Monthly Archives: April 2014

Home for Christmas

After saying our goodbyes in Škofja Loka, we drove straight through Austria, without stopping, into Germany. We spent the whole day driving and finally ended up in Stuttgart. Jon, the car lover, had figured out we could spend the night here, visit the Porsche Museum in the morning and still be in Paris the following night to catch up with Alan and Elaine.

driving the last kilometers in Europe

driving the last kilometers in Europe

welcome to traffic in Europe

welcome to traffic in Europe

As you can imagine there aren’t many great overnight places in a town like Stuttgart, and we ended up using one of the campervan spots in a carpark in a nearby village. It was pretty disappointing as the last campsite of the trip and we attracted quite a bit of attention from the locals the next morning when we were cooking porridge for breakfast.

our last campsite of the trip - not our favourite

our last campsite of the trip – not our favourite

The Porsche Museum was excellent and we spent a few hours admiring the wide range of cars they have on display, including the famous Pig and Jon’s favourite Porsche, the 904 Le Mans racer from the 60’s.

Jon's favourite Porsche

Jon’s favourite Porsche

we're thinking of making a calendar with this one on the front

we’re thinking of making a calendar with this one on the front

To avoid a detour to get into France, Jon suggested a shortcut which would take us off the motorways for 10km and back onto the very expensive French toll roads at the other end. We didn’t know, but the shortcut took us across the border on a small, free ferry across the Rhine. It was a bit dubious if we would fit as the maximum height signs wanted us to be no higher than 2.2m. The ferry workers told us if we fitted underneath the barrier we would be fine. The barrier was probably at least 2.7m and we were allowed on board. A grand total of 5 cars fitted in a circle on the ferry which was powered by the current. A novel way to cross a border.

Lara fits despite the maximum 2.2m sign

Lara fits despite the maximum 2.2m sign

crossing the Rhine

crossing the Rhine

and we roll into France

and we roll into France

First we paid the exorbitant French toll with notes and coins, but we soon swiped our credit card. It somehow seemed less expensive that way… and we were rapidly running out of cash. As we were without local simcard we were relying on free wifi en route to find out how we would get to Alan and Elaine’s place as we had forgotten to download the relevant GPS map. And that’s when France proved to be better than Germany! No free wifi in Germany, but plenty of it at the motorway stops in France. We managed to get an idea of their location, were given some secret codes to let ourselves into the apartment block and then we threw ourselves at the mercy of Parisian traffic. We were lucky it was after rush hour when we entered the inner circle of grand avenues and mansions and the only problem was our rear right Lada brake had reached its limit of usefulness and was sounding worse by the minute. We were afraid we would have to explain ourselves to the French police, but luckily arrived at our destination before being detected.

traffic around the Arc de Triomphe

traffic around the Arc de Triomphe

Parking at night wasn’t an issue, but Jon and Alan did spent a bit of time finding a parking spot the next day as all Parisian garages are 1.95m high… They found one in the end where she fitted with a few cm spare and she was allowed to stay for 24 hours if we left the key! The garage is so small they double park every car and keep every key so they can move cars out of the way when an owner comes to collect their car. Quite a contrast to Mongolia…

we find an underground carpark in Paris where she just fits!

we find an underground car park in Paris where she just fits!

But first we had to get into Alan and Elaine’s building trying out our secret codes on the doors, hike up the endless flights of stairs (of course the lift wasn’t working) and then we rang the doorbell, hoping it was the right place. We received a big grin from Alan emerged in the open door and after lots and lots of hugs we sat down with a beer and the long anticipated catch up began!

The next day we had a leisurely breakfast, followed by a long walking tour of all their favourite spots in Paris, which seemed mainly to consist of bakeries and stops for drinks – no more glühwein but vin chaud now. We did manage to catch the sparkles of the Eiffel Tower (every night after dark on the hour) before heading back home via the Arc de Triomphe.

a typical French breakfast with Alan and Elaine

a typical French breakfast with Alan and Elaine

team shot

team shot

sparkles on the Eiffel Tower

sparkles on the Eiffel Tower

Jon is happy

Jon is happiest when his desert is served with flaming alcohol!

Unfortunately we had to leave the next day, beating rush hour traffic by leaving early in the morning. Today we had an important deadline to make: we wanted to pick up Niels and Jens (Jude’s 2 youngest nephews) from school. And they didn’t know about our intended pick up!

Of course we got stuck in a few traffic jams and we were anxiously watching the ETA (estimated time of arrival) on our GPS to see if we would still make it. But finally after many, many kilometers of driving we were on familiar Dutch territory and it looked as if we were going to be on time.

Driving into the street where Jude’s sister Sandra and her husband Peter live with Jessie, Niels and Jens felt otherworldly. But soon Sandra and Jude’s mum and dad came running out and a few tears of joy were running down our faces. We had made it with time to spare before school was out! Peter arrived home from work minutes later and we all sat down for a wonderful lunch together. Lots of smiles around!

a typical Dutch lunch with Jude's mum and dad, Sandra (her sister) and Peter (brother in law)

a typical Dutch lunch with Jude’s mum and dad, Sandra (her sister) and Peter (brother in law)

And then we drove off to school. First we picked up Niels. Jude spotted him and she knocked on the window to let him know we were there, he could probably see Lara from where he was sitting as we had parked right in front of the school. He came running out a little later with a big grin on his face and after big hugs it was time to pick up Jens at a different location. Niels jumped in the car with Jude, of course he went to the wrong side first, and together they drove off. Jon followed with Sandra and Peter on bikes.

Niels disappeared to alert Jens and together they emerged running across the school playground. Jens didn’t know what to do with so many people there and decided he would say hi to his mum, but then we also got our big hugs. (see ‘We made it‘ for photos of the school run)

Driving home with Niels and Jens in the car was a highlight and then we just spent hours talking and showing the car to everybody, including Jessie who had come home from school too. Oh and Jon changed the Lada brake pads back to the old worn Land Rover ones as the noise was getting unbearable on the way into Holland.

Lara in Bergen op Zoom with Jude's mum and dad

Lara in Bergen op Zoom with Jude’s mum and dad

we manage to catch up with some friends and family in the short time we have

we manage to catch up with some friends and family in the short time we have

Niels and Jens join Jude for a night sleeping in Lara's Taj Mahal. The camp site is the carpark in front of Jude's parents' house.

Niels and Jens join Jude for a night sleeping in Lara’s Taj Mahal. The camp site is the carpark in front of Jude’s parents’ house.

ready to have breakfast inside

ready to have breakfast inside

That night we drove to Bergen op Zoom with Jude’s mum and dad as Niels and Jens still had to go to school the next day… We caught up with family the next day and even managed to see old friends Gert-Jan and Simone before we headed off to the ferry.

We were almost at our end point. Only one more country to add to the list for this trip…

England that way

England that way…

We arrived at the ferry and could drive straight on, very efficient. After parking Lara we went up to the passenger decks to find a comfy spot to spent the next hours. We found a great spot in the cinema area with a power point to charge the computer and set up shop. The weather outside was typical English so we could already get used to it….

a rare moment of dry weather with some sunshine whilst on the ferry

a rare moment of dry weather with some sunshine whilst on the ferry

Seven long hours later we drove off the ferry and queued for the last border crossing – into the United Kingdom. And then we were off, the final kilometers to our final destination.

We arrived late at night at Claire and Russell’s place in Penshurst, south of London where of course Sophie and Olivia had already long gone to bed. We’ll have to wait until morning before we can see them… A bottle of red and stories came out until we eventually headed to bed, keen to see the girls the next day.

Jon and Lara with Claire (Jon's sister), his mum and dad and the 2 nieces Sophie and Olivia

Jon and Lara with Claire (Jon’s sister), his mum and dad and the 2 nieces Sophie and Olivia

Sophie and Olivia were also very excited and happy to see their uncle and aunty again and we spent a lovely day together, trying to cram one year of adventures into one day of story telling!

The next day, the day before Christmas, it was time for Jude to say good-bye to Lara. It was rather weird leaving her at Gatwick airport to return to her family for Christmas. The ecstatic feeling of ‘Having made it’ was slightly overpowered by the depressing feeling of

‘The End’.

But, fear not. There is more to come. We still have the answers to all your questions…

  • How many kilometers did you drive?
  • Who won the bet guessing how many kilometers you would drive?
  • How many liters of diesel did you use?
  • How much did you spend on food?
  • How many countries did you drive through?
  • How much did you spend on accommodation?
  • How many visas did you have to get?
  • How much did you spend on fuel?
  • How long did you spent in each country?
  • What’s the average kilometers you drove in a day?
  • How much did you spend on tolls?
  • What was your longest day in kilometers?
  • Did you stay within budget?
  • How much did you spend?

 

… and many, many more details and statistics shall all be revealed in our next blog! There might even be a graph or two for all the spreadsheet lovers amongst you!

And who knows, maybe we will share more adventures with you one day.

Thanks for reading, caring and commenting! We have certainly enjoyed writing our blog and hope you have enjoyed reading (some or all of) our posts too!

Big hug,
Jon and Jude

Jon's dad with his hat from Kyrgyzstan

Jon’s dad with his hat from Kyrgyzstan

Jude's dad with his hat from Iran

Jude’s dad with his hat from Iran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Holland

Christmas in Holland

Sophie and Olivia trying on their princess outfits

Sophie and Olivia trying on their princess outfits

Slovenia

It’s a tiny country and one that we were particularly excited to visit because we were going to catch up with friends we made en route. Our first stop was in Piran, a tiny village on the coast, perched on a small peninsula overlooking Croatia on one side and Italy on the other.

We had met Folke, Astrid and Zorko in Iran, together with their guide Mojtaba. We bumped into each other on top of one of the Zoroastrian towers of silence in Yazd and starting chatting. As it was getting dark we all had to move on quickly and the invitation was made – if you are driving up the Adriatic coast you must visit us in Piran. And so we did.

Following their emailed directions we found the ancient brown door with the bell of the catholic Parish house at the bottom of a very narrow and steep cobbled street which ran alongside the medieval city walls. The bell didn’t work, but we found a neighbor to call their phone number. Soon Folke came outside and we parked Lara in the garage, which had doubtlessly been designed for coach and horses. This was only the second time on the trip that Lara was parked in a garage (not counting the nights she was in the Land Rover garage of course).

She fits! Lara was treated to a couple of nights indoors in the parish house in Piran

She fits! Lara was treated to a couple of nights indoors in the parish house in Piran

Piran - beautiful town in a beautiful spot

Piran – beautiful town in a beautiful spot

We walked to the seaside where Astrid was having a coffee and a nap in the sun together with Chocho, their dog. After a hot chocolate so thick you needed a spoon to eat it, we went for a walk and that’s when we really appreciated why Astrid and Folke spend so much time here . Their apartment is on the top floor of the parish house and Zorko, the priest, lives on the first floor. The beautiful gardens, cultural centre and the church of course are all built right next to the Adriatic Sea. On a clear day you can see Trieste and even the Alps – the location couldn’t be more stunning.

Zorko is Piran’s priest and responsible for all 10 churches. As he has also studied art in Rome he is very keen to conserve them, restore the churches to their former glory, document every step of the way and catalogue all treasures found. He has already done an amazing job, but doesn’t get any money or assistance from the church or the town to do all this work. Instead a big chunk of his time goes to fundraising, organising the details and trying to ensure tourists can actually see some of the beautiful churches and treasures.

He showed us some of the work he has already completed and told us about the library he is currently trying to catalogue with the help of students. For hundreds of years nobody has even looked at these books and already 3 incunabula (books printed – not handwritten – before 1500) have been discovered! God only knows what other treasures they will find.

Zorko giving us a personal guided tour of the stunning church of St George. A huge amount of work has been done all thanks to Zorko's tireless work.

Zorko giving us a personal guided tour of the stunning church of St George. A huge amount of work has been done all thanks to Zorko’s tireless work.

Later we met Charles, a friend visiting from the US, and also Zorko joined us for a fantastic homemade fish dinner. Folke, Charles and Astrid all showing off their excellent cooking skills. We were in heaven.

with Astrid and Folke, Zorko, Charles and ChoCho in Piran. We were made to feel so welcome, we didn't want to leave

with Astrid and Folke, Zorko, Charles and ChoCho in Piran. We felt like part of the family and didn’t want to leave…

The next day we explored more of Piran, including some of the other churches Zorko is looking after. We enjoyed more cuppas in the sun and had entertaining conversations, including some useful advice about the upcoming ‘Lost and Found Adventures’ book (?!), before driving down to the next village for another fishy lunch followed by the best ice cream on the coast whilst watching the sun go down.

After we said our goodbyes, we drove off for a short walk on the salt works of Piran before heading out towards the Škocjan Caves to search for a campsite.

It was a cold night again for camping, but we found a perfect little spot in a grassy field next to a communications tower. Who says you can’t free camp in Europe? We had a slow start the next morning, spending some extra time thawing some things out, so we were lucky to arrive at the caves just before the start of the first tour. Vika, our guide, took us and a couple from Ljubljana through the impressive sinkhole to the deep underground canyon, cut out by the Reka river. She was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and although we were scheduled to spend just an hour in the cave, we finally emerged almost 2 hours later.

Lara feeling the cold

Lara feeling the cold

The impressive Škocjan Caves in the Slovenian karst region

the impressive Škocjan Caves in the Slovenian karst region

Lunch in the capital Ljubljana was the local fare. Glühwein with sausage for Jon and with Kaiser Smoren, a sort of pancakes and raisins served with apple sauce, for Jude. Glühwein was sold from little stalls every 200m or so, which was very warming and popular with the lunchtime office crowd. But after just a few hours we had to move on. We were meeting our friends in Škofja Loka, not far from Ljubljana.

one of many gluhwein stalls in Ljubljana

one of many glühwein stalls in Ljubljana

We met Lojze and Milos in Kazakhstan at the Big Lake near Almaty. From there they drove back to Slovenia, covering 6000 km in just 9 days. We took the scenic route, requiring an additional 3 months… We met them at the end of their trip and now we were catching up with them at the end of ours.

Using the coordinates Lojze had emailed we found their house without any problems and met Petra, his wife, and Vasja, their youngest son before going to a local traditional restaurant in the hills to catch up with Milos and Majda. It was a great place with fantastic food, friendly owners and nice wine. Everybody shared two enormous plates of meat and sausages and Jon tried it all. Jude had her own plate with some delicious cheese stuffed delicacies called zlikrof.

A memorable traditional dinner with Lojze, Petra, Milos and Majda - we had not seen the boys since Kazakhstan!

a delicious traditional dinner with Lojze, Petra, Milos and Majda – we had not seen the boys since Kazakhstan!

After dinner, accompanied by lots of Slovenian wine (which is very good) we continued on to a local pub for some Slovenian beers (also very good). By this time, we were a little tipsy to say the least, so were very grateful that it was only staggering distance back to our very own apartment right in the old part of Škofja Loka. There was even parking for Lara!

Skofje Loka looking very Christmassy

Skofje Loka looking very Christmassy

We were up early the next morning to go shopping at the local farmers’ market before driving to Lubnik, the nearest mountain, for a hike to the summit. Škofja Loka and the valley it sits in were covered in low hanging clouds, but shortly after we started the walk we emerged into glorious sunshine. We enjoyed some local treats from the summit café with hordes of locals, enjoying great views of the surrounding hills and the snow covered ‘Julian Alps’ peeking out from the blanket of clouds. We stretched our time at the top for as long as possible, but eventually had to go back down. They dropped us off at ‘home’ so we could have a shower before they picked us up again for dinner at their place. The hospitality just got better and better!

The hike to the summit of Lubnik - more fun once we had climbed out of the cloud.

the hike to the summit of Lubnik – more fun once we had climbed out of the cloud

View over the Julian Alps from Lubnik - definitely worth the hike.

view over the Julian Alps from Lubnik – definitely worth the hike

In the time we had relaxed, showered and worked on the blog a bit, Petra, Lojze and Vasja had prepared a sensational dinner complete with menu and little pressies for their friends Vojka, Francek, Ida and Veljko and us. Every course had at least one bottle of wine, many Slovenian so we could learn a little about the different and excellent varieties. The dinner included some interesting and yummy vegetables like chicory and black radish. At the end of the night we felt like we were part of a big family.

some of the great Slovenian wines we tried

some of the great Slovenian wines we tried

The next morning there was again no rest for the wicked as we had to get up in time to go to Skipark Vogel near Bled, together with Lojze, Petra and Vasja. Of course they all ski a lot better than us, Petra literally flying past occasionally, but in such a small ski resort you can easily do your own thing and find each other again.

Lake Bled in the morning mist.  Not many tours running to the Island today

Lake Bled in the morning mist. Not many tours running to the island today

We still remember how to ski....

we still remember how to ski….

enjoying a hot chocolate at Skipark Vogel with Lojze and Petra

enjoying a hot chocolate at Skipark Vogel with Lojze and Petra

Worth the wait: our first and only day of skiing at Skipark Vogel in the Julian Alps

worth the wait: our first and only day of skiing at Skipark Vogel in the Julian Alps

The skies were bright blue, the sun was warm, the snow and temperature perfect and it wasn’t busy. On top of that you get service with a smile when you order your hot chocolate or glühwein, the pizzas were tasty (and affordable) and they even allowed us to change our half day pass for a full day one without charging us anything extra.

We were the very last ones on the slopes, and completed our final run with the ski patrol, closing the resort for the day. A little tired, we enjoyed glühwein whilst watching the sun set over Mount Triglav, the country’s highest point, before heading back down with the cable-car.

sunset over mount Triglav, Slovenia's highest point in the beautiful Julian Alps.

sunset over mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest point in the beautiful Julian Alps.

We stopped in Bled on the way back as we wanted to try their famous cakes. We bought some take-away’s and drove back to Lojze, Petra and Vasja where they were demolished with gusto whilst sipping a nice cuppa made by Vasja. But it wasn’t long before we drove home, back to our apartment in the old town to catch up on some zzz’s. Simply said, another perfect day in Slovenia.

The next day it was time to hit the road again, but not before catching up with everybody, and meeting yet more of Lojze and Petra’s friends and family, for a cuppa. We talked for 2 hours, and we tried hard to talk as much as Lojze, but we couldn’t. Not even Jude comes close.

Petra, Lojze, Majda, Milos and Anna - just some of our wonderful new friends in Škofja Loka.

Petra, Lojze, Majda, Milos and Anna – just some of our wonderful new friends in Skofje Loka.

We will miss our Slovenian (and Austrian, Dutch and American) friends, but are confident we will meet all of them again. Some day, somewhere. Until then we have the happy memories of adventures shared with fellow crazy people. Life IS great!