Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The best laid plans . . .

Just when things looked like they were really settling into some sort of rythym, the best laid plans - start to go awry!

Firstly, the $AUD hits rock bottom at around 30 p and 40 euro cents.

Then Mick tells us that the clutch in the car is rat****. It will cost 600 pounds to repair a car that is worth maybe 500 pounds. We tell him to sell it for what he can get! So, we are now up for the cost of a new car when we get to Europe - albeit a cheap second hand one.

RIP little Nissan Sunny - it was fun anticipating you!
And then the b****y yanks attack a village in Syria - just after we get an invitation to stay with a fellow who works at the Palmyra Tourist Board. I think we should still go - there is absolutely NO travel advisory from the Department of Foreign Affairs and we may never get there again.

Someone asked me last week, how low will the $ have to go before you decide not to go? My emphatic answer was "It won't matter - once you start to make excuses, you will never go" - and we are SOOO determined to do this trip.

On the bright side, the $ rallied later today and has improved to
50 Euro cents and 40 pence to the $.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Our saving grace? or How lucky can you be!

OK, so here we are wondering just how we are going to be able to stretch our $ further when one of those ubiquitous email lists I belong to has finally delivered some information of real value. Turns out that as well as the well-known opportunity to do house swaps, there is also a home hosting community on the web.

While house swaps will not work for us on this trip given that we want to be mobile rather than based in any one location for any length of time, the home hosting is a whole different affair.

Started by (and seemingly mostly perpetuated by) university students trying to find cheap accommodation when they travel - often using students at other universities, this concept appears to have really taken off into mainstream travellers.

As many will know, I am a great believer in home hosting as it allows you to have a truly genuine local experience. Not only have we home hosted on many occasions, we have also brought many exchange students into our home over the last 16 years here in Maryborough. So maybe, there is such a thing a good karma. To be able to have the opportunity to really meet locals, to share company and food and wine and song (ha ha - everyone tells me I can't sing!) is truly exciting.

For those interested, you have an opportunity to see what we wax lyrical about by joining and offering to host people travelling through the local area. Check out the website - I spent all last night trawling through it, checking out possible couches to surf in Italy.

So, we are back on track!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How low do we have to go

It seems that as the days draw closer to our departure, the dollar drops inversely against all the currencies that we will have a need for. See how it goes here!

Guess we might need to learn how to live on the smell of an oily rag yet!

How low can we go

Well, as the time draws closer, the dollar inversely drops against all the other currencies we need to buy!

Guess we might need to learn to live on the smell of an oily rag yet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What to do? Where to go?

Well - ain't the financial markets just great - NOT! We have seen our available funds almost halved in the past three weeks.
I guess that at the worst, that might see us having to re-think our route to take advantage of the cheaper parts of the trip first in a hope that we might recover somewhat before we hit the more expensive areas of central Europe.

As it is, we are already having different thoughts about which roads we choose to lead off on. We had previously thought to try to follow the sun as much as possible to maximise what we can see and do. At the time, that would have meant driving from Germany to Spain and beginning in Spain and Portugal.

But if we get to New York for a week (still dependent on the $ recovering somewhat), then it seems to make less sense to travel almost 1,000 kms just to get started. Rather, we are now thinking that we cross the Alps from the north and begin in Italy and do Spain later in the year when we are in France.

Crossing the Alps in January - now there could be the basis for a great story! Some have asked - the Alps? in Winter? What they may not know that many of the passes have lengthy tunnels through the mountains allowing travel into even quite inhospitable country in challenging weather.

As we learn more of the areas available to us during the year, we are considering getting visas for Syria so we can visit Damascus and Palmyra from Turkey. And I am determined to get into a hot air balloon over Goreme in Cappadocia.

So, the planning continues with daily if not hourly adjustments!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

For those who can't wait to see what we will see here are some photos of the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu:

Also on the agenda are Guguan Xiangtai - the ancient observatory established by Kublai Khan in the mid-15th century. The observatory is perched on what used to be the battlements of a watchtower and visitors can view the city from an interesting angle.
And the Pearl Markets, the Hutongs, the Forebidden City and the night markets!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Learning all the time

Well, given that China was nowhere on my immediate radar before this week, we have been frantically studying China and especially Beijing in readiness for our visit in December.

Did you know that the population of the City of Beijing at 17.4 million is nearing the population for the country of Australia at 20.4 million.
Despite having lived in our most populous city (Sydney 3.8 million) I think we might be in for a huge culture shock at the sheer number of people we will come into contact with.
At times, the air pollution readings are up to 8 times the safe level recommended by the WHO. Guess we'll need to be finding ourselves masks to pack in our baggage.

And then there is the weather - found this on a website today:
December to March the average minimum temperature is -5 C and the average maximum is 0C. However, the temperature can fall to as low as -20 C in the winter.
So we can forget posting our Drizabones! - looks like we need them early in the trip too!

And we can't wait to see remains of earlier peoples dating back more than 2000 years - makes our historic sites at 200 years old seem a little new! It appears that the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu is the best to visit if you only have a short time. Not too many other tourists, the top reachable by cable car (think Maria and distance photos there), a reasonable distance available on the wall to walk and a tobbogan to the bottom (think Michael there!!).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The confusion of it all

Most continental European countries are signatories to the Schengen Convention that abolished the need for visas for short stay visitors. BUT

If you want to stay for more than a cumulative 90 days in any six month period then you need to apply for a long stay visa - or do you? The German Consulate in Sydney told Michael we didn't need to - but I have found an application on their website! So we will make application as I would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.
God knows, with Switzerland the only continental western European country that is not a signatory, we don't want to be denied access to other countries! And as much as we want to see eastern Europe, we want to be in control of the 'when'.

Say, did anyone see Feast Bazaar on SBS last night? They were in Palmyra in Syria. This place has to be seen to believed - check it out here We just might make a quick detour from Turkey if there are easy transport options!
Oh the joy of "I feel like going to .... today"!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Family times before we depart . . .

Well it is really getting exciting.

We had wanted to try to get the immediate family together for a couple of days before we leave Australia. Antony, Amanda and Izabella are driving over from Darwin to the East Coast for Christmas this year, and so when they confirmed that they could leave in time, we started to arrange this in earnest.

Michael, Gen and I will fly to Hamilton Island from Brisbane.
The two mothers (Annetta and Monica) will fly from Sydney to Hamilton Island. We will then all go across to Long Island by boat.
James will go over to Airlie Beach to meet Antony and his family and they will return by boat to Long Island.
James will work 10 days straight to make sure that he can spend the time with us. So....

Today we booked flights and accommodation at the Long Island Resort arriving 9 December and departing 12 December. From here, Michael and I will fly home with our mothers to Sydney and Gen will fly home via Brisbane. Antony, Amanda and Izabella will continue their road trip. And James, well he goes back to work!

The spending of $ has well and truly begun!
These are a few shots we took on Long Island when we were there in April.