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October 3, 2004

Leaving Port Es Torrent

Carita's mum and sister flew in on Thursday morning, which was also Carita's last day at work. I was still feeling pretty bad from the flu but, nonetheless, Carita and I dived down and unshackled Zami' from her summer moorings in Port Es Torrent and spent Thursday afternoon getting things ready onboard for leaving. Thursday evening was spent collecting laundry, returning dvd's and all the other list of things to remember to do before sailing away.

As usual, Carita called me from the beach at night when she got back from work and I picked her up with the dinghy for the last time. We had our now customary middle-of-the-night drink then grabbed some sleep. The following morning we stumbled out of bed and sailed from Port Es Torrent, bound for Formentera. Although neither of us had been crazy about the place when we arrived at the beginning of the summer, it had turned out to be sheltered, peaceful (apart from the appalling evening entertainment from the Seaview Country Club, a nearby hotel) and much better than spending the summer anchored in San Antonio, one of the few other options. Now, of course after four months, it felt a bit sad to be leaving.

It was a lovely, sunny morning with a light wind from the east, and the trip around Ibiza's west coast went quickly. The waters have been full of large, cauliflower-like, non-stinging jellyfish recently, and we passed dozens of them, floating on the currents as we made our way towards our winter berth in Formentera. Although, as usual, the wind was on the nose, Carita insisted that we cut the engine and do the last leg under sail, so we tacked our way past Espalmador and Playa Es Illettes to the port of Sabina in Formentera.

October 6, 2004

Marina Life

After being fairly self-sufficient for the summer it's a bit strange to be in a marina now. On average we used 50 litres of fresh water a week, now it's unlimited. We can even shower if we choose to. Electricity now comes out of a cable, leaving our solar bank feeling less than fully appreciated. It's all a bit of a culture shock really, leaving us wondering how people with normal lives manage to cope with the oversupply of resources piped to them. On the downside we've lost a lot of the privacy and solitude that being anchored/ moored gave us as we're now tied to a pontoon next to lots of other boats, forcing us to listen in to the bizarre sexual habits of our neighbours.

October 9, 2004

Formentera Rentals

rent-a-wreck

We rented a car to show Carita's mum and sister around Formentera on their last day on the island. Carita, however, wanted to rent a Citroen Meharis; a pre-war looking convertible that appeared to have been dragged out of the sea. Hesitantly, I agreed.

Sitting in the driver's seat I couldn't figure out where the gear lever was until someone from the rental place came out and pointed to a black, shiny knob sticking out of the dashboard - to change gear you pulled it out or pushed it in, simultaneously causing a loud, grinding noise. The feeble handbrake was operated by another lever sticking from the dashboard, and the speedo, odometer, fuel gauge, and seat belts didn't work at all. There was a wooden board in the rear footwell as a previous customer had obviously put their feet through the floor, and the roof consisted of a pvc sheet, stapled on. Probably, it was the worst thing I have ever driven in my life. The clutch hardly worked at all, the suspension lurched from side to side as you went around corners, it had no brakes to speak of, and the steering had a mind of it's own, requiring you to fight with it to stay on the road.

Miraculously, we somehow managed to avoid running down any cyclists or pedestrians on our trip around the island, but by the end of the day I was more than happy to return it to the rental place, vowing to rent a proper car next time.

Here are the photographs from the last week.

October 13, 2004

Wi-Fi in Formentera

A bit of sniffing around the harbour here in Formentera when I arrived turned up quite a few wi-fi access points. So thankfully I can now go for a coffee here with my Mac and get online rather than the less attractive alternatives of gprs access or a long ferry trip to Ibiza for wi-fi.

So now that I've had a bit of time to myself and internet access I've finally got around to uploading some of the pictures from trips earlier this year. Namely those from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Finland, Estonia, and Morocco.

All of them are on this index page.

October 14, 2004

Bluetooth T-Shirt

The University of Singapore seems to have developed a Bluetooth t-shirt. Apparently it detects if you're falling, and if so tells your phone, which in turn contacts your relatives to pass on the bad news. Guess it could also update your blog to say that you've met your end and won't be writing anymore - which could be handy. Guess you just have to make sure that the fall is high enough so your phone has finished sending the message by the point of impact (and broken phone, messy t-shirt).

Nokia really should have been the ones to come out with this, surely, with Finland having the world's highest suicide rate - they could have even re-cut the N-Gage ads to say, "this is where I fell off..."

October 16, 2004

Across Europe With A Rottweiler In Heat

Having been in Ibiza for over five months now is the longest I've stayed in one place for years, so yesterday evening we decided it was time to leave and went off to the travel agents and booked onto the ferry to the mainland for today. Carita has to be back in Ibiza in two weeks and as we don't want to risk flying Ira back to Finland we're going to take her north overland then fly back down here, hopefully, by the end of the month.

We haven't quite worked out how exactly we're going to do this yet. We're on the mainland ferry to Denia at the moment (the more direct ferry to Barcelona was full), and from there we'll head towards the French border. Big dogs aren't allowed on Spanish trains unless they're boxed which may make this a bit more difficult, and just in case taking a Rottweiler across Europe isn't challenging enough, she's also in heat!

October 17, 2004

Stuck in Denia

In the end the ferry took five hours to reach Denia, not two as we'd been told, so everything was closed and it was getting dark by the time we disembarked. We started by checking out if any of the car rental agencies were still open - none were - and even worse, they were all going to be closed the next day, Sunday, as well. So we headed off to the railway station in the hope of managing to smuggle Ira onto a train, but the trainline from Denia only ran south. The only way to head north was by bus to Valencia, and needless to say, dogs weren't allowed on the buses.

It looked as if we were stuck in Denia until Monday morning when the car rental agencies would open so we sat down, had something to eat, and a couple of big beers. Most of the hotels in this dog-hating land didn't seem to want canine visitors either so we called a taxi to go to the campsite. It arrived but as we walked over to it the driver shouted that he didn't want a dog in his car and sped off. It was beginning to get difficult. We called the other taxi companies in town but none of them would take a dog. A local sitting at a nearby table told us that the taxis in town won't even take a child unless you bring a child seat with you.

With no other choice we walked out of town in the darkness along the main road and out to where the campsite was with our backpacks, really hoping it would be open. It was, though they were just about to lock up for the night, and we gratefully pitched our tent on the roughest, hardest, baked ground I've ever camped on.

I'm posting phonecam pictures of our progress on the moblog for as long as I have phone coverage on this trip.

October 19, 2004

Denia to Perpignan Drive

After much queueing, pledging allegiance to Spain, and assuring Europcar that their vehicle was safe in our capable hands, they finally agreed to rent us a Renault Clio - adding on a €90 surcharge for dropping it off at their office close to the French border (they don't allow cross-border rentals). With joy in our hearts we made our escape from Denia and it slowly began to dawn on us just how far away France was.

Much of the countryside was uninspiring and the day was spent either on the fairly expensive N15 toll motorway that runs along the coast or sitting behind trucks on the E340 primary road. Just after nightfall, however, we crossed over into France and drove into Perpignan to find a campsite and something to eat. All the campsites seemed to be closed though, and after hours of hunting around we were finally forced to book into a cheap hotel close to the airport.

This morning I got up early and drove back across the border to Spain to return the rental car, and although there aren't any checks at the border, French customs still decided to stop and question me. Apart from having to hang around for 30 mins as the girls working in the rental office had decided to close and go off for a morning coffee, it all went quite smoothly and I'm not sitting on the train to Cerbere bound for France once again.

October 22, 2004

Mulhouse

We stayed in Mulhouse last night, which is in France but very close to the German border. I'll fill in the details later but right now I'm on the train to Freiburg to try to sort out a rental car to drive to Rostock. Of course I had to get a train down to Basel in Switzerland just to get another train to Freiburg in Germany so it's only 9:00 in the morning and already I've been in three countries.

October 24, 2004

Rostock Ferry

We're on the ferry from Rostock to Finland and very irate at being forced to pay €390 to get onto it. But at least tomorrow night we should be there.

October 26, 2004

Driving Ibiza to Finland

We arrived in Finland last night and got off the ferry into cold, torrential rain. It felt great to finally be here and Ira was delighted to see everyone together, but the three of us were worn out after driving over 3200km. Often we've been travelling until late at night and blog updates were hastily typed from the tent or a gents toilet so here's a bit more detail on our journey.

We could have done the trip faster but we'd wanted to see something of Europe and not just rush through on motorways. We picked up our second rental car in Perpignan - it felt good to be in France but it seemed scruffier and less safe compared to Spain. We made the most of French supermarkets, however, and stocked up on supplies in a huge Carrefour, reminding ourselves of all the nice foods that don't exist on Ibiza. We also decided to commend Quick with our title of burger chain of choice and thereafter ate far too many burgers during the course of the trip.

We drove to the Gorges de L'Ardeche, north of Avignon, which is a bit of a French Grand Canyon - a stunning gorge carved through the French countryside with sheer cliffs on either side. Having never been to the Alps before we then continued over to Chambery, arriving just before dusk to stare in awe at the mountains and Alpine scenery. It was too cold to camp and, unable to find a cheap hotel, we set off in search of a quiet place to park for the night. Thick fog set in, meaning we could hardly see the road in front of us, never mind anything else, Carita, who was navigating, fell asleep, and after almost straying across the border into Switzerland we finally found a lane in some woods just west of Geneva and slept in the car at 1500m with the sound of cowbells in the distance.

The next day we had to drive to Mulhouse, close to the German border, to drop off the car. Mulhouse was a dull town where they were busy digging up every scrap of road to lay tram tracks but we were lucky enough to get there on the last day that the camp site was open for the season and we spent a fairly cold night in the tent.

The next morning I got up ridiculously early in the cold darkness and caught the train to Freiburg across the border (via a long detour to Basel) to sort out our third and final rental car. Germany seemed clean, polished and organised and the people, as always, seemed very helpful but all the rental companies turned out to be an hour's walk from town. Asking for their cheapest diesel car I was given a brand new Renault Megane, which during the course of driving impressed me greatly with it's tech specs - windscren wipers that turn on when it rains and keyless entry and ignition that detects the smartcard in your pocket. I drove back over to Mulhouse, picked up Carita and Ira and we set off for Rottweil in the Black Forest to take Ira back to her roots! The black forest was beautiful, with mountains and valleys covered in golden, autumn foliage and the climate was still pleasant compared to how we'd feel in northern Europe. Rottweil turned out to be a charming German town, though we were slightly disappointed that there weren't Rottweillers running wild everywhere.

After another long drive to find somewhere we could park and sleep without being moved on, we ended up in a forest walk car park at 01:00 in the morning, exhausted, and spent the night there. This had the effect of the brand new car losing it's 'new car smell'. We were getting pretty used to sleeping in cars by now and we awoke refreshed and headed into Wurzburg where we enjoyed a huge, wonderful breakfast.

Later that day, Saturday, we were getting close to Hannover and thinking about stopping somewhere when we realised that the ferry to Finland didn't run on Mondays. So we pushed on, determined to make it to Rostock that night. The German autobahn proved wonderful for making fast progress when needed, though you learn to keep a close eye on your mirrors for Porsches approaching from behind at 250km/h.

Finally, we arrived in Rostock and drove straight to the port to book onto the following day's ferry. Our happiness to have completed the drive was ruined when the ferry company then refused to sell us reclining seats and forced us to pay twice as much for a cabin. It then turned out that there was a football match and a concert in town and almost all the hotels were fully booked so we spent the night in the car, parked in the ferry terminal with the rain pouring down outside.

We spent the next day in town as we waited to board the ferry and were somewhat surprised by how different it was to where we'd previously been in Germany. Rostock is part of former East Germany and it really felt like a different country. The people seemed rude, badly dressed, and seemed to cut their own hair. The town itself was a mixture of old soviet concrete next to new construction and a facade of a new shopping street. We took Ira for a walk in the park and passed a crazy guy shitting openly on the path. Obviously things can't change overnight.

The amount of investment that Germany appeared to be putting into it's eastern promise seemed colossal. Obviously, the infrastructure badly needs to be upgraded as motorways, power stations and train systems are being built everywhere.

Finally, we caught the ferry, and I found sleeping in a bed so uncomfortably soft that I took my camping mat and slept in the kennels with Ira to keep me company. Meanwhile, a Russian prostitute worked her way through the truck drivers onboard - apparently paying for her ticket as the route is allegedly the easiest way for Russians to get into Finland without any papers.

We only have a few days in Finland, however, before we ironically have to fly all the way back down to Ibiza!

October 28, 2004

Dog Trip Photos

The photos from the Dog Trip are now up on the main photo page.

October 29, 2004

Cost of Driving Across Europe

Here's a breakdown of our expenses for the trip from Formentera to Finland for both of us and Ira. We took diesel cars, usually camped or slept in the car, and deviated greatly from the most direct route at all times.

Prices in euros

Formentera - Ibiza ferry 24
Ibiza - Denia ferry 108
Ferry Rostock - Hanko 390
Ferries total 522

Car rental 24hrs Denia - Figueres 133.50
Car rental 48hrs Perpignan - Mulhouse 273.50
Car rental 48hrs Freiburg - Rostock 120
Car rental total 527

Accomodation total 107.50
Fuel total 178.12
Toll roads 30

Trip total 1364.62

Total mileage 3271km (2032 miles)
Total fuel consumption 183 litres
Avg consumption 5.59 litres/100km (50.48mpg)


Germany was by far the cheapest place to rent a car, even for one-way rental, France was most expensive. We used Hertz in France and Europcar in the others, none of the companies we found would allow drop-off in another country but all would allow unlimited travel across western Europe. We avoided motorways most of the time, except when we needed to make some distance. This meant we also avoided a lot of the French and Spanish toll road charges, which could have added another 100 euros or so to costs.

Unable to get seats on the ferry to Barcelona, we instead took the ferry to Denia, adding about 500km to our distance. Our main other expense, of course, was the Superfast ferry from Rostock to Hanko in Finland, and their refusal to sell reclining seats onboard, contrary to their advertising. Given a couple of spare days we'd have taken the much cheaper ferry to Sweden then crossed over to Finland on the ferry from Stockholm.

All things considered the cost was very similar to when we'd done the same trip by train in the spring, with the added benefit of having much more freedom and not having to get a big dog and luggage on and off of fifteen trains. For two or more people the cost even compares favourably to inter-railing, especially if you rented in Germany or returned the car to the same location. We even found campervan rental in Germany from €50/day with Comments (3)

Superfast Ferries

We called Superfast Ferries to find out how much their cheapest ticket from Rostock to Hanko was and they told us €80, which their website also claims. On arriving in Rostock, however, we went to the ferry terminal the night before to book them and were somewhat surprised, especially as it was mid-October, to be told that seats were sold out and we would have to take cabins. Cabins were segregated male and female and we would have to pay €155 each to sleep in a cabin with three strangers or €190 each to share a cabin together. We asked which day they would have seats available as we were willing to wait but they replied that they were sold out for the next two weeks!

We decided to look to see if there were any other options for getting to Finland but other than going via Sweden we had no choice so we returned the next day to take the cabins. We were served by another girl on the desk, who, when we again enquired about seats, instead of checking the computer, asked her manager if they were available. It was her manager whom we had dealt with the night before and she replied sharply that we had already been told that no seats were available. We asked if they were likely to get any cancellations but we were told that this was highly unlikely. The ferry didn't seem as if it was going to be busy and it seemed to us that they were deliberately not selling the reclining seats as they could make more money on the cabins.

On boarding the ferry we discovered that not only were most of the reclining seats empty but there was another entire room of reclining seats which remained locked for the entire voyage. We complained and asked to be downgraded and at first the service desk staff were happy to do this although they said they would not be able to give us a refund directly. It was then that the Chief Purser stepped in and told us we could not have reclining seats. His reason seemed to be that they were forbidden to sell them. We asked why they were advertised on their website in that case and he immediately denied what he had just said. He was unable to tell us why so many seats were empty whilst we were being charged double for tickets and his only suggestion was that perhaps there had been a massive, sudden cancellation moments before the ferry sailed.

No Rubber Ball

matrix catsuit
After just enough time to suffer freezing conditions and have a quick sauna, I'm leaving Finland on my way back to Ibiza. I fly into Stansted tonight, probably sleep in a corner, and tomorrow morning check in for the last Easyjet flight of the year to Ibiza at 05:00.

We had originally planned to stay in London and go to the Torture Garden Halloween party with Sanna and her boyfriend, Simon who owns Libidex and had promised to lend us some latex outfits - but I guess we'll just have to look forward to that for another time.

October 31, 2004

Midnight Crisp Eaters

We arrived back at the boat yesterday morning, totally exhausted, as an old man had sat down where we were sleeping in Stansted, eaten crisps and talked loudly for most of the night. Obviously unaware of how close I was of slipping into violent insanity he insisted that people should get a hotel room if they wanted to sleep somewhere. I diplomatically replied with a string of expletives.