6-31 August: The Aussies descend on Bradford-on-Tone!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK

When Mr A last wrote he was struggling through a bout of Covid-19, isolated in his own wing of the house, while room service (me) delivered meals on a tray. Finally on day 9 he tested negative and was free to return to the shared spaces of the house, with a great deal of relief. I had managed to avoid catching it, thanks to his strict isolation.

Soon after he was released, I had my second immunotherapy infusion in London, and on a hot Tuesday morning headed up to Hampstead. The Royal Free Hospital has a charitable arm which provides free accomodation in a brand new building for long-distance patients, conveniently located beside the hospital, and walking distance to shops, cafes and the London Underground. After checking in, I decided I wanted an afternoon in the great outdoors, given I had so much indoor time ahead (hooked up to a drip), and took off to explore Hampstead Heath.

The Heath is a bit of a hidden gem in London. First written mention of it dates back to the year 986 when Ethelred the Unready allocated some of the land to one of his servants. Nowadays, at 790 acres, it is one of the largest green (or mostly yellow at the moment) spaces in London.

There are about 30 ponds on the Heath, three of which are available to swim in (one mixed genders, one female only, one male only), which were absolutely packed on this 30 degree day. Looking at the murky brown waters, I decided not to partake! My mum grew up in this area, and told me of people swimming here in the 1950s and 60s – I cannot imagine they have been well cleaned since this time, but I could be wrong!

A cool haven on a hot day – the Heath, Kenwood House and an unmistakable Henry Moore scuplture

The woodlands provided nature’s air conditioning, perfect for walking, and I completed a 9km circuit, calling in at the stunning English Heritage Kenwood House for a look around the artwork and unique interior architecture (visit for the library alone, it is incredible!). The park is packed full of birdlife, and I saw Green and Spotted Woodpeckers, Wrens, Robins, Magpies, Grey Herons and huge flocks of Rose-ringed Parakeets munching on sycamore tree seeds. The ancient woodland is the UK’s smallest site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is home to some rare and endangered plants and wildlife.

The view from Parliament Hill is well worth a visit – spot St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and many other landmarks

The following morning I was off for my infusion of unicorn juice. This is my second infusion of Rituximab, the aim of which is to suppress my immune system and stop it from attacking my airway unnecessarily! Already, despite having an op in June, at this point my airway was already on the decline.

The unicorn juice enters my bloodstream…hopefully working its magic

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The day after I returned from London, my sister, Helen, brother in law Stu and nephew and niece drove over from Brighton and spent a busy and very warm four days with us.

The temperatures were more like what we would have expected to find in Australia, and our local river was again a lovely cool haven for a bit more packrafting with the kids.

Living near a small river has its advantages
Elliot did well with his paddling

We held a bit of a housewarming party too, with our friends from Honiton coming over for a BBQ one evening. We ended up congregating under the cool shade of the oak tree to sip wine, listen to music and share stories of our misspent youths!

The moon was huge and the werewolves out in force 🙂

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The first of our Australian visitors arrived, with John and Eveliene stopping by for lunch en route from Plymouth to Oxfordshire, the months falling away as we slipped back into old conversations and jokes easily.

Cups of tea under the cool shade of the oak tree with friends Eveliene and John

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The next visitors were also from Australia, Karen and Chris, who stayed for three nights. They arrived on our 20th wedding anniversary, so joined us and our new friends and neighbours, Jim and Lucy, for a celebratory dinner at a local Italian, and a glass or two of bubbles.

Cheers!
Even Princess Tassie got into the celebratory action!

A tour of a nearby brewery was in order the following day, somewhat of a hair-of-the dog, and Exmoor Ales obliged us with tastes straight from the barrel. They were rewarded with a few purchases.

Some tasty tipples tried on our tour

No flying visit to Somerset is complete without a walk in the Quantock Hills before lunch at our local cider barn, Sheppy’s, and of course that was scheduled in for their final day with us (they also have a fine wine list, for the non cider drinkers!).

Starting our short walk at Crowcombe Gate – there are magnificent views almost immediately
This is the perfect time of year to see the Quantocks – the heather is blooming and hopefully the temperatures are not too crazy
The joy of the outdoors!
Fine views all the way down to Minehead on the coast

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Not one to waste time, I squeezed in another operation on my airway on the day Karen and Chris left – hoping this is the last one this year – I have lost enough brain cells to general anaesthetics in 2022! Final pre-op photo for this year…(fingers crossed!), this one conducted at our local hospital in Taunton, just 12 minutes drive from home.

All went as planned and I could immediately feel the benefit of an open airway. If my peak flow chart were your share portfolio, you’d be a happy bunny today!

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Readers who have been following us for a while will know that Mr A is rather partial to a solo cycling adventure, and he has been feeling he should plan a trip. So he set off on a training ride for two nights, loading up his electric bike with tent, sleeping bag, stove and a few supplies. The good thing about bike-packing (as it is called) in the UK, is that there is not hundreds of kilometres between water and food supplies, making the load a little lighter. The battery on the bike also helps a bit too! He had a great few days, saw some stunning countryside and was able to refine his packing list for next time.

And he’s off…and that’s just down our driveway!

Mark had not long left our driveway, and my sister and niece arrived from Brighton to join me for a few days.

An afternoon walk for a paddle in the river followed by a rendezvous with our friendly local Shetland Ponies and concluding with a cool drink with neighbours Lucy, Jim and their lovely dog, Maisie

I took Helen and Isabel to the small fishing town of Watchet, just a half hour drive from home. Following Jim’s tip to use bacon as bait, had a successful hour of crabbing in the rock pools. All crabs were released unharmed and enjoyed their morsels of bacon!

Fish and chips followed by ice creams – perfect seaside visit
Lucy and Jim join us for drinks, nibbles and games of Uno!

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After saying farewell to Helen and Isabel, Mark and I realised we had a few days off from visitors, so decided to take ourselves off on a hike. I plotted a 9km route using Kamoot (our favourite mostly free app for plotting hikes via public footpaths and bridleways) and off we went. Despite being a long-weekend, we didn’t see anyone else on the paths.

The hikes up revealed fabulous countryside views
Grand avenues of mossy trees guide us on through the Brendon Hills, part of Exmoor National Park
Our walk takes us way down into the valley, where we join the River Tone, which (further down river) passes through our village
Appreciating the joy of breathing easily

It was lovely to get out in the fresh air amongst nature for a few hours, to fully test the new (again!) airway, and make the most of where we live.

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We continue to feel more and more settled in Somerset, and metaphorically pinch ourselves on a daily basis when we admire the views from our windows or stroll through the village on our way to pilates at the village hall.

Creating memories with our friends and families, and having our Australian and UK lives mingle, all helps us to feel more at home here in Bradford-on-Tone. We are starting to make small changes to our home, putting our mark on it, and are enjoying fresh produce from the garden – a rhubarb and apple crumble last week, thanks to produce tended by the previous owners, and almost every day we are consuming salad leaves and peppery radish, sown by Mark’s youngest daughter, Hayley when she came to stay.

I am getting to know some locals as well, having met another lady with the same airway disease as me while I was in London, finding we live just 20 minutes drive apart. Last week another patient called in to meet us for lunch on her way home from holidaying in Cornwall – another time we really appreciate our proximity to the UK’s major transport networks!

Lunch with two iSGS sisters, Lisa and Jean – always good to talk to people who understand what life is like with a constantly closing airway!

While the past few months have delivered some health challenges, I am fortunate to have access to the best care, and a responsive medical team who are on my side. When I read almost daily about the waiting lists for medical treatment, I know that not everyone has this, and I am incredibly grateful. Mr A is now under the care of a world renowned eye surgeon in London for his glaucoma and pigment dispersion syndrome (PDS). We have had to organise this privately, the cost well worth avoiding the dangerously long wait to see an National Health Service doctor, which could be potentially damaging to his eyesight.

We’re learning how to navigate the systems, and though I am certain there will be more hurdles ahead, we have good friends and contacts who are helping us to overcome them.

One of the reasons we migrated to the UK was to spend more time travelling and exploring Europe…now we have been here seven months, we are starting to think about where and when we might get away…plans are afoot…watch this space!

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11 July – 5 August: Summer heats up and tests the immune system!

Author: Mr A

Location: Milton Keynes, Bradford-on-Tone, London, UK

I write this from my ”Isolation Wing” in the the new house that is rapidly becoming a home. COVID-19 struck me down. How? Well..here’s my side of the story. We were in London again (I think we need shares in Great Western Railway!) for Catherine’s kick off immunotherapy treatment to try and tackle her subglottic stenosis.

A superb Spanish meal out the night before
And a rather large Gin and Soda for madam (mostly soda!)
And a delicious pint for me
Catherine’s first immunotherapy infusion – an excuse to spend a few hours sitting in a chair

I encouraged madam to go clothes shopping, usual uphill battle, and volunteered to travel across London to collect the right size from a different store.

I walked 18kms that day, one of the many pleasures actually of being here, exploring the big city. I most likely caught it somewhere then because two days later I have sore throat, aches and pains and I’m down with the plague.…so it’s Catherine’s fault! 😉

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Anyway, there are definitely worse places to do my time in bed, with my own private ensuite and kitchen! Catherine even ran a fan at my door so my dirty germs wouldn’t pollute the house. Seriously, it’s really important we keep her safe as her airway is already declining since the last op, six weeks ago.

In the brief window between London and Covid, our friend Andie and his daughter Rosie came to visit…and yes, that is a pair of faggots in the local pub….

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It wouldn’t feel right without a hospital appointment in the week. I had to cancel mine at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital in London, which was supposed to be today. I could wait another 8 months for my NHS appt (been waiting 4 already), but by then who knows what mess my eyes will be in. There are 30,000 vacancies currently in the National Health Service in the UK. Well, Catherine is certainly getting more than her fair share of those scarce ENT staff!

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Backing up to pre my COVID isolation, I went gadding up to Milton Keynes again, responding to a request for help from daughter number two, whose hubby away again and she is at work. A few school runs and pick ups, a walk in the woods, a lovely birthday meal out with the whole mob for daughter number one. It ticked a lot of boxes.

Granddad and James, grandson number 3 on one of many school pick ups/drop offs
Hayley and Zoe with their dogs, Blossom and Belle
Birthday girl Zoe
Son-in-law Mark (good name!), granddaughter Lily and grandson Jacob watch on as mum blows out her candle

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The same daughter (Hayley) then brought her two boys down to stay with us a few days later. Apparently, according to the boys, a highlight was going packrafting down the local River Tone (stream at the moment with lack of rain!). A few laughs, a few tears, the usual.

Breakfast of champions at one of our local eateries, Sheppy’s Cider Barn – they also sell good cider!
A huge creamy hot chocolate for those who already had breakfast at home!
Luke and James
A short walk along the river to our launching spot
Hayley overseeing the activities
What activity? A lot of lazing around!
And meanwhile in our garden…yum! Fresh raspberries

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We continue to kit out the house, with lots of couriers turning up with furniture and bits and pieces. really enjoying the process. Even found ourselves supplier to help us with some modifications, more on those when we get further down the track.

I just feel so good about this place, its rural views, its land size (I’d dig a moat if I could!) and how the house is laid out, with a few minor changes coming up. We know we were so lucky to find it, and really enjoying starting to have friends as well as family come and stay. The house can start to build some memories for us.

My favourite spot is under the old oak tree. Camping chair, bottle of wine, and even joined by local friends three times now! The times they are a changing.

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25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

26-28 August: Across in to north western France

Author: Mrs A

Location: Coulon, Parc regional du Marais Poitevin, and Borgneuf-en-Retz, France

We farewelled the eastern Loire Valley and continued on our way west, heading towards Brittany. We visited the Loire region extensively three years ago, and the memories of the beautiful chateaus and cycleways are still fresh in our memories – we don’t feel the need to renew them quite yet with so many places we have not seen.

After a brief overnight stop to tackle our washing, on Tuesday we arrived in the small town of Coulon, in the Marais Poitevin regional park. The regional park has quite a unique look and feel to it.

An intricate web of streams link up to more major arteries and canals

Looking at Google Maps you can see a web of waterways criss-crossing the countryside. The regional park stretches across 112,000 hectares all the way down to the coast, but we were here to explore the section around Coulon which comprises of two main areas – the dry marsh (which is used for agriculture) and the wet marsh (known as the ‘Green Venice’) which floods during winter. The park is important for migratory birds and rare wildlife such as the European otter and is France’s second largest wetland.

Five hundred years’ of work has gone into creating and managing this area, with the efforts of monks from five abbeys across the region responsible for the initial creating of the waterways in order to create viable land for farming and agriculture.

After setting up in the municipal campground, we jumped on our bikes for an explore. Coulon clearly does see itself as a Green Venice, with barques (a style of punting) and rowboats lining the waterways, but the tourist numbers on this Tuesday afternoon were not quite filling the capacity.

Plenty of boats for hire in Coulon and only a few rented out…this is the last week of the French summer school holidays so things are getting quieter

There is a good network of cycleways around the area, with well marked trails on boardwalks over the marshes and cycle paths off road and along quiet lanes into local villages. We did a short 20km circuit before returning for the night.

View of the canal from the village of La Garette

The following morning we decided it would be the ideal opportunity to inflate our pack rafts and head out for an explore by water. We launched from just in front of our campsite onto La Sevre Niortaise, the main waterway going through Coulon. But instead of heading into the throng of rowboats and tourists we turned right, and went into the quieter waters upstream, hoping to find some unsuspecting wildlife.

And we’re off….excited to be back on the water after a break
Heading off down one of the smaller streams

We found an opening in the river bank and set off down it, hoping we would find our way out of the maze at some point, but excited to see what was beyond.

Paddling quietly, hoping to see some furry otter action
Turn another corner and another watery pathway leads through the trees
Perfectly still reflections

And what a scene awaited us. The waterways are lined with poplars and ash trees, the still waters creating incredible reflections. Moreover, it was only about ten minutes into our paddle that we saw our first otter, swimming along the water’s edge and climbing out to retreat to safety. Our strategy had paid off!

After this magical experience of seeing a rare otter in the wild, we chalked it up as luck, until Mr A cried out again ‘look, is that a cat running along through that field?’. The answer was ‘no’! It was actually another otter bounding along through the grass. Are these things rare or what?

Ash and poplar trees line the waterways, cut back to short stumps to prevent them toppling over during winter storms
Back to the village of La Garotte where we explore back gardens leading to the waterways
There are more waterways than roads in these parts
Back in Coulon before heading off for a late lunch

We saw our third and final otter not long after, swimming across the channel in front of us, head held high. It seems we were very fortunate. We excitedly told a local boat guide what we had seen, and he said he very rarely has seen one, let alone three. I guess otters are not used to the stealth like approach of us on a pack raft compared to the chattering of tourists on rowboats or barques.

Over a late lunch we debated whether to stay another night or move on, and settled on the latter. More adventures await us! We hit the road and continued on our journey west, aiming for Brittany, the region of France closest to the south west of England. After our 8km paddle we had worked up a thirst, and thought a wine tasting and stay on a vineyard as part of our France Passion membership might be in order.

It was around 5pm that we pulled up at Martine and Gérard Padiou’s western Loire Valley vineyard ‘Domaine des Priés’. We entered the cellar, as is typical in France, situated below the main house.

Martine welcomed us and offered a degustation from the wide range of wines grown and produced on their property, including the grape typical of the Loire Valley region, grolleau. The name grolleau is derived from the French word for crow, and is said to describe the deep black hue of the grapes.

A wide selection of wines available for tasting
We bought a bottle of the Grolleau Gris which was dry and fruity, not acidic…it will be nice with a seafood entree one evening!

We purchased a couple of bottles of wine, both very reasonable (the Grolleau Gris at €3.80 and the Abouriou Grolleau at €3.40) and headed off to the vineyard for the night.

Catherine and Martine, working our way through the French language!

There we found ourselves a level parking spot between the rows of grapes and settled down for the night to listen to owls hooting and hunting among the vines.

Cosy in the vines for the night
Grapes are looking plump and almost ready for harvest
A fine conclusion to a fabulous day

29- 30 June: Back at Camping Stobreč near Split

Author: Mr A

Location: Stobreč, Split, Croatia

Saturday: It was time to disembark our cruise and head back our campsite just south of Split. Another load of passengers would be joining the boat in two hours, so no break for this hardworking crew. Youth unemployment in Croatia has run at an average of 33% in the last few years, although thankfully at least dropped this year to 20%. We see a determination to work hard and put in really long hours though to feel secure. We wished them well and also our friends, who would be going seperate directions from here.

Stobreč Harbour

We headed back to our campsite down the coast from Split that had been storing our motorhome. Thankfully all was well. Camping Stobreč have been super helpful to us, keeping an eye on it for us while we were away. Another set of mostly young staff who put in incredibly long, hard hours. I hope Croatia finds industries other than tourism to diversify its economy and provide a year round income for the locals, who have to put up with their infrastructure of roads, ports and airports groaning under the weight of visitors in the high season. I can see why there is a touch of resentment from some that they don’t get to enjoy their own beaches, restaurants or scenic town centres in the good weather.

We unpacked into Truffy our petite motorhome, filling every available nook and cranny, had a cuppa and oh no…the power has gone off from the mains supply. We soon established with from the camp’s ever helpful staff that it wasnt on their side the problem lay. Running out of ideas of what to check after the usual cut out switch check, we sought help from multiple sources; our dealer (but it was a Saturday lunchtime in the UK), the Hymer Owners Group Facebook site and then in desperation I called the local Croatia Camper rental company to see who they might use for repair. Well all three were gold.

Within minutes we were getting suggestions of what to check from the owners group (this site has been our guide and saviour!), then I got though to the camper rental owner, who sent his brother round who was at the local beach and arrived a few minutes later! As he arrived and started eliminating issues the phone rang and it was our dealer’s workshop. Between Dave from Fuller Leisure and Robert from Croatia Campers the problem was tracked to an unplugged wire that I had managed to dislodge when cramming our gear into a wardrobe containing our cut out switch! A big thanks to all. This blog helps us a little bit to be able to return a little value to all those suppliers who have made our travel so relatively easy compared with the challenges we faced in Australia. I wonder why its so different? Is the “Lucky Country” a bit too lucky, with little competition in many areas breeding a “relaxed” customer response?

So powered up once again we lost no time in throwing ourselves in the refreshing waters of the Adriatic 100 metres from our pitch. Ah, its good to be “home”…because thats what we call it, no matter where we park up.

Down to the local beach
A very young cat living wild in the campground has had three adorable kittens…

Sunday: The next day we bussed into Split to explore the Diocletian Palace, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world and built as a retirement home for the Roman Emperor of the same name in the 4th century AD.

The emperor himself

It also housed his garrison, so picture more of a large fortified castle. The basement area had gradually filled in with rubble over the centuries, but in the 1950’s was gradually cleared. Now this UNESCO listed site sees throngs of tourists, like us, tramping round.

Roman sewerage pipes

I wonder what they are thinking about when they do? For me, its a reminder that just because our century has seen many technological advancements, very very clever people have always been innovating on this earth and we can/should always learn something from what they did and why they did it. Just touching the stones we tried to imagine what our lives would have been like working in that place.

Incredible scale and pillars
Old pillar bases, showcasing the skilled carving

This was a simply breathtaking site, with soaring roofs and massive rooms, copying exactly the layout of the palace above, most of which has now been built over, but still functions as a thriving hub of the city.

Artists impression of the palace

We knew there was a 3,500 year old Spinx that had been looted from Egypt, so it was quite funny reading the description when we found it of it being “imported”!

Sphinx…’imported’ from Egypt (ah-hem!)…

All ruined out, but feeling satisfied we had added another enriching experience to our visit to Croatia, we wandered around the old town above, had a light lunch (we really need to lighten up the calorie intake over the last few months!) and then headed back to our camp for an early night.

We discovered ‘cat corner’ where locals had provided sleeping quarters, food and water for stray cats
They were all well fed, and we donated a few kuna to their cause
A concerned mum checks out her playful escapee kitten
One happy, full, sleepy cat

Catherine is off in the morning to London for another op on her throat. I’m staying here “guarding” the truck and trying to shake my cough and cold with fresh air, exercise and salads…my only friends the multitude of cats who also call the campsite home and come looking for food pretty regularly.

One of the locals comes to dinner at Truffy – we always carry cat food nowadays in case of hungry visitors

We will miss each other I know, but living 24×7 in about 2 square metres of internal space, its good for both of us (but especially Mrs A poor thing!) to have some “own time”.

16-20 June: Arrivederci Italy, Zdravo Croatia!

Author: Mr A

Location: Ancona, Italy & Split and Stobreč, Croatia

Monday: It was time to board our second ferry of the trip from Ancona, on the east coast of Italy, and head over to Split in Croatia. We had absolutely loved Italy. The people, their ready smiles, their amazing food and wine. What would Croatia be like? A first visit for both of us. What adventures awaited us?

Getting our motorhome onto the ferry was the first one. I followed the somewhat ambiguous gesticulations of a rather excitable young man as he guided me on. Not really sure what was happening, he then had me doing a 5 point turn and then reversing down the length of the pitch black hold of the ferry! Thankfully I’m finding that the more of these little challenges I have to tackle, the less stressed I get about them…Catherine likes that as well 🙂

Boarding the ferry…no idea what awaited us at this point…

Reversing all over, Truffy in place for the journey

As it was a 11 hour overnight trip we had booked a cabin. I had read the web site last night and was looking forward to “the luxurious cruise liner” experience they had promised.

Our cell…I mean cabin…

Well the toilet seat wasn’t even attached and promptly fell off. The curtain rail and curtains followed. The mould and peeling paint didn’t exactly call out 5 star. Like so many situations where there is limited competition, with a duoply running on on this route, it was appalling.

Up on deck as we pull away from the Italian coast

The sun sets on Italy

The best sunset this trip (so far)

Anyway, with a beautiful sunset wishing us arrivederci to Italy we went for dinner, and had our first poor meal since out last ferry across from the UK to France. Self-catering has to be the way to go on ferries we have concluded.

Sunrise over Croatia as we pull into port

Tuesday: We arrived at our campsite after a short drive through the uninspiring suburbs of Split, with graffiti covering every wall, and rubbish strewn everywhere. This is a city that swells to a million tourists in the summer season. Where is that revenue going? Certainly not back into cleaning and infrastructure. A little bit jaded after our poor night and disappointing first impression of the city, we walked down through the campsite and got our first glimpse of the setting we were in. Wow!

The beach was stony but the view just spectacular with the barren mountains providing a stark backdrop to the bright blue shimmering of the water. In we dived….well to be honest it was a rather a slower process of adjusting to the “fresh” temperature of the ocean after the 30 degree pool we had been using all last week!

We dug out our inflatable kayaks from the depths of our motorhome, as this would be the first time they had seen the light of day since making the trip over with us from Australia.

Exploring the little harbour on the other side of the bay

Admiring the incredible backdrop which looks all the more grand from the water

Mrs A heads off to disturb a flock of juvenile gulls

With plenty of sea life in these waters, fishing is a popular pastime

We headed off and its hard to describe the exhilaration you feel to be out on the water under your own steam, free to potter about where you want. We headed south round the foreshore, with a flock of sea-birds rather annoyed at our intrusion through their watery paradise. We spent a few hours exploring the coast, and it was a fabulous introduction to Croatia.

Wednesday: The next day was a bit of a repeat button with a swim and a paddle, this time north back towards the city. It’s certainly a very busy part of the world at this time of the year, but out on the water in your own little bubble, it was serene.

Perfect azure waters as we paddle up the coast

Kids spending time snorkelling and jumping off rocks

Mrs A cannot resist a swim in the 25 degree waters

Busy beaches, despite it not yet being the school holidays

We spent the afternoon packing to ready for an early departure tomorrow down on another ferry to Dubrovnik, but then rewarded ourselves with dinner at the restaurant on the campsite.

Waterside table for dinner

Look at this view…and the food was pretty amazing as well. I opted for the local speciality of black cuttlefish risotto, served with bread fired in a pizza oven. Catherine tucked into freshly made gnocchi with fava (broad) beans…a new favourite of hers.

Fine dining

Alas no wine – we are trying to clock up a few AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) before the next onslaught starting in Dubrovnik!

Thursday: The morning dawned once again with clear blue skies, and a 28 degrees by 7am…another warm one. Our taxi arrived and we were off back to the port…and realised we had forgotten our precious mifi device with our generous data SIM in it. I left Catherine at the ferry and thanks to our super great taxi driver managed a dash back to collect it and made the ferry just as it was boarding.

Dubrovnik here we come!

16-20 June: Arrivederci Italy, Zdravo Croatia!

Author: Mr A

Location: Ancona, Italy & Split and Stobreč, Croatia

Monday: It was time to board our second ferry of the trip from Ancona, on the east coast of Italy, and head over to Split in Croatia. We had absolutely loved Italy. The people, their ready smiles, their amazing food and wine. What would Croatia be like? A first visit for both of us. What adventures awaited us?

Getting our motorhome onto the ferry was the first one. I followed the somewhat ambiguous gesticulations of a rather excitable young man as he guided me on. Not really sure what was happening, he then had me doing a 5 point turn and then reversing down the length of the pitch black hold of the ferry! Thankfully I’m finding that the more of these little challenges I have to tackle, the less stressed I get about them…Catherine likes that as well 🙂

Boarding the ferry…no idea what awaited us at this point…

Reversing all over, Truffy in place for the journey

As it was a 11 hour overnight trip we had booked a cabin. I had read the web site last night and was looking forward to “the luxurious cruise liner” experience they had promised.

Our cell…I mean cabin…

Well the toilet seat wasn’t even attached and promptly fell off. The curtain rail and curtains followed. The mould and peeling paint didn’t exactly call out 5 star. Like so many situations where there is limited competition, with a duoply running on on this route, it was appalling.

Up on deck as we pull away from the Italian coast

The sun sets on Italy

The best sunset this trip (so far)

Anyway, with a beautiful sunset wishing us arrivederci to Italy we went for dinner, and had our first poor meal since out last ferry across from the UK to France. Self-catering has to be the way to go on ferries we have concluded.

Sunrise over Croatia as we pull into port

Tuesday: We arrived at our campsite after a short drive through the uninspiring suburbs of Split, with graffiti covering every wall, and rubbish strewn everywhere. This is a city that swells to a million tourists in the summer season. Where is that revenue going? Certainly not back into cleaning and infrastructure. A little bit jaded after our poor night and disappointing first impression of the city, we walked down through the campsite and got our first glimpse of the setting we were in. Wow!

The beach was stony but the view just spectacular with the barren mountains providing a stark backdrop to the bright blue shimmering of the water. In we dived….well to be honest it was a rather a slower process of adjusting to the “fresh” temperature of the ocean after the 30 degree pool we had been using all last week!

We dug out our inflatable kayaks from the depths of our motorhome, as this would be the first time they had seen the light of day since making the trip over with us from Australia.

Exploring the little harbour on the other side of the bay

Admiring the incredible backdrop which looks all the more grand from the water

Mrs A heads off to disturb a flock of juvenile gulls

With plenty of sea life in these waters, fishing is a popular pastime

We headed off and its hard to describe the exhilaration you feel to be out on the water under your own steam, free to potter about where you want. We headed south round the foreshore, with a flock of sea-birds rather annoyed at our intrusion through their watery paradise. We spent a few hours exploring the coast, and it was a fabulous introduction to Croatia.

Wednesday: The next day was a bit of a repeat button with a swim and a paddle, this time north back towards the city. It’s certainly a very busy part of the world at this time of the year, but out on the water in your own little bubble, it was serene.

Perfect azure waters as we paddle up the coast

Kids spending time snorkelling and jumping off rocks

Mrs A cannot resist a swim in the 25 degree waters

Busy beaches, despite it not yet being the school holidays

We spent the afternoon packing to ready for an early departure tomorrow down on another ferry to Dubrovnik, but then rewarded ourselves with dinner at the restaurant on the campsite.

Waterside table for dinner

Look at this view…and the food was pretty amazing as well. I opted for the local speciality of black cuttlefish risotto, served with bread fired in a pizza oven. Catherine tucked into freshly made gnocchi with fava (broad) beans…a new favourite of hers.

Fine dining

Alas no wine – we are trying to clock up a few AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) before the next onslaught starting in Dubrovnik!

Thursday: The morning dawned once again with clear blue skies, and a 28 degrees by 7am…another warm one. Our taxi arrived and we were off back to the port…and realised we had forgotten our precious mifi device with our generous data SIM in it. I left Catherine at the ferry and thanks to our super great taxi driver managed a dash back to collect it and made the ferry just as it was boarding.

Dubrovnik here we come!

16-20 June: Arrivederci Italy, Zdravo Croatia!

Author: Mr A

Location: Ancona, Italy & Split and Stobreč, Croatia

Monday: It was time to board our second ferry of the trip from Ancona, on the east coast of Italy, and head over to Split in Croatia. We had absolutely loved Italy. The people, their ready smiles, their amazing food and wine. What would Croatia be like? A first visit for both of us. What adventures awaited us?

Getting our motorhome onto the ferry was the first one. I followed the somewhat ambiguous gesticulations of a rather excitable young man as he guided me on. Not really sure what was happening, he then had me doing a 5 point turn and then reversing down the length of the pitch black hold of the ferry! Thankfully I’m finding that the more of these little challenges I have to tackle, the less stressed I get about them…Catherine likes that as well 🙂

Boarding the ferry…no idea what awaited us at this point…

Reversing all over, Truffy in place for the journey

As it was a 11 hour overnight trip we had booked a cabin. I had read the web site last night and was looking forward to “the luxurious cruise liner” experience they had promised.

Our cell…I mean cabin…

Well the toilet seat wasn’t even attached and promptly fell off. The curtain rail and curtains followed. The mould and peeling paint didn’t exactly call out 5 star. Like so many situations where there is limited competition, with a duoply running on on this route, it was appalling.

Up on deck as we pull away from the Italian coast

The sun sets on Italy

The best sunset this trip (so far)

Anyway, with a beautiful sunset wishing us arrivederci to Italy we went for dinner, and had our first poor meal since out last ferry across from the UK to France. Self-catering has to be the way to go on ferries we have concluded.

Sunrise over Croatia as we pull into port

Tuesday: We arrived at our campsite after a short drive through the uninspiring suburbs of Split, with graffiti covering every wall, and rubbish strewn everywhere. This is a city that swells to a million tourists in the summer season. Where is that revenue going? Certainly not back into cleaning and infrastructure. A little bit jaded after our poor night and disappointing first impression of the city, we walked down through the campsite and got our first glimpse of the setting we were in. Wow!

The beach was stony but the view just spectacular with the barren mountains providing a stark backdrop to the bright blue shimmering of the water. In we dived….well to be honest it was a rather a slower process of adjusting to the “fresh” temperature of the ocean after the 30 degree pool we had been using all last week!

We dug out our inflatable kayaks from the depths of our motorhome, as this would be the first time they had seen the light of day since making the trip over with us from Australia.

Exploring the little harbour on the other side of the bay

Admiring the incredible backdrop which looks all the more grand from the water

Mrs A heads off to disturb a flock of juvenile gulls

With plenty of sea life in these waters, fishing is a popular pastime

We headed off and its hard to describe the exhilaration you feel to be out on the water under your own steam, free to potter about where you want. We headed south round the foreshore, with a flock of sea-birds rather annoyed at our intrusion through their watery paradise. We spent a few hours exploring the coast, and it was a fabulous introduction to Croatia.

Wednesday: The next day was a bit of a repeat button with a swim and a paddle, this time north back towards the city. It’s certainly a very busy part of the world at this time of the year, but out on the water in your own little bubble, it was serene.

Perfect azure waters as we paddle up the coast

Kids spending time snorkelling and jumping off rocks

Mrs A cannot resist a swim in the 25 degree waters

Busy beaches, despite it not yet being the school holidays

We spent the afternoon packing to ready for an early departure tomorrow down on another ferry to Dubrovnik, but then rewarded ourselves with dinner at the restaurant on the campsite.

Waterside table for dinner

Look at this view…and the food was pretty amazing as well. I opted for the local speciality of black cuttlefish risotto, served with bread fired in a pizza oven. Catherine tucked into freshly made gnocchi with fava (broad) beans…a new favourite of hers.

Fine dining

Alas no wine – we are trying to clock up a few AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) before the next onslaught starting in Dubrovnik!

Thursday: The morning dawned once again with clear blue skies, and a 28 degrees by 7am…another warm one. Our taxi arrived and we were off back to the port…and realised we had forgotten our precious mifi device with our generous data SIM in it. I left Catherine at the ferry and thanks to our super great taxi driver managed a dash back to collect it and made the ferry just as it was boarding.

Dubrovnik here we come!

16-20 June: Arrivederci Italy, Zdravo Croatia!

Author: Mr A

Location: Ancona, Italy & Split and Stobreč, Croatia

Monday: It was time to board our second ferry of the trip from Ancona, on the east coast of Italy, and head over to Split in Croatia. We had absolutely loved Italy. The people, their ready smiles, their amazing food and wine. What would Croatia be like? A first visit for both of us. What adventures awaited us?

Getting our motorhome onto the ferry was the first one. I followed the somewhat ambiguous gesticulations of a rather excitable young man as he guided me on. Not really sure what was happening, he then had me doing a 5 point turn and then reversing down the length of the pitch black hold of the ferry! Thankfully I’m finding that the more of these little challenges I have to tackle, the less stressed I get about them…Catherine likes that as well 🙂

Boarding the ferry…no idea what awaited us at this point…

Reversing all over, Truffy in place for the journey

As it was a 11 hour overnight trip we had booked a cabin. I had read the web site last night and was looking forward to “the luxurious cruise liner” experience they had promised.

Our cell…I mean cabin…

Well the toilet seat wasn’t even attached and promptly fell off. The curtain rail and curtains followed. The mould and peeling paint didn’t exactly call out 5 star. Like so many situations where there is limited competition, with a duoply running on on this route, it was appalling.

Up on deck as we pull away from the Italian coast

The sun sets on Italy

The best sunset this trip (so far)

Anyway, with a beautiful sunset wishing us arrivederci to Italy we went for dinner, and had our first poor meal since out last ferry across from the UK to France. Self-catering has to be the way to go on ferries we have concluded.

Sunrise over Croatia as we pull into port

Tuesday: We arrived at our campsite after a short drive through the uninspiring suburbs of Split, with graffiti covering every wall, and rubbish strewn everywhere. This is a city that swells to a million tourists in the summer season. Where is that revenue going? Certainly not back into cleaning and infrastructure. A little bit jaded after our poor night and disappointing first impression of the city, we walked down through the campsite and got our first glimpse of the setting we were in. Wow!

The beach was stony but the view just spectacular with the barren mountains providing a stark backdrop to the bright blue shimmering of the water. In we dived….well to be honest it was a rather a slower process of adjusting to the “fresh” temperature of the ocean after the 30 degree pool we had been using all last week!

We dug out our inflatable kayaks from the depths of our motorhome, as this would be the first time they had seen the light of day since making the trip over with us from Australia.

Exploring the little harbour on the other side of the bay

Admiring the incredible backdrop which looks all the more grand from the water

Mrs A heads off to disturb a flock of juvenile gulls

With plenty of sea life in these waters, fishing is a popular pastime

We headed off and its hard to describe the exhilaration you feel to be out on the water under your own steam, free to potter about where you want. We headed south round the foreshore, with a flock of sea-birds rather annoyed at our intrusion through their watery paradise. We spent a few hours exploring the coast, and it was a fabulous introduction to Croatia.

Wednesday: The next day was a bit of a repeat button with a swim and a paddle, this time north back towards the city. It’s certainly a very busy part of the world at this time of the year, but out on the water in your own little bubble, it was serene.

Perfect azure waters as we paddle up the coast

Kids spending time snorkelling and jumping off rocks

Mrs A cannot resist a swim in the 25 degree waters

Busy beaches, despite it not yet being the school holidays

We spent the afternoon packing to ready for an early departure tomorrow down on another ferry to Dubrovnik, but then rewarded ourselves with dinner at the restaurant on the campsite.

Waterside table for dinner

Look at this view…and the food was pretty amazing as well. I opted for the local speciality of black cuttlefish risotto, served with bread fired in a pizza oven. Catherine tucked into freshly made gnocchi with fava (broad) beans…a new favourite of hers.

Fine dining

Alas no wine – we are trying to clock up a few AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) before the next onslaught starting in Dubrovnik!

Thursday: The morning dawned once again with clear blue skies, and a 28 degrees by 7am…another warm one. Our taxi arrived and we were off back to the port…and realised we had forgotten our precious mifi device with our generous data SIM in it. I left Catherine at the ferry and thanks to our super great taxi driver managed a dash back to collect it and made the ferry just as it was boarding.

Dubrovnik here we come!