Friday, 31 July 2015

Friday 24th July 2015 Day 5

I think the enormity of our intrepid global travelling has caught up with us...

We were shattered - both emotionally and physically from all the preparation for this adventure and packing the entire house up, as well as leaving loved ones behind for a whole year. We took the opportunity, thanks to Jackie and Martin's kind hospitality to do .... absolutely nothing in the morning.

We caught up on mail - and social media!!!, re-jigged our kit - again - and wandered over to the nearby restaurant for a light lunch and a beer or two.

With Jackie and Martin in lovely Heusden

One note to emphasise somewhat heavily here, is that all this social media malarkey, is in itself a steep learning curve in addition to the enormity of our challenge. Neither of us are Facebook fiends or Tweeters of the Twitter kind.

This is really a 'learn as you travel' experience and so we are are both educating ourselves as we trundle on as if we haven't got a big enough challenge!

So, back to the story...

The idea was to catch the train to Amsterdam in the afternoon and chill there for a few days, but unfortunately, for some reason, the accommodation seemed extortionately high and scarce.

With a little further investigation, we found out why: Gay Pride Week in probably the most liberal of cities in the world starts on 25th July...

So, to another city? But where?

Bearing in mind that we could go practically anywhere within northern Europe, we decided on Berlin, as it still left us the option of reaching St.Petersburg via the Scandinavian countries by hopping to Denmark, or Sweden, over to Tallinn in Estonia by overnight ferry, followed by a further quick ferry to Helsinki and then to St. Petersburg.

The alternative route is via the Baltic nations through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and then to Helsinki and into Russia. It looked sensible move and most importantly, kept our options open.

So, off to Berlin it is...Captain Manwairing and Pyke would have been impressed.

Saturday 25th July 2015. DAY 4

We caught the train at 10.14 am from Den Bosch to Deventer and then the high speed train to Berlin. This was our sixth train and it was only Day 4!

The journey was a pleasant 6 hours and we arrived slightly behind schedule at 6.00 pm. We crashed out at the Best Western Ost in old "East Berlin", having caught a local train and then a tram. A quick meal with a sample of local beers was all that we needed. The plan was to have an early start in the morning.

in our quest to keep a reasonable record of all of our modes of transport, we've decided not to include "commutes" - that is, buses or trams from the main station to our hotel/hostel. We will only include those journeys of significance.

Sunday 26th July 2015. Day 5

In true Kate and John style, we were off and out by 09.00 am, having nipped to the local supermarket for yoghurt and fruit to eat in our bedroom. We had packed lightweight bowls and cutlery. (We are on a tight budget and doing this saves us about £5.00 per day, which over the year is a substantial amount - approximately £1,000 to £2,000.) The other benefit is that it is a healthy option by avoiding all those fattening pastries in the hotel's restaurant.

We had discovered a "free" walking tour of Berlin - you just tipped the guide as much as you thought he was worth. I had adamantly stated that I was "not going to follow a man with a brolly" - how wrong was I!

However, Theo was excellent; his history degree and sense of humour (he was English!) made it very interesting. We started his 3 hour tour at 10.00 am from the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate - a bit like Marble Arch?

Kate and I literally walked from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, with barely any stops. We did all the usual tourist traps and the pics below are some of the highlights. We even sneaked into the 5 star Hotel Adlon to freshen up.

This was the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his young son over the banister some years ago. We took full advantage of being bold and middle-aged  - despite my shorts and day pack, by striding past the concierge on the door as if we were long-term residents. Lovely loos by the way, which we used pre and post tour!

The Birds invade Berlin!

We covered a great deal of ground and this included visiting Hitler's bunker site, which is now nothing more than a non-descript car park and at the opposite end of the scale, Mrs. Merkel's Reichstag is very impressive.

Impressive Reichstag

What was extremely impressive, was the Holocaust Memorial. This was a striking and formal layout of 2,711 basalt like blocks, some as high as 3 metres. very stark and very thought-provoking...

Holocaust Memorial - 2,711 blocks of various sizes...
At the other extreme, we visited Hitler's bunker site. This is now nothing more that a non-descript  carpark wedged between grim East Berlin blocks of flats.

One of the flats was owned by Katarina Witt, an ice skater who won medals for East Germany at the Sarajevo Olympics. Believe me, they were grim, but supposedly the best available and kept for elite athletes...

Memorial to all the Russian soldiers who died in the final days of capturing Berlin.
During the war, 80% of Berlin was turned to rubble.
A side note........

(I would like to praise Kate for the way she has taken to our intrepid global task. We had a few wobbles at the beginning, but we are now getting into our stride. Packing and unpacking is easier and less stressful. Wearing clothes for 'just another day' now seems OK and a sensible thing to do.)

Back to the story........

Checkpoint Charlie, famed escape route, highlight on many black and white films and border point between east and west is now a tatty commercial tourist ploy. 

Although Germany invaded parts of Europe - twice and failed... I can't help but think that the "third" invasion is now well under-way.... and this time by cheap, low-cost American (mostly) food chain restaurants. McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, KFC et al are everywhere.

Commercialism at its worst! McDonalds and fake
American GI's wearing fanny packs!

We saw this blue bear in Berlin close to an old part of the Berlin wall. Strangely enough we were to see him again 10 days later in St. Petersburg!? Theo told us of some successful and not so successful escape antics, including a family who built a hot air balloon out of bedding and a chap who zip-wired across the border.

Berlin Wall in the background. Apparently, not so much the wall, with the curved 
top edges but the land mines on the eastern  side stretching out for 500 metres.

Take a look at Gunter Schabowski on youtube...apparently, the Berlin Wall didn't fall  because of Gorbachev or Reagan's master-plan, but because an East German PR guy hadn't read his notes prior to going to face the world press and made a massive cock-up!

Monday 27th July 2015. Day 6

Some times when you travel, you have to have days where you do very little. I hopped out of bed very early and wandered the streets... only to discover the world's best laundrette! Complete with coffee bar, white leather seating, it was a haven of peace whilst our smalls whizzed around the washer.

Kate was able to catch up on her social media responsibilities using the available internet! A morning of not doing a great deal, but also doing the essentials.

It even sold wine!

That evening we had a meal in a Syrian restaurant, but prior to that, we bought a few beers from a corner shop and "hung out" with a load of much younger people (about 300!) in a park, lying on the grass, listening to impromptu jazz music played by a Rasta chap and his buddies. I reckon we were the oldest there by at least 20 years. I've also noted that nose rings are big in Berlin, as are tattoos!

Berlin was a great city; modern, diverse, liberal and yet my thoughts are that had there not been a war (or two), I am not sure there would be much else there and perhaps it wouldn't be the powerhouse city it is today. or am I just getting cynical?

Tuesday 28th July 2015. Day 7

We are cracking this internet malarkey! We are now downloading apps and buying tickets through them and instead of printing tickets off, (because a printer doesn't fit into a rucksack), we just flash my phone, complete with ticket at the train inspector, where they simply scan our ticket or QR code. Simple!

So back to our dilemma: which way? Poland or to Sweden?

The latter it is... the line between Warsaw and Tallinn in Estonia is being modernised and there is considerable disruption. Travel would mean several long and arduous bus journeys and we are not ready for them just yet.

So, to a certain degree, the decision as to which route to take has been made for us. We have enough on our plate without adding to our burdens!

By the way, an absolutely fantastic website is:

It's been an invaluable source of information and is also incredibly accurate. I can see us using it a great deal. Check it out.

We caught the train from Berlin to Rostock on the north German coast and then a five hour ferry to Trelleborg, on the southern tip of Sweden. Lounging at the stern (is that the back of the boat?) was heaven. Five hours of sunshine .... doing .... absolutely nothing!

We've learned a few more tricks. Booking hotels via the internet is really easy and you can really shop around. But you have to weigh in the fact of travel to the accommodation when you arrive in a port or a station. So, in the  main, we have plumbed for hotels near to railway stations or ports. It saves both time and money and is less stressful!

Trelleborg: Not a lot there!

More to follow soon! Including Jo's poem!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Wednesday 22nd July 2015

Kate and I had a quite magnificent send off from Warwick Parkway!

Bob and Wendy surprised us by turning up, as did Sally Jeffcoate. Elle, Josh and Rose and George and Charlie were also there. Jim and Caroline deserve a special mention as they not only looked after us for five days, but also took us to the train station. 

Jim's wine and beer cellar has had a bit of a hammering over the last five days! Sorry Jim!

What a fantastic and memorable send-off!

We dropped our car off at Dave and Jo's to look after for the year - thanks guys. (David, please do not use it as a tractor - or a combine!)

Our infamy spread, as we were questioned by a lady at Marylebone Station as to why we had such a big send off. Likewise by a couple at Warwick.

Eurostar is not as glamorous as we had hoped. We had visions of supping Janet and Dave's chilled Lanson Rose Champagne, but the honest truth is that it was a bit of a bun-fight. I have learned my first travelling lesson: Tolerance.

Sharing a cabin with 18 people including four children under 3 tested my patience and resolve.

We arrived at Antwerp's Number 1 Trip Advisor tourist spot - the railway station. Trains actually arrive and "park" on three different levels which is simultaneously fascinating and quite disconcerting.

Antwerp's railway station concourse

We had visions of enjoying our first meal on the continent by tucking into a hearty meal accompanied  by several Belgian beers, but unfortunately we picked the only restaurant in Antwerp that was dry. 

However, not only was the food excellent, but it was owned by a Cuban, so we listened to and discussed Buena Vista Social Club, including Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo and Ry Cooder over freshly squeezed apple juice!

Antwerp is worth a weekend's visit ... and importantly for Kate, the sun was shining.

Waffles and beer were tried, tasted and tested.

Thursday 23rd July 2015

We caught the train from Antwerp to 'sHertogenbosch, better known as Den Bosch, no doubt because no one can remember  how to pronounce the real name properly. (An odd place for an apostrophe?)

Our long-standing friends from our Cleeve Prior days picked us up from the station and took us to their lovely home in Heusden, a medieval town surrounded by a fortress wall and a moat. The view from our bedroom window was truly Dutch, complete with windmill and water.

The view from our bedroom window

We spent two invaluable days with Jackie and Martin as well as Bex, Kate's God-daughter. We spent the time chilling after the arduous task of preparing for the adventure as well as re-assessing our kit.

George had quite rightly stated that we had too much kit and so we have left some behind for Jackie to drop off with Josh when she visits England. Our zips on our rucksacks no longer struggle to close, which reduces our stress levels considerably as well as the pressure on our rucksacks.

It's surprising what becomes a priority... not surprisingly, the hair dryer has survived the first cull.

Friday 24th July 2015.

Our plan for the first two weeks, was to actually have  no plan....and this paid dividends.....

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Adventure Before Dementia

We can't claim to have thought up this headline as it was on a farewell card from Janet and Dave Wells... but it holds true!

We just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the Farewell Bash held at Janine and Daryl's on Sunday. 

It was a great send off and much appreciated. The food and wine flowed, Chris Goldwater made an amusing speech and Jo's brilliant poem will be posted on this blog in the next couple of days. 

Even the weather contributed to a glorious British summer's day!

One pair of Kate's shoes that won't be packed - thanks to Murphy!

As I sit here typing at 06.00 am on Wednesday 22nd July and being the only one out of bed so far, I am waiting for that subliminal moment that we are finally off to sink in... it hasn't yet, but when we are sipping Champagne on the Eurostar to Brussels, it might dawn on us then that our adventure has started and that we are on our way.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

4th July 2015

In The Beginning....

Gosh! It's now the morning after a farewell supper at Janet's house and so much happened last night!

Firstly (and not surprisingly), Johnny and Josie announced their engagement... and we were there along with Lorna and Chris and Toni and Laurence (our neighbours). As you can imagine, Janet was beside herself, as we all were and the joyous screams  from the gaggle of girls surrounding Janet's I Pad could be heard throughout Blackwell, so much so, that Elle ran across the road from our house to see what the cacophony was all about. Congrats to Johnny and Josie!

That really set the evening off with a bang, only to be followed one hour later by Elle successfully landing a teaching job in Barranquilla, a city on Colombia's Caribbean coastline. Unbelievably, she starts her two week induction on Bogota on 26th July!

We all celebrated somewhat enthusiastically....and as if to celebrate all the great news, the 'fireworks'  were superceded by a superb thunder and lightning show.

So, on to our globe trotting expedition. It was a year ago that Kate wanted to "have a word with me" at the top of our garden and she started the conversation with the fateful words... "John, I have something I want to tell you... I think we should have a gap year."

I was simultaneously both dumb-founded and overjoyed.

This giant leap emanating from my lovely wife who has, for her whole 55 years, always lived within 5 miles of the A3400 and never more than 10 miles from Stratford upon Avon was quite a shock. 

Shakespeare would have been lost for words!