Navigation: A Daily Chore

Spare a thought for poor Niki. No sooner has she mastered Italian in order to find our way down the boot, but now she has to master a new alphabet AND language – and a new Navi system. More on that shortly.

So, how do we get around? Before starting on our trip I spent some time plotting on Google what seemed to be a reasonable itinerary from Switzerland to the UK, quick swing across France, Germany, Denmark, a rapid drive through Sweden to eventually arrive at our destination of Norway, or, specifically, Narvik. In this I had tremendous help through using websites of travellers who have, almost on a daily basis, blogged their experiences. Quite naturally, perhaps, we tended to stick, there or thereabouts, to campsites / parking spots that others had recommended or used. As we became more comfortable we tended to find more of our own out-of-the-way spots. We weren’t particularly fussy, so roadsides, train stations and supermarkets have featured quite heavily, so too forests and harbours. Our navigation system in the van spat the dummy early in the trip – it’s occasionally recovered, but all in all, pretty bloody useless. It doesn’t help that we have maps from 2012, that the system itself is clunky and slow, nor that error (out of memory) notes just shut the system down, including the CD player, Bluetooth, radio and iPod (yes, I still have a number of those).

We’ve really had no planning for Greece, apart from knowing we would do the Peloponnese peninsula, and not rush. Again, using other blogs has given us a brief overview of some beautiful places to see. So, planning looks like this: We (Niki, mostly) decides on the next key spot. We check for distances and then look up the place using our home MiFi (10Gb per month). Niki refers to a very useful app: Park4Night. This app is free (Thank You), but if you want to use it offline it costs €9.99 per year. The app marks, on a local map, different categories of places to stay: Free stops, paid stops (sometimes campsites, sometimes stops with services, including Aires in France and Stellplatz in Germany), the types of services available, dumping services along the way, laybyes and forest stops, beaches etc. The information is generated by users and generally very accurate, with comments being especially helpful. The GPS coordinates have proven to be very accurate.

Next to a pick your own berry farm
Overnight at a pub: ‘Camperstop’ app
Parking lot, Carrefour
Oak forest – bad choice in wind
Public parking at the beach

This info is now put into our Samsung tablet, taking the place of the absolutely useless Pioneer (you can tell we’ve had issues!). Niki recently purchased CoPilot (€15 per annum) which allows us to enter the van dimensions. So far this has been helpful in preventing us from going down teeny roads, or under bridges <2.8 m high (my nightmare). Of course, no software is going to account for parking in Greece that sees drivers park 3 deep while going to the shop …  Really important here is that CoPilot runs offline once you have downloaded the relevant regional maps for the country you are in. This has also been manageable on MiFi as the maps are not huge (but still very detailed and up to date – so far).

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 08.27.32
Our Overnight stops

(On the navigation bar go to Travels / Our Trip Mapped and click on ‘here‘. All our overnight stops, with photos and comments are there.)

A very helpful British couple have also given us all their pins on Maps.Me. They spent 5 months in Greece, so not short of marked spots! In addition, they have added pins from other travellers they’ve met, so, at this point, we have a huge range of possibilities. Now if the weather just played along we could really make use of those pins at beaches.

We remain limited to less than three days without any services – if we had a spare toilet cassette this would be extended, but not possible in our little van. Water is good for three days (daily showers for both of us) and our waste water has never been an issue. Electricity has also not been an issue as our single 100W solar panel just keeps giving. Even with charging a computer at night and using as much lighting as we wish we never approach our limit. Gas has also been much better now that it’s warmer and we don’t have the heater going all day. I expect our 2 x 11kg gas bottles to last around 5 weeks, and at €30 a fill, who cares?

OOOH – Just had to share this!! We are having sliced boiled eggs on salad for dinner tonight and, after battling with shelling eggs for ever, Niki has just shown me this: Crack and peel the top of the egg, do the same for the bottom – now just push the egg out from top to bottom – the shell comes off like a sock! Ha – if we learn something new every day … Hmmm – perhaps some caution with soft-boiled eggs!!


A Happy Gnome Story

Some context: When Susi, Niki’s niece, together with her family, visited the week before we left Switzerland, we had some stuff that was looking for a home – we weren’t taking a flat screen TV with us! Items not on Susi’s preferred list included 2 garden gnomes, which looked to be consigned to the rubbish dump. Until their story was told …

Read on. Continue reading

… And They’re Off!

Delivery service

What a week it’s been, and we are certainly both feeling the effects of carrying what seems to be tons of stuff down three flights of stairs, trying to keep goods going to New Zealand separate from stuff going to France separate from stuff going to the Van. I haven’t looked too closely, but there’s a good chance that we’ve got toasters and coffee makers in the Van, and snorkels going to France … and the occasional music instrument (What is a Euphonium?)


Staufen Town Square

The drive up has been great – excellent roads and less than 200km. We are staying with Niki’s niece and family in Staufen – lovely little town which just oozes character – and people. My navigator (Niki, not the GPS) guided me up a narrow road, which became, hmm, less wide, and then turned into a cobble footpath that led into the town square. The sight was gorgeous – tents, stalls, cars and pedestrians everywhere. Welcome to Germany’s Saturday morning markets. Clearly not able to pass around the circle in the town square, and having a very kind gentleman move his car, we returned to our New Zealand heritage and proceeded around the left side of the circle. Fortunately the Van’s mirror was lower than tent rooftop, allowing for access. Not so lucky for the bicycle, clearly parked illegally next to the circle … Clearly, at some stage, we are going to have to learn what all these new signs mean. Perhaps time to buy the navigator that dictionary?

We’ll see more of these, I’m sure

Lovely evening spent with the family – Thanks Susi, Marian and family.







Vasbyt Min Dae

Nope, this is not the name of our first Norwegian stop! A couple of you may recognise the term from a previous life, which will presumably conjure up a range of generally negative mental images, mostly associated with the colour brown and heat. For all others – perhaps a little research required?

Last few days before we take off, but with lots still to do. It is interesting that our conversations now transition to the more practical aspects of this next year. For example: I’ve been put in charge of inputs and outputs. In fact, this means that I’m going to be doing the cooking as well as emptying the toilet cassette and grey water. I understand that these are closely linked, and also that there was not going to be too much conversation on these topics. I’m not sure as to the reality of doing this regularly over the year – perhaps one just goes numb (I hope so, in the olfactory area at least!). On the other hand, I’m really happy not to have Niki’s stressful job as navigator, especially when faced by an irritable driver who is uncertain as the van’s width, can’t read any foreign languages, and has his mother’s sense of direction (‘always turn right, son, and you’ll get there, or at least see interesting places’.)

I know the kids will be laughing when I say that I like to do a bit of research on topics before committing. Well, one interesting area that comes up in blogs, but not usually in great depth, is how one feels in the period immediately before setting off. Last year, getting ready to cycle to Lisbon with Lewis (the Pommy son-in-law, nice guy) there was a real sense of relief at having something positive to focus on, the planning necessary to get from A-B without going past G (as sometimes happened), and building up a bit of fitness to see us through 2600km. This is a little different for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the most important of these is the fact that, at this point, I’d happily just take off and embrace a semi-retired lifestyle, choosing to work on projects that are of interest, without the daily complexities of my current job. I’ve no idea how this year will turn out, but, if it’s good, why stop after a year? On the other hand, although I’m happy to live in a 5.95m van with Niki, will she put up with me?

Whatever the case might be, at this stage the upcoming adventures give us something to hold onto, and provide a little tasty alternative to ‘vasbyt’. Time will, without doubt, have a tale to tell.