Every picture tells a story

Sunday 17 November 2013

I mentioned in a previous post about photographs not seeing the light of day in the modern digital world and I am really pleased I invested in a photobook of our journey. Twice over the last couple of months I have had reason to search through two huge boxes crammed full of photographs from the early 60's when I was little up to the mid 90's when our children were young. Now the majority of our photographs are stored digitally and searching through them isn't half as much fun.

Parked up near a Liteace van in Greece in July 2013
Whilst sorting through the boxes I came across some photographs of  'campervans' we have owned or used on previous trips and took the opportunity to scan them for this blog post. Our current van looks huge in comparison - we haven't sold it yet, it is stored for the winter and may become our London 'home' as it looks as though that is where we will be working next year!

So here they are........ first the Toyota Liteace van we bought in Sydney in 1990 and travelled about 7000 miles up the east coast of Australia and back down through the Outback before selling it for a slight profit. We 'kitted' it out on a real budget and slept on a thin piece of foam - we were young then!!

On the same trip in 1990 we hired a van for a couple of weeks in New Zealand and clocked up as many miles as we could in the short time we had visiting both the North and South Islands. The scenery was absolutely stunning - snow capped mountains, amazing glaciers, deep gorges, huge waterfalls, thermal springs........

A few years later, in the mid 90's back in the UK, when the lads were young we bought an ex-British Rail maintenance van which was partly fitted out for the 'crew' to live in. Dave fitted extra seats with 3-point belts and more storage cupboards so the 4 of us could enjoy touring in the UK. The lads loved it - our neighbours weren't so keen!!

Happy memories!  

The cost of living (the dream) - £13 a day!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

In hindsight I should have kept better records of our spending like other motorhomers have done. It would have made the task of working out the cost of our trip a bit easier. So it took a little time to trawl through bank statements, my FairFX prepaid card payments and my daily diary to come up with a rough 'ball park' figure of what our 265 days and 14,000 miles adventure cost us - and that figure is £7000.

Having picked myself up off the floor I worked out that it equates to just over £13 a day each or 25p each per mile. That includes fuel, ferries, food, attractions and our overnight stops which sounds a lot more reasonable - doesn't it?

Before leaving we followed 'Europebycamper' a young couples blog and their daily costs for 324 days on the road worked out at £14.41 each a day. The 'OurTour' couple whose blog we also followed have been on the road for a whopping 680 days and have kept amazingly detailed records of their trip which (if I've worked it out right) has cost them an average of £19.70 each a day.

On top of the money we spent on the trip there were a few expenses to shell out for before we left including insurance for the van (and us) as well as the costs of running our little home in the UK (council tax, telephone, internet, power etc) while we were away.

Worth every penny for views and days like this....

So the bank account is empty, my Premium Bonds haven't come up whilst we were away and the girlies and I didn't win the lottery in May. Whilst spring/summer cleaning the house on our return I hoovered under the sofa cushions and only found 7p which isn't going to go far. So what next, where next.......that's what we need to work out and pretty damn quick! I'm toying with the idea of keeping a blog on settling back into life in the UK, the options we are faced with, searching for work and turning 50 - it may or may not make interesting reading! I hope to put up one final post on this particular blog with the best of the photographs from our trip so excuse me while I start trawling through 7500 photographs......

"Everyone has a book inside them"

........ and in my case it is a Jessops Photobook!

I'm really pleased with the result and, instead of our photos remaining on a hard drive for ever with only a select few being printed off and gathering dust in frames, we now have a beautiful glossy hardback book with 34 colourful pages as a permanent reminder of our 15000 mile journey.

It's my own personal coffee-table book. When the UK weather, boredom of 9 - 5 or frustration at spiralling living costs are getting me down I can pick it up, remember our fantastic trip and start dreaming about the next one. Family and friends can flip through it if they are interested.

I  spent the best part of two weeks sifting through all 7500 of our photographs picking the best dozen or so from each country we visited. The software is easy to download from the Jessops website and each page can be formatted differently with as few or as many photographs as you want. Information can be added with text boxes and there are numerous background styles as well as the facility to use a photograph as a background.There are a number of options on the book size, cover choices and quality of the pages. I chose a hardback A4 landscape with 34 pages of premium photographic paper.

Taking advantage of a £10 introductory offer the final cost (including delivery) was £41. It wasn't cheap and I have to admit to having been quite anxious pressing the 'Submit and order' button wondering what the finished product would look like. It was back within a week and I needn't have worried - the quality is fantastic and everyone that has looked at it has been really impressed.

The full quote by the late Christopher Hitchens is actually ....'Everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where I think it should, in most cases, remain' ........ I have no intention of writing a book of our travels - this is as close as I'll get to publishing anything! 

A colourful journey

Friday 30 August 2013

I tried very hard to whittle down our 7500 photos to end up with the 'best of' for the last post of our travel blog.........but I had 60 just from Greece so that was never going to work. 

One of my favourite photos was the rainbow created by the spray from the waterfall near Sallanches in France. So with that in mind here is a selection of photos from our trip that hopefully span the colour spectrum...

Chillies - Hungary

Poppies around the Anzac War Grave Cemeteries

Greek sunset

Masks in Venice

Sunflower in northern Greece

Bosnian plains

European lizard in Serbia
Olu Deniz - Fethiye, Turkey

Kravice waterfall - Bosnia

Turkish thistle - Palamut

Brighton Royal Pavilion
Gondola in Venice
And here a few multi-coloured selections...........

Rooftop tiles in Sighisoara, Romania

Romanian currency

Macaroons in Thonon Les Bains

Padlocks on Romeo & Juliet's balcony, Verona

Greek fishing nets

Sweets in Annecy

Thanks for joining us on the journey and we hope you have enjoyed sharing our adventures.

Sarsala Bay, Turkey

Mostar bridge, Bosnia

What next?... well we are off to London next week, Dave has work sorted, I'm still looking. The van is up for sale, the tan is starting to fade but the memories will be with us forever.

Journey's end

Wednesday 14 August 2013

We're back in the UK, much to a most people's surprise. Europe isn't that big though if you're on a mission and we had people to see and places to be. So basically we drew a straight line on the map and worked out the quickest and most economical way back. When I say 'quickest' the van isn't quick and we were in no danger of breaking any speed limits!

View Trip back in a larger map  

The map above should display blue pins showing where we stopped overnight - I never really fathomed out the imbedding of maps using HTML. There are so many routes we could have taken but since leaving last November we have tried very hard not to retrace our steps and this proved to be a perfect summer drive home!

Trieste (Italy) - Telfs (Austria) 
A bit later than scheduled we got off the ferry in Trieste and immediately got lost trying to work our way out west whilst avoiding the Italian toll motorways. We eventually found the right road and a suitable car park to get a couple of hours more sleep before dawn broke. We'd removed the bike rack and bikes to get the van length below 6m to get the cheapest ferry ticket price, so before we could collapse into bed Dave had to reassemble the rack and fit the bikes on the back along with the mandatory red and white stripy board. Starting off again the roads were flat and very quiet and we followed our planned route round the wierd starry 'ring road' of Palmanova (definitely a place to go back to), onto very pretty Vittorio Veneto and up the valley towards smart Cortina. Gateway to the Dolomites this busy town, like all of the area north of here, was under Austrian rule until the 1920's and the influence is still very evident. The Dolomites were stunning - another place to come back to and explore further! Before we knew it we were on the Austrian border, buying our 8.30 vignette and heading off into the Alps. The Brenner pass was a tame 1370m considering what we have previously slogged up in the van and we avoided paying another 8 to use the Europa Bridge, one of the busiest transit routes through the mountainous region instead sticking to the perfectly adequate free road. Austria was spotless, no litter, no graffiti, manicured lawns, tended flower beds and, along with a few truckers, one other campervan and a couple of cars, we parked up in an unmanned 'service station' on the motorway for the night. I soaked up their free Wi-Fi whilst Dave soaked up the hot water of their immaculate showers for €1
Day 1 on the trip back - 241 miles 9 hours on the road.

Palmanova - Star fort, on the list to see properly another time!
Italy & Austria blend into one in the Dolomite region

Telfs (Austria) - Pirmasens (Germany)
A quiet but chilly night (for us at least!) with the temperature dropping to 14 degrees. After a quick breakfast we were on the move again at 8am. Being Sunday there were no lorries on the road but lots of holiday traffic with seemingly every other vehicle being a camper or caravan heading south for the sea and sun. No hold-ups for us though heading north and we were soon climbing the Fern Pass at 1210m and by mid-morning were crossing the German border. What's not to like about the German motorways? Free, fast moving, excellent drivers with amazing lane discipline. They serve a purpose - getting you places fast but blimey it's boring! By 4pm we were parked up in a tidy Wohnmobilplatz - the German equivalent of the French Aire's in the industrial town of Pirmasens, famous for shoe manufacture apparently. We paid 5 for 24 hours parking which included free grey and black water disposal (sink and toilet waste) and we could have paid a few extra euros for electricity and water. I paid out another 5 for 24 hours unlimited internet and set about job hunting and updating the blog into the early hours. 
Day 2 on the trip back - 282 miles & 8 hours on the road.

Pirmasens (Germany) - Calais (France)
Hearing the Monday morning rush-hour traffic going on around us we had a lazy start, catching up with the BBC News and listening to Radio 2 via the computer. We have missed the radio - Euro-pop and endless jabbering can drive you mad after a while. We found out that the BBC World Service was no longer relayed in Europe early on in our trip and despairing of local radio we have probably listened to all the music we took with us on CD's and iPods many times over.  Setting off at 10am we were soon back on the motorways passing huge factories making all the famous well-known brands - Ford, Hagen Daz, Bosch etc. Luxembourg was a blur - in and out within 45 minutes but had the cheapest diesel ever at an unbelievable 1.21 a litre equivalent to just over £1 a litre. We squeezed in as much as we could - the van averages about 28mpg so every drop counts! Tiring of the motorways we changed tack a bit and headed for France avoiding the toll roads and taking a direct line towards Calais. We managed quite a few stops along the way which took us through an area very important during both the World Wars following the 'Fortification route' and visiting another immaculately kept WGC Cemetery. We did dawdle a bit but it was very picturesque and we never intended getting to Calais very early. After stopping for a bite to eat we arrived at the port at 10pm and bought a ticket for the 4.35 am ferry for 43. The car park was jam packed and after finding the last available spot we got our heads down for a few hours kip. 
Day 3 on the trip back - 344 miles & 12 hours on the road.

WW2 Fortifications in the Ardennes region
Vis en Artois - WW1 WGC Cemetery

Calais (France) - Dover (UK)
I did set the alarm for 3 am and then proceeded to sleep through it waking up in a state of panic at 4.15 am - leaving us 20 minutes to get onto our ferry. We can move like lightening when we need to and were in the check-in queue at 4.20 am - to no avail though. I felt like the Greek truck driver in my previous post! We were put automatically on the next ferry for no extra charge, got a £10 food voucher and Dave got another hours kip. The timing was better for us too as we saw the sunrise reflecting onto the famous white cliffs and were ready to hit the British roads at a more sensible time - result! P&O's Pride of Britain was commissioned in 2011 and is state-of-the-art and very smart. There's a very interesting heritage 'wall' celebrating the companies 175 year history, some fantastic photographs of iconic British buildings in all the public area and showing on the TV in the Family Lounge was 'Wacky Races'. Having watched part of the cartoon I have decided the starting line of the race in the cartoon was actually far more organised than the Greek ferry boarding system! 

Wacky Races on the TV in the Family Lounge!
Now ......Illustration of our ship Pride of Britain - 2011
and then.....in the 1930's
Our female captain brought us into the port smoothly at 5.50 am local time, we were waved through customs (phew - Turkish honey home safe!) and drove swiftly out of Dover. Welcome home....

No blue birds ..... but beautiful clear blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover

This is post 98 of my blog, I hope to do another couple of posts  to round it up to 100. One will be on the costs, nuts and bolts of the trip and the other will be the pick of my favourite photo's. It may take a week or two as job hunting and meeting up with family and friends takes precedence. 

It's been a real adventure. Were we brave, mad, irresponsible? I don't think so. We're not rich but we managed it on a tight budget. We downsized our house and sold things to make it possible including the car and Dave's beloved Ducati motorbike! It took a lot of planning for a good year or so before we set off. It was a risk but a calculated one. My Dad never shied away from taking risks, things didn't always pan out as expected and factors outside his control often impacted on his business ventures. I always admired the way he headed off into uncharted territory. Taking risks can be scary, uncertain and unpredictable but the rewards can be great. Sometimes you just have to weigh up the risk and take that leap.

Always in our thoughts.....RIP Dad xx

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

Messing about on the water

Sunday 11 August 2013

We love a ferry trip!

The decision to take the ferry from Patra to Trieste was a no-brainer and 32 hours after boarding we stepped off refreshed and ready for our quick dash back through Europe. The whole trip went so quickly from the moment we arrived at the almost deserted quayside and were whisked onto the boat leaving me no time to take any photos. We weren’t late, we were over 2 hours early, but they have a method of loading vehicles according to your final destination so we were directed past a small queue onto the ship and into the furthest corner of the garage section of deck 5.

We collected our cabin keys and after a very quick 'unpack' went off to explore the facilities – nightclub, casino, 2 lounge areas, restaurant, self-service cafe, wellness centre, gym, swimming pool and shop. Foot passengers piled on and immediately set up camp with lilos, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and blankets on every available wind protected outside deck space and quiet corners between the inside stair wells.

Dave testing the bed out!
At least they'll be first in line for the life jackets at the muster station!
I needn’t have worried about dress etiquette – only one Greek lady stood out from the crowd of bikini, shorts and T-shirt brigade. We saw her wearing at least three different snazzy outfits during the voyage – she was probably the only person who used the nightclub or the casino. I spent most of the trip looking like Hair Bear from the 70's cartoon strip - somewhat windswept!

The cruise ship didn’t really live up to its glossy brochure pictures. On our saunter around everything seemed either empty or closed – the pool was definitely empty and closed. Despite them telling us it would be open after embarkation, they never put any water in it!

It was tiny & wouldn't have needed much water!
Never mind it was an interesting trip with plenty going on.....

In Patra, where they were drilling in the harbour, we watched the sister ship dock and vehicles and passengers disembark in a typical manic and dangerous Greek style. Just as our ships ropes were cast off and we drifted away from the quayside a big white lorry sped along the tarmac, tooting madly and scattering the passengers – he was too late, even to try a Top Gear style stunt!

"Try and catch us up in Igoumenitsa......."
At midnight on Thursday from a vantage point high above the stern 11 decks up we watched the ferry dock in Igoumenitsa and hundreds of people, vans, cars, motorbikes and lorries board in yet another chaotically disorganised Greek manner. It was like the start of Wacky races, whistles being blown and vehicles jockeying for places. 

On Friday afternoon, under cloudy skies, the captain negotiated the very narrow entrance at Ancona, Italy, assisted by the local pilot. He arrived off a boat that looked just like a kids plastic toy bobbing around in the harbour. Lots of people and vehicles got off in a much more orderly fashion than in Greece, only a handful got on.

And in the early hours of Saturday morning we watched another pilot leap on board in the darkness and guide the ship into Trieste harbour. These huge boats, assisted by bow thrusters manoeuvre so gracefully into their given berth – quite a feat.

No lifejacket, no harness....one leap in the darkness
The cost was £300 for the two of us, the van, a cabin for the duration and a meal which although not cheap was less than the drive back along the Adriatic coast would have been taking into account the fuel, food, additional insurance costs and campsites.

We like bridges, tunnels are fun, mountain passes are exciting but we love a ferry trip! Dover here we come....