Final Stats

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Well today is our last day in Europe.

So to bore you one last time here are some statistics from our trip.

Days away – 347

Days remaining – 0 in Europe.

Kilometres travelled – 32,000

Days behind in blog writing – 0, finally up to date.

Blog Words – approx. 115,000

Blog Photos – 2466

Blog Posts Published – 310

Photos – 91,500

Countries – 24

Dubai – 1 night.

Netherlands – 27 nights.

Germany – 48 nights.

Switzerland – 7 nights.

Italy – 50 nights.

France – 36 nights.

Monaco – 1 day.

Spain – 20 nights.

Portugal – 6 nights.

England – 45 nights.

Scotland – 21 nights.

Northern Ireland – 10 nights.

Ireland – 17 nights.

Wales – 4 nights.

Belgium – 5 nights.

Luxembourg – 2 nights.

Denmark – 6 nights.

Poland – 10 nights.

Czech Republic – 5 nights.

Austria – 8 nights.

Slovenia – 3 nights.

Croatia – 14 nights.

San Marino – 2 nights.

Vatican City – 1 day.

We have stayed the same place for 2 nights on 30 occasions, 3 nights on 7 occasions, 4 nights on 6 occasions, 5 nights on 3 occasions, 6 nights once (Paris), 7 nights twice (London and Giethoorn).

Stayed for one night only – 207 nights.

Nights with a real roof over our heads since we left Australia – Adults: 11; Kids: 13.

Fuel Prices –       Cheapest Australian Dollar Equivalent $1.72 – France, near the Swiss border – Mid December

Dearest Australian Dollar Equivalent $2.83 – Central England – End April

Average litres per 100km – 13.37

Ferries caught – 5.

Tunnels – we lost count.

Driving offences – still zero as far as we know.

Drives in a Ferrari 458 – 1, oh yeah.

Accidents – 0

Over budget – about 22%

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What a Year

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Well what a year; we always knew that 2014 was going to be a different year from any we had experienced before. We knew we would be travelling throughout Europe but other than the small amount of info we had garnered from travel magazines and from the internet we didn’t really know what was before us.

Our “About” page on this blog says that we want to achieve the following three things:

We hope to grow together as a family.

We hope to grow closer to God.

We want to see the big world that GOD has given us and expand our minds.

 

And we have definitely achieved these.

The five of us have been squeezed into a motorhome that has a living space, kitchen, bathroom, the girls’ bedroom and our car in an area that is smaller than most lounge rooms, so physically we have definitely been forced closer. We have spent just about every waking, as well as every sleeping moment, within 7 metres of each other so we have been close.

But the experiences and the challenges we have had have impacted us all and have forced us to not only work together but also has caused us to come closer. I hope and pray that this continues when we are in Australia.

Every day we have woken up not really knowing what the day would bring. There has been a huge potential for drama and this has forced us to rely on God more which I think is a good thing. God’s amazing creation has also drawn us to Him and caused us to praise Him on many occasions.

Many of our misconceptions have been challenged and we have seen many things that we did not expect. We have experienced many, many different things which have raised many emotions.

So to sum up our year we have had a fantastic year, we have seen many amazing sights. Of course the History of the buildings we have seen is nothing like what we have in Australia. We have also had a year that has had many challenges that we did not foresee – I was amazed at how hard it has sometimes been (I am sure everyone feels sorry for me). But I have also been amazed at some of the things we have done and seen.

God has been very good to us and we have stayed safe and have not had anywhere near the problems we could have had.

As we drive we usually listen to music so we have listened to lots of music. This has contributed to our life becoming a big cheesy musical with people breaking into song all over the place – I just wish everyone would, “Let it go. Let it go; get this song out of my head.”

So after a great year we are now close to heading back to Australia. This of course comes with mixed emotions. We are of course keen to get back to Australia but we have also had a great year and we will miss the time we have spent together and the amazing things we encountered each day.

We really thank God for this year and I am sure it will impact us for years to come and I thank my family for another incredible family adventure.

Lost in Translation

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In the interests of maturity I have refrained from posting about the subject of words and their sounds and how something in one language can mean or seem to mean something totally different in another.

Those who know me know that maturity is not one of my strongpoints so I have caved in and here is an example – some would probably argue that since this sign is pointing to me the word in question should probably be preceded by “Old”.

As I said this is just one example. The word actually means exit so we have seen it over and over again especially as we drive along the highway. Even after almost a year I can hardly refrain from making a joke about Aussies and bodily functions as we pass by these signs.

Our Last Week

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It has now been almost One Year since we arrived in Europe, so that means that it is almost time to leave.

As you can imagine even though we knew that we were only spending a year here and that we were limited in what we could return to Australia with we have still managed to accumulate some extra gear. So we have to work out what will be going back and what will not.

Max also has to be returned so we have to take some time to clean him up.

To get all of this done we decided to spend our last week in a house. The place we chose was a little thatched cottage on a canal in the historic village of Giethoorn in the Netherlands.

It is a quiet little place which has lots of character. There is a fireplace (as well as central heating) which of course is very nice and lighting up a fireplace is something we definitely will not be doing in a week’s time when we are back in Australia.

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The place was nice when we arrived but as we unloaded Max it became a bit of a bomb zone, but it was great to have the space to do it.

It is really nice to be stationary for a whole week without having anywhere to go and not too much to do. But it is also tinged with a hint of sadness as it drives home the fact that our time here is almost over.

There is a sauna here so that at least gives us the chance to spend some time in there and get ready for when we return to Australia.

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We even got to watch a bit of the Australian version of Master Chef on TV.

While we stayed here we needed to do a bit of shopping so I borrowed a bike from the place we were staying and rode to the shop. The Netherlands is known for a few things: water, windmills and pushbikes. The pushbike was not a style that I would go out and buy but it was very European, so I fitted in. The ride was a little further than I remembered (amazing how it seems so short when you are driving). Riding made it very clear why they have windmills in the Netherlands and I was riding into it, but that was good on the way home – at least it was flat, very flat.

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Happy New Years

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Our New Year’s Eve was going to be in Northern Germany. In the lead up to New Year we began to wonder what things were going to be like on the night. When we went to the supermarket there were sections of the store dedicated to fireworks, and people were walking out with a trolley full of them. In Queensland (Aust.) we cannot buy fireworks anywhere, let alone in the local supermarket.

I did notice that the store had a fire extinguisher located at each corner of the fireworks display, but I didn’t want to be there if they all went up, even if there were four fire extinguishers.

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We stopped for the night in a town called Minden (we wondered a little about this place – was it like Minden in Northern NSW) which has about 80,000 people.

Our family is not really a party in the New Year kind of family so the plan was to have a normal evening and head off to bed; this is one reason why we stayed the night away from a major town.

This of course was not to be. The fireworks started at about 8 pm, they were sporadic at first and then increased in regularity. Of course at midnight they were going off constantly. We had all gone to bed, the kids were asleep – until midnight that is.

The fireworks woke the kids up, so we had a look out the windows to check them out. Of course we couldn’t see them that well from inside so we headed out.

It was very cold and we were in our PJ’s but we were not worried. In every direction we looked there were fireworks going off. Keep in mind these are not fireworks from an organised show but are just individuals buying fireworks and then just letting loose.

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It was an amazing experience, especially for us who only usually see only organised fireworks shows. I just kept laughing at the spectacle that it was, and looking around in the freezing cold.

Even though we were in a camp spot across the river from the main town there were quite a few people around, setting off fireworks in the nearby field and on the footbridge across the river.

Legoboy didn’t wake up with the other kids, so we thought we should wake him up and let him see all of the fireworks. He woke up had a look out the window then promptly fell back to sleep and had no recollection of it the next day.

As we drove around the next few days both in Minden and in other towns there was fireworks rubbish all around the place, a bit of an unfortunate side effect of the crazy New Year’s celebration.

New Year’s Eve 2015 was definitely a unique experience for us.

VW Autostadt

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The VW Autostadt (Auto City) is a VW group attraction at the VW Wolfsburg factory. According to VW this is the biggest car plant in the world and produced 836,000 cars in 2014 – which is a lot considering there were about 1,000,000 cars sold in Australia in 2014. There are over 50,000 staff here. Unfortunately when we visited the plant was closed for the Christmas New Year’s break so we couldn’t visit the plant.

The Autostadt features an exhibition which shows the process for the design and building of cars in the VW group. In this exhibition a number of production cars have been cut through at various stages of the production process. I am pretty sure that if I had a Bentley (or a Lamborghini, Porsche Panamera or a VW Golf GTI for that matter) I would not be cutting a big chunk out of it – but each to their own.

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We even got to design our own cars.

Inside here where it was nice and warm was a big play area as well as kids’ driving simulators and a number of different vehicles that the kids enjoyed riding.

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There is also a very impressive car museum here that is filled with some really iconic cars.

Each of the manufacturers (excluding Bentley and Bugatti) in the group have a pavilion here showcasing their cars, some better than others.

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Lamborghini put on a presentation every 30 minutes in their pavilion. We had to run to get there on time but it turned out to be the most bizarre light and sound show which culminated in the Lamborghini that was mounted on a big turntable on the wall “disappear” through the wall. It was very strange and we all kind of looked at each other in disbelief at the end.

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Now you see it.

 

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Now you don’t

 

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Part of the philosophy of the Autostadt is to include art and architecture into the whole experience (we put the Lamborghini experience down to art) so there are some interesting buildings and some interesting art interpretations.

One of the over-the-top art installations was the Premium Club, which was a pavilion dedicated to a chrome Bugatti Veyron.

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If you buy a VW in Europe you can choose to visit the Autostadt and collect your car there. The cars that are to be delivered this way are stored in one of two glass car towers so you can watch your car be picked out of this tower by an automated lift and then delivered to the customer showroom. We didn’t buy a VW but we still had the opportunity to visit the towers.

During the visit you sit in a glass cube and are carried up to the top of the tower by the mechanism that moves the cars around. It was a great way to see how the process worked as we made our way up the 48 metres through the 400 car spaces in the tower.

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The view from the top allows you to look over the factory, which is unsurprisingly huge and includes 3 power stations, and the town of Wolfsburg which exists only because of the factory.

After our day at the Autostadt we headed back to Max (we were able to camp at a dedicated camp spot in the car park) and had some dinner.

But the day was not over yet. After collecting the kids’ Ice Skates (yes we bought ice skates – 10 Euros at Aldi) and some more warm clothes we headed back to the Autostadt and the Christmas Market and Ice rink. The rink was a huge outdoor one, set up on one of the lagoons. Us oldies hired some skates and we all had a great time finding our feet and getting better and better. The rink was very busy to begin with, but after 2 ½ hours when it was due to close at 10pm we had the place to ourselves which was nice. Only the boys had crashes, maybe we got a little too comfortable.

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The girls met and talked to a couple of local girls. It has been great for them to meet different teenagers around Europe and swap emails etc. and then keep in touch with each other.

The Autostadt proved to be an interesting and fun place to visit. We were all pretty tired after our day – the next morning Legoboy did not wake up until about 10:15.

Is this the Best Christmas Market

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While the Nuremberg Christmas Market has been our favourite the market we visited at Goslar had some of the ingredients we had been missing at all of our previous markets.

Goslar is in the Harz Mountains so it was still very cold when we arrived here during the middle of the day.

As we walked to the markets in the walled city which is filled with beautiful Tudor-style buildings it began to snow a little.

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We had wanted to experience some snow while we were at a Christmas market so it was nice to finally get to be snowed on while we walked around.

Something else that has been absent has been Christmas music, that was also rectified at Goslar and we enjoyed the Christmas Carols as we walked around. It was a little ironic that the first time we had heard carols at a Christmas market was actually after Christmas.

Goslar was a great place for us to experience our last European Christmas Market.

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Even More Ice Fun

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Our last night in the Harz Mountains was in a little town called Schulenberg (about 320 residents). There was a nice little camp spot with a view over the mountains and a lake which was very pretty.

While we were here we experienced what people who live in cold climates have to endure.

Our first experience was when we pulled up for the night. I went to get the ramps out to get Max level but could not open the side bin because the door was frozen shut and there was no way it was coming open – I decided we were level enough.

I have said before that it has been very cold, but here it was very, very, very cold. At about 9 am it was minus 6.5 degrees Celsius outside. All of the icicles that had been hanging on Max from Christmas were still there and had grown bigger and been added too, we even had ice on the inside of the windscreen – which MiniMandM took some good photos of.

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Earlier in the year we discovered that Max has a feature which protects the boiler (yes we have a boiler and central heating – just like a European house) from freezing should you leave the motorhome and the battery goes flat during winter. The feature will drain all of the water out of the system if the battery goes flat – we learnt this when we heard the pump working and noticed all of our sometimes hard to source water flowing down the hill.

While we were at Schulenberg we discovered a further feature of this system. If the temperature gets too cold it will again dump all of the water. We discovered this in the middle of the night when I heard the switch go off, the pump come on and then water running on the ground – a nice wake up call. In hindsight we should have had the heater running all night, instead we have just been running it before we went to bed and then it has been warm enough while we have been in bed; earlier in the year we would leave it on all night but then end up hot. So since we could not do anything about it we turned the pump off and then went back to bed.

In the morning the first job (after turning the heater on) was to swap the toilet cassette. Warning: This may be too much information for some.  Anyone who has spent time in a motorhome knows that the toilet will fill up at the most inconvenient time (I have learnt to check before going to bed to make sure there is sufficient room). On this morning the loo was quite full and Legoboy needed to go so I braved the cold and went out to swap things over (with a family of five we can need to swap cassettes fairly regularly so we have two spares in the boot). So I swapped them and Legoboy did what he needed to and then went to flush. In a motorhome loo part of the flush mechanism is in the cassette. Unfortunately as the cassette had been in the boot where it was very cold the mechanism was frozen up and it would not flush. I won’t give you the detail of how I had to rectify this situation, but needless to say I was glad it was a number one.

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Next was to put some water into the tank. In the boot we carry a couple of 5 litre bottles so we always have some water because you never really know when the water in the tank will run out. I got the bottles out which were partly frozen, but I figured that I could get some water into the tank. Next problem was that the lid on the tank was frozen on and I could not get it open – so I just took the 5 litre bottle inside and bypassed the tank.

Next issue was that even though we had water inside now (thanks to a big water bottle) the drain pipe from the sink was frozen so the water in the sink would not drain and we had to scoop it out.

Once we had overcome these obstacles we headed off to the service point to empty things and hopefully fill up with water. Things had warmed up a bit so we were able to get the cap off the tank now so that was a good start. We got the hose out which was very stiff. After putting our money in no water came out, all service points are different so it sometimes takes a few goes to get things working, considering that all of the instructions are in a foreign language. But nothing we did would make things work so we decided that it must have been frozen up.

So we headed off with not too much water and the hope of finding some later in the day.

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During the day we decided to have a bit of a snack, someone asked about the packet of chips that we had bought before Christmas but hadn’t eaten. We looked in the cupboards but couldn’t find them anywhere. In the back of one of the cupboards in Max there is a gap at the top. I got a mirror and was able to see down the back and discovered that the chips had fallen down there, so the only option was to pull the shelf out and the back of the cupboard out – so we could have some chips. I have no idea why someone would build a cupboard with a huge gap at the top which would allow things to disappear, possibly never to be seen again.

After visiting the Christmas/Winter Markets in Goslar (another post) we headed out of the Harz Mountains.

We found a camp spot which had water so we went to fill up. Once everything was hooked up and we paid our money, there was still no water. We discovered that our hose was not only stiff it was actually frozen, so we had to use our bottles to get the water into the tank, but we didn’t get too much in before the money ran out (some pumps measure the amount of water and cut off accordingly but others, like this one, are timed so if you are not organised when you put your money in you don’t get much water). We brought the hose inside and sat it in the shower so it could defrost in the warmth.

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The drain pipe in the sink was still not draining so I thought that maybe there was some issue other than the pipe being frozen, so for the second time I had to pull out the tools and pull the back of the cupboard out. After doing that I was able to confirm that the pipe was in fact just frozen as it ran outside uninsulated underneath the floor (another dumb design feature), and the next morning everything had defrosted and worked again.

Even though it was warmer here we were surprised to wake up the next morning surrounded by snow again.

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More Ice Fun

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We woke up with snow around us again, which is still a nice experience.

While we have been in Europe we have enjoyed a lot of the glass art that we have found here. In Clausthal-Zellerfeld (it is actually two towns right next to each other, like Albury-Wodonga) there was a glass studio which also had glass blowing demonstrations, which was interesting to watch but also very warm because of the huge furnace.

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Even though it is now past Christmas Clausthal-Zellerfeld still has a Christmas market which I think they now call a winter market the highlight of which was the ice skating rink which was set up in the church square.

The kids spent about an hour skating here while SWTTM and I stood and froze – the temperature was well below zero. Only MiniMandM had skated before but all of the kids did a great job and had a great time. Legoboy had a bit of help from a local girl who adopted him and helped him get around, which was nice. Bookworm did a great job finding her feet but did end up with a couple of bruised knees.

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Fun in the Snow (and Ice)

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Our White Christmas continued and we had more snow overnight which was nice to see in the morning. We planned to go to some nearby snow fields and we had loosely arranged to meet up with the family we had met in town. Our only form of communication was via email so it was a little irregular.

To get to the snow we had to drive up the steep hill through town. Max’s heavy rear end which results in his lack of front end grip has been documented in this blog previously. The hill in question has a 15% gradient so is pretty steep, I was a little worried before we set off about how Max would handle this hill. When we got there the road was covered in snow and ice but cars were driving up and down there and didn’t seem to be having any problems so off we went. The road we were traveling on went across the hill and then kind of merged with the steep hill, so we were able to hit the hill with at least some momentum on our side. We travelled maybe 100 metres before we came to a stop because the front wheels were just spinning and we were no longer going onward and upward. Our lack of forward progress of course meant we had to reverse back down the hill. SWTTM got out and directed traffic around us while I slowly reversed back to a point where we could turn around. I was glad we had winter tyres on as we had plenty of grip to stop us sliding on the hill even if they didn’t enable us to get to the top. So we went back along the road we had been on and decided to give it another go. I decided to make a few changes to my driving style in my attempt to conquer the mountain. First I went faster (of course faster is always better), I had to balance this with the fact that I had to make the corner onto the hill which while not tight was still a corner. The extra speed did cause a bit of a slide onto the hill but it was easily controlled and we surged up the hill. Our original stopping point was quickly surpassed but we still had a few hundred metres to overcome. As we continued our climb we started to lose traction again – I tried everything: modulating the throttle, more, less it didn’t seem to make any difference just varying degrees of wheel spin; sawing the steering wheel back and forward; even had the kids come up into the cabin in an attempt to move some weight forward (pity the biggest lump was already in the cab). But all to no avail. We made it significantly further than our previous attempt but that just meant we had to reverse further. So we headed back to the campsite in defeat, it looked like we would not be going to the snow this day. To make matters worse we received an email to let us know that the family we were meeting were on their way to meet us at the snow.

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Doesn't look very steep in a photo

Doesn’t look very steep in a photo

Once we were back at the campsite we tried to work out what to do. We had a town map and it looked like there may be an alternative route, but as we had already experienced the town’s steep and often narrow streets  I did not want to just charge off in the ice and snow and get stuck so I decided to go for a walk. I discovered that there was an alternate route that was still covered in snow and ice but nowhere near as steep. So we headed off. Once we got to the main road it was cleared so no more snow troubles.

Our next dilemma was finding the family. You know how you can make arrangements to meet someone somewhere you have never been before and in your head it seems quite clear, but when you get there things are nothing like what you expect. Well that is what happened to us. We came to a carpark as arranged and we saw a car there that matched the brand they owned (we had seen their car at their house but it was covered in snow, so while I knew what make and model I had no idea what colour it was), so we stopped and headed off.

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There were a couple of different ways we could go and eventually we covered all of them and enjoyed the snow as we went – but we never found the family which was a real shame.

We headed further down the road and discovered another carpark, still no family here but there was a great toboggan slope; well actually it was a ski slope but there were no skiers because there wasn’t really enough snow, but it was great for the toboggans we had. The slope was very fast and we all had some great runs down it.

It was disappointing that we did not find the family but we had a great time in the bit of snow that we had.

We finished our day at a town called Clausthal-Zellerfeld where it was very, very cold.

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