Thursday, 28 April 2011

First Week on the Road

France, somewhere in the countryside, on our way to Mr Harley
Day 8
Weather: Warm, dry light wind
Total distance: 960km

Hey people,

First week of our journey and we’re somewhere in rural France. We’ve just stopped by the side of this back country road. It’s picnic time and we have piles of cheese, crusty fresh bread, juicy cherry tomatoes – which I’ve been snacking on most of the way to here – locally made yogurt, honey and beautiful pieces of ham from the farm we came across this morning. It’s now midday, it’s sunny and it’s a good time for reflecting.

Back in time, 7 days ago.

Day 1, Journey started

We befriended a bottle of champagne on the ferry therefore our first evening away from home wasn’t very memorable. Then on the second evening we went out in Amsterdam. The streets were packed with tourists and jammed with the heavy traffic of bachelor parties. It was somehow amusing to see how some people don’t get the horrific concoction of mixing tonnes of marijuana with gallons of vodka. Indeed Amsterdam that evening wasn’t exactly that chilled out city I remembered from my youth. Luckily though we’ve also had the best company we could have hoped for which made the experience much more enjoyable. Thanks Suus, Maurice, Nathalie, Doreen and Andy the-man!

Day 2 – 4, Alkmaar, North Holland

The next 3 days have been spent in Alkmaar with Suus & Denis. At a typical holiday pace – rather than an overland expedition – we smelt millions of flowers, took an afternoon stroll through a quaint marina town, tried a pair of Clogs and visited a charming operational windmill, where Denis’ dad used to live.

Denis’s dad: the winner of the ‘Noam’s fortunate-man of the week’ award. Mazal Tov!

It was a chilled-out opening chord for our adventurous journey, it was wonderful to start it among dear friends and excellent hosts. Thanks Suus & Denis!

On the fifth day we took to the road. We drove through the flat highways of the Nederland and entered Belgium. We immediately got bored so we’ve made three ‘rules’: (1) no highways, (2) no over-driving and (3) we must stop anywhere that looks like the sort of place that would never get into the Lonely Planet guides.

Our first rule immediately worked. Dull cities, mazes of concrete and irritating-but-apathetic local drivers were replaced by peaceful farmland and scenic calm roads – the way we prefer it. By the evening we’d made it to the edge of the Ardennes, a hilly and forested national park right at the bottom corner of Belgium. And bottom it was.

Conclusion of the day: Test the stove burner (or any other piece of gear, ESPECIALLY if it’s Coleman!) before taking off or be prepared to use your inferior backup.

Day 6:

We fell into a trap. La-Roche-an-Ardennes is published as the best hiker’s gate away to explore the Ardennes; interesting? Well, no. In reality it’s a little unattractive town, surrounded by heavy quarrying industry and dead-ends that’s been marketed to attract – and entrap – helpless tourists. We were greeted by the same irritating-but-apathetic attitude in the tourist information (and hey, we WERE tourists in need of information) and later had to follow our footsteps as the ‘hiking’ trail was closed. Yes Lonely Planet, what a hiker’s paradise it is.
Remember this people, from now on we shall strictly apply our 3rd rule too: avoid the Lonely Planet attractions.

Back in the car we decided to take a detour and satisfy our sweet tooth in Oberhausen, the famous pancake house on the border with Luxembourg.

We’ve been driving through narrow roads, winding between hills and pastures and finally arriving to the famous pancake house; a tiny farm, little old fashion hotel and not a soul around. The sign on the door taught us that the place is closed between 12:00 to 18:00 and also on every Wednesdays. Now it’s 14:00. Today is Wednesday. I think it was at that moment that we agreed that Belgium is not the best place for us to hang around. So we turned towards Luxembourg and left Belgium behind.

The 2 mistakes of the day: (1) reaching our camping location too late, hungry, in the dark and (2) entering Belgium. Lesson learnt.
The highlight of the day: leaving Belgium. (And driving through shiny, well-maintained Luxemburg. Wish we’ve had the opportunity to explore it a little longer)

Oberhausen, the famous (deserted) pancake house

Day 7:   

A week on the road and a beautiful new day; the Belgium (tasteless) experience has been left behind as we’ve driven into rural France. Back roads, often unmarked, led us through Lorraine, Champagne and Limosin. Scenery of open hills dotted with spring colours, long lanes of mighty cherry trees in full blossom and rustic sleepy villages. Quiet and pretty – the perfect drive.

Towards the end of the day, when we’ve had enough of that laidback atmosphere, we stopped in an ancient Abbey (with a tribute to Ware, Herts, UK!), visited a forgotten pleasant town and set camp in the ideal location, a wide grassy clearance hidden in the heart of the forest.

16:30, stationary, relaxed, laying the table with wine and cheese and chilling out in the sun.

Day 8:

I’m getting to like this frogy land. I like those distinctive outer window shutters with their specific regional colour code, I like the scenic quiet roads that one could fall asleep on with no harm and I especially like that feeling, that nothing really happens anyway so why bother with pace. A few miles from the UK and a completely different world. 

Anyway, that’s it for now. Here we are, setting up a little picnic by fields of rye, enjoying the best products of the French countryside. In a few hours we’ll get to Cussac and meet John, where we’ll spend the next week. I can’t wait. It will be entertaining, filling and relaxing – a great continuity to our journey so far and an excellent last (super-comfortable) stop before we start ascending to the Alps.

Until then, take care and keep in touch.
Jen & Noam
PS Nadia, we love you and we understand it better now!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

10 days left

Yes, I admit, it’s all very exciting. The ferry is leaving in 10 days and if it wasn’t at night time we would be standing on the deck, looking at the soggy Island disappearing behind. But it will be at night and so we’ll probably sit in the bar, toasting our very last pint before the road.

10 days left.

Most preparations are over.
Vehicle is ready.
House is empty.
Goodbye party invites have been sent.
Route is nearly complete.
Just one last breath of spring, and we’re off.

Preparation is like any pub meal: a few good bits but mostly boring and too often bland. Take vaccinations for instance: basic protection against all kinds of nasties with awful names like ‘Japanese Encephalitis’ and ‘Typhoid’. Valuable; yes: I don’t want to die a horrible slow death by a virus travelling through my nerve system and eating my brain; fun, no: getting ripped off before even leaving Hertfordshire. The best thing about our vaccination episode, dear readers, was Claire the nurse.

I love researching. I can spend hours and days researching. Book stores in London, online forums, travellers stories, blogs, diaries, reading, browsing, digging, revealing, discovering, and pulling any bit of information that will make this whole thing possible. I also love the ultimate excuse for spending any given moment looking for the best trekking routes around the world, the most exciting diving sites, and the ideal cultural experiences.

However, those happy moments are unfortunately short and can be immediately replaced by different type of research; urgent and crucial research. Find a way to avoid needing a visa from the Russian mafia is a good example of such research, or finding ways around the most corrupted border crossings in the Caucasus region, or how to get insured without having to rob a bank on our way. This part of the pub meal is an old rotten battered fish; stinks and rancid.      

And then comes the time to leave my work. And no, it’s not ‘only work’. I’ve been managing smart people, working with the largest banks in the City and participating in building top industry software. When leaving this role I also leave the lifestyle that comes with it; the comfort, the career opportunities, and the safety of kicking arse whenever I feel like without the risk of getting shot. In fact, leaving my workplace (“I’m working-from-home-today-because-I-hate-the-train”) was with mixed emotions. I’ve had some great satisfying and rewarding moments and even a number of pleasant memories – rare thing for an office job. But frankly, bugger it: I’m going to be travelling around the world!!!

Preparation, we found out, is the best way to kill the anticipation before heading off for a challenging mission. And so, we prepare.
We could tell you now about bureaucracy, mechanical issues, endless paperwork, budget concerns and difficulties in production, but these subjects are dull and boring. Instead here are 10 (random) GOOD things that happened lately:

1.      For the first time in a while, my brain has managed to convince my ass to move itself and do something meaningful. Good start.
2.      Conclusion #1: We’re still not too old for a serious adventure but no longer young enough to give a fuck about jobs & careers.
3.       Decision #7: we need a new adventure!
4.      Conclusion #18: off-road driving around the world is far more interesting than flying and far less butt-aching than riding.
5.      After a long time the sun has finally came out for a while.
6.      Finished the coving.
7.      Renting the house out.
8.      Our sponsorship with Lookers Land Rover. They must think we’re too crazy or too silly, but either way, Boudica the car gets a nice caring service before we go. Good deal.
9.      Ganesha the cat will have a new home with uncle & auntie in Vermont, America, which is the coolest thing any smart cat could ever ask for.
10.  New motivation to finish my album (finally!).
10 days left. Another look at the gear list, another insurance quote, the final car check- excitement indeed. But also expectations, anticipations and small fears. I hate to finish with a cheesy final chord but indeed this is only just a beginning of a new adventure.  

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