Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Brighton, England – Marly, Switzerland, Day 190-205, 19-28 October, 2008

Brighton, England – Marly, Switzerland

Day 190-205

19-28 October, 2008

1,590km

Total: 21,760km

Soundtrack:

‘New England’ – Billy Bragg

‘Clover Over Dover’ – Blur

‘European Impressions’ – John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy

‘In the Lowlands’ – Crowded House

‘Amsterdam’ – Jacques Brel

‘That Home’ – The Cinematic Orchestra

‘Home Again’ – Mark Seymour

‘Two Sleepy People’ – Hoagy Carmichael; Blue Ruin

‘Curvystrasse’ – Directions In Groove

‘The Lonely Goatheard” – Julie Andrews

‘Snowy Aloha’ – Aunty Jack

DB: As many of our friends and family predicted, the trip to Melbourne for four days was surreal in the extreme. Maddy and I had high-tailed it home for my grandfather’s funeral. The death of someone close I suppose is always a strange experience – full of reflections, memories and sometimes regrets – and resentment – for missed opportunities, and the confusion about its finality. Adding to this strangeness was our being suddenly removed from a life that had its own particular pattern, rhythm and purpose, and it being replaced by landing with a thud into what should have been the normality of our hometown that felt somewhat wrong.

On the flight to Melbourne I watched a film called Hancock – a story of a super hero who had fallen on bad times and wasn’t exactly coping all that well. One of the things that struck me was that Hancock didn’t feel like he fitted in. He was clumsy and awkward and often felt adrift. And, he usually came a cropper when he literally hit the ground. This made perfect sense to me.

I likened my brief time in Melbourne as having a go at a simulator of sorts – it seemed lifelike, and the graphics were really good, but it just didn’t seem real. Something like the Matrix trilogy? There was something intangible that felt quite odd. My uncle, Clive, hit the nail on the head when he suggested that when you go on a trip, you sometimes feel dislocated and betwixt and between, until you get into the swing of things. He noted that for Maddy and I, we instead perhaps had this sensation when we went home. Our life was, at that time, on the other side of the globe, in Brighton, England, where Sandy and Raffy were biding their time waiting for our return. We had spent the past six months travelling the globe by road, sleeping in a different location almost every night, negotiating languages, cultures, highways, climates, cities and towns, forests and deserts. Suddenly we had suburban normality all around us. Glorious springtime in Melbourne town. And it felt vastly more foreign than the foreign places we had just traversed.

One of the most annoying experiences was trying to not deal with jet lag. We knew that should we get used to day being night and visa versa, we would only have to reverse the process less than a week later. This, as can be imagined, was easier said than done. It’s one thing to try to force yourself to sleep when your body wants to be awake, and it’s another to try and stay awake when your eyelids feel like anvils and that every minute of sitting still is fraught with an attack of the noddies.

So, it is quite possible that we weren’t the best company. However, it was a good lesson in demonstrating how much more adaptable children are as compared to adults. Maddy coped much better with the body-clock upheaval. She would sleep when required and functioned the other times. I think I just came across as aloof, morose and rather boring…

So, four days were spent with the trauma of the funeral and the sundry formal and informal tasks and experiences associated with the death of a loved one, mixed in a dreamlike sequence with seeing and visiting old friends and family and old haunts. Maddy got to hang out with some close friends and they all mostly spent the time poking each other squealing “Hey, it’s really you!” I took her to her favourite café for its famous hot chocolate (she’s just so St Kilda, dahling) and spent the rest of the time with family and friends. I was emotionally drained and enriched at the same time.

It seemed that as soon as we had arrived we were back at the airport. My dad drove us and he spent the entire time listening to Maddy and I snoring. Great company, we were. We again went through the tedious motions of check-ins, baggage, security checks and sitting in uncomfortable seats waiting for boarding. We finally took off, changed at Hong Kong, and some time in the distant and incomprehensible future landed at Heathrow.

Tube to Victoria Station, with one change in between, and a 45 minute train to Brighton. A cab to our flat in Hove, and a knock on the door presented the other half of our family. Maddy and I had travelled – for the second time in less than a week – for 22 hours by air, this time from our home, and suddenly we were, well, home.

SK: The week (as it was for us – the others having spent four days in Melbourne and another two flying, with one lost somewhere there or back) was equally surreal. Here we were, the two of us, in Brighton, just hanging out. It felt like being on school holidays, with nothing really we had to do (other than some planning and a car service), but without the familiarity and support of being at home. We went to the movies, did some op-shopping, played games, and felt truncated. It really was such a strange sensation, constantly clock watching – what time is it in Melbourne, where are they, what are they doing, how are they coping? We also talked about family and loss, and the consequences for all our family in Melbourne.

And finally we were reunited.

DB: We spent a day in Brighton acclimatising, seeing some more of the sights and for the last time catching up with cousin Stéph, lavishing her with Cherry Ripes. Then, with a deep breath and a decent dose of trepidation, we hit the road.

Initially we had planned around three weeks traversing England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but the truck’s late clearance in the UK, coupled with a sprint to Melbourne and back, meant that something had to give. We knew we had to start heading east, instead of west and north, to ensure we had enough time to complete our journey back to Australia in time.

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(Pic: Lunch in an English field on the way to Dover)

Our drive west along the bottom of England was both a relief and distracting. We were used to long and clear drives through countryside full of bucolic grace but of course Europe is much more compact. Villages and towns were joined at the hip and byroads were fraught with annoying round-abouts and far too much traffic for one’s own sanity. Still, we spilled into Dover and found our Bed and Breakfast. After quite a struggle we eventually found somewhere for dinner that didn’t overwhelm us with all things deep-fried and settled for a respectable Indian meal.

The next morning we negotiated the labyrinthine complex that is the Dover ferry port and parked the truck on a large white boat. As regular readers will note, Sandy didn’t travel so well through the Chunnel, so this time we were having a crack at the over-sea version.

Even though the ferry spent more time moving from side-to-side than advancing towards France, given the significantly inclement weather we were experiencing, all went well. In little time we were driving off the ferry and again driving on the right (directional, not discriminatory) side of the road.

We stopped briefly in the nostalgic town of Dunkerque for lunch and continued north to Belgium, finally settling in the beautiful town of Brugge. We stumbled across a lovely hotel in the old city that not only met most of our personal needs but our hosts also provided a space in an adjacent lane for the truck to spend the night. Given that the last time Sandy and I had driven into this town my entire complement of personal belongings had been thoughtfully removed from our car by the sophisticated and tried and true method that combined thief, brick and window, we were most concerned about not repeating the experience for old times’ sake.

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(Pic: Maddy and Sandy discussing chocolate shops, Brugge) 

After briefly walking through the old city and marvelling at its buildings, lanes and cobblestones, we found a small and snug bistro where I indulged in a specialty of the region in mussels and chips. All was right in the world.

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(Pic: Raffy and Maddy admire a chocolate dinosaur, Brugge)

Another day, another country. The almost bleak, flat low-lands of Holland provided us with mostly quiet back roads and vistas of fields and windmills. And eventually we rolled into Amsterdam.

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(Pic: Towards Amsterdam)

We were a bit anxious as the area looked a little seedy and the truck was essentially parked on the street below our second story window, but again all was well. In fact, it turned out that two different sets of neighbours were looking out for us and sent us email greetings.

Amsterdam was again added to our growing list of places we could live (sorry Jon!), and we spent much time trawling small streets along their canals. A brief canal cruise gave us a good indication and layout of the city, and we managed to squeeze in the Anne Frank house and museum and the Van Gogh museum. There is something significant about the tragic yet triumphant lives of these two precious souls who found their way to the Netherlands in their early years, and whose works became so momentous to the world, only after they met their ends in such heartbreaking circumstances.

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(Pic: Lunch by a canal (right), Amsterdam)

SK: Travelling through the continent, discussing the history of the counties through which we were travelling, gave rise to interesting conversations in the car. We talked about Dunkerque, about the Holocaust, about history which is so much more real when one is walking in its footsteps. Maddy bought a copy of Anne Frank’s diary, and has become inseparable from the book.

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(Pic: Tourists in the old citadel in Namur check out the freak-show – our truck)

DB: We had driven as far north as our itinerary would permit, and so headed south and slightly east again, back into Belgium and to the town of Namur. Driving through the town we became excited at our brief stay in such an historically and geographically significant area, and, as we drove along the Meuse river we kept our eyes open for the hotel we had booked on line a few days before. We had discovered that family rooms in this part of the world were only marginally more available than short-term apartment rentals, and so our choices were few and far between. And so, I for one was monumentally disappointed that, after passing beautiful buildings so steeped in history, grace and style, we rolled into the large car-park of a very square, grey and somewhat Brezhnevesque block. I remained grumpy until, later, we stumbled upon a small bar and bistro on the river that served great meals, and again I indulged in ‘moules et frites’ and a nice bottle of French plonk, all of which satisfactorily warmed the cockles.

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(Pic: Raffy, Maddy and Danny overlooking Namur from the old citadel)

Back into France the next day and on to Strasbourg, the rather accidental capital of the European Union, only because, it seems, this city had been swiped by both France and Germany more times than during a bitter celebrity divorce, and all of Europe couldn’t agree on any other option. We were fortunate that the Parliament wasn’t sitting at the time as, it seems, this is when rooms become rarer than hen’s teeth.

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(Pic: Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg Cathedral)

We again found one of few family rooms, with this one having the added benefit of a kitchenette. To our amazement, the two-burner stove, mini sink and even mini-er fridge were not accompanied with requisite kitchen utensils. Luckily we had a truck stocked full of them. It also had the weirdest bathroom we had ever seen. It seemed that ablutions were somewhat of an afterthought in this hotel’s design, and hence a prefab plastic bathroom wedge, the type of which you might find in a caravan or the space shuttle, had been installed in a corner of the kitchen. The door opened outwards into the kitchen and you stepped up into the pod and carefully negotiated the shower without dropping anything into the toilet or scuffing your knee on the basin. Still, it did the job.

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(Pic: Oh so French – Strasbourg)

SK: Via consensus we elected to stay in Strasbourg an extra night, spending many hours wandering the narrow streets and alleys of the old city. We visited the Alsace Museum, an extraordinary complex of fifteenth century houses filled with all kinds of extraordinary objects which reflected the diverse lives of Strasbourg’s inhabitants over the centuries. Raffy thought it was one of the best museums he had been in, and he is quite a critic now. One of the more usual objects, at least for us, was a large seventeenth century silver knife, imbued with the properties of an amulet, which kept Lilith away from newborn Jewish babies.

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(Pic: Maddy in Strasbourg)

DB: We said a fond and rather reluctant farewell to France and, in the teeming and relentless rain, headed for the landlocked, yodelling splendour of Switzerland. We were surprised to discover that good ol’ Schweiz is not yet a member of the European Union, and hence maintained a border and passport control that most other European nations had long given up, and that the Swiss Franc was the only currency of note, ahem. Suisse also still allows smoking indoors in public spaces, such as cafés, restaurants and shops, while alternately maintaining its notorious crisp mountain air persona, replete with fat spotty cows and large timber barns and farm-houses. The more things change…

We alternated between the ease and speed of the autobahns and the windy, slow yet picturesque back roads. So what if we were stuck behind a tractor for a while – the green, rolling hills were really green and really rolly, the fat cows really fat and the woolly sheep really woolly.

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(Pic: Zurich)

Our first stop in the Confederation of Helvetica (see – we learned something – that’s why its abbreviation is ‘CH’) was Zurich, home of banks and watches. My wonderful cousin Judith not only made us dinner, which we also spent with her mother whom I had not seen in more than twenty years, but she also vacated her apartment to stay at her partner’s so we would have ample room. What a gal! Before she left we spent some of the evening discussing Crazy Family Politics, and she returned in the morning for breakfast and our goodbyes, after our brief wander through the old part of the city. We had managed to dodge the rain long enough until it was again time to hit the road.

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(Pic: With Judith, Zurich)

Onward to Marly, a town near Fribourg, close to Bern, where Sandy’s uncle, aunt and cousins live. The rain got heavier and the freeway nastier, in part owing to a strange European custom where trucks are not allowed to travel at a car’s speed limit, leading to much road-slalom and attempts to judge just how fast that black BMW 7-series is travelling behind you. We spent some of the time on back roads and rubbed shoulders with old farming communities nursing cows and sheep on verdant green pastures. And before we knew it, we turned the truck into Sandy’s family’s home.

Again, it was gratifying to be in the keep of good people who opened their home and hearts to us marauding hoons in desperate need of a washing machine. We slept well and caught up on a bit of shopping for supplies – socks and underwear, mainly, as the temperature had plummeted. We braved the three degree chill for a walk in the afternoon, and, that evening, Maddy and Raffy were beside themselves when the thick, grey clouds got bored with rain and provided us instead with white, fluffy snow. It seems snow is quite rare this early in the season, and it may not snow again for weeks, but the Swiss know how to put on a show. We felt snug and safe.

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(Pic: “Snow tastes so yum!” Marly, Switzerland)

SK: It had been eighteen years since we had last been in Judah and Charlotte’s home, and was still as warm and welcoming. The kids were delighted to be among family, especially who lavished them with chocolate. They had space to spread out, to play, to be part of an extended family again. They were thrilled to meet their cousins, as we were to see Alexandra and Bettina again.

DB: We plan to head off again in little more than a day to Italy, but only a few hours has dumped more than four centimetres of snow on the roads – and the truck – which means that the next part of our journey is now a little uncertain. Still, that means the kids can perfect their igloo in the backyard and we can indulge in some more fondue. I hope we can make it to Florence to catch up with Alessandra, a colleague, which I’ve been planning since before we left Melbourne…

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(Pic: “And you think you’re leaving when?”)

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7 Comments»

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi you lot,
Yet another great read. Thanks for the email. I was starting to get a bit worried, with such a long silence. Anyway, good to catch up with your adventures. It’s a shame you’ve had to omit quite a lot of places. But hey, that’s a good excuse to go back again.
Hope you’re all well (get rid of that cold Maddy), & happy. Sounds like a good idea to go to fewer place & stay longer. It seemed like you were doing that movie, something along the lines of, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Paris” (something like that anyway).
Stay happy,
Luv & Peace, David.

  Hilary wrote @

this bit reads like a bit of a tour on ice of the family tree, including that small sad dose of melbourne revision. i also remember (several of my lifetimes ago, and possibly before any of you came about) choosing amsterdam as my place-to-live . . . and then there was firenze.
i am appreciatively a vicarious tourist hitching a ride along with you via your evocative tales. will there be a movie?
h

  marg wrote @

Well, I finally got around to reading your blog and am green with envy at your opportunity to play and relax in the snow (Iknow it’s less romantic when you live in it or have to drive through it, but still how lovely). Sounds like you are all having a great time and how good it is that you have family that welcome and nurture you, particularly after having had to come back, Danny, to attend our grandfather’s funeral.

Hope you all travel safely. Marg

  Dale wrote @

Howdy campers. Didnt bother you while you were over Dan as I knew you would be busy.I hope that you have settled back into the groove for the rest of the trip. The time has gone quickly. Korny is hitting the road with the family soon .This year is travel year.
Stay well.Dale

  ibtech wrote @

Hi there!
Nice tales!Hope you’ll come around the beautiful city of Prague…There’s a lot to look at and enjoy here so the travel will be worth it!
Take care and continue to enjoy your trip…

Benefit from the cheap Prague airport transfer and free services added values.
Mail: com@praguetransfer-us.com

  auntiefranny wrote @

Hi family, so glad you’re all back together and having such wonderful adventures again.
Danny, it was very emotional seeing you and Maddy, happy/sad…you understand.
Maddy, I love your blog, that chockie looked amazing!
Have lots of fun and be safe.
love Fran and Clive xxx

  peter wrote @

Hi guys.
I hope, you have felt the border control in switzerland not as a problem.
Switzerland was at this time not Schengen.
At the middle of December we are also a member of Schengen, that means no longer passportcontrol at the border.
But Schengen(passport) is not EC(customs)

Take care.

Peter from switzerland


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