Europe 2014

Lauren and Gareth's Wedding

Owen and Julie in the UK

France 2013.


2014 sees us back with the motorhome and heading to more adventures in Europe. This year, we have planned to see Belgium and The Netherlands. Where we go after that depends entirely on the weather.

PHOTOS One Two Three Four Five Six

Thursday 3 April. A casual start with a 3pm departure. Managed to wash both cars before we left. Phil gave us a lift to the airport which was a bonus. We left on time and the tower guys had put in a good word for us which didn't result in an upgrade but it did get us personal service. The next bottle of red was never far away. The aircraft was nowhere near full and we had 3 seats for the 2 of us which makes a huge difference on an 11 hour flight. Arrived in Dubai and activated our passports for the smart gate, so next time, and the times after that, we will be able to go straight through. When the guy was working on the activation, he discovered that I had not actually left Dubai last year (lucky I wasn't arrested) and had to check me out before he could check me back in again. All good now though. Taxi to the hotel and we crashed when we hit the pillow!

4 April. A lazy day between the panic of leaving and the busyness of arriving in London tomorrow. Had a swim in the pool (water 30C air 29C) but a thunderstorm hit and we left before the rain got too heavy. Rain in Dubai seems a bit anachronistic. Did the Dubai Mall again but this time we also did the Aquarium tour which included the underwater zoo. Very impressive. Watched the 1830 fountain show, taxi home then to hit the bar! Tomorrow London.

5 April. Bad night last night. The night club on the floor above sounded like it was inside our room until 2am. Not good when you have to rise at 6am to get ready for breakfast and get to the airport. Complained nicely at checkout and asked to be put in the East Tower when we stay again in July (stayed in West Tower this time). They apologised profusely and said we would be in the East with a free upgrade in July. I intend to hold them to it! The flight to London was an hour late leaving because someone who checked in didn't arrive at the gate and they had to offload their luggage. Don't understand how someone can fail to arrive at the gate, but it happens a lot. Good flight on the A380, second row back from the front on the main deck. Train in to Green Park then a cab to the Victory Services Club in Marble Arch. The room we have in the club is excellent for the money, tomorrow will see how good the food is!

6 April. Breakfast was good. Heaps of what we like and even plenty of what we don't. Nice to get some real bacon after the beef bacon they have in Dubai. Started off raining but fined up during the day. We half walked half trained to Kings Cross station to visit platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. Visited the Harry Potter shop but nothing took our fancy. Russell wants a Slytherin T shirt, but he may have to wait. Walked back through the West End to Marble Arch after finding the Central Line of the tube was out of service today. Dinner at a tapas bar in the hidden back street off Oxford St.

7April. Went to Australia House to have a look. They don't have public access now thanks to terrorist fears. Walked to Leicester Square to get tickets for either The Lion King or The Book of Mormon shows for tonight, only to find that both are closed on Mondays. Had a coffee at Starbucks, first time in about 30 years. I think it will be another 30 years before I have another one. Bought two small fold up umbrellas as it was raining and our other ones are in the van. Paid about $7 each for them. I asked the guy if they would last a week and he said, maybe a day, they are cheap Chinese! Loved the honesty. Trained to Notting Hill Gate to walk along Portabello Road, the famous antique market in Notting Hill. Tonight we will dine in at the Victory Services Club. Interesting here, Julie feels right at home as there are signed WW2 RAF prints on the walls of the corridors. Look just like the ones we have on the games room walls at home.

8 April. After breakfast, Julie went clothes shopping and actually bought something, a light jacket. I went hunting for the best rate on buying Euros. Managed to get a very good rate and bought 4000 of them. We have the Qantas cash card with Euros, but always good to have cash. Went to Buckhurst Hill for afternoon tea with Peter and Margaret. Always good to catch up, plus we picked up all the books we had sent there. Very pleasant evening.

9 April. Left the VSC and took the train and a cab to Cranhams to pick up the van. It was all well prepared and didn't take too long to get on the go. The scooter battery was still full of charge which amazes me after sitting in the weather for 9 months. Turned over well but wouldn't fire, so when we got to the caravan park near Folkstone, I jumped it from the van to give it some extra kick. That did the trick and now everything is up and running as it should. Took a ride in to the local Sainsburys supermarket for some wine and check the availability of Vegemite. They stopped stocking it 2 months ago!! Tomorrow we will check out the Tesco and see if we have any luck there. We have set tomorrow aside for shopping to restock the van.

10 April. Have to love Caravan Club parks, the showers are excellent. Packed up the van to go shopping, something we rarely do now, it's either the scooter or we shop enroute to somewhere. Makes us appreciate the scooter again. Did a big shop at Tesco, including 6x220g jars of Vegemite. You can never have too much! Filled the fridge and most of the cupboards so we are ready to hit the Continent tomorrow. A load of washing to do this afternoon and the rest is easy time. Dinner at the local pub was pretty basic and we had to share the dining room with dogs, literally.
Updates may be slow from here on in, depending on internet availability.

11 April. Three countries in one day! Set off from Folkstone to Dover with plenty of time to spare. This time we are crossing with DFDS (da ferry da ship?) instead of P&O who we went with last year. All very much the same except the DFDS ferry is French. All the same logistics which is still amazingly brilliant. It was a smooth crossing and when we alighted at Calais, driving on the right was almost automatic. Headed straight through to Bruges (Brugge) and arrived at the campsite about 1630. Booked 3 nights but may extend. Julie is feeling unwell with a cold so taking it easy with a home cooked meal tonight.

12 April. Walked in to the centre of Bruges. Like many old cities, the centre is the old part with a more modern urban surrounding, though very much in keeping with the style. In the old city, it is a postcard view in every direction. We did the canal boat tour which was excellent, particularly with the multilingual driver we had. Went to the Notre Dame Bruges where Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" lives. This featured in the recent movie "The Monuments Men". Lunch then a walk through town to find Ribs and Beer restaurant then a tour of the Chocolate Museum, which was a bit of a let down. Walked home late afternoon and another light home cooked dinner beckons.

13 April. Intended to be our last full day in Bruges, not to be. Hayley has insisted that we go to Ribs and Beer restaurant in Bruges so we fully intend going there. Alas, they were booked out tonight, so we will go there tomorrow night (booked in) hence, an extra day here. Aside from that, we scootered into the town this morning and did the bell tower climb. 366 steps up and the same down again. Very narrow spiral stairs that made passing interesting. It was a good view from the top, but not as good as hoped. There was wire netting at all the windows on the "panorama" level which sort of distracted from the view. Managed a few good photos by poking the lens through the wire mesh. We then had a waffle each for lunch to round out the "must do's" for today (besides ribs and beer). While up in the tower, my camera battery died, having only charged it the night before. Fortunately, we have 2 cameras, so no big loss, but it is the only device that I don't have a spare battery for. Typical. Found the location of 3 places that may sell them, but need to wait until tomorrow to find out if they have them. I did a run on the scooter to locate the shops and should find them OK tomorrow. We caught the bus into the town a little after 5pm and, as noted before, we couldn't get in to ribs and beer, so we opted for moules frites at another nearby restaurant. Walked home and thankful that we took our woollen gloves with us, it's not too warm here! Tomorrow, we extend another day.

14 April. Rode in to Bruges again. This time, I dropped Julie off to do some chocolate shop touring while I went off to find a new battery for my camera. Managed to get one at the first place I tried, bonus. Met up with Julie and went to de Halve Maan brewery for a tour and then a draught cloudy beer. It was OK, but Julie didn't finish hers. I didn't offer to drink it myself as we still had to ride the scooter home. Except for Ribs and Beer which we are doing tonight, we have pretty much done all we wanted to do in Bruges, so tomorrow, we are off to Ghent. We have been lucky with the weather so far, no rain. Just as well too because the camping area would be just mud after rain. The wind, and it's always windy so far, has been freezing cold. We have even resorted to thermals and gloves. We bussed to Bruges for dinner and took our hallowed place at Ribs and Beer, the restaurant booked out every night of the week. Julie had the ribs with beer and chocolate sauce so as not to offend Hayley, and I had the traditional ribs. Both were excellent though we couldn't bring ourselves to drink beer, too darn cold, so it was wine for us. The dishes we chose were "all you can eat" ribs and after finishing mine, I was offered more, but enough is enough. Julie didn't quite finish her first plate but came close. Walked home in the freezing cold with gloves on and hoods up!

15 April. Left Bruges for Ghent, a mere hours drive and that was going slow. Arrived at lunchtime at the campsite after doing a huge loop to make up for a missed turn. We thought Bruges was a rabbit warren but it has nothing on Ghent. We took the scooter in to the old city and navigating here is a nightmare. I need a special GPS for the scooter! Walked around the town and found it very pretty, in many ways similar to Bruges, but a lot of patchwork construction which seemed out of place. Went to a cathedral here that has the Lam Gods paintings that were also featured in the film "The Monuments Men". To get home, we followed the red tram route out of town but that went through a long pedestrian mall. Much to Julie's chagrin, I took the scooter all the way through it. Still managed to overshoot the turnoff I wanted but made it back OK. We were going to stay 2 nights here but we have seen enough this afternoon that we will head to Holland and the tulip fields tomorrow.

16 April. Destination Noordwijk, Netherlands. A pretty good drive, mostly on motorways. Got to our chosen (but unbooked) campsite only to find it is booked out except for tonight. Seeing as it is only about 9km from Keukenhof Gardens where we want to go tomorrow, we thought we would take the one night then see what goes. It doesn't help that this weekend is Easter. We rode the scooter to Keukenhof to make sure we could find it OK and it was a simple ride, so no problems tomorrow. We have organised to leave the motorhome in the car park at the front of the park tomorrow so it means we can still get around on the scooter and do what we want to do. If we manage to get another night, we can simply drive back inside, if not, we head off somewhere else. Where that may be, we have no idea. At least they have good free WiFi here, a bonus. I did a ride to see the beach about 3 km away and it did have sand, but the water didn't exactly look enticing, somewhat grey in colour. The tulips around here are looking good, there is even a field of them next door to the park.

17 April. Decided against trying to stay at the Op Hoops where we were last night. They had no room at the inn and we didn't want to mess around, so we checked out. Drove the motorhome to Keukenhof and they had special areas for motorhome parking, which we knew. Sadly, they were all nose in to a drain, even though I could have used a drive through bay. Their rules didn't allow for anyone to park other than next bay and nose in! Actually managed to reverse the trailer with almost no room to spare, enough to exit without unhitching! Keukenhof is amazing. It is a blaze of colour that eventually dulls the senses, so intense as it is over such a vast area. Julie was in her element, she loves her flowers, even though we grow very few at home. The variety of tulips was amazing, as were the other species and the colours, again, just spectacular. We spent about 3.5 hours there which for me is pretty good. On leaving, Julie decided to get a photo of the queue of motorhomes in the parking lot and walked across the gravel track. Unfortunately, the gravel track was a drain full of water covered in various blossoms. She just stepped right in. only about 600mm deep, just as well. Also lucky it was right there at the van so she could change into fresh clothes at home!!
We decided on Amsterdam as our destination of choice today and rang the park, only to get a long spiel on a recorded message. Took the plunge (sorry Julie) and drove to the park near Amsterdam and sure enough, plenty of spots, stay as long as we like, and it's Easter as well. Looking good.

18 April, Good Friday. Makes no difference what day it is in Amsterdam. We took the train in to Amsterdam city and had a wander around. For the first time on this trip, we had rain that hindered our experience, which is pretty good considering the odds. Amsterdam is a pretty and interesting city, dragged down a little by the crassness of the sex industry and the dope cafes. We took in a walk around the city, the Waterloo markets and the Royal Palace. The palace was more of the French aristocracy big noting itself. No wonder they had a revolution. And Napoleon only lived there for 2 years! Late lunch then back home. Julie wanted fish for dinner being Good Friday, so she made a sardine, spaghetti dish which was just brilliant. The sardines were the only fish available at the caravan park shop. Took a walk around the park here and we are very lucky we came in yesterday. I don't think anyone has missed out on a spot, but what was a wide open area yesterday is now full of motorhomes and tents, almost all without power. They are crammed in next to each other like our dinner (sardines). We have a pitch 3 times as wide as our unit, so plenty of room for trailer and awning, not so with the new arrivals. Another win!

19 April. Trained to the city again. We bought some tourist tickets for a 90 minute canal cruise and one for Julie to visit the Rijksmuseum. I saw her on the the number 2 tram and I went to the National Maritime Museum. Both were good but neither of us was overly interested in the other so that worked out well. I then caught the number 2 to meet up with Julie at the Rijks and from there we headed towards Anne Frank's house, stopping for lunch along the way. When we got to the house, the queue stretched for about 3 blocks. I anticipated a 2 to 4 hour wait in the line so we decided to give it a miss. A little unfortunate as it would have been good to see. Walked the rest of the way back to the Centraal Station (not a typo) to get the canal ferry and got in the line for that. We started out at about 6th in the line, but when the boat stopped, it was further up than we expected. Next we knew, the crowd had got ahead of us and we actually missed that ferry! I was a tad peeved but the next one was only 15 minutes later and a more comfortable ferry so that was OK in the end. Good tour, but not as good as the one in Bruges. Now that we have done the two tours, Venice may seem a little passe when we get there. Trained home for tea and some recovery time before heading back in for the nightlife. And the nightlife here is interesting. Julie was the first to spot a red light and then they were everywhere. We wandered around checking out the open windows with the girls on display. All a bit sad really, like puppies waiting to be bought. Had a drink and more of a walk around, then headed home again. It was interesting to see that Amsterdam seems to be a city where everyone has fun. Even in the packed night area and in the pubs, there was no agro. Great to see.

20 April. More trains. In to the city then to Zoog-Zaandijk to walk to Zaanse Schans, an historical old windmill town, now a tourist attraction. It was a decent attraction, but the highlight for us was the windmills. They also had a good clog museum. That took half the day, then it was 2 trains home again. This afternoon will be washing and cleaning and getting ready for Koln, Germany tomorrow.

21 April. Left Amsterdam and drove for 250km through drizzle and rain to Koln. Found our way to the caravan park right on the edge of the Rhine. Scootered around to see if we could find a phone shop to get 3G data but everything was closed being Easter Monday. Didn't make a difference in Holland, but here it does. Have to wait until tomorrow. Had dinner at a little bar restaurant 50 metres from where we parked and we both had schnitzels. Huge serve though we managed to put a decent dent in it.

22 April. Some fresh local bread and croissants for breakfast and then off to town to get a 3G sim pack. Managed to get one and thought we should make sure it all works first so headed home to set it up. Needed help so went back in with the laptop and the guy did it in a couple of minutes. We now have it set up on the "Three" MiFi modem so we can connect all our devices to it. Makes life a lot easier with internet on tap. Rode back into the city centre in the afternoon and saw the old city and the cathedral. All very pretty and I suspect we will have to go a long way to see a more grand cathedral than the one at Koln. Victorinox (aka Swiss Army Knives) have a big presence in Koln. Many shops sell them but there is also a dedicated Victorinox store. Had a look around there and bought 2 kitchen knives, total value €8.50. The Chinese lady who worked there took a liking to us and included 2 Victorinox bags and sample fragrances. A nice little bonus. Julie wanted to go to the other side of the river and get a photo of the cathedral with the bridge in it. Managed to navigate to a spot that was good for such a shot. The scooter has had a good workout here and it is nice to ride around a city where a sense of direction is all you need, unlike places like Ghent and to a lesser extent Bruges. We feel we have given Koln due attention, so off again tomorrow.

23 April. Drove past Bonn on our way to Bad Godesburg. Found a lovely little park on the Rhine again with stunning views up to the mountains with castles. The people who run the park were having a birthday lunch for the mother. We were told to help ourselves to a place and will sort out the booking tomorrow. Took the scooter for a ride into the town among a few thunderstorms that fortunately didn't drop too much rain on us. We tried to find where the ferry was that runs across the Rhine but couldn't find it. Hopefully we will find it tomorrow to make our way up the mountains on the opposite side. Did a small shop, including a couple of awesome pastries, then back home. We are going to have to be careful with the diet here! A quiet afternoon as we are both pretty exhausted, though we did walk a couple of kilometres along the river looking for the ferry crossing points but to no avail. Nice walk though so all was not lost.

24 April. We found out where the ferry went from and took the scooter to the other side of the Rhine. The ferry was €3.90 each way, which for car ferries was by far the most expensive, being only a 1 minute trip. Nevertheless it did save us a lot of time and it was sort of fun. We then went up the hill to the peak at Drachenfels. I had wanted to take the scooter up but it was train or walk, so the scooter stayed behind. We took the train, a cog driven electric single car, very similar to the one we took up Mount Snowden in Wales. The main difference was that this one was quiet and fast, relatively anyway. Got to the top in about 10 minutes. There was one other stop on the line at Schloss (castle) Drachenburg as well. We started at the top and the view was awesome. Took a lot of photos but none will do it justice. We could see Bonn a little to the north and then Koln another 30km or so away. The visibility was a little hazy but it didn't so much reduce the range as wash out the colour of the view. A very blue hue, similar to the Blue Mountains. After taking in the spectacle there, we trained down to the castle for a look. It was a castle, good but nothing special. Back in to the town of Konigswinter for a walk around and an icecream then it was on the ferry back to the home side. As I write this, it is raining with thunderstorms, so we did well to get things in when we did.

25 April. Prepared for the massive drive to Remagen. It is 9km, we don't want to tire before we get there. Checked in at the park and a nice one it is too. Went for a walk along the Rhine to see the sights and came across the remains of a bridge that was pivotal to the WW2 effort. It was taken complete and was where the first full infantry division crossed the Rhine after D day. Took the scooter along the Ahr river to Bad Bodendorf then Sinzig. Both pretty little towns as we have come to expect here. Riding back to Remagen, we ended up on the freeway, 120km/hr limit, and 4 lanes. Wrapped open the throttle of the scooter and managed to hold 90kph, 2 up, so I was pretty stoked. Other than that, another dinner in (we have leftovers) and a few wines.

26 April. Took the scooter on the ferry to Linz on the other side of the Rhine. What a wonderfully colourful and picturesque town it is. Very much a picture postcard place. Spent a couple of hours doing a self guided tour around the town then morning tea. We were very impressed with Linz. From there we took a ride through the hills on a scenic tour to Bad Honnef (Bad meaning "bath" or "spa") had lunch at the local bakery. Back to Linz the short way via the river road and across on the ferry to home. Julie is suffering a little from saddle soreness but she'll be OK. Time for some clothes washing now. Had dinner at the restaurant in the caravan park. Nice schnitzel and cordon bleu. Had some comic moments with the waitress which is always interesting when neither speaks the other language well. Humour can cross borders though.

27 April. Only 16 days into Europe and we feel we have done so much. Drove to Koblenz, about 30 odd km from Remagen. Got there at lunchtime and checked in. The location is awesome. Right on the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers, literally. It is on the point. It is the most expensive we have been at, by quite a margin, but being only 2 nights, we can cope with that. One big advantage of not moving far is that we get half a day to do things, so we can achieve more than driving most of the day. Rode into the city centre and checked out the cable car to the top of the hill on the other side, but at €12 each, we decided to ride the scooter over instead. Before we did, we had a pleasant walk on the promenade along the Rhine. At least there are bridges here so we didn't have to rely on ferries. Went to the top of the hill on the other side which has a good lookout and could see our van on the other side. Tried to find a castle to the south but while trying to avoid the motorways, we gave up on finding them. No real problem there though. Back home for drinks and dinner and just enjoying the view from the park. Today started off with light showers and heavy overcast but changed to overcast and fine and at 7pm, the sun came out! Better late than never.

28 April. Spent most of the day in the old city area of Koblenz. Quite a remarkable place that has been significantly rebuilt after bombing in WW2. The rebuilding has been beautifully done. The old town has about 3 "town squares" so it feels quite open. We had ridden the scooter in and checked out options for dinner tonight. About 5pm we caught the passenger ferry over, which was about a 6m boat, very small by any ferry standards. That said, it was only crossing the Mosel River which is all of about 100m wide there. We had pre dinner drinks at Einstiens Bar and Restaurant which was good. I tried the local red which was very acceptable and Julie had a Caribbean Night cocktail. All good value being happy hour! Dinner was at a pub just up the lane. Julie had veal knuckle and I had a mixed grill of beef, turkey and pork. we can't compare with US meal sizes, but the ones we have had in Germany so far have been huge. Enough to feed the two of us most times. Made it back to the ferry just before the last crossing at 2000.

29 April. A wet and misty morning, normally good for travelling, unless you happen to be driving down the Rhine. We headed for Boppard and intended to stop there on the way to Loreley but it was miserable weather and we missed to only good place to park the van so we kept on going. Had to take the auto ferry across the river at a cost of €9.60 to travel 100m. Wouldn't want to do that twice a day. We will do it again tomorrow but with the scooter so it should be less than €3. Did a steep tight drive up the hillside to the caravan park at Loreley and are now parked on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Rhine. Stunning view, but one thing we have found about the Rhine Valley is that there is always train noise, and I mean always. There is rarely a break of more than 2 minutes between trains and there are lines on both sides of the river. The sound echoes all the way along. We don't really notice it too much though, you get used to it quickly. We started the walk down the hill to the statue of Loreley, a mythical siren on the river. We decided it was too far with stairs and our knees so we only went part of the way. We took the scooter down instead. Prior to coming to the Rhine, Julie was expecting the Loreley to be a highlight, she had even learned about it in German history. Sadly, there is no rock there as was expected and just a small statue on the end of the point that goes out into the river. There was no plaque giving any explanation, even in German, so it was all rather disappointing. Took a ride through Sankt Goarhausen then back to the van. The steep winding road was much more fun on the scooter.

30 April. Very misty and hazy this morning though dry. Took a ride across the river on the ferry to St Goar. We visited the castle ruins there. Fascinating place, with an equally fascinating history. For some time it was the largest fortification in the region. The French blew most of it up in 1796, sods. As it is now it is awe inspiring, in its original state it would have been mind blowing. Lunch in the village, they had wifi at the cafe. We can't get our 3G here so it was our only contact for 48 hours. Wandered the village then headed home. Visited the tourist information at Loreley and asked about what the Loreley actually was. It is a large rocky outcrop on the edge of the river, so why they put a statue in the middle of the river is beyond us. At least we know know.

1 May. Left Loreley for Frankfurt, about 90km away. We weren't sure what to expect there, but we intended to stay a night, get away into the city this afternoon and head off again tomorrow. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men. We got to within about 5km of the campsite we intended, when every exit from the freeway we were on to the freeway we wanted, was closed. Big police presence at some of them. We couldn't find an alternative route, so we pulled over in a breakdown lane and planned our escape. The route to Heidelberg was away from the closure, so off we went. It rained for most of the journey and the visibility got quite poor at times. Arrived at the campsite in Heidelberg and its hardly stopped raining since. Tomorrow, we will do something.

2 May. We have been so lucky with the weather. It was forecast to be raining today but we managed to miss it until it didn't matter. Rode in to Heidelberg with the main intention of visiting the castle. It is a good value visit, costing €6 each and that included the funicular railway ride too. The castle is very imposing and though it is essentially ruins, it is being restored. Probably will be a work in progress for many years we think. The work is being done well though the new parts will need to age to fit in. We had lunch at a local bakery/cafe and then did the self walk tour of the old city. Heidelberg is very pretty and is essentially a university town, much like Oxford or Cambridge. Arrived home about 1530 and did some shopping for dinner, then I took the scooter to the nearest petrol station to fill up. Within minutes of getting back, the rain started and now seems to be set in. We don't mind that though, at least we didn't have to ride in it. After dinner, I dropped over to our neighbours (Brits) who also have a scooter, but theirs lives in a hatch in the motorhome. Very good setup. Ended up spending a few hours there and Julie gave up on me and came over too. David and Jane are doing a similar thing to us but from Prague, they will be heading south while we will go north. Interestingly, they have two children, named Lauren and Russell, much the same age. Amazing. Intend keeping in touch to see how things work out. Planning to get away reasonably early tomorrow to head to the Black Forest. Julie wants some cake there.

3 May. Set the GPS for Lahr, on the edge of the Black Forest, or so we thought. The GPS was set right, but Lahr is not exactly on the edge. More like about 30 km away from it. We reworked our destination to a camping site in Schapbach, this time, in the middle of the Black Forest. It was a change to drive on B roads rather than the autobahns we have been using. The day started off cold but as we got deeper in to the forest, it just got colder. A top of about 8C today and we expect it to get below freezing tonight. We rugged up and walked into the village but it was very quiet except for a few men outside the pub. Dinner in the van again tonight and heading for Lake Constance tomorrow.

4 May. Woke to blinding sunlight in Schapbach, looked glorious. Headed out through more of the Black Forest on winding little roads until we hit the autobahn to Lake Konstanz (Constance). Got held up with more roadworks along the way but we are rarely in a hurry so no dramas. Interesting on the autobahns when we are doing 100kph and the van rocks when someone passes us doing 180. We just sit in the right lane on cruise control and all is good. Arrived in Friedrichhafen about 1315 and the office for the campsite was closed for lunch until 1330. That was ok, but even after we checked in, we had to wait until 1430 before they open the gates. Lunchtime appears sacrosanct in Germany, you can't even drive into the campsite in case the noise upsets someone having their siesta. Very poor for customer relations though. Took a walk along the shore of the lake and a nature reserve nearby. Heard a lot of cuckoos but couldn't see any. We could see snow capped mountains from just behind the van too. Tonight we will dine at the restaurant at the campsite and our plan for tomorrow is to take the ferry to Konstanz, so we can walk into Switzerland!

5 May. Walked to the ferry terminal to get the boat to Konstanz. Because it is the 600th anniversary of the Council of Konstanz, return tickets are on special this month for €14, the normal one way fare, bonus! The view was very good, but to the south, where there is a huge line of snow capped mountains, it was covered in mist so the chance of getting a good photo was nil. To the eye though, it was stunning. We spent over 4 hours in Konstanz and walked over the border in to Swtzerland. We did the usual self walk tour of the city but much of the history was lost on us as we have little knowledge of the history here anyway. The Rhine river flows into Lake Konstanz and the starts its journey out again at the town of Konstanz. It is a huge lake, the third largest in central Europe. The town of Konstanz is pretty in much the same way as many of the towns we have seen. They did have an excellent statue at the entrance to the harbour. It is a woman holding up wizened kings, one in each hand. What made it special is that the whole statue, about 8m tall at a guess, rotates on the stand. Very clever. The weather was perfect. We went into a clothing store and bought Julie a new jacket, so watch for some colour in later photos. The ferry ride there and back was quick and smooth, the lake was like a millpond, very flat. Walked around parts of Friedrichshafen, bought me a Tshirt and walked home again.

6 May. We headed towards the German Alpine Drive, initially via Lindau, then puting in various waypoints so we went the way we wanted, not the fastest route to Fussen. The view was stunning, snow capped rugged mountains, green valleys, pretty little Bavarian villages. Some of the winding roads were interesting but not overly challenging until you get a small truck trying to cut the blind corners. We arrived at Fussen, the highest town in Bavaria, and found a Whonmobil Stellplatz. This is the first one we have stayed at that works on coins and tickets. It is obviously regularly cleaned and serviced because the ablutions were very good. It is €13 anight, but then €1 for showers, €1 for 1.4kwh of power (which seems to go down much faster than it should!) and if you want service points, like water in, waste out, chem toilet empty, they all cost too. It still worked out a fair bit cheaper than most and the location is very convenient. We had shopped at Lidl's in Friedrichshafen on the way out, and now we find ourselves within 100m of both a Lidl and an Aldi. Julie stocked up on a local Rose wine for €1.59 a bottle. Rode in to Fussen in the afternoon and found another postcard town. Everywhere we looked was a photo opportunity, just so pretty. We found the tourist information centre and got the goods on the next couple of attractions for us. Torrow, we intend to visit Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle not far from here. The second is Sugspitze, the highest peak in Bavaria, needing a cog train and cable car to get there. Now, we have to hope for good weather.

7 May. Not a good start. It is continuous light rain with lowering cloud, not what we want when we are going to one of the highlightss of this trip. As the morning wears on, the cloud on the mountains is getting lower and lower, so it looks like a down day today and hope for the best tomorrow. We did visit the motorhome shop up the road and bought a couple of bits for the van that we might find useful.

8 May. What a wonderful day. Partly cloudy but plenty of sunshine. We scootered up to Neuschwanstein and for the second time since we have had the scooter, we had to pay for parking. Darn. It was only €2 compared to €7.50 for a motorhome, so it wasn't too bad. Met a couple from Forrestfield in Perth who were touring on a Ducatti motorcycle. Bought our tickets, no real queue, and walked up to the castle. We were scheduled for the 10:55 tour in English so killed a bit of time before the tour. The castle is another example of self indulgence that we have come to expect from these sorts of places, but that said, pretty impressive. The real attraction of Neuschwanstein is the outside though. It is a fairytale castle. Fortunately, there is a bridge over the river that gives the most stunning views. Headed back to the van and it was still early enough that we packed up and drove to Grainau, at the base of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. The quickest route was via Austria, and a magnificent alpine road it was. The view from the caravan park is another amazing postcard. Snowcapped mountains literally on our doorstep. This is really "living the dream". It doesn't come any better than this. What we do tomorrow depends on the weather. We can see the top of the Zugspitze from our van, so if it is clear in the morning, we are doing the trip up to the top.

9 May. The weather is not on our side today. Rain and cloud on the mountains. Added to the fact that the cable car to the summit is not working and the only access is by cog train through a tunnel, we decided we wouldn't spend €80 just to stand in the clouds. We packed up and headed for Munich, arriving about 1230. Set up camp and I went for a ride to a couple of motorcycle places to get a top carrier box to fit the back of the scooter. I put all the places I needed, including the campsite, into Sygic Nav on the phone and plugged the earphones in. Just as well too. I would never have found my way there and back without it. I have a good sense of direction, but this was just a bit too complicated. Had a nice ride, even though I couldn't get the box. Well, I could, but no one had the mounting kit for it. Something for England another day. We met a couple from Isle of Wight here at the camp and shared a few (OK, more than a few) drinks with them and we all went to the park cafe for dinner. It was a great night and good to be sociable, at least I think I was. Thanks Andy and Maureen for the delightful company. We have to visit the island some time.

10 May. Bused and trained into Munich, to Marienplatz, the main town square. The Glockenspiel was due to start in 30 minutes so we visited the Tourist Information centre and got some info there. Bayern Munchen FC had just won the German Football Championship and the team were being presented to the fans, then the party, as it seems only the Munchens can. The place was crowded, even the old markets were chockers, but it was a good atmosphere. Headed back home early afternoon for some R&R. Our rest was short lived when we had large rafts floating down the river with brass bands on them. Apparently it is a popular thing to do here where people hire a raft, complete with band, and float down the river. At the entrance to the park though, there is a spot where the river narrows and is a drop in the river level of about 700mm. There is a standing wave at the drop that people ride on their surf boards. The rafts just fit through but get very wet in the process. The people on board are on a raised platform on the raft, so they don't get too wet. Directly opposite our van, they dismantle the rafts (no small feat) and truck them away. They reassemble them at the start point for the next trip. Another wonder of logistics. We decided to make the most of our day ticket on the bus and train to go in to Marienplatz again, this time for dinner. The station at the platz was overcrowded so the trains were not stoppong there. We got off one station before and walked in. The party was still going! Had dinner at the Ratskeller, a famous beer hall in Munich, then headed home again, walking to the next station to do so.

11 May. Mothers Day. Scootered in to the city and went to the Deutsches Museum, dedicated to science and technology. Amazing the pioneering that the Germans made in this field. It was an excellent display in many ways, though, while some exhibits had English captions, more didn't. It was quite random. We then went into the old city again for a late lunch at the Hofbrauhaus. The street level area that most people go to was far too noisy for me so we went upstairs for a quiet meal. German sausages and Julie had an apple strudel for dessert. Got home again without getting lost.

12 May. Last full day in Munich. We had planned for Julie to go to the Residence Museum and I would go to the BMW museum. Unfortunately, the BMW one is closed on Mondays, so Julie went with me to BMW World, a free showroom of the latest models. I felt like a dreamer, but that's OK. Trained back to the centre of town for lunch in the markets. Julie still wanted to do the Residence but, being palaced out, I opted to just wander around the city. The heavens opened about 5 minutes later and I spent 30 minutes sheltering then walking the streets. Julie was a little disappointed with the Residence, so I didn't feel guilty. Trained and bused back home.

13 May. I spoke too soon about the weather. It was drizzling when we left Munich bound for Konigssee near Salzburg. On the way, it poured down and we went through a hail storm as well. We decided against Konigssee as the cloud was so low it was obliterating all the hills and the main thing to see there was the Eagles Nest (Hitlers hideout). However, the weather cleared a little so we went there anyway. It was a very pretty drive but the cloud was still low and when we went into a caravan park there, it poured down again. Plan B, on to Salzburg. We got caught a treat going into Austria. If you think speed cameras in Australia are revenue raising, they have nothing on the Austrian Toll Checks. We knew there was going to be a toll of some sort going in to Austria, but all the signs were in German and the symbols meant nothing, so we kept driving expecting a toll gate to pay. Even had the money ready. Took the exit we wanted and were stopped by the Toll Check, only to be charged a €120 on the spot fine for not displaying the sticker on the van that we should have bought at a service station before crossing the border. Had to literally pay on the spot and they still couldn't sell us the sticker, we had to go to a service station to buy one for €8.50 for 10 days. There was absolutely nothing to tell us what the system was anywhere along the way. Welcome to Austria and have a nice day.
Checked in at the caravan park here, and looks like a good drinking session coming on. We need to get WiFi to access the internet because our 3G only works in Germany, and we need to get online to find out about the "Sound of Music" tour. As it was, the people at the caravan park booked the tour for us including on site pick up. They have been very helpful here, marvellous.

14 May. Another disgusting morning weather wise. We had booked for the 2pm Sound of Music tour and were being picked up from the caravan park at 1:30. Fortunately, as has happened quite often near the alps, the weather started to clear a little around midday. As it turned out, during the tour, we hardly got any rain, except on the last leg of the bus run, we encountered rain, hail AND snow. It didn't last long, but it was sure cold when we got off the bus. The tour itself was very good. We could have gone to the same places ourselves, but this was the way to do it. Sit back and relax and get told all about it. When we first got on the bus, the front row on each side was vacant, even though the bus was nearly full. I decided I could cope with any flak that came from that (if they wanted me to sing, be it on their own heads!) and Julie and I sat in the front with unrestricted views through the huge windscreen of the coach. Brilliant. The tour covered the family home(s), the gazebo, the general scenery and the church that the wedding was filmed in, along with the gardens. All in all, a fun afternoon. After the tour we walked to the old city and had a little look around. Found a nice place for dinner, I had roast pork and Julie had the beef goulash. The waitress gave me €10 too much in the change (it was only €30 total), and for the third time since we have been in Europe, I gave back the overpayment. She thought it was a tip at first, but then realised why I gave it back. She was more thrilled than if it was a tip. Hopefully some good karma will come from it. Maybe even some good weather! Caught the bus home, which turned out to be a trolley bus with the electric drive like trams. Amazing.

15 May. There are still things we want to do around Salzburg, but they all rely on decent weather. The cloud was very low today, so places like the Eagles Nest would be shrouded in it, so we decided to move on. Initial destination was going to be Vienna (the native Wien just doesn't look right) but it was over 300km away so we looked for some place to visit as an interim measure. We decided on Melk, a town famous for its old Benedictine Monastery, a mere 200 km away. The drive was easy on an autobahn. We have come to the conclusion that taking B roads here would be too hard. The campsite we are at is at the confluence of the Melk river and the Danube. This is our first, but not last, sighting of the sister river to the Rhine. The Monastery is not far away so we walked there to check it out. It is the millenium anniversary of the monastry, not so much the buildings, but the monastry itself. Being Benedictine, we expected the interior to be quite spartan and utalitarian. Wrong. It was as flamboyant as any of the palaces we have seen. Well, the important parts anyway. Quite an eye opener in that regard. To be specific, the building is the Melk Abbey, housing the monastery, and it is the monastic order in Melk that is 1000 years old. This trip is turning out to be much more expensive than the previous ones (not counting buying the van) with a nights spot in a park averaging about $45. This one is basic, a field near a pub but with power, water and ablution block. €21 for the night. Last year, we would have said "You have to be joking", this year, it's good value compared to others we have stayed at. Anyway, all is OK, tomorrow, Vienna.

16 May. Left Melk for Vienna. It has been raining for over 12 hours non stop and the drive to Vienna doesn't improve at all. Stuck in a row of trucks on the autobahn with spray and rain reducing visibility. Made for a high concentration drive but we got to our chosen caravan park without incident. The only problem now is that it is closed, not just until 1400, but fully closed. Reprogrammed the GPSs and went to the next one. This one seems OK, reception was closed so we have staked our spot and will check in soon. The rain has finally got down to an occassional drizzle, but the effect of the non stop rain is mud everywhere.

17 May. Another miserable wet and raining day. We stayed at home until about 1320 when we caught the bus and train to Schonbrunn Palace to collect our tickets. Because there was a wedding on at the Orangerie, where the concert would have been held, it was transferred to the Grand Gallery of the Palace. More on that later. Having the tickets, we had a couple of hours to kill so we headed into Karlsplatz, the centre of the old city. We walked around a few blocks, bought new umbrellas and a collared knit shirt for me. Stopped for afternoon tea in a cafe. Vienna is a very beautiful city, the old parts anyway. Magnificent buildings every where you look. Unfortunately, being rainy, windy and cold, it didn't show its best side. Trained back to the palace for the self guided audio tour. The palace is quite plain, relatively, on the outside, but very nicely done on the inside. Sadly, no photographs allowed. There are parts that are overdone but generally, it is all tastefully done. Probably one of the better palaces we have seen in that regard. Many, like Versailles, are just so over the top and extravagant as to be almost disgustingly decadent.
We then went to the Marriot hotel for a drink then dinner. This would normally have been in part of the palace but with the wedding on, we got relocated. After dinner it was back to the palace, only a few minutes walk, for the concert. The Great Gallery is the largest room in the palace and beautifully decorated, also the room where Mozart performed for the Royal Family at the age of 6. We managed a couple of photos in there, the advantage of being in the back row! The acoustics of the room were very good and we could hear the performances perfectly, even if we had trouble seeing the players. It was a small orchestra playing, not a full one, but the sound was excellent. Mozart was the first session and tended to drag but after the interval it was Strauss' turn and that was much more alive. All in all, a very good outing and a fitting way to celebrate our wedding anniversary. After the concert, we trained back to the last station and as it was raining (still) and it was 20 minutes for the next bus, we caught a taxi home.

18 May. Still cold and wet and Julie is suffering from either a jaw or tooth problem which the cold exacerbates, so we have decided to have a down day at home. The next few days are forecast to be warm and sunny, so we will save more of Vienna for that. We are ahead of where we expected to be at this time, so we are contemplating a change of itinerary. We may go from here to Budapest then through Slovenia into northern Italy including Venice and Florence, then the Med coast to France. Today gives us a chance to assess and plan. If we were to continue to Prague and Berlin, we would have too much time left to burn.

19 May. We took the public transport in to Vienna again and did some self walk tour, a tram ride around the ring road and generally just took in the sights. Vienna is a very beautiful city, the old part anyway. The new city is concrete and glass like most modern cities. We visited the Parliament Building and the Museum Precinct. Bought a Sachertorte from the Sacher Hotel to take away on the way home. This expensive cake is a famous icon in Vienna. Tomorrow, Budapest, a 260km drive.

20 May. Another day, another country. Left Vienna bound for Budapest. We learned our lesson about vignettes going in to Austria and we wont fall for that trick again. Bought it at the border for a week which will be more than enough. The drive to Budapest was pretty routine and we went to a caravan park we chose as the most reasonable and the closest to the city. We were surprised to find that they accept the ACSI card (a European camping card that served us well in France, but been useless so far) and we get a night for €16 instead of €22.50 for the normal price. What makes it a real bonus though, is we get free power, showers, WiFi and even the laundry is free, No extras at all. Makes this by far the cheapest site we have stayed in. It even has shops within a very short walking distance. Tomorrow, we will take on the city.

21 May. We bought tickets for the Hop On, Hop Off bus from reception at the park. The guy here is so good, couldn't try harder, included in the ticket was a separate ticket to a night cruise on the Danube with a free drink. We caught the Metro in to the city, after finding the station! I knew it was at a particular intersection but could see no signs. There was a set of stairs down in one corner that looked like it may be an underpass to the other side of the road. We went down there, to find a small shopping centre and the train station, all well hidden. Hungarian is a strange language. You can study a station name and a minute later, can't recall it. It is as bad as Dutch. Lots of English speakers here though that we can get by without too much drama. Boarded the bus for the first loop. Saw the Hero's Square and decided we would stop another time to check it out, but did get out at Fishermen's Bastion and St. Matthias Church to have a good look around there. Some amazing sights here in Budapest. Not very much is very old, 1800's is pretty much as early as anything gets, but it is the eclectic mix that makes for an extraordinary sight. Beautiful 1880 architecture right next to Eastern Bloc concrete square blocks of flats.
We went to the top of the Citadel, the highest point in Budapest and got off the bus again. Great views from up there and the sunshine added to the spectacle. We waited for the next bus which should have been 30 mins, but it ended up being over an hour, with a few people who had then missed connections to other things getting a tad irate. There was no explanation but they did say sorry, though I'm not sure they knew what for. This place is a weird mix of first world and third world. The new is very good, there is a large amount of wealth here, but the infrastructure, though efficient and adequate, is run down. Trains and trams all need replacing. They run on time and work OK, but they feel like thay are about to fall apart. The city roads vary from good to goat tracks. It feels like they are struggling to rid themselves of the communist impact but can't seem to do much about it. Some of the older buildings, beautiful as they are, are in desperate need of attention. Render falling off in big sheets from a 4 storey building is not a good look.
We planned to take the boat cruise as part of the bus ticket in the afternoon but with the connecting bus being late, we had another wait of at least 45 minutes for the boat, so we opted to head home and do it tomorrow.
When we checked in at the park, the group behind us were 2 couples from Perth. They were parked close to us and after we had dinner at the restaurant in the park (great meal for almost nothing, excellent) we invited them over for a drink. Good time had by all, and they were heading off the following morning. Great to talk football with other Docker fans too!

22 May. Our hop on hop off ticket was good for 2 days so we went in to the city again and did the boat cruise on the river. It was very pleasant, cool in the breeze even though it was over 30C, and had some good views of some sites that you couldn't see well from the land. Then we did the yellow bus route, as distinct from yesterdays red route. Made a bus change to get back to Hero's Square and had a good look around, followed by lunch on the shore of the lake there. Another wait for the bus and we went to the markets. Julie managed to find some porridge at an Aldi store, hidden under the markets so that was a bonus. Trained home again for a break before taking on the city again to see the night lights. After dinner at home, we trained back to the city and wandered down to Dock 9 to get our evening cruise. Unfortunately, we were at the wrong Dock 9, the one we wanted was about 3km away and with 10 minutes to launch, we were not going to make it. We made the best of it and walked along the river a way and then checked out some of the city at night. Neither of us are feeling well so we called time early and headed home.

23 May. A relaxing day, as much as it can be. Julie is catching up with all the washing, seeing as it is free here. Would normally cost over $7 for one load, so with 3 loads, we are doing well. We need to do a bit of shopping and change some more money, but otherwise, not a lot planned. Tomorrow, we are heading towards Slovenia and Ljubljana, the capital. It is 460km so I suspect that will be 2 days of travel. That, or we have a long break for lunch. In the afternoon, I took the scooter for a shopping expedition. We didn't need much but I did manage to find some Scottish Porridge from a Tesco store. I then went to a Lidl to get the good cheap wine but they had very little, unlike in Germany. I was glad Julie didn't come with me because a couple of the roads were serious cobblestones and that's a pain in the butt, litterally, on the scooter. Dinner at the local restaurant again then a really bad nights sleep with it being hot as hell.

24 May. Goodbye Budapest, although we still had to drive through a fair portion of the city to get out. Budapest has a large metropolitan area that I am sure many visitors here never see. It was an easy run down to Keszthely on Lake Balaton. This lake is the holiday playground of Hungary. Fortunately, we are out of season, so we can see it as it is, not crowded with people. It doesn't hold a candle to Lake Konstanz but it is a big lake with room for everyone on it. This is a one night stopover on the way to Slovenia. Russell has said we must go to Bled, so Bled it will be. If Bled gets its photo on the cover of the Europe road atlas we have, it has to be good.

25 May. Got a discount again becasue of our ACSI camping card so it makes Hungary good value for camping. We headed towards Bled, 360km away. We planned on filling up the van before the border so we could spend the last of our Hungarian Forents (300 HUF = 1 Euro). We had 29,000 HUF left. Unfortunately, the service station was just over the border in to Slovenia, who use Euros, and they wouldn't accept the HUFs. Oh well, another time at a bank maybe. The drive to Bled was excellent, aside from the start where the road was disgusting, but that got better when we hit the motorway. There was almost no traffic on the road. Being a Sunday, we suspect there is a rule preventing trucks from travelling on Sundays. I know France has a similar thing. There were very few cars as well so I could set and forget the cruise control. Usually on the motorways, it is like driving on the Perth freeways in semi peak hour. You can be miles from anywhere but still require concentration the whole time, can be very tiring. Today was good. We stopped a little over half way for lunch at a truck stop for a burger that was big enough to almost not need dinner, went down well.
It has been an interesting drive from a visual point of too. Hugary is mostly flat terrain, and when it isn't flat, it is just undulating. Quite uninspiring really. Once we crossed into Slovenia, whole different ballgame. The hills started, then the mountains appeared in distance. The road is amazing, over so many bridges and through so many tunnels. The infrastructure is stunningly good. Coming in to Bled we saw the lake. WOW. It has the green that comes from the alps in the water and it is just beautiful. We checked in at the caravan park around 1500, and got straight on the scooter for some photos. The sun is out and we don't want to risk it not being there tomorrow. This place is as good as it gets. Many things to do here. We have organised 2 nights, but it may be longer.

26 May. It started to rain lightly this morning, but we were not going to let that stop us. It eased off after breakfast, so we jumped on the scooter and rode out to Vintgar Gorge, about 5km away. The gorge was stunning but half way down the length of it, the lightning and thunder started and we got just a tad wet. At least we saw most of it at its best. The water had the same green colouring as many alpine rivers we have seen. It is the colour that makes them so special, and in Lake Bled, that same green is awesome. We could look at the sights here for a long time and not be disappointed. We got a bit wetter on the ride home and it stopped raining not long after we got there. Rode back in to the town later in the day, and late afternoon, the sun came out so we walked a little around the lake. We can't get enough of it. We will be staying another night so we can do more tomorrow, even though the forecast is for similar weather as today.

27 May. The weather looked good this morning, so we took off on the scooter to the castle. We were not overly interested in the castle itself, we just wanted to see the views. It was €9 each to get in, so we just admired the view from the one spot where we could see, and moved on. Rode around a couple of villages near Bled, mainly looking for other gorges, but we worked out the Gorj they had on signs referred to village names. Nice picturesque ride anyway. Back home and then to the cafe on the lake for Kremna Rezina cakes (speciality of Bled, a little like a creamy vanilla slice) with coffee and tea. The cakes were very nice, rich but light. Julie was rapt that she asked for a milky coffee and that's what she got. Best so far in Europe. The weather started to change a little later, went black and the thunder rolled around the mountains. Didn't really rain here, just a few drops, but we waited it out. In the afternoon, we went for a walk along the lake towards the town. At one point, a woman came up to me and said "Are you Owen Martin?". You could have knocked me over with a feather. She was Susie, a simulator operator from the ATC college in Melbourne. She remembered me from my short stays there in 2009 and 2011. She had seen me at the Gorge yesterday but before she could say anything, I had gone. She was happy to see me again today so she didn't have to die wondering. What a small world we live in. Tonight is dinner out at the lakeside restaurant at the park and probably followed by drinks with an English couple we met this afternoon, also motorhomers. As it turned out, they were having dinner there too, but just finishing as we arrived. Philip and Mena sent drinks to our table, so with the carafe we bought, plus the 2 shots of blueberry liqueur that were complimentary, we didn't lack for drinks. The dinner was pretty good too.

28 May. We caught up with Philip and Mena for a late morning tea at the cafe then headed to Trieste. We were not sure what to find there but thought we should be able to spend 2 nights there. The best laid plans of mice and men though, we could not get to a campsite. Both Snooper and TomTom tried to send us down totally inappropriate roads to get to places we never found. We did get a brilliant view of Trieste from high on the cliff (no photos though) as we were trying to negotiate the cliff face roads. We ended up driving right through the middle of Trieste trying fruitlessly to find a campsite until we gave up, pulled over, and punched in the campsite we had chosen for Venice. Interestingly, in the first hour of driving in Italy, we saw more stupid acts on the road than we have seen in the entire rest of the trip, not counting Dubai, where acts of stupidity are how they drive normally. We saw 2 close call head ons in as many kilometres on the coastal road out of Trieste. Not sure I am going to be a fan of driving in Italy. We got to the campsite in Venice about 1700, checked in and set up camp. You can see Venice across the water from here and there are ferries every hour, taking 20 minutes each way. Suits us just fine, I'd hate to ride the scooter around here. The site here is quite exposed and the wind rips through. There are thunderstorms just starting up now so we are expecting a wet night.

29 May. We made it to the 10am ferry, which is pretty good for us. 20 minutes to Venice and away we go. We started a walking tour of sorts, up to the Customs Building at the point, then back along the other shoreline, with detours over bridges, to a square on St Marco. By then it was time for a late morning tea so we stopped at a cafe (one of the thousands). We had seen quite a few places that sold Murano glass, in fact, we found more places that did, than didn't! Julie window shopped for some of their products on the way. Found our way to St Mark's Square expecting hordes of tourists. We had been warned that it would be shoulder to shoulder but were pleasantly surprised to find it generally uncrowded. Did more sightseeing and found a little cafe in the back blocks for lunch. Caught a public transport ferry to Murano Island, only 5 minutes from the Venetian Islands. Managed to see the last part of a demonstration of creative glass creation. Amazing what they can do in such a short time. Julie shopped a bit more and actually bought a few things this time. They were cheaper on the island than on in Venice anyway. Intended to catch the ferry back to where we got on fo the outbound leg, but found ourselves in the opposite direction. As it turned out, that was better for us anyway because it dropped us off on the side of Venice we wanted to be on to get the ferry back to Fusina, where the campsite is. We had beautiful weather, blue sky and warm. We went over prepared with jackets and umbrellas but true to form, at 1630, thunder, lightning and rain returned, so we didn't feel so silly after all. It was a good day.

30 May. Another 1000 departure to Venice. Our main goals today were a gondola ride and to visit the Doges Palace. The Doge is the traditional ruler of Venice, going back to the times when it was a republic in its own right. We found a free gondola and paid our €80 for a 35 minute ride. Totally over the top price but it seems they have a cartel going, they are all the same price. Anyway, we wont be back to Venice any time soon, so we did what you have to do in Venice. It was quite pleasant, although the gondolier spoke little English and he didn't sing. We did the ride early, around 1100, so it wasn't as crowded as it would have been in the afternoon when you get traffic jams in the canals. At least now we can say we have done it. After the ride, we walked through the back streets to the palace. It was a good self guided tour and near the end, we actually got to walk through the Bridge of Sighs. Yes, it is Sighs, not Sights. The palace was impressive with the usual over the top decor but we have come to expect that. Lunch at a cafe in the back streets, as we have found the value is much better there than the main tourist haunts. Julie managed to buy some more Murano glass jewellery on the way back to the ferry. One thing about Venice is that it is totally about getting money out of the pockets of tourists. Not so much the shops or cafes but if you go to the tourist bureau, all they want to do is sell you extras. You don't even get a free map of Venice. We did get those from the caravan park and the ferry ticket office though. After settling down to afternoon tea back home, I took the scooter in to the nearest Lidl supermarket. This was signposted as 5 minutes away near the caravan park but that is obviously for the Italian drivers. It was 10km away, do the maths! Struck another couple of examples of Italian driving there and back and it seems all the stories are true. Quiet dinner at home tonight. Thunderstorms again!

31 May. Our last full day in Venice. Julie wanted to go back to the islands to do some more shopping so I went along too. I left her in an area she had become familiar with and we planned to meet at a particular piazza at 1315, to get the 1330 ferry back to Fusina. I saw a bit more of Venice while Julie successfully completed her mission. We have been lucky with the numbers of people here. Everything is geared up for high season (a month away) so the lower numbers means less heavy crowding and plenty of places to eat and drink. A lot better than we expected. As on observation, Venice would appear to be the only city we have seen that is 100% reliant on tourists. Despite its rich history, it now exists entirely for tourism.
After lunch back home we did a few things that needed doing like laundry and shopping. I took the scooter in to Lidl again. Yesterday, I noticed three hookers along the road past the port area (I wasn't looking for them, honest) and today, there were 8 or 9. Saturdays must be good for business. In 20 kms, I didn't even witness one act of stupidity by the local drivers which means there may be hope yet. We had dinner at the park restaurant which mainly has pizzas (surprising). They do a good one too at a decent price and the wines were decent too. Tomorrow, Firenze (Florence) 260km away. We have enjoyed our time in Venice, it is a fascinating place, but I would not recommend it in July and August. The crowds would be terrible.

1 June. We took a casual approach to our departure, not hurried this time. I checked out and asked if I could get a discount for being a nice guy. I got 10%, wasn't sure if I should be delighted or offended, I took the delighted. We left for Florence about 1115 and thought we had better get some fuel. The local ones were closed, being a Sunday, so we were committed to the motorway service stations. I'm not sure what taxes Italy has on fuel, but the cheapest on the motorway was €1,64 a litre, when we rarely paid more than about €1.32 in other countries. Some of the stations were charging over €1.80. Just crazy. We settled for the €1.64 and put €100 in the tank, ouch. On top of that, we paid €26 in tolls for the road from Venice to Florence. The big difference I guess, is that the toll was actually worthwhile. Saved us many hours of driving. The view on the way, once we hit the hills, was excellent, and the road was all bridges and tunnels to keep it more or less level. The infrastructure here on the roads, and I mean Europe, is excellent. Western Australia could sure take a leaf out of their book. We approached the caravan park in Florence with a certain intrepidation, with the books telling us about the steep narrow access. We were not disappointed, meeting a Contiki coach coming from the park as we tried to get in. There was a side road that we didn't want, but we took it to let the coach go through. There was a VW Golf behind us with an old guy driving. It took him 10 minutes to turn around and go the other way when I could have done it in the motorhome and trailer in less time. As a VW Golf driver, I was embarrassed. Anyway, our chance came, reversed back, complete with trailer, I love the reversing camera, and continued to the campsite. Didn't stop there, to get to the parking spot from reception was about a 15% gradient up hill. Wow. For the first time I can recall, we used 3 ramps to try to level the van. It was not perfect, but close enough. The good side is, we are about 3km from the centre of Florence and it is scooter friendly. Quiet dinner at home and hit the city tomorrow.

2 June. A public holiday, Republic Day, in Italy. We were told everything would be open and they were. We parked the scooter just over the river from the old city and walked across Ponte Vecchio, the bridge with buildings on it. Now it is mostly jewellery shops and hawkers selling garbage on the street. We intended to head straight to Galleria dell'Accademia, where the statue of David is. We got sidetracked a couple of times, the first with a big public ceremony in Piazza della Signoria for Republic Day, the next was Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral that is bigger than anything we have seen like it, by a long way. Eventually got to the gallery with David and had to queue for about 3 or 4 minutes, we were expecting an hour or so. Went in and again, very few people relatively. We decided it was because it is normally closed on a Monday, but was open today because of the holiday. Our gain. David is an amazing marble statue. The anatomical correctness plus the exact scale and proportions makes this a real masterpiece. If he was the only thing we saw in Florence, we would be happy. Photos and video were not allowed, but knowing how that same rule in Venice didn't seem to matter, and others had cameras out, I snapped a few. Can't see David without getting a photo. Stopped for lunch afterwards, then I started queueing for what I thought was the cathedral, but it was for the Cupola, the dome on the cathedral. It was very long and slow moving and found the other line for the cathedral itself. Swapped lines and only waited a few minutes to get in. The cathedral outside is exquisitely ornate and we expected the interior to be similar, but it turned out to be quite austere, a bit disappointing. Next stop the Galleria degli Uffizi. This is mainly paintings and sculptures, so I let Julie go alone as I have had my fill of masterpieces. That way she can wander at her own pace. I walked around more of the town and took a few more photos. Florence is stunning in almost every direction you look and the photos simply don't do it credit. The public monuments are everywhere are just mind boggling. Fantastic city.
Headed home, but one way streets meant my planned route was not available. After a few minutes I knew we were in the wrong direction but it took a while to get back on track. Finally made it home just before Julie died of dehydration. The caravan park here is unbelievably steep. If we had to walk from the bus stop after walking all around the city it would have hurt. At least we could scooter to the top. Julie just wishes the roads were a little less bumpy. Met a couple from Brisbane at dinner in the restaurant and had a good chat.

3 June. Hit Florence again but took the scenic route recommended by the woman at the park here. This went via Piazzale Michelangelo which is a square, now mostly parking, but also houses the third David. The original, the marble copy in Piazza della Signoria and the bronze copy here are the three. The original is definitely the most impressive. The view from this square was excellent, with great vistas all over Florence. From there, we rode into the city and parked 100m from the Ponte Vecchio. A few more people around than yesterday but still not stiflingly crowded. We stopped for morning tea and seeing they had WiFi, I checked google maps for the nearest barber. It was about 40m away! I went and had a hair cut while Julie did a little more shopping, then we headed to the Giardino di Boboli, the gardens of the palace. The entrance fee included a few small museums so we did those too. The gardens are not spectacular in a garden sense, but it was the multitude of marble statues that made it different. The amount of artwork here is astonishing. As we left the palace it started to rain but luckily, not for long. Got back to the scooter and plugged my headphones in to my phone, set the satnav app to home, and we didn't get lost! Saw the Brisbane couple on the little bridge walking back to the park, tooted and scared hell out of them, another good day. More laundry now and a quiet night in.

4 June. We checked our route to Pisa on Google Maps and planned the first part, then let Tomtom do the rest. We are now trying to avoid the tollways to get better views. We did take part of the tollway, about 5km, and that only cost 70 cents so that was worthwhile. We rejected one of the turns the GPS suggested, but otherwise, we got to the campsite OK. It was a strange entrance to the park, on terrible roads through swampy farmland, but the park itself is pretty good. Settled in, then took the scooter in to Pisa. We found the Leaning Tower without too many problems and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was better than we expected. Everyone was doing the "hold up the tower" bit for photos. We had to have a little chuckle at them because all the people with the cameras were trying to direct the people with the hands up. The easiest way is to get their hands up at the right angle, then move the camera to get the right position. Consequently, we got good photos in no time compared to the others. We walked around a lot of the old town and it was typical of old Italian cities. Pretty amazing really. The ride in and out of Pisa was a pain in the bum, literally. The roads around here are terrible, with great folds in the bitumen, making for a rough ride, even though I was trying hard to avoid them. We are very pleased to have come here. Tomorrow, we start our way up the Italian Riviera.
One thing we did today was take a £25 add on for my "3" UK phone, which gives free roaming in Italy. It means we get unlimited data (up to 50Gb in any 2 months which we will never use) and all the normal calls to the UK which we would normally get on the plan. Working well so far, I gave Mark a call to talk about caravan parks in Venice and Florence too, so we will get our value out of it. Hopefully, by next year, these plans will work over the whole of Europe. When we get to France, we will probably get a sim card from SFR like we did last year.

5 June. Drove the 30km to Viareggio. We didn't know what to find there, but there are so many caravan parks, there has to be something good. We decided that the good is the Tuscan mountains and villages. All of these are out of Julie's range on the scooter. We also thought it may be the beach, so we walked the 800m to have a look. Most of the coast here is private beaches, where you pay a minimum of €7 for a beach chair. There is a "free beach", different to the aussie phrase, this one means no charge. It was dirty sand with debris everywhere. In the private beaches, they rake the sand so all the debris is gone. Amazing difference, but I would still not use the beach at that price when free is next door. I hope Australia never goes down that path. All in all, we didn't see too much here to inspire us, so tomorrow we will head off to Cinque Terre, near La Spezia. This is one of Lauren's favourite places, so we will check it out.

6 June. In the morning, I rode into the town centre of Viareggio to see what it was like. Quite uninteresting really, except for the one way streets which can drive you mad. Managed to find my way back to the caravan park and we packed up and headed towards Deiva Marina. We set the GPS's to the selected park and told them to avoid tollways. After about 20km of 50kph speed zones along the beach front, with multiple red lights (there were very few green ones) and pedestrian crossings every 100m, we decided we would reset the navs to take the tollway. The drive along the beachfront was interesting in the sense that it is everything we dislike about beachfront tourist developments. To see literally hundreds of hotels and private beaches on a beach we wouldn't even go to at home is a little sad. Anyway, we hit the tollway (another €10) which took us a little inland. This was good because the scenery here was much nicer. Closer to the mountains and the many villages built either on the side of, or on top of, the hills. Very pretty. The tollways here are amazing with bridges and tunnels all the way. We don't know how we would have got to our destination on the other roads. We arrived at the park in Deiva Marina and the girl there was very helpful. We had a choice of a few spots and the deciding factors were shade, and better power because we were close to the laundry. The power can be a real issue here, with some topping out at 3 Amps which means you can run the fridge, but not a kettle, which will trip the circuit breaker every time. The one in Viareggio was 3 Amps and was next to useless. The only problem was getting the van in the spot, very tight. The girl at the park was a little concerned that we wouldn't get in there but I showed brazen confidence. As it turned out, it took a little juggling to get in, and if our van was an inch longer, we wouldn't have fitted. All good though and now we have a top spot where we can boil the kettle. We took a ride into the town about 3km away and checked out the beach. The water here is better than the resort area of Viareggio but the sand is still grey/brown. Bought a new hammer for hitting the new spikes in for the awning and wanted to buy a backpack, but all the other shops were closed for lunch until 1600! I rode back in to town after then and managed to find one. We need a backpack anyway, but especially for tomorrow when we visit Cinque Terre, a group of 5 villages built on the coastal cliffs near here. We will catch the train in to the first one but then it is either walk or train between them. As the train is not overly frequent, we will probably be walking more than training, so we need to carry plenty of refreshments. The park here runs a free shuttle to the station so we are booked on the 0945 one. Now we just need to set the alarm!

7 June. We caught the free shuttle bus to the train station at 0945, for the 1001 train. We got there in plenty of time but at the last minute had to run from one platform to another via the subway. Fortunately, there were some Italians who actually understood the PA broadcast otherwise we may have missed it. Went to Monterosso, the first of the Cinque Terre villages. The place is very commercialised, with private beaches along the small bay and only a small free section. We took the coastal walk to Vernazza, the second village of the five. The books said it was an easy, fairly level walk. Whoever wrote that lies through their teeth. It was a hard slog up and down and up again. 100 minutes later we reached Vernazza, but not before having to pay €15 for the two of us to have the pleasure of a torturous walk! They find new ways to prise money out of tourists everywhere you turn. None the less, it was rewarding walk with some spectacular coastal scenery. We treated ourselves to lunch in Vernazza and caught the 1430 train back to Deiva Marina. That train was 15 minutes late. These are the first trains we have used in Italy and they are not as punctual as the rest of Europe on this trip. I tried to call the caravan park to organise a lift back but there was no reply. On the second try, the bus turned up anyway, so all was good. Julie and I were pretty tired and sore from the walking so she took a shower and I headed to the beach for some cold salt water treatment. We were both happy with our own outcomes. Dinner at the campsite restaurant tonight. Tomorrow, we will go back to Cinque Terre and do the other 3 villages.

8 June. We took the same train in today, but took it through to Corniglia, the third town. We were sitting opposite a couple from Perth on this leg. We seem to find Aussies everywhere here. The train ticket we had allowed us 6 hours but all in the same direction, so we used that to do the last three. Corniglia is the smallest of the 5. Having checked the timetable (a fruitless excercise, but more on that later) we decided to stay there for morning tea in a pleasant little cafe overlooking the water. We then trained to Manarola with the intention of having a look and getting the train to Riomaggiore for lunch. We were delayed leaving Corniglia by the wayward service of Trenitalia rail. Stayed in Manarola for lunch at a nice little cafe. There were two other couples there, one from Wagga and the other from South Australia, unreal. Got the train to Riomaggiore, another delay. Bought tickets for the ferry back to Monterosso and had 30 minutes to look around Riomaggiore. All the towns start to look a bit similar after a while. The ferry left on time and we enjoyed a pleasant trip back to Monterosso, stopping at Manarola and Vernazza on the way. Corniglia doesn't warrant its own ferry stop. Timing was perfect for us to get the 1621 train back to Deiva Marina. Sadly, the third delay was the longest, over 50 minutes. In all, the delays today on the trains cost us nearly 2 hours. Unforgivable. Our advice to others is never plan a train tour of Italy, their incompetence is overwhelming, and they don't seem to care either. It made for a frustrating end to what was otherwise a good day. We had thought that we were taking it easy today, but the number of steps we had to climb made us feel we had done a big hike all over again. One of the things we had heard about the Mediterranean was how filthy it was but the sea around here is crystal clear with beautiful colour. Unlike at Viareggio where it was not pleasant, this area it is pristine.

9 June. Left Deiva Marina and decided to take the tollway to Genoa. The back roads here are just too hard, winding up and down and in and out. Add to that some of the villages we thought it would pass through are actually cities, and the €7 we paid in toll was definitely worth it. We selected a campsite just west of Genoa and thought we might scooter in, but the traffic made us review that. We got to the camp about 1230, winding our way up tiny steep winding roads. The road out should be fun! Took the scooter to the train station and left it there. The train was surprisingly ontime but quite slow to cover the 5 stations to get to the city. Genoa is interesting in that it has so much history and old buildings, yet it is a long way from being a tourist town. It is a hot day today, 32C but feels like 40C at home. Stopped for a beer and a white wine for afternoon tea. We checked out a few places and I took Julie down some very narrow lanes to try to get to the shoreline. We accidently (honest!) stumbled across the red light area (well, it IS a port) but the most embarrassing part was Julie noticed it before I did. It was only 1600, so we didn't expect it. Found a shoe shop run by a Chinese guy, selling Chinese shoes, and I found a pair I wanted for €26. My New Balance shoes are starting to fall apart. He gave the hard sell, and I bought 2 pairs, different colours, for €45. They wont go astray. Walked a bit more around the port area and then went to the other city train station. It was actually hard to find because there are no signs for it. We got on the train we wanted, and we don't know why, but it took about 45 minutes to do 4 station over about 8km. It stopped at one station for about 20 minutes with not even a PA call. To say we are totally disgusted with Italian trains is an understatement. Most countries hold up their rail service as a national pride. Here, they don't give a damn. Seems every time we get on one, it is a dismal failure. Gladly, we wont be getting too many more. Scootered back home which was great, because it is all uphill, and almost drained the pantry for dinner tonight.

10 June. Had a quiet morning, we have both been run ragged with the touring and the heat. Julie did some washing and I did some shopping. After lunch, we hit town again. The trains, for once, did not let us down. We were on our way to the funicular railway when we noticed a pretty stunning church (basilica if it makes a difference) and went in and had a look. Awesome, everything was either marble or gilded in gold. One of the better ones we have seen, the marble making the difference, even the pillars were all marble. We then continued to the funicular railway that went up the hill for 6 stops. We expected to have to pay tourist type prices for it, but it is just part of the train system, so we went up and back for free, being on the ticket we had. It was interesting being on a rail like this and being the only tourists on it, all the rest were locals using their local train. A good view from the top, but not a good photographic opportunity with everything being too far away or obscured by trees and buildings. Rode back down and walked to another site where we took a lift to the top of a building which opened out on to a piazza, such is the steepness here. The view from there was much better, showing just how messy the old city is! Down for another alcoholic afternoon tea (we got a free plate of bread and pizza type finger foods, compared to the peanuts yesterday) then took in the cathedral, which was OK, and Banchi Piazza, then trained home. Two days we left the scooter at the station and no problems, pretty good. Bought a coil of Italian sausage to take home to cook for dinner. The previous tenant of our campsite left behind a pot with a basil plant, so we have adopted it and have basil on everything now.

11 June. It is still hot. It feels like Broome in the wet season. We found a campsite that sounded good in Dongo, on Lake Como, far north Italy. 240km but that's not too bad. We took the tollways again as we were travelling through mountainous country and we didn't need the hardship of the B roads. Once we went past Como city, the road did get interesting. Winding and narrow such that passing oncoming traffic became a challenge, but far less frightening than it would have been in the first month of driving the motorhome. Being Italy, might is right and we took our right of way. You can't wait here, no one is going to give way if you don't take it. Arrived at "Magic Lake" campsite about 1500 and had a choice of 2 spots. We took the one a little away from the bar with more shade, but we do have loud neighbours in tents. We are hoping to have a few days of relaxation here, but we will see. We are right on the edge of Lake Como, about 50km from Como itself. Surrounded by snow capped mountains it is an amazing vista. If it is this hot tomorrow, we will take a swim in the lake. Julie made a spaghetti bolognaise for dinner, being as we are in Italy. The sad thing here is that it is very hard to buy good quality fresh food, be it meat, vegetables or fruit. We have made another executive decision to do Switzerland after we finish in Lake Como.

12 June. Took the scooter to Menaggio, 16km away down the edge of the lake. This town had a tourist office so we wanted to pick their brains. Got some information on the hyrdofoil to Como, that will be tomorrow, and also on the cable car up the mountain from Argegno, another 15km away again. As is the want of the Italians, they don't work over lunch and the cable car does not operate between 1200 and 1430. Why they need 2 1/2 hours for lunch beats me. We caught the 1200 car to the top but had to wait until 1430 to come down. We did get a look around the little town of Pigra and had lunch up there, but still had to kill time. The view from there was spectacular, lessened only by the inversion layer at an altitude lower than the top of the mountain. This caused a drop in the visibility (you can see it on the photos) but was excellent anyway. Rode back to Lenno on the way back and stopped to give Julie a short break from the scooter before heading home. We timed ourselves from Menaggio as that is where we will catch the hydrofoil tomorrow. Less than 20 minutes for the 16km is pretty good. After we had afternoon tea at home, I rode off to find a supermarket. This one is by far the best we have seen for a long time so we will go back tomorrow to stock up. I've just about had enough of Italian drivers. On at least 4 occasions (I gave up counting) we had drivers overtake us in 2 way tunnels across double lines with big signs saying "No Overtaking". On all occasions, I was either keeping pace with the traffic or doing 10kph over the limit, but they HAD to pass the scooter. We get the same in the motorhome, they HAVE to pass us at all costs, even though there is no benefit to it, they are the car in front 20 km later, yet they risk head on collisions to do it. It is an insanity that seems to inflict the entire nation and I'll be glad to see the end of them.

13 June. We rode into Menaggio because the return ferry doesn't come to Dongo. This ride is one of the nicer we have done with smooth roads and lots of cool tunnels. It is another 33C day today so the tunnels are welcome. We caught the fast ferry to Como to check out the city. This was a high speed (albeit an old one) catamaran, unlike the one on the return trip which was a hyrofoil. It was a good run with about 5 stops on the way, but the 50km only took about 55 minutes, so much better than a slow ferry. The scenery along the lake is very good, ranging from snow capped mountains to exquisite buildings with immaculate gardens. We had just under 2 hours to see the old city, otherwise it was going to be 5 hours, which we didn't want. We managed to see all the recommended sights and have a quick lunch, and still be back at the wharf 15 minutes before departure. Como, old city, is picturesque with some old buildings dating back to circa 1000 and the 1100's. Like many old cities, it really doesn't take very long to see the place. The cathedral was amazing inside as we have come to expect in Italy. Not quite enough to convert me, but pretty impressive. Getting back to the wharf, we had to buy our ticket at the window, they don't sell return tickets (why not? Damned if I know). There was a not too long queue and we had 15 minutes to depart. They only had one window open (2 closed) and by the time I got our tickets, it was only because the ferry was 5 minutes late, that we got on it. As an aside, we are staying in Dongo, which we found out today, is where Mussolini was captured in 1945, trying to escape to the Swiss border, not very far from here. Sadly, since his capture, the trains have never run on time! We went shopping at the best supermarket we have seen since the UK and restocked. We found out how much we could fit on the scooter with a backpack, bag and the underseat storage. It's quite a lot.

14 June. We are having an easy relaxing day today to try to recharge the batteries. It is cooler now with a moderate breeze keeping the temperature down. The last couple of weeks have been quite hot, especially with the only cooling we have is a desktop fan. We took a scooter ride up the hill (more mountain really) behind where we are staying. The road zig zagged up probably 2500 feet from the lake level. Some of the views were quite beautiful though there was often powerlines ruining photos. On most of this trip, perfect photos have been marred by either powerlines, cranes or scaffolding. Can't be helped I guess. We then did a bit more shopping so we are well stocked now. In the afternoon I took a solo ride north where we are heading tomorrow. There are a few more narrow roads to come, but hopefully less than the drive between Como and Dongo. We have done our homework on Switzerland, as far as visa requirements and vignettes go. Our scooter trailer is exempt from an additional cost (unlike larger trailers or caravans) so that is a bonus. It is 83km to St Moritz, our next target. It has now started raining from one of the many thunderstorms we have had here. Heavy drops. I would have sponged the van down, but the worst parts are under the tree and not wet. The poor van is getting quite dirty.

15 June. We left Dongo with a certain amount of intrepidation as to what we would find on the road to St Moritz. Snooper satnav wanted to take us 220km via other roads, Tomtom wanted us to take the 83km. We checked with reception at Magic Lake and they said it would be OK, just winding. They were dead right, it was. We climbed into the mountains on a switchback road unlike anything I have seen before. The van is turbocharged so at least it still has power at altitude but turns so tight that it was back to first gear. Crossing the border into Switzerland is like going to a whole new place. Roads were excellent, everything clean and pristine and the scenery, wow. We knew in the first 5 minutes we made a good decision to come here, just beautiful. Parked up at the caravan park just out of St Moritz, €35 for one night makes it top shelf price wise. Good facilities even if it is a very open park. We took the scooter in to town, taking our chances with the weather. Parked in the middle of town but most things were closed being a Sunday. While we were walking around, it started to hail, only small stones, but a lot of them. The scooter, not being turbocharged suffered from the altitude, still worked fine but lacked its normal power. I withdrew 400CHF (Swiss Francs) from a teller machine, something more to think of. One CHF is A$1.21. Had afternoon tea at one of the hotels and a coffee, small red wine and cake was 18.50CHF. Got a break in the weather and rode home. Checked out what was available at the kiosk here for dinner, but they don't really cater for anything other than snacks and close at 1900 anyway. The girl told me there was a restaurant 300m up the hill so I checked it out. At 35CHF for a main course, which we would have paid 15 for in Italy, we will have dinner in the van. There is also an international shooting competition going on at that same site so we have to put up with shotgun fire all afternoon echoing around the mountains. The rain now seems to have set in. We saw enough of St Moritz to happily move on tomorrow, probably to Liechtenstein, then back in to Switzerland. We have come from 30C and more on Lake Como, to 12C in the alps. A big difference for 80km.

16 June. Woke to a glorious sunny day. I checked the altimeter on my phone (works off the GPS) and we were camped at just over 6000 ft. Julie opened a new bottle of conditioner in the shower and half of it burst out. The problems of low air pressure. We headed up Julierpass through the alps to get over towards Zurich. We had some severe climbing to do to get over it and quite a few more switchbacks. Being Switzerland, there was even enough room on some hairpin bends to pass a tourist coach on the corner, pretty impressive. At the first opportunity, we bought a vignette that allows us to drive on the motorways. Just as well, because it was the last opportunity before we hit the motorway to Zurich. We stopped at a service area on the motorway for a break and some lunch. They had a Burger King there and we chose to have a burger each and some fries between us. 25CHF, or about $30, just for that. Would have been about $13 at home. We have been warned that Switzerland is expensive but we didn't expect it to be this bad. The caravan parks are about 30% more than most places too, along with more for fuel, it may be an expensive diversion here. That aside, it will be our last time here, so we might as well just go for it. The scenery on the way to Zurich (220km drive) was remarkable. The colour of the water off the snow and glaciers is a fantastic green, and that translates to green lakes, awesome. The caravan park we are at now just out of Zurich is 50CHF a night, about A$60, making it the dearest since Versailles. We are on a bus route right at the gate, so getting in and out tomorrow should be fine. We are still deciding where to go from here, but it looks like being Luzern, Interlaken, Bern, Basel, then out of Switzerland. Here's hoping the weather holds for a week or so.

17 June. We bought a couple of 24 hour transport tickets and caught the bus into the city. We saw a pharmacy to get some anti-inflammatories and right next door was a Victorinox shop. We bought some more things that Julie wanted and I got myself an original Swiss Army Knife, which is just a knife. It is a good sharp blade and folding and locking, so good all purpose. I may never use it but I have a souvenir of Switzerland. We walked all around the old city, including most of the alleys, and the nightlife area which was dead at midday. It is a very clean city and everything looks well maintained. The Limmat river running through the middle is crystal clear with the beautiful alpine green water. We went as far as the train station and stopped for morning tea. We then walked down the other side of the river to see more. Seeing our tickets covered all transport, we rode a tram back to the station and Julie bought some lunch from the Coop store. We grabbed a number 11 tram and decided to see where it went. It went out into the suburbs and residential Zurich. Then we swapped to the train and back to Zurich central. Train rides are always interesting, as long as they are above ground. You always see the shabbier side of life along the tracks. We were amazed at all the grafitti because there was none at all in the city. Seemed out of place with Switzerland. Did more walking and tramming and ended up at the ferry wharf. The next ferry was 45 minutes away so we took the bus which was leaving in 2 minutes.

18 June. Left Zurich and aimed for Luzern (Lucerne) a massive 56km away, by motorway. We made it there by 1045! The campsite we chose was one of the more expensive in Luzern, but at this stage, we have decided to just grin and bear it. That was a good decision as it turned out. It is a great location, walking distance to the city on the edge of the lake with a beautiful walkway along the edge of the lake between the camp and the city. The site itself is very good too. We should be away from the trains that roared through Zurich too. We walked into town this afternoon and first visited the tourist bureau to get some information on which mountain to visit tomorrow. We are still undecided and talking to a recent local over dinner, we are really none the wiser. We did our own walking tour of the old part of Luzern. We were getting to the stage of being "citied out" where we have had enough of cities and just want the more natural spectacles, which Switzerland abounds in. Luzern changed that though. A beautiful city that, among other things, doesn't charge you €2 to have a wee, whch Zurich did! The old water tower in the river with connecting bridges and its flower boxes along the entire length, the most photographed monument in Switzerland (according to the local tourist guide), and the old city with its wonderful architecture and character, make for a fantastic city. Add to this a pristine green river running from the lake through the middle of the city, and you have an absolute delight of a place. You can't help but feel good in Luzern. We also climbed one of the 9 towers and walked a way along the old city walls, part of the 9 tower complex. We walked home again and managed to arrive before we fell over with exhaustion. Dinner at the cafe at the park was ordinary but saved Julie from cooking tonight. Tomorrow, we will check out which peaks we can see to decide which mountain we visit. Titlis is over 3000m and Pilatus is just over 2000m. Cloud is the biggest issue.

19 June. After much deciding, we checked out Mt Pilatus (we can see it from the van) and there was only a little cloud around it, so we elected to go there. Rode the scooter in to the city train station and parked it there, legally and free, I love the scooter. Went to the Tourist Bureau and bought the combination tickets for a mere 76GHF each (which turned out to be great value) and headed for platform 14 at the train station. We were waiting for the train when a couple came up to us and asked if we spoke English. Turned out they were from Sydney and on a rail holiday and had pre-bought the tickets but were a little lost (though not too lost, they were on the right platform!). We confirmed their place and rode with them to Alpnachstad station where we transferred to the cog train to go to the summit. The cog train is the steepest of its kind in the world, with the steepest parts being 48% gradient. My understanding of that is about 44° from the horizontal but I am prepared to be corrected. What I do know, it was a very steep climb. The views from the train were exceptional, only to be overshadowed by the views from the top. At the summit, we walked up to one of the peaks (there are 2 about the same height). The altitude here is a tad over 7000' and it was pretty cool, temperature wise. We were reasonably free of cloud cover, though there was some below us. The view around us was so panoramic but as is the want of mountainous regions, there was a blue haze in the distance. To the naked eye it was incredible, but to the camera lens, it was washed out. We watched two tandem paragliders launch from the slope below the summit and casually glide down the mountain. I could do that, can't bring myself to jump out of an aircraft, and one day, I will!
Had morning tea there, walked around a few more viewing points, then headed down on the cable car to a point about 25% of the way down the slope. There was a change of cable cars there, but we took a break because I wanted to ride the toboggan run (stainless steel track type). It was 8CHF for one run, which was pretty cheap by Swiss standards. The track is 1350m long. As I have been caught before, I should have let the girl in front of me get farther ahead before I launched, so I caught her up in no time. Almost stopped twice to get some spacing but still pushed her into the finish. It was a great ride anyway and I was tempted to have another go, but that would have chewed up another hour. The next cable car was a four seater, unlike the 40 person standing one we rode for the first leg. Julie and I got one to ourselves, as it was self serve, we were always going to get our own. It seemed to go on forever, but that was fine, the vista was just brilliant. At the bottom, we walked to the number 1 bus and took that to Luzern Central Station, where the scooter was parked. All the transport was included in the ticket price, and we were thrilled with the day, so it had to be good value. A very late lunch at the station then we rode around in circles to find the lion carving. I thought it was a sleeping lion, but it was a dead one. You could tell from the stake in its body! We ended up following the line of Japanese tourists, we knew they were going to the same spot. Works every time. Back home again to wind down, it has been an outstanding but full on day. Tomorrow, Interlaken.

20 June. Left Luzern for Interlaken, 70km away. It was another stunning drive. Swiss scenery is just so magnificent. Everywhere you look is mountains, lakes and forests. We arrived at the campsite at 1201, they closed at 1200 until 1500, but at least we could set up camp and check in later. We walked in to the town, just across the river from the camp. Interlaken is tourism and tourists. I would hate to think how much a room in some of the hotels cost, but they sure look impressive. After yesterday, I decided I was going to do a tandem paraglide. Julie encouraged me, with my birthday coming up in a few weeks, and if I am going to do it at all, Interlaken has to be the best place. We checked out the prices, 170CHF (about A$200) for one ride, which takes about 10 to 20 minutes. What the heck, I decided to do it, then Julie got in on it too, and thought she had better do one, or regret it later. So, we bought tickets for 2 jumps to be picked up at 1630. When 1700 came around, the girl at reception rang them to find out what was happening. They said the wind was too strong and it wasn't safe to fly. I have no problem with that, but they had my mobile number and no call. They said they only made the decision a couple of minutes ago, which is a bit late 30 minutes after pick up. I think I will be after a discount on the video afterwards now, despite them saying it is not their fault. A bit of a let down when we had wound ourselves up for it. Anway, rescheduled for tomorrow at 1515. Fingers crossed.
Interlaken is a stunning place, like most of this country. Here's hoping it looks good from the sky!

21 June. In the northern hemisphere, the longest day, and that is very apt for us. We took the funicular railway to Harden Kulm. It was a 3 minute walk from our campsite to the lower station, and it climbed about 800m to the top of the mountain behind us. There was a viewing platform built out over the cliff to afford spectacular panoramic views. Oddly, there was a large painted cow statue on the platform as well. The purpose was not clear to me unless they really wanted to get this damn cow in everyone's photos and reduce the access to the platform. Strange. After an hour there, we took the train back to the bottom, walked into town to do a small shop and then settled down to wait to get picked up for the paraglider flight. The minibus came 10 minutes early, always a good thing, and we got taken to the company kiosk near the landing site to wait our turn to go up the hill. It was a 15 minute drive to a sloping field about 800m above our landing point. On the trip up, one of the pilots heard me talk and said "Ahhh, Aussies on board" Hayden is an Aussie from Canberra, so when we had the option to choose our pilots, I picked him. The flights are advertised as 10 to 20 minutes so I challenged him to get as close to the 20 as he could. I think he overdid it, I'm sure it was more like 25. To get airborne, we simply had to run about 15m down the hill! Julie went off first and we were 2 behind her, but landed about 6 behind. We were chasing thermals around Harden Kulm and managed to out climb all the others in the group. To say it was both a stunning setting and a great flight is to understate it too much. It was an experience of a lifetime. If you wanted to do this flight, Interlaken would be a hard place to beat to do it in, anywhere. We all managed to land without drama, even though there was significant mechanical turbulence off the buildings around the park we landed in. We both got our thunbdrives with the photos and videos that the pilots took with a GoPro on a stick. They were very good too, a great memory saved. I asked Hayden where was a good place for a fondue, as Julie desperately wanted one before we left Switzerland and he put us on to a hotel restaurant off the beaten track. We went there for dinner after our stomachs settled from the flight. The dinner was good, but we weren't sure of quite what do with all the ingredients and the waitresses were too busy and their English not good enough to help us. We blundered through anyway and thoroughly enjoyed it. We got a little ripped off because we paid in Euros, not Swiss Francs, and then they gave us the change in Francs, matching one franc per euro. Got us coming and going, adding 10% to the bill, but after a while, I got over it.
Switzerland has cost us an arm and a leg. We spent about 3 times as much in the time here that we would have anywhere else so far. That said, neither of us regret coming here for a moment. Almost the whole country is something out of a fantasy book. Everywhere you look is a postcard scene. It is the most beautiful place we could ever hope to visit. Add to that, it is civilised, if not a little parochial (they even have their own power plug different to the rest of the planet), clean, well built and well maintained. Except for the cost, it is the perfect place. We leave tomorrow!

22 June. I want to see the Kembs Barrage on the Rhine, just north of Basel, where Dad won one of his DFC's (Distinguished Flying Crosses) so we chose a campsite that we found online at a place called Huningue, in France, just over the border from Swtzerland. It was to be a short ride to the Barrage from there. After bypassing Bern and Basel to get there (both are big cities which we don't need), we arrived at the campsite during the lunch break, and had to wait nearly an hour for reception to open. It didn't take us long to agree that we didn't like the look or feel of the place, so we left and drove to Kembs. The barrage was impossible to miss. It is on the Rhine with one side a huge lock for ships and the other side a hydro power station. We drove close to it and grabbed some photos. If nothing else, it was interesting to see the terrain around the barrage, knowing that Dad and his crew had to fly around for a second attemp at dropping the 12,000lb tallboy bomb. They would have been so openly exposed the whole time to the defences of the barrage, which were very significant. It was an interesting though brief visit.
We then drove to Mulhouse and are now stopped at Camping de L'ill, a very pleasant site. We are a bit behind in the laundry stakes, so that is beng done now. We have 15 days before we cross the channel and can be in Dover in a day if needed to. After the last frantic 10 weeks, we might just amble, and if we find a nice place, we might stay 3 or 4 nights and do almost nothing. We appreciate the cost of France. The campsite is €15 all inclusive for the night, instead of the 40 to 50 of the last week, and baguettes and croissants are €1 each, not the €4 in Switzerland. We may even be able to eat out again!

23 June. We stayed 2 nights at Mulhouse, because we could. Today we visited the city with a few tasks to do. We managed to complete all those, get money out (the wallet was getting very thin) get a data SIM from SFR for our MiFi unit, buy a couple of beach towels and do a little shopping. Total success there. We met another aussie couple from Sydney at morning tea in the town square and got some good tips seeing they were coming from where we are going. After going home for lunch, I took off to see the Cite de l'Automobile (car museum). It is slated as "The largest car collection in the world" to quote the brochure. Either way, it was a stunning array of vehicles and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is the largest collection of Bugatti cars, including the latest Veyron 16:4 sports car, ever seen in one place. There was so much to see it even took me 2 hours to walk around it. Normally I am much quicker. Needless to say, I was very impressed. The collection of pre 1920 cars was amazing, but it also went right up to present times.
Other that that, it has been a good relaxing day. A day off but without being stuck in the van because of rain. We need the break every now and then. Tomorrow we head to Colmar.

24 June. Julie chose a campsite in the village of Eguisheim so we drove there. It has access to the local historic (medieval even) village and about a 10 minute scooter ride to Colmar. The GPS's tried to send us right through the middle of the village but if the semi trailer in front of us decided against it, so would we. We skirted the town to the camp and got ourselves set up. We walked into the village, about 400m away, and checked out the tourist office. They were very helpful with a few things, including where to get keys cut, as I somehow lost my van key, that is, the one that fits everything on the caravan side. That was 5km away, so that came later. The village is a classic. Built in concentric circles, mostly Tudor style of building with lanes about 2m wide at best, and you get a stunning place. All, and I mean all, not just most, were very well looked after and maintained and everything kept the style. Except that walking on cobblestones gives me sore feet, it was a delight to walk around. We got home again before 1600, so after a late afternoon tea, I rode to the shopping area where I could get keys cut. Managed to get it done for a mere €22 and got home to find that they both worked, always a bonus. We then walked to the stork park (this place is famous for its storks, they migrate in and out of here) and then into town for dinner. Had some local specialties for a decent price. This campsite has quite a few storks that just wander around showing little or no fear of people. Amazing.

25 June. The storks lost their appeal when I had to clean the droppings off the scooter before we could go out. We rode in to Colmar to see the old city and were not disappointed. It is similar to Eguisheim, but on a much larger scale. The buildings are of a similar style but larger. It is so good to see these old towns being kept in the manner of many hundreds of years ago and still used on a daily basis. Like many older towns, there are many squares, all full of life. they have an area called Petite Venice, but with only one small canal, I think thats a bit of an overstatement. It was pretty, but no Venice. We had trouble finding the scooter again, but finally located it. There was a couple sitting near the bike who had seen the Aussie flag on it and when we arrived, they introduced themselves as being from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. We can't seem to get away from Aussies on this trip. As for the area we are in, we had no idea of its existence, let alone how stunning it is. I guess that's a good thing because we had no expectations.
After a few hours, he headed back home, doing some shopping on the way, including local wines and sausages. After a late lunch, we took the scooter up in to the mountains around us to do the 5 chateau drive. Three of those are above the town we are in and though ruins, they were still interesting. French signposting has not improved since last year, they are either nonexistent, or ambiguous, but we eventually found where we going. Back home again for our Alsace sausage dinner and then a wine tasting evening at the caravan park, hosted by one of the local dealers. Sadly for me, this region only really does white wines and pinot noir, but the pinot was not on the list. They were reasonable wines but some a lot too sweet for my liking. We have decided to stay another day as it is a good spot and there are a few more things to do yet. 12 days before Calais so we are not in a hurry.

26 June. A layback day. We rode in to e'Leclerc supermarket to get some fresh milk, something that is not easy to get in France. UHT is considered "normal" here. Did some other shopping as well and headed home. Walked in to Eguisheim for lunch and met another couple from Aus, this time from Mittagong NSW. Chatted with them for a while and then wandered the town a bit longer. After that, Julie did some washing and I took the scooter in to be filled up and bought a couple of tarps at Mr Bricolage, like Bunnings. We need these to cover the scooter and trailer when we put them in storage. The last one we had was all but destroyed when we picked it up in April. A quiet night in tonight and to Strasbourg tomorrow.

27 June. We changed plans again and went to Ribeauville, less than half way to Strasbourg. On the way, we stopped at a carwash that had facilities to do motorhomes. Just your normal hand held pressure cleaners, but the poor van needed it desperately. Hit the scooter with it too, and they both look so much happier! Ribeauville is another delightful village in the Alsace region. We are staying at the council campsite and it is very good so we will stay 2 nights and do some more exploring tomorrow. This afternoon, we did the old village and some wine tasting. They had an interesting Pinot Noir, but still not really to my liking. Julie liked the reisling so we bought a couple of those. Julie also bought a Kugelhopf cake, a specialty of the region, to have for afternoon tea. It is more a bun than a cake, and half croissant. Quite nice really. We have another couple of local villages on our radar for tomorrow.

28 June. The rain hasn't stopped so our day is on hold. We walked to the supermarket and did a little shopping, umbrellas up most of the way. Late afternoon it cleared so we walked in to town and did some wine tasting. If only they had real reds, not the insipid Pinot Noirs, though Julie was in her element with the whites! That was all we did today. Hoping for better weather tomorrow.

29 June. Started off wet again, but showed some breaks in the weather. We rode in to Riquewihr about 5km away, reputed to be one of the prettier villages in the region. We would have to say, the reputation is probably well deserved. It is Sunday today and they had a Concors d'Elegance with vintage cars plus they were hosting a male choir competition, so there was no shortage of entertainment. The village dates back to the 12th century and quite a lot of the original building, mainly walls and towers, are still there. So good the way they maintain the really old parts of the villages and cities, certainly in this area. We dropped in on Huniwihr on the way home, but that was dead, I think everyone had gone to Riquewihr for the day. That, plus they had most of the roads dug up, meant we didn't stay. After lunch, we took on the hill climb to the castles overlooking Ribeauville, on foot. About a 1200ft change in elevation, so it was no walk in the park. We only went to one, the other was close enough to see from the first and the second was closed off for safety. Spectacular view over the Rhine valley all the way across to the Black Forest in Germany. After we got back and had our afternoon tea, I took the scooter for a ride into the forest area. Very pretty there too. We leave here tomorrow.

30 June. We decided to head straight to Luxembourg City. The drive was very picturesque, heading west from Ribeauville through the pass. The road was fun for me but stressful for Julie. Many tight turns and up and down mountains. In all, no real problem. We hit roadworks in one town which added about 30 minutes to the journey but not long after we hit the motorway and made good time. Found the campsite with no real problems and set ourselves up. We are about 6km out of the centre of the city and on a bus route. Looks like the scooter will get a rest.

1 July. Into the home run now. We took the bus in to the city and started the great walk of Luxembourg. Took in the old city, then the walk around the old battlements and the Wenceslas Wall. Julie then did the tunnel walk within the battlements while I decided to put my feet up. This city is interesting in that it is built on either side of a massive ravine. This means a lot of old viaducts around the city, and if you do things on foot, lots of climbing and descending. There is much that is old here, but it is interspersed with the new so not qute as impressive as those that have maintained the consistent appearance. Having said that, it is a pleasant and picturesque place. We enjoyed our discovery of Luxembourg City. Home on the bus, a little rest and then some drinks with the neighbours from England, Barry and Sue. Late dinner because we (I) talked too much.

2 July. We packed up so we could leave before the checkout time of 1030. Our destination is Charleville-Mezieres, 152km away in France but we would also transit Belgium to get there. Another 3 countries in one day! We filled the van with Diesel at €1.20 in Luxembourg, the cheapest you can get it in Europe. We have seen it as high as €1.86 in Italy, so it was a worthwhile fill up. We struck roadworks in Belgium that had a 5km traffic jam but it didn't take too long to get through it. We arrived in Charleville-Mezieres at 1230 and were pleased to see that the reception was not closed for a 2 or 3 hour lunch break as is common here. We walked into the town, only about 500m away across a pedestrian bridge over the river. The town square was pretty impressive, huge and all the buildings of a similar era and style, quite imposing. We walked around the old city for a while and walked home, both still a bit sore and tired from yesterday. It didn't help that last night neither of us slept well, one of the problems being the church next door to the camp rang its bells every 15 minutes, all night. Dinner in the town square tonight. Dinner was very good in a delightful setting. I had the confit duck while Julie had a seafood plate of prawns, scollops and salmon. This place is another unknown destination that has turned at to be quite a little gem. Tomorrow is destination Ypres, back in Belgium, as we count down to the channel crossing.

3 July. Another change of plan. We decided on Arras instead of Ypres, though we will still go to Ypres later. We took the non toll roads to a campsite 12km out of Arras, only to discover that we stayed here a night on the way to Calais last year. We must have come in a different way, because it was a lot easier this time than I remember last year. The site is quite good, though it is the first time this trip that we have had unisex ablutions. At least they have a good restaurant attached to the site, so we had dinner there tonight. Tomorrow we will scooter in to Arras to do some exploring and stay here again tomorrow night.

4 July. We rode in to Arras and managed to go straight to the Wellington Quarries, part of a tunnel complex built in WW1. When we went to go in, we found they were booked out and the next tour was at 1400. It was now 1030. That was OK, we bought our tickets for the 1400 tour and went in to the centre of town to have a look around. We started off in Place des Heros, the main city square and also the home of the town hall. The lower level is tourist information and a display of WW2 history. This city is very big on its wartime history, and with good reason. In WW1 it was one of 2 French towns to be actually ON the western front. Vimy was the other one. In WW2, the proximity to Britain brought it in to the spotlight again. Everywhere you look here, there are memorials and other reminders of both wars. At this stage, I should say we are impressed that these places retain the history and I suspect that they will always know the folly of war. The impact of both wars was so great, it is no wonder that the feelings remain. We wanted to visit the belfry at the town hall and Julie read in her pamphlets that we could have bought a combined ticket, belfry and quarries for an extra €1 each over the quarries alone. I took it up with the tourist office (they handle both sites) and we managed to get the belfry tickets for the €1 rather €2.90 each. Every bit counts. Great view from the top, top being just below the clock (see photo). We then had lunch in the square and rode out to the quarries. New Zealand miners and engineers are the feted group here. They joined up 1800's chalk quarries with 19km of tunnels that brought them out inside the German lines on the other side of no mans land. It took nearly a year to build and it would have worked a treat if it had not been for incompetent command, but that's an ongoing saga with WW1 anyway. It was interesting, but we only saw about 200m of tunnel systems in an area that housed 24,000 troops prior to the Battle of Arras. It would have been nice to see more. Regardless, it was good to see and it filled another hole in our knowledge of the history of this area. Rode back to the camp in a 20kt crosswind which Julie could have done without, but we got back OK. Another dinner at the campsite restaurant and tomorrow, we aim for Ypres.

5 July. We drove to Ypres, only to find that the campsite was booked out and the other one was too far out of town with the wet weather. No problem, we continued on to Eperleques, where we planned to stay the night before catching the ferry. Now we will stay there two nights instead of one. We stayed here for a night on the way back to London last year, and, surprise surprise, we even got the same pitch, 15, which happens to be one of the best on the site. Guess that was as good a birthday present as any. I took the scooter in to the local supermarket for a bit of shopping and then a quiet night in. Julie is cooking up the last of the meat in the freezer for dinner.

6 July. Our last full day in Europe and it's raining non stop. Just as well we had nothing planned. We did want to do a small shop and checked the local supermarket online to see their opening hours, knowing they were open on Sundays. At 1215 we discovered they closed at 1230 so I jumped on the scooter and rode the 2 minutes there. I had to sneak in as the doors were closed to inbound traffic, slid under the barrier to get in to the shop itself and had time to find half a dozen eggs before I got shunted out. Just as well we didn't need anything urgently. Julie did a load of washing this afternoon as we were not going to make it to London on the clean stuff we had. Dinner tonight will be at the campsite restaurant. They have lamb on the menu, something we have not had since we left home. Tomorrow, Calais then back in England.

7 July. Left Eperleques with plenty of time to spare. Last time we went through Calais, there were all sorts of delays and today was no exception, but the delays were not as bad. Again, getting on board was a simple affair and the weather was kind, so the trip across the channel was very smooth. Unfortunately, Julie's jaw is getting worse, so she is not enjoying much of anything at the moment. Got off at Dover and stopped at Folkestone to get some last minute shopping done then headed to Theobald's Park, just north of London. We needed fuel but once we decided we needed it, there was no service centre for another 100km. We should have filled up in France where it is cheaper, but we paid the £100 to fill the tank and that was better than running out of fuel on the M25. Made it to Theobald's and set up camp. Tomorrow is "clean up the inside of the van" day.

8 July. A mild day with only a few showers so we managed to do most of the cleaning up. Took the scooter in to fill the tank, I like to have it full when we leave it a long time. The rest of the washing tomorrow before we leave Theobald's.

9 July. Did the final washing of the bedding and dumped all the water from the van and cleaned out the toilet and waste water. Put the scooter on the trailer and disconnected the battery. We drove to Peter and Margaret's place, picked up the key from the neighbour and dropped off our suitcases and other stuff, then headed to Cranhams. We took the trailer and scooter up the back where it lives and put the scooter cover plus 2 tarps over it. The wind came up as we started and made that job difficult but we managed. Took the van back to servicing and organised for them to wash and wax it and put 85psi in the tyres. They are not even charging for that which is pretty good, but we are good customers. Got one of the guys to drop us off at the station and trained back to Buckhurst Hill. Next 2 nights with Peter and Margaret.

10 July. It rained all day. The 4 of us went to the "Secret Nuclear Bunker" (so secret that we had to follow the signs there) which was a cold war era bunker designed to house the necessary government of the day. It was disguised as a farm house, but through that, we went down into the bunker below. All incredible stuff. Very interesting and, in hindsight, almost comical, but they had to have contingency plans. Lunch at the Stag pub and then back to Buckhurst Hill. Dinner at the Indian restaurant there.

11 July. After lunch, P&M dropped us at the station and we took the train to Marble Arch. A nice guy helped us with the suitcases up the stairs there, much appreciated. Checked in at the Victory Services Club and settled in. I walked down to Regent St to change our Hungarian Forents and managed to get a fair exchange rate, as distinct from some of the rip off rates at others I checked on the way. Chris and Cat are coming here tonight for a pre dinner drink, then off to the back street eating area we discovered on a previous stay. That dinner was very good too. We had a couple of drinks at the VSC then off to an Italian restaurant. A good night had by all and after midnight wen we got home.

12 July. Our first breakfast at the club and it went down well. Love the hotel type buffet breakfast. I then went to Cranhams to check the van and do the final touches. They had done a great job of cleaning and waxing the van, so we will go that way in future. While I was there, Julie went to Leicester Square to check out the deals on West End shows, but nothing going. Maybe next year. We had a casual afternon and then went to Piccadilly for dinner. Walked home to take in the ambience of a London evening.

13 July. Took the train to Kew Gardens. We were very impressed with the park and displays and we also saw Kew Palace, the country home of George 3rd. This is the first palace we have seen that is not excessively garish, in fact, the other way, it was so plain as to not be recognisable as a palace. A nice change too might add. We took dinner at a Spanish Tapas restaurant, in preparation for next year. Decent meal, and now watching the World Cup final, though not sure why.

14 July. Took the train to Euston station and then caught the national rail train to Watford Junction. From there, we took the connecting bus to "The Making of Harry Potter" tour at Warner Brothers studio. It was all very interesting and very well presented. Some of the detail of the sets and props was amazing, not to mention the visual effects. We spent a couple of hours going through it then bused and trained back home. Dinner tonight at the local pub (a Wetherspoon Pub) and an early night tonight as we have to be up at 0530 to get our flight home. Our stay at the Victory Services Club has been outstanding and it will be our London base in future.

15 July. We took a private taxi to Gatwick for £49 which is very cheap considering what a normal taxi would cost. We allowed plenty of time which was a good idea seeing it took well over an hour to get there. We had breakfast in the terminal after we checked our bags in. At the gate, our tickets got torn in half, which I took as a good sign, because they were replaced with business class boarding passes. While I have done quite a bit of business and a few first class flights, this was Julie's first time. It was very compfortable and the food and service was good, even if I did knock over my first glass of red wine. That's probably better than knocking over the last one though. It does make for a far more pleasant flight than economy, but not worth the extra. Julie had an email the day before from Emirates offering to upgrade that leg for £436 each, so we did well not to take them up on it, not that we would have anyway. Would be nice for that to happen again tomorrow, but I can't see it happening. At the hotel, we got the promised upgrade to a business suite after a sleepless night last visit in April. That was very nice too. All in all, today has been a business day.

16 July. It is Ramadan in Dubai now which is a bit of a pain. Hard to get food and drinks and you can't even drink or eat outdoors! I took a cab to the Gold Souk, a traditional gold market in old Dubai. Bought a new watch and a couple of polo shirts for golf. We are killing time until dinner now, might have to have a swim in the only pool left open at the hotel, again because of Ramadan.

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