Return to England

After staying in Europe for as long as our Visa's would allow, we returned to England to slow down, visit some new places and old, and for Kayla to start work. After leaving the ferry, we headed north from Dover to Dartford, London. Having been away for so long there was quite a bit of mail that we were expecting, including the vehicle tax plate, so we jumped onto the first train and headed into central London.

We had planned on spending the afternoon exploring the National History museum but after waiting in line for 40 minutes we discovered the place was so packed it was a struggle to move. We hadn't anticipated the Easter holiday rush filling the place with families, so instead of fighting the crowds we decided to return another day. With no further plans we decided to just wander the city and as we walked through Leicester Square we were accosted by a comedy club peddler.  The next few hours we spent trying not to cry as we were laughing so hard.

Once again due to a public holiday we had to wait till the Tuesday to call the recruitment agency, so we decided we would head out to visit Cambridge and see a few sites. We spent the morning scopping out Cambridge which was nice but small and no competition to Oxford. Having come this far we decided to travel a little further and visit the Grimes  Graves. We arrived just before it closed quickly realising that daylight savings had kicked in but it was well worth the drive (partially due to it not being another castle) as it contained a prehistoric mining site. 

The following day we made our way back down to London stopping in at Languard fort, St Johns Abbey Gate and Tilbury Fort but due to the biting cold winds and lack of interest in another fort we decided to park in an ASDA carpark do some shopping and watch movies. Early Tuesday morning we rang the recruitement agency and set up the interview for the following afternoon. We spent the remainder of the week preparing and going to the interview plus sorting out stable accomodation at the Lee Valley Campsite.

Friday we found out Kayla would be starting work next Tuesday so we decided to head back to Oxford for our final weekend of freedom. We returned to our Chingford campsite on Sunday and settled in to our new routine. As  our second wedding annivsery was upon us  we decided to splurge a little booking a hotel for the weekend and tickets to the Lion King. So after checking in on friday afternoon I met Kayla in Leicester square for dinner and a little wandering before heading back for an early night. First thing Saturday morning we arrived in Covent Garden where we stumbled across a well placed bar (Punch and Judy) over looking a square filled with buskers. We spent the next couple of hours drinking beer and being entertained by the ever changing acts (that all seemed to have a desire to take their shirts off and expose their nipple twislers). We had lunch at a nice restaurant called the Blanc then headed to the Lion King, which turned out to be fantastic.

To end a great weekend we drove the van to the cinema where we unfortunately became stranded when the car wouldn't start. Thankfully the AA saved us again, fixing the immobiliser issue that had plagued us since Morocco. A week passed living and working as Londoners. On the Sunday we headed into the city early, took a stroll through Hyde park before returning to the National History museum for round two. The afternoon started with us walking along the Thames before stumbling on the King William IV for a couple of beers.

With the pay Kayla was getting being very low plus the urge to continue our journey we decided to advertise the van in anticipation of us leaving the UK. Within 24 hours of advertising it was sold with the agreement that we would deliver it to Ashford on the coming Sunday. Friday we drove to Maidstone, revisiting our old street camping ground and on Saturday we treated ourselves to the cinema we had been to 3 months ago as we left for Europe. On Sunday we finalised the sale of the van, received a lift back to London and checked into our new hostel. Thus marked the sad end to a  beautiful friendship, parting ways with Fifi the Ford.

Things started well and it was nice not having to brave the elements walking to a shower block. Things quickly turned sour though after we discovered our roommates were inconsiderate shits. Not to be discouraged we explored our new surroundings, however as the week came to a close and another poor paycheck arrived it was clear our time here was coming to an end. Checking out early Saturday morning (ensuring we made as much noise as our dear room mates would have) we headed to a hotel in ExCeL, spent the day planning and booking our upcoming journey before enjoying our first quite night in a week. 


We didn't know what to expect when we arrived in Antwerp, having only come here due to it being one of the top 4 places to see in Belgium plus only a short drive from Brussels. As we drove through the city in search of our campsite we discovered it wasn't especially remarkable and on a closer inspection found that it's top attraction was the architecturally significant train station.

After finding that the campsite was out of service we headed off to a shopping centre on the outskirts of the city. To our delight we discovered it had a shop selling "authentic" homemade Australian icecream which we found amusing considering we'd never heard of Australia being known for it's icecream... We also discovered the Lunch Garden restaurant chain which offered a different take on fast food, offering a cross between Sizzlers and a la carte food. The biggest highlight, however was the booths marked to indicate they offered power and wifi, perfect for our needs :) Having spent the evening within the restaurant, we left at closing and decided to camp in the carpark for the evening.

After an unbroken sleep we awoke to heavy snow and as we made our way from Antwerp to Brussels along the sludgy frozen motorway we were amazed at the daring and skill of the local drivers as they drove at breakneck speeds in these icy conditions. We took our time and finally arrived in Brussels were we had booked a hotel for the night. This turned out to be a nice surprise, offering the first bath in far too long, as well as a pool table to entertain ourselves with while the weather remained subzero. This also gave us the opportunity to sample one of Belgiums greatest products: Beer!! By the end of the night I was best mates with the night watch, an immigrant from Iran who provided some insights into the country from a source other than the media.

The next day was still miserable so, after some morning chores, we decided to drive the short distance (45km) back to Antwerp to spend a lazy day wondering the shopping centre and watching videos. After spending the night there again we headed back to Brussels at the crack of dawn to start exploring the city. First stop was the Atomium, a large structure in the shape of an Iron molecule that was built for the 1958 European Expo. From within the spheres we were offered some of the best views of the city, albeit a little hazy, as well as various other exhibitions which we discovered we had no interest in. From here we walked the short distance to Mini Europe, a "theme" park containing miniatures of many of the great buildings throughout the European countries, complete with moving parts and an exploding Mount Vesuvius.

Next we caught the train into the city centre and made our way to the Grand Place, a square surrounded by some of the best buildings in Brussels. Although it was interesting (as well as packed with tourists) we had other things on our mind, namely chocolate. So we set off in search of the Chocolate Museum, getting lost along the way and discovering buildings decorated in 5-story high comic art (another of Belgiums greatest products, the most notable being Tintin and the Smurfs). After finding the museum, we spent the next half an hour wondering the small establishment before being offered samples and watching as a chocolatier created little chocolate delights. Although the chocolate was nice we were a little let down due to the museum containing mostly trinkets used in the serving of chocolate and even more so when we discovered that the biggest skill to creating the chocolate delights they were charging a small fortune for, was to select the biggest range of molds to shape the chocolate with.

Our final stop for the day was to visit the Comic Museum which turned out to be much larger and more "museum like" than the former. The museum did seem to be more of a Tintin museum than a Comic museum but it was warm inside ;) We ended our day, catching the train back to the van, ready for an early start to the best attraction yet.

We were at the Cantillon Brewery at 9am, as the doors were opening. This was a working brewery and we were given information and access to most parts. What made this brewery unique was that the beer was brewed the old-fashioned way, without adding yeast, instead letting the yeast be introduced from the surrounding environment by not sealing the beer initially and resulting in spontaneous fermentation. This produces Lambic Beer which is usually aged for 3 years, can last over 25 years and has a remarkably distinct taste. After learning a great deal and wandering corridors containing thousands of bottles and casks, our palates were educated further as we sampled a couple of varieties, including a raspberry beer, while being entertained by our passionate host.

After a morning that had turned out to be more enjoyable than anticipated we headed on to Ghent, which was reported to be a smaller version of Brugge; scenic buildings, canals and parks, but without the tourists. The information was correct and we enjoyed wandering the city for a couple of hours, past canals that were cleaner than Venice or Amsterdam containing well-kept houseboats before discovering one of the many parks the city had on offer. Having had a taste of what Brugge had to offer we decided to head off and see it for ourselves. We booked two nights at the local caravan site, which was only a short walk from the old city and gave us a base to explore from,  before getting to bed early so we could start off first thing the next day.

After another great night sleep (in a series of many in this country) we walked the few kilometres to cross the bridge and enter the old city. Just like Ghent it was very picturesque but also contained the expected increase in tourists. Having spent the last few months seeing so many great sites, Brugge  didn't dissapoint but we were losing interest in seeing yet another cathedral/palace/building and so, with hot chocolate in hand, we wandered our way back out of the city. The following day we packed up, crossed the border into France and parked outside the ferry terminal in Dunkirk ready for our trip back to the UK in the wee hours of the following morning.


Leaving Amsterdam we were disappointed. We expected the Cannabis culture and the Red Light District but not the lack of any other stimulus. Our opinions may have been jaded by the cold but, even in the summer, swimming in the polluted canals would have been degrading unless you were smashed on beer and/or pot, with a hooker on your arm.

We had left early, from Amsterdam, to find a campsite near Zaandjick, our cultrural stop the next day. Having found a quiet place in a truck stop we spent the night with fears that the hurricane winds would roll us over. We awoke upright but with the wind still howling as we set off for the district of Zaanse Schans to see how cl0gs were made. The short walk across the bridge was freezing, with a capital Fuck Me, but the view was nice... After crossing the bridge we discovered the Pewter museum was in the same area, but closed. Our numb fingers were very disappointed... The clog workshop was amazing with variety and warmth. Although we had timed our visit "perfectly" with the arrival of other tourists we enjoyed the hollandishism of this little village.

Leaving Amsterdam we saw a lot of the countryside we had seen entering. Calm drivers, flat plains and windmills. On our way to Gouda we were forced to ake an alternate route due to a broken bridge and thankfully saw the Netherlands we had hoped for. Driving down single lane streets, with bridges as driveways, we saw an amazing country. As we pulled over to let another driver pass, we were thanked by them for giving them the right of way on their side of the road. Arriving in Gouda it had no appeal and it was too cold to hunt for cheese so we continued onto Rotterdam.

Our sole purpose of visiting Rotterdam was to see the preserved windmills of Kinderdijk. With a temperature of -2o and a wind chill of -92o, it was a chilling experience. The confines of how the workers lived on top of the task that was required was amazing. The cold, however was too much to bare and so we skipped on to Antwerp, the first stop in our Belgium tour.