The final push will conclude our journey from Australia to the UK which so far has taken us across 20 different countries with the remaining 9 to be completed on a meandering course across Europe. These include Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the UK.
For this leg, we start in Hungary where we pick up Steve, Robyn’s younger brother, he’s just flown in from Australia, he spent a couple of nights in the UK then jumped on a plane to Budapest. Day 3 of ACT jet lag kicks in, nothing a few local strong Hungarian beers and duty-free Ukrainian Vodka won’t sort out!
We’ve booked in a rather basic campsite near the centre of Budapest, from here we start to plan our approximate route back to the UK. We have one key date we have to hit, where friends and family are flying into to celebrate the opening weekend of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. This gives us lots of spectrum to see and explore different parts of Europe.
First stop, while we are here, Budapest. We find Hungarian goulash soup (not really much of challenge, its sold everywhere) followed by a bracing walk to the Citadella and a tour of the old town & Jewish district. We then drive to Lake Balaton located in the Transdanubian region of Hungary the largest lake in Central Europe and book into an out of season retirement camping site. Not quite what we wanted, so after we do some research we set the sat nav for Bratislava!
We stay in a very funky art hotel just on the outskirts, the staff are very friendly, we park our truck up and head into the city. This is Stev’s first exposure to Eastern European drinking prices, so we do a bit a tour of the medieval bars, get caught up in a local carnival and get involved. The next day we take the bus to Hrad Devin (Devin Castle) located in Slovakia overlooking Austria and discuss our plans for the next days.
We had pencilled going to Austria and heading towards Salzburg and then onto Munich, then re-planned our journey taking us via the Czech Republic into Cesky Krumlov, Prague, Pilsen then Munich. This involved crossing through 3 countries in a single day, not really a big deal if you’re European but for Steve coming from the Australian state of Victoria which takes days to cross, to pass through 3 countries in a truck, in a day, was alien to him.
Very glad we did, Cesky Krumlov was fantastic, we walked around the old city, the food was delicious, huge open fires in the gothic restaurants checked out the local brewery and had the most amazing breakfast at our B&B. We drove to Prague trying to avoid the toll roads which took us on some interesting, scening detours, stayed in student halls of residence which were very Soviet in style. We had a solid lunch at the Pilsner Urquell brewery on the way to Germany, spent a night on the border town of Domazlice where we again stayed in a lovely, friendly place.
Now to Oktoberfest, we filled up with fuel on the border, past the local hookers by the side of the road and made good time getting into Munich. We stayed at a huge campsite on the outskirts where we met up with a couple of friends from the UK, Vicky & Alan. We slipped into our traditional lederhosen and dirndls then jumped on the train for the Festival. It didn’t start great for us, we found outside seating which was essential as you can only be served if you are seated, out of the rain and then about ten minutes before the Mayor cracks the first beer barrel signify the start of Oktoberfest, a man had a heart attack across from us. Medical staff were on hand and assisted the man before an ambulance took him away. This obviously dampened the mood somewhat.
After a couple of steins and meeting up with more friends and family we started getting into the festival spirit, singing along to the German songs, dancing on the table, ordering obscene amounts of pig and dumplings. We spent 2 days at the festival moving around the various tents and amusement arcades, by the end the thought a drinking made us feel ill.
We head south towards Austria, passing through the picture postcard beauty of the Karwendel Alps near Innsbruck, then back up through southern Germany stopping off at Neuschwanstein Castle and then onto a small town called Ulm. Here we met up with Katharina, the previous owner of the Landcruiser who sold it to us two years ago back in Australia. She was very excited to see and drive the truck and very kindly cooked us a traditional German feast.
The German autobahns famous for unrestricted speed, not in our fully loaded truck, we topped out about 130kph. We carried on to the West of Germany to a place we’ve always wanted to visit, Nurburgring. Here we hang out at the famous Brünnchen 2 corner and watch the scores of pre-production car squeal around the corner followed by the BMW M4 taxiring cars, supercars and a guy in a VW Passat. We should have taken our cruiser around . . .
Over the next couple of days, we cross the remainder of Germany, stay in France, fill up Luxembourg, wander around Ghent in Belgium and then head to France.
We spend a night in a rather grim budget hotel, head to Carefore to pick up a dozen croissants, ham and cheese then head for Calais. We allow an extra couple of hours to cross expecting the security to be strict. At no point did anyone check our vehicle or car documents, they just waved us through to the ticket barrier where the operator booked us onto an earlier ferry. Checks were so lacking, they didn’t see Steve sat in the back and we were called back and had to have our tickets reissued. We nearly illegally smuggled Steve into the UK!
The ferry ride was smooth and as we approached the white cliffs of Dover gave us a sense of achievement. This is a crossing we have done many times over to the continent in the past and to do it in our Australian car felt very special.
Expecting the UK border patrol to be interested in our car we prepared our documents ready to hand over, not one official reacted as we drove through the security checkpoint and we joined the A20 destined for London. The anonymity of driving a jacked up, 3 1/2 ton Australian register truck continued for the entire time in the UK. We got one thumb’s up from a French van driver and that was it.
After navigating the Friday London traffic and changing from 1st to neural about 1000 times, giving my right leg a good work out, we arrived at Tristan’s old place of work and popped into to say hello. Then parked up the truck on double yellows in Soho for about an hour to then move it to a parking space in front of the pub we were having drinks at later that evening. Even the parking wardens couldn’t see our truck!
A good night of catching up with our London friends, a night in Twickenham and the next day to Tristan’s hometown in the North of England for a welcome home party.
Now to clean the truck, arrange the shipping back to Melbourne and to collect our thoughts on what has been an adventure of a lifetime.