On Tour 29 – Greetings From Norway

On Tour 29 – Greetings From Norway

Greetings from Norway.

Yep we are currently at about 62 degrees North, somehow we got lost and mysteriously ended up in Norway, there is a lot to catch on so this may be a long one. To start back to one of our favorite countries – Switzerland.

Canyoning, we weren’t really 100% sure what was involved, but we new it had the potential to rank as an ‘extreme’ sport. We also knew that it was something not really available at home and what better place to take it on than the Swiss Alps. So we went into Interlakan at the base of the Jangfrau which stands over 4000m high and into one of the many outdoor adventure sports shops and said we wanted to partake in the best canyoning on offer.

During the summer this region of Switzerland becomes an international mecca for ‘mountain people’, amongst the tourists are the people who rock in at the beginning of every summer to spend the warmer months guiding and partaking in, bungy, river rafting, paragliding, hang gliding, hiking, ice walking and canyoning.

At Aquasport we were warned that Chli Schliere had jumps of around 30-40 feet and it wasn’t for the faint hearted and would involve, being at the shop at 7.45 am and expect it to be around a 7 hour day. The jumps didn’t concern us but the early start did! Twenty one people including the guides had lost there lives in this canyon in 1999 when a hunk of ice broke free in the mountains and caused a huge wave to wash down the river.We parted with our hard earned cash any way and headed of to one of the stunning lakes for a night of free camping, a tip from the staff at Aquasport.

We arrived at the ‘meeting spot’ early the next morning and organised to park the Van in one of the Aqua sport reserved parking places. We signed our lives away and met our guides for the day, Danny, Swiss born and Clay Kiwi born. Again we were warned about the canyon and now would be a good time to pull out if we weren’t comfortable with the concept of jumping 40 feet over a waterfall into a narrow puddle of water at the bottom.

Clay also warned us that if we hesitated expect to get a hard time and once in the canyon the only way out was down it. We then organised our gear, wetsuit boots and socks, a long John wetsuit a shorty with arms, a helmet, lifejacket and harness. The day was to be about listening and learning and taking instruction from Danny and Clay.

We jumped into the bus with the 6 other punters partaking, Danny and Clay and our Aussie born photographer for the day, Gemma. With hard rock pumping out of the speakers to set the ‘mood’, we drove the 55 mins to the top of Chli Schliere, through some very picturesque Swiss country side, arrived donned our gear and walked the 20 mins into the start of the canyon.

We gathered on a rock and were given instruction on various jumping and sliding techniques with the heavy warning that if we didn’t do what we were told, we could get a helicopter lift out or here for 10 000 Swiss Francs, like a guy two days ago that didn’t follow instructions, landed wrongly and broke his back. Great! When I ask how often serious injuries occur, I get the somber reply that ‘we don’t talk about things like that.’  Most injuries occur when people don’t listen or don’t look where they are walking and slip and damage an ankle or knee.

We start with a short slide into a pool of water before tackling the highest jump of the day, around 40 feet, no warm up, straight into it. There’s a lot of rah haaaring and ya hooing to really get the adrenalin going. You can’t see over the edge until you are standing on the edge with your toes balanced on a steel ring and a reassuring hand from Clay on your shoulder.

When he’s happy your ready it’s ONE, TWO, THREE CANYONING!  You jump as far out as you can over the edge of the waterfall into the rock pool below and let out an involuntary arrrrrrr…. It’s all over pretty quickly, you hit the water, avoid the rocks and surface going ‘maaan that was too cooool’, when do we go again, then there’s a lot more rah haaing!  Another slide, the corkscrew, this one is pretty long, fairly steep and narrow with overhead rocks.

Again we are given instruction on how to tackle this baby. Legs straight, lay back and arms crossed over your head to protect your face from the overhead rocks . It’s not uncommon for people who fail to follow instructions to lose a few teeth or gain a few stitches. When you hit the bottom of this slide you realise why it is called the ‘corkscrew’ as you get flung around 360 degrees just before your sinuses fill with water. Pretty cool really.

The next jump is only 25 – 30 feet, but the most technical and the ‘back breaker’. The jump is over a waterfall into another rock pool. The only place to jump from is the center of the waterfall, the issue is that right below the waterfall is a pointed rock lying just under the surface, requiring a leap into green water just to right of the waterfall. There’s also a massive rock face just to the right of the waterfall that you have to, against all better instincts jump straight at. There is another hitch, the water that you are aiming for is only at best chest deep, shallow on any standards.

To overcome this small issue the jump involves landing on your back to avoid going to deep and to take the impact of the fall if to save breaking your legs. We are given a chance to practice landing  on our backs in a shallow pool as it is normally very unnatural position to land. Again Clay is there with a reassuring hand and to go over the details of the jump and steady you on the edge of the waterfall, ONE, TWO, THREE as you jump this time Clay gives you a hefty shove in the right direction to avoid ‘that pointed rock’. You land on your back, miss the bottom get a cheer from the rest  of the group and say thanks that you are still in one piece. Danny is at the bottom to give you a reassuring nod.

There is a whole lot more rah raaing and adrenalin pumping as you move to the next challenge, another slide. It started wide and narrowed about 1/3 down to avoid get a total body beating at the start , it required hanging onto a rope and lowering yourself down to the start of the narrow section, while water the water is pushing down and pummeling you on the head and you can’t see a thing. Sounds like fun hah. We continued on absailing into caves, shooting down slides, more jumping and landing on the back, rappelling over narrow crevices, getting tossed into pools, going down short slides backwards, running matrix style along the side of rock walls.

One slide of about 25 feet required a sideways leap across a waterfall throwing the back onto the wall before a free fall at the end. By the end of the canyon we were doing flips on the smaller jumps.We spent about 3 hours in the canyon, the entire time Danny and Clay were there with a reassuring and confident hand. They were fantastic with an enormous amount of energy and instilled confidence in us every step of the way.

While on the trip we got to know our photographer, Gemma and found out she was heading to the Bahamas for an underwater photography job. Finding out we had come from that direction, she invited us to her going away party that night. We met an extraordinary group of ‘mountain people’ and found them to be open friendly, environmentally conscious and great company. We were the only people to arrive in a car, everyone else walked or cycled and many of them were vegetarians, we had a great night finished about around 12 and headed to our free camp spot be the lake.

We spent the next day driving around the Interlarken region taking in the breathtaking scenery, before heading back to Germany to catch up with Fred, (who flew to the Bahamas to catch up with us). We broke the trip by driving to the Black Forest which is the source of the Danube figuring that we had seen where it ends so it would be pretty neat to see where it starts. We discovered that despite what we thought Switzerland is not the capital of Cuckoo Clocks, but the Black Forest is, and they make some amazing ones.

We spent the night in a carpark on the side of the road before driving to a town called Strohn, which is located close Koblenz (close to Frankfurt), where the rivers Mosel and Rhine meet. We met Fed whose dad originates from this area and still  has many family members here.

Fred had organised a loan of a couple of bikes for us and also for a friend of his, Dieter, an iron man, to give us a tour of the local area. Fortunately Dieter took it easy on us. The area has a series of volcanic lakes at varying heights and is well set up for cyclists. We stopped at a local swimming hole for an ice cream, then Dieter sent us on our way and headed off to do some fair dinkum training.

We then headed to a member of Fred’s family for the night, for a shower, which I’m sure everyone was grateful for and our second show of German hospitality, the first being with Teena and Martin in Rohrdolf, Bavaria. There was as much beer as we could drink and  great food eat that our  welcoming hosts had prepared.

Fred joined us in the Trusty the following day for the drive up to Hamburg, hopefully a memorable experience. We had caught up with Fred as he had orgainised for us to participate in the annual inter airline regatta to be held this year in Hamburg hosted Lufthansa Airlines. Again we were to experience first class German hospitality.

We were looked after by Dieter and Uschi who were involved in the organization of the regatta. They had a full itinerary planned for us. The first night was a lovely cruise up the Elster river and a sneak preview of the area that we were to be sailing in, an ice cream in downtown Hamburg, meeting one of our other team members, ‘Weedo’  and his hosts Astrid and Uwe, a trip up the …… then dinner at a trendy riverside restaurant.

The following day was a practice day on the ‘Conga’ the 2 man boat we were to be competing on in the regatta, then a the welcoming night at the hosting Yacht club with a BBQ dinner. We also met the other QANTAS team members Tim, Jen and Nikhil. The third night was spent with a variety of people from around the globe at a noisy bavarian beer house complete with live traditional Bavarian beer drinking songs, eating swinehoxan – pigs feet. I passed.

The fourth night was the presentation night on the Rickmer Rickmers a historic tall ship permanently moored in Hamburg. Unfortunately Fastie had to head home, but we had a great night partying until around midnight, leaving Uschie and Dieter partying on till the wee hours of the morning.  I have included Fasties summary of the regatta, he did miss a few things though. – David and Weedo achieved a convincing second in the second race on the first day.

On the second day the Aussies were the only team out training and were told to dock the boats due to the thunderstorms that never happened, David and Weedo getting and escort to the dock for throwing in a few extra practice roll tacks and the fact that Fastie and I were disappointed not to get an opportunity to have another go at the gun-smoke. Fastie invited the winning team onto our boat to help us with the setup and sailing techniques, they offered us some great tips and we were confident we could achieve a good result for the team.

Lufthansa convincingly won the 2006 WASC. Only two races were held. Unfortunately the last two races were cancelled due to thunderstorms – just as it was our turn on some of the best boats in the fleet…..not an excuse though! We finished 6th overall, with just a few points separating 2nd from.

Denmark was lovely but flat, in Alby’s words ‘flat as a proverbial shit carters hat.’ We drove up the west coast and only spent one full night there in a nice town called Lemvig, booking ourselves onto a 1am ferry on the second night to Norway. We parked the Trusty on the beach with a group of other campers had a BBQ and set the alarm for 11.30pm. The ferry trip was miserable.

To start is was about an hour late leaving, around 2am, we also didn’t book a cabin, having done overnight trips before with no worries. Problem was not a single other soul had booked a cabin either, by the time we were aboard every couch, lounge, chair and reasonable bit of floor space was taken with bodies sprawled out trying to get some sleep. We found ourselves some quite corners in the depth of the boat, but were told to move on twice, eventually crashing exhausted in a nasty hallway by a main door. We arrived in Norway around 6.30am with short fuses from a lack of sleep.

We drove till about midday before I gave Alby a heavy warning that if he didn’t find some where to pull the Van in soon, I would most likely get very grumpy. We found a spot on a lake, I took the Van Alby took the beach for few hours catnap before pushing on further.

Norway is a a stunning country, even through our sleepy eyes we were awed by the beauty of the place. We arrived at a place called Larvik and drove to the lighthouse at Lindenes on the South West coast. It is also legal to freecamp on public ground in Norway, which makes us very happy. On the first day, every lake, fjord small fishing village seemed to be more picturesque than the last, it was definitely competing with Switzerland as one of our favourtie countries.

To top it of we were getting extraordinary good weather, 25+ degrees clear blue skies and not a drop of rain. Our second night we found ourselves a lovely beachside camp and couldn’t believe it when at 10pm the local campground owner banged on the side of the van telling us to move on or he would call the police. This was the first time this had ever happened and we were astounded, as free camping was legal in this country. Not wanting to cause trouble we packed up and moved on having the sneaking suspicion that we were being followed.

Eventually we found ourselves a spot for the night close to a place called Stavanger, a largish coastal town. From Stavanger we drove to Norway’s second largest town Bergen. We can’t believe how beautiful this country is it’s quite amazing every bend seems to produce another quaint town, beautiful waterway or stunning mountainous backdrop. Driving up the coast has also required multiple ferry trips as it is the only way to gat from one end to the other. This provides another opportunity to take in the amazing scenery and travel up some of the fjords.

We free camped in Bergen and spent the next morning wondering this lovely city. It is a coastal town with a lovely harbour surrounded by the fish markets, where much to our disgust you can buy everything from whale meat to white reindeer fur and a multitude of different seal furs. Unfortunately Norway still considers whaling as a part of their culture and refuse to cease the killing and selling of whale meat. We vowed to give more more to Greenpeace after seeing for ourselves whale for sale in the tourist markets and not for ‘survival’.

From Bergen we headed further North to some of the great fjords and the Jostedalsbreen National Park and Europe’s largest Glacier. Hard to believe but it seemed Norway was getting even more beautiful and spectacular. We headed towards and Nigardsbreen where we booked ourselves onto a day kayaking and hiking on a glacial lake and a 5 hour glacier hike including ice climbing.

The staff at  the Nigardsbreen Tourist Info gave us directions to one of the most amazing free camps we have stayed in, surrounded by waterfalls,  glaciers and mountains. We had a perfect view of  the sun setting over one of the prettiest glaciers.

More soon,

Melanie & David

On Tour 28 – Things Keep Getting Better

On Tour 28 – Things Keep Getting Better

Wish you were all here!

It was Sunday afternoon when we arrived in the heart of Vienna (Wein), Austria and easily found a park for the Trusty. Still fairly worn out, we decided to have wonder around town for an hour or so. Vienna was beautiful and we decided to come back the following day, after a good nights sleep, for another look.

We headed to the nearby campground to be told it would be 26 Euros for the night, so instead we had a drive around, saw some amazing lakeside properties and found ourselves a perfect free camp spot overlooking the Danube and the lights of Vienna

We drove back into town the following morning again easily found a carpark and spent several hours walking around this beautiful city, most of the time not knowing which way to walk as it seemed every where we looked was some amazing bit of architecture .

It was a pretty magical place. Much to our delight we even found a place serving VB beer, something we hadn’t had for close to 18 months. We indulged in a stubby each, but at 13.50 $Aus a shout, one was plenty.

From the heart of Vienna we headed to the gorgeous mountains tucked in behind this lovely city to partake in a Austrian tradition particular  to this region.  When taverns are serving the first white wine of the season they hang the branch of a evergreen over their front door. We found a town with a selection of taverns, located one to our liking and partook.

The taverns are stunning, you enter through a front door into a large courtyard, full of beautiful gardens that opens out onto the rolling hills behind which are adorned with grape vines. It was a pretty neat. From there we headed to a small town on the Danube called Melk, with a huge monastery, where we free camped over looking the river again.

The next morning we headed into the Czech Republic to Prague and managed a park not more than a few  hundred meters from the city square, this so far is our favorite city. It was  an amazing some. Prague was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. ‘Let’s Go Europe’  states the cities “… maze of alleys spawned legends of demons and occult forces giving this city this city of dreams the dark mystique that inspired Frank Kafka’s paranoid tales.” It also states “in summer tourists pack streets so tightly the crowd surfing seems a viable method of transportation.”

It was crowded, but rather than detract from the flair of the place it seemed to add to the bubbly lively atmosphere. It wasn’t to difficult to escape the crowds either, by walking to some of the out of the way streets which were just as rewarding as the city square. The city managed to survive through WWI and WWII without being bombed, consequently most of the original architecture and buildings are intact.

Prague was on the cheaper end as well, so shouted ourselves to a meal. Goulash and Dumplings each with a beer to wash it down for a total cost of less then ten euros. This city definitely is on our highly recommend list.

We hung around till about 8.30 and then headed out of town about 30kms to a campground for the night, before heading into Germany. Before crossing the border the sky started to darken and the rain started to tumble down, there was thunder bolts and lightening, mud started to wash across the road and we started to see fallen pine trees, oh o, not again.

Hail started to pelt the car and we had to pull over. Fortunately roads and towns were better designed then in previous countries and we had no problems, other than the German guy on the border crossing who wanted to search our Van for Hashish and smuggled cigarettes. After previous border crossings we were only too happy to give him the grand tour of the Van.

He didn’t spent to much time looking as he was so tall he spend the whole time uncomfortably hunched over. When we reached the hills on the German side there was so much hail on the sides of the roads it looked like it had been snowing, it was pretty cool.

Our first stop in Germany was Passau a town where the Danube and Inn Rivers meet. The Van had taken a hammering driving through Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania and was in desperate need of some TLC and a new CV joint. We found ourselves a friendly mechanic who agreed to work on the Van for us but it would require an overnight stay the following night.

Looking for somewhere to free camp that night we followed a German van to a great location in the hills overlooking Passau then they kindly shouted us a beer at the local pub. So far we were liking Germany. The next afternoon we dropped our Trusty of and headed to the local hostel overlooking the Danube. It was the weirdest looking place, from across the river it was designed to look like a sleeping man.

The room was not much bigger then the Van with bathrooms across the hall, but it was clean and comfortable and for one night and only 30 euros, not much more than a lot of campgrounds we had stayed in. We planned to catch up with a German friend of Mum and Dad’s, Hermann.

He picked us up from the hostel and drove us just over the border into Austria for a hearty meal and a variety of local beers at a busy Austrian Beer-garden, it was also in another set of hills overlooking passau and with an amazing view of the sunset. Hermann dropped us back at the hostel after having a great night, but not before informing us of a worrisome little critter that eats the electronics in cars, to the point that he has had to have an electronic security fence device fitted under his bonnet.

We had a fretful night sleep worrying about how our poor Trusty was coping without us, we realised we were probably becoming abnormally attached to our car. The following day we caught up on some sleep. Hermann kindly picked us up again and gave us a tour of passau and drove us to a fantastic lookout point where you could clearly see where the Danube and Inn rivers meet, he then dropped us back at the Reno, which wasn’t ready yet, so we had a few lazy hours wondering around Passua, before heading to another of Mum and Dad’s friends in a town called Rohrdolf, which is between Salzberg and Munich in the Bavarian region of Germany.

We chose the scenic route and were very taken by the beautiful country side,  every small town was like a postcard picture, with quaint little houses. Balconies were adorned with colourful flowers and it seemed every garden was perfect and large lush, green pastures surrounded every town.

We reached Teena and Martins in Rohrdolf to find it just as beautiful and quaint as most of the towns we had driven through.Teena is an Aussie girl who landed herself a lovely German bloke and they have two little girls 11 and 7. Alexandra the eldest kindly let us use her room and she shared with her younger sister Nadia. The weather was perfect so they put on a BBQ for us, we had a great night drinking beer and wine catching up on news from home.

The following morning we gave the van a desperately needed clean before heading up into the hills to Martins family hut. It was amazing!! We felt like we had stepped right into a postcard or a scene out of Heidi or The Sound of Music.  We drove most of the way up into the mountains and hiked the last half hour Martin carrying up lunch. The hut was perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Austrian Alps at around 1400m, with surrounding hills full of wildflowers and cows meandering around with their bells tinkling away.

The hut itself was in a fenced in yard and consisted of a cosy living room / kitchen a large in the middle a large walking pantry at one end and a small bedroom on the other end. In the roof was a loft with a huge mattress that could sleep about 10 people. Below the hut was the most important part, the musty, dark and dingy cellar full of local beers.

The ‘dunny’ was a good ole’ drop loo out the side. There was another small cabin, in the same building but  it was mostly made up of the cow shed out the back, which he cows would dutifully bring themselves in at the end of the day. The inside of the cabin was decorated with bits and pieces collected over the years and had an old wood fired stove, a healthy collection of beer steins, and remarkably we felt we were stepping right into the old log cabin from Metung.

We arrived and started preparing lunch while Teena poured the biggest beer / lemonade we had ever laid eyes on. Apparently a tradition at the hut. Lunch was a simple German feast called broadside, cold cuts of salamis, spicy sausages, cheeses, liverwurst, egg, salads and bread, set outside on a lovely old timber table and bench seats.

After lunch we lay on comfy cushions in the grass dozing of listening to the cows tinkling away. To walk the beer and food of later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of the mountain behind the hut which was at a height of 1514m, the view was amazing. Before walking back to the car at about 7pm we finished the afternoon of with a barely drinkable schnapps.

We continued the eating and drinking late into the night back at Teena and Martin’s and sadly fare-welled them the following morning, carrying the slightest hint of a hangover. We’d tested the local Rohrdolf schnapps late in the evening as well.

We headed to  campground in Salzberg, with plans of tackling the city the next day. Salzberg is another wonderful central European city surround by rolling hills and mountains and we enjoyed wondering around and taking in the sites.

The following day we headed to Untersberg not far from Salizberg and took the cable car to just below the peak and walked the 30 mins to the top some 1853m high to be rewarded with another amazing view. We easily spotted the only other Aussie on the mountain as he like us was the only other person wearing thongs. Probably not the most appropriate footwear for mountain climbing.

We then headed to an area not far away, Bergthesgaden to visit one of the local underground salt mines. It involved dressing up in protective clothing complete with a leather  bum padding for sliding down timber slides in the mine. We travelled deep underground on trains through tunnels which seemed barely big enough. It was a fascinating and interesting experience.

We then travelled further south to an area called Werfen to go ice caving. Not arriving in time, we chose to stay overnight and tackle the caves in the morning. The road to the ice caves were as steep as any we had driven and  the Renault barely made it up in first and second gear.

We arrived early and managed a park close to the first part of the experience about a 20 – 30 minute walk up the side of the mountain to the cable car, we then took a short cable car ride and then another 20-30 min walk further up the side of the mountain. The ice caves themselves were amazing, awe inspiring, breathtaking and all those other cliches, they were also freezing.

As part of a group we toured about 1km and 700 steps into the cave to be rewarded with some of the most beautiful ice formations. We were informed the the ice had been increasing over the last 85 years and was continuing to do so while constantly changing.

The ‘younger formations’ were like crystals hanging from the ceiling of the cave, it really was very beautiful. We spent about 1 1/2 hours in the cave and by the end the feeling had gone from our fingers and toes, even though we had on our snugs and polar fleece jumpers.

The temperature inside was around 0 degrees C. The entrance to the cave was about the size of a large door and is the place where all the cold air escapes into the open, consequently for the first two – 3 meters before entering the cave winds can get up to around 100kms an hour an extremely hot doors. It was a pretty funky experience walking into the cave being blastered by freezing cold air that you were barely able to walk through.

The cave isn’t lit either so about every third to forth person carries a small lamp which adds to the whole atmosphere. Walking back down the hill it took some time for the toes to start to feel normal again. It was around 11.30 and the day had heated up to about 30 degrees, people were struggling up the hill in a major way, some had a 20-30 minute walk in the heat before they even made it to where our Van was parked, we offered encouragement as much as possible, as it really was worth the hike to experience the caves.Half way down we stopped and rewarded ourselves with a cold beer.

The afternoon was spent driving back to Italy for our last stop in that country Venice. The Italians we met in Istanbul had told us about a freecamp opportunity on the point opposite Venice at Punta Del Sabiarno, which was a boat ride to San Marco Square. There was a squillion camp grounds charging up to 30 euros per site and 10 euros per person, which to us was like paying $Aus 100, to simply park the Van overnight, way to much.

The free camping although not perfect, it was free and that made us happy. We caught the ferry into Venice and it was pretty surreal, and also another opportunity to take up crowd surfing as a method of transport. To be fair, if you took the time to wander around some of the outer streets it was easy to become the only people around. We really enjoyed ourselves, wondering  around and marveling at how many of the buildings haven’t yet fallen into the extensive canal systems. We even lashed out on some famous Murano glass.

From Venice the next stop – Switzerland, what a beautiful, marvelous, awe-inspiring country, the mountains are nothing short of spectacular. It is a glorious place and although it has a reputation for being expensive we were enormously pleased to discover that petrol was cheaper here than Italy.

We free camped our first night at about 1700m with a amazing view of a mountain being enveloped be clouds. The following day we drove up a set of switchbacks to around 2160m to be blown away by a lake perched between the mountains. We continued onto Interlaken which overlooks the famous snowcapped mountain the Jungfrau which is over 4000m high, very awesome.

We had a drive around two of the valleys which head up towards the Jungfrau, the valley which heads towards a town called Grimwald has a massive glacier that is moving at around 80cm a day into the valley, pretty big news around here. We then went and booked ourselves in on the most extreme cannyoning trip we could find for the following morning.

To find out more tune in next time.

David & Mel

On Tour 27 – Blow outs, Floods, Rabid Dogs, Kiwis!

On Tour 27 – Blow outs, Floods, Rabid Dogs, Kiwis!

Greetings from beautiful Central Europe,

Would you believe it we had a blow out on a back tyre on the way to the border. David changed the wheel over without any drama, but we had no intention of traveling without a spare into Bulgaria or Romania.

It was Sunday and with only a few small towns between us and the border we weren’t liking our chances, but figured we’d try anyway. We found our way into a run down looking industrial estate in a small town and would you believe the only shop that was open was the toughest looking Turkish guy doing puncture repairs with a bunch of tires lying around his factory.

Desperate we figured we’d give it a go. He was friendly and engaging and without a word of English. After communicating our needs, we patiently waited our turn drinking the compulsory cup of tea. He was the hardest working Turkish guy we had ever seen with a constant flow of business. Although not the exact tyre, we were on the road again within about 2 hours a minimal delay. We were pretty happy.

We arrived at a town only about 25km from the border, to find they were pumping water out of the lower levels of there small apartments blocks. There was debris and mud all over the road, it was pretty clear they were mopping up from some pretty recent flooding.

The mountain range ahead was also looking ominous with dark clouds, blotting out the horizon, we pushed on any way. We only needed to travel about another 15km, before we were into the rain and it was bucketing down, On the way back down the valley, the roads started becoming awash with water, mud and debris, by now I was starting to get nervous, all the water had to be going somewhere. The creeks had well and truly broken their banks and local crops were being flattened by the water and the rain wasn’t letting up.

We crossed a bridge and came to a small town called Derekoy, it was underwater. One of the locals approached and let us know they were having a small problem to turn around and head back. I was thinking, mate thats no small problem you have to deal with. We gladly turned around to head to higher ground fearing landslides or that parts of the road might wash away.

After surveying the surrounding topography, we parked in a deserted service station on the highest ground we could find, the rain felt like it was getting heavier and we discovered the trusty Renault was not entirely water proof, but our problems were insignificant  compared to what they were having to deal with in Derekoy. While we were parked, at least 10 heavy earth moving machines went by and 4 army tanks, women and children were being bused out and men in. We went to sleep in our leaking van wondering what we would find the next morning.

We woke to sunny morning and the peaceful sound of the cows coming down from higher ground, had a cuppa and headed towards Derekoy and the border. What we saw was worse than we could have ever imagined. The town had almost been flattened, the bridge we drove over the day before had become completely awash with water.

Cars had been washed down the creek, homes simply no longer existed. Homes that survived were no full of mud and the sparse belongings ruined. People had lost there lives. We were told that the towns folk might receive 1-2 days help to clean up, beyond that it would be up to them, they weren’t expecting any financial help either. A fresh water truck was under military guard, homes where people had lost there lives were also under military guard.

Women were being bused or taxied back into town while we were there, the expressions of devastation on there face was clear. Some had already started the clean up. It was shocking, but beyond offering our symphonies there was little we could do but move on. Parts of the road beyond Derekoy had been washed away.

The border, it took us two hours to leave Turkey and get into Bulgaria. What we didn’t realise was that phone lines were out due to the rain, so when they took David’s passport and told us to wait, we started getting a little antsy. The problem was very simple, they just couldn’t check if we had any traffic fines or other issues, before letting us leave Turkey but they didn’t tell us.

Finally we were allowed out, before entering Bulgaria we had to pay to disinfect the car, we sat in the bay waiting for the disinfecting shower to start and waited and waited, nothing happened so we drove off, as we looked back the shower started! No one cared, they had our money. Despite all we had heard about people trying to rip you of at the borders, we found the Bulgarians friendly and helpful, giving us advice on which roads to take.

This area of Bulgaria had also coped the intense rain, the roads were bad to start, now they were partially covered by landslides or simply  caved in, makes for stressful travel.The small town on the Bulgarian border was also mopping up after the rain. The first task, in Bulgaria, was to get local currency  and fuel for the car. Not so easy.

Rural regions in Bulgaria where quite poor, with people living basic lives, herding there cattle, goats and horses on in the open fields and growing there own fruits and vegetables. Consequently they have little money and no need for banks and petrol stations would only take the local currency with no facilities for cards. Not desperate for either we pushed onto a bigger town and found a bank and filled up the car. Petrol is cheap in this country about 1.40 $Aus a liter.

We hadn’t planned to spend any time in Bulgaria due to all the stories we had heard, but after driving through Derokoy, a 2 hour border crossing, landslides and caved in roads and then having trouble getting money it was pretty late in the day and we weren’t up to a second border crossing in the same day we decided to camp for the night.

Much to our surprise, the Black Sea coast is rapidly developing huge resorts for cheap package holidays for Europeans. All of the resorts are gated with security and everything you need behind the gates including markets. Also to our surprise the beaches were the best we had seen since leaving the Bahamas, although not up to par with the Bahamas. With a great climate, the Black Sea over 20 degrees Celsius, combined with the fabulous beaches it was easy to see why it was getting popular.

We even saw a Gary Player signature golf course going in.-There had obviously been some pretty nasty weather systems through recently as David put it the Black Sea was ‘feral’. Logs and debris had also washed up against the guardrails on the sides of roads where water had been flowing over them. Away from the pockets of resorts was a lot of undeveloped coastline and large open rolling fields, with stunning yellow sunflowers in full bloom, wheat and corn crops and acres of vineyards, it really was very pretty.

We had read in our ‘Lets Go Europe’ that Bulgaria was pretty conservative and to dress accordingly, but to our astonishment billboard advertising was less than conservative. Forget girls in bikinis advertising drinks and cigarettes, try g-strings and in some cases nothing. It was easy to tell the tourists from the locals as well. Tourists were sunburnt and locals looked like they had stepped out of the eighties.

We drove to a resort town called Albenia and found a campground located behind the resort, it was average at best. The showers were common, with no cubicles and instead of the water draining through the drains it pooled on the floor and then cascaded out the door, it was also not very clean. We decided to go smelly. We were pretty tired, but to took a short walk to the local shop, it was cheap, we spent up all our local currency, went back to the Van cooked dinner and slept.

In total we spent less then 24 hours in Bulgaria, we stayed on the Black Sea Coast as we knew this was more touristed, mainly because we had heard so many stories. In hindsight we feel some one was looking over our shoulder when we had the tyre blow out, had this not occurred chances are we would have been caught up in the flooding.

Next country Romania.

It took less then 20 minutes to get through the border, including paying for another car disinfect, this time they didn’t even bother to turn on the overhead cleaners, but were content in the knowledge they had our money. We also had to pay an ecological tax, with either local currency, which we didn’t have and couldn’t get on the border or Euros.

Our only ten Euro note had a tear in it and they refused to take that as well. We managed to scrape together 4 US$ , originally they wanted more, but we refused and they accepted the 4$US. We also had another issue at the border, that was going to be a real bother the entire time in Romania. After being stuck in Alexandroupolis for 4 nights we researched insurance for Bulgaria and Romania and were meant to be able to buy it at the border in both countries.

Unfortunately they had no facilities to sell it to us at this border crossing, after some deliberation, they sent us on our way suggesting we could buy insurance at the next town or ‘be very careful’. We chose the insurance option, only problem the phones lines and internet were down in the next town and the next and the next town, so we were having trouble getting insurance. We pushed on looking in every town for the ‘Carte Verde’ sign to try for insurance, but with no luck.

We stopped in one town David got out and I stayed with the car,  he asked someone on the street for help and the next thing he knew he was down an  alley way with a guy and  a briefcase full of photocopied documents and a small crowd gathering,  he raced back to the car a took of like a bull at a gate, explaining the situation later. we had heard about these shammers but never expected to get caught up with one.

The driving in Romania is downright scary, leaving us both white knuckled and in fear of our lives, not helping was the knowledge playing in the back of our minds that we were traveling without insurance. Romanians in general own two types of cars, shitty little Dacias or stolen BMWs and Mercs and they drive with a death wish.

It was not uncommon to have to slam on the brakes on a blind corner to avoid a head on collision or drive of the road on straight stretches. Trucks drive with their wheels on the center line an cars behind them with half the car in the opposite lane looking for overtaking opportunities. Cars from behind were as scary as cars coming from ahead, overtaking us as we were overtaking trucks, turning two narrow lanes into three.

We figured that they would have no problem driving us of the road, I mean what’s two dead tourists in Romania? It was more awful than you could ever possibly imagine. The Romanian cities were angry places as well, we tried to limit the times we had to stop in them, but it was inevitable as bank machines simply don’t exist or don’t work in the rural regions we also needed petrol and food.

Supermarkets were fenced in with bared wire and had security gates. Handbags and bags had to be left at the supermarket entrance under security. I didn’t realise this and just wondered in to one, I was followed by undercover security, not realising what was going on until I absent mindedly ran my trolley into theirs.

Shopping itself was a task, trying to find foods that looked even vaguely familiar to foods we new we could prepare in the Van. Forget shopping bags as well, grocery shopping had never been so stressful.

Our first stop in Romania was the Danube Delta, a huge wetlands where the famous Danube River meats the Black Sea on the Romanian, Ukraine border. We arrived to find that there had been recent flooding in this region as well, towns were mopping up or simply inaccessible and the bird flu had wiped out much of the wildlife which the area was famous for.

We arrived late in the day at Crasnov a small, typical rural Romanian town. Cows were wondering down the road bringing themselves in for the day. People were heading home parking their wagons in the driveway and tethering their ponies on the front nature strip alongside the families of chicken and geese. Going to rural Romania was like stepping into a time warp, it was pretty amazing. Cars were oddly out of place and peoples lives were very simple, still heavily  relying on horses for transport and ploughing the fields.

We headed for the only campground around, not wanting to risk free camping. Things were looking up on the campground, front we had found a winner. That is, easily the winner of the worst campground in Europe. It was over grown, full of stray dogs (we had read and been warned about rabies), there was more rust than water coming out of the shower heads, the toilets didn’t flush and the entire place had a fairly unique smell.

The thing that clinched it as a winner though was the mosquitos, I honestly believed we were either going to be carried away or sucked dry. We went to bed wondering if we be chewed up by a rabid dogs, die off the bird flu or catch Ross River Fever or Dengy Fever from the mosquitos or simply die of a slow poisoning from the cocktails we’d made up to get rid of the mosquitos.

On the positive note on the way into the campground we ran into the only other two couples crazy enough to be traveling in this region. We set up a wagon style camp and tried every volatile concoction to try to drive away mosquitos and voted that it be better to continue being smelly than use the showers. We realised what luxury we were traveling in in the trusty Renault as we the only vehicle with a potty.

We also had the joy of watching an amazing sunset over the Danube, one of the best we had seen, the frogs were also crooking away in harmony. We are big fans of the ole’ frog,  I think if there are plenty around it means the water way is doing O.K. The older swiss couple had a well set up Nissan Patrol with a tent on the roof and the young Germans had a VW Transporter 2 years older than the Renault. It was great night swapping stories, but we went to bed as they headed of to locate a venue to try and watch the soccer world cup.

Choosing not to spend any longer in the region, as the Germans were telling us they almost tipped there VW over on the atrocious roads we headed off to Transylvania, but not before a very late start as we were enjoying the adventures and interesting company. The Swiss had warned us about how bad the roads we were going to be traveling on were and there was at least 20 km of road works.

What they failed to tell us that they had actually fully dug up the road and it was now not even a goat track. We managed to cover 350km in around 9 hours, slow, painful travel that was taking its toll on the trusty Renault and on us. Adding to our travel woes, was the lack of bridges over rivers. You would be driving along and the road would abruptly end. The only way to get across was rickety old car ferries.

We were accosted fairly heavily on the ferries by young men wanting to clean our windscreens when we refused they took to begging and then intimidation, not fun.

The last week had been pretty draining and we were both exhausted.  We didn’t make it to Trannsylvania, but instead stopped in at incredibly picturesque town in the mountains just outside of Bran. Again we arrived at dusk to the cows and horses bringing themselves down from the surrounding hills for the night. People were standing holding open there gates as their cows with cowbells tinkling away would peel off to there homes.

We pulled into a place that vaguely resembled a campground, to find it was accommodation for a bunch of young men from Moldavia working in the nearby timber mills. They welcomed us in and we parked in a corner out of the way. Moldavia is a small country between Ukraine and Romania that has guerilla warfare going on and is occupied by the first Russian army. Why the boys were in a small town in Romania we don’t know, but they were pretty rough looking and we felt better being on their side of the fence.

We were woken early the next morning to a banging on the window, we had to move on as the boys were headed to work and the complex would be locked up for the day. Exhausted we moved out a quickly as possible found a place by the picturesque river and had a cuppa before tackling the day.

Brasov a pretty town located in the mountains, we drove through got lost and ended  up at Mount Brasov, a lovely ski mountain. We pulled to the side of the road to try to figure out how to get to Draculas Castle, a cop pulled up and very sternly said  “you vill move da car”. We try to explain we were lost and had just pulled in to look at our maps, again “you vill move da car”, he sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzeneger. We ask him where Bran Castle is, eventually he says “you vill take dat road and you vill move da car.” We figure now would be a good time to move da car, not wanting to mess with this tough guy cop and end up in some bribery scandal.

We eventually found the famous Bran (Draculas) Castle. It was small but fun. On our way around we met some friendly Americans, but realised they were keeping a safe distance from us, we hadn’t had a shower since istanbul. Our clothes hadn’t seen the inside off a washing machine since Delphi in Greece! We had been hand washing our undies and a few other bits and pieces every so often though.

At the Castle we started taking photos, as we were leaving we were followed by a mean looking security guard, who very abruptly asked us for our tickets, we produced them, but failed to produce the ticket you have to buy to take photos. When we entered we hadn’t noticed the fine print in Romanian indicating we needed a special ticket to take photos. The very, mean, angry security guard escorted us to the ticket office and forced us to buy the ‘photo ticket’ almost us much as the entry ticket, we would have rather deleted the photos than cop this nasty treatment, time to get out of Romania and head for the Hungarian border.

We made it to within about 100kms and decided to stop at the only campground we were aware of on the way to the border at dusk, not wanting to travel on the Romanian roads at night or go through a border crossing when we weren’t sharp, we had heard a few stories about being ripped of when leaving Romania by other travelers.

We entered the town of Ordea the next morning only about 5-10kms from the border and got completely lost for about an hour. There was not a single sign indicating the direction and road to the border, we couldn’t believe it, we couldn’t find our way out of the country. We arrived in Hungary with no problems at the border exhausted, wrung out, over stimulated and just plain weary. We had had more than our fair share of ‘rich travel experiences’ and it had worn us out.

Arriving in Hungary was like arriving back in civilisation gone were all the stray dogs we had be seeing since Italy. Romania was the worst strays we never got used to seeing dogs that had been hit by cars or tucks every few kms rotting on the side of the road, its the small things that gradually wear you down. Also gone were the prostitutes standing on the side of major roads, I feel very sorry for these girls and wonder what will happen to them.

We certainly appreciate the privileges of being born into countries like Australia, UK and America. All of a sudden the roads became drivable and the drivers civil and patient.

We headed for a campground just outside of Budapest parked the Trusty and jumped into the pool, where we met a hoard of Kiwis! Turns out to be a Kiwi family on a six month Europe program. Six of them traveling full time and other members flying in and out at various stages of the trip, they currently had seven along for the ride and the their van wasn’t huge.

They were the nicest people buying us dinner and beers and then taking us back to their van for chocolate, the first we’d had since leaving the Bahamas. My gosh it was soooo good. We had a Hungarian Goulash at the campground restaurant, it was superb. I’d been hanging out for goulash since the Swiss mentioned it at the Danube Delta and I wasn’t disappointed, we’d been existing on stale bread and pasta sauce for some time now and the change in diet was welcome.

We got up the next morning marginally rejuvenated, but still exhausted and caught the bus into Budapest. It was like going to Disney Land, it was clean, the gardens where beautiful, we weren’t hassled by a single shop vendor, there weren’t hordes of tourists, it was the prettiest town we had seen in a long time.

We spent the day wondering around the Castle Hill on the Buda side, listening to the buskers, on their violins and then wondered across the footbridge over the Danube to the Pest side. We lingered to have an ice cream and listen to a free open live jazz concert. We wondered around the shops stopped for a beer and watched the passing traffic, eventually making our way back to the campground for another goulash a swim and a sound nights sleep. We sadly fair welled the Kiwi family and warned them to be careful in Romania and headed in the direction of Vienna.

More good places to come,

David & Mel

On Tour 26 – Istanbul

On Tour 26 – Istanbul

Greetings from Turkey,

From Cappadioca to Instanbul, a mammoth drive on Turkish roads around 750 Kms and Turkish drivers are by far the worst  we have come across. They scare the beejeebies out of us, looking back they had nothing on the Romanians.

Road rules, stoplights and marked roads are merely guides not to be followed. Four lanes can become 2 or 5 depends on the drivers. They overtake on blind corners on narrow mountain passes, drive down the middle of the road and would happily drive you of the side of a mountain and not think twice of it.

We have seen more bingles, overturned cars, trucks across the road and cars in ditches than the rest of our travels combined. We are just grateful that not to many of them seem to own cars and stick to the traditional mode of transport, mules, donkeys and ponies. Diving though Istanbul was crazy and stressful particularly after about 10 hours on the road.

We were hot, bothered and had had enough of being in the car, any Turkish driver who was silly enough to give us a hard time, coped it back double, behaviour probably not recommended in the guide books.

Instanbul – Task number 1, the Romanian Consulate, yep here we go again. So we get organised in the morning, get our passports, pack a lunch and water and head towards the bus stop. We get on the right bus and five minutes into the journey David asks ‘”Did you grab the book with the consulate address?” I say “Aaah no, I though you did.” Not a good start.


We remembered that it was in the vicinity of Taskim Square and we also knew that Taskim square was a pretty major landmark in Instabul, so how hard could it be? After learning our lesson in other major cities on the fact that being cheap and not spending money on a map doesn’t work if you want to get around efficiently, we buy one.

After a close study, Taskim square doesn’t look that far, but then we can’t find a scale, but it really doesn’t look that far, so we head off. Fortunately for us, a nice Turkish guy had noticed us closely studying our newly acquired map and checked in to see if we new where we were going and kindly pointed us in the direction of the the tram, a far better option than walking.  We get of at the appropriate stop, well thats what we thought.

After again closely studying our map, we head off up a mountain, well thats what it felt like. We arrived at the top of the hill in a lather of sweat, even our clothes had started dripping, wondering if we really wanted to go to Romania. W e had a choice, left or right, we choose right. After walking a short distance, I’ve had enough and pick the flashiest hotel, knowing they would have AC, to ask directions.

We go in looking totally wrecked and despondent, the guy behind the desk takes one look at us and turns his nose up, we ask anyway. After a discussion with his colleague he tells us the consulate is 50 m in the direction we just walked from. We both stare at him unbelieving. I mean fair dinkum, if the guy is going bull dust to us, you would think at least he would be smart enough to send us further away then 50m from his hotel.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we head back in the direction we had come from. After a short distance I look up and say “Hey David thats the Romanian Flag”, David says, “no you goose thats the Turkish flag”, “Aaagh not that one the other one”. Sure enough had we turned left we would have tripped over the front door!

Only thing is there is  a map on the front door giving directions to the back door. O man, it’s back down the mountain we just hiked up, we can’t believe it, we practically walked past it. David jokes it will probably close as we arrive, would you believe it, we arrive as it closes. With sweat dripping down our foreheads into our eyes, we stand there blankly looking at the door.

W hat next? We must have looked pathetic, we can’t even figure out when it will be open again. Someone comes to the door and we start pleading. “This is our 6th time at a consulate we just want to know if our Visas are approved pleeease help, pleeese.” The guy reneges and says sternly, “O.K. give me your passports I will photocopy them, and come back at 4pm.” Well we figure thats about as good as its going to get.

Time to go tourist. We get back at 3.40, we had a better handle on the Istanbul public Transport system by this stage so managed to avoid the mountain climb. We wait around for a while to find out nothings been done, we get a little grumpy at the guy behind the counter, explain our situation. He finally phones Rome, where we applied for the Visa.

Then tells us to wait 15mins. 40mins goes by, and he explains that he has not heard back from Rome, it’s our choice if we want to wait until 5pm or come back Monday. Man, its Friday and we want to leave on Sunday morning we opt to wait. Yee ha, Rome phones we can get our Visas, yep we are doing a little song and dance!!!!!

Only 7 times back and forth to consulate and embassies in three different countries. The guy behind the counter then looks at us and says that  will be 40US$ each. HUH, we just look at each other?? We try explain that we are in Instabul, Turkey therefore have YTL not Florida USA, he just looks at us like we are complete idiots and says “You want VISA here you pay US$.” Crikey, what next.

It’s Friday, almost 5pm and there’s no time to even run to a money exchange, they’ve already told us they close at 5pm sharp, no exceptions. The guy behind the counter,  makes another phone call and another dodgy guy turns up and takes David into another building to do a money exchange. David comes back, with US$ and informs me that the dodgy guy got cheesed when he found out that we didn’t have Euros, I mean we are in Turkey!

The amusing thing to all this is we are meant to have travel insurance, we don’t. For all you people who are going to give us a lecture on the reasons why we should, don’t worry my mum already has. Anyway we photocopied our medicare cards, seems to have worked.

Time to go do more tourist things. We jump on a tram to head to the famous Grand Bazar, just so happens, prayer time at the Mosque has just finished. The  tram is packed we are sharing it with a group of sweaty, smelly Turkish blokes. At this point the nasal passages are getting a full work load and definitely not of the exotic type.

David is in his element, trying to sell carpets to the carpet sellers, bantering with every other shop worker. We go into every store selling water pipes, or nargiles traditional pipes for smoking flavoured tobaccos. I swear we go into every shop in the Grand Bazar and Egyptian bazar that has a shisha in the window. In half of them there is great discussion and debate on the finer details of nargiles.

If anyone is interested I’m sure David can give you the information so that as consumers you can confidently buy a shisha that suits your exact needs. Meanwhile I sit or stand patiently waiting. At the end of the day David informs me that he likes the nargile he saw in the first shop we went into. Aaaagh.

It’s nearing 6pm so we head to the Blue Mosque, I’m rejoicing to be out of the bazar, but David decides more shopping is in order, maybe the shops on the streets might have something different to the vendors at the bazar. We finally make it, by foot to the parks outside the Blue Mosque, to be joined by a carpet seller. It getting close to 7pm by now, I whisper “David get rid of him or we’ll have to go look at more carpets,” David cheerfully responds, “O thats no problem, he can show us around and we can have a quick look at his carpets”.

Aaaagh, after 10 years I finally come to terms with the fact that I’ve been living with a  crazed, shopping maniac. The carpet seller walks  us to the entrance of the Blue Mosque and gives us a brief history, we take our shoes off and at this point I’m feeling discriminated against. Why I ask do I have to wear a cloth over my head and not David?

I’m less than impressed with the Muslim religion and traveling through Turkey has left me with many more questions than answers. Earlier in the day, we saw a 30 ish very sleazy looking guy with a girl no more than 10 – 12 years old. The child was in the dress of a married women and their embrace left us with no question as to the nature of the relationship. The kid still had the lanky body of a child and would have most likely not been older enough to start her regular cycles. We were both repulsed, the guy would be in jail at home. David’s niece would not have not been much younger than this child.

We entered the sanctuary of the Blue Mosque, no shop vendors. It was beautiful and impressive. I plonk onto the silk carpets amongst the small crowd and promptly tell David, we can’t leave as the carpet seller will be waiting outside. Sure enough when we leave the carpet seller is waiting. David is happy about being led towards another Bazar, I’ve had it. We eventually make it to the carpet shop, to be descended upon buy another 3 carpet sellers and led up 3 flights of stairs.

They must have been terribly confused by our expensive looking cameras, actually thinking that we might have money to spend. I’ve really had it and start leaving, they cheerfully follow, including David, I start wondering, hasn’t he figured out by now I’m sick of shopping. I turn on them,  ” I own a Australian house not a Turkish house, I don’t want a Turkish carpet not even a big one, would you buy something you didn’t want?”

They cheerfully respond “Sure thats what you do on vacation, spend money on things you don’t need.” Aaaagh get me out of here. I’m sick of shopping, my nasal passages have well and truly been overloaded, my feet are sore, I’v stepped in chewing gum, I’ve got a layer of dust and sweat so thick it looks like I’m having a therapeutic mud bath,  it’s 7.30 at night, we still need to get on a bus to get back to the Van and the traffic is chaos.

It’s after nine by the time we get back to the Van, David pulls the Banjo and starts happily plucking away, honestly I will never shop with this man again. We eventually collapse into bed after having a top day and finally getting our Romanian Visas.

Day 2, first stop for the morning is the Topkarpi Palace, 10YTL each for entrance, it was nice, but we didn’t feel the need to linger very long. The best part of the Palace is meant to be the Harem, but to see this we would have to put our hands in our pockets yet again, another 10YTL each, we decided to pass.

Next stop was to locate the first shop we went into yesterday in the Grand Bazar and buy the first nargile, that we looked at yesterday. We located it without to much trauma and would you believe it, the nargile was sold, man, you should of seen the look on David’s face, disappointment. Man, you should have read my mind, here we go again.

After much more great debate and discussion and traipsing back and forth between the guys shops we finally end up in the bowels of the bazar at the factory, that we guess all the vendors get there nargile from, there were shelves lined with nargile, hundreds of them. At this point I’m thinking why didn’t we just come here first thing yesterday and save all the drama. I take a seat, get given a cup of tea and wait patiently, while the virtues of almost every nargile in the room are debated, crikey is this ever going to end.

Finally David finds a combination of pipe, hose and base that he is satisfied with so we head back to the guys shop to discuss price. The shop vendor really has the upper hand and David really wants that nargile, so we probably don’t get the best deal, but at this point who cares! We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for other bits and pieces.

David is astounded by my bargaining and ability to simply walk away to see if I have the best price and move to the next shop. I tell him it’s there game not mine and I’m sick of feeling like I’m been ripped of so I’m going to give as good as I get. If they give an outrageous price for a product I give them and equally outrageous price back. I’m actually starting to enjoy this shopping caper, but I think David’s starting to get a little weary.

We shop for a few more hours and exhausted and layered in sweat and dust again, with our hands full make our way back to the Van to try to squeeze all the stuff into spaces that don’t exist in the trusty Renault.

Aaaagh an Italian van has parked next to the Renault, I mean the park is practically empty and as you know we are not the biggest fans of Italians. Turns out they are really nice, from the north of Italy and the guy has travelled extensively around the world so we invited  them over for drinks. They regaled us with stories of their travels through Bulgaria, not good, corruption, bribery, bad roads, being attacked by rabies crazed dogs, well thats a small exaggeration, we were pretty nervous already about Bulgaria and Romania now we were truly nervous.

Tomorrow we were heading for the border.

The caravan park, we were in wins to date as the worst. It was run down, no info or tourist brochures whatsoever of Istanbul, no other facilities, the bathrooms were average at best. It stank due to a creek not far away. To our amusement it was practically a farm with a collection of chickens, ducks, sheep, turkeys and cats. To top it off we paid 36YTL for the privilege of staying here!

Traveling through Turkey was never mundane, we were constantly on our toes, it surprised us and let us down. We were never quite sure what to expect next. It was definitely more expensive than we had of hoped, which was a real bummer and it was dry and dusty with the Van constantly covered in a thick layer dust. Turkey also so has an enormous military. It always amazed to when we would be driving through small towns looking for gas or bread to see new stands with pornographic magazines with images of mostly naked women on the front, how can this work in a country where the women are expected to be covered from head to toe?

We have enjoyed our time here but it has been pretty exhausting and we are happy to be moving on.

All for now, more shortly.

On Tour 25 – Datcha to Cappadocia

On Tour 25 – Datcha to Cappadocia

Hello to everybody,

We left Datcha heading towards Fethiya. On the way, we called in at Marmmaris, which was the largest center for yachting on the Turkish coast. We also got out and stretched our legs at another smaller harbour called Goceck.

We hit Fethiya and it was another English seaside resort destination. Looking remarkably similar to Bodrum and Kusadasi. Although quite nice, we decided to push onto a beach we had seen pictures of, not far away, Oludeniz. We arrived to find the government had turned the peninsular into a National Park and were going to charge us 15YTYL to park and then boot us out at 8pm. (The YTL is about 1 to 1 with the Aus$).

It was getting late in the day so we settled on a campground at a whopping price of 21 YTL without power, ouch, big ouch, in the dust average facilities. Again the English throwing around their pounds pushing prices up. Turkey has been way more expensive than we ever imagined. We almost gag on the price every time we do a grocery shop and we have only eaten out once, due to the cost (which is something we were really looking forward to) and the cost of petrol is out of control about 2.50 – 3.00 Aus$ per litre.

We also constantly feeling like we are in a ‘rip the tourist’ off situation. The English plates on the Van don’t do us any favours either. In many of the smaller towns, the little coffee shops have car showers, basically a running hose that you can drive under to rinse the dust off. We have driven through these a few times, always asking permission first, with no problem.

We went through one in a small town, when we were under the shower, a guy and his daughter starting washing the van, we figured the Van needed a wash so it wash no problem. When he tried to charge 10YTL for less then about 3 mins work it became a problem. After a heated debate we gave him a 20YTL note not having anything smaller. We drove off to count the change to find he had short changed us over 5YTL and had to go back and insist on the correct change – ‘rip the tourist off.’ It’s wearing thin.

We’ve ordered basic take away meals at roadside cafes agreed on a price, had it written down to avoid confusion and then when we go to pick the food up, they’ve tried to charge more than double. From Oludeniz we headed to Kas, which was still a relatively small seaside town, lacking the big resorts and much more to our liking.

We checked out the local campground again they wanted to charge 20YTL to park in the dust, so we settled on a spot in the lovely little marina, about a 1 minute walk to the centre of town. Before parking up for the night we headed to the a fantastic bar perched over the rocks and sat back in the lounge chairs to soak up some sun and drink a few beers.

We smuggled the odd one down from the Van as they were 5YTL a hit. We then took turns practicing our height, distance and style off a nearby dive platform into the crystal clear water. It was a great afternoon all round. We moved onto the marina for the night as we sitting out on our chairs enjoying dinner and a glass of wine David noticed we had reversed up to an electricity box, after a quick inspection we discovered power points.

Perfect free camping with power. In our attempt to hook up David managed to flick the main power to the marina on and off a few times before we realised what was going on! Oops. After a few more attempts we achieved successful hookup!!! The locals here were actually friendly, stopping for chat while we were having dinner, one guy gave us a bag full of cocoa beans, we think.

Although we now avoid restaurants and most shops. The drive from Oludeniz to Kas was beautiful especially between Kalkan and Kas, Turkey has some amazing coastline. Matt & Kelly, had told us about Olympos, a town where a couple of hippies decided to build a few tree houses, it has now grown into a hangout for a funky, younger, international crowd, with most of the available accommodation still in basic tree houses.

After taking two wrong turns and driving on the worst roads we had been on yet we arrived and headed straight to the beach to cool off, to find we had to pay to use the beach, whats happened to Turkey? We paid our dues and walked the 500m to the pebble beach and hung out for a couple of hours to make sure we got our moneys worth.

Olympus was actually a pretty cool place. It was located in Valley with steep mountains on either side and river running down through the valley which was dry and we guess flows in late winter and spring as the snow melts. The tree houses lined the river bank down the length towards the beach. At one point you cross the river over the river bed, which is also used for parking. Late in the afternoon we headed towards Kadir’s as we had heard this is where most of the Aussies hang out, and we weren’t disappointed.

We had a great night sitting around swapping travel stories drinking beer and sharing a Shisha, a traditional Turkish water pipe, for smoking weak flavoured tobaccos, such as apple and mint. Leon a Aussie manager of Kadir’s even let us join the line for a free feed, which we were enormously grateful for.

We would have loved to stay in a tree house, except they were 30YTL each so we opted to free camp in the van in the beach car park. After a lazy start to the day and a hangover threatening we headed towards Side, our last coastal stop and most eastern point in our travels before heading back towards England and home.

Side wins hands down as having some of the best ruins, mostly for the fact that they were quiet extensive and you could drive through them. We’ve decided the only way to see ruins is out the car window. After driving down a goat track (through the ruins) we found a small bit of elevated, level cement overlooking the beach to park the van up for the night and a short walk (through the ruins) to the marina and shopping area of Side.

Not more than 5 minutes after arriving a traditional dressed Turkish guy, with a heavy odor, only one gold tooth, turned up for a curious look at the van. He then left returning 5 minutes later with a huge bunch of branches of clove leaves for us. He then disappeared again returning with another bunch of herbs picked from the ground. He then much to our surprise climbed into the Van making himself right at home around the settee.

We discovered that he owned five camels that you could pay to tour around the ruins on. He was pretty harmless, but with almost no English not the best conversationalist. The dilemma was how do we get him out of the car, without appearing rude, so we could check out Side. Eventually he did leave, but checked in on us at a regular basis.

Kind of amusing, kind of disconcerting, he later invited us to join him for a feed, not wanting to impose we declined. Side was again lovely, but similar to a lot of other coastal towns we had been to, also like many of the other resort towns, struggling with desperate restauranteurs offering free drinks just to get people sitting in there establishment.

Having already been burnt once we declined all offers. We left Side with a long dive ahead to the Cappadocia region, but not before camel man, parked in the Van for a while and then asked for sunburn cream for his boys. approximately 480 km, which doesn’t seem far unless you are driving on Turkish roads. Fortunately to our surprise most of the roads were pretty good.

We drove over a spectacular mountain pass around 1800m high onto a huge plateau that was about 1000m high, it was amazing for its vastness. The land was flat and very barren looking, but able to sustain wheat and potato crops. The tiny little towns, consisted of communities living in permanent tents or the more luxury quarters, of a small home built out of local stone and then mud rendered and many people still relied on their pony and cart as transport.

The other surprising aspect of this area was that both men and women were out working in the fields, not just the women. It was, dry and dusty with the amazing natural phenomenon of whirly winds picking up the dust and forming columns only to disappear in a puff a few minutes later. It was a surprisingly captivating area.

Traveling inland was also taking us away from the seaside tourist resorts and through more traditional, conservative towns without all the advertising billboards and trinket shops. The Renault has been a constant source of amazement to most Turks, particularly with the wheel on the ‘wrong side’ or is it us???

The further inland we go the more amazing it gets, its now almost impossible to get fuel without gathering a small crowd peering in the window often a little disconcerting, but I’m sure they are just curious. Since arriving in Turkey we have only seen 2 or 3 other ‘camping cars’ all German. The Cappadocia region is truly amazing, quite difficult to put put into words.

We arrived here late in the afternoon and after getting lost trying to find a town called Uschisar, we found a spot over looking a valley with volcanic formations, we paid our 2 YTL each asked if we could stay overnight and found ourselves a prime spot to watch the sun go down. A few tourist buses turned up for sunset, again we felt like part of the sideshow.

Especially as we had pulled our BBQ out and were cooking ourselves up a feast. A lovely Kenyan couple joined for a chat, highly amused that they had run into a couple of Aussies, having a BBQ with a beer in hand. They kindly gave us a couple of oranges. As soon us the sun dipped over the horizon all the tourists left and the 3-4 stands selling tea and souvenirs packed up and left. We had this amazing place to ourselves, that is until David started playing the banjo and Crazy Ali turned up.

Yep thats how he introduced himself – ‘Crazy Ali’. Truth is he wasn’t so crazy, but actually pretty interesting, with great conversational English, something we have found pretty rare. Crazy Ali grew up in the area, owns an antique shop, writes poetry and gets a mention in most of the know guide books. We guessed he was pretty wealthy and influential in his town and most likely owned the land where we were staying.

He kindly recited some of his poetry, in English, complete with movement, it was pretty captivating. We have been invited to his shop for a Turkish coffee, which we will probably take him up on. Crazy Ali left us to ourselves and I don’t think I’ve slept so well in a while, no heat, no bugs, no techo music, peace and quite all round.

We woke up to an amazing view of a spectacular valley and we had it all to ourselves. We had another lazy start, enjoying the view. We headed of on foot down the valley to explore and come across a quaint little coffee shop built into the land formations, we stopped for tea and dressed up for photo opportunities and payed a small fortune for a scarf.

We spend the next couple of hours walking around in the searing heat, from one valley to the next. It is truly spectacular and impressive. We finally make it back to the Van, cool of and head to Ortahasier to Crazy Ali’s shop. He is a kind and gentle man, with a twinkle in his eye, a ready joke and a hearty laugh.

After Ali buys us lunch and gives Melanie a necklace to bring good luck, he sends us on our way to explore the Ortahasier Castle and underground city of Kaymakli. At Kaymakli the underground city is amazingly intact. It was carved out of the rock or volcanic tuff, as they call it. You enter a low mound through what looks like a small cave which opens up into an extensive maze of tunnels and rooms.

This city had about 10 levels below the ground and apparently up to 10,000 people could live in it. It is believed they were originally built for a refuge for when enemies would rampage through the region. At the entrance point and at various place s throughout the city there were large stone disks that could be rolled into place to seal of the city from the surface.

There was evidence of communal cooking areas, food storage areas and barn type areas for animals to live. There were amazingly deep wells for water and they are currently trying to clear a tunnel that they believe goes to another underground city 7 km away.

People are believed to have existed in these cities sealed of from the surface for up to 9 months at a time while there enemy waited above and tried to find ways to force them to the surface. Fascinating! The following day we explored the valley of the Fairy Chimneys, amazing rock formations in the shape of a cone with a large darker coloured rock perched on top.

These are a result of the softer volcanic rock being eroded by the elements and the con is formed due to being protected by the harder rock on top. We spent the afternoon on free wireless internet in the village of Goreme, probably our favorite village in the region. It has not as yet caved in completely to the lust for the tourist dollar and still retains some of its original charm.

We were however still exposed to the sprucing restauranteurs try to entice us into there restaurants. We did eat out in a Restaurant that was decorated in a very traditional manor and it was disappointingly very poor.

All for now, tomorrow we head for Istanbul.



On Tour 24 – Drama in Turkey

On Tour 24 – Drama in Turkey

After spending a good part of the day wondering around Gallipoli we headed to Eceabat to catch a short ferry ride across the Dardanelles to Cannakkale a town of around 60 000 to do some grocery shopping, often a highlight, sometimes just hard work.

We lashed out and bought a tiny little BBQ, complete with kindling, charcoal, tongs and a fan for 13.50 YTL, a bargain. Then asked the helpful guy in the deli for his best selection to throw on it and he sold us some great cuts of lamb for 4.50 YTL, yep cheap, and they were very tasty, makes us very happy.

Next stop Assos (Behramkale), this tiny town was every bit as good as the glossy brochure suggested if not better. It is a friendly, lively, bohemian fishing town. The cafe lined, paved streets were barely wide enough for the trusty Renault to squeeze through and the main (pebble) beach was lined with laid back, casual, bar / cafe / dinning / basic accommodation all on the water front.

With the addition of colourful deck chairs, hammocks and big soft cushions to laze around, free internet and cold beer. Free camping was out of the question as this was a tiny town with not much spare space. We ran into an English chap on the way in and he sent us about 200m out of town to a campground called Oz Camp. Despite all our best efforts the Renault refused to make it up the gravel driveway, so we paid the guy 10YTL to park out the front of his house, it was the end of the road so there were no problems and included the use of his deck chairs on his little pebble beach.

We avoided the bathroom facilities and stuck to the solar shower and van potty, definatley cleaner. It was so enjoyable here we spent two nights, we highly recommend it for a laid back Turkish getaway and the more we travel the more we think it is a gem. While we were there they were digging a big hole in the side of the hill to create more parking, unfortunately for them they hit a wall, that they believe to be from the Roman era, they managed to dump a fair hunk of it into the ocean before it got the better of them.

Last we heard they were in a quandary as to wether to tell archeologists or to try to knock it down, despite the fact that it was probably an amazing piece of history particularly as it was waterfront crazy stuff. Poor blokes are just trying to make a living and come across yet another bunch of ruins.

We were having trouble finding a road map of Turkey, they couldn’t even sell us one at the tourist information on the border crossing. After asking at every possible opportunity we came across a service station and after communicating our needs, with some difficulty.

The guy at the servo got all his mates who were sitting around having tea to check in there cars, when this failed, he was going to rip a page out of the back of one of there diaries that had a map of Turkey. We insisted that although a kind gesture, it wasn’t exactly want we wanted. Yendi Foca and Foca (unfortunate names really) were our next destination, you may well ask where the foc is that?

Foca was a quaint reasonable sized fishing village with dining and shops around the protected harbour. The coastline between the two towns was stunning. We came across a designated free camp site, but like many public places in Turkey it was fairly run down and not very clean, so we opted for a deserted bay, which looked like it had once been a campground.

Again it was full of litter but with not many options, this place was looking pretty good as we could find grass instead of dirt to park the van on. From Foca to Pammaukkle to see the Travertine Pools. Driving into town we were flagged down, by people trying to get us to stay in there campgrounds and chased by scooters, then people camped by our Van while we were checking out the sites and accosted as in the car park of the pools.

We opted not to stay with any of them, but rather just camped in the car park, with a stunning night view of the travertine pools and the township of Pammakkule. I took it upon myself to feed the stray dogs David’s breakfast, in return they took it upon themselves to guard the van sleeping under it, which was fine except that if any one came into the car park or near the van there was a frenzy of barking as they chased the offenders away and diligently protected us.

By the end of the night we could identify each dog by its bark, needless to say we’ve had better nights sleep. The following morning we sadly fare welled our protecters, but not before I’d fed them David’s lunch. The Travertine Pools were quite amazing and unique, I don’t believe there is anything quite like them in the world. Natural springs of water full of minerals cascades down the side of the mountain and forms pools, as it dries it leaves a layer of stark white mineral calcification over the terrain resulting in a spectacular site.

Unfortunately the Turks have diverted most of he water into (we guess) the pools of the hotels in the valley below, at night they divert all of the water. They are potentially destroying something very special, it was completely different then when David was here a number of years ago when none of the water was diverted. While at the Travertine Pools we met a couple of students studying in Texas, Kelly & Matt who were traveling around Turkey using the local bus system, which sounded like and experience in itself.

They were heading to Ephesos and Kusadasi the following day as we were so we offered them a lift, they pitched in to the fuel costs, which was fantastic as surprisingly petrol is pretty expensive here, in fact its on a par with the U.K. We had a great time with them wondering around Ephesos and then meeting up with them for a beer in Kusadasi. The English speaking company was a welcome break and we sadly said goodbye as they were heading to Germany the next day.

Kusadasi itself was pretty awful. It was impossible to walk the streets without being accosted by every restaurant and shop, it was a nightmare. Kelly and Matt said Istanbul didn’t have anything on this town. Restaurants were full of promises and as we found out didn’t deliver. It was a pretty negative experience, but we were grateful for Kelly and Matts company. Although with some heavy bargaining

David did manage to negotiate a pair of genuine fake Oakleys from 65 YTL to 15YTL,, The pushy shop guy not satisfied with one sale, practically had David by the arm, trying to get him to buy a watch. We parked just out of town in the grounds of a beach bar / cafe for 10YTL, they guy took our money up front, which was pretty unusual.

We found out why in the middle of the night, when the beach club next door cranked up its party around midnight and kept it up until about 6-am we had a lousy nights sleep and couldn’t get out of Kusadasi quick enough. Kusadasi to Bodrum. Bodrum was like being in a English seaside town, they were everywhere, which was actually quite nice as we enjoy the English speaking company.

Bodrum was quite a nice harbour full of traditional Turkish boats – Gullets and it lacked the pushiness of Kusadasi. Although all the shops and restaurants were looking remarkably similar to Kusadasi. After spending the afternoon driving around the Bodrum peninsular looking for somewhere to free camp and finding nowhere satisfactory, we decided on a campground in a place called Gumbet a seaside Resort town only a 10 min Dolmuch, Turkish mini bus ride to Bodrum.

There are two types of beaches in most of these towns. Crap ones that have been cleaned up as best as they can been by the restaurants / hotels / bars that front onto them and then every inch is covered in deckchair, because there is no way you would what to lie in the dirty sand. The other beaches are just us crap, usually next to a drain and have no hotel / restaurant / bar fronting onto them and therefore not groomed and covered and I mean covered in litter. In a lot of Turkey that we have seen so far is covered in litter (except the groomed beaches) even the trenches at Gallopoli seconded as rubbish dumps.

We were lucky enough to get into Bodrum on Market day, we really enjoyed wondering around taking in the sites and chatting to any English person that was happy enough to stop and have a yarn. We meet a nice English couple over for the day from the Greek Island of Kos, only about 20 mins by ferry. We learnt that they were paying full prices in the market and not bargaining at all. Ouch no wonder the prices were going up. At around 2 pm we headed back to campsite to get out of the searing heat and enjoy the beach.

David left me for no more than 5 mins and I was cornered by some sleazy old Turkish guy. David came to my rescue, the guy still insisted on buying us three beers each. Although generous, we didn’t really want to spent the afternoon talking broken, busted English to a 65+ Turkish guy in budgie smugglers (speedos) telling us how much he enjoyed perving on English women. He offered us more drinks and even to buy us dinner, but we extracted ourselves from the situation as politely as possible and went back to the Van for a BBQ.

England was playing ….. in the soccer world cup, so the English were out in full force, unfortunately they were more interested in watching the game rather then talking to us! Every bar had there Tvs tuned to the game and you could walk down the beach getting it in stereo and not missing a moment of the game.

We plonked ourselves on a comfy couch where we could get wireless for the cost of beers and also plug in a charge the Mac and have another attempt at loading the website and catch up on some news from home. The couch just happened to be under a large screen TV, so we also got a front row view of the English watching the soccer.

The couch was so comfy I feel asleep on Davids shoulder. The campground was located directly behind the beach bars which played loud techo music all night, combined with the heat and mosquitos we had another two nights of lousy sleep.

We were driving over a mountain pass to Datcha, there was car traveling in the same direction as ours but on the wrong side of the road on a straight stretch, downhill, when a women we guess in her mid 20’s bailed out the back door. She was rolling down the road directly in front of the Van, fortunately David was able pull the Van up.

As you can imagine she was pretty messed up. The other people in the car tried to put her back in their car. We tried to stop them and tell them to call an ambulance, but with no Turkish there was little we could communicate. Fortunately other cars had stopped by now and a well dressed Turk, called an ambulance and took control of the situation.

All we really felt we could do was provide some shade and privacy with blankets out of the Van and the use of the first aid kit out of the Van. The ambulance arrived in 15 mins basically picked her up and put her in the back, no fluid, painkillers, stabilisation. We got back into to the Van quite shaken only to cop abuse from the Turks for not moving on quick enough.

Selfishly we were glad no police turned up, as we didn’t want to get involved in anything we didn’t understand, we were also surprised the police didn’t show up. We were both pretty distressed and when we arrived in Datcha we had a drive around then found a reasonably clean pebble beach in Karakoy, not to far away and had some quiet time. We went to bed, pretty homesick, travel weary, melancholy and with a whole lot of unanswered questions about the incident and the Muslim religion in general.

While we were at the beach (pebble) in Karaykoy and interesting group of Turkish women were having a picnic in the shade. They finished there afternoon meal, got up and left all there rubbish lying on the beach, to lazy to walk to the dumpster no more than 50 m away. I guess they will be content to sit in there own rubbish next time they use the beach. It really is pretty disgusting and seems to be normal behaviour.

All for now, more soon.