A Travellerspoint blog

Miss Sarajevo

Bosnia Herzegovina

sunny 18 °C
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BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA

The fact this region was torn apart by a bloody war is inescapable from the moment you cross the border. Rural villages are peppered with burnt out shells of houses, the families long gone, the farmground left untended, possible still mined. Tall apartment buildings strafed with bullet holes and fractured from bombs that fell less than 15 years go. We were both a little taken aback at the remaining evidence of the war. Its everywhere you look. The people are rebuilding, shops are renovated and have new facades, but often they form only part of a larger building, which is still in ruins.

Arriving in Mostar we walked from the bus station through to the old town. I couldn't help but wonder how many people were hurt or killed as we walked past scores of bullet holes, explosion scars and ruined buildings. Many of the residents left town when the war came, like our host Lena who escaped with her family to a small village away from town. She explained to us that when they returned everything was different. Houses were destroyed, the place was in ruins, and interestingly, street names had been changed.

The town of Mostar got its name from a 16th century bridge (Stari Most - Old Bridge) over the Nerevta river. We walked through a photograph exhibition at the bridge which describes the events surrounding the desperate attempts by the locals to save it from being bombed and its inevitable destruction during the war. It has since been rebuilt, allowing an age old tradition of bridge diving. Each year, young men jump from the bridge into the water below. Quite a leap, all to gain the approval of your mates and to pick up chicks. In 2005 the bridge was admitted to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Mostar

It ıs very confrontıng to see people goıng about theır daıly lıves ın thıs broken cıty. Some buıldıngs have been rebuılt whıch only serve to hıghlıght the damaged ones even more. The surroundıng countrysıde ıs very beautiful wıth huge mountains and long winding rivers. The traın trip from Mostar to Sarajevo was particularly beautıful with all of the best scenery on dısplay.

SARAJEVO

From 1992 - 1995, Sarajevo was a city besieged. The Serbian Forces had surrounded the city and its occupants suffered one of the longest city sieges in history. Some estimates suggest as many as 11000 people died, the city was starved of electricity, water, food and security. In a desperate attempt for survival, the recently formed Territorial Force (Local men and women armed with whatever they could get their hands on) set about defending their heartland.

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On the footpaths all over the cıty there are 'Sarajevo roses' whıch are old shellıng damage fılled wıth red concrete. Thıs ensures that tourısts and resıdents alıke never forget what happened. There were stıll plenty of damaged buıldıngs but ıt ıs certaınly becomıng a good tourıst destınatıon. Bosnıa ıs a beautıful country but due to the land mınes everywhere, the countrysıde ıs off lımıts for now. I wouldn't expect that to change anytıme soon.

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The Sarajevo Rose

Posted by adamandmeg 01:59 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Croatia

London to Dubrovnik

sunny
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CROATIA

Arriving at Zagreb international Airport is a bit like stepping back in time. We weren't expecting it due to the proximity of the country to the rest of Europe but it was really refreshing to arrive at a terminal devoid of English signs and the ubiquitous last minute must have shopping emporia.

ZAGREB

The youth hostel. Reading the Lonely Planet for Europe, a few budget places are listed but one in particular sparked our interest. The youth hostel is described as an auditory and visual challenge. We decided very early on to give it a miss.

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Zagreb

We walked into town from the bus station as it was getting dark. Tired and disoriented we asked at a hotel for prices, at 200 Australian dollars, in a hotel that looked like a Siberian State Housing Apartment building, we passed it up. We stumbled on a small hostel sign and walked inside and checked in. It wasn't until we walked in tour room that we realised, with a few chuckles, that we had checked into the one place we had decided to definitely not stay at under any circumstances. Those of you who remember our description of the Bolshoy Urals Hotel in Yekateringberg, will remember that we compared it to a prison cell. This place was a carbon copy, except it had a shower block on the floor.

Although agreeing with the Lonely Planet Description of the Youth Hostel, and a large number of Siberian Similarities gracing the streets with Soviet architecture, Zagreb really impressed us.

SPLIT

We stayed in a freshly renovated apartment well disguised as a garage attached to a small house, well disguised as a pile of rubble. That said, it was very nice and right in the centre of town. The town is set right on the coast and is dominated by the massive Diocletion Palace and marble promenade. We caught a ferry from Split to a small island called Hvar.

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Split

HVAR

There are two things you must do when you go to Hvar Island. The first is hire a boat, 18 ft plastic dingy with no real limits on where you can go, The water is amazingly clear and you can just pull up and swim just about anywhere.

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Hvar

The second is try out a bit of nudity. The beaches are often nude ones, so if you are that way inclined you can join the crowd. Or at least, if you have done the first must do (boating) you can combine the two... Nude Boating. Give it a go... We did.

KORCULA

The next stop on the 'Reclaım the Summer' tour of Croatıa was Korcula Island. Agaın, another beautıful place. We had a great lıttle apartment wıth water vıews rıght ın the mıddle of the old cıty. It was stunnıng. Thıs tıme we fılled our days by kayakıng and bıke rıdıng. The ısland ıs covered wıth vıneyards, olıve trees and cıtrus orchards. It ıs straıght out of a paıntıng. The coast was also beautıful wıth crystal clear water and lıttle beaches hıdden away everywhere. The owner of the apartment found out we were Englısh teachers (nearly!) and asked us how much we charge for proof readıng. Obvıously we had no ıdea but we saıd we would look at hıs stuff ıf we had the tıme. Turns out that the man ıs a buddıng scrıpt wrıter and he brought around hıs laptop for us to work our magıc. Now scıence fıctıon has never been my thıng - but I dıd try. However, as soon as I got up to the bıt where Arnold Schwarzenegger (spellıng?) was defrosted and brought back to lıfe ın the year 2089 he lost me! Adam, the trooper, soldıered on and fınıshed the masterpıece. Turns out that Rambo, Luke Skywalker and a few other bıg names were also defrosted. Comıng to your bıg screens soon!! Look out for Adam ın the credıts.

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Korcula Views... the last one is from our balcony

DUBROVNIK

Dubrovnık ıs a very popular tourıst destınatıon now. . . .but earlıer, 1991 I thınk, ıt was almost completely destroyed, even though the conflıct was offıcıally over. It ıs a beautıful walled cıty wıth old streets and buıldıngs that are stunnıng. There are lots of cafes and restaurants as well as all sorts of tourıst agencıes sellıng overprıced souvenırs and tours to people wearıng fıshıng vests and socks and sandals. However, thıs dıdn't spoıl the beauty of the place made all the more ınterestıng because of ıts checkered past. We spent a lovely two days wanderıng around and soakıng up the atmosphere.

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Posted by adamandmeg 03:36 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Here comes... here comes speed racer

CAR TOUR 2007

all seasons in one day
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Selling Timmy proved easier than we thought. So after 4 days there we were... A fist full of fifties and no real plan.

One of my mums best friends from childhood lives in Birmingham and, having met the family before and struck up an instant friendship with their son David, that was to be our first stop. Keeping with our normal habit of not planning anything until the last minute, we caught a train up to Birmingham from London and gave David a surprise call from the station. Although we had emailed a few times and let him know we planned to visit, we probably did catch him a bit off guard. That said he and his lovely Lady, Ruth, immediately set out making us right at home and ensuring we got the royal tour of their fair city.

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David and Ruth at their Castle

I had been to Birmingham before sand although it was a long time ago, not much remains to be recognised. The centre of town has been nearly completely renovated into a hip café scene. Swanky new apartments and million dollar shopping malls cater for the upper end of the spending set. There is a fantastic concert hall and the public spaces around the centre are filled with installation art pieces, like the iron man. Birmingham appears like a post renovation rescue apartment, only on a grander scale. David and Ruth took us out to a local hangout playing great live music. We strolled the centre of town the next day and discovered a few local secrets, like LIGRIV, and the Floozy in the Jacussi.

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ligriV

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Installation art

David and I picked up exactly where we had left off after the Great Ocean Road trip way back in the '90s. We eventually left them on the Monday for Scotland, with the hope that they will come and visit us in Istanbul.

We had arranged a cheap flight to Edinburgh, well to be honest, David had arranged us a cheap flight to Edinburgh. When we arrived we decided that we would hire a car to "do the top end" of Scotland in style. Thus began "CAR TOUR".



Edinburgh airport is about 10 km out of town, that should take about 10 minutes driving time. We checked in to our hostel about 2 hours after arrival, after unsuccessfully negotiating the relatively easy trip to the centre of town. Needless to say, we took a rather scenic route through some lesser visited suburbs. Somewhere along the way we realised that we had left the only map we had - in the Lonely planet, at the hire car check in counter back at the airport, some 10 km (or 2 hours) drive away. Our Hostel was pretty close to the main action so we had plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the city. What an amazing city it is too. Edinburgh is compact enough that you can see it all in a day, and beautiful enough that you never want to leave.

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Edinburgh Castle

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High Street

We did though, after returning to the Airport and collecting our good book, we set off on the drive North to Inverness. Up over the Grampian mountains through Perth to Inverness is an amazing drive and whet our appetite for the highlands to come.

The highlight of our visit to Inverness was the short drive to its famous waterway - Loch Ness. Shortly after the first views of the Loch, you come to the Loch Ness visitors Centre. A new swanky, multimedia experience centre where you get to immerse yourself in the mystery and myth associated with the Lochs most famous inhabitant. Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. Though it was a fantastic exhibition, with movies and actual research equipment that tells the tale from Medieval times, though the sensational early years up to the scientific heyday of research in the 80s, I did notice that quite an important piece of history had been grossly ignored... I know for a fact that the Goodies conducted their own research into the Loch Ness Monster and none of that features. Shame. Seriously though, it is worth the money to go so make sure you stop in and have a look around. A short drive further down the Loch is Urchart Castle. Again a great spot well worth the visit.

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Urchart Castle

Fed up with the constant strain of listening to me repeatedly asking if that ripple is the Loch Ness Monster, Meaghan suggested we push on up further North towards the Highlands.

The drive North out of Inverness gets more and more scenic as you head up over the highlands to the Northern Coast. A lot of the drive is on single lane roads skirting the edges of Lochs, it was pouring with rain a lot of the time so it should have been no real surprise when we were run off the road by a blind campervan driver. We ended up in a ditch in the pouring rain. Luckily the Citroen Picasso is light enough that we were able to literally lift it back onto the road and keep going.

We found our way to a little village right on the coast called Dounreay. The pictures should give you some idea of how cool this place is. We camped at the back of a pub and walked down to the beach the next morning. The beach was a real surprise. I don't think it would ever be warm enough for me to swim, but it was beautiful none the less.

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Dounraey

For the next two days the driving just got better and better, the scenery was amazing. The weather didn't really improve much but it was beautiful to see the Lochs, and besides, its the Scottish Highlands, its supposed to be wet, cold and muddy. We couldn't help but wonder about these Scotsmen, they invented gold and they play it is skirts with no undies on, in the mud.

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The Scottish Highlands

After driving the coast the whole way across the North of Scotland, we stayed at Kyle of Loch Alshe. The next day we drove way to far on the push to get to the Rugby in Cardiff. We finally get to Wye and stayed in a really cool 150 year old house with a really psycho land lady. Although fearing for our lives, we did manage to get well rested for the Rugby the next day.

THE RUGBY

On Sat 15 September Australia (The Wallabies) played Wales in the preliminary round of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, at Millenium stadium, Cardiff... And we were there.

We had stayed at Ross on Wye North of Cardiff the night before after a long drive South from Kyle on Loch Alshe. The proprietress proved to be quite a challenge with her incessant stories of her ex husband, ex partners and ex ex's - for a moment we thought we'd discovered the true bunny boiler. The next day, we made the short trip to Cardiff and caught up with Jen and Steve.

What a game, our boys were the strongest team from the opening whistle (although the final moments of the second half had a few Aussie fans hearts in mouths).

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We actually met up with a couple of Meaghan's wok buddies. Can you beleive that?

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Leaving Jen and Steve (again) we headed off to Oxford. University town and, surprisingly, the most expensive hotel prices yet. After selling two of Meaghan's limbs and offering the hire car as collateral, we checked into the Victoria hotel, 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and enjoyed our final night on Great Britain soil.

Handing back the car the next day we were a little fearful of the cost of repairs to the front end - damage caused by being run of the road by the campervan in Scotland. Not for long though, Megs started a 'discussion' with the recently arrived Eastern European ladychild serving us about the fuel (apparently a quarter of a tank costs 38 Pounds to fill up - that's about 100 Australian Dollars)... Needless to say, the attendant got us to sign on the dotted line and away we went.. Walking away we noticed that under the dotted line there was the following statement...

"Get a receipt and we guarantee no more to pay"

We still think it is expensive fuel but it proved to be really cheap panel beating.

Another nervous moment as we approached the check in desk for our economic, though salubrious, airline "WHIZ AIR"... We were sure that no real airline could be called WHIZ AIR and that we had been the victim of some really funny internet joke. All proved to be needless concern though and the trip to Croatia was uneventful.

Posted by adamandmeg 03:27 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

looking for adventure, whatever comes our way

Van Tour

semi-overcast 18 °C
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"So where do you want to go?"
"I dunno"
"Cool, ok lets go then"

That’s how it began, the mad trip from London, through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, on to Germany and back, that would soon be known as Van tour 2007.

Well, not The Van Tour - an annual pilgrimage where a whole bunch of Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans and others, pack up their belongings into rusted buckets of campervans, held together by paint and superglue, and hit all the major summer tourist destinations in a loud, alcoholic, convoy of destruction and social disgrace... But close...

Our plan began as an overland journey through Western Europe to meet up with our great friends Ela and Darek, for their party in August. The thing is, once we got on the road we realised that the party wasn’t until 15 September. The same night as the rugby world cup match we had organised tickets for some 10 months earlier. Not only had we botched plans to help them celebrate their recent wedding, now we had a full tank of gas, four weeks to fill in before the rugby, a well thumbed lonely planet guidebook and no idea where we should go.

"Lets go to the beach for a few days"

After arriving in Calais, we trolled the northern beaches of France and Belgium looking for what would pass for a beach - even a muddy swamp would have sufficed if there was a hint of direct sunlight and a little less than gale force winds.

We did find a nice deserted beach called Oye Plage. Peppered with War ruins, bunkers and machine gun pits it proved to be a very eerie sight on an early morning run.

That’s right fans, an early morning run. We have started running again and we both look very very buff.

Surrounding the Oye Plage area is a stretch of coast housing many bird hides and nature trails. With our recently educated bird watching eyes we had a bit of a go at spotting avian rarities. Not much to report there though I’m afraid - I guess it is a lot easier at the Wetlands Centre in London, with a professional guide at your side helping out.

Northern Belgium was packed to the gunnells with summer tourists seeking sun and sand. Though there wasn't any sun, the sand was a plenty. Practically the entire coastline of Belgium is one massive beach resort. The road that follows the coastline is lined with apartments, restaurants, carnivals and children riding 4 person bikes that look like dune buggies - in traffic. Suffice to say it was pretty slow going.

Somewhere along the way Meaghan read about Texel in the Netherlands. An island surrounded by flat sand beaches. So off we went back to the Netherlands. Our first port of call was Rotterdam. What to say of Rotterdam - it was big and it has a really nice
campsite. It does seem to be less hip than its big sister Amsterdam. But... In the Zoo in Rotterdam there is a Gorilla called Bokito.

Bokito spends most of his time sitting at the window of his enclosure looking back at the people that come to look at him. One of those people is a woman who visits him often, smiling and waving at him. One day, Bokito was taunted by some of the visitors and apparently was subsequently in a pretty bad mood. When his special lady friend came to visit (waving and smiling) his natural instinct apparently took over and he acknowledged the smile - apparently quite an offensive thing to do to a great ape - by jumping the safety moat of his enclosure, grabbing his special lady friend, dragging her into a full café and beating the daylights out of her in front of the assembled masses enjoying their apple cake and lattes.

Strange but true - type in Bokito in You Tube if you don’t believe me...

We didn’t go to the zoo and we didn’t meet Bokito, both he and his special lady friend are safe and well now though.

After Rotterdam we had another weekend in Amsterdam - the city of red lights, coffeeshops and canals. Do yourself a favour - go to Amsterdam. Should you go, check out the Canal Bikes - a system of ferries and pedal boats that allow you to hop on and hop off around the City. We hired a pedal boat and toured the canals of Amsterdam for a couple of hours - they are really cool, you can pick up the boat in one location and drop it off on the other side of town - it is a really good way of seeing parts of the city that many of the visitors to Amsterdam would not otherwise see.

Another must see is the red light district - Coffee Shops, Sex Shows and the infamous windows lining the streets, Women and Men of all shapes and sizes parading their wares for the passers by. It is a strange thing to be amongst bucks nights, tour groups, families and locals in such a buzzing area of the city. We walked around for hours, and hours.

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Amsterdam

After Amsterdam we headed to Texel. An island surrounded by flat sand beaches, caught in the midst of an eternal cyclone - apparently. The beach was great, the towns on the island were small, slow paced and welcoming. The Campsite was really cool, nestled in amongst the dunes that shelter the towns from the wind.

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Texel

The Wind... Yes.. We endured 5 days of gale force winds that threatened to launch the tent - with us inside - into flight (like a now famous jumping castle ride at the Dandy Show some years back) until we finally succumbed and headed for Germany.

Again reading the Lonely Planet, Megs read about a medieval town called Goslar in the German Harz mountains. A small town, surrounded by dark mountains, steeped in myths of witches, with a few hundred year old Glockenspiel - sounded just like a Hostel style horror film. Sounded great.
Following with the hostel theme, when we got to the campsite at Goslar we were greeted by the manager - a hairy, grumpy, evil looking woman - more interested in her taxidermic displays surrounding the office than us. We headed into town - and just like in the Hostel film we stumbled on a wine festival - we even had an Aussie wine. Then we broke down. The Starter motor gave way so we had to follow our non English speaking Recovery Mechanic out of town to a deserted industrial site. The van would not be ready until after the weekend so we had arranged a hotel back in town.

"No bus, no taxi, walk..."

Ok, luckily that was the end of the hostel parallels and we were able to enjoy a weekend in a top range hotel courtesy of RAC UK. If you have to breakdown in Europe and you are covered by RAC - you could choose worse days than a Friday afternoon to breakdown.

Goslar is a beautiful city that retains most of its medieval charm and has not yet fully been consumed by tourism. Hotels are cheap, beers are very cheap - the only problem - one shared by much of Europe - is dubbing. They love it, every English program and film we saw on TV that entire weekend was dubbed. Why?!?!?!?!?!?

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Goslar

We had also planned on catching up with one of my high school mates from Bunbury, but his work schedule and our travel dates just did not meet this time. But as we plan to be in this hemisphere for a bit longer yet, I’m sure we'll catch up with Shane and his family in the near future.

After Goslar we toured around the Northern coastline of Germany and Netherlands on route to Groningen, and our good friends Lowrens and Marianne. On the way we had occasion to have a quite van warming at a town called Esens Benesiel in Germany. The town is nestled on the coast by a nature reserve in the very North Western coastline. Anyway, a couple of hours later and we were both three sheets to the wind and retired early. The next day - the only sunny day on Van tour to date was a day of quiet repose and recuperation. We had not only warmed the van, but apparently, with the help of some really cheap and somewhat dodgy Aldi rum, we had nearly succeeded in burning it down. But after an extension to the stay and a good pasta meal we were back and ready to continue on towards The Netherlands.

We spent a week with Lowrens and Marianne in Groningen in their new castle on the other side of town. That week proved to be the most tiring week of the trip - they were determined to be primo hosts and ensured that every day had a new adventure for us. We spend a couple of days aboard their pirate ship cruising the canals of Friesland. Followed the next day by a 50 km round trip bike ride in storm conditions up to Pieterburen to check out the Seal Rescue and Research Centre. That was a real eye opener. Every year seal cubs are orphaned by natural and not so natural causes in the North Sea. Many of them are found undersize and struggling for survival on the beaches of Northern Holland. This place takes them in and gets them back to strength for ultimate re release. Like the London Wetlands Centre, the Seal Rescue and Research Centre survives mostly on donations. They do an amazing job, also heavily involved in clearing the discarded commercial fishing nets from the North Sea environs. Many of the seals bear the scars of being caught in these nets when they arrive at the Centre.

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Boating with Lowrens and Marianne

We also had the rare opportunity to experience the rather curious sport of Korf Ball. Similar in many respects to Netball, Korfball is a national obsession and the only sport I am aware of that must be played in mixed teams. Lowrens and Marianne are in pre season training at the moment for a regional Friesland team.

Then we went to the swimming centre. That was really really ace! There was a waterslide (a fast, twisting turning dark waterslide that we spent hours on) a wave pool, a whirlpool pool, a spa, sauna.. Oh man it was an awesome way to recharge at the end of van tour and get ready for the return to England.

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The newest addition to the castle

We said our farewells again to Lowrens and Marianne and headed back to Hoek Van Holland to catch our overnight ferry to Harwich. Although sad to be saying goodbye to our friends we were pretty excited about our ferry crossing. I had made an expensive mistake when booking the ferry and we ended up in a Captain Class cabin, which meant we had complimentary mini bar, TV, double bed, forward facing front row windows and movies all night - in English.

Well rested we returned to Harwich and made the final drive back to London in Timmy the Talbot Van. Having advertised him for sale as we left Holland we planned to test the waters and sell him early if we had enough interest, otherwise drive him to Istanbul after the rugby.

Posted by adamandmeg 12:05 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

I want to ride my bicycle

Vive Le Tour!!!!

sunny 18 °C
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Vive Le Tour!!!

Bonjour ma famille et mes amies!!

It has been a while between drinks (not literally of course. . .do not panic), following the Tour de France was a little hectic.

It's a strange race this Tour de France. As Melbournites we can only liken it to the Melbourne Cup - The Race that Stops the Nation . . . . For three weeks!

Adam has always been a huge fan of cycing - the Tour imparticular, but my interest was fleeting at best. The SBS post match wrap up each day sufficed - it was good and it always showed the best bits, such as Lance Armstrong showing his pedigree up hills, on the flat, in time trials . . .

After reading a book called French Revolutions by Tim Moore, Adam and I decided that we would have to follow the Tour around France one day. That was 5 years ago. Tim's book was about his trip over the Tour De France route on a touring bike. The book was lesson in cycling history combined with hilarious anecdotes of his own adventures. So 2007 turned out to be our year. . . .we decided to travel around France in a campervan. . .along with 5,684 elderly married couples. For those that ask, number not inclusive of Jen and Steve.

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Robbie McWean waves at the flag in London

The Tour started in London this year. It was very exciting and London really turned it on. All of the cycling fans . .and their lycra. . .came out of the closet to support this magnificent event (and to support the fine weather) beginning with the 8km prologue through Hyde Park. Londonites soaked up the rays as the popular rollerblading strip was replaced with speedy cyclists, support vehicles and cheering crowds.The action on the big screen was captivating, the real life action almost to fast to catch. Stuart O'Grady crashed in spectacular style and Fabian Cancellara from Switzerland, showed why he was the World Champion. He blew the rest of the field away ensuring himself a start in yellow for the following day. Little did us Aussies know that Stuart's crash was only the beginning of similar incidents that plagued him and his fellow countrymen during the rest of the Tour.

The first stage was an exciting tour of all the important London sites finishing in Canterbury; the place made famous by Chaucer and his tales. Picture this. . .all of us in the van heading south east from London, stopping in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, walking a few kms up the road and catching our first, I repeat first glimpse of the Tour de France in all its glory. And in what dramatic style. . .Robbie McEwan, unbeknownst to us at the time, had just had a huge crash, and then right in front of us was another four bike pile up. Faring the worst was a young British rider, Mark Cavendish with T-Mobile. He rode past us in tears with blood pouring out of his knee. If it was any other race, you wouldn't bother going on. And so finished day one with Robbie McEwan working his way through the pelaton with his team to take the first stage convincingly and in true sprinting style.

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Mark Cavendish - Inspirational

Due to his great first stage, we were lucky enough to watch Robbie finish in green at the end of stage two in Gant, Belgium. That was the last we saw of Robbie with the green jersey.

And so let me tell you about life on the road as an Australian supporter . . .it isn't all it's cracked up to be and there isn't a yellow jersey luring us to the finish line in Paris! You get up early, pack up camp, hit the road, hope like hell that you can get onto the route before it closes, spend two hours looking for the perfect place for viewing and for free merchandise (more on that later). You then set up everything you own to block off your little piece of prime viewing turf, wait for four hours for four minutes of cycling action, find a campsite and do it all again the next day. . .bien!!! Keeping the onlookers interested and engaged was the ever popular publicity caravan. It was a convoy of about 50 vehicles throwing out free stuff . . .hats, t-shirts, key rings, undersized novelty salamis, decks of cards, washing powder. . .you name it, they chucked it. We got so experienced that we knew what each vehicle was going to throw - "Yep, we need washing powder", "No, I've already got that key ring" Awesome!! The drivers and chuckers soon began to recognise us and the flag and would regularly announce over the loudspeakers "Hello Australia!". If they stopped for any length of time in front of us we used to get them to announce things like "You're a bloody ripper Cadel".

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Official Supporters

Ah yes, back to the cycling action. Cadel Evans, Australia's best hope for a podium finish, was riding beautifully. Before the hills he was sitting just in the top twenty with another Australian hope, Michael Rogers from T-Mobile. One of the things we found incredibly difficult was keeping up to date with all of the Tour action. It was televised in its entirety on French television but we were generally en route or driving and had to wait for the free newspapers the next day to confirm how our Aussie boys were faring. In fact the best updates we got were from Mum and Dad Evans, who were following the race back in Australia. And there was plenty of action to be updated on. . . drug scandals, crashes, onlookers being killed. . .it was all happening.

The real racing didn't begin until stage five with the action moving to the French Alps. It was here that Cancellara lost the yellow jersey and the climbers such as Rasmussen, Contador and Cadel Evans came into their own. This is also when fortune turned bad for the other Aussie riders. Brett Lancaster, Team Milram, retired and we still don't know his story. Michael Rogers, on the same day he got a break from the pelaton, crashed on a steep descent, broke his collarbone and retired. It wasn't Stuart O'Grady's year either. He also had a crash on a descent, broke eight ribs and punctured his lung. Robbie McEwan, as a result of his accident during the first stage had to withdraw. In the short time that we followed Robbie this year, it was easy to see why he was a crowd favourite. In London, when the teams were introduced he rode past our flag and gave us a big wave. Then, on a hill climb out of a small town called Avallon he saw us again and said "G'day Aussies!" from the middle of the pelaton. Robbie McEwan provided us with our most talked about moments, we were very sad to hear that his tour had finished prematurely. And so,the only two were left standing (or sitting / riding. . . . . . . .whatever) were Cadel Evans - Team Predictor Lotto and Simon Gerrans - Team AG2R. Exciting times to come, we pick up the action at Col de Telegraph - Stage ten.

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After 3 hours uphill

We had a great spot on the hill with beers and snacks a plenty. Due to good positioning, the merchandise came thick and fast. Jen seemed to be the number one target who, as team stunt man (all teams need a stuntman - Team CSC with Stuart O'Grady could definitely use one haha. . .) was hit by salamis, cards and other random items. As always, Jen took it for the team bagging plenty of merchandise and two team water bottles to boot. Love your work!!! The cycling action that day was fantastic. There was a break away group of four riders, a chasing pack with Cadel amongst it, then the pelaton. Simon Gerrans proved to be the invisible man for almost the duration of the race - he was very difficult to spot and even newspapers failed to print his results on a couple of occasions.

One of the stories of the Tour this year was that of Alexander Vinakourov. The Kazacstan rider with Team Astana was a favourite to take out the prestigious event. During the early stages of the race, he had what appeared to be a routine off (basic, non lethal crash for those of us not up with our cycling jargon!) that turned out to be quite significant - forty stitches later. And he soldiered on over the next few stages dropping five, six, ten minutes behind the leaders. Then when he was a heartbreaking 30 minutes off the pace he managed to finish a few minutes ahead of the pelaton with a breakaway group. Then the next day he had a magnificent stage win following a really gutsy ride. I mean this man was getting his wounds dressed whilst racing. The relief and happiness on Vinakourov's face after winning the stage was poignant and exciting all at the same time. That day, he returned a positive sample and Team Astana was withdrawn. And so began the drug scandals for 2007.

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Team Astana Riders

The withdrawal of Team Astana spelled the end for two big cycling names - Alexander Vinakourov and Andreas Kloden. The competition was wide open with Michael Rasmussen showing that he was a force to be reckoned with. Team Rabobank controlled the pace beautifully protecting their best hope with Team Discovery Channel (Lance's Team) putting in a great team ride as well. It was during the stages in the Pyrenees that cracks started appearing in Cadel's team - Predictor Lotto. No-one in Predictor Lotto had the legs to provide Cadel with any support up the hills. He was out on his own and did it tough. The young gun from Discovery, Alberto Contador showed his climbing prowess taunting the yellow jersey holder, Michael Rasmussen, up the hills. The two worked well together managing to get away from Cadel on quite a few occaisions.

The Pyrenees was a spectacular back drop for the cycling action. The peaks were imposing, jagged, unpredictable. We were lucky enough to camp just below the summit of one of the huge climbs. The tents went up as the mist rolled over the hills and the temperature dropped about 8 degrees. We had spent the morning sunning ourselves on a beach in Montpellier and there we were, rugged up and cold. What a country! The best parts about the campsite was I could see the route from our tent and we were next to a big group of crazy Frenchmen who gave us beers and wine, bless 'em!

The next morning we got up early and staked our claim on a great spot. We painted a huge sign aptly drawn up by Jen, the Team Artist. This was all in aid of gettting TV coverage from the helicopters (Peta saw it!!!!!!). Then we waited. . .and waited. It is very difficult to explain the excitement of hearing the choppers and knowing that shortly we would be witnessing incredible cyclists putting their hearts, souls and legs into the best cycling event in the world. Tremendous. . . And this stage was no exception. At about 1km to go before the summit, the cyclists were hurting. You could see it on their faces as the crowd urged them forward. Drugs or no drugs, these athletes are tough nuts, no question about it. It was a good finish for Cadel. The leaders got away from him but he put in a really corageous effort and maintained his position. A podium finish was looking likely.

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Spectaluar Pyrenees Hill Climb

The next big climbing stage was at Col d'Aubisque, a stage that Cadel won last year. We caught a bit of the stage just outside of a town called Arettes. We camped in a great location ready for the action the next day - which was Jen's Birthday. We set up our big blue sign and we did what I had wanted to do for the whole tour. . .we painted the road. I wrote Cadel and Simon's names on the road - they were our only two riders left. It proved to be a great location, plenty of merchandise and almost Cadel's water bottle. After the riders passed us, we headed into town to watch the end of the stage. Again, Cadel was on his own in the mountains. To his credit he fought incredibly hard and only lost 40 seconds. Rasmussen, Contador and Leipheimer were continuing their good form, climbing like it was a walk in the park. These performances, of course, gave rise to drug allegations, and the next day, Michael Rasmussen's race was over. It turned out that he had lied about his whereabouts when he was supposed to be drug tested. That was enough.

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At the base of Aubisque

At this point in the race, there was only one more stage that would make a difference to the overall standings - the time trial. Cadel finished second in the last time trial and was well placed to challenge the yellow jersey. We managed to get to a café in Paris to watch the time trials and it was one of the most exciting stages for the entire tour. It had been years since the yellow jersey had been in contention right up until the end. It wasn't a question of who would ride faster in the time trial but rather would Cadel ride fast enough to win the yellow jersey. The gap between Contador and Cadel was 3mins?? The time trial was a nail biting, edge of your seat affair with Cadel having a great ride . . but not great enough to win. The final margin was 23 seconds which is absolutely nothing over 3500km. What a ride. It was the first time an Australian rider has ever finished on the podium of the world's most prestigious cycling event - we were there and we will never forget it. I can't wait for that pub trivia question . . . . Anyway, Adam and I thought it would only be appropriate to buy a couple of bottles of cheap French Champagne one of which we uncorked as Cadel crossed the finish line (we had already polished off the other one!). It was an amazing day. We offered a swig to some random Aussies who gladly obliged, share the joy I say. After the champagne, we wandered around Paris looking for the after party. Jen "Eagle Eye" Evans spotted some paparazzi and we headed down the street to see what all the fuss was about. Alberto Contador, the young Spanish winner, was being interviewed and there was no-one else around except for the cameras and us. What a great way to finish our Tour de France dans Timmy the Talbot Van.

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The final stages

After the excitement of the big finish we headed to Dunkirk which spelled the end of our France epic. Adam and I had itchy feet as soon as we arrived in London and we headed off for Van Tour four days later. . .

Posted by adamandmeg 11:31 Archived in France Comments (0)

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