Friday 3 April 2020

Bondi to the Baltic -- The BOOK

Yes, we have condensed the trip into a book.

Here are some reviews:
The best kind of travel writing: engaging, informative, perceptive and generous in spirit, the work of a mind curious about the world and accepting of difference.
Stunning photographs and, above all, a wonderful adventure.
Garry Disher, Bestselling Australian novellist.

Aussie blokes having the time of their lives driving halfway across the world in vintage cars. This ripping yarn has all the features of the best road movie: cars with character, great mates sharing the good times and bad, thwarted expectations, surprise encounters, heart-warming revelations and brilliant visuals. There’s something about Aussies and road trips – and John’s deadpan sense of humour nails it in this book. It’s a winner!
Phillip Noyce, Film Director, Los Angeles.

Available from Australian publisher, Wild Dingo Press. Follow the link HERE
While COVID-19 restrictions remain in place there may be some time delay for orders outside Australia.

Sunday 4 August 2019

Can anyone identify this man?

This statue is of a Kyrgyz historian, in the Chon-Kemin Valley. He was killed by the Russians.
Can anyone tell me his name or anything about him?
John McCombe

PS In the photo is his grandson, Nyasbek.

Bondi to the Baltic: THE BOOK

Yes folks, the book of our drive from Australia to Finland in those two wonderful vintage cars will be out, hopefully, in early 2020. I'm on the final edit now. Sorry it's taken so long but I've found that there is more to it than pasting all the blogposts together.
The whole crew has had input and helped me along the way with photos and memories of incidents and experiences.
I'll post publication date and details of launches as soon as I know for sure.

Tuesday 27 September 2016


Bill and Nigel are now en route to Germany in the fully air conditioned Whippet. Summer is really over and they are doubtful if autumn actually stayed around for long either. They have comforted themselves by staying at the best hotels (the Promenade at Leijpaja), and eating at the best restaurants as they drive through Lithuania.

They left Lithuania by ferry to Germany from the port of Klaipeda. Now to drop in on the long lost Amann cousins in Germany. European Vacation, here we come.

To Riga and more repairs

Almost "castled out" after three more 12th century piles in Sigulda, the "Switzerland of Latvia", eventually the Whippet gets Bill and Liz to Riga, a city that immediately charms them with its canals and elegant buildings, a Latvian St Petersburg. And a rendezvous with 2015 B2B traveller Nigel McCombe and wife Judith.

Bill has been able to contact the Riga Vintage Car Club and arranged for a mechanic (a real one) to do an engine overhaul while Bill, Liz, Nigel and Judith head over to Copenhagen to compete (and I use the word lightly) in a World Masters Rowing regatta. Their training has consisted of sitting either in a very small car for several hours a day, or in a restaurant drinking beer and champagne while eating gourmet meals and ice cream in Estonia and Latvia. Good luck.

Meanwhile Richard, the Riga Vintage Car Club's mechanic, gets to work on a re-bore for Stan the Whippet.

Running repairs, bush style

On the road from Dikli to Parnu the Whippet decides to stop in the middle of a single lane bridge. Liz finds out that her role is to push the car to the end of the bridge where Bill can diagnose and fix. Distributor problem, rotor button, and no spare. The bush mechanic fashions a repair with super glue. All in a day's motoring for Bill and his Whippet.

Is Bill a knight in shining armour? Well it just so happens that through the Gaujas National Park they come to Cesis, with its medieval castle. After an exploration, including a candle-lit climb up the interior tower steps, he just might be.

Meandering down to Latvia

Avoiding the main roads where possible Bill and Liz headed south through Lihula in Estonia, eventually crossing into Latvia on a quiet country road. Note the border guards vehicle in the background.

No sooner into Latvia than Bill is back in his element, fixing another Whippet problem. This time it provides an opportunity to check into the Dikli Palace Manor, hidden in the nearby forest, and another gourmet champagne dinner to celebrate Bill and Liz' 35th wedding anniversary. Bill's an old romantic.


Beautiful Estonia

From Tallinn, down to the coastal town of Haapsalu, ON THE BALTIC. Old castles, rivers, waterfalls, forest, manor houses, and all summery green. The kind of day that really relaxes one. So much so that Bill, the bush mechanic who could coax a ninety year old, unrestored motor car, across 20,000km, through twelve countries across central Asia, showing ingenuity, knowledge and skill, along the road decides to fill the PETROL tank with deisel. Perhaps he was so unused to the car running smoothly that he decided to create a problem for him to fix. Who knows?

After an hour of draining and refuelling, Bill owed Liz a decent lunch. So it was rabbit pate, tartare of salmon, and creme brulee at the 17th century manor house next to the 12th century monastery at Padise.

And finally, the Baltic.

Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia

Summer ends early in the north. It’s September and it’s cold and raining in Finland. Bill and Liz take a quick drive straight to the Helsinki ferry terminal, a quick cruise over the Gulf of Finland, arriving in Tallinn in the same cold, rainy night, and in the leaking Whippet, find their way to a hotel. The next morning a clear hotel window view of Tallinn’s Old Town. And time for a bit of touring.
Maritime museums always tell the best histories, especially on rainy days. Vikings and prisons.

Bondi to the Baltic - Year 3: the Baltic Sea at last.

After 20,000 km from Thailand, across central Asia to Finland in 2014 and 2015, Bill Amann’s dogged little Whippet (named Stan, after his previous long time owner, Stan Perry) had earned a long rest. It had survived six months driving with regular overheating, several broken springs, permanently severed shock absorbers, makeshift exhaust repairs, loosened wooden wheel-spokes, slashed inner tubes, and many fuel, carburettor and electrical fixes.
A cosy shed in rural Finland has been a welcome home for the past year. Then in August 2016 the shed doors creaked open and the little Willys Whippet blinked in the sunshine. A check of fuel, cooling and electrical systems, a bit of air in the tyres, wheels back on, and the 90 year old motor spluttered back into life.

This time it's on to the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to finally complete the “Bondi to the Baltic” expedition. By an alliterative error we had previously misnamed our ambitious vintage car road trip from Australia to Finland (should have been “Hanoi to Helsinki” but for the Vietnamese government taking its leftist political system to the absurdity of even banning right hand drive cars), causing us to apologise to the Finns for misplacing them on a map of European seas. But now to the real Baltic.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Telling our story

Earlier we mentioned being invited to present at the 2016 Adventure Travel Film Festival in Bright. Bright is an aptly named village tucked in the upper Ovens River valley on the way to the alpine snow resorts in north eastern Victoria, and is famous for its Autumn colours. It has great pubs and eateries, and on the weekend of 12-14 February it treated us to perfect sunny weather, just right for the pubs.

The festival is in its fifth year and is the love child of Rupert Shaw, a well travelled Englishman now resident in Bright, and a band of very enthusiastic local volunteers. This year the program included Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the travellers bible, Lonely Planet, as well as world travelling motorcyclists Brian Rix and Shirley Hardy-Rix, Postie bike explorer Jacquie Kennedy, Ron Fellowes who rode a 102 year old motorcycle from Nepal to the factory in Belgium where the bike was made. We were also privileged to meet the remarkable Paul Pritchard, a climber with a story that is almost unbelievable. Have a look for yourself:

Ian and Penny had driven the Dodge down from Sydney to go on display, and we’re pleased to say that our presentation in the tiny Uniting Church was standing room only. We took that as quite a compliment, given the impressive line-up of films and presenters on the program.

Four of the crew attended, Rex Hewett, Michael Noyce, Ian Neuss and me. Rex had spliced a short clip of movie footage of various parts of the trip to set up expectations while people were finding their seats. Michael told the exciting story of the crew's midnight flit from Kazakhstan, with relevant pics and video clip, and Ian and I toggled through the rest.

The car and presentation set off many conversations with other travellers and attendees who are on the verge of deciding to give adventure travel a go. One result is that I will be talking about our trip at the Gippsland Vehicle Collection rally at Maffra, Victoria, on 7 May.

Sunday 30 August 2015

“Let’s be glad there are still a few crazy men in the world”.

We are sitting in bright late-summer sunshine on the lawns of the home of Risto and Marja-Liisa Heiskanen, confronted with a groaning table of Finnish hospitality. The Vice President of Finland’s Automobile Historical Society (Autohistoriallinen Seura), Markku Pellinen, is welcoming Ian and Bill, the two crazy men who thought it would be a good idea to drive a couple of vintage cars halfway across the world, with no sponsorship, no arranged publicity, just a set of cheap T-shirts and caps, a backseat full of tools and spare parts, and a few mates.

The President of the Finnish Vintage Machinery Club (Wanhat Masiinat), Kari Kaartama, also presented a club emblem to the by-now swollen headed crazy men. The lawn was graced by the presence of a veteran 1952 Mercedes Benz, Citroen and MGB (Kari Kaartamas is thus also a very good mechanic to take on any British car).

The day before we had been honoured with a raising of the Finnish flag at Kari's sister Anniki and brother-in-law Matti's lake-side "cabin", and more local gourmet produce, this time a fabulous salmon soup plus trimmings, followed, in the Finnish tradition, by a wood-fired sauna, including a plunge in the lake. I should add that the Finnish sauna tradition is not at all prudish, but not a single photo has survived this particular ritual.

It only remains for me to sign off for 2015. The Dodge is waiting in Helsinki for a ship to Sydney. The Whippet is in a shed, pending a possible sale to one of Finland's many car collectors. The faithful Land Cruiser, now with over 360,000 km on the clock, will come home too. And Michael Noyce has invited us to a re-union at Wollombi in November to bore each other even more.

AND we will live again, briefly. We have been invited to present at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in Bright, Victoria, on 12-14 February 2016.

Thanks for following us and for the almost 46,000 hits in the 2 years, and for all the encouraging comments.

“Tell me again, why are we doing this?”

Michael Leggo asked me this question a dozen times as we shared the wheel through Russia. I now know the answer.

People say the Finns are very reserved people, but when they befriend you it’s for life. I believe it. The reception in Finland for Ian and Bill has been more than mere ceremony (more on that later) and respect for a serious achievement. They worked with Kari Airas and Risto Heiskanen at Outokumpu Mining in Australia and Finland and the depth of this friendship has been a key factor in the degree of audacity of the project, and the quiet determination by Ian and Bill to see it through. Of the full crew of ten who took part, they were the only ones who saw out every kilometre from Australia to Finland. (A full crew list is on a separate Page).

The reception has been both formal and personal. We returned to Outokumpu, the company’s home, now an ex-mining town with the old copper mine property creatively transformed into a museum and community education and art facility.

Kari, the company’s former Australian Manager, who lived a couple of decades in Australia, joined us and showed us the church where his grandfather preached and led his community, and where the neat little cemetery is a reminder of the Finns years of fighting first the Russians, then Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945. Fallen soldiers were brought back to their home communities. The church itself is large, wooden, solid, and no-nonsense, in the way of most buildings here inside 60 degrees north. Risto and his wife Marja-Liisa hosted a real reception at their home. More about that in the next post.

In each town we stayed before Helsinki the local newspaper had heard of this remarkable trip and wanted the story. Why Finland? Why Outokumpu? Why Lahti? Why Mantyharju?

I know why.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Public apology

It has been brought to our attention, here in Finland, that Finland is washed on the south by the Gulf of Finland, and on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia. The Baltic Sea provides the shoreline for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and they are called, logically enough, the Baltic States. Finland is not one of them.

So our attempt at a catchy expedition name, and blog title, not to mention T-shirt and cap logo, has produced a clumsy geographical solecism, one that may have caused some discomfort or hurt to our many new Finnish friends.

For that we apologise.

When "Hanoi to Helsinki" was canned due to Vietnamese intolerance of right hand drive cars we thought we were clever coming up with such a snappy replacement alliteration. However it seems that, despite our skills at Trivial Pursuit, we hadn't actually had a proper look at a map. It's a bit like calling a Canadian an American, or even worse, a Kiwi an Australian. So we hope we can set things right with this public backdown. We will try to make it up to you all.

Headlining in Finland

Well, maybe trailing the headlines. The Bondi to the Baltic expeditioners have had a wonderful welcome in Finland, thanks to the the great friends made by Ian and Bill when they worked for Finnish mining company Outokumpu. For four consecutive days we have met local journalists, and even had national network coverage. Here Ian is caught for national TV, while Bill briefs the motoring journo in the background. Look at this 2 minute clip to wind up the national evening news.

And the local Lahti daily ran this:

We will also get a feature in Mobilisti, a local magazine for car enthusiasts.

And stop complaining about your lack of Finnish language skill. Google Translate makes the world quite small.

Just look at this pair of media tarts lapping up the attention.

Monday 24 August 2015

Spectacular St Petersburg

No traveller can spend 5 days in St Petersburg and not post at least one comment. Its palaces, museums and galleries are a splendid reminder of the glory days of Tsarist Russia, and how they set out to match their cousins in the Royal houses of Europe, and even the Roman Empire (the title Tsar is based on Caesar). The treasures housed in them are now the property of the Russian people, and the Hermitage attracts about 3 million visitor annually. But it's just one of many palaces, both royal and merely aristocratic, many meticulously restored after serious damage in WW2.

There's gold, marble and rooms full of Rembrandts and Titians in the Hermitage, the old Winter Palace. Each room in the Yusupov Palace museum, which the Yusupov family mysteriously walked out of in 1919, would be worth millions. Peterhof, built 300 years ago for the Tsar to rest on the journey from the port to St Petersburg, has been extended into a magnificent palace on a couple of thousand hectares, with over 200 fountains and goodness knows what else. A handy B&B for old Pete

This is the Hermitage, across the Winter Palace Square, where about 1,000 men, women and children were killed by authorities as they tried to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas in 1905 for poverty relief. The gathering was well publicised in advance and the presence of children evidence of its peaceful intent.

Best quote from our expeditioners: No wonder there was a revolution.