Italy has been our home for over three months in the last three years and it’s been an experience of Highs and Lows. One thing we adore is the language. I’ve had some great teachers along the way from a Campsite Receptionist, who is now a friend, to camper neighbours who shared their local knowledge.
Imagine the scene; Emilio in his 70’s, looked like he had come straight off the set of an Italian Mafia film and his younger wife Anna by at least 15 years, who fulfilled most of the duties, not in a subservient way, just as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. They spoke very little English, so between us we spoke French, pigeon Italian and the odd word of Queeny’s tongue. What an incredible hour we had together and thanks to them, had some amazing experiences in Tuscany. They even gave us their phone number is case of any issues whilst in Italy. And oh boy! Could we have used that half a dozen times in the last month.
During our time here, we’ve experienced Lakes in the guise of Garda and Trasimeno, stayed in a volcanic crater just outside Naples and overnighted outside a Benedictine Monastery up in the mountains; we had two free, wild jacuzzis and mud wraps in the mountains – courtesy of Tuscany’s natural thermal springs. We’ve watched the sun go down on our lakeside ‘home’ in Umbria and watched it rise through Tuscany’s evocative poplar trees. We found flamingoes on the Po Delta together with a few million midges that must be on their winter retreat from Scotland. We’ve seen Pisa’s tower lean a bit, Florence’s iconic Duomo Cathedral and Pontevecchio bridge, been treated to sunset in our beloved Venice and visited the iconic hillside towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino of wine fame. And that’s before we mention the Cinque Terre and the famous Stelvio Passwhich was hair-raising and brilliant all at the same time.
And then we had adventures of getting ripped off in San Marino’s tax haven principality, had our bikes stolen from a public space in Lucca, been subjected to the worst roads and motorways we’ve ever been on and took part in a chaotic, free-for-all junk-yard derby that made Delhi look like an empty supermarket car park. Sadly our road-trip south, which had the intention of experiencing Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast, was thwarted by the crowds, crazy-frog drivers and a bit of rubbish navigating on my part. How we came away sane and unscathed is beyond us.
Although despite all this, I have to say that each time we return to Italy, we love it a little bit more. I think our first visit scared the be-gesus out of us. Once you know the rules for navigating Italy mindfully, then it’ll end up being a fabulous experience. So you must come and make up your own minds.
Check out our Interactive Map below for all our Italian highlights from 2016-2018.
Our Italian Realisations
As we reflect on our Italian adventures over the years, we’ve learnt a few things about our pizza eating, pasta making friends:
They have little road sense or road politesse
The country seems strapped for cash and lots of the seaside towns in the south are really run down and unloved
Drivers NEVER make eye contact behind the wheel of their cars
They disregard any rules of the road – in fact there are no rules
They think nothing of driving on your side of the road and overtaking right in front of an oncoming vehicle
They love honking their horns
They will only fix Toll roads, the rest are at the mercy of time and grass
They don’t seem to worry about volcano eruptions or earthquakes – if it happens, they get on with it as they live in one of the most seismic active areas of the world outside New Zealand
The north/south divide seems to be opposite that in UK. The north is definitely the most wealthy and most populated with BIG tourists sights. Whereas the south seems to be more rural, less commercialised and where fewer tourists come
Italy has by far the best sunsets we have ever seen – there must be something about the seismic dust that makes it so evocative and romantic
And talking of romance, Italy has the most romantic vibe of all countries we have visited. Love seems to be expressed everywhere in the most idyllic of places – except behind the wheel of a car
And above all, we’ve found some of the sweetest, kindest and most wonderful people here.
Our 14 Highlights
Well you can’t say Italy without immediately thinking about Venice. And whilst it suffers hugely from both tourist erosion and flooding, somehow this community seems to continue life as if there were no problems – typically Italian. With its canals, gondolas, bridges and islands, Venice has to be seen both by day and by night. Both deliver a completely different vibe. Check out our experience here.
Northern Italy that rubs shoulders with Austria and Switzerland is all about the battle of the mountains. At one end you have the Dolomites with their towering spikes that can be seen for miles, to the more femininely curvaceous Alps at the western end. Both mountains spectacular in their own way, each offering a unique personality and Italian experience. Either way you will hold you breath and gasp.
3. Stelvio Pass
When we think of Italian roads, the image isn’t good. Although think again when you ponder on the driving challenge that is THE STELVIO PASS. We’ve driven a couple of Europe’s ‘most dangerous roads’, although I have to say this was the most challenging of them all. Not only is the road in good condition, it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever experience. Driving from Bolzano is a must, if nothing more than to save your brakes. The wiggles that snake up to the mountain’s snow line are just so testing; one after another, after another. It is exhausting especially in a motorhome, although out of season most definitely doable and we highly recommend it. Check out our footage here.
4. Lake Garda
Nestled in the bosom of the Alps, Lake Garda is the largest of all the Italian Lakes and whilst it is incredibly busy, even in September, it is a great experience. Whether you choose to do it by car, bicycle (using any one of the ferries), kayak or moped, Lake Garda is a gift that keeps on giving. Intense blue waters, northern winds that provide the sail power for the windsurfers and atmospheric villages that cling to the lakeside edges, Garda has it all. Limone is a delight, Gargnano charming and Riva in the north, buzzy.
5. Porto Venere
Sat on the eastern fringe of the Cinque Terre National Park, Porto Venere has sadly been missed off the ‘Famous Five’ list. And it is beyond our comprehension why. With its harbour, peninsular and iconic Gothic church, its narrow alleyways full of characterful houses, Porto Venere is supremely more beautiful than the ‘five’ in our opinion. With fewer crowds to affect your experience, this is definitely one to put on your list. Check out our footage here.
What superlatives can I use to aptly describe Tuscany that won’t undermine its tend charm and infinite beauty? So I will conjure up an image for you that may entice you to this Italian region. Imagine rolling hills, carved with sunflower fields and poplar trees that cluster together along roads and driveways, that in the autumn mists and sunrise light offer you a scene out of Gladiator. With natural springs hidden in forests that bubble and soothe away your aches and villages perched on hills that offer a grandeur in their lofty status and wine oozing from the acres of vineyards that cover the land. Tuscany has romance at its core with divine beauty etched into every piece of soil. I defy you to not fall in love with this region. Volterra, Montepulcanio, Montalcino, Pomerance, Talemone, Bagno Vignoni and the White Whale of San Felippo Bagnoni. Deliciousness on a map. Check out loads of footage we have here.
8. Po Delta
On the western coast, just a stone’s throw from the Venice magnet you come to flat lands that you wonder what beauty they can hold. Although for a completely unique and diverse landscape the Po Delta region is awash with wild life and salt-flats. And with this type of scenery you get flamingoes. Swarms of them – and mosquitos sadly. Although if timed right, a tour around the delta and Comacchio will give you a completely different perspective of Italy.
9. Alberobello and Matera in the south
The south has many undiscovered gems and given that most tourists go for the easy to reach northern regions, Alberobello and Matera are relatively unscathed by tourists. Alberobello with its famous Trulli houses are quaint and one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen. White washed buildings and their round stone roofs transport you back in time as you wander around the cobbled streets of this UNESCO village. In contrast not more than 45 minutes drive away you have the rock village of Matera. Carved into the hillside with caves that dwellers called their homes Matera will delight you. Overlooking its river gorge, walks, bird watching and café culture will entice you to this place and make you wonder why you have never been before. Check out our footage here.
10. Paestum – Greek Temples
So many flock to Pompeii to see the famous, ancient Roman city and its fickle volcano Vesuvius. Although it is for this very reason that we searched for something more authentic and not an expensive tourist trap. Heading past Naples, past Solerno and on towards Agropoli and you will find a far more genuine and less crowded monument. In fact Paestum is a Greek archeological site and its temples are in a great state, the best we have ever seen. It is definitely worth travelling a little further south to see this place. Check out what we saw here.
The Amalfi coast is certainly beautiful and given that driving a motorhome along its roads is forbidden, we decided on approaching it by sea. We took a ferry from Salerno (where there is a campsite about 15 minutes down the road) and disembarked at the town of Amalfi. The town is, like many of it sibling resorts, crowded with coach loads of tourists, although if you get away from the main high street some of the views of the town from up above are great. Just for the sheer hell of it, we would highly recommend taking the bus back. Although it takes nerves of steel as the bus driver throws the vehicle around narrow lanes and steep overhanging cliffs, it is certainly an experience. Check out our experience here.
Making the most of your Italian adventure
1) Despite Italy’s reputation, do come as it is beautiful – if you plan ahead to the specific sites you want to see then it becomes much more pleasurable.
2) To cover Italy’s extensive miles, we suggest you take the toll roads and suck up the fees if you want to minimise brain ache and wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s not always pretty, although the ride is not pretty on some of the main roads. Even the non-tolled motorways are shocking.
3) Italy has some amazing cities and palatial cathedrals, that rival Spain, although when visiting these Italian icons, stay in a campsite and take the bus. Crime here is rife.
4) Don’t make our mistake – pay for car parks and DO NOT park in side streets, even if there are cameras and other vehicles around.
5) If you go to Pisa, you’ll only need to see the main Cathedral and tower – there is nothing else – so an hour tops we would recommend.
6) Put Venice on the list, although stay at the site (if with a motorhome) on the inside of the city – Tronchetto, which is just over the bridge, that way you can experience Venice by day and night, which is very special.
7) See Florence out of season as the crowds are crazy and go early if you want to climb the Tower. Our advice for the best view of the city, is to walk to Michaelangelo’s statue, up the 167 steps – yes we counted them – the view over the entire city is exceptional.
8) Do not miss Italy’s eastern coast, south of Venice into the Po Delta. It is a nature lover’s paradise and a stunning natural environment, although keep away from the coastal towns as they are not pretty.
9) Bare in mind that any Italian with a motorhome will go away in it over the weekend, even out of season. So don’t expect to find Sostas (equivalent to French Aires) with much space.
10) Italian kids don’t go back to school until third week in September, so campsites are still classed as high season until then and then they close down anywhere from end of September to end of October.
11) I’m sure the Amalfi coast is lovely, although do not go in a motorhome unless you have a very strong constitution for driving. Campsites are limited and Motorhomes are not allowed on the Amalfi road. Go for a week’s holiday instead or even better, go on a cruise! It is the maddest area of Italy that we have experienced and that includes other main cities like Florence and Venice.
12) Expect the unexpected here and you’ll be ok.
13) The fresh pasta and mozzarella here is incredible, as is their cheap wine. Stock on their baked beans found in larger supermarkets so that in your trip back up through western Europe you have supplies, as the French just don’t do Baked Beans!
14) Learn a few words of Italian as it is the most musical language ever and actually not difficult to converse with a handful of stock phrases. The best phrase I learnt was ‘Posso’, which means ‘Could I?’ From here you can say ‘Could I have’, ‘Could I pay’, ‘Could I buy’. They appreciate the effort, even if it means you have to resort to Google Translate for the rest.
15) And finally, do come. We’ve not seen half of Italy yet and we still love it, you just keep your whits about you.
So our conclusion on Italy? There are many pockets of beauty in amidst some unlovedness, with crazy drivers and rubbish roads. It is a bit like a sweet and sour dish. There are most definitely two flavours to Italy and whilst we will always go back, we do so with eyes wide open and our nerves braced. For all our Italian adventures including Florence, this page gives you all our posts and videos. Italy in a nutshell.
Poland’s depth and character unfold the longer you stay; each week grabbing hold of your heart just a little bit more. InPart 1 of our Road-Trip, there is no doubting that we uncovered some seriously unique and beautiful sights and we felt instantly connected. Although as the weeks have gone by, little bit by little bit, Poland has secured its place both in our hearts and on our Top 5 List of Most Memorable Places. I know it’s really easy to say, given the ‘recency factor’, although I just have the feeling that Poland will remain under our skin for a long while to come. Let’s see if we can transfer some of this magic through our words, pictures and videos. Don’t forget that our full documentary of our Poland trip is now available for FREE download – check it out here.
Here is our interactive map of our entire route through Poland.
Warsaw – city of scars and rebirth
After the disappointment of Łodz we were really hoping Warsaw would match our eager expectations. I do recognise that after so many cities in the last two and a half years, that there is some danger of being blasé, although we genuinely seek the unique characters of each place we visit and Warsaw was no different. Sometimes we do get travel fatigue and we have learnt now to stop, ground ourselves for a day or two before then exploring some more. And this was our calling as we approached Warsaw and we found the perfect place about 8 miles to the west of the city at Camping Kaputy.
Duly rested, I awoke with the same eager anticipation I feel after being stationary for awhile. A new city, new secrets to discover and new tales to share. With my camera fully charged we headed into The Smoke and found a fabulous secure parking area right underneath the Old Town, which for 6PLN per hour or 124PLN for 24hrs, was just perfect and so easy to access. (52.25011, 21.01568) Within five minutes we were in the hub of the Market Square, which like Wrocław has so much atmosphere and charm. With café bars hugging the outer edges and rainbow coloured facias looking down on the scene like parental giants, the Rynek was delightful and no crowds! My perfect scenario.
Armed with leaflets from the Tourist Info centre, we made a bee-line for all the iconic highlights on our Map, letting them guide us like Pied Piper mice. The Stare Miastro (Old Town in Polish) was the main course to our starter at the Rynek, and boy were we in for a feast – for the eyes and the soul. A Royal Castle that at 11.15am each day plays out a bugle call to the waiting crowds, Chopin playing benches, a panorama tower and monuments everywhere. It was one of those experiences where we felt like we needed to turn in circles to take it all in.
And if this was the main course, what about dessert? Well it would not disappoint as we headed down a road that looked akin to the Champs Élysées offering yet more magnificent architecture, palaces and grand hotels. We passed through the park with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and eventually to the very efficient Metro service that would take us straight to the Uprising Museum. It was here that our real education of Warsaw’s dark history during WW2 unfolded. We got a real sense of the tragedy and evil that smothered the city. Like Wrocław, the same destruction razed the city to the ground and their subsequent reconstruction is secondly only to the rebuilding of their spirits. The horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the memorials to those who perished stationed around this now thriving city just asserts how human endeavour can never been destroyed.
Warsaw is definitely worthy of a day trip, and longer if you can, as there is so much to take in – slowly. Enjoy it. We did. Check out our video below.
Treblinka – WW2 Extermination Camp
Poland’s history is one that sets your blood boiling at the sheer brutality of humankind against its fellow neighbours. Our school education really doesn’t prepare you for what Poland will teach you. They are tough lessons, although necessary ones, if we as a generation are going to protect the sanctity of all that is good in the world and ensure that human compassion is never again lost to power and corruption. Our visit to Treblinka was not the first memorial experience. Over the last couple of years we have been slowly educating ourselves to the horror of our forefathers and paying our respects at the memorials across Europe.
Treblinka was the most powerful experience, second only to Birkenau. We had the place to ourselves as we had stopped overnight in the car park and the silence was palpable. Although there are only camp remains here, the memorial stones are thought-provoking and the long walk along the Black Path was evocative. There is no bird song and nature has just decreed that no life shall blossom here except for hardy breeds. I shall always hold Treblinka in my heart and pay respects to those millions who were brought here to work and die. Read more about this moving experience on our blog.
Lublin – Old Town loveliness
Like many of its Polish family, Lublin has an Old Town that has charm, tales to regale you and horror stories. Its castle in its past life became a prison during the WW2 for over 40,000 prisoners, most of whom were murdered. This theme continued post-war when the Soviets took over the royal walls, holding over 30,000 prisoners captive, many of whom were from the Freedom and Independence Association. The castle was a scene of death by torture, appalling conditions or execution. There is a lot of work being done in the town, so it didn’t appeal hugely, although inside the walls, it was delightful, colourful and definitely worth a short visit. There was a great parking area just underneath the Old Town walls and only 3PLN for an unlimited time. So you can park overnight here too – although probably a bit noisy. (51.24815, 22.57312).
Kazimierz Dołny – gorges and Wailing Wall memorials
Kazimierz is a super little town on the River Wisła in Poland’s central region, just west of Lublin. A timeless collection of traditional Polish homes, interspersed with the inevitable tourist tat sheds that try to capture some income and who can blame them? There are castle ruins here, beautiful churches, a Tree Root Gorge, a Wailing Wall memorial to the Jewish population and three crosses honouring the victims of the plague outbreak in 18th Century. There is plenty to do here that’s for sure.
The Cemetery was created in 1851 on land donated by the town. Although when WW2 hit the country the Nazi’s tore down the headstones and used them for paving leading up to the Gestapo buildings. Then in the 1980’s it was decided to use the salvaged stones to commemorate the dead by building a Wailing Wall. The split symbolises the division of Male and Female graves. Some tombs that were in tact have been resurrected behind and in front of the wall. It is a very serene place to visit and to see Jewish ancestry being honoured in this way.
The Tree Root Gorge is a delightful 15 minute walk through a cutting in the forest, where nature (and perhaps a little bit of human intervention, says the cynic in me) has carved a shallow gorge revealing tree roots that are precariously hanging onto the earth. There’s parking along the road to the Gorge, which cost between 5-25PLN depending on the size of your vehicle. It’s certainly a unique site, if not a little small.
Sandomierz – Royal City
Sandomierz is one of Poland’s most important and oldest cities. Whilst there is some evidence of dwellers here back in 5000BC, the main settlement is thought to date back to the Middle Ages. And tucked away in the middle of nowhere it is hard to understand its significance. Yet it stands proud on an escarpment with views across the entire valley. Together with Wrocław and Kraków, Sandomierz Castle was given royal status and being at the geographical points of three regions and on important trade routes, Sandomierz’s history was sealed. Although it’s been a tough old battle for them and not for the reasons that you might presume. This time it is not just WW2 we can caste a judgemental eye towards. This city came under the siege of the Lithuanians in 14th century, the Swedes had a go in 16th Century, a plague devastated the population in 1800 and World War 1 became their nemesis. So how is this town is still standing after all this? Goodness only knows, although the buildings still hold their dominance and with one of the best preserved town gates in Poland, Sandomierz deserves a visit.
We stayed at Camping Browarny, (50.68009, 21.7548) which is perfectly placed at the foot of the town’s escarpment and only five minutes from the town walls. And all for the price of £16 per night for a motorhome, two peeps and electricity – what a bargain.
Zalipie – The Painted Cottages
In 19th Century, traditional Polish cottages had cooking stoves that would puff out smoke, flooding the house with soot. So the ladies of the house would mask their rooms with ornamental paintings using lime whitewash, black soot and beige clay. This practice then evolved in the 20th Century into something more colourful, a tradition that is still honoured to this day, giving it a real folklore feel to it. Wandering around this real open air museum, is just captivating. The newer houses haven’t followed the tradition, although there are enough of the original cottages that still have the paintings around their doors, windows, fences, bridges, wells, kennels and farm buildings. It is simply charming and there are just so few tourists here. So if you want something unique that offers you a real taste of rural Poland, come here. Just fifty miles north-east from Kraków, definitely worth a little diversion. We stopped overnight behind the museum, in front of the pre-school, with the proprietor’s permission. (50.23595, 20.8623)
Kraków and its vicinity
Kraków, Poland’s ancient capital, stands proudly amongst it city competitors, receiving probably more visitors per year than its rivals. It is a Mecca for tourists who flock from all over the world to sample its elegant Rynek – Market Square, drink beer in its Barbican Street or visit the many museums that tell tales of its wartime role and hold the secret behind why Kraków was not decimated like its neighbouring cities of Wrocław, Warsaw and Łodz.
A visit to Poland’s famous daughter is however not just a city tour – there is so much more to see in and around the area. We have a dedicated 10 Day Itinerary to share with all the detail, although here’s the highlights….
Oświęcim – Auschwitz-Birkenau Camps, within 1 hour of Kraków that can be done in a day. Do Birkenau for a raw and reflective exposure to the Death Camp with few crowds and no queues. Go to Auschwitz for an excellent museum and storytelling portrayal of life and death in the infamous camp. Expect queues and crowds though unless you go very early or very late.
Wieliczka – Kraków’s famous Salt-mines just 30 minutes south of the city so very easy to get to. Again our suggestion is go early or late as the queues can be pretty bad. It has an excellent 2.5hr tour that takes you into an underground world that Disney himself could never have conjured up.
Zalipie – As I’ve already mentioned is really worth a visit for the day. It may be a 90 minute drive although definitely worth the excursion to see a real taste of a traditional Polish village and living and breathing folklore.
Eagle’s Nest Route – following the 794 north from Kraków you will be able to follow the route of the Eagle’s Nest, a series of 44 castles and watchtowers all with different characters and stories to tell, that sit proudly in the land of the Polish Juras. It is a beautiful region and a lovely road to follow north towards Częstochowa.
Poland’s Sahara Desert – Błędowka Sands is perhaps not quite what you imagine when you think of the Sahara, although it is certainly a unique landscape and for that reason alone it needs to be seen and appreciated. It is a man-made area that dates back hundreds of years when it was deforested and the water table dropped so low that it could no longer sustain life. Go see it, just to say you’ve been!
So a visit to Kraków is so much more than a city-break. Come and explore the area for its rich diversity, haunting history and unique earth-scapes.
Wooden Church Route of Małopolska
So many tourist brochures applaud the merits of Kraków and Zakopane in this rich southern region of Poland, although in so doing miss a pretty treat. This Małopolksa county has abundant pickings no more so than the Route of the Wooden Churches. A collection of 74 wooden beauties that were built between 15th-18th Century. Made, inside and out in wood, they stand as a testimony to the art of medieval craftmanship whilst they also display defiance against nature’s wrath. Eight of these churches have been brought under the UNESCO banner, showing off the best of these magnificent buildings. Almost every village you drive through in this region will have its own wooden beauty, even tiny hamlets. In addition, you have the advantage of being in the foothills of the Tatra mountains and so the whole landscape begins to alter. More undulating scenery opens up, reservoirs and rivers course their way from the mountains towards the coast. It’s a lovely environment that needs to be on your radar for a bit of real Poland.
Poland’s Alps – Tatra Mountains
Home to bears, wolves and lynx to name a few, the Tatra’s are Poland’s highest mountains and they provide a deep connection with Slovakia just across the border. Towering peaks with aggressive looking jagged edges, the Tatras form part of the Carpathian Mountains, a range that arcs from Romania around to Czech Republic. With peaks in the Tatras reaching 2,400m, these are giants with stature, beauty and challenge.
Skiing, hiking and cycling are big in this region and in fact the Polish equivalent of Tour de France passes through the region in August every year. Tour de Pologne has been sporadic since 1928 although from 1952 it has become an annual event which now appears on the UCI Pro-Tour.
Two notable places that appear on The Motoroamer’s POI map for this area are; Dunajec in the Pieniny National Park. Leaving behind the wooden church icons, you enter a curvaceous world that would look at home in the bosom of Switzerland. This is rural Poland at its best with farmsteads being the only dwellings we often saw for miles, perhaps just the odd hamlet dotted here and there – oh and the obligatory elegant church. Aside of this, we were offered a range of treats for our eyes and the outdoor pursuits devil within us. Reservoirs, 14th century castles and dramatic limestone gorges that have been carved by the river Dunajec creating mild white waters for theeager kayaker or may be a more gentle coursing on a 19th century raft that offers to carry you down river for 10 miles through this incredible gorge. Or why not cycle it instead and see life in a completely way?
The second port of call would need to be Zakopane – a Alpine-esque town in the most southern part of Poland bordering Slovakia. It is known as the Winter Capital of Poland although I think August might have something to say about this. Given the number of people who flock to this winter wonderland resort in the summer, I am sure that Zakopane revels in its all-year-round appeal. I am in no doubt that beneath the blanket of crowds and the gauntlet of tourist tat huts that line every mountain attraction, this is a delightful place. After all who could not love the mountain backdrop, wooden Alpine houses and outdoor lifestyle? Zakopane is the official gateway to the Tatra National Park, offering hiking valleys, cable-cars and secret lakes hidden amongst the mountain peaks. Although if you come here, plan your trip carefully so you can breathe in the lovely mountain air and not be affected by the inevitable congestion that the holiday season brings.
Sadly at the end of our Poland Road Trip, Zakopane didn’t leave us on a high. We recognise that not all travel can be iconically beautiful and memorable and that actually all faces of travel need to be experienced; and we have left Poland feeling that Zakopane is not indicative of Polish culture. We would come back to explore whether we can see beyond the crowds; may be in May/June or September.
So as we sit here waiting for one of the infamous mountain summer storms to pass so we can head south, we reflect back on our road-trip through Poland. From 16 June when we first set foot on this fair land with a sense of uncertainty and curiosity, around each corner we have been more and more captivated by this Central European gem. Conspicuous by its absence on the European stage, Poland’s progressive economy is clear to see everywhere. From the bulk order of pavement bricks that they have surely got a mountain of hidden somewhere in the hinterland, to the rural country that relies on its simplicity and earthly values to secure a happy life. From rebuilt cities that defy enemies’ domination, to memorials that ask – no beg for us to learn from the past and never again repeat the atrocities of war. From lakes, gorges, rivers, street art, geological mysteries, underground worlds, castles and rolling countryside – we have been taken on a rollercoaster ride of experiences that have left our emotions wrung out like lettuce leaves. Although Poland has given us one of the most rich, meaningful and memorable trips that will serve us with reminders of its contrasts for years to come.
We had so few expectations because, quite honestly Poland had never been on our radar and in fact was only ever intended as a ‘pass through’ country en route to Lithuania. Although what a surprise and a delight Poland has been and I will always look so fondly on our experiences here. What would we say to entice others to Poland?
Come to an unassuming land, that has scars deeper than the ocean and a spirit taller than any mountain, with a character that reaches right into your heart. A rainbow of colours seeps from every aspect of life, asserting their place in a modern world, which is so removed from the grey communism that sought to repress them. Poland calls to be put on the map, demands to be respected and asks for us to share in its glorious and complex culture.
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Other tales from our Poland Road-trip that you might enjoy:
Well, after 6 weeks in hospital, all the bits arrived from the lovely man at Amazon to get Dave ready for the operating table. It was decided that due to the importance of the situation we had to employ only the best surgeon to undertake to operation. We scoured all the medical journals around the world and the best guy for the job was a german fella who happened to be on holiday in the area and he was happy to oblige. Here’s what happened.
As part of our 18 months on the road Celebration Series, we are sharing our Top 25 Nature Beauties.
During our time on the road we have been privileged to witness the most incredible scenery, landscapes and wildlife. We have tried to capture our best bits in one place in this INFOGRAPHIC which you can download for free. Click HERE to download your own copy.
From Spain, to France, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia; here are just a few of our favourite things…..
Enjoy with our love and we hope it inspires you to put these places on your list.
A former MD of an international travel PR agency shares her experience of stepping off the treadmill to begin a new life exploring the world on a catamaran.
Falling off the Treadmill
I lost the will to continue the struggle
Call it madness, but in February 2014, I stepped right off the proverbial treadmill and, along with my husband Fergus and six-year-old cocker spaniel Molly, we bought a boat in France with the view of sailing around the world. There was only one major flaw to this plan… I didn’t know how to sail!
This wasn’t my dream, but one that Fergus had harboured for a while. For three years, we talked daily about sailing off into the sunset but when you run your own business and there are staff involved, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
And then after one too many incidents of staff throwing their toys out of the pram and clients demanding the impossible from their PR campaign, I lost the will to continue the struggle. I was stressed out beyond belief, had misplaced my mojo in the monotony of the business and our work-life balance was being tested.
So there we were with everything we owned up for sale; the business, the motor boat, the house and the car. And in their place, we purchased a 2008 Lagoon 440 catamaran, which was sitting pretty in a marina near Toulon in France.
Two Drifters Rig
I was so unprepared for what lay ahead. While we had enjoyed holidays motoring around the south coast in our Sunseeker Portofino 32, we had never actually sailed a boat together by ourselves. While Fergus was an accomplished RYA Yachtmaster, I was about to endure a complete baptism by fire.
Perhaps taking a sailing course would have been a good idea – if I’d have had the time.
At this stage, I have to be honest in that selling up and repositioning to the south of France was a nightmare. I had absolutely no idea how stressful it would all be. Everything that could go wrong did. The tip of the iceberg was the self-drive van we arranged to transport our worldly goods to France, which promptly blew up 48 hours before we were due to leave the country. With no replacement van available, no refund given and the fact that new owners were moving into our house, we were left to our own devices to resolve the issue. And fast!
Thankfully, we had left selling our car till last minute, and so having arranged for our boxes to be transported the following week by courier, we piled everything we could into our car. With the dog on the parcel shelf and the car full to the gunnels, we left Lymington one miserable Sunday afternoon and headed for the Eurotunnel.
View from the mast
This was the first time I’d seen it. While I’d been on a Lagoon 440 before, I hadn’t been able to take the time away from the business to view this actual boat, so Fergus made the decision it was the one for us when he took a fleeting day trip to France to view it two month’s previously. That took some trust on my part I can tell you!
Our first night just so happened to be on Valentine’s Day and it was far from romantic. The boat was freezing; the heating didn’t work, rain was coming in through the hatches, there was no gas to light the stove with and the bilge alarm kept going off, alerting us to water inside the bottom of the boat. We had one sleeping bag and a pillow between us. Not the best start to our new dream life.
Living the Dream
And it’s not just the weather; living on a boat isn’t easy.
Truth be told, had we not sold our house, I would have driven back to the UK there and then. But this was a life-changing choice, there really was nowhere to run to so I had to meet it head on.
And meet it I did. That was three and a half years ago; during which time we have endured so many amazing highs as well as some stupendous lows. We’ve navigated bad weather and found ourselves dealing with more than our fair share of ferocious storms. The Cat’s nine lives are now down to six!
Top Dog Molly
And it’s not just the weather; living on a boat isn’t easy. Right from the start, I quickly developed my mantra which was to cope with ‘a challenge a day.’ Whether it’s running out of milk and unable to quickly pop to the shops; the generator breaking so we can’t use the washing machine or worse, make water, or quite simply the wifi not working when you really want to get online; just one expected challenge each day is manageable. This, and a good dose of gumption, has saved my sanity at times when I might have thrown the towel in on the adventure. It’s also helped others around me who have adopted this moto too.
Skipper and First Lady
While I still don’t consider myself to be a great sailor; through blood, sweat, tears and lots of laughter, I’ve got to grips with handling the boat and working as a team with Fergus. In the last few years our job roles have totally reversed as on the boat he’s the Skipper – although I insist on being the First Lady!
We’ve sailed around the Mediterranean, lost our hearts in Greece where we spent two years exploring and earlier this year, I took the biggest challenge of my life and we crossed the Atlantic from Tenerife to Barbados.
Atlantic Crossing after 18 Days At Sea
But the highs totally eclipse the lows. Arriving in Barbados after just under three weeks at sea was such an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I didn’t agree lightly to sailing across the Atlantic, but to have done it and actually enjoyed it surprised the hell out of me!
Sometimes I have to pinch myself as to how much our lives had changed. No more Monday morning-blues, a different view every day, new places to explore, local foods to enjoy and with all the benefits of all the sea air around us.
We love seeking out all the local markets in the places we visit, taking in their amazing selection of home-grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Catching fish for supper in the form of grouper, bream or tuna is a way of life. Thank goodness Fergus is also a dab-hand with the fishing rod as well as a spear gun – he’s even conjured up a lobster or two!
We’ve sailed with dolphins, whales, seals and turtles; seen fantastic sunrises and sunsets; anchored off deserted islands; paddle-boarded the dog to a beautiful Caribbean beaches and very recently cruised up the East River in Manhattan and past its iconic skyline. Each day we are creating so many amazing memories and are very, very lucky to have this opportunity to travel, learn and explore this amazing world.
Living the dream comes with a multitude of challenges, but it’s so worthwhile taking the large leap off the treadmill and embracing it.
Jenevora Swann is currently sailing the east coast of the USA with her husband Fergus and dog Molly on board Two Drifters. They return to the Caribbean in November.
Hi, Karen & Myles, The Motoroamers here. We are a fun-loving couple travelling full-time around Europe in Scoobie our trusty camper. We're driven to deliver seriously entertaining travel through our blogs, photography and humorous videos. We hope to inspire you too to travel.