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Møre Og Romsdal – Norway

There was much deliberation about where to go next; straight to Norway, a week in Sweden, a week on a Greek island – seriously, we even looked for a cheap package deal!

Reminding ourselves once again, this is “quality not quantity” travel; we stocked up on groceries (pasta, cereal, coffee, etc) and headed to Norway.

Our destination is north to the region known as Møre Og Romsdal. From here we will make our way back down to Oslo where we are meeting Mark and Irena in 10 days time.

After an 8 hour drive from Copenhagen we overnight in Lillehammer at Vandrerhjem Stasjonen Hostel, built on top of the train station.

wpid-rps20151012_124531_633.jpgThe next day we spy our first Norwegian fjord; the Geiranger, also considered one of the most spectacular Fjords in Norway. Though, from our experience it’s pretty hard to claim one is more spectacular than the another.

Lunch is a picnic at the Ørnevegen lookout, with panoramic views over the Geiranger.

Eagle Road is the name given to the steep stretch of road which takes you up the mountain side from Geiranger towards Eidsdal, otherwise know as riksveg 63.

As we head further north the drive is one dramatic scene after another; rugged cliffs and tumbling waterfalls plunging into the depths of the fjord. Mountain meadows scattered with farms, painted rustic-red, add a striking contrast.

wpid-snapseed-01.jpegIt is a photographer’s dream – even our amateur skills capture some great shots and it’s amazing what you can do with photo editors these days.

Snapseed is my favourite for a quick edit, PhotoEditor for a larger range of options.

Ferry crossings are a way of life, there are more than 100 car ferry connections inside Norway, often making it quicker to traverse waterways than take the roads.

We ferry hop across from Eidsdal to Linge, drive a short distance to take another hop across from Liabygda to Stranda, where we are staying for a few nights.

wp-1448585757074.jpegOur AirBnB hosts are Elisabeth and Stig, they have recently moved back from way up in the North of Norway to take up residence on Elisabeth’s family farm.

It is a stunning location set up on the hillside with sweeping views down to the fjord.

We spend three nights here and found it a great spot to use as a base and explore the region; visiting Ålesund, the Atlantic Road and the Trollstigen og Stigfossen (the Troll Ladder).

Our generous hosts invited us to join the family for a sumptuous dinner of roast turkey, cooked in the fire pit outside.

Stig also warmed up the outdoor wood-fired hot tub, a true Scandinavian experience, in a beautiful setting overlooking the fjord and snow-capped mountains.

wp-1448585757141.jpegOur journey back towards Oslo begins with visiting the island of Rund; a small remote island in the community of Herøy, situated on the west coast of Sunnmøre.

Runde has a regular population of 100 human inhabitants and during the nesting season over 500,000 birds migrate to the island.

A ‘birders’ paradise with over 80, or so, different bird species gathering each year to nest along the rugged cliffs. However, it’s the Puffin which gets the most attention.

Unfortunately, we are too late in the season to see any Puffins, aside from squawking seagulls there isn’t much bird life at all.

In Goksoyr, probably the remotest village on the island with just a few summer homes, we find Arne sitting outside enjoying the sun.

He is a passionate Norwegian whose family have owned the home for several generations, his grandparents turning it into a guest house in the early 1960’s.

wp-1448585757169.jpegArne is very excited to have guests to chat with and he delights in sharing with us local tales and family history.

His hospitality is endless; serving us coffee and cake, later encouraging us to enjoy the view from the balcony with our bottle of wine; candles and flowers appear along with nuts and grapes to nibble.

Breakfast is laid out for us and Arne insists on loading us up with fresh fruit for our travels – he truly goes overboard in hospitality!

After a day of driving we find ourselves in the town of Eplet/Solvorn where we luck-out with finding accommodation at a cute hostel Eplet Bed & Apple farm.

wp-1448585757194.jpegIt was so comfortable we stayed two nights and took a break from driving.

It was lovely to spend a day out of the car, reading, catching up on the blog (as you can see, I am always behind) and relaxing in the sunshine.

We had expected Norway to be very expensive and we made a conservative effort to cook most of the time. Often we didn’t have much choice; restaurants and cafes seem to be very scarce.

Supermarket prices for most things benchmark with Australia – which on a world scale still puts them at the expensive end. Somethings were pricey, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, like AUS$6 for one lemon.

The CPI (coffee price index) was rarely used, as we carried our trusty plunger with us and used it daily.  On the odd occasion coffee was about AUS$7

Making our way from Solvorn along the northern side of the Sognefjord, the second largest fjord in the world, we take Route 55 to Lom.

There’s more dramatic scenery as we traverse through the highest mountain pass in Northern Europe (1,434 meters above sea level).  The alpine landscape takes us through the Jotunheimen National Park, home to Jostedalsbreen Glacier.

wp-1448585757200.jpegPassing a herd of sheep gathered on the side of the road, we notice one is lying on its back, legs in the air! It seems to be stuck between the gutter and road barrier.

This is a little peculiar, as sheep don’t lay on their backs and supposedly can die from doing so.

Don undertakes his good deed of the day and after some effort, rites the animal back on all fours. We leave her a little stunned, but hopefully OK.

Heading back closer to Oslo we thought we would just stay in Lillehammer again, but the hostel was full. A few towns along, we luck out and find a gorgeous farm called Stokke Nedre to spend the night.

Tomorrow we meet Irena and Mark in Oslo.

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Europe comes to an end

We’ve now been away a total of 201 days, 177 days have been spent in Europe,

We’ve been from London to Turkey
(not New York to Rio, like Peter Allen ☺).

We’ve covered 14 countries; some we just passed through, others we explored in detail.

England / France / Italy / Serbia / Croatia / Bulgaria / Turkey / Greece / Montenegro / Slovenia / Austria / Switzerland / Germany / Spain

A few of the highights:

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Driven over 20,000km, no parking tickets or speeding fines (we know of). No car accidents – just 1 flat tyre.

Nothing lost, nothing broken and the worst illness was a stomach bug for a few days.

Cheapest accommodation: €15 a night on Leros
Most expensive: €160 a night in Paris

CPI (Coffee Price Index): most expensive €4.50 in Venice, the cheapest €0.50 in Berane, Montenegro

WCP (Wine Consumption Price): most expensive was £9 for a glass of champagne in London, the Cheapest in France (of course), €4 a bottle.

Best meal:  Hard to say, we’ve had so many; from eating a home cooked meal with the family in Guzelyurt, to fine dining at Le Gabriel in Bordeaux, enjoying the local Fête’s in France or simply cooking with fresh ingredients from the markets. I don’t think we’ve had a bad meal.

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We’ve met some wonderful people along the way. The added pleasure and delight, has been those friends and family who joined us; whether it be for a dinner, a weekend or a few weeks: Ross and Kate, Katrina, Helen and Rod, Bruce, Penny, Dale, Leeanne, Elisa and Ian, our Niece Claire and my sister Jane.

As well as visiting and enjoying the generous hospitality of the Ryan’s in Switzerland, Andrea and Margit (her Mum) in Austria, and the Brown’s in London.

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So far, the Callander capers have been amazing.

Best of all, we are still talking to each other…..most of the time!!

We still like each other!

We still like each other!

Turkey – Eastern Mediterranean Coast

We hit the Turkish Mediterranean coast at Mersin. The guide books are too nice about this town; it probably shouldn’t even make it into the guide books at all. Highrises line the coastline, all looking the same, maybe the architect from Belgrade moved to Mersin.   Katrina summarises it well “There is nothing redeeming about Mersin and lucky for us we are passing through.”

We did make a detour to Decathalon (rebel sport on steroids), and each picked up some waterproof ‘rock’ shoes in preparation for the turkish beaches.

The eastern Mediterranean coastline is not particularly popular with visitors and we can see why.  We make the most of an overcast day and cover as many kilometers as we can.  We stay the night in Anamur in an average looking hotel and we negotiated a good rate for two rooms and breakfast.  When we ask for recommendations for dinner, we are told the hotel is the best (of course it is).  After a reconnaissance up and down the street, it seems they may be right.  Dinner is Kebabs and meatballs, the usual turkish fare, with a bottle of not so memorable red wine!  Then the turkish entertainment starts. Let’s just say he’s not a candidate for “Turkey – you’ve got talent”.

Katrina, as usual, puts us to shame and is up early for a morning run along the beach.  She makes use of the free exercise equipment, which we’ve seen frequently provided in public areas.  People do seem to use it, predominantly men.  You see men and women out getting some exercise, however most of the women are still in traditional headdress and clothing.  I don’t know how they cope with the heat, as the clothing is always long sleeved and heavy.

Breakfasts in Turkey generally consist of bread (you get served bread with everything), tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and a hard boiled egg.  Sometimes an omelet is on offer as well.  Tea and, of course, turkish coffee goes without saying.  Regular coffee with milk is Nescafe, which is an example of market domination.  When we ask for coffee the reply is; “turkish, or Nescafe?” I am sure you can guess that the CPI has hit an all time low, the cheapest being $1.00 for a cup of nescafe without milk.  I am not sure if nescafe without milk rates better, or worse, than nescafe with powdered milk!

Anyway, I digress.  The breakfast on this morning is ordinary. I am not sure if it was tea, or coffee, that we tried to drink, but we skipped the eating part because all the plates were dirty.  A boiled egg seemed the safest option and then we got back on the road!

Istanbul

Warning: You must be crazy to drive in Istanbul!

So, of course we did drive!  We discover that in a city of 13 Million, it’s always peak hour!  The Turks are crazy drivers, crossing 6 lane highways without hesitation, there are clearly unwritten rules that the guide books don’t explain.  We watch cars and more nervously trucks, weave in and out of traffic without hesitation.  The last 20km takes nearly 2 hours, the last 5km, an hour of that.  We thread through narrow streets in the old quarters of Istanbul to find the ANZAC hotel located in Sultanahmet.  The roads narrow to one car width and impatient drivers even force us to reverse back up the street on occasion, being the tourists we are not going to argue with them!

You could spend weeks in Istanbul and not even scratch the surface of this city, so we really did not do it justice. Our accommodation influenced our decision to cut our four days into three.  We did however cram a lot into those 4 days, visiting many of the highlights:

The Blue Mosque rates along with the Vatican when it comes to religious buildings.  The blue Iznik tile work that decorates the interior is beautiful. Built in the early 1600’s, it’s a masterpiece.  Interestingly, the 6 minarets which rise above were considered to be a sacrilegious attempt to rival Mecca.  The minarets provide a focal point and these days vantage points for the loud speakers which make the call to prayer.

Topkapi Palace with its Harem, held over 1000 women, all vying for the attention of the Sultan in hope of bearing him a son and raise themselves above the mere existence of a slave.  The palace dates back to 1459 and comprises a number of pavilions and courtyards.  The collection of treasures amassed by the Ottoman Sultans is impressive; bejewelled helmets and swords, all glittering in precious stones.  One unexpected antiquity is the staff of Moses. Katrina and I being the good catholics that we are, are intrigued to find this artifact sitting a Turkish palace among Muslim artifacts.

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The Grand Bazaar is all hustle and bustle and most entertaining.   The shopkeepers are relentless in their quest for a sale and the opening lines they come up with are impressive.  They never take “no” for an answer and have a reply to every polite rejection you make.  In the end, Don is the only one who falls prey (the salesman in him can’t resist). He bargains for two polo shirts paying AUS$32. We are sure they still made money out of us, but we think $16 per shirt is a good deal.

The most talented people we see are the people delivering tea, negotiating their way through the crowded alleys, precariously balancing a tray with steaming sweet tea. Next is the spice markets, here the shopkeepers tempt you with sweet turkish treasures; baklava, turkish delight, nuts and traditional sweets.  The colourful and aromatic array of spices available is a sensory overload. After purchasing some treats for afternoon tea we head for fresh air!

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We wander down to the ferry terminal to check out the Bospherous boat tours. We come across a boat drumming up business for its next departure. We couldn’t refuse the $5 fare and jump on.  A great way to take in Istanbul and the landmarks is along the river. The food in Turkey is fresh and relatively simple.  We dine on traditional kebabs, koftas, meatballs and fresh seafood.  Generally a meal is served with a simple salad of tomatoes and cucumber and baked chips. Oh, and bread; how could I forget the bread!  Every meal comes with freshly baked bread, its hard to say no!

The CPI in Istanbul is expensive unless you are prepared to drink turkish coffee, or instant!   It’s a mission to find a ‘real’ coffee, but we do manage to find a regular place for a morning kick start.  A cappuccino is TL8 ($4).  The WCC (wine consumption cost) is also suffering from quality and exorbitant prices. I guess we should have expected that in a Muslim country.   Turkey does produce wine, just not very good wine.

The ANZAC Hotel is an old Ottoman styled wooden house, common in the older areas.  None of us are particularly precious travellers; we know you get what you pay for and ANZAC house is no exception. At €45 per night, divided by three, its cheap.  The room is a reasonable size, the bathroom clean, even if a little quirky, with the shower encompassing the entire bathroom.  However, the third bed is a rollout and does not end up being very comfortable and the biggest issue we had with the place is that in the top floor dining/common area the staff are smoking, heavily!  After an early dinner on our first night we head upstairs to relax and catch up on emails only to be overwhelmed with smoke.  Hence, we ended our stay a night early.

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Commute to Turkey

When we calculated the distance to Turkey and the list of things we wanted to see within the 6 weeks Katrina had with us, we realised that our best option was to high-tail it across the continent.

We left Venice with the intent to keep on driving for as long as we could. From Italy we need to cross Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria before we enter Turkey, where our first stop is Gallipoli.

The Slovenia countryside was very pretty and maybe worth a visit sometime, but we quickly cross the border into Croatia. Everyone raves about the Croatian coast,but we can’t say much for the scenery along the motorway, as it starts to become more sparse and bleak the further east we travel.

We stopped at a roadside café to refuel the car and ourselves.  Between the pictures and words we could decipher on the menu, we end up with chicken schnitzel (I think)!  Katrina points out the Croatian dress code; tracksuit pants, trainers, t-shirt.  Jeans are obviously reserved for more formal occasions!

As evening approaches we have crossed into Serbia and we will need to stop somewhere for the night. We pass by Belgrade (the Capital) and we decide that we won’t be stopping here, as it’s one high-rise after another, looking very depressing.  We eventually detour into Kragujevac, 20km off the motorway, thinking it would be a bit smaller (and nicer, only to discover it is the 4th biggest city in Serbia).  The tourist highlights are apparently the tennis courts, first high school and the Cineplex!

With the aid of the nav system we find the centre of town and a couple of hotels. The first is full, but the second has rooms for Aus $55 and looks reasonable.   We check in and head into the bar for a night-cap, where we discover there are very different non smoking laws in Serbia (probably none at all). We are greeted with a wall of suffocating smoke in a crowded bar, with everyone watching a basketball game.  Our distaste for the smoking is obvious and we are ushered into the restaurant where there is less smoking, but still smoking!! There is also live entertainment; a cover band belting out 80’s hits in both English and Serbian.  They do a pretty good job of Pink Floyd’s – ‘Wish You Were Here’ (but we are not sure we do).

The next morning we are back on the road, with only Bulgaria to cross.  The CPI has got cheaper, but this is (unfortunately) in direct correlation to the quality and this continues the further east we go.  In desperation for a reasonable coffee, quick meal and clean toilets we opt for McDonald’s in Sophia.  None of us are Maccas fans, but they do pride themselves on worldwide consistency – however, we don’t think the Maccas quality control team has visited Sophia in a while!

Who thought I could write so much about a road trip….anyway, we arrive at the Gallipoli peninsula early evening.