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…

12-14 August: A little taster of south-western Germany and into Switzerland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wangan im Allgäu, and Lottstetten, Germany, The Rhine Falls, Switzerland

Monday morning brought stormy skies and cool temperatures – struggling to reach 14°C by lunchtime. We farewelled Ottobeuren and drove west through Germany, heading to a town called Wangan. We parked up on a stellplatz (the German version of a parking area dedicated for motor homes, with electricity and services provided for self-contained vehicles) beside the river leading into town.

By early afternoon the rain had stopped so we ventured out for an explore. Wangan is an old medieval town with several well preserved buildings and some remains of the wall and towers which marked the entry points.

The River Argen is very full after the heavy rain, In the background, St Martin’s church which rings out the hour…

Clearly English speaking guests are a rarity in these parts, as the information centre, packed with leaflets, maps and posters was able to hand me only one single booklet in English, detailing a historical walk through the town. I asked about cycling but the response was vague and a German language map book with rides was handed to me, and two routes pointed out as suitable as day rides.

Mark and I had a wander around town, finding a few of the old buildings before heading back to camp before the next storm arrived.

The streets of the old town are all cobbled
Part of a lovely sculpture – St Anthony’s Fountain – named after the patron saint of domestic animals, sitting on the site where the weekly pig market was held for hundreds of years
The town hall – or Rathaus (I find this quite comical that it directly translates as the rat house!) dates back to the 1500s and incorporates the first fortifications
History is everywhere if we could only read the signs!
Coats of arms outside old pubs date back to times when few could read and pictures communicated who the publican was
Claimed to be ‘one of the most scenically attractive streets in South Germany’ murals cover the front of many buildings, dating back to the 1700s
The Women’s Gate – dating back to before 1472
Everywhere a colourful array of flowers
Check shirts are mandatory apparently…
A music shop selling dodgy Australian road signs and didgeridoos…surprising!

Tuesday was overcast but dry, so I used Google to try and plot out a circuit route using the map I’d been given. Our route ended up being 60km, so by the time we got back to camp we were starving. Other than the medieval town of Isny, the ride was unremarkable, following mostly quiet roads through farmland and bike paths parallel to busy lorry routes. I think the grey skies helped to dull our enthusiasm for the gently rolling hills and fields of crops.

Isny im Allgäu, another pretty medieval town with a lot of history
Is this how you make warm water…?
Heading off on our ride

Wednesday: We were woken at 7am by the chiming of the local church bells, and packed up and on our way within a couple of hours, having enjoyed fresh bread delivered to the stellplatz by a local baker for breakfast. Before long we were passing through into Switzerland, completely unplanned, having failed to purchase a vignette for the motorways! We exited the motorway as fast as possible and quickly bought one at a local garage, hoping we wouldn’t be penalised for those few kilometres we had driven without paying.

This is the downside of being able to easily pass from country to country – each border crossing comes with its own rules, with Switzerland joining Austria and Slovenia in their requirement for all vehicles to travel with a prepaid vignette attached to their windscreen. Of course Switzerland was the most expensive, at 40 Swiss Francs, around AU$61 (£34). At that price we will have to ensure we make use of it!

Our destination for the day was actually in Germany again, about 40 minutes drive north of Zurich, just across the Rhine River.

Lottstetten is a quiet little village with a handily located stellplatz an easy cycle away from the magnificent waterfalls on the Rhine.

The River Rhine near our camp

We found a cycleway and followed signs to Neuhaisen am Rhinefall, the location of the falls, actually back in Switzerland, just across the border. We weaved our way through paths along fields and railways passing through quiet villages….

Peaceful country lanes, the village of Lottstetten in the background
A little ginger kitten calls us over to give him strokes on our cycle past

The falls were created after the last ice age, and have huge volumes of water thundering over them. Today we were advised there are 479,000 litres per second moving past…we wouldn’t fancy white water rafting over them right now!

479 thousand litres per second roar over this drop on the Rhine River
Look carefully and you will see tiny tourists on the rock in the middle of the falls, and to the left…and of course the boat beneath the falls.
Laufen Castle behind us on the Zurich side of the river, dates back to the year 878

It turns out we were not the only people there to see the spectacle!

For the first time since Krka National Park in Croatia we saw rows of coaches, full car parks and crowds of people lining up for toilets, ice creams and boat trips. It was not really our scene, so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the magnificent falls (and really, the photos do not do them justice), the castle overlooking them and wondered at the sheer power of the river before heading back.

And so to our final night in Germany this evening, as tomorrow we will head into Switzerland again, making it officially our tenth country this year.

9-11 August: Bavaria – we’re back for bread, beer and barbecues

Author: Mr A

Location: Ottobeuren, Bavaria, Germany

Three years ago we came to the small market town of Ottobeuren in southern Bavaria in response to an invite from a friend of Catherine’s to come and visit. On our way to Zurich from Austria we were again invited to come and hang out in this small town that epitomises all things good about this corner of the world. Fields of potatoes and corn dominate the rolling countryside, interspersed with the brightest green fields of lush grass for the grazing beef and dairy cattle.

A beautiful area to explore by bike – quiet lanes and endless cycle ways

We have spent a delightful few days here, eating and drinking and chatting with Catherine’s friend Stefanie and her family.

The gorgeous Stefanie and her youngest, Luna
Lovely Luna

We even got to meet all the neighbours at a BBQ, it was just embarrassing to not speak German! A few beers and conversation seemed to flow pretty well anyway. We love hearing about people’s lives in other countries, and picking out what’s the same globally, and what’s specific to their country or region.

Street party BBQ – helps neighbours and visitors get to know one another better
Manu and Stefanie’s daughter Luna decides Mrs A is ok after all
Ottobeuren Market Square – looking picturesque late at night as we cycle back to camp
Ottobeuren’s Basilica, founded in the year 764

Bavaria seems a very family based culture, and again like Austria, very keen to preserve its culture and traditions. The town has a real buzz about it, with a central town square full of cafes, and empty of cars at weekends and now evenings for a trial period. Families can let their children play in relative safety. Cyclists are everywhere, whole families out to meet friends over an ice cream.

Banana and raspberry sorbet for Mrs A
Mr A’s choice of ice cream includes chocolate, nuts and a dash of rum
One happy little boy post ice-cream
Mr Three, Tristan, demonstrates the real use for the stream running through the centre of town
Miss 15 months, Luna, decides her dry shoes and socks would make good boats….
A bustling town centre on a Sunday afternoon

There is a very strong community spirit….oh…and the locally brewed beers…fantastic! A Bavarian tradition is to sink a couple of wheat beers with white sausage, sweet mustard and pretzels over a breakfast they call “weißwurstfrühstück”. Any culture that has beers for breakfast gets my vote!

Welcomed into a family breakfast
You need to clink the bottom of the glass!

Ottobeuren is maybe not on everyone’s list of holiday destination, but there is more than just ice cream here. It is home to Ottobeuren Abbey which was founded in the year 764 with a spectacular Basilica (completed in 1766) which has been described as one of the best examples of Baroque architecture worldwide. The interior is breathtaking, with every inch covered in carvings, sculptures, beautiful marble pillars and frescoes. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area – Stefanie and Manu were married here, and each of their three children baptised.

Ottobeuren Abbey overlooks the whole town, its twin towers visible for miles around
Gorgeous artworks everywhere
Really need a guide to help interpret the stories shown here
Some of the artwork incorporates sculpture to help the characters literally step out of the paintings

Ottobeuren also has a museum of contemporary art, which Catherine and Stefanie went along to see. It’s housed in a purpose built modern building just off the market square and is somewhat controversial among local residents, some of whom see it as a waste of public money.

It was the final fifteen minutes of the final day of an exhibition of works by Markus Lüpertz, a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist and writer – one of Germany’s best known contemporary artists. Due to the lateness of the day they were allowed in free of charge. Sadly information about the exhibition was only in German and offered little insight into his work – a range of compositions in watercolour, acrylics and oil pastel alongside prints and sculptures, many seemingly themed around star signs.

Works by Markus Lüpertz
A lovely space for artwork but one wonders whether it could not be used for charity dinner parties and suchlike
The light in the building is as much art in itself

Manu and I solved the problems of the world over a couple of beers while we waited.

Catherine and Stefanie

It’s been a great insight into life in small town Bavaria, where you needn’t lock up your garage, you know your neighbours, and cyclists say hello to other riders. We’ve loved it. Ok so the fact that things are changing more slowly here means that’s there’s no nod to the thousands of foreign tourists who visit the local basilica, with menus and other signage exclusively in German. We struggled to find dairy free options for Catherine, cash transactions are the norm again and cigarette smoke hangs over every outdoor seating area like the death pall it is. The latter is the only real negative for us, and that has applied all over mainland Europe.

It’s made us appreciate how Australia is moving faster than Europe in some areas such as banning smoking in public areas and making transactions much easier with a strong and innovative digital payments infrastructure. But to us the big attraction here in Europe is not having to jump in a car to get everywhere, but instead having the ability to safely cycle through towns and countryside, stopping when we want, parking with ease, and having nothing but courtesy from other road users.

….even in the pouring rain!

Dramatic skies approaching us on Sunday night

8 August: Venturing into Germany

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pfronten, Bavaria, Germany

What we love about travelling in Europe is the the ability to amend our plans on the fly, make decisions at short notice and even change countries – all a great challenge in Australia, where at busy times of the year campgrounds must be booked well in advance (restricting any spontaneity) and as for changing countries…well, that takes both funds and planning, and it would be very hard to take a vehicle.

It was a message from our friend Stefanie pointing out we were only a couple of hours away from her in Bavaria that prompted us into pointing Truffy’s nose north upon leaving Innsbruck and head into Germany. It was a spectacular drive, through mountains and following rivers, through alpine tunnels and past countless castles and fortifications.

Yet another fine view out of our windscreen as we wind through the Zugspitze – part of the Northern Limestone Alps

The language, food and scenery sounded and looked very similar to Austria, but in just over an hour’s driving we arrived in the town of Pfronten.

I would love to say it was some secret knowledge that brought us to this village en route to see Stefanie, but it wasn’t, just a site written up on an app with good reviews – and we really hit the jackpot in terms of location. It turned out that a tavern had added motorhome parking to its car park – thereby increasing customer numbers and earning a side income. It was so much cheaper than we had experienced of late too, a total of €14 (AU$23/£13) for the night including drinking water and electricity.

I sat down with Google maps and plotted out what I hoped might be a good circuit cycle ride, taking in a few sights on the way. The region is literally riddled with cycle and hiking paths, and we had spotted a few castles and lakes on our drive through.

The paths started right at our campground, car-free tracks heading across the countryside, amazing views in all directions.

Five minutes ride from camp and we cannot see another human

Our first point of interest was the castle of Eisenberg, built in 1313. It has been owned by Germans and Austrians, attacked by peasants, built up, renovated and raised to the ground again in its 706 years lifespan.

Castle Eisenberg
A commanding position…ensuring peasants all around can be reminded who is in charge
Looking back towards the main castle
Enjoying the lookout from the tower

In the 1980s there was significant restoration of the buildings and interesting finds have been stored in a museum in the nearby village of Zell (open at weekends only).

Setting off on another typical pathway towards another amazing view…not too busy either!

We set off next towards Hopfensee, a large lake surrounded by villages and walking tracks, skirting the edge of the lake through the village of Füssen towards another lake, Weissensee. All tracks were off road, cutting through woodland, old farm tracks along fields, or purpose built alongside the busier roads, but felt really safe at all times. There were plenty of other cyclists around, big smiles on their faces, enjoying the sunshine, perfect temperature and stunning scenery after several days of rain and cooler temperatures.

Weissensee Lake – popular for swimming, paddle boarding and fishing
Looking over to the lakeside village of Oberried
Do these birds appreciate their view? Looking down Weissensee lake from Oberkirch

Our 40km circuit ride finished back at our local tavern for a refreshing beverage. Other than potatoes and vegetables there was nothing on the menu that was dairy-free, so we settled for a beer and glass of Riesling before heading back to Truffy for showers and to cook dinner. An awesome day.