“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’.
Barreling around blind corners.. Ploughing along country lanes, it’s a British pastime that for us can be simply nerve wracking. And city driving… How many traffic lights and roundabouts can there possibly be? With speed cameras at every traffic signal, cross-walk, intersection, and straightaway, the GPS beeps warning signals incessantly, playing a tune with a varying pitch of signal for every brand of warning, some we are still trying to decipher… it almost overrides the music from the iPod! Gawd blimey we are busy!! With foot hovered over accelerator and brake, and knuckles clenched tight!! 31 million plus cars … jammed into a space 1/7th the size of the province of Ontario. Try finding a parking space people! And when you find one remind yourself the Pay and Park meter only gives you an hour or two, it isn’t a down-payment on buying the parking space!!!
We didn’t pick the best of summers to be waiting for Pumper to arrive. It has been soggy, grey, and cold for a month! “What summer?” people ask. Make the most if it, stiff upper lip, awfully British, it’s brightening up later everyone says. Excuse me? How much later are we talking? This is the middle of July!
That’s enough complaining. It has been a treat (well not the cold and soggy bit), time with family… Hard to beat!! Eating our way up and down the aisles of Tesco! Getting reacquainted with all the best of British culinary traditions… custard, sticky toffee pudding, fruit cake with thick icing, Bakewell tarts, Cadburys chocolate, Christmas pudding with double cream, Strawberries with double Cream, anything with double cream, more chocolate, pork pies, fish and chips eaten out of paper (not newspaper anymore). And in Cornwall, our new addiction to Cornish pasties!!
Finally… the weather changes, as if a greeting on Pumpers arrival.
Putting together the finishing touches on Pumpers passage and preparations for driving in Europe with non-EU plates.. Paperwork and legal details… hate those details but we have to be responsible!! Don’t we?
After countless calls an insurance company in the Netherlands is prepared to sell us liability insurance to drive Europe and Africa with Canadian license and plates. Who would think it would be so hard to price a risk. Insurance companies!!!
It’s been a month… a long month, to get out of the swing of our nomadic lifestyle… Ponder cushy housesit jobs in the South of France!!! The perplexing nature of all of this!!
France is just days away with Pumpers arrival. We wait with breath held and some serious meditation thrown in for good measure!! All good things come to an end: a comfy chair, the best of British TV, hot showers, flush toilet on demand. Crumbs, are we ready to give it all up to return to our vagabond ways? Why we can’t just be ‘normal’ for a while… for maybe a day?
To try us some more! We are held up for half a day at the port waiting for a release, and the 5 hour time change between the Eastern US and the port in Southampton where Pumper waits for us patiently. We could actually see her on the other side of a 10 foot wire fence, looking back at us wondering why we were not jumping in and hitting the roads. Was that a tear coming down from the eyelid?
We resort to deep breathing, believing that not much good comes out of getting upset and angry. No good giving the people in Southampton an ear-bashing, they are just following process. We’ll just take a look around town and wait for the people across the Atlantic to wake up. It works, it really works.
License plates on… auxiliary battery re-connected… check the oil… inspect the engine… a turn of the key and… vroom, no fuss no buss. Just a little vandalism with a broken lock on a cupboard… but nothing missing? Not that there was much of value to be stolen.
The Bus is a cult here, many more than we thought we would see and most in excellent condition. They even had a brand new 70’s style bus, made in Brazil and kitted out in the UK. After just a few more days getting things re-loaded into Pumper we are back on the road and heading for the Chunnel to Calais. No big hurry, with the change of weather we take a few more days to visit seaside towns along the south coast, and call into VW Heritage ( www.vwheritage.com ) near Brighton to replenish our stock of spare parts. They gave us more than ‘bits’… an invitation to Brands Hatch the next day to participate in a German Car day. JJ Figured we should be a shoe-in for the furthest driven to the event.
The icing on the cake to our whirl wind tour of the UK… Camped out at Brands Hatch no less!! The home of the F1 British Grand Prix, and much more! Best of British VW car show winning “Furthest Driven”, of course, and scoring an awesome trophy compliments of VW Heritage!!
Call it chance, we think it’s karma, as we crawl under the covers we are buzzing at a night filled with glorious, meetings and experiences!!
Shout out, to the sponsors and organizers including David the owner of VW Heritage and his team led by Alex. Great thanks to Raif for the invitation. For Scott, Craig, Sean, and Jim, for a super couple of hours sharing stories …and their wonderful gifts. An awesome responsibility to receive these precious treasures for our journey,.. People!!
Always on our itinerary was a visit to Wolfsburg in Germany, the birthplace of the VW and still a major manufacturing centre. Meeting 2 senior VW execs based in Wolfsburg we have even greater motivation. “Just give us a couple of days notice.” the managing Director said, “We will take good care of you”. (Salivate!!!)
There are doubters and the grumblers in the world: we challenge anybody to step into our world and experience and savour the best of humanity through the simple gift of the experience!! Think about passion in life and experience the joy with an open heart. It ain’t all bad out there! It can rock!!
Next on tap, Dover Castle and the WWII defenses, then the Train for the Chunnel crossing to France. Tomorrow night? Somewhere in France. What adventure is in the works?
Peace and Love… from Britain the Great.
“Wha’ d’ya mean we lost a suitcase”??? Never good rolling up at an airport less one piece of luggage, especially when the missing bag is sitting back at the hotel parking lot, where we must have almost driven right over it. ‘Oh bother said Pooh’ as it would go in the classic “Winnie The Pooh” tales, but this is real life and we have a plane to catch… so much for the ‘world traveller’s’ we are! Thankfully the blame could not be posted on anybody’s shoulders as we couldn’t even figure which of us could have been sooo stupid!! Kinda like leaving Pumper at the Buffalo New York outlet malls when we crossed the border.. window wide open.. our entire life ripe for the picking… Another bloody close call!
A mad dash back to the hotel courtesy of an AVIS car rental employee, thanks to some awesome Karma and a very nice person that wheeled the bag to safe keeping at the front desk.. deep breath in and out!! We were off to catch our plane to cross the pond to Olde Blighty (England). What a trip, thanks to “Pants” our Flight Attendant who kept me well stocked with a stash of chocolate brownies and Steve well stocked with shots of Bourbon… ‘Pants’ liked us, or at least our hippie groove, and the tale of our travels in Pumper. Thanks Pants, for the best flight ever!! Who needs first class!!
UK weather report: Cold, and Soggy… this is summer? A traditional Christmas pudding and double cream… Cornish pasties… and a slew of other traditional English goodies and treats are more than negating the classic UK weather. Who knew custard and the variety of English pastries could taste soo good!! .. Fortunately the strenuous cliff walks fighting Atlantic winds are keeping the weight off!! Another confession… English style Cadbury chocolate … don’t try to say it’s the same as Canadian chocolate… Simply oodles better!! Must be the lush diet of the dairy cattle or something.
We have been totally spoilt to share time with family and indulging in the pleasure of coastal cliff walks along the Cornish and Welsh coast… this takes some beating for spectacular views at every turn. Apart from the fact that it’s near impossible to understand someone speaking either the broad Welsh or Cornish dialects… something we are getting used to!!
Time to re-connect with family, some we have not seen in what seems like an age. Serious catch up time with my sis, and a special visit with my mother and trip to my father’s grave 4 years after his passing. Going back to our place of birth and the country in which we were raised creates a fair bit of nostalgia. It is very obvious we’re far more ‘Canadian’ than ‘British’ but… love the heritage.
All this is a diversion reducing the stress of Pumpers voyage across the Atlantic. No sooner we had arrived in the UK we were informed that Pumper had been bumped to a later ship! Gawd only knows, as there she sits at the Baltimore port in the blistering heat wave in the Eastern US, keys in the ignition, with complete strangers determining her fate! It takes faith to believe she is going to show up in Southampton in one running piece. Although the process of going through customs and delivering her to the port took just about an hour in total, we couldn’t help take a deep breath with all fingers crossed as we left the port. 1 hour!! That killed us after the day and a half long session in Colombia to do the same thing. What a contrast!!
So as of July 2nd the cargo ship is officially on her way and we found a GPS tracking website that shows the ship en route through Chesapeake Bay and out to the big Atlantic. What we don’t know on this US Independence Day: “Is Pumper on the ship?” ETA July 18th.
With the ‘Eastern European” Lonely Planet Guide in hand, and our swanky new Euro passports!!! We sit and contemplate and study maps and can’t stop drooling over the idea of some of the Balkan countries. It is also impossible to ignore the world’s troubles and issues. Like the crisis in Greece. It does make one stop and ponder how gloriously indulgent it is to be swanning around the world like glorified tourists (guess that is what we are in a nut shell). And then there is all the strife in Egypt and Sudan and we almost think we have lost the plot to be thinking of embarking on this next leg of the trip.. but then barking mad we might be but… nothing ventured nothing gained and we are spurred on by the likes of all our follower’s that cheer us on from the side lines and look for the next posting from some glorious outpost. We might just make Timbuktu!! We did make the “Ruffalocody” newsletter after our surprise visit to our daughters head office in Cedar Rapids Iowa last month! www.ruffalocody.com
So before Timbuktu we are eyeing: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia, Albania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia , Ukraine , Romania, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria. But first stop across the English Channel we’ll be soaking up the epic war history sites in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. With all the travel friends we met in Central and South America from Switzerland we can’t leave that off the list, as with a visit to twin brother in Germany. Blimey there are just soo many countries, and many more!! . With that itinerary we just won’t be able to hit many others also on our must visit list. Guess there is next year.
So back to not having a clue what anybody is saying.. check out some of the best of British “Slang”:
Sleeping Policeman … Speed Bump!!!
Gov’ner … The Boss
Stroppy … Unreasonable
Bloke .. Man
Having Kittens .. Extremely nervous
Dog’s breakfast .. A big mess
Faff .. Waste Time
Tosh … Nonsense
All mouth and no trousers … All talk and no action!!!
Elevenses .. Mid-morning snack (more Cadbury’s chocolate!!)
Colly wobbles .. Fear
Gobsmacked… Flabbergasted , Dumbfounded
Pigs ear .. A mess
Bodge Job.. A messy Job
Stonking .. Enormously large
Jam Sandwich.. Police Car.
Cor Blimey .. OMG!!
Plonker .. An Idiot!!
Porkies … Lies
On the Blink.. Not working right!!
Interesting site in a pub in Swansea was the “Chatterbox” .. Painted on a door in the ladies “Loo” (as they call it in some parts) This was a new experience in a ladies washroom, thought we had seen it all trekking around the back country in Indonesia!! Chatterbox… this is the extraordinary 2 seater version where 2 gals can “pee’ in the same room while having a good old “natter”. Darn it for not having a camera!!
Off to demolish more Christmas pudding and give Steve moral support trying to organize car insurance… just one of the many details we face in trying to sort out the logistics of Pumper’s ‘Tour De Europa’!!
Peace and Love … under an umbrella…! x
“Live with intention, walk to the edge, play with abandon, live with no regrets: Dream big and do what you love!!”
A new fancy schmancy ‘iPad’ means we are connected on a whole new level and staying “With It”. Getting our life coordinated for the next leg of our odyssey … we watch the cold grotty rain fall in Ontario.. we were doing the same this time last year!!
Our trek back across the US to Ontario was a chance to catch up with friends and family, from Cheyenne to Chicago (shout out to Chicago that rocked!!) and all over Ontario, as we make final arrangements and preparations for Pumpers voyage and our flight across the Atlantic.
Everything would be really sweet if it weren’t for an annoying oil leak Pumper developed and we fixed in Utah, seems to have re-surfaced, just a few days before we hand Pumper over to the shipper we wait for spare parts to arrive, then a dash from Ontario to Baltimore… Not many days for error. Just a couple of drops of oil but too many for the shipping company that provided strict guidelines on why Pumper might not be able to make the journey. No oil, grease, or dirt on the underside. No Personal things or spare parts. This RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) method of shipping is a different game than driving into a container lock stock and barrel, but also a lot cheaper. A few spares and treasures have been carefully concealed in Pumpers nooks and crannies, everything else has to travel with us!!
We managed to purge the accumulation of personal things to a manageable level for taking with us on our flight…. without a divorce… and really the “D’ word was on the table!!! Who knew wardrobe selection could be so contentious, well we weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye!!
We are stoked at the thought of driving Europe… experiencing the history, architecture, people, and the diverse landscapes has us salivating. Catching up with European friends we made throughout Central and South America will be a treat, and new acquaintances we’ll make at every turn!!
We’ve said ‘Plan’ is a 4 letter word we try not to use, so exactly where we head in Europe … we’re not really sure. We are shipping to England (Southampton); of course Pumper has to have a quick zip around a few country lanes and perhaps London during the Olympics sporting the Maple Leaf. We sure relish the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road in a left hand drive and figuring all that out!!
The idea of Egypt to South Africa during the European winter has us chomping at the bit. How long can we live like this… wandering the streets like vagabonds, homeless gypsies? While we love it so much… who knows!!
Love, Peace and Light … joy and thankfulness for all we have… and all we don’t have!
We are gobsmacked with sheer disbelief!!! In the last 2 ½ years we’ve had some jaw dropping events, but the latest took that to a stratosphere unto its own, even “epic”! People say we have some amazing karma… well, just wait for this one!!
Pulled over to contemplate the magnitude of the road that lay ahead, (I was ready to walk rather than drive down the sheer elevation drop. I remember too well those brakes boiling and failing in Guatemala!). At the same pull-over were a couple of gals who politely inform us they are “Nude Models“…. and would we mind if they posed for their photographer next to Pumper”! “Is this a Joke”??? Being a couple of polite Brit’s we oblige “well of course, not a problem”!! Steve was on board in the blink of an eye! Not every day do 2 professional nude models want to strip naked on the side of the road… literally… and this is UTAH!!
A couple of biker lads who had stopped to admire the vista were in on the act and … drooling. The bikers on their fancy BMW’s were ready to ditch the bikes over the cliff and run to buy the nearest VW bus they saw. “I gotta get me one of these buses man”, one declared. They were as close to nirvana as they thought they could ever get!!
I guess you would call this Pumper’s luckiest day.
(Images courtesy of Lorayne York and Sky Donohue)
Foster, a young designer with an adventurous soul, has been driving since August looking for either skiing or surfing mecca’s and making the most of his time as ‘A Restless Transplant’ www.arestlesstransplant.com … It was great to connect as our buses Chilled out together in the Valley of The Gods. Not another vehicle to be seen just our 2 VW Buses. Also the amazing grace and kindness of Chef Ryan Hill and Jess for the brilliant N.G. map… and the wicked offer of dinner, Cheers!!
Now in Colorado, time to experience the amazing cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, according to National Geographic one of the top 50 wonders of the WORLD. But when you experience Mesa Verde’s ancient Cliff dwellings through the eyes of Gary and Dan from Chicago your world will never be the same… We are still cracked up and can’t wait to Zip Line with these two seriously Acrophobic people (Acrophobia – extreme fear of heights)… made for the most fun packed day ever! Chicago here we come!
Big re-acclimatization as we drive through the Colorado Rockies. Brings home the reality of living in a VW bus and the necessity to cuddle really close at night to stay warm… warm? It has turned freezing today: We drove through a snow storm at some heavenly elevation of 10 or 11,000 feet, and that was the weirdest thing and not at all comfortable!! It’s May after all. But Colorado does boast 54 peaks all above 14,000 ft. and the highest Starbucks in the entire World: 10,850ft @ Monarch Mountain!! ….. and 465 inches of snowfall a year at Wolf Creek…. UGLY!! Too bad we were not in Vail in the ‘40’s when you could buy a ski lodge for just $10 !!!
Peace and Love… and extra blankets please!
6 shots and counting break the nighttime stillness… tucked up in Pumper in our secluded Bureau of Land Management site in the Utah desert, we both held our breath as a pickup truck roared up high beams shining on us… never in our wildest dreams could we have predicted the gunfire! Some Utah yahoo getting his kicks but it did not seem like fun to us… in these parts guns are very real confirmed by many roadside signs that have been blasted by gunfire! They say Mexico is not safe… LOL, but we were thankful for the warning shots and after some deliberation (like who really wants to crawl out of a toasty bed) we headed into town to try to find a spot to camp. Later still we know our ‘friend’ came to town and stalked us just to let us know… Nice show of strength! I am sure he would have been shocked to have known it was just a couple of old-fart hippies in the bus and not some punk 20 something’s smoking up, as is often assumed!
Really who would want to kill us or worse spray Pumper with Bullets! Nasty thought!!
Chalk that up to: … well you can’t always be running into the best of humanity although most times it seems that way.
So recovering from the shock of it all and to top off all the excitement that we did not need, Steve managed to back Pumper up into another vehicle, yikes!! Fortunately just a wrinkled bumper and thankfully no damage to the other guy but Pumper now has a rather dramatic war wound to go with the road scars from 2 years of extreme driving. Oh well if that’s the worst of our troubles! Kind of pales to the idea of being used for target practice!
How excited can one be… the guy almost totally launched himself from his car in full motion as he cheered like his team had just won the World Cup, at the sight of Pumper rounding the bend. Normal response for the Pumper Loving set!! All makes for a great start to our day as we pause and smile and think how blessed we are and how can we not be “Living The Dream” and soaking up every ounce of shared LOVE there is.. Plenty to go around!! As one guy asked us today “Did you win the lottery?”… Nope just a couple of “Vagabonds” living the simple life… No air conditioning or heating or much else in the way of luxuries. No fancy electronic gadgets – roll-down windows and lots of dust t’ boot!! Yes we actually have car doors that require a key to open them!
So Since leaving Cabo San Lucas almost a month ago our total “accommodation” cost: 1 night at a National Park for $15! Unavoidable, but did offer to share the spot with a world touring cyclist!! Only 1 paid shower for the devilish indulgence of $2 but no chance to share the “His” and “Hers” facilities, so it actually cost us $4!!
All snuggled up on our “Free’ desert camp spot with acres of desert to ourselves… a full moon, a mountain backdrop, a majestic sky and Universal Blessings!! Today a lizard actually sat on the Cairn on the trail and pointed the way through the canyon. No we are not losing the plot, we just delight in such treasures!! … Wahe Guru!!
It is simply amazing how one can survive quite adequately really on a peanut butter and banana sandwich even a cucumber and Tomato delight and oh do they taste great after 12 miles on a tough dusty trail with plenty of rock scrambling… a cup of coffee on the camp stove and we are set!! No big lotto win here… But then again maybe we did hit the jackpot!!
(P.S. We have had more than one shower just to make sure nobody goes into panic mode but we do have some lined up as far away as Munich, from a couple we met in Beverly Hills. Can’t wait for that cold beer promised with it. Europe here we come!!!)
How did we get to Utah already? On yet another Bureau of Land management sight, a campsite for those from far and wide. Campfire tonight with folks from Germany and the Czech Republic. (both having driven Africa!). It has been a whirlwind through California, Nevada, and Utah meeting so many most wonderful people on our jaunt around the amazing National and State Parks in this neck of the world, a month or 2 is not long enough. We have hiked our buns off atop mountains, in canyons, and everything between the 2. We have shivered near the snowline, and sweat in the daytime desert heat, across the most breath taking landscapes and awe inspiring and intimidating terrains imaginable. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Escalante, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Yosemite, Arches, Canyonland, Mesa Verde… the list goes on!
Hiking in these parts leaves you feeling connected with a might and higher power as you wonder at the awesomeness of creation!! Our poor aching legs force a respite between a few of the more strenuous hikes, an occasional chilling day to ponder the likes of Angel’s Landing in Zion, or the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands to name just 2.
Chance encounter with a friend we met in Cabo, and an opportunity to catch up with our great friends we met in Papantla, Mexico 2 years ago, Antonio and Jessica with their adorable 4 year old twins, just back from Thailand.
Lynda and Barb, who made it very tempting to return to Laguna Beach to visit. (My Angel will be with me always).
Rob and Diana fellow VeeDubbers, who scooped us off the Vons parking lot for a home cooked meal and a shower… Awesome, comparing notes on their native country that we love: Colombia!! Diana the VW Club is waiting for you!! Drive Colombia guys!
Zion Brion had us over for a BBQ and songfest with some of the talented and eclectic locals.. along with the “Un’ schooled, ”Fire Throwing”, Kenna.. Gosh the vibrancy of life and out of the box thinkers that you encounter!! I’m working on my basic Fire throwing routine… HaHahaaa!!!!
Finally we have to mention Zoe and her father who are cycling from California to New York on a recumbent tandem bike (Zoe being all of 9 years). You inspire all of us, live and reach for your dreams and don’t let anything or anybody stop you!
So how do you know you are in Utah? A) The bikers zip by in their leather gear and they are not “Hells Angels”. B) The families are for sure predominantly much larger and I am sure we have spotted a few multiples not to mention some very Traditional “Clothing”. C) You can purchase no questions asked your own hand gun at the age of 18 (Rifle at 16yrs), but D) Not drink till you are 21.. Try finding booze in this state!!
But between the blessings we also count our blessings as we are chased off a property by some gun totin’ threatening “rebel” with just 2 or 3 teeth in his mouth. Note: observe “No Trespassing” signs… They mean it here, and as we are preached to by the property owner, “… they do shoot in these parts!!!” We just wanted to take a look at the VW graveyard!
Then there was the detail of the Traffic Ticket that Steve scored for pulling an illegal U-Turn, not a misdemeanor, an infraction we understand. No thanks to the un-forgiving cop totally un-moved by the foreign plates or the vehicle. I guess we are going to have to suck that one up… no bribes allowed!!
‘Venice beach’ 30 years on is more eclectic and out there than one recalls. Santa Monica was a highlight to stop by and indulge in some Naam Yoga and Meditation and just the sheer Spiritual HIGH!!
Then there is Pahrump, Nevada, where prostitution is legal and you can auction your virginity. Apparently $250,000 is the going rate. The whore houses there have an airstrip for their customers to arrive in style
We are getting our heads around the logistics of heading to Europe next month via Ontario to get licences, tags, and credit cards renewed, and of course to visit our loved ones and friends. With plenty more miles on the horizon time to do some preventative maintenance on Pumper, and a new set of tyres and shocks all round. Another couple of weeks between Utah and Colorado and then a quick dash across the ‘Middle States’ before we load Pumper aboard a ship in Baltimore bound for Southampton. We will have been through 45 states in the last 2 ½ years by the time she sets sail.
We have 350 ‘Dreamers’ registered on our site and since capturing statistics in January 2011 we have had almost 21,000 hits on the website. Thank you all for your love and support, and we sincerely hope you will continue to stay in touch and continue our dream with us.
Peace and love… from the land of rocks … and more rocks.
Getting sick on our last day in Cabo, the timing was far from perfect surveying the pile of “stuff’ that was piled high ready to be packed. It was only too apparent that after 5 months in one place the wardrobe had expanded along with the shoe collection, scarf collection and yes, jewelry collection!! Under threat of death Steve had been instructed that there was to be no mention of this and the very desperate measures that were going to be required to find a spot to “stuff’ it all in Pumper!!
To top off an already stressful day I managed to run into the worst of humanity… yep the Gringo rip off artist. Enough said, as I have no wish to recall or waste further negative energy on souls whose ‘karma’ sucks BIG TIME.
So armed with my Baja Super food “green concoction” (www.bajasuperfoods.com) to keep me healthy for the road.. donation to the Ray Thomas Foundation (www.raythomasfoundation.com ) to build kitchens in the barrios and feed hungry kids.. it was time to call Cabo a wrap!! With a heavy heart! Cabo San Lucas is a place with fond memories and new friends we could easily call home… OK, please stop laughing everyone!
Last minute shout to all the incredible Angels who have transformed our lives in Cabo. .. Well my life especially! I will hold close and dear to my heart my Yoga Shala family.. my “Naam” teacher Gaby . Wahe Guru Mi Amigas Muy Especial!!
It’s also a wrap on the project in BC that Steve has been absorbed in…. Glancing over I smile at the flip flops, Bob Marley T-Shirt and 3 day growth… it did not take long to morph from “Business Exec” to “Roving Hippie”, Living the Dream … can’t wait to cuddle up tonight at some boon docking place in the middle of nowhere and Dream together! With I-pod bashing out the Oldies we cruise and wonder at what tomorrow holds.
The slog down the Baja was arduous all 1000 miles plus and we were not expecting the drive north to be any better especially given the fact our seats need a little padding.. wriggling around between the springs to find a comfy spot for your ‘arse’.. wears on you 8 plus hours a day!! But we are heading for ‘So Cal’ where the largest VW parts supplier in the US happens to be in LA. We have a long list of spares for Pumper and new seat cushions are high on the list
Day one was a mix of feelings I was ready to quit this whole ‘Hippie’ thing and trade back into relative normalcy, you get used to home comforts too easily. Rolling into Loreto changed that! Camped on the beach no more than 3 metres from the Sea of Cortez with the mountains as a backdrop and the brilliant sunrise waking us… sweet!
It’s a new day: in the parking lot of the local tienda eating our yoghurt and granola we meet local resident for 20 years ‘Ron’ formerly from Vancouver, who wowed us with his own journey just last year having driven from Cape Town South Africa to Cairo in his 1971 VW Bus. Now that got us pumped! So there we go a couple of gypsies already with map in hand contemplating driving Europe through Turkey, Syria, (yes, we know they have a few domestic problems at the moment!)Lebanon, Jordan, Israel to Egypt… and well the world is just open to Dreamers! Plenty of time for that when you are driving the Baja Peninsula with countless hours of desert and cactus. Interesting thing is it hasn’t rained in these parts probably since last summer, the cactus have all turned green with the arrival of spring and the desert is sprinkled with colour from various plants and cacti. Who would have thought they had seasons in this harsh climate.
If the drive alone isn’t long enough… 2 hours in the middle of the desert working our way through a Military check point, our first of 3 today, taking their job very seriously, we think the guy was on the take spending far too much time with our personal stuff in the bus… the next group were far too taken with Pumper, and the fact that our son was a Paratrooper brought out the troops in force comparing notes and badges of honour!!
Back to Cacti and desert and California dreaming and all the fun and possibilities, slogging it for another couple of hours of nothingness we eventually spy a tienda/hut selling basics and are both desperate at this point… pulling over we are greeted by the cheeriest of fellow’s, dressed in for sure not his Sunday best and I would hazard a guess that he had not changed or bathed in maybe months. Asking for 1 peso we are not sure if it is a joke or what??? He proceeds to tell us his life story… to begin with the dozen or so countries he owns properties and his long list of inventions… Roller Skates, Training wheels, the Hoola Hoop. He had worked with both Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, written songs for the Beatles and Rolling Stones and had all his money in Switzerland… he is just hanging out in the middle of the desert for some guy from his trust company to come and give him some money. Listening to his tale for a few minutes, time to make a hasty escape before he tries to bum a ride… not before using the ‘facilities’ a drum with a small shack perched above it, you don’t feel great hanging you rear end over that for too long. The worst!!! Back to our new friend ‘Dusty’ that’s what happens when we don’t take our medication or spend too many hours alone!!!
Time to turn in for the night after our $66 PESOS ($5) dinner at the best Ma and Pa Taco joint in town, who knows what town and who cares… off to bed at the Pemex. Good night y’all… planning on sleeping like a bug in a rug snuggled up as it’s bloody cold outside. We recall the bubble that is Cabo, not at all reflective of the real Mexico that we love!! 2 more days from Tijuana and the notorious border crossing and we might just be cursing and saying never again!!
Last minute car wash 60 pesos ($4.50). Oil change and grease job under strict supervision of course $8 solo (only!!) we supply the oil and filter of course, and a delightful traditional Mexican breakfast of eggs and beans. Tijuana is a stop off point to buy discounted medications before we cross the border into the US. We will probably camp out for a few days in LA, maybe do some Yoga and meditation at “Naam Yoga”. Ahead, well maybe Death Valley, Yosemite, and Utah, then…
…‘Plan’, we say… is a 4 letter word, all subject to change!!
Peace and Love… looking for warmer weather in Southern California???