stressful as diesel is very difficult to obtain in Uzbekistan and, as such, I had planned our route taking this into account.  Due to this border fiasco, we ended up over running our expected driving distance by 200km!

Eventually the Yallama border crossing appeared and proved reasonably efficient – the usual non-existent instructions or signage but plenty of helpful people who assisted us through.  4 hours evaporated by the time we found ourselves back in Kazakhstan!

We took on diesel only 10km from the border along with all of the trucks departing Uzbekistan and to say I was relieved to fuel up would be a real understatement! North to a dodgy campsite on someone’s paddock and then on to Shymkent we headed.  A resupply and we settled in for a couple of thousand km driving that was really to be only a transit for us.

Story cd’s playing, we continued north but you have to register your visa within 5 days of crossing the border so the pressure was on for us to make it to Russia!

We briefly stopped in Turkistan for a look at the Yasaui Mausoleum, which despite being unfinished due to Timur’s untimely death back in 1405, was quite spectacular with a 2000kg cauldron for holy water as the centerpiece.

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

2000kg Cauldron

2000kg Cauldron

Clocking up the hours driving with the associated km’s meant that meeting 2 Italian overland vehicles on their way south provide a nice break from the road! On a whirlwind trip from Italy, they were heading to Uzbekistan and then home so with maps spread we swapped stories and contact details before once again hitting the road. We hope to enjoy the offer of delicious spaghetti with them once we make it to Italy!

Italians!

Italians!

Baikonur Cosmodrome came into view and we idled along the road for a while with binoculars and zoom lenses trying to see what we could see! You can only gain access to the site via a few select tour agencies, only if there is a launch and only after parting with a large quantity of cash and even then it seems somewhat difficult to organize! Apparently there is an amazing museum of space travel and Yuri Gagarin paraphernalia on site but access is prohibited.  Quite sad really! The Italians had sent letters 8 months in advance to the Russian Government to try to arrange access to the museum only, but to no avail!

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Kennedy Space Centre in the US has tours and the like and really gets you involved and wanting to buy souvenirs and spend your money whilst here our only interaction with anything to do with the cosmos was the Police questioning us whilst we parked outside the main gate for a photo opportunity, very welcoming! They certainly do things differently here!

No point hanging around and so it was on to the next destination, Aralsk – the site of the once blue and fish stocked waters of the Aral sea before the rivers and source of it’s life blood were diverted to grow thirsty cotton in the incredibly arid Uzbek landscape. Clever move that one! Anyway, if your interested just Google it and have a read, what a disaster!  We eventually found the site where some fishing boats have been put on display giving a glimpse into a life that seems could never have existed when you look around this desolate and somewhat depressing place! Fortunately for us however we were able to locate an immigration police office and an hour or so of waiting patiently saw our visas registered and with that the pressure to make the border was removed! A good thing too as it was looking like an all night drive to make it and I really wasn’t looking forward to that even with our sensational lighting.

Aralsk harbour

Aralsk harbour

Aralsk Fishing Fleet

Aralsk Fishing Fleet

2 more days slid by as we traversed more and more modern large towns with obvious Russian influence. We did pass a convoy of around 12 motorhomes with European plates heading the other way and couldn’t get a wave out of any of them! I think they were too fixated on sticking with the group to look sideways!

Russia Kazakh Border

Russia Kazakh Border

We finally arrived at the border and said our goodbyes to Kazakhstan, we’d only been stopped twice more by the police and then only one suggested we were speeding, so all in all it had been a smooth transit. One and half hours and we were back on Russian soil and heading for a rendezvous with some local Russians who were friends of friends back in Perth! Little did we know that we were once again about to be soaked in Russian hospitality and would look back on the next few days with amazement and fantastic memories whilst adding another group of Russians to our list of best friends that we sincerely hope to see again!

Maxim, Olga, Sasha and Sasha (long story) along with their friend Sasha, his son Vladimir and father Peter along with a few more extended family members made us feel like royalty.

Our wonderful Russian Friends

Our wonderful Russian Friends

Justin and Peter

Justin and Peter

The American icon of McDonalds also made more than a few appearances as we reached the larger Russian towns although it looked a little different!!

McDonalds

McDonalds

Just outside of Tolyatti city, Maxim and family met us on the side of the road and guided us into the city and to their friend Peter’s fantastic house that was to be our home for the next couple of nights. Russians seem to do hospitality at a level that leaves most other nationalities well and truly in their wake! Chai (Tea) served on arrival and then a fantastic summer soup of fresh seasonal greens mixed with Kvass (a local drink) and sour cream, which might all sound unusual but was very refreshing.

Kvass Soup

Kvass Soup

Peter has a Russian Banya (like a sauna) in his back yard and an invite to a traditional Russian bath wasn’t going to be passed up!  We’d been in the car pretty solid the last few days and Maxim had played it perfectly in suggesting the experience! A serious amount of body cleansing was in order and it was provided!

Russian Banya

Russian Banya

An exercise in male bonding including being smacked with birch leaves was a truly relaxing experience and one I feel fortunate to have enjoyed. I was able to enjoy this Russian tradition in a private banya in a Russian home whilst being made so welcome that I’ll never forget it.

Jen had her banya experience after the male bonding session and together we emerged freshly birch leafed and refreshed!

Wandering into the backyard and Peter’s son Sasha was hard at work preparing shashlik and trout for dinner – this was just too good!

Justin, Sasha and Peter

Justin, Sasha and Peter

Later in the evening whilst the throng of people were trying to sort Jen’s Internet connection out, Peter grabbed me and suggested we head to the neighbour’s for a little drink! This particular day is a celebration here in Russia – I’ll call it Para-trooper day. You see flags being carried all over the place along with beret wearing locals sporting very red faces after having consumed more than a couple of drinks.  Arriving at the neighbour’s, I was greeted by a two Russian navy lads, one the size of a battleship on his own, who were refining their shooting skills by lining up apples and shooting them with an air rifle on the picket fence! Clad in blue and white striped shirts and berets, they certainly looked the part!

So here I am in backyard Russia eating shashlik and toasting with the locals whilst communicating in a language none of us understand and all the while having a truly fantastic experience!

Maxim and family took on the role of tour guides the following day and from mid morning until well after dark we were treated to a tour of there locality, from restaurants and museums to walking in the forest before meeting some of their friends and whiling away the evening in great company.

A wonderful day and the bar was again set higher. Maxim’s son Sasha who said he couldn’t speak English earlier in the day through shyness, was actually quite adept and treated us to some lessons in Russian over the course of the afternoon! I came away with my new favourite word – kruto, which means “cool” in English!

The morning arrived and with it Maxim and family.  We needed to arrange a new Russian third party insurance policy for the Patrol and looking back on the experience, without Maxim, I think it may have been almost impossible.

Goodbyes were said and with a truly heavy heart we departed Peter’s house, it had been a true respite from the rigors of travel and we could have easily stayed! A supermarket restock and lunch with Maxim, Olga and sons and we were on our way to Moscow!

Peter's House

Peter’s House

A couple of hours on the road and we found a great campsite on the Volga river.  It took a little snooping but it was definitely worth it. We could easily have spent a couple of nights here but the capital was calling and beyond it we hope to make Slovakia to meet a friend, which requires us to get a move on!  So on we travel whilst trying not to become a hood ornament for a road train. You can count the legs on the dead insects on the grills of the trucks that tailgate you!  How close must that make them?

View from Camp

View from Camp

Volga River Camp

Volga River Camp

Another nights camp on a relatively disused track some 4km off the highway and we are 460km from Moscow!  The next day was a long one and the traffic on the M5 got heavier and heavier.  We arrived at the newly located Sokolniki campground, which is just north east of central Moscow at around 7:30pm, and were greeted by a very confused security guard. After a phone call to the park manager he finally let us in.  It was great to be parked and out of the peak hour rush and we celebrated arriving in this great city with nibbles and drinks. As the only residents of the recently re-opened camp ground we enjoyed a quiet night of relaxation.

Sokolniki Camp

Sokolniki Camp