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How to plan 18 Months

The question gets asked regularly. “how/when/why did you decide on this trip” “Why 18 months?” “Are you retiring?” “Will you go back to work?” “How do you pay for this?”

etc, etc.

Good questions, no real rational answers, except that we could, we wanted to, and covid gave the excuse to extend the trip from 12 to 18 months.

Planning this trip has been a long-time fermenting, countless French lessons, and a large white board with things to add & subtract.

Insurances to cover and cancel, visa’s to be organised, subscriptions to be halted/cancelled, and ridiculously too many streaming services to be terminated…since when did these take over our lives?

Camera gear to be upgraded, both bought and sold, plus a shiny new MacBook Air2.

Money to be saved, then spent on flights, accommodation, car hires, etc.

A house to pack up and store for 18 months, excess thrown out, donated or gifted.

Farewells to be made, God so many people to be missed!

Saying goodbye to family and friends, dear friends, that we won’t see till late NEXT year.

It’s hard to describe the mixed emotions, tingled with the excitement, of leaving.

A few weeks ago, we hear someone saying that the Paris Olympics was 580 days away… we’ll still be away then. Sounds a lot longer than 18 months.

When we were flying over, I watched a movie, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, a standard British feel-good comedy movie, set in 1957 about a woman who goes to Paris to buy a Dior dress, because she was following a dream.

The movie was predictable, in a nice way, sort of Mary Poppins(ish)…but answered the questions as to why we are doing this outrageous trip.

We’re following our dream, living for the now, determining our future path instead of waiting for it to decide for us.

Doing what we can, when we can, instead of waiting for obstacles to find a way to interfere.

So folks, we’re here, the journey commences! I’m attempting to run a separate blog for this journey, but at the moment having all sorts of issues getting it up and running, so until then we’ll stick to the old old.

Grampians Peak Trail 3 Day Walk (with No Roads Expeditions).

The last year has been pretty tough for everyone in Australia and especially those in the travel industry. International travel is no longer an option for most, so Australians have to look for alternatives closer to home.

This is where innovative operators such as No Roads Expeditions comes in, offering a variety of experiences within Australia and especially here in Victoria, from where they are based.

From more upmarket glamping experiences, wine themed walking/ biking events and for those slightly more adventurous the opportunity to discover the great outdoors, of which there is no better place to visit than the Grampians about 250km West of Melbourne.

One of the most exciting opportunities for the region is the substantial funding the Victorian government has committed to updating and extending the Grampians Peaks Trail which when completed will cover a distance of approximately 144 kilometres from Mount Zero in the North, with its massive sandstone outcrops, all the way down to the Township of Dunkeld in the south and the surrounding volcanic Plains.

The creation for the Grampians Peaks Trail will, hopefully, become a major draw card for local and international visitors similar to The Overland track in Tasmania and the Milford track in New Zealand.

Our weekend starts in the picturesque town of Halls Gap, nestled in the valley, soaring peaks left and right, itself offering a wide array of possibilities from local wineries, restaurants & cafes, a great micro-brewery, or just the opportunity to sit down with a glass of wine watching mobs of Kangaroos grazing gently, almost at your feet.

If you’re ever looking to take visitors to see Kangaroos in the wild you couldn’t do any better than Halls Gap…the town is awash with them! You literally trip over them walking around town.

We rocked up to our motel in town, and the local Roo’s looked us up and down disdainfully! 

There’s plenty of accommodation options in and around Halls Gap from the upmarket Boroka Downs, B&B’s, getaways, caravan parks and local motels 

At present only the first section of the trail, a 3-day 2-night loop out of Halls Gap is open, and at 9:00 o’clock on the Friday morning we meet our fellow hikers to start day one. 

Our group of seven is being led by our guide for the weekend, Adrian, who offers introductions, a briefing on the days hike and expectations, then hands out our lunch packs…our massive lunch packs!

One of the beauties of using No Roads is not having to cater for meals, or on this walk, tents, which are set up for you.

How goods that? No worrying about what to bring food wise, and no bulky tent to carry…and no concerns for your tents condition, as it has probably been resting idly at home for months, with no thoughts for its capabilities!


Packs on, and off we go.

Day one is about 8.6 km’s, which takes about 6 hours, lunch included.

Scenery is magnificent, from the tranquil Venus Baths to The Pinnacle which is the most visited spot in the region. On a busy weekend, its peak hour traffic all day, but today we had it nearly to ourselves.

The view from the outcrop is stunning, vistas north and south along the valley, and beyond.

On past the “nerve test” which in days gone by used to be a testosterone bragging post, but today fails OH&S and pretty much stands empty.

Then rock scrambling left and right, forever marvelling at naturals wonderland, before a pit stop for water at Sundial, before walking to our nights digs at Bugiga, a wonderful circular walkway with 12 platform tent sites.

Time to stretch the legs, set up sleeping gear, dinner cooked by Adrian, washed down with a couple of local wines from Fallen Giants, a bit more chat, then bed.

Today was harder than I thought, mainly due to the hot humid weather, but the rewards were thrilling, bring on day two.

Day 2 is the most spectacular day of the three, according to most.

You leave Bugiga, walk up through the messmate forest up onto the Ridge and you make your way slowly but surely to the spectacular viewpoint that is Mount Rosea rock scrambling twisting and turning checking out the beautiful views exhilarating in how good life is.

Well, that’s what I’m told anyway, unfortunately after a nice walk in the forest it rained, and rained, and rained. 

We missed all the glory.

But that’s hiking and from what I’m told, that’s hiking in the Grampians.

Changeable weather is a part of walking and we saw plenty of change, and not much view.

Lunch was taken huddled under a rocky outcrop, which was pretty spectacular within itself. 

How many can say they had a delicious lunch in such unique surroundings.

More rock scrambling, then a lovely gently walk through more messmate forestry, till we hit our camp at Borough Huts Campground.

The rain eased, we built a fire and settled into a night of tales, food and local wines from Pomonal Estate.

Today felt longer, and in some ways harder, but that may have been due to the conditions. We walked for about 6 hours, covering approx. 14 km’s, of gentle and not so gentle terrain.

We slept well!

Day 3 started off with omelette and coffee, before heading off in cool and crisp conditions, which quickly settled into a lovely sunny 20 degrees day.

When the peaks trail is completed day 3 won’t exist as it’s basically a walk back from Borough Huts to Halls Gap following the forestry tracks around lake Bellfield to Halls Gap.

Some choose to miss this walk, catching a lift back into town, but it’s nice. There’s plenty of wildlife, our state floral emblem, the pink common heath, is in abundance, and the views down to the lake and across to the ranges is fabulous.

It’s a reasonable relaxed 4 hour walk with a few challenging hills, and the reward of a cold beer at the end.

And that we had, at the micro-brewery, Paper Rock Scissors, in the middle of town.

Match that with a spicy chicken burger and all is well with the world.

A last quick shop for future supplies at Absolute Outdoors, a tremendous hiking/camping/climbing etc store, full of excellent gear and advice. Then on to Pomonal Estate for a tasting and purchase of our new friend, Shiraz! Finally, a pitstop at one of our favourites, Grampians Estate for some Sparkling Shiraz, before taking a very relaxing drive home, regaling our adventures again and again.


How good was that?

It’s such a rewarding hike, brilliant setting, great company, effortlessly organised and guided to ensure a relaxed, yet challenging three days in one of the best regions in Victoria.

So, what did we learn from hiking in the Grampians?

We discovered a great brewery in paper rock scissors, a wonderful cafe culture and excellent accommodation options.

We discovered two great wineries in Fallen Giants and Pomonal Estate, to add to a burgeoning, vibrant wine scene, bursting at the seams with wonderful variety and choice. 

We learn how great this part of Victoria is, how diverse the landscape, how great it is to meet with like-minded travellers and how wonderful it is to have organisations like No Roads with the passion and dedication and commitment to tourism adventure encouraging local travel experiences.

We can’t wait for the rest of the Trail to open, it will be a perfect excuse to return and hike some more.

How to walk Mont Blanc and put on weight!

Can someone explain to me how I managed to walk for 9 days, traveling about 160 kms, ascending(and descending) 10000 metres and STILL managed to put on weight?!

Was it the food, the wine, the beer…or all of the above?

Maybe? Um, perhaps? Oh, ok…yep!

Oh, and brilliant company in spectacular surroundings!

The appetite is wet the moment you enter this wonderland, attacking all the senses relentlessly.

Before we even start our long walk we’re settling into leisurely lunches in Chamonix, watching the passing parade on the streets of this beautiful alpine ski town, filled with adventure pursuits, designer shopping and restaurants galore.

Whom ever said omelettes where only for breakfast has never stopped at the Refuge de Miage for lunch after a solid mornings workout getting there! Perching on benchs looking up the valley of lush fields, backdropped by soaring peaks, the omelette and accompanying salad were a sight for sore eyes and hungry stomachs.

Washed down with a coffee, wouldn’t be dead for quids!

Picture this if you will…lunch on day two, perched on the side of a mountain, lolling back on lush green grass gazing down the valley to a speck of a village encased in soaring mountain ranges; a lake off to one side; an eagle hovering overhead, oblivious to the scenery as it seeks its own lunch; the stuff of dreams. Baguette in hand, laden with ham, cheese and salad, one of our group, Tony, proclaimed this was the greatest lunch he had ever had!!

He had to recant that statement twice more on our walk!

Cafe life can be tough…

“Une rosé locale ou peut-être un vin de rouge, monsieur?”

“Oui, merci”. Don’t mind if I do, “et une biere pour ma femme, s’il vous plaît”…while tucking into a charcuterie of ham, cheese and local delicacies on the cobblestoned lane dressed with checkered table clothed tables and wicker chairs

After a tough but spectacular day two we settle into our digs for the night, Les Chambres du Soleil, with an ice bath in the stream behind, then rehydrate in the courtyard of the B&B, walls leaning over us with over 150 years of eyes and ears upon it.

Beer never tasted so good in the company of friends; ahh for another ‘la blanche’ by ‘brasserie du Mont Blanc’!

…and then of course you step from France to Italy.

I guess when in Italy lets eat pizza, and pasta?

Courmayeur, we loved you.

Mmm, Spritz!

Coffee wasn’t bad either!

If you ever want to be impressed there’s no more impressive than the Val Ferret, and another unforgettable lunch looking as Mont Blanc as she seemed to lean in over us as we tucked into another delicious lunch.

The view from the Swiss border looking down the valley to la Fouly is priceless, as is the refuge for lunch and a refreshing ‘les bières du Grand St. Bernard’. All this walking in this pristine environment sure builds up a thirst, and where better than in a converted farmhouse looking down on the Swiss meadows, cows asunder.

Raclette anyone? One of the beauties of travel is diving into local specialities, and around these parts Raclette is very much local. A mouthwatering blend of melted cheese with cured meats, pickles, onions, potatoes and condiments, all washed down with a local white variety, Fendant, which is fragrant and fresh.

To top off the meal an alpine liqueur, Génépi, poured into shot glasses to mixed reactions from our group…from all accounts a few strange dreams were later had!

Hôtel Splendide, in Champex Lac, certainly lived up to its name, offering the most stunning patio overlooking the valley below to dine alfresco on the freshest salads, meats and gourmet treats with local Dole wines, beers and coffee to finish.

And this was only lunch, as the days walk had been merciful short.

Restorative strolling in town around the mirrored lake, reflecting the mountains surrounding it, trout leisurely swimming with little to fear from the frustrated anglers; admiring the Swiss architecture whilst wearing off a long lunch, before wandering back to the hotel to rest up before another culinary offering for dinner in the formal dining room.

After a glass or two of rose overlooking the gorge and valley below, of course!

Another long day on the circuit, switchback after switchback, climbing steadily up to the saddle which marks the border with stone obelisk, and its au revoir Switzerland, bonjour Français…best celebrate with another spectacular lunch spot gazing down the valley to our nights destination, Argentiere, a mere speck in the distance.

It’s hot, damn hot, when we finally shuffle into the village and book into our digs for the night, Hotel la Couronne, which brilliantly is directly opposite a very inviting bar.

We invited ourselves in!

You’re getting the picture, aren’t you?

One final push, uphill, to our finish back in Chamonix and a celebratory beer at our hotel, thrilled to have finished, but oddly saddened that it was over.

Wander around town, maybe a macaron, or a G&T overlooking the river, satisfaction rite large at all we have achieved as we all contemplate leaving this stunning locale.

But not before a farewell dinner, and maybe a bar or two to finish.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what made me question my expanding waistline on the TMB, it’s all too obvious isn’t it?

It was so bloody fantastic, the food, wine, scenery, company…laughs, memories, experiences…who cares, I wouldn’t have changed anything for all the rose in France!

Till next time,


and finally…Amsterdam.

We arrived in Amsterdam at about 4pm after an eventful train trip from Bruges which was delayed by almost an hour due, sadly, to a suicide on the system, and a mad dash to catch our connecting train in Brussels which thankfully waited for us!

The trip from there was super quick courtesy of the brilliant fast trains that run throughout Europe, thundering along at breakneck speeds. Mmm, any thoughts Australia?

Welcome to Amsterdam for the next three days…

Dope capital, and proud of it!

How convenient, 20 metres from our apartment is a bar!

We did the Heineken tour

and got a special bottle for Specks, who was always calling out for “UNE HEINEKEN” on the TMB!

The weather was diabolical, cold windy and pouring rain, but that didn’t deter the brave souls for experiencing the Heineken Experience.

On to the Rikjmuseum, the most famous museum in the Netherlands, and one of the finest in the world, cataloguing the history of Dutch art. The most famous piece, ‘the night watch’, by Rembrandt wasn’t hard to find!

For anyone who’s read Jessie Burton’s “The Miniaturist” (if you haven’t, do! It’s excellent) there’s an impressive miniature house.

A brilliant library room,

Yves Saint Laurent gets a gig,

Plus much, much more.

Out the front is the famous “I AmSterdam” sign packed with posture’s large and small.

Wet…time for a beer!

The next day was spent walking, and walking, and walking. The view down our canal, our apartment is on the right half way down.

Through the Jordaan region,

Amsterdam is one of the most bike friendly cities on earth. Look left, look right, look both ways again…they are the silent assassin’s!

back past the museum section,

And on to Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp, the largest open air market in the Netherlands.

Past more canals, they are everywhere, unsurprisingly! It being a canal city, and all…

Fabulous barges,

The morning view from our room.

Amsterdams favourite son, Rembrandt, and his famous ‘night watch’ in three D.

Wonderful canal houses.

Salty sailors in the red light district,

Over 18’s coffee shops everywhere, and all of them packed.

The red light district is pretty sad and seedy, but very tame during the day

Mind you, there were still plenty of ladies by their red doors, some were off duty!

Not everything was tacky!

We did a canal tour for an hour,

Past more beautiful canal houses

And a final walk, which surprisingly ended up at a brewery!

And one last beer to celebrate another fabulous trip.

Till the next one…

Two days In Bruge

Our time in Paris is up, on to Bruges…but not before one last look out the window,

then down 4 flights of stairs for the last time!

Metro to Gare du Nord

and off via Arras & Brussels to Bruges, a trip of about 3 hours.

Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, some may say a reproduction as most of it was flattened during WW2, but hey, it’s still very lovely.

We are staying in an outstanding B&B about 10 minutes from the centre of town, and it’s there we set off from after downing suitcases.

Surprisingly, we found a brewhouse, and partook of said products!

The belfry is the most obvious landmark, and site of the most memorable scene in the movie, In Bruges.

Dinner at a hamburger joint, then maybe a G&T or two in a fantastic gin & whiskey bar. They have over 230 gins to choose from, and when you do, they are presented in the most unique way. Rachael loved the glasses so much we bought two for home, plus a bottle, of course.

A very nice way to end the day.

Before heading out in the morning how’s this for brekky? Plus scrambled eggs and bacon! Fantastic B&B!

Bruges is so beautiful, maybe photos are all that’s needed?!

The Saint Salvator Cathedral was a huge surprise, stunning.

The canal ride was worth it…

The whale is made out of recycled plastic rubbish.

Finally bought a hat down a tiny lane, surprisingly on the tourist map, which we find out is because it used to be the red light district!

Plenty of these guys ringing the cobblestones.

Waffles on a stick!

Maybe another beer…

More wandering…

Time for a night wander

The most photographed spot in town, featured on all photo sites.

The belfry at night,

And the view from the top next morning.

340 steps up, on a very well worn path.

The bells play their majestic tunes,

Back on terra firma, for one last look before heading to our last destination, Amsterdam.

Last day in Paris

Our last full day in Paris started with Rachael running along the Seine, and me not! Only because my runners passed away a few weeks ago, of course?! I spent my time looking out the window.

Breakfast done we headed off by metro to the Canal St Martin, which runs for about 2kms, with a series of locks holding water levels stable, as it drops quite a bit as it heads downstream.

It’s a pretty cool spot, with a different feel to the rest of town.

From there we metro’d(?) over to the swish side, the 6th and the boulevard St Germain with high end boutiques galore, and overpriced Parisian cafes dotted everywhere.

Stupidly, we thought this was a good place to do a bit of shopping!! Mind you, we found a great bookshop and bought a TinTin & Asterix comic book in French, of course.

Time for a final walk around, and what better area than across to the Louvre, through the Jardin des Tuileries with its multitude of street hagglers…

Trinkets everywhere…

Then up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe.

Some of the best entertainment in Paris is watching the poses, of mainly the Chinese, and the eagerness with which they capture the moment. Inspirational!

So good!

Enough walking, time to head home and walk through some of the passages which the area is famous, along with the theatre’s, and cafes.

These passages are fabulous, full of interesting shops, selling all manner of antiques, old and rare books,

Canes shops with impressive door entrance,

Boutique food goodies,


Brick-a- brac

Wonderful stuff,

Our apartment entrance is just past Le Bistrot.

Phew…Spritz (again) then a tremendous street Thai meal to end the day.

Light and Colour in Paris

Some months ago I read, in a French blog I follow, about an impressive new visual arts show and subsequently saw some initial, glowing, reviews for it…so today we get to judge it for ourselves.

Atelier des Lumières is an immersive exhibition of the works of Gustav Klimt plus a shorter exhibition by an artist working under the pseudonym, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and an even shorter contemporary work called Poetic_AI.

Images are splashed onto the walls and floors of a huge old warehouse, with a soundtrack mix of classic and contemporary music thundering in the background.

The whole experience is mesmerising, images flashing before you, changing shape and form, swirling to the music.

Light and shade.

Washing over and around you.

The room is so large the crowds seem to just blend in, people standing, leaning on walls, or just sitting on the floor letting the scenes before you play out.

It really was incredible, lasting about 45 minutes, on a continual loop. Stunning

Back in the light we caught the train back into the centre of town, wandered around and grabbed a bit to eat.

Then made our way onto the Ile de la Cite and Saint-Chapelle with her wonderous stained glass.

We visited five years ago but one wall was being rejuvenated, so we were keen to see the whole shebang.

Ther are 1113 scenes depicted in 15 stain glass windows telling the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection.

Once again, a visual overload. Truly the most wonderous chapel you will ever see.

Sensory overload complete, we stagger back towards our apartment, passing typical Paris life.

More wandering…

Afterwards a spritz, then dinner in a fantastic wine bar near home, run by a very enthusiastic wine lover. It was a great end to a ripping day. Cheers!

Street art and The Panthéon

It’s another beautiful day in Paris, perfect to finally visit one of Frances most revered sites, Temple of the Nation, the Pantheon.

Once a Christian basilica, Napoleon 1 decided to honour the great servants of the state in the crypt, while the nave was reserved for worship.

Victor Hugo was the first interned upon his death in 1885, the huge basilica seeming to be the only place worthy of holding his remains.

Honours were thus granted according to criteria that has evolved with changes in the regimes.

Nowadays, French men and women are honoured here depending on the desires of the President of the French Republic: politicians, authors, scientists, Resistance fighters, etc. With many having been moved here from their original place of burial.

Its quite humbling to be walking amongst some of the most important members of France’s history; Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille, and Emile Zola amongst the many.

Even the heart of Leon Cambetta gets a special mention!

A local street artist, Christian Guemy, who goes by the alias C215, has commemorated some of those laid to rest here with a series of stencil impressions around the streets of the Pantheon…

…so map in hand we set out to find as many as time permits.

Rachael still looking!

Maybe some hints at the Sorbonne?

Still going…

Phew, that will do! Street walking is a great way to get a better feel for an area and we’ve had a lot of fun wandering the streets of the Pantheon and the Sorbonne, the centre of learning in Paris.

Time to walk home, all the while seeing more street art.

Before walking up Rue Montorgueil, regarded by some as one of the best streets in Paris. Not sure why? Its nice enough, but we’ve seen plenty better.

At the end of the street, quite the disturbing image! My childhood heroes, can it be true?

Time for a rose in our apartment, then one last meal with the Thompsons before they head off. We picked a great Italian bistro around the corner with the biggest pizza’s ever! Ah, street eating in Paris, doesn’t get much better than that!