"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."
First stop Wellington. The flight in was windy and wet, that's pretty good weather for here. My last couple of trips here are vague memories of misty lumps seen through the lumpy misty stuff. We grab a late lunch check out the sights and barhop till bedtime. The next day the sky is blue and the wind calm, this could be an omen. Our first meetup is that night, we tourist the day away, then head to the pub arranged for our meet. Trevor, Angie, Burt, and Bev, through the window they look like normal people . We drink beer, eat steak, and discuss the the big reunion in a couple of days time. So far so good.
My Mum,s family's huge so the thought of adding another hundred or so relations doesn't faze me. We have always called my Fathers family the " dark side" just because their are so few of them, this might restore the balance a bit. Mick has been writing the history of my fathers family for almost as long as I can remember. I've even read a draft, it's quite good. Not quite a James Bond novel in pace, but plenty of intrigue to keep you interested. During the process he contacted Suzanne, who forwarded him on to Trevor, who after 15 years of thinking about it organized this catch up. Apart from Mick my nearest relation is our Great-Great Grandfather. My Grandmother Mim was a living Great-Great Grandmother, so to me that's not that distant.
The big reunion is in the center of the North Island. Most of them live at either end, and for us it's a good excuse to have a bit of a driving holiday at the same time. We go via Napier, stopping off to meet a bit more family on the way. Then on to Turangi where its all scheduled to happen. Turangi is a funny little place, sort of half housing estate, half holiday town, plenty of accommodation, on a big lake in a scenic setting. First activity is an informal walk around the lake, not the big one fourtunatly. We are not the only ones struggling to learn new names, as many of the others have never meet before, or at best infrequently. We learn all the lake hikers are keen "trampers" probably not a great surprise in hindsight. The big do is spread over two events, a dinner, and a breakfast at a winery restaurant. Fortunately for me we all have name tags, and there is a big Family tree to help us all figure out where we fit in. Unfortunatly I don't, I'm not on the tree, along with a few others who missed the last minute update. There are Waltons, Morpheth, Champtaloups, Walker's, and Bonds present along with many others from eight to eighty. One new member of the family who wasn't there was only 12 hours old, The biggest bunch are the Lovett descendants, some of which we quickly learn hijacked the family riches. Lamb Shanks and Hawkes Bay Red, how could things not go well. I eat too much, and probably don't drink enough of the good red, the desert was coffee tiramisu.
At the 10 AM breakfast the next morning, a bit early for us, for future reference Mick gives a brief history of the Bonds, this he does dressed in a masons jacket in honor of the GGF who we learn was a keen member of the Lodge. We also hear of the other family branches, James Bond's had 5 daughters and 3 sons, many of whom moved from New Zealand within a generation. Eggs Benedict, a group photo, then all of a sudden it's over.
We don't fly out for another couple of days so we head up to Auckland to check out the GGF's block of land which is now in the middle of the city beside the NZTV building. He was a bit of a churchie type, disinheriting any one who dared marry a protestant, so we drop in at St Mathews Church, his regular, and St Paul's where he's is buried out back under the new freeway apparently. From there it's on to the Bay of Islands, and my town "Russell" in the sunny north, this gives my high tech raincoat a good try out. On the day It's the only wet place in NZ. Washed we head back south for the flight out.
To my new family. You all seemed like nice people, there were hints of one of the great aunts having a dark secret, but as no one seemed to know it, it was probably just she once kissed a protestant, or liked bingo. It was great checking out the family resemblances, and nice to know that not even the American contigent were voting for Donald Trump. You are all welcome to drop by in Melbourne for a cuppa anytime. A special thanks to Trevor Walton for organizing the whole shebang, and I'm getting the Aussie Lawyers to start scrutinizing those wills as soon as I get home.
Click the pic for more trip photo's or here for the reunion ones
Travel in the 80’s
Let’s get in the wayback machine kiddies and regress to the ancient time of 1983. Don’t bother packing your phones, I pads, and GPS’s they won’t work here.
Where are we going? Flying is expensive. For the princely sum of $1520 in low season you can buy a cheap round the world ticket, if you have $ 2000 you can drop that down to only two stops, SIN, DXB before you get to Europe. To give you an idea of what this is worth a first year apprentice makes about $65 a week. Other options are take the boat or go overland, both viable options. My flight is MEL,AKL,HNL,LAX,LHR,AMS,JFK,YYZ,YVR,TPE,HKG,SIN,MEL, with a stopover at every one if you want. Air New Zealand to London, Continental to NYC, Air China to Taiwan, Cathay to Singapore, and Singapore Airlines back to Melbourne. For your cash you will get a wad or two of very thin paper tickets, guard the carefully, you are going to need to hang on to them for the next year. Lose them and you’re stuffed. Right were off to the airport. You paid a lot of money so there's none of this check your own baggage stuff. You’ve paid for it , it's all included . You’re going for a long time so your first stop will be the airport bar with all your single mates. A couple of hours of Tequila slammers, it's a perfect start for a long trip overseas. You’ll probably have a huge backpack because your going for long time, most this will be junk you’ll throw out at the first airport . No metal detectors at the Gates, no one would do anything as silly as asking you to remove your shoes, actually no security at all, just someone checking your boarding pass with a clipboard, and you can take your pocket knife on board if you want to. Finally we get on the plane, this will be a DC 10 or a 707 workhorses of the 80s sky’s. Planes don't go that far without a fuel stop so our first stop will be Auckland. Unfortunately airline space was just as valuable as it is now so your seat won't be any bigger, people however are generally skinner, politer and better dressed . There will be an in-flight movie, shown on a large screen at the front of the aircraft . You may have even scored a seat where you can see the screen. If you don't like the movie there will be a couple of channels of disco for you to listen to. Remember to take a book as e-readers haven't been invented yet, and the touch screen on the seat in front of you will be a headrest. Just a headrest. Airline food will be pretty much what you're used to matter of fact, I think some of the airline food I've eaten recently is leftovers from the 80s they still using . The back of the plane will be hidden in a grey fog. This is the smoking section. If you are lucky enough to be sitting here, you will get off the plane with a two pack a day habit, and lungs of a ninty year old. The best thing is the bar will be open as soon as the wheels are up, none of the silliness about not drinking. Flying is about indulging, you are with the Jet Set so the idea is to get as many cans in as we can before the next airport. Stand in the space next to the doors, and a smiling Stewardess will bring you a 6 pack for you and your new mates to consume without even a mild look of disapproval. Slip a few into the backpack for when you get off. Next stop Honolulu, a couple of hours to go through customs, get a six month visa, and refuel the plane, then on to LA. If things go smoothly it will only take 18 hours.
Hangover and tired you get off the plane in a place you’ve never been before, first thing change some cash with the thieves at the airport, then find somewhere to stay. Of course you have your youth hostel card, an essential bit of travelling gear for the time. Find a Payphone and punch it full of quarters, and dial the number, it doesn't work. You ask a helpful local why you can't call the number . They look at you like you're an idiot. After asking 10 different people you find out that in the US you need to put a 1 in front of the telephone number if it's not local. Local means about 2 blocks in every direction. When you've got onto the youth hostel, hopefully you will find they have a vacancy. Rock down there, give em the cash, and settle in for your first night sleep with 20 of your best friends in bunk beds . Backpackers haven't been invented yet so in the morning you'll be expected to do a small chore like clean the loo’s or vacuum the floor, this keeps the price down for everybody . They’re great places to get a bead on what's happening, people sit around and actually talk to each other rather than staring blankly at their I thingy. In youth hostels drinking and communal meals were the norm, and the sexes were divided at night into separate rooms. The doors generally got locked at 10 o'clock at night, which no-one ever manage to return by, so you'd always leave a window open so you could sneak back in or 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning after a big night out on the town . The other thing about youth hostels what they tended to kick you out by 10 o'clock in the morning, after you done your chores, no late starts.
Before we jump on the bus to start our next journey, we'll need to stock up with cash, this will involve a trip to a bank, and some travellers cheques. This is the 80,s and cash is King. Oh and buy a guide book, Lets Go, or Frommers if your rich. Before you start your journey you might want to purchase several large pieces of paper with squiggly lines drawn on them. Known as maps these things are vaguely helpful in locating where you where you want to go. Unfortunately they are useless at telling you where you are. They’re generally either way too detailed or not detailed enough. They never seem to make one that’s just right, and you can’t change the scale by dragging two fingers apart on them. The other option is asking directions, this is always a bit hit and miss, and the best option is ask several people. Combine the answers to give you a general idea which direction to head, and narrow down by asking more people along the way. Works better if you speak the local lingo. For memories you will have a large heavy film camera with maybe a couple of lenses if you are serious. Photos are expensive so you don’t take many, quite often only one of a particular location, take time to get just the right shot. A fair bit of knob twiddling, and guess work goes into getting the exposure just right. I use slide film, this will when processed give you a little inch square picture surrounded by cardboard that you could project on to a wall, to send all your friends to sleep back home. The main problem is you have to then carry the rolls of film around with you until you get them processed, then you have to do something with the photos you have like post them back home. Only once they are processed will you have any idea whether you have any photos, good or not. Slides are good because you could send them to a local lab, and put your home address on the return slip. They will then pay the overseas postage to send them back home for you. Many people give 2 or 3 rolls of film to a friend to take home, who then loses them thus losing 3 or 4 months worth of your memories.
Once you've got where you going you may want to communicate with your loved ones. The easiest way was by a letter, there was a thing called an aerogram which is a very lightweight sheet of paper with a prepaid stamp on it. You write in with a pen filling every square millimetre, and if you're really sneaky you stick a photo that you have in between hoping to get away with not having to pay the extra postage . Lick the glue around the edges, stick it together then write the address on the front. The other option is phone calls, these are really expensive even if you have bought a thing called a phone card. You dial in a local phone number, then a 24 digit number, then you're calling code, then your home number, which if you have all done perfectly may give you 5 minutes of talk time for your $15 bucks US. If your parents are nice they might let you ring home reverse charges once a month. If you go somewhere like Mexico forget it, the post doesn’t work, the phones don’t work, and nothing else works either. You will just ring your parents before you leave and tell them “don't worry if you don't hear from me the next 3 months”. “I'll ring you when I get somewhere where I can make a call”. On the good side the folks won’t get a lot of stupid requests to send stuff to you. No helicopter parenting here.
The good thing about third world countries, at least hotels are cheap, in the first World you do a lot of camping, sleeping under Bridges, sleeping in cars, on friends couches, and studying youth hostel guide hoping that when you got there, there is going to be a bed available for you. For entertainment you will have a book which you will swap regularly with other travellers. It definitely broadens your reading styles. If you're really high tech, you might have a Walkman, and 10 tapes of music . You get sick of these these really quickly, as this runs to about 10 hours of music, which is pretty much a standard Greyhound bus ride . Batteries generally last a couple of hours and you know when they were dying as your music starts getting slower and slower. If you're a really well organised, and you knew where you going to be sometime in the future you could try post restaurant . This meant that people can send mail for you, to a post office, and they will keep it behind the counter for about 6 weeks. You have to get there within the allotted time frame or they will return it back home. This is great as you can get letters from home, and perhaps another couple of tapes for the walkman. When you really want the complete home fix you can rock up to your embassy. They will generally have a guard out the front, you wave your passport them to get past the queue of visa applicants. All Embassies have a reading room full of newspapers that are at least 3 weeks old , and you can spend a couple of happy reading, and catching up on all the local `stuff from home. This will make you a bit less homesick.
When you get home after a couple of year your friends will all be married or engaged, and the dog won’t know you. Don’t worry after a couple of months they will all be single again, and Fido will be your best friend.
Route 66 the Mother Road, a 2448 mile highway that wanders towards the sun, sand, and Californian girls. Hundreds of people from all over the world head here to drive through fields of peas and corn for days on end, on a road that technically no longer exists. Somehow this has become the best known bit of bitumen in the world. It’s September 2009, Chris and I hired a car and headed off to find the soul of America. Apparently It starts Chicago Illinois right beside the Big Lake, and ends up in Venice Beach California next to Pamela Anderson. We had hired Chevy PT Cruiser, and driven it from Philadelphia, on the other great American road, the Lincoln Highway. Topped up the tank in Chicago, were wearing sunglasses, lets hit it. Straight off to the suburbs. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect had family home in Oak Park just off the route. I seem to remember his house as a unremarkable family home in a nice old neighbourhood. Enough time wasted, lets go . We got a couple of miles before we hit a huge pot hole, and I mean hit. Four lanes of traffic, and nowhere to go. Bang. They must have been a bit of concrete reo by sticking up in the hole, all the sudden our tyre developed a slight leak, being lazy bastards we decided not to fix this, and just punched the nearest Eurocar dealer into the GPS . When we got there he wasn’t interested in changing it either so we just swapped cars. Our new ride was a very nice 6 cylinder Chevy sedan, much better than the PT Cruiser, it had a boot that we can put our luggage in, and a v6 which was much zippier. Next Stop Joliet Illinois made famous by being the first stop in the Blues Brothers movie. The old prison no longer operates but the prison gate that Jake Blues walked out of still look the same as I did in the 70’s . Obligatory Photo stop. We pretty soon got into the swing of things cruising along and looking at my route 66 guided book that my brother had bought me. Every 20 or 30 miles would be a gas station Dinner or other place of interest. The first couple of we got out and had a look at, then we would mostly just do a rolling stop and take a picture out the car window.
Chris was convinced we could live on American fast food. I knew this was impossible. I kind of like Mexican food, but Chris was convinced that it was all made of a hundred percent napalm. His view of a bowl of Mexican Chilli, it could eat a hole right through the back of your head from the other side of the room. Hence, no Mexican. Breakfast was at whatever dinner we could find. These are the hidden culinary gems of the U.S., Eggs, “Just say scrambled”. I never understood the complexity of ordering eggs in the States. Bacon won’t look like bacon but you are in the middle of nowhere. Hash browns, always good. Gravy, grits, and, anything else leave to the locals. Coffee will be like Crude Oil once the light aromatics have been removed. Add sugar and milk to taste, and then hide your cup at the far end of the table so they can’t pour more crude in while you’re not looking. Lunch, whatever untried weird fast food outlet we stumbled across. The food was uniformly grey, greasy, and plastic, and don’t order the upgrade. A 72 ounce cup of Pepsi should really last you a life time. Dinner, hit the nearest bar. Steaks and ribs are no brianers, wash em down with a beer and you can’t go wrong. This worked well until somewhere around Oklahoma. We pulled up at a place to find a family of 300 pound wilder beasts, feeding on a whole hog, three of them where under ten. I asked how the good lady of the establishment was going, and got the reply “Blessed, Where all blessed”. These are code words for “DANGER”. We got the chicken tenders and a chicken sandwich, me forgetting a sandwich is a burger in this part of the world. The chicken was deep fried in Corn Fructose Syrup, and covered with a inch of bread crumbs, it all seemed bereft of chicken. Both meals looked exactly the same, thank god we had 72 ounces of industrial grade cleaner to wash them down with. If your waitress greats you with the words “I’m Blessed”, RUN. The next day we ate Mexican.
Our days became a routine, drive, eat, drive some more. US Route 66 is no longer a major high way, and most towns have long since been bypassed by the interstates built in the 50's and 60's. Soulless hotels and fast food joints, live beside the interstates. Around about 5 o'clock in the evening we would punch accommodation into the GPS, and look at the list of options. We would generally try and find something off the highway that suited our budget which was pretty minimal. As it was 2009, the U.S. banking system, and the world economy was collapsing around us. Places like “Down and Out” budget motel seem to attract our attention first. We would pull up, give it a quick look from the outside, looking for things like bullet holes and crack dealers. Any more than three of either we would move on. Next we’d to talk to some guy through a grill about the price . Somewhere around $29.40 seemed to be pretty typical. The next question before we handed over the cash was “is there a bar around here” . Generally there was one of the other side of the road or just down then just down the hill. All the essentials being established, we will would move into a luxury room. Air conditioner, fresh towels and clean beds . Off to the bar to get a meal . American bars are great, generally full of locals who haven't been further than 50 miles in either direction out of town. A few Harley’s and pickups parked out the front. All you had to do was open your mouth, and before you knew it some helpful local was explaining the intricacies of deer hunting, tank collecting, or American football . After an hour you generally had trouble buying a beer, I cannot remember what happened most nights after that. Bars were always a great place to find out what the local must not miss things, and where the best breakfast around was . The local museum is another good option, though after talking to the locals for ten minutes they will probably want to continue the conversation in the local bar. You got the same info both places.
People always asked where we were from, and why we were there. I'D tell them we were driving route 66 and quite often they would say I’ve always wanted to do that. The fact that they had a car and lived on “66” already did not seem ironic. Towns with names like Normal, Lincoln, Lebanon, and Springfield rolled past with regular monotony. There is a Springfield and every state of America, and we went through most of them . At Springfield Missouri we found a cowboy bar which was great fun . Wet tshirt contest , bull riding , and $1 beer what more could one want . Eventually the peas and corn started to fade and the desert started . It was around here we picked up a hitchhiker. He was a 40ish bloke on the side of the road who gave us some handy hints on how to survive in the states when you have no money . As soon as he got in the car he offered us some deer back straps off a bit of fresh roadkill that he picked up the night before and barbecued. He headed east with his girlfriend in her car and was headed west alone now the relationship soured. Over the next six of hours, with only a stop at the famous Cadillac Ranch, he kept us occupied with stories . Did you know American government is suppressing the facts that you can re grow your brain cells if you snort enough meth. You have to hit it hard but it works apparently. More is better than less he was a firm believer of this fact . He had once held a job for Los Angles for 20 years in the California Lands Department but had to run from aliens, or something else just before he got his pension . He had a son in the army, another somewhere else but didn't really see them that often. Back west he mostly lived at his elderly parents at parents house . Someone had given him ten bucks, so he went to the local casino to get some chips, and 2 free meal vouchers by becoming a member . I know a smorgasbord will keep you going all day especially if you put a bit in your pockets . You go gamble $10 worth of chips - red and black, and get your cash back, after a couple of days you can either go to the next casino, or continue trip . He offered to put us up in California but we wanted to take a bit of a side trip to visit some friends. We dropped him off near Amarillo Texas with a six pack of beer and some biscuits . He said he had a few friends at the bus station they could fix us up with whatever we required but we passed that one . He was actually a really nice bloke.
Somewhere we passed an Indian reservation selling fireworks. Chris stopped to buy the biggest box he could find. At Taos New Mexico we caught up with our friends who own an ice cream shop on a ski field, and spent great couple spend a couple of days with them. Taos is a beautiful place up in the high desert miles from anywhere and it was nice to have a break from the driving. Their little daughter now believes that Australians always turn up with a boot full of explosives then proceed to let them off for about half an hour in the middle of the night, even the neighbours were very impressed. By now we really are in the middle of nowhere, Petrified forests and Giant Craters become the sights. Before we left Oz I had warned Chris that we weren’t going anywhere interesting. Once we got to the middle of nowhere intresting he suddenly asked me “how far is Sturgis”. “Its in South Dakota three days drive from here, and it doesn't happen till August.” “What about New Orleans” . “ Three days drives drive from here in the wrong direction Sunshine” . “I told you I was taking you to the middle of the way you just didn't believed me” . Fortunately it’s only a day’s drive to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, that's a bit more touristy. We get to Phoenix and turn off 66 and head north. Chris's happy because at last we seeing something that’s not flat highway. The Grand Canyon is just that, and we spend a couple of hours just looking at the canyon and the views, before jumping in the car for Vegas . Arriving at Las Vegas late at night is not a great thing to do, as the hotels jack their prices up after lunch time. The only casino room we can find is $500, but we find a dodgy hotel for $80 and settle in for the night. The next morning Chris wants to go, but I say give me a chance to see we can get a cheap hotel somewhere else . I wandered down the street for some milk, and see an office that says free hotels and sightseeing. In side is this lovely woman that you actually organizes accommodation for people coming to see time share apartments. It is Las Vegas, the economy is crashing, and everybody's trying to sell properties before the shit hits the fan. She's pretty busy but she had a good chat to me and tells me that the internet specials of the day of the Bellagio for 40 bucks. A pretty good price she tells me, you just have to turn up before lunch and ask for the internet special. On the way out she opens the boot of her car which has about ten thousand vouchers in it and hands me a couple of “two for one” meal or show specials. Catch the magician at Hooters if you guys want a really good show. I say thank you and we had off the Bellagio and move into a luxury that we've been looking for the whole trip. It’s stinking hot and I head to the pool with lazy river, and rent $5 inner tube. As I float around in circles, I look at downtown Las Vegas being built next door, 5 high rises and a billion dollar casino they all to lock up but none of them are finished. All being built on imaginary cash that has disappeared over night. That's what my friend and everybody else in Las Vegas was trying to get rid of I thought. I look at the guys working on the buildings and think there is still a lot of pain to be had here. It came true Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit with property prices dropping 60%, I hope my timeshare lady survived it.
We spend the next couple days living it up seeing magicians, or heading off for the all you can eat breakfast, and staying there long enough to have the all you can eat lunch at the same time. Our hobo friend would have been proud of us. During the day we walked around the casinos just checking out what's happening or go down to Fremont Street. We think about hanging out at Thunder Down Under the all aussie male strip show at the Excabalur but decide we probably wouldn’t survive. After a couple of days It’s the weekend and prices go up so we head on our way. Just out of town we go to the gun store and shoot machine guns for an hour or two. I get a free “ I don’t dial 911” t-shirt on the way out.
Its only 5 hours across the desert to Los Angeles. We take off through the cactuses, and head to Barstow. It’s a town attached to a huge military base with no redeeming features, but we find a good Irish bar playing country and western. WTF? At least I got some decent ribs. I take on the driving, Chris's never really got the hang of driving on the other side of the road, and it's going to get a bit more hectic from here on in. The Los Angeles freeway system has more traffic than I’ve seen in a long time. Finally we get to Tammy’s place in Long Beach . She has a work supplied unit, and her friend is just moved out so she's managed to score it for us for a night. We spent time catching up and drinking. By the time it gets late I’m hungry. The only place open is “IN and Out Burger” It's really simple you can either get a burger a double burger, cheese burger or double cheeseburger, cake or lemonade. That's about it. Unlike most fast food they’re good. On the way home I take a wrong turn and briefly end up on the wrong side of the road. At least there was only one car coming, a cop car. We get pulled over. I'm sorry Mate I'm used to driving on the other side of the road, and we just got here. He lets me go, thank god for the accent. After a couple days with Tammy we head into a L.A proper and bunk near the beach. Grauman's Chinese theatre, the Walk of Stars, Santa Monica Pier and Venice beach . I play tourist guide. I ask Chris what he wants to eat for his final American meal, he floors me by saying Mexican food . We find a good little restaurant around the corner we’re the only people in it . The lady there tells us about their life and the Californian bureaucracy . We have a great chat and she mentions that she couldn't talk like this if there were any other Americans in the bar . We pay her and give her the obligatory tip which she returned saying thank you I had a great night I really enjoyed having the conversation, it was a pleasure. Final night in Los Angeles and we get tip for dinning in a restaurant, I couldn't finish on a better note than that . I told Chris how was going to take him to the middle of nowhere to see the little country towns, and real Americans. Lots of people come here and go to Los Angeles and New York, but you've got to see something that that they will never see. We hand in the car and catch the new subway to the airport, thanks for the ride guy’s you’ve been good to us .
Brunei Airlines has the cheapest tickets to Europe from Australian. There are only a couple of downsides to them. One is two "stop off's", and the other is to have to go via Brunei. Brunei is relativity clean and modern, everything works, the airport is new, and customs are efficient. There are lots of signs saying future retail space, leaving plenty of room inside the terminal to sit and watch the future retail space. My hotel was cheep, clean, and included a good breakfast. A airport shuttle was included in the room cost to and from the airport, this also took me to the night market, where you could get a good feed for a couple of bucks. All good aye.
The only problem is it is the worlds most boring place. There are no Bars, no girls and no booze. I'm sure North Korea has a more exciting night life. The weather ranges from hot, and steamy, to wet, hot, and steamy. Apart from the odd shopping centre, the other main attraction is a large gold domed mosque viable from everywhere, and it's only visitable during non prayer times, which is hardly ever. No photos inside please. There once was a fun park, apparently it closed down year ago because no one knew what to do there. Advertising seems to be limited to large billboards of the King. A rather cool looking dude in his forties, who the billboards inform us is actually sixty seven. If you want a quite holiday ( only interrupted by the odd call to prayer) here is one place I can definitely recommend.
A few years ago I went sailing around the Greek Islands with some friends. Unusually I can't have made to much of a pig out of myself because they invited me back again, or more like I invited myself back again. This years target is the Dalmatians in Croatia. Boats and weather are unpredictable beasts, so Mick and I fly into Split, about in the middle of Croatia. After a couple of locating texts we catch the bus up to Zardar to meet up with our “crew”.
Fitzy and Kate run Loki. She is a beautiful 48 foot Swan (yacht ), with one, sometimes two, of everything you need for comfortable cruising. They are great sailors, and have spent the last couple of Aussie winters sailing around the Med. The eventual aim is to head back to Oz sometime in the future slowly. Mick hasn’t been on a yacht before, so he is surprised to learn that (1) sailing is more expensive than motoring. (sails cost lots of money), (2) every where you stop some one wants to charge you for the pleasure of stopping there, even more so if they provide no facilities at all, and (3) yachts have no head room and lots of bulkheads. This last one he never really quite cottoned on to, even after many lessons.
Our days moved into a routine of breakfast, go explore the island we are anchored at, or sail to the next, swim ( weather permitting), drinkies on deck, go ashore, and check out the local dinner options, eat too much, repeat next day. Northern Croatian Islands tend to be green, have pleasant little villages, and a couple of good restaurants. They are conveniently staggered a couple of hours sailing from each other. Alas it was all over to quickly, we headed off on the ferry to Slovenia , letting the crew return to there usual peaceful life one again. Thanks for all Guys.
More photos you know what to do
Kate is a great photographer and has a blog click here to see some better pics, and catch her side of the story.
“ Don't eat all the the French food , leave some for me”one of my friends commented . I like to eat. Most people who know me, know that. Don't share a pizza with me. You'll lose. French food on the other hand, I can take or leave. So can the French, their largest employer is McDonalds. I mean, who puts artichokes on pizza, or aubergines, or fruit . Take something, pour cream and wine on it, it's a casserole. Pour wine and cream on it, it's still a casserole, not a completely new dish that the chef expects to be awarded the “legion of honour” for. Chilli, one decent pod would probably kill all the native French with in 200 km., Curry, No Merci. They have something called curry sauce, it's a bit like English Summer, the same word, totally different meaning. Think of luke warm cat puke, French curry sauce. I tried to buy some liquid stock to cook a brown stew with. I went to Carrafoure, Intermarchie and, Cassino, nothing but walls of stock cubes. Yes I know you can make stock from scratch, somehow I don't think they do. Next, French people, chips are not a vegetable, nor a substitute for. Every meal does not need melted cheese. Two different types of melted cheese do not cancel each other out.
Its not all bad. Bart Simpson called them cheese eating surrender monkey's, personally I don't think he emphasised the cheese eating enough. French cheese is the best, even the goat cheese is almost eatable. The standard supermarket has 4 aisles of the stuff along with 4 aisles of wine, proportionally correct as far as I’m concerned. They do great steaks, and they don't over cook them. The Menu, the midday workers lunch, is generally great value. Starter, Main, dessert, and a glass of wine for 15 Euro's. Winner. Cream, cheese. and wine casserole can be great, but not as a complete diet. Immigrants have bought their own cuisine. They have good Vietnamese pho. Kebab shops exist in most big towns. If you ask nicely you may even find the Kebab bloke has some Illegal chilly locked in the safe out the back, beside the Kalashnikov. With a bit of care even the pizza ain’t bad, if you avoid the artichokes. Me, I'm hanging for a vindaloo.
Over the years I've had many offers to try a spot of bike riding in Great Britain. I've easily managed to resist the temptation. If I’m going to fly to the opposite side of the world to get on a bicycle, it better be sunny, warm and dry. None of these things do I associate with the English summer. It isn't called a green and pleasant land for nothing. For some reason this changed after watching Michael Palin walking from Liverpool to Sheffield. What could be more pleasant than strolling along an old canal in the sunshine with a pub conveniently located every couple of hundred meters. Better still, do it on a bike, more time to chat to the quirky locals at the pub stops. The stars all align. My cousins want me to drive them around Europe, I'm being forced to fly to Heathrow, and I've forgotten about the English definition of summer.
This may come as a surprise to some of you but sometime I do have to work. A thanks here to the Australian Tax office for giving my life meaning. So I passed the planning off to my brother Mick. “Bike, Pubs, Canal, Liverpool to somewhere close to Liverpool”. Over the next couple of months I got regular emails with things like bike hire, and suggested route in them, which I skimmed the headers of, and then replied that’s fine. He even managed to sucker our friend Cath, to coming along. And thus I found myself at Euston station with a ticket to Liverpool, and a nagging thought in the back of my head that perhaps I should have read a few more of those emails.
I arrive and catch up with Cath and Mick at the station. We have a nice hotel booked in a converted mill in the middle of town, Cath has borrowed her sister’s bike. Just a` little summer rain to great us. Did you know the Beatles and Cilla Black where born here? Not that you can move more than ten feet around town without being reminded. Liverpool is a wonderful town with lots of bars and great old buildings. It's industrial history is everywhere, from the imposing East India` Building, to the old dock warehouses now turned into trendy flats and cafe's. We avoid all this and go for a dodgy Indian buffet in the back streets. The next morning we wander off to collect our renta bikes, it's only raining slightly.
Mick has also persuaded two English couples who we met in Cuba to come along as well. This is a stroke of genesis, not only may they have some idea of where we are going, Andrea has taken up the mantel of master logistics planner. I learn that we are ridding the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). A two hundred mile trek that does follow some canals (without pubs), and climbs the Alpe D' Huez of England. First day, a leisurely fifty miles, the basted didn't put that in the header. We head off through the town bike trails down to the river. The sun comes out, and a brisk tail wind springs up. We ride along the Manchester ship canal ( to big for pubs), then duck on to one of the many abandoned rail lines that criss cross the area. All around us are remains of mighty Victorian industries. Coal pits, canals, train lines,and huge viaducts, all abandoned. A small note here on English bike paths, they are perfect except for the local councils love of putting obstructions on them. Every Kilometre, especially at the top or at the bottom of a steep hill there seems to be a narrow gate which you have to weave your bike through. A lot of time and effort has gone into making these extremely difficult to get a bike through, add random large rocks placed in the middle of the path, and you have made your signed bike path the most impracticably way of getting from “A to B” on a bike. Our track mainly avoids towns, but being Tom and Andrea's local they manage to find us a nice pub for lunch. Only 20 miles to go. After lunch continue till we hit Manchester. Only 4 miles to go. We ride around the Mersey and lose the trail. Only 4 miles to go. We leave the Mersey and hit the streets. Only 4 miles to go. Eventually we get to Tom's house where we are staying for the night. Only four miles to go becomes the standard distance measure to anywhere from now on. A few beers, a quick shower, chuck our washing in the machine,off to the local curry house for a non dodgy curry and some reds. Life couldn’t be better.
After a fab breakfast, we head out on our next leg. Tom brings out his riding secret. One hundred millilitre shots of condensed beetroot juice, this is the gear Lance Armstrong was on. For the next four days every time I go to the loo I think I have bowel cancer. The ride is only forty miles across what poses as a mountain range round here. Fortunately we are in the Costa del Sol of England so the weather is perfect. A few stops and a couple of hills and we find a pub for lunch. The trail continues rising slightly along an old line with great views as we rise above the valleys. John and Burnie, our other couple become our de facto leaders, John blazing the trail, and Burnie keeping an eye out for the pubs. Eventually we can see the top of our days ride, Its only about 4 miles down hill on the other side. There is a 3 mile tunnel through the hill. Great. Unfortunately it's full of high voltage power lines, put there after the line closed. We have to push (not ride) our bikes up a goat track another couple of miles to the summit. Eventually we get to the top, roll back down to the other end of the tunnel, only to find we need to ride back up the main road to get to our hotel for the night. It's worth it, beer and good grub await at the end. We all sleep well.
Day three. Selby only another leisurely 50 miles. Who organised this again.. I arrange to meet a mate, John at the end. Weather good as you would expect. Cath's sister has stuffed up her flights, and she has to leave us at the end of the day. That’s her story anyway, “Liz make sure she buys you a bottle of wine”. The trail is meant to be pretty much flat from here but some how we get lost and go down a steep hill. It takes us a hour to find the trail again. We ride another 4 miles to Bently train station . Three generations of the same family under 40 pushing prams, and a lack of trains are the only remarkable things about the place. Much to Cath's disgust we have to ride 4 miles back into Doncaster to get her a train out. She escapes while I try to find a loo in a Brit Rail station. We give up and check into the local motel. Total distance 37 miles. Bummer I missed John Stoddart for a bit of chat about the cricket which the Aussies are loosing along the track. Thank god for small mercies.
Day 4 50 miles, weather ominous. Trail flat. A good days ride past old airfields and along canals again. A bit of a Cuban tail wind ( straight in your face ) has sprung up. Lunch in Selby and I finally meet John for that chat. He joins us for the afternoon but heads back when the clouds arrive. We have a bit of trouble finding a place to stay so end up doing 60 miles for the day. It's starting to rain as we pull in to South Cave for the night but the food and beer is good
Day Six. 15 miles. Weather crap. The English summer has arrived with a vengeance. I get out the rain coat. Mick and I only have 15 miles to Hull. The others are foolishly going on to Hornsea. Another 15 miles. The track is good and we stop for a cuppa at the Hummber bridge which we can barely see through the mist. Soaking we finally get to lunch, and afterwards bid our English friends goodbye. They struggle along a muddy track for the next couple of hours but arrive in the end after a couple of punchers. I jump on my bike to ride a couple of hundred meters to to the car hire place. I've go a flat. It's close enough I'll walk.
We drive 200 miles back to Liverpool, through the mist to return the bikes, and spend the night in Southend reliving a bit of faded English glory, Basel Faulty would have been right at home at our “Prin of Wales Hote”. The Letters had fallen off the end of the sign. G n T, full English Breakfast, and a view over the mud where all available though. Back to Hull next morning to return the car, we arrive right on our 24 hour time slot. It's like ground hog day.
Thanks to Mick and Andrea for the planning, Tom for the bed, and the rest for being silly enough to come along.
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