Four Wheels Around - A Road Trip from the UK to South Africa

In February 2009 we are setting off on the trip of a lifetime from Brighton, E-Sussex, UK to South Africa. Furthermore, we are raising money for the British Red Cross along the way. This blog will cover our preparation until we leave and our adventures whilst we are on the road.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Turkey continued.....

Since we left Istanbul on Saturday it feels as though a lot has happened to us. We have had a couple of amazing experiences that seem a little bit unreal now and I am not at all sure I will be able to do them justice on this blog.

On Saturday we drove around 150 miles away from Istanbul towards Ankara. We had a bit of a nightmare trying to get out of Istanbul but really considering the size and magnitude of the city we fared reasonably well. We came off the motorway with a view to approaching a small town in the hope of finding somewhere that we could park Carol up for the night and stay in her. We have wild camped a few times but I have always felt a little nervous doing this incase we are causing offence or traspassing somewhere. We decided to adopt a new approach and try to get permission from someone, somewhere in a village and then we wouldn't have to worry about any trouble.

We followed signs to Golaka from the motorway. Mainly because I liked the sound of the name Golaka. It was a good enough reason for me as obviously the crap guidebook doesn't mention small places off the tourist trail. We asked in a couple of shops if there were anywhere that we could sleep for the night. Mainly through sign language and pointing, but it seemed noone could suggest anything. We parked up in Golaka and decided to have one last try. We wondered into a pharmacy and I approached one of the staff. He asked us to follow him and he took us next door to meet someone else. This gentleman asked us to follow him and we crossed another shop dwon to a furniture/kitchenware store. They motioned to us to sit and we perched rather cautiously on the edge of some rather nice sofas with 'For Sale' signs (In Turkish) plastered all over them. They brought us coffee and we all sat around, not saying too much for sometime whilst the Turkish men discussed amongst themselves where we could sleep. The main guy who helped us Mr Erdogan spoke very good German and so we, or rather Alex communicated via broken German and sign language amid the sleeping discussions. Mr Erdogan motione dto us to go with him and we followed his car around Golaka. We finally stopped in the forecourt of a town petrol station. Hmmm. It turned out Mr Erdogan owned this petrol station and we could camp up there for the night in the gardens next to the petrol station. He showed us the bathrooms which pleased me somewhat and also a small side room with internet and a television that we were more than welcome to watch and use.

We explored the town which was a lot bigger than we initially expected. We asked the Turkish guys advice as to where would be a good place for us to eat that evening. They wrote down a name of their friends place and requested we go. They insisted that the restaurant was the best in town and that they would put on a spread for us. They insisted it was their treat to us as we were their guests. The food was amazing and we tried to pay we really did but the restaurant were not having any of it. Back at the petrol station that we now affectionally called home we communicated via google translator and the phrasebook with the station attendent. Throughout the remainder of the evening Cay was brought to us throughout and in dribs and drabs friends of Mr Erdogan came to speak with us. One guy, Bayram spoke relatively good English. He showed us pictures of the surrounding area, waterfalls, mountains and lakes and offered to show us in the morning.

True to his word the next morning we visited the local sights. Bayram wanted to show us a traditional Turkish breakfast and again we were treated to another feast after a walk in the mountains. These people showed us such kindness and seemed to pleased to accomodate us. They refused any offer of payment but accepted a kilo of biscuits! We didn't leave Golaka until far later than planned so the next evening we didn't stop until much later. After the welcome that we recieved in Golaka we felt sure that on Sunday evening we would be back to our usual routine of being camped up close to the road, sneaking around incase we get spotted.

Sunday: As we neared Ankara the altitude rose dramatically. Poor Carol. It was getting colder and colder and infact we were in the middle of a snow storm for a while. We headed for a village in the mountains called Camlidere and psyched ourselves up to begin asking around for somewhere to camp up. We pulled up in the village and almost immediately we were surround but a few locals, one who banged on the window. We wound the window down and asked their advice. They spoke no English, or German. The main guy motioned for us to follow us whilst muttering 'Yemek Yemek' which I later worked out meant food/eat. We followed this guy feeling a little concerned that we were now being a little too trusting as he took us to his house in the middle of nowhere on top of the mountains. He introduced himself as Mehmet and we managed to deduce that he had a family. This reassured us somewhat. Eventually his family appeared. His wife Zubeyde, and children Emine and Hasan and Zubeydes parents.

They were not well off. They lived in a simple house with two main rooms. Mehmet worked as a watchman/guard and Zubeyde ran the house. Zubeyde prepared a fantastic meal which they insisted we share with them and she brought us cay, biscuits and fresh fruit for desert. Emine is ten. She is learning English at school. We spent the majority of the evening practicing English with Emine whilst she tried to teach me some Turkish. Unfortunately I do not have a natural aptitude with languages so I didn't pick it up too quickly! We played with balloons, which although a bit of a cliche, the family loved it. When it came to bed time the family offered us the use of the sofas to sleep. We refused but accepted the blankets from them! The next morning they insisted that we join them for breakfast.

Both experiences were not really comparable. Both groups of people were unbelivably kind and welcoming towards us and in both instances we were overwhelmed and moved but their treatment of us and we felt embaressed and humbled that we were not able to offer anything so kind back to them.

From Camlidere we set off towards Ankara. We decided to bypass Ankara as we couldn't face the thought of another mission into a busy and traffic laden city and so we powered on for another 200 miles to Goreme in Capadocia. Capadocia is a region in Southern Turkey characterised by an incredible landscape. The land is rocky and in ancient times, houses, stables and churches/mosques were cut into the rocks and many of them remain today around the region. The landscape looks slightly like what I imagine Mars would look like and it is incredibly beautiful. We are staying in a hotel overlooking Goreme valley in a cave room. We are a little suspicious that our fantastic, (if a little of the small side,) cave room may actually, not be as authentic as advertised and that it is a fake cave room but nevertheless it is cheap and the views are great so we wont complain too much. We have spent the day exploring the region, for once having our own vehicle has really paid off. Tomorrow we want to go walking in the valleys and see more rock buildings.

Photos to follow!

Katie and Alex

Friday, 20 March 2009

Turkey so far...

So Turkey has been quıte eventful. Mostly ın a good way. Agaın I have a major problem wıth the Turkısh keyboard so thıs blog may not be very coherent!

We woke up ın Kırkırelı and realısed that we had our fırst puncture! We were cross but fıgured we could get the hıgh lıft out and fıgure ıt out.... We showed the hotel owner, who called hıs frıend, who works ın a tyre garage, who came to us at the hotel ın 10 mınutes! He pumped up the offendıng flat tyre and we followed hım to the garage. Wıthın 5-10 mıns they had repaıred the puncture and we were good to go! Everyone was so helpful and quıck!

We set off towards Istanbul wıth the ıntentıon of fındıng a campsıte on the outskırts where we could base ourselves for a few days and thus avoıd drıvıng ınto the centre. The bloody Lonely Planet advıses ın no uncertaın terms not to drıve through Istanbul centre and wıth a populatıon of nearly 20 mıllıon ıt seemed lıke reasonable advıce. However, we spent the best part of 3 hours searchıng for a campsıte. We found one on the map and we asked many people. They all ponted us ıs a sımılar dırectıon. In a cafe the waıters called theır frıend who spoke Englısh who saıd 'Yes ıt ıs just over there and ıt ıs open!'. We walked and we walked and we couldn't fınd ıt anywhere. We passed the polıce statıon and they ınformed us that ıt closed down 3 years ago....! Feelıng frustrated we consıdered our optıons. There were few. We decıded to brave ıt and drıve through Istanbul to Sulthanment where all the cheap hostel are and hope for the best. As ıt turned out we took the coast road whıch was quıet. We dıdn't get stuck ın traffıc and all around Istanbul there are otoparks costıng from 5 to 10 GBPs per 24 hours. We found one for 5 pounds per 24 hour perıod and a hostel that was reasonably cheap and fınally we could relax!

In Istanbul the entry cost to many of the hıstorıc buıldıngs ıs very hıgh. For example 10 GBP! Thıs dıd not please us so we enjoyed a stroll through the streets a lıttle way away from all the mıllıons of tourısts.

I have dıscovered here that makıng eye contact wıth all the souvenır sellers or resaurantıers even for a fractıon of a second ıs a bıg mıstake! The moment they catch your eye the sellers surround you: 'Buy my flute', 'You want postcards', 'Hey you nıce couple. You look hungary come to eat here. Very cheap very cheap!' and 'hello my frıend come and look no buy just look...' YEAH RIGHT! As ıt was raınıng yesterday umbrellas were the merchandıse of the day. I got offered so many umbrellas. Only 5 Euro! 5 Euro! - I could buy one from Prımark for a pound. I told them that I was from England and thus I could deal wıth a lıttle bıt of raın!

Durıng the afternoon we passed another of the many otoparks. But thıs one was dıfferent.... There was a Land Rover Defender fully kıtted out for overland travel. We stopped. We couldn't belıeve ıt. Not only that parked up behınd ıt was another vehıcle. Thıs a Toyota Land Cruıser but agaın all kıtted up and ready for a long trıp. At thıs poınt we got a lıttle over excıted! We spoke to the car park attendent who explaıned where he thought the overlanders were stayıng. We went there. Dıssapoıntıngly we couldn't fınd them. All we knew ıs the cars were Swıss and French. We decıded to leave them notes. So we left 3. At theır hotel and wıth the car park attendents. Feelıng dıssapoınted that we may have mıssed out on meetıng fellow overlanders we went back to the hostel. We felt a bıt lıke we were stalkıng the French and the Swıss and they may thınk who are these crazy Englısh leavıng notes for us around Istanbul. Luckıly for us our perserverance paıd off and we recıeved a message from both couples. It was great to meet others doıng trıps lıke us. All three of us were headed ın slıghtly dıfferent dırectıons but us especıally. The French, Marylıne and Vıncent were headıng all around but next to Iran and the Swıss Karın and Jann were off to Indıa. We spent a good evenıng comparıng storıes so far and lookıng t eachs other vehıcles. It was reassurıng to meet some others as crazy as us!

It seems that Jann and Karın have been just a day or so behınd us for the last week or so. We crossed the border from Bulgarıa to Turkey wıth very lıttle problem. They were not so lucky. They were ınformed at the border that as of January 1st 2009 Turkey do no longer allow vehıcles whose date of regıstratıon ıs older than 20 years! Ahhh Carol ıs 24! There Toyota ıs also 1985 regıstered and they were nearly not allowed ın. I can't belıeve thıs sılly law and how lucky we were not to fall foul of ıt!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A few pıcs

Kırkerelı - electıon fever. Every street was decorated wıth red and blue banners for the opposıng polıtıcal partıes.
Alex and I wıth a good glass of Turkısh ceaı. Cheesy I know.
The Blue Mosque ın Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar. The only dry place ın Istanbul today!
Alex and hıs new best frıend....
Back ın Bulgarıa. Our campıng place one nıght overlookıng the Black Sea Coast!
Old Nesebur, Bulgarıa
Sunset overlookıng Varna, Bulgarıa
Varna, Bulgarıa
Carol havıng a clean after her 3 days at a Romanıan mechanıcs!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Romanıa - Turkey

Just a quıck one today as ıt has been a whıle sınce I last updated. We are now ın Turkey. In a small border town called Kırklarelı very close to the Bulgarıan border. I am on a computer where I cannot locate the small 'I ' or the comma. Questıon mark or at sıgn. Also, the space bar and a lot of the keys don,t seem to work very well so thıs blog entry wıll have very bad grammer and I ımagıne ıt wıll not make a lot of sense!

Just breıfly then. We fınally left Romanıa on saturday mornıng and after a hectıc drıve to Bulgarıa we ended up ın a border town called Ruse. We had a horrıble drıve. Muchos traffıc and we ended up goıng towards the centre of Bucharest as the rıng road was so badly sıgned. Eventually we made ıt to Bulgarıa where we have observed that people are really not very frıendly. We spent just 3 days ın Bulgarıa. We went from Ruse to Varna and Nesebur, (Way-hay I have found the , button. Progress!) we camped up for a few nıghts to save pennıes. We have had such ıssues wıth the Lonely Planet guıde book.It tells us campsıtes are open and they are not and ıt often does not ınclude addresses! It makes our lıves very dıffcult. So my vıew of Bulgarıa ıs thıs. It ıs beautıful. There ıs a lot of greenery, the beaches are sandy and the water ıs crystal clear. It ıs a beautıful country but there ıs a hell of a lot of lıtter and possıbly more stray anımals thanın Romanıa! And as for the people, they just seemed to be so unfrıendly and unhelpful towards us. They dıd not make our lıfe easy when we were lookıng for hotels or campsıtes that ıs for sure. In fact, such were our dıffıcultıes that for the last 2 nıghts we have wıld camped. We were not sure ıf ıt was legal but we were gettıng really stressed out and frustrated by the lack of campıng places and cheap hotels that we felt we had lıttle choıce. Both nıghts we had ıddylıc spots next to the sea. Last nıght ın partıcular we stayed upon a clıff overlookıng the black sea. The sun was shınıng and we could see for mıles. Alas thıs mornıng ıt was cold and cloudy but ıt was stıll a spectacular vıew to wake up to!

Another dıffıculty that we came across ın Bulgarıa was theır use of the cryllıc alphabet. Road sıgns were sometımes ın cryllıc sometımes not so much. Unfortunately my road atlas to Europe and the bloody Lonely Planet Guıdebook only ıncluded partıal place names ın cryllıc whıch meant that ınevıtably half the tıme we had no ıdea where we were goıng. Stıll despıte that we managed to navıgate our way around quıte successfully. Alas crossıng the border today ıt was goodbye to our faıthful but at tımes useless satnav! Now ıt ıs just Alex, Me and Carol.

In Bulgarıa we often asked people ıf they spoke Englısh. Mostly the response we recıeved encompassed a fırm and not s frıendly 'NO!' accompanıed wıth a fırm nod. That was another aspect of Bulgarıan language whıch at fırst confused us. Noddıng the head ıs a negatıve and shakıng the head an affırmatıve!

So thıs mornıng we headed for Turkey. We were a lıttle aprehensıve about the border crossıng. The fırst border crossıng for us wıth Carol outsıde of Europe. We antıcıpated trouble wıth our documents and we expected the vehıcle ınsurance to be hıgh. I amnot sure ıf we just travelled through on a good day or what but the crossıng went very smoothly. Buyıng ınsurance for Carol on the border only cost us 20 dollers when we had read ıt could cost 100 Euros. I am a lıttle dubıous as to what thıs ınsurance actually covers us for but at least we are legal! We reached Kırkerelı mıd afternoon to dscover a bustlıng lıttle town ın the mıdst of what looks to be electıon manıa. There are red and blue flags all around town and buses trundlıng up and down the sreets bellowıng polıtıcal slogans from each party. It ıs all a bıt hectıc but quıte amusıng. We have found ourselves a nıce ıf slıghtly wonky hotel (everythıng seems to be leanıng to one sıde) and we areready to head towards Istanbul ın the mornıng. Alex has had a shave at the barbers for all of 1.20 GBP whıch I ımagıne has the same relaxıng feel as havıng a facıal.

The prıce of fuel ın Turkeyıs unbelıevably hıgh consıderıng the costof lıvıng here. We are lookıng at over 1 pound a lıtre when ın Romanıa and Bulgarıa we were down to about 70p. We came up wıth the cunnıng plan....we fılled up our standard fuel tank and our long range fuel tank (a total of 140 lıtres) ın Bulgarıa wıth the hope that we can get almost allthe way to Syrıa wıthout fıllıng ıt up agaın. It has been an expenısve day but we see ıt as savıng money ın the long run!

On the back of Carol we have a number of as yet unused jerry cans for fuel. These seem to be attractıng a lot of attentıon. We guess because the cost of fuel ıs so hıgh people see fuel as a luxury. Thıs attentıon ıs quıte negatıve and we hope that noone has made off wıth a fuel can when we wake up tomorrow mornıng!

Anyway, that's all from Turkey and the place whose name I can't spellbecause I cn2t fınd the lıttle 'I' key!

Hope all ıs well at home!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Back on the road

Quick update, we have picked Carol up and she is back on the road ready to head off in the direction of Bulgaria tomorrow morning! We are not quite sure where we are going exactly but we are looking forward to getting back on the road!

Like I have said before, Brasov was not a bad place to break down and I know it well! It has been lovely to spend some time here again. I first came here in 2004 and again in 2007. I have been visiting some old haunts and some new!

I am always saddened by the number of stray animals on the streets in Romania. It seems the situation is not changing. We got an opinion on the issue from two locals who both explained why there is such a problem here. Apparently, during the communist era when all the very typical soviet blocks of housing were built, many Romanian lost their homes and were forced to move into these buildings. There was no space for their pets and thus there is now an increasing problem with stray animals. Many of them look well, they don't appear ill or undernourished, but they are on every street corner eating scraps and being barked at by all the guard dogs.

I have been overwhelmed with the friendliness and helpfulness of everyone that we have met in Romania. For one there were the staff and friends of Kismet Dao who went out of their way to help us get Carol back on the road. There were the mechanics in Brasov who fixed her up and all the lovely people we met during our 5 day stint at the hostel. We caught up with Josh, an acquaintance who previously worked at the hostel here, and who we met on just one occasion back in 2007. He is now living in Brasov, living the Romanian dream!? and has encouraged us on a number of occasions now to have 'just one more drink'! He has been great company and if anyone ever visits Brasov call him up as he has a strong knowledge of the main train station as well as a very Romanian apartment that is worth a visit!

It has been quite comfortable for us here in Brasov and it is a bit daunting getting back on the road after 5 days. However, we know it is time to move on and with only one more Country left to travel through in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are really feeling a lot closer now.

Latest News! 13/03


Ok so we have been stranded in Brasov for a few days now and I can't say that it has be too hard for us. We feel a little bit like veterens at the Hostel we have seen many travellers come and go during the evening, and by day we have spent our time trekking to the mechanics to check on the ill one.
We have spoken to Colin the mechanic this morning who has assured us that Carol is now back on form, fighting fit and ready to go.... we are heading over there shortly to see for ourselves. Test her out today with a small excursion and if all is well getting back on the road to Bulgaria tomorrow.
We will be quite sad to leave Brasov as we have become quite attached to the place as we have been here for 5 days now! Our evenings have been taken up by sampling some of Brasovs finest drinkeries. We have caused a stir where ever we have been and made such an impression in one place that we have been invited back there to a party tonight by the bar owner. Last night we ventured to a Scottish bar that unfortunately seemed to be aimed purely at expats. The prices reflected this. After drinking beer and wine in Brasov for under 1 pound the prices steeped up, to more than double that and so we walked out in disgust! A lot of the bars are hidden in cellers/basements, most are very charming places with lots of character. I could imagine these kind of places being very popular in Brighton.
Alex and Josh in one of the 'dungeon' bars.

Mount Tampa:

View of Mount Tampa from the central square in Brasov.
Me enjoying a walk up Tampa.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, so warm that we even took our coats off. We walked up the side of Mount Tampa. There is still a fair bit of snow on the mountain and we decided to walk on a hidden and obviously rarely used path which made getting up there a bit tricky. We had got up quite high when Alex suddenly asked me about the 'bear situation' on Tampa. Now, I remember being told that last year some people were killed by bears on Tampa. I hadn't recalled this until yesterday, half way along a deserted route up Mounth Tampa. I am sure that a lot of the rumours are just heresay but nevertheless I had visions of being chased down a snowy mountain by a grizzly bear and so we cut our walk a little bit short and had some lunch in town instead.
A perfect hiding place for the grizzlys......
A guy who is staying at the hostel at the moment (Shabaz) has kindly lent me his extension lead so I am able to transfer some photgraphs onto the internet. I have uploaded only a really few of the ridiculous amounts I have taken in the passed three weeks but click on the links below to have a butchers.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Poor Carol!

Alas Poor Carol.
Despite plans to head towards the Black Sea coast, this morning when we realised what a beautiful day it was we decided to spend another night in Brasov and leave tomorrow.
We noticed a few days ago that liquid was leaking in the drivers foot well around the clutch pedal. Like i have said in previous posts it has been raining....a lot since we left England, so we figured, or rather, hoped that the leak had be caused by some excess water running to the inside of the vehicle. Alas this morning, when Alex was asked to move the vehicle just down the road a little he noticed the clutch was depressing far too quickly with very little resistance. Bad times. To cut a long story short, Carol is not very well. We feared the worst but it seems that it is not terminal and hopefully the show will go on. The staff at the Kismet Dao hostel have been extremely helpful, they got on the phone to a friend who then went out of his way to help us. It appeared that the leak was clutch fluid. Somewhere along the line, clutch fluid was leaking but as far as we were able to discover this we weren't sure of the cause of the leak. The helpful Romanian drove us to buy some more clutch fluid and we topped it up. He then drove in front of us all the way to a garage the other side of town. The mechanics quickly deduced that it was the 'master cylinder' or in layman's terms a pump of some sorts that was kaput and needed replacing. Unfortunately Romanian's are not famed for their knowledge of Land Rovers, Renault and Dacia yes, but British cars, not so much. However, we have left sick Carol in their care a new pump thingy is on the way and all being well we can get back on the road within a few days.

It was a tense drive to the garage, although only 3 miles away from where we are staying, the biting point of the clutch was getting lower and lower. It got to the point where even with the clutch fully depressed Carol was still engaging gear and travelling forward. We knew that time was running out for her (oh the drama). Alex tried to avoid changing gear as much as he could, however this is a bit tricky around a busy town with lots of roundabouts and traffic lights!

It is sad to leave Carol and we feel preturbed that she is having issues already. We are also worried about the cost and further problems that could develop. There is little we can do until tomorrow when hopefully we will know more, but in theory it is not a big job, (touch wood). I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, there are worse places to be stranded that Brasov so we are not too disheartened. It is my third time in Romania and it is here in Brasov that I spent 3 months volunteering back in 2004. Everytime I come back here, the place is full of good memories and familiarities for me. New places, shops and pubs have sprung up but many of my favourite old haunts are still around and its great to re-explore them. Romania is changing rapidly. I can see massive differences, good and bad, from my first visit 5 years ago. For example, back in 2004 there were numerous gypsy children begging on the main pedestrianised street here in Brasov. To the extent that any trip into town would involve fending them off. I noticed there were fewer beggers when I came back in 2007 and on this occasion I have seen only one child begging. I am sure that there are still many poor gypsy families but they seem less in your face now, a hidden minority. In 2004, Brasov was less modernised, there were few chain stores (except United Colours of Benetton and McDonalds) now there are far more. A KFC on the very historic, central square is not a good look. It seems that Brasov and infact Romania as a whole is modernising very quickly but to me the country still retains its unique way of life and culture.

I mentioned the roads earlier. Another example. Since joining the EU it is as though Romania has been instructed to completly overhaul its road network. Some are complete and the best roads we have driven on yet. Other roads are in complete disrepair and have provided some of the most challenging driving for Alex so far.

I am always intrigued by the seemingly very religious nature of Romania. The main religion here is Romanian Orthodox and the churches are very ornate and decorative, inside and out. When we met Raluca, the Romanian girl living in Timosoara she explained that in Communist times the only religion permitted was Roman Catholic. She informed us that in modern Romania people are again free to follow the Romanian orthodox religion and thus even the young people are interested. It was condemmed for so long, now it is valued. People pass churches in their cars or on the bus and many people, (old and young) bless themselves as they pass. We visited the Romanian Orthodox cathedral in Timisoara where we saw people of all ages praying, even queing to get into the building.

I have many more observations to make about Romania, but I think I have gone on too long so I will save them for another day. We may be in Romania for a few more unscheduled days so plenty of time! I hope that you all keep your fingers crossed for poor Carol.

Timosoara to Brasov

After a long drive on monday we made it to Brasov from Timosoara in just 8 hours! We were averaging about 30 MPH as the roads were at times really good and possibly the best we have travelled on so far. At other times the roads were the worst, child sized potholes and oncoming vehicles in the middle of the road avoiding the bad conditions their side. It meant that our progress was slow going to Brasov and I feel maybe a taster of road conditions to come.

I have many things still to write about our adventures in Timisoara, we spent a lovely afternoon with a local Romanian woman called Raluca and got a really interesting insight into life in Romania, and in Brasov we have explored some fantastic underground pubs and enjoyed contrasts of heavy falling snow and today bright sunshine! Unfortunately, today we are getting back on the road towards the Black Sea coast and Bulgaria so sunny day number 3 will alas be spent in Carol.

The free internet in this hostel was not working yesterday and today we must check out in an hour thus the lack of blog news. However, here are a couple of pictures from Brasov.

Everytime I come to Brasov it seems to be a little bit more high tech than before. Now, in the main square they do not only have 'pigeon feeders' (crazy people, we spend all our time trying not to feed the flying rats in Britain for fear of an epidemic and here they actually set up machines with bird feed for 1.5 RON) but they also have an extremely technologically advanced tourist info point. Here you can take a picture of yourselves and email it to who ever you choose.

Above: Alex and I in the main square, in the snow! And some fellow Kismet Doa residents on the way to the pub! (Molly, Josh, Oli, Me, Alex and Sina)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Another cheesy newspaper article....

Further fame in the West Sussex area........

Budapest, Hungary to Timişoara, Romania.

Just a quick one today. We are in rainy Timişoara, the 4th largest city in Romania. It is not too far from the Hungarian border in the Western part of Romania. Although I have been to Romania 3 times now I have never visited this city but I have always heard positive things about it. Interestingly, It is allegedly the birthplace of the 1989 Romanian revolution against communision which lead to the fall of Ceauşescu, and it is the first city in Europe to have had electric public lighting in 1884.

We had a long journey from Budapest yesterday and by the time we arrived it was late, dark and pouring down with rain. We decided a good meal and beer was in order so we set off in the direction of food. As it was raining so hard we pretty much dived into the first place we saw. Luckily for us it was nice and affordable. It was here that we befriended a group of French students currently studying in Romania. We tagged along with them to some bars and the next thing we knew it was 3am and we were stumbling back to the hotel! I have not met many French people in my time, having only been to France twice, so it was interesting to become acquainted with Julie, Marc and Emilie.

Unlike Alex, I managed to get up for breakfast, I was determined that as were paying for breakfast, I had to eat it even if I felt deprived of enough sleep and had a slight headache. Whilst Alex slept on I ventured out into the sodden city to explore. Stupidly, I followed the guidance of the Lonely Planet guide to Eastern Europe when looking for something cultural to do and I ended up in a history museum. The museum was nice enough, it was informative with lots of photographs and exhibits. Unfortunately it was in Romanian with no offer of translation to English or even German (which would have been some help) and as the Lonely Planet guidebook had neglected to inform me of this, it was pretty much a waste of time for me. However, I did spend a good 20 mins in the warm, sheltered from the rain which is definately worth the 4 LEU that i paid to get in!

What strikes me about Romania, everytime I visit here is how humane and kind the people here are. Today we were sitting (I am slightly ashamed to admit) in McDonalds and an elderly woman came in and bought a coffee. She did not understand the coffee cup, she didn't know how to open it and was really struggling with it. On the next table there were a group of Romanian women, they must have been younger than me. They immediatly offered to help her. They went further than that and when they ordered their food they came back with a complete meal for this old lady. I had never seen someone look so happy to be eating a Mcdonalds. There are many Roma children begging on the streets here too. It surprised me to see that although yes, many people just ignore them and tell them to go away there were a number of people who did help them. Give them money or food. From what I have heard the Roma community are often looked down upon and can be victims of racism so it is really nice to see Romania defy the stereotype and for there to be such a community spirit even in such a big city as Timişoara.

Religion also seems to be alive and well in Timisoara. Today I saw people queing to get into the Romania Orthodox Church here and when we went inside we saw people of all ages, teenagers, young men, Women, couples, children, the older generation flocking into the Cathedral throughout the day to pray and pay their respects.

Anyway, back out into the rain we go and back on the road tomorrow. We have travelled 1750 miles now!


Friday, 6 March 2009

Czech Republic to Hungary

Hello there.
SO here we are in Hungary, 5 Countries and about 1500 miles down..... many more to go.

On Tuesday we set off towards the Czech border when we had police stop number two...
We have spent the whole of Europe trying our very best to avoid toll roads out of pure principal. Carol does not go more than 50 MPH so what is the point of us being on a fast road? Anyway, we had been doing a good job until the Czech Republic. Heading towards Brno we accidently ended up on a toll road. However, we couldn't understand any signs so we weren't sure of our exact location. We figured we would come off at the next junction and try and find our way back to the single track roads we had been on before. We presumed that as in France we would have the option to pay for the use of the toll road when we exited it. Next thing we know the police are in front of us waving us over with a very high tech waving over device. Neon blue lights and a big sign saying 'Police! Stop!' 'Police! Stop!'. Straight to the point. We follow them into the service station where we are informed that to drive on toll roads you need a prepaid sticker for your vehicle to cover the charge of the toll road. Uh oh. The police fine us, surprise surprise. Most un lenient, this wouldn't happen in Britain oh no. They charge us 1000 korona which is about 30 pounds and we still have to buy a motorway pass as well, despite the fact that we don't even want to be on the toll road in the first place. The police incident set us back about an hour of time as they were so slow with our paperwork and really topped off a pretty awful day! Nevermind, I am not one to dwell and with our love for the Czech Republic rapidly diminishing we wild camped up close to the border (we could no longer afford a hotel after 'the fine') and hot footed it towards Hungary early the next morning.

Wednesday: We powered through Slovakia. They have just turned to the evils of the Euro which meant unfortunately that Slovakia was none to inviting for us. We stopped only for diesel and water and sped on as fast as Carol would let us to a small university city in Hungary close to the Slovakian border called Gyor. We arrived there in good time, considering we had travelled through 3 different Countries in one day! Czech Republic, Slovakia and now Hungary we felt a little confused and pretty knackered to say the least. We stayed in the student halls of residence at the University in Gyor which took us both back to our Birmingham University days! During the evening we sampled the local student bars and student union (70p a pint - niiiice). We ended up at the student union during an economic students bar crawl/party. It seems all over the world students have the same things in mind. Namely alcohol and the opposite sex. We observed, feeling rather old as the Hungarian students stumbled around us dancing to cheesy Euro pop and downing tequila.

I have noticed a few things about Hungarian fashion. basically it seems that fashion in Hungary and throughout much of Eastern Europe is quite 1980's orientated and the males and females love bumbugs! Not only that, they actually wear the bum bags on their bums! Astonishing. The girls also like tight white jeans and white shorts.... and the men all seemed to be wearing stripy jumpers...I am not sure what i make of all that. I am not the most fashionable one around, I don't really understand fashion but I felt uber trendy/really out of place in the Gyor student union in my black jeans and hiking boots.

Anyway, moving on. Yesterday, thursday. We headed down to Budapest. We successful navigated our way avoiding the toll roads, through a number of quaint Hungarian villages. On a previous visit to Budapest, Alex stayed in a hostel literally in the old citadel high above Budapest. He decided it would be a good option for us and indeed it is. Although the dorm room is slightly grimy the view of the whole of Budapest is stunning. it is a 14 bed dorm and last night we were the only ones there. I have no idea why noone seems to know about this place. We explored a little of Buda by night, getting a little ripped off for a slightly stodgy dinner of Hungarian stew, and today headed for Pest. We stopped off at the Synagoge and Jewish museum before going to the thermal baths. We spent the whole afternoon in the baths and after over two weeks of cloud and rain the sun came out! It was surreal sitting in the thermal baths outside where out of the water it was still pretty chilly. We spent a few to many hours in the baths and now I have wrinkly fingers, smell of a swimming pool and feel a bit hot in the head from all the heat! Still it was a lovely relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

In a nutshell that is the passed 4 days. There have been some real lows this week but as Alex keeps reminding me the lows and the highs come with travelling and I just need to deal with it! All is well really and we are heading towards Romania tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ok so the reporter took a few of my words out of context but its quite funny all the same!


Monday, 2 March 2009

What I have learnt...

Ok so even though we are still in Europe, and even in Western Europe I have made a few observations regarding locals cultures that have amused me. 


  • The French like to put seemingly pointless traffic lights at every junction that they can.
  • The French LOVE one way sytems and Alex and I in the old Land Rover, not so much!
  • Everything shuts on a sunday. -This seems synonymous through all the Countries that we have visited so far!-
  • There is a hell of a lot of dog shit on the pavements. Walking along the street is like playing a game of dodge the poo. However many evil eyes you send in the owners direction as their dog has a massive poo right in front of you, it is to no avail and off they trot on their merry way leaving a trail of poo for some poor foreign and unaware victim like Alex to stamp in.


  • The Germans seem to love their dogs, every where we went people were walking their dogs at all hours of the day and night. They seem to really care for them and clean up after them...point number two..
  • There is less shit on the pavements. They even have doggy doo bins!
  • The Germans seem to be very sporty. They especially like jogging. Even in the Black Forest and literally in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by 4 inches of snow people were jogging along getting fit whilst we were shivering away watching in disbelief. There are vast amount of cycle lanes as well -which is great-. Lots of gyms too.
  • the Germans, although sporty like to smoke. They appear to disregard the smoking ban and there are cigerette machines on every street corner. Many selling not just cigarettes but condoms and various other gadgets and gizmos.
  • A German campsite = a field full of massive German motor homes the size of my house. Our poor little Land Rover looked tiny in comparison.
  • Alex is quite good at speaking German!

Czech Republic:

  • Similarly to the French, the first thing that has to be said about the Czech Republic, or maybe just Plzen where we are currently staying.. is that there is a lot of dog poo. Again Alex has fallen victim and me, well not so much. However, I haven´t seen many dogs...
  • The Czech, well at least the locals in Horšovský Tyn like to drink and can drink A LOT! Alex and I just couldn´t keep up. They plied us with alcohol and seemed completly unaffected by the amount that they consumed. Us on the other hand, we staggered home and suffered imensly the following day.
  • They make good beer. Pilsner Urquell more specifically. We went on a very informative if overly fancy tour of the local brewery here today.
  • They don´t speak much English and seem to find my rubbish pronounciation of ´Dekuji´ pronounced something along the lines of ´Deacoy´ and meaning ´Thank You´ rather humourous.
  • There are no locks on toilet doors.
  • Campsites do not open until at least April.

Obviously these are somewhat generalisations based on just a few days in each of these Countries so don´t take them too literally. However, everywhere we have been so far people have been so friendly and often gone out of their ways to help us. For example, we were a little lost, avoiding the toll roads on our way to the Czech border. We stopped in a very small town to ask directions and the poor Woman in question hopped in her car and drove us all the way to and across the border. 

We have been in Plzen for a couple of days which has been lovely and even though we chose not to vist Prague I feel like I have had a good taste of the Czech Republic. We have visited a very small town, Horšovský Tyn which was charming and full of character and where we met some locals and we have spent a good day or two exploring Plzen which is the forth biggest city in the Czech Republic. We have stayed in a lovely hostel here, not in the useless Lonely Planet guide book -surprise surprise- called Hostel River. Run by a helpful chap called Viktor -who incidently pointed us in the right direction towards some great pubs- it has a great deal of character and is quite affordable. 

We are heading off towards Slovakia tomorrow which I fear will be an expensive experience as they have just joined the Euro. the Euro means bad news for us.

Will update soon. BYE for now!

P.S: On the Czech keyboard I can´t find the bracket symbols hence where verytime you would expect a bracket I have used a dash. - 

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Week 2 - France to Czech Republic:

Hello everyone,

A couple of days ago I wrote a good page or so worth of bloggage about our adventures in Nancy and since then through the Black Forest in Germany and up to Nuremberg. Unfortunately the computer caused me a hell of a lot of trouble and alas I lost the whole entry.

So this is going to be a long one please read on..... Here is the places that we have stopped at since we stayed in Nancy.

Wednesday 25th Feb - Nancy to Strasbourg to Dornstetton in the Black Forest, Germany.

Thursday 26th Feb - Dornstetton, Rottenburg and Besigheim, Germany.

Friday 27th Feb - Besigheim to Nuremburg, Bavaria, Germany.

Saturday 28th Feb - Nuremburg to Horšoský Týn, Czech Republic.

Sunday 01 March - Horšoský Týn to Plzen, Czech Republic.

Now we are well and truely on the road. During week one we lulled ourselves into a false sense of comfort by staying in a nice enough hostel in Paris and then pure luxury at Anis in Nancy. Since we have left France we have camped out in Carol the Landy every night despite the falling temperatures.

Since I last updated we left France, via Strasbourg. Strasbourg, which we stopped off at on Wednesday afternoon is a charming city. It is really quaint and cute. Unfortunately we were restricted by the parking meter and we had only 2 hours to explore the city. It really wasn´t enough and I would love to go back in the future.

From Strasbourg we crossed over in Germany. We had still not been asked for our passports, or any paperwork for that matter, despite 2 border crossings (be them in the EU) and passing French check points. We wondered how far we would be able to travel before we got asked to produce them!

Once in Germaný we were greeted by (slightly) higher fuel prices but much cheaper beer. (Horray!) As we travelled away from France we entered the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald. The Lonely Planet guide book to Western Europe (which, incidently is proving to be completly useless), didnt offer us too much of an insight into what to expect in the Black Forest so we pressed on not really sure where we were going or what to expect. Obviously we were aware that it is winter and we also anticipated some hills. However, the next thing we knew, poor Carol the Land Rover was forced to scale up over 3000ft into snow covered mountains and we were camped out in the middle of it all! It was dark by the time we stopped on Wednesday evening and it seemed a long time since we left the comfort of Ani´s appartment in Nancy.

We spent the next morning exploring the area around Dortstetten in Schwarzwald where we had ended up camping out the night before. We enjoyed a snowy and rather brisk walk in the cold and drank lots of coffee and tea. We pressed on to warmer pastures and ended up in a charming little town called Besigheim alongside the River Ez the next evening. Last night, we ventured into the town and enjoyed a couple of fantastic German beers. We tried to bond with the locals but alas although friendly they seemed a tad confused by our presence in their small town and a little stumped when we asked for advice on what to do in the local area. Still, I was really taken with Besigheim and dissapointed that we didnt have time to explore it further.

Friday we drove up to Nuremberg which was cold. It was just 5 degrees and I have lost one of my gloves in the Black Forest which upsets me. We didnt have too much time here but we managed to spend an evening ambling around the lovely old town which is separated from the hustle, bustle and heavy traffic of the rest of the city by the city walls. We stayed in a campsite, Yay showers at last! The following day we visited the Documentation Centre which is part of the old rally grounds used by the Nazi´s in the build up to World War 2. I am not a massive museumy person but we went to a brilliant exhibition called Fascination and Terror charting the Nazi use of Nuremberg for propaganda purposes. We set off from there towards the Czech Republic.

We are so fed up of Western European prices. We felt like we couldn´t afford to do or see anything hence our quick retreat across to eastern Europe!

I was surprised when we crossed the German/Czech border. Although again there were no border patrols and no need for us to produce any of our documents, once across the border, Czech was noticably different to Germany. There were Roma people selling fake named clothes, music and dvds and the roads were single track and quieter. Carol was pleased after the hard slog in mist and snow along the motorway that we had taken up to the border. The Czech, like the French are fond of Toll roads so we stuck to the single track roads all the way to a little town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere called Horšoský Týn. After 3 nights of camping in often snowy conditions and a campsite full of massive German motorhomes we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel. We found maybe the only hotel in Horšoský Týn and settled in.

We innocently decided to treat ourselves to dinner and a few drinks and the next thing we knew we were playing darts with some lovely but slightly crazy Czech people and being offered shots of rum from all angles. Everyone in the bar seem intrigued by us and wanted to talk to us. We communicated via some exaggerated hand gestures and a mixture of broken German and pointing at pharases in the guidebook!

Much of the conversation seemed to revolve around talk of football! I am not too hot on the subject and alas and much to his friends´ back at home annoyance neither is Alex. He did try his best though and spent much of the evening shouting ´Slavia!´ with one local and throwing in a little British football terminology such as ´Portsmouth FC´, ´Harry Redknapp good manager Ja?´ and ´David Beckham gut, Victoria Beckham nicht so gut´.

We eventually staggered home feeling a little worse for wear which ultimately has meant that today has not been as productive as we would have liked it to be.

We have spent hours driving round and round Plzen looking for a hostel that we can afford, has space or is just open! It seems that in Czech repulic like France everything shuts on a sunday! We have found a wicked little place now, called Hostel River tucked away not quite so close to the river as the name suggests but clean and tidy with kitchen area, free internet access -hence the long blog- and a really friendly and helpful owner called Viktor. We are paying for a dorm room but there is noone else here! Driving over here we managed to somehow get along a closed off road. We were quickly pulled over by the police who were rather unimpressed by our flouting of the rules! Finally someone wants to see our documents! We showed our vehicle docs and passport but they couldn´t understand them so they just handed them straight back to us. The police then became really helpful offering us a map and drawing us out directions to the hostel.

That is about uptodate now. Hopefully you made it to the end of the update! We are going to spend a day or to in Plzen, home of the famous Pilsner beer before setting off through the Czech Republic to Slovakia.

Lots of love, Katie