The Return

"Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home"

Paul Young

We didn't need a cheesy pop song from the 80's to tell us that after 4 years of being on the road, that we feel at home almost anywhere. But the prospect of staying in that "home" for the foreseeable future and not moving on when the mood takes us...well that is far more scary.

We have now been in England for nearly 3 months. It has been more than 20 years since Steve and I have lived here and the girls have never lived here, so although it is familiar in many ways, in some ways it is like a whole new country for us.

The main reason for returning, was so Alisha could attend Secondary School. Although homeschooling was working really well for her and she loved travelling, we had always promised her that we would give her the opportunity to put down some roots. Both girls view the UK with slightly rose tinted glasses, for them it is the land of Christmas; summer holidays; and being spoilt by family. Steve and I were under no such illusions but we were looking forward to being close to family; seeing old friends and being in a country where we understood the language and culture (not something we need but it made a nice change). We were ready for a break from travelling but joked that we would love to be back on the road straight after Christmas, when the January blues kicked in.

The first time I felt the confusion of the dichotomy of our new life and travelling was sitting beside the Caspian Sea, waiting for the ship to take us from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan. A long list came though the email, Alisha's school uniform list. It felt very weird ordering blouses, a blazer and a mouth guard for hockey in the middle of a desert surrounded by Russian speakers. It didn't get any less strange once we got back, finding the San Bushmen bows and arrows sent back before Australia, in the familiar surroundings of my Mum's spare room.

Alisha settled into her new school amazingly well and found that academically she was up to speed on everything apart from French. Changing from 2 hours of homeschooling a day to 7 hours in the classroom plus a commute and homework, was more of a challenge. As was negotiating the complex sub-culture that is the life of the preteen girls but she has made friends and is enjoying her new life. Lucy has had less of a change, happy being homeschooled and with the difficulty of finding out exactly what the local primary schools were like whilst we were on the road, we decided to keep her homeschooled for the time being. The popularity of home education in Hampshire, means that there are a whole load of interesting group activities for her take part in.

Steve and I always knew that the transition to being stationary would probably be hardest for the two of us, so we decided not to rush into decisions about out future plans. We hope that as we adjust that ideas will evolve, it doesn't come very naturally especially for Steve. We've been so driven for so long, the 18 years of planning and then the 4 years on the road, its very strange not to have a life goal or plan at the moment. It has been a busier time than we expected settling back in, we forgot how many different parts make up being settled somewhere. However, getting things done has been easier than we are used to because we speak the language and know the system. Although there have been baffling moments, like not being able to get a mobile phone contract or car finance because we "don't exist".

We thought that we had our accommodation sorted, returning to the house we bought 7 years before when we were living in Prague. Located in the New Forest, a national park which was set aside by William the Conqueror as a hunting ground, it is a beautiful part of the world and close to our families. Life on the road has taught us many things, one of the main ones is that plans often don't work out and you need to come up with alternative ideas. This turned out to be the case when our tenant, despite having had 6 months notice, decided she didn't want to move out. We had to employ lawyers in the UK, whilst we were in Uzbekistan, to start the eviction process. It was a frustrating and expensive process. We tried not to let it overshadow our last months on the road but at times it was very hard. She didn't actually move out until the last possible moment, a month after we had been home. Luckily, I have have an absolutely fabulous Mum who took us in. It turned out to be a really good adjustment time for us, a soft re-entry. My sister Clare, had returned from Australia to be with us too, so it was a full house but it was great to have that extra support both emotionally and practically. The other nice part, was that we had a couple of weekends in the truck at a local farm to give my Mum a break. We slept so well that first night back in our own beds in the truck. Eventually we got the cottage back but soon decided that if we are going to be stationary somewhere for the next 10 years, that perhaps it isn't the house for us, so we are keeping our eyes out for somewhere else nearby. We can't quite work out if we are country folk or city people, the joy of living in the truck was we didn't have to choose as we could do a mix of both. Rural England, especially the New Forest, is gorgeous and good for the soul but we hate jumping into the car to do anything. That might sound a bit peculiar from someone who has spent 4 years driving around the world but it seems like we spend far more time on the road now. There's a house in there somewhere - once we got back into our cottage there was quite a lot of work to do.

Somewhere back in Turkey, Alisha had a bit of a preteen moment claiming that we never did anything and her life was so boring. To be fair to her, she did quickly take it back when we looked at her incredulously. But it made us realise that, for the girls travelling around the world in a truck is totally normal. So on returning back, mostly to show them what we had done was something quite exceptional, we got in touch with a few media outlets. Our local BBC news station, did a short piece on our trip which we enjoyed seeing and thought nothing much more about it. The weekend after, it was shared on their Facebook account. From there it seems to go a little crazy as the piece was commented on; shared over and over; and then went out on the main BBC main Facebook site. We couldn't believe how many people loved what we had done and were inspired by our story, it was incredibly touching. Last time we looked, the video has been watched 4.1 million times! We hope it encourages other people to realise that the world isn't a big scary place and to go out and live their dreams.

A month after arriving back, we had the opportunity to share our travels at the Adventure Overland Show in Stratford upon Avon. We did a couple of talks about the trip; Steve and I sat on various panels with the Overland Sphere group answering questions; and we had the truck open for people to have a look around. We had such a lovely response from families inspired by our trip and spoke to so many interesting people. We also got to hang out again with Will and Amy ( who we last saw in Cambodia and met lots of other great overlanders, many whom we knew of before but had not met. The talks were a true team effort, as we all took turns to speak with slides. We were very proud of the girls clearly sharing their penguin poo and South African flood stories to about 50 adults in a big hall. I know I wouldn't have been so brave when I was that age, I guess it shows how travelling has had a hugely positive affect on their development. The reality that we had actually finished travelling hit when we finally ate our emergency tin of salmon. Brought somewhere in Melbourne Australia, it was with us for 26 countries, sneaking through Singaporean customs; being passed over multiple times in favour of Thai green curry in South-East Asia ; and surviving the 52°C truck temperature in Uzbekistan. However, it was finally consumed as Thai fish cakes in Hampshire. With shops just a few miles away, there is no need for emergency food supplies anymore. No longer do we feel that we might get stranded somewhere for weeks with no supplies - it felt like the end of an era.

Even after all these weeks it still seems very peculiar to pull back the curtains every morning and see the same view. The girls have adapted very quickly to their new life but Steve and I still feel the strong pull of the open road. It is fabulous seeing family on a regular basis and catching up with old friends. But as the British winter weather moves in our thoughts turn again to new adventures, although shorter ones to fit in with the school holidays, so we've just booked the truck onto the ferry to the Faroe Islands and Iceland for next summer.

We did it!

"Can we drive around the world with two young children in tow?" "We can certainly try!" These were one of the first sentences I wrote for this website. Well now we have an answer: "YES!" England welcomed us back with a magnificent sunrise, as we arrived into Portsmouth on the overnight ferry. We had done it! 180,000km, 58 countries on 7 continents! DSC04584 DSC04588 DSC04594 The week crossing Europe sadly seemed like it was another day, another country. The cost of having spent so much time in China, Tibet and the 'Stans. We always knew that this last part of our trip would be a bit of rush. With Alisha's new school's start of term date looming, we had a "home" ferry to catch. The coastline of Montenegro and Croatia was absolutely breathtaking: craggy limestone mountains and cliffs dropping off into azure waters of the Aegean below. Every bay, a pretty historic town called out to us for a stop but we had to keep going. We did manage to stop and admire the picturesque former fishing island of Sveti Stefan, now an exclusive hotel. We didn't stop long enough to take advantage of the 110 Euro beach access just in front! Kotor and Perast made for a nice wander around to admire the winding streets inside the historic fortress towns. DSC04436 DSC04501 DSC04510 DSC04527 At the end of Steve's last blog he lamented that our wild camping nights were probably over as we ventured further into Europe, how wrong he was. Just a few hours after posting we squeezed our way down a narrow, steep track to one of our best campspots in ages. High up on a scrub covered hillside we had a 180° view of the Aegean Sea, it was a perfectly flat spot just big enough for is. Created as a delivery spot for an abandoned half finished hotel, there was nothing else nearby. It was so nice that we abandoned all thoughts we had of moving on a shortish distance the next day to see the town of Kotor and decided to stay an extra day. What was even better was that just over a kilometre further down the track, which got even more steep and rough, was a small pebbly beach with perfectly clear azure water. Watching the sun setting over the sea while eating tea, then watching the stars come out it was sad to think that we we are soon to give this lifestyle up. DSC04446 DSC04451 DSC04456 DSC04464 Crossing into Croatia we had an unusual night spot in Kupari, just south of Dubrovnik next to the bombed out remains of 4 huge hotels. You could see the shell and bullet holes in the walls of the hotel's from the break up of Yugoslavia. It made an interesting contrast with the crowds of beach goers enjoying the sea just in front of it. A stark reminder of a bloody conflict that I can remember unfolding on the tv screen just a few years ago. DSC04547 From there onwards it was just 4 days of solid driving: tiring for Steve and boring for the rest of us. Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (for a whole 10km), Croatia (again) Slovenia, Austria, Germany and France all passed by in a blur of motorways. Being delayed by a forest fire in Northern Croatia for over 4 hours and spending 3 hours at a garage to fix a leaking tyre caused far more worry than usual, rarely have we had such a strict deadline. Steve was almost tipped over the edge trying to pay our Austrian road tolls. Being such a big vehicle we needed a special box that beeped on the motorway, we had to visit 8 (yes, 8!) different service stations to sort it out and pay a 60 Euro fine because we hadn't returned a similar box 5 years ago because it had been so difficult. All that for just over 200km on their roads. There were lots of poignant moments, it was hard not to feel sad at parts of even our most mundane routine: last day of schooling; last wild camp; last night in the truck; but definitely not the last cold shower (our hot water system broke back in Thailand, fine in India but painful in Tibet). It didn't seem really real that the trip was coming to an end and that our whole lives are about to change so dramatically. DSC04474 It seemed very surreal leaving the ferry and joining the commuter queues of traffic on the south coast. We couldn't quite work out how we felt about coming to the end. In our heads, we felt it should be ticker tape and a brass band playing but the reality was rather more unglamorous - a garage just down the road from the port. But such is the nature of overlanding at times. But when is all said and done, we have done it! We have driven around the world and for now we will just enjoy that and celebrate. DSC04600 DSC04605

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

"Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it is Istanbul, not Constantinople Been a long time gone, Constantinople Now it's a Turkish delight on a moonlit night" . The "They Might Be Giants" song has been going round our heads and out of the children's mouth almost constantly since we left the island of Bozcaada heading for Istanbul. . First though, it was a stop a the beautifully wild but terribly poignant peninsula of Gallopoli. Covered in pine forest with steep cliffs interspersed with shallow turquoise bays, it was were 130,000 young men died in the First World War. The peninsula is dotted with graveyards and memorials to the brave that fought and died there. The Gallipoli Simulation Centre's interactive 3-D historical journey about the campaign was too realistic for the girls but Steve and I found it very informative. Lone Pine Cemetery was powerfully peaceful, surrounded by thousands of Anzac graves, we looked down at the languid azure waters way below. You could still see the trenches nearby, where the opposing forces were just metres away from each other. Anzac Bay was also peaceful now, it was hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded there just over a hundred years ago. We can understand why it has become a place of pilgrimage for people from Australia and New Zealand. There is a lovely quote from Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey who was an important commander during the campaign, several years later. His words for peace and reconciliation, were written at Ariburna Sahil Aniti, one of the Turkish memorials: . "To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mahmets...You mothers, who sent away your sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom. Having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well." Gallipoli was also a place for a couple of fabulous wild camps, our first night we found a spot on top of the cliffs surrounded by forest next to the remains of several gun batteries. The smell of pine trees from one side, mingled with the sent of the sea. Steve walked down to W Beach and was amazed to find people swimming amongst the skeletons of the landing vessels of the Gallipoli campaign. The second night we drove down a firebreak in the forest and found a parking spot right on the edge of a cliff with a tiny sandy beach below. Once the few local families had packed up and left and we had put the girls to bed, I couldn't resist going for a relaxing swim as the sun set. It was so nice, that we swapped babysitting duties so Steve could cool off before bed too. We skirted the Sea of Marmara coast as we made our way North-East to the north of Istanbul for more wonderful hospitality from Alper, Steve's friend and former colleague. I am sure when we ask the girls what they remember best about Istanbul it will be hanging out at Alper's house: everyone cooking a different course for supper, eating, relaxing and chatting. When Dina arrived the following day, they loved her as well, as she got them up dancing and swapping recipes. We are all experiencing a period of change, so there were lots of interesting discussions and ideas flying around. However, you can't come to Istanbul and not appreciate its wonderful heritage and history so we dragged ourselves away to the city on both days. The Aya Sofya was built in the 6th Century AD, first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. It's gigantic proportions awed us but we we were touched by the delicate nature of the Byzantine mosaics of Christ and his apostles on its walls. The Blue Mosque gets its unofficial name from the Iznik tiles that adorn its interior. It's one of Istanbul's biggest mosques and one of its busiest. We mistakenly arrived just before prayer time but while we waited for the worshipers, we were invited for a presentation about the mosque and Islam from volunteers in the adjoining Islamic Education Centre. It was fascinating as well as restorative, with air con, drinks and snacks. Later while Steve and I marvelled at the mosque's interior beauty, the girls tried to spot the ostrich shells suspended from the lofty ceiling to deter spiders. The Grand Bazaar is in the heart of the old city and while we didn't want to buy anything it was fascinating to wander its arched walk ways and marvel at the different areas of commerce. The Spice Market held a similar thrall with exotic smells bursting from all of the shops. Each enticing visitors with displays of teas, spices and jewel coloured Turkish delight. Here we couldn't resist the wares on sale as we were tempted in by free chocolates and different flavours of Turkish delight, the pomegranate was a particular favourite. The following day we headed to the Topkapi Palace, the palace of the sultans where we were dazzled by the harem and palaces. It was said the sultan rarely left the palace and whilst it was a beautiful place where his every need and wish was looked after it must have felt a bit like been a prisoner. Still there were superb views over the Bosphorus from the palace walls. On our last evening, we met with Alper and Dina on the banks of the Bosphorus. There is something very magical about crossing the water to a different continent, Asia, by ferry as the sun starts to sink in the sky. It highlights Istanbul's unique position and character. We crossed back to Europe in time to eat at Aheste, one of Alper's favourite restaurants owned by a family friend were we were wowed with a deliciously diverse selection of meze, each small plate holding a different burst of flavour on the palate. The girls were delighted to chat to Alper's friend, who asked them all about our trip. And they were even more delighted, as we were touched, with the pile of profiteroles with 4 candles to celebrate our 4 year anniversary on the road. That night as we arrived home a huge yellow moon hung over the trees. The last line of the first verse of the song "Now it's a Turkish delight on a moonlit night." Seemed to ring particularly true. Istanbul, it was too short - we will be coming back. . With sad hearts, and probably a few extra pounds of weight, we left Istanbul next morning and headed for the border with Greece. We found a quiet spot beside a lake for the night, just a few kilometres from the border.