ELECTRA: intelligent, organised, practical, creative & strong; mum, wife and person.

WANTS TO VISIT: Germany, Portugal, Spain, & France, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, USA, Andorra, Bulgaria, Thailand, Phillipines and Venezuela for starters.

04 August 2015

Southern Germany to Denmark via Berlin

Images courtesy of Google

 

Planning exactly where to go is not a science at all.  It is a mixture of heart and mind, and finding a balance between the two.

The countries we want to visit are just the big picture and it is up to me to design our itinerary to satisfy more than the 'stamp in the passport' mentality of visiting a new land (and in Europe where there are no internal borders, stamps are a bit of a thing of the past anyway).  Let me take you through the beautiful but messy process that is planning an overseas experience (O.E.).

 

THE WHERE

First Atlas and I prioritised our country wish lists.  You will notice when doing this exercise for yourself that some decisions you make are based on what you know or do not know about a place; othertimes it's how you feel that wins over.  Comparing fact vs feeling is like comparing apples to oranges but it can be done! Surprisingly the first group of 6 (out of 18 destinations) were the same with only 1 difference.  Germany is of course our number 1, but with the potential to stay another 3 months and travel after that, these other countries are our next focus: Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Belgium & Greece.  

 

THE WHAT

Next I asked each person what they do or might enjoy doing or seeing in a new place.  I wrote about those in our What we'll see and do in Tuebingen post.

The challenge is to find what opportunities exist in each place, not doing too much, and how it might work to get there.

 

THE HOW

Google maps is a real boon to route planning and moreso when you discover that there is an 'avoid tolls' option that you can select when travelling by road.

 

Another tip is instead of entering a broad start and finish location and dragging the route to the places you really want to travel through on the way, use their '+' feature.  Start with your beginning location, add the next one, then press the '+' to add another etc. [Note: it only allows for 10 points.]

 

 

To a certain extent you may also need to consider the time of year you will be visiting.  For us, this applied especially to Iceland, as Atlas wants to see the Northern Lights and they are only visible in the (northern) Autumn and Winter months.  Sadly not being there in Summer means not seeing the Puffins and Reindeer though.  That is something I figured early on:

We are not going to be able to see & do everything; we are not going to ever have the perfect itinerary; we will miss some things BUT we will have experienced something, and experienced it together! 

 

THE WHY

Yes, for us it's primarily experiencing something together.  Parts of our journey are because I want to share something of the past with the family, or conversely try something altogether new; others are because a tourist attraction is in a specific town; one country is for family heritage, others as our foreign 'son' or 'daughter' lives there.  There is no wrong or right reason to go somewhere or do something.

 

In all this complex inexactness of designing our trip I found that it is neither what, where, how or why that consistently trumps the others.  Each takes a turn as the raison d'etre, and that's okay.

You are not going to be scored out of 100 for your personal planning prowess.

28 July 2015

The carrot cake mum made us as a celebration

 

This past week we've been in Auckland, in part so that both Atlas and I could study and undergo our class 2 driver license assessments.  We reasoned that if we are to stay on in Europe and travel around a little, after our initial 3 months in Germany, it makes sense to do so in a motorhome as it gives us transport and accommodation in one and greater flexibility.  As with here in NZ, the motorhomes that are large enough for us in Germany require more than a class one (light vehicle) license.  

Here's a summary (pdf download) of who may drive what in Germany if you are normally resident outside the European Union.

 

It was a bit of a splurge seeing as perhaps we could get away with only one of us able to drive a heavy vehicle, but we were heeding the sage advice of families who have gone before us who said it's best both adults qualify in case one or other is not well, tired or otherwise.  The drive up was a case and point - Atlas was only able to drive a couple of hours before he had back pain so I took over for the other 5.

 

Our instructor was more interested in making sure we had reached a high level of competency practically than the other companies we canvassed.  Unfortunately there was no discount for having already passed the 2L but that was more than made up for in the time he spent on the practical driving skills which were included in the course fee; and the one component that I really wanted to know I had fully mastered.

 

I wasn't looking forward to driving in Auckland at all, in fact I have only driven a car there once and had to navigate the southern motorway where a rice truck had met its fate, stalling traffic and increasing the natural disposition locals have for road rage.  Still I went in with an open mind and it turned out to be the least of my concerns.

Nothing could have prepared me for an old-model stick-shift Hino truck.  NOTHING!

After my first 1-hour lesson the stress was so much I shed a tear while swapping the drivers seat for the passenger's - so Atlas could take his turn in the hot seat.

There was no way in heaven or hell that I could see myself passing the final assessment.  I felt like a dunce.

I HATED IT!

How could people sitting other courses having done absolutely no practical truck driving and go straight to sitting their practical assessment?  That totally floors me.

 

Dad tried to remind me that getting your 2F is really an 'invitation to learn', just like when you get your full class 1 vehicle license you don't know all that you need to at that point either.  He even took me for a ride in his Iveco but it was so different it just didn't compare or instill me with a confidence boost for the next day.

 

For the second session at least the cab was familiar but boy was I pushed.  Instead of just crawling around narrow suburban streets full of parked cars I was hurled onto one of Auckland's busy streets - Dominion Road, and then onto the Southern motorway.  Thankfully we had missed the morning rush-hour traffic.  After that we drove all around the back of Mangere and Papatoetoe through road works, reversing, rain, industrial zones, more roundabouts, traffic lights and rural zones, taking the truck up to 6th gear and down again repeatedly and rapidly.  I liked the motorway and reversing best.

 

In some ways our instructor was a hard task master barking orders, raising his voice, and freely meeting out chastisement but on the other hand I began to appreciate that if I listened and did what he said I would be okay and rise to the challenge.   

Who would have thought that in one day I would progress from snail's pace in suburbia to moving on the motorway?  That's something I though was going to take me weeks. 

 

Getting my class 2 license was like a tug of war.  On the one hand I wanted the freedom that being able to drive a HT vehicle gave our family (and I didn't want to be the one that held us back from our dreams) but on the other I didn't really want to push myself that far outside of my comfort zone.  Having passed, I am under no illusion that I can get in any cab and drive but at least now I am more willing to the opportunity.  I could if I needed to.  I do want to practise more so that I gain confidence and skills in handling a variety of different vehicles, and am not quite sure how that might happen before we leave as there is still so much to be done otherwise and we don't know anyone specifically who has a class 2 vehicle.

Actually driving overseas will be another matter again though.  I am thinking we need to plan quite a few short trips in the first couple of weeks, off the beaten track so Atlas and I get used to: any vehicle we may beg, borrow or buy; and driving on the right hand side of the road too.

 

For those looking at preparing for their Class 2 license here are a few tips that I hope will help you:

  • drive as many other vehicles than your own in the weeks leading up to the training: both automatic and manual
  • drive a vehicle or two that sit higher on the road so you get used to the different panorama
  • really look at your own vehicle and it's condition - familiarise yourself with all the areas that require maintenance and take care of them: tyres, water, oil, windscreen wipers, etc.  
  • read the NZTA guides to Fatigue / Logbooks and general Heavy Transport driving.  These are a good overview to the basics which are covered in the Unit Standards albeit more pedantically. 
  • if you have the opportunity to ride-along with a friend or colleague take it or if passing a parked truck peek in the window at the layout of the cab.  Both will help you feel more comfortable sitting in the driver's seat.
  • it might even be a good discipline to start a log book with date, odometer start and finish readings, & reason for trip; and then add a start and finish location too to get you in the frame of mind of recording everything for your logbook component.
  • get at least your medical check before you start your course.  Trying to have this done at a GP that might be able to take you on day 1 of your course will most likely mean paying a lot extra.
  • although ultimately have your learner's license prior.  There is just so much detailed information that you need to process over the 2 - 4 days of your course that it's best not to have to cram for the theory test too.
Auckland
21 July 2015

Getting to Germany via plane means knowing where the international airports are (and which airlines fly which routes to which airports).  

Thanks to Lencer on Wikimedia we have the following pictogram for you.  

Red are the international airports, and the larger the plane the more flights there are per annum.

 

 

Here are the links to all the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS for your researching pleasure:

Berlin - Tegel

Berlin - Schoenefeld

Bremen

Dresden

Duesseldorf

Erfurt

Frankfurt am Main

Hannover

Hamburg

Koeln (Cologne) /Bonn

Leipzig/ Halle

Muenchen

Muenster/Osnabrueck

Nuernberg

Saarbruecken

Stuttgart

 

I don't know if it will be the same for everyone but we found that flying into Stuttgart (from New Zealand - which for us is always via Frankfurt) was more expensive than flying to London and from there directly to Stuttgart.

You may be interested in Skyscanner which is the website we've been watching to compare airfares.  It aggregates the flight prices of a variety of different airlines and online vendors for the route you search and the day (or month) you want to travel.  If there is something there that suits you can click-through to the relevant website and book directly.

 

 

 

 

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