A Travellerspoint blog

May 2017

Departure Day

sunny 23 °C
View A Truck Trip, Still With No Name, But With Lots of Destinations on sagbucks's travel map.

Day 1 Thursday 25 May 2017 Amersham / Freyming ( Lorraine, France )
517 km in Europe plus Amersham to Dover Mileage

  • Departure day dawns and it is a glorious early summer's morning. We know because we are up with the birds & on the road by 5.30 am heading down to Dover. We manage to catch an earlier ferry than anticipated. That's a bonus - every hour hanging around is wasted time and tiring for a the driver.
  • AG is determined to drive all the way. His decision is based on his firm belief that SG's driving ability is dismal. Neither worth the risk nor stress. SG has no say in the matter but benefits from better views as a passenger & so does not complain. She does however take her driving license, just in case.
  • At border control UK, we are asked why we went to Iran in 2014. We have visa stamps in our passport which tell the story. It caused us hassle and extra expense to travel to the USA last year. And now again our visit is flagged up. The British and American authorities really have a thing or two about Iran. And yet SG cannot recall that any recent terrorist attack has been linked directly to an Iranian citizen. Actually more Brits should go and see Iran for themselves and meet with its people. Dialogue between normal folk and not just politicians might be the key to future relationships.
  • The English Channel is like a millpond. Even SG does not bother with seasickness medication.
  • Deck 5, Green stairs, Bay 64 - remember it well. It's where we park the truck on the ferry. Just prior to arrival in Calais, AG heads down below deck while SG goes for a comfort stop ( such a polite American expression ) . But trying to find the truck and AG almost gives SG her first panic attack. Images of AG having to drive off the ferry without his navigator, still hopelessly lost in the bowels of the ferry, spring uncomfortably to mind. AG would not be impressed with his navigator losing the way so soon - albeit her own.

We had been one of the first trucks to park in the first line on deck. The number signs and smaller vehicles are now obliterated from view by HGV's, campervans and coaches.

  • As we drive through the ferry exit onto terra firma we get that delicious feeling of an imminent adventure. Our favourite type - a road adventure to far flung places.
  • It's a gorgeous day this side of the channel too.
  • AG has 507 km of French motorway driving today. It is also a long weekend in Europe. Near to Calais, traffic is heavy heading north to the UK. Not sure why. Fortunately we are on an easterly trajectory and it is still only Thursday. As is usually the case, our route in France is empty and clear. Almost a pleasure to drive. It would be difficult to feel the same about our English motorways, especially this Bank Holiday weekend.
  • We drive a familiar route until just after Reims. Familiar because every year we drive it once or twice to head to the French Alps. Skiing is a family passion.
  • After Reims we turn off our 'normal road' to head on the A4 towards Metz and beyond to our destination for the night - Freyming, a little town literally downhill from the German border and close to the city of Saarbrucken. Actually less of a physical border, more imaginary line.
  • There are no stops scheduled today, no sightseeing envisaged. SG is not sure why AG picked this little place to overnight - probably because in mileage terms it represents the end of his driving day. For sure we could never comfortably contemplate such mileage on UK roads.
  • On the motorway we begin to pass by historically notable names. Verdun, for ever associated with brutal trench warfare between the French and Germans during World War 1. It was only with the help of American forces that France was finally able to push back German troops in September 1918. During a 2 year period over 800000 soldiers were killed in and around Verdun.
  • The well marked route amongst the Verdun battlefields must surely be a similar pilgrimage as are the Normandy locations for the Brits. And to think that De Gaulle later withdrew from NATO after World War 2. Ungrateful or what?!
  • The next major city signposted is Metz, annexed by Germany in 1871 and not returned until the end of World War 1. Apparently it is a 'dignified city' with a Gothic Cathedral that was built between 1220 & 1522 ( major projects like cathedrals used to take centuries to finish ) which boasts some of the finest stained glass windows in France. AG obviously did not consider this to be a sufficiently enticing pull factor.
  • Our B & B for the night is owned by Jean Pierre, a man of French / Polish origin. His parents came from Poland after World War 2 to work in the nearby coal mines. He speaks French, German, English & Polish. His massage parlour downstairs is apparently closed Thursdays. Rooms are comfortable and en suite and there are shared kitchen facilities.

But we opt to dine out and Jean Pierre recommends us a local pizzeria - with a difference. L'Estaminet as the restaurant is called, specialises not only in pizza but also quiche & savoury tarts. The pastry bases are made in house and are deliciously thin and crispy. It turns out to be a little gem that is evidently well known in town. By the time we leave, it is full. During summer months ( and whoopee that includes end of May) customers eat outside in the covered garden. It is wonderful to be dining outdoors again.

  • Quiche Lorraine now takes on a new significance for SG. The folk of Lorraine may have thought up that most famous combination of cream, cheese onion and bacon, but quiche is actually a French variant of a German recipe dating back to the 16 century. It began as a bread dough crust filled with left over ingredients, the basis of which was eggs and cream.
  • Real men don't eat quiche. But SG does - one that is served with spinach and hard boiled eggs. AG chooses pizza, a very large one, which he manages to polish off.
  • It's been a long day and we retire early. Our room has a velux window which must be left open this warm balmy evening. We both decide to wear eye blinds which must look very attractive! SG also wears ear plugs to escape the inevitable dawn chorus. AG simply has to sleep on his good ear. It is surely the only advantage of being deaf in one ear.

We are sailing.... across the Channel

We are sailing.... across the Channel

A sign of the future - Tesla recharging at BP fuel station in France

A sign of the future - Tesla recharging at BP fuel station in France

L'Estaminet - a little gem in Freyming

L'Estaminet - a little gem in Freyming

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

AG enjoying a local beer at L'Estaminet

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Quiche Lorraine is speciality of the Lorraine region

Before Pizza is eaten at L'Estaminet

Before Pizza is eaten at L'Estaminet

After Pizza - a clean plate

After Pizza - a clean plate

Franco German border just uphill from our B & B

Franco German border just uphill from our B & B

SG is pleased with her luggage volume

SG is pleased with her luggage volume

Posted by sagbucks 07:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

Prelude to our Second Major Truck Trip

Last Minute Preparations

Wednesday 24 May 2017

  • It's been a stressful week. We seem to be doing lots of things last minute. Packing, that most troublesome of chores for SG is taking place early evening. AG has set a deadline. SG works best under pressure but not necessarily in the best of moods. AG s deadline is based around his desire to watch Man Utd play Ajax in the Europa League Cup final in Stockholm. Loading of the car has to be finished by 7.30 p.m. Fortunately Man Utd win.
  • Packing light is the issue. Taking everything suitable from her wardrope and a few 'just in case' items would be a much easier option. Fortunately the weather should be consistently warm, becoming hotter as we progress east. We are taking minimal rain gear and only few extra layers for some altitude driving and sightseeing. We both confine our clothing to 3 Eagle Creek zip around cubes. AG has slightly less volume and certainly fewer shoes. But SG, all things consideried, and most of all because she has those extra female needs, feels she has not done badly. However that most vital of accessories, the hairdryer, is not on board. SG must prepare for some bad hair days.

SG is also packing part of her Iran kit - clothing she took to wear to Iran back in 2014 - baggy trousers, long sleeved tunic tops and a headscarf. This is primarily as a precaution as we travel through Turkey. Since Erdogan's arrival on the political scene, ( some would say power grab ) Turkey is becoming a much more conservative Muslim country to visit. Plus on our outward journey we are travelling during the holy month of Ramadan, when it might be wise to respect local cultural standards of dress. SG remembers well how the further east you travel in Turkey, the more black robed women you see - with heads fully covered. Best to be inconspicuous.

  • Turkey is actually the country we worry most about. We watched with interest and not a little concern the results of the recent referendum to increase presidential powers . So far so good. Or bad depending on your viewpoint. Erdogan has increased his power and status and crushed opposition. For now at least. We feel at any stage Turkey might erupt into a less than orderly state and we'd rather not be there. For this reason our route avoids Istanbul & Ankara and other no go Kurdish areas.
  • Our other slight concern is getting the truck into Azerbaijan where there is a ban on pre 2004 diesel vehicles. Now our Landcruiser was manufactured in 2006. AG has read on the Hub forum that older vehicles are being turned back at the border or extortionate fees are being demanded ( $10000) . For a visit of 4-5 days we are not prepared to pay such a price, so we will turn round and simply stay longer in Georgia. We are therefore hoping that the 2 year age difference will suffice to enable us to enter Azerbaijan.
  • As on previous classic rally trips and our London to Sydney epic journey in 2014 we have planned our route meticulously. Through Booking.com we have pre booked a variety of accommodation on a 24hr free cancellation policy. This gives us cost free flexibility. But we also have a destination every evening, a place to sleep and equally importantly in some of the European cities, a place to park the truck. Looking for suitable accommodation ( whatever type that may be ) is such a waste of time at the end of a long day on the road.
  • And our journey to Georgia, Azerbaijan & Armenia is pretty full on. About 12000 km with a rest day scheduled roughly every 5 days. As on previous trips the rest days are rarely restful in the normal sense. The truck may have to be serviced, certainly there will be sightseeing to do ( we usually choose rest stops because there is something to do or see) . Rest days are also the stretch points of our trip and will be cancelled if we experience delays to our schedule elsewhere in the itinerary.
  • We are not taking the roof tent on this trip. AG judges it to be too cumbersome and heavy for a journey during which we do not envisage camping very often. Sleeping under canvas in June / July in countries as hot as Turkey does not appeal. A good night's sleep is essential if we are to drive the planned distances. We are packing with us a 2 man tent just in case we cannot get to our scheduled accommodation and we are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Or in case the Booking.com option turns out to be so awful that sleeping under stars is preferable . As a precaution we are taking small pillows and cotton sheet cocoons in case the accommodation is neither comfortable nor clean. Bed bugs are irritating to say the very least.
  • In fact our truck trip, just a week ago a 70 day odyssey, has already been changed during a frantic re- assessment of our plans. We are now travelling a mere 62 days, Our house went under offer last weekend. We thought about cancelling, but were reluctant to do so because of the time and money spent over the last year to make this particular dream a reality. And what if the chain collapses and the move is postponed or even cancelled...
  • So the last week has been a bit hectic with providing solicitors the necessary info and authority to exchange contracts on our behalf. We have nowhere to move to and we still have a lot of stuff to pack and take with us, wherever we go. The tentative plan is to rent a property down in Sussex / Surrey area with a view of then doing some serious property search for our next home.
  • Although feeling somewhat rushed by all the extra issues we have had to deal with pre departure, we are coping - just about. Maybe the ups and downs of our London to Sydney journey 2014 have given us the necessary experience and a more relaxed attitude. If there is a problem, just fix it!
  • In any case this our second major truck trip (and one still without an appropriate name) is considerably less complex than London to Oz and half the duration. We also have fewer visas to apply, no flights to book and no shipping of the truck to organise.
  • Our route is essentially circular. A truck trip with no name but plenty of destinations:

We are driving across Europe ( through countries that are the metaphoric hinterland of the EU - countries that are EU members but which are still queuing to join the eurozone. Countries that participate in, and indeed often win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Once through northern France, Germany and Austria we will be visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria en route to Turkey. 6 days across Turkey taking a northern route along the Black Sea coast. Into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. But not in that exact order since relationships between Armenia and Azerbaijan are not friendly and the border is closed.

On our return journey we again must travel through Turkey picking up a different more central route across this vast country. Into Greece, followed by Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia until we again find ourselves in the more familiar countries of Austria, Germany & Belgium.

Posted by sagbucks 07:13 Comments (0)

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