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Melbourne to Adelaide in a Jucy Camper: day 4 – Say G’day to Sheila, Bruce!

Melbourne to Adelaide in a Jucy Camper: day 4 – Say G’day to Sheila, Bruce!

I loved waking up surrounded by trees, bringing back memories of my time at Camp Blue Bay on Long Island. Sven was also more his merry self in the morning having survived the Blair Witch Project Down Under. We opened the camper door to a scene from an Australian Disney princesses world, with kangaroos, cockatoos and various other brightly coloured birds scampering about. Wonderful.

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There’s a balance between seeing amazing things, and enjoying a restful adventure. This morning we invested some time in the latter, reading kindles and enjoying the peaceful surroundings, meaning it was later than usual by the time Cheapy’s tyres hit the road once more. The weather turned decidedly British as our trio skirted the outskirts of Portland resulting in a very soggy hour at Cape Bridgewater, home to The Petrified Forest and Blowhole Lookout, famed for blue whales and their calves. Unfortunately it was too wet to take the camera out, but here are some pictures from the wonderful world of google.

And one of the view from the car for comparison…

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I had also read about seals here, but this turned out to be an 11km round walk from where we were, and as I was fast discovering my raincoat was showerproof rather than drench proof this did not seem to be the day for it. Soggily returning to the car we set off to the next destination…which was where? The Great Ocean Road was technically over and other than a vague aim to be in Adelaide sometime between 12 and 5 tomorrow we now had no fixed route or destination. How exciting!

Having been advised the next stretch of Coast stayed mainly between sand dunes without the spectacular views of the GOR we elected to follow the northern route through the farms and vineyards of South Australia. One of my favourite games on this drive so far has been “spot the mailbox”. The locals along this route will seemingly use almost anything for the task, from rusting gas canisters to giant milk cartons. There has been the occasional American looking one, or those decorated to look like cows with great dangly legs of rope, but my favourites look like this

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Such a cluster is found at the end of an access road to multiple farms. The likelihood is each farm will be miles from the others, down its own individual lane, so to make the Postys life easier they keep all the boxes together on the main road. Just look at that collection! What do you think the second from the left started life as?

Continuing on down roads like this which seemed to stretch and wind through miles of nothingness, sometimes not seeing another car for 10-15 minutes at a stretch

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These were the last few miles of Victoria, as we were inching our way towards South Australia, the next state on the coast. Approaching the boarder there are huge signs for quarantine bins, as importing fruit, vegetables, soil and grape vines from one state to the other is prohibited. The plan had been to stop for lunch somewhere idyllically beautiful, however quickly realising we had a van full of bananas, apples and juicy tomatoes we pulled up in the quarantine area and had a picnic.

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Along the road so far the clock in the car had solidly been around 30 minutes out, however not long after crossing the boarder into SA it had righted itself. Assuming Sven had fixed it I didn’t think too much of it, but actually it turns out SA is in a different time zone, 30 minutes behind Victoria! Who knew?!

The landscapes on this road trip have been so varied, from rugged coast to miles of flat farmland and now huge forests darkened the road as giant pines stretched tall either side of us. Forestry is another industry here, so rather than the haphazard woodlands of home these trees stand in uniform lines stretching as far as you can see. It was mesmerising. At the next logger truck stop I pulled off the main road to get a closer look and some pictures of these tree alleys stretching into the distance. Following the log truck pathway however the lines seemed to disappear, as the diagonals were running parallel to the main road whereas the track I had chosen was perpendicularly. Chucking a uwe (ah Australia) then taking a left took us alongside the trees, but closer than the main road so we could stop and explore. After about 20 meters however I got a ‘bad feeling’ the road was a sort of mud/sand track, and I was worried our little camper did not have the wheels to cope with it. Slowly stopping I put Cheapy into reverse to get us back on the main road…but she didn’t move. Switching back into drive I tried forwards…nothing. We were stuck.

I’ve never been stuck before without an adult present, however having seen a fair few vehicles in a similar situation the basics of what to do were at least lodged in the far reaches of my brain. Step 1: dig the wheels out, step 2: put something under the wheels they can grip on to, step 3: create a ramp of sorts with wood or similar if the incline is too step, step 4: keep the wheels straight, step 5: accelerate slowly. We tried all these things, but after half an hour and several attempts to free her Cheapy was looking very sorry for itself, with the back left wheel buried so deep the underside of the car was close to touching the ground. Sven had realised we were on a tree root, causing the wheel to struggle to get a grip. Being the legend that he is he had a pen knife handy and was able to saw the root out from underneath us. It was all too hectic for detailed photography, but the rolling tyres had sanded a deep groove in the otherwise round root. Amazing.

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The realisation that we were in over our heads sunk in, and leaving Sven to keep digging I headed back to the main road to flag help. The first car I waved at stopped, which I had not expected. Stuart, his wife and their teenage son Ben are South African, but they’ve lived all over the world exploring new countries. They were also road-tripping, and happy to help. Phew!

Stuart has a background off roading in 4×4’s and had seen cars in more dire straits than ours. ‘You’ve done a good job (getting stuck)’ he said, before whipping our team into shape, calmly giving directions and making us of items we hadn’t considered like the sturdy cardboard box we’d been transporting food in. With three sets of muscles pushing from the front and this expert advice we tried twice more, still nothing. Lots of scratching heads, some more digging, more advice. “Keep the wheel dead straight, light on the pedal until I give you the nod, then floor it. If you move try and right hand down all the way to avoid the front tire going in that canyon you’ve created and starting this all over again”…this all sounded easier said than done, but I tried to give my most confident nod.

Like runners on an Olympic track the guys locked their feet into the sand and braced their hands on the bonnet. “Try to go forward hard for a second, then quick shift and back” says the boss. Three…two…one… the engine roared “Reverse!! Reverse!!’…automatics are not meant for quick gear changes but we got there, I slammed my foot on the pedal, everyone heaved from the front and with a final lurch then a rumble we were moving. Oh the elation! Moments later Cheapy had reversed all the way back to the safety of the gravel path. Covered in mud, but free!

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Drama over and with a serious appetite we were keen to get to Nelson, which appeared from the map to be quite a good sized town. Upon arrival though we were greeted by emus (that was fabulous!) kangaroos, car dealerships and not much in the way of sustenance.

Beachside Kanga

The first big town of SA was Mount Gambia which offered a multitude of prospective lunch spots, free parking and welcoming public facilities at which to wash the grime of our previous adventure from hands, arms and legs. Freshened and very ready for lunch we followed our noses to a local Mexican, where Sven was soon very interested by a 1kg burrito challenge.

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In case you’re wondering what that would look like, here’s Sven’s burrito compared to my standard sized one.

That's a lot of burrito

The reigning champ completed this mammoth task in just 3.40, having elected for every possible filling and a spicy sauce. Sven was torn between the challenge and actually enjoying his well deserved lunch. I think he managed a very respectful time. Added bonus, for the first time this trip he declared himself full!

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Mount Gambia is home to the lakes which turn from grey to spectacular blue every November. Something told me this ‘spectacular blue’ was rather reliant on the sky not doing an impression of an E.L.James book, but with burritos to burn and adventurous hearts we set off into the biting wind. All this weather would be FINE if I had packed any form of suitable clothing, but ho hum.

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Having deviated from the plan to stick to the coast and spend tonight in Robe we needed a new destination. Heartened by his woodland adventures and other escapades of the day Sven suggested a secondary free campsite by a lake a few hours away. If last nights camp site was Blair Witch, this one was The Road as low cloud obscured the horizon giving the impression there was nothing for miles around.

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Eventually we pulled in alongside three other campers by the lake. It was very basic, with a single toilet unit to one side and not much else. Even out here though there was a bottle of hand soap and toilet roll. Not too shabby! A guy from one of the other campers strolled over to introduce himself as Rowdy, a SA local here to fish for a type of lake lobster with his brother and brothers wife. After chatting to Rowdy for a few minutes the others came to join him and we were introduced to Bruce and Sheila. I kid you not!

Bruce and Sheila!

Has a more Australian thing ever happened?

With intentions of playing games and writing blogs by the Lake at sunset we made up the camper bed early and settled in for the night. However after the adventures of the day it turns out it was more than possible to fall asleep at 6.30 and wake up in the morning. Oops!

Let the last day with the camper begin…

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The Great Ocean Road in a Jucy Camper – day 3; Princetown to Port Fairy

As our plans of sunrise at the Apostles had been scuppered by pesky mosquitos, Sven and I enjoyed a leisurely Aussie breakfast in the camper overlooking the valley and reserve. As the temperatures grew we were both more than looking forward to the proposed leisurely beach day as our next overnight stop was only around 60km up the coast. Easy right?

Wrong!

Arriving at the first site we learned there was far more to see here than just the signposted attraction. Setting off into the heat haze we could soon hear the low rumbling crashes of thunder cave, where the ocean has carved a perfect crevice into the limestone to send an echo of thunder reverberating around whenever a wave hits. It sounds almost sinister and must be rather alarming at night. Around the corner from here was a stunning cove which was once again being hammered by gigantic waves, sucking up huge tendrils of brown seaweed as they rolled into shore. At one point a few strands were caught on a rock, flapping and slithering around with such vigour I initially mistook it for an octopus! The next wave hit moments later sweeping everything back under the surface and my seaweed oct chum was gone.

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There was also Broken Head viewing point here, but having left hats and water in the car I was a little afraid we’d be suffering our own broken heads if we stayed out unprotected much longer (it’s only spring time!) A quick drive to the next car park and we were soon descending the steps to Loch Ard Gorge, named for a shipwreck which claimed the lives of all but two. The surviving pair were trapped here by the towering cliff faces until the young man was able to climb out and get help. Seriously those cliffs are basically vertical, and I’m going to assume he wasn’t wearing boots fit for climbing. Kudos! The young lady in the story stayed in the cave at the bottom of the gorge and waited to be rescued, how the world has changed.

Lorch Ard Gorge

It was at this point we realised the beach day wasn’t going to happen. Loch Ard Gorge was point one of six, and we’d spent the best part of two hours here. Even though the next two sights were less than a Kilometer away there still wasn’t going to be much leisure time ahead.

Pulling into the next car park before the AC had even had time to fully kick in it was back out into the sunshine and down more steps to The Arch, a monumental sight. Apparently popular in the afternoon when hit by golden light, from here you can also look back to the 12 Apostles. The Arch

This amazing archway was naturally formed by weather and tides, standing 8 meters high. With the waves still crashing against the base at force I wonder how much longer it will remain standing before it collapses into the sea, much like the next stop; London Bridge.

London Bridge

Originally two archways spanned the distance here, giving the formation its name. The first collapsed in in 1990, leaving two people stranded atop the second until a helicopter came to rescue them. Legend has it this was a well off Melbourne business man and his girlfriend, causing quite a bit of trouble with his wife when the story hit the news. Oops. Here we met two British ex-pats who came to Aus in the 70’s. They were exploring the GOR in reverse and full of tips for the next leg of our journey to Adelaide. We’ve met so many Australians doing similar trips along the way which really stuck with me. The UK is beautiful, but we’re so small. There’s no real concept of a ‘road trip’ like this. Sure we can visit Cornwall, the Lakes, the Peaks etc, but when you speak to a woman who drove down from Western Australia on a trip which took two weeks of driving (only) 5 to 6 hours per day you really gain some perspective!!

The final stop before lunch was The Grotto, by far my favourite spot. This charming arch, with reflecting green waters stirred images of fairy tales and magic glens. Unfortunately due to unstable cliffs and high footfall you can no longer explore the archway like you used to, but I was content enough to sit on the wall and soak it all in. Swallows were nesting in a crag just above the archway, leaving Sven poised for more than 10 minutes hoping to catch mum or dad popping in and out. But alas they were too quick for him!

The Grotto

We’d been lucky to have the Grotto to ourselves initially, but after a while a lady descended the steps to join us, stating her husband was also on his way. Lille is from further up the coast in Perth, whilst John hails from Lincolnshire. They met 5 years ago and 2 years ago decided to marry, travelling all the way back to England for a blessing in Johns local quintessentially English church. John spoke about his time in the navy, visiting all the continents including Antarctica twice. With a forces family background I knew enough to ask what his role on the ship had been, however I’ve always wondered what the purpose of these naval ships was outside of a war scenario. Why was that boat traversing the globe and visiting all these continents? Well in this instance John worked on the Royal Yacht, ferrying the Royal Family between their commonwealth states and taking Prince Philip on expeditions to see (and hunt, back in the day) the wildlife of Africa and Antarctica. Wow. What a life!! (Any fans of The Crown will have seen an insight into these expeditions with the Duke of Edinburgh during season 2…!) Had there been a cafe nearby I would have suggested lunch with these two, so easy to talk to and full of stories. His favourite involved Prince Charles and Princess Anne who needed their life jackets on for a shore visit; the young princess put hers on without drama, but Charles pouted and cried ‘do I have to wear this beastly thing?’ Bless.

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Having heard lovely things about Port Fairy I was keen to get there in good time, however even with the best of intentions we arrived with the sun low in the sky and shop keepers packing up for the day. Adjacent to this little town is Griffiths Island, a nature reserve home to hundreds of nesting Shearwater, black wallabies and other animals. Following a moody sky with sheets of rain falling in the distance we set off to circumnavigate the sands on a walk which should take around an hour if you’re not constantly stopping to frame photographs and wet your feet.

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Information points dot the route, telling the story of the island in first person prose from the point of view of the light house keeper, forum and aboriginal tribes who lived in the area for 40,000 years before the white man turned up and changed everything. These boards spoke of a different world, where bored boys built row boats in search of occupation and dinner. Some weeks the family wouldn’t leave the island, despite Port Fairy being only a stones throw away. They were completely self sufficient, growing food, keeping live stock and requiring permission to visit the mainland.

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The plan had been to camp in Port Fairy, but at some point along the route there had also been discussion around free camp sites. As all the options in the vicinity of this little town were some of the most expensive we’d come across this seemed as good a time as any to broaden those horizons. Using camper mate (a fantastic app for camp sites, petrol stations, picnic spots, toilets, ATM’s and more which for the most part works without Internet as long as you’ve checked the general area (i.e. The entire great Ocean Road) with a connection beforehand) we selected Sawpit camp ground near the Narrawong Flora Reserve. Suitable for all vehicle types, with basic facilities and promising sights of kangaroos in the morning this sounded perfect. 30 minutes later dusk was truly upon us as we turned off the main road and into the woods. If these roads are quiet during the day, they’re truly desolate at night and trundling along the final 15 minutes of the journey in the dark woods both Sven and I were quietly hoping the app was up to date and all would be well with the camp site. Soon enough campers begun appearing through the trees and we came across a clearing with BBQ pits and a sign welcoming us to the camp ground. Phew.

After a long day of adventures, driving and a lot of heat on next to no sleep we were both more than happy to crawl under the dooner for a quick game of Monopoly Deal and kindle time. A bottle of wine would have been the perfect final point to the pyramid, however within moments we were both fast asleep, games and reading devices abandoned, completely comatose until the sun reminded us we hadn’t even closed the blinds in the camper!!

And so we were onto day 4, but that’s another blog…

Jucy “El Cheapo” camper: A review

With their reasonably priced campers and hire cars, Jucy is a popular choice for an Australian road trip. They offer a variety of sizes from compact four seaters to portable hotels, and what I particularly liked is that their initial quote includes all inclusive insurance, so you know the total cost before you begin rather than it being an add on later. Psychologically this seems better to me, I feel like I’m getting a deal!

We’d chosen the smallest and cheapest model “El Cheapo” (here after known as Cheapy McCheapFace) as the road trip was only a few days, but there are some you could spend weeks in with a couple of mates. During the day our little Cheapy sits two up front with belts for three more in the back.

6241739200_img_4772-minUnder the bench there is storage which holds the bedding and towels, and the top to this becomes a table which screws into the middle of the van for lunch and games.

6241739200_img_4773-minAt night everything unfolds into a double bed, with the front seats used to store luggage. There is a cavity under the bed if you had soft luggage (as recommended by Jucy) but our larger wheely suitcase was quite happy on the passenger seat, which also meant we had access to stuff at all times. Convenient! Each window has a rolled shade which clips into place offering privacy and protection from the morning sun.

6241739200_img_4770-1-minThere’s also a moon roof that completely opens; perfect for star gazing and ventilation (if you’re brave enough with all the Aussie spiders)! The bed offers plenty of room for 5ft 7 me to stretch out, however Sven’s 6ft 2 had to go slightly diagonally (means he got more of the bed…swings and roundabouts!).

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There’s a stove, sink with pumped water, cool box and storage for all the cooking utensils you’d need for a mini adventure, all packed into a vehicle small enough to fit into the average parking space. Not bad!! Jucy gave us three gas cylinders for the ride and a hose in case the 10l water tank needed refilling.

We brought our own aux cable, but you can buy them for $5 from the Jucy office, as well as a car adapter for charging phones and USB devices. The radio has been pretty fun for roadtrip tunes, and if you were organised enough to bring CD’s then that’s an option too. There’s also AC which proved invaluable on the second day when the weather hit the mid 30’s.

img_8831-minOn the other hand there were days where the heating was useful too!!

Australia drives on the left (as a thousand road signs will tell you), which was great for me hailing from the UK, but the automatic gear box means an easy transition for those who may not be used to it.

Being the cheapest model you do get an element of ‘you get what you pay for’ as El Cheapo is not as shiny and modern as some of the other options. Our sliding door is a tad creeky and stiff, some of the poppers for the blinds have seen better days and the whole ambience of the van says “well used” with its stained ceiling, rusting bumper and non-opening sun roof (the moon roof works like a dream) however despite these few negatives Cheapy has earned a place in my heart as a throughly good adventure home for our trip down the Great Ocean Road ❤

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!!

In transit…

There’s something rather noteworthy about time in transit. This period of semi-existence where you are neither here nor there, but rather somewhere in between. The strangest example of this for me will always be crossing the international date line. When you board a 14 hour flight on a Friday morning and arrive on Sunday afternoon. Discombobulating indeed! That magic didn’t happen on this trip however, as we flew first to Abu Dhabi and then 14 more hours to sunny Melbourne and our initial destination.

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The journey is worthy of a blog in itself. The first plane was so gigantic I failed to realise it had taken off as I sat in my centre of it, learning a valuable lesson about the pitfalls of selecting a seat next to the toilets. Sometimes guilt free reclining is not worth it folks! It was a double decker A380; the lower floor like that of any other plane, and the upper reserved for business and first class. Upstairs was also home to The Residence, where for the cost of average annual salary you can enjoy your own private butler, living room and bathroom, before taking breakfast in a luxury double bed. If you haven’t seen it I recommend this YouTube video. How the other half live!

The window seat on the second leg however was worth every seat reservation penny. Firstly to witness the miles of middle eastern dessert, with its miles of rolling sand dunes interrupted by groups of buildings in uniform grids. Symmetrical sand coloured settlements dotted around in the otherwise seemingly desolate landscape; some joined by perfectly straight highways which stretched from horizon to horizon without any hint of a curve, but others with no discernible entrance or exit at all, which makes you wonder how on Earth people ended up living there with no obvious access to water, or other civilisation.

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Majestic mountains followed, ragged and comprehensible at first, with tracks climbing to yet more towns and villages perched high in the summits; but then escalating so dramatically the peaks seemed in danger of clipping the aircraft wings. Despite my drooping eyes I was glued to the window, as the sun occasionally glinted off roofs and windows suggest that even in this isolated and apparently barren landscape was home to somebody.

The next treat came in the form azure blues and white sandy beaches of Male; which again appeared so suddenly in an otherwise endless sea that I spend a long while wondering how islands like that form out of the abyss. I understand when they’re nestled next to a continent, but Male is in the middle of the ocean! There were more tropical islands than I could count, some with obvious signs of inhabitants even from 39,000ft, others no more than a stretch of white surrounded by turquoise before dropping off again into deep blue sea. Straight white lines forming in between them gave the suggestion of tours and fishing boats. I’d love to see it for myself one day.

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As darkness fell you’d think the show was over, but no, the final treat was a thunderstorm raging over Perth. Huge clouds illuminated by great bolts of lightning as they sat under an inky sky pinpricked by stars above and lights from the city below. Incredible.

All this and the holiday hadn’t even really started. What an adventure!

Roaming around Salzburg in slightly more than a pair of old drapes…

Our time in Munich was short lived, just enough hours for some delicious Turkish food with the beautiful Krissi, a quick tour of her stunning flat and a good nights sleep. Wednesday awoke with a grey grumble as the pair of us took advantage of amazing showers and some peace and quiet. It was a gentle start to the day. After leaving Krissi’s we had to find our way to the bus stop (having received directions in the back of a car whilst it was pitch black and raining outside) then the S-Bahn and finally to the Hauptbahnhof in Munich. We got there with enough time to enjoy the vast array of coffee shops available (England needs to buck up its ideas!) before finding our way to platform 10 and boarding our train. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of not really listening to announcements when in public places/on transport…more often than not they’re of absolutely no interest or relevance to you so you learn to just sort of switch off. However, when the announcement ends ‘once again, if your final destination is Salzburg please disembark and board the train up the platform’ you’re very glad your brain decided to switch back into gear!! So pastries went back into paper bags, suitcases came back off of luggage racks and we pelted down the platform to the correct train. Phew! Salzburg here we come!! 
It’s a quick and easy journey from Munich to Salzburg (luckily as I’ll be doing it in reverse on Friday!!) and within 2 hours we were there, quite alive with the sound of music, 16 going on 30 and ready for all our favourite things! Jen had booked us into Hotel Lasserhof, a really lovely place less than 10 minutes walk from the station with super friendly receptionists, cosy rooms and a delicious breakfast. One to remember! Another benefit is it’s also less than 10 minutes walk from the beautiful Meribel gardens which we went to explore after ditching the bags. First Sound of Music location ticked off! This is where they filmed the doe, re, mi scenes skipping around the fountain and up the steps etc. There were quite a few Asian tour groups taking selfies and posing amongst the statues, but no one appeared to be jumping up the stairs or skipping through the gazebos…it was lucky we were there really!! 


Oddly for a Wednesday most of the shops, sights and pretty much anything we walked by seemed to be closed. There were also an unprecedented number of men in uniform around, surrounded by guns, tanks and even boats patrolling the river. Just as we were about to assume there’d been a coup we hadn’t heard about the lady in the (thankfully open) tourist office explained it was a national holiday. Ah ha! Funny how everything makes sense when someone explains it. October 26th is the Austrian day of independence, where they declared future neutrality in all conflicts following the Second World War. Nicely for us this also meant there were lots of people in national dress, displays of music and dancing and also the museums were free admission. Sweet! Neither Jen nor I are huge museum buffs, but if it’s free why not. Firstly we stopped in an extremely Austrian looking restaurant for something traditional to eat. Sadly the waiter didn’t appreciate my attempts to speak German (first time I’ve been told not to try…”please just speak English” he sighed. Long day perhaps.) but he was happy to bring us soup and then dessert so you can’t hate him too much (though still hoping he hadn’t spat in anything!!) We had beef (I know) broth with a cheese dumpling, followed by a sweeter dumpling with rhubarb sauce and apple strudel…yum!!



Energised we ventured into the Salzburg museum and tried to explore as much of it as possible before it closed in 40 minutes. It was largely to do with a history of the town, which has been invaded more times than I’d care to count…goodness knows how the people kept up with which country they were a part of this week, I have trouble remembering Teresa May is PM!! The upper floor was a really amazing ode to music, with all sorts of amazing and intricate instruments on display. It smelled amazingly of scented wood in there, sadly we only found it as the announcements that the museum was closing were ringing out. Ah well! 


From there we got enticed into (I don’t know what’s come over me…first beef, now…) a Christmas shop! The place was filled with incredibly decorated egg shells, in a million colours and styles. Everything from Salzburg ones, Easter, Halloween, dogs, cats, and of course Christmas. I don’t know how you’d choose!! 


Having eaten quite late it seemed too soon to go back to the hotel, but the world around us was growing dark and quiet…what to do what to do…bar? Bar!  A handful of delicious cocktails and too many bowls of free savoury snacks later and it was certainly time for super important paperwork, FaceTiming people at home and then bed. Official Sound of Music tour tomorrow, who’s excited?!

 

11 years in the making…

It can take a while for the sun to meander its way down to you when you’re nestled in between mountains, so despite the clear blue sky Saturday morning began with icy breath. I was awake a good few hours before the others, but without the code to the door I opted to make the most of the sofa and coffee rather than exploring outside. I spent about an hour practicing german, and the other reading. Still can barely say more than Ich lerne Deutsche. Ugh. Eventually Mel surfaced as she needed to pop home for some forgotten breakfast bits before we could begin the day. It was a good opportunity to see her cosy little flat, complete with colourful sunglasses for every day of the week. The place consisted of a kitchen/lounge, bathroom and bedroom with a double and bunk beds. It was the perfect size for two, so I couldn’t quite believe it when Mel told me that at times it would probably have slept 6. Staff accommodation is very basic, with as many people sharing as possible. Not sure I could hack that really!! By the time we got back everyone was awake, and ready for the croissants, fruit and cereal we had for breakfast. Mel and Laura would both be driving today, rather than the people carrier which picked us up from the airport, and after everything was cleared away we packed ourselves into the cars and headed down the mountain. What a view! The whole world has turned copper and gold, it’s hard to imagine that all these hills will soon be covered in snowy white! 


Our first stop was Beaufort, a sleepy little town surrounded by Heidi land and big brown cows with bells around their necks. We walked up and down cobbled streets peering into closed shop windows, crossed stone bridges over babbling brooks and eventually sat down for croque monsieur and vinos before visiting the factory where the famous Beaufort cheese is made. Unfortunately everything was in French and only French, so none of us (bar Mel) could really understand the journey from cow to cheese, but it was fascinating to watch the workers turn the huge wheels in order to change the muslin cloths and stamp them before hoisting them into the huge stacks. I bet his hands never smell of anything but cheese! The shop attached to the factory was huge, with all manner of cheese and accompaniments to salivate over. But, should you arrive to discover the store is closed panic not! There’s a cheese vending machine outside, for 24/7 purchases. Amazing!!


From Beaufort we continued up the mountain, torn between straining my eyes left right and up in order to take in the spectacular views and the fact that looking any direction other than straight ahead made me feel quite queasy. At the top of the mountain lay a real visual treat, a deep blue green lake, free from boats and other distractions, just sitting there invitingly, although I’m sure it would have been bloody freezing to actually step in. We spent some time admiring the view, reenacting the lion king pride rock scenes, the usual, then piled back in the cars to go up and over the hill (definitely a mountain) to home. Oddly as we climbed the scenery became less of a craggy rock and more undulating hills, with livestock and homes dotted around. The road down the other side was a vertical Lombard street, a mess of hairpin bends and narrowing straights. About halfway down we met some cowherds driving their flower adorned flock up the mountain. Mel and Laura were mesmerised, it was a first for all of us! 

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Shortly after this (accompanied by a Disney soundtrack, we’re such good 30 year olds) we stopped at a supermarket to pick up supplies (Prosecco, cheese and chocolate, all the staples) for later. Unfortunately I barely made it in the front door before discovering a new physical side to myself, apparently these days I get car sick. Gone are the journeys where I could happily sit in the back reading despite the route…after hours of undulating up and down Alps (in the front seat!!) my legs pretty much gave out from under me and I had to sit quietly whilst the girls went and collected all sorts of delectables for dinner. No fair body, sort your shiz out!!


The best cure for sickness? Prosecco in a hot tub. Oh ok then, if you insist. A few hours, 5 bottles of fizz, a tub of olives and a sunset later no one wanted to brave the cold and get out, but a Raclette of cheese was waiting. Tough choices. Mel has been such a wonderful hostess to us this weekend, I’m sure we would have eaten eventually were she not in visitor mode, but I for one was very grateful that she was so on the ball and happy to handle everything. Bread, potatoes, meat, pickles and more all got smothered in Beaufort cheese, Swiss Raclette or French Camembert…eating like queens! And all good queens deserve presents, especially when they’re 30! With 3 out of 6 birthdays falling either side of this trip we’d decided to do presents all together, singing in French (pour Mel) and English (Sarah and Steph) as each birthday girl opened her present. We had three very happy faces, each one thinking they had the best deal; a new watch and magnum of Moët for Mel, Sapphire and diamond earnings to match her engagement ring for Pid and a very delicate silver and diamond bracelet for Steph; huzzah!! 


Life seems to happen later in places like this, so we had time for a game of cranium and to enjoy the fire before we were introduced to Mel’s Meribel family; the team in Jacks and Evo. It was such a snug little place, with live music and plentiful cocktails, I can see exactly why she loves it. This place must be so magic in the winter when everything turns white. Espresso martinis, sloe gin fizzes, a traditional local shot made from a flower which only grows at 2000m, then a coffee and rum combo (half an espresso, a shot of rum, then the other half of the espresso)…it’s no wonder we’re all worse for wear today. Luckily there’s a built in sauna and fresh mountain air to see off the worst of it, with the promise of pizza and gelato in Annecy later. Then Jen and I say farewell to the others to begin stage 3 of the adventure…interailing! Something we first planned in 2006, it’s finally here!!!