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France 2011

2016 European Adventure

FRANCE | Sunday, 5 June 2016 | Views [737] | Comments [6]

Monday May 30 2016

Nothing very exciting about preparations this year. Our mandatory renovate-a-room-just-before-we-leave was uncharacteristicly completed one week before our departure date. Still, we all make mistakes. So we awake at 6am with the intention of get the bus to the city about 7.45 and all goes well.

We are old hands at using MyKy tickets on the public transport system now as we have used the system once a year for the past five years. We are waiting for our regular user points to be credited but to date they have not appeared. But whereas in the past we had been warned by numerous signs to remember to swipe off, we now no longer have to. Presumably some Ghandi like civil disobedience action caused a rethink of the system, along with the numerous other rethinks the system has had.

The highlight of the trip is a double decker SkyBus ride where we sit on the upper deck. We get pleasure out of simple things.

At Tullamarine we are thrilled to find no queue at checkin. This proves to be because the flight is delayed 1 1/2 hours and we have not received the email. The delay is something to do with a malfunctioning engine. In such cases we are happy to wait until it does not malfunction. And that we did until 1:30, 2 hours past the scheduled departure time. However as we have a 5 hour wait in Singapore, a holdup in Melbourne is of no consequence.

After a tolerable flight of 7 1/2 hours we have to fly in a holding pattern for another 20 minutes and finally land at 7.30pm local time.

We have to check in to Air France in Singapore and the non existent queue in Melbourne is matched by a short queue of 20 or so people here. The problem is that the short queue takes 40 minutes to clear!! Finally we are on our way........ to another wait until our flight at 11.40pm.

While waiting we visit the Singapore toilets which we are amused to see have rating panels on exit. Unfortunately there is no place to offer suggestions as I would like to suggest that they either remove the automatic flush devices or heat their flushing water. Perhaps the auto flush toilets and cold flush water help the residents to maintain an upright posture. The Singapore authorities are very practical on social issues.

On board we settle in and depart on time. Once again we enjoy the unique French Safety Briefing which is done in a typically French fashion with the messages imparted in a most entertaining way. This proves to be the most entertaining part of the 12 1/2 hour flight. We are thankful that we have short memories of how revolting 12 1/2 hours in an aeroplane is.

Tuesday May 31 2016

The flight arrives on time and we are in the terminal by 6.30am having slept minimally for the last 32 hours. We are operating largely on autopilot. Approaching boarder control, the length of the lines suggests that the 3 1/2 hours we have to get to Paris Gare du Nord for our train may start to get tight. A quick word with an official sees us scoot past the queue and we are clear within 5 minutes.

After collecting our bags and some euro cash we make our way to the station for the half hour trip to Paris Nord. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, we board our TGV for Calais Frethun and are soon whizzing through the French countryside in the quiet train.

At Calais we need to get another train to Beaurainville but the platform is deserted and the display does not show the platform. It transpires that like the TGV, RER local trains only declare the platform from which they will depart 15 minutes before departure.

The weather has been lousy since we landed and our time on the platform is cold and wet. Huddling in a shelter, we are pleased when the train arrives and we enjoy the 1 1/2 hour trip to Beaurainville.

The forecast for Beaurainville has shown 35 % chance of showers between 2pm and 5pm. Fortunately the skies remain clear during our 20 minute walk to The Long House where the van is garaged and we arrive at 2pm, 38 hours since we left our home in Melbourne. Just a couple of hours longer and we can sleep....

The motorhome starts easily although the alternator light will not extinguish. Hope that won't be a problem. By 3.15 we have washed a bit of dust off and straightened inside ready to leave. We are on the road by 3.30 and head straight for Aldi to buy a few provisions. Another quick stop ar Carrfours for diesel and we are ready to head toward Houplines, about 1.5 hours away. Fortunately the alternator light has extinguished so we are charging our batteries.

The drive to Houplines is fairly straightforward with a little rain along the way, although the last 20 km is a bit of a struggle. We need a camp site tonight as we don't have any gas so can't shower.

By 6.30 we are at our campsite and ready to shower and sleep. Our dinner consists of bread and cheese and a hot drink using the jug and mains power. Then a welcome shower and to bed....... for an 11 hour sleep; unknown for us in other circumstances.

Wednesday June 1 2016

We wake refreshed ready to start our adventures. It is amazing what a good sleep will do for befuddled brains.

A quick wash of the van and we are ready to leave. We want to travel to Aachen via a Lidl for some more provisioning which is a considerably easier task today now we are refreshed.

In Belgium we know we can get gas easily so when we see a service station we pull in. Connecting up the nozzle, I press the Green Button but nothing happens. I check the nozzle and repeat. Five times I repeat. After that I walk to the cashier to say I am having problems. Prepay is the answer. Either cash or card. I have neither on me so return to the pump and insert a card. Now when I press the Green Button the pump goes to zero. And stays there. I press again and it does the same. Again I return to the cashier. Perhaps the card was not accepted. I give 50 euro and will come back for the change. I press the Green Button and the same thing happens. This is getting tiresome. Then I have a thought. Maybe I have to keep holding the Green Button. Voila! Gas! After 28 litres the pump stops automatically and I go to get my change. But has the amount also been charged to the card? No one knows or cares so perhaps I shouldn't also.

It is past lunch time so we have some bagette, ham, cheese and rocket rolls in a parking place before continuing.

At Aachen, the GPS coordinate we have for the camp site at we are intending staying lands us no where near a campsite. However we do see a caravan with a heart on it. Perhaps we will move on.

After looking around the area we decide to stay in a parking bay off a track and near a golf course. At Aldi yesterday we had seen a showerhead which looked like it might fit the extendable hose in our bathroom. It did fit with the minor problem that it is so big that it nearly obscures the basin. Nevertheless, it gives a beautiful spray of water; far better than the narrow one which issues from the old shower head. We are looking forward to trying it.

However as I turn on the hot water system there is silence. It is not working. When we bought the van, the hot water did not work because the 12 volt supply was not connected. Maybe there is a loose wire. I pull out the bottom of the wardrobe and try to remove the cover. However the circuit board comes out instead. Refitting it I try again but without success. There is an electrical fault and it is now too dark to pull out the electrical box which is a veritable can of worms.

I have also forgotten to light the fridge but when I try, that also does not work. So we are without hot water and cold refrigeration. A problem for tomorrow. We will go to bed without showering. Glad we showered last night.

Thursday June 2 2016

Rain rain rain and more rain overnight but by morning the rain has stopped and there is the odd patch of clear sky.

First job is to pull out the control box. A bit of reallocation of wires and the fridge is working but the hot water service is not. I start pulling out the cabin heater to get to the hot water heater but still can see no fault. Perhaps a walk will give me new inspiration.

With the golf course on one side and pastures on the other, our walk is very enjoyable. In some areas red poppies dot the pasture. The humidity is high because of the rain and the temperature pleasant. Despite overcast skies since we landed in France, perhaps it was worth leaving Melbourne's cold behind.

Returning to the van, a bit more fiddling proves fruitless so we decide to drive the 1.5 hours to Bonn where we are to visit Felix and his parents. They are sure to be pleased when we turn up one day early. Hopefully they can help us find a service centre who can diagnose the fault.

They are surprised to see us. Mechtilde says she has not cleaned the house. All the better we say. We like to be low impact. After greetings and afternoon tea, we consult the net for a Truma dealer. There is one 40 minutes away but I am reluctant to admit defeat. More fiddling and the day disappears. Felix and two year old Ari are due Friday night.

We have an enjoyable evening before an early bed. This holidaying is very relaxing but somewhat tiring.

Friday June 3 2016

There is another dealer closer by and Ulrich speaks to him about the problem. Unfortunately he is busy with other heater problems and cannot look at it before Tuesday. Perhaps if I remove the unit we can take it to him to quickly look at. While I remove and disassemble the unit, Rosemary travels on the light rail with Mechtilde to a fruit shop a few stops away.

The unit is now apart. But what is this! Two contacts below the circuit board which I had not previously seen. Inspecting the board, the device into which they plug is now evident. Could it be that the board was not seating correctly? Highly likely. So the next hour is spent reinstalling the heater. Now for the test........ it works! That is the good news. The bad news is that it could easily have been fixed two days ago! Rosemary and Mechtilde return, I am able to greet them with the good news but there is another hour to reinstall the cabin heater.Finally everything works. Later there is one more problem with the fridge not working because the van has been parked on an angle but that is fixed by moving the van. Let the holiday begin, albeit a few days later than we planned.

With joy in our hearts (mainly mine) Rosemary, Ulrich and I go walking by the Rhein, about one kilometer away. The water is flowing very quickly due to all the recent rain. Cargo barges battle the current heading upstream while those proceeding downstream career at high speed. Their slow speed with respect to the water makes steering imprecise. If the flow increases much more they will close the river to downstream traffic due to the problem of poor steering.

We walk perhaps two kilometers along the bank until we reach an old cement works which has become the focal point of a development called Bonne-Bogen, Bogen referring to the bend in the river at that point. There is a hotel which won architectural awards some years ago but which does not have much character. Many other buildings of eclectic design are under construction. As we walk back there is a light shower. Ulrich had brought his umbrella on the assumption that it would not rain if he had it but would if he didn't. The strategy is partially effective because the light shower is followed by a downpour ten minutes after we get back. The 5 oclock downpour has been a highlight each day for the past week. Across France and Germany there have been severe floods so we get off lightly with one downpour per day.

Mechtilde makes a delicious dinner of quiche which we enjoy before the arrival of Felix and Ari about 8.30pm. Ari is very tired and is put to bed quickly. We spend the rest of the evening chatting and catching up on news. Unfortunately Kathrin, Felix's wife, has been unable to join us as she is behind in writing her thesis for her doctorate so a quite weekend may allow her to catch up.

Saturday June 4 2016

After breakfast Felix, Ari, Rosemary and I get the light rail into Bonn. It is fast and quiet transport, the only downside being that the light rail stops before Bonn because there are works going on over the bridge. Instead we walk to the bridge and across it. The streets are narrow and lined with quaint cottages and shops some dating back to 1400s. Once again the history which surrounds us is so foreign to us, coming, as we do, from a country with only a few hundred years of European history.

We stop for some coffee and cake near what remains of the gates to the walled city. Felix thinks the structure dates back to 12th century. As Felix wants to be back by 12 we make our way to another light rail station which is underground, the tunnel exiting after a kilometer or two. The population of Bonn is around 300,000 but the infrastructure is very impressive and befitting a much larger city; perhaps because it was the capital after the Second World War until the mid 1990s when the capital reverted to Berlin after reunification of East and West.

We have to change trains twice but the wait is only a few minutes between trains. Back at Oberkassel, where Mechtilde and Ulrich's house is located, we walk the 200 metres to the house where there is a scrumptious lunch awaiting.

The afternoon is a lazy one for us. Felix needs to visit some friends while in Oberkassel and Mechtilde is attending a 20 year reunion for which class she was the teacher.

On Felix's return we have dinner and fairly early night.

Sunday June 5 2016

Felix has suggested we visit the Drachenfelsbahn. There is a ruins of a castle at the highest point in these parts, about 400 metres above sea level, and there is a railway which takes passengers to the top should they not wish the steep walk. We don't. The train uses a geared drive on a central rack. The area was very popular in the early 1900s with tourists perhaps because there is a legend that a dragon was slayed by some dude who then covered himself in its blood thereby attaining invincability. Your standard myth stuff. But a leaf fell on his middle back thus leaving an area of vulnerability. Well he had a tiff with his wife who knew about the patch and the bitch dobbed him to some other dude who slayed him. Still, having invincible guys strutting their stuff does not make for happy communities so perhaps the bitch got it right. It could be that my understanding of the myth is somewhat imprecise but that is the gist.

The train ride is great. I would enjoy looking at the scenery more but for (a) a heavy mist which obscures the view and (b) a fascination with the enormous snoz which the train driver is sporting.

Once at the top we climb a very steep path to the castle where we enjoy more magnificent views into the mist. Admittedly we can see down to the Rhein where we watch boats on seeming collision courses ply the fast flowing river. Currently the river is very high and fast presumably due to the flooding prevailent upstream.

The downhill walk on the 20% grade is far less challenging than the uphill one would have been but, nevertheless, my calves get more of a workout than they are used to. Rosemary takes a significantly serpentine path to avoid upsetting her knee. Given the dragon myth, the serpentine path is probably very appropriate. As it happens, we pass a reptile zoo so others think it appropriate also. Arriving at the bottom where the cars are parked is welcome.

After a ten minute drive back, we enjoy sun in the back garden, something which has been notably absent this year. We have a delicious late lunch cooked by Ulrich before setting off for Offenburg around 5pm.

We had passed a Stellplatz or motorhome parking place on our trip to the dragon castle and we want to pass by there as we leave Oberkassel in case there is a waste dump point. Carrying a container full of toilet waste through a house to dump in the toilet is not what good house guests do.

We are given directions by Felix to get back to the Stellplatz but somewhere in the process we end up a mountain which was not the plan. Fortunately we had spotted an Obi store near the Stellplatz so we enter that into Thomasina and she dirfects us there..... where there is no dump point. But we need diesel which is near by so not all is lost.

Now we need to go back the way we came to cross the Rhein. Bridges are few and far between because the Rhine is so wide. The biggest Australian river I have seen would only be 1/3 the width of the Rhein. Only to be expected in the driest continent on earth. Australia, that is.

Of course we miss the turn on the roundabout but, quick as a flash, we realise our mistake and do a U turn 3 km down the wrong road. Perhaps a little discussion with Thomasina is in order. Soon we are responding to her every "Turn around you moron" and "If you don't take the next left I am giving up" and soon we are on the B9 toward Bingen.Our plan is to travel along the Rhine on what is probably the Romantic Road. On a previous trip we had found the Romantic Motorway but the Romantic Road had proved ellusive.

However the drive is very enjoyable and finally we stop at a campsite near "The Loreley".The ground is rather boggey from all the rain so whether our stay is one night remains to be verified....

Monday June 6 2016

There is a moment when we think we might be bogged but we keep moving leaving the merest hint of a canyon in the soft ground.

Continuing along the maybe Romantic Road we enjoy the sights of villages huggung the river bank with the occasional castle high overhead keeping watch. There is a lot of traffic on the river including long passenger boats. We contemplate whether such a cruise would be worth considering for a future trip but come to the conclusion that we are not ready for it yet. Maybe in 20 years.

After Bingen the road leaves the river and we are back on rather soulless roads, although the green countryside is pleasant.

As we approach lunch we need some bread so call in to Lidl. In Australia my sister calls us Mr and Mrs Aldi but here in Europe we have transmogrified to Mr and Mrs Lidl. That will teach Aldi not to have a loyalty program.

At Lidl Ro sees some rather fetching men's shorts. The weather is warming up and she is hot so she buys a size which she thinks will fit. After trying them on in the van she decides she wants a smaller size and sends me back to exchange them as she packs away the groceries. Not a good idea. I can't find the size she wants so I need to pass through the register with my original purchase. I try to explain that I don't need to return them but have already purchased them to a cashier with no English. My german is not up to the task. Another customer helps out and we eventually get the message over that nothing needs to happen so I walk out with a shrug of the cashier's shoulders which says "Why didn't you just leave without opening your mouth".

But that is not the end. Rosemary wants to check for herself. Round two. But this time on exiting I summon my best German to explain "My wife needed to see with her own eyes" The expression on the cashier's face I take as being impressed at my language skill until I later realise that I said "My wife needed to check with her own eggs". Perhaps her second expression was the same as her first.

When I was at school (ineffectually) learning German I corresponded with Ilse Regal in Bad Konig. Bad Konig is not too far away from where we are so, on a whim, we decide to drop in on Ilse and show her her photo from 1965. Admittedly, in the intervening 50 years she may have moved, died or otherwise not be at the address to which I sent letters. But, hay, what is the likelihood of that?

The trip to Bad Konig is about 1 1/2 hours and includes a ferry trip across the swollen Rhein. Waiting for the ferry a helpful German informs us we are stopped where the cars exiting the ferry need to drive. We assume he is knowledgable on such matters and reverse. It transpires that he is knowledgeable because he is the ferry skipper about to start his shift of work.

Watching the ferry cross the river is interesting. The current is so strong, the ferry just points upstream on an appropriate angle and the current provides the crossways motion. The engines prevent it moving downstream while it crabs its way across the river.

The trip to Bad Konig is pleasant through verdent green crops and low hills. Finally we pull up outside 50 Hohenstrasse. We ring the bell and note the name under the bell is not Regal. Perhaps she has married. But no; the lady who answers the door knows of no Ilse Regel and is less than friendly in saying so. Next door is a man who looks to be in his 70s. Maybe he knows of Isle. But no. It seems that my pen friend from 1965 is not to be found.

It is around 5.30 now so maybe we will continue on to Offenburg. There is a campsite which would suit us about half way so we will travel via that. It is near Mannheim but on arrival we cannot raise anyone so we abandon that and continue toward Offenburg. At least we know we can stay there, even if it is in an industrial yard.

By 7.30 we arrive. Ardie has closed up but the gate is open so we set up for the night. We have spent more nights here in this yard than anywhere else over our 5 years of travels so we know it well and feel secure.

Unexpectedly about 9pm he turns up because he forgot his work clothes and tomorrow is work clothes wash day. So we chat for 10 minutes before agreeing to meet tomorrow for lunch.

A bit of fiddling with the shower head has given us a nice spray for our showers so by 10 we have showered and are tucked up in our comfortable beds.

Tuesday June 7 2016

We are not up early! After a late breakfast we ride to the local charity shop where we are regulars, albit only once every year or two. We want a mug to replace one with a broken handle and Rosemary sees a few tee shirts which take her fancy. One for me has the word "kangaroo" on it so I feel right at home in it. Although I would never wear a tee shirt with "kangaroo" on it at home. Our mug proudly proclaims "Offenburg Square Dancing Club". Why that should end up in a charity shop is beyond me. Rosemary comes away with a cool tee shirt as the weather is heating up.

Ardie wants to go to his usual place for lunch at 12.30 so we are back by then. We have eaten there four or five times over the 5 years we have known him. Usually his brother joins us.

After lunch we mooch about not least because I have upset my back. In the 5 years we have been visited Europe on a yearly basis, I have been fortunate enough not to require a chiropractor which I do on occasion at home. This year I have struck out. Although it may correct itself, the odds are against it. I locate 5 chiropractors but don't know which to choose. Finally Ardie makes an appointment for me for 10.15 tomorrow.

Ardie has a dentist's appointment after which he will return and the three of us and his wife ,Anna, will go to dinner. Our main purpose for visiting him this year is to convince Anna to come and visit us in Australia. Although Ardie wants to, Anna is a home body and, for some obscure reason,does not really want to travel in a cramped cylinder for 26 hours to Australia. Still it takes all sorts. I can think of nothing better, except, perhaps, hitting my head against a concrete wall.

Over a typical German dinner we encourage Anna to move out of her comfort zone. While we are there we feel we are making progress but that may evaporate when we leave. So we get her mobile number and we will tempt her with photographs of Melbourne via Whattapp over the coming months when we return home.

After dinner we return to their home for coffee/tea and some photos of Central Australia.

Wednesday June 8 2016

I need to be at the chiropractor by 10.15. As we are low on cash and they may not take cards, I cycle via a cash dispenser which Thomasina haughtily proclaims is where it actually is not. Backtracking a few hundred meters I withdraw cash at Kaufland, a major supermarket chain.

Following the withdrawal I cycle to the chiropractor and announce my presence. I am directed to a waiting room then soon to an office where I meet the chiropractor. He wants to take Xrays so he can see my back before manipulation. A nice German girl provides me with a rather fetching lead pouch with instructions on where it should be placed. I now understand how a bullock or rhino or similar large male animal feels. But at least I am not now sterile as a result of a poorly planned lift. There must be some advantage to that. After the Xray, the chiropractor does the usual half nelson with which I am familiar but rather more gently than does my chiropractor at home. Hopefully the gentle approach fixes the problem. I leave 100 euro poorer but more comfortable.

On my return, we get ready to leave and bid Ardie farewell until we see him in Melbourne, hopefully.

Our next port of call is Berne in Switzerland. The non motorway route is 1 hour 50 minutes longer than the motorway route so we adopt the shorter way partially in deference to my back which is still tender. Most of trip is driven in heavy rain with wipers on full speed. As we near the boarder, we purchase a vignette for the roads in Switzerland for 40 euro. We only need it for a few days but the vignette lasts until January 2017.

When we hit Switzerland we see what our 40 euros has purchased; traffic jams for kilometers on end! Eventually we quit the tollways for the faster non tollways. By 7pm we are at our campsite but, as is often the case, it is not where the GPS coordinates say it will be. By the time we find it, the reception is closed so we set up outside by a picturesque river. Well, downstream is picturesque but the cement works opposite isn't. Also the rail bridge interrupts the tranquility on a regular basis which is a pity. Still, we will cope.

After a few trains roar past we decide perhaps we won't cope so instead move further upstream where it is quieter.

Thursday June 9 2016

As we go to bed, the rain is steady and, though it presumably stops during the night, greets us again on waking. The rain stops long enough for us to go for a walk (or me a hobble) beside the crystal clear water which connects Lak de Neuchatel with Lak Bien/Bienne .On our return the camp reception is open but the weather forecast for the next few days is uninspiring. Perhaps we will seek some sunshine further south.

Setting Thomasina for Krk in Croatia, we backtrack 20 or 30 kilometers until we are on a motorway. Traffic today is not heavy but the rain is. The only respite we get is in the numerous long tunnels through which we pass.

Unfortunately the soft approach with my back has not been as effective as the more forceful treatment I get back home so every hour or two I need to lie down to get rid of a persistent ache. It is better than yesterday and hopefully tomorrow it will be right.

Despite the rain and the dashing along the motorway, the scenery in Switzerland is spectacular. Towns huddle on the steep mountain sides and in the valleys below. High on the peaks there is still snow but it is melting and cascading down waterfalls high above us. Mist obscures other mountain peaks, hanging like stationary clouds of steam.

Although our longest marked tunnel is 9.5 km, as we near the Italian border, we pass through one which seems longer. It goes on and on and the outside of the windows start to fog up as the tunnel is warmer than the air inside the cabin. On exiting we drive down a long 1 in 5 grade toward Italy. Glad we are going down and not up.

It is time to think about an overnight place to stop. There is a town near Como lake called Lugano where we might find a waterfront stop so we leave the motorway and head down a steep serpentine and increasingly narrow road to a delightful waterfront village. Perhaps bigger than a village and with a lot of traffic. Although it is a lovely vista across the water, it is evident that there won't be anywhere to overnight.

Thomasina has been set to take us to Venice avoiding motorways so that we might find a suitable and picturesque route where there should be an overnight spot. Leaving Lugano the road hugs the cliff and rises steadily before snaking down again toward the water. There is a carpark where we stop for a break and where cars bank up, clearing periodically before banking up again. When we join the throng, in a kilometer we pass through two border posts, Switzerland and Italy, where armed officers waive everyone through without checking anything.

As we follow the path prescribed, soon 'path' becomes an appropriate description. There is insufficient room for two vehicles and seeing around the next corner is impossible. Passing through tunnels we hope that nothing is coming because someone will have to reverse. However, we still see a bus negotiating the roads. With a car in front of it reversing for who knows how long until there is a widening where we fortunately are stopped. The car joins us and the bus continues on toward the next unsuspecting vehicle. Notwithstanding the presence of a bus, one local on a motorbike is disenchanted with us for some reason and passes us at breakneck speed performing a pantomime of abuse with flailing arms and gestures before disappearing with a roar. Perhaps these roads are what keep Italy such a devoutly religious country. A bit of omnicient guidance in these circumstances would be helpful. Especially since the speed limit is 90kph between 30kph zones!! Maybe that is Italian population control.

After another steep serpentine path down to the water where the van brakes are smelling extremely hot, the road runs out. We have forgotten that Thomasina warned of a ferry ride and this is it, leaving from the town of Menaggio. It is 20 euro for us to cross Como to Varenna, the next ferry arriving in 10 minutes.

The trip across the choppy lake is a highlight. The views of the banks are spectacular with outcrops of houses every few hundred meters. The trip lasts 15 minutes then we exit into a quaint village.

By now I am a bit frazzled. It is quite stressful wondering what is around the next corner. Programming Thomasina to Venice using motorways is the answer. However we must first take a ferry ride.......back to where we had come from! There don't seem to be any motorways on this side of Como.

Instead we continue and find a parking place which will do for the night. Tomorrow is a new day and we will sort it out then.

Friday June 10 2016

The day dawns clear sunny and bright. Ro walks a bit but my back is still not right so I stay inside lying on an ice pack. She reports back that the area is quite classy but that did not stop a guy in a car stopping and making what was probably a pass.

The roads are not so narrow here but we have programmed Thomasina to take us to Punta Sabblioni opposite Venice along ther Autostrade. We will spend a day or two there and revisit Venice.

After more wonderful scenery aaround Lake Como, we eventually enter a concrete jungle of roadways which leads to the Autostrada where we collect a ticket on entering the tollway. Not a fine; just a ticket which shows where we are entering the Autostrada.

The Autostrada goes all the way to Venice. It is very flat and rated at 130kph. Most of the time we can sit on 110 and once we hit 128kph! The comparison with German motorways is stark. The road pavement, while good, has many poor sections. But the major difference is the drivers! There are 4 lanes which are used as follows: the right most lane is largely empty, with trucks and the occasional car. The next lane in is mostly trucks which sometimes go into the third lane to pass other trucks. The outer lane is cars only and fairly solid. Once in an outer lane, motorists stay there so the average speed on the motorway seems to be around 115 kph.

Indicators are rarely used by cars and occasionally used by trucks. Vehicles sit on the white line, slightly over the white line or straddled between two lanes in order to slowly decide which lane they want. The motorways are as chaotic as German ones are ordered. I like the German ones.

Once off the Autostrade, which costs us 20 euro, we eventually we arrive at Venice. We know it is Venice because towering above the skyline are three or four huge passenger liners. The populations of those passenger liners will be squashed into Venice. That will be fun. But Venice is not where we wanted to be. It seems to get to Punta Sabbioni we need to take another ferry but there are indications that our vehicle is too high. Instead we opt to drive around the bay, another 50km.

Driving toward Punta Sabbioni, we are again reminded of the chaotic speed signs we have found in Italy. There is the speed limit shown on the GPS, the one shown on road signs and the speed at which motorists travel. All significantly different. At times we are passed impatiently by motorists who by their actions seem to say "Why are you doing 50 in a 50 zone? You do that in a 30 zone!"

Arriving at Punta Sabbioni by 6pm we decide we will wild camp for the night then stay at a camp site for two nights. We will have one day of resting then spend a day or two in Venice travelling there on the ferry, as we did in 2011.

Saturday June 11 2016

The evening is quite, interrupted only by cars rocking the van as they pass us at 80 in the 50 zone. But there is also the odd scooter with Mamma and Papa travelling at 20 kph. It is a land of contrasts.

After breakfast we drive toward the camp site at which we intend staying. However immediately before it is a motorhome park for 20 euro per night which has good toilets and wifi. That will do us.

Removing the bikes we cycle in the opposite direction of the ferry jetty. In 2011 we didn't cycle in that direction. The road leads to a beach and a lighthouse marking the entrance to the Venecian bay. By now it is getting quite warm so we return to the van to cool off. The park in which we stayed in 2011 now boasts a new swimmingpool. Although we are not in favour of boasting, we might like a swimmingpool so we investigate. It is indeed a lovely facility but for some strange reason it is closed between 12 and 3 which one would think is the best time for its use. We might consider moving tomorrow.

We are back in the van when long rolling claps of thunder peel from the skies. The light gray skies have turned black and soon there is a massive downpour. Inside we close every opening and hope that nothing leaks. There is the odd drop but everything remains dry.

After 20 or 30 minutes, the skies empty their contents for 20 minutes then the weather clears. It is still warm and now very humid.

Our plan is to buy a 24hour vaparetti pass which will allow us to use all the water transport. If we buy one this afternoon, we can spend the evening in Venice and the day tomorrow. If we purchase in the morning, by late afternoon we are likely to be too tired to stay on into the evening.

By 6pm we have cycled to the ferry port, bought two tickets and are waiting for the ferry which is due any moment.

It is a bone shaking old ferry. We want to have dinner on Burano which is 45 minutes away. As we approach we see the variety of pastel and bright colours which deliniate each house. There is yellow next to mauve, orange next to bottle green, some striped awnings surrounded by washing hanging out to dry. This is the trademark of Burano . It made us smile in 2011 and it does the same this time. Perhaps a little of the smile is being away from the ferry.

After strolling around the island which fortunately is not crowded we choose a restaurant where the tables, like most, are out in the street. A pleasant waitress takes our order for two lasagnas, a bottle of water and a quarter litre of wine. She brings out some small bread rolls in a basket but we are wary. We have heard stories of all sorts of extras being tacked on to the bill in Venice. When she returns, we comment that we don't require the bread. She says it is included but we can leave it if we wish. I do leave it because now I feel like a skin flint, which unfortunately is probably true anyway. Instead I fill any remaining void with a tiramisu.

We walk a little more around the island then head for the vaparetto jetty and take one to San Marko, the main island. It is now dark. The vaparetto finishes its service on the opposite side to San Marko Square which is what we want to see again. We will walk rather than take another vaparetto. However it is easy to get lost in Venice and we do. It takes questions of 5 or 6 locals to get to the square. Although the alleys of Venice are well populated, which gives a sense of safety, one cannot help thinking how unpleasant it would be in two or three hours when the alleys are deserted. Not to mention not being able to find the square.

Eventually we do and the activity is frenetic. Apart from avoiding vendors of roses, bags and lights which are slingshot high into the air, one has to weave one`s way through crowds of people. And this is night time when crowds are much less!

The last boat leaves for Punta Sabbioni at 11 but we are ready to leave 15 minutes earlier. The evening is coolish but not cold so we sit near the jetty until the boat comes. As it happens there is also one at 11.45 but we think the authorities say last boat is at 11 to allow for stragglers who then don't miss the really last boat.

Back at Punta, we cycle back to our van expecting a shower in the ammenities block. But the hot water is turned off at 23.00 and it is now 23.30 so the van again provides the shower. Which is now OK with our new shower head.

Sunday June 12 2016

After breakfast we prepare to leave the camp site. That includes dumping our wastes and refilling our water. We will get a mid morning ferry and be back before our tickets expire at 5.50pm. We have to leave the campsite so park on the other side of town and cycle to the jetty.

We will go to Murano, the famous glass making island, for lunch and to see a little glass blowing. The ferry trip is about 40 minutes at the stern of a rather quieter boat than yesterday's. We enjoy getting about by boat and the fact that there are no motorized vehicles on any of the islands.

The day is clear and warm. Visiting a glass blowing factory we are glad it is not hot. As we approach the door we are hearded in to the blowing area by an insistent spruiker who squashes us into an area to see the master glass blower very capably make a vase and a fish.

After the demonstration, the way in is barred by the spruiker so we must go through the shop; which action is quite understandable; the audience constitutes their customers.

Nothing takes our fancy so we exit and walk along a canal looking for something to eat. A small unassuming cafe has some sandwiches which it will toast and we can have them with coffee outside on tables by the canal. As we eat, a few people pass but there are not the hoards one finds on San Marco, which suits us. We neither want to see nor be seen.

As there is another ferry jetty on the other side of the canal, we can cross a couple of bridges to get a return ferry. Along the way there are numerous glass ware shops to look in, each with a different slant on the craft.

It is a half hour ride back to San Marco. The ferry stops at the same jetty the one last night did but does not terminate there. This time we remain aboard and are delivered to San Marco square rather than having to walk.

As we walk back to the square we are struck by the difference in ambience of the area between day and night. However the most apparent difference are the hoards of people. We are nearly shoulder to shoulder in the square.

The queues to the Doge's Palace are long as usual and we don't want to wait. Instead we walk around the square and along a few alleyways before deciding we are happy to return to Punta Sabbioni and head for Croatia. There is a ferry in 16 minutes and it is a non rattley one. The ferry is comfortable and quite fast. The disadvantage is that we struggle to remain awake. Within 30 minutes, we disembark and ride back to the van. If is around 5.30. After a hot drink we say farewell to Venice.

As Punta Sabbioni is at the end of a narrow peninsula, there is only one road out. It is crawling. For 20 minutes we inch our way along until finally the jam continues to the left and our path goes to the right.

The drive is along non motorways and we see green countryside and small villages. By 8pm we are ready to stop for the night but places are few and far between. Eventually we settle on a carpark outside a group of shops.

Monday June 13 2016

We have been looking for a dish washing brush head; the type with a handle which can be filled with dishwashing detergent. It is very handy in the van but the one we have needs a head replacement. Also, the adaptor for filling the gas tank in Italy and Croatia is different from that in France and Germany so I want to get one for Italy. Unfortunately we get neither but do get some silver spray paint and a wire brush. If we can't wash the dishes, at least we can repaint the wheels. Perhaps the connection is less direct than that.

It is our intention to relax in Croatia for five days until we get our boat on Saturday week. Although it is only 200 km, the roads in Croatia are not as good and we have a few deviations along the way to try to get the gas adaptor. We don't really believe the gas indicator so need to keep the tank full. If we are lacking an adaptor, that may make filling difficult if the filling station does not have an adaptor and most don't. In 2011 we spent many hours trying to get the tank filled in these parts.

There is a camping shop in Trieste so we set that as a way point on our trip out of Italy. Before we get there, Rosemary sees a garage with gas and suggests we call in. I am sure they will not have an adaptor but stop to humour her. Ten minutes later we leave with a full tank of gas.

Now we can set our sights on Rovinj on the west coast of Croatia where there is the biggest camping centre in all of Croatia. We have accepted toll roads on our path so are soon lead onto an Autostrada...... for 10 kilometers.

Once in Slovenia we remain on tollways but never seem to be tolled. Maybe we were supposed to buy a vignette. At the boarder we have to provide passports at the Slovenian boarder where the officer spends an inordinate time inspecting mine but eventually stamps our passports and waves us on. The Croatian officer just stamps and waves.

Once in Croatia, the roads become narrower, steeper and less well maintained. By 2pm we are at the biggest camping store in Croatia. Presumably the others are set up in caravans. They don't have an adaptor.

There is a large camp nearby which fronts onto the Adriatic where we will stay for a day or two. At reception we are invited to drive into the camp and choose a site. This proves to be quite a drive. The camp has 2.5 km of beach front with places all along plus some more. Eventually we find one which is away from the throng, nice and green and overlooking a bay. Rather than driving back, I ride by bike back to reception probably 1.5 km away. They had mentioned they would need a passport but somehow "a passport" means "both passports". We can take the other one up there later. Now to try to find Ro and the van!

The weather is pleasantly warm with a warm breeze. I go exploring on my bike to find the pool where I have a quick dip before returning to the van. Later we both go for a sea swim near the pool. As we have found before, there are fresh water showers near the sea which we appreciate to remove sea salt.

The camp is very quiet and we enjoy a peaceful night's sleep.

Tuesday June 14 2016

Today will be a day of relaxation. The morning is sunny with slight cloud gradually covering the sky.

We do a bit of cycling around the site. With 2.5 km of beach front, we get a reasonable workout after too many days of sitting in the van getting here. The beach front does not quite compare with Australian beaches. The shores to the sea are either rock or large pebbles; no sand.

We need to leave by 12 to avoid paying another night but 12 comes and goes because we like the area. We might leave tomorrow.

Part of the afternoon is spent fixing the wheels on the bag which fell of in Beaurainville. It is only a 5 minute job but takes 1 1/2 hours. Fairly stamdard stuff.

Early afternoon there is a brief shower but the temperature remains pleasant. By late afternoon the rain is more concentrated but stops again then overnight there is more.

Wednesday June 15 2016

The rain has gone and the sky is brilliant blue. We relax reading and walking then near 11 go to the pool for a swim. There is a water aerobics class at 11 so Ro joins in. After 10 minutes or so I think I should join her. But the class is probably over. I consider joining numerous times over the next 50 minutes but don't for the same reason.

More riding, walking, reading and the day gets late. There is a restaurant where we will eat tonight. About 6.30 we get a table and order the day's special of pork. Odd, because that was yesterday's special also. It is a large dinner and far more than we would usually eat. The rather large frames of other patrons suggest they are used to meals of this size.

Tomorrow is forecast to be another beautiful day so perhaps we will stay until Friday morning before heading toward Krk where we pick up a catamaran for a week starting Saturday.

Thursday June 16 2016

The day is windy,windy,windy and occasionally rainy; oh and a bit of sun too. We Melbournians feel right at home. But it is not at all cold, especially the warm breeze.

The strength of the wind will make our sailing a bit thrilling. We think that this wind is the Bora which is a North Easterly or Easterly and can blow for a few days with some quite high gusts. The wind forecast suggests that the wind will drop over the next few days. It remains to be seen. Some literature I saw some months ago said that further south is preferred for sailing as the winds are more predictable and constant.

I said I would join Ro in water aerobics today but the strength of the wind suggests that, even if the water is acceptable, the chill factor of the wind on a wet body may be less than pleasant. Fortunately I am spared as almost no one turns up then at 11, on cue, there is some lightening which puts an end to water sports.

So the day is spent reading, walking, cycling and vegging. Tomorrow we will move on to Krk via some shopping for the boat trip. As the other participants are all arriving by air Saturday afternoon, we have agreed to buy provisions for Saturday night and Sunday morning where we will be at anchor. On Sunday we expect to go into port at Cres to buy provisions for the week.

So by 10.30 we are in bed and are rocked, somewhat less than gently, by the strong winds.

 

Friday June 17 2016

 

A beautiful clear sky greets us with less wind than yesterday but none the less a stiff sailing breeze.

 

We need to fill with water and dump wastes before leaving by midday. Ro washers her hair while I do the dumping. Next time we will swap, but I haven't told her that yet. She is ready before I am so busies herself in the van while I fill with water. This takes a bit of time bacause the first outlet I connect the hose to has no water.

 

We exit the site at 12. As a final parting gesture, I revert to my Australian driving and cause confusion as I exit on the left. On the roads I have no problem but leaving parking areas etc I get confused. Mind you, that happens in Australia too.

 

Returning to Porec we visit Kaufland, Ledl and Plodine to buy groceries. We like to spread our custom between countries, although in that lot, Germany is overrepresented. Shopping in Croatia is rather difficult as words in Croatian bear no resemblance to English words. But washing our clothes with hand cleaner is unlikely to cause any problems.

 

We have 140km to cover to get to Punta where we pick up the catamaran. The trip includes toll roads. In most European countries toll roads are multi lane, multi carriageway affairs rated at high speed. In Croatia, a toll road may be a single carriageway single lane road with a 60kph speed limit. However the toll entrances and exits are constructions to behold. Had they spent the money on the roads rather than the toll booths, the roads may have been more like other European ones. We pay two tolls of 46 kuna or about AUD10 each. That is sure to help pay off the toll booths.

 

It would be nice to stop for a hot drink but there are no parking bays. There is the odd emergency pull off area and we utilize one of those. As we have our drink, the passing vehicles rock the van not unlike the winds of last night.However, the positioning of the emergency stopping point is such that rejoining the road is likely to create the emergency the pull off area is supposed to be addressing. Fortunately there is a long break between vehicles which allows us to slowely achieve the required speed.

 

At Punat, we pass the marina but make the mistake of turning down to road to Punat. This is a small village with small roads, limited parking and many cars. We abandon any hope of parking and retreat back to the marina. We find where we need to be tomorrow then go in search of an overnight stop. A camp seems most convenient. There is one a few kilometers away so we head there.

 

Krk and Croatia in general is very rocky. We climb up and down hills or , on the mainland, sometimes through them. The road to the camp is steep but we are eventually rewarded with a beautiful view and crystal clear water. That water will be our home for a week from tomorrow.

 

But for tonight we will just enjoy looking at it.

 

Saturday June 18 2016

 

We awake to the most beautiful fay we have had this year in Europe. The sea water is pleasant and we access it via a rocky shoreline. Initially I try walking without my Crocs (water shoes) but the rocks are too hard on my feet. After donning my Crocs, I am glad I did because there are sea urchins galore. You don't want to traad on a sea urchin!

 

The water gets deep quickly so the urchins are not a problem. The water is crystal clear and the salinity, though not very high, gives added bouyancy which I appreciate as I sink in fresh water.

 

After breakfast we prepare to leave. We are due at the marine aboutb 1pm but need to find a supermarket first. Thomasina takes us to a small somewhat less than super market in Punat but we decide that it will not have what we need which is mainly salmon for tonight's dinner. on board.

 

Krk town on Krk island is only 10 km away and they are sure to have larger supermarkets. We find Konzum easily. There are some salmon pieces hidden at the back of the freezer so we purchase them and are off to the marine.

 

Getgting into the marina requires some linguistic skills. A bit of English and a bit of German, as Germans are the most prevalent visitors Croatia, gets us into the marina. But parking will cost 200 kuna or AUD 40 per day!! $280 for parking seems exhorbitant. Rosemary's task becomes to find a cheaper alternative.

 

While I find the charter office, Ro explores a hotel over the road which has a parking area. We can park there for 60 kuna per day and it is closer although we learn later that the same family owns the marina and hotel.

 

Miki in the office speaks good English so we start filling in forms for collision waiver and dinghy loss waiver and tourist tax and security deposit. But when it comes to payment, none of our cards will work. The error code is unknown. The machine is reset but it still does not work. Hopefully someone else in the party has a card which will work.


 

We load our food and clothes and electronic gizzmos on board. There are more electronic gizzmos than food or clothes. We have a check list so start going through that. Eventually a charter rep comes aboard to go through various aspects of the boat. There is quite a bit to absorb and the boat is new to the charter company so there is quite a bit left for us to discover.

 

The rest of the party arrives 5 and we are still going through things when they board. But by 6.30 we are underway to an anchorage about 30 minutes away.

 

At the anchorage the depth is a bit worrying. We have a draft of 1.5 metre and at times the water depth is 2 metre. We creep along hoping not to damage the props half an hour after taking charge.

 

There is a number of other boats anchored and their draft is at least the same as ours so we drop anchor and Rosemary prepares dinner. The salmon is not as nice as we are used to but the dinner is delicious none the less.

 

We turn in for our first night aboard about 10 and have a quiet night's sleep.

 

Sunday June 19 2016

 

Our plan is to reach Cres town on Cres island by this afternoon to buy provisions but by late morning it is evident we will not make it. Instead we head toward Malinska town on Krk island which is near the top of Cres island.

 

Arriving about 1 pm there is a marina with a double berth but no one to ask if we can moor. We tie up, stern first. The motor in each hull allow the boat provides great manoeuverability once one gets coordination of which motor to drive forward and which to drive in reverse. My dislexia does not help in that but all goes well.

 

A tourist booth directs us to a supermarket which is closed. However there is a Konzum supermarket about 400 meters away; up a steep hill. When we arrive, the door with Konzum is firmly locked. A chat with another tourist booth informs us that it is underground and is open.

 

After fiddling about we end up leaving about 3. With a following wind the main and jib can be hoisted. We are still learning the ropes literally so our sails are not things of seamanship beauty. As we sail across the top of Cres island, the wind is quite strong so the main sail is kept at about 2/3 up the mast. Despite this we make up to 9 knots which is 1 1/2 times faster than the engines will provide. There is a clear definition between those who are loving the condition and those who are not.

 

Finally we round the top of Cres and the chop decreases although the wind continues. Finding a sheltered moring place is difficult. The area is very mountainous and the water gets deep quickly. We need to find an area which is shallow enough to allow anchoring with a 5:1 scope meaning the chain length needs to be 5 times the water depth, but with that length of chain we need enough clearance from the shore if the wind changes direction. Eventually we find an inlet where the wind is around 6 knots. It is 9 metres deep so we pay out the full 40 metres of chain and set the anchor. As the wind is still strong in ghusts. We drop a second anchor which has a shorter chain.

 

Throughout the night the wind blows, often at far more than 6 knots. Four or five times during the night , following loud thumps caused by we don't know what, we emerge from our cabins to see if we are still where we were. Determining if a boat is dragging anchor is difficult at the best of times but more so at night in a strong wind. Despite the fact that the chosen harbour is supposed to be safe from the current wind direction, the wind does not seem to know that.

 

By the morning we are not on the rocks and the wind has abated. We have breakfast then raise the anchors. The second anchor chain has wrapped itself around the main anchor but when we pull it in, ther is no anchor. The shackle has broken through what are obviously corrosion lines.

 

Monday June 20 2016

 

Although there is minimal wind, we sail down the coast of Cres in far more pleasant conditions than yesterday.

 

By lunch time we are near a port where some of the party would like to have lunch. We moor stern first and once again there is no one to ask if we can stay. Some Germans who have a boat on land on which they are working say we can stay there but will have to pay if we stay overnight. Later in the day we are approached by a marina employee who says we must visit reception to pay for our stay. Although we have only been here two hours we must pay for a half day stay, 46 euro, or 92 euro to stay overnight. The consensus is that we want to continue on but there is discussion as to whether we can negotiate. One of our party goes to negotiate and returns with the news we don't have to pay. Later we learn that the negotiation was less than civil.

 

The tiny town of Valun looks like a well sheltered port so we head there.. The edges of the bay are too steep to allow us to drop anchor with sufficient scope but there is an old slightly rusty bouy which our information book implies we can tie to. Having attached to the bouy, this seems the perfect opportunity to use the dinghy and 2 stroke outboard to go across to the town. We lower the dinghy and fit the motor. It starts easily and we ferry two about 200 meters to the town. The motor is over reving and spluttering as two strokes do but we get two more to the shore. But, as is to be expected with a two stroke, on the third trip it stops and refuses to start. We can paddle back to the boat but paddling back to pick up the 4 on the shore does not seem a good idea.

 

We have been using walkie talkies to communicate but , naturally, both are on board this time. We have telephones, but no one hears them ring. The decision of those on board is to take the mothership over to pick them up.

 

This we do and as we reverse into a berth, there is a guy who sprukes an overnight stay for 180 kuna. Somehow I understand that those ashore have organised this so accept the offer. The 180 manages to get to 240 kuna including electricity or AUD 50. The 60 kuna for electricity is wasted because the main advantage, hot showers, is invalidated because the HWS immersion heater does not work.

 

Making the most of the situation, weenjoy walking around the town, having a drink at a bar and, most importantly, having a quiet night's sleep securely tied to the wharf.

 

Tuesday June 21 2016

 

Some have breakfast ashor before we set off again. We do a bit of sailing but often find that the winds disappear once the sails are up. The southern part of Croatia is more highly regarded by sailers due to the more predictable winds. We now understand why that is.

 

Ther is a nice cove with a very pebbly beach where we anchor for lunch. The wind is quite gentle now so we swim to the shore and later have lunch on board.

 

By mid afternoon the wind is picking up a little although the wind forecast for the area is only 5 to 8 knots including overnight.

 

The town of Martinscica has a well sheltered port so we will overnight there. We reverse into a berth and do some grocery shopping and another drink at a bar then decide we will anchor on the other side of the harbour.

 

There is an inlet with appropriate depth for us to drop anchore with a scope of 3:1 which should be OK for the light winds forecast. Some time later, a small motorized boat pulls along side and the occupant, a young Croat, says to us that there is some Bura tonight and where we are is not safe. We thank him and move to the other side of the bay which is shallower and more protected. Anchoring in 6 metre of water with 20 metre of chain we settle in for the night. By bed time the wind is still quiet as we had expected from the forecast.

 

However by 1.30 am the wind is howling and we are dragging anchor. A decision is made to move 200 metre further up the coast where we drop the full 45 metre. The sound of the anchor chain wakes everyone on board and probably most people in Martinscica.

 

By morning we are still in the same place, profusely thanking our absent saviour. That he should have taken the trouble to come across the bay to warn us may have been the difference between us continuing our voyage and us ending up on the rocks. It is a sobering thought.

 

Wednesday June 22 2016

There is quite a deal of water to cover between here and Punat where we want to be by Friday evening. There are two passageways like mini Suez Canals which can shorten the trip. Both have bridges which open twice per day; 9am and 5 pm. The first is quite close but will involve 7 or 8 hours wait. The second is 4 or 5 hours sailing or motoring and we can stay overnight in the port then get the 9am opening.

We leave early and eat breakfast while motoring. Although the wind was blowing a gale during the night, now it is fairly quiet and it is nearly head on which would require a lot of tacking.

A little later the wind picks up enough to sail which allows us to have a quiet lunch on the move. We have reached the conclusion that the winds here are so variable because of the high mountainous but narrow islands. And it seams the forecasters have as much trouble as we do.

By mid afternoon we have reached the second bridge which is at Marlie Losinj. We motor to the bridge to inspect the width of the channel. It is very narrow. Continuing on to the finger jetty in toward the town we are greeted as usual by a guy with a money pouch spruiking the mooring. We explain that we only want to saty if we can get through the bridge tomorrow. The guy does not really want to scare us away by saying we won't fit but he reluctantly volunteers that he has necer seen a cat go through. Our boat is 7.3 metres and it says in the in formation book that the channel is 8 metres. Bit tight. We enquire as to the cost to moor. 500 kuna. Preposterous!! We will continue.

We have to return up the harbour to exit back to the open sea then a short distance down the coast there is a maring. It is near Marlie Losinj but could not be as expensive.

We moor stern first with a lot of tugging on lines and when finally tied up ask the omnipresent bag man the cost to moor. 800 kuna!!!! So we continue further to where we see there is a deep bay with floating bouys.

Entering the harbour we are entranced. Unfortunately we are not the only ones. All the boats have stern lines going to the shore but we don't have anything long enough. We can't drop anchor or we will drift into other boats.

After some moving about looking for an anchor point we decide to grab a bouy. It is between two boats and there is a breeze on out port side. As we reverse between the boats, the brreeze picks up and there is a much smaller boat onto whom we are drifting. It is then that we discover that the land lines the other boats have out is attached to the bouy. It is lifted in preparation for attachemnt to the stern – right into the port propeller!

Someone has to untangle it and that someone is me. Fortunately the line is a heavy one so has only wrapped around two or three times. It is easily untangled but there are differences of opinion on how we should complete the mooring. Eventually we are secourly tied with the help of the owner of the boat we were threatening. We offer them two cans of beer but they will only accept one. No harm has been done so all are happy. Another notch on the belt. Better there than on the boat.

We have a scrumptious dinner prepared by Allan and turn in about 11 after our excitement.

Thursday June 23 2016

We have a lovely relaxed sleep. It seems we are destined to have one relaxed night followed by one panicky one thanks to the unpredictable Bura. But this morning it is calm as a millpond.

The Germans with whose boat we were sparring while mooring have already left before 7am. We assume it is so they are as far away from us as they can be. But soon the reason becomes apparent. A boat draws up and offers fruit, bread apple strudel etc which we buy at what turn out to be exorbitant prices. We should know by now to ask the price before taking the goods. But he also wants mooring fees. That is why our German friends are now absent.

After breakfast we motor until lunch time then stop for a swim. The dinghy outboard has been a thorn in my side and I want it working before we leave. I have freed the mixture screw so it now moves easily. I don't know where it should be bit some adjustment may help. The motor performs poorly again until Allan gets it to run smoothly for ten minutes or so.

As we continue after our lunch and swim, there is a bit of breeze so we hoist the sails. Generally we find that hoisting the sales stops the wind but this time some remains. We have had some trouble raising the mainsail to full height but this time it gets to within 500mm of top.

The sailing is pleasant but lacking any adrenalin rush. Eventually when we are sick of little progress we take in the jib and try to lower the mainsail. It won't move. We use the winch on various lines, without wishing to break the mainsail. After 10 minutes of futile work, the binoculars reveal that the top pulley has allowed the line which raises the mainsail to twist preventing the sail from lowering. The problem is, the sail is nearly fully raised and motoring with it up we are subject to the variable winds.

On taking over the boat, one item which was noted was a bosun's chair. This allows a person to be hoisted to the top of the mast and that is what has to happen. The sea and wind are both a bit much to do it in the open sea so we motor close to the shore and drop anchor.. The lines on the boat are in excellent condition; except the hauling line we need to use. But it looks strong enough.

Next problem is getting my 85 kg safely up and down. The hand winches don't give enough purchase for an easy lift. The electric windlass is on the wrong side. The solution is to run the line around a manual windlass and across to the electric one.

After some preparation the lift begins. About 4 metres up the windlass overloads. The thermal breaker takes a moment or two to reset and the lift continues. It takes 4 resets to get to the top of the 12 metre mast. Correcting the problem only takes a minute but organising to let me down slowely takes a few very uncomfortable minutes as the harness is digging in to my abdomen.

Safely back on deck we lower the sail and vow that is the end of sailing. The next problem is where to stop for the night. There are no safe harbours as the one we had intende3d using, which is close by, is quite undatisfactory.

Instead we decide to head across open water to Rab. It is two hours of unfomfortable rolling sea before we eventually motor into Rab Harbour about 7.30pm.

The usual bagman is waiting. It is 811 kuna for the night but we are happy to pay for a safe and comfortable night.

Last time we loved Rab and it is the same this time. We walk over to the old town and have a drink before finding an open air restaurant. The night is the warmest we have had in Croatia and fortunately there is some breeze. The waitress is delightful and adds to our enjoyment of the ambience.

After dinner it is about 10pm. The others return to the boat but Ro and I walk around the town re enjoying the delights. It is an unexpected highlight because we did not expect to be here.

 

Friday June 24 2016

 

After a very warm night we wake early and go walking through the old town in the early morning. The town is stirring and cleaners are about. We have wondered how everything is so clean and now we know the answer. I say hello to a cleaner who speaks good English and compliment him on how clean the town looks. His initial demeanor suggests he is not often acknowledged and he is happy to receive the compliment. He says that once a week they use fire hoses to clean the alleyways. The effect is wonderful. Croatia is clean, safe and evocative.

 

We need to fill the boat with diesel before returning so filling here makes sence. If they have to add a few litres at an inflated price we will wear that. There is one boat filling but when he leaves we move along side. One more small problem. We cannot find the diesel cap opener. The pump attendant has a couple of tools, one of which removes the port filler. The tank takes 40 litre but the starboard cap is tight and we cannot remove it. There is a nautical supplies shop nearby but they have nothing. Eventually after paying for the fuel dispensed, we find a tool in the boat's toolbox which will remove the cap and we fill that tank.

 

We have been motoring on only one motor most of the time as this was recommended on a web site I read some months ago. We have used 77 litres for 40 engine hours which we think is very economical.

 

It is about 15 nautical miles back to Punat. We are required to sleep the last night in the marina so they can inspect the boat in the morning before we leave. I had negotiated returning the boat by 8am so we could stay at anchor for the night but the other members want to eat at a restaurant so we will head back there now.

 

On the way we stop for a swim and knock up lunch at a bay. On the hill is a giant sign in rock or something similar which simply says “Tito”, a throw back to when Tito was in charge of the then Yugoslavia.

 

By 4 pm we have reached Punat. Anchoring opposite the marina we swim and have drinks and nibbles, although I refrain from drinking until the boat is safely moored....... by which time there are no drinks left.

 

The others go for dinner at the restaurant while Ro and I enjoy the cool of the breeze and our last evening on the boat.

 

We get a good sleep with no sign of the Bura which would not have affected us here!

 

Saturday June 25 2016

 

The morning is spend emptying the boat and handing it back. There is a procedure whereby the checkout list is redone as a checkin to confirm that the boat is in the same condition as when we hired it. Apart from the lost anchor due to the faulty shackle, the boat is better. The oatboard works, the shower pump works, the mainsail pulley is fixed, albeit temporarily, and it is as clean or cleaner then when we got it. They ask us to identify where the anchor may be but when told it is on Cres think it is not worth their trouble to find despite out being able to give them good markers. In hind sight, we should have taken the GPS coordinates which unfortunately did not occur to us at the time.

 

By 10.30 we are ready to leave. We say our farewells to four of the eight. Allan and Janice are joining us for a week at Valalta so they are passengers in the back of Escargot de Wheels.

 

The trip to Valalta is about 2.5 hours. Watching the traffic streaming on to Krk makes us glad we are leaving and not arriving. However next week we will deliver Allan and Janice to the airport on Krk so the traffic may still be an issue.

 

Today is quite hot. The outside temperature is 32 degrees and the van does not have cooling although the flow through ventilation suffices. Nevertheless, when we arrive, a swim in the pool is very welcome. A bit later the water slide beckons. This was our saviour in 2011 when we were very close to moulten. Two slides then and we were on our way to solidity again. This time we are not as hot but the slide is just as much fun.

 

We stayed here in 2011 and it is huge. Up to 7000 people holiday here over the season. Allan and Janice have booked a cabin but campers can not reserve pitches. We checkin at reception then go to choose a site. We find one with shade near Allan and Janice's cabin and 100 metre from the pool.

 

Another couple who are friends of A & J have also arranged to visit and have a cabin next to them. They have been here a few days and have offered to have a barbeque using disposable barbeques.

 

We want to buy some wine to take with us so go to the camp shop to see what is available. In the shop we see people filling bottles with red or white wine. I ask the attendant if bottled wine is available. Somewhere the translation fails and we understand that we must supply the bottle for wine on tap. There are some bottles in the van but the store closes in 5 minutes. What to do? The answer is to reteieve a plastic bottle from the recyclables and wash that. Arriving back at the shop, the in door is locked but the out door periodically opens to allow the last customers out. We run in and the attendant allows us to fill the bottle. Later we realise that there is bottled wine available. Perhaps we will keep this wine for general cleaning and get a bottled wine tomorrow.

 

The meal is very nice but the remnants of the disposable barbeque provide a less than pleasant odour.

 

Around 10.30 pm, the others want to go to a bar but Ro and I are both feeling very tired. It has been an eventful week and maybe that has caught up. Although the night is very warm requiring no bedclothes, I am asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Ro tells me next morning she was not far behind.

 

Sunday June 26 2016

 

Another hot day has begun. After breakfast we return to the camp shop and find a more suitable wine. We will deliver that today.

 

Because the camp is so large, we generally ride everywhere on our bikes. This is especially helpful because as we re establish an internal map, some paths are quite circuitous. From the waterslide we can cycle along the foreshore where there is extensive natural rock paving. Riding further we arrive at the marina which is 100 meters from our camp site.

 

There are numerous beach fronts ranging from rocks to pebbles to sand. There don't seem to be any sea urchins which is a welcome relief. Maybe they are removed each season. The water near the marina is the crystal clear aqua colour we are used to but where the sand and pebbles are, the water is far less clear.

 

The day is spent leisurely reading and swimming. A very slow pace of life.

 

We have agreed to meet at 8pm to eat at a pizza restaurant. The menu is mostly pasta gnocchi and pizza with some salad starters. Unfortunately pasta and pizza do not suit Ro but there is a salmon salad. I have spaghetti bolognaise.

 

We wander back to the van around midnight with the intention of walking in the morning. Although the night is not as hot as last night, it is still pleasantly warm. Nice to be escaping Melbourne's winter.

 

Monday June 27 2016

 

Our walk does not eventuate due to a persistent foot complaint which has made walking difficult for Ro. We will go for a ride a bit later.

 

The day is hot and cloudless again. This reminds us of Melbourne summer days but more uniformly hot.

 

Our friends are going on a boat trip with a fish lunch on Thursday and we will join them. It is 190 kuna per person, AUD38, and the tickets are purchased in the reception area. Unfortunately the excursion desk is monopolised by a German couple trying to connect to the internet so I wait for 10 or more minutes before being served. Then I discover they only take cash and I am 10 kuna short. Out to the cash dispenser then back behind another customer who thankfully does not take long. The German couple are still there. Glad I don't have a boat to catch any time soon.

 

The remainder of the day is spent resting by Ro and watersliding and riding by me. This hectic pace of life is getting to me.

 

Come dinner time, our friends decide to go to Rovinj for dinner but we will eat at home . If Ro's foot remains tender in St Petersburg, only one week away, it will be very disappointing so we want to minimize walking now.

 

After dinner we go for a long bike ride as this does not worry her foot. We watch a magnificent sunset against which a large square rigged sailing boat is gently moving. On the way back there is a band playing so we listen to that for a while. The evening is cooler than the last two but still very pleasant.

 

We are back at our van by 10 and have a restfull sleep.

 

Tuesday June 28 2016

 

Yet another perfect day dawns. With the heat is a slight breeze and we have managed to park the van under some trees so it remains pleasant through out the day. We also have a small fan purchased a few years ago which helps with air movement at the hottest part of the day if we are inside.

 

It is another day full of doing nothing in particular. Not what we are used to. However my book which I did not read at all on the cat gets read. It is a Jeffry Deaver book and whenever I read one I think I will never read another. The plots are unlikely in the extreme and the technical accuracy is far removed from fact. Nevertheless I am reluctant to ditch them before their conclusions. There is a close parellel with James Bond films, after each of which I swear I will never look at another.

 

A few days ago we swam from the marina in crystal clear water. We go to the same point but it is rather more murky today. I had been looking at buying a diving mask but had refrained. This proved to be a wise decision on Ro's part because we discovered a mask and snorkel in the van. It is odd that the smaller the space, the more easily one can lose things or forget about them. Although I now have the mask, when I dive into the 3 metre deep water I drop it and it sinks immediately. Where is there a diving mask when you need one? Fortunately Ro can see it from the jetty and guides me to it.

 

Although there is little to see on the sea bed, there are plenty of fish with flecks of colour. I should have brought the snorkel!

 

For dinner we have been invited to Janice and Allan's cabin to consume over purchased food. We spend a convivial evening on the decking. Ro rides there although it is only 100 metres in order to save her foot. We want it better by next week when we fly to St Ps.

 

Wednesday June 29 2016

 

As usual the morning is a pleasant temperature. We cycle to the end of the property, perhaps 2 km from our van, then stop for a swim. There are numerous floating pontoons scattered along the shore. A small boat is cleaning bird droppings from overnight from each. The whole campsite is kept beautifully manicured and clean as we have come to expect in Croatia.

 

We swim out from there to some floating toys anchored in the bay. Around by the water slide is an anchored ice berg which is about 10 metres high. I climbed that in 2011 but have not done so this year. I must. Where we are now there are two floating trampolines joined by a 15 metre floating tube. The trampoline is fun but the tube is a bit challenging. Maybe in a day or two.

 

Returning to the van for breakfast, we prepare for another bruising day of relaxation. Some hand washing is in order, some water sliding, some reading, some eating and that is about it. Oh! And a trip to the camp grocery store. How could I forget that highlight?

 

Around 2, the others say they are going in to Pula . They have a 4 seater car so we need to take the van if we want to go. On balance we decide to stay. We think we will be back here in the future so we will look at Pula then.

 

Instead we cycle to one of the foreshores and go for a swim out to a pontoon. A little later we go to dinner on our bikes. The meals are inexpensive and tasty and we can sit outside in this perfect climate. Better still, there are no mozzies or flies, although some insect has caused a few itchy patches on Ro's arm.

 

Following dinner we cycle to the marina where we can sit and watch the sunset with the everchanging colours on the clouds. We will be sad to leave Saturday.

 

Thursday June 30 2016

 

Today we have booked for a Fish Picnic at AUD38 per head. This is a boat cruise out to an island where we will, unsurprisingly, have a lunch of fish.

 

But first we go for a ride and swim before breakfast. As we leave the van, we see our friends also going for a pre breakfast swim. Although we say we will join them, by the time we get towels and our bikes, they have disappeared and , despite a ride around the coast, we fail to find them. Later we find that they turned right at the marina and we turned left. Given that the coast is a few kilometers long, it is not surprising we did not find them. However, our swim is enjoyable.

 

The boat leaves at 11 and the six of us are booked in. We decide to go early to get a good position and are on the marina by 10.30. We are sufficiently early to be almost last on board so we squeeze in where we can.

 

The boat was built in 1915 and has been respored to a well kept and character filled vessel of, perhaps 15 metre length. The deck is mostly open with an awning covering 60 percent and the wheelhouse in the aft 1/4.

 

At 11 the boat leaves at a speed of 8 or 9 knots. The passengers are a friendly bunch and the friendliness is soon augmented by the traditional small cup of very alcoholic spirit. Not long after, beer is available from one of 3 or 4 kegs. The others hold wine and water. The beer is a very tasty drop which is brewed at Valalta in their small brewery.

 

We pass by Rovinj which was originally an island surrounded by a city wall. In the 17th century the island was connected to the mainland leaving the city on a peninsula. The buildings are densly packed onto rocky land and present the usual picturesque scene. The major concession to modernity apart from power cables are the numerous satellite dishes which crowd the roofs.

 

Knowing what we know now, we could have brought the catamaran over here and probably not had the troublesom Bura winds but still had numerous towns and inlets to explore. Maybe next time.

 

By 12.30 we have reached the island, a rocky outcrop with green vegetation growing all over. The waters are as clear as any we have encountered and we can swim around the boat until lunch is ready.

 

The meal consists of a whole mackarel pan fried or grilled with potato salad a breadroll and red or white wine. There is also a pork steak following the fish all eaten on the rocks. We share our eating place with the ubiquitous sea gulls, which are 20% bigger than ours at home, and some gecko like reptiles with bright green backs. The geckos are not too timid and one almost climbs onto my hand but thinks better of the idea just before it is committed to the action. There is time for another lovely swim after lunch before we return.

 

By now, conviviality is firmly established with the wine barrels empty. One of the crew members plays piano accordian and sings together with the captain with great ghusto. By now most of the passengers are joining in. There is a group of Kiwis and together with our English friends we perform a rousing few choruses of Walzing Matilda, without accompaniment. It firmly establishes our Aussie credentials.

 

Back at Valalta, a few passengers disembark, including an extremely inebriated man who needs assistance to leave the boat. Those remaining continue the tour to the town of Lim, about 20 minutes away by sea.

 

Lim is a typical Croatian town which we would explore more thoroughily if Ro's foot were up to it. Instead, after a short walk, we join our friends at a waterside restaurant where they are having coffee and tea.

 

We were instructed to be abord by 4.30 for the return trip and, to the captain's delight, by 4.30 we are all aboard. The return trip is full of singing, clapping and laughing and we dock at the appointed time of 5 pm.

 

It has been an afternoon of fun, singing laughter and picturesque scenes. Another highlight.

 

Before returning to our van, we swim near the marina in water rather less clear than our lunch stop. After a rather full lunch, we won't be searching for a restaurant at which to eat tonight.

 

 

Friday July 1 2016

Our last full day in paradise! After an early morning dip, we have breakfast then slip seamlessly into our daily routine of doing nothing in particular.

The iceberg near the water slide beckons. Although I don't particularly want to climb it, I know that if I don't, I will wish I had. So instead of the prospect of wishing I had, I do it and wish I hadn't. There are handles on rope on th side of the 6 metre rubberised structure which a hand can grab but a foot can't. Thus it is arm work only. And my arms are not entirely up to the task. I struggle to the base camp which is 1.5 metres from the summit then decide that is enough. The water is 4 metres deep so I can dive in. Challenge met, I can now ignore the iceberg. Back to the water slide.

The rest of the day is spent by the sea reading and swimming. At 5 we go to a bar and have a Valalta beer for me and an icecream for Ro. Later in the evening we join A & J on their cabin decking for a fridge emptying ceremony before dinner at a restaurant where, again, we can enjoy the ubiquitous soccer.

Then bed by 11.

Saturday July 2 2016

We need to be on the road by 10am as we are taking Allan and Janice to Rejika airport on Krk. But there is time for a swim before breakfast.

There is the usual filling of water and dumping of wastes and by 9.45 we are ready to leave. However before we load the luggage I want to find the dump point to dump gray water. Ro stays at A & Js cabin. After 10 minutes driving around I admit defeat and look for the map which Ro has stored. After a further 5 minutes I admit defeat in finding the map, abandon the dumping and return to the cabin with a still full gray water tank. Such is life.

A & J must be at the airport by 2 for a 4pm flight. When we left Krk a week ago, the traffic jam was quite significant and discussions with the staff here suggest we can expect the same. Although the trip is predicted to be 1 hr 45 min, we will allow 2 1/2 hr.

Along the way we meet an unexpected traffic jam which inches forward for 30 minutes intil the cause is revealed: the tollways! The faster journey time for which we pay a toll is offset by the time we wait to pay the toll! Fortunately at Krk, the queue is short so we reach the airport by 12.30.

After dropping A & J, we had intended to travel to Lublijana to stay a day before going on to Milan. But we now have the opportunity to stay in this lovely climate on Krk, perhaps where we stayed before we boarded the cat. Because is 40 km back there we instead decide to head back to Solaris near Porec where we stayed two weeks ago. From there it is 480 km to Milan which we will cover Monday.

Returning to 40 km from where we were this morning aftder a 6 hour trip, we call by Lidl to re provision then settle in to a site not far from our last one but with a much better view.

The evening is as warm as any we have had but, being tired, we get an early night.

Sunday July 3 2016

We have internet access here which is now working this morning after an outage last night. We are just contemplating making some calls when Scot calls us. It is great to hear his voice and a bit of news. Ro gets rather homesick on hearing our loved ones but as the ice is broken (Melbourne's ice, not ours) we make some other calls. One to Jacinta and one to Alex and Katya.

The afternoon is spent swimming, riding and packing for St Petersburg. We are making do with one bag which needs to cater for hot, cold and indifferent weather. This week it is 30 in St P and next week will be 19 and rainy. Sounds rather like Melbourne. Part of the packing needs to include some formalish wear as we may go to the ballet. I guess green and yellow Oz thongs will be inappropriate.

Dinner is sausages from some weeks ago. Since adjusting the gas burner in the fridge, the plastic grill outside has melted but the freezer is solid ice. Life she is strange.

After dinner we entertain ourselves by experimenting with our phone translators. We have loaded offline files so we can use them in Russia without internet access. By setting my phone to translate Russian to English and Ro's to translate English to Russian, we can see whether our message is getting through. It is a bit hard to tell through our tears of laughter. Next week should be interesting in many respects.

Monday July 4 2016

Yet another beautiful day dawns. Unfortunately we cannot stay to enjoy it as we need to leave for Milan, which we do by 10.30.

On the way out we are flagged by a Slovenian man with an ageing van which will not start. I suspect the age of our van had something to do with his enlisting our aid. The starter solenoid clicks but nothing else happens. We put jumpers to our van bit still the solenoid just clicks. Checking the battery with the multimeter proves his battery is OK but I find the positive terminal is loose. Tightening it does not fix the problem so we leave unable to help. All this has been accomplished, or perhaps not accomplished, with no common language!

The trip is torturously slow until we reach the Italian autostrade where we cover the kms rather more quickly. But at a price. The tolls amount to 36 euro or AUD55 which we think is a lot.

Finally we are at Linate and after some hunting we locate our parking area. After some discussion with the people there , our 50 euro parking fee becomes 70 euro because the vehicle is over 5 metre. Oh well. It is still good compared with Punat marina's proposed charges.

We mention that our flight leaves tomorrow and we want to sleep in the van overnight. After some confusion, there are smiles all round and everything is fine. It should be a peaceful night but for the jets passing overhead and the slamming of doors as clients come and go.

Before setting up for a luxurious night, we want to see if we can get some more gas the fridge requires gas while we are away. The guage on the gas tank does not work and we are not sure how much is left.

Thomasina guides us to a petrol station which is closed then to another which is self serve....... but not gas. We get diesel and abandon the idea of getting gas. However returning to the parking place, somehow I manage to get into a Bus, Tram, taxi lane and it is one kilometer before we can exit it. Fortunately we don't need to pick up any passengers.

Back at the park, we settle in for the night. It is hot, hot, hot so no heated water is unnecessary for showers. A bit of gas saved. Overnight the temperature drops a bit so we get a reasonable night's sleep.

Tuesday July 5 2016

The alarm goes off at 5.45am and by 6.45 we are ready for the trip to the airport. It is only 5 or 6 minutes in an electric car. It may be our first ride in a totally electric car and we are impressed by its acceleration which its Italian driver demonstrates with ghusto without any request from us.

Linate is a regional airport and not very crowded. We check in without incident then wait for our flight at 9.05. At the gate lounge we are bussed to the waiting aircraft. The bus interior is quite grimy suggesting air quality leaves something to be desired.

We requested an exit seat and were fortunate enough to get one. However as we board the aircraft, we see the exit is overwing so maybe there is no more leg room then other rows. But we do get some extra space which is welcome.

We land at Amsterdam on time and marvel at the size of the airport. It is gargantuan and very busy. But it is not long before we are boarding for our next KLM flight to St P. Despite leaving late we make up time and land early shortly before 4 pm.

Passing through passport control, where the checks are more than just cursory, we pass out into the main hall where Masha and Alexi are holding a sign with our names on it. They both speak English well and we get along with them well immediately. We are staying with Dima and Marina, long time friends of Katya, and Masha is Marina's daughter.

The weather last week in StPs was 30 degrees but this week it is expected to be rainy and stormy every day. They are correct today.

The drive to Dima and Marina's flat is about 1 hour which passes quickly with animated discussion. The driving is fast and free. I think I am glad I am not driving here. Add to this the fact that road signs mean little to us in Russian and the belief strengthens.

At the flat we meet Dima and Marina. They speak a little French but almost no English and our Russian is even less. Musha is an important link and we suspect that she finds it tiring although she will not admit it. We also hope to rely on our phone translators but the animated background chat in Russian and English means the translator cannot cope and translates all manner of peculiar things. Dima has another translator and throughout the afternoon we have some success with his machine.

Around 6pm we are offered a typical Russian dinner of fish and meat followed by sorbet and strawberries then later Dima and Musha take us for a drive around St Ps. It is a large city of 6 million with wide streets, low level buildings in the city centre of 8 or 10 storeys all with beautiful architecture. The Neva river very wide and cleaves the city Interestingly, at 1.30 am in summer all the bridges are opened to allow shipping through and one bank is largely isolated from the other. It is a long trip to a crossing point up stream.

It is a few weeks past White Night where there is no night time at all. By 11pm it looks like late dusk in Melbourne and this is as dark as it will get. We get a tour from the Hermitage and other huge impressive buildings to the ship building yards. It is not the night to go walking due to strong winds. Those that are battle wind and rain and avoid many broken branches. The river is quite wild and few craft brave the chop.

Returning home we have tea and custard puffs and discuss going to a ballet or opera. Although we say we are not opera buffs, Musha assures us that the Tchaikovsky opera which is only short at 1 1/2 hours we will enjoy. We also watch a trailer for the ballet Spartak which includes “The Fire Dance” and that is absolutley captivating. Probably whatever we see will be hugely memorable, especially in whatever wonderful building we attend.

Wednesday July 6 2016

After a good night's sleep we awake about 7.30. It is still rainy and quite cold but the apartment is very warm. Masha is a night person and stayed up well after we went to bed. As such, although Alexi has gone to work, Masha is still asleep. We will go over to Dima and Marina's flat and have breakfast with them. The only problem is we can't get out the front door. So as not to wake Masha, we send a Whatsapp message to Dima using the English to Russian translator. Some minutes later, I hear the door unlocking but by now I have tried other locks so Marina can't get inside from outside despite having the key. She rings Masha who half wakes and comes to open the door to allow Marina in. A bit of a shemozzle overall.

It has been determined that Masha will take us to The Hermatage this afternoon. Overall, while we are getting along well with Dima and Marina, the language barrier is still a bit daunting for both sides and our phone translators are still a bit short of perfect.

Dima very kindly drives the three of us into the city then continues on to work, after which he has offered to pick us up again. On arrival at The Hermatage we are dismayed to see people queuing in the wind and rain for 100 metres or so to get in. However Dima has purchased tickets on line for us so we walk straight in. We are getting wonderful treatment and are concerned that we may have trouble compensating Dima for costs incurred by him. When we mention this to Masha, she says we can sort it out later.

The Hermatage is bigger than the Louvre and has 2.5 million artifacts on its books. It is possible that we may miss a bit in the few hours we have available. We decide not to get audio guides as these are likely to limit what we see.

It becomes immediately apparent, and in fact was so outside, that no expense is spared oin keeping culturally significant buildings in good order. The interior of the Hermitage is stunning and better than any I can recall having seen. The gilding, albeit gold paint in most cases, is extensive and the furnishings opulent.

There are over 400 rooms here and we go from one sumptious room to the next. Opulence overload is a real risk. For 3 1/2 hours we see treasure after treasure. I am particularly struck by what appear to be a solid polished marble fruit dish except the one I have in mind is 3 metres high, 5 metres long and 2 metres wide. Perhaps it is not a fruit dish. It is truely spectacular but far from unique in this remarkable building.

Rooms have a feature, one of which is vivid emerald green marble likeornamentation. Masha comments that a small portion of the stone is very expensive and there are tons and tons here. There is so much that the quarry where the stone, actually malachite, came from is mined out.

By 4 pm we are foot sore and a bit dizzy with visual overload. We find a cafe where we have a late lunch of ham and cheese croissants and fruit flans. Then we visit another building to look at old masters and impressionist paintings. Once again the buildings are in beautiful condition. In some places, modern areas have been added to improve functionality and the architecture is impressive.

Around 7.30 pm Dima meets us to drive us home. Sitting down is welcome and we get to reinforce our internal map of where things are. We are so appreciative of how we are being looked after.

Dima has cooked a salmon like fish which we enjoy in their apartment. After dinner Dima and Marina go to pick up some relatives who are also staying with them in another apartment which Dima ownes while we stay here with Masha and two year old Aurora. Ro plays some piano while Aurora plays and observes.

Masha is a well travelled and philosophically inclined young woman. During the evening I have a discussion with her regarding communism which Russians generally seem to believe was a bad thing although there are some older people who think life was more predictable under the Soviet system. I express the thought that I am surprised communism was not more successful given what has been achieved in Russia since the 1920 revolution, despite the obvious problems communism presents concerning motivation of the individual. She thinks that a lot of the failure can be attributed to conflicts within Russia and with other countries, notably WWII. Maybe that is correct when one considers the growth of the other great communist power, China, who had been isolationist during times of world conflict.

After an enjoyable evening, we are tired from a lot of walking so go to bed by 11 It is still like 6pm outside and will remain so all night.

Thursday July 7 2016

As we have been having late nights (for us) we get going rather late in the morning. The skies are still gray and rainy but not heavy rain. Masha tells us that whenever you refer to St Petersburg, you also refer to rain although Alex and Katya say they have never had extended rain during their visits. We comment to Marina that it may be St Ps way of making sure we come back to try for sunny weather. We would be happy to do that. St Ps is a wonderful city. Not all cities we have visited have the nice aura which St Ps provides.

By late morning we have braved the traffic with Dima and Marina to get to the Yusupov Palace. This was built in the early 1800s and passed through various hands until the state assumed ownership after the revolution. It has been beautifully restored and maintained, the restoration being required after extensive damage during WWII.

The term 'opulent' is not very adequate to describe the palace. One room leads to an even more opulent one next door. There are three colour themed rooms blue, red and green which are spectacular, a word I have overused. The problem with superlatives is that there are only so many of them and what we are seeing requires a bucket load of them. The ballroom, diningroom and stairways all deserve at least one each.

On the ground floor we see the forerunner to the home theatre. Only this one is a bit special. It is a miniature operahouse! It has two storeys of boxes, a royal box and a small stage with lavish curtains. There is also what appears to be an orchestra pit although it is almost a storey deep. Maybe it has an elevating floor. Naturally all the numerous mouldings are lavishly gilded.

We are treated to a quintet of male singers who perform a beautifully presented Traditional Russian piece. The voices are in wonderful harmony over a full range.

By 4 pm it is time for us to return home to change because we are going to the opera tonight at the renouned Marinsky Theatre where we will see Iolanta by Tchaikovsky. After a quick change into more appropriate clothing, we have a light dinner which Dima has made then Dima drives Masha, Alexi, Ro and I back into the city through heavy traffic to the theatre. The hospitality which they have shown us is well beyond anything we might have expected. We have explained to them, hopefully translated correctly across the language divide, that all their hospitality has created an obligation on their part to allow us to reciprocate in Australia.

The traffic is horrendous but we arrive with 5 minutes to spare. It is still raining so we are thankful to be dropped by Dima at the door. Alexi arrives a minute later.

Hurrying into the building, we are surprised when Masha suggests we have time for a glass of wine. She explains that the start time is 7 and patrons will not be admitted if they are late but so many people are late that they start about 7.20. So we get our wines and around 7.15 the bells ring to summon us to our seats. The late start is symptomatic of Russian practicality. It is evident in their driving, their timing of meals etc and in how they organise business and life. On the roads, people drive at breakneck speed and where ever there is spare road it is used. Nevertheless, the drivers all seem to know who has right of way and the system works very well. Rarely do you hear a horn sounded in anger. The society seems to us to run smoothly. Perhaps the residents would have another view.

Once again the building is spectacular. Five rows of boxes rise to the ceiling probably 35 metres above us. It is as wonderful as was the Paris Opera House although the entrance is perhaps less opulent than the Paris building. There is so much opulence in St Ps that a bit of understatement is quite refreshing.

The opera itself is not enthralling but that may reflect our lack of exposure to the art form. Nevertheless, the experience is one to treasure.

Following the opera, we walk in the drizzle to buy some Georgean wine then get a taxi home. The 20 km in the taxi costs is AUD13! We comment on how cheap that is and Masha relates that in China she got a 2 hour taxi ride for AUD2!!!! We was robbed!

At home we have a glass of wine before going to bed at 12.30.

Friday July 8 2016

Finally a morning which is cool and gray but dry!! Last night Dima and Marina said they would like to sleep in until 10 so we oblige, although that is no great sacrifice.

By 11.30 we are ready to hit the tourist trail but Ro has a bout of dizziness which slows us a little. She is now able to control that which in past years wiped out half a day.

Dima takes us in to see St Isaacs cathedral which we are told is a must see. We park near by, marvelling that there are no parking fees and any bit of kerb side is fair game. We have tickets for the cathedral, more correctly termed a museum, and for the collinade 40 metres above street level and reached by 250 spiral steps.

I have already mentioned the inadequacy of superlatives here in St P and once again we are presented with an interior which words are inadequate to describe. The cathedral was built over 40 years from around 1818 using thw work of 500,000 workers. The architect involved spent his entire life on the project and died 27 days after its opening. What he lived to see is remarkable but what we see now, following extensive damage in WWII, has been extensively restored to reflect that initial magnificence.

Following the revolution it was transformed to a museum of atheism which must have been very painful for those who practiced their devotion there. In WWII it was extensively damaged through gunfire and damp. Schrapnel marks on some columns have been retained as a memorial but following the war, 17 years were devoted to returning it to its original glory, albeit as a museum rather than a place of worship. Today a small part is retained for religious ceremonies.

Inside we see a replica of the scaffolding built to move the numerous 100 ton solid stone columns and a model of the triple domes which together form the roof , the inner dome and the middle support dome. But that is where any sence of the prosaic ends. The interior is mind numbingly spectacular. From the towering external doors to the ornate internal symbolic gates, from the huge solid 100 tonne external columns to the ornate bronze 3mm green malechite veneered internal columns.

There are about 150 religious art works culminating in an 800 square metre painting on the dome It is impossible to describe the splendour.

After leaving the cathedral, we climb the 250 steps to the collenade. The view from the top is wonderful and reminds us of that from Sacre Coeur in Paris. But here there are no sky scrapers to marr the view. As a bonus, it is not raining but it is still windy.

On returning to ground level we walk along Nevskiy Prospect which is the main street. We walk on to The Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood . This is a rather complicated name for a splendid building which was created through contributions by the people to create a memorial to a Tzar who abolished slavery and was assasinated for his trouble. And splendid it is. It has byzantine turrets ornately decorated and is iconically associated with St Petersburg in a similar vain to St Bazil's in Moscow.

Dima has been summoned to pick up Marina, Masha and Ola from a walk they had taken but during which they had run out of puff. We will return home via the Metro with Nikita. After a walk along the canal and a quick look in Kxxx cathedral, which is packed with worshipers at a service, it is time to return home.

Entering the Metro station at Nevskiy Prospekt we purchase a ticket for 70 cents Australian which allows us to ride to any other point on the system. That is how to make public transport work. Make it so cheap that most can't justify cars. Which is a good thing as the traffic jams are bad enough as it is.

We had wanted to see the metro as it is renouned as clean and bright. We take an escalator probably 100 metres or more into the earth where the station consists of a clean well lit tunnel with doors which when open revela the train. We have 8 stops before transferring to another line for a further 8 stops. The 20 km trip takes about 20 minutes.

At Akademicheskaya station we return to ground level to walk the 10 minutes to the apartment. Not quite so easy. While Nikita knows the address, he does not exactly know the way and Ro's foot is starting to complain. After some wrong directions, we eventually get to the land on which the apartment block is located. Fortunately Dima is waiting there in the car so a potentially long walk is averted.

Dima has cooked a lovely Russian borsch soup which we have before a rest. His hobby is cooking so we have been spoiled with eating typical Russian food which has been delicious.

It is around 11 by now as White Night encourages the evening to disappear. What otherwise would be approaching bedtime for us in Russian culture is just the start of play time. Dima and Marina have been telling us, via what may be dodgy translations, that 10 bridges on the Neva open each summer evening to allow large ships through. The reason that the translation may or may not be dodgy is that this phenominon translates as “The Divorce”. Since this event cuts off one bank from the other for 2 hours each night, maybe the translation is correct.

While we are surprised that it is worth staying awake from midnight to 3 am to watch this, when we arrive the number of parked busses and passenger ferries on the river suggest that others think it is too. It is quite a chilly evening but we stand watching the bridge and at the appointed time of 1.30, the first starts opening. It is hydraulically operated and as it opens one huge span separates into two and they each rise into the sky, the street lamps ending up horizontal to the water. These are not small bridges and the engineering feat is impressive.

We clamber into the car and dash to the next bridge as it opens then to another which is a combined road rail bridge. The rail half rises vertcally on huhe columns while the road half pivots vertically reaching the same height as the columns. The whole sight is impressive, as is everything we have seen here.

We are back by 3am and hurredly shower and go to bed. Our sightseeing starts with a canal tour tomorrow and we need to be up by 9.

Saturday July 9 2016

Finally St Ps has seen fit to show the sun. The wind is less, the streets are dry and the atmosphere is dramatically changed. The extrenal facades are now even more magnificent than they were under cloudy skies. All Ro's photography is likely to be duplicated under these blue skies. Gilded domes glint and pale blue finishes are now even more spectacular against the blue sky.

After another typical Russian breakfast called Kornic and consisting of omlet and mushrooms in a type of pastry pie, we leave the apartment to pick up Ola and her two sons for the canal trip. We are expecting the usual tourist canal boat but instead we board an open 10 meter boat which we have to ourselves! Furthermore, there is a guide who speaks English who will give us a commentary during the 1 hour trip!

Although the guide apologises for his English, it is excellent. I ask him where he learned and he says he is self taught by reading. His knowledge of the buildings along the route is encyclopeadic.

Today is the first day without rain and there is a bit of sunshine. Although it is not exactly warm, it is pleasant. The canal boats provide rugs which suggests cool weather is not uncommon.

The route is a large square, passing under numerous bridges with limited head clearance and some quite long tunnels. By now we are getting a slight feel for the city geography so we recognise some buildings along the way. After one hour we return to the canal from which we left.

Marina, Ola and the boys will go walking while we explore Neskiy Prospect. We are happy to get the metro back but we are unsure once we get to Akademicheskaya station how we find the apartment building. As Dima is picking up Marina, Ola and the boys at 4pm at the canal, the offer is made to pick us up there.

For two hours we walk along Neskiy Prospect enjoying the bustling city. We go in to a couple of shop, one dedicated to women's makeup and one a clothing store. Both are chic amd stylish. Later we have coffee and apple strudel in a sidewalk cafe by a canal before returning to the canal via the Blood church.

Dima and Marina drive by as we arrive and after quizzing them we discover they went home and returned to get us as they did not want to subject us to the vaguaries of Russian transport systems. We chastise them but are most appreciative. They have been wonderful in their care of us.

Returning home we have a quick dinner before leaving for the ballet at the new Marinski Theatre.

It is the usual rally drive there. Ro loves the acceleration which is part of Dima's driving and I love the way the traffic works. Each driver seems to know his place. Faster drivers are accommodated without malice and every driver knows to whom to give way. Being a passenger is exciting without in any way feeling threatened. Driving here would be a lot of fun, unlike the chore it usually is at home.

Arriving at the theatre we are, once again, overawed at the architecture. It has been open for 5 years. The foyer has towering ceilings with suspended walkways and stairs. The lighting comes from strings of crystals which hang down from each level. Perhaps inspired by chandelliers but in a Picassoist way they are linear rather than circular. The main wall to the auditorium is of 2 cm thick translucent amber stone illuminated from behind.

Within the auditorium, there is a lot of light wood with 4 rows of boxes up to the 40 metre high ceiling. As we take our seats three rows from the stage, the orchestra begins with the overture.

The curtain towers above us and has a projected image similar to the external stone and with a giant white feather in the middle. It opens to reveal dozens of ornate costumes with grand props and the ballet begins. Although not ballet goers in Melbourne, the venue and fame of Russian ballet work their magic. We are captivated.

After 45 minutes or so there is an interval. We leave the auditorium and go in search of a drink. Ro and I want to buy the drinks but they only accept cash and Masha has told us we can use cards and need no cash. This proves to be bad advise. As we are with Dima and Marina, language is less than smooth. We both use translators which are great but sometimes the translation does not match the sentiment. Nevertheless we enjoy drinks of diverse description and finish them just in time to bolt back to our seats for Act 2.

The movements of both males and females are fascinating. In particular the females move in such a graceful way that one cannot help but be transfixed. This continues for another 90 minutes with another interval where we enjoy traversing the suspended walkways.

After the ballet finishes with 10 minutes of curtain calls, we leave the Marinsky and walk toward the car which has been shoehorned between two other vehicles. However first we will have some dinner.

There is a restaurant which looks suitable so we get a table. The waiter speaks English and is somewhat bemused that we don't speak Russian and Dima and Marina don't speak English. Fortunately the language barrier is not a barrier to communication as we have established a firm friendship.

After dinner, we return home and get an early night. 12.30 am has become an early night.

Sunday July 10 2016

The plan today is to visit the memorial to those who perished in the siege of St Petersburg and then to Peterhoff, the royal palace.

The memorial is gut wrenching to say the least. There are 100,000s of Russians buried in mass graves, most dying from starvation during 1941 to 1945 during the time German forces laid siege to the city. They had expected to walk in to the city but had met resistance which continued until eventual victory when the Germans were defeated. The cost in human life and property was immense. The memorial is very important to the Russian people and the setting and music is beautiful. But the misery on which it is based form such a stark contrast that it makes me ashamed to be human.

We continue onto Peterhoff, 60 km away. This is a magnificent royal property established by Peter 1st which was all but destroyed in the same conflict in WWII. There are photographs of the shell which remained. That it has been reinstated is a remarkable fete from a remarkable people. The main theme of the estate is fountains which are gravity fed from the Gulf of Finland. Around each fountain, of which there are dozens, are gilded statues which glint in the sunshine. The grounds themselves are perfectly manicured and the tree lined prominades seem to go to infinity. Once again, magnificent is inadequate to describe the vista.

By 7 pm we are ready to leave as the palace itself has closed, unfortunately before we have a chance to enter. Maybe that is for the better because beauty overload is a real risk and the visit would have been rushed anyway.

Instead we stop for dinner at a restaurant at the estate gates.

From there, Dima and Marina want to show us Kronstadt, an island reached by a recently built tunnel. It was built at the same time as St Petersburg for protection. There are assorted fortresses around the island, some man made. But the crowning glory is the naval church. Its gilded domes glint in the late sun. The main dome has gold anchors around the circumference and the square echoes that with a giant anchor decorated in the paving which is best appreciated from the air. A photo attests to this. Along with the gilding, extensive mosaics embellish the entrance.

Arriving home about 10pm, naturally in dusk light, we open a bottle of wine to celebrate our last night. It has been a hugely memorable stay and we are so grateful the Marina, Dima, Masha and Alexi for all they have done for us. In a brief time we have established a firm friendship.

We get to bed at a more normal 2am. Life is a bit different here.

Monday July 11 2016

Our final morning dawns dry and sunny. Rain was predicted but it looks like that won't happen.

We have suggested to Dima that we should be at the airport by 3 for a 5.30 flight but he suggests 4 is OK. I have expressed interest in seeing his electronics business which he dismissively says is only small.

By 10 we are ready to leave. Marina looks after the accounts of the business so we say our farewells to Masha, Alexi and Aroura, who is now fairly comfortable with us, Jim the dog, who is now a good friend, and the four of us pile into the car for the rally drive to the factory.

The business is located in a huge multi storey factory which in former times was some large facility. In Russia, the high level of upkeep of the historical buildings is matched by an equally low level of upkeep of business properties, roads and some residential high rise properties. This facility certainly meets the latter. It is a rabbit warren of passages and rooms and dark stairwells However our tour of the four or 5 very large rooms which house the business reveals sophistocated modern equipment for the design, testing and manufacture of circuit boards. And the small business employs 35 plus casuals when busy. So rather bigger than small. It makes it even more special that Dima and Marina have taken a week off work to show us their city. We have been very fortunate.

When we leave, Marina is staying at work while Dima drives us to the airport. We have protested on three or four occasions that we can easily get a taxi but Dima insists. He says he has customers to see near the airport but we suspect that is a rouse to silence us.

Our farewell to Marina is rather swift and public, being in the office with two or three others. It is a strange feeling as we have grown close to both them. Despite the language barrier, we think Marina feels the same and that is confirmed by later Whatsapp texts, albeit subject to the vaguaries of the translator.

Dima says there is time to visit the porcelain factory on the way to the airport so we park outside a modern looking building in an unlikely city location. Parking in typical Russian style is practical. As there are no parking spaces available, Dima double parks, leaves his hazard lights on and puts a sign in the window which says something like “Back in 10 minutes” and his mobile number. As the showroom is only 30 metres away, he can return if someone needs to move. This is a practical and tolerant country when it comes to traffic and parking.

The factory has been on the site since 1740 which explains its location. There are thousands of items displayed from AUD 10 to AUD 10,000. Dima comments on the high priced items that you could buy a new car here for that price. However we have seen over the past days that in Russia there were people for whom AUD 10,000 for a vase was a negligable amount. In Copenhagen last year we saw a Russian private ship which suggests those days have returned.

Returning to the car after finding nothing we think we can safely carry home, we climb in and leave. No one has been inconvenienced by our double parking and the porcelain factory has had three more potential customers, unfortunately not to their advantage on this occasion.

We arive at the airport by 4 and check in.Unfortunately the plane boards in 15 minutes so there is no time for coffee. We bid Dima farewell in an even more public place but farewells at airports seem more normal. We sadly wave as we disappear through the doors. But either we will be back or Dima and Marina will visit us in Australia or, hopefully, both.

On Sunday Dima had asked us what we most liked. It was an imponderable question. Everything here is superlative and one wonder always led to an arguably greater wonder. St Ps has to be on any “must see” list.

The flight to Amsterdam goes smoothly but on the ground, time slips away and we find ourselves in a long customs queue when the schedule board says “Go to gate“. Drawing the attention of an attendant to our plight we are whisked through customs post haste. The cheery interaction with the Dutch customs is in stark contrast with that of the Russian customs officers who are obviously still trained in the old Soviet ways. We have found the Dutch seem universally friendly and helpful.

Our gate proves to be 1/2 a kilometer away so we jog most of the way expecting unsympathetic stares from crew and passengers as we board late. Fortunately there is still a short queue so we escape that ignominy.

By 9.45 we are on the ground in Milan. Where the van is parked we need to call a number to request pickup. There is an information desk where we should get some help. We don't. The male attendant dismissively says to go upstairs. We say we have no coins to call, can't speak Italian and are not sure which numbert to dial. A dismissive shrug of the shoulders tells us that is not his problem and he says the people will speak English. Over the next few days we will find friendly Italians who willingly help us but not the information staff. As we have found in France, the help desk people seem to be screened to be as unhelpful as possible.

Finally a floor cleaner directs us to the appropriate exit where we are fortunate to find an english speaking traveller who is waiting to go to the same carpark. When the van arrives, she helps with transalation with the driver who doesn't speak English.

Our plan is to sleep overnight at the park and leave at 6am. Our helpful translator explains that and the driver says that is OK but to move the van over near the office.

As we get ready to move, Ro notes the rear window is broken. Burglary I assume. But ovservation shows that when the van was backed up to the wall a bicycle handlebar hit and punched through the window. Damn! But that is a problem for the morning. We are very tired now and need to sleep.

Tuesday July 12 2016

The night is very hot and this makes sleeping difficult. Finally, when we get to sleep, probably after 12, the sleep is short lived as the operation gets going at 4am with slamming of doors, revving of engines and generally making sleep impossible.

At around 6am the young woman to whom we gave an Australian map when we arrived is in the office. This gesture proves now to be of value because we must get some help before leaving. The state of the window will mean fumes are sucked into the van as we travel.

I mention the broken window and she comes to look, seemingly unaware. I suggest we go to the other location to look for bits of plastic and she accompanies me. There are no bits there. I explain that we must fix the window as carbon monoxide may be sucked in and we cannot drive like that. The implication is that we could not have driven here with it broken and she seems to accept that it happened here, which I am fairly certain she knew anyway. A plastic garbage bag allows a tempory repair and I ask her for help to find a repair centre. As I repair the window, a gruff Italian looks at it and says “Not possible”, most likely implicating him as the driver who broke it. I fill out an insurance claim with the young woman's help and we prepare to leave.

The repair place is 15 km away and we battle traffic to get to it. Arriving before they open, we wait on a busy motorway exit for their gate to open. When they do, they can't help but direct us to another place directly opposite the busy motorway. It takes 10 minutes to traverse the circuitous route to get there.

They are also closed. Their sign says they open at 10 in the winter and 10.30 in the summer, presumably their most busy time. But this is Italy. They do have windows to suit but not in our size and a German speaking lady informs me that she does not know where we might get one. Maybe that is what she said. The tempory repair is quite solid so we will continue on our route to France and worry about the window later.

Our next problem is to get gas while we are in Italy where it is plentiful, unlike France where we believe it is not. Over the next 5 hours we visit at least 20 stations, none of whom have the correct adaptor. The last place we bought gas which had an adaptor was a fortuitous find.

Along the way we do a couple of circuits as we recognise places we have passed before. One station we visit twice, two hours apart as we have been directed by each place without an adaptor to somewhere else which may have one.

Also along the way we see a number of women sitting on chairs. They are offering their services to passing motorists. Some have skirts short enough to leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. It looks like a rather desperate way to earn a living.

Finally we call in to a Mini dealer as we have been directed to a gas place we can't find. There we speak with an English woman (Hooray!!!!!) who has an LPG car and who knows the problems with getting gas. She directs us to a station which has an adaptor and we fill the tank. Our search for gas is reminiscent of our 2011 trip where we spent a similar amount of time searching.

By now it is 5pm and we are 5 hours from our destination in France. There are few places where we can stop but fortunately one presents itself and we thankfully prepare for the night. The only minor downside is that, as on some previous occasions, we may look like a mobile brothel. Toots from some passing cars confirm this suspicion. Still, a little extra money on the side may come in handy.

We move to a spot a little further from the road and hidden by trees and have a quiet night with our first long sleep in two weeks.

Wednesday July 13 2016

Our chosen path is through Italy to the French boarder following a road which tracks through the alps. It is very picturesque as we drive in the valley with alps towering thousands of metres above us. Along the way we stop for lunch where we can gaze up at the peaks.

It is a short time after our late lunch that Thomasina directs us to TURN LEFT in her usual stern voice. The left turn is toward the peaks. The road gets very steep very quickly! We are in and out of second gear until before long we abandon second gear and stay in first.

The road is very narrow and there are quite a few cars driving down. At passing points we inch past one another before continuing. As we proceed, the road gets even steeper. It is so steep that if we stop there is a good chance we will not be able to start again. Still cars keep coming but the road becomes slightly wider and without sheer drops on our passenger side so we don't need to stop. Apart from the difficulty in restarting, the likelihood of overheating the clutch is real.

Incredibly, we pass cyclists riding up the hill. Presumably this is a major milestone. Something to achieve before a cyclist dies. The two events may well be interdependent.

Finally the serpentine road starts to flatten out. The clutch is still working. The engine temperature is still in the normal range and we have not run out of fuel. Life is good. And the views are marvellous.

Unsurprisingly this is a ski resort. Looking across there are steep ski runs through the fir trees and numerous chair lifts. There are also some stone buildings perhaps used centuries ago by herders during summer. It would be rather inhospitible in winter.

After enjoying a hot drink on the summit it is time to venture into France. The boarder is marked here. Our trip down is likely to be as fraught as our trip up but this time with the brakes overheating instead of the clutch. However we are pleasantly surprised as the road is much wider and the engine in second retards the van sufficiently to not need the brakes much. It is a much more enjoyable trip.

By 6.30 we have reached our French campsite. We check in and drive up to our pitch. We are still in the alps region so the camp site is very steep. Entry is a bit touch and go with the engine threatening to stall.

As I am very tired, we stop at the first pitch we find. After a short walk there is a more appealing one on offer. My tiredness is such that I do not see a tree behind. Reversing is OK but as I swing out forward there is a loud crunch. A light fitting on the tree has been demolished. Furthermore, the handlebar of the bicycle on the back has pushed forward........through the temporarily repaired window!!!! Fate has definitely got a sense of humour.

We will sort out the mess tomorrow. We are becoming quite adept at sorting out messes in the morning.

 

Thursday July 14 2016

This morning things seem a bit clearer. Unfortunately the sleep has fixed us but not the light or van. There is a gash near the door and the circuit board on the lamp is irrepairable. What a bummer.

The van needs to be emptied of waste and filled with water. The site map shows a dump point but investigation of the area reveals a sign to the dump point but no dump point. Un petit puzzle, as is often the French way.

Morning tea is the answer. There is WiFi available near the office so we spend some time catching up on messages and correspondence. On a few occasions I enter the office but the attendant is busy with others so I leave. Eventually I wait for a few minutes and he is free. I explain that I damaged a lamp but his response is “I am too bizee. Write on this paper.” Foolishly I do so rather than respond “I am too” and leaving. Some time later I return to check about the dump point but he is on the phone. I wait a few minutes and leave. Eventually after returning a few times I get to ask about the dump point. It is in fact the unlikely spot I viewed. It is so impractical I think we must still be in Italy. Later when we dump our gray water, a French lady asks about the WC dump point and when I explain what I was told, even she is incredulous. I don't use that dump point.

The rest of the day is spent lazing about, including use of the water slide which, if the truth be known, is why we are here. The slide is a double loop anticlockwise followed by a loop clockwise and quite fast. Good fun.

As the afternoon finishes, the wind picks up and there is some rain. But we have a quiet night's sleep.

Friday July 15 2016

The camp site is not very inspiring apart from the water slide. It is very steep, the pitches have no grass and the office attendant is gruff. We will pack up and leave early.

By 9 we are at the office. The gruff attendant is there again and as we indicate we want to check out he refers to the broken light. They are expensive, he says. We must pay 865 euro. But if we pay cash, he will accept 430 euro. Will we get an invoice? Yes. Can we pay by card? No. Then we will make an insurance claim for the 865 euro. But, he says, the insurance excess may be 400 euro. Ring your company and check. By now we are suspecting something. The battery backed emergency light I think would be under AUD200 in Australia. He says it must be waterproof which is why it is expensive. Baloney we think. He has an accident report which we must fill out. It is in French and he shows little interest in helping. We say we will fill it in at our insurance agent but he says we cannot leave until the form is complete. Eventually he assists and where he has written French explanations I write in English what I understand it to say. We finally leave at 11. Not a pleasant experience.

However the drive to our next campsite is beautiful, the sun is shining and soon our spirits are restored.

After three hours driving Ro sees a sign to Le Vallon des Oiseaux, Valley of the birds. We stayed there in 2011 and loved it. That was much later in the season and we were the only guests. This time there are many more people and the weather is much warmer.

Our first challenge is that they don't take cards and we don't have any euros. There is a viaage nearby which Thomasina will direct us to. It is 4.5 km away down a narrow road which will involve a lot of reversing by someone if we meat another vehicle coming toward us. But luck is on our side and we see no other cars.

The village is hundreds of years old with an enormous town square where we can park. The locals direct us to the cash machine as Thomasina is decidedly unreliable when used on foot. Naturally because we know where to go, her unnecessary directions are perfect. But that may like saying something you are searching for is always in the last place you look.

Our return trip is equally lucky with no other vehicles. At the campsite we park in the same location we did 5 years ago.

The camp is run by very friendly Dutch people and is set in a lovely valley. The pool which was covered last time is uncovered this time. It is beautifully clear with wonderful paving surrounding it and stone walls which compliment the stone buildings built hundreds of years ago.

There is dinner available for which we book. At dinner we are seated with a Dutch family who speak very good English..... and French and German. The English will suit us fine. We have an animated discussion over a 3 course meal which is rather more than we normally eat.

By 10.30 we are ready to sleep. The sky is perfectly clear so the night is quite cold. But we are snug in our Escargot de Wheels and enjoy a long quiet sleep.

Saturday July 16 - Monday 18 2016

Awaking rather late, we want to have a swim before breakfast . When we arrive, a water aerobics class is just finishing. Maybe tomorrow we will join it.

Our day is a leisurely one spent mostly by the pool reading and swimming. It is how we spend the next two days also. For three days we don't see a single cloud in the sky. That is not a lot like Melbourne.

Our overnight has changed into 4 days. John, the camp owner, had prediced that we would stay more than one day. He suggested one month but we won't quite make that.

We love this environment as we did last time. Perhaps a bit more this time due to the beautiful weather. The stone buildings are evocative and the stone theme has been copied with all infrastructure.

On Sunday night we go for a walk when it is a bit cooler and are surprised how extensive the campsite is. In the office there is a picture of what the property looked like when bought in 1986. John is certainly a people person and in discussions we discover he has similar views to us. Maybe that in part explains why we like it so much here.

Tuesday July 19 2016

Our intention to leave early does not quite materialise. By the time we have dumped waste and filled water it is about 10.

It is nice to be on the road again. We intend staying at a campsite about 4 hours away. With stops to buy some coolant and morning tea and lunch Admittedly the coolant purchase took a little time as we wnated to get coolant this time. Last time, what we thought was coolant was in fact windscreen washer fluid. But we do have the clearest radiator in these parts.

It is around 4.30 when Thomasina directs to turn off a main road and onto a minor road. We had wondered why she thought the last 20 km were going to take 45 minutes and soon we find out why. The road is very steep and narrow. Not quite Italian/French alps steep but just as narrow. Not that the locals seem to appreciate that. They scream by without any apparent concern.

Finally at the top we turn onto a narrow road. We thought the previous road was narrow but we were wrong. After two km when we thankfully don't meet any cars we reach the camp site.

First thing is a swim then a glass of wine and then we go to the office for our first wifi connection in 5 days. A lot can happen in five days..........

It now seems that while we were enjoying the sun, our friends and relatives were asking us to confirm we were not involved in the Nice attack in France, some 60 km from where we had been saying. As we did not have internet access, we were unaware of the concern. Furthermore, it was only at the camp where we had no internet access that the camp manager mentioned the attack to us. It did not occur to us that people might be worried. Rather embarrassing really. Even more unfortunate is that now we can respond, most of those concerned in Australia are fast asleep as it is 3am. Those that can sleep that is.

Wednesday July 20 2016

The morning is even more perfect than the last few! We have breakfast then walk to the office to see what messages we have.

We are not short of messages. If the anger is a measure of how much we are loved, we are fortunate indeed. It transpires that people around the globe have been trying to find our location. Perhaps this is a good spot to apologise to all we have worried and that seems to be quite a few. The problem was that when we were at Origan the broken light created some angst, not the least with the guy in the office who was not at all helpful. Had this not happened we would have posted some blog and all would have been well. After 1 1/2 hours decyphering and filling in forms we did not understand, we were pleased to leave as fast as we could.

But life is like that. So here we are in another paradise. It is a bit like St Petersburg where one splendour led to the next. It is similar here with natural beauty.

The reception for La Combe de Ferrier is on one side of the narrow road and the camp on the other. The reception is actually the home of the owner. It is quite an impressive building with different parts added. Later we learn that the oldest dates back to the 13th century with additions in the 14th, 15th and 17th centuries. All built out of shale type rock similar to low grade slate called schist. There is also a wide terrace with a large fig tree and overhead trellis complete with grape vine. Absolutely beautiful.

By the time we get back to our van, it is lunch time. Ro makes a rather beautiful aperitiff of once frozen berries (courtesy our less than freezing fridge) and an ice cream, six of which we bought yeaterday. Although we found them too sweet yesterday, today, now molten, with the tart berries the combination is delicious.

There is a quite steep walk down to a creek which we start down. The day is quite hot so we venture only part of the way before returning so as not to overheat. Later we venture further as it is now overcast and a bit cooler. The track is all rock with a rock fence on one side which looks 100s of years old. Learning later that the house is so old means the fence is likely 500 years or more old. The moss grows lushly and the effect is evocative. The rock is beautiful with split surfaces glinting with many hues in the sun. What a feature wall it would make.

We while away our time reading and swimming before a delicious fish dinner which Ro cunjurs up around 7. After that we go for a walk further along the narrow road. We have been advised that it is better to return by the same road we came in and the narrowness and state of this road confirms that.

On our walk, one kilometer down the road we come across a bridge of stone supported by a tall arch which may be 200 years old and a bit further another stone house of 4 or 5 buildings. It has quite a new concrete tiled roof and it is for sale! For some years I have harboured a desire to buy a building to do up here. Maybe............ I will sleep on it.

Thursday July 21 2016

Well the feeling has not passed but we are moving on. The office opens at 9 and it is 8.30 so we can access wifi while we wait.

As we walk across the road, there is what in Australia would be a lunch truck selling groceries. This reflects the effort one has to go to to reach a grocery shop/supermarket. It is a truck with one side opening with a counter.

After 30 minutes we have sent what messages we want, paid our 22 euro for last night and returned to the van. We are ready to face the narrow roads.

As we return along the way we came. The grocery truck is still there. There is little room between the truck and bins on the other side of the road. A figure in the truck waves wildly. Although we think there is room we stop. The figure lowers the truck side which is raised horizontally which we did not see and which we would have removed! That wuld have been depressing. Perhaps a flashing light or road sign either way would be in order. Still, no harm.

The very narrow road extends 2 kilometers during which we see no other cars. It then opens up to a merely narrow road which we follow for 10 km. As we climb further the scenery is wonderful. Few things inspire awe in me more that towering mountains.

As we proceed, narrow roads open to progrseeively less narrow ones until we are on a decent width two lane road. The scenery continues but now I, as driver, can enjoy it a bit rather than peering around every corner for oncoming vehicles.

Around 11 we stop for morning tea overlooking a village. The stone house for sale keeps beconing.

Driving through the Midi Pyenees area along narrow back roads we see many villages dating back to medieval times. The buildings here although stone are quite different from the ones at our last camp. Orange terra cotta rounded tiles on the rooves present a wall of orange across the many steep locations.

By 5 pm we are approaching the camp we intended for tonight. Ro had wanted to visit the town of Monflaquin which we enjoyed so uch last year. I think it is well north of the route we are taking but to our surprise we see a sign to the village. The nice thing about a motorhome is that one can change plans at the drop of a hat. In fact in recent days, hats have littered our path. One more hat will be neither here nor there so we replan and decide to visit Monflaquin. Last year it was hot and crowded. This year it is still fairly hot but at 6pm it is unlikely to be crowded.

Wrong! The square has tables set up and is packed with people, although we are not sure why. Where we had lunch last year we liked the food and the setting so we choose the same sidewalk cafe. Sitting looking over the square and down the steep alleyways is magical. I like France.

Since we are at Monflaquin, we might as well resurect our plan to stay at Laborde again. Last year we enjoyed the water slide and classicalish music by the pool. Perhaps the enjoyment can be repeated this year.

However it is now 9pm and the office will be closed. We will wildcamp tonight.

 

Friday July 22 2016

Our wild camp spot is as restful as one can expect at a 4 road intersection. Admittedly these are French back roads but still there is the odd tractor, car, truck and high pitched buzzbox motorbike. But not enough for us to lose sleep over.

By 9.15 we have had breakfast and are ready to travel. If you call 3.6 km travelling.

At Laborde we checkin at 9.30, half extecting to be told we cannot check in until 12. But the guy in the office is very friendly, helpful and does not object to speaking English. We remember his friendliness from last year.

It is quite overcast but not cold. The weekend is expected to be hot. We select a campsite with plenty of shade close to the pool and within an hour or two the sun is shining.

The pool area is quite nice with two water slides. After reading on sun lounges for a while, the slide beckons. I am a sucker for things which beckon.

The water slide is much faster than I remember and faster than any I have been on this trip. Although Ro has said she won't slide, by my fifth slide, she joins me for three slides. Water slides always illicit an ear to ear grin and this one does not disappoint.

By late afternoon the weather is closing in again and there is some thunder, lightening and light rain. It should be gone by tomorrow.

We appreciate when we have wifi available and we have it here. No calamities have occurred since we last logged on and in fact we have good news. Alex and Katya were to join us in St Petersburg until life interfered when Alex required an operation. We receive news today that his operation went well which is good news indeed.

Around 8 we have dinner Chez Rosemarie, a little cafe we frequently visit where the food is delicious and unique. In fact I have a bit of a thing going with Rosemarie, which, I might add, does not in any way cloud my judgement of the cafe's quality.

Tonight will definitely be quiet. None of last night's noisy interruptions here.

Saturday July 23 2016

Noisy interruptions are not the only thing which can prevent sleep. A far more effective way to prevent sleep is one of Ro's vomiting attacks. Over the past year she has been very adept at avoiding the attacks by utilizing various mental techniques which attempt to uncouple her cochlear balance input from her other balance inputs. It is the contradiction of inputs which causes the vomiting. We assume the technique has been helpful but we really don't know. Nor do any doctors. This attack is worse than she has had for 12 months. It starts about 2.30am and continues until 6.30. We sleep until 10.30 and the rest of the day is spent recouperating.

By 3pm she is feeling better and we spend some time by the pool.

Later we have dinner at the restaurant. Ro has a salad with some mystery meat and I have a pizza which is so uninspired there is no mystery about it. I can't complain as that is what I ordered, unadventurous gastronomic soul I am.

There is a guest band which starts palying about 9.30 and I listen to them for an hour. I hope the music they play will improve but it doesn't so I return.

Hopefully tonight will be a bit more relaxing.

Sunday July 24 , Monday July 25 2016

The night is quiet and peaceful, as are the following two days. We intended staying one or two nights but it has stretched to four and would probably stretch further were it not for our dwindling provisions.

The site is very enjoyable, the weather is pleasant and we are happy to relax here, with the occasional fast water slide.

Mid afternoon a new arrival on the next door site is sporting an Australian accent amid speaking Dutch. It turns out he left Sydney 25 years ago. His partner spent a short time in Australia and her accent when speaking English has a slight Australian flavour.

Monday night is a beautiful temperature and Ro enjoys a swim with no one else in the pool. I pike because I think the water is not warm enough. I actually discover otherwise after a while but by then it is time to return to our little haven.

Tuesday July 26 2016

After breakfast and WiFi-ing up near the office we get ready to leave. Our final task is to fill with water which is nearly empty and dump our waste which are both nearly full. That takes half an hour then we are ready to hit the road.

As we travel, the fuel needle is hovering on empty. Actually not hovering but stationary on empty. Monflaquin is the closest fuel stop, 14 km away.

Fortunately we get to the fuel bowser but the first automatic one is faulty and the second won't accept our card. There is another outlet 1/2 km back which is attended and 15% more expensive. But 15% more expensive beats running out of fuel so we buy there.

Next stop is a Lidl to reprovision. Then on to Arna which is a camp by the Atlantic 180 km away. We are told there are surf beaches there but what is considered surf here may or may not be what we in Australia consider surf. We visited the best surf beach in Wales which was at best underwhelming. Maybe this beach will be similar.

Along the way we stop at a pharmacy or two because Ro has run out of pycnoginal and we are hoping to get some locally. It is a strong antioxidant which comes from the bark of French maritime pine trees so one would think it might be available here.

We are 80km from our destination when we find a pharmacy who can order some in which will arrive 10am tomorrow. We had intended wild camping tonight anyway so we can do it near here and get the stuff tomorrow.

On the way in, we had seen an Aire with numerous motorhomes so we might stay there. However when we arrive, we are told in French “Privee”. It seems the local gypsies have hijacked the area and non gypsies are not welcome. Perhaps we are happy about that.

Instead we find a track leading to a forest which will do us for the night.

Wednesday July 27 2016

Nothing stirs during the night other than the odd truck noisily proceeding along the road 100 metres away. However in the morning we discover hoof or paw prints crossing the road 10 metres from our van. Maybe wild boar? The late night walk we decided against last night may have been a good decision.

We are at the pharmacist by 9.45 and the pycnoginal tablets are ready. We need more fuel so try Carfours fuel at 1.11 euro again. Once more our card is declined as a signature is required. We instead buy at 1.26 as per yesterday. Shortly after we find fuel at 1.11 where there is a teller. Drat again.

Finally we are on our way to Arna, 80 km away. It is an attractive drive, culminating in the now familiar narrow roads. We arrive by 12.30 and check in at reception.

An English couple we met a week ago are due here today at the site they have occupied for one week per year for the last 20 years. We request a site near them and are obliged with one which has good shade and is 100 metres away. The camp has perhaps 4000 people in peak season, which this is, so spralls quite a lot. There is a swimmingpool complex with an indoor water slide, albeit only half the height of the Laborde one. 200 metre from our camp is the Atlantic.

We set up and remove our bikes to explore. First is the pool complex where we lie under the overcast skies for an hour or so. Then down to “la plage”, the beach. I have a play in the small surf waves for 20 minutes but the waves are very hard to catch and are 1 metre at best. I catch only one or two which is as good as anyone else is doing.

Returning to our van, on the way we say hello to the English couple have recently arrived. They have been invited to dinner with long standing friends and we are not sure that we will stay here more than tonight. We might see them in the morning before maybe continuing on to Spain which is only 100km away. We think we will go on to Bilbao as the weather at present is not unbearably hot.

Thursday July 28 2016

After checking out we are on the road by 10am. The drive is very picturesque through the forest with little traffic, which is good due to its narrowness. There are numerous cyclists who claim the road for themselves. It is not uncommon to see two riding side by side as traffic behind waits for a place to overtake on the other side of the road. While I object to them using the road like this as they have their own marked lane, I object even more to them passing when traffic is stopped at lights or a roundabout. They can't have it both ways. If they want to use a car lane, they should wait behind blocked traffic.

Along the way we stop for some Tourist Office wifi as we didn't have it at Arno. Free wifi carries the price of having to provide information and wait for confirmation emails. But we have learnt our lesson about being out of contact with family for too long.

Further along we call in to Lidl then opposite to Intermarche to buy a new gas lighter. Given that we light the cooktop 5 or 6 times per day, matches are a poor option and we don't have many matches anyway.

Finally we enter Spain. In all countries, the different way in which objectives are achieved and the relative importance of things becomes apparent fairly quickly. So it is with Spain. There are many spaghetti road junctions as in Italy and the road signage is different, with different speed limts.

We travel along a coast road which hugs the cliff and provides wonderful sea views. I know they are wonderful because of Ro's comments. I have to watch around every corner for the next semi trailer or bus so don't have time to appreciate the views.

We are surprised by the rolling green mountains of the north. They are reminiscent of Switzerland, perhaps on a smaller scale. But driving through old towns squeezing past on coming cars is familiar. Added to this is the habit of locals to double park with hazard lights flashing forcing other traffic in the already narrow roads to negotiate a slalam course between.

The coast road continues to hug the cliff but gets narrower. At least semi trailers and buses know not to brave the roads........ well MOST buses.

On one of these narrow cliff hugging roads we find a reasonably large pull off area. This will be our overnight stay. We are delighted to find eucalyptus trees growing profusely. It evokes a very nostalgic feeling. There is a track leading down perhaps 50 metres to the rocky seashore which we take. The calm Atlantic view is toward England although we can only see France over to our right.

We should have a pleasant and quiet night with only the washing of waves against the rocks to send us to sleep.

Friday July 29 2016

It certainly is a quiet night. The only slight noise comes from three rifle shots around midnight. Mind you, those three small, short noises are sufficiently disconcerting to disturb our sleeping pattern. Ro awakse about 9.30am having slept solidly from 5am when she decided that any serial killers were not interested in us.

The trip to Bilbao is about 50 km and continues along narrow roads. At one point we travel up a steep incline in first but the descent on the other side is steeper than we have travelled anywhere. Even in first gear with full engine braking we still need the brakes which are in danger of overheating. However, as we approach Bilbao, the narrow roads are replaced by a complicated road system which makes me nostalgic for the narrow roads. But not steep ones.

As we approach the city via elevated roadways, we see apartment blocks competing in height with the rocky edifaces. The impression is of a modern city with sophistocated engineering and architecture, albeit with outcrops of old buildings crumbling with decay.

As we wind our way into the city proper, unsure of whether this is a mistake, we travel along a river landscaped either side with huge plane trees. Up ahead we see the world famous Guggenheim Museum.

There is a parking space we can occupy. We have some coffee in the van before going to pay the ticket machine. This proves to be an extended process. While a local we invite to buy his ticket before us takes 30 seconds to get his ticket, we, with the help of a French family, are still there 15 minutes later. Finally we get a ticket which says we are due back far later than the 2 euro should have allowed. The joys of foreign languages.

We walk across the river on a foot bridge which has a fascinating support structure relying on an offset beam with a horizontal arched decking. This theme repeats itself on other bridges we later see.

Everything in Bilbao seems to be elevated. After climbing steps to get onto the bridge, on the other side, below we see a tramway with very modern trams running on rails running through grass covered reserves. However there is an aerial bridge continuing over to a main thououghfare 20 metres above the river level.

The architecture is an eclectic mix of old and new without one subsuming the other. Walking along the road we reach the Guggenheim. What a stunning building it is. It has stone panels between vast areas of titanium tiles in a free flowing design. Later a discourse by Frank Gehry, the architect, explains that he allows his hand to move freely on paper while he thinks of various concepts. The resultant freeform sketch is what he bases his design on.

We are more interested in the building than the exhibits within. However inside we discover there are only a few art exhibits within the building and that the building itself is the main exhibit. This suits us. We spend 1 1/2 hours walking around the three levels and taking in some of the design concepts. It is a wonderful experience.

By 5 we are ready to find a camp site for the night. But not in Bilbao. Instead we set Thomasina for a beach about 10 km from where we are. As we approach, we see acres of parked cars but no beach. The beach must be really something.

We decide to travel a further 18km in search of a quieter campsite. But this is foiled when we reach a seaside town, named Castro-Urdiales , in which the camp is situated and it is row after row of multistorey apartments which go on for four or five kilometers. Finally we reach the campsite which is down another narrow road and up steep hills one or two kilometers outside the teaming metropolis. I am too tired to continue so this will do. At least we will get a good night's sleep here.

 

Saturday July 30 2016

 

We are undecided where to go this morning. However a comment from a passer by in the camp decides for us. We will go nowhere. Until we fix the completely flat tyre.

 

We have never had a flat tyre before. Had we not fixed the rear floor in 2012 we would be in a lot of trouble. It was then that we discovered that the undersling read box blocked the spare tyre winder mechanism. This time the problem was only remembering how to access the winder.

 

The jack is a 2 tonne one but struggles to lift the van. I borrow some blocks of wood to place below the diff for safety. It is a slow process and we are not on the road again until 1pm.

 

Our first port of call is a repair place. We are directed to a service station which may fix it but instead he directs us 200 metres up the road to a tyre place.....which closes at 1.30 and it is now 1.30. Fortunately we arrive when the door is open and the very efficient guy quickly changes the broken valve and swaps the wheel back before he closes. We are very appreciative.

 

We will now head for Charroux as we said we would be there Monday. We start on non motorways intending to avoid tolls. After 40 minutes, Thomasina says she has discovered a faster route if we retrace 5 km. What she does not tell us is that tolls are involved.

 

The first section has numerous tunnels and we are prepared for a hefty toll. But after 20 km, wonders of wonders, we are charged 59 euro cents at the toll gate!!?? Go figure.

 

Before the French boarder, we are charged 7.70 euro then a further 2.40 euro as soon as we are in France. Then the tolls are applied furiously. Two or three euros every 20 km or so. After a few of these, we get the gist and opt to leave, continuing on non-tolled roads.

 

By now it is around 7.30 following a few stops along the way. We see a nice treed parking area and will stay there tonight. Once parked, there are loud cracks of thunder followed by several more and light rain sets in.

 

Sunday July 31 2016

 

Our park is close to a Lidl so we will get some more provisions before continuing on to Charroux, about 4 hours away. Where we have parked some Rumanian plated vans have also parked. They look like they will leave the rubbish they have generated on the ground when they leave. It is a pity when rubbish bins are plentiful.

 

We drive to the Ledl park next door but soon discover the store is closed. Instead we hit the road for our 4 hour trip to Charroux.

 

It is a straightforward drive. We have selected to use motorways so it is the usual overtaking planning and leaning-forward-in-the seat-to-help-us-up-hills-as-trucks-nibble-our-bumper type driving. I have discovered that after a long day of such driving I have a sore back, especially in hilly country.

 

We arrive at Charroux about 5pm wondering if Mavis and Terry will be home. Our movements were not well defined so their being in France was not assured. But, although they are not there, it is evident that they are still here. They return 20 minutes after we arrive.

 

It is nice to catch up. We will stay in the van in their front yard for a few days before moving on. We have dinner of pizza with them before retiring around 10.

 

Monday August 1 2016

 

Mavis and Terry have three dogs who ensure we wake in the morning with loud barking. Admittedly it is 9 am so we should be awake anyway. We have breakfast on the front patio with M& T before our day's quest which is to fill the gas tank which we think should be close to empty by now. Our problem in Italy and France has been to get an adaptor to match their filling nozzles. However, Terry has a gas converted car and has the adaptor we need. We will borrow that and drive the 25km to the closest LPG, called GPL here, supplier. In past years we have had to spend many hours getting gas so with the correct adaptor we will not miss the opportunity. Furthermore, we can get this adaptor on the net, so says Terry, so I will do that from Australia for future years.

 

We arrive at Ruffec only to find the outlet cannot dispense gas at present. The next outlet is a further 40km so we travel there. Finally we can fill our tank, which when empty takes 30 litres. To my surprise, the pump cuts out at 10 litre, meaning we still had 20 litres left, enough for the rest of out time here and some for next year. On top of that, as we left T & M's a tree scratched the side of the van and broke our outside light. We have had nore scratches and dents this trip than all others put together! Finally we are back at Charroux by 4pm, having left about 10.

 

M & T are out tonight so I take the opportunity to get dirty by wire brushing and spraying the wheels which I have wanted to do for many weeks having bought aluminium spray before the catamaran holiday. All goes well but I notice the front wheel is getting low on tread. The spare is nearly new so I clean and spray that and replace the worn tyre as the spare. At the same time, I note the passenger front valve stem looks somewhat perished so we will replace that before it fails like the one in Spain.

 

The van looks much better with the newly painted rims. The improvement helps to offset the new scratches we have acquired this season.

 

Tuesday August 2 2016

 

While we have breakfast coffee with M&T on the patio, Mavis mentions there is a market in Civrey today which she will go to. We agree to meet them there after the valve is replaced.

 

The local mechanical repairer's teenage daughter is working with her father and quickly removes the tyre. She searches for a leak but can't find one. In broken French and with the help of the phone translator, Ro explains we want to replace it before it fails. In 10 minutes we are back on the road with a new valve. We are charged 12 euro. The 25 euro in Spain was a rip off, probably fuelled by a language barrier greater than the current one.

 

We find M & T just as they are leaving but continue to look at the stalls by ourselves. Nothing much appeals but we do buy a lovely quiche for our lunch with M&T. Back at Charroux, we enjoy M&T's company over the quiche then prepare to leave . We are on the road by 2.15.

 

We wnat to retrace our steps to a camp below La Rochelle on the west coast. It is 180km away if we take a ferry across the estury between La Rochelle and the camp. Mavis has told us that La Rochelle old port is worth a visit so we deviate via there.

 

When we reach La Rochelle, traffic is heavy and we don't see anywhere to park or anything we want to explore further so we continue on to the ferry. It is around 6.30 when we arrive and I am quite tired. We decide to have a snack while we decide where to spend the night.

 

Around 7.30 we decide that it would be better to take the ferry tonight and sleep on the other side, about 3 km and 20 minutes away by ferry.

 

After paying 48 euro for our ticket, rather more than we expected, we wait for 20 minutes before boarding and by sunset we are on the far side. As we leave the town, there is a forest with picnic tables and that will do us for the night.

 

Wednesday August 3 2016

 

It is a lovely quiet night. Not another motorhome in sight. That may be because of the “Motorhomes Prohibited” sign we see the next morning.

 

It is 35 km to Monta where we want to stay for the next few nights. After a leisurly breakfast we arrive by 10am. The site has 3000 pitches plus 127 tents, 152 mobile homes and 45 chalets all on 200 hectares. Really quite large. In fact probably the largest we have been to. Despite the size, because it is August, and everyone in France goes on holiday in August, at reception they struggle to find an empty site! Finally they locate a couple of sites which we can look at. The one we like is still occupied until 12 noon. With the amount of stuff they have on the large site, they will struggle to vacate in 1.5 hours.

 

We check in, which includes a photo id card the photo on which a prison inmate would be ashamed to show, then go to the pool area to wait. There are two water slides which look good but the pool complex is not open until 1pm. Instead we walk over to the beach which is crowded with thousands of people. The beach is supposedly a surf beach but, once again, is somewhat disappointing. I catch a couple of waves but nothing very exciting.

 

At 12.30 we return to our site which now has a spot to park the Escargot but the very friendly people are still some hours from being packed to go. One lady speaks very good English and is very friendly. She lives in Germany but has spent the last week or two with family and friends here. Their tiny caravan and stationwagon are packed to bursting before they finally leave about 5.

 

It is quite hot so we try to install the van under the few trees available. I then do a couple of repairs, including the brake handle which had broken on my bike.

 

Later we go to the water slides and they are indeed good fun. If it were not fot the dammed kids, we could have a good go at them.

 

Later we walk down to the second beach access where the tide is now coming in and the long walk to the water is replaced by a thin strip of sand which is gradually being taken back by the sea. There are still a lot of people in the water between the patrolled flags but the waves are all breaking without much chance of body surfing.

 

We want to get rid of our food before next Thursday when we return home so eat in. When we baught the quiche on Monday, the friendly vendor gave us one of her special saucages so Ro will cook that tonight.

 

Thursday August 4 2016

 

The forecast was for rain today and that is what we get. It is odd to compare the hordes of people moving around the camp yesterday with the complete absence of anyone today as the rain lightly but persistently falls. Our friends of yesterday left the right day. Today would have been miserable for packing up their voluminous quantity of stuff.

 

The light rain goes on until 4pm. It is just enough to keep us inside where we read and do a few odd jobs. The flywire on the port side (boating still fresh in our memories) is not retracting as it should so I want to remove it. However three screws are behind a shelf and take an hour to remove. Then another 30 minutes to refix after fixing the roller. Lucky I can't do anything outside.

 

By 4.30 the rain has passed so we walk up to the shops. There are 22 shops including some supermarkets and grocery stores. We need a few provisions from the supermarket then sontinue walking.

 

Half a kilometer further along there is a heated pool which we inspect. Although we don't have towels, the pool looks inviting so we spend half an hour there. I am particularly taken with the pool roof which is obviously quite new. It has tapered laminated beams with an opaque plastic roof. The beams are supported by tapered laminated columns and are bolted with a circle of bolts 400 mm in diameter. Nice engineering.

 

The lack of towels means it is a bit chilly drying off but we manage and walk one kilometer back to the van. This is a big place.

 

Friday August 5 2016

 

Blue skies return. The day is spent reading, going to the surf (ish) beach visiting the shops for bread, watersliding and walking. Relaxation is the key.

 

We have noticed that the French are generally a relaxed people. Perhaps that is why they have a highish average life span. Time is always made for talking , laughing and meeting with old friends. Admittedly one might expect that at a holiday resort but we have noticed it elsewhere also. There is a lot to be said for such a relaxed lifestyle.

 

Saturday August 6 2016

 

Another clear blue sky and about 27 degrees. The water slide pool is also 27 so it is very pleasant to swim in. We have a bit of a routine going. Breakfast, read, shop for bagette, visit surf beach to be disappointed, lunch, read, waterslide, dinner, beach walk. Go to bed. Rather predictable but enjoyable. We will be sorry to leave.

 

Sunday August 7 2016

 

Last full day. Our usual routine is modified when we visit a bar between watersliding and dinner. Over a glass of wine and a soft drink we access the only free internet on the site. The 5 euro we would pay to have access to the camp internet we instead spend on the drinks at the bar.

 

Monday August 8 2016

 

We need to leave by lunch time but have a few chores, namely water filling and waste dumping, to do before then.

 

To make our leaving this delightful site more pallatable, the weather genie has turned on some gray skies and a cool breeze. By 12 noon it is still overcast but the breeze is warmer.

 

After checking out we head toward Bordeaux. The roads for the first 20km are narrow and bumpy and it is quite a pleasure to get on good roads again. We have to head south east to get around the deep inlet over which we took the ferry last week. Our plan from Bordeaux is to head to a camp site about 1 1/2 hours from Beaurainville for our final night to prepare the van for our absence. The distance to that site is 755 km from Bordeaux and is predicted to take nearly 9 hours.

 

The afternoon is spent driving on motorways and other lesser roads all nevertheless in good condition and of reasonable width. With breaks along the way we eventually stop at a roadside aire at about 7.30 pm. Fortunately it is a nice one and inhabited by various carloads of people having picnic dinners or resting. There is a truck bay some way off so noise should not be a problem. We are 450km from our campsite so should reach it easily tomorrow, giving us two nights to pack our things and prepare the van. A bit extra time is always welcome.

 



 

Tuesday August 9 2016

 

We wake early;not because of noise but perhaps because we have our sights set on home. After breakfast we are on the road by 7.15.

 

The day is spent dashing along motorways. Our van struggles up hills (well, more like inclines) so driving is less than a relaxing experience as passing has to be planned including estimating whether a truck will be nibbling our bumper on the next incline.

 

We reach our camp about 3.30. The sun is shining but there is a cool breeze. It is a lovely treed site and should be a nice end to our time this year in Europe.

 

 

Let's eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we pack and dump.

 

Wednesday August 10 2016

 

Our penultimate day has arrived. It is overcast and cool; a good day for packing. The day is expected to peak at 23 at 5pm so the swimming pool will remain untried by us. Perhaps another year.

 

We spend the morning reading and playing two rounds of mini golf. The obstacles are possibly eclipsed by the poor condition of the course surface. There are about 8 holes and we go around in under 40. Probably not a course record. Ro's penance for getting a higher score than me is to do some washing which we are uncertain is going to dry by tonight. Fortunately it does.

 

The afternoon is spend packing, removing batteries and generally trying to remember what we need to do to leave the van for the winter.

 

At 7 we have an eclectic dinner of what is remaining in the cupboards and fridge.

 

We get an early night so we will be well rested for the homeward flight. Also we want to be up early to leave here by 8.30 for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Beaurainville.

 

Thursday August 11 2016

 

The early night means we awake at 4am and have trouble sleeping again. When we finally do, we awake at 7.50 which means we have to rush to leave. Finally we are on the road by 8.50 and should reach Beaurainville by 11.35 which leaves 2 hours before our train.

 

The drive is the usual and we arrive at 11.32 at the station. This year I will drop Ro and the bags at the station and take the van to its winter barn then walk back to the station about 15 minutes away.

 

All goes to plan and I am back at the station at 1.05. Our RER arrives at 1.25 for the 1 hr 50 min trip to Arras. That also goes to plan and we arrive there 40 minutes before our TGV trip to the airport. Sitting on the platforms we feel like old hands at this. It is quite a pleasant feeling.

 

By 15.30 we are speeding toward Paris. We will arrive at 16.17 then have a 4 1/2 hour wait to board our flight to Singapore. Our 2016 advanture is drawing to a close. We are no longer masters of our own destiny. Times and places are layed out for us. We will resume control of our lives in Melbourne at 6am local time Saturday.

 



 

The TGV arrives exactly on time and we queue to get an elevator to level 4. Air France is highly computerised and we can scan our passport to print boarding passes. We should be able to print our baggage tickets but, for us, computer says no. We must go through a manual baggage check. It turns out that this is because they have no record of our having paid for the tickets. We can offer no proof so the attendant shrugs in a typically French “What the hell....” way and we are on our way, thankfully without our bags. They will join us in Melbourne by a process which I think is one of the remaining great mysteries of life. That, and that computer software actually works.

 

We take the shuttle train to another part of the terminal and are left with two hours to kill before boarding. Before leaving the van, Ro made some delicious rolls one of which remains from our lunch on the RER. There are biscuits and cheese, chocolate cups, chocolate, fruit and cake, all the last remnants of food from the van. We will have a meal on board about 11pm so this will tide us over.

 

The plane leaves on time and by 9 we are on our way to Singapore.

 

Friday August 12 2016

 

The flight is 12 hours 15 minutes and it is always quite a marathon. Films, eating, walking a bit and the odd brief shutting of eyes gradually allow the time to pass. Finally we land at Changi at around 3pm, having moved our clocks 6 hours ahead.

 

We have a few hours here before our flight to Melbourne and first thing is to check in as we could not do that in Paris.

 

They have a surprise for us!!!! The flight has been cancelled due to some maintenance issue. That was not what we wanted to hear. Instead they offer us a flight tonight to Sydney followed by a domestic to Melbourne, arriving at 10am instead of the 6.30am we had expected. If we don't like that we can pass through border control and talk to the main desk. Presumably we could be put up overnight in a hotel and fly out tomorrow but we don't have our bags and probably don't want them anyway. We will stick to their offer.

 

We are on the plane and away by 8.30pm with a 7 hour 50 minute flight predicted. More films, food and fafffing about and finally we touch down on good old Oz soil. It is nice to understand all the signs and hear familiar accents.

 

Saturday August 13 2016

 

We have brought some teas and mushrooms from Russia and wonder what quarantine will make of it. The answer is sawdust. While, to our surprise, they allow the mushrooms, one of the hand picked teas has all kinds of potentially nasty seeds and is dumped.

 

We have to take a bus from the international terminal to the domestic one and during the 10 minute trip the guy opposite with the broad Australian accent is on his mobile. We tire of the familiar Australian accent by the end of the trip.

 

The last mercifully short flight lands at Tulla at 10am to a chilly 10 degree day. Now we consider we are home. We left 10 weeks ago and have travelled many thousands of air kilometers and 7000 more in our van. We have visited nine countries. But we still live in the best one. Well it will be when summer arrives.

 



 

 



 



 

 

Comments

1

Hi R & R,
Dima, Marina and we are all starting to worry about you as you have made no blog entries since 13th and no response to any of the messages sent to you through Whats Up. We hope you didn't go to Nice to get the back window repaired and get tangled up in the attack there. Please contact us ASAP to set our minds at rest.
Alex & Katya

  Alex & Katya Jul 17, 2016 4:45 PM

2

Hi Alex & Katya We too are worried. Scot is making contact with camping ground that they are staying in. Looks positive. However, we are not convinced. Out of character for them.
Judy and John

  Judy & John Jul 18, 2016 8:45 PM

3

Hi Alex & Katya Have confirmed they departed their camping ground on 15th July. I have spoken with the camping ground and they paid for the damage to the light, so I am sure that is correct. Will keep you posted

  judy nettleton Jul 18, 2016 9:06 PM

4

Hi Judy & John, Thanks for letting us know about that. We have been surprised they haven't sent any other messages to us especially as they obviously had wifi at the camping ground to be able to do the above blog. Dima & Marina have been worried about them too and they also phoned the camping ground and found they left there on the 15th. At least R & R can rest assured they have friends and rels who worry about them!
Trust you two are keeping well and enjoying life down there.
BTW tell Scott I sent a message to him on his Face Book.

  Alex & Katya Jul 19, 2016 8:11 AM

5

Hi Alex & Katya. I am presuming they have had trouble with their tablet that they use for their blogs and whats app. They had two issues with their window and that would make the third (things always come in threes). I am still surprised that they have not contacted any of us, after the issues in Nice. However, they probably have not thought that we would be so worried. I will be having a stern word with them when I hear from them!!!!!!

  Judy & John Jul 19, 2016 6:03 PM

6

Hi Judy & John,
Have just read their blog. It's good to know they are safe. Having quite an adventure there. I want to be a fly on the wall when you speak with them. Hahahaha.

Hi R & R,
You'll really have to learn to reverse the vehicle without smashing lights at places - it's a good way of getting them grumpy with you. Another alternative is to carry spare light stands that you can erect in place of the ones you smash. BTW, how much did you finally agree to pay for the light? TheValley of the Birds camping ground you described sounds really good except for the crumby access. How far is it from the coast? You really should put some pics on the blog as it would be nice to see places such as this and the nearby old village that you described. Makes it interesting to see them along with your description at the time.
Have you got the back window replaced? That was our concern for you in that it is dangerous driving with a leaking back window on a vehicle such as yours - could be fatal on those steep and winding roads.

Have fun and send us the odd message esp if you hear news of other terrible events in your vicinity and don't cause any of us to worry!.

Love from us.

  Alex & Katya Jul 20, 2016 7:35 AM

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