Our time in Europe is almost at a close. We have been here for 5 months now and hopefully the authorities wont be too angry with us for enjoying an extra 2 months to what we are supposed to be intitled to.

The Schengen area is made up of 26 countries in Europe and as New Zealand passport holders we are allowed to stay in the Schengen area for three months only. An interesting fact though is that a few of these countries have a bilateral agreement with New Zealand which states that they will allow you to stay in their country for three months even if you have already had your three months in another country. Greece is one of these places. But with the open borders across Europe, we have no proof (passport stamps) of entry into Greece. With that knowledge under our belts we approach our exit from Europe next week with a few nerves, might be a time for fast talking! I will keep you posted on that one!

Tuscany, Italy

Europe has been wonderful. France was an absolute fairy tale, we have loved our time here so much! This is where we spent the first 2 ½ months and have now come back for our final 2 weeks.  We are back at our house sit at the Castle. Our owners have gone on holiday and we are here to welcome the new house sitters. It is great to be back, we feel very at home here. But it is not the same without or lovely hosts! We are so honoured to have had this experience and to have met this wonderful family.

After our week in Crete we flew to Rome. There we picked up a rental car and drove the 3 hours north to Umbertide. Did I say 3 hours? Well google said 3 hours – hmmmm why did it take us 5? It was nearly midnight by the time we got there and we were very relieved, it was a pretty tough drive in the dark, not really knowing where we were going. But we got there safe and sound. We were staying for a week in the countryside right on the Tuscany/Umbria border. Our wonderful home owner in Greece has a home in Italy and offered for us to stay. Such beautiful countryside, not a tourist to be seen, magic!

We explored all around the region and found some wonderful villages and so many castles. I was amazed at how different Italy was to France. There were the same ancient buildings and narrow roads but the style of the homes were very different, some were huge!. So many hill-top villages, looking down through beautiful valleys. Cortona, Gubbio, Preggio were a few we found.

We had lovely weather while we were there, no rain, frosty mornings down to -3 first thing with beautiful blue skies following.

The drive back to Rome was better being in the daylight, then off to The Netherlands. A quick trip to Holland to catch up with friends. It is always so great when you see friends who you haven’t seen for years and it feels like it was yesterday! Holland is a favourite and though we were there for such a short time, we still squeezed in some of the favourite food we remember from previous trips. Chocolate covered bread for breakfast! Stroopwafels and pancakes, so many sweet things!! Yumm. Great cheeses, we are finding each country has its own variety/styles of cheeses, all pretty good too!! Cold meats and wonderful bread.

Sad to say goodbye to Eugene, Dennis, Nova and Vida, but we have a train to catch to Bruges, Oh how we love Bruges! It is winter in Europe, not many tourists in Greece, or Italy it seemed, but Bruges! I don’t think this city sleeps – ever! It was really busy, I was surprised. We spent 2 whole days wandering around this wonderful city. We saw things we hadn’t noticed last time we were there. The Belgium Beer popularity seems to have escalated since our last visit. It still amazes me how each type of beer will have its own special glass which is designed to get the best out of that particular brew. There are tourist shops now dedicated to beer, and of course there are still the Chocolate shops! Chocolate in every possible design you could think of – true artists who create these masterpieces!

Hot chocolate – get a paper cup, fill it to the line with what ever flavour of chocolate buttons you like, mix it up to make your own flavour, caramel, raspberry, mango, dark, milk, white 70%coco, 90%coco etc etc, fill with hot frothy milk, stir and voila! Steaming hot chocolate! It was cold in Bruges, so this was very welcome!

So next is the bus, 8 hours back to Chatellerault, France. 5th country in about 3 weeks.

It still find it so strange that you can drive between countries. New Zealand is an Island nation and the nearest place to go is Australia and even that is a 3 hour jumbo jet ride. Even though you can drive from one country to the next, they are on the same continent, they have the same money and they all belong to the Schengen group, they are all still very different. From what I saw, the countries have been able to retain their own identity, the language is different, the buildings look different, the food is different, there seems to be a difference in cost of living from one to the other, yet they are united by no borders. It’s a fascinating place. We have loved being here and learning more. We do intend to be back – if they let us! But perhaps in the summertime next time!

Our plans from here? We are off to USA next week for a house sits on Long Island, followed by Charleston, South Carolina then Fajardo, Puerto Rico then back to the beautiful island of Vieques. This will take us up to about October……

See you there!

Chris takes on the Horseman of Death