Turkey and Cario

I’m sitting in the bar of the Windsor Hotel, down town Cairo. Did you see the Michael Payline ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ when he goes to Cairo… that’s the place. It used to be the British Officers club and I think the seat upholstery I’m sitting on… is original. Every one has gone off to see the ‘Sound and Light Show’ at the pyramids. When I cam here over ten years ago I saw about six versions of the ‘Sound and Light Show’ mostly the German and French versions but I got the idea. I was shooting stock photography at the time on a large format camera and it was… a total hassle. So when every one said, ‘yeah the sound and light show’ my subconscious said… ‘ f*&%$ that’.
You have some classical violin orientated music playing mixed in with a bit of ‘aaahhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhaallllaaaaaaahhhhhhaaaalllllaaa’ coming in from out side. It’s Ramadan and the streets are full of people eating now that the sun has gone down. I bet the view I have here of the bar and outside has not change for 60 odd years. We went to the Pyramids today, as I have been here 3 times before and everyone else except Penny hasn’t . I have become ‘the guide’. Its fine when there is one or two of you, but when there is 11 of you and 7 of them are kids you do feel slightly under ‘I better get this right or I’m gonna have loads of kids whaling and stressed parents going ‘OH BILL!’. On using my local knowledge and how disappointed I was, and others I have spoken to, about seeing the Pyramids for the first time from a car park where the KFC and Pizza Hut signs take up about the same amount of sky line, I made a plan to get dropped off in Al Sassan, a small village about a km away from the pyramids where you can hire horses and camels. I’d agreed on the price, phoning ahead from the hotel and we all jumped on and road and off into the desert… literally the desert where there is sand, sand and more sand. After about half and hour we came up over a hill and wow, look what we happened to come across… there they were in all their glory, the only surviving ancient wonder of the world, the pyramids.
I think the adults where blown away and the kids where… impressed. I got a real kick out of coming up with the plan, planning it and then seeing a load of people have a really pleasant experience seeing the pyramids instead of the way I did the first time when me and penny pulled up in a taxi with a tout hanging onto the roof waiting to hassle the shit out of us and Pizza hut beckoning.
I did the same thing yesterday; I took the gang to the Citidel and then walked through the streets of ‘Islamic Cairo’ before entering the Kahn Al Kahlili Bazaar. Sasha was doing a piece to camera (media talk for dad doing some home video) which went something like ‘ and here we are in down town Cairo where there are lots of things for sale and… lots of live chickens and… it stinks… and ahhhhhhh the flies and… dad… there is a cows head for sale in that butchers… dad… where are you taking us?’ I think I steered close to blowing the ‘show them the real Cairo’ with the Murray’s and making it the ‘my kids are throwing up… what you got planned for tomorrow?’.
It was Friday yesterday and well being a bit… Muslim orientated, the Kahn Al Kahlili was packed. Not a tourist in sight. We had the place to ourselves… so to speak. The place has not changed in ten years. The smells, the ‘ ahhhhhhh welcome! Where you from? You like spices? The one-eyed mess, the shear… ‘how the f$%^& does anyone get anything done around here’. It’s the nearest I have seen to anarchy and what life would be like after the bomb. You cannot help thinking, your ancestors built one of the worlds biggest man-made structures, yet that really doggy piece of old scaffolding was holding that building up just the same way ten years ago. There are ancients doorways, beautifully carved in stone next to a half finished breeze blocked house with a sheet of plastic as a roof. You walk through these streets and you think, ‘ this is not a film set, its not for travelers like us, its for real… they just live like this, millions of people all walking around in a chaotic maze of shit. I am looking forward to doing the guide bit in Sri Lanka, I’ve enjoyed doing it here but it’s a bit stressful, as taking a wrong turn down ‘cow slaughtering ally’ would have ruined my chances of a tip. In Sri Lanka I will be able to go into the National Park first, and sort it all out.
Many people have said Cairo and Istanbul are very similar… now I have been to both I can have an opinion… and that is… bollocks are they. Istanbul is clean, it has no one on the streets who’s sole purpose in life is to extract money from you through lying, cheating, charming and if all else fails begging. Istanbul is civilized, a very Islamic, European city. But it does not blow you away like Cairo does. Istanbul is just another, really nice, great city. Cairo is just completely mad! Where else in the world would you find tourist police, who’s sole role is to stop tourists getting hassled, asking you for money as they lean on their machine guns!
Istanbul was great; it was a nice introduction for the kids of a busy Islamic city. Myself, Sasha and Angus caught the local commuter train into Istanbul each day for two days to sort out a ‘power of attorney’ problem we had in Romania. We traveled in and arrived in the center of Istanbul at 9.00am and… well it wasn’t crowed. We didn’t get a seat, but we didn’t get crushed. Angus’s eyes where popping out of his head when the ‘lads’ would run along the platform and then jump onto the outside of the door, and stay there until they got to there destination. Apart from the outside joy riding, I felt it was more civilized than getting the Thames link into Kings Cross, seriously.
We went to the notary or the noter as they are called in Turkey, we went to the translators, the stamp department, the post office and… well we then went to McDonalds. Angus and Sasha had a good time just taking in whatever was next and reading their books when it became a bit sameish. Turkish people love kids, Angus especially. He’s had his face squeezes pinched, hugged, patted and smiled at… a lot. He’s cool about it and has learned now that if he doesn’t like it, he can always stop smiling back and walk away. I think I got the nice job in Istanbul, Penny spent two days cleaning the bus out and packing up everything ready for shipping Hexy home. We had parked up in a busy bus stop for three days, which was right next to the train line, and was directly under the flight path for Istanbul’s airport, which was a few hundred meters away. Image a plane going right over your head, mix in a fast commuter train and the sound of a bus switching past you… you got it! For three days! But it cost a quid a night to park…and had good security. Moving out of Hexy wasn’t like moving home… it was moving home. I have moved over 20 times in my life, but moving out of a truck and into a rucksack is a new one for me. Penny did a great job and we are all moved in now…
Going to ports is always a bit a weird experience, but going to the RO RO (Roll on Roll off) port in Istanbul was interesting. Finding it for a start was a night mare, the ‘I’ll send you a map’ never happened. We finally got there and started the paper work. ‘We go to Kumport now’. Interesting name I thought. ‘We wait here’. ‘You wait here, we go in’ an hour later. ‘We go to another port’. ‘ But we have paid to have it shipped out of the RO RO port and Kum Port is the only one…’. ‘ I know, but they don’t want you to leave your truck here, we try another port’. Two hours later, ‘ We try another port’. ‘ We park here’. You know those fork lift tucks you see in builder’s merchants, some like… normal fork lift trucks and some looking like deformed fork lift trucks that just do a specific lift type of thing. Image them being literally ten times bigger, roaming around quicker than those speedy little ones and then multiply the amount by about five. ‘Move your truck over there!’ ‘Hey, hey, move it to there’ ‘HEEEEEYYYYYYY!’ followed by a pained expression of ‘ what the f*^%$ is a frigging camper with a load of foreigners doing in my port. I seriously had to dodge these cranes on wheels that pick up the containers off the back of juganaughts and then race off around the port to stack them up on a pile. We finally got some ‘I’m in charge’ type looking bloke to let us park it behind a few containers right on the edge of a six foot drop. ‘When you go Egypt?’. ‘Tomorrow… you come back tomorrow for your passports, customs closed now, Ramadan’ You must be joking, this was a once in a lifetime visit to this port and noooooo way was I coming back in the morning. ‘We fly at 12.00, need to be at airport by 10.00’ ‘ Dad, I thought you said we need to be there at 3.30pm’ ‘Yes… yes… shush.. I’m lying…’ ‘Ok dad’ ‘ So… we don’t have time to come back!’ ‘ Come tomorrow’ ‘ You come to our hotel at 9.00am with our passports or you don’t get paid’ ‘…. OK’.
We hope Hexy will arrive in Hull on the 13th of December where ‘Aunty Vee and Uncle Andy will pick it up.
Living in a camper has been very cool, but sitting here in this hotel… is also very cool. It’s also very different. Three months was long enough… any more with three kids would have been too much. But pushing the boundaries of where a 27ft camper can boldly go has been great. Anyone who tells you, you can’t get through without a four wheel drive, you’ll get robbed, you’ll get lost… you’ll get swallowed by aliens… has obviously never been through the Balkans. They were the safest places I have ever been through and sure the roads are very bad in a lot of places…. but you just go slow. Hexy, you where a star!
The last few weeks in the bus were very different to the first few months. Croatia, Montengro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania etc. etc. were all ‘wow, what’s it like to live here countries’ we were totally on our own in very un-touristy places and… it was great, but when it started to snow in Romania it was time to leave. We entered Turkey late in the evening. The border was very ‘midnight expressy’ and was actually very near where the real midnight express used to cross the border. A lot of border crossings are right on the top of mountains in the middle of nowhere and this was no exception. It was a proper border where you leave one country, drive up the mountain, hang out with a load of bored army types for an hour or so and then drive down the other side of the mountain and into a different country. Only this time the temperature changed, the vegetation changed, the people, houses, animals, trucks, cars, carts…everything changed.
Our imaginations where running wild, we imagined escaped prisoners running through the woods near the border where there were long barbed wired fences. The first few hours where spent driving through very barren, almost desert like terrain and then everything went kind of normal and not ali baba, which we were hoping for. We met up with the Murrays’ on the Gallipoli peninsula. It was good to have a conversation with an adult you knew and who was not a lawyer, traveler or missionary. It was also good to see that their standards of hygiene had dropped considerably as well, and we where not letting the team down. We crossed the bit that leads to the black sea and we headed off to see Troy… you know… the place that got done over by letting in the wooden horse.
Suddenly history and learning about anything… was replaced with ‘WERE NOW SEVEN KIDS AND WE’RE GONNA HAVE FUN!!!’ Suddenly our kids were kids again and we were back to being Mum and Dad. We drove on down the coast, the views where… ok and the roads where great. We went to Ephesus, which was interesting, but very touristy and very expensive. We pushed on and headed for Bodrum. We thought we couldn’t cover a thousand miles of Turkish coast and not see the 10 miles of coast 90% of Brits see when they come here. It was nice… in a nice way. We parked up in the coach car park and the kids found the hotel swimming pool and the English menu. After all the places we had been to, we were hassled one night by dogs so badly that I had to do something I have never done before, run AT a very angry dog. It was that or either let it catch Angus and…. conscious down down…
We spent a couple of days and moved on to Oludinez. The ‘magnificent seven’ kids became the ‘Christ there’s about 20 of them’. The Walters, the Jones, and the Shipmans were all there (friends from the kids school in St. Albans) … it was half term and it was time for everyone to chill and focus on doing not a lot. The bus became a box to sleep in and not our entire focus and safety net. It was good to meet up with everyone and talk bollocks over a few beers. We met up with a guy called Gustof who Penny and I had met 5 years earlier here. Then, he was this wild guy who had left London and was living his dream, he had given us inspiration to do the same. It was nice to now see him as an equal instead of seeing him and being pig jealous again.
It was weird to talk to the guys and have ‘career talk’ come into the conversations. I hadn’t talked about ‘jobs’ for three months. I forgot that I sort of have one, property developer and travel company owner…umm, doesn’t feel like it. I feel like I’m just having loads of fun with my kids. I remembered that’s what I used to talk about when we would meet up for a beer… work… it was such a massive part of my life…. Work, work, work, work, work …. It’s amazing how three months can change your perception. The rat race was great… but absolutely no way am I going back…no way!
I’m not saying all we talked about was work… but just the fact that we talked about it was, wow… I could really tell now I’d been in a camper with three kids for 3 months!
We had a great day out on a big boat, all 30 (or so) of us. We took up the whole thing. Stopping in coves and swimming, kids love nothing more than being with lots of other kids… and cheap ice creams.
We headed off after about 7 days, we felt like we should be getting on a plane with everyone else and… oh yeah we’re not, we’re driving to Istanbul! Three days of solid driving, good roads… half interesting scenery but lots of quite normalness. We hit Istanbul, the end of our journey, and… well, we got a bit of a… we had a plan, we’ve had a map on the side of the truck for the last three months with a route saying we would get here, and… we did it. No stacks, no injuries, no major problems… just a great feeling of ‘ It has gone according to plan… what’s next?’
‘Daddy, Daddy… Mummy says the sound and light show has really changed since the last time you saw it… the sphinx talks to you and everything!’. ‘ Dad I got you a nonalcoholic Stella… was that what you wanted? ‘…. Daaaaaaaaaad you listing to me???’
Time to go… see you soon.
Bill

Greece, Bulgaria, Romania

The short version is, we are all well, having fun and are buying some land in Romania. I haven’t had time to do any writing for a while so I’m afraid this update is bit long.

Here’s the longer version.
Greece
We went to the Sithonian peninsular near Thessaloniki to have a bit of a holiday… whilst on our holiday. It rained, it was expensive, the food was proceeded, I had to persuade Penny to lye under the bus to stop the petrol gushing out using a pair of pliers whilst I changed the fuel filters, every one looked like Pluto out of Pop Eye, someone left two tampon’s in the men’s shower, one used and one (sorry pete I know, over sharing of information) …we left.
Bulgaria
We entered Bulgaria thinking it would not be that interesting. As we are on our quest to find the perfect winter destination, we headed to the boomtown Ski resort of Bansko, a couple of hours drive south of Sofia the capital. It was much nicer than we thought. The town has been tarted up over the last few years in a very traditional way due to grants gained from the ‘national heritage fund’ for doing up old Bulgarian style houses, aided by, you guessed it, the EU. They need to preserve their old style houses as 90% of the country has gray, pebble dashed council house type looking houses that are… well, very dull.
A really nice meal out in one of these old buildings with rivers running through the restaurant etc costs around £10 -15 depending on how much beer and wine we consumed. Not bad for a ski resort that has just spent 30 million euros on a new ski lift. We were quite taken in by it and spent a good few days looking for a somewhere different destination. It was a bit of a culture shock here to go into an estate agent and have some dizzy bird sit there and not listen to a word you are saying and then show you the ‘executive apartments’ next to the ski lift. We’re more used to doing what we call ‘land fishing’ where you find the piece of land you are interested in and if you wait long enough, someone will come along and tell you who owns it and then hurry of to go and find them to let them know that their prayers have been answered and some foreigners (or strangers as we are known) have appeared out of no where and want to buy their land!
We realised that Bansko was a really nice place but the Brits will be coming there in their thousands. If you want a cheap Skiing holiday or a sound property investment that will go up 30% a year for the next five years… its perfect, but it is not somewhere different.
As we had spent most of our time in Bulgaria in a tourist bubble we’d not really got a feel for the country so we decided a couple of nights spent sleeping in a monastery would soon sort this out. We chose to go to the biggest and best first to get a feel for how it all works. The Rila Monastery is in the middle of no where in this beautiful gorge where I went into one pretending I was a monk way back in the middle ages arriving here on my donkey for the first time and being blown away by the sheer size and beauty of it.
We arrived around 6.00pm and trying to find the right monk that dealt with the rooms proved to hard… “ he went that way” (all in body language and not English) “ he’s up at the top” then someone did a charade of someone who has gone fishing and we kind of got the idea. We thought we would blow our sleeping budget on a nice meal instead. We went to the nearest restaurant and ordered. We didn’t realise that the menu was a “what its says on the tin” Sasha ordered ‘chicken leg’ and that’s what she got, no sauce, chips, garnish, anything, we were all glad we did not order the ‘pig head in a metal pot’ and did not feel guilty when Angus managed to spill the entire contents of his Fanta bottle into the ash tray… without spilling it on the table, something I have never seen done before. The waiter was confused…Angus was in stitches… we left.
We slept in the car park and went back in the morning. The place is amazing, we saw a pot that we where told was big enough to put a whole cow in. We got the feeling the menu hasn’t change much in 500 years.‘ Chicken leg‘, ‘Boiled cow in a pot’.
The Fresco’s (painted walls and ceilings) were pretty cool. Claudia found the one that is on the front cover of the Lonely Planets. At the time we thought we might still get a small piece of land at a quieter ski resort a few miles from Bansko and… well… they were replacing the old wooden floors with new ones… and throwing away the old beautifully worn out bits of wood… honest. We thought having one of the floorboards from the Rila monistry in the house we would build would be pretty cool. “Dad… why is mummy putting that big piece of wood in your bag?” …we left.
Having failed on sleeping at the largest monastery in the country we thought we would try one of the smallest. The Lonely Planets mentioned one on our route up to Romania stating “ at the time of writing there are plans to have 20 rooms available by the end of 2003”. We thought, new rooms all clean and tidy, nice… we arrived again at around 6.00pm and could not find any one for some time. It is one of the most beautiful, yet spookiest places I have been to and we were really keen to stay the night. Finally we found someone in a little house away from the rest of the buildings and a serious monk type looking bloke appeared and started to talk to us in Bulgarian. We tried to explain that we wanted to stay the night and would we need to give him our passports. He took our passports and started to write down what seemed a rather lot of information about us.
Our suspicions where beginning to get the better of us. A woman monk finally appeared who looked like Laura Crofts mother… she seemed to be a bit more in control, though after about 5 minutes of trying to explain to her that we wanted to stay in the new rooms and her not understating us, she went away and then came back… suddenly talking to us in perfect English and gave us a tour of the church and the whole history of the place. She said that we could not stay at the monastery as there where no rooms available and that the monks were not really geared up for guests. Being off your face, singing and yelling, I would agree is not the sort of state to welcome someone into a holy place of worship. The final touch was when she mentioned that it probably was not a good idea to stay in the monastery as the guy who had by now written three pages of information on us was only let out of a mental institution a few weeks ago… and was probably going to go back… she did however insist that we could park just outside the monastery grounds. We took our que… and we left.
We were so scrambled by meeting the Adams family brotherhood that we did not stop at the spot where she showed us but kept going for further 30 miles until we found a nice big truck stop on the main road out of there.
If ever there was a need for updating a listing in the guidebook, this was it. Nutters!
There are always two sides to the coin though, they could look at us and think we were just as mad, after hassling them for 40 minutes to give us permission to stay in their monastery, when they finally gave in and said OK, we ran away!
Romania
We traveled north through Bulgaria in the lashing rain to get to the border crossing at Vindu. Due to the bridges from Belgrade getting blown up in the war this was the lonely way to get across the Danube for hundreds of miles and it was very busy. For me this was probably the most romantic border crossing we have crossed, you had to go though all the checks etc but then we had to get on a little ferry crammed full of trucks and Romanians wearing bin liners over themselves and their cartons of cigarettes. This was not like crossing the channel or getting the ferry to Vis.
We chugged up the river to the landing on the other side. You really felt like you where leaving one country and entering another. The Bulgarians and Romanians have the same relationship I have witnessed with Americans and Mexicans and Egyptians and Israeli’s, each country thinks you must be off your trolley to want to go to the other. The minute we landed on the other side, everything was different. The road signs were back to the roman alphabet, the grey boxes were replaced by ornate houses that looked Draculas’s cousins house with load of little turrets covered in wooden tiles. There were smiles, horses and carts, people, and activity everywhere. Romania feels more like a Banana Republic than an ex communist country. As a foreigner you are treated with total respect and any thing you want can be achieved or bought in a matter of hours.
We thought as the kids knew what a disliked dictator was all about (old Saddam) we decided to do some homework on Chichessque and compare. In the late eighties the man they called the real Dracula decided to make 5000 villages move into council blocks and basically steal their land to help finance his ego and the building of the second largest building in the word in Bucharest. (the biggest ego… sorry building is the Pentagon). You could see he managed to do this as we drove for miles with nothing, literally nothing but fields of crops and then suddenly you would see 30 tower blocks, five factories and then back to fields. Luckily his big plans went down like a cup of cold sick with the Romanians and he was over throne and executed on Christmas day in 1989 so only 300 villages were actually culled in this way leaving most of the country to look like it has done for hundreds of years. We went to investigate his home town which was on our way, it turned out it was the first town he leveled and rebuilt, saving only his own house and few of his cronies’s houses from the bulldozer… nice bloke. We tried knocking on the door of his old house and tried next door as apparently his sister lived there and might let us in, after several conversations we discovered that she died a few years ago and the house was now locked up.
On the subject of the children education, Angus has learnt the meaning of two old sayings whilst in Romania “ Running around like a headless chicken” and “ Don’t drop the ball”. The first was graphically played out to us in great detail whilst eating breakfast one morning on the side of the road. The nice old lady sitting outside the house in front of us just got up, pinned the chicken down and the old boy came out and… .The girls covered their eyes (Penny not batting an eyelid being a farmer and all that) and Angus was determined not to miss a single tiny gory bit of detail.
The second saying Angus leant after playing football at the top of a very step hill near Dracula’s castle. The ball went past him and kept on going down a long way. Angus rolly poyled off after the ball and after around 20 minutes he was nearly back to the top when… you guessed it, and he had to go all the way back down again. He has also read The enchanted wood, Five go off in a Caravan, Frankenstein, Macbeth, Dracula, My friend Harry, Hound of the Baskervilles, My big book of facts, My book of Geography in the last few weeks, has done a project on the Rila Monastery and in the process of putting one together on Dracula and “ Grass hoppers from around the world”. Penny is reading ‘Adventure Capitalism’ … who’d have guessed it?
There are two ‘real’ Dracula castles in Romania, the famous one that everyone visits and a not so well known one that only real Dracula buffs tend to visit. We thought we would get a flavor for vampires etc and stay in the unknown one first. On entering the village we saw an old woman with her mouth covered in blood and well I know we don’t believe in vampires… and stuff but … we left.
Transylvania is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It looks like… the Transylvania in the Dracula movies, horses and carts and a way of life that has not changed in hundreds of years. You really go back in time here and the views are stunning.
We have fallen in love with the place and are in the process of buying 26,000 sq meters of ‘pasture’ land in a village just above Dracula’s castle. It backs on to a national park that has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I have ever seen. We went for a quick walk the other day and ended up walking for 7 hours through mountain valleys and an amazing gorge which is 870m deep and just out the back of where we will build our somewhere different destination no. 4.
We have become friends with some of the locals near to the land we are buying. Mr Foley runs a Pension and is letting us use his place as our ‘Romanian Headquarters’ (I won’t bore you with the legal proceedings here). We stayed at his place and met some Romanians from Bucharest that where staying there as well. Mike who was 16 and acting as our interpreter kindly ordered us a beer and a glass of wine. He said that Mr Foley has some local ‘home made’ raki and would we like to try it? I thought “oh no, my stomach can’t cope with this” and Penny just smiled. Mike went down and brought up a tray with two glasses of the local moonshine. Everyone wanted to try a bit, Angus and Sasha had a little taste and after they stopped pulling faces said “ Uugh it taste like vinegar!”. Penny not being put off, took a big lug of the stuff and normally would smile and say “ wow that’s good” actually pulled a bit of a face as well. Penny not coping with the local moonshine? I was amazed, it must be bad. Finally it was my turn… you can’t not have at least a taste of the local stuff can you? I was still looking for an excuse to not have a gulp when Mrs. Foley cam running up the stairs saying in body language “ what ever you do don’t drink the moonshine, its not right” She had a quick chat with Mike who by now really did think we were a bit strange and said in perfect English “ Mrs. Foley say’s you should not drink the raki as Mr. Foley got it mixed up and gave you the stuff he puts in with the pickles for the winter instead… excellent I thought, I’ve got out of this one, it doesn’t taste of vinegar… it is vinegar.
We have been here now for over two weeks and will probably be staying for another week or two to sort out all the legals. This is one place we definitely do not want to leave!
Next stop Turkey and then Egypt.

Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia

We decided in the end not to pursue buying a ski chalet in Bosnia. The people there are beautiful but the carnage that is left over from the war is still too much to be able to go there and completly chill for two weeks. Sasha is doing a project on the Bosnia war and the effect it had on some individuals we met. It has been a real eye opener and… well I am still amazed the British Government let the shit that happened here… happen.
Croatia is different. It is Europe, a very nice part of Europe. The hospitality is not as forthcoming here, but as there are many tourists on the coast now, I guess this is to be expected.
The island of Vis is our third somewheredifferent destination. It is the furthest island off the coast and I think by far the nicest. It is full of yachts, 15th century houses, hidden little bays and loads of vineyards that have endless amounts of rather potent local wine!
On arrival we were told “there are no campsites here, we only cater for up-market tourists”. Ah… well we thought… stuff you, and parked right up in the middle of town and used the public showers on the beach every day. Penny did her best to keep us ‘up-market’ but we kept (ok just me) letting the side down. So my t shirts weren’t well ironed… but I ask, how am I supposed to be all crisp when we don’t have an iron or anywhere to plug one in if we did?
I really flew the Brits abroad flag on about the third day. The ‘poo pipe leak’ situation had escalated and I spent the day on my back pulling the piping apart with ‘black waste’ or what I would call shit put through a blender and then left to fester for a few days in the sun, dripping out all over me for most of the day. Our ‘up-market’ tourist friends were, how can I say, not impressed. Penny and Sasha would not walk with me in public for the rest of our stay.
I was always jealous of people who could wear those “another shitty day in paradise T shirts” as it meant they weren’t there just for two weeks. Been there and done that now.
We have bought 7,500sq.m. of land on the east end of the island in a valley that is not overlooked by another (lived-in) house. A ten minute walk takes you down to a private little bay that can only be reached by sea and that most locals haven’t even been to. It has a perfect sandy beach surrounded on each side by classic Croatian coastline with crystal clear water and great snorkeling. It’s like being in a swimming pool full of sand and fish. We had the place all to ourselves for most of the day right in the middle of August – perfect!
Vis island was a military base until ’89 and so missed all the trashy ’70 hotel development that is elsewhere in Croatia, which is nice. There were 32 military bases on the island at one time and now there is one (ish) left, down the road from our land that has more sheep in it than squaddies. It is being closed down and doesn’t do anything now. On walking past, Angus wanted to take a closer look to see if they had any SFOR helicopters and tanks in there like they did in Bosnia. They were a bit thrown with having guests and went all formal on us. “You are not allowed in here… Army base. need special permission.” Angus thought this was quite cool but wasn’t convinced. “Are you a soldier?” “Yes” “…you ever killed anyone” “No” “…do you have any bullets in your gun?” “…..no”. “Mum can we go to the beach now?”
On leaving Vis we went to the island of Brac (not a touch on Vis) and then on to Split to see the lawyer. I though we were going to be in there for five minutes. I ended up in a notoriety’s office for two hours on my own with our rather fit and immaculate assistant Anna Maria and two other women. The looks I got started me to think that maybe I was wearing that same T shirt as I was on that bad poo day.
You know things are supposed to happen when you travel, you loose your passport or you have a blow out and all sorts of things start to happen. Well we had one of those ‘it just happened’ but we didn’t need to loose a tyre to get it. We got a call from cousin Charlie “Hey dudes, I hear you’re in Croatia? Where are you” “We’re in Split” “ Cool, just head for the biggest mast in the marina and I’ll be on deck”.
The tallest mast in the marina… nice one.
Split has a big marina and our expectations of what Charlie’s boat was like were kind of met. 40m (not feet) yacht made of mahogany. Instead of finding the local supermarket and dining out in the local port car park like we did on the way out, we were treated to “who wants to be a millionaire for the day on Charlie’s boat”. The kids OD’d on DVD’s, coke and chicken nuggets and suggested that we stay with Charlie for the rest of the trip and … well move in basically. Charlie was on fine form and it was really nice to blow the breeze with someone you know and like. Thanks Charlie…
Montenegro, very nice, like Croatia, lots to see and explore, got nicked parking in a bus lane and was let off by the copper in the end as we spent 30 minutes showing him we really didn’t have any euros on us. We didn’t… which was good as he wanted 20 of them. Sveti Stefan half way down has a hotel on an island that used to be a small village. Some one got there before us and bought up the whole place and made it a paradise. We parked in the car park, put on our best togs and blagged our way into the terrace bar. They have a huge restaurant right over the sea, very nice, but at 27 euros for one round of drinks, very expensive.
The kids have been a bit disappointed with border crossings so far, most countries look the same when you get into the new one (except Bosnia) and it takes a while for you to see the difference. On going into Albania they were not disappointed. You drive down a road in Montenegro for about an hour and you’re the only vehicle going either way. The border was full of ‘don’t look at me or I’ll puncha ya face in’ gangster types. We got stung 109 euros for more insurance and went in. The change was instant. The road would be ok and then suddenly stop and go off down a track, without warning. The first shop we saw was in an old van. Shite everywhere all over the place, plastic bags, cars, factories just falling apart, bridges out etc. etc. Yet EVERY car was a Merc. Really nice Merc’s, big 500 Mercs. Brand new big 500 Mercs… all flying down these dirt tracks looking very hard.
Albania is a very safe place, we had no hassle from anyone. In places like Egypt we will be a magnet to every local wheeler and dealer. In Albania I think if we were into drug dealing, EU fund stealing, Mercedes Benz smuggling… we’d get a lot of grief. But as we were just tourists, no one was in the slightest bit bothered about us. “You come to visit Albania, for holiday… with your children?” and that ‘you could have gone to Disneyland instead’ look. They have a lottery in Albania, if you win; you get to live in America. How sad is that. It’s a really mashed up place. But the people are great and they love to give the kids big kisses!
We didn’t see the nice parts of Albania as they are further south and we have come over to Macedonia, so we cannot do it justice, the riviaria is supposed to be very nice and unspoilt, and Rothschild has apparently just bought 15 miles of the coast down there, it could be the future med destination… honest.. We have driven through some real end of the world places and seen stuff I have never seen before. We have driven down very old roads… and very new roads, so new the tarmac was sticking to our tyres as the guy who is supposed to wave us off down the other road went to lunch. The kids… have been totally unfazed about the whole thing. Luckily Albanians treat their animals well and so Sasha was not subjected to any nasty scenes. Sasha has sussed people are mad and live their lives in crazy ways, but if she sees an animal suffering, that’s not fair.
Macedonia; Lake Ohrid is very nice … and cheap. Internet cafes are 40p an hour, hence the travel log update. Dinner for 5 right on the lake with beer and wine last night was 15 quid. Nice.
I have swapped the day job for ‘keeping this 7 tonne lump of metal on the road’ which has at least one thing fall off it each week, the other day it was the fridge door… on my foot, and the table cracked in two when I sat on it. One careful owner…n’t. It is coping well and does not break into a sweat when climbing a few thousand meters in short distance.
We are all getting on and everything is a bit very normal. We haven’t really changed our ways since leaving St Albans, we still bicker, still loon about when we shouldn’t still have egos and still can be arseholes. Only now we are doing it with each other and not our peers, which is nice. We are hoping that one day we will wake up and be a united team and not 5 individuals who have been thrown together because we had this mad idea. We are hoping it will happen soon. And if it does the off-roading in a 20 year old camper will all be worth it!
See you soon.
I am just loving it…

Update from Sasha

Hi guys
The first three days we booted through France Germany Slovenia and Austria sleeping in gas stations and on the side of the road which was not funny when we had lorry drivers tooting there horn at 3 in the morning. We then chilled in Croatia for a week snorkeling and hanging out with local kids and when they asked us something we just looked at them and shook our heads as if we knew what they were saying. We then drove to Bosnia I had to go to the dentist and have a tooth pulled out by a Bosnian dentist (Maddy know I know how it feels to have a tooth pulled out). We tried to learn the language but no one could make out what we were saying. So we just laughed.
We then went to the island of Vis were y Dad bought two acres of land. We parked up to go our new land and we were told to go away because the corneal of the army base (right by are land) said that NATO and the Americans came and fired at tanks and practiced with bazookas. We went to the estate agent of the island (Tonko) he said that was a load of s… rubbish and if that happened again we should call the police. The flipping bluffers.
Then off to Hvar we went we parked up in a campsite and mum and I did the washing while the others made the beds. We came back and there was silence then there was a big crack and a “ow my hand”!! Dad had been asleep on my bed and it had snapped. We just stood there we didn’t know what to do so we laughed and when Dad woke and had finally realized what he had done he didn’t know what to do so he laughed to.
We drove to Albania and we were told that it was beautiful and really safe, YEAH RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The roads are sloppy and have massive holes in them. We went to a beach which was highly recommended by the Albanian travel book. It was covered in rubbish and the sea was thick with black oil and people were swimming in and sun bathing. We saw loads of people with guns not coppers but people off the street. Spooky!!
Were now in Macedonia and last night we were parked up in the safest place in town. Outside a copper station. Wicked!! Moving onto Greece soon and then to Romania which is I’m having my birthday. (Eowyn could you tell Sophie E Happy Birthday!) If you’ve just started school I hope its cool and you have made new friends.
From Sasha

Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia

Croatia is different. It is Europe, a very nice part of Europe. The hospitality is not as forthcoming here, but as there are many tourists on the coast now, I guess this is to be expected.
The island of Vis is our third somewheredifferent destination. It is the furthest island off the coast and I think by far the nicest. It is full of yachts, 15th century houses, hidden little bays and loads of vineyards that have endless amounts of rather potent local wine!
On arrival we were told ‘there are no campsites here, we only cater for up-market tourists’. Ah… well we thought… stuff you, and parked right up in the middle of town and used the public showers on the beach every day. Penny did her best to keep us ‘up-market’ but we kept (ok just me) letting the side down. So my t shirts weren’t well ironed… but I ask, how am I supposed to be all crisp when we don’t have an iron or anywhere to plug one in if we did?
I really flew the Brits abroad flag on about the third day. The ‘poo pipe leak’ situation had escalated and I spent the day on my back pulling the piping apart with ‘black waste’ or what I would call shit put through a blender and then left to fester for a few days in the sun, dripping out all over me for most of the day. Our ‘up-market’ tourist friends were, how can I say, not impressed. Penny and Sasha would not walk with me in public for the rest of our stay.
I was always jealous of people who could wear those ‘another shitty day in paradise T shirts’ as it meant they weren’t there just for two weeks. Been there and done that now.
We have bought 7,500sq.m. of land on the east end of the island in a valley that is not overlooked by another (lived-in) house. A ten minute walk takes you down to a private little bay that can only be reached by sea and that most locals haven’t even been to. It has a perfect sandy beach surrounded on each side by classic Croatian coastline with crystal clear water and great snorkeling. It’s like being in a swimming pool full of sand and fish. We had the place all to ourselves for most of the day right in the middle of August – perfect!
Vis island was a military base until ’89 and so missed all the trashy ’70 hotel development that is elsewhere in Croatia, which is nice. There were 32 military bases on the island at one time and now there is one (ish) left, down the road from our land that has more sheep in it than squaddies. It is being closed down and doesn’t do anything now. On walking past, Angus wanted to take a closer look to see if they had any SFOR helicopters and tanks in there like they did in Bosnia. They were a bit thrown with having guests and went all formal on us. ‘You are not allowed in here… Army base. need special permission.’ Angus thought this was quite cool but wasn’t convinced. ‘Are you a soldier?’ ‘Yes’ ‘…you ever killed anyone’ ‘No’ ‘…do you have any bullets in your gun?’ ‘…..no’. ‘Mum can we go to the beach now?’
On leaving Vis we went to the island of Brac (not a touch on Vis) and then on to Split to see the lawyer. I though we were going to be in there for five minutes. I ended up in a notoriety’s office for two hours on my own with our rather fit and immaculate assistant Anna Maria and two other women. The looks I got started me to think that maybe I was wearing that same T shirt as I was on that bad poo day.
You know things are supposed to happen when you travel, you loose your passport or you have a blow out and all sorts of things start to happen. Well we had one of those ‘it just happened’ but we didn’t need to loose a tyre to get it. We got a call from cousin Charlie ‘Hey dudes, I hear you’re in Croatia? Where are you’ ‘We’re in Split’ ‘ Cool, just head for the biggest mast in the marina and I’ll be on deck’.
The tallest mast in the marina… nice one.
Split has a big marina and our expectations of what Charlie’s boat was like were kind of met. 40m (not feet) yacht made of mahogany. Instead of finding the local supermarket and dining out in the local port car park like we did on the way out, we were treated to ‘who wants to be a millionaire for the day on Charlie’s boat’. The kids OD’d on DVD’s, coke and chicken nuggets and suggested that we stay with Charlie for the rest of the trip and … well move in basically. Charlie was on fine form and it was really nice to blow the breeze with someone you know and like. Thanks Charlie…
Montenegro, very nice, like Croatia, lots to see and explore, got nicked parking in a bus lane and was let off by the copper in the end as we spent 30 minutes showing him we really didn’t have any euros on us. We didn’t… which was good as he wanted 20 of them. Sveti Stefan half way down has a hotel on an island that used to be a small village. Some one got there before us and bought up the whole place and made it a paradise. We parked in the car park, put on our best togs and blagged our way into the terrace bar. They have a huge restaurant right over the sea, very nice, but at 27 euros for one round of drinks, very expensive.
The kids have been a bit disappointed with border crossings so far, most countries look the same when you get into the new one (except Bosnia) and it takes a while for you to see the difference. On going into Albania they were not disappointed. You drive down a road in Montenegro for about an hour and you’re the only vehicle going either way. The border was full of ‘don’t look at me or I’ll puncha ya face in’ gangster types. We got stung 109 euros for more insurance and went in. The change was instant. The road would be ok and then suddenly stop and go off down a track, without warning. The first shop we saw was in an old van. Shite everywhere all over the place, plastic bags, cars, factories just falling apart, bridges out etc. etc. Yet EVERY car was a Merc. Really nice Merc’s, big 500 Mercs. Brand new big 500 Mercs… all flying down these dirt tracks looking very hard.
Albania is a very safe place, we had no hassle from anyone. In places like Egypt we will be a magnet to every local wheeler and dealer. In Albania I think if we were into drug dealing, EU fund stealing, Mercedes Benz smuggling… we’d get a lot of grief. But as we were just tourists, no one was in the slightest bit bothered about us. ‘You come to visit Albania, for holiday… with your children?’ and that ‘you could have gone to Disneyland instead’ look. They have a lottery in Albania, if you win; you get to live in America. How sad is that. It’s a really mashed up place. But the people are great and they love to give the kids big kisses!
We didn’t see the nice parts of Albania as they are further south and we have come over to Macedonia, so we cannot do it justice, the riviaria is supposed to be very nice and unspoilt, and Rothschild has apparently just bought 15 miles of the coast down there, it could be the future med destination… honest.. We have driven through some real end of the world places and seen stuff I have never seen before. We have driven down very old roads… and very new roads, so new the tarmac was sticking to our tyres as the guy who is supposed to wave us off down the other road went to lunch. The kids… have been totally unfazed about the whole thing. Luckily Albanians treat their animals well and so Sasha was not subjected to any nasty scenes. Sasha has sussed people are mad and live their lives in crazy ways, but if she sees an animal suffering, that’s not fair.
Macedonia; Lake Ohrid is very nice … and cheap. Internet cafes are 40p an hour, hence the travel log update. Dinner for 5 right on the lake with beer and wine last night was 15 quid. Nice.
I have swapped the day job for ‘keeping this 7 tonne lump of metal on the road’ which has at least one thing fall off it each week, the other day it was the fridge door… on my foot, and the table cracked in two when I sat on it. One careful owner…n’t. It is coping well and does not break into a sweat when climbing a few thousand meters in short distance.
We are all getting on and everything is a bit very normal. We haven’t really changed our ways since leaving St Albans, we still bicker, still loon about when we shouldn’t still have egos and still can be arseholes. Only now we are doing it with each other and not our peers, which is nice. We are hoping that one day we will wake up and be a united team and not 5 individuals who have been thrown together because we had this mad idea. We are hoping it will happen soon. And if it does the off-roading in a 20 year old camper will all be worth it!
See you soon.
I am just loving it…

Western Europe and Bosnia

The most exciting thing that happened between Dover and Slovenia was the toilet seats in Germany… they have this funny habit of spinning around and getting themselves cleaned when you press the wrong button to flush. Hours of fun! One big autobahn all the way. We slept in the service stations and it took three days to get to Croatia.
On leaving Austria we where told we had to have a ‘GO’ box and should have paid one euro per 10km and… well they wouldn’t let us leave. It was only after having many conversations and getting someone with half a brain on the phone to realise we had blagged our way across the whole country telling the toll booths that we were 3.5 tonne max when we are really 7.5 tonne max, which made them all look a bit silly. On asking the kids when Penny was inside this rather scary iron curtain type customs building what we should do if they locked mummy up for the night the dilemma was… “Does this mean we get to eat out tonight… and can we have coke?”.
Arriving at the Bosnian border we were presented with this state of the art border crossing, it looked like a new airport, EU grants at its best! We thought, hey hey! this good… Bosnia is not a 2nd world country after all. We drove down to the border saying to the kids “look guys, look how smart this border crossing is” only to discover that a hand painted sign leading you down a dirt track showed a different story. We drove off the road and joined a que of cars and trucks leading up to a shipping container with a window cut into it and some dodgy looking border crossing type cop eying up the drivers….nice. Welcome to Bosnia.
“Papers…” it was finally our turn. “ This green card does not cover you for Bosnia… turn vehicle around ” his hand pointing back the way we had just come. “Can we have coke tonight dad?” “ not now Claudia…” On sitting on a dust track with a dodgy copper looking at us like ‘ ha, got you there!’ thinking, shit… Penny suddenly says “ Oh silly me, I have the right documents for Bosnia here” I pass him a brochure on car insurance for Europe. “International?” he asks, “ Yes…” I say without blinking. He waved us on and well here we are.
Bosnia is beautiful. Mountain after mountain, lakes, rivers, and I still can’t get over seeing people baling hay by hand high up on the hills. We have stayed in some amazing places, woken up seeing waterfalls, mountain ranges, pine forests and all free!
People here are either from SFOR (American Army) and travel by helicopter, or are farmers and drive old golf VW’s. Not much in between. Angus met a ‘real’ soldier called Scott who has had to eat spiders to stay alive! I have never seen him so impressed. Last night we parked up outside this old communist era hotel in Jahorina where the winter Olympics were held in ‘84. The kids spotted the indoor swimming pool… and I noticed the group of 30 or so women who had been marching up and down the mountain all day were now taking a dip… it was a tough job but I thought it was only fare that the kids were allowed a swim. I tell you, this country is full of crumpet!
Sasha has been very brave; she has had toothache and has had to have a tooth pulled out. The dentist was very nice and the ice cream cones at 15p a go have helped sooth the pain.
We are trying to find a real estate agent in Sarajevo at the moment to see if we can buy one of the lodges up in the ski villages. Some sleep around 10 people and are right next to the ski lifts. The word is they cost around 20-50,000 euros.
We need to find that agent!

The journey has started

Today I realised it is not a dream anymore… it’s not something that might happen in the future, the journey for me, started today.

I was hammering our new (20 year old) American motor home down the Reborn Rd with Dave our loyal mechanic who had his head in the exposed engine inside the cab as it blasted out all sorts of noises, fumes and unidentified flying objects. The engine gets hot through the protective cover that is normally there, but today it is blasting red hot air straight on to my legs which I have to keep checking are not on fire. You know the mad max films… I felt like Mel Gibson and Dave was the guy in the little aeroplane saving my arse!
We have a fuel starvation problem and the bus as I call it, will not go up hills. As the Balkans are probably one of the hilliest parts of the world (Macedonia is 80% sheer mountain) we are keen to get it sorted before leaving. Dave speaks English, knows a lot about engines and well… has some tools. Breaking down in Bosnia is something I am keen to avoid at the moment. Tomorrow we will cut the fuel lines and feed the engine through a hosepipe out the window with a petrol can on the end of it. I feel Mad Max 2 will be the order of the day.
We are pretty much ready to go with the kids being far cooler about the whole thing than we are. “I’ve decided what teddies I’m taking Dad and my teacher knows that I’m leaving, so there’s nothing else for me to do until we leave.” Negotiations on special treats due to lost birthdays in the UK over the next two years have been their main focus with two sleepovers covering one birthday and the school hall, complete with hired D.I.C.O equipment covering the other. I’d like to thank Rick for doing the DJ’ing. The kid who thought you where Nati’s older brother will get a shock when he see’s you pick him up at the school gates in your suit.
The build up to this trip is like when your wife is pregnant for the first time, you get 9 months of peoples advice telling you how much of a nightmare or how much fun or full of poo a baby can be. You can’t make any comment, you jut have to take what you hear and extract the advice that sounds good and ignore the rest and think, it can’t be that bad, or we all wouldn’t be here. When we tell someone we are about to go through places like Bosnia, Albania, Romania and then go and live in a remote part of Sri Lanka (we got a think about countries ending in a) with our three kids who have never moved bedrooms let alone house, the advice tends to be along the lines of “Here is my shrinks tel no.”, a long… ‘your friggin mad!’… kind of look or that knowing “your 40 this year aren’t you” or the more popular “ I know some one who went there in the 80’s, it’s an absolute night mare, your kids will hate it”.
In two weeks we will start to find out if this really is the trip of a lifetime or if there really are vampires in Transylvania and two weeks in Spain would have been a better idea.
What ever the out come of our two year adventure, we will all be living our lives, we will not be reminiscing about the old days or dreaming about the future, we will be totally focused on the here and now and hopefully enjoying every minute of it!
That’s providing the engine gets fixed tomorrow and well… we actuality make Dover…
Bring it on!