Back to the boat via Netherlands Spring

We had an amazing time travelling round England visiting our family. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit lots of friends as well but we are really hoping some might visit us on the boat somewhere in Greece Albania or Montenegro this year.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Before we left Ramsgate for Dover to catch the ferry we tried to empty our chemical toilet at Nethercourt Touring Park, a nearby camper van stop. The owner – who was cleaning up the grounds when we arrived – came to greet us and was very pleasant however, even though we offered to pay, he wouldn’t let us empty the black water. It made no sense at all as the site was all set up for this purpose and a little bit of cash should have been welcome as the site was all but empty.

Feeling perplexed we left for Dover and tried at Hawthorn Farm Camping Park in a nearby village called Martin Mill just four miles from the port.

Hawthorn Farm Camping Park – big tick for this place!

This time the proprietors were much more welcoming and amenable. They also refused any payment and instead invited us to put the cash in a charity box which we were glad to do.

We arrived in the centre of Dover late in the afternoon and seeing a ferry from the same line as we were booked on that was preparing to load, decided to try and see if we could catch that one rather than wait for the ferry we were booked on early the next morning.

We went through passport control fine but when we got to the check-in booth we were told that because we had bought our ticket via an on-line seller, not directly through the ferry line, we weren’t able to change our ticket without a hefty penalty. So we had to be syphoned out of the boarding line and discreetly let out of the security area by way of a side gate!

We had to be syphoned out of the boarding line and discreetly let out of the security area

In the end we were glad we stayed in Dover that evening as the weather was sunny and quite warm and we really enjoyed a lovely walk along the seafront.

We really enjoyed an evening walk
along Dover seafront
It was fun watching the rowers beach their boats
Sunset glow, Dover Harbour

At 7.30 the following morning we were in the ferry queue once again but this time we boarded with no issues.

Back in the ferry queue

After a smooth crossing we drove from Calais and arrived at our daughter and son-in-law’s home in mid-afternoon. Spring is such a great time of year to visit the Netherlands!

Spring is such a great time to visit the Netherlands
A host of golden daffodils!

The village where they live – Pijnacker – looked at it’s spring best – with golden daffodils everywhere, lambs gambolling in the paddocks and blossom decking out the trees.

Lots of babies in this little flock
Glorious blossom
Hannah and Pieter’s gorgeous magnolia tree
More blossom and an abundance of forsythia
Even the willow had its new leaves!
Hannah and Pieter’s yard – set up for summer

Bunches of flowers are also very plentiful, beautiful and cheap in the Netherlands at this time of year and our daughter who also loves flowers certainly takes advantage of this!

Dutch tulips – the best
A beautiful double headed lily
More glorious flowers

We were so lucky to have fabulous weather during our stay so enjoyed some lovely walks including one to a cafe with excellent apple pie – another wonderful Dutch indulgence!

Such a quirky little cafe but it’s got a boat so must be good!
The cafe was right on the water
….and served the best apple pie

All too soon it was time to return to Turkey to prepare our catamaran S/V Sunday for the forthcoming sailing season.

Always sad to leave our family especially this character!

It was quite a culture shock coming back to the marina in Tuzla near Istanbul – not in a bad way but life is different here in many small ways.

Back in Tuzla it was extremely cold!

We saw an example of this on our first day back – there was a truck delivering milk to some cafes and homes along the seafront in Tuzla (and also collecting empty water bottles). Milk deliveries aren’t unknown elsewhere but I doubt if you’d see this kind of delivery in too many places nowadays.

First the milkman poured the milk directly from the milk churn into a plastic bag. Then the ladies living in the apartments above the cafe let down their buckets – each tied to a long length of string – and the milkman popped the bags full of milk in the buckets. The ladies then hoisted the buckets up, retrieving their milk.

The milk truck with a churn on the back to fill bags of milk
The old lady lowers her bucket (middle windows two floors from the top)
The milkman gets ready to put the bag of milk in the bucket
And up it goes!

Quite different to the milk deliveries we are used to!

It was great to be on board Sunday and to meet up again with Sue and John on our buddy boat Catabella.

We immediately got down to planning our route to Greece and a where we would go once we were there which will – of course – change as we go but gives us a vague sense of being in control of our lives!

Jonathan and John engrossed in the charts
Knowing we were sailing again soon was a great feeling

With various family members and friends coming to visit on both boats the plan at least gives us some idea about where we can pick them up and drop them off.

Making sense of the plan!

It was really very cold when we arrived back in Turkey (“Freezing” as they say in England) so we were kind of looking forward to having a few nights in a cosy AirBnB while our boats were hauled out of the water for maintenance.

The first unit was very conveniently located with just a short walk to the haul out area and clean and tidy although the hot water was somewhat temperamental! Never mind, the heating was very effective – too hot in fact, with no way of turning it down. However, it was great to have somewhere to return to each evening where we could relax and keep warm. The second unit we hired was another story altogether – but first, the haul out!

We had expected the boats to have significant weed growth on their hulls below the waterline as it had been two years since we had last applied anti foul and the water in the marina was very fertile – it was full of weed with huge mussels growing on the rocks close to where we were moored.

Nothing prepared us for the sight of Sunday’s bottom when she was hauled from the water! We have never seen anything like it – we had a complete reef under our boat – we honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see Captain Jack Sparrow emerge from the curtain of weed!

Nothing prepared us for the sight of Sunday’s bottom
We had a complete reef under our boat
we honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see Captain Jack Sparrow emerge from the curtain of weed

As well as cleaning all the growth off and applying anti foul (which we thankfully paid someone else to do) there were many jobs to do while Sunday was on “the hard”.

One of the largest projects was the replacement of three out of four of Sunday’s large cabin windows. Regular readers will probably remember that we lost a window last year in a nasty sea when we fled the castle anchorage at Kusadasi after a huge swell swept in. (

Replacing the windows was a much easier job on dry land

Jonathan had replaced that window with some difficulty at the time (as he had to do it from the dinghy while the boat was in the water) and he was determined to replace the other three while we were out of the water (much easier!)

The new window – primed and ready to go

He did a really fabulous job and as well as being much safer, the new windows are now really smart and modern looking and it has made the cabins much lighter.

We used black bin liners to cover the gaps when the old windows were removed
One of the new windows in place, waiting for the “glue” to dry
Sunday before she had her new windows
Sunday with her new windows

Another project was to clean the two engine props to perfection before applying prop glide – a special (and expensive) product that (in theory) stops the propellors from getting covered in barnacles and other sealife.

Cleaning the prop to shining perfection was quite a task!

The agents for Prop Glide came to instruct us how to apply it. Jonathan and John thought it sounded fairly straightforward but asked if they could quote for one of their experts to apply it. The quote came back at a mind boggling 2,000 US dollars (around 1850 Euros!) Of course the skippers decided it would be better to do it themselves!

The agents for Prop Glide came to instruct us how to apply it
Nearly shiny!
Ready to roll
Prop Glide applied

It poured with rain one day and not much work was done at all. At least John on our buddy boat Catabella was able to bring his son’s boat Sea Pony around from the marina without interrupting any work.

Sea Pony arrives on dry land

During all this activity we had to move apartments as the one we were in had been booked previously for the weekend. The new place sounded fabulous – high on the hill looking down to the boatyard and marina, lovely views and spacious – but it was a real disappointment.

Again it had dodgy hot water (it worked sporadically) but the worst thing was that the kitchen was a mess with washing up on the draining board, dishwasher full and the dishes in it not properly cleaned, a heap of empty plastic bottles on the floor, the rubbish bin not emptied and so on. The bathroom had a broken toilet seat, a scummy shower held together with sticky tape with a mop and bucket inside it and absolutely no toilet roll!

Just one or two plastic bottles in the kitchen
The shower was held together by sticky tape

The views were glorious but the place was uncared for – holes in the wall where switches should have been, lights precariously hanging from a thread and the internet box dangling from the ceiling.

The views were glorious
A close up of our view – you could se our boats on the hard stand
Surprisingly the Internet worked fine!

Our host’s father came round and cleaned up the kitchen and toilet roll arrived by courier so things improved and the host gave us an extra day free of charge as compensation so all was good in the end!

Sunday being returned to the water

And we’re off!

After one week and one day (the additional day due to pouring rain) on the hard standing our catamaran Sunday was ready to go back in the water.

The massive travel lift waiting in position the day before our scheduled “splash” with
Sunday propped up behind

She had been cleaned and anti fouled, given new windows, had her props cleaned until they were shiny as new and special prop anti foul applied, and had a few other small jobs done.

Back onto our mooring

While Sunday was on the “hard” we celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary and to mark this auspicious occasion we put on our glad rags and went out for dinner at the Yacht Club Restaurant at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The new Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tuzla
There was a loooong walk to the restaurant- a chance to work up an appetite!

When the waiter found out it was our anniversary he very sweetly scattered our table with dried rose petals and pomegranate leaves and brought a massive candlestick with an even larger candle stuck in it! It was a celebration to remember!

Dinner at the Yacht Club Restaurant
Rose and pomegranate petals and a
very tall candle!

Sunday’s “splash” went really well and it was great being back in the water again. We were on the final count down before leaving but there were still jobs to do.

Sunday heading towards the water
Drinks on Catabella to celebrate getting back in the water and the arrival of John and Sue’s son Andrew and his friend Ami’s birthday
Meet Elsie

One of the most vital tasks was to get our depth sounder working! It was fine before we were hauled out but had packed up completely by the time Sunday was back in the water.

Sunday almost ready to go but without a working depth sounder

We had no option but to call in the agents for Raymarine – the manufacturers of our depth sounder and related technology. They were at the boat for around half an hour and charged us 120 Euros (almost $200 Australian) for the pleasure. This might seem reasonable elsewhere but for Turkey it is an outrageous price – especially as all they did was to test our wiring on a depth sounder they’d brought to the boat and said it was all fine. The depth sounder still didn’t work!

We were chatting to Fatih who had looked after Sunday really well while we were travelling – hosing her down and checking on our batteries on a weekly basis – and who had organised the cleaning and anti fouling of Sunday’s bottom. He immediately said that he thought he knew what the problem was – masking tape that mistakenly hadn’t been removed after the anti fouling had been completed.

Jonathan and Fatih who did such a great job of looking after our boats when we were away

At Fatih’s expense, a diver was sent down and after scraping the wrong spot (long story) for some considerable time, went down for a second go the next day. This time he scraped the correct spot, pulled off some tape and bingo – to our great relief, it worked! We were mortified for Fatih as the diver would have been quite expensive but he took responsibility for the mistake and we were very impressed and thankful for that.

The diver comes up to check if he’s solved the problem (he hadn’t!)

Next job was to get our sails back from storage and get them put back on with all the lines and pulleys properly in place. This was also a job well done by Emre Dilbaz and his team from KMH Rigging.

Everything prepared for the riggers
Emre sorting out our sails, lines and pulleys
One of the riggers up the mast

Jonathan was very impressed with the riggers so he commissioned them to undertake a rigging check before we set sail.

The rigger on his way down

The check was very thorough and Emre talked us through how he tested the rigging using different aerosol sprays that would show up any flaws or weaknesses.

Emre demonstrates how he can see signs of wear in the rigging

Sunday’s rigging was fine but the tests showed the start of wear and advised a rerig before too long. We are now planning a quick stop in Athens to get this done.

Finally after several weeks of preparation we were ready to leave Viaport Marina Tuzla and make our way to Çanakkale to check out of Turkey after almost three years.

Last job – put the big electric kettle away and get the little one out to use with our inverter

We were accompanied by our buddy boat Catabella who had a full crew of four old friends of Sue and John’s.

Ready for the off! Thanks Julie from S/V Lowana for the photo!
Catabella pulls away from Viaport Marina for the last time

We were hoping that John and Sue’s son Andrew and wife Lisa would have had their boat Sea Pony ready to sail with us but unfortunately that was not to be. They had done really well to get as much preparation done as they had in just a couple of weeks – especially as they had two samoyeds and a four month old baby on board! The plan was for them to catch up with us in a few days time.

The Captain ready to roll
And so we bid farewell to Viaport Marina in Tuzla (a suburb of Istanbul)

On the water again – briefly

We had a great road trip from Montenegro through Croatia, Italy and France and now we had arrived in Calais to catch the ferry over to Dover for a few weeks in England to visit our family.

Coming off the ferry in Dover

As ever, we loved being on the ferry – it’s always wonderful to be on the water again – whatever the type of vessel we sail on and how ever brief the trip!

Our first stop after alighting was just round the coast from Dover close to Southampton where our sailing buddies Sue and John were house sitting.

Our sailing buddies Sue and John

We hadn’t seen them since the end of October when they left for their exciting adventure on a series of cruise ships that started in Spain and progressed all the way to Antarctica. A trip of a lifetime so there was much to catch up on as well as plans to be made for the forthcoming sailing season in Greece and Albania.

One of Sue and John’s charges at the house they were looking after

From there we drove to my sister Julia’s house in Beckenham. We had timed it perfectly as she had organised a birthday dinner that night for our elder sister Sarah and quite a few of the the family were going to be there.

Happy birthday Sarah

As always, Julia had cooked up a storm and we had a fabulous meal and a wonderful evening.

As always, Julia had cooked up a storm
My siblings and other family

While we were staying in Beckenham with Julia we had some more lovely family catch ups, went on some beautiful walks in local parks and one day went up to London for a day in the brilliant British Museum.

St George’s Church Beckenham (where our mother’s ashes are scattered)
A visit to a wonderful nursery with members of the family
On the way to the park – this road was more puddle than a suburban street!
Glorious daffodils
Glorious blossom in one of the parks

There is so much to enjoy in this absolute gem of a museum that each time we visit we have a job trying to decide what to see. This time we opted for the treasures from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site (featured in the excellent Netflix movie “The Dig”)

The brilliant British Museum

This amazing discovery, made 1939 in East Anglia, is the richest intact burial known from early medieval times anywhere in Europe.

Stunning gold objects from the Sutton Hoo burial site
A replica of the stunning and iconic
Sutton Hoo helmet
A stunning reconstructed shield based on one found at Sutton Hoo

Inside the burial mound the archeologist Basil Brown discovered the imprint of a decayed ship with a central chamber that was full of treasures. It is thought it could be the final resting place of an Anglo Saxon king.

The imprint of a decayed ship in which the body of an important figure from Anglo Saxon times was placed

We spent quite a long time at the Sutton Hoo exhibit but also saw some other fabulous items from other archeological discoveries.

A hoard of Viking silver

From Beckenham we drove to Suffolk to catch up with Jonathan’s brother Simon and his partner Ruth and meet their young black Labrador Nero for the first time.

Introducing irresistible Nero

Nero was delightful company and full of beans! More animal introductions occurred when we went to visit my nephew and his wife and daughter in their new home in Cambridge. Here we met two beautiful fluffy and very tame rabbits and a delightful and happy little dog called Pickle.

Pickle and friends

Later we went for lunch in a wonderful traditional pub in Grandchester near Cambridge called the Blue Ball Inn. Mischief the dog came with us, as did one of the rabbits. It’s hard to say which received the most attention but I think it was the bunny!

The traditional pub The Blue Ball

The pub had a cosy fire and was very welcoming both to humans and other animals! On one of the walls was a painting of all the dogs that are “regulars “ at the pub.

Inside the pub – a cosy open fireplace
The pub was very welcoming ….
… both humans and dogs

Back in Suffolk we had a wonderful lunch out – a belated 70th birthday treat from Simon and Ruth – at the Leaping Hare Restaurant in Stanton.

Off to lunch
One of the llamas in the grounds of the restaurant
Inside the Leaping Hare Restaurant
Always fun with these two

Our next port of call was Cambridge to visit my sister Sarah and her husband Martin who were very hospitable. We had a lovely lunch with old family friends Lorely and Peter and our eldest great niece joined us for a couple of days which was great. More lovely food prepared by Sarah (a superb cook!) was very much enjoyed!

Sarah and Martin’s welcoming
wood burning stove
Our family friend Lorely at the lunch table
Jonathan always wants to admire Sarah’s hand crafted harpsichord when we visit ….
…..It’s easy to see why

Before we left Cambridge we visited our Mum’s old college – Girton – where an oak tree that Mum had grown from an acorn has been planted in her memory.

At Mum’s oak tree with Sarah

We found the young tree quite easily and we’re glad to see it was going well, had grown since we last visited and even had some tiny green buds appearing on its gangly branches.

Girton College – the first Cambridge
women’s college

While we were at Girton we had a very quick look at the People’s Portraits exhibition which was on display in the corridors and in the cafe at the college.

One of the exhibits in the People’s Portrait Exhibition

The exhibition was a millennial event organised with the idea of representing ordinary people from all walks of life, and thereby offering a picture of the United Kingdom as it moved from the 20th century into the 21st.

There are now around 60 fabulous paintings housed at Girton which tell fascinating stories about their subjects.

Just part of the painting of the Fowey Lifeboatmen (Devon)

From Cambridge we returned briefly to Beckenham. While we were there we took a day trip to a lovely park in Tunbridge Wells to meet up with one of my nephews and his family.

A day trip to Tunbridge Wells to catch up with my nephew and his family

It was the first time I’d met the very newest member and it was so fantastic to have lots of baby cuddles with my youngest great nephew.

My beautiful great nephew

Last year we had an Easter egg hunt for our gorgeous great niece and although she was only three at the time she had remembered it and was looking forward to another hunt this year!

Time for an Easter egg hunt!

Fortunately we had brought along some chocolate eggs with us and we hid them around our picnic spot – much to her delight!

Look the Easter bunny climbed a tree
Yay! Found another one!
My sister Julia and I on the children’s play ship

Our final call was to Ramsgate on the Kent coast – one of the great English seaside towns of the 19th century – to visit my eldest niece and her husband and to see their fabulous new home for the first time.

Ramsgate harbour has the distinction of being the only Royal Harbour in the United Kingdom. Being so close to mainland Europe, Ramsgate was a chief embarkation point both during the Napoleonic Wars and for the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.

Ramsgate Harbour – the only designated “Royal Harbour” in the United Kingdom

Arriving on the English coast definitely called for fish and chips for dinner which we bought on the sea front and ate in the van which was parked overlooking the famous harbour. Delicious food with a great view!

Nothing like English fish and chips!
The sandy beach near the harbour
Fishing nets, balls, windmills and buckets and spades – all British seaside icons
An old Victorian pub – the Queen’s Head
Harking back to Ramsgate in its heyday

While we were in Ramsgate we wanted to go into the famous Ramsgate tunnels which were used during World War ll to shelter the townspeople from enemy bombing raids.

The entrance to the Ramsgate tunnels

Unfortunately we just missed out on joining a tour but we were able to go into the start of the tunnels and visit the interesting museum there.

Inside the Ramsgate tunnels museum
A picture of life in the tunnels during World War ll

For sailors such as us, no visit to Ramsgate would be complete without a visit to the Sailor’s Church which is situated right on the quayside.

The Sailors’ Church

Opened in 1878, the church provided spiritual guidance and physical help for the men and boys who made up the crews of the sailing smacks that fished out of Ramsgate in the nineteenth century. It was dangerous, arduous work, especially for the young apprentices who were called Smack Boys!

Blue carpet reminiscent of the sea, timber ceiling to emulate timber framed boats and models and pictures of boats scattered round

When the apprentices were ashore, they were provided with some comfort in the rooms above the church and later, in the Smack Boys Home next door.

A model of a Ramsgate fishing smack

The church has a lovely, peaceful, atmosphere and is a must visit for members of the sailing fraternity – if only to pay your respects to all the brave sailors who have “rallied forth” from Ramsgate harbour in years gone by.

Champagne country but no bubbles for us

It was with much anticipation that we eagerly peered out of our camper van windows one chilly morning to see what the view was like.

Early morning view

We had arrived in Chamonix Mont Blanc, in France, the previous night – after travelling through the 11.611 km (7.215 miles) Mont Blanc tunnel from Italy.

When we opened the blinds we saw picture perfect snowy mountains towering above us with sweet sloping roofed chalets nestled in the valley just metres away from us.

Picture perfect mountains
Sweet sloping roofed chalets nestled in the valley

The ground was icy and we were surrounded by that special “hush” that happens in the early morning when snow has freshly fallen. The only noise we could hear was directly below us – we had parked just a couple of metres away from a gushing river full of snow melt.

The ground was icy
We had parked just a couple of metres away from a gushing river

What a glorious place to be but much closer to the water than we thought the previous night!

We had parked closer to the water than we thought!

Sadly we didn’t have time to hang around as we were booked on a ferry to England a couple of days later and we had to press on to get to Calais in time.

We made our way through stunning scenery – think mountains, green valleys, translucent emerald green rivers and roadside water falls – and entered into Switzerland briefly – driving past an abandoned border post now in the middle of a field.

Stunning scenery as we made our way
Pretty impressive view!
More stunning scenery
The colour of the snow melt was extraordinary
A roadside waterfall
We drove past an abandoned border post

Our journey took us through some quaint French villages, past elegant châteaux, and on to the beautiful city of Chalon-sur-Saône.

We love quaint French villages
Great colours!
Emblem of one of the towns we drive through
We went past plenty of châteaux both large and small like this one

Although the surrounding district is highly commercial and quite industrial the ancient town centre itself is a delight.

Approaching the town centre of

As soon as we had settled in our “Aire de camping” we strolled along the river towards picturesque Saint-Vincent square.

Picturesque Saint-Vincent square

Dominated by the profile of the Cathedral (built over the 14th and 15th centuries) and surrounded by beautiful timber-framed medieval houses, the square is at the heart of the city.

The square is dominated by the Cathedral
Another aspect of the Cathedral
The timber-framed medieval houses
were beautiful

We explored some of the shopping lanes branching off the square before heading back along the embankment to the van, enjoying a vivid sunset on the way.

One of the shopping lanes in Chalon-sur-Saône
Down by the River Saône

It would have been great to visit the Nicéphore Niépce museum – dedicated to the inventor of photography who was born in Chalon-sur-Saône. The museum is home to 6,000 cameras and optical objects, as well as over 3 million images. Unfortunately it was closed but maybe one day we will come back for a visit.

Chalon-sur-Saône looking lovely in the rosy glow of sunset
The sunset was really vivid

The next day we continued our travels through the French countryside and again saw some lovely views and interesting places. This included Langres – a medieval fortified city and gateway to champagne country.

Splendid blossom at the roadside

Langres has seven gates in the defensive walls and the road we were travelling on actually went through one of them.

One of Langres seven gates – we drove through this one!

Our destination was a small village (population about 430 people!) called Trépail. It might be small but the village is very famous – it known for its vast number of vineyards.

The tiny village of Trépail

There was a very pleasant Aire in the village where there was an information board with a map showing the location of the 24 champagne producers in the village. We were hoping to do a tasting but when we went walking we found each and every one of them was closed.

There’s a very pleasant Aire in the village
There are 24 champagne producers
in this small village

It was a pretty little village though and we enjoyed seeing the tiny church, the school and the rustic dwellings dotted around the place.

Trépail’s tiny church
The local war memorial
Yep it was closed!
The local school house (with gorgeous
blossom trees)

The next day we set out on our final leg to Calais where we found an exceptionally good camper van parking area which had every facility available and was nice and close to the ferry terminal.

Down in the port area of Calais
A ferry departing the port of Calais

We encountered something quite strange on our evening stroll around the port – a 12 metre high and 25 metres long mechanical dragon which breathed real fire!

A strange encounter!
The Calais dragon was being put to bed – and breathing fire all the way

Apparently the Calais Dragon can lie down, stand up, run at up to 4km/h and flap its huge wings. Passengers climb onto the beast’s back via a staircase on its tail and take a trip along the Calais seafront. Amazing!

The legs move but the wheels actually propel the dragon

Finally, the next morning, we excitedly boarded the ferry to Dover – we were so looking forward to a two week visit to catch up with our families in the UK.

All aboard!
Jonathan waiting for the ferry to leave Calais

A hidden gem in Italy and base camp at Mont Blanc

We were heading to Calais in France from Montenegro via northern Italy and had already stopped at Udine and Verona both of which we loved.

Romantic Udine
Picturesque Verona

Our next stop was Bergamo which we thought sounded interesting from its online description – “cobblestone streets, encircled by Venetian walls and accessible by funicular,” “Bergamo is the hidden gem of Lombardy.”

Bergamo – a hidden gem

What more could you ask for?! Well I suppose you could wish for a pleasant but economical place to stay where all the facilities sparkle with cleanliness. And maybe a very kind caretaker who provides maps with useful information and a hand drawn route to the funicular station. Perhaps also a lovely drive to get there through beautiful countryside with grapevines and orchards spreading as far as the eye could see? Affirmative to all that!

The grey and black water dumps were literally sparkling clean!
Grapevines en route to Bergamo
Beautiful orchard on the roadside
Entering Bergamo

Although it was only a quick visit we were very taken with Bergamo. The walk from the camper van site down in the lower (and newer) part of town to the funicular station was lovely as we went past some beautiful buildings and gardens filled with blossom.

Looking up to the old (upper) town
There were some lovely houses perched on the hillside on our way to the Funicular station

It was a bit of a thrill getting on the funicular to reach the upper town (Città Alta) – what an unusual way to visit a place as a tourist!

Queueing up to board the funicular
An unusual way to travel!

We rattled up the steep hill and five minutes later we were in a pretty square called Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe Market Square). In Medieval times this square would have been humming with activity – we could just imagine the sounds and the smells of the shoe makers at work.

Rattling up the hill to the Città Alta
Arriving at the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe

Some of the buildings (including the facade of the funicular station) date back to the 13th Century.

When we don’t have much time to explore a place we love to wander through the back lanes and byways and just enjoy whatever delight we stumble across. In Bergamo we found sweet cobbled laneways and parts of the massive city walls built by the Venetians.

We found sweet cobbled laneways
The massive city walls were built by
the Venetians.
The archway provided a perfect parking place

One delightful surprise tucked away from the main tourist “trail” was an ancient “Lavatoio” – a communal laundry constructed from white marble. It was in a lovely cool and shady spot and it wasn’t hard to imagine how in the past it would have been filled with bustle and chatter while the washing was being scrubbed and rinsed by the ladies of the town.

The ancient “Lavatoio”
In the past the Lavatoio would have been
filled with bustle and chatter while the
washing was being done

Later we wandered passed the Angelo d’Oro, (the Golden Lamb), a famous restaurant which until recently, before it’s recent closure, had been at the centre of social life in Bergamo for over half a century and had hosted “the most famous names and faces from the world of entertainment, music, sport, science, journalism and of art.”

The famous Angelo d’Oro restaurant

After a while, the small street we were walking in opened out into the heart of the Città Alta – to the beautiful Piazza Vecchia.

The Piazza Vecchio
The heart of the Città Alta

The piazza is bordered on every side by fabulous architecture. On one side is the Palazzo della Ragione (also known as the Palazzo Vecchio), which was built in the 12th century and in addition to a palace it has over the years, been a town hall, a courthouse, and a theatre.

The Palazzo della Ragione
Statue of Torquato Tasso, the great renaissance poet who was the son of a Bergamo nobleman
The cafe next door to the the
Palazzo della Ragione

On the opposite side of the Piazza is the elegant white marble Palazzo Nuovo. Construction of this building began in 1604 and wasn’t fully completed until 1928!

The elegant white marble Palazzo Nuova

The building was the seat of the Municipality of Bergamo for three centuries and is now one of Italy’s most important libraries, the Civica Angelo Mai , which preserves parchments, codices, incunabula and priceless volumes of music.

Situated between the Palazzo della Ragione and yet another Palazzo – the Palazzo del Podestà – is a 56 metre high bell tower – the 12th Century Torre Civica – which is the tallest tower in the city.

The 12th Century Torre Civica – the tallest tower in the town

In the middle of the square we found an unusual drinking water fountain with two sphinxes from whose mouths water flowed. The Contarini Fountain was donated to the city by the then chief magistrate Alvise Contarini in 1780.

The Contarini Fountain
A detail from the Contarini Fountain

We left the square at the Palazzo della Ragione end and arrived at the amazing chapel and mausoleum of Bartolomea Colleoni, who died on November 2, 1475 and who was from one of the city’s most notable families.

We left the square at the
Palazzo della Ragione end
The chapel and mausoleum of
Bartolomea Colleoni
The entrance to the chapel and mausoleum of Bartolomea Colleoni
Someone couldn’t decide which style of column to use!

The chapel is full of fantastic paintings and sculptures by famous artists. A highlight amongst these works of art were the frescoes on the dome, executed by Giambattista Tiepolo between 1732–1733.

The chapel is full of fantastic paintings and sculptures by famous artists but for some visitors the gift shop seemed more interesting
The chapel is full of wonderful works of art
A highlight amongst the works of art were the frescoes on the dome, executed by Giambattista Tiepolo between 1732–1733.

From the Chapel we walked part of the way around the ancient city walls, and enjoyed the spectacular views before walking down the long and winding path back to the van.

A hint of the wonderful view from the city walls
A view from the ancient wall
Another view from the city walls
On our way to finding the path down
the steep hill
Definitely walked down a fair way but loads more to do!
The cute path we followed down the hill

After a quick bite to eat we set off once again towards Calais where we would catch the ferry to England to visit our families.

And we’re off again
We weren’t sure what this was but thought it might be a church

We drove through glorious Alpine countryside with snowy peaks dominating the skyline. As we approached our destination the sun began to set and the red glow over the mountains was absolutely glorious.

We drove through glorious Alpine countryside with snowy peaks dominating the skyline
Such an imposing landscape
The sun began to set and the red glow over the mountains was absolutely glorious
Such beauty!

Just before 7pm we arrived at the entrance to the tunnel that travels directly through Mont Blanc and which starts in Italy and then comes out in France.

Approaching the Mont Blanc road tunnel
The border crossing
It cost us more than 115 Euros to travel through the tunnel
Entering the tunnel
We arrive in Mont Blanc Chamonix after the sun had set

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the ski resort town of Chamonix Mont Blanc in complete darkness but we had chosen an easy-to-find “Aire” to spend the night. Soon we were opening a bottle of Italian wine and eating dinner at the base of Mt Blanc surrounded (we assumed) by beautiful mountains – wondering what we would see out of the windows when we woke up in the morning!

Enchanting experience in extraordinary Verona

Italy is just such an extraordinary country – with so many wonderful places to visit – its almost mind blowing!

Just an office building with statues holding it up with their heads!

After our lovely visit to Udine our next stop was extraordinary Verona, probably most famous for being the setting for Shakespeare’s romantic story of Romeo and Juliet.

Verona is famous for being the setting for Romeo and Juliet

There is so much to see and do in this glorious city – historic buildings, beautiful architecture, great food, and wonderful culture. but there’s also the window shopping!

Jonathan on his way to do some sightseeing

Every shop window was a joy to behold – a work of art with shapes and colours gorgeously put together whether the display was food, clothes or even stationery! The Italians have such a fabulous sense of style and colour coordination.

Every shop was a joy to behold
Such gorgeous colours put together so well
I couldn’t stop looking at these boots. One pair of each colour please!
Another great display
The shapes and colours were gorgeously put together whether the display was food, clothes or even stationery
Cuppa anyone?
So simple but so effective

The walk into Verona from the very convenient, central and good value camper van site was interesting. Firstly, we came across the City Gate (Porta Palio) which stands at the head of the ancient Via Postumia and which has been welcoming visitors to the city since the mid-sixteenth century.

The City Gate (Porta Palio)

Walking onwards from the gate we passed a series of military buildings and then passed various unique office buildings and shops – including one selling Dutch frites with genuine frites sauce. Of course we had to buy some and they were very good!

We passed a series of military buildings
The San Lorenzo Church
This was a lovely traditional meat and cheese store
Appropriate name for a barber or is it?
Real Dutch frites in Italy!

As we approached the old city the road ahead was dominated by the Castelvecchio (the old castle) which along with its adjoining bridge across the Adige River was built in the fourteenth century as a deterrent to powerful neighbors such as Venice.

The fourteenth Century Castelvecchio ahead

There is a now a museum inside the castle which displays a collection of sculptures, statues, paintings, ancient weapons, ceramics, goldworks, miniatures and some old bells. We didn’t go in but instead wandered through the ramparts to the fortified bridge.

Walking through the ramparts of the Castelvecchio
The ancient defensive bridge across the Adige River

The segmental arch bridge (Ponte Scaligero) was impressive and the view was fantastic. At the time of its construction it had the world’s largest span(48.70 m)!

The view from the bridge was fantastic
The segmental arch bridge was impressive
Jonathan and the view
Picture perfect

We crossed over to the other side and walked down to the next bridge – the Ponte Della Vitoria – and into the old city.

Looking back at the Castelvecchio Bridge
The Ponte Della Vitoria

We spent a lovely day wandering the streets of Verona and saw lots of sights including “Juliet’s house” where there were huge crowds of tourists (many of them in school parties). Of course, Shakespeare’s Juliet wasn’t based on a real person, and the house doesn’t have any relation to the story but it is still a major tourist drawcard.

“Juliet’s house” with the famous balcony (left)

After a very good coffee and cake in a small cafe we carried on wandering the streets and came across Porta Leoni (Gate of the Lions) an ancient Roman gate and other exposed Roman remains that today are well below ground level.

Almond flavoured cake – very delicious
I loved this little orchestra in the shop window opposite the cafe
The Porta Leoni (Gate of the Lions)
Roman remains that today are well below ground level

On the other side of the old city -near the Castelvecchio – there is another Roman gate from the 1st century AD – Porta Borsari built over a pre-existing gate from the 1st century BC. This was the city’s main entrance and for that reason it was larger and more richly decorated.

The main gate on the other side of the old city

Continuing our meandering through Verona the next impressive sight soon came into view – the Coliseum. Completed in 30 AD, this massive arena is older than the Coliseum in Rome. It is still in use today as a performance venue and is internationally famous for its magnificent large scale opera performances.

The Verona Coliseum, completed in 30 AD
This massive arena is older than the Coliseum in Rome
The Verona Coliseum is internationally famous for its magnificent large scale opera performances
The beautiful street in which the Coliseum sits

The Piazza delle Erbe, the oldest square in Verona, was the forum – the centre of political and economic life in Roman times. Today it is still a busy with tourists and locals drinking coffee, having a glass of wine or eating a meal, or buying clothes, gifts and souvenirs.

The Piazza delle Erbe a great place to stop for a coffee, wine or a meal
This fountain in the Piazza delle Erbe was built in 1368, the statue on top us from Roman times
The Torre dei Lamberti is 84 metres high
Fascinating detail – a whalebone suspended under an arch. It’s been there since at least the 1700s and nobody knows how it got there or why it’s there!
The amazing the frescoed Mazzanti Houses in the Piazza delle Erbe
This column outside the Palazzo Maffei is made from white marble on which sits St Mark’s Lion
The Piazza delle Erbe is still busy with tourists and locals buying clothes, gifts and souvenirs

What a fabulous place to people watch and soak in the atmosphere. Great wine and free nibbles enhanced this enchanting experience.

Jonathan looking out for the best place to stop
Table with a view!
Great wine and free nibbles – perfect!

Fabulous treasures and romantic Italy

After a wild night at our Croatian campsite when our camper van was shaken fiercely in the wind and the rain hammered down on our roof, we set off for the port city of Rijeka.

The wind had blown the rain clouds away so by the time we were on the road, the sky was a piercing blue and the sun was shining.

On the road again with a piercing blue sky

After about an hour or so following the glorious coast road we turned inland. As we climbed upwards through the rugged countryside we could see snow capped mountains in the distance.

We turned inland after following the coast road
We could see snow capped mountains in the distance

We drove along a high plateau – it felt like we were driving on top of the world! Then we caught sight of the shimmering fjord-like inlet called Zavratnica – a 900-metre-long and narrow body of water located at the foot of the Velebit Mountain Park.

The shimmering fjord-like inlet called Zavratnica

Gradually we wound our way back to the winding coast road and once again were thrilled at the sight of the sparkling waters of the Adriatic.

Back on the coast road
The hairpin bends kept us in our toes
The sparkling waters of the Adriatic

As evening had begun to draw in, our minds turned to finding a place to spend the night. We were on the outskirts of Rijeka and had found a couple of likely spots on-line but it was impossible to get to them due to road diversions that took us all over the place except the camper van parking areas!

A rather nice building opposite our parking spot next to a not so nice abandoned building

We ended up finding a spot with lovely views – but outside an abandoned building (which wasn’t quite so lovely.)

The view from our parking spot was lovely…
….so was the blossom next door
Wonderful to see spring has sprung!

On the road again the next day we crossed into Slovenia briefly before arriving in one of my favourite countries – Italy.

Into Slovenia we go – but not for long!
Not too much traffic in Slovenia!
The signpost was inviting us to Prosecco – and why not?!

The first town we visited was Udine about which we knew nothing but were totally taken with once we were there.

Udine was our first stop in Italy

We parked in a carpark a short walk away from the the city centre that had a number of places specifically designed for camper vans. We were the only takers that day!

Walking into town we saw the magnificent mansion
We also went past some amazing topiary

Just outside the old city gate we found a tourist bureau where a delightful lady with excellent English suggested we headed for the Museo Diocesano e Galleria del Tiepolo before exploring the city centre.

Heading for the tourist bureau

This was such an excellent tip as the museum was fantastic! Housed in the stunning Patriarch’s Palace which was built in the 16th Century and added to between 1708 and 1725, the museum contains many fabulous treasures.

Inside the Museo Diocesano e Galleria del Tiepolo
Each of these doorways had a gallery to its side

The building itself was a museum – sumptuous rooms, intricately designed timber floors, gorgeous wall paintings, fabulous frescoes and a sweeping grand staircase.

The building itself was a museum….
…..with sumptuous rooms….
….fabulous frescoes (and below) ….
….intricately designed timber floors…..
….gorgeous wall paintings….
…and a sweeping grand staircase

Probably the most important of the treasures inside are the eighteenth-century frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo, who decorated the ceiling of the Grand Staircase, the Guest Gallery and the Red Room.

One of the most famous Tiepolo frescoes in the museum depicting Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Another of the eighteenth-century frescoes by Tiepolo

Another highlight was the patriarchal library – the first public library in Udine. Many valuable books are preserved there including some of the first books ever printed, illuminated manuscripts and rare first editions.

The Patriarchal Library
One entire floor is dedicated to wooden sculptures
A wooden sculpture of St Christopher

We lingered in the museum until closing time and then walked to the Aquileia Gate which was completed in 1436.

On our way to the Aquileia Gate

Passing through the Aquileia Gate we wandered into the beautiful Piazza della Libertà as the sun started to set to the sounds of an accordion being played.You can’t get more romantic than that!

The player was sitting on the steps of the Fountain which was donated to Udine by Emperor Francis 1(1708 – 1765) to commemorate the peace treaty of Campoformido.

The accordion player sitting on the steps of the Fountain

The town hall (Loggia del Lionello) built in 1448–1457 also stands in the square and opposite stands a clock tower very similar to the one in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

The town hall (Loggia del Lionello)
The clock tower was built in 1527

Despite the cool weather people were sitting outside enjoying a meal or glass of wine.

Udine had many wonderful buildings
A lovely street in Udine
Even though it was cold people were enjoying eating outside
The heaters helped of course!

Finding ourselves back at the Piazza della Libertà , we discovered we had arrived just in time to see and hear the clock tower strike 6pm and the accordion player was still playing.

The accordion player was still playing while the clock struck six

What an excellent and ideal way to end our short exploration of Udine!

Signing up for Montenegro

We’d finally arrived in Montenegro and lost no time in locating Lazure Marina where we were hoping to organise a berth for our catamaran S/V Sunday during next European winter (from October 2023).

Arriving in Montenegro
Drawing close to Lazure Marina
Lazure Marina

Once we’d discovered the marina we looked for the car park that we had been directed to by the marina office via email.

We weren’t absolutely sure we were in the right place but as we don’t have one word of Montenegrin and the guy in the office couldn’t speak any English, we just couldn’t be sure. One thing we did gather though was that the car park belonged to a hotel.

Lazure marina was only a short walk away and we discovered that it was bang in front of the fabulous boutique hotel of the same name.

The wall of the Lazure hotel is on the right, the building on the left contains private appartments and additional hotel rooms

In its previous life the hotel building was an 18th Century Lazaret (a quarantine station for sailors and other maritime travellers.) Now it is beautifully renovated but still retains a link with the past as the original chapel of St. Rocco (inside the hotel building) has been restored to its original state and the rest of the interior is very sympathetically constructed to be in tune with the existing building.

The back of the hotel which in its previous life was an 18th Century Lazaret

We thought the funky interior design looked like a fusion between Italian and Scandinavian design but later discovered it was produced by a group of young Serbian interior designers.

The design of the hotel interior looked like an Italian/Scandinavia fusion
The hotel bar

The receptionists were most welcoming and helpful. They told us we were welcome to use the hotel’s car park for our camper van and invited us to have a look around the hotel and even shared the wifi password with us.

Lots of natural light in the bar
A courtyard for the warmer weather

We wandered into the dining room and had a very good chat with the Maître D’ who was equally friendly and hospitable.

The dining room

This was a good start!

A look round the marina revealed that it was small, with great security, clean waters and everything looking spick and span – perfect!

View of the marina from the hotel
The marina was small, with great security and clean, clear, waters

When we entered the marina office we had a wonderful surprise. The new owners of the marina had decided to make a special offer to the owners of the first ten catamarans to sign up for a winter contract. This involved their rate for seven months being the same as for a monohull of the same length! This represented an excellent saving on the fairly reasonable quote we had already received previously so we were thrilled.

The marina office is situated next to the hotel

The decision about whether to sign up at Lazure or another marina was therefore made on the spot although before signing a contract we decided to have a look around to see what the local area was like.

The pleasant water front
We liked what we saw despite the
threatening skies
Small hotels and restaurants on the waterfront near the marina

We found a beach close by, a great bakery and two supermarkets only a few metres away and were able to buy phone credit very easily and cheaply. There were also quite a few restaurants along the waterfront although they were mostly closed for winter.

We found a (pebbled) beach very close
to the marina
It’s this close to the hotel and marina!
There’s a good bakery nearby
The bakery sells lots of delicious breads and pastries

The weather was awful the following day – rain was tipping down with rain and there was a blustery wind. Nevertheless we decided to drive to Kotor, a medieval fortified town around the coast – just an hour’s drive away. While we were doing this we would try and check out other marinas en route.

The weather was awful the following day
Splash back as we drive through the enormous pools of water on the road

The weather was really terrible so we didn’t get out of the van to view any marinas but did ask for quotes via email and found the fees significantly more expensive than Lazure’s.

We didn’t look at any other marinas – it was just too wet!

Kotor looked really lovely but we didn’t fancy getting soaked so decided to leave exploring this fascinating fortified city until our return later in the year.

Kotor from the other side of the bay

We are so looking forward to taking a closer look at this lovely place as it is a UNESCO world heritage site and is full of Venetian medieval architecture resulting from four centuries of Venetian rule.

Travelling along the coast road on our way back to the Marina we saw two tiny islets just offshore. We found out later that these are called Sveti Đorđe and Gospa od Škrpijela.

Sveti Đorđe (left) and Gospa od Škrpijela

On Sveti Đorđe there is a 12th-century Benedictine monastery and a cemetery where local nobility have been buried over the centuries.

According to local legend, Gospa od Škrpijela was made over the centuries by local seamen who found an icon of Madonna and Child on a rock in the sea on 22 July 1452. On returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the same spot in the bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea. The islet is still being widened every year by local people throwing rocks from their boats on the anniversary of the icon being found.

A closer shot of Gospa od Škrpijela

Back at the car park we were very tempted to rescue the beautiful “guard dog” who was confined to just a small run with a kennel. He was quite timid but very friendly and not at all like the ferocious guard dog he was meant to be.

Our friendly guard dog
He was very sweet and timid – not guard dog material at all

That evening we signed the contract with the marina and paid a deposit. We are very excited about the prospect of spending time here later on in the year.

We celebrated by going to the rather expensive but very swish wine bar called “Wine O’Clock”which overlooks the marina. We had a very delicious bottle of red wine on the balcony feeling very relieved that we were organised for winter so satisfactorily.

The local wine bar in the precincts of the hotel
Nice inside but the balcony overlooking the marina was the place to be
We sampled a very drinkable local wine

We left Montenegro the next day to start the journey to Calais where we were planning to catch a ferry to Dover in England for a long overdue visit too see members of our family who live there.

These trees reminded us of Tuscany

Just over the border (literally 40 minutes drive away from where we were staying) in Croatia, lies the lovely town of Dubrovnik which we decided to explore on our way through.

The lovely town of Dubrovnik

We decided to park well away from the old walled city near the port as narrow streets are an uncomfortable hazard for camper vans! The walk took us almost as long to do as the drive from our car park in Montenegro to the parking place in Dubrovnik.

The new port was quite a long walk from the old town

It was an interesting trek though and we walked past some wonderful historic houses and lovely views of the Adriatic.

One of the beautiful old mansions we walked past
A small chapel we saw on the way to the old city of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean and it’s easy to see why. The solid city walls, the outstanding medieval architecture and the fortified old town all combine to make it a charming place to visit.

The solid city walls of Dubrovnik
This shot was taken from just outside the city walls
The Pile Gate – the main entry into Dubrovnik old city

By the time we arrived it was lunchtime so we found a lovely restaurant (with checked tablecloths, one of Jonathan’s top criteria for a lunch spot) at the water’s edge and enjoyed a fabulous seafood lunch.

The restaurant had checked table cloths
This was very garlicky and delicious but the mussels were disappointing

Later we walked round a section of the city walls (you can walk the whole way round if you have time) and explored some of the graceful squares, narrow lanes and admired the shiny limestone paved Placa.

Walking off our lunch by the water
A traditional sailing boat beautifully renovated
A classic view of Dubrovnik
We are always drawn to where the boats are!
There were lots of picturesque narrow alleyways
The shiny limestone paved Placa dates back to 1468
The famous sheen on the limestone flagstones

We were very happy to see the ancient fountain at the entrance to the city which was still working and welcoming travellers to fill up their water bottles instead of buying more plastic bottles to add to the criminal amounts of plastic waste generated every year.

The Large Onofrio’s fountain (completed in 1438) is probably the best known of the city’s many historic monuments
Travellers are welcome to fill up their water bottles here instead of buying
more plastic bottles

In contrast, it was quite confronting to see bullet holes in some of the buildings which were inflicted on this stunning city during the 1991 Croatian War of Independence.

It was quite confronting to see bullet holes in some of the buildings
Also so sad to see this commemorative stone

Dubrovnik was besieged by the Yugoslav People’s Army for seven months and suffered significant damage from shelling but repair and restoration works in the 1990s and early 2000s brought the city back to its original beauty.

Repair and restoration works in the 1990s and early 2000s brought the city back
to its original beauty
Part of Dubrovnik Cathedral
It was hard to believe that this pearl of a city had been shelled so badly
Loved this view!
The 31 metre high bell tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city
Busy Loggia Square

By dusk we were on our way again – heading for our favourite camper stop – Autocamp Sirena where we experienced an incredibly wild and windy night, with waves crashing and trees bending under the strain.

By dusk we were on our way again
Lovely to watch the sun going down over the Croatian coast

Not the most restful of nights but we felt cosy and secure in our trusty home on wheels!

Wild weather at Autocamp Sirena

Spectacular scenery- driving onto a film set – and marvellous Montenegro

The coast road that winds its way through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia again and Montenegro is nothing short of spectacular!

The coast road is nothing short of spectacular!

We had travelled some of this route a few years ago (before Covid) and absolutely loved it so were very glad to be driving this way in our camper van once again.

We were glad to be driving this way again

By midday the clouds were gathering and it looked as though there would be a spectacular storm. Despite the threatening skies we were captivated by the beautiful coastline, the sweet little villages and the gorgeous diminutive bays.

By midday the clouds were gathering
We were captivated by the beautiful coastline

There are countless marinas along this stretch of coast but we were heading for one we had found in Montenegro – a great bolthole from the Schengen countries where we can only spend a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period – but also moderately priced and very beautiful.

Entering Croatia (Hrvatska)

Croatia (Hrvatska) has a very rugged coastline with lots of bends (beloved by motorbike riders) and steep cliffs in places falling vertically to the ocean below. It honestly looks like a film set – the perfect location for an action movie.

The rugged coastline looks like a film set

It came as no surprise therefore, that at one particularly wild spot along the route we were stopped by the police for a short while with no explanation but once we got going realised that we had literally driven into a film set!

We were stopped at one particularly wild spot
We could see something going on
around the next bend

We passed a “heroine” shrugging on a fur coat to cover her skimpy dress, extras hanging round a food van, film equipment, someone with climbing gear on and another guy lying on top of a car surrounded by a group of people setting up a shot.

Setting up a shot on the film set
Vans and people everywhere
Setting up another shot with a stuntman
on top of a car
Some of the film equipment on the road side

Our sat nav took us right past the film crew, down a very narrow, steep and winding hill to a small peninsula at the bottom.

We went down a very narrow, steep and winding hill

We thought there was a camper stop down there but there was no such thing – it was deserted! There were just a few empty summer holiday cottages and nothing much else – not even a place to park.

Heading down the hill
The small peninsula (left) was deserted

So up the narrow, steep and winding hill we went, past the film crew once again, feeling embarrassed and sure that they thought we’d done it on purpose so we could have another sticky beak at them!

I’m sure the film crew was wondering what we were up to!
One of the actors and his minder

As it was getting late in the afternoon we were looking for somewhere to stop for the night. We travelled through some enchanting villages with stunning views but nowhere to park.

We travelled through some enchanting scenery
There were some beautiful views….
…but nowhere to stop
Another sweet village with no parking spots
Such a gorgeous coastline
It was starting to get dark but still
nowhere to stay

Finally we arrived in a small fishing village in the Starigrad municipality which had a small car park right on the water where we stayed for the night.

We finally found somewhere!

There were small fishing boats moored right in front of us and nearby was the smallest chapel that I have ever seen which we guessed was used by fishermen before they went out to sea.

There were small fishing boats moored right in front of us
The tiny fisherman’s chapel
Inside the chapel – still well used

Our journey of visual treats continued the following day – sparkling seas, gorgeous coves, towering cliffs, lovely small resort towns and lots of yacht marinas.

Our journey of visual treats continued
The colour of the sea was glorious
Photos don’t do the scenery justice
So fantastic to see the blossom appearing
Another lovely spot
There are loads of marinas in this
part of the world
More boats!

By mid afternoon we had reached our favourite camper van stop in this part of the world – Autocamp Sirena.

Turn right before the tunnel for Autocamp Sirena
Such a fabulous location
Our favourite camper van stop in Croatia

We had stayed there once before and vowed to return – and here we were! Having arrived mid afternoon there was plenty of hours daylight for a lovely walk along the beach before a glass or two of wine watching the sun go down.

The little cove on one side of the camper stop
There’s a small harbour too
The camper stop is behind the trees
The lovely beach on the other side of where we were parked
Sparkling water as the sun sets
Such a glorious sunset

Our journey continued the following day and and was uneventful except for a strange involuntary diversion (aka getting lost) when we drove over a bridge that wasn’t even marked on our newly updated sat nav map!

On the road again
The signage was difficult to understand (that’s our excuse)

I have checked with Google maps and have discovered it is called the Pelješac Bridge. Completed in July 2022, it provides a way of bypassing the small coastal strip belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina enabling travellers to avoid going through two lots of border control.

There was no sign of the the Pelješac Bridge on our sat nav

If only we had known we could have kept going and saved ourselves a bit of travelling time and the hassle of checking out of and back in to Croatia!

We could have saved time but we would have missed this!

The coastal strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina is just 25 km (18 miles) long and has only one town – Neum – which has a population of around 3,000 inhabitants and which and is the country’s only access to the Adriatic Sea.

Neum, the only coastal town in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Back in Croatia again!

A couple of hours on and we were driving past the beautiful 16th Century city of Dubrovnik. We were almost at our destination!

The beautiful city of Dubrovnik

Forty minutes later we had checked out of Croatia for the second time that day and entered Montenegro where we were hoping to find a suitable marina to keep our catamaran S/V Sunday for the winter season 2023/24.

A last picture of Croatia
Welcome to Montenegro

Shock crowds at iconic castle

During Covid and in the aftermath of a locked down world we were very spoilt wherever we travelled – empty beaches, deserted city streets, quiet parks and if and when museums, galleries or other tourist spots were open, they were usually deserted.

We have been spoilt with deserted city streets during and in the aftermath of Covid

Fast forward to 2023 and it’s been a shock to find ourselves in the midst of large crowds when visiting some places of interest – even though it’s winter.

One such place was the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle – the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle built by the eccentric King Ludwig ll of Bavaria and only completed after his death in 1886.

The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle

Naively I had expected just a trickle of visitors and was quite shocked to see hordes of people milling around the car parks below the castle.

I didn’t take photos of the crowds but there were hoards of people – lots of them
in coach parties

There are only two ways to get to the castle – horse and carriage or your own two legs. We had expected to walk up and straight in to the castle but the timings were carefully managed and you are only allowed to go round the castle on a guided tour.

You could either hike up the hill or go by horse and carriage most of the way
The horses were very sturdy and well cared for

As there was a steep 30-40 minute walk up to the castle and – judging by the crowds – bookings would have probably only been available later that morning, we decided to keep going as we had planned to cross over the border to Austria that day and had quite a long journey ahead.

We decided not to hike up to the castle – the view from a distance would have to do!
This was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle

On the next hill top sits another magnificent looking castle – Schloss Hohenschwangau – a 19th Century palace built by the father of King Ludwig ll, King Maximilian ll.

A very grand Schloss Hohenschwangau

We bypassed that one too and set off for Austria on our way to Montenegro.

A real fairytale castle!
A stock photo of Neuschwanstein Castle showing all the fairy tale towers
Another view of Schloss Hohenschwangau

The drive to Austria was really stunning – we were surrounded by snowy vistas, looming mountains and wooded hillsides.

Such a romantic way to travel!
The drive to Austria was really stunning
We were surrounded by snowy vistas
We enjoyed looking at the wooded hillsides

By late afternoon we were over the border with the glorious Austrian alps towering up ahead of us.

The Austrian alps are so beautiful
The glorious Austrian alps towering
up above us!

Before long we were slowly climbing up into the alpine slopes and we began to see chair lifts and car parks full of people and skis.

We began to see chair lifts ……
…..and car parks full of people

Then we started to see ski runs with tiny figures zooming down at high speed.

Then we started to see ski runs

Gradually it started to get darker and we realised we had to find somewhere to stay the night. The first place we found looked chock full of camper vans and after we had filled out copious forms we found our the charge was 56 Euros for the night!

The first place we found looked chock full of camper vans and was very expensive

We weren’t too happy about sharing a campsite with a lot of excited people having apres ski fun and paying 56 Euros for that pleasure was not appealing!

Another castle at dusk!

We found another possible spot about an hour’s drive away and were very pleased to arrive at the Plakenhof Hotel which had a fabulous little site to one side of it.

We found another possible spot about
an hour’s drive away

It was highly organised and fully automated so very easy for us. We just pressed a button a plastic keycard popped out and the traffic bollards lowered to let us in the campgrounds.

A plastic keycard popped out

There was nobody else there so we could park anywhere, plug our electricity in and we ended up having a very peaceful night.

The traffic bollards lowered to let us
in the campgrounds

The next day we were able to fill up with water and discharge our grey and black water. Everything was charged to the keycard we collected on our way in – I think it all came to 20 Euros which was very good value for a quiet and peaceful night!

On the road again

The only drawback was that we had to retrace our steps for about 40 minutes but the scenery was so fabulous that we didn’t care at all.

We had to retrace our steps but we don’t mind!
The scenery was fabulous
It was very cold as these icicles show

By mid afternoon we were crossing the border into Italy and heading to Trieste taking the hairpin bends down the mountainside very carefully!

By mid afternoon we were crossing
the border into Italy
We took the hairpin bends very carefully!

At the bottom of the mountain there was a toll booth which like many of the toll booths in Europe (but especially in Italy) were impossible to use in a camper-van. There were two slots that you could use to pay – one for ordinary saloon cars and one for trucks – neither of which can be used easily by a camper-van!

Another country, another toll booth
It’s always a struggle trying to pay at an automatic toll booth!

The drive along the seafront approaching Trieste was glorious- it felt so great to be by the sea again and the sun was just going down as we arrived bathing the scene in a beautiful golden glow.

Approaching Trieste
It was a beautiful golden evening
A very Italian scene

Unfortunately half of Italy appeared to have visited Trieste that day and we were crawling along in a traffic queue for about half an hour.

Half of Italy seemed to be visiting
Trieste that day

The parking spot for camper-vans was closed but fortunately we were able to park in the road leading up to the parking spot close to the rather grand port office.

The parking place for camper-vans
was closed for winter
The very grand port authority building

Just 30 minutes from Trieste we crossed another border the next morning – this time into Slovenia. We were edging ever closer to our final destination- Montenegro!

Our route from the Netherlands to Montenegro
Hello Slovenia

Füssen’s High Castle – a very clever illusion

Due to a heater failure we missed seeing most of the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) but we were fortunate to visit two absolute highlights – Würzburg and Füssen – one at the beginning and the other at the end of this picturesque and meandering 460-kilometre route in Southern Germany.

We did manage to get to Füssen – the last town on the Romantic Road

We drove to Füssen at the end of the Romantic Road once our heater had been fixed and we were very pleased we did! It turned out to be an utterly charming town with a gothic castle in its centre (although all you can see of it from the town is the clock tower).

Even statues feel the cold so the citizens of Füssen dress them warmly for winter!
All you can see of the castle in the town of Füssen is the clock tower!
The Museum of Füssen located in the southwest wing of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Mang

We had a great walk around the snowy medieval town centre with its cobbled streets, many pastel-coloured houses and shops selling everything from lederhosen to tourist paraphernalia.

The cobbled streets of the
medieval town centre
We think the statue was of St George
killing the dragon!
There were many pastel-coloured houses
The Church of the Holy Spirit built in rare red marble, and covered with beautiful drawings from the Romanesque period
Shops sold everything from lederhosen to tourist paraphernalia
Outside a card shop

We decided to have a look at the High Castle (Hohes Schloss), which is apparently one of the best preserved medieval castles in Bavaria but it wasn’t that easy to find the entrance.

We climbed up a flight of steps to a wooded parkland on the banks of the River Lech – a tributary of the Danube, fed by the snow melt from the nearby mountain range.

The wooded parkland on the banks of
the River Lech
The River Lech fed by the snow melt from the nearby mountain range

Our wanderings took us to the base of the castle but we still couldn’t see much of any of the buildings. We walked up a steep bastion and through an archway and suddenly the castle came into view.

A glimpse of the castle from the park
Another peek of the castle
At the castle’s front gate
We walked up a steep bastion and suddenly the castle came into view.
Still lots of snow up on the hill

The castle is the former summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg and much loved by King Ludwig ll who stayed there more than 30 times. It is now a museum and art gallery- housing the Bavarian State Collections of Paintings.

The castle is the former summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg
It is now a museum and art gallery – housing the Bavarian State Collections of Paintings

The most amazing thing about the castle, which was built between the 13th and 15th Centuries, were the Trompe l’oeil paintings on the exterior walls.

The most amazing thing about the castle were the Trompe l’oeil paintings on
the exterior walls

Originally created in 1499, the paintings trick the eye into perceiving the two dimensional surface as if it was in 3D. So windows appear to have lintels and sills, or look like bow windows – a very cleverly executed illusion!

The exterior paintings – a very cleverly executed illusion!
Inside the castle museum
Little Bavarian misses

We enjoyed the galleries which among other items, houses late Gothic panel paintings and sculptures which provide an excellent overview of the art of the 15th and 16th centuries in the region. Also on display were many treasures from the nearby Monastery of St Mang which was dissolved in the early 19th century.

Some late gothic panels in the museum
There were many treasures from the nearby Monastery of St Mang

The highlight of the museum was the knight’s hall with its marvellous carved wooden ceiling from the late 15th century.

The marvellous carved wooden ceiling from the late 15th century
Detail of the amazing ceiling

We also enjoyed walking along the battlements to the clock tower and climbing up the wooden stairs to the top of the tower where we had a great view of the snowy rooftops of Füssen.

Walking along the battlements was interesting. Note the Trompe l’oeil
paintings in the background
Climbing up the wooden stairs in the tower
There was a marvellous view of
the snowy rooftops

We walked back “home” to the van through the very snowy and slightly slippery wooded park, passing a beautiful villa painted in a very pleasing pale lemon.

I really liked this beautiful lemon painted villa
It was slightly slippery walking back to the van
View from the road bridge
You can just see the van hiding behind a tree – some way to go yet!

The car park we had left our van in didn’t appear to have 24 hour parking so we drove a short distance to a side road on the edge of town that had not just one but three camper van parks!

Here’s our stop for the night!

It was the perfect spot to stay the night as just up the street were two supermarkets where we could stock up on our provisions!

The Romance was over almost before it had begun!

It had long been an ambition of mine to travel the Romantische Straße (Romantic Road) in southern Germany – 460 kilometres of road linking picturesque castles and historic towns.

The first stop on the Romantic Road – Würzburg

At last we were there at the start of it in the delightful city of Würzburg which sits on the banks of the Main River.

The beautiful waterfront at Würzburg

Unbelievably 90 per cent of this ancient city was completely destroyed by 225 British Lancaster bombers in an aerial attack that lasted 17 minutes during World War II.

90 per cent of this ancient city was completely destroyed during World War ll

The city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was destroyed in a firestorm in which 5,000 people perished.

A firestorm caused 5,000 people to perish

Walking round the lovely centre with it’s beautiful cathedrals and other striking monuments it is difficult to imagine the level of destruction that occurred less than 80 years ago.

It is difficult to imagine the level of destruction that occurred less than 80 years ago

It took 20 years of painstaking work (mostly by women – due to the loss of the male population during the War) to reconstruct, brick by brick, the important historical buildings that stand proud once again.

These beautiful buildings are the result of 20 years of painstaking work to reconstruct them

We were very fortunate to arrive just in time to be squeezed into the lovely camper van site on the banks of the river and just a short walk away from town.

The view from our excellent camper van site

We decided to walk into town before the sun went down and were soon strolling along the riverside path enjoying the warmth of the winter sunshine.

A typical German cafe on our walk into town

Arriving at the ancient bridge which led to the compact city centre we were immediately impressed by the twelve 4.5 metre high statues of saints and historically important figures that adorned it.

The statues on the bridge were
very impressive

Building of the bridge started during the late 15th Century and it was completed in 1543 but it wasn’t until almost two hundred years later that the bridge was enriched with the famous statues.

The towering statues were added
in the 18th Century
Lookings up to the Marienberg Fortress
from the bridge

We crossed over the bridge and came across quite a lot of people gathered in small groups sipping large glasses of white wine – very civilised!

Drinking wine on the bridge at sunset – perfect!

Of course wine drinking is a “thing” in Würzburgt – the city is famous for the Wurtzburger Stein vineyard which is one of Germany’s oldest and largest vineyards.

We resisted temptation to join the drinkers and kept on walking to explore the centre a little more.

I really liked this delightful statue

There were many beautiful buildings to admire from the outside but when we arrived at the Romanesque cathedral we stepped inside for a closer look.

The Romanesque cathedral
Inside the Cathedral

There were many works of art to marvel at including numerous ancient tombs and effigies of bishops. One of my favourite items was a relatively modern and very striking seven-armed candelabra.

The very striking seven-armed candelabra

On our way back to the van we stopped on the bridge to watch the process of a double barge going through a lock.

The double barge starts to go through the lock

There was only a really tiny amount of space on either side of the barge so the skipper had to be deadly accurate.

The water level has risen and the
lock gates open

I was curious as to why a river would need a lock at all and it seems that large parts of the river have been “canalised” with 34 large locks to allow vessels of up to 110 metres by 11.45 metres to navigate the total length of the river.

The locks enable long barges like this to navigate the whole river system
There’s no room for errors!

The following day we decided to visit the city’s most famous landmark- the Würzburg Residence which was completed in 1774.

Würzburg’s most famous
landmark – The Residence

Apparently the palace was inspired by Versailles and is now considered to be “the most homogeneous and the most extraordinary of the Baroque palaces”. Some of the highlights include some marvellous frescoes, a grand staircase, a chapel, and the Imperial Hall.

One of the frescoes in the Baroque Residence (stock photo)

Unfortunately we ended up not being able to see these treasures for ourselves as we discovered campervans were not allowed in the car park.

Hmm a line through the camper van can only mean one thing!

Somewhat disgruntled but not too disappointed, we contemplated driving up the hill on the other side of the Main river to go round the imposing Marienberg Fortress. In the end we decided to continue our meandering along the Romantic Road as there were lots of other interesting sights to see.

The imposing Marienberg Fortress

We followed the signs to the Romantic Road and before long we were driving through a very snowy landscape.

The landscape started to get quite snowy

Our “domestic” heater had been playing up ever since we left the Netherlands and we realised that although we had been able to nurse it along and were able to keep reasonably warm thus far, it was going to be much harder to do so once we hit the mountains with deep snow and freezing temperatures.

We needed the heater when we
hit the snow line

Suddenly the Romantic Road lost its romance and we agreed that we should do our best to get the heater looked at. Sadly the romance was over almost before it had begun.

The very unromantic forecourt of a
camper van repair workshop

We diverted to a small town called Ansbach where there was a large camper van repair workshop. The engineer there had a look and told us that the boiler had been installed incorrectly from day one. The net result was that the emergency drain that should pop open when the water in it begins to freeze just didn’t work. This could mean that the boiler had been damaged.

He directed us to another camper van workshop very close by that was a dealer for Truma (the manufacturer of the heater). Another engineer looked at it and confirmed what the first chap had said and suggested the quickest solution would be to go to the Truma factory which fortunately was only about two hours drive away, at a village called Putzbrunn on the outskirts of Munich.

The diagnosis was that the boiler was damaged beyond repair

By the time we got there the Truma workshop was closed but we were able to park for the night just outside the factory.

The next morning Jonathan went to have a chat and thankfully they were able to give us a 1 pm appointment. While we were waiting I decided to get a bit of fresh air and went for a walk and found quite a cute village nearby.

One of the Churches in Putzbrunn
The Putzbrunn flagpole?

The van was in the workshop by the time I returned and not long after, the engineer came back to tell us the bad news that the whole heater (including the hot water tank) would have to be replaced. The good news was that the boiler could be replaced straight away, the bad news was that it would cost the equivalent of a small second hand car to replace it.

An interesting sundial on a house in Putzbrunn

Fortunately we have a credit card for times such as these and so by the end of the afternoon we had a brand new boiler installed.

Frieda, our camper van in the Truma workshop

We could have stayed the night for free at the factory but because we needed to empty the toilet cassette and there were no facilities there to do this, we headed into Munich to the Allianz Soccer Stadium where camper vans can stay overnight.

Arriving at the Allianz stadium
The place was quite busy in the morning with people taking tours of the stadium

We were sorry to have missed the Romantic Road but were only a couple of hours from its end point at Füssen, very close to the Austrian border, so we decided to head there.

On our way to Füssen – with lots
of snow en route

There was lots of snow en route and we felt that we had definitely done the right thing in getting the heater fixed!

Close call with resident’s card, The Netherlands and on the road again

After ten chilly days aboard our catamaran in Viaport Marina, Istanbul, I can confirm that a yacht isn’t the best place to be when the temperatures are literally around freezing! Nevertheless, we were counting our lucky stars that we had managed to get there at all because at the end of last year it looked touch and go as to whether we would be allowed back into Turkey again.

A yacht is not the best place to be when the temperatures are freezing!

We had started the application process to renew our Turkish residency way back in July but come October we were still waiting to hear if we had been successful. We had already booked our flights back to Australia in November assuming the process would be all done and dusted well before the time we were due to leave.

Just weeks before we were leaving we finally heard that our applications had been successful. That was all well and good but the regulations state that you cannot leave Turkey until you have obtained your physical residency card and we certainly wouldn’t be allowed back into the country without one!

Finally we had our applications approved but no residency cards yet!

As the time of our departure grew nearer we became very concerned and soon it became apparent that we would need some assistance. We contacted a local Immigration agent and after much signing and stamping of documents it was finally arranged that the agent could pick up our residency cards at the post office on our behalf. The agent promised that they would courier our cards to us in Australia once they had arrived.

So we left Turkey still not a hundred per cent sure whether our dodgy (and probably rule-breaking) strategy would work and just a little nervous that the post office wouldn’t release the cards or that they would get lost en route to Australia. In the end, they arrived in Brisbane early in December – to our great relief!

We had much to celebrate at christmas – including receiving our residency cards at last!

After Istanbul our next destination was The Netherlands where we were staying with our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter for a week and a half.

We had an uneventful flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam and had no problems meeting up with Pieter (Hannah was at work).

Winging our way to Amsterdam

Fortunately the following day was the weekend and Pieter and Hannah decided to take us to Kasteel (Castle) Duivenvoorde just a short drive away from where they live in Pijnacker, near Delft.

Kasteel Duivenvoorde is only a short drive from where Hannah and Pieter live

The original castle was built in 1226 and until relatively recently, had been lived in by many generations of the same family for centuries.

The ”new” front door built in 1637
The castle was completely
surrounded by a moat

Unfortunately, the house was closed for a private function so we weren’t able to go round it but we did have a lovely walk in the grounds and a coffee and pie in the stylish cafe.

We had a lovely walk around the grounds and saw lots of snowdrops!
Although the Castle was closed fortunately
the stylish cafe wasn’t!

On the way home we took a small diversion to Stompwijk to look at a row of three 17th Century windmills originally built (with a fourth one) to keep the nearby polder (reclaimed land) drained.

The three 17th Century windmills
The windmills were originally built
to drain the polder

In 1951 electric pumps were installed to take over this job and the three windmills were decommissioned and gradually restored to their full glory. Now they are all used as dwellings and as a tourist destination.

The windmills are decommissioned but are lovingly cared for
The windmills are now a tourist attraction and are used as dwellings

Even though the weather was really cold there were definitely signs that spring was on its way in the Netherlands – lots of snow drops, colourful primulas and vibrant narcissi on display.

Spring is on its way in the Netherlands
Colourful primulas found at the windmills
Beautiful narcissi letting us know
spring is on its way

Over the rest of the weekend we had a great catch-up with all Pieter’s immediate family at his niece and nephew’s 4th birthday celebration which was good fun.

During the following week we went walking in the open spaces near Hannah and Pieter’s, wandered around beautiful Delft and discovered a new mosaic depicting the a historic city, had a relaxing time at home and prepared the van for our departure.

Walking near Hannah and Pieter’s place
Visiting beautiful Delft
The amazing new mosaic that tells t
he story of Delft
We enjoyed discovering the new mosaic that depicts the city of Delft
The oldest stone house in Delft
(built in 1555)

Then suddenly it was the weekend again and we were off on our next adventure – heading for Montenegro to check out marinas for the winter months of 2023/24.

Stocking up for our road trip
Daffodils on the road out of Pijnacker

Our first stop was Cologne – our first time there – and we were fortunate enough to find a great camper stop right on the mighty Rhine.

Crossing into Germany, Cologne here we come!

It was fun being so close to the barges that were making their way up and down this, the second longest river in Central and Western Europe and one of the world’s busiest inland waterways.

We noticed that most of the barges were from the Netherlands which is hardly surprising as the Dutch have roughly 6,000 ships sailing on its inland waterways at any one time and the Dutch inland waterways account for nearly 80 per cent of all the vessels that sail inland within Europe.

Most of the barges were from the Netherlands

The day after we arrived we decided to go for a walk along the river side in the morning and then ride our e-bikes into Cologne in the afternoon. However, we were enjoying the walk so much that we decided to keep going all the way into the city.

The path alongside the canal leading to the centre of Cologne
One of the bridges across the Rhine
A view of the centre of Cologne
Signs of spring on our walk
It was wonderful to see so many daffodils

Once there, we had a delightful stroll around the reconstructed old town – the 2,000 year old city centre was almost completely obliterated by allied bombing in World War II but select buildings were reconstructed due to their historical importance.

The reconstructed church of Saint Kunibert – one of the twelve Romanesque
churches of Cologne
A very grand building we passed walking into the centre of Cologne
The trolley bus that takes tourists
around the centre of the city
Another of the Romanesque Churches, Great Saint Martin’s soars above the other buildings
We weren’t sure what this relief was about but we think it was something to do with beer (it was next to the Beer Museum)
The sign speaks for itself. It was closed so we didn’t go in
A typical cobbled street of Cologne

We heard a band was playing not far away and like the Pied Piper the music drew us towards the town’s main square (Alter Markt) where there was some kind of gathering. We soon realised that it was actually a union demonstration.

The Alter Markt

Minutes later we were at the entrance to the cathedral – the tallest twin-spired church in the world and the second tallest church in Europe. Unlike the rest of the city it was fortunately spared from major damage during the bombing raids despite suffering 14 hits.

An aerial photo from World War II showing the terrible obliteration of Cologne

Viewed from the outside, it looks as though the Cathedral needs a darned good clean. It’s once beautiful, translucent, exterior is now streaked with black. Apparently this is caused by the sandstone reacting with sulphuric acid which is contained in polluted rain. I’m not sure if this discolouration can be treated or if it is permanent but it is such a shame that it has happened.

The once beautiful, translucent, exterior of the Cathedral is now streaked with black.
The black streaks are caused by acid rain

When we entered the Cathedral our eyes were immediately drawn upwards towards the phenomenally high vaulted ceiling. As I gazed up above I had a dizzying touch of vertigo – that cathedral ceiling really is immensely tall!

Our eyes were immediately drawn upwards- Cologne Cathedral is immensely tall

One of the treasures of the cathedral is the high altar, which was installed in 1322. This dramatic and eye catching piece is constructed from black marble, with a solid slab 4.6 metres (15 feet) long forming the top. The front and sides are overlaid with white marble niches into which figures are set.

The black marble high altar

Behind the altar is the most celebrated work of art in the cathedral – a massive golden shrine. Created towards the end of the 12th Century, it is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men.

The golden shrine is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men

There were many sculptures and other treasures and of course some stunning stained glass windows that were dismantled before aerial bombing began and then reassembled after the war.

One of the tombs to be found in the Cathedral
Looking upwards again
There were some stunning stained
glass windows
The stained glass had incredibly rich colours
The Cathedral had gorgeous mosaic floors

After visiting the Cathedral we were thinking of visiting the Museum Ludwig – apparently an excellent modern art museum – but we still had a couple of items to buy at a supermarket and a long hike back so we decided to give it a miss.

The Old Bastion – empty now and looking fir a new purpose
An early clutch of babies for
these Egyptian Geese
Now we know where the term “goose stepping” came from!

Our trip to the supermarket took us through a pretty park and past some interesting sights including an old city gate complete with portcullis.

One of the old city gates
The gate even had a portcullis!

Back at the van we settled in for the evening with a glass of wine and an easy to make pasta.

A beautiful sight on the way to the supermarket

It felt so great to be on the road again and we were really looking forward to all the new places and experiences that were in store for us.

Cooking has to be simple on the camper van due to lack of space

Back in Turkey – to earthquakes and freezing conditions

Suddenly our visit to Australia was over and we were hurtling through the skies towards Istanbul.

This trip, instead of travelling through Singapore, Dubai or another hub we flew via Bali – a very pleasant place to stop over and actually right now, a cheaper option.

Bali – a very pleasant place to stop over

After our big dash to the airport in Australia it was a relief to get on board and even better to arrive in Bali where we had a night’s stopover to relax before flying to Turkey.

We were feeling pretty exhausted by the time we arrived at our small hotel in Sanur and didn’t have the energy to do much except eat a delicious nasi goreng in a nearby restaurant and go to bed!

Such a great place to relax!

After breakfast the following day we went for a long walk to the village, through the local market and along the seafront admiring all the the colourful offerings, Balinese carvings, doors and other beautiful objects that make the island so attractive.

It was great to walk through the
colourful market
These ladies were makingı offerings
One of Bali’s beautiful doors
The colourful offerings, carvings, doors
and other beautiful objects make
the island so attractive

We arrived back at the hotel feeling whacked out again and ready for a rest before going to airport to catch our direct flight to Istanbul.

The change from the intense Brisbane heat to the balmy weather in Bali was easy to adjust to but arriving in Istanbul to the shock of snow and ice was a real assault to the senses!

The shock of snow and ice was
a real assault to the senses!

We arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday 8 February- just two days after the catastrophic and tragic earthquake in South-East Turkey.

The first indication of this devastating event was seeing a sea of orange a long way ahead of us as we disembarked from our plane.

We saw a sea of orange a long way ahead of us as we disembarked from our plane

As we walked towards the orange apparition we could see that it was a group of around 50 people all dressed in orange overalls. Drawing closer we noticed there were a number of dogs with them and some of the people were carrying equipment in large stainless steel cases. It was in fact a contingent of search and rescue workers freshly arrived from Japan and ready to swing into action. They were about to pick up a connecting flight to the disaster zone.

A contingent of search and rescue workers freshly arrived from Japan and
ready to swing into action

It was quite emotional seeing them as it brought home the reality of the terrible earthquakes and we could imagine what a terrible and traumatic job these brave souls were about to face.

We had a quick chat with a couple of them and wished them well before heading off to Immigration and Baggage Collection.

When we looked out of the window in the baggage collection hall the whole world was white. A recent blizzard had covered everything in a blanket of snow.

A recent blizzard had covered everything in a blanket of snow
Istanbul looked quite alpine

We arrived at Viaport Marina in Tuzla just as another snow storm hit and we had quite a job staying upright in the freezing slippery conditions wearing unsuitable footwear and trying to pull multiple suitcases!

Another snow storm hit as we arrived
at Viaport marina in Tuzla

The hydraulic oil in our passerelle (electronic gangplank) was affected by the freezing temperatures and lowered at snail’s pace as we stood shivering on the jetty wondering what on earth we were thinking of arriving in Istanbul in February?! Fortunately, our stay was to be a sort one.

The electronic gangplank left us
shivering on the jetty
Strange to see our dinghy covered in snow

Our lovely taxi driver and one of the marina workers very kindly helped us across the icy passerelle with our luggage and once we had fired up the fan heaters and made a steaming cup of tea, we felt heaps better.

What on earth we were thinking of
arriving in Istanbul in February?

The next few days were spent unpacking our light summer clothes, washing them and storing them away and then finding our winter stuff ready to take to the Netherlands.

Jonathan realised that he didn’t have much in the way of winter clothes so he hit the sales in the local shops that are just metres away from where our boat is moored.

Jonathan‘a haul of new clothes

Meanwhile the snow melted away although it still felt extremely cold. By the weekend the sun began to shine brightly and for a few hours it felt almost warm so we decided to have a stroll along the seafront.

It felt almost warm as we strolled
in the sunshine

It was great to see the local street cats were still thriving despite the freezing weather. There was plenty of dried food around so they definitely weren’t starving.

The cats along the seafront appeared to be thriving despite the cold
The cats love attention despite living wild

On Valentines Day we decided to go into central Istanbul and be tourists for the day. We had tried to visit the wonderful Basilica Cistern on previous occasions but the lines to get in were always ultra long and seemed to move extremely slowly.

Fortunately this time there was hardly anyone queueing and we hadn’t been waiting more than five minutes before we were at the head of the queue and inside!

Poised at the top of the steps going down into the Basilica Cistern

There are several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul but this fantastic historical attraction is the largest of the lot. It is also plum in the middle of the main tourist area – a stone’s throw from Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

This is the largest underground
cistern in Istanbul

Built in the 6th century – purportedly by 7,000 slaves – the cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other important buildings. Later it provided water to the Topkapi Palace. It is capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres!

The cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople

As we entered the vast cistern (9,800 square metres) and climbed down the fifty-two stone steps that descend into its depths, we were amazed to see a forest of hundreds of columns – and at their base the whole of the floor of the cistern was covered by the clearest of gin-clear water.

There was a forest of hundreds of columns
The floor of the cistern was covered by the clearest of gin-clear water.
The walls were constructed in very fine brickwork typically Roman in style

As we wandered around, unexpected modern-day sculptures appeared as the lighting changed – here some jelly fish – there a mysterious goddess-like figure reflected on the ancient wall of the cistern behind.

Modern-day sculptures appeared as the lighting changed – these were a depiction of jelly fish
The mysterious goddess-like figure reflected on the ancient wall of the cistern behind
Oversized leaves emerge from the
waters of the cistern

There was a walkway suspended just above the water, and as we walked deeper into the cistern we suddenly noticed that the 336 columns that hold up the vaulted ceilings, aren’t all the same. Some are made from marble and others from granite. Some have a smooth polished surface, others are rough like unpolished concrete.

There was a walkway suspended
just above the water
The 336 columns that hold up the vaulted ceilings, aren’t all the same.
Some have a rough surface
Examples of the different styles of columns

Many of the columns in the cistern appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings and a good example of this are the two that sit on carved faces of Medusa – one upside down and one with the head facing sideways.

This sideways-on head of Medusa was recycled to form the base of one of the columns
A second Medusa head sits upside down – all the better to support it’s column

One stunning column is known as “the Tear column” but the teardrop-like embellishment apparently represents a stylised tree trunk not tear drops – either way, it was stunning.

The stunning “tear” column
TheBasilica Cistern was well worth seeing

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Archeology once again and this time we made a beeline for the Museum of Islamic Art which is part of the museum complex.

One of the beautiful exhibits in the
Museum of Islamic Art

Housed in the Tiled Pavilion set within the outer walls of the Topkapi Palace, this little jewel of a museum not only features ceramics and tiles from the seljuk and ottoman periods, it is also the only non-religious institution to have its own walls clad with spectacular tiles from these periods.

The Tiled Pavilion is also the only
non-religious institution to have its walls
clad with spectacular tiles
Gorgeous bowls on display in the Tiled Pavilion

Commissioned in 1472, the façade contains glazed bricks with a definite Persian influence, and the main entrance is surrounded by a beautiful tiled green arch.

The impressive main entrance
to the Tiled Pavilion
Some of the rare ceramics exhibited in the Tiled Pavilion (note the lovely stained glass)
The building itself was a work of art
Part of a magnificent 900 year-old tiled wall
A water fountain constructed in 1590
An important feature of the fountain are the peacock figures surrounded by plant designs
An oil painting of the founder of the Imperial Museum (later Archaeological Museum), Osman Hamdi Bey in front of the fountain

Later we had a refreshing cup of çay in the museum garden restaurant and strolled around the display of sculptures and other artefacts in the garden.

Strolling through the garden next
to the Tiled Pavilion

One of the interesting exhibits was another head of Medusa – very similar to the ones we saw in the Basilica Cistern. The question of where they came from originally and whether they had the same origins remains a mystery.

Another head of Medusa!

The train was very crowded on the long ride back to the marina but fortunately we were able to get seats to rest our tired tourist legs!

Vital skin check ends in airport dash

With just over a week left before we were due to leave Australia, Jonathan finally went for a skin check – a vital medical examination for anyone who has lived in the Southern Hemisphere and especially if they happen to be yachties!

Unfortunately, a small lesion on the end of his nose that had refused to heal, turned out to be Basel Cell Carcinoma – a form of cancer, rarely fatal but untreated can grow wide and deep and destroy skin, tissue and bone.

An innocuous mark on the end of Jonathan’s nose turned out to be a Basel Cell Carcinoma

Fortunately the skin doctor swung into action quickly and had Jonathan booked into a nearby brand new (and expensive) private hospital within in a couple of days to have the offending cancer chopped out and covered with a skin graft taken from his neck.

Six days before we were due to fly out he had the day surgery – all was good although the surgeon had to have two goes at the BCC before he managed to get all the offending tissue out.

Fortunately Jonathan was able to have the procedure before we left Australia!

There was just one hitch – Jonathan would need to see the surgeon before we left the country to have the skin graft examined and some stitches out.

The appointment should have been a week later but thankfully the surgeon said six days would suffice. We were very fortunate that he was willing to see Jonathan very early in the morning on our way to catch our plane – which was taking off at 10.10! It was going to be tight!

We were nervous about getting to the airport in time – especially as post Covid there have been so many delays getting through immigration etc and the advice is to arrive at least three hours before your flight.

We were nervous about getting to the
airport in time!

Our wonderful son Ben and daughter-in-law Sarah drove us to the hospital and we arrived well before 7am and loitered outside the doctor’s rooms while Ben and Sarah were in the car poised for a quick get away.

Thankfully, the surgeon arrived bang on 7am and didn’t seem to mind us door stopping him as he arrived for work! He saw Jonathan immediately and organised removal of the stitches from his neck and half the stitches on his nose before sending us off with care instructions.

After the appointment we just jumped into the car and made a dash for the airport. Amazingly we made it in time (two hours before take off) and there were no delays going through passport control/immigration.

We made it! Waving farewell to Ben and Sarah

Although it was exciting to be on the move again, we were of course, feeling devastated to be saying farewell to Ben and Sarah and to be leaving their gorgeous 100 acre property with the grand doggies and grand duckies. It was also very sad to say goodbye to other family members, especially our great nieces and nephews who change so quickly when we are away.

We felt devastated at saying goodbye to Ben and Sarah and to be leaving their gorgeous 100 acre property