Driving The Long Way Home – Journeys End

The idea of travelling for an extended period has been a dream of ours for many years and and we feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to make that dream a reality. The trip far exceeded our expectations and it has been incredibly worthwhile. There have been so many memories it is hard to appreciate them all just yet and it will take some time for it all to sink in.

Enjoying the views together way back in April
Enjoying the views together way back in April

The experience has been beneficial to us all on so many levels, not least a broader education for Lewis. He kept up with his Maths and English whilst we drove from one place to the next but he experienced so much more. He didn’t just learn about cultures, languages, history, and geography but he actually experienced them, tried speaking the different languages, saw the physical geography, and visited the places he learnt about in history.

The Italian Lakes back in April
The Italian Lakes back in April

We have listed a few of our highlights below but the one that we enjoyed the most was just being able to spend so much time together as a family creating such wonderful memories:

  • Sailing into Dubrovnik and instantly falling in love with the country
  • Swimming in the aqua coloured sea along the Croatian coast; we have never seen water so clear
  • Feeling like we were standing on top of the world in the mountains around Zermatt and looking over the highest peaks of Western Europe
  • Relaxing in the beautiful city of Krakow
  • Watching the thrilling Red Bull Air Race in Rovinj against a beautiful backdrop
  • Rome for all its history, especially the Colosseum and the Roman Forum
  • Parking up in Slovenia in the shadow of Predjama Castle with no one else around
  • Skocjan Caves in Slovenia for the sheer scale of the caverns underground
  • Our 3 walks in the Slovakian mountains; our favourite was Vratna Valley
  • Exploring the Kamenjak National Park on mountain bikes and discovering the Safari Bar
  • Stumbling across the Cave Bar in Dubrovnik
  • Relaxing in Lake Lugano (Italian Lakes) after a long drive
  • Catching up with various friends along the way; it was great to see you all

The Best of Awards go to…..

  • Friendliest people – the Dutch (followed by the Germans)
  • Craziest Drivers – the Italians (by far)
  • Favourite Country – joint winners here Croatia and Slovenia
  • Favourite City – Krakow in Poland
  • Favourite Cafe – Camelot in Krakow
  • Best Ice cream – B052 in Rovinj
Croatia was simply amazing
Croatia was simply amazing

Driving The Long Way Home – Vital Statistics

  • Number of days away – 135
  • Number of countries visited – 15
  • Number of miles driven – 7,500 miles
  • Number of ferries – 10
  • Number of currencies used – 6
  • Number of photos taken – 4,723 (we can bore you with them for hours!)
  • Furtherest points:
    North: Ayr (Scotland)
    East: Tatranská Lomnica (Slovakia)
    South: Sorrento (Italy)
    West: Ayr (Scotland)
  • Highest point – Klein Matterhorn 3,883m (12,739ft)
  • Lowest point – Holland minus 4m
  • Highest temperatures – 49.7deg C inside the van, 37deg C air temperature
  • Coldest temperature – minus 7deg C (Klein Matterhorn)
  • Number of blog views – 1,010
  • Number ice creams – let’s just say lots!
  • Number of km run (to combat the ice-cream and the odd night cap) – 470km (that’s for Stu, Jane is just a little bit less!)
  • Number of nudist campsites – 4 (Never knowingly!)
  • Number of ropey toilets and showers – far too many to even want to remember!
Hvar in Croatia; just beautiful
Hvar in Croatia; just beautiful

Finally, thank you to all of you for reading and commenting on our blog, we hope you enjoyed following our adventures!

Stu & Jane

Water taxi in Porec (Croatia)
Happy days…

White Cliffs of Dover and back to Old Blighty

Part of us would be more than happy to keep travelling given half the chance but the new school term beckons and it is time to head home. Part of us is also ready for home but we couldn’t help feeling a little sad as the White Cliffs came into view.

'Monty' the camper van on the back of the ferry as the White Cliffs of Dover come into view
‘Monty’ the camper van (far right) on the back of the ferry as the White Cliffs of Dover come into view

We parked overnight overlooking the pebble beach at Dover and finally opened the bottle of red wine that we had bought from the old man in Croatia (see post from 26th May). As it turned out the anticipation of what it might taste like for the past 3 months was worth the £12 but we were indeed ‘done’ as it tasted awful!

Buying the wine back in May...
Buying the wine back in May…
The grand opening; sometimes the anticipation is better than the event!
The grand opening; sometimes the anticipation is better than the event!

We had parked in a quiet spot but late in the evening we were surrounded by a mix of around 80 sports and classic cars that were participating in a Milan-London-Milan rally. Armed with a glass of Croatia’s ‘finest red’ we strolled along the seafront admiring some beautiful machines.

Monty surrounded by a few of the classic cars
Monty surrounded by a few of the classic cars

Due to the fact that Jane’s bike was carefully strapped down inside the van the sleeping arrangements for the night needed a few adjustments. There was just enough room down the side of the bike for Lewis to sleep. We attempted to sleep on the single bed in the front of the van which is only just long enough for Lewis. Stu managed about an hours sleep with Jane not much better. Perhaps we should have had more wine or even entertain the idea of locking the bike up outside!

Jane's bike where the double bed should be!
Jane’s bike where the double bed should be! The ‘bathroom’ on the left is also filled with a floor lamp we bought in Holland and a bag full of French beer.

Mary Poppins!

First there was a bike Jane almost bought, then came the one she did buy! The only snag is we don’t have our bike rack with us and there is no space on the roof. So the bike is inside the van where our bed usually is.

Jane 'test driving' her new bike
Jane ‘test driving’ her new bike

Full Circle

After over four months on the road we finally came full circle when we arrived back in Belgium. Having started our adventure with a visit to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery we returned to the same area in West Flanders and spent a couple of nights in Ypres (Leper in Dutch).

Ypres is a relatively small, scenic city which was largely rebuilt after it was destroyed during the First World War. On our first night we went to a short ceremony at the Menin Gate which is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in World War I and whose graves are unknown. Every evening at 20:00 buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the “Last Post”. The evening we visited there was a visiting choir from the UK and their incredible voices combined with the acoustics under the memorial made for an tremendously moving experience.

The local fire brigade sound the last post under the Menin Gate at 20:00
The local fire brigade sound the last post under the Menin Gate at 20:00
Over 54,000 names are inscribed on the walls of the Menin Gate
Over 54,000 names are inscribed on the walls of the Menin Gate

The following day we visited a museum dedicated to World War I and particularly the battle of Passchendaele. In one hundred days over half a million casualties fell for only 8km gain of ground. It was a useful history lesson for all of us and it was interesting visiting a replica of the trenches and seeing all the artefacts from the war.

Part of the 'trenches' at Passchendaele Museum
Part of the ‘trenches’ at Passchendaele Museum
Exploring the trenches
Exploring the trenches

The Netherlands; home of the friendliest people!

After two long travel days and an overnight stop in a lovely little German village (Sittensen) we crossed the border into Holland.

Camperstop at Sittensen
Camperstop at Sittensen (Germany)

Our destination was Oisterwijkse which was recommended to us by a very friendly Dutch couple we got talking to in Lidl in Germany! It turned out to be a great recommendation. Our campsite was very peaceful in the woods, where everyone was ever so friendly. The local village of Oisterwijkse was very picturesque with lots of lovely street cafes.

Feeding the deer on our walk into Oisterwijkse
Feeding the deer on our walk into Oisterwijkse
What a good looking fella!
What a good looking fella!
Oisterwijkse
Oisterwijkse
Another lovely lunch
Another lovely lunch in one of the many street cafes

We also ventured further afield to the town of ’s-Hertogenbosch, with its atmospheric cobbled streets, canals that go under buildings and streets and some very classy shops.

Buying lunch from the market stalls in 's-Hertogenbosch
Buying lunch from the market stalls in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
The bike Jane so nearly bought and may yet regret!
The bike Jane was so tempted to buy

This is definitely an area we will come back to on holiday.

How could we not stay a little longer?

We really couldn’t drag ourselves away from Rügen but with sunsets like these you can understand why.

20150803 Dranske Rügen_0230

20150803 Dranske Rügen_2507
Sadly the Sun is slowly setting on our epic adventure.

 

More playtime - family Beach Volleyball game
More playtime – family Beach Volleyball game

Do we all think Stu is Brazil Volleyball Team standard?!

Lunch at another Fish Bar
Lunch at another Fish Bar (sat in a Strandkorb)
Fish Bar has its own Smokehouse
Fish Bar has its own Smokehouse
On our run route, some lovely local holiday homes.
On our run route, some lovely holiday homes.

Time to relax

After nearly 4 months on the road sightseeing we all voted for some relax time. Our first stop in Germany was at a small campsite in a tiny village, called Freest. This was a peaceful spot where we relaxed for a couple of nights.

However, we decided to go in search of a nice beach and headed to Rügen Island. We found a campsite on the north western tip overlooking the beach and conveniently with windsurf hire next door!

Perfect conditions for a blast!
Perfect conditions for a blast!
Wooly hat and jacket added; it is the Baltic after all
Wooly hat and jacket added; it is the Baltic after all

The first couple of days were a total wash out with a never ending deluge of heavy rain. Bizarrely it was nice to be stuck in the camper van as it gave us a chance to watch films, play cards and read our books.

Storms on the way on our first evening
Storms on the way on our first evening
Waking up to some soggy conditions on the first morning
Waking up to some soggy conditions on the first morning

When the sun eventually made an appearance we relaxed on the chairs outside our van and couldn’t help noticing the man inside the adjacent van was sat reading his book, naked. As we ventured onto the beach we realised that several more people were naked. At least we had already eaten our BBQ by this time as it put us right off the Bratwurst!

BBQ's will never be quite the same again...
BBQ’s will never be quite the same again…

Dress code aside, the campsite and local village were just what we were after and at the time of writing we have been here for 5 nights and are tempted to stay longer as the forecast looks so good.

The weather finally breaks
The weather finally breaks
Time for some games on the beach
Time for some games on the beach
Time to catch up on the washing!
and catch up on the washing!
A game of 'Monopoly Deal' in the local restaurant
A game of ‘Monopoly Deal’ in the local restaurant
A fantastic lunch at a fish bar
A fantastic lunch at a fish bar