Road Trip Europe stage 2
Anyone that has done any writing of any sort will know that losing what you have written can be very frustrating. But, having written all of this twice has made me realise just how good this trip is and how much fun we really are having. I had hoped to have this one out before New Zealand Christmas Day, and I would have if I had saved it correctly, so it’s a few days late but MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone from Lisbon, Portugal. Here is how we got here.
We spent two nights in Cesky Krumlov. It’s a medieval walled city in the south of the Czech Republic. It is unique in that the river wraps almost completely around the old town. It’s that feature that has preserved the old town from development over the centuries and it really is a pretty example of an old town with walls and an impressive palace and castle to round off the trifecta. We could have toured inside the palace, but it would have been the same things from a different owner I’m afraid. We were also not alone at Cesky Krumlov the day we toured around. We had the company of at least a dozen busloads of tourists from around the world and the surrounding hotels were all full each night, even with subzero temperatures to deal with.
We went for a day trip to Austria the next day. We visited a city called Linz which is on the Danube River (this river runs from Germany through 10 countries, more than any other European river!) and visited the science park ARS Electronica Centre. It’s a museum of the future, sort of like MOTAT but smaller and only for new technology. It’s all about collaboration when it comes to science and technology and Austria is an amazing country for this. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. Talk about rowdy neighbors. When we return to Europe we will be exploring the eastern end of Austria. We’re looking forward to that.
Our next stop was our much-anticipated visit to my cousin Nicola and her family, David and Noemie. The last time I visited David and Nicola, they were living free and easy in a Munich apartment with VIP passes to all the local night clubs. What a difference Noemie has made and now they are living in an amazing, quiet, child friendly village west of Munich. This village really is right out of a story book. It has a forest to pass through that comes out at a picture-perfect village complete with church and clock tower with a river running right along the edge. They live in a house that is so old no one really knows when it was first built. Thankfully it’s been renovated since the 1400’s and is now a modern comfortable home that made it hard for us to leave. (oh, did I mention they have 2 cats…. miss you Blackie)
We parked the car outside their house. The car was in a spot that meant a lot of locals drove past it in and out of the village. Let’s face it, it’s an awesome looking adventure car! It looks set for anything and having some fire wood strapped to the roof just says ‘TAKE ME OUT NOW’ David and Nicola became the talk of the village and everyone wanted to know what the story behind the ‘Sehr schones Abenteuer Fahrzeug’ was. During the days before Christmas the village has many functions with different activities at different houses. It was a great insight into a completely different way of looking at Christmas. I feel like in New Zealand, it’s all about one event, Christmas day. Through most of central Europe, Christmas is a near month long event that involves a lot of talking to family, friends and neighbors and drinking hot wine in the town square. Pre-Christian involvement, the mid-winter celebrations were all about getting people out of the home to re connect with the rest of the village. What we started in Berlin with Katja and continued in Munich with David and Nicola was refreshing and fun. We felt so Christmassy we had an early Christmas dinner, Kiwi style. We had a homemade mince n cheese pie with pavlova and whipped cream for desert. It’s about as kiwi as it gets I can tell you and the mince n cheese took me back that’s for sure, thanks Christine!
The Christmas spirit didn’t stop there! Nicola started to make us a special Christmas tree for the car and kindly had one of her friends in the village, Natasha, finished it for her. It’s great and now hangs from the rear-view mirror (when I don’t need to see the sat nav) and reminds us that Christmas is coming even though it doesn’t feel like it.
While we were staying with David and Nicola we were treated to the best tourist attractions that southern Germany has to offer. We went to the most amazing castle that inspired Walt Disney to build the famous Disney Castle in California. The real thing is way better (having seen both). It was built by King Ludwig II when he ruled over Bavaria. It’s a bit of a sad story in the end as he never lived in the new castle and died under strange circumstances not leaving an heir or Queen. The new home was never completely finished and although it looks complete on the outside, it has only one finished room and one kitchen. Ludwig stayed one night only and this is how it now remains. We did tour through the castle his dad, King Maximilian I rebuilt and lived in for many years. Incredibly both these castles are still owned by the family and remained untouched during both European wars last century and really look like they will go another few 100 years.
We also went to the highest peak in Germany. What a trip! It really is testament to the engineering skills of the Germans. We first went on a cog train through more than 5kms of tunnel to a ski area that is located right on a glacier in a basin just below this peak. When I say ‘ski area’, don’t forget we arrived by train… it was large! Chair lifts everywhere, cafés and restaurants… We were then bundled into a very large gondola that took us to the very top of the mountain. This was not a wide flat top, rather a pointed rocky peak that had 2 large restaurants, 1 for the German side, 1 for the Austrian side (as this is also the border between the countries), weather stations and of course an ice skating rink (what else do you need at the top of your country’s highest peak) The first tourist building was completed in the late 1800’s when we in New Zealand were still struggling to build basic infrastructure. Wow
We left David and Nicola’s place complete with treats from Natasha (you’re on this trip now Natasha) and headed to Liechtenstein. This country is only 25kms long! Its squeezed between Germany and Switzerland and is basically a private country that has a government with an actively involved prince... It’s really a complete blow out to read about these little places. They are largely a throw back to when the Holy Roman Empire broke up and several areas were granted ‘principalities’ and a few still remain. The Liechtenstein’s ‘purchased’ the land to gain a seat in the empire. It’s still in the family! All sorts of financial magic is performed in Liechtenstein to make money appear from nowhere and we came across an ATM that dispensed bitcoins in the corner of a gift shop. We drove around after sending a post card and before we knew it, we were in Switzerland. It was a climb up to the border and into the clouds we went. The 2 days we spent in Switzerland were pretty much a white out. The clouds eased up just before dark but in the morning, were a thick blanket which is how it remained until we popped out into France.
We went to visit CERN which is right on the border between France and Switzerland. We took the free tour of the Atlas sensor, which is on the large collider. The facility is 27kms around and 100 metres’ underground! They started this carryon in the 1950’s and a city has grown up around the place that’s full of scientists driving small Citroens. It was interesting but not mind blowing. It excites some people more than others and the guy that lead our tour was a scientist that had been working on the same experiment for years and years. I like science, but it’s the same as liking bread. Doesn’t mean I need to like the baking part. For these scientists, what they are looking for is already all around us and they are looking for ways to detect and measure them. Then we could start to use them or do new things because we understand why they do what they do… Like I said, I like the technology it can create more than looking at how they discovered the science of it. Having said all that, it was cool to see the control room where they conducted the experiment that discovered the Higgs Bosun……whatever that is J
We headed south through Switzerland and back into France. The next day really were the most amazing driving we have had on the trip. We headed towards Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe which is in France. That was when we headed towards Italy and underground. We spent the next hour travelling under and through the alps. When we weren’t in a tunnel we were on a viaduct. At one point, we exited a tunnel onto a viaduct that was 100’s of meters above the valley floor only to enter a tunnel into the next mountain. The scenery was amazing. The roads were also amazing and a feat of engineering. The only problem was all the way down the alps towards the Italian coast we had no stopping on the motorway. We would have loved to get more photos of the dramatic mountains and picturesque valleys.
We first glimpsed Monaco when we were 1 bay away high up on the hillside above the country. The entire country is only around 2 square kms big and a lot of that has been reclaimed from the bay. It occupies just 1 bay on the coast and the roads down to the coast are very, very tight and narrow. We had to use both sides for some of the hairpin turns and we were by far the largest car around with most of the other cars on the road ‘micro’ size or small taxis. Even though its only 2 sq. km we managed to drive about 20kms around and around the place. We couldn’t find a parking building that could take our 2.15-meter clearance and street parking was completely out of the question as it is pretty much 100% reserved for residents. So even though we spent an hour or more in the country of Monaco we never managed to have a coffee on the waterfront and send a postcard as planned. We headed to Cannes for the night and the next day we went to yet another small country, Andorra.
Andorra first popped up when the local people were gifted the country as a reward for fighting the Moors people in the 1200’s. It slipped through the cracks of change for the next 700 years due to the country’s isolation in a valley high up in the European alps, and has really only seen any change in the last 80 years. The entire country is only a little over 450 sq. km’s in size and is totally dependent on tourism for its income. They come for the skiing and duty free shopping. When we first started walking through the streets of El Pas de la Casa, I said to Christine it was like walking through an airport. Duty free everywhere and people were filling up! The car parks were full of shoppers filling their cars with booze and cigarettes. We didn’t see any sort of limits and some people has a dozen cartons of smokes and boxes of liquor. The ski field looked amazing and is open most of the year. Looks like a good place, skiing, cheap booze and smokes… hehe what more is there?
What a fun place Barcelona is! We had 2 days in Barcelona where we stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the tourist area. It was very busy even though it rained most of the time and although we didn’t do too many of the usual tourist activities, we satisfied ourselves that we had seen the sights. Parking was again a problem though we did find a place that we could fit into. We had less than 10mm clearance between the roof tent and the carpark lighting. It was secure however and that’s what’s important. We travelled right across Spain spending two nights on the road before we entered our last European country, Portugal.
We have an apartment in the city center that’s walking distance to all Lisbon city has to offer. The apartment was a lot more than we were expecting having booked just a hostel room with shared bathroom, we ended up with our own awesome place! Lisbon is very cheap compared to the rest of Europe and I can buy a coffee from the café 10 meters down the road for 50 eurocents. Hard to imagine we were paying €4.50 in Scandinavia! We are here for the next week at least. We are having some time off for our 10-year anniversary and of course Christmas day today… happy Christmas! Next week we will start to stock up on some of the items we will have trouble finding in Africa, the car needs an oil change and service and we will start the endless paperwork required to travel around Africa by car. The next update may be from the African Continent!
Thanks to everyone for reading these blogs. 2016 has really been an amazing year for Christine and me but we feel that the adventure is only just to begin. Let’s face it. It’s easy to travel around Australia, USA and Europe. Things are a lot like home and we can adapt easily and quickly to the challenges and problems we are faced with. Africa is going to be very different. The people do not live the way we do and probably won’t speak any English and the conditions will be different to what we are used to. Everything from buying food, finding a toilet or getting an internet connection will be more challenging. We plan to take 12 months to get around Africa but many people have told us this will not be long enough. We have planned every step of the trip in Africa but we are still approaching the travel week by week for flexibility. Look out for our first blog in Africa. We are looking forward to Morocco..
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!