Weds 6 October – Friday 8 October
Wednesday morning – Johan leaves for work. Then Niels hits the road to pick up a friend in Boxmeer and head on to South of France. Then Stans leaves to pick up Kayleigh from school. Then Theo is off. And we four are all alone! We finish packing the car, take a photo and leave. We are only driving to Gent and aren’t in a hurry so decide to take the back roads. Winding our way slowly through NL. We are almost to Belgium, sitting at a stop light when a car runs into us! Seriously!? We have been in the car for one hour of our year long journey and some loser rear-ends us!? Ugh, we pull over and get out to assess the damage. There are some advantages to a Land Rover – one being it is built like a tank. In addition, Stanley had just installed the high-lift jack on the back bumper. There is no visible damage to our car and the front of his looks like origami. Problem is he hit our spare tire and it pulled the tire rack and the back door ever so slightly. We will want to have it assessed when we get to Gent and so need to get all the insurance info and forms. We go through the requisite process and then move on an hour later. We arrive in Gent but it doesn’t completely feel like we’ve started our journey. We go to Gent all the time so it could well be a long weekend that we have managed to over pack for!
We spend the first night with Lou and Marleen and the next two with Wannes and Liza. We are very well fed and cared for and both help us get the car sorted and fine tune some of the packing. Thanks to Lou, Marleen, Wannes, Liza and especially Louisa and Elio for helping us out and taking care of us on our way through Belgium!!
Saturday 9 October - Ghent to Paris
We left Ghent at 9 and headed to the LR shop in Waregem. After having spent weeks on the preparation of the car, one would think the car is in perfect shape. Well, think again. It was quite clear from the start that the suspension of the car was no good and needed serious improvement before we could ride the African roads. As the shocks absorbers were new and all of the bushes in the entire suspension system, it was the coil springs that needed a change. So, during the visit of the TREKK shop in Waregem, the shop owner gave us some second-hand standard coils springs that should do the job. We took our stash and headed on to Paris. The drive should not have taken long and technically we were in Paris within 3 hours – sitting in traffic!! It was a beautiful day in Paris and Parisians seemed to like to spend it on the highway.. After winding our way along the Peripherique and through the Bois de Boulogne we made it to Suzanne and Francis’ house straight away thanks to Suz’s excellent directions! Sat evening we had drinks with Jean and Cathrine Arth and then dinner with Suz and the crew including Margie and Francois.
Sunday 10th – The weather has been on our side and it was a beautiful day in Paris. Stanley took advantage of the weather to change the coils on the car and with some assistance of Francis managed to change both springs without much hassle. The afternoon was spent lounging with the kids in the Bois de Boulogne and another fabulous meal.
Thanks so much to Suz, Francis, Jeremy, Charlotte, Louis, Margie and Francois for giving us a home away from home. We have take some time to settle into this trip – re-packing, sorting out a schedule with the kids, fine-tuning the car and are grateful for everyone helping us though our first week. We are now ready to really hit the road!
Monday 11 October – Tuesday 12 October
After the great wines that were served during lunch and dinner in St Cloud such as the Meursault, Chablis and Gevrey Chambertin there was no choice but to visit the Bourgogne to have a better look (and taste) at these brilliant wines. We spent the night camping at Arnay le Duc and visited the region of Gevrey Chambertin. A gorgeous drive through autumn over small roads and through picturesque villages gave us splendid views over the wine fields. Of course one can trust Julia to pick a perfect wine to spend an evening. The “village” wine from 1988 was amazingly complex , fruity and soft. We blew our daily allowance on the 1988 and two minuscule aged steaks. Luckily we had enough stash in the car to feed the kids and our first night of camping was spent by the bbq with our steaks and an amazing wine.
Waking up the next morning was not as heart-warming as the wine the previous evening. The night had frozen the grass, car and boxes we had left outside the tent. There was a definite need for the down jackets and to revisit our route. While we had been thinking of heading to the Aosta Valley in Italy the thought of even colder weather made us think again. We decided to head South!
We drove to the Verdon. So amazing – such a perfect time of year. There is almost no one on the roads save the occasional pensioner and the camps and parks are empty. The colors are gorgeous – trees changing red and yellow. We had a long day from the Bourgogne and selected a random campsite as we were tired of driving and we came across the sign by the side of the road. It was 6km off the ‘main road’ up in the woods. A beautiful spot run by an old French couple in an old village, named Brieux, up on the hill. It was Eowyn’s first experience with a Turkish toilet. After 4 visits she finally managed to go!
Thursday 14 October
Happy birthday to Niels! We tried to phone you!! Phoning has become something of a logistical operation. We don’t have a mobile and the world has really moved on from pay phones. It is possible – in theory – to use a payphone but not as straightforward as it used to be. First of all, always look at the receiver before you put it to your ear…. Then, you probably need to purchase some special card to use – not just a coin like the old days. We did manage to get the card and find a ‘clean’ payphone but couldn’t get through… Hope you had a good one!
After a late morning we drove to Castellane and the Gorges du Verdon. Eowyn put on her hiking boots and was ready to climb. We walked down from the Point Sublime to the Verdon river and there was no need to carry Eowyn as there was a price to be won for walking all the way herself: icecream. It was a lovely day for a hike. Eowyn practiced taking pictures and movies with her own camera. I think some pics might even have persons on it.
Friday 15 Oct
I will point out we haven’t any clue what day it is or what date. We do try to count back to when we left but it doesn’t seem to match up… Anyway, it is the day after we were in the Verdon.. We have decided to continue South. The fall colors are beautiful and the weather has been good to us (no rain since leaving Holland!) but the nights are cold and we are camping with the kids… We will head to Ventemiglia in Italy. We are trying to stay in the apartment of Matthew’s auntie Yvonne. We have been trying to get her on the phone but with no luck for the past couple of days. We decide to chance it and head there anyway hoping eventually she’ll pick up the phone..
No luck! We make it to Ventimiglia but can’t get Aunty Yvonne. After a long day of driving we take the first open campsite we see which is in the next town over, Vallecrosia. It is hideous. Parking lot style surrounded by a weird semi-industrial area and broken down greenhouses that seem to be growing cacti? Perhaps the most strangely misused piece of prime real estate we’ve seen (or seen since Southern Spain..). We walk along the dog-shit and trash filled beach to the Euro grocery store in search of something to eat. Returning to our slot at the “campsite” - where you can simultaneously see parked cars and the mens toilet from dirt patch where we are camping- Julia is in the middle of a long commentary on how bad the place is when the neighbor pops over with a hot plate of apple fritters. Ok, you can find good everywhere. We turn in early in anticipation of an early start out of there.
Sat 16 October
We decide to give Aunty Yvonne one last try before retreating back to France. There is a lot to see in Italy but we don’t have a map to hand and technically we are going the other way trying to get to the South of Spain.. But it would be a shame to leave Italy now as Eowyn thinks she has found heaven in the land of pasta and gelato (what more do you need!?). After cruising town in search of a working pay phone (and finally finding one) SUCCESS! We get Aunty Yvonne and she says we can stay at the apartment. We pick her up and she guides us to the flat. Auntie Yvonne has a lot to say about everything – including that it is illegal for us to be driving around with the view out our back window partially obscured. She spends several minutes on that topic before moving on to what poor drivers the French are. They are apparently always coming over the border and driving around (poorly!). From what I can tell the French aren’t especially bad drivers. The Italians or at least the Italians in Ventimiglia – that is another story!! On one street that we walk down literally every car has dents and paint scraped off the side of the car. It would seem drivers in Ventimiglia know they are close enough to the wall/tree/curb to park when they scrape up against it. Another curiosity is zebra crossings. On one street they are on the road every 30 meters or so. Each time we dutifully come to a stop to let people cross. Each time the people standing on the side of the road look at us as if we are crazy or it is some sort of trick before gingerly stepping out on to the road to cross. It seems we are the ONLY people who stop at zebra crossings. Making it all the more strange that there are so many.
The apartment is worth the wait. It is the top flat almost on the top of the hill of Old Ventimiglia. The entire front balcony overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the back overlooks the old town. The building is built into the old city wall. We will stay here for the next 4 days trying to keep the kids off the Napoleon III furniture…
Monday 18 October
Stanley is working for a few days and today Julia decided to take the train to Monaco for the day with the kids. After descending the hill to the station, waiting in line for 30 minutes I was told that the first train to Monaco was at 3pm and they didn’t have any idea when there would be one returning(!!!). French are still on strike… So we stayed in Ventimiglia, did some shopping and enjoyed the town.
If I lived in Italy I would weigh 300 pounds. The food… Sooooo good…. We are staying at the apartment and cooking for ourselves but everything we are getting at the shops and the markets is so good! We start the day by nipping around the corner to the bakery for some fresh bread and anything else that looks tempting eaten together with strong espressos. For lunch we eat the bread with local sausage and some cheese left over from France. In the afternoon Julia visits the market with the kids for veg, fruit and fresh pasta. The daily gelato was replaced by some delicious almond cookies (fresh baked from the market). Before dinner we walked to the tiny sliver of beach on the North side of town and had some sausage and a 2004 Barolo (while the kids ate sand) before returning to the apartment for fresh pasta and veg (and the rest of the bottle..).
Would like to know from anyone who has taken their drivers test in Italy – what do they tell you the zebra crossings are for?
22 till 24 October - Spain to Morocco
Spain is a blur. We decide that we could meander through Southern Europe endlessly soaking up the sights the food and the wine but then we may never make it to South Africa. We tried getting a ferry in Sete, France which takes 36 hours and arrives in Tangiers. This could save us a thousand kilometers of driving. On arrival in Sete it seemed we had to wait a day and a half for the first boat to depart. Considering the long sail we decided to drive to the South of Spain and catch a ferry to Morocco there. We make it in 3 days from Ventimiglia, Italy to Almeria, Spain. K3 is on the DVD player non-stop and Eowyn sings and dances on the backseat: “handjes draaien. handjes draaien. Alle kinderen in de wereld doen me na, aha aha aha ahaa. Zuid-Ameeeerica.” Not the exact songtext, but works and continues hour after hour, day after day. Taking the Ferry from Almeria in the south-east will save us a day of driving (on to Algeciras) and we hear it is less hassle at the smaller ports. Almeria is the cleanest and easiest port I’ve ever been to. We follow the signs to the Ferry terminal, a very helpful lady at the information desk tells what the options are. There is one midnight ferry to Melila that arrives at 7 am but that will be difficult with the kids. There are two ferries both leaving at 10 the following morning (Acconia/FerryMaroc and Comnav). We buy a ticket to Nador for the following morning. For the 4 of us and the vehicle it is 325 Euro. Then we follow the signs to Carrefour and then the signs to the campsite – couldn’t be easier. The next morning we are at the Ferry building 2 hours in advance to check in and get in line. Also waiting to board the ferry are a team of Renault F4s decked out in various designs heading to Raid Moroc. When we checked in Almeria we were given a white immigration card (or you can get them on the boat). On our crossing (since it is so long – 8 hours) Immigration is done on the boat. There was a sign for customs on the ferry but the guys never materialized and we were told we would have to go through immigration in Nador. Arriving in Nador we were guided off the boat. Parked the vehicle and waited for the customs officials to come around with a green/yellow and white form. You need your passport, vehicle registration and a pen! Fill in the form and wait in line at one of the little kiosks in the customs area. The officials do some stamping and some signatures and take one copy. You must retain the remaining two copies to show on your way out of Morocco. Within 30 minutes and with absolutely no hassle we are on our way.