Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Well, I thought I might write a wee update on 'normal' life now that I've been back in Ireland for a few weeks.

I arrived back late on the Friday evening after travelling up from Rosslare and greeted the family who were waiting for my arrival. It kinda felt like I hadn't been gone. Saturday was spent relaxing mainly and catching up on the goss.

Sunday I started back in work, and that was slightly bizzare. I had expected to have forgotten a lot of stuff, but beyond having to spend the first few hours back getting passwords reset for all my computer accounts and reading / deleting about 200 emails, it was back into the swing of things and after the 1st day back, felt like I hadn't been away from the place.

The weather has been awful since my return, but I won't bore anyone with that. I bought a new car; one that's a lot cheaper to run than the old Saab, which I'll be sad to see going, but it's served me well for 18 months. It's just getting to that stage of needing repaired more often as it ages, so I bought a 04 Fiat Panda which will pay for itself in reduced fuel and running costs. I'm still living in Hermione - unsure what to do on that front as I'm perfectly comfortable living in her and not sure I want to be in an apartment or sharing with others. I think I'll stick this arrangement out until the new year and see how I feel about things then.

Travelling was a blast. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got to see as much as I'd hoped to when I set out. Hermione performed well - no gripes there. I spent a bit more than I'd planned to, but luckily got a large tax refund in my 1st paycheck which took care of the overdraft and credit card. I'd love to do it all again sometime. There's still Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc., to go and see, but for the meantime, my travels will need to be of the package holiday variety.

September sees me off to Antigua for a week of sailing and windsurfing. I'm very excited about this holiday, even though I'll be doing it alone. But I think that the lone travelling lark suits me fine. November sees me off to Tenerife for 2 weeks to my timeshare apartment, with Colette, her Hubby and my daughter Evelyn.

Thanks for reading about my exploits. I hope you've enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed experiencing them.

Hasta Luego until my next adventure!

Saturday, 30 June 2007

28th June


Arrival 54800 km.

Approaching Calais, I made attempts to get into a huge 'Carrefour' hypermarket in order to get fuel, booze and fags. There were 2 metre height barriers at every entrance to the car parks though, so I guess that they didn't want business from motorhome or caravan owners! As I left to try to find somewhere else, I got stuck behind an articulated lorry, the driver having lost his way off the beaten track, and was heading down a narrow road into a residential area. The driver tried to turn the lorry around at a mini roundabout, and more or less succeeded, only big fat Hermione was sitting at the entrance to the roundabout as he came back around! With a line of cars behind me, there wasn't a lot that I could do other than inch my way forward closer to the kerb and the railings, then reverse back a bit. Eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing, he managed to squeeze the lorry trailer through the gap and we were clear, but with long traffic jams in both directions. I decided to just head for the camperstop area and do my shopping in town by bike.

The 'Aire de Stationment' at Calais is fairly large and just across from the navigation channel where the P & O car ferries from Dover come in to dock. It probably holds around 50 motorhomes or so and cost was 7 euro to park up for 24 hours. Stay longer than that and they will charge 13 euro a night, presumably to discourage people from using it like a campsite. I took the bike off the back and cycled in towards 'Centre Ville', past 'La Mairie' (town hall) and into the shopping area, where I found a Tabac to buy the cigarettes and packed them into my rucksack. Returning to the van, I ditched the rucky and 'de-hoodied' as it was a bit warm for cycling in, then returned again to the centre for a decent look around.

Calais, I'm afraid, wasn't very impressive. I soon got bored of the streets away from the town centre and it seemed to have more than it's fair share of 'wee ned types' with skinheads and sports gear, reminding me too much of home. Saltcoats was the vision that I had in fact. Scumsville-On-Sea. So, I headed back to Hermione and had some lunch with the French bread I'd bought, and relaxed for a bit. By 9pm I'd had enough; was bored and just wanted to be moving, so I thought I may as well chance my arm at the Eurotunnel terminal and see if I could maybe get an earlier train than the one that I was booked on at 6.50 the next morning.

As luck would have, when I arrived at the automatic check in, I was given the option of catching the 22.50 train that night at no extra charge, so I decided to go for that one instead. I actually ended up catching the slightly earlier train, as it was quiet, and we were off and moving by 10pm. Half an hour later (or earlier, since the clocks went back and we arrived in Folkestone at 9.30!) we had arrived.
The tunnel was fast, smooth and efficient; a really good quick way to get across the channel.

sitting behind the motorhome in front of me in the Eurotunnel train....

The next part of the journey was going to be long. The trip from Dover to Pembroke Dock in South Wales was 500km. The one plus point was that travelling through the night, there wasn't much traffic on the motorways. I stopped for one pee break and then one fuel stop where I stuck in £15 as diesel is very expensive in the U.K., as I wasn't going to have enough fuel to quite make it to Pembroke. I finally arrived at 4.10am at Pembroke, the rain having lashed down for the final 200km of the journey, and a fair old gusty crossing of the Severn Bridge. I parked up on the pavement at the Docks only to discover that the skylight above the bed in the back had blown open, and the duvet was half soaked! Grrrr.....
I set the alarm for 7am and settled down for a few hours kip, before moving the van in the daylight to a better parking spot.

At 7, i drove away from the Docks as things were starting to come alive, and I didn't want to be moved on, but I soon found a good parking spot down by the yacht haven in a car park and got about another 4 hours sleep there before getting some breakfast and showering. I headed back to the ferry terminal and once the booking office had opened at midday, I managed to get my booking changed to the 14.30 that afternoon, so I'll be home 12 hours earlier than expected and will give me a full day to recover.

So, journey just about over. Only the hop from Rosslare to home to go.

waiting on the Ferry to Rosslare

27th June

Antwerp, Belgium.

I finally found the campsite. The GPS co-ordinates were a bit off; well about 2km off really, but I punched in the address and found it that way, and when I got there, I think I'd found the cheapest official campsite ever! The cost for the night was 3.75 euro, no lecky and it didn't seem too far from the city, although across the River Schelde. My main issue was going to be the fact that I was mapless, and there didn;t seem to be a bridge spanning the river anywhere near.

(View from campsite side of the river over to the city)

I cycled around for a bit (in a large circle!) finally spotting one of those town maps on an advertising hoarding type things, so was able to consult that and found out that there was a foot tunnel nearby to cross the river. Finding the tunnel proved to be slightly more troublesome, as i was expecting to see an entrance going downhill or whatever......
In the end, I found the entrance inside a large square building with double doors that led into a large lift. The lift travels down 31 metres below the river and opens out on the opposite pair of doors into the tunnel mouth. From there, it's about a 600 metre cycle across to the opposite side, where an identical lift awaits to take you up top again.

I got out at the other side and had soon found the main market square, 'Grotemarkt', and the buildings looked excellent; all very old and authentic 17th Century type stuff, little cobbled streets leading off the square, and lots of taverns and restaurants. It really is a pleasant old city to visit. Where the campsite is situated is in a nice neighbourhood on the opposite side of the river - mainly residential, with a mix of modern apartment blocks and individual houses, some with thatched roofs, but not that old. On the other side of town, there was a rougher, edgier feel to things, and I seemed to be in the red light district. It felt a little less safe to be in, and there seemed to be lots of people just 'hanging around'.

I ate dinner in the evening in a nice little cafe / bar, where the pasta was excellent and the beer cheap, so that was my carbohydrate requirements taken care of for the day! The bill came to less than 12 euro which was grand. I was in two minds at to whether to go out on the lash afterwards, but I felt a bit tired, so I made my way back to the campsite, read a few chapters of my book, before retiring to the bunk for the night. Antwerp is a city I'd like to come back to for a weekend on a cheap flight to explore for a bit and sample the nightlife.

Tomorrow I will leave for Calais, stock upon essentials, plus booze and fags for the family and bide my time until my Eurotunnel crossing is due...........

26th June

Rotterdam- Day 2

I cycled into the centre and locked the bike to a railing. When I returned, the bike had vanished and all that was left was the broken lock lying on the ground. The thieves had tried to cut through the cable, but when that didn't work for them, they managed to break the lock section apart. I was really annoyed. out of all the hundreds of bikes lying around, it was mine, and it wasn't even it was a particularly expensive bike; it was pretty much a bottom of the range 10 year old MTB with no suspension or anything.

So..... off I trudged to the Police station to report it gone, but it seems that bike theft is rife, and the chances of getting it back are very slim. The irony of it is, only yesterday I had hummed and hawed about buying a traditional Dutch style bike, as I've wanted to own one for years, since I first visited Holland in fact, but I scolded myself that the bike I owned was perfectly good and that it would only be an extravagance! So, as fate would have, I ended up buying a Dutch bike, with it's comfortable 'sit up and beg' riding style and turned back handlebars, no brake levers on them; pedal backwards to slow down! Once I'd cycled back to the campsite on it, my spirits had lifted a bit and I'd perked up. C'est la vie, and all that.

I got packed up and made plans to head for Antwerp in Belgium.....

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

25th June


Well the rain has finally let up (mostly) and i headed in to Rotterdam centre this morning on the bus. They're in the middle of building a new station or something and all the roads are dug up around Centraal Station. The architecture is a strange mix of old Dutch and 50's / 60's then really modern stuff. Definately a city that has a lot of modern influences, and even the 50's / 60's stuff looks ok, as it seems to have been maintained!

The city centre is quite compact and plenty of shopping opportunities, but when you've seen a Jack and Jones or H&M in one city, the next is just the same. I did buy a bicycle pump so that I can maybe get around to fixing that puncture I have on the bike! I worked my way back towards the station and found the tourist info shop and made some enquiries there, got a map etc. from there I headed into the Chinese area then along another street into what seemed to be the turkish / Afro Carribean area. All quite interesting. More older Ditch tenements here and finally found a net cafe! I can't access my memory card, hence the previous posts still need to be filled in. After last night's staying at home, i really would like to get out into the city this evening and see if there's any nightlife....... I'm running out of books to read again! My probelm is that I can devour small novels easily in one evening.....

The weather the last 5 days or so has been very poor, with lots of rain, and today is also very windy and there are bikes blown over everywhere in town. My travels are drawing to a close. Probably only 1 city to go after this and that will be Antwerp in Belgium as it has been recommended over Brugge and Brussels looks to be a nightmare to get camped in, so it has been ruled out.

25th June - part 1


I left Amsterdam on the Monday morning and decided to head to the little town of Edam, north of the city about 30km. I'd been to Edam and it's very close neighbour, Volendam, before so I knew what to expect. I stopped off at a car park just next to the marina and camp site. I made myself some lunch and pondered what to do. The weather didn't look very promising at all. Grabbing my brolly, I hoofed it into the town centre and had a look around; all very pretty and picturesque, little houses and shops, and they're celebrating the town's 650th anniversary, so all the flags were out, but the place was very quiet.

By the time I got back to the van, the rain had started and didn't look like letting up, so I decided to head for Rotterdam instead. It rained heavily all the way and the grass on the campsite was soaking. I stayed home and read my book. More from Rotterdam to come later.....

22nd June

22nd June
Bonn to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Arrival 54223km

An uneventful journey by motorway the whole way, over the border with not even a checkpoint to go through, and finally reaching Amsterdam at lunchtime. The first campsite I arrived at, although closer to the city, looked to be a bit of a hike to get to any transport, so I decided to try a different one. The site I ended up at is out in the Amsterdam Bos,or woods area, near to Schipol Airport.

I got organised and walked about 15 minutes to the metro stop at Spinnerij (there's also a bus that will take you to the metro) and made the 30 minute trip into Centraal Station. It was raining by the time I got off, so I was glad I'd remembered to pack my umbrella, and I admit to finally having bought a small 'manbag' to pack it in, along with various maps, guide books and my camera! The city is interesting, with so much water around, from canals to the River Amstel, everywhere you turn, there's another bridge, and navigation can get a bit tricky as all the radial streets run in ever increasing semi-circles rather than any kind of grid pattern. I'm sure everyone's seen pictures of this city and in terms of romantic, pretty scenery, it has the lot, from the old merchants houses with their tall, narrow architecture, to the houseboats and barges, pretty bridges and lots of flowers. Oh..... and what seems to be MILLIONS of bicycles! Everywhere you look, there are just row upon row of bikes, and don't get in the path of them on their cycle tracks or there will be a furious ringing of bells urging you to get out of the way!

I had a stroll around the shopping areas, trying to find my bearings, ended up at the Dam and then at the river, finally found a net cafe, and then had a bite to eat. I was in 2 n=minds as to whether to head back to the campsite early evening and rest up for a bit before going back out, but in the end I just stayed in town and had a few drinks, got chatting to a couple from South Africa who's next stop was Dublin. It ended up a fun night and the rain finally stopped by the time I was heading home, exhausted and falling asleep on the tram. I slept until the early afternoon, before heading back in to the centre, and the weather was finally looking like it might stay dry for a bit. The forecast isn't great for the next couple of days though, with lots of rain expected.

As I walked along, I realised that I felt far safer this time round in Amsterdam than I did when I was there previously; an experience that had me constantly on edge and looking over my shoulder. Maybe I'm just a lot more city streetwise this time round, but i don't get that edgy feeling that was what had put me off this city before. I'm liking it now, although I think my favourite city of the trip still has to be Berlin. The city was busy and by early evening I was sat in Rembrant Square in a small park eating chips! There was an international soccer match on a giant screen in the square, showing Holland and Serbia, and there was obviously lots of interest from the locals in that. By 10pm I was flagging and decided to have an early night. For some reason, the bars didn't seem that busy, although they probably would have been later on, but I was wrecked and headed for the bunk.

I suppose I'd better actually try and see some of the tourist sights on Sunday. Maybe a canal cruise and a visit to Anne Frank's house. By Monday, I may head north slightly and see some of the pretty towns and villages around the Isjelmeer lake, such as Edam and Volendam, but hopefully the weather will be kind.