100 DAYS!!!

It’s been 100 days since we left Berne – perhaps time to take stock and do some reflection?

This opportunity to travel was not entirely of our making. I was certainly tired after a long time in education, and I don’t think the last posting was particularly easy. So when the school board and I parted ways, the question was – what next. I certainly had no intent to step into a new position – Niki had spent 4 years doing online teaching, something she found surprisingly pleasant, but lacking the professional life and growth afforded by a more conventional school system. After 4 years of not sharing weekends (Niki had Friday & Saturdays off), and not really having school holidays together, we took the opportunity to just pack up and go. Was this the right choice?

Well, 100 days feels like we’ve just got started. I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing next year, but I don’t see a school on the horizon. Niki, by contrast, will be looking for a teaching job somewhere in Europe – if you hear of something going at international schools, drop us a line! I’m of the mind that if I start to think of next year then what we are doing is simply a holiday. I can see this going on for a little longer – in fact, the bad dreams have been about this ending!

Cooking is cramped, but doable.
Rogan Josh, wine, nice company …

So far, the van has suited us just fine. The smaller size allows us to park almost anywhere, it’s been cheaper on tolls and ferries, and we have not found ourselves crowded at all. We have been quite particular in putting things back in their place (to be honest, still a learning curve for me), and that has reduced clutter. Our food storage areas have emptied, and there’s no need to have cartons of milk behind our seats, or cans stacked on top of wetsuits.

My clothes from top: Socks & underwear, cycling gear, summer clothes. winter clothes.
Laundry day – about every 10 days.

The 3-day routine of filling up with water and dumping waste has simply become a routine – we plug in a dump station between overnight stops and only once have we been stretched to find a station. We are now picking up groceries more regularly, often doing so on our way back to the van after a walk through town. Showers and toilet in the van are cramped – but that just is, and we are not complaining. And even as the temperatures start to drop, the van heating has kept us cozy. So neither of us have felt too squashed in the van, nor felt short with each other – in fact, the opposite. Cash wise we are working out well, and at the current rate I can see a second year coming up … not having this conversation yet with Niki! So 100 days and almost exactly 10 000km sees us in a better position than when we left: More confident about finding overnight locations, more comfortable in the van, more relaxed on the road. It has perhaps helped that we have made up our mind to be heading off to Spain, albeit with a couple of detours as they become available – Dutch painters, Belgian beer, French mussels … Things could be worse. As soon as we have more of a plan than ‘South’ I’ll drop a map on the website. Till then – the difference between living on the road and a holiday is who cares about when?

Bed time reading.

Taunton – Van Upgrades

Another sweltering day in the UK, and looking forward to cooler weather, perhaps the next time I’m in Dubai.

A long day in Taunton as we waited for various additions to the van. In general, we are looking to stay away from campsites as much as possible. We’ve budgeted about €3000 for the year, but this is part of the options we are able to reduce. Not sure if we’ve gone about it the right way…

We’ve fitted a 100W solar panel which, in good weather, should provide for all our general needs. For the larger power budget items, such as our bike batteries, we need a bit more, so we’ve also added an extra battery – which required getting rid of our old (brand new!) battery as they need to be a matched pair. We’ve also binned our Swiss gas bottle and replaced this with 2 x refillable Calor gas bottles. In theory we can now refill with gas anywhere in Europe, as well as have enough gas for 2 months in Morocco, or anywhere else that has limited supply options – read ex-Eastern Europe.

For €1918 (OUCH!!) you’d think the results would look a bit more impressive. I mean, you can’t even see the solar panel (I’ve been assured it’s there) and the big bananas at the back look al of 20 quid!

A Little Whinge

The UK, I’m finding, has an occasional understanding of the 21st C and the wonders of internet. Towns promise free WiFi (yes, Taunton, that’s you), as do coffee shops (looking at you, Starbucks), and then spectacularly fail to deliver. I’m feeling this is a national kind of failure obsession. The Brit crowd watching soccer refused to believe (hope yes, believe no) that England could beat Sweden. The country hopes for the 21st C technology on offer, but fails to believe it can deliver. I think it’s sort of that Battle of Hastings kind of thing … lots of hope, but a bit short on the belief. I’m sure that Brexit, and reverting to island status, is sure to improve matters. Watch this space … or not, depending on your connection speed 🙂


GPS Deteriorates ….

Oh hum. ‘In the Old Days’, I’ll tell the grandkids, ‘We had paper maps, with lines all over them, and you had to learn to read, and hold them the right way up, and memorise 6 digit locations, all at the same time!! And bugger GPS, ’cause most of the time Nana got us there.’

Leaving Nonancourt for our ferry at Dunkirk we used the GPS locations provided by the ferry company. Then proceeded to get lost at consecutive roundabouts as both directions on signboards and our GPS insisted on sending us either to Dunkirk itself (wrong) or back to Calais (WRONG!!!). Following our GPS took us instead to a campsite in the middle of a town that required more one-way traffic negotiation, raised eyebrows and lots of shrugging. Arrived safely to find that we were nowhere near to our ferry stop. Some helpful Brits provided us with very detailed directions, which proved to be of no help at all. So, stuck (again) on a narrow road with no opportunity to turn around, cursing the GPS (need to find a name, not complimentary, for her) we kept going in a deepening silence … to arrive at the ferry port. All forgiven! However, now that we had arrived, hours early, we decided to take an earlier ferry, had a bit to eat, and went to sleep.

Wide awake (not really) at 1:30 am we passed through Customs (one lonely Brit), through inspection (one lonely officer), and boarded in a very orderly fashion. Methinks that Brexit might create some complexity in this process…

Arrived in Dover to a beautiful sunrise, a bit of mist, and traffic chaos. Made me wish I was back in Chartres Cathedral … Proceeded slowly down the M20, slowed down on the M25, and then cam to numerous halts on that and every subsequent road. Ouch!!! 2 1/2 hours to travel just over 65kms, and then another 300+ after that, all on 2 hours sleep. A conventional 3 1/2 hour drive turned into a 8 hour marathon. The last 40km were on delightful country roads – please add your own intonation to this, to aptly convey roads that wind, are not quite wide enough for 2 vehicles, and then pass through villages where a single vehicles’ progress can be inhibited by Mrs Smith opening her front door.

Nevertheless, here we are in that most delightful of British institutions, the Country Pub, in this case, the Blue Anchor outside Watchet, right on the coast. We are making use of the Britstops scheme that sees lots of places (mostly Pubs) providing limited parking for a few campervans, with the mild expectation that you’ll have a pint or a meal. We’ve filled up with water, I’m planning on a veggie/sausage/couscous dinner while Niki salivates over plates of prawns – let’s see how this ends. We’ll post some photos of the region tomorrow. For now – internet, great cider, soccer on the box, beach right off the van… Ah, I can cope with the pressure!

GPS … Not!

A day that had a little bit of everything….

Yesterday our household goods were delivered to friends who have kindly offered a room at their house to store our possessions while we meander across Europe. Delivery was a little chaotic, and certainly more so than Niki was hoping for. In any case, we carried 25 cubic meters of furniture into a room and then played Heavy Tetris as the afternoon temperature climbed into the 30’s. Beer after the event seemed to do more than just rehydrate, a trend that continued as we watched England – Bolivia streamed to a Mac Air. Got to take what you can!

Said goodbye to the Langston’s in Central France and headed north(ish) towards Dunkirk, having decided to do this in two stages. Wise decision as by 5:00pm I was very tired, obviously feeling the effects of the previous day’s rehydration exercise. Being very new to this, we both have outsized concerns about overnighting. I’m sure we’ll relax soon, but at the moment we would like some idea of where we will be spending the night.

On the way up to Nonancourt, our designated overnight stop (more later), we stopped at Chartres Cathedral – What a fantastic 2 hours! I’m so sorry that the photos do no justice, but what an awe-inspiring edifice – and I use the description with knowledge aforethought 🙂 Had to take a photo of the Camino Trail for Lewis – perhaps one day a ‘Cathedrals of Europe’ cycle tour is in the offing.

I found a free aire in Nonancourt, plugged in the gps coordinates, and off we set. Nonancourt proved to be a bit of a challenge. The town centre (??) has blue lines through the square, either indicating traffic direction, pedestrian passage, parking places, or all three. Consequently cars were seemingly at all angles, at all directions, in various places. Extricating the van proved difficult. We then proceeded down a narrow, perhaps two-way street, after waiting obligingly for all oncoming traffic to pass us. About hallway up the hill, however, local impatience took precedence and a car came down towards us. I kept going, he got gallic, Niki smiled, I didn’t, and he reversed in time for us to squeeze by in the narrowest of gaps. Then things got interesting us the GPS had us turn right onto a narrow road that turned into a path, happily indicating that ‘You have arrived at your Destination’. NOT.

All’s well at the end of the day. Niki found a wider spot, we retreated to find the sought after aire on the other side of the road, next to a wonderful wooded area with a river flowing by. Some more vino rehydration and we were, if not happy, at least Contented Campers.