Poland 28th – 30th April 2012

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Just a pre warning that this blog contains some detailed information in what occurred at the Auschwitz concentration camps during the Nazi occupation. If you are a bit sensitive to this topic it might be worth skipping this blog and reading about happier times on our travels.

After a few days in Budapest we headed north to Poland passing through the middle of Slovakia as this was the quickest way to Krakow, Poland. We didn’t see much in Slovakia other than a few ski slopes and a bit of dense forest with a few bears lurking around.

We made it Krakow and were greeted by glorious weather which wass very strange for that time of year. The days we spent there were all around 30° days. The campsite we stayed in was pretty cool and we set about having a day off to catch up on our housekeeping and recharge the batteries. We got very excited when we were sitting by the car and saw a small section of grass moving. Curious we soon figured out it was moles digging little tunnels!

Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes one free)

Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes one free)

After giving ourselves a day off we departed Krakow and visited the town of Osweichiem or more commonly known Auschwitz. Why the difference in name…? Well when the Nazis invaded the town they decided Osweichiem sounded too Polish so changed in to Auschwitz to make it sound more German. Unless you arrive early in the morning the only way to access the camps is by guided tour. So we had some lunch then headed for our 1:30pm tour along with the other hundred people booked in for that tour. We split off into groups and started with a tour through the main concentration camp also known as Auschwitz I.

Entrance to one of the buildings in the original Auschwitz camp

Entrance to one of the buildings in the original Auschwitz camp

We went through a lot of the houses that prisoners were bunked in and saw how they lived in very cramped quarters. In some of the blocks that had exhibitions set up with thousands of shoes, glasses, brushes, luggage and even a massive pile of hair. These all came from what was taken from them upon arrival at the camp. It was very grounding to see these everyday objects and know they belonged to people who had endured a torturous and tragic end to their lives. It also highlighted the Nazi efficiency and desire to waste nothing during this time. All these items had been recovered from warehouses after the war along with thousands of records which provided names, pictures, date of birth and date of death of nearly every person who had gone through these camps. Again their efficiency was mind blowing. These details also made part of the displays through the corridors of the buildings as you can see in one of our pictures. It highlights the fact that people who were not immediately sent to gas chambers but were kept as workers very rarely survived more than three months. Later on in the tour we went through the original gas chamber which was very disturbing and something we have no desire to do again.

Thousands of glasses taken from people who were shipped to Auschwitz

Thousands of glasses taken from people who were shipped to Auschwitz

We then moved on to another site which is where Auschwitz II is located. This site is probably the most recognised as it is where the trains came directly into the camp. Arriving directly into this camp people were put through a sorting process. Those who were not chosen for work were immediately sent to the gas chambers from the time they arrived to the time their bodies was cremated usually took about half an hour. Their ashes were often used for things such as road base for the camps.

The 27 tablets at the memorial

The 27 tablets at the memorial

The site was like a massive army camp with barracks lined all up side by side. These consisted of bunks with four people per little section with the ones on the lower section having just a mud floor to sleep on. A lot of people died here as there was no heating and very poor living conditions. People that worked in the communal toilets had a longer life span due to being out of the weather and the warmth created by the waste. Near where there was a gas chamber was a memorial for the all the people that were killed there. It was very well done and had 27 tablets which say ‘Forever let this place be a cry of disappear and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children. Mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz – Birkenau 1940 – 1945’ each is in a different language which represents all the different nationalities that died at these camps.

This wasn’t one of our happiest days but it was definitely grounding and a huge part of history that should not be overlooked or forgotten.

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Austria – Hungary 21st – 27th April 2012

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Jono enjoying some fishing in the campsite pond

Jono enjoying some fishing in the campsite pond

After two days in Venice we headed north into Austria. Austria was like a big breath of fresh air. The Austrians can drive and there seemed to be some order about their country. It was a pleasure to travel around. Along the journey we went through many kilometres of tunnels which made life heaps easier and quicker. The landscape here is something to see with snow on the mountains and everything such a rich green. We ended up camping in a town about 20 mins out of Salzburg. Salzburg’s biggest claim to fame is Mozart and was also the setting for The Sound of Music. The campsite we stayed at was one of the best ones we had been in. Where we set up camp was right on a little pond which was full of fish. I filled in a few hours of catching fish the with backdrop of snowy mountains to make it pretty perfect.

Enjoying the lovely weather and view in Salzburg

Enjoying the lovely weather and view in Salzburg

After a relaxing day we decided to head into Salzburg and explore. It isn’t a very big city but its nice to walk around. We enjoyed some lunch in a little cafe then made our way to Hohensalzburg Fortress. We avoid the steep climb up and took the funicular which kept up to its name and was fun. We went on a short tour which took us through a torture room which was never used to torture anyone or so we were told. We also went through the main living areas where they had a museum set up. This was interesting to walk around and at the end we were able to go to the top of one of the towers where we got an excellent view of the city from here we could also see a lone house in the middle of what looked like a park. We were told this use to be executioners house, the reason there was no other houses around is because it was believed to be bad luck to live near the executioner.

After a few days kicking back we moved on to Vienna. Here we spent Anzac Day, the Australian and New Zealand embassies arranged for a service to take place at one of the local churches. It was a nice service and there were representative from other embassies as well as many expats who make the trip once a year to Vienna to attend. After the service we went to an Australian bar to see what was happening for Anzac day, apparently not much. The bar tender didn’t even know what ANZAC Day was. We weren’t the only unhappy costumers with this response and found some humour in the fact the bar was so decked out with every cliche Australian item you could think of though served traditional Aussie ostrich and crickets…? Little disappointing. They did serve VB and managed to squeeze one Australian football match into the fifteen advertised on their weekly program. Pretty crap pub to me and no meat pies.

For Chrissy, so happy to be here right now.

For Chrissy, so happy to be here right now.

After a rubbish expensive lunch we headed off and walked through the heart of Vienna. It is a stunning city that was easy to loose ourselves in. We eventually ended up over the other side from where started at Prater Park. Here we found a sort of amusement park. Instead of going through the gates and paying an entrance fee you can walk around and just pay for what you want to go on. It was all a little on the expensive side but we found a good deal for a combined ticket. Our first stop was a Madam Tussaud wax museum which had everything from famous movie actors to the Queen, the Pope and sports stars. It was fun to walk around and gave us a good couple of hours worth of amusement. Outside of the museum they had a massive ferris wheel. Not as big as the Singapore Flyer but was pretty old and we had fun. It gave us some great views of the city as well as a birds eye view of people on the rides below. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking back through the city before making our way back to the campground.

The next morning we headed off to Budapest in Hungry. Budapest name comes from two different cities combined into one. One side of the river was Buda and the other side was Pest, so there you go. The first full day we were there we went on a push bike tour around the city. This covered just about all the main sites in Budapest within a few hours of riding. Our first stop was the Opera House which was a beautiful building and in recent years is most famous for it’s balcony. This is the balcony that was used to film the scene where Madonna sang ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ in Evita. Apparently the Hungarian director liked his countries opera house balcony better than what was on offer in Argentina. Other places we visited were Hero’s Square which is a massive square which plays host to the Millennium Monument with statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century and other outstanding figures of Hungarian history. It was built on the Millennium anniversary of Hungary as a country, this was celebrated in 1896. The thermal baths which is restricted between males and females on certain days and the men could only wear budgie smugglers. Parliament house which speaks for its self but is probably the biggest parliament I’ve seen yet, Liberty Square which is beautiful though somewhat controversial as the World War II Memorial of the “liberating” (then occupying) Soviet troops still stands here. Also in Liberty Square was an awesome fountain. It is a square of water shooting up out of the ground but as you walk towards it there are sensors in the ground which stops the water in front of you. Felt like Moses parting the sea!

We dropped by St Steven’s Basilica and finished our ride by crossing The Chainbridge which is Hungary’s most famous bridge. On the other side we rode (and walked) up a massive hill. At the top was the Mathias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. It is known as a popular place for young lovers to have their first date. It’s understandable why it would be a popular venue for this as the views are spectacular. We enjoyed the downhill ride back and departed ways with our group.

Later that evening when we were back in the campsite we met an English couple who were heaps friendly, Mark and Kate, as well as a French couple who were staying in the spot next to us. We then ended up spending the evening talking to them which was interesting as we didn’t speak any French the French couple didn’t speak much English and Mark and Kate were stuck doing their best to translate for us. The owner of the park also came around with a flagon of Hungarian wine which was very much like port, but was good and brought the group together a little more.

Pompeii and Venice 16th – 21st April 2012

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The remains of most of the houses in Pompeii

The remains of most of the houses in Pompeii

The next day we head south once again down to Pompeii. Pompeii was the town that got obliterated when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. It covered the town in ash and larva and was not found until 1748. The town was well preserved because of the hot larva, mud and ash. There were not many surviving complete buildings because of the structure and wooden roofs but the ones that did stay in tack were the ones with a dome roof. It was amazing to walk around as it was not just houses but temples, market buildings, a court where hearings would have occurred and even a brothel. They also had a two amphitheatres and what we thought was like a mini colosseum which still had the outer walls and seats still remaining. This was also the wettest day we had in Italy with the streets flooding and us having to take cover on a couple of occasions as our umbrellas were no match for the sideways and upwards rain. It is very easy to spend a day walking around feeling as though you have stepped into another world.

It had been raining the whole time we had been in Italy but we trekked on and kept heading south to the Amalfi coast which is meant to be better than the Great Ocean Road. We say meant to as we couldn’t really make a proper judgement due to there being so much rain and fog. The roads in Italy especially along the coast is an enter at your own risk kind of deal, we are almost certain Italians don’t have to go for a test when they drive. In Jono’s words ‘I’m sure I could drive better then them blind folded and in reverse’. It was an interesting drive and I’m sure had the weather been better it probably would have been quite a spectacular experience to drive along the Mediterranean coastline.

Our view of the Amailfi coast

Our view of the Amailfi coast

After we completed the hectic tight roads of the coast we headed inland to the freeway to head north up to Bologna and Ferrara. Not to far from the coast the navigation system decided to take us on a shorter route. This turned into a bit of a disaster as it took us up goat tracks that a goat wouldn’t go up and down little ally ways that you couldn’t fit a car down. After about an hour of pulling our hair out trying to get to a freeway we finally made it to a reasonable road that got us to where we needed to be. This has quite possibly been the most stressful time we have had in our whole trip. We stopped along the way up north for the night at a camp in Arezzo, the campsite was nothing to write home about but we finally had some sunshine to dry the car and camping gear out.

Our reward for climbing 498 stairs

Our reward for climbing 498 stairs


We left early the next morning and kept heading north to Bologna which we think is the home of bolognese (makes sense…). Here we found yet another leaning tower but this one had a little brother. We climbed the tallest one which had 498 very steep steps to the top, but was worth it with the panoramic views at the top. While we were in the area we managed to find the statue of Neptune close by of the towers which was also pretty cool.

We didn’t have much time here as we still had a fair bit of a drive to Venice. We stopped by a little town called Ferrera thinking that this is where the Ferrari factory was, not because we were liking the names but this is what we had read on the internet, but turns out that we had gone too far and it was back in Bologna. After a big disappointment of coming this far and not being able to see it, we had to keep on moving north to Venice.

On canal parking

On canal parking

We ended up camping in Venice but on the mainland side not the actual island where all the tourist hang out. Here was the most expensive camping we had during the trip, but it was based on the shoreline with ferry access to Venice island so it was probably worth the money in views and accessibility to resources. Venice itself was very small with lots of islands joined by heaps of little bridges. It is like a massive maze with little alley ways heading off in all sorts of direction making it extremely hard to get anywhere. Along the paths we stumbled across San Marco piazza which was packed full of people with little stalls and museums throughout. Surprise surprise it was about this time that our beautiful sunny day turned into dark clouds and we were again stuck taking cover from the rain. It wasn’t a bad place to get stuck as it was right next to what use to be the courthouse and gaol cells. These two places have a canal running through the middle and are connected by a bridge on the top floor. The bridge became know as the bridge of sighs. This was due to the sighs that could be heard by passers by as people were walked from the courthouse to the gaol. It’s most famous inmate was Casanova, we thought it made a great place for some people watching. Within Venice there are all sorts of channels with boats, gondolas, water taxis running all over the place. We asked for a ride in one of the gondolas and he wanted almost $100 Aus for half an hour. We thought $30 would of been fair, oh well his loss. Venice is also a no car no bike city but there was enough people there to cause lots of people jams. It took us about an hour to find our way back to the ferry but we managed to get out.

To finish off our time in Italy we left the campsite and drove to a small town called Stra, here there is a place called Villa Pisani. Villa Pisani is a pretty grand place and whilst the building itself was something to be impressed by and that fact that it has hosted both Napoleon I and Adolf Hitler as guests were not the reasons behind our visit. No it was something much more exciting… A hedge maze and not any hedge maze but what some have called the world’s hardest hedge maze. We made our way to the maze and as we entered Jono said to me which way first, my response ‘I’m not sure where your going but it ain’t with me cause this is a race’. A bit stunned with my quick ditching him and we were both on our way. We spent a good half an hour trying to find our way and I can confirm that it is fairly difficult as you start to loose all sense of direction and end up not knowing what side you are on. Eventually we ran into each other and I managed to ditch him again but this time to take the path that would lead me to victory and everlasting glory as the hedge maze champion! It was a fun way to finish off Italy and the only day we did not see a drop of rain!

Winner!

Winner!

Pisa and Rome 9th – 15th April 2012

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ITALIA!

ITALIA!

How exciting we were on our way to Italy our first stop Pisa. Italy is the most expensive country we came across as every freeway is tolled some over $40 a go. Catch 22 is that it is the best way to get around to avoid toll roads means you can add 5-6 hours to your journey. To top it off it was $2.45 a litre for the basic fuel, what a way to spend your budget for the day. It nearly reduced us to tears every time we entered a petrol station.

Our first three hours in Italy went something like this bridge, tunnel, bridge, bridge, tunnel bridge, tunnel… You get the idea. We also got our first lot of rain during our drive to Pisa, this may not sound significant but you will get the drift soon enough.

We found one our favourite campsites so far about 15 mins out of Pisa. It was a little difficult to find but when we got there it was a nice little slice of paradise. It was on a property and was quite small but was kind of like camping in a nice park. We also met our first and only other spaceship travellers. Jono was pretty excited and when we finally got to meet them we found out they were fellow Aussies and had been doing the same route as we were but in reverse. We swapped some dvds with each other as well as some recommendations on where to go and parted ways.

Jono trying to push it over hehe

Jono trying to push it over hehe

After a good nights sleep even with a thunder storm we went to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and found that it was still on a good lean. One thing that surprised us is how small Pisa actually is, not much there other than the tower. There were many hundreds of people there taking pictures of them holding the tower up, Jono was the only one trying to push it over. We spent only a little time here as there isn’t a huge amount to do other than walk around the tower and the other buildings and take the typical tourist pictures. We didn’t get to climb the tower as it was booked out for at least the next few weeks. The food here was a good price and we both had a four coarse meal for about $15 each. There is one thing we have found which is, it doesn’t matter where you travel there will always be times where you think you are ordering something pretty simple and standard and it will come out nothing as expected. This was one of those times. We order bruschetta with prosciutto about the most thought we gave it was maybe it comes out with some prosciutto on top. WRONG! A piece of bread about the diameter of a tennis ball with a few pieces of tomato on it the six enormous strips of prosciutto taking up the rest of the plate. We found that the spaghetti and lasagne was just about the same as what we have at home. But we must say the gelato is worth while. Our little van endured more rain that night, it was at this time we realised with enough rain our little canvas at the back could get a few leaks. Wasn’t a major problem just had to make sure everything was off the canvas.

The next day we made our way a few hours down south to Rome to see what it was all about. Here we stayed just outside of Rome which meant only a short train ride in to the centre. In this campsite we met a really nice French family which were also on a six month journey around Europe. Freddo the father of the family gave us a cd of his for the trip which were of bands he was part of over the years and it is quiet spectacular. We have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it whenever we have the chance.

Fontana de Trevi pretty cool though extremely crowded. Great minds think alike I guess...

Fontana de Trevi pretty cool though extremely crowded. Great minds think alike I guess…

Our first full day in Rome we set about making a plan which would get us to the Colosseum. Along the way to the Colosseum we stopped by the Spanish Steps, making sure to climb to the top and get a pretty good view of the area. We also went to the Fontana Di Trevi which is the place where they say if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, that you will return to Rome again one day. The fountain was named this as this was the meeting point of the three main roads. It marks the terminal point for once of the ancient Viaducts that use to carry water to Rome. There was a lot of coins being thrown in approx. 3000 Euros a day and we found a plaque that said taking money from the fountain was a crime as it was collected regularly and given to local charities. Our final stop before the Colosseum was the Pantheon, it was originally built as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome but since the 7th century it has been used as a Roman Catholic church. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unenforced concrete dome. The domes height and diameter are the same, measuring just over 43m each. The hole in the roof makes a great sun light not so effective when it’s raining.

Us with the Roman Forum in the background

Us with the Roman Forum in the background

Finally after traipsing our way from one end to the other we made it to the Colosseum. It is absolutely massive and looks very much like what you would see in the movies minus a few walls and floors. We had a guided tour here which took us through many little sections of underneath the main floor and we saw were they hoisted up the animals to fight the gladiators. We also got to go to the top where we had awesome views of the Forum and the Southern parts of Rome.

St Peter's Square, it's round!

St Peter’s Square, it’s round!

The second day was devoted to checking out the Vatican City. So the next morning we headed to St Peters Square, here we stood in the middle surrounded by the famous saints looking down on us, even though neither of us are really religious it we still pretty amazing. We did the tourist thing and got an audio guide to tour round the bascilla with. As most religious buildings are it was pretty grand but was insanely packed full of people. We managed to make it out in one piece and went and found some lunch.

We had a great meal which included a little bit of all our favourite Italian foods. We finished off with some gelato which was super yummy. Next we moved into the Vatican museum which as you would expect full of catholic statues and paintings all telling their story. It also as you might expect had an amazing collection of other artworks from all different periods. There was an impressive statue of a young Hercules. We were herded through each of the sections like cattle stuck among a mix of tour groups following their faithful leaders umbrellas and other poor souls like us just wanting to get to the end. It took ages here fighting the crowds to make our way to see the paintings. After a long journey we finally made it to where we wanted to be, in the Sistine Chapel to check out the famous Michelangelo’s paintings. The chapel is quite small but there was easily a thousand people in there. The paintings were quite spectacular including the Creation of Adam which is probably the most well known of all the paintings. We didn’t get to spend very long in here and it was really dark. The funniest thing was the person who was employed to sssssshhhhhhhhhhhh the crowd every 15-20 seconds.

Andorra – France 5th – 9th April 2012

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We found snow!

We found snow!

So time to say goodbye to Spain and cross over into Andorra which is one of those tiny countries that no one ever hears about. It is land locked between France and Spain and is 467.63 square km in size. To put this in perspective Canberra is 814.2 square km. This was the only country in Europe where we got stopped at the border to get the car searched but the guard had a quick chat with us and didn’t even bother about the car and sent us on our way. The drive there involved lots of up a mountain down a mountain and included our first and last encounter with snow. Andorra is a city built inbetween the mountains which is very much like Thredbo, there were still people skiing whilst we were there. In fact the lift to the ski fields is almost in the centre of the city. Apparently they are not the best ski fields in Europe however are good for learners. The roads here are very tight with little passages going off everywhere but were only one way, enough to but the strongest of relationships to the test when trying to drive and navigate through it.

The main reason why we were here was to go to the micro miniatures museum in town. Long way to travel to see some small things but it was well worth it. All the works created were done by Ukraine microminiature genius Nicolaï Siadristy. His works are so tiny they can only be contemplated through a microscope. These included a four camels a palm tree and a pyramid in the eye of a needle, his signature on the tip of a human hair, a swallows nest in a half of a poppy-seed and a table setting on top of a grain of salt. Quiet remarkable work.

Swallows in half a poppy seed

Swallows in half a poppy seed

After marveling at these tiny creations we moved on to a Caldea which is a complex which houses numerous thermal pools and spas with light, water and music shows on the hour. We spent the afternoon soaking up the 32 degree C water as well as trying out the many different baths they had on offer. These included Roman, Turkish and Icelandic baths as well as a hydro massage area. Talk about bliss. The highlight though was an outside pool that connected to the main pool inside so you didn’t have to leave the water but rather just travel through a little tunnel. Once outside the air temperature was about 8 degrees C however the pool was still beautiful and warm. When we were outside we could see snow on the mountains which made it that little bit cooler again. After getting froggy feet and toes we enjoyed a nice dinner while watching their main show that happens every night. (Sorry about the dodgy pictures it was really hard to get a clear picture but you get the idea).

Water fountains which went off every hour giving a different show to different music

Water fountains which went off every hour giving a different show to different music

The next morning we headed north back into France. We had arranged with our new friend in Cork, Ireland, Eileen, to stay in her holiday home in Boujan-sur-Libron which is not to far from Béziers near the south coast of France. During our drive we were driving along a long stretch of road which had vineyards either side. As we were driving along we notice every hundred metres or so there would be a girl extremely dressed up sitting on a chair at the end of a row of vines. The first couple we saw we didn’t think much of it as it was kind of in the middle of nowhere. Then by the time we had driving a few km and seen at least twenty we came to the conclusion that this was obviously the areas version of Kings Cross. It was really weird though cause there wasn’t anything around other than vineyards…

Our little French villa for Easter (said with a french accent)

Our little French villa for Easter (said with a french accent)

Anyways we spent Easter at Eileen’s villa just chilling out and watching movies. It was nice to have a house and a kitchen at our disposal. Having only a gas cooker we took full advantage of the oven and cooked up a storm. Here we also met up with Eileen’s friend Blandine and her husband for a few drinks down at the local bull fighting club which was quite interesting. It was nice of them to invite us out and show us their little town. After the bull fighting club we went to another little bar where we enjoyed some music being played by gypsies. The language barrier was a little interesting at times but we managed to survive the night. We had a great night and it helped us to not become hermits whilst we were there. Whilst walking around the area we saw lots of vineyards and our first bull fighting ring but nothing was on at this point of time. Apparently that all happens in August. I think Sarah was kind of glad about that. After spending the long weekend relaxing it was time to move on so we headed west to Italy. We had another driving day and stopped just before the border in a town near Nice called Antibes. We didn’t have a very good experience here as the people running the place were very rude and arrogant. We were glad it was just a place to stay for the night.

London – France – Spain 26th March – 3rd April 2012

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So you may have noticed we have started putting links into our last post. We are going to try to keep doing this as we have learnt heaps along the way and discovered lots of great things such as music, places to visit and great travel info. Feels only right to share it with you. Also giving some kudos to great businesses is the least we can do.

We arrived in London airport about 10.30pm that night. We grabbed our bags and headed out to immigration to get our passports checked, but this did not exist for us as we didn’t realise that there is no check point for people coming from Ireland to U.K. After battling to find our way out of the airport we headed outside to wait for the public hotel bus to come which didn’t show up. This always happens at the most inconvenient time like late at night when you’re exhausted. Instead we got to pay for a ridiculously over priced London taxi to get us up the road. We arrived to the Travelodge by which time it was into the ams, so we checked in and then slept immediately.

Quantum!

Quantum!

The next morning was an early start as we needed to pick up our Spaceship from up the road and get to the euro tunnel for 2pm. So two things to explain here, firstly as cool as it would be to have a spaceship to travel round Europe in we technically had a Toyota Tarago rented from Spaceships. These guys take a regular people mover and transform it into a home on the road. Ours came with a bed which extended out the back, gas cooker, fridge, heaps of storage and the best bit a dvd player. They had ‘Space Stations’ around Europe where we could drop in and exchange dvds along the way. Also from start to finish they couldn’t have been any more helpful. These guys are in NZ, Aus and the UK and if you think of hiring one let me know cause I have a discount code I can pass onto you. Secondly, Euro Tunnel is a tunnel that runs 50km from Folkestone in the UK to Calais in France. Easy, quick and cheap way to cross the channel with a car. So back to the morning, before we left we got a good breaky from a full buffet in the hotel with a few pocketed muffins and Nutella for the road. We got the local bus to the pick up point not to far away, got the run down on how it all works, few supplies, signed a few papers and we were then set loose with our spaceship which was named Quantum.

It was about a two hour drive to Folkestone down the freeway. When we pulled up at the loading point we had a quick few little immigration check points then drove down to the train where we were guided onto an over sized carriage. A few cars per carriage, doors shut and we were on our way. It only took about 30 minutes to cross the English Channel to Calais. It was very strange on the French side as they drive on the right hand side of the road and use km/per hour. We had a british car that is in miles/hour and steering wheel on the right just to throw a spanner in the works. We only drove a few hours more that day as we were still a bit unsettled driving on the other side of the road and it was getting late. We ended pulling up at a campsite which was based on an Indian and Western theme where they had a giant Indian as part of their main gate.The views here were quiet something as it looked straight over the ocean from the campsite. We then got our stuff sorted and set up for our first night in what would be our home for the next two months.

It's a long way!

It’s a long way!

The next morning we keep heading south to Spain. It is quite a hike from the north to the south of France so we had two more nights at French camp grounds. One near Le Mans and one near Bordeaux. There isn’t much to report from these days of driving as it was basically that. When we stopped at the campsites we would have a quick look around the local area which was nice but everything was closed. Lots of people ask how we budget for something like this. The truth is it is really hard to do and there is always something that pops up that you hadn’t thought about. In this case it was tolls. We had decided to drive had worked out how much the car would cost us, done a basic budget for petrol and had a handy dandy ACSI card and book which gave us a choice of 2000+ campsites across Europe (if you ever do a camping tour in Europe get one of their books). So if you are to go off tolls in Australia it’s kind of not even a blip on the budget radar. We went through a toll gate on our second day, it gave us a ticket which we had to hold onto then a few hours down the road as we are exiting the highway we put the ticket in and it tells us how much we need to pay. 40 Euro was our first toll in AUD that was nearly $50 for a couple of hours of highway driving! Our immediate thought was even if we only had to pay tolls every second day that would still be over $1000 by the time we had finished driving round Europe. Did not budget for that!!! Our plan of attack was our trusty navigator app on the iPad. We would set it in to avoid toll roads and make a decision as to whether the extra distance and time was worth it. Through France and Spain this worked for us and it actually gave us the opportunity to see more of the countries. So now we are over our initial shock of tolls we can move onto the campsites. So France knows how to do a campsite. The amenities are fantastic, they have activities for everyone and they all look brand new.

This is where Walter spent most of his time in the car.

This is where Walter spent most of his time in the car.

Our fourth day in Europe sees us do a four hour drive to cross the border into Spain. It was then another hour or so to a little town called Orio which is about 20km south of San Sebastian. Orio is based on the coastline of Spain which made for a fantastic of the view of the beaches and docks with all the boats moored. Spain was a little testing at times as it was well known for it siestas in the middle of the day or just not operating at all, especially on Sundays. We chilled out for the afternoon and went for a short walk down to the beach. The next day we started what would be known as our house keeping days. These involved washing, cleaning up the car, blogging and researching our next move. That afternoon we walked into the little town of Orio which was quite cute. The first of many times that we forgot about siesta. So our reason for going into the town was to find the visitors centre to get some information on how to get into San Sebastian and what was there that we could do. As we are walking through the town we were looking around and noticing there was absolutely no another soul around. Penny didn’t drop, we keep walking in only to find the visitors centre which is shut. It’s only 3pm and we are told it is open till 8pm, it is at about that point we both realise why. So we decide to hang around till it eventually opens and in the meantime explore the little streets and lanes around it.

Some sandart on the beach

Some sandart on the beach

Maps and train timetables in hand the next day we caught the train to San Sebastian to check it out. We done our little touristy walk around and we found ourselves walking along the beach which is what San Sebastian is most famous for. We walked the whole distance of the beach which we are guessing to be between 2-3km to find ourselves at a theme park on the top of the headland. So we checked it out and got a funicular to the top, all sounds very exciting especially when you name something a funicular. At the top we find a fairly aged amusement park that looks like a ghost town. It was Sunday and in siesta time, double whammy! Not much fun, but we had some good ice cream and the views were spectacular. During our walk to and from the amusement park we saw a sand artist who made a pretty cool sculpture in the sand of a car. Must see the picture. Once back in the think of the city we tried to find some sort of store that might be open so we could buy something for dinner. This venture only reiterated to us that we weren’t in Kansas and more Toto and Europeans like having a break on Sunday! Almost nothing was open, we were lucky to find a convenience store next to the train station to pick up a carton of soup and a baguette. We managed to find our way back to the station and made our way back to Orio, the train ride home was interesting as there was a big group of families who had obviously had a day out, there were kids everywhere and they were stuffing their mouths full of lollies. It was a sight to see and all I could think of was these kids are going to be bouncing off the walls well into the wee hours of the morning. We managed to make it home with only two out of the twenty kids throwing up from stuffing themselves silly. We arrived back at the campsite to find that this was the place to be for the day. Our camper van was situated smack bang in the middle of a marathon that had been running by all day. We were told that the van caused a lot of interest with people stopping to check it out during their run. Missed out!

One of the best days driving for scenery

One of the best days driving for scenery

Our time in Orio was up so we cross to the west coast of Spain to Barcelona. Along the way we see some of the best scenery so far, with some very amazing rock formations in the middle of no where that reminded us of a western to beautiful green lakes which we lush and a complete contrast. These roads between the two city’s were very windy and made for a fun drive another day that we are thankful for avoiding the toll roads. We arrived in Barcelona about 5pm or to our camping ground called Camping Barcelona, it was right on the ocean front again and not to far from the city. The next morning we were feeling a little lazy so decided to hang around the camp ground. We had a very important task to do as well and that was find gas for our cooker otherwise we would be eating everything raw and cold. This was one of those tasks that seemed simple enough but we had already spent everyday so far in the camper looking for somewhere that sold the gas we needed. We managed to find a shop not far up the road and low and be hold they are stocked right up with what we need. Needless to say we bought enough to get us through the next two months. That day was also a great day for catching up with all the family back home. We spent about four hours on Skype and the phone having a good catch up with everyone.

The next day we felt much more enthusiastic and jumped on the free coach from the camping ground and went into the city. Here it was pouring down with rain which put a little dampener on the day but we managed to still make it around the city. There isn’t much to do in Barcelona that isn’t outdoors one thing we did find was the Sagrada Familia. This is an enormous Roman Catholic Church which commenced being built in 1882. It’s still not finished! So we walked to the church which was a fair hike and were greeted by thousands of other people who had the same idea. Ditch that idea as the line was longer then the one at the Taj Mahal and completely defeated the purpose we went there which was to try to get out of the rain. So we walked back taking a different route to explore new places as well as find somewhere good to grab a bite to eat. We found this in a little restaurant along the way and filled our bellies big up high.

Intrigued me and weirded me out at the same time.

Intrigued me and weirded me out at the same time.

Something we do regularly at home is to go out for dinner then head to the movies on a Friday night. This is something we hadn’t done at all since travelling and decided a rainy day called for a movie. We found a cinema which showed movies in english and when we got there chose to see The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This movie was great! It also reminded us of a lot of things we had experienced in India. If you haven’t seen it go check it out. After the movie we did a little more wandering through some parks and around the main shopping area of Barcelona, there were some great markets and shops along the way. After all this it was time to jump back on our bus and go back to the campsite. Thanks for the rain Spain!

Waiting for the bus and the rain finally gives us a break.

Waiting for the bus and the rain finally gives us a break.

Dublin 24th-26th March 2012

Standard

After six hours of waiting around Delhi airport we finally boarded our second major flight for our trip. We had a quick stopover in Frankfurt enough time to go through a very efficient German security checkpoint and get a Maccy D breakfast. Our flight to Ireland was short and sweet and we arrived in Ireland about lunch time where we managed to get a shuttle to the rental car depot. We used Europe car and they gave us a Nissan Micra. How exciting, not! We headed off down south to Cork with Sarah behind the wheel. We managed to get out of Dublin using pictures taken from google maps, doesn’t sound too impressive however you try doing it then you will realise what a feat it was. About an hour down the road we found ourselves a truck stop which had roast lunches. What a great way to start, since we have just spent most of our time in India being vegetarians. Getting back into driving was interesting and to make it more so they have sets of traffic lights on the roundabouts.

We arrived in Cork to our Airbnb home with a great host Eileen and her son and daughters. On a side note, Airbnb is a website where people can rent out their spare rooms, holiday house or even camper vans. It is a great idea and we have used it a few time so far. It is all over the world and there are some really awesome places on there, check it out if not just to see some of the crazy things people have come up with. It was great to stay with her and her family as we all got along well. By the time we got to Cork we had been travelling for over 24 hours and we were exhausted. It was only about five in the afternoon so we decided we needed to try and stay awake for a couple of hours. We went to the pub across the road and had quite a surreal experience. It was everything you would imagine a small Irish pub to be and we were greeted by a friendly local by the name of Finbar. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and Finbar kindly saved us from a guy who took great pleasure in telling Jono about all the real wild camping he did. Imagine how Steve Irwin would have said ‘Crikey’ and change it to ‘real wild camping’ with a drunken Irish accent. After a quick rescue, Finbar kindly cooked us some sausages on a BBQ branded ‘The Australian’. We managed to make it to 8:30pm before Sarah was falling asleep on her stool. Back at the house we crawled into the most comfortable bed we had slept in since leaving Australia and successfully snoozed for about 14 hours.

After a nice sleep in headed into Cork this was all of about a 10 minute walk to the centre of town. Here I got myself a new hair do while Sarah got her hair washed and straighterned. It was nice to been clean again as the water in India was dread-locking both of our hair. There was lots of pubs here as the Irish love to drink. It was nice to wander around and look at all the old buildings and terraces. Not much went on this day as it was raining and we were still recovering from our continental change.

In Ireland for Paddy's day - check, ridiculous hats - check, ready to watch the parade - check

In Ireland for Paddy’s day – check, ridiculous hats – check, ready to watch the parade – check

St Patrick’s Day! We started off watching a grand parade through town and dressing up as leprechauns with our green and hats. Later found out that the Irish don’t wear things like this so the tourists did really stand out. For lunch we stopped in a local pub and had some pumkin soup with brown bread which went down a treat as it was freezing cold outside. Later that afternoon Ireland vs England were playing against each other in the rugby so we met up with Eileen at the local pub called The Quayside for a few pints. At this pub we met many locals and caught up with Finbar again who came through for us and cooked us up a bbq every time we went in. Cheers Finbar. England won so the locals wanted to go out and commiserate (party). Eileen took us to many pubs around Cork (we think it was eight but we possibly lost count) as you can walk anywhere in Cork, it is all so close by. We had many ciders, pints of Guinness and Murphy’s. We also had our first experience with gypsy’s which everyone kept telling us about. We were like really, are they really as bad as people make out… So as our story goes, we were at about the sixth bar which happened to be called Crane Lane and was a little weird as there was a ska band playing. Not what you would expect on Paddy’s Day. So Eileen and Sarah were up the front dancing away with their jackets on the ground in front of them. Next thing a couple of girls come up and pick up some jackets off the stage, nothing unuseual about that, until they lean down and pick up Sarah and Eileen’s jackets. Sarah has none of this and grabs the girl by the arm and asks her what she thinks she doing. Eileen immediately jumps in and very politely says to the girls ‘were sorry you must be mistaken they are our jackets’. What what!?! Sarah says to Eileen they werent mistaken! They were going to steal our stuff. It is at this point we are informed that they are gypsy’s and just to let it be. Later on we asked Eileen about this and she basically explained that this was normal and the best thing is just to be polite and apologise for ‘their mistake’ and they would just move on… a little weird for us but hey these are the joys of travelling. Our last bar was the smallest by far and was so packed that we could barely lift our drinks to our mouths without bumping into someone. It was a one man band playing Irish folk and was brilliant! All in all a good night was had by all.

Us with beautiful Eileen who showed us such a great time.

Us with beautiful Eileen who showed us such a great time.

The next day we woke up feeling better than expected it though still a little under the weather. It was late start to the day as not much sleep was had. We managed to catch a couple of matches of the game Hurling and Gaelic football. Great to watch as it is very different to what we have at home and the skill required was very impressive. Wiki explains it best… In hurling the object of the game is for players to use a wooden stick called a hurley to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents’ goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points. The sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley. It can be kicked or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than four steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick and the ball can only be handled twice while in his possession. We finished off the day by heading back into the city for yet another roast lunch/dinner at Oliver Plunket as it is cheap to eat out. We also managed to catch some street performances that were taking place as part of the Paddy’s Day celebrations. The best performance we saw were by Weapons of Mass Percussion they are a drumming group and really got the whole place going. The most energetic were the kids who were bouncing around like there was no tomorrow. Check em out they are worth the time.

Hurling, interesting sport

Hurling, interesting sport

Monday we used to have a quick shop for jumpers and a new pair of shoes for Sarah. We caught up on some washing and packed up for moving on the next day. Our last site seeing stop was at the English market which is much like a big meat and veg market. All the locals kept telling us we had to visit and it was very famous as the Queen had visited a few years ago and their was a bit of a candid picture caught of her laughing with a local fish monger who had just told her that he was more nervous about meeting her then he was on his wedding day. The picture was plastered all over the markets and it is obviously something they are quite proud of. We enjoyed just looking round to see what they had on offer, as well as sampling a few treats along the way. That night I cooked up a BBQ as a little farewell and a catch up with Eileen and her family before we departed the next morning. It was nice to have a little piece of home.

There's a rock in the way of the road... dig a hole!

There’s a rock in the way of the road… dig a hole!

The morning rose and we said our good byes and headed south to drive part of the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is a scenic route through the very south of Ireland and provided very good mountains views and very tight and windy roads with little rock tunnels to go through. We had a nice hot lunch in a little town along the way then set off again. After a full day of driving we pulled up in a town called Killarney and stayed in Neptune’s hostel. Not the greatest sleep we’ve had with feeling every spring in the bed and the springs literally piercing through the bed sheets. Loved it, exactly what you want. This night also marked the first time we had cooked dinner since leaving home. Please note this was not laziness but rather not having access to cooking facilities.

That isn't a gun... these are guns!

That isn’t a gun… these are guns!

We started our morning with our first visit to a castle which is really a tower house called Ross Castle. We got a tour through here and learnt some interesting facts about what went on. Years ago there was a tax on every property that had a roof on it so to avoid the tax they burnt the roof off it. It has since been rebuilt in a way that it would have been built originally. The spiral stair case went up clock wise direction so for when attacking soldiers came up the stair their right hand which was carried the sword would hit the steps while the other soldiers waiting for them had clear contact with the on coming men. It was a pretty area and Ireland are doing a great job at rebuilding and protecting their historical sites. After our castle visit we moved on to drive the Dingle Peninsula. This drive was heaps long and we didn’t get to complete it but yet another windy road with fantastic views. We also came across some a series of “Ringforts” known as Beehive Huts which have stood there for over 4,000 years. It’s hard to imagine that these piles of loose stones have been sitting there that long. They were in habited from ancient times until about 1200 AD. The stones were piled in a downward and outward manner, so as to funnel rain water away from the interior. After our Dingle expedition we headed inland to Limerick were we stayed in a B&B which was very over rated and expensive. Pirates. Two nights of not much luck with accommodation 😦

Leaving Limerick we ventured out to the Cliffs of Moher which is on the west coast not to far south of Galway. The Cliffs of Moher had a medievil watch tower built upon the coast of the fantastic view of the ocean. Here I really did miss going fishing and being in the ocean back home. The information centre there was very good and quite interesting as it was dig into the side of a hill. We didn’t spend too much time here as you needed three layers of clothes on because it was that windy and cold. We drover down the road and had some lunch by the beach and did a bit of random driving exploring the area. We then head of to a village called Kinvara which was a little inland but on the way to Galway. Here was another air B&B that was pretty interesting. It was a fella named Ronan and he was starting up his own little hostel. So the odd construction was going on. But out the back he had a big tree stump turned up on its end and made a swing out of it. Very good craftsmanship.

If anyone wants to install one of these in my backyard please feel free to do so

If anyone wants to install one of these in my backyard please feel free to do so

The next morning we headed off north to Galway to go check out the old medieval city. The city was pretty small in size but had some good character about it including the cobble stone roads through the centre. There are points when you are travelling where things start to look the same, we were experiencing this on this day until we found a local pub and had some Irish stew with a glass of Guinness. We topped off an awesome lunch with a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream. A good meal can change a lot of things. We spent the afternoon exploring the city and all the shops then headed back to Kinvara for the night.

We farewelled our host and headed off to the other side of the country to Dublin to meet our friend from Laos Patrick. It didn’t take us long to get there as it only took two hours to cross the country. We met up with him and gave us a quick tour around the city and through Phoenix park which is a city park but the largest in europe which even has it own zoo. Shortly after we got a tour through Kilmainham goal which is no longer in use but had a lot of history of a famous Irish freedom fighters from back in the day. It was the site of a real turning point in Ireland’s modern history. We then headed back to his friend’s place, and introduced us to Grace who kindly put us up for the night. We all got showered ready for our night on the town in Dublin. We all had a great night and met some nice people along with a few pints along the way. The night whizzed by and all of a sudden we looked at the time and realised it was 3am! not too worry we soon figured out that daylights saving had started so we had lost and hour, didn’t make it seem so bad.

The next morning was a dusty and late start as we didn’t get to bed till 4am the night before, we said our goodbyes and thank yous and had a little venture into town to book our hop on hop off bus tickets for the next day. We also had yet another perfect pub grub meal from the local. By this time we were still loving the pub grub. A funny story from the night before which extended over to our dinner that night. When we were getting ready for the night out Jono and Patrick both only had blue checker shirts to go out in, we didn’t think much of it until we go out with Patrick’s mates and realised that four of them all had blue checker shirts on. Was quite a funny site to see. so skip to the next night and we are having dinner at this little pub near our hotel. Two guys are sitting at the bar both wearing checker shirts, again we think not much of it until their mate walks in also wearing a checker shirt and they all look at each other in disbelief. Seems Dublin has a thing for checker shirts.

The boys on Ha'Penny Bridge during Patrick's tour of Dublin

The boys on Ha’Penny Bridge during Patrick’s tour of Dublin

In the Giant's loungeroom

In the Giant’s loungeroom

Our final day in Ireland. It was a little bit rushed but turned out pretty good. We started of by jumping on the hop on hop off bus for a full tour of the city to then decide on what we wanted to see. The first stop we made was the St Patrick’s cathedral which was pretty nice inside with many sculptures as you would expect. It also had a beautiful park surrounding it which was quite popular. Next stop was Trinity Collage which was old and is notable for producing the likes of Oscar Wilde and holding the Book of Kells. A lot of architectural design went into these buildings and it was a nice place just to hang out for a short while. The afternoon came and we stumbled across a leprechaun museum which we decided we must check out. We were promised that everything we saw and heard were true. It was pretty well done as you went through many little scenes, a favorite was the giants room which had massive chairs and tables and lounges that we got some good pictures on. After the museum we rushed back to the travel lodge where we were staying at to pick up the car then headed to the airport to catch our plane to London we made it in time even with an argument with Europcar thrown in. By the way we lost the argument and $68.41 dollars, Sarah still shakes her fist every time we pass a Europcar.