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


Top of the Semplon Pass Switzerland

Advisers meeting Switzerland

Furka car train

Bev at dinner Seelisberg

Friday, May 22, 2009


Leaning Tower Pisa

Monastry with two Chevrolets near Lago Maggiore

Garlenda welcome

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

Crete to Ancona

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
next morning.

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
return journey!

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
main memorial.

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

Gallipoli to Mount Olympus

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

Istanbul and Gallipoli

Line-up North Beach ANZAC

Lone Pine memorial

Bev in Istanbul

View of North Beach and The Sphinx Gallipoli

The containers are opened Istanbul port.

Lang and I arrived in Istanbul on Saturday at 6pm after 24 hours
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
through Istanbul.

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.