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15 January 2009

Did you know:  Special Edition – Today, 9 years ago, Mandy and I got married in Cape Town.  Who would’ve known that it was to be the start of a great adventure for us both?  Doesn’t time just fly by when you’re having fun…

After our time in Poland, it was time to move on to Prague in the Czech Republic before we head to Munich.  Like so many other cities in Europe, the Germans invaded Prague as well.  The difference though was that the Nazis took control of Prague very quickly.  This meant that most of the city and old town was spared from being completely destroyed.

We stayed in Prague for 2 nights, and decided it was time to treat us again to a nice hotel.  We stayed in the historic center of town.  The only problem in Prague is the parking.  The streets are so small and narrow and most of the parking is for residents.  Our hotel didn’t have parking, but there was parking at a posh hotel around the corner.  This came at a price though, but we didn’t really want to take a chance and leave the car on the road.  Unfortunately for us, the entrance wasn’t high enough (probably by about 5cm or so).  We had no choice but to leave the car on the road.  We managed to find a spot outside another hotel close by with the reception looking out onto the road.  Prague is a truly beautiful place, with beautiful buildings around almost every corner.  We spent our 2 days walking through the narrow cobble stoned streets and alleys, admiring the architecture and enjoying some good food again.  It was very cold though and we were happy to be in a nice warm hotel.

We were lucky enough to have some flat mates from Munich in Germany when we lived in Sydney.  Anna very kindly invited us to stay with her and her family in Munich while we were there.  It is so nice to know someone in a city you visit.  We ended up staying there for only 3 nights.  We really had a nice time there.  It was also cold, but it was always sunny, which made walking around so much nicer.  We spent the Sunday walking around some of the big palaces and gardens, and watched the locals ice skate and playing a local version of curling on the frozen rivers.  A visit to Munich is not complete if you don’t have some local food and off course a few local brews.  This was definitely not a problem, with a lot of good places to go to where you can enjoy a few drinks.  We will definitely go back there in the summer, hopefully even this year on our way down to Africa.  Thanks Anna, and also a big thanks to your parents for letting us stay with you and for making us feel so welcome.  It was really very nice.

Our next stop (a bit of a detour to southern Europe) on our way to London was our Italian friends we met in Mongolia.  They live in the absolutely breathtaking Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps.  We also planned to do a bit of skiing whilst there, something I was really looking forward to.  The first and last time we went skiing before was about 8 years ago (not counting our 2 hours in Latvia) in Bulgaria.  Luckily, Loris works on the ski slopes and is an excellent skier himself, so I wasn’t too worried about breaking a leg.  The little village they live in is about 25km from the nearest slopes.  The village is very small, but so idyllic.  We are really a bit envious of where they live with the valleys and mountains all around them.  We spent an almost perfect day on the slopes, almost perfect because both of us managed to fall a few times while skiing.  We at least managed to fall in a ‘controlled manner’ most of the times.  I did however managed to bash my leg with the ski at some point, but only realised this when we got home and I had a bit of a gash (well not really a gash, but it was bleeding a bit…) on my leg.  We spent most of our time swapping stories, tips and ideas on traveling overland, and off course had some pasta in between.  We couldn’t stay there forever, even though it will be so easy to, and decided to head north for the last time to London.

To Loris and Carmen; Thank you soooo much for letting us stay with you and opening your home to us.  You’ve been so kind to us, and we really appreciate it.  It was so nice to spend time with you.  We really hope that everything will go well with your upcoming trip to Central Asia and that you manage to sort out all your paperwork for Iran.

That’s it for today.  Our next entry will probably be from London.

01 February 2009

Did you know – It’s a bloody long way from Sydney to London!

And so it happened that on the 23rd day of January in 2009, we arrived in London after setting of from Sydney.  It took us 205 days to get here and we drove 33,453km on the first part of our trip.

It didn’t take us long to get from our Italian friends (Loris and Carmen) just south of the Mont Blanc tunnel to Calais and on to Dover.  We spent the last night in France at the ferry terminal, camping outside the P&O ferry ticket office, because we had a very early ferry the following morning.  We both thought we would be more excited to get to England, but I think a combination of us living there for almost 10 years and the weather being appalling on the day we arrived back, dampened our spirits a bit.  It was an awful day, almost gale force winds blowing in Kent and a lot of rain.  We at least had something to look forward to, and that was seeing all of our friends again.

Phil and Dot (who we met in Vladivostok with their campervan) met us on our way to London for a quick catch-up and a nice fry-up to get us in the mood for unpacking when we get to Craig’s place.  It was so nice to see them again after spending about 2 weeks or so with them in far eastern Russia.  It’s unbelievable how many nice people you meet on the road…all satisfied after our hearty breakfast, it was time to tackle the final 100km or so.  It was so weird driving on the left-hand side of the road again after spending the last 7 months or so on the other side.  We got to our good friend Craig just after lunch (Craig very kindly offered for us to stay with him while we were back in London – we also stayed with him for a few months before we left for Australia after we sold our flat in London).  Luckily for us, it stopped raining in the afternoon and it was time for the big unpack…something we didn’t look forward to.

We spent the next week or so catching up with some other close friends.  We couldn’t wait to have some of Marina’s curries again (our Sri Lankan friend) and we also managed a couple of poker nights, as well as catching up with our very good Welsh friend, Alun.  We also saw Lidia, Ian and met their little boy Zach for the first time, such a cutie, and always smiling.  After our initial socializing stint, we thought we better look for work if we wanted to hang around for a few months.  We couldn’t have chosen a worse time to look for short-term work.  There is a bit going around, but a lot of people looking for jobs.  To our disadvantage as well, we only want to work for 2-3 months and the short-term contracts are more 3-6 months.  We’ll have to see how we go.

18 March 2009

Did you know – The Nazar Boncuk (a colourful ‘evil-eye’ bead) is used to scare off bad luck.  It comes in a string of beads or it can be pinned to clothes or nailed to doors etc.  It somewhat resembles an eye and is typically coloured blue to protect the user.

It turned out that our initial thoughts on finding short-term job was correct.  After hanging around in London for about 6 weeks and doing a bit of maintenance on the car and spending wwaaayyyy to much, we decided to hit the road again, a bit earlier than we first thought though.  We were hoping to miss the last end of winter on the road, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We left London on 7 March and started the long trip south.

We changed our route a bit as well.  We were going to cross from Italy to Tunisia, then Libya and on to Egypt before going down the east coast.  We decided however to skip that part because of the high cost of a guide (which is compulsory) and the ‘pain in the backside’ of a Libyan visa.  We decided to rather go through Turkey, Syria and Jordan and then on to Egypt.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Europe, mainly because of the cost and because it is still cold, and we can’t wait for warmer weather.  Our winter started around late October when we got to Tajikistan, so its been a good 6 months of cold (sometimes –20 degrees) weather.  We managed to stay in Stuttgart for a few days while we were waiting for some new bankcards to arrive from Australia.  We visited the very impressive Mercedes Benz museum, definitely worth the 8 euros.  From there, it was the most direct route to the Turkish border.  It took us about 10 days to do the 4,000km, going through Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.  Not too much to report on those countries besides from Romania, where there are absolutely 100s of stray dogs around and so may get killed on the roads.  On our last day in Romania, Mandy counted about 25 dead dogs on the roads, and that was in about 4 or 5 hours.  We must of driven past at least 150 or so dead dogs.

Tonight is our first night in Turkey (we’re about 50km north of Istanbul – we’ll be spending a few days there), and it’s raining and still cold probably around 8 degrees outside.  I think it will be at least another 2 weeks or so before we get to more acceptable temperatures, i.e. at least above 15 degrees.

Until next time, hopefully from somewhere warm!