On our way back from Barcelona to Italy we stopped off to see our German friends in Les Issambres on the Cote D’Azur.
It had started raining on the way on the highway which made for uncomfortable driving with a lot of spray on the road. This weather continued for the next couple of days that we spent there with them but it was nice not to have to drive and just be able to relax.
We did join them and other German friends of theirs for a wonderful meal at an old service station which had been turned into a restaurant called “La Mole” which was apparently a favourite of former Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
We had several types of terrines and pates followed by a choice of wild boar, a cassoulet or duck and then followed by salad and a wonderful selection of cheeses. To cap of the meal was a creme caramel and chocolate mousse and stewed plums. It was a memorable meal washed down with rose and red wine.

We left France and drove around the Cote D’Azur and into Italy to near the town of Piombino where we stayed the night at “Pappasole” a very well appointed resort type of campsite with many pools, recreation area, play area for children and restaurant.
It had warmed up significantly which was very pleasant when we left the following day to travel further south.
We stopped at “La Rosa dei Venti” (the rose of the winds) where my cousin’s son ran the restaurant and had a delicious seafood pasta lunch there. I hadn’t seen him since he was a small boy so it was nice to catch up.
We arrived at Sezze Scalo on the 9th October to spend ten days with my various cousins there. We were just in time for the christening of one of my cousin’s grandchildren which was a normal Italian affair at a restaurant with about 100 guests, a meal of many courses, DJ and much ceremony. It was nice to catch up with all
the family in one place. The poor child looked shellshocked for much of the time with so many loud voices and loud music. We felt a bit the same way.
We had our usual problems with obtaining our Indian visa. We travelled by train into Rome the day after we arrived which took about 40minutes and went straight to the Indian Embassy where we could have been in India. It was an airless basement crowded with Indians some of whom were very much in need of a bath. The same thing happened to us as had happened in Ireland with the man accepting the visas told us we would have to return to Australia to obtain them and he kept insisting on this. Very frustrated we left the basement and decided to try the Embassy itself and made our way to the 2nd floor after bypassing the reception desk with stating it wasn’t a visa issue (or she would have sent us back to the basement!)
As luck would have it a man in a suit carrying a briefcase happened to be entering the code to enter the embassy and as we entered with him he asked us what he could do for us. We explained our predicament and he luckily was to be the head of the visa section. He left us sitting on comfortable couches in the much more upmarket old Roman building for about forty five minutes and then we were directed downstairs to his office where he advised us to upload our photographs (which of course are not the usual passport size!) and then to return to the visa office in the afternoon and if we had any problems to get the staff to contact him. Eureka! Off we went, got the photos uploaded and visa forms checked, had some lunch and returned to a most accommodating woman who accepted our application without another word. We did try for a
visa for a year which is a possibility according to the web information, they only grant six monthly visas – Ugh!
It was just one of the frustrations of travelling for a longer period and not returning to our country of residence.
The other frustrations are the usual ones that people in every country experience with banks, telephone, and internet companies.

The food feast continued for the next week with lunches and dinners allocated to the various cousins. Needless to say I put on weight. Maurice did his usual job of washing and polishing the van ready for it’s wintering sojourn.
Giancarla a cousin took us to the church and monastery of “Fossanova” which also had a beautiful cloister.
Another day I was able to see another cousin’s annual olive harvest which is made much easier these days with a vibrating double rake like contraption connected to a portable generator. It is just a matter then of collecting the olives in large nets and taking out most of the small branches and leaves. The olives are then taken to be crushed for oil.
Ten days later on a sunny 26 degree day we were glad to be on our way back to Roccamandolfi to empty the van and sort clothes for the next few months and eat little!
We met up with our lovely young friends and their baby Caterina who is now nine months old. It is lovely to see the difference and progress of the babies and young children when we only see then every six months.
The locals were all saying that the lovely hot weather that we experienced while we were there in Autumn was the Summer weather that they should have had. They instead had a lot of rain and not very warm days which they said was unusual.
On the 23rd October we went from 24degrees the day before to 8 degrees and very cold. The winter was coming and it was time for us to leave so we stowed the van in a nice new garage in Roccamandolfi and took the train to Rome on the 26th October where we spent a couple of days visiting relatives, picking up our long awaited Indian visas and seeing the Caravaggio exhibition at the Barberini palace before a last couple of cocktails and complimentary nibbles (7euros total) before flying out to Dubai on the 29th October for some sun and warm weather.

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We had good weather for our drive from Malaga to “Reina Isobel” a lovely camp site in Zubia only 15minutes from the centre of Granada by bus. We took a “hop on hop off” bus the next day to get a general overview of the city and the weather had turned wet so it was a good way to stay out of the rain. We still managed to walk around the city for a while and find a few bargains in the arabic “souk” part of the old town where we had mint tea and hoummos in a couple of atmospheric moorish style cafes. We found people in Spain in general to be very welcoming and helpful in shops, cafes and
when we occassionally needed assistance with directions.

I had tried unsuccessfully to book entry tickets to the “Alhambra” which is listed as the number one tourist “must see” in Spain and later learnt that some people had booked months in advance. We therefore opted to get up the next morning at 6.30am (unheard of for Spanish people!) and we caught a taxi in the dark to where there were already a couple of hundred tourists waiting in line at the ticket office. There was luckily an open cafe which served good coffee while we chatted to our neighbours in the queue. When the credit card section opened at 8.30am I purchased our tickets and we were allocated a time of 1pm to gain entry into the “Nazrid Palace. Even then we had to queue for half and hour before so many people were admitted to the castle. The rest of the palaces and gardens could be visited at any time although the “Generalife” castle could only be accessed once. This is because of the large number of tourists visiting the Alhambra. We easily spent six hours exploring the various parts of the palaces and beautiful gardens, having lunch in the garden of a little hotel before continuing to climb the Nazrid tower. The views over Granada were spectacular from many of the vantage points in the Alhambra. We didn’t feel crowded at any time as the castles and grounds covered many hectares.

The “hop on hop off” bus was valid for two days travel so we opted for this to descend into the town and back to the “souk” where
Maurice had left his hat the previous day. The little tram unfortunately broke down so we got off and walked making our way through the narrow winding streets back to “Kasbah” cafe.

We left Granada on the 24th September to “La Garrofa” right on water near Almeria via a slight side trip to Almunecar where Helen had visited about 40years ago.
We could not believe the vast areas of hot houses which stretched in some places, metres from the sea and into the mountainsides for over a hundred kilometres. The only people we saw around this amazing food bowl were a few Africans either cleaning the soft roofs of the hot houses or cycling around the area. The mountains all along the coastline were very dry and rugged.
Unlike France the lay bys at the side of the road where we could stop for picnics were littered with rubbish as there were no rubbish bins. This was in great contrast to the small towns and cities in Spain which we found to be very clean and tidy.
The two days we spent at Almeria were very relaxing and we even managed to have a swim on the one warm day. The water was rather
cool but we were determined to at least have one swim in the over five months that we had been in Europe.
Francoise and I caught the bus into Almeria a nice large town with a wonderful fresh food market were the entire basement was dedicated to fish and upstairs was fruit,vegetables and specialty items.
We decided to try the set menu around the corner for lunch which proved to be a feast for a total of 10euros. A plate of Paella,a plate of marinated capsicums with bread followed by two plates of grilled squid and salad, water and a coffee with a large biscuit – such good value and the couple running the little restaurant were very pleasant.
In order to have a bit of contrast from the seaside we decided to head to El Berro in the Sierra Espuna national park where we spent two nights. It was a very rugged, olive and almond growing area and they had the first rain for the season after five dry months the day we arrived! It rained heavily that night and well into the next day. Francoise and I had planned on doing a ten kilometre walk but that was unfortunately quashed by the rain. We had a very nice meal the following night at one of the two restaurants in town where we tried a number of tapas and the man running the bar was so friendly we decided to return for a lovely breakfast the next day before we left town. The staff at the campsite had little English but were helpful that we managed with my Italian and smattering of Spanish.

The nice thing about staying in campsites and moving around with the campervan is that we have found some good food markets where we bought various interesting foods to try and fresh fruit and vegetables. I mostly made lunch and dinner in the van or in the bungalows where the girls stayed and we would have the occassional restaurant meal to try the local dishes.

We arrived in Campello to visit my old friend Baerbel after spending a couple of hours walking around Alicante. We split up
the next day with Helen and Francoise taking the train into Alicante and Baerbel and her tennant Klaus took Maurice and me
up into the mountains past Benidorm (a sea of high rise appartments and hotels) to Guadaluce, a small town built into a very large rocky outcrop. It was quite a touristy place but facinating to see. We found a restaurant called “Casa Paco” away from the tourist area and where only locals were eating.
We had wanted to try a good paella since arriving in Spain and Baerbel knew exactly where to find one so we enjoyed that and a couple of jugs of Sangria that night before farewelling Baerbel and Klaus.

It was going to be a very long drive to our next stop of Barcelona so we broke it into two sections staying one night at an excellent campsite “Mon Mar” in Monofra about 45kms north of Valencia. I don’t know if they were all “Valencia” oranges but for hundreds of kilometres on either side of the road all we saw were orange trees. The mountains until just before Barcelona were very rugged and then suddenly the landscape changed to more forested slopes.

We arrived in Barcelona at our campsite 20 kilometres towards the east at the “3 Estrellas”. We caught the bus which took 20-30 minutes into Barcelona city and bought our discounted metro tickets 10 for 10euros which got us around the city and to “Sagrada Familia” the Gaudi designed church which is more like a museum. The structure is quite incredible and the inside is a large vaulted area with tall pillars and a lot of stained glass. I was disappointed that although the stained
glass did throw lovely light around the church it was only coloured glass without any design. We had printed out our tickets in advance and we had to choose one of two towers to ascend. We picked the Natividad and we did get lovely views over the city
to the coast and up into the mountains.
A lift took us to the top and we had to walk down but luckily the narrow round staircase was enclosed so I didn’t suffer any virtigo. The church was still to be a building site until about 2020 by which time they hoped to have 18 towers as part of the church. I did wonder if Gaudi had this in mind in the late 1800’s. Some people thought it the most beautiful building they had seen. It was an amazing structure but with all its turrets with fruit and vegetable like decorations it seemed more a folly than a church.
We made our way to the older part of the city and walked down the lovely wide avenues lined with trees and then stopped for lunch in “le Pain Quotidien”.

Our second day in Barcelona was spent wandering around the wonderful markets of “La Boqueria” which was teeming with tourists
and Spanish shoppers buying “jamon”, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and other fresh produce. We had brunch at a cafe there before strolling along the wide boulevards of “La Rambla” and then down the narrow passageways to the Picasso museum which was most interesting. We did attempt to walk to the funicular to have another view of the city however it was closed so we walked back to the bus and the campsite.

The third day Maurice opted to stay and do the washing and rest his arthritic ankle and the three of us caught the bus back to town where thousands of people were taking part in a free yoga session from the “Plaza D’Espana” up to the national museum.
It was quite a sight to see the people sat on their yoga mats in such a large area. We walked to the top of the hill and had a coffee while enjoying the beautiful views. We returned to the “La Boqueria” market where we had lunch and another look around the and then did some shopping as we wandered down a few of the narrow alleyways.
We were lucky that our three days in Barcelona were warm and sunny and it was only in the early morning of the 5th October that we had a storm and heavy rain before the girls caught a taxi to the train back to Paris and then plane back to Perth
and we took the motorway to Les Issambres near St Tropez to see our friends there for a couple of days before returning to Italy to see my relatives and get the van ready for it’s stay over winter in the garage in Roccamandolfi.

We had expected a warmer month for our stay in Spain but despite some rain and the cooler days we enjoyed the variety of seaside, city and mountain areas.

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We drove about three hours from Monsanto in Portugal over to
near Salamanca to spend the night before driving into Salamanca
to pick up our friends Helen and Francoise on the 14th September and who had arrived a couple of days beforehand from Paris and San Sebastian.
We passed more cork tree plantations, many with their barks stripped showing their very red trunks. We also saw a truck laden with cork bark headed obviously to a factory where they make everything from bags to shoes and knick knacks for tourists.
The small villages that we saw from the road were whitewashed and
with red terracotta tiled roofs.
We headed for Avila (St Teresa of Avila, my namesake) which was a beautiful walled town. We had a good look around the old quarter before moving on to the campsite “Arco Iris” about forty minutes from Madrid. We spent two nights there and caught the bus in the morning to Madrid to explore the city. We walked for a number of hours taking in the palace, food markets and beautiful gardens. Being a Monday the Prado museum was closed but I had been to it many years before. I did remember the very wide avenues lined with trees in the city.

On the 16th September we left Madrid and went first to Toledo which only took about an hour.
It was about thirty years since I had been there but I did remember the town gates and bridge over to the old part of town. We went into the cathedral where an exhibition of El Greco’s paintings were on display. The techniques he adopted for his paintings had left many with still vibrant colours.
We opted for a small train that made it’s way in and around the town as the streets were cobbled, steep and it was quite a distance to see all of the main sights.
From Toledo we travelled about 4hours down towards Cordoba passing scores of kilometres of olive groves alond the way. It had reacheed 30degrees as we arrived at “Albufeira” campsite outside the city. On the way to Cordoba we passed the “Man of La Mancha” country with it’s castle and many windmills on the hills around it.
The town below was quite large but was like a ghost town. There was no one on the streets and only a few men in a couple of bars in town.

The next day when drove into the city but could find no parking for the van close to town so we parked a little way out, had a good coffee at a local bar and caught a local bus into the centre of the old town. It started to rain and that kept up for the whole day which made it not so pleasant to walk around but we persevered and were determined to see the “Mesquite cathedral/mosque” which looked spectacular. Once we had done that we caught a taxi back to the van and found our way to “Villsom” camping for three nights.
We had a lay day the following day the 18th September which was also Maurice’s birthday and after a recommendation from our hosts at the camping/hotel site we caught a taxi to “Bar Jaula” in the nearest town of “Dos Hermanas”. The taxi driver warned us in Spanish (most of what I got) that the bar would not open for dinner before 8 o’clock so we had a couple of drinks at a bar next door.
We had been told that the Spanish eat dinner late (10pm onwards) and the near empty outdoor tables and chairs were starting to fill by the time we had finished our excellent tapas dinner. It was at least a lovely warm night and we could sit outside. We had also been warned thank goodness that their tapas portions were large (they served four of us amply) so we adjusted our ordering.
The food was delicious – very fresh and we tried a good range of food from prawn salad, potato salad, two beef dishes and fried cod.

The next day promised to be more or less fine so we took the bus into Seville to see the sights of the city. We were disappointed as it started to rain as we got off the bus and on to the “hop on hop off bus” and continued to rain much harder for the rest of the day. The “Plaza D’Espagna” was the hightlight of the day with it’s beautiful tiled railings and murals in an enormous square which houses municipal buildings for the city.

We enjoyed the meal the previous night so much we went back for more but the bar was much busier being a Friday night. We enjoyed our meal and the gin and tonics and walked the 1/2 hour back to the campsite.

We headed south over the mountains the next day to Ronda a lovely town bustling with people and then on to Marbella to see what the seaside resort was like on the Costa del Sol. It was very neat and tidy with hundreds of appartment blocks and a long promenade at the beach front.
A bit too commercialised for our liking but was good to sea. We continued on past Malaga to our campsite for the night before going back into Malaga the next day. Unfortunately the bungalow accommodation for the girls was full so they had to go to a hostel
down the road. We were surprised that all the cabins in the campsite were full as we hadn’t encountered that this year even in
the high season and they had had a storm the day before we got there and it rained again the day after we got there.
We picked up some supplies from an enormous “Carrefour” Supermarket in every sense of the word. An enormous place selling everything imaginable. The selection of fresh food was amazing and there was a special section for entire “Jamon”.

We spent the morning in Malaga on Sunday 21st September and while Maurice rested his ankle (arthritis) in the van we found markets by the harbour and bought a few small things. Francoise and I made it to the magnificent cathedral and former mosque which was an interesting building in front of a nice little square. There were crowds of people walking around as it was a Sunday and at least it didn’t rain. From there we drove over the Sierra Nevada mountains to near Granada to a very atmospheric campsite called “Reina Isobel where the two girls stayed in a very Spanish looking bungalow.
Although not raining it was very cloudy, warm and humid.

We drove the next day from Spain and across into Portugal. It still seemed strange there were no real borders any longer.
Our first stop was the city of Braga. We noticed that many of the appartment and municipal buildings had tiled fronts (which apparently reflects the sun and keeps the heat out)in various colours and patterns.
We parked in an old part of town which was appeared very derelict with some houses abandoned and boarded up.

We luckily walked another direction into the town which was much more affluent and had a vibrant feel to it with large pedestrian walkways amongst historic municipal buildings and churches and many shops some of which had enclosed balconies or intricate ironwork similar to those in Egypt.
The further south we travelled the blue gums were more interspersed with fir trees and near to the coast were many kilometres of corn fields and many small patches of market gardens. Some of our travel was on toll roads but they again were very reasonably priced but there seemed to be many more of them so we travelled for half and hour having paid 1.53euros and then paid another 2.55euros for another hour’s travel. In some places there was no alternative to the highway but we got a good view of the coast and countryside in many places.
We travelled via Guimaraes down to the coast again to “Vila Cha” a pleasant campsite with very nice staff. I think that
the lady who checked us in wanted to practise her English as there was a queue of people behind waiting to check in but she
was not going to be rushed and gave us every possible information about the campsite,shop,location and then offered us a free
port at the bar! It wasn’t that we were Australians as we handed her our EU passports. Local fruit, vegetables and bread
were delivered to the shop which had one of everything for sale from snorkel and mask to soap containers.

Our short good run with the weather ended when it started to rain at night and that continued for much of the next day. It was
also alternately cool and then warm and humid.
The only really good hot weather we had had so far was the month of July in Russia, Sweden, Norway and a few days in Northern
Germany. Finland had recorded it’s coldest summer for 50years and Ireland in August was the coldest for six years.

It was a taxi ride to the modern metro station and excellent train service into Porto the next day. We had raincoats on for part
of the day but it cleared in the afternoon. Porto must have been a very grand city in it’s day – many hundreds of years ago when Portugal was a great power but a lot of it now was crumbling and in decay and so many of the still standing buildings were in need of a clean. Just above the main station however was an amazing mural taking shape an when we returned to the station the artist was working on it (all done with a spray can).
We found the prices in spain very reasonable but in Portugal prices were even cheaper. We paid 3 euros for a large glass of
fresh orange juice and a pot of tea and we only paid 16euros for a lunch of two large bowls of vegetable soup, a piece of cod
with chickpeas, a large mixed salad, bread and two bottles of sparkling water.

We found a fascinating three storey shop selling an enormous amount of quirky items in the most beautiful old wooden building
in the middle of the city. I wasn’t feeling the best with my cold so we caught the train back to Mindelo station and got a taxi back to the campsite for an early night.

It started raining as soon as we awoke and then became more persistent as we made our way south towards Lisbon. We decided to
call into Fatima on the way. We of course knew of Fatima from our Catholic upbringings but I remember more vividly the film
made decades ago of the story of Fatima. It was a Sunday and there was a mass taking place in the enormous square in front
of the church. There were thousands of people there either attending mass, walking around, sitting chatting or throwing any
number of candles into two large fires. We thought this very strange so went to the information office to ask why that was
happening. Apparently people brought too many candles which they lit and they had had a couple of fires and they also didn’t know how to dispose of so many so they have a fire burning around the clock and people bring handfuls of large candles and throw them into the fire instead of lighting them – very strange. The whole scene and gargantuan buildings around the square were a bit too commercial for us so instead we went off down the road and to the little village of Aljustrel where the three sheppherds lived. We walked through the olive groves where the apparitions took place and where there were very few people and small monuments to record the events. That to us seemed much more fitting than all the pomp and ceremony around the church.

The landscape changed again with many olive groves and some vineyards and many oleander bushes along the side of the road.
The land was much drier. There were countless factories and logistic buildings along the way and a giant outlet complex where we stopped and bought a couple of items.

We drove to Lisbon on the secondary roads through little villages and at one of them we stopped for coffee. It was like one of those
western movies where strangers come into the saloon and everyone stops talking. The same applied there where a handful of
locals were sitting at various tables. I asked as I had been told already in Spain and Portugal for a “cafe americano”
– a long black to us Aussies and the guy behind the bar looked at me as though I had two heads. So I opted for black coffee
– long (part Portuguese part handsignals). The prices were getting even cheaper with two coffees costing 1.30euros.

Maurice read before we got to Portugal that one must buy a ticket at a service station for the toll roads,however,when we asked
at the first manned toll station if that was necessary the girl told us that it wasn’t and we could pay as we went along. We did
this until we went under an electronic toll. We stopped for a coffee and to fuel up (diesel here cost 1.37ltr) and there was
a busload of policemen standing around so Maurice asked them for guidance on the tolls. They told us that we could buy a ticket
or we could just before we left the country ask the last manned toll how much we owe. The very helpful policeman said to Maurice
“don’t forget or we will have to arrest you”. They were so helpful and pleasant as was everyone we came across in Portugal. The funny thing was that when we were about to leave the country the girl on the toll booth told us we could not pay it there and only in the Algarve!! She said “don’t worry you are not Portuguese so don’t do anything, you won’t get a fine” so off we went.

The other thing we noticed was the size of the Portuguese people. So many of them were very small in stature and I towered over a lot of the men.

As we came towardsthe coast the hills flattened out into very wide plains down to the coast and then up again over hills
around Lisbon where thirty percent of the population of Portugal live. All we could see for kilometres were thousands of
appartment buildings covering the hills and valleys as we made our way to the national park and through the vast forests of gum trees (lemon scented as well as some blue gums). We thought we were back in Australia with the scent of the eucalypts. Our campsite “Obitur parque de campismo do Guincho” near Cascais was close to the coast.

To get to Lisbon we caught a taxi to Cascais which took ten minutes and then by train to Lisbon which took about half an hour. I was still coughing and felt rather lethargic so we decided on the hop on hop off bus which took us to a lot of the main sights of the city which is vast in size and has many hills,steep narrow streets,beautiful large squares with impressive monuments and a great variety of architecture. The seemingly modern buildings by the harbour of steel and concrete were built for Lisbon’s Expo in 1998 but still looked in pristine condition and many were being used for various activities.
Lisbon appeared much more affluent generally than Porto and the buildings were much cleaner overall. We stayed on the bus
for about an hour and a half and got off at a viewing point which looked down towards the ocean.
We happened upon a very small restaurant with many locals having lunch. The one waitress who managed the whole place was very
friendly,helpful and very efficient. The salads and fleshy tomatoes were delicious.
We went on a short tram ride down a hill and walked around a part of town before stopping for a drink at cafe “Nicola” which had
been in operation since 1929.
We were going to get back on the hop off hop on bus but decided to opt for a short tuk tuk tour and ride back to the train station which proved a great experience as “Jono” chatted to us as he drove us around the very narrow streets of what he called typical Lisbon and showed us another location for beautiful views of the city. They reminded us of the narrow roads of
Roccamandolfi and other small Italian towns complete with little women in black dresses. We donated our bus tickets to a
pair of young backpackers who couldn’t believe that we were giving them something for free and caught the train back to Cascais and taxied back to the campsite.

We drove the twenty minutes back to Sintra to see the various castles with their very different architecture.
We were lucky and got a great parking spot opposite the city castle and then caught the bus up to two of the very distinctive
castles which were high above the town of Sintra. The castle walls at Mouros were built around huge boulders and the views
down to the coast were beautiful, especially with a lovely blue sky above us. We spent a few hours walking around and then went
back down to the town and visited the city castle before heading on foot up to “Quinta da Regaleira” castle and it’s gardens only ten minutes walk away. We then left Sintra and made our way down to the coast about 20minutes away, first stopping at Azenhas do Mar, a pretty village atop a cliff and then to Cabo do Mar, the western most point of mainland Europe with lovely views down the coast.

We found “Fetais” campsite on the edge of the National “parque do Arrabida”. The following day it rained very heavily as we drove
away from the campsite where there had recently been a fire. No chance of that the day we left!
We stopped at Sesimbra to see a simple church with beautiful blue and white tiling inside and then drove through the national
park over the mountains to Portinho do Arrabida but there was a lot of fog and rain and we couldn’t see a lot.
We stopped at our favourite “Aldi” supermarket for some supplies. Prices were very reasonable with 6litres of water costing 60 euro cents.

There was no point in driving on the secondary roads as the weather got worse with torrential rain, thunder and lightning so
we joined the motorway down towards the Algarve. We were lucky as the weather got better as we got to the Orbitur campsite on
the coast at Quinteira, a beach resort near Faro. On one side of the road were modern high rise appartments and on the other
side you could watch the goatherder coming back to his farm with his goats. We knew why the symbol of Portugal was the rooster
as every morning from about 5am they would try and outdo each other, cockadoodledoing incessantly. I think I preferred the
various birdcalls we had experienced in other campsites.

We had a Frenchman come knocking at our door to ask if we were Australians as he had seen the kangaroo 5km sign on the front
window. He has been the only person that we found who had visited the whole coast of Western Australia. He invited us for an
aperatif so we went next door with our chairs and had some lovely Veuve Cliquot champagne (his companion worked for them in
Reims). I brought out my rusty French as none of them spoke English and we chatted for about an hour and exchanged emails.

The next day the 11th September we caught the bus to Faro and we revelled in the hot weather walking around the quaint town
which lies on vast waterways. We were surprised to see many Jacaranda trees (some still with their purple flowers) around the
many squares in the town. A lot of the old town was boarded up and there were a few empty shops about which was always sad to see.

I walkekd into Quarteira and asked a local where we should eat that night and then I walked back to the campsite along the seafront which was filled with thousands of people under bright umbrellas enjoying the hot eeather and the beach.

That evening we caught a taxi to the recommended seafood restaurant by the sea called “Caravelha” and ate a “Cataplana” which is a stew cooked traditionally in a copper pot with lid (it looked like a flying saucer). Ours came in a stainless steel pot and
was a wonderful mixture of monkfish, clams and large prawns cooked in a fresh tomato and onion broth. It was delicious.
Maurice was very industious the following morning washing the van while I was at the hairdressers.
We decided to leave Quinteira and make for Caceres just over the border in Spain (as there was a good campsite nearby)about
four hours north on our way to Monsanto in Portugal. A shame that the chemical company had to choose that name.
We had been recommended by the owner of the castle “Narrow waters” in Northern Ireland to go to Monsanto which was well worth seeing. A lot of the village was built around giant boulders. The views were spectacular after Maurice and I had climbed to the top of the mountain not realising that the track petered out and it was quite steep.
We also visited another small village close by and came upon a lovely little local woodfired bakery run by a lady and her daughter who spoke good English. We bought some bread and then headed towards Spain and Salamanca where we had arranged to meet our friends Helen and Francoise who were to travel with us for three weeks in Spain.

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It was a sunny day when we left Wexford for Rosslare and the ferry to Roscoff,France on the 29th August. The weather deteriorated rapidly by the
time we got to the ferry in Rosslare with strong winds and we had a 2-3metre swell when we got into the Irish sea and then into the Atlantic.
We had a very comfortable cabin on the Irish Ferries “Oscar Wilde” but couldn’t really go out on deck as we were rolling
a bit and pitching a lot and had to take hold of the grab rails to venture anywhere. It was a strange feeling diving into a wave and not knowing how far down the ship would go before it came up again! The couple of gin and tonics I had made for a good night’s sleep
but Maurice kept hearing the alarms and horns of the cars in the decks far below which were disrupted by the movement.
We arrived in Roscoff to 21degrees and for the first few kilometres we drove with large fields of artichokes, some just planted
and some with bright purple bulbs on both sides of the road. We stopped for lunch at one of the nicely appointed “Aires” with picnic tables and large grassed area.
We decided to take the tolled highway which cost us about 13euros for two hours of travel.
It took us about 5hours from Roscoff to La Rochelle where we spent the night in a well maintained campsite near the sea called “Au Petit Pont de L’Houmeau”. We did want to stop and explore La Rochelle with it’s beautiful limestone buildings but again could not find a parking spot. The town was teeming with people and traffic so we decided to go on to the campsite and get up early the next morning and try again.
We were in the centre of town before 9am on the Sunday and the town was practically deserted which made for easy parking and a pleasant walk around for about an hour and a good coffee in a lovely little cafe. By the time we left after 10am the town was waking up. The three and a half hours to Biarritz via Bordeaux went quickly on the highway which was a toll road with little traffic. To get down to Biarritz from La Rochelle was a total of 37.30 euros for about four hours driving.
We passed many field of spent sunflowers and autumn was upon some areas with the trees changing colour from green to yellows and browns.

The further south we went the warmer it became. We found a parking spot very quicly in Biarritz where most people seemed to
be at the beach either surfing, sunbaking or just paddling. It was a very much a seaside resort with many hotels, eateries
and a casino. We had a coffee and a walk around the town for a couple of hours before proceeding down the local winding
coast road and into Spain to Orio seaside campsite about 17kms past San Sebastian. I almost felt like taking a dip in the
ocean as I still had my heavy jeans and fleecy shirt on from the morning and was feeling rather warm – such a pleasant feeling!

We woke to a bit of mist which cleared into a beautiful blue sky and 26 degrees. We left Van Mauriceson at the campsite
we caught the train into the city of Donostia – San Sebastian. What a lovely seaside city and with so much atmosphere. A lot
of historic and older stylish apparment buildings overlooking a beautiful bay. After our obligatory morning coffee we
strolled around the old part of town with it’s many bars laden with Pintxos (snacks or tapas of every kind laid out on the
counters of the various bars and cafes) which looked most appealing.
We had to try some so went to a couple of the bars who also served cider with aplomb pouring it from on high and getting it into a glass. The prices seemed very reasonable with 4 pintxos and 2coffees costing 10 euros.
There were thousands of people at the seaside (but we only saw a couple of real swimmers) and their numbers swelled as the
day wore on. We decided to take to the water ourselves taking our shoes off and walking around the bay to where a few unusual sculptures were set into large boulders.
The funicular up to the top of the hill to overlook the bay and hinterland used old wooden carriages and rattled a bit on
the way up to the top. The views were spectacular and we were surprised that there were very few people there.

We had been walking (with a couple of stops for coffee and pinxtos) for about ten hours so took the bus back to town where
we walked around to the harbour and took the 40minute boat ride to see the city from the water. It was very reasonable at
9 euros and without any commentary it was a very pleasant short trip.
Walking around the bay we were very surprised to see at least eight sets of twins from babies in prams to toddlers.
We thought that there might have been a twins convention as it did seem strange to see so many in the one place.
We were reluctant to leave the city so stayed at the harbour and ate some paella and fresh fish at one of the little restaurants at the fishing harbour.

An early start saw us drive over the mountains where vast roadworks, bridge construction and new tunnels were taking shape.
Some of the trip was on the highway and the only toll we paid was 1.53euros – a pittance compared with the tolls in France and the roads were just as good if not better.

There seemed to be no evidence since we arrived in Spain (at least on this coast) of the poor state of the economy. We saw
no empty shops and the locals were all well dressed and frequenting the bars and restaurants in the area.
On our way around the coast we passed many enormous factories as we travelled through the basque Asturias region.
We drove down to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim museum which is an amazing structure and in a wonderful setting by the river. Bilbao is a vast city and stretches up the hillsides on both sides of the river.

We chose a campsite from our ACSI camping guide and it was as spectacular as it looked in the picture. “Camping La Paz” near
Llanes halfway between Santander and Gijon was high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean and there was also a lovely sandy beach. At 17 euros a night it was a steal!

We set off the next morning towards Santiago de Compostela stopping along the way for our morning coffee in Mondodeno, a lovely little village with a vast cathedaral. The coffee in Spain so far has been much smoother and not as bitter as in a lot of other European countries.
We got supplies from a great little “supermercado” there which was a sort of large pastie with tuna, onions and capsicum – delicious.

The most prolific trees along the north and west coast were Australian blue gums which made us feel right at home.

We left the province of Asturias and made our way into Galicia and down to Santiago de Compostela to where a lot of pilgrims had arrived on foot. We cheated and drove there instead.
The cathedral was undergoing renovations and the town didn’t seem to have a lot more to offer for tourists apart from eating
places and hotels.

We left there and found our campsite near Muros on the Atlantic coast where the family running the place where very friendly.
We ate there that night and had such a huge mixed fresh fish platter that we had to take lots back to the van to finish off the next day.
I felt as though I was getting a cold (God knows where it came from when all we had was fresh sea air??) so we had a a lay day and booked some flights, paid some bills and generally caught up on things. I made a big pot of curried vegetables with chillies so that helped the cold a bit.

We left the next morning to make our way down to Portugal,a
country that we wanted to explore.

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The trip from Kristiansand in Norway to Hirtshals in Denmark on the 27th July on Fjordline’s catamaran only took two and a half hours and was uneventful. We reached the camping site near Haderslev, Denmark after about four hours and we were glad we hadn’t booked a holiday there like so many of the other campers with fixed sites as the rural odours of the countryside were a bit much!

We continued early the next day to Lubeck to spend a few days with friends. Katrin one of our friends surprised us with a trip down the Kiel canal (of great interest for years to Maurice) on a paddle steamer complete with a wonderful lunch. It was a long day as there was only one loch in working condition so we went around and around in circles in Kiel harbour for three hours before we could continue into the loch and down the canal to Rendsburg. We got back to Lubeck about 10pm and after starting out at 6.45am. It made for a long but very enjoyable day and the weather was good, about 30 degrees and the sun was shining.

We detoured on the 31st July to Dollern (east of Hamburg) on the way down to Holland to have lunch with friends and then continued to Mander where we spent the night before driving on to see the towns of Gouda and Delft and then on to Hoek von Holland to catch the ferry on the 1st August to Harwich. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of traffic in Holland especially around the spaghetti junctions near Utrecht and Rotterdam.
We arrived into Harwich and went straight to Hitchin where we spent a couple of days getting minor things fixed at the caravan company where we bought our motorhome.
Over the next few days we caught up with Maurice’s niece in London and our friends in the Chilterns and had a nice day out on the Thames on our friend’s boat. The weather was kind to us and we had a mostly sunny day.
We had wanted to visit Bath to see the Roman Baths in particular. The two hour trip took us nearly four hours with many delays on the highways and we then drove around looking for a parking spot (none to be had) and somehow also managed to get into the pedestrian area with thousands of tourists wandering around. We decided to head away when we eventually found our way out of town and continued on to Stroud to meet up with a friend we made in Bali. We were not so disappointed as we decided to go back to Bath another day. We spent a couple of hours chatting with our friend and then headed for the campsite between Cheltenham and Gloucester.
We were going to continue up to the Lakes district however the weather turned foul so we decided to stay put and instead visit
that area for a few days.

Five pounds (56p to the dollar) got us a day ticket to visit both Gloucester and Cheltenham and the bus stop was directly outside the camping site. We spent most of the day in the Gloucester visiting the Cathedral with it’s magnificent architecture and sculptures inside and out. It was to date the most beautiful cathedral we had visited. We went past the house where Beatrix Potter of the Tales of Gloucester fame lived. She was one of my favourite storytellers as a child and still is.
The sunshine was warm as we walked to the renovated docks area which had a very good shopping centre and many cafes and one with particularly good coffee. From there we caught the bus to Cheltenham and walked around the pretty town doing a bit of shopping. There were no such amazing landmarks there but interesting buildings and lovely gardens and a very impressive Municipal building with scores of beautiful hanging baskets and an ornate fountain in front of it.
Cheltenham had a distinctive English feel about it, different from many other towns in England now with it’s multi cultural population.
On Tuesday we decided to travel the hour back to Bath and this time we found a park and ride just ten minutes by bus from the centre of town. The Roman Baths had the only hot spring in the UK so we hurried there before the masses arrived. We were early enough and were
amazed at the amount of excavation and restoration done in that area which is in the middle of town. There is apparently much more to excavate however the foundations of the buildings above the ruins have to be made stable before they can attempt any further work.

Bath had such interesting architecture and was larger than I thought with many impressive Georgian buildings and rows of townhouses, many churches, monuments and beautifully sculptured gardens. The river meanders around the town and the hills surrounding it made for an interesting looking landscape.
We had to try a “Bath Bun” so went to an establishment called “Sally Lunn’s Historic eating house and museum” which is over 300years old.
The round slightly sweet toasted bread bun with jam and clotted cream was delicious.
There were thousands of tourists in town who all dispersed quickly when it started to rain rather heavily. This continued
throughout the day interspersed with bouts of sunshine. We visited the house where Jane Austin lived and where she wrote her many novels.
The lush crops were about to be or had been harvested in the various counties we visited with bales of hay lying in the fields and a procession of tractors with trailer loads of hay being transported around the countryside. It made for a beautiful patchwork of green, yellow and brown landscape everywhere.
We saw huge fields of hops around herefordshire, most hidden behind tall hedges.

We left our good campsite of “Briarfields” near Cheltenham and wound our way along the backroads and across undulating fields
to near Chedsworth to see the best example of the ruins of a vast Roman Villa which was discovered by a gamekeeper who found
small mosaic tiles while out ferreting in 1864. The site lay buried since 360AD but has since been protected as a heritage site.

We headed to North Wales throught the Cotswolds and the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Wiltshire to spend night
at a rural campsite 10minutes from the ferry terminal at Holyhead. We had an early start (before 6am) so as to get to the
terminal for a 8.55am sailing to Dublin. Once at the ferry terminal and after the usual check in and passport checks there was always more than an hour’s wait so I used this time to write the blog and sort photos.

The Welsh sound like the Swedes on steroids. Most of their signs are unpronouncable and luckily most have English subtitles.
We saw a lovely sign on a deliver van with the stores name “Wing Ho” and underneath “All the Chinese you need to know” Very clever!

We arrived into Dublin port after the two and a half hour crossing and Ireland gave us it’s usual welcome with some heavy rain although travelling on the highways there was very easy with very little traffic as we made our way across to Ballivor in County Meath to visit friends. I cooked an Indonesian meal for thirty people one night and it was nice to have a large kitchen to prepare the meal.

Everyone we spoke to said that up to the time we arrived the weather had been good but it rapidly changed into Autumn weather with heavy winds, rain and it got cold enough to have to wear several layers and
raincoats again. It didn’t matter much as we were visiting friends and family for the two weeks we were there. We helped celebrate three birthdays, two in Dublin and one in Wexford as well as having our routine health check ups. Maurice had managed to break a tooth when he nearly knocked himself out and cut his head back in Tallinn so he had that repaired as well.

Good as new we drove down for the night to another of Maurice’s cousins who has a house surrounded by fields and cows near Avoca in County Wicklow. It is a beautiful part of the country with rolling hills and quaint villages. She took us to “Kilmacurragh” the National Botanic gardens in Wicklow where many exotic trees and plants from the Himalayas and South America had been planted by the Acton family in the 18th century.
Unfortunately most of the family and their gardeners died during the first world war and after changing hands a few times was given to the National gardens in 1996. It was very overgrown and it took nearly four years to clear the site and find many of the exotic trees and shrubs in the garden. There was also a Japanese cedar tree which looked like a clump of trees and which had an amazing root structure around which we walked. It was like something out of “Lord of the Rings”.

The following morning after breakfast we drove the hour down via
Kilmuckrigde to visit our friend from Ballivor who had rented a holiday cottage by the seaside there with some of her family. In the afternoon we drove an hour to Wexford where we spent a few days visiting old and new friends.

We stayed at the campsite on the Irish sea and were rocked at night by the very strong winds. We went back to Kilmuckridge to spend the night with our friends and then headed for Rosslare on the 29th August after saying our goodbyes to friends in Wexford to take the
overnight ferry to Roscoff on the southern French coast.

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The 16th July on a cloudy day we drove about six hours through Sweden to Norway to stay the night in Ringerike after getting lost in Oslo’s maze of highway construction around the city. We stopped in Honefoss and went into the shopping centre for some supplies. It looked very small but as in many places with harsh winters it was enormous with two large storeys underground.
We enjoyed the leisurely drive through the mountains and stopped at the Gardnos meterorite park. It did not look like the
desert craters you often see with meterorites but was heavily forested and green because of all the rain in Norway and also
because it was 500million years old and 5 kilometres across.
The weather deteriorated as we got into the mountains and we had heavy rain and a cold 7 degrees but as we drove on down to the
Sognefjord it was a bit warmer and the temperature doubled.
We stayed a couple of nights at the beautiful little town of Undredal right on the Sognfjord and boasts the smallest church in Norway and goat’s cheese. There are 100 inhabitants and 500 goats.
The following day it was Summer again 25degrees and sunny. We drove the 6kms back to Flam and took the 2 1/2hour round trip
on the Flamsbana (train) up the mountain to Myrdal which was very scenic and we had a stop to see the magnificent Kjosfossen
waterfall on the way and back. The trip cost about $75 each which was very reasonable considering a 250ml bottle of water from
the cafe cost $5.
The railway museum in the the dock area was interesting but apart from that there were only souvenir shops, one cafe selling
espresso coffee and a couple of icecream vans. Flam seemed to be a stop for cruise ships which didn’t seem to be too popular
with some of the locals by the sign we saw on the plastic wrapped bales of hay with “no cruise ships” written on them.

Norway has such an abundance of water – fjords,lakes, waterfalls and rivers. On some of the mountain tourist routes there was still a lot of unmelted snow and ice. Cows, sheep, goats and horses appear to roam freely in many places which made for cautious driving especially in some of the older darker tunnels where in one we found three sheep huddled together.

Most businesses and shops seem to work Monday to Friday 9-5pm and even most of the cafes in the towns were closed on Sunday even in peak tourist season.

The camping places didn’t seem to open until 11am but worked later until 10pm. A lot of the the service stations only had a self service facility. The price of diesel was a hefty $2.35 a litre. Prices in Norway we found pretty steep.
Coffee or an ice cream are $5-$6 and a small pastry could be up to $10. At the camping site near Bergen they wanted $20 forone day’s internet which we declined as that didn’t guarantee good access.

To catch the ferry for a trip along the narrowest fjord the following day we walked a few metres to the small dock area in
Undredal and switched on a light which flashes to let the local ferry know to stop and pick us up. The ferry started from Flam to Gudvangen and the round trip took about three hours depending on how many stops it had to make at the few small villages along the fjord. The Naeroyfjorden was spectacular with steep rising mountains on either side.
The local ferry had a loudspeaker to give us points of interest on the way in six different languages. The cost was about $70 per person round trip and well worth it.

Our friends in Norway recommended we take a route over the mountains “the snow mountain road” down to near Laerdal and we were glad they did as it was a spectacular drive with patches of snow that had not turned completely to ice, dripping into many
areas to form lakes. In some places the snow looked like sand on a beach.

We drove on to Fodnes and took the ferry to Manheller which only took 15 minutes and from there to Sogndal to spend a couple of nights there at the camping site at the base of the fjord. The camping sites along the fjords have the most ideal positions.

The ferry services from every side of the fjord were excellent and we didn’t have to wait more than 15minutes at any of the ports. The longest services only took 20minutes and some only 5minutes. The camping site at Kjornes was ideal being only 1 kilometre from the town of Sogndal.

We found a small cafe (the only one open on Sunday) run by an Italian and his Norwegian girlfriend. They had only been open
for five weeks and served excellent coffee. The Italian had come to Norway 18months previously as he could find no work in Italy.

Another day we spent driving along a national tourist route along the Lusterfjord to Turtagro with spectacular views along
another mountain road. We felt as though we were on top of the world. We stopped on the fjord in Marifjora where I had stayed
in 1989 which was a small town with a lovely hotel called the Torvis.

Our Norwegian friend Olaf ordered good weather for and he kept his word because for our entire stay in Norway we were blessed with hot, sunny days with temperatures of 26-30 degrees even in Bergen which is normally renowned for constant rainy days.

We decided to drive up to the National park in Nigardsbreen to see a glacier. A small boat took us across to within half
an hours walk of the glacier face. There were many guides to accompany people onto the glacier if you wanted to walk
or hike on the ice but we didn’t feel the need to do that and the glacier was a spectacular sight from it’s base anyway.

Back to Sogndal for a coffee and some supplies and then we travelled the length of the Sognfjord driving up and over the
snow road instead of the driving through the longest tunnel of 24 kilometres. There was luckily very little traffic along the
way. There were no camping sites close to Lavik so we took a ferry to Oppedal and drove to an idyllic spot nearby in Brekke
with a new camping site “Botnen” which was still partly under contruction. It was 26degrees at 6pm when we arrived.
It was really wonderful to have good weather as the fjords and mountain scenery were so much more spectacular with blue skies
and sun.

The drive the next morning to Bergen took us through the most tunnels we had encountered. The best camping site was about an
hour by bus and light rail away from Bergen but it was a relaxing ride after being in the van for many days and cost about $20
each for a return journey. It was 1989 when I had last been to Bergen and I had forgotten how beautiful the old hanseatic
city was with it’s large harbour, beautifully manicured gardens, rows of colourful wooden houses in Bryggen and the fish market at the harbour’s edge. We found some good small cafes and interesting narrow streets with a lot of street art on the walls.
Once again when we veered off the main tourist drag we were on our own. We spent the afternoon and early evening wandering the treets and getting our bearings.

We planned our trip to Norway and didn’t realise that the tall ship’s race to Esbjorg from Bergen was from the 24-27th July
with an expected 500,000 people and over 70 tall ships and over 3,000 crew. We therefore got up early on the 23rd when some of the ships were due to arrive and made our way to town and up to the Floibanen (funicular)and travelled up to the top of the mountain to see the amazing view of the picturesque city and a couple of the ships sailing into the port. We were fortunate to start off early as the queue for the funicular was very long by the time we came back down again.

The Russian ship the “Kruzenstern” was the largest and second to arrive and we went on board to see the ship which had a complement
of 186 sailors of which 120 were cadets. It made the Leeuwin on which we used to sail look tiny. There were lots of tourists
wandering around the harbour and through the fishmarket and the atmosphere was lively. There was a lot of seafood for sale, fresh and cooked but was very expensive. The giant crab with it’s enormous claws was over $100 a kilo.
We stopped at a bench and had our pre-prepared sandwiches instead. We treated ourselves to a good coffee once or twice a day and most cafes had good free wifi. I had bought some fresh salmon the day before and we had a meal of that in the van.

I took so many photos of the fjords, the mountains and rivers but it really was impossible to capture the majesty of the scenery in a photo but that didn’t stop me!

We found a lot of people of all ages quite obese and we thought that the cheaper junk food on offer may also be to blame. There
was the usual McDonalds and Burger King with their special offers of burgers, chips and drinks and we saw so many people walking
along carrying cans of coke. So many women in particular also did not flatter themselves with the clothes they wore which seems to be a pattern in most countries.

We left Bergen on the 23rd July and the drive to our next stop was via a long and winding road to the next ferry.
We crossed the Hardangerfjord in bright sunshine towards an 11 kilometre tunnel. When we exited the tunnel into the town of Odda it was to cloud and rain for a couple of hours as We drove along another snow mountain road with spectacular waterfalls on both sides of the road. Many of the old houses there had grass roofs and some even with trees growing from them.
The temperature got down to 14 degrees and then by the time we readched the town of Roldal it had risen again to 28degrees.
The next morning we drove the 4 1/2 hours to our friends in Arendal.

Arendal is a very picturesque town and it was lovely to see our friends again there. It was 2years since we had been there and that was without Van Mauriceson. The house is on a small island is in a lovely position on the edge of a forest. We spent two relaxing days there and went on a couple of short walks around the northern and southern tip of the island and had a great fish meal and evening in Arendal
town. The weather knew we were leaving Norway for as we left Kristiansand on the 27th July to catch the ferry to Hirtshals in Denmark. It was raining and cooler again.

Travelling in Europe is a challenge when choosing clothes or rather keeping Summer and Winter clothes out at the same time not like at home in Australia where you pack your winter clothes away until the following winter and the same applies for Summer clothes!

We will return one day to Norway to explore some more of their extraordinarily beautiful country.

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We had a couple of quiet days to catch up on sleep at our friend’s house in Vantaa after the long train trip from Russia.   We drove into Helsinki city on the 10th July and visited the indoor and outdoor markets as well as an Asian shop to get supplies for the van.   We had a lovely Italian meal and then made our way to the Tallink Silja cruise ship which had many more facilities than any other ferry we had used.   The only cabins left were those below the car deck but otherwise it was a very comfortable crossing, stopping firstly at Mariehamn at 4.15am. There was a lot of engine noise as we docked so I decided to go on deck for a while with the other half dozen die hards and photograph the sunrise and have a look at the many islands. The trip took 17hours and we put our watches back an hour on arrival in
Stockholm.   It was a lovely warm,sunny day (we were getting used to these!) as we drove to the campsite 20minutes from town in the suburb of Bromma.   We got the last spaceat the campsite and there were over a hundred vans there and many  nationalities.

Stockholm is a collection of many islands with beautiful views across the water from the hills around Sodermalm island and from some of the 16 other main islands.
There are very good train, bus and ferry services around the islands and the 24 or 72hour pass allows you transport on all of them.
We left the van and caught the train into the city island of sodermalm and then a ferry to Djurgarden to the Vasa museum which took about ten minutes.  It houses the most amazing example of a 17th century ship which was the focus of the museum. In 1628 it had only sailed 1.3 kilometres before sinking in Stockholm harbour on it’s maiden voyage (it was badly designed and top heavy!) with 64 cannons on board.   It lay on the sea bed in Stockholm until 1961 when the mammoth task of salvaging it started. Seventy percent of the ship was intact and the rest lay nearby with very little extra timber needed to repair it.   It was in such good condition and had not rotted because the sea there  had no wood worms to eat the wood.  It was enormous and the most amazing sight.   The museum building
was built around it and it reached up to seven floors in height.
It was a beautiful day and many locals as well as tourists were making the most of the weather and picnicking in the parks and on the various islands. We caught the ferry back to Sodermalm and walked over to Gamla Stan (old town) island where we wandered around the very impressive buildings.
We made our way over to the changing of the guard at 12.15pm which has been a daily event since the fifteen hundreds.  It lasted about half an hour with a great military band playing and a lot of pomp and ceremony. The guards on duty do not have to stand ram rod straight and can look around unlike those of many other countries.  This seemed to make more sense
really if they wanted to notice everything around them.
Stockholm listed three free tours and we decided on two of them. The Soder tour at 2pm with grisly stories of the burning of witches in the 17th century and other interesting ones of life in Stockholm which was quite different from a usual city tour.   We had a break and then caught the metro (tunnelbana)to the old town and joined the 6pm old town tour.
Both were excellent and we met Jess from Perth on the Soder tour. It was nice to meet someone from home.

There was an huge number of tourists in town but with so many different islands to explore it only felt crowded in the old town “Gamla Stan” where the Royal palace was located and where the various tour buses and groups were gathered.
The views from Soder (after climbing many steps) over the Baltic were spectacular especially given the bright sunny day.
Someone said that it was advantageous to go on the free tours as the guides do want a good tip at the end of the tour and they are therefore more enthusiastic and seem to ibe more spontaneous than on a regular guided tour paid for in advance.
Apparently Swedes are the second largest consumer of coffee in the world and judging by the abundance of  cafes this appeared to be correct.   We found Stockholm to be more expensive than Helsinki or Moscow especially the entrance fees to the various museums which were up to 255 Swedish Krone or over $40 per person. We were lucky and  could cook our own meals and take lunch with us so we  just splurged on a couple of coffees a day.
Maurice’s arthritis was playing up the next day so he stayed in the van while I went back into town and out to Djurgarden island to go to the ABBA museum. I was a big fan of their music back in the seventies so I loved it. Their music appealed to many obviously as they were coming up to 400 million record sales!
The map I had bought of Stieg Larsson’s millennium “The girl with the Dragon Tattoo” showing the locations used in the books was not very accurate so I had a long walk after taking the metro two stops too far from where I wanted to be. Just what I needed – more walking!
I bought a coffee from the Mellqvist kaffebar where the author Stieg Larsson visited regularly when his office of the magazine “Expo” where he was editor-in-chief was in the same building. He was a journalist and a leading expert on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi movements. He died at only 50 years of age and his 65 million selling books in 45 languages were only published after his death in 2004.
I made my way to a closer metro station and went back to Van Mauriceson, picked up Maurice and caught the train to Hasselby Strand where we were met by our friend Christian and his children.
It is fun to see the development of the children that we visit on our travels. We were kindly invited to dinner at his parent’s house near one of the many lakes in that area. It was a hot humid day and we had a delicious Swedish meal (seafood on a potato cake, BBQ’d beef and pork with new potatoes and rubbarb and strawberry pie) sitting next to the pool.
On the 14th July we set off for Alingsas just north of Gothenburg to catch up with friends for a couple of days that we last saw two years previously in our first year of travel.   Cajsa let me use her kitchen so I cooked an Italian meal for them one night.   It was a change from cooking in the van. When we do eventually get back to our house in Perth the ktchen will seem huge.

On the 17th July we headed through north throug Sweden to Norway.

It is hard to believe that we have already been traelling for two and a half years nearly after departing Perth on the 1st Apri 2012!

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Ksenia picked us up at 5.30am the next morning to avoid the morning traffic of Muscovites on a Saturday out of the city.
One of the main streets had 11 lanes one way and there were many accidents with people changing lanes.  We saw two such accidents in our short time in Moscow and a mangled car on the way down to Vladimir.   There were some interesting passengers in the cars on the way down there – an exotic bird, a black cat and a van inside a van going to Poland.

Moscow was built on a ring road system whereas St Petersburg on a grid system.  Ksenia told us that there was no fine for travelling up to 20 kilometres over the speed limit, $15 for 30 kilometres over the limit, $100 for 40 kilometres over and at 60 kilometres over the limit your licence was lost!   They didn’t have a licence points system at all.

The trip to Vladimir (on the so called Golden Ring) our first stop should have taken us 3-4hours but took more than 5hours with many stops in a traffic jam.  There were not many people driving in Moscow that early but once we got out of town there were many people were on the road to
their Dachas (country houses) for the weekend.
We stopped in Vladimir for about an hour to have some blinis for lunch at a very square old soviet cafeteria building  and a look at the old churches and view of the valley below. We continued a further hour on to Suzdal, a very old town on the Golden Ring stopping at the fruit sellers along the road.

Ksenia took us to a lovely garden restaurant serving freshly made Russian food. We were glad we had her with us as there were no English menus and no one spoke English or German unlike our host at our B and B who had lived briefly in Germany and spoke German. Many of the older generation had learnt German in school and the younger generation learnt English.
There were numerous small hotels, guesthouses and B and B’s and the one we stayed in the “Vintazh Otel Surikov” was a lovely B and B right on the river.
The other guests were all Russian but one spoke good English and was very friendly. Vladimir put on 60’s rock and roll music during the day as he renovated an old Mercedes and another old Russian car.  We were given a hearty Russian breakfast of porridge, bread with butter, cheese and ham,pancakes with fruit and a large cup of Turkish type coffee.   Sunday was the first really hot day we had had with 34degrees and sunny which we really enjoyed. It got humid later in the afternoon and rained on an off from
about 5pm.
Nothing was too much trouble for Vladimir and he found us a retired teacher Yuriy as an guide who took us on 2hour walking tour around the town. He spoke good English and gave us the history of the town.

The very old town was set up during Soviet times (1967) as the first tourist town and a large hotel was built in honour of this.  The town was also used as the setting for many Russian and foreign films, one of which was “Peter the Great” and stars such as Omar Sharif and Vanessa Redgrave were in Suzdal for the film.   Apparently there was a large film set built close to the river near where we stayed depicting  Moscow in the 1700’s and after filming closed the Americans wanted to donate the entire set to the town however two generals at the time had other ideas and took it all to their dachas (country houses).
Yuriy walked us through the town and into various convents and churches and pointed out interesting houses along the way.
The entire village was made of wood many centuries ago however much of it has been rebuilt with bricks and mortar after much of it burnt down.
Suzdal is known as being the place that Moscovites and others from reachable cities came to for the weekend. It was surrounded by vast fields and the small town of 11,000 had 30 working churches and a few more that were derelict or under restoration.
We walked later through the town to meet Ksenia for dinner at a Russian restaurant called “Traktir”. We had a typical Russian meal with a delicious beetroot, garlic and walnut salad, a white radish and parsley salad followed by an eggplant and tomato dish and potatoes with horseradish sauce. Maurice had “blinis” pancakes with fruit to cap off the meal. Ksenia had to read us the menu again as it was all in Russian and no English subtitles or separate English menus.   There had been two busloads of Italian tourists in the town but they were given a set menu so no language was needed.
Ksenia drove us to a orphanage/church complex on the other side of town which was beautifully laid out and later to a very old abandoned large church in the fields which looked fascinating in it’s derelict state  even though there were plants growing from it and it was falling apart.

Maurice and I wanted to go to the monastery for a look the next day (Monday) but it was closed  Monday so we went for a nice walk instead and could see why people from the city love the fresh air of the countryside and the lack of people.
Ksenia picked us up and we went to a ceramic factory where we bought a couple of little hand made china pieces and then drove into a very ordinary small Russian village with quaintly painted houses to buy a large quantity of berries for her mother to make jam and also buy some goat’s milk from other villagers.  The roads were pretty rough with many potholes but a lot of work was being done to the old houses.   Most were very colourfully painted and decorated.  We drove the hour back to Vladimir where we farewelled Ksenia who had shown us so much Russian hospitality. We caught the train back to Moscow (which took four and a half hours) deposited our bags, had a meal outside the station and then departed at 11pm on a very new and superb Siemen’s train to Helsinki. The very friendly conductress brought us coffee in fine china when we boarded the train and again and gave us bottles of water and a breakfast bag with muffin,juice, yoghurt and chocolate. We had comfy pillows and duvets and electronic passes to enter our cabin.  It was a fantastic train service . The thirteen hour trip from Moscow landed us back near  Helsinki at 12noon  to another sunny warm day.  We turned our watches back an hour.

In many of the countries we visited,  the cities are thriving but there is still a lot of poverty in the country areas with little infrastructure.
It was interesting to hear from Ksenia that pensions in the country areas were far less than in the city where the cost of living was greater. A couple of people admitted to us that Russians in general were better off under the Soviet system with educational opportunities and medical services for all whereas now if one cannot pay for a service they don’t receive it.

Russia more than exceeded our expectations and especially the attitude of most people that we encountered who were not the western portrayed dour and uncompromising people they were made out to be.  Some officials were like that but no more so than in any other country.  We both hope to return one day.

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Some of the wonderful metro station on the circle line in Moscow.

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