Friday, June 19, 2009
They are collected together by month. Only the latest month comes up. To read previous months go to Archives or History list to right of page (you may have to scroll down) then click on the month you want.
All photos can be brought up full size simply by clicking on them.
The Istanbul to Normandy story is the current page but you can get the Fiat 500 Trip story just by clicking on the archives for 2007 as above.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
End of another trip
Bertie's adoption paper
We can now look back and feel very pleased with what was a highly successful expedition. Everywhere in every country, the vehicles were received with enthusiasm by the general public. Those with knowledge of these old vehicles were astonished by the audacity of the concept to attempt to get such a large group such a long distance.
All the crews contributed to this success by retaining their focus for 6 weeks. As they became more comfortable with travel in strange lands – on the wrong side of the road – their enjoyment also increased. Right to the end everyone was still socialising every night and setting out each day with enthusiasm.
Once again we had our faithful companions along on the trip, Penelope ( the Garmin GPS ) proving her worth as the marriage saver. Sitting on the ledge behind my head was Bertie the Brooklands Bear, our adopted mascot. Bertie, dressed in a Sidcot flying suit made by Gieves and Hawkes, was presented to Lang by Prince Michael of Kent just prior to the Vimy flight. He has since accompanied Lang on the Avian flight, was in the Itala during the Peking to Paris expedition, travelled around the world in the Fiat 500 and is now safe at home again.
In conclusion we would like to thank our friends who generously provided some very unique hospitality that no tourist operation could possibly emulate. From the brass band parade followed by some wonderful Italian fare we thank Sandro and Wilmy Scarpa and the Fiat 500 Club. For the night at their 17th century farmhouse with tables groaning with homemade fare and a cake decorated with an Australian flag, along with an impressive private collection of military vehicles, thanks to Marjorie and Peter Tombs. As a fabulous finale to our week in Normandy the D-Day dinner party at a real French Chateau with fine food and wine thanks to Anna and Franck Bailleul.
There were many others along the way who made our trip unforgettable – Jerome Stevens and the boys at the French Military Vehicle Club, the enthusiastic crew in Scarperia from the Italian Military Vehicle Club, Derek Skoda for help with shipping, Colin Smith and the MVT. There were also numerous people who extended friendship and help to members of the crews right across Europe – thank you all.
We were all proud to have reminded people of Australian and New Zealand historical achievements and commemorate the sacrifices our forefathers made by walking the ground where they endured, suffered and died.
Bev and Lang
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Cloth Hall Ieper/Ypres
View from the tower at Villers-Brettoneux
Australian National Memorial Villers-Bretonneux
Le Hamel memorial with old trenches
Field of poppies Flanders
Our final week of the trip was spent in the area of the Western Front of France and Belgium. This is where so many futile massacres took place during WW1, and where the breaking of the German offensive of 1918 allowed the advances by the allies that led to the armistice 90 years ago on November 11 that same year.
Driving through this area there are so very many beautifully maintained cemeteries mostly established where the men fought and died. It is so emotionally charged, wandering through the headstones seeing the average age of these men in their early 20's and so many with just a headstone stating "An Unknown Soldier" or " An Australian Soldier of the Great War"
On Tuesday we went into Amiens and saw the huge cathederal in the centre of town containing many dedications to the soldiers who fought in the area. We then visited the town of Villers Bretonneux where not only is there a reference to Australia on every street corner but it also has a dedicated Australian National Memorial where there are names of 11,000 Australians who have no grave. On the outskirts of the town is the Adelaide cemetery where the Unknown Soldier's remains were exhumed in 1993 and taken to the War Memorial in Canberra, as a lasting memorial to all unknown soldiers in all wars. We also visited the French Australian museum in the town.
We camped overnight at the village of Le Hamel on the Somme River and saw the new Australian memorial that has recently been established that depicts Monash's very clever assault and recapture of the ridge line. The memorial is on a hill behind the village in amongst the local farm fields and obviously a very stategic position during such a battle. This was also the first battle in which a small number (1,000) of newly arrived American troops were put in with the battle-hardened Australians to gain experience. Several small items such as buttons and bullets were found in the remains of the trenches still scarring the wheat field beside the memorial.
An interesting feature of this memorial is it is from near this spot that Sgt Popkin and another Australian gunner shot down Manfred von Richtoffen (the Red Baron) with their machine guns (despite the unfounded but propaganda driven official story that Canadian pilot Capt Brown was responsible).
On the following and our final day with the group Lang and I visited Arras. Just north of the town is the stunning Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge, very stark but unbelievably impressive. The Canadians lost 10,000 men on one day taking this point and the names of 60,000 Canadians lost are recorded (about the same number of wartime losses as the Australians). From there we went across the Belgium border and attended the playing of The Last Post which is performed every night at 8pm at the Menin Gate at the entrance of Ieper/Ypres through which marched thousands of men to the slaughter of the salient. The spectacular stone city gate has the names of 54,000 men, mainly from the British Empire, who died in the immediate area but have no known grave.
Those of us who still had the energy left, attended a last get together with a strange but tasty menu, the pooled remains of our food – and wine - supplies. Even though it had been raining heavily and quite cold during the day, the camp site had a large weatherproof tent. We even managed to have a funny hat competition.
For us this is the wrap-up of a very successful trip. The majority of the group headed to Antwerp to pack their vehicles into containers for the trip back home. The coordination of the containers is not as critical for the trip back, so it was not essential that they all got away together. The Studebaker was sold in Europe and others in the the group are continuing to travel for a longer period. At the last minute we have some interest expressed in the Chev have chosen to wait a few days to see if anything develops.
We have had the dynamics of approx 30 people (numbers have varied between 28 and 33) travelling in 15 vehicles (1 motorbike, 5 jeeps, 3 large trucks and 6 medium size vehicles). Each day I posted the next night's campsite and it was free travel for the day. Some of the team formed themselves into smaller groups of two or three and stayed together during the day, while others were happy to be independent and use the day to do and see what was of particular interest to themselves.
Having been over much of the route before made things easier for us in planning, if not in execution. A mob of fifteen 70-year-old vehicles made it unwise to rigidly plan every nightly stop and we also wanted to retain the flexibility to stop at places of interest or by popular request. Things went very smoothly most of the time but we spent at least an hour each day and several hours on a number of days, trying to secure a suitable stop for the night, reorganise ferry bookings etc. Every camp site we went to was well above the average Australian caravan park standard.
The participants, as planned, knew little of the day to day administration required for the trip and many continue to assume that it all "just happened". Our $1,000 telephone bill is a reminder to us of the constant work required on trips like these.
Because of the the common interest in military vehicles the tour was designed around quite a few of the significant battle fields in Europe of both WW1 and WW2. In between though, there was plenty of opportunity to go sightseeing, and we stayed over in quite a few large, diverse and very colourful cities, such as Istanbul, Athens, Turin, and Paris.
Even though the battlefields have been maintained as memorials to many incredibly bloody and futile experiences I believe they serve as important reminders to future generations, so that these brave men, regardless of nationality, and what they endured will never be forgotten.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Villagers from Baron
The Bailleul chateau feast.
Raining parachutes St Mere Eglise
American parachutist incident recreation St Mere Eglise
Lang and Bill in French resistance outfits
Fireworks Port en Bessin 05 June
Lang film interview Point du Hoc
The team Bailleul chateau
We organised with the English MVT (Military Vehicle Trust) to stay at their campsite at Etreham during our week long stay in Normandy. This camp ground is in an ideal situation just out of Bayeux and close to all the coastal towns that were involved in the D day landings.
On the first night several of us began the week with a little culture and attended a symphony recital at Bayeux Cathederal featuring Mozart's Requiem, as well as music from Brahms and Haydn with a beautiful 53 strong choir.
Our second day was spent driving around the pretty harbour of Port en Bessin and other local areas, introducing Rhonda, Lang's sister, to a very different experience from her touring around France in her little Fiat Panda for the last nine months..
The whole coast line is dotted with camp sites of all different nationalities and their vehicles. There are around 3,000 military vehicles in the area for the D Day celebrations. Every five years they have an extra big celebration and this year will probably see the last time there are so many veterans still able to attend.
On Wednesday the MVT arranged for a convoy to go to the village of Baron-sur-Odon near Caen. The Mayor of the village welcomed us with a reception at the local "Marie" and from there we transported the people from the village to a tank memorial where a wreath laying ceremony was held. Lang had taken the canopy off the back of the Chev and when we went back to the vehicles after the reception we had a load full of locals already to go. We had brought four other Aussies with us from the camp so had to do a quick run around to make sure they could ride in another vehicle.
On Thursday we started out to visit some of the other camp sites but came to a halt a few kilometres from camp. The starter motor on the Chev had ceased to work. Lang managed, with Rhonda's help, to push the Chev up and over a hill and I was able to do a clutch start. We then drove to some camp sites to see if anyone was carrying or selling spares. Lang decided then to abandon us women and went off on his own to find a hill and attempt to rebuilt the starter, unfortunately to no avail.
After returning to camp some of the English vehicle owners had just returned from a swap meet and had seen a brand new starter at one of the stalls. Two of them took Lang in their Jeep and were able to locate the prize and following a quick fit we were back on the road.
Rhonda and I did not waste the day and headed into town to see the world famous Bayeux Tapesty which is a 70 m long tapesty a thousand years old and tells the story of the Norman invasion of 1066. It is in amazing condition and the colours and condition of the linen are remarkable.
Mobile again on Friday we drove to look at Pointe du Hoc where the American Rangers landed and were faced with high rugged cliffs. The surrounding area is still pock marked with huge bomb craters and has been left as a memorial to an incredible feat. We then went to Isigny sur Mer near where the French are camped and we had lunch with Herman Pfauter and his cousin Mark as this was our last chance to see them before we go our separate ways. We then went on to Ste Mere Eglise which is famous for the parachute drop on D Day and the parachutist who was trapped, when his chute was caught on the steeple of the church. There is a model of the soldier with his chute on top of the church which is in the town square. Here we were able to catch up once again with the Tomb's family who had two of their vehicles on display in the square albeit unofficially and were being hounded to move by a very patient but persistent gendarme.
On Friday night at 11pm - since it is still light until 10.30pm - there was a fireworks display at 25 different locations along the coast line. Most of us went down to Port en Bessin and because of the very high cliffs and a break-water that juts out from the town we had a great view of about 12 sites up and down the coast as well as in the small harbour of the spectacular coordinated show that ran for 20 minutes.
Saturday saw the D Day celebrations, and quite a number from the camp were on the beach for a small dawn service. The majority elected to leave camp at 10am and we assembled waiting for the tide to fall and were able to drive in a 200 vehicle convoy along the beach from Asnelles to Arromanches where later in the afternoon there was a big ceremony for the British Veterans that Prince Charles attended. Initially the British generally and the royal family had been snubbed by the French but with a lot of bureaucratic manipulating and high outrage in the British press there was an appropriate representation.
The atmosphere in the town and on the beach was amazing, it was almost impossible to walk through the town because of the crush of veterans, serving personel, locals, vehicle owners and bands marching. The British decided to go for a Guiness book of records to break the standing record of 49 WW2 bikes in the one place and did it easily with 145 bikes driving down on the beach.
Our Australian group left the beach and headed to the garden party we had been invited to at Anna and Franck Bailleul's Chateau near Villers Bocage. We also had organised on our way there to lay a wreath at the Typhoon Memorial at Noyers Bocage. This being the only recognised memorial in the Normandy area that has an Australian representation. About 2000 Australian airmen were part of the assault on D Day.
Our luck with the weather ran out but the rain did stop to allow our little ceremony to take place. We were a bit of a rag tag group as Anna and Frank's invitation had said dress was Allied, Resistance Chic, and most of us had already changed either in the back of trucks or the local bar's toilet area.
Down the road at the Chateau though the rain caused everything to have to be moved in doors. The tables had been laid for 100 people along the long front driveway and after they had been completely soaked during the afternoon everything was dried and when we arrived it had been rearranged and looking beautiful in two of the down stairs rooms. Even though it was a little crowded it certainly allowed people a better chance to mix.
A fabulous dinner was served, with nibbles to begin with then salads and cold meats including a pheasant terrine, with stuffed pheasants as decoration. This was followed by platters of cheese then beautiful little petit four desserts and coffee. It was a very generous offer of the Bailleuls to invite our group so we could all have a wonderful finale to not only a very significant day but also an incredible week. Anna also related the story of owner of the Chateau who was taken prisoner on D Day 65 year ago and the Germans took over the building and he was shot on the the same day.
A nice touch to our arrival even in the rain was the Bailleul boys dressed in military uniforms very formally directing all our vehicles to their allotted parking in the grounds of the Chateau.
On Sunday, our final day in Normandy, we went to St Mere Eglise to see the parachute drop reenacted by American, British, German and French paratroops. Again the weather was bad but after a delay of an hour we saw wave after wave of parachutists dropping with old fashioned round chutes from C130 aircraft. It was worth the long walk and getting drenched, along with the jostling with thousands of spectators. The wind was extremely strong and there were a number of soldiers injured upon landing.
Now Normandy has finished and we are on the last few days of our trip to northern France and the prospect of organising for the trip home.
For the last week we have had a two-man film crew with us on the trip. They were able to get some funding from the History channel so they hope to make a documentary of our trip combined with historic footage.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Masterpiece by Marjorie Tombs
The "Jerrycan of Friendship" French Military Vehicle Club
Lang rides Jerome's R12 BMW outfit Paris
Sacre Coeur Paris
Line-up Mont St Michel
The Tomb's Farm Normandy
French National Memorial Verdun
Some of the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers Verdun
Our first stop in France was in Mulhouse where Lang and a few of the group went and enjoyed visiting the Museum that houses the famous Schlumpf Collection and also the National Railways Museum with it's superb collection of locomotives and carriages. Another group enjoyed cooling off in the campsite pool as it was the hottest day we have had on the trip.
On Monday we arrived in Verdun after a very scenic drive and enjoyed the lush French countryside. We stopped along the way in the lovely little village of Domremy to have lunch and inspect Joan of Arc's house and the nearby cathedral.
Verdun has the dubious reputation as being the byword for war time slaughter. During the last two years of WW1, over 800,000 soldiers – some 400,000 French and almost as many Germans, along with thousands of the Americans who arrived in 1918, lost their lives. In the town and the surrounding areas there are very moving memorials and museums to their memories. Five villages that were completely wiped out in the area and still show the original bomb craters , with just small signs marking where different families lived and, even though today there are trees and grass, it still has an incredible inpact.
The Douaumont Ossuary, at 137m long is extremely impressive and one of France's most important WW1 memorials. It contains the rermains of about 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers from the battlefields collected after the war.
After 2 nights in Verdun we arrived at our campsite in the middle of Paris and again had a two night stopover. The crews were very apprehensive about the drive through Paris but the various GPS navigation units got everyone in to our camp on the Seine in the Bois de Boulogne without too much tension. The first night Lang and I went to the old bohemian area of Montmarte to capture the romance we had experienced there 40 years previously. Unfortunately we came away disappointed as commercalism and tourism has completely taken over. Lang commented that the best description of the place was "tawdry".
The next day we were invited by the French Military group to go and view their collection. Many vehicle owners in Paris use a marvellous old army facility near Versailles and just half an hour outside the city where they are able to not only store their vehicle but work on them doing their restorations or maintenance. On Thursday Henry de Willy came to our campsite and led a number of vehicles packed with our group down to view their collection and then Jerome Stevens who we had been liasing with, arrived to show us his fantastic collection of vehicles as well as putting on an impromptu and very scrumptious lunch. Many of their members were preparing their vehicles for the trip to the D day celebrations in Normandy.
In the afternoon we caught up with Rhonda, Lang's sister ,who has been holidaying in France for the last nine months. Then in the evening we were invited out to Anna and Franck Bailleul's for a delicious dinner just a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. We met Anna and Franck five years ago when we were in France for the 60th D Day Anniversary, and this year Anna and Franck have invited all our group to a D Day garden party on the night of the 6th June at their chateau in Normandy, so we are all looking forward to that later in the week.
From Paris we changed our original itinerary as everyone likes the two night stops in the one venue, and we headed straight for Mont Saint Michel. Along the way we encountered a vast traffic jam. It turned out the French farmers were protesting the low price of milk so had barricaded several towns with their fleet of tractors. We managed to go around the blockades by travelling on scenic back lanes.
The first sighting of Mont St Michel is very impressive. The spire of the cathedral extending from the walled town perched on a rock, surrounded by sea is one of the great sights of France.
We managed to get the vehicles on to the causeway very early in the morning for a photo before the buses and cars started to arrive. This also enabled us to climb the steep narrow laneways past all the cafes and souvenir shops, and look through the abbey before the tide of people descended. The tourists reminded Lang of the annual migration of the Wildebeest on the Serengeti Plains with the lions (the store owners) waiting paitently for their next feed.
On Sunday Lang and I headed the 60kms to our friend's, Marjorie and Peter Tombs, place where they very generously had invited the whole group to stay for the night. We first met Marjorie and Peter when we were in the UK 20 years ago for the 45th D Day Anniversary, and they have been involved in some of our various projects over the years.
Peter has an amazing collection of vehicles and a year ago made the move from the UK to their French 16th century farm house. Peter managed to finish his large barn where he can display all his vehicles in time for our arrival. By late afternoon everyone had arrived and we had the best BBQ meal with lots of wonderful homemade fare, a real treat from the very basic meals we have been cooking on our one and two burner stoves. We had a great jam session to finish the evening with our two resident musicians (Sam on Sax and Dale on guitar) as well as Chris the next door neighbour on the electric guitar.We thank the Tomb's very much for their friendship and generosity.
We had an early start the next morning and one of the few times we have driven in convoy we did the 60 kms to our camp site for the next week at Etreham in Normandy. Entering the village with all vehicles driving in an impressive tight convoy was quite special for Lang and me as we felt we had again accomplished what we had set out to do, and that was to bring 15 vehicles from Australia via Istanbul to Normandy.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A beautiful day on Semplon Pass
On Saturday morning we left our campsite on Lake Maggiore and drove the length of the lake then started our climb to the Swiss border. We have had no interest from customs at any border and the border into Switzerland was no different. We even escaped the compulsory 25euro sticker to drive on Swiss motorways.
It was the most perfect day - a cloudless blue sky. Slowly, on a very winding road (avoiding the main highway) we climbed up to the Simplon Pass which was 2005 metres high. Snow became more evident as we got higher and by the top it was alongside the road in large drifts. We made a very icy snowman on the Chev and took the compulsory photo before he melted in the hot sun within minutes. We had all our cold weather gear at the ready but we are getting extremely unseasonal hot weather and remained in shirtsleeves even for the snow shots. Anything is better than rain because of the manner in which we are travelling so we are not complaining.
Despite the temperatures being only in the low 20's all the vehicles overheated on the long climb but only a couple were obliged to have short cooling stops.
We then travelled down the reciprocal side of the pass, testing our brakes severely, north to the Overwald and the Furka Pass which was still closed by snow. Fortunately there is a train that the vehicles are loaded on and this travels 20 minutes through a very dark tunnel to the other side of the mountain. You drive onto the flat bed carriages and sit in your vehicle during the whole trip.
The scenery in Switzerland is picture post card perfect. The lush green grass, snow capped mountains, crystal clear lakes and the goats and cows with their ringing bells. It is amazing how the different countries change so much. The people have different characteristics as well as the scenery.
We had planned to stay in a camp site at the side of a small lake high in the mountains at Seelisberg but when Lang and I arrived we found that it was a site that only allowed tents and no vehicles.
As there were no other camp sites in the area and, after a long day where a lot of the vehicles had over heating problems and fuel blockages, we needed to pull the rabbit out of the hat. We drove around the town and asked a few locals and ended up at a resturant in the small village, where the owner suggested a flat area (there is nothing flat larger than a tennis court for 50 kilometres!) up the hill behind his place. We waited a half an hour while he tried to contact the owner and, in the meantime, as our group arrived in the usual dribs and drabs there was a welcome cold drink available at the resturant.
We got the all clear with for a free camp with the use of the restaurant's toilet. Most of us also took the opportunity to have a change from camp cooking and dined out in the open looking up to the snow capped peaks.
After dinner we went through our field to a handsome 1896 hotel and were admiring the fabulous views over the lake below when a Swiss man introduced himself as Otto the manager of the building owned by the Maharishi Movement. Switzerland has been their headquarters since the 1970's.
A few of us accepted his invitation to have a look inside the building. He first showed us in the entrance the bell on Invincibility which we all rang. Then he took us to their meeting room that had rows of hundreds of throne like chairs in the shape of an amphitheatre. He did not attempt a hard sell at all but just explained about transendental meditation which they teach and practise and at the end he played us some very soothing Indian style music, after which we all went to bed and slept very soundly.
This is the thing I like most travelling from day to day without a strict itinerary. Out of the blue you meet some very interesting people and have some wonderful unexpected experiences.
On Sunday we headed down to the less mountainous side of Swizerland and travelled mostly on the motorway past Luzerne and Basel to Mulhouse just over the border in France.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Leaning Tower Pisa
Monastry with two Chevrolets near Lago Maggiore
Carabineri stop for a photo near Genoa
Wilmy, Sandro, Lang, Bev at Garlenda dinner.
Garlenda speeches and presentations
Early morning Urbino Tuscany from camp site.
We arrived in Ancona, Italy at 1pm Saturday 16 May after a 21 hour trip in the ferry. We were met at the dock by Herman Pfauter who is travelling to Normandy with us in his 1941 1 ½ ton Chevrolet truck and Andrea a member of the local Military Club who had contacted us by e-mail several months ago.
As it was still early in the day we decided to travel up the coast a little way. Our first choice of camp site was not open until June so we pressed on to Urbino. This was a bonus, not on our itinerary, as it is an ancient walled city with spectacular winding, hilly streets with shops, cafes and spectacular churches. It was used as a university town for foriegners and is still fully occupied and full of life.
From there we had more mountainous roads as we drove to Scarperia where the Italian Military Vehicle people had arranged for all the vehicles to be assembled in the middle of this Tuscany town of the Medicis. We stayed there for several hours inspecting the castle/museum day until most had arrived and then we paraded through the town to our camp site. Later in the evening the local members, led by Fillipo, came with cartons of beer and a even with some language barriers a good time was had by all. We thank all the members for their hospitality.
Leaving early on Monday morning we had some mountainous and incredibly scenic roads, over to Pisa on the western coast. Some of our vehicles elected to travel on the motorways and others on the secondary roads. We are really pleased with our choice of vehicle for the trip as it is handling the mountainous roads well and we are getting a reasonable fuel consumption. Also with our tent our sleeping arrangements are very comfortable.
Some of the group got up early and caught the train to Florence and spent a few hours seeing the sights and came back to their vehicles to catch the rest of the group in Pisa. As we are not moving great distances each day we are allowing people to make side trips if they wish with plenty of time for catching up.
We stayed in a camp site just 1km from the Leaning Tower, so it was an easy walk to go and see the sights. In the morning we all packed up early and, with the vehicles, tried to get the classic photo in front of the tower before anyone was out and about. A police car was parked in front with two attractive police women, and Lang approached them to ask permission for us all to park. I was already taking photos and all the other vehicles were arriving. They said it was not possible, as everyone jumped out clicking madly. Lang made the announcement, very slowly, for everyone to get back in their cars as soon as possible as we were not allowed to be parked there! There was plenty of good humour and Lang delighted in clipping two koalas to the police officers' (well filled) top pockets. Having completed a successful photo shoot, everyone packed up and headed for our next destination of Garlenda via Genoa and 123 tunnels.
We advised the group to stay on the motorway as we had a fair distance around the Gulf of Genoa and the Italian Riveria to Galenda, which wasn't even on any of our maps. Two year ago this had been our destination in the Fiat 500 for the 50th anniversay of the Bambino, and the wonderful reception we had from the local people was fondly remembered.
Once again Sandro Scarpa offered to look after our camping arrangements and organise a dinner for the group. Little did we realise what an unforgettable experience we were about to have.
We arrived in town to a banner across the street welcoming the ANZAC group, and down the road at the Fiat museum there was another banner welcoming Lang and Bev back after two years. This set the scene for more to come. At 6pm we all assembled at the camping site and the local brass band then led a parade of the smaller vehicles, with everyone piled in and hanging off the sides, up into town and to the Fiat 500 museum. The President of the club (of 20,000 members) who had come from Genoa and the deputy mayor of Galenda were there to greet us and show us through the impressive musem. Also present was Domenico Romano who was the founding member of the Fiat 500 Club and began the club's association with Garlenda 26 years ago which made this tiny village headquarters of the largest motor club in the world.
We then went the short distance to the tennis club where we were entertained by more more music from the band while we had cocktails in the sunshine. We then went inside to beautifully laid tables where we started our meal with cold meats, then a dish of pasta followed by veal and potato crouquettes and finally a delicious dessert and coffee. We also had as much wine as we desired.
Sandro is very involved with the Slow Food Movement, which encourages the use of seasonal local produce and the menu he had chosen reflected this.
We spent the night as guests of Wilmy and Sandro and again thank them for their hospitality, and the very memorable visit to a place that may not be on a map but we will all remember with a great deal of fondness.
Back on the road we travelled next day to Torino. We camped not far from the city centre which enabled the people from the group to see this lovely Northern Italian town.
We are now further north on the shores of Lake Maggiore where we are spending two nights and giving everyone time to catch up on their domestic chores and some vehicle maintenance.
We have had a few minor break downs in various vehicles, but nothing that has held anyone up for too long and hopefully we are all geared for the Swiss Alps in the next few days.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Fisherman -Venetian Harbour Iraklion Crete
Private battlefield relic collection Askafou crete
Police drag illegal immigrant stowawy from the back of chev on Patra ferry.
Vehicles lined up at ferry Piraeus Athens
Lang and Bev compulsory tourist photo Athens
Bev counts out EU10,000 at ferry Pireaus.
Bertie's Mediterranean cruise.
Bertie toughs it out at breakfast Sfakia Crete.
While we were at Sfakia nine of us hired a water taxi which dropped us off down the coast 35 minutes away at the Samaria Gorge. The mountains come right down to the sea and there is no continuous south coast road. As we had limited time and the gorge is usually walked the entire 18 kms we only were only able to cover the first part of this spectacular chasm in the National Park but managed to get to a very narrow area and experience some magnificent scenery.
When we left Sfakia we travelled east along the winding south coast road and then took a different route north back to Iraklion. Crete is quite a rugged mountainous windswept island but that gives it its own charm. The weather was beautiful and we travelled in shirtsleves in bright sunshine while looking at the snow-clad peaks above. There are herds of goats and mountain sheep often on the roadway or a small herd being looked after by a shepherd.
While in Iraklion most of us went to the ruins at Knosos which date back to 1600BC. Not a great deal is understood of this ancient progressive civilisation. Although considerable restorations were done in the 1800's that have received a lot of critisism it is all still very impressive.
Late in the afternoon on Wednesday 13 May we again boarded the ferry for the overnight trip back to Athens. Lang and I treated ourselves to a cabin but half of our group opted to sleep in airline seats or on the floor.
When we arrived back in Athens we had two vehicles with mechanical troubles. The Mottram's Chev 3 tonner with a broken spring, but still mobile and the Hedge's Ford ute with an undiagnosed electrical problem. Fortunately no one seemed to mind that a few of us just stayed on the wharf to try and sort out these problems.
After many hours work replacing the distributor and spark plugs all seemed to be well and we took off to our next destination at Patra. The Ford did not make it off the wharf and sucumbed to more electrical problems. The ferry's captain came to their rescue (in his 1942 Willys Jeep!) and was able to ring an auto electrician who spent many more hours getting the vehicle on the road again. The Chev was not able to source a new spring but is still managing to keep up with everyone.
We have been lucky with our camp sites as we are at the beginning of the season and nothing is crowded at present and also, European campsites seem all to have very good facilities, with mini markets and good restaurants.
On Friday afternoon we were all assembled once again on the wharf, this time in Patra for our trip over to Ancona, Italy. There was a bit of excitement when the Mottram's on their way to the port had some illegal immigrants try to jump into the back of his truck as they had slowed down. One got on board at some traffic lights and hid in the back of their truck but they were alerted by other motorists tooting horns.
Then as Lang was boarding the ferry and customs were doing a search, Lang was confidently telling them we had nothing in the back of our vehicle when an ankle was spotted poking out of our bedding and a young fellow was hauled out. Everyone was more than a little surprised as the vehicles had been under watch by our group the whole time we were waiting on the dock. During that time police had flushed out half a dozen stowaways up under the trays of semi-trailers also waiting to board with us. I missed out on all the excitement but Leisa Ward was close by and got some great pictures.
We are now on board the ferry and leaving Greece behind and we will land in Ancona Italy at 1pm Saturday. We are looking forward to meeting the Italian Military Vehicle people and the German/American addition to our convoy of our old friend Herman Pfauter in his 1942 Chevrolet.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Evacuation memorial Sfakia Crete
Leaving our beachside camping ground we set out for Volos. A few people
chose to take the ferry and run down the eastern peninsula while the rest
went along the main road towards Athens.
We passed Thermopoli where General Vasey's Australian troops held the
German assault for two days. He was just one of a long list of commanders
who had held this narrow strip between mountain and sea against invaders.
We soon arrived in what was the chaos of Athens traffic to find our way to
the only camping ground in the city. Amazingly almost everyone arrived
unscathed and the GPS was praised far and wide throughout the night.
Early next morning Lang and I went by bus and train to the Acropolis and
had seen what we wanted just in time to greet the first of hundreds of
tour buses disgorging their hordes of tourists. Around lunchtime everyone
packed up and we headed down to Piraeus, the port for Athens. We were
booked on a 2000 departure ferry arriving in Heraklion Crete at 0530 the
Unfortunately I had to become banker after half an hour at the ticket
window trying to sort out numerous changes to ferry bookings. They would
only take cash in one lump sum (of several thousand Euros) so I set up
office in the Chevrolet cabin while people peeled of wads of money and a
few of the boys stood guard.
Eventually they allowed us on board the ANEK Lines ferry to Crete. Despite
lots of shouting and hand waving by the ship's crew we soon had all the
vehicles snugly parked in corners of the vehicle deck, surrounded by semi
trailers. A few people booked cabins while others chose aircraft style
seats. I suspect there will be quite a few more cabins booked for the
Driving in line off the ferry at Heraklion in the early morning light,
Lang led the way to two small pinnacle hills – called "The Charlies" for
obvious reasons by Australian soldiers defending the airfield below. It
only took an hour to round up the lost vehicles at the top of the hill
after the 3km journey.
Lang gave us a talk on the successful defence of Heraklion airfield by the
allied defenders from the German Paratroops then everyone drove down into
town to do shopping, refuel etc before meeting at a prearranged point in
two hours. Lang and I had completed all this administration in Athens
before departure so we went into the ancient Venetian port and had coffee
and toasted sandwiches on the waterfront.
There had been some comments about travelling in a military style convoy
instead of our free-running system so, to prove a point, Lang made Crete a
full convoy operation. Setting out from our Heraklion meeting point we
went up the old road to the west. We chose this as the more interesting of
the two, avoiding the new coast road. There was a continuos snapping of
cameras and oohs and aahs as we wound slowly up switchback roads through
the mountains. The views of snow covered peaks and glassy blue
Mediterranean Sea we absolutely spectacular.
Despite our Chev spending much time in second gear to allow the trucks to
keep up on the steep climbs we had several waits for convoy breaks and
people were discovery it was not an easy way to travel.
3 out of the 15 vehicles arrived at the lovely beachside restaurant to
talk about Colonel Cambel's brilliant defence of the Rethimnon airstrip by
his Australian troops (not far from where we sat). The other vehicles were
"somewhere" in Crete, no doubt enjoying themselves!
We arrived at a pretty olive-grove camp site in Chania to be greeted
during the next few hours by small groups of very high spirited, if
navigationally challenged, convoy members. Piling into the smaller
vehicles we all headed into town to the 1,000 year old port to have dinner
beneath a full moon at a waterfront restaurant. A number of vehicles had
unannounced tours of the city before arriving back at camp in top form.
Next morning we set off to look at the key battlefield of the Crete
campaign, Maleme airfield. Driving along a straight road for 15km we had
as many as 50% of the convoy arriving at Hill 107. While the tail enders
joined us the others waited in the lovely German war Cemetary on top of
the hill overlooking the airfield. Lang gave us a 30 minute overview of
the New Zealanders' savage battles with German airborne troops before we
returned to the vehicles to retrace our steps east.
Arriving at Souda Bay we found the war cemetary like all other
Commonwealth War Graves around the world, wonderfully laid out and
maintained. It is here several thousand allied soldiers, sailors and
airmen, killed in the Crete campaign are buried. A few of the women had
bought flowers and these were placed on both particular graves and the
By this time, even the most ardent convoy supporters realised we were in
trouble. A military style convoy requires high levels of established
procedures, discipline and common sense. We had been very successful up to
this stage with free running and all agreed it was the way to go, with
individuals and small groups stopping where they wanted to get the
absolute most out of the trip.
The Chevrolet set off to travel to Sfakia on the south coast and soon we
were in winding mountain roads, the likes of which we had never seen
before. Up and down thousands of feet with the vehicle occasionaly down to
first gear. The views were absolutely without equal but we were always
aware that this was the road tens of thousands of starving troops walked
while being straffed and bombed, to get to the evacuation point.
We wound down from the mountains directly into the tiny villge port of
Sfakia. Its harbour, no bigger than a football field evacuated thousands
of soldiers over 5 nights – all rowed out to destroyers and other ships.
They had to get away before light to avoid the German bombers who strongly
attacked sinking many ships and costing the lives of 2,200 sailors on top
of the thousands of soldiers who had already died.
We soon found out it was forty kilometres over more winding road to the
expected camping site. Lang, seeing a sign on one of the small whitewashed
hotels went in and negotiated a bulk deal with Stavros for thirty people
in waterfront balconied rooms for the same cost as the camp ground. Not
only that we got free drinks and 10% off all meals.
When the mob started filtering in, saw the absolutely clear water, tiny
village with its couple of hotels and waterfront tables, all thought of
camping went out the window. My suggestion that we move on instead of the
two planned nights here put me in serious danger of lynching.
There was some small worry about vehicle security but the local policeman
said crime was non-existant in the town. Lang asked the good-looking girl
in the bakery if we could use their next-door car park and as she was
Stavros's cousin she readily agreed.
The memorial to the soldiers evacuated from the port was looking a little
sad so Lang had Stavros's second-cousin ring the mayor (Stavros's uncle)
and within minutes two fellows arrived with ladders put new ropes on the
flagpoles and pulled up Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand flags.
All the vehicles were parked alongside for photos.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Lang and Bev Gallipoli
Gallipoli Turkish memorial
Alexandroupolis and in to Greece
Early in the morning the whole team left our camp at Kum Hotel near Kapatepe and assembled at ANZAC Cove for a photo shoot. We managed to have the whole place to ourselves and got some nice photos of all the vehicles lined up together for the first time. Well known Gallipoli features such as the Sphinx and North Beach formed the background to our shots.
Three couples with their vehicles decided to stay on the Peninsular and the rest of us headed for the Turkish – Greek Border. We had to go through four checkpoints on the Turkish side and one on the Greek side. Other than it was pouring rain, all went very smoothly.
We had an overnight in Alexandroupoli where most of the group decided to stay out of the rain in a motel and we stayed in a beach front campsite with the self contained truck owners and braved the down pour.
From Alexandroupoli we had an easy day down the highway to Keramoti where we boarded a ferry that took us over to Thasos Island. Lang and I had been to the island previously and thought this would be the perfect spot to enjoy two days of typical Greek scenery and hospitality away from the cities and highways. On our free day we went exploring and climbed a hill at the back of Thasos town to see a 2nd century amphitheatre and Lang managed to get to the top where there was a medieval castle.
Most of the group fanned out in all different directions and some of the brave even hired motor scooters to do their sightseeing.
Some of us left the island by a different ferry direct to Kavala while the others went back by the slightly cheaper original ferry to Keramoti to cut us off on the highway. I had trouble finding any of the camping sites around Thessaloniki open so early for the summer so we opted to drive the extra distance (about 300km) and camp two nights at the foot of Mount Olympus.
It appears that because the weather hasn't been so great so far this season along with the economic downturn a lot of seasonal camping areas have elected to delay their opening until well into May. The upside of longer daily runs is that we are finding two nights in the one spot is great for running mechanical repairs, more thorough sight-seeing and the usual domestic chores. It is nice not to have to pack up every morning.
On our free day near Mount Olympus, Lang and I drove up an amazing switch-back road to the little village of Karya where we had a great lunch of fresh salad and char grilled lamb, so close to the snow covered peak. This remote, narrow laned, village is closed off by snow for many months of the year and the 2 or 3 little bar/coffee shops were full of old boys playing with their worry beads while chatting, smoking or playing cards. We created quite a spectacle in our old Chev and after reading the Greek translation of our journey they welcomed us profusely.
Again our camp site was beach front, and on the first night, although the restaurant was not operating, the pizza man was able to satisfy our appetites with beautiful hot pizzas straight from the oven. We even had an impromptu musical recital from Sam Cutajar on his saxaphone and a fairly tunefully woeful but energetic sing along.
Today was an easy run of 150 kms to another beach site campsite outside Volos. This is the best camp site yet – parked on fresh grass beneath 400 year old olive trees 20 metres from the water. We have been so lucky that any rain we have had seems to be on our motoring days and the sun shines on our relaxing sightseeing days.
All the vehicles are running well, with just general maintenance being done. We have our fingers crossed that this pattern continues.
Monday, May 4, 2009
travelling. Three couples had already arrived and the rest of the group
arrived over the next three days.
On Sunday we had the luxury of one day sightseeing in this beautiful
exotic city, and then it was to work.
First thing Monday morning Lang and the drivers who had arrived early went
off to the Maritime office with all their vehicle paper work and wads of
money to secure their release forms for the containers that had been
unloaded from the ship five days previously.
A group of women and I went to work to source the 3rd party insurance
required for Turkey and not covered by our European Green Card Insurance.
With the help of the hotel reception staff we made several phone calls to
various insurance companies and had lots of waiting for ten minutes for
the return call, which inevitably turned into well over half an hour.
Three hours later we received the message "sorry these vehicles are just
too old to insure, can't be done!" In desperation we went to the Turkish
Motoring Club who gave us an address and again all drivers with their
clutch of paperwok headed off to be processed.
On Tuesday early a string of taxis with a group of expectant travellers
went off to the wharf to hopefully see their vehicles for the first time
in two months. Lang had asked our shipping agent if we could have a
special dispensation and unpack the containers on the wharf to save extra
charges. Fortunately they had granted us this arrangement. So from early
morning the wheels turned ever so slowly but with no major hiccups. When I
rang Lang at 7pm he told me they were all lined up at the entrance to the
wharf and after a short ferry trip across the Bosphorus they drove into a
car park we had organised nearby the hotel.
As everything had gone so well we were 3 days ahead of our program. We
decided that as everyone had their vehicle and there was a lot of anxiety
in the group about travelling in Istanbul the best thing would be to get
the show on the road. So on Wednesday we packed up and headed to Gallipoli
Peninsula where we stayed for two nights and tested our camping
arrangements for the first time.
The departure was done on the planned basis of a short briefing then each
person proceeding to the destination at their own pace. Lang and I left
Istanbul at what was "gentleman's hours" for us but several vehicles were
still being packed. We rescued a vehicle out of fuel 3 kilometres from the
start! Proceeding at our leisurely pace we arrived at our planned campsite
at Kapatepe just south of ANZAC Cove to find it closed despite confirmed
Recovering the situation, we found a very nice camp ground 4 kilometres
further south and set up camp at 1630. At 2130 NOBODY had arrived! Slowly,
little groups started arriving, the last coming in at midnight after
completing only 250km from Istanbul. A huge lesson on time and motion was
learnt by the team. Moral was very high despite the late arrivals and
several drivers are awaiting their Victoria Crosses for their journey
Gallipoli National Park is the first significant stop for what is a
sightseeing cum battlefield trip from Istanbul, Turkey to Normandy,
At many of the memorials that dot the whole area the scaffolding was being
dismantled following the ANZAC day celebrations. The whole area is
beautifully maintained and we should be very grateful to the Turkish
people who embrace their enemies memories equally with their own.
Mustafa Kemel Ataturk said in 1934
"Those heroes that shed their blood and died and lost their lives
you are now living in our soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in
There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where
they lie side by side now here in this country of ours.
You the mothers who sent their sons from fareaway countries wipe away your
tears your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on the land they have become our sons as well."
The two nights on Gallipoli gave everyone a full day to drive the area.
After the wet run from Istanbul we were rewarded by the most perfect sunny
day. Far into the evening one could see 60 year old Australian and New
Zealand vehicles cruising up to Lone Pine, ANZAC Cove and dozens of other
significant points from 1915.
3 of the vehicles felt they must see even more and decided to stay an
extra night and do a double day to catch the rest later. This pleased us
greatly as we always wanted people to do their own thing with minimum
guidance from us and to find a few willing to break away at this early
stage showed some initiative was growing already. There will be a few who
never leave the flock but most appear keen to delay or divert from time to
time to get the absolute most out of the trip.
At this stage it seems we have a pretty happy and compatible group and
have high hopes of a fun journey.