France: Hiking in the Pyrenees was a long time dream. The weather, scenery and people were absolutley superb. We especially remember the grocery store owner in St Engrace and old Bessus in Lescun and Fifi the dog (real name Happy) who followed us up the gorge.
France: Paris was lovely, made more so by being joined by Anna who came along to Disneyland with Bene, Francois and Paul.
France: A French wedding can't be beat. We had a wonderful time at the wedding of Bene and Francois and at the Christening of Paul.
Belgium: Foodies cannot be dissappointed in Brussels. Seafood galore in beautiful historic surroundings and not a sprout in sight!
Belgium: Hiking in the Ardenne was a pleasant suprise for us all. It was great to spend time with Anna. And, as odd as he was, Cherry Balls gave us plenty of stories.
Belgium: The great outdoors in Europe. We had the best of it. Great weather, awesome camping, and so much to see and do.
Germany: In time to watch the last two games of the World Cup with Kate and ??? in Frankfurt. We had a lugh supporting the underdogs and loved the German transport systems;0)
Germany: Our cycle and sail up the Rhine was a highlight. Cool castles, swims and a beer on the way home. Can it get any better?
We saw a lot of pre world war German history, it is certainly interesting and it is nice to hear some positive stuff about them whilst in Europe.
Czech Republic: Is Prague the perfect European city? It is certainly photogenic and is great to walk around. But with two pints of the worlds best beer for less than 50p do you need more convincing? Chesky Krumlov gives it a run for its money however.
Czech Republic: The area around the Vitava River had us entertained for weeks. We paddled along it, camped in some choice locations, and we even walked back to Germany for the day!
Czech Republic: We spoke about Villa Turgendat more than any other attraction in Europe to our fellow travellers. This intriging building was a real highlight, as was Brno the city it is in.
Slovakia: We rode our tandem bicycle to this, the best castle in Europe: Spissky Hrad! What a day, we had all the weather you can imagine, a magical location and a cool train ride home (harder than it sounds with an 8 foot bike)
Slovakia: The Slovensky Rai (Slovak Paradise) lives up to its name. We did some superb hikes, like this one up the Sucha Bella and a bike ride to the Ice Cave!
Slovakia: The High Tatras were the find of the trip. We will definitely return to do some more hikes and camps. Nicky might have something to say if I suggest climbing Mt Rysy again though.
Poland: It is hard to choose the highlights of Poland. We were there for a month so we must have liked it eh? The first few days we spent recovering from the descent from Mt Rysy in the lovely village of Zakopane, but we soon moved on to a camp site out of Cracow where we based ourselves for a week. We visited Aushwitz for the day. There is so much WWII history in Poland but it is embodied in this awful place. A moving memorial to millions of people.
Poland: The 'Old Towns' of Poland's cities have all been rebuilt to their pre-war state. They are lovely reminders of Poland's european heritage but somehow lack the authenticity of a real city, used by locals.
Poland: After surviving a awesome storm in our leaky tent we were treated to a day on lake Mikołajskie with our Mikołajki Crew. What a cool day!
Lithuania: Vilnius stands out in our mind as a night of very little sleep (for all the wrong reasons) but improved by the great meal we had and beer by the litre!
Lithuania: Surfing in the Baltic! We found amber on the beach too!
Lithuania: The crosses have been put here for at least 500 years. The Soviets bulldozed the hill clear in '68, '73, '74, '75 but now there are over 100,001 crosses on this little mound and still growing. Nicky added the 100,001st.
Latvia: Riga is a great little town. We loved the museum of occupation the cafes and the huge market in the distance behind the town centre.
Latvia: The highlight of our short two days in Latvia was 'our' castle in the countryside. It was an adventure just to get to, but we had it all to ourselves.
Latvia: There was a storm raging outside so we made ourselves comfortable at the Banquet Hall table then moved into the Throne Room for coffee and cards.
Estonia: We solved the Adolphus Code whilst in Tartu and these characters from the Modern Art college were a vital clue.
Estonia: Tartu is a student town with a cool young vibrancy. We sat outside and felt the impending cold for the first time, but its OK because we were in Chocolate Heaven!
Estonia: A wet night in Tallinn was our introduction to the most beautiful of the Baltic cities. It was a great day in the morning and we thoroughly explored all the castles, churches, 2nd hand-clothing shops and internet cafes before our late night departure to Russia.
Russia: St Petersburg is a beautiful city, and Moscow is a suprisingly vibrant and cosmopolitan city. But the real highlights of Russia were out in the countryside. The beautiful churches and old cities of the Golden Ring are the enduring images of our time. The onion domes were the first real indication that we were on our way to Asia, but the churches were the reminder that we were still in Europe. This church was actually just south of St Petersburg, near Peterhof Palace, and shows how beautiful a place of worship can be. I wish they would get rid of the horrid icons inside though...
Russia: We spent a week on the Bolotovo organic farm near Tula about 100Km South of Moscow. It had its good and bad points, but was a wonderful experience. We were charged with the surveillance and wellbeing of the farm's 15 cows and one bull. It was hard work, starting before sunrise to feed and milk the herd, spending all day out in the fields making sure the sneaky devils were not eating the vege patch, and then the evening milking and feeding again. Nicky was the best at losing the herd.
Russia: We met the lovely Marsha, Dennis, Sonia and Katia at the farm and they invited us to stay with them in Moscow on our return. We had a great time occupying the children (or was it the other way around?) while grandma visited from Switzerland. We had a personal guide all over Moscow and even visited a honey festival!
Kazakhstan: Zhandos and his Mum were the highlight of Kazakhstan. We were welcomed into Zhandos' bachelor pad in Karaganda and learned so much about life in the former Soviet Union and in Central Asia as a whole. If all things go well, Zhandos may even make it to our wedding...
(And for anyone who has not asked yet, these are local Kazakhs. Borat does not even look the part.)
Kazakhstan: We got back into the camping in Kazakhstan after not getting the chance in Russia. Our first trip out was to the awesome Charyn Canyon. What a breathtakingly beautiful location. From this angle you can not only see the eroded landscape that makes this place so cool to see, but in the distance - thats CHINA. Yes we travelled all the way from the West coast of France to the edge of China - overland!
Kazakhstan: Our second trip out into the Tian Shen mountains on a spur that separates Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan. It was a lovely lake scene when we went to bed, we woke up to a Winter wonderland! Beautiful.
Kyrgyzstan: This is where it all went down. Our most near, near death experience was getting up to this point, surviving the night of camping in the snow and then descending safely the following day. We had to walk off up to the right to avoid the huge, yawning crevace just below us. We slid over the narrow snow bridge and then had hard walking for 10 more hours to get to the treeline where we could have a fire. Oh and this is where we got engaged.
Kyrgyzstan: There were so many exotic sights to see in the beautiful Kyrgyz countryside. But the wealth of the nation is in the kids who get to grow up in a great country without the shackles of communisim. Like these two.
Kyrgyzstan: The youth have the future, but nowhere do the elderly command as much respect as in the Stans. This marrow seller in the Jayma Bazaar in Osh just epitomised the hard earned character that the generation who saw the end of the nomads, the rise and fall of the Soviets, and now the onward march of capitalism have.
Uzbekistan: The traces of the Silk Road were strongest in the ancient cities of Uzbekistan. In Samarkand the evening light from the Registan makes for a wonderous location. The amazing Shahr-i-Zindah tombs nearby, resting place of Timur-the-lame (Tamerlame) and his relatives were an architectural highlight of the whole trip.
Uzbekistan: Bukhara's old town really feels like an ancient city on the Silk Road. The Kalon Minaret in the distance was once the tallest structure in all of Central Asia. It has survived many earthquakes, and was the only thing left standing by the armies of Ghengis Khan.
Uzbekistan: Mmmm, the best thing about Uzbek cuisine is the bread
Iran: The Castle of the Assassins! An evocative title for an evocative place. This is where the cult of the assassins had its AGM and launched a thousand murders. Drug enduced heavenly visons were the motivation and Hasan's enemies were the targets. It all came to pieces when the Golden Horde blitzed through but it is still a cool place to visit and so beautiful with a dusting of snow.
Ghengis also took a fancy to Takht-e-Solomon, a fire temple in the Kurdish region of Iran and that was a stunning highlight.
Iran: Our family in Esfahan, Mehrnoosh and her family showed us amazing hospitality and kindness and we owe them greatly. We hope to see them all again soon and hope they are all well.
Iran: Best cafés in the world? Paris, Milan, NYC, London? Nope Iran has got them all covered. Nowhere has places with the atmosphere of an ancient Persian caravanserai where traders have chewed the fat for 100s of years. This teahouse in Esfahan has an awesome interior and backs onto the Lotfollah Mosque on Immam Sq, quite possibly the beautiful Mosque on the planet.
Shame about the coffee;0)
Dubai: What better way could there be finish our epic adventure than to have Xmas dinner at the behest of Sheik Bin-Laden and then Balloon over the Dubai desert?
We scored a coup by getting the Sheik to fund our dinner on Xmas Eve and then had another feast with Hinemoa on the day.
Dubai: Crews of the Green Goddess and Vittel
Dubai: What is the lasting impression of the UAE? Desert? Camels? Balloons? No, 4WDs of course!