Escaping the UK, climbing in France, flying in Switzerland

Waiting at airports for friends and family can be a tedious experience. The main pastime people have to entertain themselves is through watching other people. I was watched by a number of other people as I had walked into Heathrow’s Terminal 3 wearing the penguin suit. I had told Josh he should wear his off the plane and thought it was only fair that I was there to greet him in the same attire. As I waited for Josh, I also had a look around. A 5 year old in a ghostbusters outfit ran through the barriers and leapt into the arms of his father, who had just emerged through the security doors. There was an audible “ahhhhh” from the other people waiting. I wondered whether I would get the same reaction if I ran through the barriers and jumped into Josh’s arms when he arrived….

Eventually, Josh emerged from border clearance, he was hard to spot as he was not in the appropriate penguin attire. Still, as he had just had 24 hours of flights, I thought I could probably forgive him for not feeling the need to climb into his penguin onesie. In case you were wondering, I did not jump into his arms so we will never know whether the crowd would have given us the same reaction…

We left the airport and immediately drove South to put the car on the train to France. We just had time for a quick look at the white cliffs of Dover (photo below) before it was time to get on the train. Within 30 minutes of embarking we had arrived in France.

penguins at Dover

We drove off the train just as the sun was setting, the sky had turned purple behind us, and our spirits were lifted, mainly due to our escape from the hordes of people in England and the high prices. With the light fading further, we turned the volume up on our favourite french track (Ca plane pour moi – Plastic Bertrand) and drove onto the motorway. Within 10 minutes of driving, fireworks began to be set off all over the surrounding countryside. We had arrived on the night before bastille day and as this year it fell on a Saturday, many towns were letting off fireworks the night before. What was so amazing was that every tiny town had its own fireworks display, it seemed like every town separated by more than 2km from another one had to put on a display. As if the displays had been synced with our trip, the fireworks continued for a full hour as we drove South. 

We ended up showing up to a campground somewhere in Normandy at 1230am. A short night’s sleep and we were on the road again. With a short amount of time until we had to be in Prague we decided we would drive as quickly as possible through most parts of France to get back to the mountains near Annecy. 750km along French motorways with a speed limit of 130km/h. Our little suzuki was surprisingly good at 120, but the extra 10km was a bit unnerving, a few rattles and terrible handling if you had to maneuver quickly to avoid some terrible gaelic driving. WIth only one near miss, we made it safely to Annecy and my friend Erwin’s parents place. 2 great days of French food (well not for Josh, as none of it was vegan), climbing in the hills, and more fireworks (this time the noise of their explosions echoing around the cliffs that frame Annecy’s lake)

two penguins and two french fingers, mount tornette

We left for Switzerland on the 16th stopping to complete a via ferrata on the way. (Via Ferrata – Iron ways are routes up and around cliff faces where instead of relying on natural features they have bolted ladders or steel rungs and cables to help you traverse them). This particular via ferrata had some spectacular exposure, but I can confirm that trying to climb one in a penguin suit when the air temperature is 30 degrees is not advisable. 

We shot through Switzerland stopping long enough to run up to the Trift Bridge – one of the longest suspension bridges in the alps. It had to be a run because Josh had booked a bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam near Locarno (the bungee featured in the James Bond film). THis wouldn’t have been a problem, but there was some confusion about how far the driving distance was between the bridge hike car park, and the dam (turns out it was 3 hours, not 40 minutes). It was a bit of a stressful drive, but we got Josh there with 5 minutes to spare. He had a great jump, in the penguin suit of course. 

We decided to make a quick detour into Germany and visited ‘the eagle’s nest’ Hitler’s alpine retreat/second seat of government in the mountains in South Eastern Germany. The Eagle’s Nest sits at about 1800m above sea level which you reach by bus and then a gold elevator. The views from the top are spectacular and one is confronted with stunning views on one hand, tourists gleefully pushing each other out the way to get the best selfie, with thoughts about the horrors that were planned there. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was a 21 year old male German with long blond hair, several necklaces adorning his neck and wearing a guns and roses t-shirt and bright purple and black chequered pants. One can’t help but imagine the reaction of the nazi elite to the discovery of what this place had become, and perhaps the disdain being shown by photo seeking tourists (focusing on the view rather than the remaining building) is the kind of disrespect for the people and ideas who built the place deserve (that or all of the people up there had forgotten what happened there and were simply enjoying the titilation of being close to one of the most infamous people of the 20th century – but that’s cyncial Luke talking)

view from eagle’s nest

We then drove to Lake Gossau in Austria with plans to camp at what we thought would be a secluded lake. As we got closer the mountains became more and more impressive, large sheer peaks reminiscent of Yosemite rose up towering above us. it soon became clear however, that our beautiful alpine lake was not a quite place at the end of the road, but a tourist trap with 6 separate carparks (with spaces for approx. 100 cars each) and no less than 2 cable cars running to nearby peaks. Luckily, we arrived at 7pm so most of the tourists had departed for the day. The lake was crystal clear and framed all around by 3000m peaks, Josh and I enjoyed a swim, and perhaps had the best comment on our penguin suits so far when we asked for a photo from a stranger. “I think if you use photoshop to remove yourselves from the photo, it will look good” said the man in stunted english. Who knew Germans had such a good sense of humour.

We found a campsite in an abandoned mining site (our creepiest campsite to date) and had a cold night with our summer sleeping bags.

We drove to Prague today, via Passau where we met Max, a mutual friend from New Zealand. We are currently staying with a friend of Josh’s for the night. The rally officially kicks off Sunday evening where we stay the night in a place called “junktown” 45 minutes outside of prague. 

Lastly, updates on the mechanical issues from last time

Cambelt. Turns out on closer inspection the engine has a timing chain, not a timing belt, so no need to spend the 1000NZ on replacing it. The confusion arose from the fact there is an assortment of Suzuki Wagon Rs produced at the same time, all with different engines and slightly different components. Josh and I are both relieved to have avoided this expense.

AIr conditioning. On getting into the car Josh discovered that if you pulled the dial out the air conditioning light came on. We had 10 minutes of euphoria at this discovery (enough to hide my embarrassment for not working it out) before we realised that the air temperature did not change, so we still have no air conditioning, and have already experienced driving in temperatures of 38 degrees celsius. I can’t say we are looking forward to finding out what it will be like when temperatures reach the 40s in Iran and Central Asia.

Tyres. I discovered one tyre had a large nail through it. Not sure whether I picked this up on my shortish drive from the car yard to my uncles place, or whether it was there to begin with… Unfortunately, we had to replace the whole tyre as it was so worn the tyre company would not try to repair it.

Room in the car. It was with a bit of a surprise that I discovered that it was actually quite hard to fit all of the equipment into our comically small car. I ended up unbolting 2 of the rear seats to give us a bit more room. We now have a 3 seater, though a substantial amount of gear would have to be stroped to the roof if we were to have room for a hitch hiker.

Number of days on the road: 7 

Number of kms travelled (car and by foot) 2452km. Thanks to TrackMe NZ you can now track us in real time here. Click on Josh’s name and then path to see our total route. 

Until next reliable wifi connection (could be a while)

Luke and Josh.

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