"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! 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
I know that technically for the last bit of our time in Turkey we had been in Europe but as we crossed the border into Greece and back into the EU it felt that we were really now on the homeward stretch and back in Europe.. Not that we would be spending much time crossing Europe, it was always going to be a bit of a whirlwind tour. The last week it has seemed as if we have been crossing a border every day, partly due to the countries all been relatively small and partly due to the speed at which we are now travelling. . Greece was a bit of a blur really. We joined a smooth motorway and followed it all along the coast. Every so often there was beautiful glimpses of the sparkling blue Agean and of lovely sandy beaches trying to tempt us down but unfortunately we didn't have time and by the end of the day had turned inland into the wooded hills. We eventually stopped for the night near the border with Macedonia in a clearing down a forest track. . It might not have been as beautiful as the coast but it was a lot quieter. As we return to Europe we realise just how much we enjoy finding solitude and camping by ourselves with just nature for company. As it's peak holiday season in Europe we could see how popular the main sights and the coast were for obvious reasons. This was a lovely spot and we treasured it as we don't know which one will be our last on this journey. The next morning it was another border this time crossing into Macedonia. Not that the Greeks like the country being called that, as they have there own province of Macedonia on their side of the border. It gives rise to rather confusing signs as the first says "Macedonia says goodbye" and then just over the border there is a "Welcome to Macedonia" sign. Still the good news were that the border was very smooth and despite going through two passport controls it took less than 10 minutes to cross. . We were heading for Lake Ohrid but on the way passed by the much less touristy Lake Prespa. We headed down to a spot by the lake for lunch and as it was so nice decided to spend the rest of the day there. Again there was hardly a soul around although unfortunately from the amount of litter around it must have been a popular spot at times. As we drove through the Balkans we could not but notice the amount of litter left lying around and overflowing dust bins. Fortunately we had a quiet night and the next day headed over the mountain pass that lay between the two lakes. The views from near the top were fantastic. As we descended to Lake Ohrid the traffic picked up and by the time we arrived at St Nam's monastery it was decidedly busy. Mind you we could understand why. The lake was set beautifully with the mountains around and every so often churches or monasteries dotted the shoreline. We headed into the main town of Ohrid itself to see the castle and some more picturesque churches. We were hoping that we would be able to find our own quiet spot around the lake but no such look so we thought we would check out the campsite. As soon as we entered we decided there was no way we were staying it was just so dirty so we turned inland and found a quiet spot by a stream to camp. It had been a lovely day and we did not want to spoil it by camping somewhere horrible and for once we hadn't crossed a border. The next day though it was back to crossing borders as we entered Kosovo. We followed a lovely mountain road that gave great views as it twisted and turned through the valley. Again we were able to find a quietish spot by a small river to camp for the night. When we arrived there were a number of picnickers but they left in the evening so we had the place to ourselves for the night. Following the road down through the gorge we arrived in Prizren. From the castle above the town we could see the interesting mix of the town as it was dotted with both Serbian Orthodox Churches as well as Mosques. Unfortunately this coexistence has not always been peaceful as big clashes broke out in 2004. As a result many of the churches were burnt, as well as people's houses. It was hard to imagine as we wondered around the picturesque town enjoying its sights but is a reminder that such violence is sometimes never far away especially when it's whipped up by certain politicians. After enjoying a leisurely lunch by the river we debated whether we should cross another border. As Albania was only 20kms away and it was only 3pm we thought why not, so off we headed to our fifth country of the week. Again the border crossing was really quick and we were soon gliding through the mountains on a smooth motorway. We had thought about finding somewhere to camp in the mountains but before we knew it we were near the coast and things were much busier. . We had read that Camping Legienda was a nice campsite with a pool and decided to give it a try. We were really pleased that we did. It was a pleasant campground with a lovely pool to cool off in the heat. We enjoyed it so much we decided to stay an extra day rather than pushing on to the next border. . This gave us the chance to visit the castle that overlooked the town of Skhoder but more importantly enabled us to get some jobs done that we needed to do before heading back to the UK. We had been planning on doing these at a campsite in Montenegro but you never know we may still find some last wild spots to camp alone. Here's hoping.