Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Sabbatical

So here I am on a sabbatical, a big holiday, perhaps a life defining experience .. wow it's busy.  I had great plans of writing something about my thoughts every day but so far it has been just flat out doing it!

What are we doing?  we are having a last fling adventure around Europe before we go back home to NZ, we have promised the kids we will be home for Christmas so 8 - 9 months of travel and exploration.

How are we doing it? we have bought an old transit van that was previously used by a builder and have converted it to a camper, we have done this over the last couple of years and have already traveled across Portugal, Scandinavia and Ireland .. we have however up until now not spend more than 2 weeks at a stretch in the van..


My last day of work was the 31st of March, Michelle’s last day was the 1st of April, so April 1st or April fools day was my first day of the Big Sabbatical. so today is the 10th of May what have we been doing for the last 39 days ??!!

Leaving the Jobs.. 

Friday the 1st was all about having a bit of a hangover from the leaving drinks .. then that night Michelle’s leaving drinks .. so another hangover .. I can see pattern on the horizon here… anyway work is done and dusted .. well almost i still have my part-time job in NZ so will be working from time to time, I have been doing this for the last 5 years a few hours a day but now we are on the road I hope to do this more in some lumps of time ..

2nd - 8th April : Escape from Windermere way..

Our first week was all about getting out of our rented flat, we moved into 5 Windermere Way 5 years ago to the day of departure, a 1 year, 2 year then 2 x 1 year leases, man you can accumulate a lot of crap in 5 years.

So the mission was to get rid of everything we didn’t want to ship back to NZ or to put in the Transit van.  We ended up with a dozen boxes of stuff, kindly stored by the Halpin’s, thank you Geoff and Sally .. and a frequent flyer card for donations at the local Dr Bernardo’s charity shop ..  then a flat inspection and we are free .. not that there is much of the bond left by the time the rental agency has taxed us for leaving .. but hey its done .. we are now of no fixed abode and on the road.

9th - 15th April : Say good bye to a few UK good friends.. 

Friday the 8th .. now homeless we invade the Halpin’s who offer the cheapest plastic box storage in London, thanks again Geoff and Sally, and Geoff’s Mum now also has a 1000cc motorcycle in her garage .. awesome people ..

Saturday night, we all go out for a have a curry and some drinks in the old stomping ground of Essex, some awesome friends old and new come to see us off .. and of course I get yet another hangover ..

We leave Geoff and Sally on Sunday and we invade Steve and Millie .. who are being awesome and handing our legacy UK mail for us, spent a great night with them and then on Monday we head down to Worthing ..

Down to the Coast .. 

Worthing ?? well Richard and Trudy are in Worthing, and we couldn’t leave the country without one last look at Richard's great collection of motorcycles .. and Trudy made us a fab diner and we had a lovely evening .. good people, no great people :)

We have made some fantastic friends in the UK while we have been there, really do hope see some of them back in NZ.

 .. so then we cut across to Margate .. Before we leave England we have to visit my Auntie Eileen, love the old girl and Dad would tear me a new one if we didn’t go in and say hello before we left the UK, so just a quick visit, unannounced so she doesn’t go and bake a cake or anything silly like that, a lovely afternoon.  Love my Auntie Eileen so many great childhood memories of Margate .. first rollercoaster ride was there .. that’s when my father discovered my full vocabulary of expletives..

..anyway nice couple of hours with auntie Eileen [89 years young] and we head off to Broadstairs, Michelle wants to do a proper visit as last time we was on the bike and the stairs to the beach seemed unsurmountable in motorcycle gear .. we do a Britstop, which is where you park in a pub carpark for the night for free.

Then across to Brighton .. Kevin and Lawrence .. our most fun friends in the gay centre of the universe Brighton.. we always have fun there with them and they didn’t disappoint .. Kevin and Lawrence shouted us a hotel room for the night as their house is mid loft conversion, such generous lads :) We had a great evening! going to miss Brighton, then breakfast the next morning and off to the ferry ..

16th April - Proper start .. 

Okay this is where we really think it all starts.. crossing the channel .. so we had across from dover to Dunkirk .. Michelle hates Calais so we never go there .. so into Dunkirk and then across to Paris, yeah I know it's out the way but the girl want’s to see the Palace of Versailles and Notre Dame before we turn our back on Paris forever ..

17,18,19th April.. Versailles and Notre Dame..

[ Yes its the Eiffel tower not Notre Dame, But this is the view from the Notre Dame tower walk]
Okay so off the ferry we go to an aries in some random French village, think I got a speed camera ticket on the way, sure Steve Evans will let me know if it arrives, then the next day we drive across and we hook into a campsite in Versailles.

There was 2 motivators for this campsite 1 as it was close to Versailles and 2 an easy train ride to Paris, I also did a days work on the first day.

So on the 18th we went to Paris, we had been to Paris once, a weekend with Frankie, but we wanted to go inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame and up the towers.  We did this, amongst other things in Paris. I have to say the tower walk is well worth the money but is quite hard work, that's one heck of a lot of steps.

[ Gargoyle Just enjoying the view] 
The next day, the 19th, a Tuesday, when went to what they call the musical gardens day, they play music around the gardens and they only do this on special Tuesdays in the season, however at his point we should note that the Versailles is a “Water” garden ..  only 2 of the water features are actually running :/ my advice go on a weekend .. it was okay .. but a bit pants .. I think they need to run the water features every day they take €25 for an admission ticket myself.

[I would love to see this with water comming out of it !]
At this point our target destination is Greece, we had planned to go via Luxembourg, but Michelle really wanted to do the Paris stuff so we did that .. then we headed in Greece like direction, 20th April, next stop an Aires in Metz, which is a cute little town.

[ Metz ]
Then the next day we realised we were going to pass so close to Luxembourg that we should just make a little detour and do that as well so we did.  21st of April and we are in Luxembourg.  a very pretty city and we also did a bit of the more rural areas, it's a really nice place you should put it on your list for a drop in or a weekend visit.


We head away from Luxembourg again in a general Greece like direction, however I have some work in NZ that's pressing for me to get onto so we decided to grab a stop in Bavaria at a nice campsite with good wifi, 22nd - 25th April, Michelle read a lot, got some washing done and did some more work on some van furnishings.  I just spent the time sitting at a keyboard working and got quite a lot done.  However the weather was awful, it SNOWED !


Lucky we had electricity and the van was warm enough with our little heater but still pretty yuk. We are looking forward to seeing some better weather in Bavaria later this year.  so onwards to Greece !

Slovenia

[Predjama Castle ]
Not a big country and they don’t allow wild camping, we had a book with a few places in but the costs we quite high and the locations not ideal for us, so we had a day in country, went to Predjama Castle, which is great well worth a visit and then ducked across the border to the edge of Italy to park for free at a Marina, then the next day we ducked back across the border and went to see the Lipizzano Horses and Skocjanske Caves, both which are also well worth a visit.

Then as the day came to end we decided that rather than ducking back across to Italy we would jump into Croatia.

Croatia .. 29th April - 6th May

Groznrjan, which is a medieval hilltop village that lets campers park at the top of the village for free.  Had a walk around the village the next morning then headed off.



Now we love Croatia, this country is absolutely beautiful, if you haven’t been you need to put this on your to go to list, we loved it, worked our way across from Grozjan to the island of Cres, Through to Rijeka then across to Plitvice Falls ending up at Dubrovnik, via the little peninsula, avoiding Bosnia completely.

[ Plitvice Falls ]
This was all very lovely, the people were lovely, the food reasonably priced, campsites were a little on the pricy side and there was very little chance to free park, but the roads were good.. In our opinion Dubrovnik is overpriced and don’t think any nicer than Split but apart for that .. loved the place.. it gets a highly recommended from us!

Next we moved into some less known quantities our the first non EU countries, first off Montenegro..

So first impressions weren’t great, at the border they ask for our green card, now okay so my bad when I did all the trip stuff i packed all the documents, the registration papers for the van, the full insurance policy but I didn’t think about a green card, we actually need up driving across Croatia uninsured realised as we reviewed our documents before tossing into Montenegro and rang the insurance company in the Uk to organise some cover.  cover sorted they emailed me a green card, no they don’t take a soft copy at the border, must be a piece of green paper .. a green card.. okay so we pay them €18 for a cover policy, no mention of what it covers its just a piece of paper to make them happy.. so to me it was just a tax really ..

Then we stop at the village on the way to Kotor, think we will have a some lunch and a look around, but it’s €5 an hour to park! WTF are you shitting me this is not central London, turns out this a government carpark and my van, a camper is €5 an hour, a car is 50c and hour! a 52 seater coach is €10 so my small camper that fits in a car space is getting a pretty raw deal.  Montenegro also has a no wild parking rule and as far as i can see almost no campsites, however in Kotor we find a guy at a carpark that is listed in the book who for €15 for the night will let us park over night as long as we are out before the shift change at 07:00 ..

So things are not cheap in Montenegro,

the next big expense is part language barrier part stupidity on our part, so we decide to have diner in Kotor, find a nice restaurant and have a lot at the menu, we have picked out a couple of meals about €23 each, so we reckon a €50 euros for dinner, then the waiter brings over the fresh fish of the day, what looks like a lovely flat fish Michelle is keen, we will share the fish .. i ask how much and i am sure he says €18, i even repeat it back to him a couple of times .. then he indicates to me that what i think is per kg, 2 KG fish .. okay i am still in the sub €50 euros bracket.  he presents this fish, which is i must add cooked to perfection, tastes divine and is more than enough for the two of us.. lovely meal .. then we get the the bill €84 .. WTF! long story short he is adamant he was saying 80 .. FFS .. we argue a bit he’s not backing down so i say okay .. then no we don’t take plastic sir .. he got all the cash in my wallet just shy of his €84 .. spoiled the taste of a fantastic meal.  moral of the story .. write down any numbers if you are going to stray from the set menu.

[Kotor - from the fort]
Next day we drive across to Cormorant lakes, which are very lovely, had a great boat trip on the lake which we were very careful to make sure we had the price right for then headed on towards Albania.


The nearer you get to Albania it seems that Montenegro gets all a bit grotty and dirty .. the nearer to Croatia the better it is .. my advice is Montenegro may be best seen from a cruise ship ..

Albania 8th May .. 

okay we get across the border, which does take a while and get going .. the first thing you notice is that they are all drive like utter lunatic’s ! there are large late model Audi’s , Merc’s and BMW’s being driven by guys who must have a deep desire to die, they overtake anywhere and drive at breakneck speed, then you see a guy in a horse and cart, and cobbled together cars.  There are people in fields working tuning huge fields over by hand! plowing huge fields with a horse ! this is a country of the ULTRA RICH and the SUPER POOR, its just seems disgusting to me.


The roads are in many places in the most shocking state of repair .. this country is in a mess .. the towns are alike shanty town ghettos with the odd super mansion thrown in .. it seems to have no middle ground, you're super rich or super poor .. we started just trying to find a campsite to stop at, but like Montenegro it doesn’t seem to have any, wild camping is a scary thought and illegal, then it occurred to me that anyone in Albania that can afford a holiday would leave the country so perhaps thats it and they don’t expect to see any tourists ??

We only had one interaction with an Albanian, a policeman who pulled us over at a routine stop, this is what it seems the police do all day is set up road blocks and randomly stop people, anyway he checked out papers didn’t like our digital green card and was very keen to take £100 off me for a suitable cover .. or to ignore my unsuitable cover.. he didn’t get £100 i didn’t have it and woudl never bribe a cop as much as he asks .. he did tell me that he was saving up the £10,000 he needs to get to the UK illegally .. a cop wants to go to another country illegally ?? WTF ?? and they are trying to get this place into the EU ? OMG !

..anyway after leaving him we just basically kept on driving .. our Garmin showed a campsite on the way across the country so we went there .. to find a mud trail and nothing .. first time the Garmin campsites has ever let me down .. so we headed of the next nearest .. but by then we were so close to crossing the country we just said stuff it and went for the first one in Greece .. in and out of Albania in a day .. so long and no we won’t be going back any time soon !

Greece !!! 9th May .. so 1 calendar month after leaving our home we are here in Greece..


Want to see more photo's ? have a look here

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Northern Lights Adventure

Finland, or to me more precise Lapland, what can I say, going there in January is a whole new definition on cold, at a fresh -30 its quite amazing the things that freeze.


however this winter wonderland is really stunning, its a complete world that is monochrome in the most magical way.  I thought I had seen snow and felt cold but this just completely moved the bar and redefined my perceptions.



So what can you do in all this snow? we we went there with three bucket list items to get to, see the northern lights, ride snow mobiles and have a go on a dog sled.


To do this we stayed at the Muotka Wilderness Lodge, which really is in the wilderness, it is so quiet, you have Reindeer wandering the grounds [on occasion] and all around you nothing but forrest and of course in January Snow .. lots of snow.

Its about a 45 min ride form the airport in Ivalo and to be in a taxi with a local driver is quite an experience, they go so fast in the snow at first its a little unnerving, but the cars feel very planted on their snow tyres and I never really felt in any danger.


but I think hiring a car would be a bad plan.

better get a local driver unless you have a lot of snow experience or of course driving in snow is on your bucket list, in which case that the full indemnity cover is on your insurance.

See Below a rental car buried in the snow we saw by the side of the road ...

The first night we check in and get treated to a great meal and some drinks at the bar, the food really is very good, not super flash but good tasty wholesome food  in buffet format so as much food as you want.

Free tea or coffee anytime beers/shorts etc from the bar were about €5 each so not to bad really.

Day 1: Cross Country Skiing & Snowmobiles

We started the day with cross county skiing, a first for me, I add here I also don't downhill ski, I have done one lesson in downhill but really didn't get very far. But I am game to try anything so why not have a go :)

Well all I can say is I do suck at cross country skiing, Michelle did quite well at it, but even though I really suck at it, it was still great fun, a pretty good workout and the feeling of being in the  middle of nowhere was complete. we also had a new and soon to be common experience, the sensation on ice on your eyelashes, thats is such a strange sensation.  We skied for about 45 minutes then stopped for biscuits and Glögi which is an awesome hot drink, Glögi is a Mulled Wine .. It was very yummy.. I didn't notice any booze in it :) .. anyway after our Glögi like all these things we had to ski for about 45 minutes back.  Sara out guide was great and very patient with us.

That evening we had our first snowmobile ride. now with hindsight i am not so sure having the first ride in the dark was the smartest move   but hey how hard can it be, i ride a motorcycle and bikes.. its much the same .. surely ? well no its nothing like riding a bike, it is quite surprising how much physical input the steering needs and how bumpy the ride is.

Our guide Etiu and we rode with 2 french couples on 4 snow mobiles, so including our guide 6 snowmobiles in convoy.  However they had ridden before and were very familiar and confident.

So the pace was I felt pretty brisk always around 40kph, my self hitting 50kph in the straight when I was playing catch up .. though it was one of them that managed to put their snowmobile down in a ditch :)

The idea of the ride is to go aurora hunting, you head out to find a large open space and there you can hopefully see the northern lights, but for us that night it was cloudy so no lights.  The ride was split into three sessions, by the second session I found my way and by the third I was actually starting to enjoy it .. I think for the Michelle for the first she was so scared she was quite warm, in the second session she got calmer and then cold .. in the third she was miserable .. frozen to the core .. a whole new definition of cold!

Day 2 : Snow Mobiles, Reindeer Farm, Snow Shoeing


I think it was with some trepidation Michelle joined me for the snowmobiles, the lure of the Reindeer Farm was enough of a lure and she braved the pillion seat and I think found it more fun that the night before.


Anyway you can watch the movie and make your own mind up ..

every night on this trip you go out and do something try and get to see the northern lights, on this night we went out snow shoeing which I don't have any photo's or videos of.  but it is great so quiet peaceful and  the night we went out was very moonlit, but still cloud cover so no northern lights.  another great experience though.

Day 3 : Dog Sled Adventure

This was on Michelle's bucket list of things to do, just as the snowmobiles was on mine.  I don't know what I had expected really but all I can say is, it was freaking AWESOME!



If you watch the movie you will get the idea, but basically we ran out for about an hour, then had a great lunch cooked over an open fire .. then another great ride back :) the movie is only 5 mins long, so super condensed :)


For this night we decided to go for a trip out in the car, nice and warm and we figured a better shot to go further and perhaps get to see the Aurora.  but still no luck .. as they say its not guaranteed ..

What about the Nuts and Bolts .. 

Bookings .. 

We made the booking through "Aurora Zone" I am sure not the cheapest but they did a great job and everything just worked.. well done !

Flights were booked by the Aurora Zone on Finnair,  what can i say .. you been on a Ryanair flight .. you get the idea make sure you take food and drink with you ..

Equipment ..

  • Clothing: We took lots of thermals, and combined with the gear the resort leant us it was just about warm enough, if i went again i would take a big thick pair of track pants to go under the suit over thermals.. a couple of sets, and you want a warm pair of gloves you fit under the mittens they provide.  a neoprene ski mask would be good as well.  If you have crash Helmets, then my advice is to take them with clear and tinted visors, if you have ski googles pack those as well. 
  • Go-Pro and Batteries:  okay so a battery lasts about 15 minutes, I took three, and rotated them but when not in use they need to be in a pocket close to your body heat or when you get them out they are flat ! 
  • Canon EOS: I didn't use it much, at -30c its a real hassle to get out hence the Go-Pro was much easier to use.  I also had some issues with the shutter freezing seemed to be okay if i had it in a pack wrapped up and just got it out briefly to shot pictures then put it away again.  the battery was fine .. lasted a couple of hours .. mind you it normally lasts a couple of weeks of hard use ! 
So what can I say .. its on a lot of bucket lists .. seeing the lights is still on ours, but all the other stuff made it a great mini break all the same !

want to see more ?? .. all the photos can be found here

Sunday, 26 April 2015

On Yer Bike

Well thats the plan anyway .. to get on our bikes.

At the moment we only have one bike but will be adding a second so both Michelle and I can pedal away from the Camper.

So we have shelled out for a Fiamma Bike Rack, Just shy of £200 ! so this post is not very exciting but I thought I would post this as I couldn't find any pics of a twin rear door transit with the rack actually fitted.  As you an see the rack fits quite neatly to the door with the handle ..


Shown here with just one bike on, don't have 2 yet, I was happy to see my Mens mountain bike fits and the wheels are inside the with of the van, and also to my surprise I wont need to run trailer board as the lights and numberplate seem pretty much unobstructed.  The rear door handle is also very accessible so no mods need there.  

I will unfortunately have to move the rear view camera as it shows a great view of the cross bar and as we plan to leave one of the two bikes on here all the time it will need to have a cover on it, meaning you wont see anything.. it will also need a damn good lock.

This is what it looks like folded up ..



Folded up it makes the van about 600 mm longer, and open I guess it add just over a metre, so not a huge deal on my MWB van but on a long LWB version you would be getting the realms of very hard to park.

The door still opens and closes quite nicely with a bike on the rack.  The bike is very easy to load an unload .. The RH door will no longer open to the second stage it will only open to the 90 degree stop.  the platform for the bike fouls the side of the van.  this is not of concern to me but thought I would mention it.  All in all I am pretty happy with it. 

It was fairly easy to fit however I found the 4 top mounting bolts were not right .. this kit was supposed to be for my year and model of transit.  the top two mounts on each side go right through the door and are fastened on the inside.



However the kit came with no "penny washers" it did come with two large plates, but i used them on the lower mounts, and the bolts were in my opinion to short.

So I did go to Screwfix and get some longer bolts and then cut them down .. 

This pic shows the longer bolt and how much I have cut off .. 



So you can see this bolt is just long enough .. when compared to the installed size, however the door panel is hollow and crushes by about 15mm when you tighten it down .. so there is no way to get started on the shorter bolt..  apart form that minor fault the kit fitted very nicely.