The Last Post

What a year it’s been!

Niki on Pulpit Rock, Norway

We are really sorry that the year has come to a slightly premature end, and that we are going to be missing our much-anticipated Sardinia trip. But let’s not take anything away from a year that was more life-saver than simply holiday. Certainly, at regular intervals, Niki and I had conversations about how we hope this year off will add very positive years to retirement – whenever that arrives again.

Giethoorn traffic jam


We had budgeted €1958 per month for a total of €23,496 for the year, excluding the cost of the van. We’ve ended a few months short – like a lot! But our budget goals have been well met:

Budget for 7 months: €13,708

Spent over 7 months: €11,747

Budget breakdown:

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So, big blowout on the cost of diesel, but our two very expensive months (first and last) were really exceptional, and in other circumstances we’d have spread the mad dashes over a couple of months. Regrets? Yes! We should have eaten out more 🙂 However, in Greece we ate almost every day, and a month of this cost €192!! Also, we’ve grown to love 5 litre boxes of wine for €12.

Cycling on the beach, Greece

Some Thoughts:

  1. It’s really important to spend a trip like this with someone who puts up with all your nonsense! Niki has been fantastic at making the van home – she has done this in South Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines, China and Switzerland as we taught around the world, but this was a bit special. She was unfailingly positive about my ordinary driving, worse parking, and absolutely awful sense of direction. The pressure on her to direct us on unknown roads, down crazy narrow tracks, in foreign languages, all while we headed off to unknown destinations was immense. None of this would have worked if not for her!

    Dyros Caves, Greece
  2. Don’t wait! We agonised over anticipated costs, worries about where to go and what to do. We worried about future jobs and how we were going to pay mortgages … and then we simply got on the road. It’s helped to have inspirational friends- The Langston’s took a year off and did this with teenage kids – and all survived! The internet is replete with websites of folks detailing their experiences, including cost breakdowns, mapped routes etc etc. These have been so helpful in proving that this could be done.

    Sunset, Po River, Italy
  3. Friends from all over have been great – Thanks Dave for the help, Lloyd for being such a faithful reader, family and friends from all over sending in comments that were, without exception, helpful and supportive.

    Passing through Austrian villages
  4. We are a little tearful at saying goodbye to the van, and to the end of our year. To counteract this we are quite committed to doing this again in the near future. This time round we’ll buy a second-hand van in the UK, and then ship it over to NZ when we’re done, whenever that might be.
    Not a bad view 🙂 Free camping, Norway

    So, that’s it: We are looking forward to seeing our kids in New Zealand next week, starting a new adventure in Angola in August, and continue to live, rather than exist.

    Smile – ‘cos it makes a difference 🙂


Athens (Gr)– Patras (GR) – Ancona (It) – Lake Como (It) – Berne (Switz) – Stauffen (Ger) – Saulzais le Portier (Fr)

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind these last few days, but we are currently in Saulzais, geographic centre of France, and feeling pretty knackered.

Yet another supermarket carpark: Ancona

In order to meet our commitment to the company buying our van (for much less than it’s worth, let me add, emotional attachments aside, we needed to race to get a lot of stuff done in a very few days. Leaving Bari, our Italian port of arrival, we headed north, doing some 600km on Italian roads that were good / mediocre and expensive. I’d like to propose that toll roads undergoing major renovations don’t charge you, accepting that the driving experience is less than promised. Surely these guys can’t get you to pay in advance for roads not yet built …?

So it’s been around 500km a day, apart from Monday which we spent closing bank accounts etc followed by a short trip to Niki’s niece, Susi, in Stauffen. I feel we have spent so much time there already that I’m waiting to be greeted by locals wondering why they haven’t seen me for the past few days!

Van – packed to the gills
With Niki doing something useful…

Another long drive brought us down to Saulzais – thanks to Scott, Marthe-Sophie & family for giving us the run of the house while they are still away working. We’ve made real use of the space, designating our household stuff (23 cubic metres, Help!) as ‘New Zealand’, or ‘Angola via New Zealand in December’, or ‘Angola to New Zealand in July’. The ‘throw away’ pile is remarkably small, no doubt the consequence of Niki having the power to veto any of my decisions…


The circular route also allowed us to catch up with some friends in Berne, although not nearly as many as we would have liked. Thanks to Dave, Regi & Maya for dinner. Dave also collected all our post this past year and kept scanning required documents that would reach us a) too late b) at a time we had too much wine or were too relaxed to care c) when we had no printer access, and so didn’t care. None of that takes anything away from the constant effort Dave made – very much appreciated.

Also – if you have to travel in a 22,000km circle, to begin and end in Switzerland is simply amazing. We recognise just how much we loved the country, quirks and all, and driving through some of the world’s most stunning scenery just brought home to us how we will miss the country.


So, one day’s packing behind us, 4 more to go. Our last packers, bless them, were all from South America, and used their three word professional English vocabulary to great effect, labelling everything either ‘Books / Clotes / Kitchen’ so it’s been interesting to find tennis racquets, bike pump and sleeping bags in a box with no clothing at all. It makes each box like a little Christmas present!

Two rooms packed to the rafters with a household of goods …

Ancona, Italy

We are back to our old ways after a verrry lazy tour of the Peloponnese: Currently camped at a supermarket in Ancona, Italy, after a fairly long drive today.

Poppies, Italy

Our ferry trip was pretty flawless, included a smooth-as-silk crossing (Niki disagrees with that characterization), hot shower in the morning, and a sneakily-made tea & coffee. The ferry is a great way to travel from Italy to Greece, and we both had very good sleeps, rocked gently as we progressed past numerous islands, with the moon casting a wonderful light over it all. Almost.

Today was a little more ragged. Departing the ferry takes you down a narrow road where they try to fit 2 lanes of traffic in a zone made for one large truck. Predictably, I suppose, Niki did the good thing and folded her side mirror in (expensive, at €500 each!!), I hugged my left-hand side of the road and … Bang! Clipped the side mirror of a Bulgarian truck. Pulled over, indicated to the driver that I was so apologetic, so he nodded, smiled, and moved on. Almost.

Tonight, after not seeing a train in 4 months, Italia Rail is doing its best to impress us with the size and modernity of its fleet, sending a train past every 7 minutes. We are duly impressed, and I’m certain that, later, we will be lulled to sleep by the regularity of traffic passing by.

The day was a bit of a blur, covering over 400km, but much of it over detours, single lane traffic with worker cones stretching for miles. We even saw a few workers, and one did seem to be carrying a bucket of some sort, so we felt satisfied in paying our €37 toll fee for the day. To be fair, this was so much a better option than crawling through coastal towns. And all along the road the countryside is just ablaze with poppies, so much so the fields seemed on fire. The vineyards, bare when we last passed, are now a multi-shaded green, and, truthfully, made the day a bit of a visual feast.

Lovely views all along the road

Another 400km+ tomorrow will see us at Lake Como, just off the Swiss border. Lots to do over the next few days, with visiting some friends, doing the bank closure, collecting a ton of Amazon orders (Thanks, again, Susi!) before heading off to France and packing up our household goods for shipping to NZ. Ho Hum – never boring.

… but it’s free 🙂

Diakopto to Patras

Here we are in the port of Patras, stuck for the next 40 hours or so as we await our ferry back to Bari, Italy. Certainly not the most attractive port, in one of Greece’s less attractive cities. So why here?

Sunrise, south of Patras

This morning we were at the small town of Diakopto, having spent the night at a free camp next to the beach. Our intent was to catch the small cog railway from Diakopto to Kalavryta, higher up in the very narrow gorge that has been a fairly recent addition to Greece’s declared National Parks. Unfortunately, our luck with the Greek railway system continues. Up bright and early for the 20 minute walk to the station, we were met with a ‘not today’ comment from the lady in the ticket office. This was an improvement from yesterday, when there was no lady in the ticket office.  Still, not the ticket sale response we were looking for. After pointedly halting her conversation to a bevy of friends in the office, she informed us that tomorrow’s train was also uncertain. This mirrored our experience at Katakolo while waiting for the train to Olympis. There we had watched as the 8:30 train departed, filling us with hope that the 10:30 train would also be available. Not so, and watching the minute hand progress towards 11:00am there we had also given up.

With the wind coming up at the beach we decided that we would head off to Patras and see if we could change our booking. No luck, and with parking sites in the city looking a bit dodgy, we have decided to ignore the No Overnight Parking sign and see if we might just stay here. The walk into town was anything but inspiring. The largest Orthodox church in Greece was also not inspiring, even though a website indicates it is the major site of pilgrimage from around the world. Faux Byzantine mosaics and awful modern paintings were not enlivened by the odd church goer kissing various artefacts as they progressed around the church. Begun in 1912 and completed in 1978 (why????) it really does not inspire, by any means, as many other buildings have done.

Hmm – just been disturbed by a horde of skurmunkels running from the police, and this seems to be ongoing – lots of police and lots of migrants waiting in abandoned buildings across the road looking, I presume, to jump a truck headed for Italy. I think we are out of here!

Spent the night at a nice, quiet campsite about 20km from Patras. I think the 40km round trip is worth the effort, and makes for a restful sleep. So we are back in Patras, back on board the ferry for our 18 hour trip to Bari … and then a very hasty trip north to Switzerland.

Epidavros to Athens

Camping at Epidavros

A couple of thoughts while parked next to a big road leading into Athens.

1. Greece desperately needs a few Marine Sanctuaries!

We have snorkelled in a few places around the Peloponnese, with one major finding: The Aegean is an absolute desert! In our 2 hour snorkel at the Sunken City of Epidavros (more below) we saw … nothing. Not quite true – lots of urchins, a school of mud-coloured fish no more than 5cm long, and one thumb-nail sized, and obviously lost, jellyfish. Nowhere have I seen marine vistas so incredibly devoid of life, and we’ve dived or snorkelled in NZ, South Africa, Philippines, Thailand, Australia… This obviously accounts for the fact that fish (of any reasonable size) are expensive in Greece and, one suspects, is reliant on imports? I’d say this looks like a national emergency requiring immediate attention, but given Greek politics (20 years to get a shipping license …) I’d bet nothing will ever happen.

2. Athens

Took 4 hours this morning to see Athens, and I think we are pretty done. Of course this is reflective of the fact that we are coming to the end of our trip and are probably running out of mental & emotional steam – and Niki’s legs are still sore from climbing the steps to the Paramidi fortress at Nafplio. Nevertheless, sharing a hillside crowded with thousands of tourists, limited information boards, very limited visual attraction – well, done. I’m not really knocking the Parthenon, but there’s not really much to see, is there? And if you don’t have technicolour artistic renditions in your head, well, it’s all a bit dull. Add to that the fact that it’s placed in what must rank as Europe’s ugliest capital city (monochrome 2 storey buildings, dilapidated) and serving the worst (and most expensive) Greek food – might explain why we are leaving in the morning! Note: Niki disagrees about my view on the Parthenon, but I feel this is purely an emotional reaction. Oh, and the campsite, the only one in Athens, is next to Athens’ busiest road. Fortunately, traffic speed is somewhat reduced by the state of the road, but this results in non-melodic thumps! Sleeping will be interesting.

I promised Niki I would not head this section “More Broken Buildings” so, instead, have a look at a selection of Cultural Reminders:

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On the Upside:

Spent 3 lovely days in Epidavros, which included the obligatory ‘OMG this road is too narrow for our van’ entry. The water was warmer than it’s been anywhere in the Peloponnese, visibility was excellent and the waters generally calm. None of the above accounts for the fact that Niki and I missed the Sunken City of Epidavros. This may be explained by the fact that I was expecting the city walls to be around 3 metres below the surface. Consequently, we swam around the bay (a moonscape of pebble surface devoid of life) until we had quite traversed the bay. Giving up we walked the kilometre back along the beach, only to stumble upon a sign pointing to the Sunken City, and no more than 200 metres from our campsite. Hmm, on with the fins and stuff, head out into the bay, to swim right over the collapsed walls in about 1 metre of water. Given the fact that it comprises 2 houses (‘City’ seems to be an elastic term) we were soon done, and washed up on shore for well deserved beers. Dinner, though was excellent, and thanks to Russ and Juliet for the long trek they made to take us out. It’s been great meeting people along our trip, and it’s been great to spend time with them.

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So, tomorrow we’ll head off, Athens thankfully ticked (no, I don’t think we’ll be back) and try to find somewhere less peopled along the coast. Not sure where, as the Camping Athens wifi is somewhat like the Yeti – rumoured to exist, occasional sightings reported, but no firm evidence.