A Travellerspoint blog

Part 2 nearly over

overcast 10 °C

We always said we would visit Prague again but I’m not so sure if we actually meant to do it on this trip, however here we are with a week until we hand the camper back. I’m having a quiet moment to myself and reflecting on the journey so far. It seems we have completed a massive circle, seen and done plenty but so much more we wanted to see. We have met some great people that made our time easier and although we are always saying that we would do it differently next time, everyone seems to say that. We have met people that tour Europe every year in a camper and still make blunders and end up the wrong way round in a field somewhere. It seems there really is no right or wrong just mostly good days and some not so. All I can say is I’m glad the beer is cheap.
Life in the camper has been challenging for all of us. The kitchen is tiny, the toilet and shower are good for storage only and every day beds need to be made up and tables put in their place. Having four adults moving around constantly has been hard on the van and it seems like it knows that the journey is at an end because all of a sudden everything is breaking. We have gone months without so much as a scratch to four broken hinges, a collapsed front step and one bike in four that is able to be ridden. The table leg broke a weld and is now supported by a brick and I think I mentioned in a previous blog the overheating problem.
What the tour has done for us is to allow us to see countries at a much closer level. We have managed to really get off the tourist track and see countries as locals. The driving has been hard at times as the top speed for the van is 100klm/h down hill with a tail wind and a two hour journey can take four if the road is hilly. We found that surprisingly Croatia is a mountainous country and there is not much flat ground in Greece either. Both of these countries seem to build their roads with the aid of a slinky toy because I’ve never been so dizzy driving before. The views have been spectacular and generally the drive has been worth it but for someone who hates driving to work(25mins) spending 6-8 hours negotiating hairpin after hairpin can be tiring. There were times when I’d wished it were over but on reflection I’m glad we went the way we did.
Each country has been great surprise for us and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time touring this part of Europe. We were starving when we came to Europe after Asia but we managed to gain a bit of weight again with all the great food. The Dalmation coastline in Croatia has to be some of the best scenery I’ve ever seen and the beaches although not like home are a picture postcard. Greece was just so bloody old, everything is a monument and the lifestyle reflects that. There is an easy slow way of life that the people seem to understand that many have been there before and many will come after so don’t be in a hurry. They don’t use preservatives in their breads and it seems that most people still buy fruit and veges the old fashioned way, from a market garden grown organically. I think people would look at you like your from Mars if you asked them did they use pesticide. In the small towns and villages fresh is the only way they live and there are a lot of old people looking very healthy. Got to be something in that.
The food central for us has been Italy. These people know how to live and appreciate a meal. The different regions have their specialties whether it be cheese or salami but all make it to age old traditional recipes and one step inside an Italian Deli will confirm that when it comes to food these people are serious. I would have to say the bulk of our weight gain came thanks to the Italians. What I found is that beautiful food was available to anyone. I don’t think we had a bad meal. It is the kind of place that you can get easily excited about dinner and then what’s for desert. We were lucky enough to be in places where the La Dolce Vita seems to be the way of life where family, friends and food seem to be top of the list rather than squeezed in where they can fit that seems to dog our lifestyle at home. We vowed to change our priorities when we return.
The journey through Austria and Germany was interesting with beautiful scenery and towns and the scenery through the alps is spectacular. I would love to return in Winter especially through the Tirol in Austria. Lovely people and again great times to be had.
I suppose the nicest thing about the journey with the camper has been the time we have been able to take to see these beautiful countries. We haven’t felt rushed and if we wanted an extra day in a place we took it. We have laughed more often than not and been surprised more times than I can mention. Some of the camps have been spectacular and others as recent as two days ago were just backwaters where not a word of English spoken. What I have found overwhelmingly is that people are the same all over the world and the same issues affect us all. Nearly everyone is friendly, most people want to help and keeping a sense of humour is the best way to break down communication problems.

Posted by mike1967 22:56 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

The Romantic Road/ Amsterdam

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We are again heading north and decided that a drive through Bavaria in Germany’s south would fit the bill nicely. The Romantic road promises beautiful scenery in the Alps to idyllic towns along the route. We were not going to drive the entire route, just a few stops on the way to the Netherlands. First stop was Fussen, a tiny little town on the edge of the alps but with one of Europe’s major tourist attractions… King Ludwig II famous fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein Castle. P1040743

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He had a mad crush or obsession with a German composer so with the help of a theatrical designer drew up the plans for the castle. It looks like it was planned by a couple of set designers or the “gayest gays in the village”. If you have never seen photos of this castle before you will still recognise the façade because of Disney modelling its logo after it. There are two castles in the area, the much lesser known and less visited Hohenschwangau was where mad King Ludwig grew up and although it is still a sight to behold it does not compare with Neuschwanstein which is just up the hill. I certainly wouldn’t say they were beautiful, more a blow to the senses. P1040738

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As the rumour goes, he had spent the entire royal coffers on the castle and had plans to build more when the state finally declared him a loony and he met his end in a lake not long after. It was only six weeks after he died the state opened the castle for tourism and have been raking the millions in ever since. Poor old Ludwig wasn’t mad after all.P1040749

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From going to one mad German to another mad Austrian we headed along to Nuremberg. Nuremberg was once touted as the most German of all German towns and it was here that Hitler held most of the rallies for the emerging Nazi party. There is still evidence of the massive building programs he had set up with the marching grounds capable of holding five hundred thousand troops and roads complete with grandstands. The document building is massive depressing looking building that was modelled on the Roman colosseum which now houses a museum and a music school. The stand where Hitler gave all of his speeches is still there and overlooks the mock battle arena which is now used for rock concerts and street hockey. P1040756.jpg The foundations for unfinished work have been filled with water and are now lakes to paddle or sail a boat about. It seems like it is all still there but somehow disguised.
We are now in Cologne and are shaking off a dusty feeling after being entertained by a great blues musician “Wailin’ Willy “ . The food in the café was way overpriced and the quality was very ordinary but for two reasons the night turned into a success, the waitress brought out four beers for us instead of one and three cokes so it was up to me to make sure we didn’t waste money, so I did it for the team ( a small beer is 400ml, hiccup!) and a great chat with Willy after his gig. Willy is a bloke that sings the blues even when he’s talking to you. I felt myself singing in my head “ da na naa nat” after he completed every sentence. Cool man.P1040779.jpg
Deciding that the next logical step for us would be Amsterdam we have packed up the van and headed to the Netherlands. Amsterdam has been a great city for all of us in different ways. P1040790

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Patti and I wanted to see the Van Gogh gallery and the Rijks museum that literally houses billions of dollars worth of paintings. Brenton came along for Vincent but the old Rembrandts and Vermeers weren’t enough to convince him of another day out with Mum and Dad although we reckon he missed out on the best. To see the masterpieces up close, even for the great un-educated was a real privilege. We have wandered the streets of this beautiful city up and over canal bridges and dodging the two million or so bicycles that are in the city at any one time. The red light district was a sight to behold, in fact Matt couldn’t get it all in on one pass so soon became a regular “window shopper”. Hard to imagine that its all legal and visual compared to home. Couldn’t get him near another gallery for love or money but he’d look at that all day! every fifteen year old boy’s dream, young gorgeous women wearing undies inviting you into their room. We managed to catch a State of Origin game on SKY TV in one of the bars. Pity we lost. The smell of dope seems to be everywhere but seems to be a tourist thing visit a coffee shop rather than locals. We have found the city easy to get around, interesting and will definitely return one day, only if the weather improves. We have all just about had enough of camper living and we are heading to Dresden to deliver “Princess” back to the company. Its been a great three months in the camper but we are all a bit tired of the close quarters and the driving.P1040789

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Next stop Berlin and then on to Dublin. Andiamo

Posted by mike1967 00:58 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Innsbruck

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We planned on staying one night in Innsbruck and then pushing on for the Romantic Road in Bavaria but as always the best laid plans can easily go astray. Firstly Brenton and Matt wanted to go down hill mountain bike touring so they organised a guide and some bikes and took off. P1040711.jpg Decided we liked it here so decided to stay another day. Matt convinced me to go down hill mountain bike riding with him so this time without the guide we set off for “thrill hill” . Must say it’s a bit off putting when your riding partner scoots ahead and stops just to see if you’re going to smash into a tree or go over the handle bars. P1010822

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2P1010820.jpg The looks of anticipation and disappointment on his face were priceless. I managed to make it to the bottom a couple of times due to the little unknown fact that in my youth I was a BMX bandit. The only one who “ate dirt” was Matt. I didn’t laugh for that long when I saw him rolling down a hill, maybe two minutes maximum!
We were all set to head off again but this time the camper decided to get a bit steamed up and so after half an hour it was a return trip to the camp site. Back into the old town again. This time I couldn’t shake Brenton, he could smell a free feed and tagged along with us until we made for a Pizzeria. The food servings are huge and once again after devouring a massive cannoli filled with ham and cheese with a half litre of beer I have been wracked with guilt and have put myself on a diet.P1040708.jpg Soon there will be less of me to love….. there are a few skeptics in the camp alreadyP1040696.jpg

Posted by mike1967 00:53 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Venice

sunny 28 °C

We have finally made our last stop in Italy and the grand finale' was Venice. P1040680

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This city has it all. The merchant families still exist and literally hundreds of shops selling everything from Antiques, Carnival masks to Murano glass. We wandered in and out of the tiny streets and alleyways getting lost and found just taking it all in. Getting around is easy, its either walk or water taxi or if you've got plenty of spare cash, take a Gondola. There seemed to be a million tourists in the city and although it was a bit crowded in San Marco's square and the surrounding streets we found we didn't have to go too far to find a quiet spot.P1040664

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The style of Venice is evident everywhere with orchestras playing in cafe's on the square and the latest Gucci4P1040684.jpg fashions worn by the waiters. We spent a couple of days in Venice before driving through the Brenner pass to Innsbruck. Looking for a bit of downhill excitement on mountain bikes. Lets hope for no broken bones! Andiamo :} P1040657

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Posted by mike1967 00:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Cinque Terre

Driving through the northern Italian province of Tuscany was a nice change from the hectic pace of Rome. We spent a night in Siena and thanks to the GPS once again got our seven metre motor home stuck up some Roman no go zone. Had to negotiate a ten point turn and we think we got a ticket as well. Stayed another night at a beautiful medieval town full of high rise buildings called San Gimignano. P1040578

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Very very nice, full of tourists but the food once again was a highlight. The scenery is postcard material. P1040543

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The surprise so far in Italy has been a small coastal town called Levanto. The first thing was it has a surf beach and a real surf culture. About sixty board riders spread over two beaches. It has the usual restaurants but is not over run with tourism. We wanted a real Italian experience and for us Levanto has been it. The locals are very family orientated and spend every afternoon socialising in the parks and bars and letting the kids run riot everywhere. The beach is great and free. We have used Levanto as a base for walking the Cinque Terre but have enjoyed it much the same. The buildings are decorated beautifully. P1040655

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The Cinque Terre is a national park that is formed around five villages that seem to just hang off the side of cliffs before falling into the sea. They are linked by paths that climb the mountains and although they are separated by a rail journey that takes little more than five minutes between villages, the walks take an average two hours.P1040632

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The walks are no pushover but the views are worth it. Over a five day stay Patti and I have managed to walk the lot but the boys made about two decent attempts . I have to say though, while I was having a coronary they were jogging up the hills and steps without breaking a sweat. Some of the climbs have literally thousands of steps and are generally mountain goat territory. I was telling them that they call these paths the “walk of the God’s” and at times I thought I’d be meeting one personally soon enough by the way I was feeling. P1040610

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Every bottle of Chianti and beer that I had consumed was pouring from my pores and the ghost of every salami, cheese and pizza I had eaten was there to mock me mercilessly. Patti had no such demons of course. P1040649

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Posted by mike1967 10:12 Comments (1)

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