Following is my account of our recent holiday to Europe. I wrote this story with 2 purposes in mind :
1/ As a reference for us, The Wandering Williams, to be able to look back on in time to come to help us remember a very special time
2/ As a way of sharing our experiences and joys with those that we care about, both friends and family.
I make no apology for the length of this story because to have made it any shorter would have been to discount the experiences and this holiday was too important and special to us to do that.
We hope that you read this story and thereby share some of the thrill, the wonder and the happiness that this holiday gave us.
Chapter 1/ ‘Travels With The Campervan’
Monday 15th of March – Day #1
The packing was completed during the day on Sunday. I had Sunday off so we were all able to get in and pack. By dinner time it was all done and we were waiting for the time to leave for the airport.
Nick came around, had a cup of tea, and we were off. After 16 months of planning, the time had finally arrived to leave. Between us we had 4 healthy suitcases and a carry case with Emma’s sleeping bag, plus a backpack style piece of cabin luggage each. There was no way it was all going to fit into Nick’s car, so we packed the luggage in his car and then got a taxi for us.
Everything was standard at the airport; no dramas, which is exactly the way we like it. The plane left on time at about 1 o’clock in the morning. The flight was good and I even managed to get some sleep. We arrived at Paris within 5 minutes of the scheduled time, being 10 o’clock in the morning. The sun was shining brightly. We were in Europe!
The first important activity was to make our way to the campervan place and pick up the van. Our plan was to be well out of Paris by the end of the day. We made our way to the airport station of the RER train system and found that there were 3 trains to take to get to the place we wanted. This was going to be interesting.
Sure enough, it was interesting! It turned out that the girl sent us to a station past where we needed to be, so a very nice lady at the other end helped us determine where we were, where we wanted to be and how to get there. How we got all the baggage into the taxi I will never know, but we did. He then drove us for 20 minutes until we were finally there. By this time I was absolutely bamboozled as to where we were.
The people at the hire place were very nice, but it was a brand new van we were getting and still having some work done on it. I think it was actually still in the process of being registered. That meant that we had an hour and a half wait until it was ready to go. By now it was getting on for 1 o’clock, so we were glad to be finally on our way. The van was wonderful. It was huge inside compared to the one we had in England. It was also diesel, so that was an interesting way to drive through Paris: I’d never driven a diesel, I’d never driven a vehicle as big as this, I’d never been to Paris and (technically) I wasn’t licensed to drive in France. (The Saudi driver’s license is not recognized in many places in the world and I no longer have an Australian license.) Ahh, what the hell. We were in Europe and we were on holidays.
Donna, who was from this time on the official map reader of the expedition, was asked urgently, and loudly on a number of occasions to provide the recommended route out of Paris. We knew where we wanted to be but weren’t crystal clear on how to achieve this. (ie. we didn’t have a clue.) We knew we were in for a fun time when, 15 minutes after leaving the car hire place, we were going right around a round-about and saw The Arc de Triumph go proudly past. What the …!!! How did that get there?
We did get out of Paris and it didn’t actually take too many wrong turns. Before we knew it we were on the motorway out of Paris and driving past the Disneyland exit. It was on this stretch that we learned a very important lesson. STAY OFF THE MOTORWAYS!! I say this for 2 reasons. 1/ You don’t get to see much when on the motorways compared to the other highways and 2/ it costs a bloody fortune on the motorways. We had to stop 3 times in a distance of 60km to hand over wads of French Francs, just for the privilege of driving a lousy 18km on the motorway. So after the third payout we decided ‘no more motorways’ and stuck with that for the next 2 weeks. More on that later.
Soon we found ourselves motoring along through the French countryside. As it was now getting late in the afternoon, we started looking for camping grounds. Easier said than done. There weren’t any that we could find, so we finally pulled up at a quiet little spot off the road 20km from Reims and parked. As the van was fully equipped with wash basin, kitchen sink, stove, fridge, heating, toilet and shower, we were able to stop anywhere we wanted.
After stopping, I started to set the van up for the night, which entailed flicking a couple of switches to get the power working and turning on the gas cylinder for the hot water, stove and heater. We couldn’t get the stove working so I started to play with the cylinder. Suddenly there was a loud hissing noise and I realized the gas was escaping from the cylinder. There was nothing else for it but to get the cylinder out and away from the van. We left that cylinder overnight a good distance from the van and used the other one. So by the first morning in the van we were down to half the gas we started with. A side note to this is that the now empty gas cylinder had a thick crust of frost on it in the morning, laying there in the grass away from the van. The weather was cold overnight but beautiful and sunny in the morning.
Tuesday 16th of March – Day #2
The sky was clear, the sun was shining, but there was thick frost on the ground and it was freezing outside. This was our first morning in Europe.
After the morning routine, we set off towards Luxembourg. The countryside is beautiful, rolling, green hills with more bush that I expected. Everything is organized. The ploughed paddocks are all ploughed in precisely straight lines. A point that I found interesting is that there are not many fences. The paddocks extend right to the edge of the road in a lot of cases, without a fence.
By morning tea time we were in a village called Vouziers. We stopped and walked along looking at the shops and the scenery. We also bought an exquisite cream cake for morning tea, well 2 actually. They were scrumptious.
After leaving Vouziers, we motored on down the highway towards Luxembourg. As we got closer to the city, inside Luxembourg itself, the roads narrowed and became a lot more windy. Luxembourg is more hilly that the countryside in France. The border crossing is interesting. Firstly, you don’t have to stop now, thanks to The European Union. You just drive straight through past the guards who are still there. Secondly, 3 countries come together within 500m of the road we were on. France, Luxembourg and Belgium were all with a stones throw of where we drove across the border. We actually took a wrong turn and almost drove into Belgium. We discovered our error and turned around in time to easily get back on the road to Luxembourg city.
We drove through the city, which is beautiful and rich looking, and stopped at a small village just the other side and had lunch. This consisted of the freshest ham, cheese, tomato and mustard rolls imaginable. A cup of tea as well and life couldn’t get better. As with the trip to England 2 years ago, this was a fairly standard sort of lunch while traveling in the campervan.
Luxembourg is a tiny place and it wasn’t long until we crossed into Germany. By stopping time we were in a large town called Trier. Again, there was no sign of camping grounds, so we chose a quiet spot in a carpark, almost under a large bridge by a large river, to camp in for the night. There was another campervan there as well, so we didn’t feel too out-of-place.
While shopping for a few essentials like milk and bread, we discovered that our supply of German money was rather low, so we planned on calling in to a bank in the morning to change some travellers checks. This was something new to get used to. We had been in 3 countries in less than 2 days and the need for different currencies was something new. Luxembourg provided the simplicity of willingly accepting French Francs and German Marks, but Germany would only accept German Marks. So now we were learning the glories of exchange rates, different currencies etc. By the end of the trip we would be far more comfortable with this. But for now, it was all new and a little confusing.
Wednesday 17th of March – Day #3
Not a cloud in the sky all day. Absolutely glorious weather.
In the morning we managed to find our way to the central business area of the town. We even managed to find a parking spot for the van. The next task was to find a bank. This I also managed to do and was able to change some money. We were again in the pink and had money to buy luxuries, like food. The lady in the bank looked very stern with not a hint of a smile, but the service was impeccable.
As I was walking back to the van, I passed an interesting looking glass enclosure. When I went to have a look at what it was, I saw that it was an archaeological site and appeared to be diggings of old buildings. The town square that I was standing in and the bank I had just been in were built on top of an ancient settlement of mud brick and stone buildings. Fascinating!
We set off, the destination being somewhere in the direction of Frankfurt / Nuremburg. We drove through mile after mile (kilometre after kilometre?) of vineyards. They seemed to be never ending. Entire hillsides had been turned into vineyards. Entire valleys; it just went on and on and on. There was a particularly picturesque river valley which was devoted to vineyards and a little bit of tourism. As became the standard during the trip, we saw camping grounds during the morning, but none what-so-ever after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
As we were into the third day of the trip, we were learning the daily routine for things, like making sure the various requirements of the van were met; such as filling the washing water tank, getting rid of the rubbish and emptying the toilet canister. Of these 3, most people would think that the toilet canister would be the most difficult. But it wasn’t. Getting a supply of water for the water tank was the most difficult as very few garages had a tap available for public use.
We were heading to Mainz. By lunch time we were in a small town called Ingleheim. There we parked the car and went shopping in a small supermarket. It was an interesting way to learn about the places because of the people we got talking to, the food they had available, the prices etc. We learned a lot about the different places by the supermarkets.
When we came out of the shop, we saw a parking officer about to write a ticket for the van. When we asked what was wrong, he told us that we were parked illegally, unknown to us. However when he saw the kids and the bag of shopping, he said that we could stay for a short while. This was our first contact with officialdom and it went OK. Thank heavens he understood some English because our German was zilch.
After lunch, we set off again, still heading for Frankfurt. We were now in hilly, picturesque countryside. We drove straight through Darmstadt and missed Frankfurt completely. Somehow we managed to take a highway deviation which we thought would bring us into the southern part of Frankfurt, but instead we found ourselves on the highway for Nuremburg. Ha!
By stopping time we were just past a town called Michelstadt. We found a lovely spot off the road (no camping grounds of course) in the middle of a beautiful forest. After setting the van up, the girls and I went for an enjoyable walk through the bush around the van. When we returned we were just starting to begin getting tea ready when a 4WD drove up. In it were a gaggle (3?) of forestry officers who began by being down-right pissed off that we were there. One of them had a smattering (barely) of English and he was able to tell us that we were NOT allowed to stay there. When they saw that we had the kids, they started to back down a little, but they were not going to let us stay, no matter what. So we had to pack the van up and return to Michelstadt, where we found an acceptable spot in a carpark. Everything was fine, but it was a shame that we couldn’t wake to the sounds of the bush.
During the evening, Donna and I discussed our planned itinerary and decided that we needed to reduce the distance we planned on traveling. In Australia we are used to being able to easily cover 400 to 500km per day without much bother. However it was becoming obvious that we could only cover 250km per day in Europe max. Therefore we considered excluding Florence and Pisa. As we had already decided to travel only on the highways and minor roads and not on the motorways, the time required to cover a distance was much greater. There was much more to see and the traveling was slower but much more pleasant.
Thursday 18th of March – Day #4
Again we woke to perfect weather, but very cold. The intention today was to head for Nurembourg and on to Munich. The countryside just on from the town was very pretty hills and bush, with a lot of farm land of sorts scattered throughout. This soon changed to low and undulating land with occasional hills and bush.
We soon found ourselves in Nurembourg and found it to be singularly uninspiring. All around was fairly dull with little of any interest. The town itself was also quite ordinary. We stopped for lunch in a cafeteria which was part of a large shop and were served by a very nice lady who was the only one who had English. She was able to describe the menu for us and make suggestions for the kids lunch. Not a lot of people seem to understand English, but when we found someone who did, they were always very pleasant and helpful. The Tower of Babble has a lot to answer for.
After lunch we tried to find a garage that sold gas for the stove, to replace that which was lost when the cylinder leaked on the first night. However, 4 days into the trip and we were finding it impossible to find a supply of the gas. We spent an hour in Nurembourg trying to find a supply unsuccessfully. In a town further down the highway, we finally tracked down a shop that sold the cylinders, but then discovered that the cylinders we were supplied with in Paris were illegal in Germany. Oops! The connections were different, so we were not able to get a replacement cylinder. This also meant that we might have difficulties everywhere outside of France. We wondered how long one cylinder would last for.
After Nurembourg we were heading south, bound for Munich. Our destination was Dachau, just north of Munich. The countryside was broad and mainly undulating. Again, nothing of great significance along the way.
We arrived at Dachau at 17:30 and found a place to park for the night 500m from the entrance to the Dachau concentration camp. As Dachau is essentially a suburb of Munich, it was an odd feeling for us. Here we were parked quite close to a notoriously famous place and yet we were surrounded by the trappings of suburbia.
Friday 19th of March – Day #5
Clear skies and very cold. There was ice on the windows.
After the standard morning routine we were at the entrance to the concentration camp at 9 o’clock, not really knowing what to expect. Donna had been closely reading the European travel book that we had throughout the previous few days, but we were still unsure of Dachau. We were hoping that we weren’t making a mistake by taking the children there.
There is a substantial carpark near the entrance and buses were pulling in as we walked to the entrance. Many school children were on the buses, so this made us feel a little better for 2 reasons. Firstly, it meant there was less likelihood of any great surprises inside for the girls and secondly it meant that the children of Europe are being taught about their history. Hopefully the second point will make it less likely that something like the concentration camp will ever be built again. (When we finally returned to Riyadh and caught up on the world news, the stories coming from Kosavo made the second point seem a little mute.)
Inside Dachau, only 2 of the original 40 or 50 huts are still standing. They have been preserved as part of a growing museum. The rest were in too poor a state to be worth preserving. There are also some of the administration buildings which have been converted into part of an overall museum. The main part of the museum is in a very large building just inside the entrance gate. On the wall outside the door is a sign warning that a movie which shows regularly inside is not fit to be viewed by children under 12 years of age, so Donna, the kids and I went in and saw just the static exhibits.
This is a very sobering place. It is comprised mainly of photographs of many things, such as the camp the way it was, inmates, old documents etc. By the time I reached the end of the exhibition, (Donna finished and left with the kids before me as she was a bit upset), I was feeling rather down. A quote that was on display which I have a photo of and which has stuck with me is from a German poet in 1820. It says ‘This was but a prelude; where books are burnt, humans will be burnt in the end.’ Dachau is not a nice place, but it is not intended to be. I recommend it for anyone visiting this part of Europe and I only hope the children on the buses understood 10% of what they were there to see. Throughout our visit, Emma, Shauna and Carly remained aloof to any upset, supposedly because the true meaning of the place was not comprehended by them. If only they could stay so innocent.
After Dachau, we drove past Munich on the ring road, our destination being Rosenheim. Our intention was to drive south into Austria and Innsbrooke. Not far south of Munich we saw our first snow by the side of the road. We also found a large service centre which had showers. Donna and the girls went in and had a long, hot shower. The lady (there is some question about the validity of that statement) who was looking after the showers spoke fluently in German, French, Italian and English, and that was only what Donna heard in 2 minutes. Donna nearly died when the lady(?) took her and the girls marching straight into the men’s toilets and past some gentlemen standing there doing their thing. The shower, as it turns out, was inside the men’s toilets. Donna made quite sure the door to the shower was well locked.
Further down the road and our number one priority was to change some money into Austrian currency, as we weren’t very far from the border now. We drove into Rosenheim, where I dropped Donna off outside a bank and then proceeded to drive around the block. Well, that was the plan. The way it turned out was I turned the first corner and promptly became totally lost. Twenty five minutes later and 20km further on, I finally found my way back to where Donna was patiently standing, freezing half to death, with pockets full of Austrian money.
From Rosemheim we followed the A93 in the direction of Innsbrooke. This was a little, windy road with a bridge just 3.1m high. As the van was 3m high, I negotiated the bridge quite carefully. Five days into the trip and ripping the top off the van was not part of what we thought was a good time.
By now we were surrounded by snow and the girls were highly excited. We were climbing up into the mountains and the scenery was changing a lot. For once, our luck with the camping grounds changed and just at the right moment we saw a sign pointing to a camping ground in a village called Keifersfelden, 3km from the Austrian border. We followed that direction and found a beautiful little camp ground up a tiny little road. The people, a young couple, were very nice and she understood quite a bit of English. She had studied 3 years of English at school and did her teachers proud. She made me feel a bit guilty that I had not done better with my 2 years of French.
While enjoying a cup of tea, with the kids outside excitedly bouncing around the camp ground, it started to snow. Was I happy? Of course I bloody was! The photos of this place are magic.
Because of the snow, we went up to talk to the lady about the next leg of the journey. She advised against taking the minor highway (we had a choice of 2 highways) as they were expecting 1/2m of snow overnight. We returned to the van and contemplated the advice and the map.
Saturday 20th of March – Day #6
What a magic morning. The snow was falling and we were camped beside a lake, surrounded by forest. We all went for a walk around the lake, walking through the fresh snow. The girls were thrilled and so was I. Even though it had snowed overnight, we were all nice and cosy in the van without the heater going. This was good news re the gas supply.
The camping cost 48DM, which was more expensive than I had expected. This was our first camping ground and so the first time we had to pay.
We set off, headed for Innsbrooke. Ten minutes after leaving we crossed from Germany into Austria. We were now well and truly in the mountains and there was snow everywhere. The views were everything I had been hoping for and more. It was actually hard to realize that we were in Austria. But the hills weren’t alive with the sound of music as all of the sound was muted by the ever increasing snow.
By lunch time we were in a village called ‘Hall in Tirol’. We parked the van and went for a walk through the village. At first we wondered where the shops were, but we finally realized that everything was behind doors and small windows. All of the shops along the tiny roads and alleys were open, but you had to have a good look to realize it. Surrounding the town were enormous, snow covered mountains, but the town itself did not have snow in it. However we could see plenty of evidence of recent, heavy snow.
We found a charming little pub for lunch. When we first went in we felt a bit awkward, but the lady behind the bar had a small amount of English and soon put us at ease. We had a lovely lunch including the almost compulsory glass of beer for yours-truly. After lunch, we reluctantly got back into the van to continue along the road. We would have loved to have spent more time in this village exploring. Maybe next time.
Next along the road was Innsbrooke, which is a city in the mountains. It has a very nice feel to it, but no camping grounds that we could find, unfortunately. So we continued on. The windy roads meant that there were few opportunities to camp unless in a camping ground.
Amazingly, it wasn’t long until we crossed over into northern Italy. The part of Austria we were in is a very narrow part and it took less than a day to drive across, even though the roads are small, steep and very windy. We stopped for fuel not far from where the road goes over the top of the pass into Italy and I got talking to the young chap at the service station. He wanted to practice his schoolroom English and so we talked about how beautiful the countryside was etc. His main comment was that it was cold for 9 months of the year, a comment that I couldn’t argue with. It was certainly cold while we were there.
When we crossed into Italy, the countryside immediately changed. For a start we began heading down. But more than that, the whole feel of the place altered. We still couldn’t find a camping ground that was open (there were a couple, but they were closed for the winter?!?), so we found an open car park area in an out-of-the-way spot near a village called Vipiteno that had a church and a chateau in the hills above us. Carly was Carly while Donna and I enjoyed a cup of tea. The girls were outside running around and returned to the van when Carly, who had been trying to ice skate on a frozen puddle, broke through the ice and went straight into the freezing cold water up to her knees. Oh Carly.
Sunday 21st of March – Day #7
Carly’s birthday and a very cold morning. We first drove 20 or 30km to snow fields at Jaufen Pass. This was an excellent place. It was a proper ski resort, with all of the fancy people with their fancy clothes and fancy sunglasses. We were lucky and found a parking spot easily. We donned all of our clothes and headed of for a walk through the snow.
First we headed across the creek and up into an area for walking. The skiers were off to one side with many ski tows and runs. We walked up a track through snow that was almost perfect. The girls tried sliding down on plastic bags and had a good time, while I walked up amongst the trees. We stayed out walking around for 2 hours and then returned to the village for a cappuccino and hot chocolate, sipped while sitting on the balcony of the bar overlooking the skiers on the slopes. Does life get better than this?
From Jaufen Pass we drove back down the way we had come, back to Vipiteno and on down the mountain. We were now becoming desperate for drinking water but no shops appeared to be open. By 3PM we got to Trento, a large town near the bottom of the mountains and saw a shopping centre that appeared to be open. After back tracking through the backstreets, we found a large and modern supermarket, but it was closed for siesta. We had to wait for 20 minutes until it opened for the afternoon. Coming from Saudi we are quite used to waiting for the shops to open. When it finally did, we discovered that they were not prepared to take a travellers cheque, so we had a grand total of 28,000 lire to spend, which is not a lot of money. We managed to get everything required, mainly water, but this left us without enough money for a camping ground. Being Sunday, there were no banks open.
We headed on towards Padova. The countryside was beautiful, with spectacular mountains capped with snow all around us.
As we were forced by lack of cash to find a camping spot off the road, we turned off the highway and onto a tiny road heading into the hills. We climbed an incredibly steep hill, zig-zagging back and forth until we were well above the highway. It seemed that for every 5km we drove, we passed through another village. Finally we found a nice spot on the side of the road to stop for the night, just near a small town called Arsie.
Monday 22nd of March – Day #8
The day started with constant light rain and was freezing cold. This was the first rain we had seen and it did not fill me with delight.
We drove into Arsie, a beautiful little village. By 11 o’clock we were in Treviso and found a bank to change some money. It is a good feeling when you have money in your pocket again. We tried to find a McDonalds for lunch, as this was Carly’s request for her birthday, but we couldn’t find parking for the van. The light rain was falling constantly, it was cold and Carly was disappointed when we couldn’t go to McDonalds. Dread was setting in.
As we tried to leave Treviso, we got totally and utterly lost. How on earth they designed a street system like that is beyond me, but there we were driving the world’s largest vehicle down the world’s smallest streets, going the wrong way on a one-way road in one case. Happy? Not very. But we did eventually make it out and back onto the highway. Dreary bloody country it was too as we headed south towards the coast and Venice.
We arrived at the bridge across to Venice by 2 in the afternoon and the rain was still falling. There were signs for camping grounds all over the place but none of them seemed to be open. The ones that were closed all said that they would be opening the following Saturday, Easter Saturday. This apparently marked the beginning of the ‘high’ season and so they were all getting prepared for that.
One of the camping grounds gave us directions to a supermarket, which we obediently followed and got lost. Groan. Not a good afternoon so far. Finally we found it and went in to fill the van with everything we needed. It is an odd feeling when you spend 203,000 on groceries, but it is brought back into perspective when you divide this by 1,700 to give you American dollars. We bought everything.
While there, we bumped into a Kiwi who was also doing some shopping. He told us of the camping ground that he was staying in and gave directions for finding it. After finishing the shopping, we followed his directions and, voila, there was an almost perfect camping ground (Fusina), open and ready to take us in. So now we had money, food and a place to stay with showers, washing machines and an Internet bus. This is where the hello note for some came from. We quickly decided to stay there for 2 nights and visit Venice the next day.
For those who are like we were and don’t know much about Venice, it is a city on an island. Vehicles are entirely banned from the city. There is a bridge from the mainland but all traffic must park at the Venice end. There are buses that go across this bridge and a train as well. However, the most interesting way to get to Venice, especially from the camping ground at Fusina, is to catch the ferry which goes about every hour.
Tuesday 23rd of March – Day #9
Awoke to beautiful sunshine. After the morning ablutions we were at the ferry stop for Venice by the allotted time and traveled across the water. This is a wonderful way to enter the city because the ferry drops you off in the heart of the city. And being a city surrounded by water, it is a fitting introduction.
Venice is stunning! We took many, many photos and could be still there now taking photos. There is little point me trying to describe Venice in words because I do not have the skills required to do so. Our photos give a hint, but only a personal visit can possibly do it justice. Donna and I have decided that, if given the opportunity, we will return to Venice in the future, sans children, stay in a hotel and spend a week walking around this beautiful, amazing place.
We walked around from 10 o’clock until half past 4 in the afternoon. Every corner we turned held a new surprise. It was so full of history, texture, colour, character, class. We stopped in St Mark’s Square for a cup of coffee and nearly choked at the price. But who cared! We were on holidays and felt that $A45 for 2 cappuccinos and 3 soft drinks was well worth it.
As Carly had missed out on having her birthday lunch at McDonalds the previous day and today was nice and sunny, we decided to have lunch at one of the 4 McDonalds in Venice. It irked me to be in such a special place and have lunch at such a commercial establishment, but I swallowed my pride and ‘did it for Carly’. It was OK. McDonald’s is McDonald’s, no matter where you are in the world.
After lunch, Donna started looking for some special things that she wanted from Venice. The main one was a Carnival Mask, a very ornate face mask that is very much a work of art. Well, we looked and looked and then we looked some more. And everyone knows just how much I love to shop, especially the kind of shopping that shows no apparent end. Finally though, Donna did settle on a mask that is really very nice.
One of the things that Donna did want to look for but which we didn’t get the opportunity, was Venetian glass. We did briefly see a place that had something to do with it, but we didn’t have the time to follow through.
After a very full day of wandering the byways and waterways of Venice, we staggered onto the ferry and headed back to the camping ground, getting there by a quarter to 6. That evening I sent an email from the Cyber Bus in the camping ground, had a bottle of wine after tea and slept very soundly.
Wednesday 24th of March – Day #10
We awoke to glorious weather and left the camping ground by half past 8. We were sad to be leaving Venice as it is a beautiful place.
We headed towards Pedova, Ferrara and Bologna and the scenery was quite ordinary. It is basically flat with lots of small farms along the way. By lunch time we were in a beautiful little village 10km from Bologna, so we stopped and had ham, cheese and tomato rolls in a little park in the centre of the village. Being able to stop where you like and make your own lunch is a real bonus from having the van.
At Bologna we decided to take the motorway to Florence (the locals would have us believe it is called Fierenze, but we know better). The scenery along this stretch is beautiful, being mountainous with green valleys. After it was too late, we realized that we really should have been off the motorway for this stretch and driven through the many small villages along the way.
Once in Florence, we followed the map provided to us by the Venice camping ground towards a sister camping ground, only to find that it was closed for another 3 days. Groan. The fellow was helpful though and directed us to the other side of Florence to another camping ground which was open. This one was associated with a youth hostel so there were young people everywhere. The fellow behind the counter seemed to be a bit of a grumble bum as we signed in, but everything turned out to be fine.
The surrounding grounds of the youth hostel were lovely. The hostel itself is an old chateau or mansion of some sort with many rooms. Down stairs are the public rooms, such as games rooms, dining room etc. Upstairs was the accommodation, supposedly a large amount of it judging by the number of people there.
I walked down the long driveway to the township and had a brief wander around the surrounding streets. The area, called Fiesole, is a very attractive area indeed.
That night the hostel had a viola concert in one of the ‘sitting rooms’. We all went along and had a wonderful time. The musicians, a viola player, pianist and soprano, were from the local music academy. It was a wonderful evening and the kids enjoyed it very much, especially Shauna. However they couldn’t last through until the end and left only just before the end to go to bed.
The plan for the next day was to head to Pisa.
Thursday 25th of March – Day #11
Again awoke to glorious weather. Ah, but were we in for a surprise!
We left the camp ground at 09:20, bound for Pisa, and had a little bit of fun finding our way out of Florence on the SS67. But as always, we eventually found our way and headed off.
The trip to Pisa is quite ordinary, with lots of flat country along the way. We were there by 11:40 and it was raining lightly. As we were only passing through Pisa and had no intention of staying for any great period of time, we chose to go and see the Leaning Tower and then move on. You can imagine what the parking situation was like anywhere near the Tower, being one of the most famous landmarks in the known universe, so we ended up parking 20 minutes walk away. At least we got an opportunity to see a little bit of the town.
The Leaning Tower is one of a collection of beautiful buildings which are all part of the same place. The tower is the bell tower and there is also a very ornate cathedral, another ornate building that was the monastery (or some-such) and another building, the purpose of which was lost on me. The other buildings associated with the tower and the grassy area surrounding the lot are all so beautiful that I was a little annoyed that all the attention is placed on the tower, which is actually less ornate and beautiful than 2 of the other 3 buildings. The tower is completely shutoff now and inaccessible to anyone. There are enormous cables attached to it which hold it in place while they perform whatever work they are doing to stabilize it.
While we were there, the light rain fell steadily, casting a small feeling of gloom over us all. After changing some money, we decided to walk through the streets of the town and find a place for lunch. We soon found a restaurant with tables outside and ordered a couple of pizzas. The true Italian pizza is lovely in my opinion. It is more simple than what we expect from pizzas at home, but better. While sitting at the restaurant table we watched the passing traffic. Being Italy, there were many small scooters buzzing up and down the road. These are amazing little machines. Some of them are so bad that it is a miracle they still go. And people from almost every walk of life use them to get around town. Even in the rain, they were all buzzing around on their little motorbikes.
After lunch we headed back to the car and left Pisa, heading north on the SS1. This road was fairly monotonous for the first part. Heaps and heaps of marble works between Viareggio and La Spezia, which was very interesting to see. The cliffs behind the towns appeared to be almost solid marble. Any wonder this part of the country looked quite well off. By mid afternoon we were in La Spezia, a very pretty town. Alas and alak, there was no sign of any camping grounds so we headed up into the hills behind town and found a spot in a carpark for the night.
We all went for a very enjoyable walk through the woods in the forest nearby. We walked along a road and then down a foot track that followed a creek down into a deep valley. There were freesias blooming on the side of the track and some very pretty yellow flowers. By the time we returned to the van the rain was falling quite constantly.
Friday 26th of March – Day #12
Well, it had to happen. We awoke to pouring rain.
After the morning routine we headed back down the hill to La Spezia in order to get fuel and then back up the hill again, headed towards Genova. The weather was bleak in the extreme. It was very cold, non-stop rain, thick fog and all of this while negotiating a very mountainous, twisty, turny road. It was a shame because there would have been some lovely scenery in fine weather.
The Italian coast is really pretty with many small villages. Unfortunately, the rain meant that we were not able to stop and investigate many, but the one that we did get to explore had magic, little back streets full of interesting things. The SS1 highway is very slow indeed, but it is the way to see the coast and countryside.
We stopped for lunch in Genova, a small and attractive city. I took a few photos of the stunning architecture. Meanwhile the rain kept falling.
By 5 o’clock we were in Savona and found a camping ground which was closed, but the caretaker allowed us to stay (for a healthy fee). We expected that this night would be our last night in Italy as the destination for the next day was Nice.
Saturday 27th of March – Day #13
Oh joy of joys. We woke to torrential rain.
We were on the road by 9 o’clock, headed for Nice and the weather was truly disgusting. As we were running low on food, we stopped at a supermarket in Loano and stocked up. We were running low of lire but managed to get everything we needed for a couple of days.
By lunch time we were at a village called Albenga, where we stopped by the side of the road and had ham rolls for lunch. By now I was starting to get really annoyed that the weather was impacting our trip. Because of the rain, we were not able to get out and walk through the villages or to see as much of the passing scenery as we could have.
Never-the-less, we were able to see that there are many beautiful buildings and gardens and such. Most of the villages are quite stunning in their beauty. Australia has tried to recreate the feeling in some areas but has failed in comparison. The Italians, the French, the Austrians know how to create and present class. It just seems to come naturally to them. Australia should certainly keep up the effort, but shouldn’t pretend to be matching the Europeans at their own game.
The weather began to clear after lunch. By 2 o’clock the rain had stopped and the road was dry. We hoped that we were finished with the rain now.
We became caught up in an extraordinary traffic jam in tiny, little, winding streets in San Remo. As often happened, we had taken a wrong turn and found ourselves in completely the wrong place. Again we were able to find our way back, fortunately.
All along the SS1, we had the impression of Saturday afternoon movies with Cary Grant, Grace Kelly etc. The scenery and the architecture is just as it was in those movies.
Suddenly we were out of Italy and into France. As it was Saturday, we thought that we might have trouble changing travelers cheques. As it turned out, it was quite easy to find a money changer, so we changed some money and were fluid again.
The next place of significance along the road was Monte Carlo. We had to drive through Monte Carlo to get to Nice and we found ourselves traveling along a stretch of the racing track. It is a street track of course and I was amazed at how small, narrow and bumpy it was. We went over one spot that clearly showed gouge marks where the cars have bottomed out as they went over a rise. How on earth they travel up the very steep hill, turn the very sharp corners and stay on the road over the bumps is beyond me. I will have much more interest watching the Monte Carlo race next time it is on TV.
Monaco is tiny. It took us about 10 minutes to drive from one side to the other. We did not go down onto the coastal road but instead stayed on the highway, which is up the hill. But from one side of the Principality to the other is about 5km.
After Monaco we suddenly found ourselves on the motorway. We did not want to be on the motorway and had not set out to be on the motorway, but on the motorway we were, like it or not. A few minutes later we were in Nice.
We were able to easily find a camping ground for the night as there are many camping grounds clustered together. This one was nice enough without being very fancy. Unfortunately we had a bit of a drama through the evening. The kids were outside playing and suddenly we heard a blood curdling cry. Carly had not seen the glass door to the toilet block because it was night time and had run head long, and full speed, into the door. She had bounced back onto the ground and given herself a fat lip. But the drama was that she had also cracked the plate glass window, with her face! The camp ground people were not overly impressed as they assumed that the girls had been throwing stones. However I was able to convince the lady, who turned out to be very nice, that they weren’t throwing stones and had actually walked (run?) into it. I also pointed out that a clear glass door without any markings wasn’t exactly safe at night. The upshot of it all was that we were friends at the end. Poor old Carly had a fat lip for the night but no further damage.
Heading for Marseille tomorrow. The rain seems to have completely stopped. Yippee!!
Sunday 28th of March – Day #14
The lady at the camping ground was as nice as pie in the morning. She and her husband were off to compete in the Nice Marathon, so she came around early to ensure everything was fine. We swapped e-mail addresses etc. I was surprised at how nice she was considering her mood the previous evening.
The next place we drove through was Antibes. There is stacks of money floating in the marina. Cannes is also a beautiful place with lots of wonderful gardens. Now that the sun was shining, we could see why The French Riviera is such a popular place and has attracted ‘the beautiful people’ over the years. It is like a 200 or 300km stretch of the Gold Coast, but with a lot more class and style.
There is a marvellous stretch of country between Cannes and Frejus, where the highway goes inland. This area seemed to be a popular area for people to go mountain bike riding, bush walking and all sorts of other activities. It was a very pleasant stretch so we stopped on the side of the road for lunch and a cup of tea. The girls and I went for a walk down the hill through the bush and saw many different wild flowers. The weather had reverted to perfect.
It was at about this point that we decided that we had had enough of the coastal strip and so bypass Marseilles. Instead, we turned right onto the N7, aiming for Aix-en-Provence, where we got a little bit lost trying to find our way through. A very nice local girl told us how to find our way back to the road we needed, the N6 to Gap. On the way to Aix-en-Provence we stopped at a charming little village (name unknown) for a walk around. Now that the sun was shining again, we wanted to explore the villages and towns more than we had been able for the past couple of days. This was a beautiful little village.
Later in the afternoon we stopped at a camping ground outside Peyrolles which was closed. The guy there was quite rude and so, with our new found traveler’s attitude we thought ‘well, stuff you’ and continued on our way. All along we have found it very difficult to sus out the camping grounds. Either there are none or a whole bunch, or they are closed. Many times we have been confronted with the sad fact that there just aren’t any. This day we found a quiet spot up a gravel road somewhere before Manosque.
We decided to make a point of stopping at at least one village a day for an explore and walk around. The plan for the next day was to aim for Gap.
Monday 29th of March – Day #15
The weather was cold, with frost on the van and the ground, but glorious clear skies and sunshine. We were off and rolling by 9 o’clock, heading north on the N96.
We stopped at Voix for some groceries and saw some locally produced pate de foix which was quite expensive. The locally produced stuff, which is no doubt the way it is meant to be, did not look very appetising to someone who has only eaten the mass produced stuff. We decided to stay with the mass produced product.
Further up the road we stopped at Sisteron for a walk around, only to find that virtually nothing is open on Mondays. Sisteron is surrounded by snow capped mountains and is quite dramatic. Leaving was interesting as we became a little flummoxed in the back streets and found ourselves driving down the tiniest alleys and squeezing under bridges that were so low that Donna had to get out make sure we could fit under them. Eventually we came back to the highway and took the N75 to Grenoble.
The highway continued to Grenoble through rugged, snow capped mountains. We were now into the French Alps and snow was everywhere. The scenery was just stunning. The road was a little higher than the snow line so we were driving through snow country most of the time, but the valleys were clear of snow and had the greenest grass and the most beautiful farms and villages.
We stopped for a play in the snow near Col de la Croix Haute. The snow was just perfect. It was ideal for making a snow man, which we did, and for making snow balls. Donna and I have never seen snow like this before. It wasn’t wet, it was soft and it was very easy to roll up into a ball. We had a marvellous time mucking about.
The 30km after Grenoble was full of paragliding, hang gliding; anything that can be done with a breath of wind. We also saw a cable train that goes straight up the hill at 83 degrees. Unfortunately it was closed for the winter, no doubt set to open at the end of the week, which is when everything seemed set to open. The kids and I would have loved to have gone on it. We’ve been on the one at Katoomba outside of Sydney, but that is only 54 degrees. This one was damned near vertical.
There were villages to the left and the right, scattered up the mountain and down into the valleys. This area is well worth a return visit at some stage in the future. Because the snow was beginning to melt, there were many huge waterfalls.
Surprisingly, we found a very nice camping ground during the afternoon. But not surprisingly, it was closed, set to open on April 1. However our forlorn faces must have moved a heart cell because the very nice manager opened the gate and let us stay the night, free of charge. This was a particularly pleasant camping ground which we considered to be the best we had stayed at so far. It was situated on the side of a beautiful lake, on the other side of which were snow capped mountains and enormous waterfalls. The girls and I went for a walk through the surrounding park land. That evening was most pleasant indeed.
Tuesday 30th of March – Day #16
Before leaving in the morning, the manager of the camping ground gave us his email address, so if anyone would like to have contact details for a lovely camping ground in the French Alps, we should be able to help.
We were heading north towards Geneva and stopped in Chambery for some groceries. The countryside was very picturesque with plenty of snow capped mountains, but no snow.
Aix-les-Bains has a spectacular lake which would be magic in summer. There was plenty of water skiing, hang gliding and paragliding. For lunch, we stopped on the Geneva side of Annecy. The weather was brilliant with warm, bright sunshine.
By 2 o’clock we were in Geneva. Our intention was just to drive through but we saw some camping signs and decided that, if the camping ground was open and good we would stay for the night. We found the ground at Vernier, a suburb of Geneva, and found it to be very nice indeed. It was almost brand new and run by a wonderful couple who couldn’t do enough to help us. So we decided to stay the night.
After setting ourselves up, we were given a ride by the husband to the nearest bus stop, 15 minutes walk away. From there we caught the local bus into the centre of Geneva.
This was a very pleasant evening spent walking around the heart of Geneva. We found what has to be the most expensive Wendy’s in the world. Tea for the 5 of us cost the equivalent of $A53, not something I would like to do every day.
The centre of Geneva is not exactly pretty, but then it is not ugly either. There are people from the 4 corners of the globe and I’m sure we saw one of every nationality in the couple of hours we were walking around. While there, Donna and the girls bought me my birthday present; a full-on, dead serious hiking backpack. Now I just have to hope that I get to use it seriously one day.
After 2 or 3 enjoyable hours, we caught the bus back to the camp ground.
Wednesday 31st of March – Day #17
We left the camping ground at twenty past nine and easily found our way out of Geneva, heading for Dijon. Straight after passing through Gex, we started to head up into the mountains and soon found ourselves in the snow. As we were driving along, we saw a turn to the left with something interesting up that road, so we turned around and went up there. It turned out to be a ski resort called Col-de-la-Faucille.
The snow was absolutely excellent. It was a couple of metres deep with knee deep, dry, soft snow on top. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, so we decided to stay for a while.
The kids urged us strongly to hire a toboggan, so we did. I hate the things, but we went up into the trees and the kids had a wonderful time for an hour or two careering down the hill. Many good photos were taken. Donna and I walked up into the trees and were amazed at the snow. Every step we took found us sinking to our knees in powder snow. The trees were all covered in snow. It was just postcard perfect.
We had lunch of ham, cheese and mustard rolls before heading back onto the highway. We thought that we were now finished with the snow, but a short way down the road we stopped again for a walk up into the bush. The snow was untouched and again knee deep powder. It was a marvellous walk and we all returned to the van with a little sunburn on our faces.
After this we continued on down the mountain towards Dijon. Along the way we found a camping ground and pulled in, only to find that it was closed. However there were many gypsies camped around.
We continued on to Dijon with no sign of camping grounds along the way. We headed towards Troyes on the D903. Finally we found an out-of-way spot off the side of the road 10km from Dijon.
As we had to be in the campsite at Euro Disney by 1 o’clock in the afternoon Friday, we decided to return to Dijon the next day and have a walk around.
Thursday 1st of April – Day #18
Woke to glorious weather.
We returned to Dijon as planned and walked around the centre for 2 hours. Dijon is a beautiful town well worth a return visit. While walking around, we happened upon an old carousel which was operating in the market area. The kids all wanted to go on it so we let them. As they were going around and around, Carly spied a pastry shop. From then, every time the carousel took her past where we were standing she called out ‘Mum. I want a pastry! Mum, I want a pastry!’ This went on for a few turns until she realized she wasn’t going to get one and so the anguished calls faded until we heard her mummble ‘I’m hungry and I still want a pastry.’
By 12 o’clock, we were heading north for Troyes on the N71. The countryside is magnificent with rich farmland over rolling hills, interspersed with areas of bush. There are many enchanting little villages along the way. The weather was clear, blue, cloudless skies and 25 degrees.
Troyes is also a very pretty town and we stopped for a top-up of groceries before heading out along the N19 looking for a camping ground. After traveling for 15km with no sign of a camping ground, we decided to turn off the highway to look for a spot to stay. We saw a small sign for camping past Arcis-sur-aube and headed for that, finding that it was a private farm. The lady of the house runs a small side business offering camping, so we chose to stay there. It was a very pleasant evening. Donna and I both participated in a bottle each of the good stuff and consequently had a very good sleep.
Friday 2nd of April – Day #19
We left the camping ground by 9 o’clock and headed for Chalons-en-Champagne on the N77. The countryside was beautiful with rolling farmland changing to vineyards. We realized that we were entering the champagne district. (Wouldn’t you think that the name had given it away?) We turned onto the RD3 for Epernay, which I have since learned from someone who lives there is the centre of the champagne district.
Epernay is stunning! What a magnificent town. All down the main street and scattered throughout the town are champagne bottling establishments with names that are synonymous with the best quality champagne.
From Epernay we travelled to Chateau Thierry, again with vineyards, rolling hills and many small villages along the way. The day had begun bright and sunny, but was now lightly raining. This didn’t help as we were leaving Chateau Thierry and became totally lost. We took the wrong road and ended up spending the next hour and a half driving along tiny roads through many tiny villages trying to find our way back to a main road, any main road. We eventually emerged at La Ferte-sous-Jouarre on the D407, back on track at last. By now we were in the far flung outskirts of Paris.
We got onto the A4 motorway and paid a fortune to travel 14km to the Disneyland turnoff. Another reminder about why we had chosen to stay off the motorways, but the problem that we had was that we couldn’t remember exactly where Disneyland was in the great scheme of things. We knew that it was on the A4, but couldn’t remember if we had to turn right of left. So to minimize the drama, we turned left onto the motorway and saw the signs for Disneyland almost immediately.
Disneyland is an amazing place. The theme park is only one part of an enormous development that covers an area which is equal to a quarter of the area of Paris. There are many hotels, a train station, car parks, various residential areas. However, what it doesn’t have in the section we were in is a camping ground. For camping, you have to travel to the other side of the motorway to the theme camping ground called (wait for it) ‘The Davey Crockett Farm’, which we did, only to find that we needed to have booked months in advance. Oh dear, of dear.
However, the chap relented and gave us an information sheet which had a list of other camping grounds in the area, so we set off to find one. Ha! So easy to type, so difficult to do.
To cut a long story short, we drove and drove for almost 2 hours, trying to find a camping ground on the list, any camping ground. Donna’s and my tempers were fraying as we finally found a basic ground in a village called Meaux about 20km from Disneyland. This ground had limited facilities for an exorbitant cost so we decided to spend only one night here. Donna was able to find another ground by telephone and we booked in there for the next 3 nights.
The plan for the next day was to move to the new camping ground, go into Paris for a visit (by bus from the camping ground then train into Paris), then meet Jayne and Phil in the early evening. They had come over from London and the plans had been in the making for months that we would meet them and spend a day at Disneyland together.
That was the plan.
Chapter 2/ ‘Clueless in Paris’
Saturday 3rd of April – Day #20
What a day! It started at 6 o’clock. The first step was moving to the new camping ground. The weather was really quite awful. It had rained all night and was still raining as we packed up the van and left the camping ground.
We got to the new camping ground at Cresy-a-la-Chapelle at 10 past 8 and found that the people were nice and the camp ground was good. After settling in (which involved plugging the power cord into the outlet), we went to the office and bought bus tickets to Disneyland from where we intended to catch the RER train to Paris. The bus was meant to leave at half past 9, but after waiting for a half an hour, we were told that the bus had broken down. I could see one of our 2 days in Paris going up in smoke. We quickly decided to risk it and offered to take a Dutch family with us as we drove back to Disneyland, paying a fortune on the motorway, park the van in an as yet unknown parking spot and catch the train. The risk of course had nothing to do with the Dutch family. It was that there were so many unknown factors. To be honest, we weren’t even clear on how to get back to Disneyland because we thought the bus would be taking us there. The rain was falling.
With a bit of help from the other family we found our way to Disneyland. I was determined to eventually find a way there that did not involve bankrolling the French economy each time we found a need to travel the 10km on the motorway. Once at Disneyland, we easily found the hugest carpark ever and had no difficulty parking the van. From there, it was a simple 5 minute walk to the station.
The Disneyland station is at the end of the RER line from Paris, making it quite easy to work out the trains. Paris has a couple of suburban train systems, the RER being the most modern of them. There were trains to Paris every 15 or 20 minutes and the trip was 45 minutes, so we were soon in Paris. After the hassles of the previous day and the morning, we were finally in Paris ready to explore.
As it was a quarter to twelve, it was time to think of lunch. We had burned up so much energy with all of the rushing around during the morning that everyone was starving. But where do you go to get a meal for 5 people for a price that won’t break the bank in a city that you have never been to before?
Clueless in Paris!
By following our noses, we found a street behind the department stores that had a couple of restaurant looking places. We chose one that looked OK and went in. The waiter sat us down, brought over the menus and asked what we would like to order. Fortunately the menu was written in such a way that we were able to understand some of the items on it, so we chose a hotdog for each of the girls, a plate of chips for each and a ham, cheese and tomato roll each for Donna and myself. The waiter repeated back our order and we confirmed it. He then repeated it back again and urged us to reconsider our orders for the children. However, we had decided what we wanted and so told him that, yes, our order stood. ‘OK’ he said, with a knowing air and walked off to fulfill the order. ‘Humpf’ thought Donna and I with memories of the stories we had been told of the aloof Parisians in our minds. When the waiter brought the food, or I should say ‘began’ to bring the food a couple of minutes later, we were to learn a number of lessons. Number one was that we were not at home and things are a little different in Paris. Lesson number two was that maybe, just maybe, the waiter was trying to tell us something.
When the food came, we found that we had a hotdog each for the girls that was made of bread stick cut in half with 2 franks in it and was 35cm (18 inches) long. Not only that but each of the girls was now the proud owner of a dinner plate full (falling off the edge) of chips. Plus Donna’s roll was too big for her to eat and she only managed half and mine was the same size.
We ate until we felt sick and then had to leave the rest. Lesson number one in Paris and we’d only been there for less than an hour. (It also cost a small fortune, but it was nice.)
Clueless in Paris!
After lunch we headed off towards the Notre Dame. The weather was still raining lightly so we all had our coats on. The Notre Dame is beautiful with monuments, historical sites, important buildings everywhere. On the way to Notre Dame we walked straight by The Louvre. What an amazing building.
From the Notre Dame, we crossed over the river into The Latin Quarter. This also is a fascinating area with many restaurants and art galleries. Next we headed back towards the department stores, the main ones of which are all grouped together in the one place, and walked past La Concorde and the Champs d’Elysay on the way. It was along here that we saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance for the first time. When we pointed it out to the girls, Carly wanted to know if they were still building it because it looked like it had scaffolding all over it.
The reason for returning to the department stores was that the girls wanted to get a new pair of shoes before meeting their friends, the Ellis kids, the next day. What a drama. There were so many people in the department stores that it was difficult just moving around. After much searching and heartache, they finally found shoes which suited their purpose. Thank heavens.
The last activity was to get back on the train and finally back to the camp ground by 8 o’clock in the evening. It was a very big day but quite successful. A phone call to the Ellis’s determined that we would be meeting them at nine thirty the next day in Disneyland.
By nine thirty that night, the sky was clear of clouds.
Sunday 4th of April – Day #21
Today was Euro Disney. This is what the kids had been planning for and waiting for months and months and months.
The day started as normal. We left the camping ground at half past eight in order to meet the Ellis’s at nine thirty, as planned. By now we had found a back way from the camping ground to the Disney complex, so we didn’t have to use the motorway. Additionally this was giving us an opportunity to learn more of the local towns.
We parked the van and made our way to the entrance gates. Even though it was only ten to nine, it was Easter Sunday and many people were there already to buy their tickets. By half past nine however, we have bought our tickets and were inside Disneyland. The Ellis’s were at the allotted meeting place and we all joined up without any drama. From that moment on, Phil was in charge of the day’s proceedings, as the Ellis’s have been to Disneyland a number of times.
Throughout the day we went on quite a few rides and had a good time. The kids were all thrilled to see each other as it had been many months since the Ellis’s had left Riyadh. Donna and Jayne talked non-stop.
As the day wore on and more and more people came, the lines for the rides became longer and longer. The most popular ride of all, Space Mountain, had a two and half hour wait, so we chose not to bother with that one, much to Phil’s and his kids disappointment. They were all very much looking forward to that ride.
For lunch we all had pizza and for tea we all went to one of the theme restaurants outside the entrance to Disneyland. It was a good meal and an interesting time. Gareth, the Ellis’s 5 year old son, managed to get lost a couple of times, which was not a good idea considering the number of people there were.
After tea we went back in and went on some more rides. One of the most popular rides of the whole day happened after tea. That was the Star Trek ride. It had a 40 minute wait but once inside it was excellent.
By ten o’clock we were all totally stuffed and left Disneyland. We agreed to meet up the next day at the station for a day in Paris. Everyone had enjoyed themselves, we’d spent much more money than expected and the day had gone longer than expected, so a good night’s sleep was had by all.
Monday 5th of April – Day #22
Ah, my birthday. Will I ever have a birthday as special as this again?
The weather had improved from the day before, although we still needed the assurance of jackets. Rain did not seem all together impossible.
The objective of this day was to spend the day with the Ellis’s in Paris seeing a few of the sights, especially the Champs d’Elyse and the Eiffel Tower.
We met the Ellis’s at the Disneyland station at half past nine as planned and were in Paris by about half past ten. Phil had been the main guide the day before and Donna and I were today.
From the station we first headed off for the Eiffel Tower via The Arc de Triumph. What an awesome structure. As we got closer to the Eiffel Tower, I thought that strangely, even though it was impressive and I was thrilled to be there to see it, it was not as ‘big’ as I had expected. As we got closer to the base, we could see the enormous line of people queuing to go up the tower, so we promptly dropped the idea of going up. When we actually got to the base, my earlier impression of it not being ‘as big’ as I had expected changed. The Eiffel Tower is huge!
From there we progressed to Champs d’Elyse. The walk took us through some beautiful stretches of garden and past some magnificent statues. There looks to be constant work going on the preserve the beauty of Paris and it truly is a beautiful city.
Emma made an interesting comment about the many statues that we were walking past. She wanted to know why all of the women depicted in the statues were topless and claimed that it was discriminatory and was not warranted. Donna and I looked at each other and realized that either Emma was growing up and becoming an opinionated teenager or had been in Saudi too long. Either way, she actually had a point.
Finally we were on the Champs d’Elyse, one of the places that Donna had particularly wanted to see. For those who are like I was and don’t know what the Champs d’Elyse is, it is an enormous avenue in the heart of Paris that is many lanes wide and has beautiful gardens down both sides. It cuts through the middle of Paris and has both The Arc de Triumph and Le Louvre on it. We stopped and had a lunch of ham rolls in the gardens.
We continued on to Le Louvre. There are famous gardens before you get to Le Louvre, the name of which eludes me, but they are really very beautiful. Le Louvre itself is an astounding building and had the now common enormous line of people queuing to enter and see the sites inside.
All along our walk, the children were totally marvellous, considering the time we’d been walking and the distance we had covered. Not once did any of them complain and I was in awe.
Next stop was Notre Dame. This was mainly for Phil and Jayne’s benefit as they had never been to see this wonderful building and we had seen it 2 days previously. As we had done the last time, we crossed over the river and went into the Latin Quarter for afternoon tea at a bar.
By now it was getting late in the afternoon and time to return, so we took a combination of trains back to Disneyland, arriving there by 6 o’clock. We all decided that we would organize tea together and so drove off (another benefit of the camper van; we had 4 adults and 6 children in there for this drive) to find a restaurant. Because it was Easter Monday, we discovered that nothing was open, however we found a takeaway pizza place and bought enough pizza for all of us, soft drinks and a bottle of wine from a nearby grocery shop and found an out-of-the-way car park in which to have tea.
Jayne was still talking and hadn’t actually stopped since nine thirty in the morning. Quite incredible.
We ate pizza, drank wine and the kids played chasey. It was a very pleasant way to finish the day and our time with the Ellis’s. We took them back to their hotel, said a sad farewell and then returned to the camp ground.
Tuesday 6th of April – Day #23
The main objective of today was to return the van. The second objective was to get the train to Rome. Fortunately, the weather was good.
After our big day and late night the previous night, we were out of bed by 8 o’clock to get everything ready. Clothes had to be washed and dried, the van had to be cleaned and made presentable. All of this involved a lot of work, mainly for Donna with me running around in the background trying to help where possible. The biggest help the kids could be was to go and play somewhere. This they did and they made a brand new friend the very morning we were leaving. By half past twelve we were ready to leave.
Timing was rather important as we didn’t know how long it was going to take to get to the van hire place, we didn’t know how long it was going to take for the handing back process and we didn’t have a clue how we were going to get from the van hire place to the train station with all of our luggage. Apart from that, this was going to be easy.
We started back into Paris on the N34. The map showed this to be a pretty straight run. However, the powers that be who run the motorways thought differently and before we knew it, we were on the motorway into Paris. I was annoyed, but it was probably just as well as at least the road ran directly into the city, just where we wanted to go.
Donna’s excellent map reading skills saved the day and we were at the hire place by ten to two. A funny thing happened along the way though. The motorway came to a big interchange, where it seemed that every road that had ever been built in greater Paris came together and suddenly we couldn’t tell which damned exit we had to take. The map and the road signs were confusing. Thank heavens that the interchange was constructed in such a way that you could actually drive around and around and come back to the place that you started. It was sort of like a multi-level roundabout. We learned about this because it took 2 times around (and up, over and under) it before we were able to determine which exit to take. These were all freeways and there weren’t any emergency stopping lanes, so we couldn’t stop and read the map.
After handing the van back and receiving all of our deposit back, we hired 2 taxis to take us to the train station. One of the taxis was a large van, which took the bulk of the luggage and the other was a Mercedes, which took Emma and I. Ha! The good life. Suddenly I thought that we were being taken for a ride (get it?) because I could see The Arc de Triumph. I thought that instead of taking us the quickest way to the closest station, they were taking us all the way to the international station, via the longest route possible. This seemed to be confirmed by the enormous numbers appearing on the taxi meter. But the fellow explained in very poor English that they were actually taking us to the closest train station available. I believed him but I’d hate to have to travel around Paris by taxi too often.
They dropped us at Charles de Gaulle train station, from where we were able to catch the RER to Gare de Lyon, the station from which the Rome train left. Lugging the suitcases up a million stairs and through throngs of people was not fun, but we made it with plenty of time to spare.
We sat down at a cafeteria for tea and were served by an energetic young Frenchman. He asked where we were from and when we said Australia, his eyes lit up. He then proceeded to talk about The Gold Coast and The Sunshine Coast. It came out that he had recently spent some months at both places, staying with friends, and had thoroughly enjoyed himself. That made for a light-hearted meal as we swapped stories with this young, energetic, Frenchman who loved to talk in English.
I learned along the way that traveling by train is not like traveling by plane. On the plane, once you check in, you can forget about your luggage and sit back and wait for the monitor to tell you exactly when and where to board your plane. On trains, the suitcases are yours and you have to get them onto the train, on the right platform and at the right time. Phew. What a struggle.
The one chap in the compartment when we boarded had a look of horror on his face as we loaded 4 full suitcases, Emma’s sleeping bag (as big as a small suitcase) and the 5 backpacks into the compartment. Once he relaxed and realized that we were at least human, he advised about the many secret little places that suitcases could be stacked away. After ten minutes of grunting, we had it all setup, ready for the next 14 hours.
The train was not the supersleek modern thunderbolt that I had been envisaging. It was more of your Saturday afternoon movie, Gregory Peck, Orient Express type of train. But it was very cosy. The compartment we were in had 6 fold down beds in it which proved to be a wonderful way to travel through the night. After the hustle and bustle of the past couple of days, we all slept very well, waking somewhere slightly north of Pisa.
Chapter 3/’Ruined in Rome’ (get it?)
Wednesday 7th of April – Day #24
Breakfast on the train was basic and expensive, but it was breakfast. The train was now traveling through country that we hadn’t yet seen, as we had only been as far south as Pisa and we were now between Pisa and Rome. We were travelling for part of the way along the Mediterranean coast, so the scenery was interesting.
We pulled into Rome within 5 minutes of the scheduled time and emerged from the train to basic, unashamed pandemonium. There were people everywhere! Donna and the girls parked themselves while I went off and found a trolley for the luggage, then they parked themselves while I went off and found the lockers to put it all in. The plan was to store the luggage in lockers, find a hotel and then come back for the luggage.
We found the lockers and put all of the bags in there. They were now safe for 12 hours. Then we headed off to change some money. Silly me! We were at the station and of course we paid top rate for changing some money, but we had to have it so I gritted my teeth.
The next step was to find a hotel room, so we looked for the accommodation desk, which we found without too much fuss. While standing in the line (keep in mind that we were now in full blown paranoia due to the advice that had been given to us by many people), a gentleman approached us and offered to help us find accommodation. I thought ‘here we go.’ He was dressed very well in a suit and looked like a very respectable business man. I first told him that we didn’t need his assistance, but he again asked in a polite and calm manner. I then thought that I had better at least listen to him, so I asked how he was going to help us. He explained that his job was to help newly arrived visitors, such as us. I asked who he worked for and he told me that he worked for the government and showed me his credentials. He then asked what we needed in the way of accommodation. From that point he began guiding us out of the station and towards a hotel that he said was only 5 minutes walk from the station. Well, it was.
At the hotel, the Giaglio dell’Opera, the clerk asked us what we needed and I told him that we needed a room for 6 nights and that I wanted our own bathroom. The bell boy took us to a beautiful room and Donna and I thought we’d hit the jackpot. Then the fellow on the desk told us that it was L375,000 per night. I nearly choked as that is over $US200.
When I explained that it was outside our budget, he asked what our budget was. I told him that we could spend no more than L200,000 per night and voila, as if by magic a perfectly acceptable room with our own bathroom, television and 5 beds appeared, priced at precisely L200,000. It certainly was not as nice as the more expensive room but it suited our purposes admirably. Plus it had an all-you-can-eat breakfast as part of the price, so we were more than happy.
After accepting the room, I thanked the gentleman who had brought us from the station as he had done us a wonderful service. We settled in the room then went back to the station to get the suitcases. Half an hour later, we were all set up in the room and ready to explore Rome. And it was only 11 o’clock in the morning. Our paranoia was already under question.
For lunch we had pizza at a restaurant just down the road from the hotel. This restaurant was going to become a common eating place for us. High on the list of priorities was confirming the flight from Rome to Paris and from Paris to Riyadh. The fellow on the front desk of the hotel gave us directions to the office of Air France and we walked there in the afternoon. Well, we hoped to walk there but when we got to the place he had told us, there wasn’t an airline office to be seen.
More directions from another person found us heading to a different part of town where there were actually some airline offices. But was there an Air France office, let alone one which was open? No way. By now it was seven o’clock at night and we were all getting tired, so we headed back towards the hotel, stopping at a small supermarket on the way.
For tea we had very expensive and very horrible sandwiches from a cafe across the way from the hotel. We didn’t do that again. We all fell into bed utterly exhausted after watching a little bit of Italian dubbed television. I think that the American sitcoms are actually much funnier in Italian.
As today was so full of activity, we really hadn’t assimilated much about Rome. But that was set to change over the next days.
Thursday 8th of April – Day #25
There was rain today until 1 o’clock in the afternoon, making 5 days of rain out of a total of 25 days.
We started the day with a wonderful breakfast in the hotel dining room. We all ate heaps as we knew we’d be on the go most of the day.
The plan for today was to go to some street markets near The Vatican, then go to The Vatican itself. We left the hotel at a quarter past nine to take the metro (underground train). We found the markets OK, but the slow drizzle of rain put a dampner on proceedings. The girls bought a purse each or something like that.
We then headed to The Vatican, only to find that there was an enormous line of people standing in the drizzle waiting to get in. With our unwillingness to line up to see anything, we certainly weren’t going to line up in the rain to go in. So we decided to return at 9 o’clock the following morning.
We took the metro back to Flaminio, bought some sandwiches for lunch and took them into a park to eat. From there we started walking down the road and soon saw an interesting gate or arch over a side road and decided to go through. All of a sudden there was an enormous piazza (public square) with a fountain in the middle and ancient statues all over. We later learned that this Piazza Popolo. We couldn’t believe it as this was almost hidden from where we had eaten lunch. We crossed the piazza and found many roads leading off on the other side, so followed one. It was a narrow little road with almost no traffic (for some reason there was virtually no traffic in this area) and was lined with beautiful, high class, expensive looking shops. We walked for some time up and down the roads and alleys, eventually returning to the piazza and then onto Piazza Spagna.
Next came The Pantheon. This is a very famous, ancient Roman building and there it was standing at one end of a small, almost insignificant piazza. Standing there looking at it, I found that I was suddenly feeling a little choked. The Pantheon is a living building that is over 2000 years old and here was I, a mere tourist on a brief holiday, standing in front of it, unable to comprehend the full significance of the building or its history. We went inside and saw the magnificent statues, the works of art, the amazing marble floor, the enormous and beautiful dome and I felt humble. (I’m going to be mushy for a moment.) I wondered why I was even allowed to see such an important and beautiful building because I and most of modern culture are so insignificant compared to the people and culture that had created this building.
From the Pantheon, we headed towards The Colloseum through many small streets. As we were walking along, we stumbled onto amazing ruins, The Forum etc, right there in the central part of Rome. I have to say at this point that my knowledge of Rome and its history was virtually zero until this day, the 8th of April, but I began learning quickly. Standing there looking at the ruins (Ruined in Rome???), I was wondering what it must be like to live in a city in which you are always surrounded by thousands of years of history. We pondered this same question in England 2 years previously, but the history there was almost like yesterday compared to the history we were peering at.
The time was right to return to the hotel, so we did. We rested, put our feet up and watched a little local television (Third Rock From The Sun dubbed in Italian?) then went out to a restaurant 5 minutes from the hotel for a tea of pasta and wine. It was here that we were again confronted by the tone of voice that we had experienced in Paris, but we didn’t heed the warning bells enough and wound up with enormous servings of food which was too much to eat.
Next came a night time walk to the Colosseum to see the lights. It was beautiful. We then wandered a circuitous route back to the hotel by nine thirty, got the kids into bed and went to the hotel bar for a cappuccino.
Friday 9th of April – Day #26
All awoke, with some encouragement, at half past six. Our experience yesterday taught us that it is best to get to The Vatican as early as possible in order to avoid the worst of the wait to get in.
Again we caught the metro to Ottaviano station. This in itself was an interesting exercise. The station near the hotel is the main, central station for Rome. When we got there to get the train to Ottaviano, the platform was solid people, from the wall to the edge of the platform. The trains were pulling in every 2 minutes and each time the people would shuffle forward as some got on. It took 3 trains before Emma and I were able to shuffle on board, but Donna, Shauna and Carly were left standing on the platform. The train was as full of people as it could possibly get so it was a cosy trip for the 5 or 6 stops to Ottaviano. After getting off, we waited on the platform for the others who arrived on the next train.
We walked quickly to the entrance to The Vatican, only to find that there was already quite a line of people. Still, it only took 20 minutes or so for us to be inside, where we found that the organization was quite amazing. The Sistine Chapel is the big draw card that most people are coming to see, but they have arranged it so that everybody follows a set route through many galleries and past many impressive art pieces before finally arriving there. I was surprised to find that throughout the whole tour, cameras could be used but without flash. That was banned. They were for the whole tour except for The Sistine Chapel itself, where photography is banned completely.
The museums and galleries are incredible! I urge anyone who has the opportunity to visit The Vatican to do so, even if only to see the artwork. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to describe it, but I will throw some in. Sort them in any order you want because any combination is only a subset of what is needed. Here goes : STUPENDOUS, BEAUTIFUL, MAGNIFICENT, AWE-INSPIRING, RICH, AMAZING, BREATH TAKING, WONDERFUL, BIG, BOLD, UP FRONT as well as gaudy, shiny, sparkling, brassy, gold. I was able to take some good photographs which, with the help of the panoramic camera, are quite incredible.
After wandering through the many galleries, we finally came to The Sistine Chapel. This was quite dim compared to the rest of the exhibits, no doubt because they are doing whatever they can to help preserve it. There were many people in there, constantly being told to ‘shhhh’ by the guards, gazing up at the ceiling. It really is extraordinary to think that all of that was done by one man, lying on his back.
Emma and I had become separated from Donna and the others, so we were in the chapel for over half an hour until Donna and the others found us, giving us a good opportunity to view this spectacular piece of history.
After this, we walked around The Vatican to the open end (??) and Piazza San Pietro. There is a little bit of a funny story associated with this. Donna had been saying for a couple of days that one of the things she wanted to see was San Pietro’s Basilica. I was just agreeing, because in fact I had no idea what she was talking about. As we were walking towards it, I commented that another thing I wanted to see before leaving Rome was that Saint Peter’s church. Ha ha (get it?) Stupid me had no idea that San Pietro’s Basilica was Saint Peter’s Basilica. Oh well.
The piazza is enormous. This is where The Pope gives his public addresses and masses etc, and it is absolutely enormous. It is also living history because all around are many many columns (obviously ancient) topped with something like 124 statues of various gods, emperors and other famous people. At the opposite end of the piazza is the church itself, not so impressive from the outside.
However, when you walk through the front doors, all of that changes. I have never in my life experienced such grandeur, beauty, opulence and such down right ‘in-ya-face’ presence. I’m sure my mouth was gaping widely the whole time we were in there.
From The Vatican, we walked back towards the ruins, stopping in a bar for a lunch of sandwiches, hotdogs and the strongest espresso yet. I was by now making a habit of having espresso coffee to see how it compares with the Arabic coffee.
While having lunch we witnessed a traffic accident. A girl on a scooter was passing by a parked car when the fellow in the car opened the door and she hit the tarmac. People came from everywhere, including the police. The fellow in the car was obviously assumed from the very beginning to be in the wrong and the girl, who had hurt herself a little, was consoled by everybody and then whisked off to hospital while other people took care of her bike.
When we finally got to the ruins, we walked around for a while and saw that they are doing a lot of work to improve and preserve them. The ruins are really wonderful. Carly declared that she is going to be an archaeologist when she grows up. That’ll last for approximately a week.
From The Colloseum, we caught the metro back to Terminii, which is the main station, and made inquiries about the train trip to Pompeii. We were told that a good way to get there is to catch the train to Naples, then get a local train from Naples to Pompeii.
We again went to the pasta restaurant for tea. Another big day was almost over.
Saturday 10th of April – Day #27
The first stop today was the station to buy the tickets to Pompeii, where we planned on going on Monday. The lady was very helpful and when we told her that our plan was to visit Pompeii, return and then catch the twenty past nine train to the airport, she advised us not to go on Monday as there was probably going to be a train strike. This was very good of the lady because the fellow we had spoken to previously about the tickets was not very helpful and hadn’t mentioned a train strike. However, the Pompeii trip had just hit the wall. Donna wasn’t very happy about this and neither was I.
From the station we took a circuitous route to The Colosseum. The first part of the walk was through a part of the city which was near the station and quite rundown. But then we went through some nice, residential areas eventually coming to the Piazza de Roma. This is in a very swish area of expensive apartments and offices. It would be lovely to return one day and spend more time in this piazza.
Finally we arrived at the Colosseum and paid too much for very ordinary pizza in a cafe for lunch. However, this was partly made up for by the fellow serving as he was from Egypt and thought that it was wonderful that we could speak a little bit of Arabic. We thought that it was amazing that he could speak fluent English, Italian and Arabic and just swap from one to the other almost in the same sentence.
Then we went into the Colosseum. Wow! It is really an amazing place, again considering that it is over 2000 years old. Donna bought a book which explained a bit about it and it is hard to imagine the work and the expertise that went into building something as big and intricate as the Colosseum over 2000 years ago. We stayed there for one and a half hours, walking around and taking photos.
Next we walked to the Piazza del Rotunda, the piazza where the Pantheon is. We sat down at one of the cafes and the kids went off to look at the work of the many artists that do their thing in the beautiful surroundings. Donna and I were sitting in the sunshine and had cappuccinos, espresso and a half litre of red wine. I was starting to get into the house red at the various cafes and restaurants. It was lovely. We stayed there for over an hour, an hour of pure enjoyment.
Again we took a circuitous route back to the hotel, stopping at the Quirinale to watch a military parade. We stayed mainly on the back streets as they are more interesting than the main roads. On the way we stopped at UPIM department store where the girls bought a Barbie each, something they had been hanging out for for days.
Tea was at the Piazza del Rotunda at McDonalds, both for the girls sake (the McDonalds bit) and for our sake, being the chance to see the Pantheon at night with the floodlights. It was well worth it as the girls thoroughly enjoyed the McDonalds and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Pantheon at night.
While there we met a young woman who had very good English. She told us that she had an uncle in Sydney and we talked for a long time about Rome and Italy and stuff. We also got communicating (can’t really say ‘talking’ because they didn’t have any English) with a lady and her children. We all got along famously before we had to leave to return to the hotel and sleep.
Sunday 11th of April – Day #28
We had a big day planned for today, beginning with a visit to a very popular market at Via Portuense. We walked there in the bright sunshine, arriving by half past nine. The place was packed with people. This was a very good market with many stalls stretching along almost a kilometre and then back again. They were selling everything except car parts. I bought a couple of CDs, the girls bought a purse and a porcelain doll each and Donna a beautiful, leather handbag.
There was one unfortunate incident which turned out OK. I had been warned about pickpockets and thought that I was prepared for them, but when I encountered them, I was like a lamb to the slaughter. It was only the fact that I had the sense to put my wallet in my front pocket that stopped them from making off with it. I was shocked at just how easily it had all happened, and virtually without my knowledge. I was able to pay them back in a small way by foiling their attempts to pick the pocket of a Korean tourist. The extraordinary part about it was that nobody seemed to care that there were pickpockets blatantly operating amongst them. I was to learn later that there is a generally different approach to this sort of thing in Italy and possibly other parts of Europe. Anyway, nothing was stolen, but it was not the high point of the visit to the market.
We left the market at lunch time and had hamburgers while sitting in a small park. Then we walked back to the hotel, a walk that took us an hour. After resting for a while, we left the hotel to have coffee in a piazza. We chose the Piazza Navona and had a lovely time sitting in the sun drinking coffee and wine and watching the people.
Next, we walked to the Campo di Fiori and had a lovely tea of pasta, bread dipped in olive oil and vinegar, cappuccino and wine at an outside restaurant. This typified Rome; the ambiance (yes, I have finally used that word), the people, the buildings, the colour, the smells, the sounds. There is no end to the joys of Rome.
Monday 12th of April – Day #29
Today was the biggest day of all.
For the first time in Rome, we were able to sleep in for a bit. After packing our suitcases, we were ready to check out of the hotel by ten o’clock. We ran a shuttle service and took the suitcases to the station and put them into lockers for safe keeping. While doing this, we discovered that there was a train strike, so it was just as well that we decided not to go to Pompeii.
Today was a day of aimless walking. There weren’t any particular sites we wanted to see or things we wanted to do, so we walked our shoes off. We saw plenty of new places and found new piazzas.
By half past four, we had to return to the station to pay more for the luggage in the lockers, then went across the road for a cappuccino. As we were about to leave Rome, we decided to have tea at our favourite restaurant. On the way there, we stopped at an English bookshop and Donna was able to buy the latest Steven King book.
At the restaurant we had 2 pastas and a salad between us all and were not able to finish it all. I also had my last jug of house red and so was feeling quite happy after the meal. We got talking to an older couple who were sitting at the next table and it turns out they live in the centre of Brisbane in Admiralty Towers. We were able to give them some tips about where to go to see some sights in Rome and we had a good chat about things Oz.
We returned to the station at eight o’clock, got our luggage out of the lockers and were on the train to the airport by twenty past eight. If I had any say, I would insist that all cities in Australia build a simple to use train to the international airports, because it is a wonderful way of traveling between city and airport. We have done it now in London, Paris and Rome and it is great. We were at the airport by ten to nine at the beginning of what was to be a looooooong night.
There were quite a few people at the airport doing the same as us. Our plane was leaving at ten past seven in the morning and the first train to the airport didn’t leave Rome until seven o’clock, so that was why we had to get there early. We all found spaces amongst the rows of chairs in one of the lounges and settled down for the night. Amazingly, Rome airport, new, modern and nice as it is, closes at ten o’clock at night and doesn’t open again until seven in the morning. So we had to make sure we had drinks and food to get us through the night.
Tuesday 13th of April – Day #30
After a relatively painful night, we caught the plane without incident. A couple of hours later we were in Paris. Apart from Emma choosing to lose her breakfast all over the floor in the terminal, our short stopover also went without incident. We were soon on the plane bound for Riyadh.
It was very interesting flying back because the sky was almost clear and we could see the snow covered alps, followed by the Mediterranean coast, then the west coast of Italy, then the Greek islands, then across the Mediterranean to Egypt, across the Red Sea to Saudi and across Saudi. The only place that the view was affected was just as we came into Riyadh, which was having a dust storm just at that time.
Nick met us at the airport, as planned, and we were able to fit all of our luggage plus ourselves into his new car. That was amazing considering the moments of difficulty we had endured with the luggage over the past 4 weeks. Half an hour later we were home at ASASCO and our holiday of a life time was over.