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!

15-18 August: Another flying visit to the doctor

Author: Mrs A

Location: Zürich, Switzerland, London, Brighton and Arundel, UK

Thursday: After farewelling Mark, I made my way across Zürich by public transport to the airport, a bus to a nearby train station then two trains which deposited me in good time at Kloten Airport for my flight to the UK. Everything was clean and and efficient, but once at the airport, rather expensive! I Feeling peckish I looked at the menu at one of the bars, only to find a pulled pork sandwich for the Swiss Franc equivalent of AU$42 (about £20!)…I passed and found a slightly more affordable snack at Pret a Manger.

The sun sets in Zürich
I just miss the fast train to Brighton by a second…

I finally made it to my sister’s house in Brighton around midnight and collapsed into bed.

Friday morning I was on a train again by 9.45am, heading up to London. My first port of call was Piccadilly Circus.

The famous fountain in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, signposted (and commonly referred to) as ‘Eros’ is actually the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, surmounted by a winged statue of Anteros (the brother and playmate of Eros, according to Greek mythology) 

There I met up with three lovely ladies with iSGS I’ve met via the Facebook support group I run. We had a great chat over a light lunch at Bistro Zedel.

L-R: Catherine, Karen, Pat and Gemma

After lunch I made my way to Charing Cross Hospital on the other side of London near Hammersmith, where I had a series of awake steroid injections into my airway. It’s an excellent team there, all very caring, and it makes what could be a horrible experience quite bearable! That said, I travelled back to Brighton, exhausted after the procedure for a quiet night with Helen and brother-in-law Stuart.

Saturday: Just by chance, my cousin Elizabeth had been in touch with me and my siblings in the previous month to suggest a family reunion in the nearby West Sussex town of Arundel. I hadn’t seen her, her brother Giles nor their parents, Jill and Roger for more than 20 years! We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and so I squeezed into the back of Helen and Stu’s car along with my niece and nephew, and off we went.

Jason, Elizabeth and Jill
Cousin Giles chats with brother in law John and uncle Roger

We met up at the Arundel Wetland Centre, 65 acres of managed wetlands which are home to numerous birds, both native and from around the world, frogs, water voles as well as rare plants and flowers. We were a large group, with our extended family including children bringing us up to 19 visitors ranging from 3 years of age to late 70s. The venue did well to cater for us all, with plenty of information and a Lego trail for the children as well as more details and bird watching hides for the older ones.

Is that a cow out there in the water?
Yes indeed…one of four….
Elliot has had enough of looking for birds, he’s off to find some Lego bricks instead!
A little impromptu blackberry picking on the way around
Beautiful wild herbs, flowers and fruits around the wetlands

We brought along picnics and enjoyed an informative guided electric boat ride around the waterways, learning about the work they do there, the flora and fauna present.

Much laughter as the reeds attack William and Edward on the boat trip
Elliot enjoying the trip sat beside Helen
Off on a boating adventure – Catherine with Isabel, Elliot and Helen
Isabel having a good chuckle next to her auntie Catherine
Beautiful waterlilies on our trip around

We all had a great reunion, managed to chat at least a little to everyone before finishing the afternoon with ice creams and heading off home. A fabulous day out, and such a treat for me – if I had not have been back for my hospital visit I would not have even been there.

The three witches…I mean sisters – Elle, Catherine and Helen….

Sunday rolled around so quickly, and Helen and I ran around Brighton doing a few tasks and shopping. We managed to grab a quick lunch on the beach before heading back home, so I could pack and enjoy a final cup of tea before we headed to the airport.

A pair of wind blown sisters on the beach

The flight was a little late leaving, which meant travelling back to camp through Zurich was going to be challenging. Thankfully Switzerland has Uber in force, and for a reasonable price a lovely young Kenyan man drove me back to camp by 10.30pm…lovely to be reunited back with Mr A again and to be back on our travels.

15-18 August: Lurking around the outskirts of Zurich

Author: Mr A

Location: Greifensee and Zürich, Switzerland

While Mrs A was off getting her injections in London, I amused myself lurking around the outskirts of Zurich. I had three days to myself, always exciting when you haven’t been on your own for 6 weeks! So I set about exploring on two wheels (now there’s a surprise) the area around Greifensee, a lake to the east of Zurich, where we had found a nice little family owned campsite.

Lake Greifensee – finally spot the mountains after the cloud lifts

I rode into Zurich a couple of times and explored the eastern and western lakeshore, then up the river that flows though the middle of the city.

Zurich is a very picturesque city

Once again I felt so comfortable riding around, along with hundreds of other cyclists, with cars respectfully keeping their distance. I’m just about to clock up 2,000 kilometers (1,245 miles) on this bike and haven’t had one incident where I felt threatened by a car drivers behaviour. In Australia I’d be lucky to go down the local shops and back without some hoon cutting me up, pulling out in front or nearly brushing my elbow. There is just a different attitude here from drivers, not just to bikes but all other road users. Drivers thoughtfully pause to let you out from a side road, pull to the slower lane rather than hogging the fast lane, and generally behave a lot more thoughtfully. The accident rates for road users bear testament to how this reflects in fewer fatalities. Switzerland has one of the lowest vehicle mortality rates in the world (with the UK and Denmark leading the charge). Australia is interestingly on a par with Italy!

Zurich had few surprises as a city, though very unexpected were the hundreds of people floating down the CBD centric river clutching little flotation devices! The water was actually very clear and clean looking for the city centre – I was almost tempted until I toe tested the temperature. Yikes these Swiss are hardy folks!

Imagine people doing this down the River Thames?!
Zurich also has a surprising amount of green space

I had one day of perfect blue skies, on Sunday. It seemed half of Switzerland were out on their bikes riding around the lake side cycle paths of Greifensee.

It was once again lovely to see so many families out getting some exercise together without using a car. In fact lake side access for cars is almost non-existent, the only way to get there is by bike or a longish walk.

Clean air and peaceful – makes a change from a car park full of motor vehicles
Great to see so many bikes in use

It completely transforms the character of the area, making it quieter, cleaner and safer. People were calling out to one another and stopping for a chat, hard to do in a car. There were several groups of young people out cooking up a BBQ with friends, with a few beers on the go, but no gangs of drunken yobs staggering around either. Just all very clean Swiss family friendly fun.

Perfect blue skies, a pleasure to be riding around the local lake

Mrs A turned up late last night, just before another massive storm rumbled around the encircling hills and dumped yet more rain. But no complaints from us on that score, we are enjoying the cooler weather, and everywhere just looks so fresh and green.

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.