Kiwi couple prove you can still do an OE in your fifties
There's a running joke in Dean and Louise Compton's family; they're only opening a bed & breakfast because they've accumulated so many friends from around the world, they need somewhere to house them.
It sounds like light hearted banter – but for a family of die-hard travellers, it is, in fact, true.
"One of the things we love about travel is meeting like-minded people," says Dean. "We target non-touristy places and like to stay in family run hotels to learn about a new culture and a different way of life – and we love to talk."
Not only will the Comptons new home on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington, include a B&B, but as testimony to their passion for travel, an entire wall will showcase a giant world globe.
"And yes, we want to somehow use pins or something similar to mark the places we've been," says Dean. "We have a way to go but we are slowly covering all seven continents."
Dean and Louise, who have two adult children, Jack, aged 21, and Georgia, aged 23, have travelled extensively since their children were young.
"We've spent many lovely evenings around the table recounting our adventures as a family," says Dean.
"Travel has encouraged our children to talk to adults, and opened their eyes by meeting lots of different people from different walks of life," adds Louise.
Turning their back on the usual family-friendly places, they've ventured off the beaten track; travelling on safari through Southern Africa, and through Vietnam and Cambodia.
"We tried a cruise once but we realised it wasn't for us when we got off at each port keen to explore and clutching our Lonely Planet," laughs Louise.
Both children have inherited their parent's wanderlust, and Jack's inclusion for the fourth time this year in the New Zealand Mountain Biking team is another excuse to pack their bags.
"We've been lucky to be able to follow our son on the international mountain biking circuit from Lillehammer in Norway, to Vallnord in the Pyrenees Mountains, to Nove Mesto in the central Czech Republic," says Dean.
This year, the couple spent three months in Europe – dipping into Rome ("only because I hadn't been before, but it was far too crowded and touristy for our liking," says Dean), then traversing some lesser-known eastern parts like Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dean is on a career break after two decades in the banking industry, so time was on their side.
"Dean calls it his gap year, who says you can't have one in your 50s," laughs Louise.
Romania, on the Balkan Peninsula, was a stand-out highlight.
"Whatever our predetermined idea of Romania – orphanages, dictators, and gypsies – the real Romania turned that notion on its head," says Dean.
A former Soviet Bloc country which once belonged the Romans, the Hungarians and the Ottomans, Romania is a country of stunning mountain scenery, quaint old towns and awe-inspiring history. "If you think, 'seen one castle, seen them all – think again'," says Louise.
The most famous castle is Bran Castle in central Romania's Transylvania; best known as the land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves.
Bram Stoker's 1897 vampire novel is said to be inspired by the castle and the superstition and the real-life exploits of Vlad Tepes (known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula), the 15th century nobleman who was said to have skewered up to 80,000 of his enemies on long spikes.
"We loved it so much we went through twice," says Louise. "When we returned we almost had the castle to ourselves and it was eerie exploring its quiet corridors."
And thanks to a chance meeting before they left home, Dean and Louise got a quiet peep into small-town Romanian life. They were buying organic fruit and vegetables at the Paraparaumu markets north of Wellington when they met a Romanian woman who suggested they visit Sighisoara, a small and little-known historic city on the Tarnava Mare River in Mures County.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe with its nine towers, cobbled streets and ornate churches.
"We left home clutching a hand-written list of what to do, see and eat, and it gave an insight into Romania we would never have got otherwise," says Dean.
Dean and Louise also travelled to tiny Slovenia – one of the greenest countries in the world, with more than half its total area covered in forest. With its incredible climate - warm Mediterranean breezes even when the Alps are snow-covered, it is country that is Slavic to the core, but influenced by its neighbours of Italy, Austria and Hungary.
For travellers who make it as far as Slovenia, Lake Bled, and tiny tear-shaped Bled Island at its centre is a major draw card. Perched atop a steep cliff more than 100m above the lake, Bled Castle is as you imagine a medieval fortress to be, with its towers, ramparts, moats and a terrace offering magnificent views.
Dating back to the 11th century, it is thought to be Slovenia's oldest castle and boasts a huge collection of armour, weapons and jewellery, many found in burial pits at Pristava.
Dean and Louise took the gondola ride to Bled Island, where the Church of Assumption, and a small museum, can be accessed only by an ancient staircase of 99 steps – a local tradition for a husband to carry his new bride that far.
Keen to explore Slovenia further, the couple hired bikes and explored on their own, pausing to introduce themselves to locals along the way.
"We passed a man tending his bees, and stopped to talk – I'm a keen bee-keeper at home," says Dean.
"It's that sort of impromptu meeting that we really love about travel." They also did a day trip rafting the Emerald River in the Triglav National Park in the heart of the Julian Alps, passing through river rapids and through dense forest that was once the site of the Isonzo front, the scene of one of the most brutal campaigns of World War I.
Still keen for adventure, the Comptons finished off their trip by walking a section of the epic Camino de Santiago, one of most important Christian pilgrimage routes during the Middle Ages. Spilling over the Pyrenees from France into Spain, millions of people over the last thousand years have travelled its well-worn path. The couple trekked 175km over ten days, through the countryside and rustic villages of northern Spain. "It was nice just to walk at our own pace and reflect on life, and our trip together," says Dean.
Now back home, the immediate priory for Dean and Louise is to finish their house before their first guests arrive. They admit they get a bit wistful when they return, but it's never long before they are planning another journey – next on the list is Poland and Iceland. "People ask us what our favourite trip of all time was, and we always give the same answer," says Dean. "Our best trip is always our next one."
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