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Introduction - Graeme Robin. Travel

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Born in 1937, married Barbara, but lost her 43 years later. I felt as if the world had stopped. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car, a GPS and compass and was off, …

Born in 1937, married Barbara, but lost her 43 years later. I felt as if the world had stopped. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car, a GPS and compass and was off, wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small towns and villages.

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  • 1. Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines Graeme Robin ...Travel An introduction (This journey is available in full in BOOK 4, available soon) Buy Graeme’s BOOK 2, Sign up to his daily BLOG Follow him on twitter HERE
  • 2. About meI was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I feltas if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t care much.But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left- hand drive diesel sedan) and Me. Suddenly it was “we” and not “I”’. We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland the Arctic Circle and into Russia all the time avoiding the major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words, On Roads Without Lines. We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small towns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives andwork. Trying to get a feel for each country - to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept adaily journal. So a book evolved.Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life? It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the endof the first four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time behind whatused to be the “Iron Curtain” and another book evolved. It felt good so instead of selling Phe atthe end of the second four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this timearound Spain Portugal and Morocco and another book evolved. It felt good so instead of sellingPhe at the end of the third four months I kept her for another four months of journeying thistime to the Italy the Middle East and the Balkans and another book has evolved.All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continue forthe rest of my life! How long is this old bugger going to last! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 3. An introduction to ... Karen  and  Compass,  Phe  and  Me On roads without linesThe border guards that carried guns and ammunition have long since gone and these areas are nolonger the exclusive domain of mysterious and scary spy novels. Only a short twenty years ago thesewere frightening places with erratic political leaders, secret police and armies, rockets with nuclearwarheads and border guards with guns and bullets. Well, that was twenty years ago when there wasan Iron Curtain. Fast forward to the present day and a group of four tourists - one human and theother three inanimate - are driving down one of these same roads at 3 am after discovering that theIron Curtain has really rusted away. It has has been replaced by a Lace Curtain, and when you pull thelace aside the countries and the people behind it are friendly, helpful and welcoming.The title of the book, “Karen and Compass, Phe and Me” introduces us to the four main characters onthis fascinating journey of discovery through Eastern Europe. It is the special interaction of these fourcharacters during their five months of travel that makes the book what it is. Karen is the Australianrobot voice that is built into the GPS that was bought in Belgium last year and she has to direct thedriver to an exact address without any U-turns or mistakes. Phe is a shortened name which startedas 1993 Fiat 2-litre manual sedan, born in Italy but whose early years were spent in France. Compassplays only a minor role but takes on very important ones at various times when figuring out wherenorth is when Karen is rendered useless in remote areas. The role of Me, the main character, is playedby the book’s author Graeme Robin but he is often referred to as “Him” or “Grumpy” or “Dopey” orwhatever, depending upon the circumstances at the time. One time he even gets to be called “Stupidold fart!” There are many, many “bit part” characters and they are the pictures of people and placesand things, each one with a caption that breathes life into the photograph and simultaneously adds tothe narrative.The main character, “Grae” must be an affectionate type of guy because he seems to be able toattract friendship and warmth from all manner of people wherever he goes. Maybe it is because he isvulnerable. He is old - over seventy - and he is alone. His back is bent and he walks with a limp. He isdriving a cheap, little old car, but when this bloke from the other side of the world fronts up at someout-of-the-way place in Bulgaria, the people take notice and like to give him a hand if they can. Thereis another important character - an invisible one - who appears from time to time in this saga, onlygently, but often enough to make the reader aware of her presence. She is Graeme’s wife and bestfriend of forty-three years, Barbara, who was stolen from him by a deadly cancer in mid-December2006.We get the inescapable feeling that he is really using his three mechanical companions as a staff tolean on and to protect himself from the reality that he is travelling alone. We are left to wonder ifperhaps Phe, Karen and Compass are there as a substitute for the real companion that the cancerstole. The arrangement of the words in the title, “Karen and Compass, Phe and Me”, also gives aspecial hint about the pairing of the four main characters. The central theme of the book develops thenotion of travelling through a country and not just from one destination to another. In other words,the “journey” between destinations can be, and most often is, more pleasurable than the destinationitself. The two main characters, Phe and Me, are allowed to enjoy the journey while the other pairhave the mission of getting them to each destination. The other fascinating thread that arises from thisbreaking into two pairs is that a love triangle of sorts is set up when Karen gradually becomes morejealous of Phe’s special attention when she is spoken to so lovingly and even gets a gentle welcomingpat on the dashboard each morning.The story really begins when the four gather at the The Left Hand Drive Place in Basingstoke inEngland where Phe has spent the winter. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 4. They cross the English Channel and head for the old Iron Curtain countries. Our foursome thensets out to zig zag through many countries of the former USSR. They soon find that the traditionalways of the locals takes the author back 50 years in time to when he himself was young and therewere grocers instead of supermarkets, horse and carts instead of cars and when the push bikes didnot have ten-speed gears. Will the people that they meet talk English? Not bloody likely! But they dounderstand sign language! Graeme Robin’s unique writing style succeeds in bringing this tale and itscharacters to life, with vivid descriptions that allow the anecdotes to really flow and make the bookvery readable. Many of the slang words and expressions will not be found in our dictionaries but youwill know many of them anyway. You will also grow to love his “Graeme-isms” such as a favourite onewhich is “touristing”, and that just has to be the present participle of the verb “to tourist” doesn’t it?The photographs, which are interspersed with text, are many, varied and wonderful and areguaranteed to give prospective travellers itchy feet. There is a map of Europe with the introductionand one of each country that they pass through is included at the start of each chapter to assist thereader to become intimately involved with the journey. Footnotes throughout have been added tohelp unlock the colloquial language from Australia and beyond. This book may not fit readily into aback pack but will be a great companion for anyone of any age who is doing the planning towards atrip to these areas and wanting to tread in the author’s footsteps. It will also appear on many coffeetables when tourists return and will be a reminder of their enjoyable journey. Yes, the border guardsthat carried guns and ammunition have long since gone, but today it is very welcoming to hear thenew border guards say, “Have a nice holiday, Mr Robin.”Enjoy your journey. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 5. INTRODUCTION TO THE FOUR MAIN CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK KarenHello, my name is Karen and I am the Australian female voice that is built into the Global PositioningSystem that he bought in Belgium last year. He could have chosen a male Australian voice or even anEnglish voice but he chose me – and I am pleased that he did because it has been a lot of fun. I don’tthink he likes me as much as he likes Phe because I hear him talking to her sometimes, especially whenI make a mistake, (well, we are all human aren’t we?), and lead us into a church graveyard and he tellsPhe, “Karen is a nerd” or “Karen – what a drop kick.” Most of the time he is very complimentary whenI lead us all to the exact address without any U-turns or mistakes. Sometimes it is very difficult to finda particular youth hostel at a certain street address in large cities like Vienna, Prague or Moscow. I doget cross with him though when I tell him to “make a U-turn,” and he doesn’t and so I tell him again,and he still doesn’t take any notice, and then a third time I tell him and just to spite me he presses the“MUTE” button. Gee! That makes me s-o-o-o mad. I can hear all that is going on but I am unable tovoice my opinion.One day in Norway last year, I knew that we were going in the wrong direction and must have said,“Make a U-turn” at least 20 times until he imposed the gag and turned on the mute. We must havetravelled for at least 30 minutes before he saw a lake that should not have been there and decided toswitch me back on, did a U-turn and said, “Sorry, Karen!” CompassHello there, my name is Compass, and I also come from Belgium. I joined the other three at the be-ginning of our travels but I don’t think they like me very much because they reckon I always point tothe north. Well, it is not my fault that our car has all of that steel in her dash-board. The steel attractsmy needle and no matter how hard I try I just cannot pull it away from pointing north. He shouldhave bought a more up-to-date car with a dash-board made of plastic and then I could easily showthem a south or west or even nor-nor-east sometimes. I work okay in the back seat but he doesn’twant me to be there where he cannot see me. It’s just not fair! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 6. PheHello, my name is Phe. Well, that’s what he calls me. My full name is really 1993 Fiat Tempara 2-litreturbo powered diesel manual sedan. I like “Phe” better too, don’t you? Being a Fiat, I was born in Italybut spent all of my early years in France until eventually, I ended up in the car-yard of The Left HandDrive Place in Basingstoke in England. I had been there for a while, stuck down in the back cornerwith another cheap car, a Citroen I think, while all of the glamour pusses like the Mercs and Jags wereup the front doing a good job at keeping likely buyers from reaching the Citroen and me.Then one day in early June, this lovely young fellow came down the back and said to the grumpy oldman with him, “This is just the sort of car you need, Graeme.” The Grump didn’t say much and didn’teven kick my tyres, but after they talked for a bit the two of them got in, and with Colin the boss, tookme for a spin around the block. Colin and the nice young fellow drove me well, and it was good to getout and feel the breeze again after all those weeks cooped up at the back of the shop, but when theGrump took the wheel we were all very, very, very scared. He couldn’t drive a car very well, especiallyone with the steering wheel on the left. How we got back in one piece I don’t know. My front righttyre hit the gutter at least four times and he missed the gears more times than I could count. Anyway,they disappeared into the office and didn’t come back so I sighed with relief and settled back intomy corner of the yard. That was Saturday. On Monday morning, first thing, I was being all spruced upready for a Roadworthy Certificate and to be picked up by the Grump on Friday. I was not a happychappy!Well, that is how it all started. He took a long time to get used to driving a left-hand drive car and along time to get used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. Nevertheless, it is all fine now andI like him a lot. I think he likes me too as he often tells me, “Phe, you are my best mate this side of theequator” and I know that he means it. Every morning he pats my dash-board and says “Good morn-ing, Phe” and tells me where we are going on that particular day. He says, “Sorry” every time we hit abad pothole or when he crunches the gears. Nice! I didn’t like him when we first met and he didn’tlike me either, but all of that has changed and it will be sad for both of us when, in November, he getson a plane to fly back to Australia – and to his other car. I will get shoved inside a stuffy old barn overthe winter in England waiting for his return in June. Oh well, that’s life! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 7. Me (Graeme)G’day, my name is Graeme, or “He” or “Him” or “Grumpy,” depending on who you have been talkingto. The story of my life was pretty straight-forward and normal. I was born in 1937, and marriedBarbara in 1963. We have two daughters and one son, all of whom are married and also have threechildren each. All of our lives changed dramatically when we lost Barb to a sudden and deadly cancer.It was devastating. She and I had been best mates for more than forty years and we had beenthrough good times and tough times together. As the vows said, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness andin health, for all the days of our lives” – and that’s the way it was. There had been plenty of “blues” butalso plenty of good times. We had been a close and loving family for all of those years, and when shewas taken from us the hole that was left in our lives was just so huge that none of us had any ideahow to fill it and start over again. There is nothing unique about this story – it happens to so verymany people throughout the world every day of every year – but that doesn’t ease the pain. I didn’tcope with it very well.In May the following year, I left for a tour of Turkey with a bloke by the name of Hamit Ozturk, whowas born in Turkey, but has lived and worked in Newcastle, in Australia, for 30-odd years and eachyear he takes a small group of Australians back to his country of birth. It was a great experience andone I would thoroughly recommend. In my case I was anxious about travelling alone for the first timein many years but that worked out fine. In the back of my mind I wanted to buy a car in Turkey afterHamit’s tour was finished and set sail north to Scandinavia. Well, that didn’t quite work out, but I didfinish up in England on my nephew’s doorstep and he helped me get to the Left Hand Drive Place inBasingstoke where I met what was to become “my best mate north of the equator!” Yes, I didn’t likeher much at first, but Italian-French sheilas tend to grow on you and so we set sail across the channelto Brugge in Belgium – our first stop.First stop, all right! That was when the reality and enormity of the job ahead struck me. I could onlyspeak English and this was a huge barrier. I was armed with a mobile phone and a world directory ofthe Youth Hostels International, so in theory all I had to do was to ring ahead and book a relativelycheap bed in a youth hostel for the following night. Great! Get to Brugge. Now where is that darnedhostel? I parked Phe and started asking directions. Four times I did this and the last time was barelyfifty metres from the address, and I still had to have it pointed out to me.It worked out reasonably well in Brugge as all the people I had asked spoke good English, but howwould I cope in places where English was not so good? The answer came almost by accident. Beforeleaving Dover I had bought an electric fridge to keep the milk (and beer) cold, but when it wasplugged into the cigarette lighter socket – no workeeee. I pulled out the lighter socket and found thatit had no wires behind it. (I knew this bloody car was no good.) There was a Bosch centre in Brugge,and while waiting for the bloke to rewire the lighter socket, I asked about Global Positioning Systems(GPS), or as others call them, “Satellite Navigation” (SatNav), and after a very short while became theowner of “Karen,” who is the most amazing piece of technological equipment ever devised to help a70-year old dope find his way around the world. It’s beaut in three ways. Firstly, you just type in theaddress and she will take you there. Secondly, once you are settled into the hostel or hotel you can gofor a scenic drive around town, or look for a supermarket, or whatever, and when you are finished justpress the button and she will bring you back home. Finally, it is often extremely difficult and frustratingto find your way out of a town, especially if road signs are thin on the ground or are in a languageother than English – but Karen always comes to the rescue – no worries!But then, I have always been taught to “hedge your bets” – so I bought a Compass! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  • 8. Graemes BOOK 2Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines - Book 2 is available to buy both in print and online BOOK 2 includes Graeme’s full journey through: Estonia and the Baltic States Poland Ukraine Hungary Romania Bulgaria Turkey and Georgia and Greece To buy BOOK 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin/