Sunday, October 01, 2006

The adventure begins

The blue line shows where we went. Our journey began in southern Germany taking us over next two months through Germany, Austria, Italy, France, England, Scotland and Wales ending up back in southern Germany. Never been overseas before, never driven a motorhome, can't speak any foreign languages...doesn't matter! Just do it.

Motorhomes and other matters

After much researching we chose this one from McRent in Germany - they lived up to there promises and delivered a near new vehicle that met our needs. For those technical types, here’s the lowdown on the motorhome…It’s a Fiat, basically brand new, has a 2.8 diesel engine, is a 5 speed manual and easily sits on 100 kph.. The fuel economy is amazing – it only uses 10 litres per 100 kilometres, which is 30 miles per gallon in the old language – on the down side, fuel in Europe is expensive compared to Australia - England prices are worse again. The motorhome has gas heating, gas hot water, fridge (battery or electricity or gas), hot shower, toilet, double bed, bunks, air conditioning from the cabin, gas cooking via 3 gas rings, skylights, 12 and 240 volt outlets, handy locking cupboards and a wardrobe, table with four seats, CD player and radio, fly screens, internal lighting via spot and other lights and a panel that shows inside & outside temperature, drinking water and grey water levels and battery strength for the engine and leisure battery. Also included is a roll out side awning complemented with four chairs and a table and a bicycle rack on the back. We have television and DVD via the laptop computer and internet via wifi. We know where we are location wise as we have a Garmin 12xl GPS with roof aerial connected to the laptop running Microsoft Autoroute 2006 navigation software. WHEN IT ALL WORKS (most of the time) life is sweet. When something fails at critical times (not often thankfully) we cursed. I give the motorhome top marks and would recommend hiring this model from the company in Germany we hired it from. It’s worth noting that we found Germany the best country to hire motorhomes from as the hiring prices were the cheapest of any Western European country.

Other useful info:

Where to stay...our favourite web site for choosing camping places across Europe is it’s not fast to load but is very comprehensive and well set out.

Staying in can be incredibly expensive to make phone calls from overseas. Some plans charge you to receive other peoples calls while others send your outgoing calls back via your country’s provider; basically, they charge you up hill and down dale...the best deal we could find was via Telestial who have a range of deals that are worth investigating to see if they suit you.

Road signs...come in all shapes and sizes and languages, some of the more common translations can be found here.

General language translations for a range of questions such as the ever popular “how much will it cost” are here in eight different languages.

Looking for information on electrical voltages, plugs and the like...Kropla has a great web site.

A useful mapping site on the internet that will give you step by step instructions from place to place is Mappy.

First stop Salzburg, Austria

The hills are alive with the sound of? Where are you Julie Andrews! Salzburg made us feel like the family Von Trapp. Bought along the Sound of Music on DVD and watched it in the motorhome on the laptop...what a classic. I have my lader hosen on as I type this on a crisp Austrian morning :) Yesterday we explored Salzburg by taking a bus from the camp site to town. The Austrians we met spoke less English then the Germans but we managed to get to Salzburg on the bus with some pointing and nodding and saying ‘bitte’. Lots of ‘Dunka Shern’ and ‘Bitte Shern’ (thank you…your very welcome) works well. The main street in Salzburg is amazing as it has been kept looking, as much as possible, as it was in Mozart’s time. Mozart is everywhere and on every souvenir. We wanted to absorb the local culture of we headed to McDonalds for lunch…we were ordering some Mc Flurries but was not getting far with the non English speaking staff member – they are saying that the Mc Flurry machine is “Kaput”...some words work in both languages. Our trip on the Motorway from Germany to Austria was interesting but slightly nerve racking as it was our first drive in the motorhome on the open road. You must keep to the right (the slow lane) as all the Mercedes & Porches roar fly past on your left – some must have been doing at least 180kph. We putt along at 90kph enjoying the scenery and have found the motorhome easy to drive with practise. At one stage we found ourselves in the truck only lane and were promptly tooted out of that…but apart from that it was no problem.

Vegemite in Venice

Arrived in Venice yesterday. Great trip through the Swiss Alps – every where you look is a postcard view. Came into the suburbs outside Venice in peak hour – there was a line of trucks three kilometers long not moving – we crawled past them at 40kph then got lost in a place called Malcontenta after missing the turn…that place is well named as we were temporarily ‘Malcontent in Malcontenta’. We are staying at Camping Fusina, which is a great location on the lagoon outside Venice and is a 20 minute boat trip into the heart of Venice. We overlook Venice and are 50 metres from the water. Big ships (full size container ships) go past our motorhome in the shipping channel nearby – it’s a crazy sight to look out the window and see these enormous ships float by. Before we set off for our walking tour of Venice we had vegemite toast for breakfast and were immediately reminded of home by the taste. We walked the 100 metres from the camp and boarded the boat for a spectacular boat ride into the heart of Venice. Venice is like we imagined but bigger and more fascinating. Tiny little streets, old old buildings, street performers, people begging, McDonalds and Burger King, shops selling Italian leather bags and those spooky Venetian masks, tourists speaking many languages, and gondola operators pushing for business. Pizza for dinner tonight seems to taste better just because we are in Italy. The gelati we ate in Venice was delicious and is a cross between our ice cream and gelati. At the shop today we looked at something that was the color and shape of a packet of Twisties that were called ‘Fonzies’...sure enough they were bland tasting Twisties under a different name. We are are heading about 100 kilometres south of here tomorrow for one night to a place called ‘Camping Tahiti’ that will have a swimming pool that the girls will enjoy. Following that we will be located outside of Rome for 3 days.

Driving in Rome is easy?

Driving in Rome is really easy……perhaps you might tell from the photograph that I might not be telling the truth! Came into Rome right on peak hour – not a good move, then got lost as the roads had all changed due to roadworks…kissed the ground (pope style) when we finally found the camping place. Went on a tour of Rome leaving the next morning at 7.00am – we left the driving to someone else – hooray! The tour was excellent – the Pantheon (over 1800 years old if you don’t mind) was amazing, then to the Trevi Fountain. The guide told us that if you throw one coin you will come back to Rome, 2 coins and you will get married, 3 coins and you will get divorced and 4 coins would get rid of your mother in law…I played it safe and threw one coin. St Peters Basilica (where the pope appears from the window) in the Vatican City was really awe inspiring…a huge huge church (the largest Catholic one in the world) that had so many enormous marble sculptures celebrating religious figures. The next day we went on a tour in Rome that included the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Circus Maximus. All very interesting. On the way back to our accommodation the Italian bus driver got lost… He didn’t speak English but we got by with ‘scuzi’ and some really bad Italian until we arrived and celebrated by saying "bravo, bravo"!!

Did you know that they are putting a clock in the Leaning Tower of Pisa... it will have the time and the inclination. Boom Boom!

Driving (and surviving) in Italy

On the Amalfi Coast in Italy we hired an Alfa Romeo 154 sports car as the motorhome wouldn’t fit on the roads. Honestly???…I hired it to enjoy driving around the great Amalfi Coast roads. What a great car. The car is a turbo diesel – I was thinking conservative performance. Well no actually. It had great acceleration …very quick on the skinny little roads. At first the Italian driving style was crazy, then I adapted by just driving slightly crazy like them and it was no problem. How the Italians do it is as follows – if there is a space, push in quick but be prepared to stop just in case, never ever indicate, never wait for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings, look cool and don’t let anything worry you. In Italy green traffic lights mean go fast, yellow means go and red means go if no one is coming. I didn’t see one angry motorist…the whole thing flows and the police seem to have no problem. I will need complete driver retraining before they let me back on Australian roads.

France Passion

We have stayed at three locations within France that are part of the France Passion scheme - it has been excellent. You purchase a one year membership with French Passion for about $40 Australian which entitles you to stay at over 800 farms or wineries in France for one night per place at no cost. You don’t book – you just turn up in the afternoon and if there is a space for your fully self contained motorhome (this is a requirement), you have a place for the night.

Day 1

The France Passion booklet has very basic information so you take your best guess. We chose Domaine de Maisons Neauve for our first stay – it’s in the Rhone/Alps area of France – lower middle. To get there we decided to head in the general direction just using the GPS. On the way we drive through gorgeous French villages…flowers in the window boxes, shutters and old houses built right on the road. Then the grape vines start appearing. We arrive down a skinny road with some apprehension imagining we will be put somewhere at the back of the winery. Instead Francoise says bonjour, offers a tour of his cellars and is the genial host for over an hour. Prior to the tour he asks to park at the top of the winery with 360 degree views of the French village below. The church bells ring, the distant village lights begin to glow as night falls. Francoise specialty is Beaujolais (although he does a lovely methode traditionale champagne style wine too). Francoise’s family has had the winery since the French Revolution…The Beaujolais is delish. He confesses that he also does some ‘bag in box’…We don’t understand but then realize he means cask wine! We head back to the motorhome and find that a Dutch couple have turned up in their motorhome so we drink wine and chat till midnight.

Day 2

Thinking we have hit the jackpot with the first night we hope for the best for night two by heading for a French farm called La Petit Corfeil in La Tangiere (about the middle of France). We meet a delightful French family who own the farm. We book a home cooked French farm meal with them for 8pm. They specialize in duck and have many ‘chevaux’ (horses in the paddock). They realize we are ‘Dostralee” (Australian) and are very happy as we are their first Aussies. They look at us and say ahhh “Crocodill Dundee’’!! They give us a five course meal with duck, French salad, terrine, vegetables, main course, 3 fantastic homemade cheeses, chocolate mousse, cherry pie and coffee. We chat till midnight and fall into bed. The next morning they offer a free ride on one of their beautiful horses. We exchange gifts and email addresses and say au revoir.

Day 3

This is so good, it couldn’t get better, could it? Day 3 we head to the Champagne region about 100 kilometers east of Paris. We choose the Champagne winery of Henry De Vaugency in the small village of Oger. At first we can’t find the place as all we can see is a French mansion and a Musee de Mariage….turns out that the family own the mansion, the marriage museum (one of three in France celebrating ‘marriage’) and a large spread of champagne vines on the hill above. We drive into the mansion feeling like trespassers and are greeted by Pasquale. Stepping out of his Mercedes he greets us like old friends (what’s going on here we wonder, is this a for real) and immediately suggest glasses of fine French champagne (the real stuff) for all. He shows us around the most incredible French garden that is perfectly tended. The next day we get a full tour of the wine ‘cave’ (or cellar as we call it). We are free to roam the grounds and enjoy the village.


“It’s a rainy night in Paris, and I’m sitting by the Seine. It’s a pleasure to be soaking in your European rain”…so goes an old Billy Joel song that was appropriate as it was ‘pouring down in Paree’ the day we visited. Still, it didn’t dampen our spirits as we visited the Louvre, took a boat tour on the Seine and went up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is huge and you could spend a long time looking at everything – it has over 3 million pieces in it’s collection – we knew we couldn’t do it all so we made a bee line to Mona – she is enclosed in glass in a big security structure but still gives that enigmatic, ‘I know something that you don’t’ smile. You just want to keep looking at that picture. The Louvre also has a great collection of Egyptian pieces as well as room after room of paintings. On the boat cruise on the Seine we listened to French music and drifted past classic French architecture – those distinctively shaped roofs in black. The ride up and down the Eiffel tower in the lift is crazy – the lift goes up at an angle to the legs of the Eiffel Tower (feels weird) and the crush of people requires you to guard you personal space or get squashed. The view up there though is worth the ride. You see old Paris in the foreground and a distinctly modern Paris in the backdrop. We are getting better at finding our way around - we made it into Paris without speaking French via a mini bus and two changes of trains and then to the tour agency without getting lost…thank you Garmin GPS


People who speak English…Hooray! Although you get by, it is still a pleasure after nearly a month of foreign languages to be able to communicate with all and sundry in English. We fitted a lot in in London from our ‘hop on, hop off’ bus tour that was great. The open top bus allowed us to see all the sights and stop at the ones we liked the look of. We stopped at Madame Tussards and the Tower of London, both well worth visiting. London has all the character you would expect with many of those red double decker buses and London cabs zooming about. London bridge is nothing special bridge wise – it’s been rebuilt five times – the one that most people recognize is Tower Bridge – that’s the one that rises in the middle to let tall ships through – we waited for it to do that once as a sailing ship went through – it didn’t take long as they can raise or lower it in 90 seconds.

Lake District, England & Scotland

The Lake District in England is charming - the majority of the old buildings have been kept and together with the lakes and paddocks it is a pretty sight. We chose a camp called Castlerigg - very comfortable and we all enjoyed an English pub meal (cosy building, low roofs, plenty of Guiness). The locals were very friendly - more like visiting friends in there lounge room really. The only downside with the camps was that they were on the flight path for British fighter jets practising low level bombing had no idea they were coming - then there's this massive sonic boom - and they're gone! The quiet English countryside! Scotland weather has been hot - all the Scots are passing out around us as it hits 34 celcius - they can't believe that it gets to 43 in the Australian Summer. I'm typing this in a Scottish pub in an area known as Speans Bridge. Its as north as we go on this trip - so we head south tommorow through England, Belgium, France and then Germany on the homeward leg.

The end

From Scotland we worked our way south ending up where we started in Southern Germany. At the end of our trip we saw Neuschwanstein Castle - a beautiful castle designed by King Ludwig. Great experience, life time memories and a great way to travel.