Using a polite form of address in a heavily accented English, the nurse in the ambulance was reassuring: “ ‘Auntie’ (an-tee), don’t worry, you must relax, your pulse is one hundred twenty, everything will be OK”. 120? Relax? Knocked out cold and concussed after collapsing and hitting the bedframe on the way to becoming a heap on the bedroom floor, my pulse didn’t really seem of concern.
The situation got out of hand quickly being in our apartment for just 2 days, violently ill with a temperature of 102 degrees, no idea of how to call an ambulance and where the ambulance should take us. Our friendly neighbor came to the rescue. Unfortunately addresses in India are at best ambiguous. Road names, postal codes, and house numbers are commonly non-existent; one depends on instructions such as: near such and such church or temple, just after the locust pond, opposite the football field, near the chicken farm, or some other appropriate landmark. 30 minutes later the ambulance arrived and the apartment filled with not just the medical entourage but seemingly a bunch of ‘ambulance chasers’ interested to know who was dying. Chaos ensued… “Who are all these people?” Steve asks as he shepherds the masses out of our bedroom and apartment, making sure computers or anything else that wasn’t nailed down didn’t disappear with them.
The stretcher was out of a museum: with one of its wheels that obviously hadn’t rotated in an aeon and had worn a flat side that dragged along the ground, and automatic folding legs that were supposed to make it easy to push the stretcher into the ambulance but instead decided to fold when they wanted to and not when they were designed to, which effectively meant all the wheels were useless, and the nurse and driver were pretty much forced to carry rather than roll the patient to the ambulance.
Good news: the hospital we had been advised to go to was less than 5 minutes away. Bad news: we were advised to go to the hospital that was less than 5 minutes away!!!
A local hospital operated by nuns, ill-equipped, with a Doctor in his 80’s speaking little English that we are not sure understood what an Auto-Immune illness is. We tried to stay on top of what exactly they were administering intravenously, and with sterile needles and syringes, but so much was lost in translation we could never be sure. After 2 days we were close to removing the IV ourselves and making a run for it. Had it not been for the dizziness from the concussion, they wouldn’t have seen us for dust, of which there was plenty in this non air conditioned and relic of a hospital. To top it all off, Steve was expected to stay with me for the whole time! (Probably just as well!) We were both sleeping on beds that resembled scaffold boards spanning metal frames and pillows as hard as bags of cement. We are not making this up!!!
The one highlight was to hold a new born baby the nun had just delivered, even though the room was spinning from the concussion. The little fella was all of 5 lbs. with jet black hair, more than Steve and I combined, and just adorable… Apparently in the Hindu culture after giving birth, the mother is considered unclean and not allowed to return home for 7 days! Way to go Mom put your feet up, relax! I could not imagine giving birth in that hospital, Thank goodness there were no broken bones or surgery required.. OMG!!
But funny how life is… before this brush with the Indian health system, we met some amazing Brits that live in Goa that invited us to a social gathering… how blessed we feel to have met Chilly, and m’ Lord and Lady Richard and Ann Morris of Lockerbie, and their friends who have made us feel so welcome and helped us acclimatize and get our social life in full swing!
It seems so long since we hopped that plane in Athens to Cairo. Egypt airlines: now there is a different world!! We are treated to a reading from the Koran on the T.V. monitor… before the safety video, and, … why are people still faffing in the aisles as we accelerate down the runway???.. Madness… welcome to another world!!
Finding suitable accommodation for 5 months has been a challenge… it’s available, but most is sub-standard even at the seasonal premium rates. After a couple of nights in a flea-pit we found a new condo a 5 minute scooter ride from the beach that after a couple of weeks of negotiating is now at a reasonable price. We are still educating the landlord about the fundamentals of an apartment acceptable to westerners… Yes, we would please like clean pillows thank you!!! And we do need cutlery and dishes!!! …. Oh, a non-prison issue mattress would be really cool!! All seems like such hard work and frustration on top of dealing with the health issues and wandering around like a very wobbly 80 plus year old woman!
But India like other developing and third world countries has a magnetic affect… Once you can look beyond the poverty, disorganization, chaos, filth, and general lower standards, there is an attraction and a feeling of achievement that one can live without the creature comforts and the norms we are used to and enjoy the cultural differences that make it unique. On the other hand… maybe we’re just insane!
Cruising on our scooter ($2 a day) it does not get any crazier. Day one Steve just about dumps me right off the back… Not soo good, but the lack of rules of the road makes it a free-for-all adventure!! You get used to it quickly, except in a traffic jam a few days ago I lost a shoe knocked off clipping another bike and we also managed to clip a pedestrian with the mirror. A good day on the road!! It is pretty wild: hundreds of scooters and motorcycles, pedestrians without a sidewalk in sight walking along the roads, throw sacred cows into the mix and a million people all beep, beep, beeping horns.. There is some method to this madness, you just go with the flow and it all works out!!
Back to the cows.. Not only are they an obstacle to negotiate on the road, they wander the beach, hang out at the store, or in a garden. Anything goes!!! Problem is there is cow shit everywhere. Just ask! Not realizing we had parked the scooter next to a cow patty, I stepped off and straight into one. The way my husband laughed you might think he set it up that way when he parked. He then tried to convince me that it is good luck!!! Hmmm!
We’ve settled into a nice routine of a beach walk before breakfast and again at sunset which is simply a soul lifting experience shared along with thousands of nationals with a spattering of visitors … This is a feast for the soul!! We are frequently asked to have our picture taken with the nationals… a real novelty. Why not? Don’t we take pictures of them? They are very polite and so curious. “You’re an Indian Barbie Doll”, several Hindi women exclaim… “would you like to see my jewelry?”
Peace and love… with 1¼ Billion people and growing.
You’re doing “WHAT “? Exclaimed Pumper!!
We tried the soft sell… After all why would Pumper not jump at her own swanky, private storage container in Athens… parked up for five months relaxing and giving her weary joints and moving parts a good rest after the four month 7000 mile adventure around Western and Eastern Europe! She has done good, real good!!!
Winter is upon us and in Europe as hard as you try you just run clear out of the beach kinda weather that we like to groove to. After much debate the whole idea to drive Egypt to South Africa has been nixed… who needs that stress!! The political scene in a couple of countries has gone sour and anyway, the ferry from Italy and Greece to Egypt has been cancelled, and we will definitely not be taking the land route through Syria anytime soon!
Option B? An easy one… we are off to India!! OMG!!
Pumper isn’t making this trip with us, she’ll be resting in Athens until we return in the spring to continue our sojourn around Europe.
Scooping a marvelous deal with frequent flier points… hold on to your seats: Athens, Cairo, Mumbai and Goa… Returning via Istanbul: Total cost of flights $260 … opposed to flying through Europe it would have been $1400 for airport taxes!!!
Obtaining an Indian Visa has been a challenge since we applied in Greece rather than Canada. We have been twice to the centre of Athens to get things sorted at the Indian Embassy, watching the political climate in Greece and the protest situation in Athens which has been rife!!
Nothing like starting at the top of the bucket list! Although we are really enjoying the 3+ weeks we have to float around Greece, a large part of me is already on that plane! We are thinking sailing, yoga, meditation, long boarding, and plenty of other activities like roaming distant parts of India, exploring the culture and immersing ourselves in everything mystical and magical… Checking some of its fine hospital facilities for a remedy or two should we experience the expected stomach ailments… c’est la vie!!!
Sleeping on the shores of the Aegean, or is it the Mediterranean, the waves lapping at the shore… this is idyllic!! Camping fee … A whopping zero!! Another stealth campsite in a sleepy Greek village along the highway! I can hardly wait to get up in the Morning, hit the yoga mat as Steve prepares coffee, and lap up all that is glorious about life!
Glorious just about sums up Greece and its people. We are enchanted! For all the news about the terrible state this country is in, the welcome mat has been rolled out, and everybody seems to go that extra mile to ensure the fattest warmest adoring welcome!!
It is hard to recount every detail… Every twist and turn of charm and delight!!! A country that leaves you wanting more as you fall deeper and deeper in love. Mountains that either plunge or flow into the sea, spectacular vistas, and villages, archeological and historic monuments, olive groves, as far as the eye can see, punctuated with vineyards and pomegranate and orange orchards. All ripe for the picking… harvest time in Greece!!! Mainland Greece is paradise with the hugest dose of hospitality to top it off!!
Many of the mountainous and gorge drives would be declared National Parks in most countries. In Greece there are too many to count.
We do declare (again )…. We could live here, as we ramble from one little Greek village to another! Eating our way around, one piece of Baklava at a time!!! … Sweet!!!!
Our journey has been filled with so many phenomenal encounters… many world travelers who have stopped to share, and left us feeling blessed to be on this journey and privileged to get the opportunity to enrich our minds and our souls, chance meetings that inspire and encourage. A wave and a smile are the same in any language.
Into Athens once again to pick up the Indian visa, grab some car parts from WWW.ovaldean.com a 1 year old VW Classic Parts business that is bucking the Greek economic trend. And then head for the beaches to enjoy the last few days of Greek summer.
We have soaked up and been in awe of the Greek history at places like Meteora where monasteries perch precariously on mountain tops, Pylos where the Turks were defeated making way for the creation of Greece. Vivid imagination mandatory when viewing in effect the piles of stones at both the temple of Athena at Delphi, and the ancient site of the original Olympics in Olympia, where monuments to the infamy of cheats were erected at the stadium entrance. Now there is an interesting idea that needs to be revisited!!! And of course the sites at the Acropolis in Athens which although are spectacular you feel you are on a movie set being erected with cranes and machinery all around, – snapping a good image near impossible. It was at Olympia we managed to get a Greek ‘Ear-Bashing’ for our disrespectful behavior posing on the columns… but the photo was worth it!
Mystras is an ancient city set high in the mountains of the Peloponnese Peninsula dating to the Byzantine times, still populated as late as the 1950’s. This is where we met a 30 something man from Toronto, as we were scouting a place to park for the night. This is a story of love, devotion, and sacrifice. He moved a few years ago from his comfortable life in Toronto to care for his aged and ailing father suffering with ALS, who had moved back to his native Greece 15 years ago to his small home on the grounds of Mystras, which must have been in his family for generations. What a treat to meet and spend time with him.
Here also we were introduced to Costas the Sheep farmer: It would seem that Costas may not have met a woman for many years as he encroached my space! I was madly figuring out how to avoid the looming contact, the inner voice screaming run for cover and jump for the security of Pumper! Not wanting to seem totally rude… well that was some handshake… Costas not only held my hand and slid his hands up my arm with what seemed like six hands, but his face also ventured far too close as if to do the old Greek 2 cheek touch!!! Nooooo thank you very much!!! I was unaware that Steve had sensed the situation and watched as things unfolded, and found the entire situation hilarious. He was doing his own calculation of how many sheep he should expect as a dowry!!! Little bugger, still teases me about it!!!
At local docks Steve has been chatting to sailors researching the sailboat rental scene. Just for future reference… now let’s see where could we sail, Croatia, Turkey, Greece? We were invited aboard a luxury catamaran…Holy Moly! Now that is a different world. K, pinch yourself, and get back to the cozy world of Pumper! Steve is determined to acquire his skippers license, and we are considering who would be mad enough to sign up to sail the seas for a month or 2 with us! We might just know of a few who would fit the bill!
7 am – early start for us. Kettle is on, eggs boiling and coffee brewing… Steve peers out the window and announces there is a woman in the parking lot in her underwear! Why are we not surprised? Splat.. as a boiled egg hits the floor.. Steve cursing… something about living in a tin can… he will not live that one down. The rudeness of it all, poor Pumper, how insulting …well can’t count the numerous times I’ve mentioned sardine can!!!
Another day in paradise. Another day of… well, who knows? Just the way we love it!
Peace and Love … to ewe, ewe, and ewe!!!
Nothing like mixed messages.. last stop in Montenegro parking at the Starigrad, old town, of ‘Bar’, a local oldtimer bustles over with glee at the sight of pumper … as the security lock is attached to the steering wheel protesting furiously with hand motions… “…this was not necessary in his village”. No English spoken here. Only to be informed this was not a good place to sleep for the night … “No No No… Mafia”!!
The camera stayed in its’ bag in Albania, the images are all Montenegro.
The roads expired abruptly at the Albanian border… as did life almost! Felt like we had been thrown back in time and if we had a dollar for every time we said this could be Mexico we would be eating in a fancy five star restaurant tonight… Not that we could find one!
Potholes and sections of gravel road everywhere. Driving all day… Fancy and grand gas / petrol station one after another followed by a multitude of equally grand furniture shops… for a country that is struggling… who buys this stuff? As another family chugs by in donkey drawn cart!
Then there are the Mercedes Benzes: where does that money come from? Many of the older Merc’s are apparently stolen from Western Europe. For sure on that, as motorcades of them fly by!! 8 of every 10 cars seem to be a Mercedes! Several donning plates from one US State or another apparently imported… stolen or otherwise.
Police are everywhere… fortunately totally uninterested in us and happy nabbing every speeder in sight… Driving skills are abysmal and we dare not take our eyes off the road for a second, otherwise someone is sure to pull a stunt!
Back at the border.. Go figure, a line up with a 30 min plus wait to exit Montenegro. What is with that? Could have been a US border . Perhaps they were taking an inventory of stolen cars!
Another pothole and blaring heat with hours of nothingness, we try to find inspiration swearing some more about the condition of the roads, lack of food stores, and rubbish strewn everywhere!! Very sad, and leaves us rushing to get through the country to Greece!! Albania has a way to come up the learning curve when it comes to tourism, and with respect for the environment and cleanliness? Yet another parallel with Mexico and several Central American countries… the place is a ‘garbage dump’. They say prior to the 1990′s the country was all but litter free… Get educating those kids!
OK, so we should have known better than driving off without local currency, the ‘Leke’. How were we to know that banks are few and far between outside the few major cities, and that many gas stations don’t take credit cards? Fortunately we had a small stash of Euro’s they quite willingly accept at a crappy exchange of course.
Albanians call their country: Shqiperia, the language descending from Illyrian… Whatever that is!!!! Albanians shake their head sideways to say “yes” (po) and nod and “tsk” to indicate “no” … There will be no head shaking here just to avoid a mix up!! We’ll be passing on the sheep head soup… after one of our first sights this morning was of a guy gutting an animal… Nasty!!!
We are sounding rather negative and not considerate of what has been a brutal past. Communism ruled until 1990… there are many signs of that era! Life looks harsh for most. … 1996, 70% of Albanians lost their entire savings when private pyramid investment schemes collapsed! Not unlike what other progressive countries have experienced since 2008!! A twist of fate in 1999, 465,000 Kosovars fled to Albania to escape the Serbian ethnic cleansing… Suddenly the economy boomed!!
Enough of the history lesson: Back to grass roots stuff, our day to day existence that seems so glam to most and to others a living hell… We do have our days!! We have relaxed into the lifestyle maybe a bit too much… one time gadding about wearing odd flip flops!! Then wandering the beach with toilet tissue hanging from my bikini… I have lost count of times I have worn my clothes inside out! Too Hippie or too relaxed? Or just more likely – losing the plot!!
Steve has even been caught shaving once in a while!!! Maybe that’s his excuse for having food on his chin! The real issue: as we are sometimes asked, “How we will ever settle down or begin to fit back into normal society”. This is a good question… get back to ya on that!
Back to drying underwear… waving my knickers in the breeze as we drive along… you mean there is something peculiar about that??? We flip the peace sign to a farmer as we cruise the country lanes. Or no, maybe this is the major highway. They all seem the same! Sorry sir, it isn’t a purple flag, it’s my underwear!!!
There are always positives:
The price of things here are ridiculously cheap, which makes us ask: ‘Why the heck is everything so expensive everywhere else?’
Camped out on a shabby abandoned beach, we wake to the most stunning Kingfisher eating breakfast on a small rock outside our window!! We continue south and the climb through the mountain pass and national park… Snow tire chain signs a grim reminder of a different reality! But the views are spectacular from over 1500 metres high; clear across to the ‘Boot Of Italy’. Life ain’t all bad.
Peace and love … if people could just pick-up after themselves!
From the moment we entered Croatia there was something magnetic. The highway from Hungary was the best we have seen anywhere with little traffic. Our greeting from the folk at the VW parts store in Zagreb could not have been more hospitable. And when we reached the coast and began the very slow drive south we have to declare that Croatia is a major highlight over the last 3 years.
It was hard to make serious progress down the coast as every turn in the highway presented another stunning village or beach that begged us to stay longer than a brief visit. The well-known highlights in Dubrovnich, Split, Zadar, and others are not the only highlights. The unknown villages that dot the coast and the islands make this the jewel. And the people of Croatia are genuinely beautiful people, always eager to please and help. We could wax on about it but the best way is to tell the story in pictures and hope the message is clear.
Croatia is a place we will return to in a couple of years, maybe rent a sailboat and see the country and its’ thousands of islands from a different perspective. If they didn’t get cold and stormy winters … ‘we could live here’.
Enjoy the sights…
Peace and Love
Parked with a million dollar vista high above the Adriatic, a Polish crew pulled up as we were having a spot of tea, and with the exuberance of a football team descended on Pumper with enthusiasm fit for the world cup final… Driving a real classic, an impressive group of guys and gals, part of a rally from Poland to Greece, to raise funds for orphaned kids… Just the kind of thing that makes your day!! A great exchange of stories and pictures… Name the make and year of the microbus. First right answer in our ‘comments’ wins the ‘Dreamer’ a mention in our next blog!
Our time in Croatia is nearing an end but continues to delight at every turn of the coastal road. A diversion into ‘Bosnia And Herzegovina’ to experience one of the many pummeled cities that were part of a horrific civil war and ethnic cleansing just a short 15 or so years ago. 1995 Mostar was virtually destroyed by the fighting, factions on either side of the river that runs through town each bombarding the opposite side. You don’t have to look hard for the scars, the bullet riddled buildings!! Landmine alert!!! Don’t wander too far from the road! We can’t imagine what these people have lived through so recently, as they now live and work in apparent harmony, enjoying and appreciating life nurturing this tourist haven where anything can be purchased very cheaply with Euro’s rather than the local currency. Memorials everywhere to those who died on both sides of the arguments, they know first-hand just how fragile life is!!
Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo: Linguists refer to the varieties of languages as “Serbo-Croatian” although they use the Cyrillic alphabet we get totally lost!! A friendly shopkeeper with perfect English informs us that children in Bosnia and Herzegovina learn English from Grade two… Dumb tourists that we are, almost everyone speaks English and the few mostly older people that don’t will surely find a way to communicate with visitors to their beloved country!!
Stuck on the side of the road due to what must have been a deadly crash we set up for a ‘cuppa’, but it isn’t long before Pumper turns into the star attraction!! A man pops his head inside the door and gestures in sheer delight at our home sweet home. Many hand gestures later and we gather that the road will be closed for at least 3 more hours and he is offering to show us an alternate route… we hit the road. Now most would question the sanity, heading off into the sunset to who knows where guided by who knows who!! (We never told our kids not to talk to strangers)! We wonder for all of a split second, but as we are fond of doing we put faith in humanity and head off down a single track road out into the countryside!! If our amazing $8 lunch which included 2 beer was not enough to dazzle, we are blown away by a total stranger coming to our rescue.
Following for 30 minutes… our guide pulls over and motions for us to stay while he disappears into some bushes, re-appearing with a bag stuffed full of freshly picked grapes!! He must have called ahead for his wife to pick them. We returned the kindness with some VW treasures as a small token of our appreciation… What a life saver!!
If that wasn’t enough to fill our hearts with joy, we wave adios to our Bosnian friend and, given the delay we were definitely driving a little faster than we should… we head straight into the clutches of a police radar trap! Darn and bugger it!! There was no mistaking the message… 76 in a 50 zone! Silly mistake, our last altercation with Police as hard as this is to believe was in California! We beg mercy… Not failing our total faith in the love and generosity of spirit of Bosnians he gives us a wink and waves us on??? WOW!!!
At the border our day is capped by the border control officer who shows his excitement at Pumpers arrival by leaning on the horn with the delight of a child, and waving us through without a care for our documents.
Yup a couple of old dropouts… We lost count today of how many people shouted out “2 Hippies” as Pumper cruised through the towns of B and H… The smiles on the faces priceless as we flip the peace sign and get the hugest wave of appreciation and reciprocal peace signs!!
Brief visit, but we soaked up the delights of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the welcome, kindness, and appreciation from the people. The small historic town Mostar with its cultural diversity underlined by the call to prayer at the mosque while The Gypsy Kings blared out ‘My Way’ at the restaurant next door.
Cevapcici, hurmastica, cevabdzinica .. Culinary delights.. Syrup soaked sponge fingers all the way. Burek .. The Croatian staple of a pastry stuffed with very salty cheese and spinach. The cheap chilled beer sure makes up for it!!
Curled up in bed somewhere on the Bosnian coast, this is the nomadic lifestyle that we have come to love. The next adventure, just around the corner!! We spent the evening dreaming up what is next (not much planning, but at times one is somewhat forced to consider… Oh no!… winter months are around the corner!!!). The excitement mounts!!! Next summer our options seem endless, the possibilities limited only by our dreams!
Yep this is simple living… No electricity, fridge, running water, shower, phone, television, actually, no toilet!! A Tupperware container for a closet… No bills! And what do we miss… NOT A DARN THING!! (Well… most of the time.J) Except of course our kids, family, and friends who could not be blamed for giving up on us as crazies!
The freedom of the road and the simple joy of clean, easy, and we think “Green” living.. How did we humans make life so complicated? If only … If only we could all get back to a simpler time of human kindness and appreciation. Instead, humankind today seems hell bent on just the opposite…
Silvana our new Croatian/Austrian Sociologist said profoundly: With a compass in our nose and a map in our heart, and a consciousness to avoid poverty of mind and soul, the most insidious poverty’s in the world today! Oh well, maybe we can do our bit and spread some good karma and pray that a little infectious spirit rouses the crowds!!
Peace and Love… with borders that need no defending!
With the warm glow of an early fall sunset we drive across the Slovakian border to Hungary… The remains of the old disused ram shackled buildings lay testament to days past.. We are thankful for the EU and the ease of our travels, and the favorable exchange rate making all of Europe an affordable treat. Yesterday hiking the banks of the Danube and the day before taking in the glorious sights of Vienna.
Vienna.. sheer delight!! Opulence at its finest.. Stand back and drool folks!!! Dipping a big toe in the rather murky waters of the Danube reflecting its long journey to the Black Sea in contrast to ours!
Vienna could leave you cash strapped easily if you wanted to visit all the museums, galleries, and concerts. But it is very enjoyable to wander the streets and soak up the flavor and the magnificent grandeur at every corner and in every detail of the architecture. Numero uno city in Europe to date for presentation.
Slovakia… Bratislava… we were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed a wonderful day soaking up the history. They haven’t quite mastered wooing or wowing the tourists, confirmed by the very grainy and poorly sound dubbed video at the tourist centre. None the less the transition from WWII through the cold war era to today was fascinating to watch. No ‘Hop On – Hop Off’ bus here, just a tour through the narrow streets of old town on a small kids train reminiscent of a Disney World ride.
Things can’t always be sunshine and roses, this is where the fun ends and we are rather befuddled with… Hungary!!! They might as well have posted something at the border… “visitors not appreciated thank you!!!” There are ALWAYS exceptions, we met some very nice and welcoming people, and certainly in ‘Party Town’ Budapest they have learned how to greet visitors. But leave the big city…!!! In the rural areas it seemed hard to find a smile on a face, and Pumper may as well have been transparent.
According to Steve… one of the most frustrating days of our odyssey, including all of Central and South America. Getting the front end greased should be simple enough! Thank gawd I opted to hang by the lake and soak up the rather scrumptious sunshine while beloved spent an agonizing 3 hours getting nowhere at the local garage!!! (I have to live with him!!!)For those of you who know Steve well, he is not one to get frustrated… A rather laid back kinda fella in the most frustrating of situations… But this did him in!!
Fresh from the lake and a morning dip… Well, shower for us… we are on our way to Croatia and reading up in the lonely planet we are stoked!!
We didn’t realize we were leaving the EU and required to show passports and vehicle papers! Turned out to be one of the most amusing border crossings we have encountered. Taken by surprise at this official process, in a half-dressed state clambering to the back of the bus to retrieve documentation failing miserably in my efforts to keep my boobs in my bikini… immigration officers duly amused!! Kate (Duchess of Cambridge) thinks she has problems!!!
Waking up day 1 in Croatia outside a car parts place in Zagreb (www.drakarauto.hr), what a pure delight served a delicious warm sweet cappuccino from the parts store chaps!! Oh how I could have hugged and kissed those guys but the look on my face told the story and the cappuccinos kept flowing… Digging up token thank you gifts, wishing we could really express how awesome that small gesture was!! They didn’t have everything we needed for Pumper but what they did have they gave us free of charge!!! What a contrast, we have been welcomed into Croatia with open arms from everyone we have met, and so helpful!
Aaahhh our first swim in the Adriatic Sea… We in unison announce that yup we could live here (and giggle at the times we have said that!!) ‘stunning’ scenery and coastline does not describe it adequately!! Finding a Small bakery that served up the most delicious baklava we are set to never leave!!!
Camped on the shores of the Adriatic… Croatia is the first country we have experienced a strict ‘no free camping’ law!!! So at 110 Kuna a night ( 15 Euro) we are hunkered down at our first campsite in a very long while!
Hunkered down is the only way to describe it, as a mega storm brews all around us. They call it ‘The Bura’, the rain sheets down, Pumper is rocking and we have visions of the 3 of us being uplifted and dumped out in the bay!!! Craziness!!! 2 days and nights trapped in Pumper, all the time being thrown around and waiting for the big one to tip us over. Having exhausted our food supplies we are forced to make a move in gale sized winds, driving 50km to the next town Karlobag, rarely reaching 50 km/hr. and frequently pushed to the precipice of the mountainous coastal road. It was hair-raising and in retrospect, not at all safe, but we survived. We learn the road is closed and find a more sheltered place to park for the night, and given the circumstances the Police seem unperturbed at our free camping.
There are stores and restaurants and we are spoiled to be served local brandy by the restaurant owner, gratis. He apparently thought we tipped him too well as he also gave us 2 bottles of beer to take with us.
Still on tap… Split and Dubrovnik to soak up the history and medieval charms, but our hearts are sold on Croatia and the warmth of the people!!! This is what makes the ugly days worthwhile!!
A crazy start to the day, as Pumper rolls slowly back towards the Adriatic sea.. Steve shouting from the sidelines… HAND BRAKE! Nothing like a heart thumping experience to get the adrenalin flowing. Steve announces to the police officer he had been chatting to about the closed roads “… guess I left my hand brake off!!”
Faleminderit, Mnohokrat, Nagyon, Dziekoje, Dziekoje, Dakujem, Multumesc.
How to say ‘Thank You’ in Croatian, Albanian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Romanian!!
And do you think we even mastered one!!!!!
Now if the wind would kindly stop blowing we might be able to continue our journey!
Peace and Love… “… blowin’ in the wind.”
“The one that does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
… George Santayana.
Inscription at the entry to one of the Block Houses that once housed thousands of victims of Nazi atrocities… This is Auschwitz -Birkenau, Poland, 1940 -1945
Today is seared in our minds forever. And we hope future generations will visit this place of inhumanity to experience this history and never forget. The sign over the gate promises “Work will set you free”.
Tears are difficult to contain, sickened by the sights and accounts of this very black period in history. Walking through the gates at Auschwitz you enter a world of such evil that one cannot begin to understand! The largest of many ‘Death Camps’ throughout Europe where millions were sent to their death… Genocide!!
The stench of death, decay and deplorable conditions, one cannot imagine… the torture, suffering and the staggering toll on those who lived and died in this hell hole… and the few that survived. Men women and children… Nobody was above this evil!!! How could any human inflict such pain, misery and suffering to another?
The scale of this carnage is incomprehensible …we take time in a quiet corner at Birkenau, called ‘Auschwitz 2’, to contemplate the rubble of the enormous crematorium, one of five. ‘Auschwitz 2’ was built to increase the capacity to rid Europe of the Nazis’ targeted groups, 25 times larger than ‘Auschwitz 1’, and still thousands were burned in mass graves because of the inability to slaughter fast enough. The ashes are strewn all around us.
Despite the efforts of the Nazi’s to destroy the evidence of their crimes as the end of the war became inevitable, much of the camp is as it was.. But even among the rubble of the gas chambers and incinerators there is no mistaking what took place here!!
We are both feeling the heat on this hot late summer day having walked for hours. Our thirst is such a small inconvenience compared to the suffering experienced here in the past!! Watching the movies… “Schindler’s List” Reading the books….” Night” by “Ellie Wiesel” , does not begin to capture the horror of this place as compared to when you are actually standing where it happened!!
On display: 2 tons of human hair, personal and treasured possessions, thousands of shoes, eyeglasses, prosthesis’, train tickets of those who had been convinced to buy their tickets to their own slaughter! It would be easy to be persuaded that the lucky ones may have been those that died in the rail cars during transportation!!! Ironically all these items originally stored in the facilities called “Canada Warehouse”, so called because Canada was seen at the time to be ‘the land of plenty’!
The day has passed… We have endured hours of this nightmare and depart exhausted and drained, reeling at the sights and trying to absorb what was. It was an honour and a gift to acknowledge and pay respect to those that lived and perished here. This is not a museum it is a memorial.
We leave as we arrived along those rail tracks, through those infamous gates… by the railcar that bears testament to the millions that arrived to this hell!! We bow our heads and reflect for those that never had the option. Collecting a treasure… a stone from the tracks, to place alongside the pebbles from ‘D Day’ beaches Juno and Omaha in France.
How could this have happened!!! … Can we indeed remember history and not live through it again?
Our visit to Poland was brief but very powerful, a place to return later, where the people were welcoming and friendly. A journey is so influenced by the weather, driving through the cold and wet in the Czech Republic we know we have not done it justice. Visiting magnificent old towns of Olomouc and Mikulov … with cobbled stone streets and centuries old palaces and churches… if only the sun had been shining.
It was here we met a “real” live Polish celebrity!! The star and runner up to the Polish version of ‘Dancing With The Stars’. Tall handsome model, 20 something Pawel Stalinski and his stunningly beautiful partner Charlotte stopped by to admire Pumper and our window ornament Piglet :) on their way to Italy on a great adventure. Chance meetings like this when you are having challenging moments can restore faith. Pawel and Charlotte ooze the kind of joy and enthusiasm that could restore humanity worldwide!! With Piglet donated to their European adventure we exchange waves and smiles and head down the same road… at different speeds!!!
Peace and love… “Remembering”.
Crashed out in the bus after a long day walking Berlin… Steve fits some bits to Pumper that we acquired at Wolfsburg… a continual stream of people drop by to check us out in the parking lot in Potsdam, and a family so inspired by our adventure they donated a bottle of Champagne we were told to drink when we reach Russia. Not sure we can make it last that long. Gifts we are happy to receive, random acts of kindness are always welcome.
Sooo amusing as one after another, onlookers try to wrap their heads around the fact that we have really driven here!! Just the tonic and encouragement we needed… the previous night we were both set for divorce and quite prepared to live at opposite ends of the planet, rather than in the confined space of a VW Bus!!! .. Nothing like reaching the end of your rope and questioning the madness of it all!!! Our blogs might mislead into thinking this is all a lark, every minute of every day… But there are bad days, and there are ugly days… when it becomes an ordeal of the worst kind. When our frustrations coincide… watch out! The thing is, you probably wouldn’t read the blogs if they were all about ugly days. So this will have to suffice as equilibrium. Take our word for it… it ain’t always a ‘Dream’!!!
Re-connecting with twin, Phil for a couple of days of camping and exploring, and the much anticipated tour of Wolfsburg.. Little did we know just how much of a treat this would be…
First, the Harz region… and a stunning10 mile hike up Brocken mountain, unfortunately much of it in the clouds, to an old Soviet listening post and the area where during the cold war people would risk life to hang glide from the East German side of the mountain to freedom on the West side, hoping the thermals and winds were favourable, and the DDR guards were either sleeping or poor shots! There are reminders of the Cold war dotted around the country side like watchtowers and long abandoned checkpoints. Sobering examples of how hard it seems for people to get along!
Wolfsburg, the VW mecca!! Home to the largest auto manufacturing plant in the world and the spectacular Autostadt ( www.autostadt.de ) where visitors experience world-class displays of the VW family of vehicles, and a car museum that takes some beating. We were beyond spoilt to have met Carston, VW executive, at the UK car show who rolled out the red carpet with an all-expenses paid tour of this magnificent facility!!
Sitting in luxury vehicles, top of the list the Audi R8 Spyder at 260,000 Euro!! Top speed 317 km/hr and only 333 of them produced to date… Gulp!! Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bugatti … We sit in them and salivate!!! This is what life is like in the fast lane.. The fast cats that whizz by us on the autobahn and leave Pumper quivering at the shock of it… 250 km/hour is nothing for the likes of these beauties!
Rolling around the manufacturing plant in a VW Golf train, with our charming guide, Italian Giacomo, we are treated to the most incredible tour. 20,000 plus robots dancing in unison, as they majestically construct the latest VeeDubs each individually tailored to the customer’s specifications. The factory is absolutely spotless and makes most hospitals look shabby!!
Out of bounds for today: the Golf assembly line, just 8 days away from a new model launch, top secret and not for the eyes of visitors.
Up to 600 cars per day are picked up from the Autostadt by the customers, each one setting in motion an impressive automated glass tower storage and delivery system that finds and delivers the specific car with flair!
Dragging ourselves away we drive a few hours to the outskirts of Berlin to the park and ride at two and a half euro for the night and day!! They do have this P+R system organized. Just wish the loos did not cost so much, a Euro for a pee seems like such a rip off!!!
Berlin was not what we expected, lacking the charm of the likes of Amsterdam, Brussels and other European cities… but a heavy day of history lesson!
Hitlers rise… what was WW II all about… the atrocities… The Iron Curtain… Check Point Charlie… “Tear down That Wall”… East meets West!! All so touristy, more museums recounting the history than you can imagine, even if sometimes difficult to discern the messages. One cringes that those dark days could spawn such commercialism.
Of note though and both free were: The Jewish War Memorial and the ‘Topography of Terror’ museum… both leave you speechless. The systematic extermination of the Jews, the aged sick and disabled, homosexuals, sympathizers, social misfits, and Roma’s is impossible to understand. How could the rest of the world have watched as these government policies were put into place, and even being complicit in the growth of The Third Reich? Leaves us both too drained to even contemplate the many museums… The “Free Tibet” demonstration in front of the parliament building observed by more than a few Berlin police can make one wonder if much ever changes!!
We try our hardest to be informed tourists… up to speed on the many rules and distinct ways things are done… there is little ‘grey’ in Germany!! There’s the right way and a wrong way, we so often get it wrong and get a good giggle in so doing!!,.. Can you get arrested for entering or exiting a store through the wrong door? You would think so given the reactions of employees, and just dare to drive around the parking lot without adhering to road markings! Why would that be so hard for us to figure out!!
Next leg of the adventure? Poland!! 500 km’s to Auschwitz and Birkenau… scenes of the worst of humanity!!!
Peace and love… just keep imagining!
Walking into what appears to be part Italian deli, part café, and 3 parts wine bar, we are introduced to the locals, a crowd of musically inclined, no, talented, assortment of Italians, Germans, Colombians and Cubans. The language is a concocted mix of each with English thrown in for good measure. With just as rich an assortment of instruments at hand from a piano to a wooden spoon and everything in between, it does not take long for the night to warm up… The eclectic décor and assortment of jars crammed with olives and every other preserve known, condiments from around the world, packages of pasta in all shapes and sizes, and shelves of countless wines, with an indescribably intoxicating aroma makes this immediately a special place. Add to the mix the funky 80 something Isabella, high on life and probably a lot of other stuff, braless, groovin’ with the music and generous with the bottles of wine for the music makers. This was a scene out of the 60’s beatnik archives. You can’t find this place in the Lonely Planet!
Wine is on the table before our bums hit the garage sale chairs, with Grappa to wash it down. This is Franko’s place, a gentle and kind Italian man. We are in the mixed ethnic quarter of Offenbach a suburb of Frankfurt, and it’s Friday evening… My twin, Phil, is introducing us to his neighborhood… this might have translated into a 30 minute walk around town… Nada! We arrive home about 1 a.m. after what has been the craziest fun night!!!
If you could not bust out a tune on the piano or the guitar or the kind of box thing that made for a very impressive drum, for those less musically talented, various shakers, toilet brushes, and anything else percussion-like, added to the musical magic of the night along with singing sensation Steve Robbins who was a mega hit, blasting out anything from Queen to Elvis and Sinatra!
After a few drinks it wasn’t clear what language we were conversing in but we were all getting along swimmingly, so much so that we took our little party to the streets to take in a free concert and light show in the park. Thousands of candles had been lit for the most moving and impressive show… All gratis, then on to the local Cuban club… this is way past our bedtime!!
It had been a long 4 years since we had seen Phil, we were in for a whirlwind long weekend introduction to life in Germany. ‘The morning after’! We set off on bikes to tour Frankfurt. Yikes we sure had to come up to speed PDQ!!! Barreling along at break neck speeds!!! Bicycles by the thousand coming at you from all angles!
Germany wowed us…. the neat orderly cleanliness of it all… stunning walks, biking and countryside around The Black Forest, Heidelberg, Frankfurt and the Rhine Valley. Driving around this corner of Germany, it seems like every village and City Street belongs on a postcard. They must all compete to put on the best display. But for sure the mega treat has been the awesome visit with twin Philip!
Knowing we will be returning to Germany to do the grand tour of the VW factory at Wolfsburg where Pumper was born, we head West through Luxembourg, a mere 84 km’s north to south and even less wide, ranking among the world’s 3 richest countries!!
Into Belgium, where there are road repairs everywhere with numerous diversions, it looks like they haven’t been keeping the infrastructure up to par. But better known for its’ beer, sublime chocolate, fine art and architecture along with dreamy castles, and a shocking history of conflict throughout the centuries including WWI and Flanders Fields around Ypres (Liper). The cemeteries are tragically enormous with up to 40 and 50,000 buried in some, both Allied and German forces. You just can’t get your mind around the numbers. They still occasionally find human remains around the countryside, and the odd live artillery shell or bomb. Daily in Ypres they have a moving ‘Last Post’ ceremony that has been a tradition since 1928. And yes, Belgium was the place Napoleon met his Waterloo, June 1815.
Brussels historic core was great, but our hearts melted in Brugge… Cobblestone streets, dreamy canals… The quintessential picture perfect city. Along with another gazillion tourists who come to soak up the atmosphere!! Parked and slept right alongside one of the romantic canals, and but for a few rowdy revelers waking us at 3 a.m., it was a most perfect place to spend a night.
Contrary to warnings about it being difficult to find free overnight parking in Europe we have had no problem. Admitted, in a couple of the larger and more congested cities we have driven into the burbs. Amsterdam for example we slept free near a train station and then did the Park + Ride into the city the next day, literally a 5 minute, 1 station journey, parking for 8 Euro’s ($10) with free train tickets. And yes they have free showers in the train station just to add to our joy!!!
The days are zipping by as fast as the countries, cities, and landscapes’!! But we are conscious of summer coming to an end and the realities of living as we do when it is cold. Must keep moving and work our way to warmer places before the seasons change.
Onwards and upwards to The Netherlands….home to Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Tulips and windmills and yes Dykes!!! Life here is lived on the seat of a bicycle! There are quite literally millions upon millions of them and they ‘RULE’! The lonely planet guide informs us of the essentials: bike rental 10 euro a day and a “JOINT” from a coffee shop 3 Euro!!! Love it all minus the national eating delicacy “Viaamse Frites” .. Lordy, Lordy, French Fries smothered in mayonnaise! Gag at the thought!!!
The reception we have had in The Netherlands has been amazing. Anywhere we stopped we attracted a crowd, not shy to use their excellent English to get our story. It has been such an inspiring experience. The weather has even cooperated being better than good enough for a couple of beach days and a swim in the North Sea. Last time we tried that was in South Shields in the UK and we almost froze to death!
Amsterdam… Eclectic off any scale!!! This is the place for broadmindedness plus when it comes to everything… strolling along the canals of the infamous “Red Light District” and it takes no explaining! We are propositioned for a ‘threesome’ by a big bosomed wench wearing clothes that left nothing to imagination… We keep moving! … to the next “Brown Cafe” to soak up more of the ambiance, craziness, and the ‘… warm smell of colitas rising up through the air’.
We admire a houseboat a mere 300,000 Euro and 4,000 annual fees for living in the heart of this frenetic fun place… Might be easier than the 4 hour nightmare for us to drive into the city and decide we needed to park out of town. In the city the parking meter gobbles up 4 euro an hour!!!
What to eat next? Big decision of the day.. And a beer maybe a nice cool Bavaria sitting by a canal, and sample after sample of cheese!!! We ate lunch by grazing our way through a few cheese stores testing every cheese and condiment you could imagine.
Back to ‘The Bicycle Rules’ thing: Darn it, how many times we almost met our end by walking under the path of an oncoming bike.. We need to be wearing T-Shirts that serve notice – we are tourists and do not get the laws and rules of bike paths!!! Yup just cruise right on through the main shopping district and beware, pedestrians do not have the right of way!!! It seems like insanity to us!!! Apparently 150,000 bikes are stolen each year in Amsterdam alone, that’s almost 500 a day. Funny thing is there is no end of places selling used bikes. This could be a lead for the local police don’t you think?
Time to rock and roll and head West again to Germany and the much anticipated visit to VW at Wolfsburg!!
Vrede en liefde… and going Dutch.
Nous sommes ici.. A la belle France, going great guns with high school French!! Out of the recesses of the brain, the best high school version has saved us on many occasions, we wonder how we will manage in Slovakia or Romania or Herzegovina or someplace like that!!
Feeling a little sassy as we parlez Francais….. Well at least the basics to manage directions to the all-important bathrooms which are nothing short of communal: “Excusez-Moi Monsieur” at the mens urinal, in use exiting the female washroom… Aaaagh! What’s with that!!!
As we continue to eat our way around the world… buying up every French Baguette, with the best cheeses, chased down with tarte citron.. Tooo absolutely die for!!
Leaving what many Brits themselves refer to as “Rip off Britain”… we were not impressed when we rolled up for the Chunnel crossing with pre-paid ticket, needing to pay an extra $100 as we had a bed!!! You what!!! So all the minivans could have up to 9 passengers and pay a lower fee?? And, overnight parking near the Chunnel – $35. The kind security chap cut us a break and directed us to a spot on the quiet… how nice was that. There seems to be a lot of rules and for free living folk fresh from Central and South America, over regulation does get to us!
Enough complaining! Northern France full of sights and adventures. France has delivered… not least of all with its’ camper friendly policy!! Free camping in abundance and some with amenities, and in the most beautiful prime places and settings. Too many million dollar spots to mention, like the banks of the Loire soaking up a stunning evening in France, with baguette in hand and French cider in the other.
Our tour of War memorials in Normandy… WWI Vimy Ridge, WWII D-Day: Juno, Omaha, and Utah beaches, and several historic points along the byways was let’s say…’moving’. Hard to know where to start… Words are not enough!!
The history is haunting. To imagine… standing on an old German Gun installation with vantage overlooking beaches where today kids play in the sand, and realize in 1944 it was a place of carnage with British, Canadian, and US fighting men falling by the thousand before liberating France from its’ 4 year occupation. Walking aisle after aisle of graves… Hero after hero, -slaughtered.
And the cold dark tunnels at Vimy Ridge where Canada’s military came of age, and thousands of young Canadians were lost while gaining control of this strategic and now picturesque strip of French countryside. The runners… that Volunteered to don red armbands and head into the battlefield to deliver messages… Life expectancy … 5 days! But no shortage of volunteers, to sleep in the relative comfort of the tunnels and not the cold, muddy, rat infested trenches.
… in a book of memorial at the Vimy cemetery, marking this once war torn landscape, lovingly tended by the French to this day who remain so thankful to those that won them freedom.
It is hard to imagine what life could have been… counting our Blessings!! Sadly, Peace comes at a price and we are thankful to all those who serve and to all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Northern France: Normandy, Brittany, Alsace all with Rural charm and character with sophistication in the larger towns.
Parked in a secluded spot on the bank of the Loire River, time for an oil change and tune-up, and anticipating our next stops in Versailles and Paris!! Getting ourselves preened for the big city, (the day I fall out the bus looking like I live on the road is the day we call it quits!) But a shower at this point would be super awesome…
Observations: Don’t mess with rules or process they take that stuff seriously! We got into trouble for trying to walk into the store the wrong way… Protocol my friend!! And do the French smoke a ton. It seems a cigarette in hand is mandatory whatever one is doing at the time!
In contrast to the UK, hardly a CCTV Camera to be seen, and police a rarity! The one time we were in a spot check, it was more for a congenial chat and admiration of Pumper than anything more threatening.
We have fallen in love with Versailles, Paris, and Strasbourg, all amazing experiences and we muse we could live in any one of them. Paris was memorable for more than its’ breathtaking iconic sights… pumpers clutch all but gave out in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and then again next to the Louvre. On both occasions it hardly provoked a response from the police who were more interested in taking a photo of Pumper than hassling us to get the hell out of the way. Adjustment both times was enough to get us through and out of the city before the eventual and expected catastrophic clutch cable failure. How lucky we are and counting our Blessings that the major snap and break did not happen until we had pulled into a campsite for the luxury of our first shower since leaving the U.K.!!! (Yikes!!) We shudder to think of that having happened in one of those Paris tunnels!!! OMG!
Hitting Paris on an August weekend was genius.. Free parking and nobody in town, we felt like we had the roads all to ourselves.. Well minus all the ugly line ups for stuff as it was the first Sunday of the month when Museums are free!! We took full advantage parking for the night just 2 minutes from the Eiffel Tower! We had also lucked out the previous day and parked free looking at the front gates of the Palace De Versailles!!!!!! Now that is crazy!!!
Versailles…. And who do we meet but the Queens Butler! Yes, The Queen of England no less!! What does the Queens butler do on his day off… well visit a Palace of course! Life sure seems crazy at times but we soak up all this mega Karma. Steve’s Birthday in Paris .. Awesome!!
Our Olympic Moment… running into NBA champion and Olympian Chris Bosh.. Walked the Labyrinth with him at the Cathedral at Chartres. Great Photo op!!
On route to visit twin brother Phil in Germany we touch the NW of Switzerland and add another flag to the bus. Whistle stop tour of Switzerland but we will return.
An hour from the Swiss border we do the good karma thing and pick up a young lass hitch hiking. It turns out a pretty young Moroccan that we soon find out is an atheist and anarchist! An Artist? No, an Anarchist, on her way to a European Anarchists meeting!!! We are calm and cool on this until the discussion arose about crossing the border… now just what are these anarchists meeting about? The next big terrorist attack on the ‘establishment’? Like how many idiots cross an international border with a hitch hiker, never mind one with the sort of credentials that this girl might have! We ask politely if she happens to have any drugs!! As if that mattered at this stage.
Daring to touch on spirituality, we keep to a discussion on Karma and addressing more pressing issues like… are we going to have to produce a passport at the border? Does she have a legal document? Our imagination running rampant at this stage. The wise thing might have been to drop her off, but then again maybe our views might lead to a more productive rather than destructive future.
Figuring out all the parking pay schemes from one country to the next… Blue zone, yellow zone… Numbered zone… Stickers, plaques… Why everyone can’t get on board and have one system. It sure would make our lives soo much easier! After all if they could do it with the currency you would think parking would be a breeze. Do we speak German, French, Spanish, or play dumb and stick to English!!! And all we want to do is take an afternoon siesta. Another hard day vagabonding!!!!
La paix et l’amour … Solving the EEU problems… ‘Not’.