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Great Ocean Road in a Jucy camper: Day 2 – Lorne to Princetown

An orange sunrise peeked through the curtains of the camper so temptingly the next morning I was in agony waiting for Sven to wake up so I could get out and see it properly (there is no way to creep out of a camper). Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long and we were soon up, dressed and ready to explore. Our camper was parked within walking distance of the beach across a footbridge at the end of a riverside boardwalk frequented by herons, swifts and swallows.

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A short hop across the dunes from there and the sights, sounds and smells of Lorne beach greeted us, beautiful in the early morning light. We joined the runners, walkers and people with their dogs already out and about despite the early hour. What a joy to live by the sea like this, I’d be there every day. Though maybe not quite swimming like one lady we saw, as the water was freezing and there were more stunning blue jellyfish littered here too.

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An hour or so here was enough to work up an appetite, but with a camper on your team you can take your meals on wheels anywhere you choose! An Aussie breakfast of smashed avo and tomatoes on bread (no one had the patience to fry toast!) with watermelon juice and coffee on the picnic tables in front of the bay followed. It seemed there’s endless places to picnic, or public BBQ sites along this road, all well signposted and used by tourists and locals alike.

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Time was ticking along, so after a quick stop to buy hats (when in Rome) we hit the road again. Having enjoyed the beach this morning we’d used up our waterfall time so decided instead to continue along the coast to Apollo Bay. What a coast! I was so jealous of Sven being able to lean out of the window and enjoy it without concentrating on the road. However with the current ongoing GOR restoration project creating roadworks every few kilometres I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view during traffic. Many of the signs were in Chinese as well as English as tourism increases. We later discovered this was also the reason for all the ‘Drive on the left in Australia’ signs we kept seeing around the place.

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Stopping frequently to get out and stretch our legs at places like Sunshine Drive and Petticoat Creek it took most of the morning before we were parked up in the Paradise By the Sea that is Apollo Bay. At each stop we tested the water in the hope that it would be miraculously warmer than the last one and we could swim, but it was icy on the skin even in 30degree weather! Even the water from the creek was more than refreshing as Sven and I added to the piles of stones already standing there. Ours is the tallest, but also the most unstable…hmm.

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We’d been advised by many friends and forums to stop at Apollo Bay, a seaside town with surfing and paddle board lessons and a number of beachy shops. But with so many tourists around it lacked the charm of Lorne so we only stopped long enough to enjoy an award winning ice cream and a stroll along the super soft sandy beach before rolling on into koala country! Dan had prewarned us that if you spy someone parked on the side of the road looking up, there’s probably a koala. So when not long after Apollo Bay we pulled up alongside a beautiful viewpoint on the right, and a couple under a tree on the left, it was worth pulling over. Sure enough there was a chubby fella stuffing his face with eucalyptus leaves. They’re quite spritely compared to the sleepy guys I met in the blue mountains, leaping from branch to branch at speed, but still taking the time to pose for a photo.

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The drive to Otway lighthouse was one of the most fragrant I have ever enjoyed, as the air was filled with the scent of pine and eucalyptus. Sven craned his head left and right as we wound our way through miles of forest looking for more koalas, but as Julie had warned us of the need to be at camp sites prior to 6pm we didn’t have time for further stops.

Otway lighthouse is probably the one part of this tour I wish I’d researched. I’d expected a lighthouse, a stop which would take 30 minutes at most, but instead we found an extensive park with dinosaur fossils, aboriginal walks and historical tours and talks. I could have easily spent half a day speaking to the lighthouse keeper alone, and was more than disappointed to tear myself away from his stories. Sven on the other hand was fascinated by the wind speed, as it was more than blustery at the top. The keeper kindly demonstrated how to measure the wind using a little gauge, 48km…glad we left our hats inside!! However I can tick something else off my bucket list…climb a lighthouse, check!!

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Despite thinking we’d planned a quite leisurely tour there have certainly been parts we’ve had to rush. Otway lighthouse and the Gibson Steps are two examples, and for the latter I also wish I’d thought to check tide times as the sea was rushing in when we arrived leaving little room for exploration. Being that we were pushed for time this was probably blessing in disguise, but I would have loved to have spent a few hours nestled under the towering cliffs, enjoying the first of the Apostles whilst protected from the wind. As sunset at the 12 Apostles is definitely one for the bucket list we found a cute little camp site in Princetown rather than press on to Port Campbell and checked in by 5pm (if only Julie could see our progress!) Visiting the GOR out of season has been fantastic for winging it, as camp sites and tourist spots are next to empty and we’ve had no troubles with crowds. This was particularly fortuitous at the Apostles, where we spent most of the evening meandering back and forth between viewpoints which would no doubt be packed to the rafters in high season. The view was stunning in all directions, I could have done with 3 tripods and eyes in the back of my head!

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As the skies darkened we returned to camp and quickly realised leg of Sven is a mosquito delicacy. They just can’t get enough! Despite not using any lights, and cooking in the kitchenette rather than out the back of the camper we ended up with a van full! Pesky buggers kept us up all night buzzing around our heads and poor Sven was covered in red welts by the morning. First on the list for today is bug spray, yeulch!!

On top of the Hungarian world…

On top of the Hungarian world…

The last day in Hungary had to be spent doing some touristy shiz, so we left our bags in the luggage store, hopped on a metro (our feet were walked out!) and headed towards the central market hall. One recurring theme on this trip has to be Luci exclaiming at how easy everything is, and navigating the Hungarian underground was no exception. Within 10 minutes we emerged into brilliant sunshine by the Danube and were soon meandering the many fruit, veg and ‘tourist tat’ stalls of the citys main market.
Having been strongly recommended the street food style vendors of the upper floors, breakfast was our first port of call. “We can see how much we have left to spend on souvenirs, after breakfast’ says Tig, as we strolled by delicious looking dishes of all shapes and sizes. Around halfway through the stalls my eyes focused on a huge glass of fruit filled lemonade, just as Luci’s honed in on a stuffed cabbage…we’d found ‘the one’! Not really sure of the system, but seeing some huge portions around, we decided to share a single plate….stuffed cabbage, sourkraut, mixed salad, a sprinkle of olives…then time for the bill. That little lot came to £16, making it by far and beyond the most expensive meal of the trip so far…most others haven’t reached £15 for both of us!

Stomachs full and souvenirs purchased we had a decision to make…trains to Bratislava left at 1.25, 3.25 and 5.25…which one to choose? Enjoying the stunning sunshine and generally atmosphere of the city too much to rush we settled on the middle option, with the later as a backup in case of calamity. Across the river from our sunspot Tig spied a fairytale castle carved into the cliff edge, worth a look. It turned out to be a church carved into the caves, which shares a name with one of the saddest Welsh legends; Gellért…but is apparently a Hungarian form of Gerard, named after someone who was thrown to their death from the hill above. Great bedtime story huh? It is thought the spring within these caves was the source of the nearby Gellért Baths. We overheard a tour guide telling their group that the Red Army had closed off the church in the 1950’s with a huge wall of concrete, and it had only reopened in 1991 after the fall of the wall. It’s amazing how recently all these things happened, and how different life was here just a short while ago.


A leafy green park surrounded the cave, so off we set in the general direction of up, up, and more up! 235m of up (I felt like I was back on the inca trail) until we reached the Liberty Statue, built to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. She’s a pretty impressive lady, touring over the Danube and visible from most spots on both the Buda and Pest sides. 


Having walked, shopped, gazed and sightseen it was most definitely time for coffee…which may have accidentally become cocktails, and lunch. Well, Hungarian Florint wasn’t going to get us far in Slovakia now was it! Watching further preparations for the Palinka Festival whilst catching some rays and sipping on Budapests versions of Tom Collins and Espresso Martini we weren’t sure we’d ever be ready to leave…but the next country was calling, to Bratislava! 
We arrived at the international station around 10 to 5 and located the ticket office, which operated a cheese counter esque system where you take a ticket and wait. Our number was 318…the current number 303…time till we’ve missed the train…29 minutes. This was going to be fun! The agonising seconds stretched out even more by the fact that everything here was done by hand…where was no computer, no ticket printing; our lovely helpful ticket lady wrote them all manually, stopping for a chat with her friend midway through to really add to the drama of running for a train. But we made it, phew! 


And what a view 🙂 

Enjoying the sunset, the last of our polish snacks, and for me writing blogs, the 2 and a half hour journey was over in no time. Country and city number 4 was beneath our feet! Our hostel is located around 2 minutes walk from the station, so within 10 minutes we were safely encamped in the Italy room of Hostel Possonium, enjoying the wonderful graffiti left behind by some truly charming previous travellers. Just to give you a brief snapshot…from my bed I can see 4 penis’s and multiple 4 letter words including the C-bomb. Also, Rob and Joe would like you to know that together they are ‘prankenstein’…I could go on. But the beds are comfy, and the garden bar outside offered a free welcome drink and some great stories from the bartender, a local guy called Lucas. Lucas has worked in/around this hostel for 9 years, but tonight was his last shift…which may explain why instead of 1 free shot we had 4, and he let us go behind the bar to make our own waffles. What a dude! 


Having ascertained that most of what there is to see in Bratislava can be done in just over an hour we’ve decided to add an extra city (country 29 baby!!) to our list and pop over to Vienna for the day tomorrow. Why not hey? 

A day of travelling 

Our last morning at Czocha was a bit of a whirlwind. Having checked the train time the previous night and booked a taxi all we had to do was pack…until we realised the train was half an hour before we thought, oops!! Luckily we had the type of driver who understood the actions for ‘step on it!’ and made it in good time. Whizzing through the Polish countryside we were really struck how beautiful, but poor, it seems to be. At least one in three buildings are either ruined or unfinished, roads unkept and cars left abandoned by the roadside.

The station looked like many other buildings we have seen in Poland so far, run down and slightly tumbling; reminiscent of something which was once beautiful, but is now just kind of a working ruin. After 5 minutes or so a little two carriage train trundled onto the middle track; luckily there were others waiting or else I’m not sure Luci and I would have gone against many years of ‘DON’T WALK ON TRAIN TRACKS!’ and crossed over to board. Another first time experience for us!

Travelling by train in Poland feels eerie. You cannot help looking at rusted tracks running alongside the well used modern ones and wondering if they were the tracks used to transport hundreds of thousands of families to the concentration camps and gas chambers which litter the countryside. Perhaps I’m being morbid, but it was a thought which struck us both. 

Our next train was far more fitting two girls who had just completed a term at a College of Wizardry, with individual compartments which offered all mod cons like your own temperature gauge, announcement volume control and showed facts about how fast we were travelling and other interesting snippets. Yup, this was the way to travel! Until the conductor came along and informed us this was first class and could we kindly pay up or leave…oops!!

Seemingly not long after (but actually 6 hours) we pulled into Kraków. Usually at this point I’d be trying to find tourist maps and working out my orientation, but travelling with Luci is a breath of fresh air – the girl is so organised! She whipped out a printed nap and we were off, strolling through a lovely ‘planty garden’ (aka park) in the direction of our hostel. Most people travel by tram or bus but, as we know, the best way to see a city is to walk it!

It took around 15 minutes to reach the street meant to house the B Movie hostel. Staying in hostels can be a bit hit and miss, usually with the standards of cleanliness, bed comfort and amenities varying greatly from place to place, but the people always being awesome. In Kraków we lucked out. The B Movie hostel greeted us with a long wait in the rain outside a dilapidated gate, with a worn sign which even had a hardened traveller wondering if perhaps I’d finally been duped and this place had closed 10 years before. In the end it took visiting asking another nearby hostel to call on our behalf and convincing someone who’d popped out for a cigarette to gain entry. We climbed the dusty spiralling tilled stairs to the first floor and went in, where the receptionist showed little to no concern that the buzzer appeared not to be working. Great start. We were in the Godfather room (not a B Movie, but that’s a separate point entirely).  I was all too aware this was only Luci’s second ever hostel and really wanted something positive to hit…unfortunately this place could only be labelled basic, but shoddy Internet, little to no breakfast and roomies from Indonesia who were freezing cold so the rest of us had to roast alive whilst breathing in the damp air from two loads of drying laundry. Hmm. 

That evening we explored central Kraków, inside the castle walls, losing ourselves in the labyrinth of alcoholes and a seemingly endless array of gelato shops. At the very heart of the city is the market square, apparently one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It has a really Russian feel (not that I have been there yet!) and is surrounded by elegant townhouses, all with their own unique names, histories and curiosities. Horses and carriages stand in a row offering historic tours of the centre. Unbeknownst to us we wandered the Royal Route, the historical coronation path of the Polish kings when Kraków served as the royal capital from the 14th century to the very end of the 16th century. 

Around 8pm rumbling tummys got the best of us and we set out in search of food. Turned away from our first choice (though with reservations for tomorrow!) we ended up nestled between flame heaters right on the square overlooking the historic Cloth Hall where we enjoyed Bigos – a hunters stew served in a bread bowl. Warming and delicious for only 18zloty (about £3).

Tomorrow, the salt mines. 

Cycling in Cambodia 

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Phew today has been busy! Last night we discussed an early morning temple visit, but between a hungover German, jet lagged Brit and confused Irish girl we didn’t quite get our act together in time. Honestly though, when the knock at the door came at 04.30 for some other eager sod who’d slept through their alarm I was only too happy to have the option to roll back over and go to sleep. 24 hours in transit and suddenly I’m a big fan of my bed! Luckily, once a civilised hour presented itself, a switched on Belgian and researched Filipino had plans and recommendations for every occasion – and so we were off! Our first stop was Artisans Angkor, where our guide Benna explained how the charity has been working since 1992 to educate talented men and women from rural Cambodia in traditional Khmer arts; including wood and stone carving, silk weaving and painting, ceramics and the application of gold leaf application and varnish.  

 It was essentially a whistle stop tour in how almost every souvenir you see in South East Asian markets are created. The answer? Painstakingly slowly and with a LOT of work. One exquisite piece of artwork depicting the famous tree at Ta Prohm allegedly took one artist over a month to complete. Really makes you appreciate some of the craftsmanship which goes into these things, and potentially rethink driving such a hard bargain when bartering at the many night markets around.

From the artisan workshop Kat (Belgian medical student), Dario (the German ex-paratrooper) and I rented bikes for $1 each and set off to cycle the 17km’s to Tonle Sap, and one of the many floating villages which exist there. Of course the second we hit the road the heavens opened and it was a quick dash to buy camera covering ponchos before continuing our journey. I always seem to visit Asia in the wet season; though honestly I’m not sure I would have managed a 20mile round trip cycle in high summer!   

  The journey there was uneventful, but with much to see as the slower pace allows you a glimpse into local lives which a tuktuk does not. It’s quite something to see shack after corrugated shack, each sporting a satellite dish and in one case a flat screen TV! There were frequent cries of ‘hello!’ from children and adults alike as we went past.  

 We rode a little too far at the end of our journey, straight into some mud flats which instantly clogged wheels and stuck to flip flops. The locals insisted we were on the right track, but after <10m slipping around bare foot and practically carrying my bike I elected to turn back, shortly followed by the other two, to the last outpost we had seen. Luckily this turned out to be the boat station, and we were off again.  

  
I love being on the water, and sat on the prow of a motor boat washing my muddy feet whilst hearing about the local way of life put a big smile on my face. The only work in the area is fishing, and people travel from miles around to catch and harvest the many spoils the river and lake have to offer. Somewhere during the long list of fish I hadn’t heard of I picked up quite a familiar word,‘Kan,’ I asked our guide ‘did you say crocodiles?’

‘Yes!’ came the beaming response

needless to say my toes didn’t stay in the water much longer. 

 Kan is a typical Asian tour guide; a huge smile, lots of stories and a zest for life and ensuring you enjoy your time with him. He was so full of facts that the half hour boat trip seemed to go by in a flash. The village, for example, is home to almost a million people, and the river floats on from Tonle Sap up into Laos, Vietnam and China. Whilst with Kan we visited an orphan school, and spent a good time playing catch, teaching the kids about dlsr’s and learning about hippos (most important). It felt sad to leave them on their floating home, but with a floating basketball court, church, restaurants and many other things nearby it seems they have everything they need and are well looked after.  

 Shortly after this adventure we realised the light was fading and we were far from home with no head torches to speak of. This meant we sadly had to decline Kuns offer to visit his home in the mountains and begin a very long, dark, bike ride back to the city. For the most part it was fine as houses, restaurants, tuktuks and mopeds lit the way and we were able to set up my mobile in the front basket for something of a warning to oncoming traffic. The pace of life here is so slow and the roads so full of holes that noone was moving too fast, and within an hour we were back in civilisation enjoying some delicious Khmer food and a $1 g&g – life here is tough! 

  

Tomorrow it’s my turn to enjoy a 4am start as we head to the temples to enjoy what I think may be a Glastonbury sunrise (more of a general lightening of the grey). So for now it’s off back to my bed!