Out of order: some thoughts on sanitary facilities at campsites

2014-06-20 2014 June Lourdes cycle ride 045
The unbeatable sanitary facilities of Les Trois Vallées site near Lourdes

‘The sanitary facilities will be closed between 11.00 and 12.00 for cleaning’ is a familiar sign to anyone who has used a club campsite in the UK and this can be very irritating.   Of course, I would be the first to complain if the toilets and showers were not in a spit-spot condition and [as a former Youth Hostel warden] I do understand how much easier the task of sanitising the conveniences is if there are no campers wandering in and out while you mop the floor.  But, I am on holiday and don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn; after a leisurely breakfast it can often be 11.00 when I am hoping to use the ladies one last time before setting off on a walk and confronting one of these signs on the door is maddening.

All I am asking for is a little consideration for the paying guests, who, let us remember, keep the campsite in business.  Good club sites will leave the disabled toilet open while they clean the main facilities and this is a welcome compromise; however, not all camp sites are run with this amount of thoughtfulness and I have stayed on at least one club site that has two sanitary blocks but will still close both for the full hour.

Away from club sites, there are many different approaches to how to get the toilets and showers clean after they have been used and abused by hot and sweaty campers.  One solution, of course, is to not bother carrying out any cleaning at all, but these are few and far between and are not camp sites we stay at for more than one night, or return to for another holiday.

A lovely site on the Gargano peninsular in Italy used an industrial size hose pipe to vigorously sluice out the showers and toilets once a day.  They did not close the facilities during this process, but you only used them at your own risk.

In Mediterranean countries, you also often see signs telling you that the facilities are closed between 04.00 and 05.00 and on one level this seems a good plan; the toilets can be cleaned while the campers are all fast asleep in their tents and campervans.  However, I always feel concerned for the cleaners who have to work such unsociable hours.  Presumably this works well in warmer climes as it enables the cleaning to take place before it gets too hot to care about polishing chrome and scrubbing tiles.

Another popular way for campsite owners to ensure their facilities are immaculate is to work around the campers, cleaning the sanitary blocks while they are in use.  This can work satisfactorily, so long as either the site is not busy or they opt to get the mop and bucket out during a quieter period.  One Polish campsite [charmingly called Camping 51] stands out for the impeccable state of its toilet and shower blocks, as the elderly female owner could be found cloth in one hand, bleach in the other at every hour of every day, dedicating her life to ensuring a germ-free environment.  Her constant presence somewhere in the sanitary blocks caused Mr BOTRA to take up joyful whistling during his ablutions, to be sure that she knew he was there and avoid any possible embarrassing encounters.

One of the many reasons touring campsites in our campervan is fun is that every site is unique and has its own way of doing things but we do sometimes have to ask why.  One beautiful campsite on Luneburg Heath in Northern Germany had spotless facilities that were open at all times, with one important exception; they closed and locked the dish-washing area at 20.00 each evening, not re-opening it until 07.00 the next day.   As we don’t eat our evening meal until around 19.30 or later on holiday [and we are not alone in this] the choice was to either stack up the dishes for the next morning or rush to start the washing up as soon as the last forkful had been eaten.  Not surprisingly, this often resulted in a very busy washing up area at 19.55 every evening, as everyone tried to beat the imposed curfew.

Restricted access with key pads and locks for the sanitary facilities is becoming more and more common at campsites in England.  These provide endless opportunities for irritating the camper; with so many pin numbers to remember, keeping in mind the random selection of numbers and letters for the toilets has no chance of sticking in my mind and forgetting to take the key on a trip to the shower is an entertaining game we play..

Limiting access to the toilets can be understandable on a site with a footpath running through it or one that is next to an attraction or park.  On other sites there is no excuse for keeping the toilets and showers under lock and key, I have stayed at sites with locked facilities where there is not even have a house within 500 metres and no passing pedestrians who might decide to spend a penny.

Some camp sites provide very specialist facilities and my favourite sign is one generally found on coastal and riverside sites in southern Europe, where they have a sink marked for fish washing only.   Although I’ve never witnessed any actual fish washing, I am grateful to a site for providing these specific facilities; no one wants to wash their laundry in a sink where gutting and boning of the days catch has recently occurred.

Finally, I am sure there are two camps regarding the provision of piped music in campsite facilities and I am generally in the pro-camp.  However, there are times when the melodies seem incongruous; I’m thinking now of a favourite camp site in Cortina in the peace of quiet of the Italian Dolomites which inexplicably played  pan pipe music from South America on a continuous loop.


Sleep: a very important part of my day

Our campervan has comfy beds

This article on sleep and how important it is for our well being and good health caught my eye recently.  Sleep has been in the forefront of my mind recently as I haven’t been getting enough of it [of course, when we are getting enough sleep we don’t give it a thought].  Every night since we returned from our holiday has been notable for the dark hours I have been awake.

When we were travelling in our motorhome for twelve months we basked in the luxury of waking up when we were ready, rather than relying on an alarm.  One friend had joked that we would gain years on our life expectancy just from taking a year away from the call of the alarm clock and she might have been right.  I always sleep really well in the campervan and find our weekends away help me to catch up on my sleep.

Fortunately, it isn’t anxiety that is keeping me awake, just hormones.  I have had menopausal hot flushes since 2008; these have varied in intensity over those eight years but it is always the night when they are worst.  HRT bought on migraines that were too regular and painful to make it worth taking but I found that Gabapentin helped.  No one ever told me this menopause-malarkey could go on for eight years but earlier this year I was optimistic enough to feel ready to be drug-free as the symptoms appeared to be easing; however, this last few weeks have been trying.  I currently sleep for about three hours and then wake up feeling so hot I can’t bear to have the duvet touching me as I fear either me or the duvet will combust.  I throw off the duvet and [not surprisingly] then get cold, pull the duvet back on and eventually drift off back into dreamland until the cycle starts again; this happens about three times a night.

We always have the bedroom window opening and its not even that warm in the UK at the moment!  Alcohol doesn’t seem to make much difference and eating spicy food [many websites suggest you avoid this] has no impact at all.

In the scheme of things, of course, this isn’t so bad but I am a person that struggles without sleep and a lack of it can make me a little irritable.  I am remaining happy and contented as I am grateful that I don’t have to work shifts or start work very early in the morning and working from home is much more relaxed than being in the office.  Goodness knows how others cope; it is often those low paid staff who get the worst deal when it comes to getting enough sleep; early morning cleaning rotas, night shifts and disturbed sleep patterns will have a negative impact on health.  But I am impatient for either this eight-year long phase to end or retirement to allow me to sleep until I have had my full quota of shut-eye.


The villages of the Ecrins

06.06.2016 La Grave walk to L'Aiguillon (7)
Hameau de Valfroide near La Grave

In the mountainous Ecrins the houses in the villages huddle together for warmth and companionship around a winding road, joined by steep narrow cobbled lanes and steps.  The houses are built from rough stone with steep roofs and small windows.  Typically, the windows have shutters and the traditional stone houses have a sort of wooden balcony for storing logs.

Above the village of La Grave the villages cling to the hillside, looking as if they could slide down at any time.  Around the villages the pattern of the old farmed terraces can still be seen in the meadows.  Each village has a church in a similar style and there are also stone wayside shrines on the roads between the villages, you might also find the communal oven and you will always find a water tap of fresh mountain water.  As you climb higher the houses in these villages are less likely to be occupied all year round.  In Le Grave we stayed at the wonderful Camping de la Meije just a few minutes from the village.

In Vallouise and Venosc we admired the sundials, including the beautiful 19th century Zarbula sundial on a magnificent villa in Vallouise.  You can follow the Sundial trail through the region to find more.

We toured around the Ecrins National Park in an anti-clockwise direction over a couple of weeks and camped in five different valleys, each one having its own personality and each offering spectacular mountain walking.

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Looking towards La Meije above La Grave

The Ecrins National Park in France

02.06.2016 Mont Dauphin marmots and fort (3)

We are back from our annual fix of European culture, weather and food.  As well as enjoying excellent and unbeatable mountain walking in the Ecrins National Park in south-east France [don’t worry no one seems to know where this is – find Grenoble and go slightly to the south and east], we found some adorable wildlife.

The Alpine marmots were abundant in the Ecrins and we saw at least one or two every time we were out walking.  Sometimes we firstly heard a marmot, calling out a warning high-pitched whistle and searching the rocky landscape we would spot the look-out marmot on a rock, sitting up on its hind legs apparently warning the other marmots of our presence but really drawing attention to the presence of marmots.  At other times we would spot them scampering low across a meadow or moving easily down steep craggy hillsides, twitching their stubby tails as they move and then disappearing down a handy burrow.  At Pré de Madame Carle the marmots were pottering around the car park and finding shade under the cars.

If you don’t want to climb the steep paths of the Ecrins to see marmots, there are a group that are easy to find at Mont-Dauphin, south of Briançon.  Since we last visited here in 2009 [Mr BOTRA had lots of fun making the video embedded in the blog post at the time] the humans have been managed so that the marmots can now run in and out of their burrows freely and avoid the humans if they wish to.  Marmots hibernate for more months than they are out and about so you need to be around in summer to see them.


Some thoughts on the sense of place

2014 Oct Panopticons (40)
The Halo sculpture above Haslingden in Lancashire

There are places that mean a lot to me and this meaning comes from a combination of things; the experiences  and memories I have of the place, the stories and folklore of that area, the scenery and the vistas and the history of the area.

I got to thinking about how I feel about places

Continue reading “Some thoughts on the sense of place”

Frugal hair cuts

The Babyliss [for men] clipper
I will admit I was nervous trimming Mr BOTRA’s hair for the first time as I didn’t want to make him the laughing stock of his office.  Fortunately, we seem to have got away with it and no one asked him the name of his amateur hairdresser.

A few months ago we splashed out some of our hard-earned on hair clippers [of course after thinking about it for some months and researching the best options].  Although the cost of buying the hair clippers was about £50 this outlay does now mean that we can both have our hair cut for free.  Even though neither of us have ever visited any of the fancy salons in Manchester city centre, DIY hair cutting still saves us around £250 a year.  That means in just a few months the hair clippers have already paid for themselves.

As well as saving money, we no longer have to be a part of that painful experience of chatting to the hairdresser [maybe this awkwardness is just my socially inadequacy].  For Mr BOTRA and I, finding things to chat about to each other has never been a problem [we already know where we are going to go on holiday] so hair cuts at home are more relaxed and save time too.

Home hair cuts are not for everyone.  We are not able to create that perfect coiffured look at home but fortunately, that isn’t what we need.  Neither of us have any job interviews coming up, need to be mother-of-the-bride or need to impress anyone.  We understand that there are times when you might not want to have a home haircut.  What we are both interested in at the moment is looking reasonably tidy, having a short cut that is easy to wash and doesn’t take any styling and [of course] in saving money.




Campervan security

A secure ‘van is also a happy ‘van

I read motorhome magazines [MMM and Practical Motorhome] cover to cover, as well as other owners blogs and forums.  Through these I read lots tales about campervans being broken in to and valued items being stolen.  I know it must be dreadful when this happens; a campervan is after all a home as well as a vehicle.  Touch wood, in our ten-years of motorhoming over 90,000 miles we haven’t had many problems but we do take a few precautions.

  • We try not to own anything too expensive [no really flash camera, no top of the range tablet] although with a small ‘van where space is limited everything we carry is valuable [to us.]
  • We think about where we are leaving the ‘van and consider whether it feels safe; if one of us is unhappy with a car park they are allowed a veto.
  • We never leave money or credit cards in the ‘van but always choose to carry them on our person [walking trousers/shorts and shirts have the benefit of lots of pockets]
  • We put any valuables [to us] that might be left in the ‘van out of sight
  • We prefer to park with the back doors reversed to a wall as they feel like a weak point and this makes it impossible to access the ‘van this way.  Parking in this way also makes it difficult to get at the bikes when they are loaded.
  • We have added Lock M Out window locks to the two large side windows and we always lock the ‘van doors at night.
  • If the worst happens and someone steals the whole ‘van, we have a tracker which we hope will mean it can be found.

During our year travelling we did have a couple of problems which were both [coincidently] in Spain.  The first time, someone attempted to take the bikes off the bike rack when it was parked in a small town that had felt safe enough.  They had buckled one of the wheels in the process and we had to replace this.  A few week’s later someone tried to force open one of the van side windows and scratched the plastic and then scored the drivers side window [perhaps in frustration] and we had to have that replaced.