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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 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.