On Tour 23 – Greece to Turkey

On Tour 23 – Greece to Turkey

G’day to Everyone

After an entertaining evening with the French and Germans in the beach side carpark, drinking ouzo, the next days task was to buy a new camera lens in Athens and get more camping gas, so we could have cold beers at the end of the day.

Quite achievable really, well after being directed buy the locals from shop to shop for most of the morning and still no camping gas, it was decided to have a rest from the gas and head into Athens to buy a new lens. We parked our van in the very special spot in the heart of Athens and went looking for directions to the camera shops.

Everyone is very helpful and wants to do their best, ,evan if they have no clue, and we spent some time getting sent again in many different directions, finally finding the area where the camera shops are only to find them shut. No problem, we figured they were probably closed for a late lunch and would be back later, not so. They all close at lunch on Mondays, so still camera lens and still no gas and still in Athens!

We decided to push onto Delphi hoping that we would find gas along the way and also keeping our fingers crossed we could find a lens in  Greeces second largest town – Thessalonaki.

On the way to Delphi we were following a truck that had our gas, but it didn’t stop, by this stage we were resigning ourselves to a campground to plug into power to cool the beer, we were hoping that our back up stove didn’t run out of gas either!

We were merrily driving along when David skidded on the brakes did a u-turn, pulling up at some random run down shop which looked to me to be a junk shop, but low and behold, it had gas! Cheap to, yeah hah. Onwards to Delphi.

In the words of ‘Lets Go Europe’ “…this stunning mountain top sanctuary of the Oracle of Delphi’ and it was. Perched at around 700m on the edge of mountain, the town although geared towards tourists, had a relaxed and charming feel to it. Free camping was out of the question quite simply because of the geography and lack of space.

So we camped in a neat little place about 2 km out of town on the cliff face and with stunning views and took the opportunity to catch up on chores like washing, cleaning the van and cleaning ourselves, with something other than the solar shower. Pulling up at beaches jumping into the cold water and then taking turns under the solar shower has proven to be an entertaining affair for the locals.

The Greeks love the beach and so finding somewhere not crowded has proven to be a little difficult, but they are great people. They seem to find David a little entertaining as well, shopping ventures often turning into comedy shows, while David trys to order olives, feta and other delicacies from the deli section. The language has been difficult , simple words are not so simple in Greece, our poor attempt not seeming to bother anyone, but rather causing more amusement.

From Delphi to Platamonas, via a quaint seaside town called Itea. Platamonas was a sleepy little town with some of the most ultra trendy cafes that would rival the best in Australia, far to trendy, for the likes of David and I.

We settled for a Gelati and a stroll down the main street, parking the van in the quaint little marina for the night. The next day we headed inland to Mt Olympus. To quote Lets Go Europe again “Erupting out of the Thermic Gulf, Mt Olympus, Greece’s highest peak, so mesmerized the ancients believed it to be the dwelling place of the pantheon. It was definitely stunning and well worth the trip, and I’m sure the views would have been spectacular, if it wasn’t for the rain.

From Mt Olympus to Thessalonika. Two goals in Thessalonika, get to the Romanian Embassy again, to see our Visas had been approved and buy a camera lens! After parking the van in a fairly random spot in this bustling, trendy town we headed to the Tourist Police, yep thats what they are called and there job is not to arrest us, but rather help us.

They pointed us in the general direction of the camera shops and told us not to bother with the Romanian Embassy as it was some Greek guy, in a nice house out of town, with a nice title, not to helpful and too hard to find, we took there advice, given our past experiences with Romanian Embassy. Not understanding a word of there directions to the camera shops we just headed into the busiest part of town to see what we could find.

Luck was on our side!!!

We chanced across a tiny little office on the second floor of a run down building, where they fixed cameras and gladly agreed to look at our broken lens and if possible fix it, all in less than 24 hours. Big yea-ha the next day when we went back the following day and for a mere 60 euros, they had fixed it for us, compared to a new one at around 400 euros.

They did point out that whoever looked at in Italy had put it back together wrong – David!!!  We think we got a parking ticket as well, but aren’t sure as it looks like a bunch of worms have crawled across the page, maybe it was just a warning o’well, nice free souvenir. We free camped one night just out of Thessalonki in a place called Epanomi.

Next stop Sarti on the Sithonia peninsular, another great beach side town, and another night free camping by the beach. We woke up on Saturday morning only to realise it was actually Friday morning. David made the executive decisions to race to Alexandrouplis to try to reach the post office by five and pick up our required special car insurance for Turkey, some 400kms, the first 100kms took 2 hours, through mountains winding roads. we made it in time only to find out that the post office closes at 2pm and wouldn’t be open again until Tuesday as Monday was a public holiday. Ouch.

Not finding any where we were comfortable free camping we bit the bullet and headed to a nice beach side campground within walking distance to town and resigned ourselves to 4 nights there. Alexandropulis was nice enough, but probably not a place we would have chosen to spend 4 nights, but luckily our German nieghbours at the campground had a great little white schnauzer.

By Tuesday morning we were well rested and a little antsy to get moving, after great debate we decided to get some TLC for our trusty van before heading into Turkey, as well try for our Insurance. No luck with the insurance, to stay we were a little cheesed with the insurance company is a fair understatment. We had explained to them in detail before leaving the UK our situation and they had promised all the help we needed.

By now it had been two weeks since letting them know our dates for being in Turkey and we had already burnt up one of our four weeks insurance, waiting for our insurance. We had told the we were happy to pay extra for registered mail as well and they still sent it through the normal system. the post office in Alexandrouplis had told it should only take 4-5 days from the UK.

Not wanting to waste any more time we decided to head for the Turkish border, hearing that we may be able to buy insurance there, but not before getting the van some TLC.

The wonderful Greek people came through again, a young guy at the service station changing our oil for the cost of the oil on the spot, then a bloke repaired and refitted our muffler for 40 euros, its lost that sporty, throaty sound, but now purrs like a kitten and the guy at the Renault service place greasing the universal joint on the front wheel that the busted rubber boot covers  for a mere 2.50 euros.

To the border. Turns out we can buy insurance, ouch 4 days in Alexandrouplis!!! A mere 38 euros for 30 days, compared to 105 pounds for 4 weeks from the insurance company, very cheesed at the insurance company.

Besides all the paper work and having to show our passports for what felt like a thousand times the border crossing was smooth and easy, we were excited to finally be in Turkey a destination high on both our lists. Border crossing wasn’t as easy for the Greeks, given the history and bad blood between the two countries, they were being made to empty out there entire vehicles, we we were basically being waved through.

As soon as we were through the border, it started raining torrentially, but onwards we pushed to our first stop, Gallipoli. We free camped out of the main area at a spot overlooking ANZAC Cove and spent most of the next day wondering around the area.

It was a moving experience for both of us and far outweighed anything we had experienced in our travels. The Turks are great people, and we feel very welcome here. While at a memorial site in Gallipoli, about a dozen school boys surrounded the car, excited to meet us and welcoming us to there country, it was a little overwhelming but very sweet, they gave us a gift of a full bag of plums to welcome us to their country.

We have only been hear two nights but have already had many wonderful experiences. Being waved at, old guys randomly coming up to the car, while we’ve been stopped at lights to tell us they have children in Australia, the list of kindness is already extensive.

More to come soon.

Take it easy,

Mel & David

On Tour 22 – France to Greece

On Tour 22 – France to Greece

Hello to Everyone,

We left Menton heading for the Italian Riviera. Driving is madness, dodging, buses , trucks, pedestrians, scooters, cars, cyclists and anyone else crazy enough to be on the roads. On this occasion we set the GPS to avoid toll roads, a huge mistake, we got caught in crazy peakhour in a town called Genoa and were held up for a couple of hours.

Next stop Portifino, we kinda lucked this one, not realising that we were in one of the most exclusive parts of the Italian Riviera and it was stunning. We chanced a car park just outside of Portifino and the bus to go into town basically picked us up at our front door. It was easily as good if not better than the French Riviera. We shouted ourselves to dinner in a nearby town, it was ok, with gratuity added and a 3 euro charge just for sitting down.

When we crossed the border from France to Italy the change was instant. We had gone from a clean well kept country to a tip. The place is pretty much a dump. With few towns bothering to manage there rubbish issues. The exceptions being Portifino and Sorrento. We are also finding the Italians abrupt and rude and crazy on the roads. If it wasn’t for the Romans and some nice coastline, there would be no reason to come to Italy. The beaches are just awful.

We are missing the great foods and wines in France as well, supermarket shopping has gone from a pleasure to a nightmare, with little or no choice except pasta and pizza and thats getting pretty boring.

From Portifino we headed to a group of fishing villages near Le Spezia. Very quaint and expensive, with spectacular cliffs and scenery, very, winding, narrow roads and crap beaches covered in litter. We paid 10 Euros for the pleasure of staying in carpark next to the busiest road in a town called Levanto. Onto Florence, a great compact city.

We intended a quick stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower, not realising that we were on the same road as the Giro d’Itilia, the Itialian equivalent of the Tour De France. Trying to get a wireless signal we pulled into a Mac Chuck. Someone had told us that all Maccas have wireless only to find it closed, when we tried to leave and head towards Pisa would were told we couldn’t as the road in the direction we were going was now closed and we had to head back the way we had come.

So off we went about 3 mins down the road, pulling into a service station to get petrol, we spoke to another cop and he said it was an easy detour and we had plenty of time. By the time we were ready to leave the road was closed in both directions and would be for a least 2 hours, so much for a early start and a quick trip to Pisa on the way to Florence.

After the cop got quite angry with David, I’m sure he thought we were going to join the tour and a lot of arguing and gesticulating between the cops and the locals a gentlemen with very good English suggested we gutter jump and drive through a paddock out the back of the servo and we would find our way to Pisa. Fortunately he knew what he was talking about and we made it to Pisa in one piece. We got to see the famous tower (amongst the litter).

Finally onto Florence. We camped, two nights in a place, south of Florence in the Tuscan hills, it was lovely with a great pool to soak up the Tuscan sun and only about a 45 min bus ride to the center of Florence. We had a great time, queuing 2 1/2 hours to see Michael Angelo’s David and lashing out on some leather jackets and wandering around town.

From Florence to Rome. Again to a campground. Rome was fascinating, practically the ongoing archeological dig site in itself. It was also hot. We stayed in a campground about an hour via public transport to the  heart of Rome, alongside Lake Bracciano  which supplies the drinking water to Rome.

The ride in and out of Rome was quite pleasant with a nice little bar at the lake end. It was also reasonably priced at 14 euro a night with power. The first morning at the campground we were exceptionally proud of our effort to be at the bus stop by 8.20am, only to watch the bus drive by, we were standing in the wrong place and the next bus wasn’t due for over an hour.

Fortunately a dutch couple noticed us and offered us a lift to the train station. We rode on the train with them and they were quite lovely, but we became worried we the told us they normally stay in nudist camps and the asked if we wanted to go for a drive with the the following day. We declined, they didn’t actually look that great with clothes on!

We spent the first morning finding our way to the Romanian Embassy to try to get visas organised. This was our third trip to a embassy, twice in Paris. We arrived to find out that we were in the wrong place and needed to head for the consulate on the other side of Rome, we were told not to bother as it closes at 1.00 pm, at this stage it was around midday.

We spent the afternoon site seeing, meeting an Irish couple, who we toured Vatican City with. The following day, we made the early bus and had effectively figured out the Rome public transport and had efficiently made it to the consulate by 10.00 am to be told to come back the following day between 3 and 4. By this stage we were about ready to change our plans and just give Romania a miss, but decided to give it one more go.

Again we spent the afternoon seeing more of Rome and sidestepping all the rubbish. The Trevi Fountain was a definite highlight. We met some fellow Australians from Kalgooli amongst the throngs, who were away for a couple of weeks.

Third day more site seeing in Rome and then back for the fifth time to the Romanian Consulate, we actually got a showing, to find out we need health insurance, so we photocopied our Medicare cards. We are not sure yet if we have a Visa, but I guess we will find out when we try to pick it up in Thessalonika. We throughly enjoyed Rome, despite the Italians and were happy with our choice of camp grounds.

It had a neat little restaurant on the waters edge where we shouted ourselves to a meal of, yep pizza and pasta beer and chilled red wine for less then 20 euros. It also had clean bathrooms and continuos hot water.

On the way from Rome to Sorrento we managed to take the wrong turn in Naples and go down a one way street the wrong way. This didn’t seem to bother anyone any where near as much as if you were slow starting of at the traffic lights. We had to back out of that one as the street was not quite wide enough to turn around in.

Naples was definitely a scary place to drive. When we got to Sorrento we spent some time driving around looking for camping ground we finally settled for the one we looked at first even though at the time we didn’t think it was very good it got the money as it was only a short walk into Sorrento.

We chanced a meeting with Richard and Helen, people we had made friends with at Menton. We new they were heading for Sorrento but we were unsure if we would catch up with them or not. They booked into the same camp ground as us. It was great to have some company that was close to our age as a lot of the other people we were meeting were much older retirees. The first day we were in Sorrento we just spent wandering around and exploring the town.

We went out that evening after dinner with Richard and Helen for a Beer and I have never been served such a large beer, 1.5 litres I think for 8.00 euro. Only needed one. Next morning I went for a walk down to the local fishing boat Marina to take some snaps only to find that the main lens we use on our camera had crapped out. It would not work and had a loose bit rattling around inside. I spent about 3 hours obsessively trying to fix it much to Rockets frustration. The only thing I managed to do was prove what Rocket said at the outset was right and that was that I new nothing about camera lenses.

The next day we headed for the Isle of Capri with Richard and Helen, Helen’s Mum & Dad and Emily, Helen’s cousin. We had a great day. It is a little off putting when all the decent beaches are “pay for use”. We did manage to find a place where we could swim from a crappy free beach to a fairly nice spot that was otherwise inaccessible.

We left Helen’s Mum on the crappy beach, where she very kindly minded all our stuff while the rest of us including Richard and Helen’s dog Oscar swam to the nice beach. Oscar and Alby worked on their synchronized rock diving act (wait for the photos) while we generally took it easy on the beach.

Back to Sorrento for a quiet night after everybody exhausted themselves at Capri. Next day Rocket and I caught the Train to Pompeii. Pompeii was buried in Volcanic ash around 79 AD after Mt Vesuvius erupted. The town was sealed in a tomb of hardened ash until excavations started in 1748 to unearth a well preserved picture of life over 2000 years ago.

Some of the buildings that remain intact date back to before 500 BC. Amazing to see a lot of things haven’t really changed that much. the one disappointment was the amount of rubbish that lay around the site and the inadequate attempts at actually preserving what was there. We arrived back to Sorrento to catch up with Richard and Helen and were lucky enough to get an invitation from Helens Mum Evie to dinner. We had a great night out and thoroughly enjoyed everyones company.

While in Sorrento we were trying to organise our Green Card Motor Vehicle insurance to travel through Turkey as Turkey is not part of the EU. We spoke to someone at the insurance company before we left and it was meant to be a simple process.

Wrong! We started of with the Vehicle recovery number in France as all the other phone numbers we had were free call numbers and could only be used from the UK. We managed to get a number we could dial but it was a call we had to pay for. On two occasions we got put on hold for so long we had to hang up for fear  of the cost of the credit card call.

I eventually got through to somebody who told me what we wanted to do was impossible as we had to get the card sent to someone in the UK and they could forward it to us. This was not an option as the time frame that the insurance Co. had said to allow when we contacted them in the UK did not allow for that and we did not want to have to stop somewhere in the north of Greece waiting for it to show up in the Greek mail.

If you think I was getting frustrated at this point it was nothing compared to Rockets frustration with me at not being able to organise our travels better. We eventually got onto a really helpful guy at the insurance co. He gave us his email address and helped ensure we would get what we needed.

About lunch time we set off for Bari, on good advice from Mels mum, on the East coast of Italy where we were going to catch a car ferry to somewhere in Greece. We didn’t know where yet we were just going to sus it out when we got there. Like a lot of our travel plans they just kind of evolved.

Only problems came when Rocket and I started going down some completely different evolutionary paths and that lead to some fairly spirited if not entertaining debate about how I could be so stupid to not know where she wanted to go or perhaps as usual I just did not listen when she told me. Anyway after these occurrences she let me know in no uncertain terms where she thought I should go!

So onward to Bari via the very scenic Amalfi coast. This would be without question be one of the most scenic sea side roads I have ever driven also the scariest. Often only wide enough for one bus or truck, with every second bend blind and often nothing more than a crappy Italian built bit of railing saving you from a 200 metre drop into the rocky sea below.

Some places the railing was gone as something had already crashed through it and it had never been repaired. It was spectacular but it left Rocket a nervous wreck as she was on the side of the on coming traffic and I was not keen to get to close to the drop off. We arrived in Bari, to call it dump would have been kind, just in time to miss the last ferry to Greece for the day that had been delayed due to bad weather.

We later found the Italians could not come o terms with the fact that we just wanted to go to Greece and we didn’t care where. They were used to people actually having pre determined destinations. We resigned ourselves o having to spend the night and most of the next day in Bari which we were quickly learning was not the safest place for Aussies in a British registered Renault Trafic.

We drove out of town looking for a camping ground as we thought this would be the safest only to find on the out skirts of town about 5 spot scrub fires burning out of control with no fire fighters in attendance. If you think we were not very impressed with Bari you are right.

After about 35 km and nothing resembling a camp ground we started heading back towards Bari on a different road. We came across what initially looked in the dark like a camping ground but turned out to be a private fenced in residential estate complete with security guard on the gate. We asked the guard if he new where there was a camping ground and he took pity on us and let us park just inside the gate as long as we were gone by 6.30 am. A bit of a challenge for Rocket and I but by this stage we were desperate.

Next morning after a sleep and some breakfast in a seaside carpark, felt relatively safe in the daylight, we headed into Bari again to check out the ferry options. After determining Patra in Greece would be a good destination we booked on a ferry leaving at 6.30pm. We spent the rest of the day trying to find a super market to do some shopping and an internet cafe to check our emails, particularly the state of our green card. It took most of the day because every thing in Bari was a drama.

We got onto the ferry and found a good place for the night, we went without a cabin to save about 150 euro and intended sleeping in the lounge. In the lounge we met an American school group on tour from Missouri and befriended the teachers. We had a great night with them in the ships disco.

About midnight they headed for there cabins and Rocket and I for our special spot in the lounge. It became obvious fairly quickly that we weren’t going to get much sleep there. Even though we had been told we could not sleep in the van and that the main door to the car deck was locked Rocket managed to find another way down to the van. After assessing the safety issues and identifying an escape route should the worst happen we set up camp in the Renault. We got not a bad nights sleep except for the noise of all the trucks off loading at another Port on the way to Patra.

We arrived in Patra at 11.00am which became 12.00 after the time zone change. Driving off the ship the rear muffler parted company with the rest of the exhaust system. Charlsey you were right a symptom of the van not being used much recently before we bought it was that the inside of the exhaust was fairly rusted and with all of our travels it had rattled itself to death.

We are now carrying around the broken bit with some vague plan of getting it repaired. Although we may not, as along with the throaty, sportier exhaust note we are also getting noticeably better fuel economy.

Off the Ferry we headed for Olympia as Rocket and I both believed it to be the home to master sculptor Phidias’s “awe inspiring” statue of Zeus. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world. At least thats what we thought when we read in Lets Go Europe.

After about a two and a half hour drive and not being able to find mention of it we read the book more closely to find that Olympia had been its home up to about 1000 years ago where it was remove to Constantinople only to be destroyed by a fire there.

Not a complete disaster as Olympia was a nice place to visit and we found a reasonable camp ground right on the beach for our first night in Greece. Next morning we set of along the coast of the Korinthiakis Kolpos for the Korinth Canal. We had a vague plan of stopping before we got there if we found a nice spot along the way. We did find a nice spot but it was a bit early in the day and we thought we would find another. Well we were wrong we found a couple of places but none that both Rocket and I liked. I think I have to lower my expectations!

We eventually arrived at the Korinth Canal late in the day and after driving around some very bumpy, narrow and dusty roads to get a good view of it and some photos we ended up in the bus car park at the east end of the canal. This is where I made a major mistake. I forgot to listen to Rocket when she said this would be a good place to stop. I suggested we push on to a camping ground close to Athens to get an early start into town the next morning.

All of this despite Mel telling me all she wanted to do was stop and free camp for the night. Any way against her real wishes she agreed to head or Athens which was about 2 hours away and it was already 8.00pm. You guessed it the camp ground was a shocker we both got little sleep, again highlighting just how evolving travel plans can result in difficulties.

Anyway after about a day of looking for the right spot we got over that and found a great spot at a Marina only 6 km from Athens. We also found a place to park the van for free about 200 metres from the Acropolis. Loosing the day turned out to be a bit of a bonus as we ended up in Athens on the first Sunday of the Month with all of the historic attractions accessible for no charge.

We had a great day exploring the Acropolis and Plaka regions before heading for Cape Sounio about 70 km to of Athens to see the Temple of Poseidon at sun set, and yes this did still exist. We found a beach in a nice little bay just out of a small village with about 5 other camping cars set up for the night and joined them for the night.

We met some lovely German and French people and shared 3 bottles of wine with them. It was a rather entertaining evening as the German couple could speak a little bit of French and a little bit of German. The French people could speak only french and of course we could only speak english. Still they were nice people and we had a fun night. Right about now we were finding it to be difficult to get  camping gas, the type of change over gas bottle we have for cooking and the fridge.

We tried many places all the next day, being directed from place to place that apparently definitely stocked it only to find they didn’t.

Hope we find some gas soon.

All for now more to come.

On Tour 21 Uk- France

On Tour 21 Uk- France

Well we are finally in a place were we can get a convenient miraculous wireless connection. Only problem is that somehow the last 5 weeks of on Tour has miraculously disappeared from the Mac.

We have paid a small fortune for a connection, 12 euros for 24 hours, but have nothing to send out. So here goes an attempt to catch up the last few weeks of travel.

We had a great time wandering around York and managed to locate the oldest and most haunted pub for a quick beer. We drove from York to catch up with family in the Peak district. They are related to Mels grandfather who was sent to Aus as a crim, not to many years ago.

We spent two days there in total the second night at the ‘local’ having one, one to many drinks and waking up feeling a little average the next day.

From there we headed to Wales, which is great country. It didn’t rain once and there is a castle around every corner. We drove from the peak district to the North of Wales, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon, which has a sensational castle. Then through the Snowdonia National Park, which is stunning through Portmadog and spent a night in a camping ground in Abersoch with a amazing view of the Bristol Channel. The next day we headed to the Pembroke National park in the South and spent a night in a carpark, between a haunted castle and a cemetery, spooky, close to. Saundersfoot.

The following it was back to Shane’s via Stonehenge to regroup and oranges ourselves for Europe. When we arrived back at Shanes they were having a street party on our behalf! We wish! I think they were just having a party for the sake of it.

We left Uk from Dover, making our ferry by mere seconds headed towards Boulogne in France. We headed in the direction of Paris, spending a night in a carpark of a closed camp ground, but on a pretty little river. We got there quite late and when went exploring the next day, we discovered that we were in a town whose claim to fame was the fact the Van Gough had killed himself there.

In fact he had spent less then a month there before doing himself in and they had proudly keep the room intact for art lovers and the like to absorb the creativity etc, blah blah. we decided to give it a miss. Onto Paris. We found a great camp ground within about 3km of the center of Paris 25 euros a night. Although it was expensive, it was also convenient and an easy bus ride to the metro and inner city buses.

We did the usual, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arch De Triomph, went to the top of the Eiffel tower, walked the Latin Quarter etc. In total we spent 3 full days and four nights. Paris is a lovely city and we found the French to be very open and helpful.

From there we headed towards the West coast via Chartres, which is a lovely little town with the Chartres Chapel and through Le Mans and down pass Nantes and the Bordeaux region. We had a night in a car park with a bunch of vans near Les Sables and than just north of Bayonne in the pine forest. Turns out the coast was pretty dull and we would have been better to stay inland. The first place we really enjoyed on the Coast was the town of Biarritz.

From Biarritz we headed inland to the Basque region and spent a night in another car park in a town called Espelette again with a bunch of other vans and woke up to a happening little market. From there we started our trek through the Pyrenees, which were absolutely, stunning. Given it had been a while between showers, for the sake of the general public we headed to a camp ground, which great mountain views in Cauterets, were we drove over to the Spanish side of the mountains.

The following day we headed up to Garvarine again stunning. We drove up towards the summit and got some great shots of the Renault in the snow. We had intended driving over the mountains towards St. Giron however we had to back track a substantial distance as the mountains were blocked by snow and rock rock-slides.

We were heading for St.Giron as it was the nearest town of any size to a village called Riverenert. Melanies distant cousin Nigel gave us the name of his friend Mark who lives in the Pyrenees in a tiny Hamlet near Riverenert. We had planned on phoning Mark before we arrived but we could only use the public phones in France with a phone card and a phone card in France was 7.50 Euro, too much for one call so we decided to just lob and try to find him.

We drove into Riverenert and asked the first person we saw if they new Mark Bukowski. It turns out they did and they invited Melanie into their home to use their phone. Mark was not home but we got directions to his Hamlet which was up a very narrow winding road to the top of a very high hill. As we were slow in the van we pulled over to let a car past and it turned out to be Mark. He asked if we were lost and as soon as he heard our accent he said he had been expecting us. Nigel had phoned him.

Mark and his wife Maryanne made us very welcome and we stayed a couple of days. It was great to get an insight into what life is like in a tiny Hamlet in a remote part of the Pyrenees. Marks neighbour Bernard was a cheese farmer, making organic cheese in the traditional way of the region.

Bernard had only 11 cows and milked day and night by hand. Every 2 days Bernard would make 3 wheels of cheese out of the 200 litres of milk the cows had produced.Bernard was an interesting character and was very happy to explain and demonstrate the entire cheese production process to us.

Maryanne was from the South of France and she suggested some places we should see on the way to the French Riviera, places we never would have found without her advice. So we left the Pyrenees and headed for the French Grand Canyon which is just North of Canne. After driving for a good part of the day we found a place to park the van on the side of a quiet country road near Apt for the night.

After about 45 minutes in bed we were both still awake and had a really uneasy feeling about where we we staying and we packed up at about 11.00 pm and set of to find somewhere with a better feel. Nothing really happened it was just that we were both getting the creeps. We found a camp ground in Manosque about 20 K down the road. We set of the next morning after a good nights sleep and happened on a little town called Moustieres-St. Marie. It was absolutely beautiful and steeped in history. After wandering around and some shopping we decided to have our first cafe meal since we left the UK.

Next stop the French Riviera. We headed for St Tropez for an early evening wander. It was a bit of an eye opener watching the very rich swaning around showing of their sun tans and very expensive out fits. It was also our first exposure to the serious white boat and Mega Yacht scene in the Med. We left St Tropez to look for somewhere to park the van for the night and found a car park right in the heart of St Maxime with about 20 other vans set for the night.

We headed for Cannes via the coast road where we found they were setting up for the film festival, we spent a good part of the day taking in all the sites associated with the film festival along with the marina and shopping regions. There was a massive tent matching the dimensions of the glass pyramid at the Louvre for the opening of he Da Vinci Code. We both really enjoyed Cannes.

On to Antibes for a quick look and and we found a huge Marina, Yacht Club, boat yard region with masses of huge Mega Yachts. Seems like it could be a good place to look for work we made it to a camping ground near Nice for the night. We headed into Monte Carlo where it was absolute chaos as they were setting up for the F1 Grand Prix.

We quickly decided to get through Monaco find somewhere to stop for the night and bus back into Monte Carlo. Not far down the road we found a parking area that allowed camping cars to park for up to 3 days in Menton. We locked up the van and bused into Monte Carlo. After walking part of the grand prix track and checking out the marina for Mega Yachts and classic sailing yachts we went to the Casino for the obligatory photo on the steps. A brand new Ferrari M430 pulled up while we were in the photo taking process, we now have a shot of Melanie beside here new car in the Valet parking out the front of the Casino.

After not a very good nights sleep on a busy roadside in Menton we were ready to head for the Italian Riviera. The traffic started in ernest at about 5.00 am, it seems everyone was heading into Cannes to get a parking spot for the for the opening of the film festival.

All we have time for now, more soon about our adventures in the Italian Riviera. We have been trying to move trough he expensive parts of Italy as quickly as we can so we don’t blow the budget and we have found internet connection to be difficult to come by and fairly expensive.

More soon

David & Mel

On Tour 20 – The Final Charter Chapter – Cave Diving

On Tour 20 – The Final Charter Chapter – Cave Diving

Well we are finally in the UK.

Our last charter in the Bahamas was a shocker. Fortunately the other crew, an English couple, turned out to be absolutely wonderful and we hope to catch up with them in England.

We were not sorry to leave the Bahamas, in fact we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Although we almost missed our flights as we forgot to change our clocks to daylight savings time. Fortunately David noticed in a nick of time, we were in such a hurry the only person we said goodbye to was our South African friend, the new crew (poor unfortunate people) and the taxi driver.

Bye Bye, Moorings and the Bahamas, no regrets, it was a great and amazing year, we saw many beautiful places, met many amazing (and not so amazing), people, and had some unforgettable experiences.

The day before flying out of the Abacos we probably did one of the most amazing things we have ever had a chance to do, we are glad we didn’t do it any earlier as we would have become addicted and spent ALL our money doing it. Cave diving.

Abaco has one of the most extensive underwater cave systems in the world, I believe second behind Mexico. We went with our eccentric friend Fred who had Christmas with us. Fred gave up working for the US Navy as a civilian teaching nuclear power management system to become one of about 20 underwater cave explorers worldwide.

He has lived on a 2yacht for about 16 years and pretty lives hand to mouth and has mapped about 10 miles of unexplored caves under Greater Abaco island. We put all our faith in him, to have lived through countless dives in the caves, on his own. We figured he new what he was doing.

Our first dive was a cavern in the middle of Abaco with a diameter of about 15m. The dive consisted of diving into tis puddle of water and dropping to a depth of 206 feet, about 63m.

David dropped like a lead balloon, I went a little slower to let my ears equalise and Fred stayed between us until I caught up, then he stayed deeper to be safe.  We had to be careful not to hit the bottom as it had about a 10 foot pile of debris, decayed bits of trees etc. If we had of sunk into it would have silted out the entire Cavern to about 0 vis. This was an amazing experience.

The Caverns/ caves on the island consist of a layer of fresh water on top of a layer of salt water, this is called a halocline. when the first person goes through the halocline, it mixes the two levels of water and looks like an oil and vinegar mixture.

As the last person to go through the halocline it was pretty freaky watching David and Fred turn into a oily mixture. This entire ordeal of dropping to over 200 feet in a confined space in limited visibility and watching people turn to oil was a little out of my  comfort zone is a small understatement to say the least , that is until narcosis sets in.

All of a sudden everything becomes just fine. In fact I was pretty impressed with myself to remember to look at my gauges, by this time Fred had us working our way back to the surface. On the way back the  halocline looks likes like an eerie ghost movie, with hazy clouds in the water. it was amazing , we also encountered albino, blind fish.I guess you would also have trouble seeing with no eyes. Freaky stuff. This dive was great, but even cooler was the cave dive.

The cave dive, into Dans Cave, was an unbelievable experience and we both feel very privileged to have had the opportunity. The three of us entered into a space that was just large enough to fit the three of us. We dropped to about 30 feet and then descended through a tunnel at 45 degrees with a diameter of about 2 1/2 m to about 75 feet.

We then entered into a huge cavern, that blew our minds. It was about 10 – 15m across. It was still considered a cavern not a cave as you could still see a very small penetration of light from the entrance into the cave. Fred then took us through a penetration barely big enough to get through. We were now into fair dinkum cave territory.

Without torches it was as black as you could ever imagine. It was incredible. Huge Stalagmites and stalactites. Shining the torch through some of them turned them into huge glowing crystals. We penetrated in total  to about 520 feet and did a small loop. In total we did about a 1000 foot cave penetration to just over 70 feet deep. I’d do it a again in a heartbeat. It was just random.

We flew to Orlando and had a week with our great friends Gary and Santa and their boys Alex and Marlie. In total we probably spent about five weeks in the states much of the time annoying Gary and Santa. We are grateful for their wonderful hospitality and friendship.

We caught a midweek red eye flight with Virgin Atlantic to Gatwick, in the UK and then on to a train to Portsmouth, where Charsely picked us up and drove us to his wife’s hometown of Bishops Waltham. A very quaint place not far from Southampton.

Charlesy drove us all around the country side and helped us find a poo brown Renault Traffic with a Holdsworth camper conversion. It is not the VW Kombi that I had my heart set on, but after almost a week in the Renault, I have to confess that it has gone like a trooper, for filled all the requirements, has just enough space and I am starting to grow attached to it.

In the last week we have driven to the Cotwolds via Oxford and spent the night in a caravan park in Stratford upon Avon. Had a look around then went to the Warrick Castle, which was just amazing. Then onto a small caravan park to a place called Hasely Knob.

From there we drove to Kendal in the south of Lakes District, then onto Windermere for a brief drive through and eventually we found a fantastic car park to spend the night near a place called Hawkeshead – Beatrix Potter country. The following day we spent having a good look around a large part of the lakes heading up to Keswick and yep – Cockermouth.

We also spent another night in a car park on the mountain side, again it was fantastic. From there we drove through a remote and amazing part of the Northern Yorkshire Dales. We stopped in a Largish town called Richmond. From there we drove down to York and got desperately lost, even with the help of our trusty GPS  trying to find a somewhere to park the van for a night.

We are currently in a Caravan park just outside of York and Plan to head into to York for today and then move on later.

On Tour 19 – We Are Still Here!

On Tour 19 – We Are Still Here!

Hello to All,

Well we decided to stay the extra month and we are currently half way through our second last charter. We had a very quiet period through the last half of January and all of Feb with no charters.

I had a short trip to Del Ray Beach to bring a 26 ft Sports Fishing boat out to The Abacos. It was kind of fun and broke the monotony of life on the rock. Unfortunately Melanie could not make the trip as the owner would not cover another air fare.

The crossing was a fairly boring affair taking about 7 hours to do the 180 miles. The boat was a 26ft Regulator with two 250hp Yamahas, cruising speed about 40 knots.

We made friends with a couple working on a 60 ft Gulfstar yacht that had been chartered to a company building a resort down here. It has helped break the monotony of the quiet time of the year. We have spent quite a bit of time of dock just doing our own thing, mainly lots of reading.

A couple of weeks before our last charter started we went to Orlando to visit with our friends Gary and Santa. We drove over to Tampa and St Petersberg for a day. We also had a trip down to Miami and Ft Lauderdale. It was great to get of the island for a few days. We managed to get over to the Ron Jon store in Cocoa Beach and stock up on clothes which is nearly impossible to do in Marsh Harbour.

Just before our last charter Gary and Santa and there kids managed to get over from Orlando and spend a couple of days on the boat with us which was a lot of fun.

We had some bad news from home. My Dad (Ray) was diagnosed with a very rare form of B cell lymphoma. He is currently undergoing Chemo to be followed by Radio therapy. We are obviously hoping for a positive outcome.

Our last charter we had a family with four young boys from Texas. They were a lovely group and we had a fantastic time with them. As I said we are part way through our second last charter and actually counting down the days by marking them off with pencil on the head wall. The time seems to go slower the closer it gets to the end. We will hopefully be out of here by the 4th or 5th of April.

At this stage our plan is to spend a week or two in the States and then head for the UK, where we will annoy Charlesy Kate and Ben for a while. We hope to buy some sort of a campervan, something like an old diesel combi would be perfect and then spend about 3 months touring around Europe.

Anyway thats the plan at this stage but it could always change.

All for now.

David

On Tour 18 – A New Year

On Tour 18 – A New Year

Hello to All,

It has been a while. It seems to be getting longer between updates.

Probably a reflection of Melanie and I becoming more apathetic about what we are doing. Since our last update we have had three charters one of which we are currently on and will finnish tomorrow.

Christmas and New year.

Christmas was an entertaining affair all be it a little sad being so far from our family and friends. We have been a little slack in communicating christmas cheer and wishes of luck for the year ahead to all of our friends, better late than never.

So Merry christmas and all the best for the year ahead to you all.

Christmas day was one where we invited a number of other expats. who were without family to an all day christmas party on the Bahama Mama, some people have no style when it comes to naming a boat. Melanie managed to buy a bunch of seafood and more seafood for christmas dinner and of course no shortage of alcoholic beverage.

We ended up with a Kiwi, a Pom, a Yarpi and a Yank, very cosmopolitan. The Pom and the Kiwi arrived about 2 hours after everyone else started eating and drinking but the were well and truly attitude adjusted and were both experiencing some technical difficulties. We have video to prove it but at this stage it is not for general exhibition.

Christmas lunch was a hit and went from about 11.00 am till about 11.00pm and before we new it it was new years eve. As it turned out we stayed in Marsh Harbour as we had a charter commencing on the morning of the 2nd. it proved to be the wrong decision as we later heard Hopetown went off and Marsh Harbour was fairly dull.

Mel: David spent the day of New Years Eve, helping a friend  of ours, Clay, hip tow his $10, 47′ Cuttyhunk design ‘Chandelle’ from Marsh Harbour to an Island called Green turtle Cay. A distance of around 20 miles and involving a brief passage into the sometimes very nasty Atlantic.

They were extordinarily lucky with the weather and had no wind glassy conditions. Clay is a captain of one of the support boats on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3. He has since towed his boat from Green Turtle to Freeport on Grand Bahama, where is is going to get carpenters on the set help fix up ‘Chandelle’ in exchange for the use of his 21′ whaler.

We spent New Years with Clay, his mum and sister, all oringinally from Kentucky, it was quiet, but fun. The amazing thing is David and I managed to stay past midnight. The ongoing joke around here is the 9pm is the Bahamiam midnight. No kidding we are in bed around 9pm most nights, if not before.

On the charter front the week before christmas we had a family from Atlanta, Mum and Dad and three daughters. They were fantastic people. Very friendly, appreciative of what we were doing for them and generous. Went some way to restoring our faith in human nature.

Gerry the dad loved a beer and we spent many a night in a bar or on the boat drinking beer and talking crap.

The next charter was a little different. A Cuban American guy, his wife and three daughters. What a contrast. That charter ended and another started the one we are on now.

These people are fantastic. The first three days was husband and wife, son and daughter in law, 2 children and the pilot of their own jet. The next four days just the older couple. We have had so much fun with them. They have taken us out to the best restaurants on 2 occasions so far and they are very appreciative of every thing we do.

We have a 24 hour turn around tomorrow for a week long charter with 8 guests, even though there is only beds for 6. It turns out that we are getting 4 adults and 4 kids, two 3 year olds and two 5 year olds. It is going to be a nightmare if the weather is bad!

After this next charter we have a month with no charters until the end of our contract at the end of Feb. We are going to go to Freeport on Grand Bahama where we have a friend working on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3. He has assured us he can get us on the set to have a look around. Should be fun. Doggy is doing a Star boat regatta in Miami and hopefully will get over to visit us after his regatta finishes.

We are still unsure as to whether we will stay on with Moorings for another month after our contract ends. We have not discussed it with them, but we are sure they will want us to stay for at least March. They have both crewed boats booked for at least 3 weeks in March and if we leave they will have no crews for what amounts to 6 weeks of charters. Knowing how difficult it is to get work permits for The Bahamas and the fact that after March they do not have any overlapping bookings will mean we should be able to negotiate something if we want to.

Having said that if we are not out of here at the end of Feb we will definately be out of here at the end of March, we have had enough of the Bahamas for sure. After that we will spend some time in the States, not sure how long, then we will go to Cabarete in the Dominican Republic for some kite boarding, apparently the kite boarding mecca, then on to Uk and Europe.

The plan is still to try to get some sort of van we can live in, nothing flash just something we can sell for a similar price we bought it for about 3 months later. So you are on notice Charlsey, what can we get and how much do we have to spend. And then home. Of coarse all that could change with Melanie and I, if we get sick of traveling we could be home in 2 months.

All depends on how we are feeling on the day. We certainly miss home, family, friends and the dogs but it is going to be tuff to settle back into some sort of normal routine. What ever that is!

Thats about all from me to this point, Melanie may add something before we get online to broadcast this. Thanks to all of those people who emailed since our last update. It is great to hear about what is going on at home. To all of those that we haven’t herd from for a while and you all know who you are, it would be nice to hear how life is going for you even if its just a few lines

David