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Anna & Nathan's Adventure

tales from our exciting travels around the world

Sat
15
Sep '12

Mange tout Rodney, Mange tout!

Moving north from Italy we entered France through the mountains. We had a shock when we arrived at the Tunnel de Frejus as the lady at the pay kiosk told us it was €52 to drive through! There was no going back though as Turin was miles behind us so we gritted our teeth and handed over the money. Our plan was to drive to northern France and then zig-zag our way west and south. We drove up on the slow road and our first camp was at St. Jean de Maurienne, a small town not too far from the border – although somehow it was 1am by the time we arrived! We then kept to the small roads on our way north which allowed us to drive through and visit many towns and villages which are normally ‘off the beaten track’. We both fell in love with rural France – who doesn’t? – having initially thought we wouldn’t be that impressed, and we started to see what so many people had told us about the countryside. Stopping off at Laines for another campspot we reached the north coast, where the weather was  similar to the UK (so we were told) – rain and clouds!!

Meandering westwards along the coast, we had our silliest problem with Ginny…..she ran out of diesel! I guess we shouldn’t blame Ginny, it was more like driver error, but the result was Nathan cycling for miles with a 5L water bottle (we don’t carry a fuel can, those are for people who run out of fuel!!) to find the nearest fuel station. What a palarva – never again will we let her run down so low! We then headed south towards our first destination, Paris. We hadn’t planned on a visit to Paris on this trip, however, at the last minute we organised a reunion with my old housemate Cecile who lives there. Entering Paris on a Sunday when the temperature is around 40C seems to be a good way to avoid the worst traffic on the legendary Periferique, although it did lower the fun factor for me! However, we did manage to get quite lost due to the map i’d drawn on an envelope not being quite accurate enough…a quick phone call for directions later and we were back on track. It was great to catch up with Cecile as it had been a few years since we last met up. She kindly offered to show us some sights so off we went (this time Cecile was driving and demonstrating to us her newly acquired Parisian driving skills!!) to visit the Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Luckily for us, the sunshine and extreme heat meant it wasn’t too busy. We then went for a stroll around the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison and Édith Piaf are buried. This was quite a surreal experience, as you wouldn’t normally go looking for graves, but plenty of people were so we didn’t feel too weird about it.

 

The French countryside was stunning!

…and to see some sights, such as the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

It was great to catch up with Cecile in Paris…

 

 

 

 

Still sweltering away we left Paris and headed south towards Orleans and eventually to the Central Masiff and volcanic region. On the way, we were pulled over by the Gendarmerie for a standard document check….as in Italy, they didn’t seem to know what to look for on our British documents, so I helped them out a bit (without using my by-now-brilliant-but-slightly-comedy French accent!). They let us go without trouble, and we moved on to Tauves to meet up with the very lively Gibbards (Nathan’s sister Abi and family) who were on their summer holiday. After so long on our own travelling in peace and quiet, it was quite a shock to be met with a wall of noise from ‘the twins’ each morning, but lovely with it! An enjoyable few days were spent visiting local sights, swimming in the campsite pool and playing in the river next to our campsite, before it was time for them to head homewards and us to continue our voyage through France…

 

Riverside fun with the the Gibbards

Le stunning Chateau de Val a Lanobre

Ben having a skating lesson on Uncle Nathan’s longboard!

 

We headed further into the volcanic region near La Tour D’Auvergne for some walking, including visiting the massive crater that is Lac Pavic. That evening as we were merrily playing a game of Phase 10, we heard something falling onto Ginny’s roof. Then something else… Thinking someone was throwing stones at us, I poked my head outside just in time to witness the beginning of a massive hailstorm, with hailstones the size of golf balls. It was surreal, and we had an anxious half hour or so wondering whether the roof was going to withstand the onslaught. Once the hail had subsided I went outside to check Ginny over, and noticed everyone else on the site was doing the same! Thankfully no damage had been caused (Mother Nature 0, Ginny Van 1), other than to our nerves!

 

Taking a break to enjoy the view

…and the ground was covered after a short but violent storm!

These were the largest hail stones we’ve seen…

 

 

Decided to head west on a quest to find the Dune du Pilat, it actually took us a while to get there as we found ourselves being side-tracked regularly, which was becoming a feature of our trip around France. First side-track was Limoges and the ghost village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Arriving at Oradour, we went to visit the museum and walk around the ‘ghost village’, which was ransacked by rogue Nazis in WW2 with all inhabitants executed. The village has been left exactly as it was in memorial to those who died there, and it was a very moving experience.

Then we found ourselves in the biggest meteor crater in the world….we saw no meteor but found lovely Aire next to a barrage, with a beach/swim spot just there, so this became the next side-track, as, with the weather being hot and sunny we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to just chillax by the lake  for a few days! Headed towards Bordeaux (we were still on the way to the Dune!), we drove up the Girond and down the other side, finding nothing much but vinyards. This diversion led us to making a great find though, the beach at La Porge, one of the best surfing spots around and free camping aswell! We stayed at the beach for a couple of days, body surfing and generally being beaten up by the massive waves.

 

The ‘ghost village’ of Oradour-sur-Glane

..before stumbling across a fantastic free camping spot at Le Porge Ocean – in the woods behind a beach, perfect!

We stopped to explore Bordeaux…

 

 

 

A week or so after we had set out for it, we finally made it to the Dune du Pilat…..and it was big! Rising out of the Atlantic Ocean, the Dune is the highest sand dune in Europe at nearly 110m above sea level. It is also 500m wide and nearly 3km long, so all-in-all a very large pile of sand! Climbing (crawling might be more accurate!) up the side of the dune to the top on a scorching hot day was no easy task, but we made it up eventually and were rewarded with fantastic views out to sea and inland. Plus, running back down the dune made the climb up well worth it!

 

Anna was particularly surprised by how big the Dune du Pilat was!

…and of course we got to run/slide/roll/fall down to the bottom again – great fun!!

The climb up was hard work, but once on top we could see for miles…

 

 

 

 

The coast here was very busy so we decided to head inland and meander along the Dordogne and Veziere valleys, visiting more lovely quiet french villages along the way. We found a great camping Aire next to the river in a pretty little town called Montignac. Here we were camping with several other British campervans, and enjoyed a pleasant evening sharing a bottle or two of wine with our neighbours. Moving on, we stopped to see the Millau Viaduct, which is as large and awesome as we had expected. We didn’t however find much of interest in the town of Millau and so continued on our way towards Avignon. En route we found a great campsite in Cardet, run by a friendly Dutch family. We had a pit stop here as it was time for laundry/showers/blog update, and spent a couple of days chilling out next to the river here.

 

The Viaduc de Millau looks awesome close-up

Making use of our new picnic table – it seemed we were the only people in France not using a table cloth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tootling along again, we visited the Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct which crosses the river Gardon, and then went downstream for a picnic and swim on the river. We were pleased to discover that, as on the river Dordogne, there are a number of ‘swimming beaches’ on this river, as well as activities such as climbing, hiking and kayaking – so we have put this on our list for a re-visit in the future!

Making it at last to Avignon – being behind our admittedly loose schedule was becoming a feature of our tour through France – we went to explore the ancient town centre. Avignon is incredibly well preserved, particularly the ramparts which still surround the town, and the famous Pont St-Benezet (aka Pont d’Avignon), built some 800 years ago across the river Rhone. I was branded an ignoramus by Anna for having never heard, or heard of, the ‘famous’ French nursery rhyme Sur le Pont d’Avignon, which it is now fair to say I am familiar with!

 

I suspect the Romans had less machinery to help them construct the Pont du Gard than was available to assist with the Millau viaduct..

Sur le Pont d’Avignon!

Palais des Papes in Avignon

 

 

 

Heading towards the Mediterranean coast, our next stop was in Arles. Unfortunately for us, we arrived on a festival weekend so the whole place was packed, including the camping spot we were going to stay at. Luckily, it was so busy that everyone was parking all over the place, so we nestled in with other campervans in a riverside car park and headed off to see what the festival was about. This was our next disappointment…..it was a bull fighting festival, which those of you who know us will appreciate, is not really the kind of gig two animal-loving vegetarians would normally plan to attend! It was still interesting to wander around town and see what was going on, as all the locals were out parading in their ‘Sunday best’ and the atmosphere was very jolly (except where the bulls where staying, of course). From Arles, we skirted the Mediterranean coast on our way to the Pyrenees mountains. We weren’t planning on camping at the Med’ as the whole area was still very busy, and in addition there seems to be very few undeveloped bits on this coastline so it wasn’t really our scene. We did of course make time for a swim in the sea, adding it to the growing list of seas/oceans we have been in on our travels this past year!

One of the things we have discovered on this trip is that although we both enjoy some time at the beach, given the choice we would prefer to be in the mountains instead. So, with this in mind, we made our way to the Pyrenees. Although we have both been to Andorra, neither of us had explored the Pyrenees much, nor really considered it for a hiking destination – that was soon to change! Our first stop was Les Angles, where we had been skiing 10 years ago, before driving through the beautiful mountains along the Spanish border. Realising how close we were to Lourdes, we thought that perhaps we should go take a look….and it was quite bizarre. As you might expect, the town was basically a tacky tourist trap, set-up to relieve the 6-million pilgrims who visit Lourdes each year (and have been doing so since the mid-1800s) of their cash. The main pilgrimage site is the Grotte de Massabiele, which contains holy baths alleged to cure all kinds of diseases and ailments. To further boost your chances of being cured, you can purchase a special candle to light and leave in the Grotte, the most expensive of which was €150. It seems to me a tragedy that so many people visit here with genuine belief that they will be the recipient of a miracle cure, only to be left disappointed when it inevitably doesn’t happen. I guess that is the trouble with blind faith….

 

Heading into the mountains, we drove through stunning rocky gorges…

Basilique Superieure, Lourdes

…and around large mountains!

 

 

 

 

So heading back into the mountains we spent some time bimbling around enjoying the magnificent scenery, with huge birds of prey circling overhead (but presumably not eyeing-up Ginny as dinner!) and a new vista to grab our attention at every turn. This was to be our farewell to France for the time being – we had been a month or so zig-zagging around the country, which was longer than planned so it was time to move on to Spain for the next chapter of our adventure.

 

 

Time for one last  French picnic en route to Spain

Driving over this pass in the Pyrenees was a new record for Ginny!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was our first proper trip in and around France (skiing in the Alps and childhood holidays notwithstanding), and we both really enjoyed it. More so than perhaps we’d thought we would at the start. There is so much to see and do, so many interesting and/or beautiful places to visit that we will definitely be returning in the near future.

 

 

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Sat
1
Sep '12

Italy (the country of bad roads and terrible drivers, but great food and gorgeous scenery – plus, the best Lidl stores in Europe!)

Our arrival into Italy ended up changing somewhat from our original plan… initially we had booked a ferry from Split to Ancona, however due to the strongest winds that Croatia had experienced for 30 years the ferry was cancelled repeatedly. After 3 days of waiting we decided to cut our losses and head to Italy by road. This wasn’t entirely a bad idea as it meant we could explore the Istrian coast as well. I must mention that while we were sitting in the sun and enjoying the gorgeous weather, we found it hard to believe that further out to sea there was attrocious weather. However as we started our journey along the coastal road we began to understand he power of the Dure winds. The gusts were incredibly powerful, so much so that on one occasion both our wing mirrors were blown in. Needless to say I was very glad that we were driving on the inside of the road that hugged the coastline!

Our journey through Istria was a little disappointing in the end. The landscapes were still stunning, but this part of Croatia was far more developed than the parts that we have come to love so much. As it is the nearest part of the coast to the rest of Europe, it is where the mass tourism has settled. We visited Pula on the way through, keen to see the Roman ampitheatre which has been superbly restored and has been brought into use as a cultural-type destination….. Unfortunately, we were a week early to catch the Tom Jones gig there!

 

 

Wind, what wind! Anna couldn't believe that the ferry kept getting cancelled when the weather was so lovely..

Beautiful Roman ruins in Pula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on, we noticed there were no more small family-run campsites, but rather huge holiday parks crammed with thousands of holiday makers – or naturist campsites. After what felt like hours and hours of searching we finally had to stop for the night in one of said holiday camps. We had considered one of the many naturist camps for a night, but were turned away at the gates as we were not members of the European Naturist Society! So we kept our clothes on and endured our night on the holiday camp – sure it is perfect for those with families and children, however for us it was a little too large and noisy. The next day we set off for Italy via a very small part of Slovenia. In an attempt again to avoid toll motorways we snaked along tiny coastal roads hugging the coast. Without really realising it we were into Italy. As we bimbled along the Italian roads a few things became quite evident; a) Italian roads are in a bad condition, b) Italian drivers are wankers and c) the Italian countryside is stunning!

We had decided that as we were in this part of the world we had to visit Venice. We decided to camp in an Aire in a town 30km from Venice and take the train in the next day. This proved to be a fantastic idea as not only was the Aire great, the town itself was beautiful and it was really easy to get to and from Venice. So the next day we set off with thousands of other tourists to explore Venice. To be honest we were half expecting Venice to be something of a hell hole, but actually we were completly surprised at how beautiful and pleasant it was. Yes it was very touristy, and yes it was very busy in places, but the nature of the city meant that in some places you would find yourself completly on your own. We spent the day getting lost in the thousands of alleyways, looking at gorgeous architecture and thoroughly enjoying the romantic city.

 

Venice was gorgeous in the sunnyshine!

St. Mark's Square

It was quite odd walking around when literally all the streets are canals

 

 

Following our wonderful experience in Venice, we decided to take in as many of the old romantic cities as we could. We headed south towards Umbria via the Italian Adriatic coast. We discovered that as the Italians are such fastidiously clean and well-kempt people, toilets and fresh water were easy to come by, and showers were bountiful around beaches and swimming lakes – this made Itlay a dream for wild camping! Our next stop was in Urbino on the edge of Umbria. We arrived at the town in the early evening and were just starting to follow our directions to an Aire when the Cabinieri decided that our little foreign van needed further investigation. For the first time in 3 months on the road, and the first time in my life, we were pulled over on the roadside and asked for documents. After handing over passports the Cabinieri disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with nothing exciting to report…. phew! After exchanging a few pleasantries the Cabinieri kindly agreed to give us a police escort to the Aire – Ginny has never felt quite so important! After a relaxing evening at yet another great Aire we headed to the beautiful town of Urbino with its impressive palace overlooking the hilly Umbrian landscapes and narrow streets.

 

 

Our Police escort through town to our camping spot!

The Palazzo Ducale in Urbino

The landscape in Umbria was simply stunning

 

 

 

 

After this we enjoyed a few days of driving through the Umbrian landscapes of vinyards, pictureseque villages and – unfortunately for Ginny – steep hills. It was while we were tackling some of those steep hills that we noticed a slight juddering in Ginny, and some rather strange groans – with this in mind Nathan decided it was time for her cooling system to have a fresh load of coolant and a clean through…. well, as it turns out Ginny was exceptionally dehydrated and much to the amusement of the other campers Nathan took apart the cooling system at a lovely lakeside Aire and proceeded to fix her.

 

Possibly the best free camping spot we've had....

...unfortunately, I had work to do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All fixed and perfect again we decided to head North towards Tuscany and Siena. On the way we had to make an emergency pit-stop as one of our tyres had a blow out on the Autostrada. Scary stuff – but with Nathan’s expert driving skills he kept control and we limped to a service area where, in formula one style, the spare wheel was quickly fitted and used again for the second time on the trip. Our agenda for the next day changed slightly from touristing in Siena to finding some new tyres for Ginny. This actually was an easier task than expected and by mid-morning some new rubber boots had been ordered.

 

Big blow out!

However, this young man was kind enough to fix it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This left the rest of the day for us to enjoy the sights and sounds of Siena. This was an enchanting medieval city with a walled centre, stunning piazzas, churches, tiny lanes, the famous Piazza del Campo and of course the magnificent Duomo. And not forgetting some great pizza!!

 

Siena is a warren of small lanes and streets - perfect for getting lost in!

Mmmmmm, delicious pizza!

800 years old and still looking good - the spectacular Duomo!

 

 

 

Equipped with some new tyres we hit the road again, this time in search of the funny little tower that can’t stand up straight. Now perhaps we were a little naive, but we thought that the tower would be relatively easy to find in Pisa – not for us!!! After quite a search we finally found the little piazza  - the Campo dei Miracoli – where the leaning tower was. Much smaller than we thought and swamped with tourists – we had a quick nosey round, took our silly pictures (along with thousands of others!) and headed back towards the Italian countryside that had impressed us no end.

 

Of course we had to take silly photos....

...but while everyone was trying to hold it up, we thought we'd push and blow it down!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few more pleasant days ambling northwards through the countryside took us to the mountainous border as we headed in to France.

 

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Wed
25
Jul '12

Mountains-beach-beach-mountains-beach…

 

Or in other words: Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia i Hezegovina and back to Croatia!

Moving south from Germany we had a date with another mountain we’d unsuccessfully tried to summit 2 years ago – the weather meant we had to give up last time but now the forecast was for sunshine for the following week so we hot-footed towards Slovenia and the Triglavski National Park. Leaving Konigsee we drove via Austria (and more mountains for Ginny to cross!) and into Italy, before briefly visiting Austria again on route to Slovenia. The reason for our ‘multi-country’journey was that we were avoiding motorways and sticking to the A-roads which run along the same routes, as we didn’t want to pay tolls! We know from previous experience that you can spend lots of money covering miles on the highway when it doesn’t actually make any difference to the time our journey takes in Ginny, plus when we take the slow road we get to see more of the country we are travelling through. On this journey, it meant we travelled through some spectacular mountain scenery in Austria.

Arriving in Slovenia, we had to tackle the 1611m Vrsic pass on the way in to the Soca Valley. Ginny had done this before – and with a defective clutch! – and we scaled the mountain with only one tea break required! Reaching Soca, we visited Tourist Info to check the weather was still holding, then headed to our campsite to prepare for our assault on the 2864 metres of Triglav!

 

Setting up camp at our faveourite campsite in the Soca Valley

...perfect for jumping it to!!

The gorgeous River Soca....

 

A quick note here on Slovenia, the Soca Valley and Triglavski National Park….it must be one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in Europe. It still seems to be relatively undiscovered by western/northern Europeans, which isn’t a bad thing and possibly contributes to the nature of the place. The campsite we keep returning too (this was our third visit in four years) is Auto Camp Soca, which must be one of the best campsites in Europe, certainly that we have visited. Aside from the multiple recycling options for waste and the solar hot water system, the site is in the heart of the Soca valley, right next to the river (reputed to be the cleanest river in Europe!) with impressive mountains all around. What more can you ask for!?! Add in great walking, hiking, swimming, kayaking, rafting, climbing and mountain biking options, and it adds up to a gem of a place. This isn’t an advert on behalf of the Slovenian Tourist Board, I just wanted to share some thoughts on this beautiful country – and i’ve not even mentioned the friendliness of the Slovenians! – and recommend you visit!

So, our primary reason to come here was to reach the summit of Triglav, the highest peak in the Julijske Alpe (Julian Alps). After summitting Watzmann the week before we were feeling confident. To get up and down in one day means an early start, so at 5am (yes, 5am!) on the appointed day we got up and headed for the mountain. Six hours of hard hiking and via ferrata later we reached the summit.

 

Some hairy via ferrata....

...and some fantastic views....

...some precipitous drops....

 

By this time the clouds had closed in and the view wasn’t as spectacular as it had been on the way up, but this proved to be a good thing as Anna couldn’t see too much on our descent!!

 

...were all worth it once we reached the top!!

 

13 hours after setting out we were back at ground level, very tired but very happy…needless to say we slept very well that night!

Leaving the Soca valley after a couple of days resting, we headed south towards Croatia. After summitting the two mountains in a week we decided we needed a little R&R by the beach in Croatia. As soon as we left the cool air of the mountain valleys we had a taste of the arid, dry Adriatic air. Ginny, eager to get to the beach too, motored along towards the coast with all the other European holiday makers. We arrived at our first campsite sweaty and ready to have our first dip in the sea.

Our first camping spot, right on the sea front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next few days we meandered along the Dalmation coast in awe of the spectacular scenery and inky blue waters. We would bimble along looking for small campsites on the beach – idyllic! Along our travels Ginny was super friendly and would wink at all the other T25s she passed – indeed, as we meandered along the road Ginny spotted our first T25 from the UK with some very enthusiastic wavers – more about them later. Heading down the coast we decided to revisit some of the places we had been to 9 years ago on our Inter-railing summer. First stop was Split. When we previously visited there didn’t seem to be all that much going on. This has now completely changed and the place was teeming with tourists. However, busy crowds aside the ancient Roman city was still as splendid. The polished stone streets and tiny alleyways were still as enchanting as before.

 

The old town of Split is enchanting...

...but we were surprised to see Romans wandering about!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After enquiring about the ferries to Italy and and enjoying an ice-cream sitting at the harbour we went along our merry way. Heading inland from the coast to explore some areas we hadn’t visited before on our way south, we found the landscape to be dry and mountainous, with vast lakes dotted around as if to deliberately add some colour to the mostly grey view. At one point we spotted an aeroplane flying very low and then when it looked like it was about to land on us we realised it was dropping water on a large grassfire, which we were about to drive though! Although the fire looked to be fairly vicious and was spreading in all directions, the road was still open, so we closed our windows and kept going, thinking to ourselves how much safer it is on the coast!

Our favourite stop along the coast here was in a tiny bay by a town called Slano, where we found the most delightful campsite with a really friendly owner. Simply beautiful – we will be returning there for sure. This was towards the south of Croatia, where you have to drive through a small part of Bosnia before returning to Croatia. At that border post, we had been a few cars behind another T25 with a young German couple in who were stopped and searched at the control point. Luckily for us, that must have fulfilled their quota of hippies in old VWs for the day because they let us straight through! Not that we have anything to hide of course…

Moving on we headed towards Dubrovnik, as we started to drive to the city we saw that this too seemed to have become much busier since our last visit. We drove past two huge cruise liners moored, with hundreds of coaches lined up waiting to take the passengers into town. With this in mind we thought we would give Dubrovnik a miss this time, as a day spent wrestling for breathing pavement space with over-sized Americans was not something we fancied. We had such fond memories from our visit in 2003 that we didn’t want them spoilt by being stuck among thousands of other tourists. However the trusted navigator on our team somehow missed a sign and we ended up on the one way system driving down into the old city. Ginny caught a quick glimpse of the old town as Nathan battled with the one way system and the crowds. Eventually we got out and back onto the main road, flustered, but ok!

 

Dubrovnik, viewed from the mountain road south of the city

Anna wanted to include this photo so she can call me a hippy. It's not a skirt by the way, it's my Indian Dhoti (and it is extremely comfortable).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our meander down the coast then took us into Montenegro. We had heard and read wonderful things about Montenegro and were excited to finally visit; excitement which was tempered slightly by the hour-long wait in boiling sunshine to get across the border. During this wait our blower motor gave up the ghost, meaning we were using hand-powered fans to keep cool. We purchased insurance from the Police office at the border (UK insurance won’t cover vehicles to come to Montenegro as it is non-EU) and it was easier and cheaper than we had been expecting, at around €1 per day. Anna mostly wanted to come to check whether the Montenegrans were indeed the tallest people in the world, while Ginny and Nathan were quite satisfied with the great scenery and lovely coastline. We made a stop in the picturesque Bay of Kotor and not only marvelled at the old town, but also at the huge super yachts the town was attracting.

 

The gorgeous Bay of Kotor

We thought Sveti Stefan was best viewed from a distance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was probably the prettiest part of the Montenegran coast. Unfortunately as we moved further South the development and commercialisation of the coast was crazy and seemed out of control, with large hotels and apartment blocks everywhere we looked. We began to realise how well Croatia has done to control development and maintain their fantastic coastline. Sveti Stefan, which our Lonely Planet raved was “the jaw dropping view in Montenegro” looked very much like a new Barrett housing estate as it had recently had a ‘makeover’. However all was not lost and the over development could do little to alter the stunning views of the Karst mountains falling into the brilliant blue waters of the Adriatic. Along our drive down the coast we picked up some very merry Hungarian hitch-hikers and together we headed off to find the long sandy beaches of Ulcinj.

 

Chilling at the campsite with the Hungarian hitch-hikers!

 

Ulcinj is a town that is 75% Albanian, and it was really interesting to see that as soon as you entered the town it was like entering Albania itself with all the signs changing language. We enjoyed a few days by the beach in Ulcinj and then, inspired by Peter and Pirri (sorry if we spelt your names wrong!), we decided to head to Bosnia i Herzegovina (BiH). Our journey to Bosnia took us inland and over many of the tall mountains we had been admiring from the coast. The scenery was phenomenal and we travelled along the most stunning road we have been on yet. On the outskirts of the Durmitor National Park we stumbled upon a road along the Pivsko jezero, clinging to the mountainside, high up in a gorge with turquoise lakes below, driving through tunnels with stones falling from above. Anna was a little nervous on this road but Nathan and Ginny really enjoyed it, especially when crossing a dam and realising the drop on one side was several hundred metres!!

 

The road along the Pivsko jezero was stunning, constantly disappearing tunnels cut roughly through the rock....

Despite the scary journey, the views were well worth it

..or over bridges and dams, hundreds of metres above the water!

 

Of course we couldn’t come to this part of the world without thinking about the history. We had seen remnants of the Balkan conflict in Croatia many times in different places, however as we crossed the border into Bosnia i Herzegovina the recent history of the country was very stark and we got the impression they are struggling to move on somewhat. Bullet holes, shell scars and burnt out, abandoned buildings were ubiquitous, peppering beautiful landscapes of lush, verdant mountains and valleys.

Once across the border and having aquired insurance for BiH from a little man in a restaurant (don’t ask!) we headed to Sarajevo. Using our canny navigation skills – and the help of some backpackers with a map! – we located the only campsite in the city, out in the nondescript suburbs several kilometres from the old town. While looking for our camping spot, we were surprised to see the British T25 we had passed earlier in the week. Anna was doubtful as to whether or not it was same camper with the enthusiastic wavers, however Nathan, with his scary knack of remembering everything about vehicles that we passed was quite sure it was the same van. And sure enough later that evening we met up with the friendly owners, Adrian and Ellie from Hertfordshire. A quick chat later and we realised that no only were they in a similar campervan to us but that they were on a similar trip….except they had already been on the road for 14 months! A few beers later and we were all confirmed friends, swapping stories and tales until the early hours. As a bonus, as well as being VW campervanners, they are both keen Citroen 2cv fans – Nathan was very happy!

The next day we caught a tram along ‘sniper’s alley’ into Sarajevo centre to explore the city. Remembering the images from the 90′s conflict it was really interesting to actually visit the place for real, and particularly to see the scars which are still visible on many buildings in the old town. Despite the on-going efforts at re-building, we saw how much there still is to do, and had to bear in mind that the entire city had been under seige for over three years.

 

Some buildings have been restored beautifully in Sarajevo...

With all the recent history surrounding Sarajevo, it is easy to forget that events here kick-started WW1

...whereas some, like the old Army Hall, still bear the scars of the conflict.

 

 

 

In contrast to the dull suburbs where the campsite was, the old town was very interesting and beautiful. There was a great mix of Eastern and Western cultures, with churches sitting alongside mosques, and architecture that still had a distinctive Ottoman feel. We followed a walking tour around the city to take in most of the sights, rewarding ourselves with a delicious Lebenese feast while we rested our legs. Over more beers with Adrian and Ellie that evening, we’d decided that we should embark on a T25 convoy tour of BiH for a few days!

So the next day we checked out of the campsite and headed away, following Adrian and Ellie and their as-yet-unnamed campervan, to visit the Tunnel Museum. This is an exhibition that has been put together to show visitors the history of the tunnel which was dug underneath Sarajevo airport and through which all supplies to the city were brought during the siege, including an oil pipeline and electricity cables. The tunnel was 1m wide, 1.6m high and about 800m long, with around 4,000 people coming through it every day, bringing food, supplies and weapons in for the besieged city. Watching video footage of this all happening for real, with the tunnel half flooded and shells falling overhead was a very sobering experience. The tunnel was the only route in or out of the city for over three years, and to explore the exhibition and walk along a section of the tunnel really brought home the difficulties faced by the people of Sarajevo at this time. The exhibition was put together by the family whose house the tunnel began at, and some members of the family still live here and run the museum. We heard that the government is building an ‘official’ museum at the other end of the tunnel, but part of the appeal of this museum is the slightly basic, low-budget nature of it and the fact that the family running it risked their lives – literally – during the conflict to assist their fellow citizens. Not for the first time on our travels, we were forced to consider how we might act under similar circumstances…

 

The Tunnel Museum was brilliant - you can still see the war damage on the building

The actual tunnel was tiny and you really wouldn't want to carry 50kg for 800m along it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Tunnel Museum, our small VW convoy headed away from Sarajevo towards the Bosnian ‘Valley of the Pyramids’ – yes, Bosnia has pyramids! Getting there was something of an experience in itself, as we followed Adrian and Ellie up some very steep and narrow, winding lanes, wondering if we were all on a wild goose chase! There is a chap called Sam Osmanagich (PhD) who has established a hypothesis about the pyramids in Bosnia and has set up a Foundation to investigate them further (the ‘Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun’ Foundation, in case you were wondering, and if you’re really interested visit: www.bosnianpyramidofthesun.com). The Valley of the Pyramids has become an archaeological site where volunteers come to spend two weeks trying to uncover the secret behind the pyramids and the passageways and chambers which are apparently inside them. The pyramids look very much like hills, not very ‘pyramidical’ to the untrained eye, and we climbed to the top of the largest one (the Pyramid of the Sun – at over 200m the tallest in the world) thinking that we must be in the wrong place because we couldn’t see any pyramids!

 

A spot of lunch before climbing the tallest pyramid in the world...

Pyramid or not, the view from the top was fantastic!

...except at the time we didn't realise it was!

 

 

When you visit the headquarters of the Foundation they tell you that the pyramids were covered with earth by people 5,000 years ago who didn’t want them discovered. I have a theory that this Sam fellow might just be bonkers, as he also believes that “almost everything they teach us about the ancient history is wrong”, but of course it’s always possible he is right and everyone else is wrong….. Either way, it was an amusing way to spend an afternoon, the view from the top of the ‘Pyramid of the Sun’ was fantastic and we had a good chuckle about it later!

 

These piles of wood were not the pyramids...

 

 

Leaving the pyramids behind, we headed south towards Mostar. As we passed through the small towns and villages on the way, we got some funny looks and plenty of friendly waves as people noticed our two old VWs from the UK tootling by! Along the route, Anna also had been searching for some inspiration for Adrian and Ellie regarding their un-named bus – after 14 months on the road she thought it should definitely have a name – and decided that it looked like a ‘Hermann the German’ so at the first opportunity we let them know our choice of name and they took to it – so Anna may have named their bus for them! Confirmation will come when we check out their weblog, www.wherevertheroadgoes.com

 

Our views along the way of the countryside were stunning

Beautiful Mostar

Our first view of the famous 'old bridge' at Mostar

 

 

 

 

Arriving in Mostar in the evening we went into town on our way to the campsite, thinking that it might be quieter then and we’d be able to get some good photos in the evening sunshine….however, a quick look determined that Mostar is never quiet and is very much on the tourist trail of these parts! However, our quick glance through the town also confirmed that it is very beautiful and has been re-built to a high standard since the war. Popping into the Tourist Information office we wondered if we’d ever escape as the overly-friendly chap in the office started giving us a history of Mostar and Bosnia i Herzegovina before moving on to the ‘hard sell’ of things his office recommended…the four of us got off lightly with the purchase of just one map between us (thanks Adrian)! Finding our campsite was easy enough – and included driving past the ‘recommended’ site – and it was as good as we’d been told by some Germans (they know a thing of two about a good campsite), with a riverside location, kayaks available for us to use and free WiFi.

A very pleasant evening was spent enjoying a bean curry and drinking some beers with Adrian and Ellie until the early hours (this was becoming a habit!), our last together before we went our separate ways. The next morning we drove into Mostar for a proper explore, and spent an enjoyable morning walking around taking it all in. We all have images we remember from the Balkan conflict, and of course Mostar is famous for its old bridge which was bombed by Croats during the war. The re-built bridge is one of the biggest tourist draws in the region, and we saw a good proportion of those cruise ship punters from Dubrovnik posing for photos on the bridge. Despite all the tourists, wandering away from the main streets we got a feeling that the town is struggling to recover itself after the war, with many buildings still in a state of disrepair or ruin.

 

Our little VW camp, near Mostar

With our new campervanning buddies, Adrian and Ellie

Grim indeed! An example of the buildings still unrepaired 20 years after the war

 

 

After a lovely lunch in a riverside restaurant it was time to part from Adrian and Ellie. We had a good few days with these guys and really enjoyed their company, it was great to meet some like-minded folks who were doing a similar trip to us – mostly we had met ‘grey gypsies’ in their ‘fridge freezers’ – and Anna thinks Ginny took a fancy to Hermann! We hope you have a good rest-of-trip and look forward to meeting up on our travels in the Autumn or back home in the UK.

Leaving Mostar we couldn’t hang about as our insurance expired at 4pm that same day and we had to be out of the country before that, so we headed back to the Croatian border. Whilst waiting in the queue to get through the border we – and everyone else – were amused for a while by a Bulgarian couple in a diplomatic car trying to jump the queue. Needless to say, the Croatian border gaurds weren’t impressed with their efforts and they had to join the line with the rest of us – no one likes a queue jumper!!

Back in Croatia, we had one agenda and that was chillaxing on the beach for a few days before catching the ferry to Italy, so we headed north in search of a suitable camping site. We keep hearing that the weather back home has continued to be wet and miserable throughout the summer so won’t dwell on this, except to say that the Croatian coast is truely gorgeous and if you are planning your summer holiday to avoid catching SAD, we can’t recommend it highly enough!

 

We can't get enough of the gorgeous Croatian coast, one of the gems of Europe

 

 

So that’s it for now. We have a ferry booked to take us across the Adriatic to Italy, where we look forward to exploring pastures new and sampling some fantastic food!

 

Tue
10
Jul '12

Via Baltica and into Deutschland

 

Leaving Helsinki we boarded the ‘fun ferry’ across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn. The Finns and Estonians know how to enjoy an ocean voyage, , even if it is only 2 hours long and departs at 11am…within 5 minutes of leaving shore everyone on board was drinking beer and soon enough the disco and karaoke were both in full swing!!

Arriving in Estonia, our first view was of Tallinn old town from the water, and it certainly looked beautiful in the sunshine. Our first mission was to obtain some Campingaz as our bottle had emptied in Finland and you can’t get refills there. Having already checked online, we were confident that we would be able to solve this little problem quickly enough….until we couldn’t locate the shop we needed, and when we finally did they didn’t have any in stock, nor did their partner shop across town. Eventually, after some pleading, it turned out they did have one bottle left but it was being kept for a German fellow who had telephoned to reserve it (a good idea that, how German!!). Luckily, the chap in the store took pity on us and sold us the bottle, assuring us that he would get more stock before his German customer arrived!

 

Our first sighting of Tallinn - from the 'fun ferry'!

...Freedom Square - the Estonians are proud of their independence!

Freedom Monument....

 

We found our campsite easily, and were soon chillaxing in the gorgeous sunshine. As we were sat there a fellow walked up to us and then circled around Ginny a couple of times, before asking us how much we wanted for her! I only afterwards thought I should have replied ’15,000 Euros’!! The following morning we walked into Tallinn to explore – again, our luck was in as a free walking tour was leaving the Tourist Information office just as we arrived. We had a really interesting morning exploring the old city on foot with a very knowledgeable local guide.

 

Estonian Parliament building - all important buildings in Tallinn are 'salmon' coloured!

and taking in an elevated view of the beautiful old city

Listening carefully to our tour guide..

 

Leaving Tallinn we headed southwest along the ‘Via Baltica’, the highway which joins Estonia with Latvia and Lithuania. We had been pre-warned that the police here like to stop foreign vehicles if you break the speed limit (ok ok, stop laughing) so we were taking it easy and staying within the 90km/h limit…..unfortunately we were the only ones, and soon enough Ginny had a long line of ‘friends’ following along behind us, with some going to great lengths to overtake – especially the trucks. Anna was regularly screaming with horror as 40-tonnes wagons rolled past us on the single lane carriageway, with the oncoming traffic apparently presenting no worries for them!

Despite this, we arrived at our next destination – Parnu, Estonia’s ‘second city’ – alive and well albeit with slightly shredded nerves. The lovely riverside campsite turned out to be something of a Finnish enclave, with us as the sole Brits – this would be a reoccurring theme throughout the Baltic countries, as it seems our fellow GB-ers don’t stray this far from France for their holidays! Parnu itself was a lovely little town, although one morning was all it took to see the sights, such as they were.

 

Church in Parnu

This one's for you Brian - the last train on the Tallinn - Parnu line!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on again, our next destination was Riga, capital city of Latvia. The road at this point followed the Baltic coast for miles, and once in Latvia the craziness level of the drivers seemed to drop a notch or two. We also did our good turn for the week and by giving a ride to some backpacking students! In Riga, we had literally a nightmare finding our campsite, which despite a central location and having a good map, turned out to be well and truely hidden. We saw many other motorhomes lost and unable to find the camping – but they were using Sat Navs which made us feel better. Eventually we figured out where it was and led a procession of motorhomes to the site. Yes us, using our instinct and a map had beaten the Sat Nav-ers to it, yay!! I’m lucky to have a great navigator by my side…

 

Some random artwork in Riga!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Riga, we found it to be beautiful, particularly the old centre which was full of stunning art nouveau architecture. The weather was starting to ‘get a bit UK’ at this point and we had some rain, so decided it was time to move on, destination Vilnius in Lithuania.

 

Town Hall square in Riga

..while we enjoyed the stunning old buildings

Ginny admiring the church spire...

 

 

En route we took a detour to visit the strange and thought-provoking ‘Hill of Crosses’, which is – as its name suggests – a hill covered in crosses! During the occupation by the USSR, the Lithuanians started placing crosses on the hill to commemorate friends and relatives who had been sent to the gulag prisons and death camps. Despite the Soviets bulldozing the hill in an attempt to stop them, they continued to plant their crosses in the ground and today people still memorialise relatives here. It was quite an eerie place, but as with everywhere we visited across this region, people were resistant to the illegal occupation when it occurred and are still somewhat bitter – understandably so I would say – about that period in their history. Lithuania is proud to have been the first country to break free of the USSR, gaining independence in 1991 shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

The Hill of Crosses

Thousands of crosses have been placed here over the past 70 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The capital, Vilnius, was another stunning old city – our favourite of the Baltics. The weather returned to form here and we had a very enjoyable few days exploring the area in lovely sunshine. Soon it was time to move on again though, this time we were expressing across northern Poland to Germany, first stop Wolfsburg.

 

View of a typical square in Vilnius

We visited Trakai, near Vilnius

Anna in traditional dress!

 

 

The main reason for our visit to Wolfsburg – ok, the only reason – was to visit the VW Museum here, where we spent a fantastic day amongst Volkswagens ancient and new, even meeting some of Ginny’s ancestors! It was really interesting and exciting (Anna would agree i’m sure…!!) to be seeing some 1st edition cars and buses straight from the factory, including the prototype for the original Transporter van and Herbie the beetle (who is familiar to us all i’m sure!). I will post another quick blog about our day in Wolfsburg, as we also visited the VW Autostadt for another dose of nostalgia!

 

Ginny passed her 150,000-mile milestone just over the Polish border...

...where we had an exciting day!!

...and was rewarded with a visit to the VW museum...

 

Moving west we then headed to Euskirchen, where I did a work placement last year. We were invited to stay with a colleague and it was lovely to see everyone again, one year on. We also spent an enjoyable evening watching the Germany vs. Greece quarterfinal of the Euro football championship! Leaving the Euskirchen gang we headed south towards the Mosel Valley. En route, we chanced upon the Nurburgring – well actually, we were in Lidl getting supplies and wondered what all the racket was around us, and upon further investigation we stumbled on to the viewing area for the race track! We watched various GTs and sports cars competing in an endurance event….I contemplated entering Ginny but decided against it when I thought of our fuel consumption!!

 

It was great to see the Euskirchen crowd

...and a VW Lupo holding its own too!!

We saw lots of fast cars in an endurance race at the Nurburgring....

 

Moving on through the beautiful hills of the Mosel Valley we travelled into Luxembourg, via Echternach. In Luxembourg we found our campsite and were both pleased – Anna because there was a Phil Collins tribute band playing (loudly) next to the site and me because they were showing the England vs. Italy football match in the bar that evening! After a day exploring the city we moved on back towards Germany, and for the next few days meandered along the Necker Valley and the ‘Romantic Road’, visiting ancient castles and forts until we hit our destination of Nürnberg.

 

Picturesque entrance gate to Rothenburg

To prove that it hasn't all been sunshine and blue skies!

Thousands of football fans turned out to watch the semi-final with Italy...

 

 

 

 

Nürnberg has a special place in our hearts and every time we visit we love it more! We had a lovely few days of brilliant sunshine, good food and great company. We spent a lovely evening catching up with the Gorgsies over pizza and beer (thanks Tim for breaking your Italian food ban for us!!!) and then spent a great afternoon with the Roos family. It was lovely to see their litt’uns growing up…next time we visit they will surely be taller than Anna! Thanks to Tim & Liz, Nicky Wolfgang, Olivia, Ryan & Fynn for your hospitality, showers and washing machine – rest assured, we’ll be back later in the year for another visit!! Nürnberg also marked a major change for me, as I decided it was time to abandon my beard-growing project. After nearly a year, it was too long, fuzzy and generally in the way, so off it was chopped. Afterwards I was in a bit of shock (you get kinda attached to your beard) and didn’t recognise myself in the mirror but i’m slowly getting used to it….and of course, it is already growing back!

 

Uh-oh....be careful of ladies wielding scissors.....

...the results can be severe!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving our friends behind, we were back on the southbound road. However, I wasn’t happy with Ginny as she was getting a bit hot and bothered and wasn’t cooling down properly, particularly after the big hills we were now getting into. With the Bavarian Alps, Austria and the Julian Alps next on the agenda, we decided to make a pit-stop in Augsburg to visit the Doctor. We called in at the same workshop which had fitted Ginny’s new clutch two years ago, and yet again we were given brilliant service and Ginny was seen to there and then. One new fan belt later and the engine was cooling properly – a test drive at 120km/h (!!) proved she was well and so we hit the road again.

 

The beautiful Königsee in the Bavarian Alps

The summit of Watzmann in the distance - our target for this trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final stop in Germany was in the Bavarian Alps. We had one mission here: to reach the summit of Watzmann, Germany’s highest peak. We had tried once before but had only managed to reach the mountain hut, Watzmannhaus, about 2/3 of the way up. So fully rested and with a gigantic lunch packed we started off bright and early – six hours of hard hiking later we reached our goal of the Hocheck summit at 2651m! We had great weather for the day and the views across the mountain range were stunning from up there, and we felt a real sense of achievement at finally reaching the top, three years after our first attempt.

 

Kaffee und Kuchen break on our way up....

...the summit looming ever closer....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yay - sitting on the roof of Germany!!

 

 

 

Just as we started our descent, we had the most random experience of our travelling so far. Approaching the summit as we were leaving were Mattias and Christina, a German couple we had met on a trek in Ooty, India! Of all the places to bump into people, we didn’t expect it would be at the summit of Watzmann! It was great to see them again though and we will be calling in on our way home to catch up properly.

 

You just don't expect to meet people at the top of a mountain!!

 

 

Next, Ginny faces her biggest challenge of the trip so far, with a number of mountain passes to negotiate, and we hope to finally reach the summit of Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia!

 

 

 

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Mon
18
Jun '12

Finland, Finland, Finland, the place we love to be (in the words of Monty Python)

Still in the Arctic Circle, we crossed the border and headed to the home of Joulupukki (Father Christmas) to get our Christmas wishes to him personally. We are keen to keep away from work as long as possible and thought he may be able to grant our wish if we paid him a visit! After a deep and meaningful chat it was established that with a little more effort and improvement from me in being a good wife, we might be able to eek out a longer existence being bums! Ginny was also pleased to hear if she carries on being such a good girl, she’ll definitely be in for a treat!

 

No further explanation needed!!

No queues at this time of year!

Who's that cheeky girl poking her nose in to my photo!?!

 

A tip from some fellow campervan travellers (who have been on the road for 4 years!!) led us to a fantastic camping spot overlooking a lovely lake and with a grillikota. After lighting the fire and having an explore around the nearby nature reserve we decided to take the plunge and have our first – and possibly only – swim in the Arctic Circle. It was a very refreshing few seconds, although we decided to wait until we were further south for a proper swim and also that an ice cold dip is better when there is a hot sauna to run back into after a plunge!

 

View from Ginny at our first camping spot in Finland

Too late to back out now...

Slightly chilly water...the face says it all!

 

 

 

 

Following this lovely sunny start to the Finnish chapter we headed South to start the visits to friends and family. Our first stop took us to Lautiosaari where we caught up with Seppo and Ida. Seppo was the first brilliant host we stayed with and we left with full stomachs and both very clean after a proper sauna, heading to Jääli to see Ville, Katja and Viljami in their new house.

 

Visiting Iida with Seppo

Enjoying a Finnish Birthday cake!

A trip to the forest with Family Nurkkala

 

 

We hadn’t seen little Viljami since he was a rather large bump at our wedding so it was great to finally meet the little pudding! After a few days of further pampering and awesome Finnish hosting – paid for by Nathan helping to shift several tonnes of earth in the garden! – we set off along our merry way again.

 

Working for our supper!

...and shifting!

Luckily help was at hand with the lifting....

 

 

Heading this time to Haapajärvi to meet up with Erja, Irja, Anni and Raija. Again Nathan was amazed at the fantastic Finnish hospitality and I could not quite believe how much pirakka and cake he could actually eat in one sitting! Big thanks for making us feel so welcome – it really was so lovely to see you all again and catch up!

 

Ice cream time with Anni and Raija

Valve fail....luckily, we had some cable ties handy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We, and our increasing waistlines, then headed East. Despite the number of times I have been to Finland this was the first time that I had been to this part of the country. We headed into some beautiful national parks to work off some of the weight we had been gaining since our arrival in Finland. This proved rather timely as Ginny started to suffer from our weight gain – within two days, two of Ginny’s wellies (tyres) had malfunctioned. First a value broke, necessitating a quick make-shift repair from daddy so we could continue our visit to the Russian boarder for a quick peek and then the next day she got a puncture, meaning we had to make our way towards civilisation to get Ginny’s wellies fixed.

 

D'oh! Not a good sight first thing in the morning

Haven't had to do this for a while!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The border zone between Russia and Finland was less exciting than we had anticipated, as there is a 3-km buffer zone which you’re not supposed to enter. Due to the fact that we were fairly sure we could be shot if we accidentally went over the border, this was fine by us!

 

Are they being rude to the Russians!?!

...and you are being watched!

This was literally the end of the road in Finland...

 

 

We found ourselves on Finland’s largest island, Paalasmaa for the next few days getting to know mökki life with my Aunt Terttu and Uncle Jorma. Luckily for us Jorma (Paalasmaa Paaministeri) knew the ‘Paalasmaa Presidenti’ rather well and between them were able to get our Ginny the finest repair for her welly boots – thanks very much for your help and hospitality.

 

Jorma & Terttu's lovely mökki on Paalasmaa

A riot of green on Paalasmaa - there's a mökki in here somewhere!

Gettting into mökki life - making pancakes on the grilli!

 

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for our trip to Paalasmaa, and it rained for 3 days solid! This didn’t dampen our spirits though and we explored the local forest for some great – if cloudy – hilltop views. This ‘working’ forest is owned by the Finnish paper company UPM who manage it sustainably, and also provide information guides for visitors to take walks around it. We also took a trip to the lovely Koli National Park, where Nathan was delighted to discover some downhill ski runs – this information has been filed for a future winter visit! Typically, as we were leaving Paalasmaa the clouds lifted and the sun shone through, making us resolve to visit again to enjoy this beautiful area when the weather is better.

 

At the top of a rather wet Koli National Park

The sun shone brightly as we left Paalasmaa, showing us how beautiful it really is

The kind locals rallied around to get Ginny back on the road!

 

With our bellies once again creaking from the effort of digesting everything, we headed to Kuopio to meet up with some old friends from university for a great catch up. Exploring Kuopio town was a little difficult as the town centre had literally been dug up whilst a new underground car park was built! A mix up in communications here meant Ginny was given a special certificate to commemorate us parking her in the wrong place, although this ‘certificate’ asked for €50 in return. Needless to say, we simply filed this for future reference! Thanks Tiina and Jani for having us – it was great to see you again and we hope you’ll come and visit good old Pompey again soon!!!

 

More gorgeous views, this time from a hilltop viewpoint in Kuopio

It was lovely to catch up with Jani and Tiina again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way to Jämijärvi we stopped off in Helvtinkolo for a walk through the forest to what I thought was going to be a MASSIVE gorge. As beautiful as it was it turned out to be quite small in the end. Fun nevertheless!!!

Ginny Van then wound her way through stunning scenery to my Godparent’s gorgeous summer mökki in Jämijärvi. We had such a wonderful time there, eating, sightseeing, sauna-ing and generally relaxing – totally blissful! Well at least I did…. Nathan, unable to just relax, found himself taking on the role of the Maanavilja renki, helping to repair the laituri (swimming pontoon) with Aimo. If we have no jobs next year, hopefully this will stand him in good stead for gainful employment in Finland! It was a great few days and was so lovely to catch up and talk about memories of  past summers; thank you so much Paivi, Aimo and Liisa.

 

Hard at work....

...it was all worth it though, so the ladies could enjoy their morning coffee on the finished laituri

...still hard at work....

 

 

Heading south took us via some more Nurkkalas. This time Nathan was able to meet Juho’s wife Sanna finally and we were  able to meet little Tobias. We had a great evening catching up and playing with the little ones. Nathan was very impressed with Elias’ climbing ability and I couldn’t quite believe how fearless Amelia was. Bidding farewell – before we were completely soaked by the water pistols – we headed south once more.

Our final Finnish stop was of course Helsinki….. I couldn’t come to Finland without at least looking in the shops at all my favourites – Marimekko, Iittala, Arabia, etc…. I could have spent the rest of our travelling money on very beautiful things, but with no house to put anything in, and Ginny Van already straining a little under the weight of 6 month’s worth of luggage and ‘toys’ as it is – I resisted.

 

 

Enjoying an ice-cream at sunny Helsinki harbour

Helsinki Cathedral

This 'sailor' caught our eye playing his home-made recycled glass bottle xylophone!

 

 

On our last evening in Finland we had our final dose of wonderful Finnish hospitality with Aimo and Liisa. After a great tour of ‘old Helsinki’ and some brilliant viewpoints we headed home to pack little Ginny up ready for our voyage across the Baltic Sea the next morning.

 

Viewing Helsinki harbour from a viewpoint with Aimo & Liisa

No further comment required!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We really had such a lovely time in Finland. Going back to Finland always fills me with a tinge of sadness, but we were shown such kindness and hospitality it really reinvigorated my ‘Finnish side’. A huge kiitos to everyone we met up with – thanks to you we had a really amazing time!

 

Waiting for our Viking Line ferry to Tallinn

Bye bye Helsinki and Finland - we'll be back!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So on we travel, next stop for us is Estonia and a trip along the ‘Baltic highway’….and hopefully time for some exercise to work off all those Finnish cakes!

 

Tue
29
May '12

Happy Birthday Anna!

Mon
28
May '12

Sometimes, spending too much time with one person can result in madness…..

So, I have a bit of free time (for a change!) and a good internet connection today, and nothing better to do than pick out some of the silly pictures we took whilst away. Why? Well, sometimes you (or more accurately, I) just get a bit ‘templed out’ and go slightly crazy. Only slightly though.

 

My little Buddha!

I'm just gonna move this a little bit....

Cheap accommodation in India!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...then I can roll it back into place!

I'll just stop this rock falling down the hill....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, quite!

 

If you've ever smelt Durian, you understand this!!

Aren't they all?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much lunch can make you very heavy.....

....or really strong!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, the Merlion in Singa - great for having a drink!

...or washing your hair!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No comment required!!

 

 

Note: copying religious icons is not cool, funny or clever.

Tickling is ok though!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting ancient temples is good.

And gurning is just about acceptable!

Gimme 5!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice to meet you too!

Sometime over the last thousand years or so, this poor fella had lost his head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under no circumstances should you touch the exhibits. And definitely do not sit at the exhibit and pretend it is your desk!

 

Useful advice - or not - for visits to the Netherlands....

Those of you with daughters, feel free to print and attach to school uniform/bedroom doors etc etc!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now my favourites!! I have to admit these still make me chuckle – and Anna wonder why she married me….

 

Where's Wally?

Where's Wally? Hee hee!

Where's Wally?!

 

Still can't find him!?!

The Wally is there somewhere!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for now folks! I will of course continue to look for opportunities to make myself look even more silly than usual, quite an undertaking at the moment, what with a comedy beard and all that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sat
19
May '12

Highlights of the Low Countries

Sorry about the picture formatting folks – we’re waiting for our IT consultant to sort it out!!

With Ginny all stocked up and ready for the off we headed to the continent. After a breezy ferry crossing over the Channel we turned left and headed for Belgium.

First stop on the Ginny tour took us to Ghent. We found our planned ‘Aires de Service’ (basically a free stopover place for campervans). The weather was pretty grey and drizzly as we walked into the old town, however just as we arrived at the magnificent Grote Markt the sun started to shine and old medieval town looked stunning. We bimbled around the back streets and canals for the afternoon and enjoyed some rather lovely frittes with loadsa mayo! Next stop Antwerp.

Lovely Ghent

Plenty of canals in Ghent too!

Chips chips chips!!

Our second Aire turned out to be quite a find. On the outskirts of Antwerp we found the site nestled inside a beautiful country park. With the sun still shining we decided to stay here a little longer and enjoy the beautiful park while the weather lasted. Antwerp itself was beautiful, with an interesting and historic city centre, which had the most spectacular train station in Europe!

Possibly the best train station in Europe!

Ginny holding her own with some larger cousins...!! Oh, and the lovely Aire near Antwerp.

For some reason (possibly the weather), we had the campsite pretty much to ourselves....

...with all the rain, what else could we do but catch up with Homeland

Having only enjoyed free camping until now we were starting to hum a little and the decision was taken to stay on a paid site and enjoy the wonders of showers and electricity. We headed to Holland and into Zeeland on the coast. We think that the beaches would have been stunning, but the weather was so disgusting we only made it out of the van to go to the toilet! We had a very exciting night of mega storms and discovered that Ginny was indeed water tight.

The next few days in Holland were spent visiting friends. In fact we didn’t realise quite how many friends we had in Holland! We headed to Delft via Rotterdam, and had a lovely weekend with Jamie, Joolie and Atom Smasher in Delft, where they gave us a great insight into Dutch coffeeshop culture. We then met up with Helen in Utrecht for lunch and then in the evening we met Nina and Ernst for dinner. I hadn’t realised quite how long ago it was that I had last seen Nina, and for the first time ever I started to realise how old I was getting! Thankfully the 20 year (!) absence hadn’t particularly changed us, and whilst chatting we realised what a strange bubble we lived in, in Egypt. It was brilliant to talk to someone who went through the same bizarre changes of moving from Cairo to rural Europe when they were 10 years old and I think Nathan and Ernst realised quite how special their ladies were!!!

Brunch with Jamie and Joolie

Helen meeting Ginny in Utrecht

Reunion - 20 years later!

After loads of helpful tips and info from everyone we met up with, we set a course for the rest of our Lowlands trip.

Winding our way through the bright and colourful tulip fields we made our way to Amsterdam. We booked into another paid-for site (yes, shower time again!), and joined with the rest of the Dutch nation by getting on our bikes for the short trip in to the city centre. This was our first visit to Amsterdam, so we had to check out the usual tourist spots, and we also cycled around a while, enjoying the small, canal-bordered streets and watching the kamakazi Dutch cyclists.

We took a diversion the next day and headed north to the sand dunes and coast of Wijk aan Zee. After a long jaunt along the beach and dunes we were lucky enough to watch the most beautiful sunset. For a few minutes the wind turbines and oil tankers turned gold and glistened.

Beautiful tulip fields en route to Amsterdam

Camping by the sea!

Unexpectedly gorgeous sunset by the beach

The crazy cheese-men of Alkmaar!

The next stop on our ever-extending Dutch adventure took us to the cheese capital of Alkmaar, where we watched hundreds of Gouda cheeses being weighed at the ancient cheese scales. It was a great reminder of how eccentric many European traditions are!

More mega-dyke action was to follow, as we drove over a 30km stretch of motorway built on one – it was like flying over the water! Next destination was Groningen where we found possibly the best Aire in Europe, sited next to a downhill mountain bike track. Needless to say, that kept me busy for the next couple of hours, the only downside being the ascent to reach the start point!

Loved the contrast of wind turbines and power station....which do you prefer!?!

Oops, how did this pic sneak in!! (two of my fave things - Nathan)

 

 

Groningen was our last stop in the Netherlands, as we’d realised that if we didn’t leave soon our European road trip would be very short! From here we plan to head west to Germany and then northwards to Scandinavia and beyond!

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Sun
6
May '12

Flying visit home!

Here we are again! Having arrived safely in the UK from Bangkok, we soon forgot the long flight home when we saw Peter waiting for us at the airport with a smile and big hug!! A free lift, in a proper car with a proper driver on proper paved roads, with rules for the driver to follow….brilliant.

Early morning on the beach in sunny Southsea

This chap was following us for ages....

 

 

 

 

At the top of our ‘to do’ list was to prepare for the second part of our adventure, travelling round Europe in our campervan, Ginny. She had already been MOT’d (thanks Brian and Peter H!) so was road legal but there were a couple of areas on the body work in need of some love and attention, plus a minor oil leak I wanted to sort out before we left. Hence, 3 extra days were spent in Dorset while the chaps at L of a van did their thing. Once those gremlins had been fixed, all we had to do was re-build the camping interior, including fitting a funky new floor, new insulation and an extra storage unit for the kitchen.

 

Early morning departure from Coventry!

The beautiful countryside of England

Look at that bump!

 

 

Before Ginny’s trip to the ‘doctor’, we managed to fit in visits to Cerne Abbas, Coventry, Stroud and Exeter to catch up with folks. Yes indeed, the travelling excitement hasn’t stopped since we got home! Special thanks to Mum and Trevor for the ‘camper bits’, and to the Fallows for sharing their bump with us!

Back in Dorset Ginny was prepared and made ready (ish) for the off, we left the gentle green hills behind and headed East, this time back to Southsea for a night of fun and frolics with friends in our/their house.

 

Busy preparing for departure....servicing longboards!

whilst Anna paints the stove!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We really enjoyed coming home mid-trip and catching up with lots of friends and family, and would like to thank everyone for fantastic food and company – the Fallows, Norths, Carters, Parsons, Brunts, Tenants, Moreno-Roberts, Griffins (many), Muddles, Gibbards – not forgetting Brendan at the Royal Oak!! It was amazing to see how much the twins, Ben and Catrin had grown up (aged six!)… and how most other people were exactly the same.

 

Granddad keeping an eye on Brendan making the Irish Coffee...

The Griffin's are all happy after another Royal Oak special!

....perfection!

 

 

 

Putting Ginny back together

Little ones growing up fast...

Checking beard length..

 

...as do the puppies!

The Norths give Anna some proper competition at Phase 10!

Meeting up with Faye for a catch-up!

 

Heading towards the ferry, we slipped into the Zone-i’m-not-allowed-to-name-on-the-web under the cover of darkness and country lanes, to meet up with Dan and Vikki, and to visit Tash & Cleiver, gorgeous Layla and (another!) bump. Again it was brilliant to see them, and amazing to know that next time we see family M-R there will be a little addition to the family! Ditto Family Fallows!

 

Family Moreno-Roberts, our last stop

Ginny ready to head off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally after nearly 3 weeks back in the UK, we were en route to Dover to begin the second half of Anna and Nathan’s Adventure…

 

...let the fun begin!!

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Tue
10
Apr '12

Travel by numbers

So now that we have reached the end of our Indian and Asian adventure, I have been looking back through our journal to see what we’ve been up to and where we’ve been. Turns out, quite a lot of places…..

 

Setting out from Gatwick, fresh-faced and innocent!

 

In the 190 days since we left the UK, we have been to 70 destinations in 8 different countries, over 26 border crossings, staying in 10 different types of accommodation and using 21 types of transport – including 9 rented (or borrowed – thanks Dylan!) motorcycles -, visited 9 bodies of water and 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, read 22 books and played 18 games of Phase 10 (i’m losing in our super league!), sent 58 postcards, used 7 different travel guides and 9 currencies, bought 4 pairs of sunnies (all Annas!) and 5 bottles of sun cream, and met lots of great people. Quite an adventure so far!!

 

Favourite experiences:

Anna:

  • Indahira Pass, Himalaya

    We both loved the mountains!

  • Taj Mahal
  • Snorkelling, Borneo
  • Kwang Si waterfalls, Luang Prabang
  • Elephants at Sukau, Borneo

Nathan:

  • Golden Temple, Amritsar
  • Trekking in the Himalaya
  • Orang-utans at Sepilok, Borneo
  • Elephants at Sukau, Borneo
  • Snorkelling, Borneo

 

 

 

Apart from family and friends, some things we have missed most (in no particular order!!):

Anna:

  • Peter Griffin
  • Radio 4

    And we missed travelling in Ginny!

  • Mayonnaise
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Ginny

Nathan:

  • Ginny
  • Skating with the boys
  • Breakfast cereals
  • My guitar
  • Radio 4

 

 

 

So that’s it for now. We are heading home for a 2-week pit stop to collect Ginny and prepare her for the second half of our travelling adventure, and to catch up with family and friends before we head off again!

 

Waiting for our flight home, 6 months later.....