Who Wants to Feel at Home When They are Abroad?

11.02.2018 Pedraza and Riaza (12)

I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad, George Bernard Shaw

These words of George Bernard Shaw are in the opening scene of Widowers’ Houses, his first play to be staged in 1892.  This opening scene is set in Remagen on the Rhine in Germany where Harry Trench and his friend William Cokane are travelling.  William Cokane meets a Gentleman who does not share Cokane’s excitement at hearing English spoken while in Germany.

THE GENTLEMAN [to Cokane] We are fellow travellers, I believe, sir.

COKANE. Fellow travellers and fellow countrymen. Ah, we rarely feel the charm of our own tongue until it reaches our ears under a foreign sky. You have no doubt noticed that?

THE GENTLEMAN [a little puzzled] Hm ! From a romantic point of view, possibly, very possibly. As a matter of fact, the sound of English makes me feel at home; and I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.  It is not precisely what one goes to the expense for. 

Many travellers will relate to this, none of us want to waste the expense of going abroad and then feel like we are in the UK.  I do want places to feel different to home and in some way foreign; either the food, the language, the culture or the architecture should be shouting out to tell me I am somewhere other than home.

That said, on a campsite in another country hearing English spoken can be lovely.  Much as I love talking to my partner, after a few weeks away it can be exciting to talk to someone else in ‘our own tongue’ rather than struggling in the local language where I have only limited small talk and mostly rely on gestures and a handful of words.  Other travellers are a mine of information; they often give recommendations for good campsites or places to visit and they might have a top camping tip or know about roads to avoid or have entertaining travellers tales.

When we travelled around southern Europe for a year in our former campervan in 2009 / 2010 I was certainly very pleased to meet fellow English travellers as this sometimes meant I would find books to swap.  We had nowhere near enough room in our VW to carry all the books I could read in 12 months and I relied on campsite book swaps and other campers to get new reading material.  If there was someone from the UK around I would take the pile of books I had read round to them and ask nicely if they had anything to swap.  This approach revealed some gems and was a great opener for making new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

1,000 Nights in Our Campervan Journals

Our campervan journals
Our Campervan journals

Does everyone keep a journal in their campervan?  We started doing this early on in our campervan career and I am often glad we have a simple record of our camping life.  We didn’t keep a journal for our first ‘van; we were newbies and it didn’t cross our mind … but once we got in the swing of being campervan owners we wanted a record of where we had stayed.  I grabbed a spare exercise book [no expensive notebooks for two frugal travellers] drew in some columns and started our first journal.

In each journal I write the date, the name of the campsite and place, the overnight cost, the number of nights we are staying and a brief description and review of the site.  I also use the journal to note things that we often forget such as when we last emptied the loo!  These journals started when we bought our Devon Sundowner in 2007 and have continued ever since.

We are now on our third campervan journal.   The notebooks all live in the ‘van and we refer to them regularly.  We often arrive on a site we have been on before and wonder how long ago it was since we were last there [it is usually longer than we think].  At other times we might want to remind ourselves what we thought of a particular site while planning a trip to help us consider if it is worth returning to.  Sometimes we just browse the journals for some misty-eyed reminiscing.

Although there is no journal from our holidays in our T4 we do know how many nights we spent in it thanks to photographs and diary jottings.  On the front of the journals I keep a tally of the number of nights we have been away during the year and in a particular campervan as well as a total of our nights under a tin roof.  Last summer we passed the milestone of 1,000 nights sleeping in a campervan in the eleven years we have been practising this van life.

We passed this 1,000 night’s milestone while we were camping in northern Italy.  We were staying near Arsiè and although neither of us were getting flashes of déjà-vu I was looking through the journals because we were both pretty sure we had stayed nearby back in 2009.  Flicking through the book to check where we had stayed we found we had been on the same site!   We were flabbergasted!  Where had the large sweet-smelling walnut tree we are sure we camped under gone?  Where was the green gently-sloping field down to the lake?  Either our combined memories were seriously faulty or they had re-developed the site beyond all recognition.  We would certainly never have known we had been there before without the journals.

These notebooks are packed with happy and vivid memories that I don’t want to let go of.  If you don’t keep a campervan journal then I suggest you start now.

Any flying is good flying in Eastbourne?

Eastbourne

‘Any flying is good flying,’ the paraglider pilot told me when we both stopped to talk about his sport.  He had landed below Beachy Head and was wrestling with ballooning fabric to fold away his kit, a task that looked trickier than packing away a tent or an awning.  Jumping off Beachy Head, even with a paraglider strapped to your back looked terrifying to me as I peered cautiously over the 550-foot high chalk cliffs.

It was the hottest February day on record and really a perfect day for my first visit to Beachy Head.  We had walked up the cliffs from Eastbourne, a town that turned out to be much nicer than I had been led to believe.  On the seafront we had chosen All Decked Out cafe, after walking by a couple of seafront cafes that only provided disposable cups; nothing spoils a mug of coffee as much as that plastic taste!  The friendly owner at All Decked Out not only had china cups but good coffee and delicious cakes and we sat enjoying these with a sea view over the shingle beach from their outdoor terrace.  It was an idyllic start to a splendid day and hard to believe it was February.

We walked along the tidy sea front to Holywell, passing the Martello Tower on the way.  Called The Wish Tower  we learnt that this is number 73 of 74 Martello Towers on the south coast built in the early 1800s to defend the country against Napoleon.  We also read information boards about the devastation of the bombing of Eastbourne during the Second World War.  From Holywell we were soon in the countryside and the South Downs National Park.  Climbing and contouring around the cliffs through yellow flowering gorse bushes and holm oak trees on paths through the cropped grass we met the happy paraglider.   Every time we stopped to rest I could enjoy the stunning views back to Eastbourne with its shining white pier in the brilliant blue sea.

We found the sobering memorial to Bomber Command that reminded us how dangerous it was to be part of the crew in a plane during the Second World War.  The memorial, unveiled in 2012, is dedicated to the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives.

At Beachy Head we could see west to Seven Sisters and the red and white striped lighthouse was far below us.  The ideal spot to take your photograph on the edge of the cliffs was eroded, this is such a popular spot.  We were not only lucky with the weather, we also had a close encounter with a peregrine while we had our picnic lunch.

Heading inland on the footpath towards East Dean, with views to Birling Gap.  We turned right too soon, having misread the map, and so lengthened our walk by a mile or so as we had to retrace our steps.  No one else had chosen this route and we were accompanied only by sheep in the green fields; this wasn’t the crowded south of England that I had imagined.

Back in All Decked Out the friendly member of staff remembered us as she served us ice-cream and we chatted about how good the walking is from the heart of Eastbourne.  What a memorable day!

 

My post-campervan holiday list

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Is it just us or does every campervan owner return from a long trip away in their ‘van with a long list of things that need replacing, fixing, taking out of the ‘van or buying.  For me, this to-do list comes into being a few weeks in to the trip.  I will have a bright idea or break something, find a sheet of scrap paper, usually the back of a campsite receipt or map, and a pen [these are on the list too, we always have a stack of them in the ‘van] and scribble down whatever it is I don’t want to forget.  The list will get shoved under my pile of t-shirts and as the weeks go by other things will come up and I will grab a pen and add it to the list.

Some of the things on the list are mundane replacements, things we must remember to buy when we are back in the UK.  Another packet of Kwells seasickness tablets is a good example of this sort of thing; this could easily get forgotten in the excitement of being home and only be noticed when I next start to feel queasy on a pitching and rolling ship.

Others things on the list are expensive purchases that are more challenging for two frugal folk to deal with.  These things will sit on the list for a while [at least one month] for due consideration before the money is spent.  New cycling shorts are this sort of thing.  We tend to do more and longer cycle rides in the warmth of southern Europe and this can highlight the shortcomings of the gear we have.  New cycling shorts clearly seemed important at the time to make it on to the list but at the moment we are minded to think that the old ones will do another year.

Replacement MP3 speakers could be on the ‘due consideration’ list as these also cost money, except that I find dropping off to sleep to a podcast on the MP3 player helps me deal with the constant ringing in my ears that comes with tinnitus.  The speakers that I have found suit me best have done many years regular use but they are no longer reliable and another set is urgently needed.

The reversing sensors on our Blue Bus started mis-firing part way through our holiday.  Annoyingly, they starting beeping as soon as reverse was engaged even if there was nothing behind the ‘van for many metres.  The Renault came with reversing sensors and we thought we would hardly use them, having managed without before.  But there is really no view out of the back window of the Renault and so these have proved to be a useful bit of kit.  At £170 to replace we will take a deep breath before we go ahead.

Some of the things on the list don’t need us to spend any money – hurrah!  We have carried a hairdryer in the campervan since we had it but realised on our last trip that we had never actually used it!  I have no idea why it took three years to realise that we both have short hair that dries quickly, particularly in the sun.  The hairdryer was taking up space we could use more efficiently and has now gone to the charity shop.

It has taken us sometime to get round to this but we have now put our music on a flash drive that plugs in to a USB on the radio of our Renault.  We had expected to be able to use the MP3 player through the van’s radio but this turned out to be impossible, perhaps due to the age of our MP3 player.  Then we had a flash [pun intended] of inspiration and tried a portable drive.  This works well and takes up much less room than the pile of CDs we had before.  Now we can rock to our whole music collection as we drive!

The temporary mirror inserts went on the wish list after the expensive Spanish mirror jousting incident.  We bought one each for the right and left mirrors on Ebay and hope these will be enough to get us home if the same happens again.  If these work, they will enable us to put off buying a replacement wing mirror until we can do this online from home and we can then fit it ourselves much more cheaply.

Living in the north of England with our wonderful soft water we didn’t realise kettle descaler was even a thing until we travelled abroad.  The mineral-rich hard water in most European countries might be good for our bones but certainly clogs up the kettle and the ‘van’s water pump, as we discovered to our cost last year.  In a two month long trip we will descale the kettle one or two times to keep it working efficiently and always keep some in the ‘van.

The list from each holiday is always different and partly tells the story of some of the things that have happened on our trip and the places we have been.  What does your post-holiday to-do list look like?

 

 

 

 

Is owning a campervan as carefree as we all make out? Does life really begin on the edge of your comfort zone?

 

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The spider looms next to the Guggenheim in Bilbao

You don’t speak the language and your much loved campervan is unhappy and slightly broken … a nightmare or just another day in a campervan travellers life?  Putting my trust in people and a system I don’t understand has happened to me so often I am starting to expect it but never find it easy; this is way out of my comfort zone.  People say, ‘Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.’  It seems to me this is where my adventurous spirit could shrivel and die, even when everything turns out fine in the end.

I am as guilty as anyone of writing about our campervan trips as carefree and relaxed but, as canny readers will know, this is only part of the truth.  I always say I love the campervan life because we have the freedom to choose where we will be, if we don’t like somewhere we move on and we take our home with you, no strange beds, just a different view every morning.  I am not lying when I tell you this and when things are going well it is truly an idyllic life.

But there are anxieties and I do share them on the blog.  The Greek Tragedy shook my confidence massively and demonstrated so clearly how quickly a relaxed and enjoyable trip can abruptly end.  My obsession with checking we are in gear when we are parked even on the flat has not gone away and can be irritating for Mr BOTRA.  If I don’t check and double-check I am unsettled and return to the ‘van expecting it to have once again rolled in to a wall or worse.

You probably all know those signs of anxiety; I get that sense of dread, the sickness low in the bottom of my stomach, feeling on edge, irritable with the people I love and unable to concentrate.  This is the worried me and no amount of deep breathing will quell the anxiety when I think a crisis is around the corner.  But I do relax while we are away and it is while I am travelling in that carefree manner I enjoy that I am hit the hardest when something goes wrong.  Picture the scene … The sun feels warm on my arms, I am smiling and unaware that a problem is on the horizon, then wham!  From left field something we hadn’t even thought of happens to our campervan and everything changes.

With modern ‘vans it seems there are so many things that can go wrong, more than I could list or dream of.  In September we had only driven 30 km from the port in Bilbao in Spain and our Blue Bus started beeping and flashing red lights in alarm.  The power steering had failed!  Who knew this could happen!  Fortunately we were in a car park, rather than on an autovia and after Mr BOTRA wrestled the 3.5 tonnes of our van into a safe and shady place we rang our breakdown.  Once again we were trying to deal with a complex technical problem on our campervan in a foreign language, with a phrase book that was written before power steering was invented!  We had little idea what was going on and were totally in the hands of the garage.  Déjà vu!  This has happened now in Greece and in Italy as well as Spain, never in France or Germany where our grasp of the language is so much better!

Although we deal with the phone calls, the breakdown lorry driver, the rearranging of our plans, each of these incidents doesn’t make me grow in confidence, each one gradually chips away at my courage and my certainty of the freedom of the road.  I can no longer fool myself that all will be well.  For weeks after an incident the sense of dread about what will happen next invades my brain regularly.  What will be the next problem to come along, slap me across the face and say, ‘You didn’t see that one coming did you?’

Given all this anxiety, the temptation might be to only travel in the UK but I’m not a quitter and certainly not quite ready to give up my passport just yet.  The benefits of continuing on the edge of my comfort zone are visiting exciting and beautiful places.  I work hard at keeping those dark worries in check by planning and preparing for [almost] everything and paying for the best insurance money can buy.  Fingers crossed 2019 will bring some incident free trips!

 

 

 

Arran: My first encounter with this lovely island

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The dramatic landscape of Goat Fell on Arran

The internet suggests there are up to 5,000 islands around Great Britain, although the exact number seems to be hard to be sure of and there are certainly plenty of these I have never heard of, let alone visited.  Another source gave a figure of 82 islands that measure more than 5 sq km.  This is still a higher number than I might have guessed at and one that made me ashamed of how few of our islands I have taken the trouble to get to.  It was time to visit an island and an autumn trip to Arran, off the south-west coast of Scotland was planned.

Goodness knows why I have never been before as we found so much that delighted us on Arran.  The craggy mountains around Goat Fell are perfect walking country; Glen Sannox is simply stunning; the stone circles at Machrie Moor are impressive and fascinating; the coastline near Blackwaterfoot  and the walk through boulders to the basalt cliffs of The Doon is stunning and the sheltered bay at Lochranza is picture perfect.  I loved pretty much everything about the island.

Thanks to the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on Scottish ferries, getting to Arran is now more affordable and it was just over £45 return for our 5.4 metre long campervan.  We needed to have a frugal holiday due to our expensive year but also like to support campsites and so we stayed on three of the islands campsites [see below] and did a few nights wild camping too.  Wild camping is popular on Arran and some places can get busy at weekends as Arran is a perfect place to visit in a campervan.

We didn’t visit any tea shops, although I am told they are excellent, but we did support the Arran economy and bought excellent local cheese in the cheese shop, local beer at the brewery, good local oatcakes and delicious local bread in the Blackwaterfoot Bakery.  These all went very well together and didn’t last long.

Arran was a great start to my plan to visit more of the islands around Great Britain.  The big question is where to go to next?

Campsites we used on Arran

Lochranza Campsite – a beautifully situated site that is well kept.  The site is grassy with some hard-standing pitches if it is wet and there are open views.

Seal Shore Camping  – this site at Kildonan has lovely views out to sea and clean facilities.  The site is sloping but while we were there they were building some more level pitches.  The site is next door to a bar.

Middleton’s Caravan and Camping Park – This level grassy site at Lamlash is handy for the shops, places to eat and shoreline in Lamlash.  The facilities are clean and it has good hot showers.

 

 

 

Go the extra mile it is never crowded

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A quiet corner of the Lake District

You might laugh [please do] but when I came across this saying recently my literal mind skipped it’s metaphorical intention and took its meaning to the letter [I often do this].  My thoughts wandered to when we have walked an extra mile or so on a beach or in the hills or cycled just that bit further and felt smug as we left the crowds behind.  The saying is spot on; going that extra mile often takes us to a quiet corner and to somewhere special that we can embrace as our own for a short time.  By just taking a bit more effort I can enjoy an undisturbed experience of a location with the space and tranquillity to really see, smell and feel the place.

The quote attributed to Wayne Dyer, author and self-development guru, is, ‘It’s never crowded along the extra mile.’  After thinking about all those idyllic places we have found it eventually dawned on me that this quote isn’t to be read literally and instead encourages everyone to believe that by putting in the extra effort you can reach the top.  My mind turned to those times when I have gone the extra mile on a task.  Doing just the minimum required can be an easy option and I have times when I need to cruise through jobs because my mind is preoccupied with other stuff.  But I feel much better about myself when I put the extra effort in and give my absolute best.  And yet, the number of people who will reach the heights of the elite in any field is limited [or never crowded] and unfortunately not everyone can be outstanding otherwise outstanding becomes the average.  For myself, I don’t expect to be award winning, I go the extra mile to compete against myself, stretching my performance and improving my skills.

I consider myself a slow writer; certainly each time I write a travel article or blog post I spend hours rigorously writing, editing and re-editing.  I do this for two reasons; I am certainly terrified of the shame of making a mistake that makes it in to print [although they do and I have to deal with it] but I also want to produce work I can feel proud of.  I constantly review, learn new techniques and apply these and I feel that my writing has improved over the years.  I don’t go the extra mile for promotion or a higher salary, my editor is not pushing me to write differently, I am self-motivated to do better and throwing together a piece of writing with the minimum effort has never been an option.  By going the extra mile I might not reach the top but I do maintain my self-respect.